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Learning Through Seeing

This article was contributed by Kathleen Dolbee, a parent and ASNC Autism Resource Specialist for Western North Carolina.


Available in the ASNC Bookstore at

No two minds are exactly alike; each has its own way of learning. What works well for one person may not work as well for another.

For example, some people grasp and remember ideas better when they see pictures or diagrams. Others prefer the written word or the spoken word better still, maybe a combination of these. Children with autism learn in a variety of ways; most are visual learners with an exceptional eye for detail. Jennifer Savner and Brenda Smith Myles, authors of “Making Visual Supports Work in the Home and Community,” make this point: “research has shown that for many children with ASD, one way of learning – learning through seeing – is superior.”

Parents of children with limited language are often eager to use visuals, wanting desperately to find a way to teach their child the power of communication. As users of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) have proven, often a visual becomes the springboard for verbal communication.

But what about the verbal child? Parents of highly verbal children sometimes resist the use of visuals, presuming that because their child can talk, it means that he can communicate. That may be true on a stress-free day or when attempting to teach simple concepts. But stress-free days are few and far between, and as children get older, academic and social concepts become more complex.

Be honest. Do you find that you are having to repeat yourself over and over again? Are you feeling frustrated? Do you sense that your child is frustrated? Savner and Myles note: “The tricky thing … is that your child usually will not say to you, ‘I do not understand. Please give me a visual.’” Yet his behavior may be sending that message loud and clear. Does your child tantrum? Is your child truly independent in daily living skills or is he or she dependent on constant verbal prompting? Does your child ignore your verbal reminders? Does your child have difficulty getting started or completing all the necessary steps of a particular task?

If you and/or your child are frustrated by a communication disconnect, please consider introducing visuals into your daily routine. Even highly verbal children benefit when sequenced routines and abstract concepts are made easier to grasp through the use of visuals. In addition, when children’s independence increases, so does their self-esteem.

If the thought of creating visuals leaves you feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, Savner and Miles suggest starting small, creating just one visual support to see how it works, and then progressing from there.

If you need help, connect with other parents or contact the ASNC Resource Specialist in your community. We’re here to help.

Kathleen Dolbee can be reached at or 828-236-1547.

Making Visual Supports Work in the Home and Community” is available in the Autism Society of North Carolina Bookstore, your one-stop shop for quality autism resources. Buy from us and support ASNC’s mission!

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