Often I support parents and professionals in understanding why Autism Visual Supports are so necessary. In this post, I explain why (from my perspective) using Autism Visual Supports is a strengths-based strategy that supports Autistic individuals’ communication and information processing strengths.
Words (verbal communication/auditory input) can be fleeting and overwhelming to many Autistic individuals. Often Autistic individuals (myself included) process spoken words visually; they can absorb visual information more readily (Prizant & Fields-Meyer, 2019). They may translate what is being said by others or spoken by themselves into static or moving imagery, attempting to make sense of the communications (Beardon, 2022), at times it can be confusion-causing and anxiety-inducing (Spears & Turner, 2011), trying to translate words to imagery back to terms again; I know it is for me.
Autism Visual Supports
If you have ever spoken to me in conversation, then you may have noticed I talk very quickly, and that is because, for me, while you talk or while I respond, my mind is flooded with imagery of that which you or I speak about. I often sound like I am rambling when I talk in social conversations, and it is because I am translating words very quickly to pictures or movie-type imagery and back to spoken words again. I often become overloaded and feel so drained afterwards.
Autistic Visual Processing Strengths
Research suggests that Autistic individuals process language visually (Habayeb et al., 2020); we know that Autistic individuals have strengths in visual processing. According to MacKenzie (2008), individuals with visual-spatial strengths understand and retain the knowledge they can see. Autism visual supports are a strengths-based visual strategy that can be utilised to support Autistic individuals in conceptualising and understanding information (Habayeb et al., 2020).
It makes logical sense that if you are communicating with Autistic individuals, who have strong visual processing skills, it may be helpful to share information visually through the use of Visuals Supports to empower the comprehension and expression of language, support understanding of instructions, make choices, self-advocacy, traversing transitions and the encouragement of generalisation across settings (Spears & Turner, 2011).
Autism Visual Cues
Visual information remains concrete and unchanging, unlike verbal communications, which are transient, fleeting and not readily available to the Autistic individual (Olʹga Bogdašina, 2005).
Visual supports empower Autistic individuals to receive and understand the whole communicative message (Cumine et al., 2009).
Beardon, L. (2022). What works for Autistic Children. Sheldon Press.
Cumine, V., Dunlop, J., & Stevenson, G. (2009b). Autism in the Early Years. Routledge.
Habayeb, S., Tsang, T., Saulnier, C., Klaiman, C., Jones, W., Klin, A., & Edwards, L. A. (2020). Visual Traces of Language Acquisition in Toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder During the Second Year of Life. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 51(7), 2519–2530. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04730-x
Janzen, J. E. (2003). Understanding the nature of autism : a guide to the autism spectrum disorders. Therapy Skill Builders.
Olʹga Bogdashina. (2006). Theory of mind and the triad of perspectives on autism and Asperger syndrome : a view from the bridge. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Prizant, B. M., & Fields-Meyer, T. (2019). Uniquely human : a different way of seeing autism. Souvenir Press.
Spears, C. L., & Turner, V. L. (2011). Rising to new heights of communication and learning for children with autism : the definitive guide to using alternative-augmentative communication, visual strategies, and learning supports at home and school. Jessica Kingsley.