Children come in all shapes, sizes, and with different abilities. Your child with autism is no different in that regard. So, you’ve just been informed that your child with autism may be a strong visual learner. What will that mean for both you and your child?
Every child learns differently, and visual learners have unique abilities. Here are ten simple tips and informative snippets for better understanding the visual needs of your child with autism.
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The Benefits of Visual Supports for Autism
What Are Learning Preferences?
Learning preferences are visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic. A learning preference basically describes how your child will learn best. Some children are visual learners and need to see information to process it quickly visually. Other students who are auditory learners can be presented with information verbally and can process it auditorily.
Children who demonstrate a read/write preference like to see words in a written format to deal with them. Finally, some children have a kinesthetic preference. These children will want someone to physically show or demonstrate items to them so they can learn.
Some children with autism strongly prefer visual information to assist with their daily learning needs. The more you understand about the visual preferences of your own child with autism, the better you’ll be able to assist and guide them.
What Is Visual Learning?
Many young adults with autism will often cite that they are strong visual learners. These students may prefer to observe things they are attempting to learn in their environment. They can often visualize information in their own minds in pictures.
Children with autism who are strong visual learners often benefit from having a visual schedule with them throughout their school day to assist with keeping organized. Information presented to students with autism in a visual format may cause them to effectively generalize the new information out of their classrooms or homes into other environments.
Is Your Child a Visual Learner?
Your child is showing signs that they may be a visual learner. Now what? Here are some things you can do to help them use this to their advantage.
Take an Assessment
Your child with autism may not be aware of what their learning preference is. Several online assessments are free of charge for both you and your child.
The Verbal, Aural/Auditory, Read/Write, Kinesthetic Model (VARK) Questionnaire is a popular model for determining a child’s preference. It is a simple list of questions your child can answer independently, or you can assist your child by reading the questions to them and discovering their learning preference.
Informing the Teachers
It is always a good idea for both you and your child with autism to meet with their classroom teacher to explain their learning preference. It allows the teacher to understand better how to assist your child with gaining new knowledge. Suppose an assignment needs to be differentiated for your child, and the teacher knows their visual preferences. In that case, they can quickly adapt difficult concepts within a lesson to better serve the needs of your child with autism.
Teachers who understand your child is a strong visual learner will be able to adapt lessons by requiring a student to draw a picture or develop a list of written responses instead of giving an initial verbal response in class. They may find that your child, a visual learner, understands better when presented with information in a diagram, chart, or graph. They may even prefer to write responses on a whiteboard.
A child with autism who is a visual learner may prefer watching a historical movie to listening to a classroom lecture to obtain the required information. Many teachers have found that presenting information to visual learners in a graphic organizer is also beneficial.
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Self-advocating can be difficult for any child. Many children who gain the confidence to self-advocate with their teachers and peers will simply state that they have “autism,” and that is why learning such a concept may be difficult for them.
While informing others of your autism may be important, taking it a step further is equally important. Simply stating this often causes others to believe that all people with autism are the same. As we know, children on the spectrum all learn at different rates, with different levels of fluency, and in some cases, with different individuals assisting them with various strategies.
Many children with autism struggle with self-advocating for their own learning preferences in a classroom. A large part of this is because they are often unaware of their own learning preferences. You can’t advocate for something that you don’t even know exists. Having your child with autism understand their own learning preferences will allow them to better advocate for themselves in school, the community, and places of employment.
Some students with autism become easily frustrated when presented with information in a learning preference that does not benefit them. They may begin to feel anxious and act out due to feeling overwhelmed with auditory or kinesthetic information.
A child with autism who knows their own learning preference and how to process new information and surroundings best can learn the skills to handle their anxiety, suggesting alternative “visual” methods to gain access to the necessary information. By doing so, they no longer see the new information as being too difficult to learn.
When difficult information is presented in a bar graph, flowchart, or pie chart, many visual learners will excel in processing these difficult concepts. They begin to feel less anxious and focus their attention on the task at hand.
Eye Contact Versus Visual Learning
A visual learner tends to remember what they see. Many times, people interacting with children with autism do so in a “verbal” fashion. This may confuse the part of your child with autism. People unaware of what visual learning is all about may wonder how it could possibly be a strength for your child since they usually demonstrate limited eye contact when communicating with others.
You may need to remind people that just because your child with Autism struggles with eye contact does not mean they are still not a strong visual learner. The two concepts should not be confused with each other.
Don’t assume that non-verbal children with autism can’t be strong visual learners. In this day and age of advanced technology, many children with severe forms of autism who are non-verbal still prefer to interact with computers and I-pads.
They are highly reinforced visually by the information being portrayed to them.
Many children on the spectrum who are also non-verbal can be highly reinforced with the use of augmentative communication methods presented to them in a visual format. Many non-verbal students will communicate using a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), pointing to pictures to meet their needs. Some children with autism who are also non-verbal have learned to communicate effectively with American Sign Language (ASL) because it is a visual language and not a verbal one.
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The Benefits of Visual Supports for Autism
A child who understands their learning preferences can better focus on meeting their academic needs. Their progress in school with both academic and social skills can begin to accelerate.
Students can implement strategies to assist with their visual needs. They may use different colored highlighters to outline information when they read. They may carry a notepad with them to write down important information to assist them with remembering things. Simple strategies can assist them with staying on task and handling new information.
Many parents struggle with the concept that one day their child with autism may be independent in the community and employed, but this is a reality for many on the spectrum. Many have taken their strong visual preferences for learning and turned them into careers.
Individuals with strong visual preferences often excel as artists, photographers, educators, social workers, engineers, data processing specialists, accountants, lab technicians, etc. Assisting your child with autism in better understanding their own learning preferences could be assisting them with moving one step closer to becoming an active and contributing member of society.
Understanding that your child is a visual learner can significantly impact their educational experience. Visual learners thrive when information is presented in a visual format, such as charts, diagrams, and images. To support visual learners, it’s essential to provide them with visual aids and encourage techniques like mind mapping, color coding, and graphic organizers. Recognizing and embracing your child’s visual learning style can lead to more effective learning and a greater appreciation for the power of visuals in education.
Q: What is a visual learner, and how can I tell if my child is one?
A: A visual learner learns best through visual aids, like pictures, graphs, and diagrams. Signs that your child may be a visual learner include their preference for looking at pictures and their ability to remember things they’ve seen. Observing their study habits and learning preferences can help you determine if they are a visual learner.
Q: What strategies can I use to support my visual learner in their education?
A: To support a visual learner, provide visual materials, like charts and flashcards, encourage them to take notes, and use color-coding for organization. You can also explore online resources and educational apps that offer interactive visual content to enhance your learning experience.
Q: Can visual learners face any potential challenges in a traditional classroom setting?
A: Visual learners may struggle in traditional classrooms, primarily relying on verbal instruction and written text. They might have difficulty absorbing information presented solely through lectures or text-based materials. It’s important to communicate with teachers and explore accommodations if needed.
Q: How can I help my child develop visual learning skills at home?
A: You can help your child develop their visual learning skills by providing them with art supplies, encouraging drawing and creativity, and involving them in activities that require visual problem-solving, like puzzles or building models. Incorporating visual elements into everyday learning can be highly beneficial.
Q: Is it possible for a child to have a combination of learning styles, or are they typically just one type of learner?
A: While many children exhibit a dominant learning style, it’s possible for a child to have a combination of learning styles. Some individuals are multisensory learners, which means they benefit from a mix of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning methods.
This article originally appeared in our October 2023 issue (issue 157): https://members.autismparentingmagazine.com/issue-157-visual-supports/