I hurried across campus, clutching several large pieces of posterboard protected by plastic bags. Sliding into my desk with a few minutes to spare, I couldn't resist taking one more peek at my art work. The shading on each seashell and the detailing on the treasure chest had taken me hours; but I felt confident that the time was well-spent and would pay off with a good grade. My Materials and Methods professor stopped at my desk to collect my project. She glanced at it briefly. "You always put so much effort into your visuals, Miss Vasel," she remarked. "Just remember you can make great visuals and still not be a good teacher." The comment stung - I was hoping she would notice the detail and quality of my visual pieces. I knew she was right however; and I determined to spend more time on learning and practicing good teaching methods and disciplines practices. Still, on the weekends and during my summers, I created dozens of visuals for teaching aids, preparing for my future teaching career.
I had no idea what a large part visual aids would play in my life. At first, I did not use them that often because I took on a junior high teaching job in which the students were not impressed with carefully-shaded dinosaurs or hand-chalked clowns. When I moved to teaching elementary grades, I took great delight in creating jungle decorations and Peanuts visual aids for my classes. With our first child soon to be born, I stopped teaching to be at home with my baby. I missed drawing, painting, and coloring visuals for my students, but my mommy life was crazy busy. Life marched on as we added more children to the family, and I even enjoyed a brief stint as owner of my own home art business.
When David was diagnosed with high-functioning autism last summer, we began immediately to seek out methods of connecting with him better. I knew he did not learn things the same way that most kids did, and putting him in an ESD preschool helped tremendously. They helped us figure out that our David is a very visual learner. He needs visuals for EVERYTHING! I started out with a comic-strip visual to help him remember all the steps for potty training:
He panics when he does not know what is happening next; so this helps a lot in the potty arena. He is still not "potty-trained"; but he is getting closer to that goal.
With that success, I decided to tackle another problem area - haircuts. Because he has sensory issues, David screams/cries/melts down every time he gets his hair trimmed. It takes both of us to hold him down while we attempt to make his hair look decent. However, with the visual above, we have been able to reduce the screams/meltdowns to just crying. It's a major improvement.
David's teacher provided us with these visuals, called PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) visuals. The little pictures attach to the strip with velcro so they can be changed up as needed to match that day's schedule. This particular strip goes with us everywhere we go, along with a few ziploc bags of pictures we may need. David is a lot calmer and more focused when he can see what's next on the schedule. This strip alone has cut our "get-out-the-front-door-in-the-morning" time from fifteen minutes to five minutes!
We have other PECS strips posted up in the house to help David too. One is designed to help him remember to stay at the dinner table, and another helps him make the transition from playtime to something else, such as dinner time or nap time.
This is David's choice board. I actually use it with all three kids. For example, I tell them that they have five minutes left of play time. After play time, they will have five minutes to clean up. If they are successful, they will get to choose an activity from the choice board. (I usually put up two or three to choose from.) It surprises me how often they choose books or crafts over TV or movies
I had no idea back in college while I was slaving away over those teaching visuals that God was preparing me to be a parent of an autistic child. God's plan is always amazing to watch as it unfolds! Every time I open my purse and catch a glimpse of my sketchpad that I use to draw quick visuals for David on the go, I smile at the thought that God gave me a talent I can use to help my child.