Speak The Language: Pictures

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Have you noticed that kids with autism often don’t seem to process auditory information, but instead rely on what they see?  They seem to be unable to hear, but that is far from the truth.

When my son was a toddler, if I called his name he’d act as if he couldn’t hear me calling him.  But if I were to quietly whisper nonsense sounds, he could hear them a mile away.  This was baffling as new parents, not knowing about autism.

We had no idea what was normal and what was not.  We had his hearing tested and sure enough, he could hear sounds most people could not. He just didn’t know his name. He didn’t know that anything had a name, except for letters, numbers and shapes.

Once we figured out that he was born without a language, we made use of pictures. After all, he learned by what he saw:  if I put on my shoes, to him that was a firm promise that we are going outside to play.  If that didn’t happen, then there were tantrums to deal with.  If we drove toward Lincoln Street, then that was a sure promise we were going to the park. Telling him we were going elsewhere was of no use.

To make life easier for everyone, we took a bunch of pictures.  Pictures of things… like “Outside”, “Juice”, “Puzzles”, "Park".  Then when we were going outside, I would show him the picture of  our backyard and say, “Do you want to go outside?”

Highlighting the word and pointing to the picture made a whole lot more sense to my boy. He quickly learned how to receptively “get” pictures. And we were finally communicating.

We also used pictures to teach him his name, and the other family members names. One of my favorite memories of these early years is when I was quizzing him on our names by tapping his sister on her head, or tapping Daddy’s head and I’d say, “Who is this?”

He’d answer correctly until I asked him what my name is. I said, “Who am I?” as I tapped my head with my hand.

“NINE!” He shouted!

“What? Nine?” I asked confused.

And then Daddy burst out laughing. Because he could see what I could not. By putting my hand on my head while standing up, My body made the shape of the number 9!

Learning to think in pictures helped us explain many things to him as he got older. From single words, to a picture schedule (or list of pictures “to do”), to sentences, to stories.  As soon as he got the concept of things having names, his language exploded.

  • He went from 0 words at age 3, to  5 word sentences by Kindergarten!
  • By 2nd grade he didn’t need pictures anymore (except for a picture schedule).
  • In 3rd grade, his Developmental Pediatrician said, “I can’t even believe we (her and my son) are having this conversation.  If you asked me before if he’d ever be able to have conversations, I’d have said, “I don’t know”. But here we are! This is truly amazing!”
  • And today? He is going to be entering 7th grade. He says as many words as he wants. He still has issues with pronoun reversals, but besides that his language is amazing (well, except for the bad words. Why do kids learn those so easily?).

There is a TON of information out there on pictures in the forms of PECS, social stories, pictures schedules, etc.  One of my favorite free resources is www.Do2Learn.com.

Here are some examples of what we did for our kids:

Early on, we used actual photo's of what we wanted them to do:


Then came first sentences:

( Beneath this sentence strip, would be pictures of commonly asked for items.)

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.01.23 AM


Schedule boards are just awesome, providing independence and structure:

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.05.51 AM

Then we had some social stories. Some were very graphic, some very simple. Here is one that worked very well:
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.02.16 AM

and as he got older, his social stories became more cartoon-like:

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.02.04 AM

and then, he started making stories for us!: Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.01.35 AM

And for your amusement: 
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.05.24 AM

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 10.01.48 AM


This is part 2 of a series on speaking the language of our kids on the spectrum. To read part 1, click here: Speaking The Language: Scripts

Coffee Time:

Let's help our new autism parents out with a lot of ideas!

How have you used pictures to teach your children?

Treasured Moments at Panera

I wouldn't typically consider tonights behavior something to be treasured, but tonight wasn't all that typical, either.

We had dinner at Panera, at the request of Sage (10 years old, autism/ADHD). This morning he said he wanted to celebrate with a "last chance to go out to eat in August!"  The request was so cute,  we decided to honor it even though it meant "chancing" it with his brother.

Stevie (autism/ADHD/anxiety/food allergies/tourettes-like tics) has had some very unpredictable behavior lately (you can read about that in the previous posts) so we were prepared to leave quickly if needed-- and sure enough, it was needed.

We all sat down at the table with our food and Daddy went to get coffee. This is where it all started to fall apart.

Stevie got that look in his eyes, as he climbed into the chair across from me, pulled himself up to standing and looked around, in awe. Absolute awe.

People started to notice. I heard some giggles... and then he started to do a little jig. A dance--with his hips...and then arms... and then...

"Waah Haaaa-HAAAA!" the loud, fake baby cry from the Dr.Suess's ABC's video game erupted from deep within his soul.

Not an ear was untouched.

Not even the ears of the elderly couples sprinkled about the place.

The college kids diagonal from us started to giggle and cover their mouths in disbelieve at what they saw.  I looked over at them, my face brightening in pink by the second (matching Hopes red face which was getting lower and lower toward the table, and Sages proud-of-his-brother-being-bad face sticking up higher and higher from the table).

She quickly turned back toward her friends at their table. I wanted to tell her it's ok. I mean, really?  What on earth could one do at this point but laugh?

The absurdity was, well, absurd! WHO DOES THAT?

I am still laughing!

I loved seeing the laughter it brought everyone in the restaurant that I could see, and I particularly loved that I was unaware (too much in shock to notice, maybe?) of anyone irritated by him at all. I was also very thankful that I had worn a "Ride for Autism" shirt!

The moments I most treasured, though, was that we ran into 3 people we knew that we hadn't seen in YEARS!  And they just weren't the least bit phased by what they saw. They didn't have harsh words or reprimands, they didn't mention what they heard and saw, they were just glad to see us--warts and all.

And we were glad to see them.

And I was glad to see all the giggling faces as we left.

Now, there's some autism awareness up close and personal!


Feeling that we got a bit "lucky" tonight (read: didn't get kicked out), I started thinking up what we can do to help Stevie understand the situation and why it's important to behave in public places as well as in the car (in which he continued being out-of-control and unsafe--unbuckling his seat belt and standing on top of his car seat) I had a little brain-storm of sorts...

I decided to use a very annoying obsession of his: Teletubbies.  Maybe, just maybe, he will listen to them if they tell him a social story:

Maybe he'll listen to the Teletubbies?
Maybe he'll listen to the Teletubbies?

And maybe, just maybe, if the Teletubbies keep telling him off, he will get mad at them and move on to something else!!!

A friend loves at all times.  Proverbs 17:17