Saturday, March 30, 2013

Blog Swap with Autism Classroom News!

Hey guys! I'm not here because I just swapped blogs with Autism Classroom News! You'll find my post on Chris's page today!

Autism Classroom Newse
Visual Supports
My name is Chris and I am very excited to be guest blogging on The Lower Elementary Cottage blog today! I am a consultant and behavior analyst who works with schools/teachers/staff to support students with autism.  Working with students with autism spectrum disorders means working with students with a wide variety of cognitive needs and gifts as well as a variety of behavioral challenges.  It means working with students with difficulties in social understanding of situations, challenges in understanding the hidden curriculum of our society, difficulties understanding others’ communication, and difficulties communicating effectively for themselves.  If this sounds like it covers any special or general education students you have in your class who do not have an autism diagnosis—that’s not surprising.  These are characteristics that many students who struggle with behavior contend with, not just students with autism.  Consequently, strategies used for students with autism are often quite effective for all different types of students.  In thinking about this guest blogging gig, I tried to think about something I could bring to the party that is often used specifically for autism, but can be very effective globally with everyone—even adults.  And I came up with visual cues.

I live in a world (the autism world) where visual cues are part of our everyday life because they work for many of our students.  However, people often tell me that they don’t think our students should have to use so many visual supports.  You might have thought that at one time—or you may have tried to figure out how to respond to someone who said that to you.  I’m not sure why they ask me this, because all of us use visual cues every day in our environment.  For instance we all know what the sign below means (it’s one of my favorites because it means I can bike here!). 

And we know what this one means.  It’s how the deer know where to cross the road.  (Oh and I have to confess here how geeky I am—these are indeed pictures I took on my vacation—did I say I’m kind of passionate about this topic?)

So, since we can all agree that we use visual cues in our environments, let’s talk about how we can use them in our classrooms.

1.       To promote independence.  Giving students a list of tasks to do so that you don’t have to tell them each step is a great way to increase their ability to complete the task on their own and not have to continually ask for clarification.  When I teach graduate students, they have a syllabus—part of that syllabus is essentially a list of tasks for them to complete in the course.  For our students, it might look like the list of steps to finish a task, like below.

2.       To give expectations for appropriate behavior.  Ever been to the DMV? See the sign that says, “Wait here for the next available person”?  That’s a visual cue for us.  Here’s one we use in the classroom for elementary students, but I’ve used it with pieces of masking tape on the floor for older students if needed.  It tells students where to line up.  I always have said it is the simplest intervention I’ve ever seen—I put paper on the floor, and the students’ behavior improves.  But it works every time.  Here they line up as buddies.

3.       Visual cues can tell us where to be and what to do.  Anyone have a calendar?  If I took it away, would you be lost?  I know I would.  A daily schedule is a calendar for our students for the day—or a to-do list.  I love crossing things off my to-do list—don’t you?  Some students need pictures on their schedule, some can use a written schedule, and some can use the class schedule.  However, positive behavior support research indicates that having a schedule posted in a classroom promotes positive behavior for all students.

4.       Visual cues can teach us skills. Anyone ever used a video tutorial for assembling some piece of equipment you bought?  That’s a video model.  Video modeling is used successfully in classrooms to teach communication skills, how to complete tasks, and social skills by filming the behavior you want the student to model.
5.       To help us understand others’ communication.  When someone can’t hear you, do you find yourself adding gestures to what you are saying or writing it down?  Those are visual supports.  So if a student doesn’t follow our direction, sometimes it’s because it wasn’t understood.  Visual cueing cards, like those below, can be helpful to a student in understanding what you are saying.

6.       And finally, many of our students use visuals to communicate, just like we use writing if someone doesn’t understand us.  This can take the place of Picture Exchange Communication Systems,  speech generating devices with pictures, or choice boards like the one below.  It might also include something as simple as a break card (could be a card with word break on it) because when the student is so frustrated, his language escapes him.

There are a myriad of reasons to use visual supports in the classroom with all students.  The students with autism and other special needs just have a tougher time without them than others so we notice it more. Some of the behavior management posts that Lisa has written on her blog also provide good examples—like the color coded self-regulation system and the token system.

I hope this gives you ideas for your classroom.  You can download the art board above from my TPT store as a freebie and please feel free to stop by my blog Autism Classroom News for more ideas about working with individuals with autism.  How do you use visual cues in your classroom? 

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