Information About Visual Strategies
Lots of people benefit from using visual strategies. Do you use a day planner or a calendar or write notes to yourself to help you remember? Then you use visual strategies. All students can benefit from having visual supports to help them remember and understand. But using visual supports can be particularly helpful for students with special learning difficulties.
Visual strategies are exceptionally helpful for students with communication or behavior or learning challenges or
other special needs, including those with:
- Asperger's Syndrome
- Fragile X syndrome
- Attention Deficit Disorders
- Nonverbal Learning Disabilities
- Learning Disability
- Hearing Impairment
- Down Syndrome
- Emotional Impairment
- Communication Disorder
- Behavior Disorder
- Language Delay or Disorder
- Comprehension Problems
- Auditory Processing Disorder
- Speech Disorder
- Mental Impairment
- Developmental Delay
- And many more...
Why Visual Strategies?
Communication breakdowns can be a "root" cause of problems in social interaction, educational performance, and behavior.
It is critically important to understand the learning style of students so the most effective teaching can occur. Recognizing that students have different learning styles leads to the discovery that most students with autism spectrum disorders and many others with communication or behavior challenges are visual learners. That means they understand what they see better than what they hear. Yet we tend to communicate with them primarily with talking.
It is typical for teachers and parents to presume that students understand everything that is said to them. Frequently they do not. In fact, many of the behavior and social skill problems that these students demonstrate can be linked to a lack of understanding.
As we observe students, we discover that many of them demonstrate a strength in understanding visual information compared to their ability to respond to what they hear. Using visual strategies to support communication provides an effective way to improve both understanding and expressive communication.
For many students with communication challenges, the use of visually supported communication is more effective and efficient than just talking to them. Visual tools assist students in processing language, organizing their thinking, remembering information and many other skills necessary to participate effectively.
What are visual tools and supports?
They are things that we see. Body movements, environmental cues, pictures, objects and written language can all be used to support communication. Our environment is full of signs and logos and objects and other things that we can use for communication supports.
In addition, we can create our own specially designed visual tools to help meet specific communication needs. Using visual schedules, choice boards, tools to give information, tools to manage behavior and lots of other visual strategies can make a significant difference in a student's ability to participate successfully in school and home routines.
Can you explain this more?
Consider this example:
Auditory information is fleeting. It is there and then it is gone. It is transient. That means it comes and then it disappears.
Social interaction requires lots of shifting. . . back and forth. . .from person to person. Effective communication requires the ability to rapidly establish attention and shift attention. We take in information and process it. Then we formulate responses appropriate for the situation. These steps need to happen quickly because social life moves and changes continually.
Our targeted students may experience difficulty accomplishing these skills at the speed necessary to participate effectively in communication interactions. They can have difficulty rapidly establishing or shifting attention. Auditory information may disappear before students have a chance to pay attention enough to take in what is being said. They may miss a lot of information. Students may be accurately interpreting only fragments of communication messages.
Using visual strategies helps. Visual information stays there long enough for the student to see it, take in the information and respond to it. It is non-transient. It doesn't fly away. Students can go back over and over if they need, to understand and remember.
How to Use Visual Strategies. . .
There are lots of options. Schedules and calendars are the most common visual tools used to give students information. Step-by-step directions, choice boards, and classroom rules provide structure in classrooms. They help students by creating an environment that is more predictable and understandable.
Here is an example:
How to Create a Daily Schedule
- Divide the day into segments
- Give each segment a name
- Select a representation system
a. Consider photographs, line drawings or written words
- Select a format
a. Is it for a whole group or for an individual?
b. Where will you keep it?
i. On a wall
ii. On a desk
iii. Teacher carries it in a book
iv. Student carries it in his pocket
- Decide when and how the student will use it throughout the day.
- Teach the student how to use the schedule.
- Use the schedule to give the student information about what is happening, what is changing, and anything else he needs to know.
You can create visual tools to give students the information they need to help them participate successfully in all the routines and activities in their lives.
How important is it to use visual strategies for these students?
Using visually supported communication is an extremely helpful approach for students with communication and behavior challenges. Visual strategies help students learn effective communication, appropriate social interaction, and positive behavior. Many people use a few visual tools with students. Few people explore all the possibilities.
For more information about using visual strategies, see Linda Hodgdon's Visual Strategies for Improving Communication and the Visual Strategies Workshop - Video Program. They define the need, discuss training, and are packed with many practical ideas for school and home.
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