Visual musings

Just a quickie as I haven’t blogged for a while – when I say quickie, I may ramble on! I’m in a musing mood, so I am just musing along….

I’ve been on Twitter for quite a while now. I resisted the move for ages, having previously been part of the old MSN groups, with all the back-biting and bulling that came with them. At that time, the groups I joined were focussed on ASD and generally run by people who may have started out as well-meaning and helpful, but developed into something more sinister. Snake-oil cures (e.g. chelation) and the hounding out of people who disagreed with the site’s owner were commonplace.

On Twitter, I have very occasionally bumped heads with such people, but on the whole, it’s been good. It is a place where I can have a difference of opinion – generally as long as it is not linked to literacy – and remain on good terms with my counter-arguer. Maybe most of those that I choose to follow and who follow me, are proper grown-ups?

Over the last few days I have been questioning why ‘visuals’ are required for those with ASD. Where has this idea come from and why does it seem to endure? It may be that someone passing by this blog can produce some supporting research for this? Two posts have sparked my thinking – firstly there was a tweet saying ‘not just for autistic people’ linked to this article: then someone else sent me this:

I have no issue with either article. The former does not say ‘for ASD’, the tweeter did, the latter is Temple Grandin’s discussion of her own processing and how it may also link to others. The curious part for me is why the initial tweeter thought that doodling information was ‘just for autistics’ in the first place? Why have we got to the point that visual timetables etc should be a staple of an autistic’s statement, EHCP or IEP/ILP?

I pretty much spend two day a week, seven months of the year, assessing students for access arrangements for their exams. Generally my starting place, unless a student’s profile suggests otherwise, is working memory. With working memory, I assess both visual and verbal memory – and the assessment of visual memory may direct me to test for visual stress and/or dyspraxia (both visually mediated and both subjects of a past blog). The more students I assess, the clearer the picture I see – some student’s visual and verbal memories are similar, and some are not. Some students may have ASD (diagnosed or suspected) and others do not. I do not see any patterns specific to autistic students. None.

Temple Grandin discusses thinking in pictures, it is the way she processes, but is it unique to autism or do others also think in pictures? I dream in colour, sometimes quite vivid colours, but I am told this is unusual. Is it? I wouldn’t know and it’s not an area in which I have read research. Thinking in pictures, however, is not the same as visual memory and I think it’s unwise to assume that people with an above average visual memory think in pictures!

In one of my uni exams I tried to revise using pictures, I’d become aware of the medication that I take for neuropathic pain interfered with my recall, hence trying a different approach. I linked pictures with words, so for the surname ‘Alonso’, I used a picture of Fernando Alonso. I can still ‘see’ him in his old Renault blue-and-gold racing suit, but I can’t now remember a thing about Mrs Alonso & what she did. It was a spectacular fail. However, if I go back a bit further to my bullet-point lists, I do remember: Behaviourism, Pavlov -> salivating dogs; Skinner -> box -> rats. Even now, I can easily write a short paragraph on each, along with others like Bronfenbrenner, Vygotsky, Piaget, Bentham, Goffman etc. All learned via bullet-point lists. Obviously I tapped into my visual memory to ‘see’ the list in my mind’s eye, but often spoke them out aloud. My verbal memory is higher than my visual.

My ‘hobby’ for want of a better description (I like hobby as hobbies are something you enjoy, do in you leisure time and do not usually get paid for!) is volunteering for a large SEND charity giving legally-based advice. I often discuss EP reports with callers/parents I work with, as no-one has ever actually explained what they mean. A big part of my work is establishing a student’s needs, based on their cognitive assessments. I see many statements/EHCPs that call for a variety of visual prompts, seemingly contrary to the EP report. I like to see if concrete/verbal skills are the same/better/worse than visual/fluid skills. Again, like the assessments I undertake at work, I am not seeing any biases towards one or the other in regards to ASD. It seems to me that autistics are as variable in these skills as the rest of the population.

Someone on Twitter said that the use of visuals is part of TEACCH and so it is. I am confused however, how a programme that states that it uses empirical research, is based on the promotion of visual supports, since a) I cannot find any evidence myself that all autistics rely on visuals and b) I haven’t seen any research that also supports the idea that all autistics benefit from this.

I think a big spanner in the works is if the student also has dyspraxia and/or visual stress. This is frequently not picked up on in EP reports, possibly because the LA has not requested that the EP look for these? One child I have tracked through, has EP reports going back to around 3yrs old. Visual/spatial assessments between the ages to 3-15 have all placed him in the well-below average range, but more concrete skills, such as reading/analogies have been well above average (or even above the test’s ceiling – many tests used by EPs stop at 16). Although there were many instances of the mother stating that her son’s hand-eye coordination was ‘a bit off’ and he struggled with jigsaws, it wasn’t until his independent report at 15 that he gained a dyspraxia diagnosis. Was it ever appropriate to suggest this student should have a visual cues? Would he ever have made sense of them? Should he be using drawings to support his memory when he can’t draw for toffee? (Think basic stick-man).

In my opinion, if you have access to an EP/SaLT/Specialist Teacher report that discusses visual ability, use it as a basis for support rather than rely on a generalist notion of what is needed – please?


2 thoughts on “Visual musings

  1. Hello!
    I’ve read your post on SNJ. I’d like to ask you how’d you manage to study, work for the SEND charity and hold down a job?
    Would welcome your advice about, Work life balance!


    1. Ha! Actually, I had to give up work 11yrs ago due to school issues etc.

      I signed up with the OU, gained a degree or three, took a PGCE course locally and passed AMBDA (Associate Member of the British Dyslexia Association). I work 2 days p/w paid (college), 1 day p/w unpaid (advocacy) and the rest – whatever I decide! (plus some extra advocacy, either the legal charity or local).

      It is having the Masters level literacy qualification that allows me to work p/t. My job is specialist & linked directly to the qualification. The pay is pretty decent although I have no job security. The job/qualification was more by accident than design.

      I don’t want for much. I don’t really holiday, I’m not interested in flashy white goods & I drive a 17yr old car! I do like my coffee & cake out with hubby, walks on the beach & generally wandering about. I’m chilled, life is good to me & my kids are decently independent now. I’m lucky.


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