Autism and visual impairments

Discussion in 'Special Education' started by sarypotter, Jul 30, 2009.

  1. sarypotter

    sarypotter Comrade

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    Jul 30, 2009

    Hello again! Not technically teaching, but I just can't stay away.

    I'm working with an individual who has severe autism and a visual impairment. She is blind in one eye and has presumed limited vision in the other eye. In the past, she has used a visual schedule as part of her behavior plan, with some success. Her caregiver wants a new visual schedule created. Of course, immediately, I realized there is a lot I don't know about visual impairments. What do I need to keep in mind when creating this schedule? Larger icons, high contrast in colors? Other things I'm not thinking of?

    Thanks!
     
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  3. blindteacher

    blindteacher Cohort

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    Jul 30, 2009

    sarypotter, the first thing you want to do is ask her what her vision is like. Can she see colors? Does she need high contrast? What level of lighting does she see best in? How large does the print need to be in order for her to see it, and does bolding it make it easier for her to see? If she has a low vision specialist, talking with him or her will help you answer these questions.

    Then based on these answers, you can provide her with the optimal visual schedule. For example, if she can see colors, then you might want to use bright colors. If she needs high contrast, then you might want to stick to white and black, etc. Sans serif fonts (Arial, Verdana) might be easier to see than serif (Times New Roman, Courier New).

    If you have any other questions on making accommodations for your visually impaired student, feel free to send me a PM.
     
  4. sarypotter

    sarypotter Comrade

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    Jul 30, 2009


    Thank you for the questions to think about! I'll keep them in mind as I begin developing materials, but she has extremely limited communication and isn't able to express the answers to these questions. Even her caregiver has to guess based on her behavior, but you've given me some specific issues to consider, and that's helpful. Thanks!
     
  5. blindteacher

    blindteacher Cohort

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    Oh I'm sorry I must have missed the bit about communication difficulties.

    If you talk to her low vision specialist, she should be able to answer those questions. You can also get answers by giving her things and seeing if she responds to them. For example, if you give her a bunch of brightly-colored folders, you can tell by her behavior if she can distinguish the colors or not. :)

    Good luck.
     
  6. teachersk

    teachersk Connoisseur

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    Jul 30, 2009

    We had a student with cortical visual impairment (in the autism classroom) and the TVI suggested that we do white on black icons for him (larger than the other students - they were 3X3 icons). He seemed to do well with these. There are also schedule icons available (as well as communication devices) that include a tactile component if the vision is low enough to require such a thing.
     
  7. blindteacher

    blindteacher Cohort

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    I forgot to mention that. If she knows Braille, supplementing visual icons with Braille is always helpful. If she doesn't know Braille, having anything tactual, such as a series of dots, can be very helpful.
     
  8. MissCeliaB

    MissCeliaB Aficionado

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    Jul 30, 2009

    If it is a young child, the Attainment Company has a whole set of classroom communication materials for the visually impaired. It's a bit pricey but it may give you some good ideas. How old is she?
     
  9. JustJim

    JustJim Companion

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    Jul 30, 2009

    Just to be contrary (not really :D), I'd suggest starting with black letters/icons, slightly off-white background. At first, avoid sans-serif fonts; TNR is fairly reliable, and safe. If she knows Braille, supplement with that; if not trace every letter and icon with a line of glue, just as you'd do for kids to finger-trace when learning to read.

    (And this is probably going to be one of the few times I disagree with Blindteacher when it comes to working with people with visual impairments.)

    Sary, you're working in a different context now--not schools, right? One of the things you have to give a great deal more consideration to is the past experience of the people you work with. Lots of them will have idiosyncrasies that you may never know the reason for. You'll probably find it is easier to accept them than to try to understand or change them..

    Black letters/icons for two reasons: contrast/visibility, and because many people w/ASD will have past associations with certain colors, and you won't know until you find them. They may become highly agitated when they see one color or another, in one context or another. Black letters/icons are fairly safe simply because most people use colors to convey additional meaning.

