The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Month: March 2018

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 1 of 2)

The Power of Wordlessness (Part 1 of 2)

by Jules Csillag

 

This is the first part of a two-part series on silent books and movies, and pictures. Today, we will look at why to use wordless activities, and next week, learn how to incorporate these into lessons, and read about specific, potential activities.

 

Aside from reducing your language in your classroom, and the importance of using visuals, there are benefits to using wordless texts (where “texts” can mean anything from images to books to movies) to autistic students.

 

Why?

Wordless texts can be used to address a variety of skills that autistic students typically struggle with, including diverse literacy skills, cognitive flexibility, and nonverbal communication. Removing words and auditory information also supports autistic students since integrating information from multiple senses can take longer in autistic individuals, particularly if this information is linguistic. Removing words can therefore positively influence processing (Boddaert et al, 2004, Stevenson, 2014)

 

Using wordless books or movies can build diverse literacy skills in terms of making inferences, understanding narrative structure, and using evidence to support a claim. All wordless “texts” support individuals’ ability to make inferences, which is helpful since research shows that “students with Asperger syndrome…had challenges in making inferences from the text” (Knight & Sartrini, 2014). Moreover, researchers have found that “similar processes contribute to comprehension of narratives across different media” (Kendeou, P. et al, 2009), meaning that addressing visual inferences can transfer to inferences made during reading. Images and silent books or movies necessarily require students to infer what is happening, who the characters are, etc.

a photograph of a wooden bridge over greenish water

An inference is like a bridge between two ideas.

Wordless books and movies are also an effective way of helping students’ reading and writing by helping them understand text structure, especially narrative text structure, which is the understanding that narratives all have similar structures (e.g. character, setting, problem, resolution). Wordless books and movies are an often fun way of teaching text structure, as well as theme, and these skills are worth teaching as they do not always come naturally to students on the spectrum (Zajic et al., 2014, Gately, 2008). Autistic students may also have difficulty citing evidence to support a position, as that requires perspective taking skills and organization of language, which can both be difficult for them. As with inferences, you can use an image to practice this skill (e.g. “I think it is summer because I see the characters sweating and the trees look really green”).

a purple triangle that demonstrates a plot mountain, with beginning/exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and end/resolution labeled left to right.

A plot mountain is one way to demonstrate story structure (Source: readwritethink)

Given that images and wordless books and movies are open to interpretation, they also build cognitive flexibility, since there can often be multiple, logical ways of “reading” visual narratives. This can be helpful since cognitive flexibility is typically an underlying challenge with students with autism (Van Eylen et al., 2011). Cognitive flexibility is important for social situations (since perspective taking relies on cognitive flexibility), for problem-solving (since sometimes you need to attempt more than one solution), and for understanding any “grey areas” or subjective interpretations of an event or text.

 

Removing words also allows individuals to focus on nonverbal communication more. This has two distinct benefits: for one, it targets an underlying challenge many individuals with autism have in processing nonverbal information, “compared with both typical and atypical groups well matched for cognitive development” (Rogers, 2006). Furthermore, when there is a discrepancy between words and facial expressions, individuals with autism tend to give more weight to the words, so removing words naturally emphasizes the nonverbal communication and can thus put it on students’ radar and teach them its various functions (Watanabe et al., 2012). Emotional thermometers (Wesbty, 2004) to expand emotional vocabulary, and link to context, facial expression, tone of voice (where relevant).

 

Stay tuned for next week’s post on how to use wordlessness, and what tools may work!

Talk Less, Draw More

Talk Less, Draw More

By Brandy Stanfill

 

The mainstream classroom is full of language processing demands that can be challenging for a wide array of students.  Strategies to support comprehension while reducing language processing can benefit English language learners, students with ADHD, autistic students, and students with auditory processing disorders.  Here are a few tricks to try in your classroom:

 

Quick Sketch

During your next read aloud, mini lesson, unit review, or group discussion draw a quick sketch of the contents.  A stick figure labeled Christopher Columbus, a half circle and triangle to represent a boat, and 1492 written beside it can help students hold onto who is under discussion, what the action was, and when the events occurred.  No drawing skill needed!

 

Visual Priming

The next time you are introducing a new activity or procedure show the group pics of the materials they will be using with simple one or two words labels.  These images and labels can help students learn new vocabulary and remember the difference between a beaker and graduated cylinder.  Google images are a teacher’s best friend!

drawing of a thought bubble

 

Thought Bubbles

When discussing characters from books or historical figures thought bubbles with simple phrases or quick sketches in them can help a student to understand the character’s experiences, emotions, goals, and perspective.  A stick figure of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird with a thought bubble that says, “curious about Boo Radley” and a line from stick figure Scout’s eyes to a stick figure of Boo can help a student understand the motivation for Scout’s behavior.  Perspective taking is harder when characters and historical figures are far removed from a student’s life experience.  Use visual supports to highlight universal experiences and motivations like nosiness!

 

 

 

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