New Hot Tips for IY Autism Programs: Using Visual Pictures to Enhance Children’s Understanding of Verbal Language
by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ph.D.
Many children are visual learners. This is especially true for children on the Autism Spectrum. Why is this? Perhaps children with ASD or language delays have more difficulty processing verbal language because auditory information is presented quickly, is transient, and is more complex. Pictures, on the other hand, are fixed images so the child can take as much time to process the information as they need. Seeing it, rather than just hearing it, can help the child process and retain the information. In this document we will talk about how parents and teachers can use visual images to enhance a child’s understanding of verbal requests and to provide a way for the child to improve communication with others.
We all rely on visual prompts or supports such as calendars, daily schedules, checklists, stickie notes, or street signs to make sense of the world, to know what is expected, and to keep ourselves organized. For children on the Autism Spectrum, picture visuals will help reduce some of the confusion of understanding verbal input. Visuals provide information in a way that is easier to process. Better understanding provides children with security, a sense of predictability, and understanding of the rules. Visual prompts also give children another way of communicating their preferences and needs to their parents, teachers, and peer group. They will help the child to be calm and more relaxed and also help promote children’s language development, joint attention, and interactions.
Here are a few tips to remember:
• Put visuals in place where they will be easily found and used by the child and adults. For example: on a key ring, on the refrigerator, or on a low table.
• Target which activities, requests, or social interactions you want to start with; stay simple and avoid using too many new visuals at the same time
• Use real objects when teaching what the picture represents
• Add the printed word to the visual picture
• Use the same words for the picture every time. Don’t use too many words, be simple and clear
• Prompt the child to look at the picture, wait for his response, and then imitate or repeat his response
• For sequenced pictures, preview the sequence by pointing and saying each step. “First, teeth (point to toothbrush), “then story” (point to book). Then review by pointing to each step as the child is engaging in that part of the routine.
• Actual photographs of the child doing the activities or behaviors can help the child make sense of what will be happening
• Add more pictures to the picture routine schedule as the child’s understanding of the pictures increases
• Provide multiple learning trials for communication by providing small parts of the activity or item at a time. For example, if the child asks for a banana, apple, or cookie just give a small piece so he can ask again for the next piece. Or, if he asks for cars, just give 1-2 to start.
• Use the visuals to cue or prompt a child to understand an adult’s request, make a request, indicate a choice, understand what will happen next and what to do, try a self-regulation strategy, or practice a targeted social interaction
• Remember that picture books are also an ideal way for children to learn about the meaning of words. Read in an interactive way to provide the best communication learning experience. See our handout Reading with Extra CARE for parents and Reading With Extra CARE (for Teachers) for tips on reading to children on the Autism Spectrum in a way that promotes communicative interactions.
More Hot Tips for the Autism Programs
In the Hot Tips for Autism document Communication Translation: Combining Body Language, Sounds, & Words to Enhance Comprehension we highlight how the parent or teacher can act as a communication translator for their child by carefully selecting and pacing the number of words to model and by using the “one up” rule to name or describe objects, actions, and positions. This method uses word imitation, repetition, interesting sounds, tone of voice, nonverbal gestures and body language to help children process language and communicate. These approaches help to turn on the child’s voice and enhance their understanding of the meaning of words and their realization that their words and/or gestures are a way to indicate their wants and needs.
In the Hot Tips: ABCs of Child Learning & Behavior Training document we talk about the ABC of behavior change; that is, using the child’s favorite activity as a motivating antecedent (A) to engage them in practice of a targeted behavior (B), followed by the rewarding consequence of getting the desired activity (C). It can be helpful to make a list of special rewarding activities that a child can choose after he has worked hard on a particular task. “When you finish putting on your shoes (show picture of shoes), you can pick grapes or oranges to eat (show grapes and oranges for child to choose).” Or parent can pre-choose the reward activity based on knowledge of child’s likes: “Teeth first (show picture of tooth brush), then story (picture of book).”
Hot Tips For IY Autism Programs – Using The How I Am Incredible Template. The “How I am Incredible!” handout is used to help parents share information about their child’s developmental level including language and play level, and sensory likes and dislikes. In addition, parents share their family support network and goals for their children. This form is completed in the first IY parent group session or home coaching visit and helps the group leader and other parents learn about the children in the group. During the first session parents jot down what they know about their child at that time and share it with other parents. In subsequent meetings, parents add details about their child’s specific developmental needs and make notes of any new discoveries they are making as they engage in child-directed play & coaching with their child, and develop strategies that they find helpful in supporting their goals. This form is also referred to by IY group leaders when tailoring role play practices geared towards each child’s unique developmental level and language level. Please see: Hot Tips For IY Autism Programs – Tailoring Role Play To Child Developmental Level
Hot Tips for using the “Getting into Your Child’s Attention Spotlight” Poster. The Incredible Years Autism Programs for teachers and parents emphasizes the importance of getting into the child’s spotlight. This metaphor means that the teacher or parent strives to enter the child’s world view, or spotlight of attention, by joining their preferences in games, following their lead in play and preferred activities. It is important to do this even when the child’s spotlight of activity may seem unconventional, repetitive, and narrow. Adults can get into a child’s spotlight by imitating what the child is doing in play, by repeating their actions, using gestures, sounds, and words, or by engaging in physical games or songs the child enjoys. When teachers and parents do this, they will capture their child’s attention and interest and the social interaction will become as or more interesting than the child’s normal repetitive play. This spotlight approach will eventually result in the child being more likely to tune into others, watch them and want to be with the person who has entered their spotlight. As children become more interested in others, there will be more opportunities for them to observe and learn from the behaviors that others are modeling. The goal is to promote the child’s social interactions and interest in communicating with others. Once the child feels safe including an adult in his spotlight, parents and teachers can expand the spotlight to include new ways of playing, helping noticing what peers are doing, including them in the play, and helping them learn from the modeling or imitating actions or words of others.
New! Incredible Years videos for Autism Programs now available online!
Video Streaming subscriptions may be purchased for the Autism Parenting Training Program or the Teacher Autism Program – Helping Preschool Children with Autism as a Training Program Package. This program package option has everything a new Group Leader needs – one-year video streaming subscription, group leader manual, books, and accessory materials.
If your agency has previously purchased the full program package with accessory materials, you may purchase Videos Only – a one-year subscription to access the videos online with no additional accessory items.