Visuals for grown ups

[image shows a view ahead of an empty road bordered by tall conifers with a pale green text box with the words ‘Visuals for grown ups’ in black text]
A mainstay of advice for supporting autistic children is the use of ‘visuals’. When I attended the NAS’s Early Bird Plus course after my son was diagnosed there was a strong emphasis on visual supports. Autism advisory services to schools almost always recommend visual timetables, schedules and prompts. There is a massive market in ready made visual supports for autistic children, ranging from elaborate daily planners to portable and wearable symbols.

Like many parents I got sucked into buying a laminator and sticky-backed velcro so I too could produce marvellous visual supports to make life easier. As mentioned in a previous post, I soon realised that for my son, the process of creating the visuals was the most useful element. Talking about what we wanted to achieve proved to be motivating and organising for us both. Although we might refer to the content of that discussion for many months or years to follow, the actual finished (beautifully laminated) product was usually swiftly abandoned.

Despite this, for many autistic children the use of visual supports is helpful, and not just for children who have limited verbal or reading skills. Visuals can also be helpful for keeping teaching and support staff on track, providing a reminder not to make changes without forewarning children who might struggle with the unexpected.

But visual supports aren’t just for children.

Grown ups, of all abilities and with all sorts of support needs, can benefit too.

Chatting with a friend by email at the weekend (my favourite sort of chatting), I suddenly realised how much I rely on visual supports, especially for new experiences. We were discussing our plans for attending an NAS course next week (‘Public speaking for autistic people’) in Wrexham, Wales, many miles from both of us. We are both attending and staying over 2 nights, she travelling by train and bus, me by car. Without having discussed the specifics, it turned out we had both come to be using virtually identical strategies to help relieve some of our anxiety.

We had produced our own visual supports.

Our visuals aren’t laminated or velcroed, and they aren’t stuck on a wall or attached to a carabiner, they’re in our smartphones and tablets. Our visual supports are a series of photos and screenshots of where we are going, the information we’ve been provided about the course, the venue, route plans and timetables, information about hotel bookings and food options.

As the event draws closer I’m spending more and more time on Trip Advisor poring over the photos of the hotel, the car park, reception desk and possible room layouts. Within the next few days I will start doing the same with google maps, satellite images and street view, and will probably take more screenshots to add to my visual security blanket.

All of this takes time, but nobody sees me hard at work, quietly preparing my supports, carefully erecting my scaffold, getting myself ready to do a new thing. One of the best things about chatting with other autistic people is finding out they do these things too ๐Ÿ™‚

13 thoughts on “Visuals for grown ups

  1. I thought I was the only one to do that visual planning and pouring over maps etc. Thank you for a very clear post. A lot makes sense now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nope, you’re on your own with this one.

    Just kidding! At first, I thought I didn’t do this, but actually I do- just not maybe as formally and visually as you. I don’t take screenshots and photos and what have you. But I do google the hell out of any new place or situation, and mentally file it, and refer to it when needed. A lot of the time, it is the process of having found all this information out that is the ‘therapeutic’ part.

    And my supports can be text based rather than pictures- lists, webpages, descriptions.

    It reminds me of my uni days- I would spend hours making perfectly colour coded revision notes, organising by subject and topic, bullet points, diagrams… only to glance at them once finished and never refer to them ever again.

    But you’re right, they’re very definitely there in the background. I honestly don’t know how NT people cope without it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh my gosh yes! It got to the point for me that other students would pay for my notes but once done I wouldn’t even glance at them. It was the process of making them that helped me so much!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi ๐Ÿ™‚ may I ask how you can do this on a app on the smart phone – this be great for myself and older teen daughter that has autism we have alit of goals coming up as she transition to work and the board visual do get forgotten but on a smart phone or tablet this would be better ๐Ÿค—

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Cassandra, I don’t do anything fancy with my images and screenshots, they’re just there in my photos folder. I’m sure there is a way to make a more structured visual support on a smartphone, might be worth asking on Facebook groups perhaps?


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