I have made visual supports for my son who has Autism for 29 years now. Additionally, I make visual systems for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder through a Visual Clinic that we offer at Community Autism Resources. Through this clinic and my personal experience I have seen the impact these systems can have. When you realize that most people on the Autism Spectrum are visual learners, meaning that they understand things better when they see them visually than when they are spoken to, it highlights the important role that visual systems play. Temple Grandin, a woman on the Autism Spectrum explains it well… “I THINK IN PICTURES. Words are like a second language to me.”
When I began making visual supports for my son I had to find images and cut them out and then paste them. Then Boardmaker, a software program created by Mayer-Johnson came out and you could make the picture symbol border and then with a movement of your hand make multiple borders. Mayer-Johnson has thousands of visual representations that you can choose from and place within your borders in a matter of minutes. While you can take visual pictures or find real pictures on Google images and other sites on the web, many people would just automatically use the Mayer-Johnson symbols because they came with the program. The issue is that not every person with Autism Spectrum Disorder understands the symbols as they tend to be abstract. It would be like me using a foreign language that you did not know, to communicate with you. Clearly, you would not find this very useful. The same will be true with a system that we create which has visual representations that are not understood. So we need to assess what the individual understands. After all, if we put the effort into creating a visual system, we want them to be able to utilize it!
As you can see, making a visual system is much more than creating visual symbols. There is much thinking and planning that goes into the process, and once you create the system, how the system is introduced and implemented is key to its’ success. If it is a choice board, does the person you have created it for actually understand how to make a choice? If it is a visual schedule, how many symbols can the person view at once without getting visually over-stimulated and confused?
I think about these things a lot because I am passionate about people with Autism Spectrum Disorder having access to visual supports. I am very excited to see that Linda Hodgdon, who I refer to as the guru of visual supports, has begun a series of short articles in her newsletter on the topic of “Best Practices for Visual Supports.” You can find her first article in the series here.
I have a social media phobia. I do not have a personal FaceBook account; I do not “tweet” (I don’t even like that word, unless we’re talking about the sound a bird makes) and up to this point – I have not blogged (with the exception of a course I took, and even then, it was under duress and for a grade); nor do I take part in virtual social worlds (although there are days when a virtual world seems more appealing!) My problem with social media is that, while it’s great to share information, I have found that it can be abused. Sometimes people can be cruel and judgmental in a very public way. It’s easy to do this when you can type and not look someone in the eye and say what’s on your mind directly.
So here I am blogging and no course grade is involved. Here’s why…
Lori, our Autism Specialist and Event Coordinator felt that Community Autism Resources should start a blog. She thought it would be another way for us to get connected to our families; another way to exchange information; another way to find out what people are thinking about certain topics. It also meant that someone could do this from the comfort of their home – without having to travel to a meeting. It meant that a parent could write –when they had the chance to write (I tend to do my writing after everyone is asleep and I can finally catch my breath.) All this made perfect sense to me. Since we were starting a blog, I knew I wanted to be the person to introduce it, the thought being – if I can do this, anyone can. I also have to trust that we’ll build a respectful relationship while exchanging ideas.
So welcome to the Community Autism Resources Blog. Please bear with us as we work to customize our appearance. Twice a month, a staff member of Community Autism Resources will post a blog on a specific topic. It might be on an upcoming event; it might be thoughts on special education rules and regulations – things helpful for parents preparing for their child’s I.E.P. meeting; it might be comments on the newest research; or our feelings about what happens when our children become adults (my son just turned 30 years old.) We might just share our thoughts about what’s happening in our understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders and how this affects our sons and daughters. But the most important piece of all this is hearing from you. We want your thoughts and opinions about the things we blog about. We want the exchange of ideas, knowing that this give and take of information is so important in helping our children and expanding our points of view.
If you have a topic you want us to blog about, please give Lori a call (508-379-0371, ext. 10) or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you’ll join us here- Happy Blogging!