Visual supports are evidenced-based strategies to supplement verbal communication through nonverbal and visual means. They can be photographs, drawings, objects and written words or lists.
Visual supports can be used for two main purposes. The first is to give individuals with ASD strategies to communicate more effectively with others. The second is to provide a more effective means for health care professionals to communicate with individuals with ASD. This is particularly helpful when supporting individuals with ASD through medical procedures.
Certain packages of visual supports have enough research support to be categorized as an "established treatment" for children with ASD. For more information about evidence-based treatments, go to the National Standards Project at www.nationalautismcenter.org.
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, individuals with ASD may misinterpret social cues and may not be as aware of unspoken social expectations that are placed on them, particularly in new or anxiety-provoking situations. They may also be less motivated by social norms to display certain behaviors in public places. Visual supports can assist in more effectively communicating expectations during medical procedures and provide a more concrete and motivating reward for compliance.
Second, individuals with ASD often have difficulty understanding verbal directions. Visual supports can clarify the activities that will occur and decrease frustration and problem behaviors that may be a result of misunderstanding during medical procedures.
Finally, some individuals with ASD have difficulty with changes in their routines that occur because of medical procedures and may be anxious in new or unknown situations. Visuals can establish predictability and promote more effective coping during a medical procedure.
Two examples of basic ways to use visual supports to aid your patient with ASD in more effectively tolerating medical procedures, specifically blood draws, are First-Then Boards and Visual Schedules. Some images that you may find useful in creating visuals are located in the parent guide.