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:

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Then came first sentences:

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

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Schedule boards are just awesome, providing independence and structure:

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Then we had some social stories. Some were very graphic, some very simple. Here is one that worked very well:
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and as he got older, his social stories became more cartoon-like:

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

And for your amusement: 
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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?

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