Using Visual Supports with Late Talkers with Visual Strengths
One of the lessons I’ve learned about working with late talkers is to use their learning preferences to help them in areas that are more difficult for them. Today I want to share ideas for using visual supports with late talkers with visual strengths.
The most common example is a late talker with obvious visual strengths and definite auditory weakness. These kids usually love their screens, their books, and their puzzles. They may ignore toys unless they have huge visual components too — things like flashing lights and spinning parts. They also may ignore any verbal instructions, particularly when they’re focused on a visual activity.
Those activity examples are all visually-based — things a child can see — which means that visual activities are a learning strength and preference, so we should use it for a late talker, especially when that child exhibits auditory weakness — such as not listening and following directions.
Instead of blaming their lack of participation on behavior, we should address the real culprit. For many kids with language delays, there’s an additional receptive language problem, so we’ll naturally need to focus on teaching them to understand more words. But even as we do that, we should provide an additional solution to help them compensate for what they don’t understand (verbal directions) and pay attention so they can participate. The visual supports are a wonderful solution to help them learn to attend because it’s their learning strength.
In my therapy manual, The Autism Workbook, I outline how visual supports can help a child learn to participate in routines — from taking a bath to therapy sessions — when he’s having difficulty doing those things. For example, if you have a child that seems to move from activity to activity very quickly during therapy, consider visual supports. At home, if your child has difficulty moving from one part of your day to the next, consider adding a few visual supports to help him transition.
Just in case you’re thinking, “Should I try this even if my child doesn’t have autism?” the answer is YES!
Now I use visual supports often in therapy for any child who has difficulty staying with me as we’re playing together. This wasn’t always the case and I regret it as I look back and remember little friends who could have used this strategy. As I always like to remind myself, “When you know better, you do better!” (a paraphrase of a Maya Angelou quote). So now I use visual supports and help families figure out how they can use these strategies at home.
Here’s a basic explanation from The Autism Workbook. You can also watch a podcast about visual supports below.
Visual supports are objects or pictures that help a child know what to expect and then successfully transition to participating in that activity. Common picture support systems include visual schedules to help a child recognize the sequence for a routine, social stories to prepare a child for an upcoming event, and video modeling to teach a new skill. Visual supports are best for children with strong visual preferences when those children also have weak auditory (listening) skills and language comprehension.
Many children with ASD thrive with visual supports because we are capitalizing on their learning strengths.
Objects vs. Pictures
When a child understands that pictures represent an object or an event, he’s becoming symbolic and you can use a picture to notify a child of what’s coming up and perhaps even what’s expected to complete the activity. When a child is not yet symbolic, he will need a real object to represent the next event.
The best way to gauge this is to ask a child to identify familiar pictures in a book or with flashcards. Ask, “Where’s the cup?” or say, “Show me the shoes.” When a child cannot successfully complete these kinds of requests with pictures, he has a problem with receptive language (understanding the word) and cognition (associating the picture with the real object). Either way, he’s not yet ready for a visual support system using pictures, and you should begin with objects. You can move a child toward associating meaning with pictures by teaching PECS with the recommendations outlined in that section. When a child begins to consistently recognize pictures, then you can move toward using pictures as visual supports.
Tomorrow we’ll continue with specific directions for implementing objects and pictures in your sessions and at home. This information is a “cut and paste” from The Autism Workbook. If you’ve wondered what my therapy manuals are like, your daily emails often contain “cut and paste” sections, just like this one. Now you know : )
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