Visual Supports for Children with ASD
What are visual supports?
A visual support refers to using a photograph, drawing, object, or list to communicate with a child who has difficulty understanding or using language. Visual supports can be especially helpful when your child has to participate in medical procedures such as blood draws. Certain kinds of visual supports have been researched enough to be considered an established treatment for children with ASD. For more information about evidence-based treatments, go to the National Standards Project at www.nationalautismcenter.org.
Why are they important?
The main features of ASD involve challenges in interacting socially, in using language, and having limited interests or repetitive behaviors. Visual supports help in all three areas and before, during, and after blood draws or other medical procedures.
First, children with ASD may not completely understand social cues and may not be as aware of unspoken social expectations. This is especially true when the situation is new or may seem scary. They may also be less likely to show certain behaviors in public places only because they observe that "other people are doing it." Visual supports can help to better explain to your child what is expected during medical procedures. Visual supports also provide a more concrete and motivating reward (link to rewards section) for doing these things.
Second, children with ASD may find it hard to understand and follow spoken instructions. They may not be able to express well through words what they want or need. Visual supports can help you communicate better with your child and can help your child communicate better with others. This may decrease frustration your child may feel. This may also help decrease challenging behaviors that your child may show because of a difficulty communicating and understanding during medical procedures.
Finally, some children with ASD become upset when their routines change or they are in unfamiliar situations, such as a doctor's office. Visual supports can help your child better understand what to expect will happen next. This may help reduce anxiety and help your child pay attention to important details that might keep them calm.
Two kinds of visual supports that might help your child with ASD more successfully complete blood draws are First-Then Boards and visual schedules.