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Stop talking. Start teaching—visually.
A little harsh, right? But many children with special needs have processing problems. Information goes in (hopefully) but after that, you can’t always tell what sticks and what doesn’t. This is especially true if your child is nonverbal. Even before reading Ido in Autismland, I could tell that my daughter had thoughts and ideas far beyond what she was able to express. I always recommend you assume intelligence well beyond your child’s test scores or expressive communication ability.
Why teach visually?
If your child is having problems processing your words or written instructions, images are the way to go. The left side of the brain functions as the verbal processing center. The right side is for storing visual images.
When visual images go into the brain, they go straight into storage without having to process them. This storehouse of images may not make sense to the child as he receives them, but they remain there, waiting until the brain has enough info to process the image into something meaningful.
Think of it like putting a puzzle together without the box. The child has a pile of pieces (images) that don’t make a lot of sense. Little by little the pieces are joined together until enough of the picture emerges and the child has an Aha! Moment where he gets whatever you were trying to teach. Up until that point, the child may have seemed lazy, unmotivated or unwilling to learn. What may look like disobedience can really be your child processing through a problem without enough pieces of the puzzle yet.
Your child’s brain has a continually running video camera. Images are constantly being recorded and put into long-term storage even if the brain cannot process them right away. Once they are in the brain, the child has a storehouse of images to pull from to make sense of the world. The images also provide hooks on which to hang more images or to add some verbal teaching.
How to Reverse Engineer Learning
Many textbooks work by feeding students a little information at a time, building to a whole picture. To understand the whole, the student has to be able to retain all the little bits of info taught along the way. This teaching method relies on a strong short-term memory.
For our kids, that does not work too well. They gain understanding better if you give them the whole first, and then “speak to the picture” by taking it apart and showing one piece at a time. Teaching this way is like reverse engineering the topic. As they learn, they have the context of the bits and pieces they are learning so it is easier for them to make sense of the new information.
For example, let’s say you want to make a main dish for dinner using a complex recipe. You’ve read it over and over and can’t quite picture what to do. Then you see a picture of the dish and the recipe suddenly makes sense when you can see the finished product. In other words, you can reverse engineer the recipe a lot easier when you have a picture of the final product.
List of 30 Visual Aids
- Pictures, photographs
- Symbols, Icons
- Infographics, pictographs
- Realia (real world objects)
- Drawings, sketches
- Coloring pages
- Graphic organizers
- Flow Charts
- Mind Maps
- Flash Cards, Card Decks
- Flannel Boards
- Puppets, Toy characters
- Slide shows/presentations
Some of these visual aids, like demonstrations and experiments, are activities where the student can participate to further enhance learning. Other ways to make visual learning more active are things like field trips, crafts, models, dioramas and file folders or lapbooks using foldables.
When you are ready to teach a subject, I encourage you to look over this list to give you ideas on how you get best teach the material based on the subject and your child’s abilities and interests.
Part of my Philosophy of Education
I believe that our special needs kids can understand far more than they can express. Therefore, they should be taught as much as they can learn—even (or especially) moderate to severe kids.
Why, you might ask? Because even though they may not be able to participate in a conversation, their lives are enriched when they can understand and follow a conversation. Think of being in a foreign land and knowing a little of the language where you can get the gist of conversations versus knowing nothing about the language and sitting there while social connection goes on all around you. Feed your child’s mind so they can participate intellectually if not verbally.
To do this, you will need to take advantage of therapies to help your child developmentally and teaching methods that work around those delays. Teaching visually is one of the teaching methods that allows you to bypass some deficits, allowing your child to learn at a higher level than they can show through testing and verbal skills.
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