By Alicia Palelis
Many supports that students with autism have available to them in school should also be available and used at home. These supports are used as tools to help these students be successful. Many of these supports we use in our everyday life- but we may call them something different.
In the classroom designed for autistic style learners, we use visual supports. Many students with autism thrive when the addition of visual supports are presented to them or added to their environment. Visual supports are beneficial for a number of reasons- but primarily to improve communication (receptively and expressively) and to reduce anxiety. If a student cannot recall the particular word or phrase they are supposed to say, the use of visuals can help them to recall what it was they were trying to say. Or, if an adult is trying to tell them what is expected or requested from them, and the child is having difficulty attending, a visual can be shown to help them understand it both auditorily and visually. These tools are not a ‘crutch’ and they certainly will not impede the use of language. On the contrary, they will improve communication tremendously.
There are many programs you can purchase to create these visuals easily. However, the internet is a wealth of visual images that are free! You can also use magazines or photographs as well. The point is, you should use images to represent your child’s day, the steps to complete a task, or for your child’s wants and needs, if they are working on communication. I suggest laminating these images, this way they will last longer. The use of Velcro on them is very helpful too! You can Velcro images of food to your cabinets or fridge… You can use a notebook and have the images velcroed to laminated pages for easy organization… You can post images of steps for the bathroom, brushing teeth, or getting dressed in the bathroom… You can label your kids toy bins (or clothes drawers) to help them with organization and learning independence in cleaning up… Once a child is a reader, you can also move away from images and just use the printed word. You can even have your child create their own written word schedule! The “buy in” and compliance that this brings is incredible because the control has shifted from the parent to the child. They are much more willing to do their homework (for example) if they have determined that their tv break is right after… Label makers are a great and quick tool to use to help create a word visual and can stick to virtually any surface. You must make these images readily available to your child. These visuals will help tremendously!
These visual supports can be used in the home, for a variety of reasons. Visual supports can be used in bathing, brushing teeth, homework, eating, and getting their wants/needs met, schedule of their afternoon/weekend, organize their bedroom or playroom… The possibilities are endless! We, as adults, frequently use visual supports in our daily lives- grocery lists, to do lists, our calendars… We just do not call them “visual supports” in our daily adult lives, but that is what they are. So, why don’t we promote the use of these strategies to our children in all aspects of their lives to be more successful and independent? I believe we need to stop looking at strategies as “school tools” but instead see them as ways to improve the quality of life for our children. If it works, use it!! It does take time in the preparation of these materials, but once they are made you can reuse them. You will see improvement in so many areas of your child’s life with the use of visuals in your home.
Alicia Palelis has been an autism coach for Broward County Schools for 12 years. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degree at the University of Florida, specializing in early childhood and special education. She is presently overseeing three new programs in the southwest area. She has dedicated her professional career to helping improve the lives of children on the autism spectrum.