The wiki you are currently visiting has visual strategies incorporated within each area. This particular page simply addresses the many types of visual representation systems that may be used to develop a particular visual strategy. The companion wikispace R4ATandAutism has a page devoted specifically to visual strategies.

Visual Representation SystemsBecause individuals with ASD typically process visual information with the greatest clarity, providing them with visual supports helps to promote that strength. Various types of technology—from “light” to “high” tech—should be infused into every aspect of their daily lives.
Regardless of the technology being used, it is crucial to determine which visual representation system is best understood by the student. More importantly, we must determine in which contexts the visual representation system is best comprehended and utilized. Visual representation systems may include a variety of visual supports, such as objects, photographs, realistic drawings, line drawings, and written words. It is important to note that the chosen system should be commensurate with the student’s level of comprehension. In addition, some students may need different modes of visual representation in different contexts or locations. This variation may depend upon the skill being taught, the number of distractions in the environment, and the specific characteristics of the individual with ASD. In order to make appropriate selections, one must know how the student responds to a variety of stimuli and what strategies the student may have already developed in the areas of attendance, organization, communication, and others. For example, a student may use real objects in a daily schedule because the real, tangible objects appear to provide a greater amount of information to help him understand and navigate throughout the day. The object schedule may also help to increase focus during periods of transition. However, this same student may use photographs or line drawings to engage in a picture exchange to communicate with another student. Some researchers suggest that some children have greater success when visual supports have been created using line drawings, such as the Mayer-Johnson Picture Communication Symbols (Peterson, 2000). If the student experiences significant difficulty comprehending this mode of representation, a more concrete representation, such as photographs, should be explored. If photographs are still not successful, the use of real objects (or parts of real objects) may be utilized.

Mayer-Johnson’ssoftware, Boardmaker, is a user-friendly program that can be used to create picture communication symbols for a variety of purposes. Available for both Macintosh and Windows platforms, this program offers more than 4,500 picture communication symbols Boy02.png(PCS) in a library of both black/white and color picture symbols. Symbols can be created in any size and may be accompanied by any written word or phrase. They present a relatively clear, “uncluttered” representation of an item, action, or occurrence, and help to decrease the ambiguity that can often arise when using regular photographs. For example, Robert’s classroom teacher, Mrs. Scott, took photographs of the other teachers in Robert’s environment with the purpose of helping him learn their names. When reviewing the names of the teachers in the photographs Robert referred to one photograph of a particular teacher as “Mexico.” Upon further review of this photo, Mrs. Scott realized that in the background, barely discernible to her, was the corner of a map. Although Mrs. Scott perceived the other teacher as the salient feature in the photo, Robert was processing the minimally visible map of Mexico as the most important detail, and labeling the photograph according to this feature.

When using line drawings, such as those produced with Boardmaker, attention should given to determining whether to use black and white or color picture communication symbols. Some individuals with ASD exhibit a high preference or a strong aversion for specific colors. Therefore, if a colored picture communication symbol is used with a student who exhibits a high preference for a specific color, and that color happens to appear in a small part of that symbol, the individual may focus only on that high interest color and not process the entire picture. This makes the picture communication symbol virtually meaningless to the student. Given the symbol for “lunch” with a red apple as well as a brown sandwich and orange juice, Sally, who has a high preference for red may only process the apple. Another possibility is that Sally may not even process the image, but attend only to the color depicted. Therefore, the symbol may become non-meaningful to Sally. Black and white picture communication symbols tend to circumvent any ambiguity related to color. It is important to experiment with black and white and color in order to determine what effect color has on a given student.

In addition, using a protective laminating material that produces a high gloss on picture symbols may interfere with an individual’s comprehension and attention to the symbol. Experimentation will reveal whether or not the individual with ASD seems to be affected by materials that produce a glare.

hrplygrn.jpgIf the individual has difficulty understanding the picture communication symbol line drawings and needs a more concrete representation, Picture This (Silver Lining Multimedia) is a software program which allows for the presentation of real photos without the ambiguous background clutter sometimes encountered with photographs. Picture This contains over 5,000 photos from various categories and are ideal for creating daily schedules, activity schedules, augmentative communication systems, games, materials for reading activities, materials for sequencing activities to teach following directions, and other visual supports.

For students who have difficulty understanding a two-dimensional visual representation system such as photos or drawings, Bloomfield TOBI_03.jpg(2000) suggests using True Object Based Icons (TOBI). TOBI are line drawings or photographs that are cut out in the actual shape or outline of the items they represent. Providing the object shape which the student can both see and feel, appears to assist in understanding a two dimensional representational system. TOBI tend to be somewhat larger than typical symbol systems, and when initially introduced, may be three inches or larger. The printed word should also accompany the picture and should be strategically placed so as not to alter the symbol shape (Bloomfield, 2000).

For those students making that transition from using a visual representation system of objects or photographs to black/white line drawings, a simple strategy of placing a small black/white picture communication symbol in the corner of the various objects/ photographs currently used may facilitate this process. Gradually increase the size of the picture communication symbol until it covers up more and more of the photograph or object. This strategy has proven very successful with many students in teaching them to understand and use symbols.

It is important to note that, regardless of the visual representation system being used, a written word should almost always be presented with the visual representation system. Many individuals with ASD exhibit a high interest in letters and words, and some are very early readers and writers. It is a good idea, therefore, to provide printed letters, words, and/or phrases with any picture or object presented to the student in order to promote emerging literacy.

