In a recent blog post on helping nonverbal children communicate, we let you know that our Autism Treatment Network (ATN) would soon publish a pamphlet on visual supports. Yesterday, we were pleased to release Visual Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorders, available for free download on our website. For perspective on its usefulness, today’s “Got Questions?” comes from the pamphlet’s authors:
Clinical Psychologist Whitney Loring, PsyD, and
Both work within the ATN at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD), in Nashville.
While working with hundreds of families of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), we have seen firsthand the benefits of visual supports. For some families, these tools bring immediate improvements in how their child and family function on a daily basis. Others find they need a few weeks working with these supports to see clear benefits emerge. Either way, they report significant improvements in their children’s communication and understanding, as well as increased compliance, adaptive behaviors and independence, along with decreases in challenging behaviors.
We are definitely believers in the power of visual supports!
Yet many of the families who come to us have yet to be introduced to these valuable tools. Some parents have heard that they should use visual supports. But they admit to not exactly understanding the term, where to begin, or why visual supports are important in helping their children communicate and understand others.
Often, we find ourselves explaining visual supports in the midst of answering the many other questions and concerns a family brings to us. As a result, parents may leave our clinic with “visual supports” being just one of many things they’re trying to remember and implement on their own.
Ironically, we came to realize that part of the problem was that we were attempting to explain visual supports quickly and verbally without having a visual way to communicate their importance!
Our answer is the newly released Visual Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorders, a step-by-step, easy-to-understand introduction to visual supports and the ways that parents and other caregivers can begin using them.
The pamphlet provides practical examples of how to begin integrating visual supports into a child’s daily routines. We’ve also included a variety of actual visual supports for parents to print, cut out and use, along with links to resources that provide more detailed information for those who want to go further.
So far, the response from families “test driving” this tool has been overwhelmingly positive, and the enthusiasm is not just from those new to visual supports. Some parents tell us, for example, that the guide helps them explain visual supports to other important adults in their child’s life—from grandparents to teachers and doctors.
We hope this pamphlet will help empower parents in both how they use visual supports and how they expand use among others who care for and work with their children. And we hope you find this tool useful in ways that make a positive difference for your child and your family. Of course, we continue to learn from you, as well. Please let us know more about how your family uses visual supports by leaving a comment on this blog and/or sending us an email at email@example.com.
Development of this tool is the product of on-going ATN activities. To learn more about the ATN or find a site in your area, please visit www.autismspeaks.org/atn. For more tools for parents, grandparents and clinicians or to find resources in your area, also visit our ATN Tool Kits page and Autism Speaks Family Services.
Posted by pediatric neuropsychologist Cassandra Newsom, PsyD, director of psychological education for the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Nashville, Tennessee), a member of Autism Speaks’ Autism Treatment Network.
On a daily basis, I interact with families and their amazing children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Like my colleagues, I have seen many children with ASDs struggle with the routine blood work associated with their healthcare and participation in autism research programs. Parents, too, often become anxious as the time for blood work draws near. Nurses and phlebotomists, in turn, sometimes struggle ineffectively to communicate with and calm these young patients. Clearly, the resulting stress worsens the discomfort associated with blood work and creates negative associations for all involved in the process.
For these reasons, our team wanted to pool our knowledge about pediatric pain management—particularly techniques proven to help calm children with ASD. We wanted to improve everyone’s experience—that of the child, parents, and healthcare providers. And, so, we set about developing two of this month’s new ATN tool kits: “Take the Work Out of Blood Work: Helping Your Child with ASD” and “Take the Work Out of Blood Work: Helping Your Patient with ASD”
To help us, we recruited a talented group of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from our Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program. Our LEND trainees set out across Vanderbilt’s campus—interviewing pediatric pain specialists, behavioral therapists, hospital-based child life specialists, and experts in developmental disabilities. They observed blood draws in a research clinic for children with developmental disabilities and scoured available research in the pediatric pain literature. Each team member made unique contributions to the final product based on their backgrounds in psychology, medicine, speech-language therapy, and developmental disabilities.
The resulting first draft of the tool kit focused on coping, distraction, and positive behavioral supports. We then solicited feedback from a parent advisory group at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, a fellow Autism Treatment Network site. As you would expect from such involved and dedicated parents, they helped us better envision the experience from the child’s perspective and provided insights into how we could encourage compassion and empathy on the part of the medical providers. They also reminded us that parents are the experts when it comes to their own child. So listen!
The team created colorful, engaging visual supports that tap into the strong visual processing abilities shared by many children with ASDs. In “test driving” the tool kits, we saw how these aids improved communication between medical providers, parents, and children. (Parents can even decide how much detail is appropriate for their child by selectively printing those visuals they feel provide enough—but not too much—detail.) Rewards are another important aspect of our guide, one that parents can tailor to their child’s interests. We also considered a child’s sensory needs in designing distraction activities and providing tips on setting up the clinic environment. Finally, both parent and provider tool kits actively promote collaboration between all treatment team members.
Our tool kits are now beginning to find their way into the hands of medical providers, researchers, and parents; and the response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive.
We hope you will download the parents or providers tool kit, give it a try, and share your experiences with us! Do you have tips for insuring successful blood draws or medical visits with your child or patient? Share your tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will incorporate the best into our website at
The Autism Speaks ATN/AIR-P Bloodwork Tool kits are the product of on-going activities of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, a funded program of Autism Speaks. It is supported by cooperative agreement UA3 MC 11054 through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Research Program to the Massachusetts General Hospital. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the MCHB, HRSA, HHS.