According to the Chinese Proverb; I hear, and I forget, I see, and I remember, I do and I understand.
Can any one of us imagine a life without our smartphones or to-do lists? As adults, we use visuals, lists and reminders to help us manage our daily lives. These prompts keep us on track and help us monitor our schedules. Lists and phones are visual aids which are forms of visual strategies. Using such aids helps us, not only to accomplish tasks one by one, but reduce stress in our daily lives.
We all learn in different ways at different rates. Even though learning styles vary, many of us learn visually. Seeing something allows a greater opportunity to engage in experiential learning. We learn or remember because we have seen.
Many children who present with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) learn visually. However, regardless of diagnoses, many children can similarly benefit from using visual aids and strategies to help maximise their learning potential.
As a Speech and Language Therapist, I use different visual aids in therapy to help my clients glean the most they can from a session. I use customised visual schedules to help children understand the tasks they will be required to complete within a session. This can be useful for a child who finds it difficult to understand long instructions or a child who finds large tasks, and the prospect of a long therapy session, overwhelming. The visual schedule consists of pictures, either real photographs, or pictures or symbols representing each task or therapy activity. When the task is completed, the child then removes the picture from the schedule and either puts it to one side or “posts” it in a box. In this way, the child can see that each activity is finite and experience success and a feeling of accomplishment. For children with lower levels of understanding, I sometimes use real objects to signify an activity. I find that children concentrate better, are more present and less anxious when they know what is expected of them. It is up to us, as adults, to put in place simple strategies for children to help them learn, help them feel secure and help them focus on tasks which are difficult for them.
At home, parents could draw up visual schedules to show children with comprehension difficulties what will be happening during their day. Pictures of clothes placed on a schedule in the correct order could help a child learn and follow a good order in which to put on his/her clothes. You could also then teach all the vocabulary around this routine to create lasting learning. Other supports could include a visual diagram of the stages of hand-washing or the procedure around using the bathroom for children who often omit stages or find it difficult to understand the verbal instructions. Using visuals in this manner may also allow your child to develop a level of independence.
Many children I work with find new scenarios or events stressful. This could be something like a trip to the dentist or going to a new place on holidays. Social stories, as developed by Carol Gray, provide a step by step account of what will happen accompanied often by a visual picture of the sequence of events. This story can be repeated many times to allow the child to learn. The auditory information, when combined with the extra visual support helps the child learn what is involved and remember what will happen.
I use other visual aids and strategies to develop the child’s ability to make choices. I use a box with pictures of games and favoured activities. At the beginning of a session, I take out two pictures and ask a child which activity he would like to play at the end of his work. A visual choice, in this way, allows for clear understanding from the child, and allows them to choose how their session will end, thus improving focus.
A visual method of communication which you may have heard of is PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) which allows children with ASD and related developmental difficulties to communicate, without the need for words, using picture and visuals. Many parents who come into the clinic ask if the family’s iPad could be used to help them conduct therapy homework with their children. There are many different applications available which can provide visual supports. Check out your own app store and you may be surprised at how much is accessible. Different children will respond differently to these various supports, so you need to find what appeals and works.
In my opinion, when it comes to visuals as a useful communication or learning tool it certainly isn’t one size fits all. Use any kind of visual supports that your child will understand. Visuals can be used with children and young adults at all ages and stages. They may, indeed, look different and be more complex, but ultimately, they are used with the same purpose in mind. Visuals should grow with your child and change in accordance with how your child’s needs change. As they get older, time-tables, daily schedules and diaries cue children to what is happening in their daily school/ home life and help them manage their time, transition between tasks and be prepared for what’s about to happen. This is important to reduce stress, develop time management and enable greater success. Word webs and mind maps are also excellent visual aids to help children with learning and vocabulary as they get older.
If you use visuals, don’t be concerned that your child will become over reliant. Visuals are necessary and are an intrinsic part of all our daily lives, more than we realise (the “push” sign at a door to cue us, the yield sign coming on a main road). At the end of the day, the easier you can make learning and communication for your child, the more success your child should have.
Give visuals a go! If you’ve any questions, or don’t know where to start, your Speech & Language Therapist will be happy to help.
Elaine Baldwin Senior Speech and Language Therapist at Sensational Kids Clonakilty
Copyright Sensational Kids CLG 2018