Ready Your Class: Visual Aids

Photo Credit: Pexels/Suzy Hazelwood

One of the most important tools that you can have as a provider when it comes to children with delays, special needs, and/or autism are visual aids. These will help in routines, choice making, transitions, and general expression. The different types become increasingly more creative as we go, with the first being an actual system you can order, train staff in, and implement. This is by no means an exhaustive or extremely detailed description of the different visual aids you can use. This is simply a list to give you some ideas. For many of us in the autism field, these aids are part of our everyday vernacular. It would be amazing to see them used in preschools and daycare centers consistently!

PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System)

Photo: Pyramid Educational Consultants/http://www.pecsusa.com

This is one of the most common forms of visual aids with regards to autism. It consists of a system of simple picture cards with a simple word or phrase. I have seen this system used as physical cards and on tablets and AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices. This system was developed by a PhD and a speech language pathologist, and it has a protocol that includes elements of ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). The PECS system can be utilized with a number of conditions where the individual may have difficulty communicating. This is also probably the most expensive option, as the training manual alone could run you around $70 USD.

Labels

This one is definitely the simplest visual aid to include. If the child can read or is learning how to read, then simply labeling important items in the classroom (which many providers do to some extent already) can help the child navigate the classroom. These can also be used in conjunction with the next type.

Picture Icons

A picture I took of a client’s games that became one of her icons

These are a more detailed variation of the PECS idea, in the sense that you the provider/caregiver can easily make these yourself. Small pictures of everyday items (with labels if you choose) can go a long way with children who are non-verbal and may not have learned any signs yet. Ideally, you want to use pictures of the actual items that the child sees everyday, along with pictures of common places or activities. These can also be put together on a schedule board. Speaking of which…

Schedule Boards/Time Icons

There is often some form of a schedule board in a classroom, even if it’s mainly for the provider. Using picture icons to create a schedule for the child can help them anticipate what is coming up next in the day. Along with a board to put the activities and transitions in order, you can create “minute cards.” One of the first preschools I worked with created small cards with 3 and 1 minute increments on them (“3 more minutes,” “1 more minute”). They would show these cards to the children in the minutes leading to a transition/end of an activity. Even though the kids couldn’t always count the minutes, the cards were color coded as well (Ex: yellow for 3 minutes, and red for 1 minute). These cards made transitions easier for everyone.

Social Stories

In one of my previous positions, I was one of the go-to people if someone needed a social story. These simple stories can cover anything from a daily routine, to making friends or dealing with loss. I would often create them using Powerpoint and customize them to the child’s favorite characters or activities. Then, I would print them out in color and laminate them before binding it together into a makeshift book. One child who was nervous about going to preschool and making friends loved Pokemon, so I created a friends social story for her using Pokemon pictures. She loved it so much that she asked the Behavioral Interventionist to read it to her whole class, and it became part of the classroom library. Oh, and yes, she learned how to make friends!

A Few Tips

If you have access to a laminating machine, this can help seal the pictures and stories so that they last longer and are more durable.

Encourage parents and caregivers to use a similar system at home. They can take pictures of preferred and everyday items to keep on their phones or tablets. This way, there is a ready supply of visual aids to help them identify what the child may want or need.

Use the corresponding word or phrase associated with the picture so that the child starts to learn the word. For example, if you use a picture of their sippy cup, say “cup” when you hold up the picture.

Make sure you have their attention when using these aids. You may have to place it in front of them, or drop down to their eye level.

If you have other examples of visual aids you have used, please tell us about them in the comments! Next week, we will take a look at sensory aids!

New Workshop Series!

photo of cute girl in tutu
Photo by Philip Boakye on Pexels.com

 

When I’m quiet, it usually means I’m up to something big, and I was!

