May 4, 2016


The Foundational Five -- VISUAL SUPPORTS

Over the last few months, we’ve been discussing The Foundational Five. Remember, The Foundational Five are all evidence-based practices based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis and include Antecedent Based Intervention (ABI), Visual Supports, Systematic Instruction, Reinforcement, and Social Communication Intervention. This month, we’ll discuss the importance of visual supports for individuals with ASD.

Visual information is a part of almost everyone’s day. From stop signs to sticky notes to arrows pointing us in the right direction—we all use visual reminders to help us navigate life. For individuals with ASD, though, visual information can be a crucial part of the day. Many individuals with ASD can have difficulty with auditory processing. This means that understanding what is being said can be difficult, especially in the presence of background noises. Other individuals with ASD may struggle with sensory input and have difficulty tuning in to the right information at the right time. Simply telling an individual with ASD important information may not be effective. However, most individuals with ASD typically have strong visual processing skills. In other words, this means an individual with ASD will do better when ideas, concepts, and other information are presented visually!

Think of it this way, the things we say to other people can very easily go in one ear and out the other. It’s easy to forget what someone has said. On the other hand, visual information is permanent and we can look at it again and again throughout the day as a simple reminder. This is why visual supports are so important for everyone—but especially for those with ASD! Visual information can help a person understand what to do, where to go, or how to do something in any environment and at any given time.

Visual supports can be a picture, schedule, graphic representation, or a word that helps an individual with ASD understand a rule, routine, task, or even a social response. Because every individual with ASD has different needs and abilities, it’s important to individualize every visual support. What works for one person may not work for the next! It’s also important to understand that an individual must be taught to understand what the visual support means and how to use it. Never assume that a person automatically understands what a visual support means! Ultimately, visual supports help individuals with ASD feel safe, calm, in control, and prepared. When used correctly, the right visual support will be quick, quiet, and effective!

Straight from the Classroom

Charlene Wentland, Technical Assistance Associate at VCU-ACE, has been working with Chesapeake City Public Schools and has provided training on using visual supports. Trainings focus on using a problem-solving model that assists teachers in first defining the students’ challenges and then matching those challenges to specific visual supports. Teachers receiving the training have reported many positive outcomes!

“The visual supports I put into place to help [my] student achieve a level of independence in his work has made not only my life, but the lives of my TA, the other students, and this particular student vastly better this school year. Using the independent work station and his mini-schedule, a timer, and a break choice board, the student can complete 1-2 tasks independently in Reading, Writing and Math. This student didn’t complete any independent work at all at the beginning of the year. This has been great for the whole class atmosphere, but the student has developed a sense of accomplishment and pride in his work because he is able to do it on his own. I don’t know what type of progress I would have been able to make with him without the training and support I have received from the VCU-ACE Cohort Program. Thank you!”

Tracie Brandana, Chesapeake, VA

“VCU-ACE staff and my Coach have been working with me to implement visual supports in my classroom. They have talked to me about mini-schedules and other visual supports and told me that they are best practices. I developed some, but at first I didn’t really think they were going to work, but wow they worked! I created a 5-Point Scale for one student. He came in one day visually upset and used his scale to let me know his feelings. He is now becoming more aware of his emotions. We were then able to talk about how he was feeling. I have another student who uses a mini-schedule for work. He works for time to read a book which is what he enjoys doing. This visual system helps him stay focused.”

Rhonda Parham, Chesapeake, VA

Want to learn more??

For more in-depth information about The Foundational Five, sign up for the course Evidence Based Practices to Teach Students with ASD. The next course starts July 11, 2016.

Looking for something you can use right now? Check out our How To and Ask the Expert videos on visual supports!

Don't Forget!!

This month’s live webcast is Looking Towards the Future: Using Person-Centered Planning Tools from Pre-K through Adulthood with Teresa Cogar, Training Associate at VCU-ACE. Teresa will discuss the importance of developing skills, abilities, knowledge, and confidence in one’s self as well as how to adapt tools to meet the communication needs of individuals.

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