Why Are Visuals So Important?
Sometimes I feel like I spend half my life laminating little pieces of paper and cutting up strips of velcro!
It's no secret that lots of autistic people are strong visual learners. This is especially important for those that are pre- verbal or have a language disorder or delay. Words and spoken language can be hard to understand and process.
As a teacher, I can't simply tell my students: "Take out your maths book. Open it on page 56 and start working on the even numbered questions." Many students, not just those with ASD, will be completely lost when bombarded with directions like that. Some might get as far as getting the book out and open, but there will be lots of children who don't get any further than realising I want something from them.
The best analogy I can think of to explain, is to imagine how it feels for you, if you are on holiday in a foreign country. You might know some words or phrases in the local language (vague memories of German in 1st year, or Spanish picked up from a visiting student). You may be somewhere where the language is totally unknown to you. Someone approaches you, saying words you don't understand, gesturing then looks at you for a response. What do you do?
If you're lucky, you might have understood a few key words, so you can point to the nearest toilet or bus stop. More likely though, you will be totally clueless what is being asked of you and will shrug your shoulders, apologise (in English!) or walk away.
This is what spoken language is like for many people with Autism.
The autistic advocate Temple Grandin described what it is like for her: "I'm a visual thinker, not a language-based thinker. My brain is like Google Images."
This is why ASD classes use visual schedules and prompts for our students. Even for students that are very verbal, it is really helpful for them to keep track of what is happening now and next.
I will go into scheduling and timetabling activities further in another post, but wanted to give you a quick insight into the logic behind it.