Many of the advice and strategies for people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome seem to advocate using visual pictures or symbols to support communication. This can range from PECS (a picture communication system for non-verbal or emerging verbal people) to using visual pictures and symbols in social stories, schedules and daily living for even very high functioning people.
But why? It began with Temple Grandin (Thinking in Pictures and other Reports from my life with Autism 1995) and recent research studies show that the brain in many people with ASD can recognise and process visual information easier and more successfully than verbal information. It can be easier to retain the information in the memory if it is visual and enable the person to then process what they are going to do about the information more successfully. If you want to know more about this http://www.cec.sped.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Autism_Asperger_s_Syndrome&template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=7764 is a great article. There are many other sources of research but this is not the place to get into such heavy debate!
An example in everyday life is road signs. They are pictures and once we learn what they mean we can receive the information, process it and respond as we need to even when travelling at 70 miles an hour. It would be very annoying to have a passenger who constantly yelled instructions at you during every journey you took (maybe some of you have someone that does that anyway?!) I can’t even stand a SATNAV for this reason! I can find my way around by looking at a map and having a mental picture on which to base my actions when driving. It helps me know what to look out for and what the road names are that I need to follow. I am a visual learner along with many of the people with ASD that I meet. (caution: you do need to remember that everyone with ASD is different and some may not be visual learners and will therefore need a different approach, finding what works for individuals is really important.) However, in saying this it seems that there is much evidence in practice that using visual strategies helps those who need it and does not do any harm for those who don’t. (My son loved the visual timetable set up in his class at school for another child. He said it really helped him too!)
Widgit did a great study supporting the use of visual symbols in schools in Warwickshire. The symbols Inclusion Project; you can read it here: http://www.symbolsinclusionproject.org/evidence/index.htm and you can follow them on twitter @Widgit_Software . Other sources of symbols are available too…some people use photographs they take on a digital camera, clipart some find free resources online. (www.do2learn.com have some too).
Interestingly I was speaking with a speech and language therapist who says they use visual communication strategies including PECS with stroke victims who lose the ability to speak. It helps them relearn to communicate by stimulating their brain visually to process language again.
This is just an introduction and part 1 – I will spend the next few post exploring this further and I will look at how visual communication can help in the home, community, schools and churches.