I heard a speaker recently talking about using pictures for teaching language to children with autism. She was discussing the concept of changing the art so students would generalize a concept.
I understand that we want to use different pictures so children will learn that there are many kinds of dogs when we use that word. Therefore one stage of teaching is helping students learn to understand that a bull dog and lab are both dogs. It’s a skill that develops in those first few years of “typical language development.”
But what about the pictures we use for communication interaction? If I am using a picture to give a student information, what part of that picture is he paying attention to? The size? Shape? Color? The specific photo or art? What about the words written on it? Does it matter if I use the same picture all the time? What happens if I change the picture and use a different one to communicate the same thing?
These are important questions to begin to ask. One thing I know. Many of our children with autism demonstrate strength in understanding visual information. But that does not mean they interpret those pictures the same way we do? While I am reading the words on a picture, that student may be choosing his picture because it is the one with the corner curled up. I may be paying attention to the symbol or drawing while he may be focusing on the color of the background.
That reminds me of a story about my UPS delivery man. We made a sign for the front porch. On one side was a hot pink piece of paper that said, “YES, we have a shipment today.” On the other side on white paper it stated, “NO shipment today.” When the sign got old, I had my intern make a new one.
The next day, we had no order going out, but the UPS man rang the door bell anyway. I commented on the new sign and told him we didn’t have a shipment. He pointed to the sign and noted that it was pink, which meant “YES, we have a shipment.” Instead of duplicating the old sign system, the intern made both sides hot pink. So we discovered that we trained Mr. UPS to pay attention to the color, not the specific words on the sign.
Don’t assume that children with autism understand and interpret pictures and communication tools in exactly the same way we do.
Please share your experiences!