    Off-white background because white can be problematic under some lights, and for some people. There has been some research done on optimal contrast between text and background for reading, people w/ASD often function best in a narrower range. Until you determine this person's optimal range, start with what is safe, then fine-tune it for best results. If you want, drop me a line and I'll send you some samples of what I mean.

    Avoid sans-serif type, and stick with TNR because many of us have difficulty reading all the "stylish" types. Some of us even have to learn to identify each character in a new alphabet. A serif'd type such as TNR is common enough that almost any of us can read it, if we can read.

    The glue-line trick is one that is helpful for many people w/ASD, even those who do not have visual impairments. Adding tactile aspects in such cases is often useful--worst case, they won't be a factor.
     
  10. blindteacher

    blindteacher Cohort

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    I didn't know about the association with colors in autism. Thanks for teaching me something new, JustJim. :)
     
  11. JustJim

    JustJim Companion

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    Jul 30, 2009

    Many of us w/ASD are firmly convinced that everything has some communicative meaning if only we could figure it out. This carries over to writing and graphics; there has to be a reason this color was chosen over that color.

    If a color had a particular meaning or association in the past--whether that meaning or association is learned or innate--it will be assumed to have the same or similar meaning or association now. Doing a de-institutionalization transition about a decade ago, I got caught twice on that one. Red ink was used to indicate a negative consequence, one he hadn't earned. There were problems. Once I went back to black ink, no problems.

    Then again, others of us just can't stand some colors. I don't like certain shades of green, or things associated with those shades. Some things smell green to me; if the shade I smell is one I don't like then I won't like that thing--or person. It took me years to figure that out.

    A friend has a similar reaction to safety orange.
     
  12. blindteacher

    blindteacher Cohort

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    This sounds a lot like a phenomenon called synesthesia.
     
  13. JustJim

    JustJim Companion

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    Well, yeah. Not uncommon for people with ASD--I've often thought of it as the "flip side" of sensory integration difficulties. In some cases this may be another reason to be careful with the use of colors until you know the individual you are working with. A lot of folks with ASD experience or process sensory input in unusual ways.

    Bogdashina's book Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome addresses some of the different sensory issues for people with ASD (or teachers/staff working with people with ASD). I think one of her papers dealing with this is online somewhere, too.
     
  14. YesICan

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    What is TNR?
     
  15. JustJim

    JustJim Companion

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    Jul 31, 2009

    Sorry, "TNR"="Times New Roman"
     
  16. blindteacher

    blindteacher Cohort

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    I understand how synesthesia works because I have it. I can definitely understand how having colors that aren't associated correctly can distract or throw off a person with synesthesia.
     
  17. JustJim

    JustJim Companion

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    One of the kids I'm working with this summer (4 y.o. with ASD) is also a synesthete. Physical colors aren't as much a problem for him but I'm concerned about him possibly establishing connections between the colors he hears and the colors in his physical environment. I've been using a MacBeth Color Chart to try to narrow down the ranges of colors he perceives as negative, then trying to build additional positive associations with those colors to try to offset the synesthetic associations. Mixed results so far, but we'll keep at it.

    With a little luck, once SaryPotter gets this schedule up and running she may be able to find colors with which the individual has positive associations. This can help get the individual to buy-in to the schedule as an intrinsically-rewarding activity. Then she gets to worry about reinforcement satiation, STOs, and the next annual meeting . . . in many ways, working with adults is much like working with kids!
     
  18. AspieTeacher

    AspieTeacher Comrade

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    Aug 11, 2009

    I know the feeling JustJim, I have Asperger's Syndrome and brighter colors (flourescent) really hurt my eyes and I can actually hear the colors in my mind. It almost blinds me where I have to cover the sheet so I doesn't overwhelm me. I prefer softer colors: green, blue, purple, ect.
     

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