When working with students with autism, using visual symbols to communicate and educate has been shown to be extremely effective. As the foundation of speech and language acquisition, visual symbols of all types (drawings, photos, objects, text, moving images, etc.) help emphasize comprehension, while also providing an avenue for expression.
However, depending on the student you are working with, some strategies in using visual symbols for learning can be more effective than others, according to Rebecca Remner, MS CCC-SLP, Director of Speech Language Pathology and Lauren Williams, MA, CCC-SLP, Assistive Technology Specialist of the Monarch Center for Autism. In a recent edWeb.net webinar, Visual Strategies for Individuals with Autism That Promote Success at School, at Home and in the Community, Ms. Remner and Ms. Williams presented a variety of ways to utilize visual symbols based on a student’s individual needs and the activity or task s/he is being asked to perform.
For any activity or task, Ms. Remner and Ms. Williams suggest mapping a visual language strategy that incorporates Visual Instruction Mode (VIM), Visual Organization Mode (VOM), and Visual Expression Mode (VEM). The VIM depicts the activity or task as to how it needs to be performed. The VOM tells the organization of an activity, routine or schedule and could include the expected length of time each step should take. And the VIM provides the student an opportunity to express themselves and interact during the activity.
Before you can begin using visual symbols to depict an activity, however, Ms. Remner and Ms. Williams emphasize that you must also understand where your student is on the spectrum of the Visual Immersion System. By using the spectrum, you can have a better picture of what your student fundamentally understands. As Ms. Williams explains, some students may be able to generalize objects using a variety of different visual symbol types.
“For example, a picture of a backpack can be used to represent the student’s actual backpack,” said Ms. Williams. “Or certain objects may have additional meaning for them. I had a student that needed to take a backpack every time they go outside. So then the student started pointing at the backpack, using it as a symbol to communicate their desire to go outside.”
For educators, therapists, caretakers or parents looking to use visual symbols for instruction, a platform like Vizzle can be extremely helpful in mapping visuals to the VIM, VOM and VEM of an activity. Vizzle can be used by a teacher or a classroom aide to create a lesson using visuals to detail the instruction and organization of an activity. As activity lessons can be accessed via a tablet or computer, teachers can then share the visuals with parents. If the activity is performed at home or outside of school, parents can help establish a routine or consistency by using the same visuals. Similarly, the activity visuals can be printed and posted in the classroom or at home to reinforce the instructions and organization.
Additionally, if you have students that are extremely motivated or engaged with tech devices, using them to incorporate visuals can be really helpful in or out of the classroom. According to Ms. Remner and Ms. Williams, they use iPads with their students to access and utilize visuals using a variety of programs, like Vizzle, or applications. The cameras on phones and devices are also heavily utilized, especially when out in the community, to take pictures or videos to later be used in mapping activities.
If you’re interested in learning more about visual strategies, download edWeb.net’s recording of the Visual Strategies for Individuals with Autism That Promote Success at School, at Home and in the Community webinar. Or sign up to try Vizzle FREE for 14 days and start using visual symbols to help your students with activities and routines.