There are three really great things about using visual strategies to support individuals with autism:
1. Visuals work!
2. Visuals are a natural part of the world we all live in!
3. Visuals can be effectively integrated into any setting!
I am always looking for great examples of visual strategies in the community and this example was too good to keep to myself! I took this photo (see below) last week, while visiting a small restaurant in Memphis, TN . This large wall of visual reminders was located just outside of the kitchen, where it was clearly visible to all staff as they entered and exited the kitchen area. As I stood outside the kitchen taking photos and reading through the many reminders on the wall, I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of the one located in the bottom left corner. It reads; “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you!”
After a particularly trying day, I couldn’t have been more thrilled by an email update I received regarding the student featured in my previous post titled “The Principal and the Potty”. In an exciting turn of events, the student actually used the bathroom at school today! Not only did he use it once, he used it twice in two different locations on campus. Although it remains to be seen if today’s successes will continue tomorrow, I am encouraged by this monumental step and wish his team many more “potty” successes in the future!
Most of the requests I receive for individual student consultation are the result of a student’s demonstration of challenging behavior. Although there are many strategies for addressing challenging behaviors in schools, the use of visual behavior systems can be an effective and easy to implement tool in both the special education and inclusive education settings.
A key component to the successful development and implementation of a visual behavior system is the interest of the student in the system itself. The foundation for developing successful, student-engaged visual behavior systems is two-fold:
- Incorporate the student’s passion into the visual design of the system
- Allow the student to participate in the creation of the system
The below examples demonstrate how these strategies can be incorporated into the development of a visual behavior system. The first visual was created just last week for a young student who has a specific interest in the PBS Kids show “Super Why” and the second was created about a year ago for an older student who had a specific interest in archery. In the first example, the visual was designed by simply importing “Super Why” pictures into Mayer Johnson’s Boardmaker software program. In the second example, I suggested the bullseye design based on the student’s passion for archery and then the student designed and created the visual with the assistance of his classroom teacher.
In both designs, contextually appropriate behaviors are reinforced through a variety of activity-based reinforcers.
Did you know that AMC movie theaters, in conjunction with the Autism Society of America, offers Sensory Friendly Films at certain movie theaters that are designed specifically for families of individuals with autism? AMC’s Sensory Friendly Films are offered monthly at select theatres and offer showings in which the lights are turned up and the sound is turned down to allow families to enjoy newly released films in a relaxed and accepting environment. AMC theaters even encourage dancing and singing during the movie! See participating theaters and showtimes.
It is important to realize that even though these abilities and this independence appear to be a strength for the child, it is actually a strategy that some kids may develop to avoid the more difficult task of communication.
Speech Language Pathologists know that the best time to build/encourage communication skills (initiation and follow through) is when the activity/item that the child wants in highly motivating to them and when the communication interaction is integrated into the activities of the day.
With this in mind I recommend to the parents that they create situations throughout the day that encourage their children to communicate. I first work with parents to take pictures or use symbol programs to create a method (communication board/book, picture choice system) for the kids to use to communicate (both verbal and non verbal children). Then we discuss ways to “set-up” situations at home that will lead to the need for communication. Ideas include: moving the juice/milk to a higher shelf in the back of the refrigerator, placing the desired computer games in a place the child cannot reach or otherwise disconnecting the computer from the network, or moving the DVD’s or the remote to a place where the child cannot reach it independently.
Just remember that although it is important to encourage and build independence in our kids with autism it is equally as important to help kids realize the power of communication.
US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) is a community-based soccer program started in 1991 to provide kids (ages 5-18) with developmental and physical disabilities an opportunity to play soccer. During my involvement in my local TOPS program I have seen players move from initially crying during the whole practice and game to running and kicking the ball into the goal independently (third game of the season).
To find your local organization that is currently participating in the TOPSoccer program please check out the US Youth Soccer Association website. To make things easier, below are the regional websites:
- Region 1: Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia
- Region 2: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio South, Ohio North, South Dakota, Wisconsin. Regional Contact: Jim Robson – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Region 3: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas North and Texas South.
- Region 4: Alaska, Arizona, California North, California South, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
Check out the TOPSoccer video below:
Check out this great video on Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome that was created by Alex Plank. You can learn more about Alex and view more of his videos at www.wrongplanet.net.
Video link: autism reality
While not all stories are as positive as this one, I wanted to post about an elementary school principal who I witnessed going above and beyond the administrative call of duty to meet the needs of a student with autism.
I was asked to consult with a school regarding the toileting needs of an elementary student in an inclusive setting. The school staff reported that the student had never gone to the bathroom in any toilet other than the one at his home, and that his inability to even enter the bathroom at school was affecting his school performance. The team was unsure of how to help the student conquer his fear of the bathroom and was seeking guidance on how to improve the situation for the student. When I arrived at the school, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the school based team had created a basic behavior shaping program and that both the building principal and the student’s speech language pathologist had been working through the program with the student on a daily basis. I asked the principal if she would mind showing me the routine that they had established for the student and she was happy to oblige. As I observed the principal prompt the student through the established routine, I watched in amazement, as in an attempt to demonstrate to the student that the water in the toilet was “not scary”, she quickly and without fanfare put her hand in the toilet water and splashed the water around in the toilet bowl.
In that moment, I knew that I would be compelled to share this story. Although the shaping program that was being used with the student needed some work, and the toileting task analysis the team had developed was flawed, I don’t know that I have ever been quite as impressed with an administrator as I was in that moment. I have seen a lot of “firsts” with students and staff in the past, but this was certainly the first time I had ever seen an administrator go as far as to place their hand in a toilet in an attempt to meet the needs of a student.
Three cheers for the principal with her hand in the potty!
I am often asked about what my life is like as the sibling of an adult with autism, and I can genuinely say that it is always interesting and frequently amusing!
My mom relayed this story a few weeks ago about a conversation that our dad had with a staff member at Bryan’s group home. Dad had called to make the necessary arrangements to pick up Bryan for a weekend visit, and the following dialogue occurred:
- Dad- Hey, I want to make plans to get Bryan for the weekend.
- Staff- No problem. While I have you on the phone, can I ask you something about your visits with Bryan?
- Dad- Sure!
- Staff- What do you do with Bryan when he is at your house on the weekends?
- Dad- What do you mean, what do we do? We just hang out and do family stuff like go to the beach (see photo above), go out on the boat, grill out on the patio, etc.
- Staff- You mean to tell me that you don’t take Bryan to Hooters on the weekend?
- Dad- NO! I have never taken Bryan to Hooters! Why would you ask that?
- Staff- Well at the end of every weekend that Bryan spends with you, I ask him what he did and his response is the same every weekend: “Go to Hooters!, Go to Hooters!”
For those of you who may not be familiar with Hooters, it is a sports bar type eatery famous for not only it’s chicken wings, but also it’s waitresses dressed in low cut tops and short shorts.
What can I say, I guess that’s just life with autism!
With this post, we officially launch the Real Autism Solutions blog where we — along with special guest authors — will share anecdotes, personal experiences, and practical and effective approaches to autism education. Thanks for stopping by and please check back frequently as we intend to publish new blog posts frequently.