For Some Children with Communication Challenges, Seeing is Knowing

Written By: Marilee Emerson

Marilee is a consultant to CCBS

Marilee is a consultant to Cherokee Creek Boys School

One of the first questions I ask when I inquire about an individual’s communication is, “What is the most reliable way your child/student receives information?”

The vast majority of responses point to a visual channel, i.e., printed to-do lists or schedules, a picture of the end project, or photographs.

Through the years, one of the things that I’ve learned, both the hard way and easy way, is that sharing information verbally makes the information transient. Once you say it, it’s gone.

Visual information (written words, pictures, or objects) on the other hand is static. It sticks around so you can reference it, if needed.

Speaking is, of course, the quickest and most convenient way of sharing information. But, in this highly distractible world we live in, it is often wise to “back up” your verbal communication. For example, using a note, a memo, a voice recording will make the spoken words more permanent.

But, for children with communication challenges, “backing up” spoken information maybe be a necessary part of their everyday learning experience.

In fact, visual information may be the primary way to communicate; verbal sharing of information would be the back up.

It’s GREAT to be alive in the 21st century. Here’s why: Technology has made the task of supporting communication much, much easier.

One of the most helpful actions we can take for others is to clarify expectations, especially if a new task or experience is forthcoming.

Think proactive preparation. Ask yourself, “What does my child/my student need to know to be successful in this up-coming situation?

Notice I said, “…need to know…” This doesn’t mean you should prepare the child for every aspect of the situation. Rather, I recommend focusing on the areas of the situation that will make him most successful. This is often referred to as “priming.”

You can share your expectations for a variety of activities, i.e., school and community involvement, travel, social events, religious ceremonies, and doctors appointments.

Depending on your child (whom you know best), you should consider how much information to share and what’s the best format to use.

Before the Internet was so pervasive, (Yes, I’ve been teaching that long!), you might have used pictures from magazines, drawings of stick figures or Polaroid pictures. But now, you have amazing resources at our fingertips.

mom and son on computerBelow are my top 3 resources for sharing expectations:

1. Google Images– You can find almost ANYTHING on Google. I find that Internet images are good for showing specific locations, or finding brand logos and generic pictures.

2. Digital Cameras-Nowadays, if you have a cell phone, you have a camera, too. Digital pictures you take are good for illustrating step-by-step sequences or generating lists.

3. YouTube videos-Videos are another great resource. Of course, you’ll want to preview the videos before you share them. Videos are helpful for priming more involved experiences such as going to the dentist for the first time; first time flying in an airplane; how to brush teeth, make popcorn or any number of activities.

Note: If your child is overwhelmed with the narration, you can view the video without the sound. You can also make your own videos, without narration.

With so many choices for accessible visuals, it’s much easier to support learning new expectations than ever before.

I encourage you to try, even if it’s at the most basic level, and observe how your child responds to priming of expectations.

Once you know what works, experiment with other applications for growth and learning. That’s when ‘seeing is knowing’ becomes really exciting.

Have you used visuals with your child to prime him for new expectations? Please share your experiences with me or on the MyMarilee Facebook Page.

Let’s start a conversation.

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Marilee Emerson is an educator who is passionate about helping families through challenging transitions. She helps parents of children with disabilities and learning differences know what they need to do next, so they can create better lives for their children and families. Her weekly newsletter Note from Marilee is full of practical tips and helpful perspectives. If you are ready to take your next best step for your child and family, sign up for a FREE subscription at www.mymarilee.com.

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posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True,Educational Insights and have Comments (2)

2 Responses to “For Some Children with Communication Challenges, Seeing is Knowing”

  1. […] Marilee Emerson, consultant to Cherokee Creek Boys School: For children with communication challenges, visual info may be the primary way to communicate.  […]

  2. […] One of the first questions I ask when I inquire about an individual’s communication is, “What is the most reliable way your child/student receives information?”The vast majority of responses point to a visual channel, i.e., printed to-do lists or schedules, a picture of the end project, or photographs.  […]

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