Teaching with innovation and intent.
Visual supports are common teaching strategies when accommodating children with special needs. Pictures, frameworks, charts, and symbols can steer learners clear of language barriers and set them up for success. They are essential tools for children with severe cases of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Language Impairments and Developmental Delays. This is particularly true for visual thinkers. Temple Grandin, a professor, activist, and person with Autism, compares her visual thinking to using Google Images. She sees a slideshow of pictures rather than thinking with language.
There are many ways we can integrate visual supports into our classrooms, lessons, and daily routines. They have been proven to benefit students with ASD in learning to socialize with peers, organize their time and belongings, transition from one activity to another, communicate, and complete daily tasks.
There are 5 types of visual supports:
I use visuals a great deal because I am a visual learner myself. My experiences with the types of visual supports listed above have been limited and not altogether successful. When looking for picture symbols to use with my struggling learners, I really felt that the standard stick-person, clip-art images weren’t going to fit their needs. They were not specific enough, they were geared to primary or pre-school activities, and some were difficult to interpret. I spent a looong time searching the internet for clip-art that would truly represent the activities going on in our classroom. I wanted these visual supports to be inclusive and universal, rather than a separate program that only my special education students could benefit from. Upon implementation, I found that my students still had trouble connecting our daily work with these clip-art representations. It was disappointing, knowing that these visuals have the potential to be an empowering means of communication.
Now, having iPads available, adds another layer to this scenario. Augmentive and alternative communication solutions are plentiful in the world of apps. In my search for apps to try with my students, I have once again spent a looong time on the internet. An often daunting task, but this seems to be especially true in this situation. Not only daunting, but expensive! I sorted through a lot of visual support tools that use cartoonish clip-art. I did find a couple of useful sites, where some of the sorting has already been done, that I’d like to share. This Jane Farrall Consulting site provides a detailed list with prices, ratings, and more. Autism Speaks has another great searchable list.
I digress. And it’s time to narrow things down. First, I’ll take a cue from Temple, who explains that the autistic mind attends to details. Second, my approach to iPads has been to produce rather than consume. So the answer has got to be photographs. I’m also thinking that students’ participation in the creation of their own visual supports will make them that much more meaningful. I will look at three apps which allow you to import your photos. We shall see if their features provide any of the functions like scheduling and scripting that I have discussed above. I’m also looking for a universal benefit in each.
I think I will be able to find ways to use all 3 apps as visual supports. I’m also thinking that some favourite apps like Skitch, Educreations, and iMovie might also do some of what we need. Another obvious thing I could do is take photos, print them, and laminate them to create task cards, stories, procedures, or posters.
Have you got a favourite visual support or strategy? Please share!