How the HighScope Approach Supports Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Visual Strategies (page 2)
Jasmine, Karina, Andrew, and Maddy are playing with play dough during work time. Jasmine and Karina are making miniature chairs for their dolls, Andrew is pounding his wad with a hammer, and Maddy alternates between exploring the scent of her dough and poking it with her finger. When the teacher, Kate, announces cleanup time, Jasmine and Karina start to fold up their play-dough chairs and put them away. Kate comes over to Andrew and Maddy, showing them a folder with pictures of the daily routine segments. She points to the picture indicating cleanup time and repeats, "It's cleanup time. Let's put away the play dough now." Slowly the two children start to put their play dough into the container.
Andrew and Maddy have autism, a form of autism spectrum disorder. Children with these disorders are typically characterized by a lack of social connectedness, difficulties with communication, and unusual, repetitive behaviors. These children also generally process visual information more effectively than auditory information. While this may be true of the population at large, it is especially true for individuals with autism. For instance, most adults prefer having written directions to a new restaurant rather than directions given over the phone, but they are usually able to manage with verbal directions. However, an individual with autism might not be able to find that restaurant at all without written directions and/or a map.And while most children are able to follow verbal directions or requests, such as "Let's put the toys away," children with autism may need a visual cue that it is time to clean up, such as a flick of the lights or a photo of cleanup time-thus Kate's use of the pictures in the folder for Andrew and Maddy.
Because of this difficulty with auditory processing, children with autism are at a disadvantage in a verbal- and auditory-oriented world-which includes most early childhood classrooms. Their behavior is often misinterpreted as noncompliance or manipulation, when in fact children may simply be struggling to understand and process verbal directions. The key to classroom success for these children is similar to that for typical children-a developmentally appropriate framework that allows for individual support. Providing this framework in a general education environment offers many children their greatest chance for success. The High/Scope approach offers a framework that provides support for children with autism in many ways. One of these ways is by providing a variety of visual cues to help children interpret information more effectively. This article discusses a few of the ways High/Scope provides visual support for children with autism.
A visual representation of the daily routine.
Difficulty with organization and sequencing can interfere with smooth transitions from one activity to another and may lead to behavioral problems (Mesibov, 2001). Therefore, knowing what comes next in the daily routine is critical for an individual with autism. In a High/Scope classroom, each segment of the daily routine is depicted through pictures, photographs, or a combination of these. This representation is located at children's physical level, allowing them to refer to it as the schedule unfolds. As each major part of the daily routine is completed, children can indicate this in some way: by putting the picture in a pocket, covering it, checking it off, or using some other creative method. This strategy helps the child with autism understand what is currently happening and what is about to happen, lessening the anxiety that comes from the many transitions during the day.
The High/Scope daily routine includes several other visual strategies that help children process information.T he morning message board, feelings board, and student and area symbols are all concrete tools that provide structure and clarity for all children, especially those with autism spectrum disorders. These visual strategies can be effective at home as well. One child was having difficulty transitioning from school days to nonschool days; on days when there was no school, the child was very upset when the bus did not arrive as it did on most other days, and he would go to the driveway and tantrum. To help the child anticipate what each day would hold, his mother made a calendar wheel that indicated which days were school days (depicted by a picture of a school bus) and which were nonschool days (depicted by a picture of a house). This strategy proved effective in helping the transition go more smoothly.
Planning and review strategies using pictures and objects.
The planning and review processes support the child with autism by organizing an essential and open-ended component of the daily routine:work time. The High/Scope approach encourages teachers to use props and visual tools to support children as they make decisions about where and how they intend to work and play. For example, a child might be shown several objects from the interest areas and asked to indicate which ones he or she would like to work with that day. Similar strategies are used to facilitate language development as children recall their learning experiences after work time. These aspects of the daily routine help a child with autism anticipate upcoming events and transition to the next activity by putting a tangible beginning and closing to play at centers.
Clear physical boundaries and labels through- out the environment. The classroom environment sets the stage for child success. Teachers using the High/Scope approach use shelving, low furniture, and carpets to create distinct centers that promote interaction and extended play. "Mini-learning environments inherently promote hands-on, spontaneous learning. Each environment should include a range of learning materials that children and teachers can explore together at a variety of levels" (Greenspan, 1998). Additional visual information is provided through labels on interest areas and storage containers, allowing children to independently access and replace materials and understand where certain activities take place. The child with autism has a greater likelihood for success in an environment that provides information to give meaning to locations, activities, and materials that might otherwise seem foreign and confusing.
Reprinted with the permission of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation. © 2007 All rights reserved.
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