Each student is an individual. Standard protocols for the order of introduction of symbols and visual representation systems are generally applicable, but responding to the individual needs and preferences of students is a top priority in developing a system that will be successful. Gather data and meet as a team to create visuals/icons that reflect the student’s current educational, cognitive, and functional levels. Give a well-developed system every opportunity to work, but be willing to adapt as changes become necessary.

Assessments for symbol use include:
  • The Test of Aided-Communication Symbol Performance (TASP) is available for purchase from Mayer-Johnson.
  • An assessment for symbol use/preference based on recommendations by D. R. Buekelman and P. Mirenda is available here in PDF format. Click on the link Symbol Assessment Protocol.pdf

Communication Symbol Resources

  • Software
    • Boardmaker by Mayer-Johnson(see above for explanation)
    • Overboard by Gus Communication Devices- you can create printed communication boards, schedules, reading/writing activities, visual supports and speech enhanced dynamic displays. The software includes 5,500 communication symbols, 250+ communication device templates, and a link to 150,000+ images and symbols from Microsoft's clipart library. It also has speech output and page linking.
    • Writing with Symbols 2000 by Widgit- Although no longer in print, Writing with Symbols may still be in your desk drawer and is a powerful tool. It includes nearly 4,000 color Picture Communication Symbols and more than 4,000 color Rebus symbols. One of the simplest features of the software is its ability to create simple communication grids. The software is primarily used as a picture-supported word processor for both teachers and students and a picture-supported writing tool for students.
    • SymWriter is the successor to WWS writing tools, with enhanced features. Communicate: SymWriter is a symbol-supported word processor that any writer, regardless of literacy level, can use to author documents. Writers of any age or ability can use Widgit Symbols to see the meaning of words as they type, supporting access to new or challenging vocabulary. On-screen grids allow selection of text, symbols and pictures to assist writing, even if spelling ability is limited or accessing the keyboard is a barrier. For those supporting the writer, the simple grid designer enables quick editing or creation of content.
    • A companion product to SymWriter is Communicate: In Print2 It is a great tool for printing grids and with the addition of flexible layout, it is useful for worksheets and books.In Print 2 is a desktop publishing program for creating symbol-supported resources for printing. It is an excellent tool for anyone to make accessible materials for their school, home, business or community.
    • Mind Expressis an easy to use computer program for a speech therapist or teacher who needs to create new mindexpress_screen.gifcommunication grids and exercises. A huge variety of symbols, pictures, speech, music and sounds can be used to make various methods of communication. The program allows people to form words and sentences by selecting pictures and symbols, which can be spoken out loud using a clear, high quality speech engine. An extensive range of symbols and icons are available for use in Mind Express. They can be used to create communication grids and games and can also be extended with your own drawings, photos or new symbols. The software is very easy to adapt and update, so that communication grids can be kept up to date and reflect the progression of each individual. The SymbolStix symbol set is included with Mind Express.
    • Picture This from Silver Lining Multimedia(see above for explanation)
    • Symbolmate by TOBIIis a newer system for creating paper-based communication boards
    • SymbolStix Online, partnered with TOBII, AMDi and other companies, is a web-based symbol search engine that gives the user access to a current and frequently updated symbol set. Subscription is about $50 per year.
    • Pogo Boardsis a web-based application for creating boards, which is easy to use, provides access to millions of images through an integrated Google image search, plus thousands of unique, custom symbols with SymbolStix© and the new PiCS© symbol system. Voice has been added.
    • Deafblind Online has three free programs to help you make communication grids and to have picture-supported word processing (EdWord, Grid Maker, Symbol Maker.) They are no longer funded and you may search for these and other free assistive programs at Oatsoft.
    • ConnectABILITY is a virtual community and website focused on lifelong learning and support for people who have an intellectual disability, their families and their support networks. It is based in Canada and funded by a grant from Ronald McDonald House Charities. ConnectAbility has many great resources, but today we are talking about supports for creating communication boards. The Visual Engine allows you to easily create grid based communication boards with their pre-set symbol or image library or you can add your own images.
  • Symbol and Photo Sources
    1. Imagine Symbolshas over 4,000 symbols that used to be free of charge. You can obtain some symbols free from Straight-Street (see below.)bird.JPG
    2. Learning Magichas free photo collections of birds, animals, farm stuff and backgrounds
    3. Straight Streetis another set of free symbols available after you register with the site
    4. Aragonese Portal of Augmentative and Alternative Communicationis located in Spain but the site is written in English (for the most part) and they have a great collection of free "pictograms"
    5. PHOTOsymsis a fun and easy to use program designed specifically to create custom symbols from digital photographs. It is a great tool for parents and educators who do not have access to more complicated symbol making software.
    6. Sclera Picto'soffers free pictograms
    7. The Tulare County/District Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA)website contains materials and tools that may be downloaded and used to support families and professionals in educational, home and community settings.
    8. School Clip Art - Great site for free school clip art.
    9. Ookaboo - Creative commons (free) site for finding great images for class work.
    10. Picsearch - Excellent image search engine, if used with a district's filtering solution.
    11. Veezzle - Wonderful free stock photo search engine.
    12. Free Photo Bank - Easy way to find creative common images.
    13. Open Clip Art - Great way to find free clip art.
    14. Find Icons - Nice site for free icons.

This Wiki will outline various suggestions in several areas that people living and working with students with ASD must take into consideration. Various assistive technology tools and strategies that may assist in these areas are discussed within each category. None are specifically endorsed.