Visuals have gotten a lot of attention for how they can help individuals with structure, behavior, and learning, but they are also a fantastic tool to help out with receptive and expressive language. Come, join me and learn a little bit about how and why visual supports can help individuals in the area of receptive language. (We will discuss how they can help with expressive language in our next post).
Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), as well as many individuals with ADHD (and other speech and language disorders that affect receptive language), have difficulties with receptive language skills. Here are some of the difficulties they can have with understanding and comprehending spoken (verbal) language:
- Auditory Attention
- Auditory Synthesis
- Auditory Discrimination
Auditory attention is the ability to pay (and maintain) attention to information that is presented auditorily, as well as shifting and re-establishing their attention to auditory information. Information that is presented auditorily, due to its transient nature, may not be processed because the individual was not able to maintain auditory attention.
Auditory Synthesis is the process by which a person’s brain makes sense of the auditory information it has just heard. The length of the message often correlates to difficulties with correctly understanding what was said: in longer messages a person with ASD often hears only the last part of the message: For example: “I do not want you to give the dog a hamburger” may be processed as: “give the dog a hamburger.”
Auditory Discrimination is the ability to hear and understand information in the presence of noise. People with ASD often have difficulty understanding verbal speech when there is any type of background noise.
Verbal language is transient; it is here, and then, it is gone. This can cause challenges for those who have difficulty with auditory attention, synthesis, and discrimination. Visuals, on the other hand, are not transient. They are permanent, or at least, semi-permanent (they are present long enough for the person to be able to get meaning from them).
If an individual has trouble with attention (including but not limited to auditory attention), the visual(s) will still be present when they are able to focus on the information; the person can also take needed time to shift their attention from one thing to another, and the information on the visual is still there! If an individual has trouble with auditory synthesis, the information on the visual can help them get the full meaning of the message, even if they only process a part of the message. If an individual has difficulty with auditory discrimination, visuals can help in a similar way, they can help the person to understand the meaning of what was said when there is other noise in the environment.
It is important to present visuals in combination with using auditory information to maximize the ability of each person to understand what was said. This also helps the person to learn what each visual means, as they hear the verbal language that goes along with each visual. It is imperative that visuals are not faded as verbal skills improve, however it is a good idea to consider changing their form over time to match the current skill level of each person they are being used with (for example: from pictures to text).
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