As discussed in our book, Rising to New Heights of Communication and Learning for Children with Autism, we have observed that disruptive behaviors displayed by a child with autism or other PDDs may occur when they don’t know the answers to the following questions:
- Where do I need to be?
- What do I need to do?
- How much do I need to do?
- What comes next?
In our work, we have found that physically re-structuring the living and/or learning environment is a strategy which effectively increases the likelihood that appropriate behaviors will increase and inappropriate behaviors will dissipate – assuming the setting is designed effectively.
Whether at school or at home, a well-designed space has designated areas with defined borders for particular tasks. Materials are easily accessible, and the location where they are to be used is clearly identified. All individuals have their own workstations, desks, cubbies/lockers, or places informing where they are to be and what they are to do. By engineering the physical environment, parents, teachers, Speech Language Pathologists, and others may assist children with exceptional needs by enhancing their learning and functional experiences.
As discussed in Rising, when re-designing spaces for children with autism or other PDDs, visual supports are key because they provide information and tools allowing individuals to:
- comprehend the instructions and communication of others.
- understand and follow directions.
- follow schedules, learn routines, negotiate transitions, accept changes.
- support and improve a child’s receptive language, ultimately improving expressive language, learning, behavior problems, and social skills.
- enhance involvement, participation, and socialization of individuals with autism, the tools may be equally successful for those with other diagnoses.
- complete work independently and work or play appropriately during groups activities.
Whatever visual supports you use – objects, symbols, schedules, choice boards, social stories, or
task organizers – being able to see the support will increase comprehension, particularly when
auditory difficulties exist.
Look for part 2, Meeting the Extreme Makeover Challenge, next week on ASHAsphere.
Carol L. Spears and Dr. Vicki L. Turner are Speech Language Pathologists, Assistive Technologists, and Alternative/Augmentative Communication Specialists. They utilize extensive professional experience, continuing education, and personal perspectives when working with students with autism and other pervasive developmental disorders to provide evidence based interventions. They are co-authors of the book, Rising to new heights of
communication and learning for children autism. They are partners in the private consultation practice, Communication by Design Specialists, LLC (CoDeS). CoDeS, located in Northeast Ohio, provide caregivers and professionals with compassionate support and training in homes, educational institutions, and workshop settings. You can follow then on Twitter at @autismplus and find them on Facebook at Communication-by-Design-Specialists-LLC.