Thursday, June 13, 2013

Setting up My Autism Class- Step 3: Visual Structure

When I was first learning about autism, someone shared with me the example of being in a foreign country and not understanding the language. How would I navigate and understand what was going on around me? One way would be to use signs & symbols. We can use signs & symbols to communicate with children with autism. In her books, Temple Grandin has said that she thinks in pictures & that the use of pictures or visuals helps her. Visual structure in an autism classroom can help students to better understand what is expected of them. I will be using visual structure in many ways in my classroom, including:

1. Defining areas of the room
2. Explaining rules & procedures
3. Explaining learning activities

Also, visual structure will be used to define our schedule, but that will be saved for another post.

1. Defining areas of the room. This one's simple. I use labels to let students know what activities will occur in what areas. I have a sign with a Boardmaker symbol for that area. If I want the students to transition to that area, I will hand them a small visual with the symbol for that area and they will know where to go. Some students may need gestural, verbal, or physical cues at first. I will be adding a laminated sheet for them to Velcro their symbols on when they arrive at their area.

2. Explaining rules and procedures. When I worked with kiddos with autism before, I used the motto "When in doubt, use a visual." I may think that some of my kids understand rules and procedures just by me explaining them verbally. But a visual can't hurt. Some people would disagree. I remember when I was at TEACCH II we got into a discussion about this. One person shared that they thought providing visuals when the student was higher functioning was putting them at a disadvantage. But then someone else brought up the fact that we all use visuals to function on a daily basis. How could we drive without traffic signs- they help us to know when to stop, yield, when there's a bump ahead. We use visuals to help us function. So do kids with autism. Here are just a few of the ways I use visuals to explain rules and procedures:

{Circle Time}
visual structure to let students know how many & which activities we will be doing during circle time
after we complete an activity, such as singing the good morning song, I will take it down because it is "finished"

{Toileting Procedure}
visual structure to show students how to go to the bathroom
font credit: Miss Law's Primer Font

{Class Rules}
visual structure to explain class rules
other visuals will be used throughout the day- such as a "no hit" sign

3. Explaining learning activities. At TEACCH, I learned that visual structure can be used to give instructions, to organize activities, or to clarify.

{Two sets of instructions for craft activities}
visual structure shows students that they will complete 3 steps

{Sorting breakfast & dinner foods work task}
students know how many pictures they need to sort before they are finished & see that they are sorting breakfast & dinner items

{Sorting food & animals work task}
students know how many pictures they need to sort before they are finished & see that they are sorting food & animals
{Fine motor work task}
visual structure doesn't always= pictures!
students know to use the tongs to pick up the bones and put in the dog's mouth
students see how many bones they have to place in the mouth
finished basket on the right


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