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Learning Center Experience
Romanowski, MS in ED, CCC-SLP, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Adjunct Faculty
More and more children
are being diagnosed with autism today than ever before. According to the CDC’s
recent statistics, 1 in 88 children have been identified with an autism
spectrum disorder (CDC, n.d.). Given this information, there is a high
probability that you will come across children with autism when working in your
field. It is our duty and obligation as professionals to be knowledgeable and informed
regarding the unique characteristics of autism as well as how to best address
the individual needs of these children.
Children with autism
exhibit deficits in many different areas of development. Some of those areas
include language, social skills, and sensory processing skills as well as
behavior. One way to help children with autism, given these common areas of
difficulty, is to create a supportive environment that will allow them to
actively participate in their daily activities. Some of the things we know
about children with autism is that they thrive in settings that are highly
structured, organized, and consistent. Children with autism typically are very
strong visual processors, and therefore the use of visual supports within the
environment can also be very effective.
Given that some
children with autism demonstrate difficulty with their ability to use and
understand language, incorporating visual supports into the classroom and home
environment can be a very effective strategy. Some examples of visual supports
include: visual schedules, choice boards, boundary markers, maps, and labeling
with words/pictures. Utilizing these types of supports can really aid in
structuring the environment to promote routine and consistency. These types of
visual supports will also assist children with autism in navigating their
environment, following directions, and understanding expectations.
Visual schedules are a
personal favorite of mine, and can be used in many different ways and tailored
to meet the individual needs of each child. Visual schedules can utilize
pictures, symbols, clip art, and/or words to assist with mapping out the
child’s day or a specific activity. This helps children with autism understand
what it is they are supposed to be doing as well as understand what may happen
next. Many children with autism do not
like change and often fear the unknown, which may result in anxiety and
behavior issues. Using visual schedules can really help children with autism
understand when change is going to happen and helps to reduce anxiety about the
unknown. Another great thing about visual schedules is that they can serve as
motivators by displaying that a preferred activity will come after a
non-preferred or undesired activity.
There is no “one size
fits all” approach when working with children with autism, as children with
autism, like all children, are unique. This also rings true when using visual
supports. When making decisions about what to include on a child’s visual
schedule, where to display it, and how to present the information, it is
important to keep the individual needs and characteristics of the child in
mind. Autism is a spectrum disorder and a child’s difficulties may range from
mild to more severe. Regardless of the child’s severity level, utilizing visual
supports specific to a child’s individual needs can assist the child with
interacting more effectively with his or her environment which will aid in
developing independence, promote and assist with functional communication
skills and language development, and
reduce anxiety and acting out behaviors.
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