SPARC and Riviera Beach BRIDGES are teaming up to offer a series of FREE workshops to the community! The workshops will cover a variety of topics, including:

  • Developmental delays
  • Autism
  • Community resources
  • Dealing with behaviors
  • Expanding Play

I am really excited that we were able to offer these for free, because that is always a concern on my end. These workshops will be in rotation at the BRIDGES location for the next several months, so don’t worry if you miss any of them the first time. You can register for the first workshop through the Facebook page, but it is not required. It will help with headcount, though. The first workshop will be an overview of developmental delays, and is on October 16th at 11am.

Please feel free to drop a question in the comments or email me at sparcguidance@gmail.com if you have any questions or want to suggest possible topics for future workshops!

The Bridge: About Eye Contact

One thing that I have noticed in the autism field is that there are very few autistic voices. This is unfortunate, because as workers we can learn a lot from those who have gone through the very therapy that we are now giving. Listening to the experiences of those on the receiving end is not just a good idea business-wise; in our field, it is just plain humane.

When it comes to eye contact, the main point that I have heard from autistic adults is that it is simply not easy for them. It is not a matter of being insubordinate or even stubborn, it is just difficult. I myself can attest to this: I have a hard time with eye contact as well. I often how to remind myself to do it, otherwise my eyes will just dart everywhere else. For me, it is very intense, and I can see immediately what the other person thinks of me through their eyes. That can be hard to face, because no matter how nice their words are, their eyes give them away.

So when I see interventionists and specialists trying to get eye contact by force, it makes me cringe, hard. While it is a valuable skill that helps you with nonverbal cues, forcing anyone into it (especially by physical restraint, which sadly I have heard of occurring) is just wrong.

I have to make eye contact enticing, something worth the action to the client. So, I hold up a desired object to my face, preferably aligned with my eyes. With Peter, it took a few times, but he eventually met eyes with me. I thanked him and gave him the object. I didn’t pull the object away if he didn’t make eye contact, because I knew he simply wasn’t comfortable enough yet. Once he was, the eye contact became more frequent. Eventually, he started looking at me first and THEN the object, indicating that he would like to have it.

Again, the key point was that I did not force him. I never held his face in place. I never punished him or withheld an object because he didn’t make eye contact. I didn’t want to punish Peter for doing what feels comfortable to him. I did want to teach him that he can ease out of his comfort zone (in his own time), and that there were good things to be had by doing so.

This simple action will now become the baseline for any other work going forward. Eye contact will lead to more interactions, and to the beginning stages of speech. If at any point I see Peter’s eye contact drop back into his comfort zone, I know that I either pushed too much or he simply needs a break. Either way, I take a step back (sometimes literally). In all of this (and I cannot stress this enough), I want to make sure that these initial steps are taken with care and an open mind. This will be important later, when the more challenging behaviors emerge.

Goal of session three: Start eye contact, while maintaining a suitable comfort level

Next week: We will start looking at some of the behaviors that “scare” newcomers to the autism field.

“Get Over It”

Yes, I’m going to talk about what just happened in America tonight.

As my friends and I on Facebook started feeling the slow, horrible feeling of someone punching us all collectively in the gut, a young white man (who says he didn’t vote for Trump or Clinton but someone else) jumped into one of the conversations.

He essentially said that we (the minorities) were “overreacting” and need to get over it.

Naturally, he got verbally destroyed.

Despite this, though, there was still more pain than anger. The pain that, even now, there are those who didn’t even vote for Trump who STILL cannot empathize with those of us who have been insulted or ridiculed by the man who is now President-elect. I thought about my clients more than anything, and they run the gamut: some of them are minorities and autistic, others white but severely delayed, and others female but strongly dependent on the Affordable Care Act in order to get medical services and equipment. If Trump and his surrogates keep to their words, all of my clients are about to be negatively impacted.

So no, I cannot afford to just “get over it.” Never mind me as a black female who has also benefited from the ACA…my clients, the kids, are now at risk. They are all under the age of three, and they are all about to learn just how much this country doesn’t care about them.

I will not just “get over it.” Too many are depending on me to continue to support and fight for them. They are the next generation of Americans (and yes, they are all Americans); they deserve a shot at a hopeful future. I will continue to do my best to ensure that they get that.