Sunday, November 14, 2010

Teaching Basic Communication Skills using Visual Strategies

I attended a full day workshop at ARC yesterday and it was such an interesting and immensely useful workshop that I can't wait to try out the strategies I've learnt! It was a workshop about the use of visual supports in helping autistic children learn basic communication and there were so many things I've learnt that I don't know which one to start first! And, I must add that the trainer, Ms Anita Russell, was superbly good. She's the Senior Consultant at ARC and she managed to deliver the workshop and guided us really well. She provided many concrete examples too.

Well, like many other parents, I was sceptical too at first about using visual supports because I was afraid that the use of visual supports will replace speech and stop my boy from talking. But I realised that many professionals are using them. When Rayyan was at SPD, the teachers encouraged me to use them. Now, at AAS, the teachers are using them too. And if these centres are using them, it must have been proven that visual supports are useful right? That was why I wanted to know more and signed up for this workshop. At the workshop, Ms Russell reiterated again that the use of visual supports help autistic children understand the world better and they learn best with visual supports. Visual supports AID speech, NOT REPLACE speech.

I learnt that I must help Rayyan achieve 7 basic communication skills (these are the difficulties that autistic children face)
1) able to follow instructions
2) understand the choices available
3) understand expectations
4) able to ask for help
5) able to react to changes and difficult situations in an appropriate manner
6) able to assert themselves (request/protest/ask for a break)
7) able to manage emotions

Examples of the visual supports that I can use to help him
1) PECS (Picture Exchange Card System)
2) Physical Gestures
3) Location Cards
4) Picture Schedules
5) Communication Bridge
6) Speech Bubble
7) Communication Board
8) Rules
9) Social Stories
10) Flip Work System

I also learnt the importance of planning before embarking on the use of visual supports to ensure that I use the appropriate visual supports in accordance with Rayyan's abilities and skills. And another important takeaway from the workshop... Something that I must admit that made me feel guilty. Ms Russell reminded us again and again the importance of parents' role in helping their child..... Our job as parents is to help our child have a successful life. We are responsible in helping our child achieve basic communication skills, not teachers, not therapists, not maids. Period.

Last but not least, visual supports can make a HUGE IMPACT when used consistently and appropriately. We cannot be complacent. It is not easy because it is counter-intuitive (harder than simply giving verbal instructions/prompts) but we must not give up.

Commit. Persist. Patience.

With that in mind, I am starting off with PECS for Rayyan. Wish me luck!!