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Parenting Adolescents with Autism

Make It Visual continued...

Visual supports can provide either a general planning tool, such as a daily schedule, or a step-by step plan to understanding a project or activity from start to finish. A tool that works for one situation may not work for another, as every individual and every stressful situation are different. Just as you depend on your calendar or PDA to help you organize your daily activities and responsibilities, adolescents with autism need tools to help them structure and plan, too.

As a learning tool, visual representations facilitate the acquisition of new skills. Video modeling, for example, has become a very effective tool for teaching individuals on the spectrum. This involves recording examples of the new skill being performed. The video is then used as a model to teach the student how the new skill works. This is a way of having a predictable model that approximates a real-life example. Practicing with the video gives a clear model to the student, and it does so with fewer social demands and stress than responding to a live instructor. This helps launch the new skill, so it can be generalized to true social situations more quickly.


In addition to having visual representations of the events of their day it is important to practice the activities that present the biggest challenges. The student may not understand how to navigate the interactions in a certain class, school routine, or community activity. Any interaction can be broken down and practiced. This not only makes it more predictable but allows an opportunity to develop a missing skill that may not have been identified before.

Whenever there is a new class, a new teacher, or a new event on the horizon try to get as much detail as possible. Identify what will be expected and practice it ahead of time in a safe and encouraging way. For example, visit the new class or observe the activity ahead of time. Make sure that the student has the skills or any necessary supports in place, such as knowing who to ask for help or knowing how to “opt out” appropriately.

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