A behavioral analyst about common mistakes in teaching children with autism colors and a possible approach to such learning
In the autistic world, there is a bit of an obsession with the idea that children with autism need to be taught flowers. I would like to talk about when and how to teach a child with autism colors, and also with what colors it is better to start.
About 15 years ago, one mother and my friend brought their son to visit me so that I could evaluate his skills and maybe advise her how best to help him. I remember that I pointed to a chair and asked him: “What is this?” And about he answered: “A yellow chair.” His mom and dad looked very proud, because he not only named the chair, but also added its color. They were upset and very surprised when I told them that this is not such a good answer - because I did not ask him about the color of the chair. I would prefer that he simply answer "chair."
Perhaps you are thinking now: “Why find fault, Mary? If he calls colors, this shows his cognitive abilities, so why not enjoy the yellow chair, as his parents wanted? ”Let's see.
When should I teach a child with autism colors?
In a typical development, children, as a rule, cannot determine colors until the age of 30 months. So if the development of a child’s speech does not correspond to this age, if his speech skills are very limited, then you should not teach him colors. Attempts at such training will only cause unnecessary confusion.
Even simple sorting by color, for example, putting a yellow bear in a yellow bowl, and a red bear in a red bowl in the VB-MAPP skill test refers only to the second level of skills, and is not suitable for children who have not yet mastered the first level. The same skills as the name or the definition of the names of flowers by ear belong to the third level, which corresponds to a typical development in 30-48 months.
So if a child does not say any words, or if he cannot identify dozens of different nouns by ear, for example, “bed”, “boot” and “felt-tip pen”, then teaching flowers is a bad idea for this child with autism. At the moment, it’s too early to teach his colors.
Some children learn the name of flowers without focused instruction. They naturally remember these names when their parents or kindergarten teachers use them during various classes, for example, during drawing or games like “find everything green”. This is an ideal situation when learning colors is not emphasized, but occurs naturally.
However, if we are talking about a child with moderate or severe autism, who needs a systematic training in all speech skills, then I recommend to purposefully teach him colors.
How to start learning flowers?
To start training, we need colored paper. We will also need to pre-define 3 colors that we will train. If your child already knows some color, or he prefers objects of a certain color, then this color should be one of three. For example, if the child’s favorite color is yellow, yellow must be added to the training, as a familiar color will help the child to be more successful. It is also important to consider the articulation skills of the child and the name of what color it will be easier for him to pronounce.
If in doubt, I usually choose red, yellow, and green to start with. I do not choose both red and orange or orange and yellow at the same time, because they are too similar. Very often it’s difficult for a child to pronounce some color, for example, “yellow,” in which case you need to choose some other color.
In addition, it is better to avoid pastel colors that look a little different. I usually choose the basic colors, while I avoid brown, black and white, and colors such as gray and pink can definitely wait, unless, of course, pink is not my favorite color. These non-primary colors can be trained later.
How to teach a child flowers?
Colored paper of the selected colors will need to be cut into 4-6 identical squares of red, yellow and green. After that, we begin to teach the child to sort them by color, for example, put a red square on another red square, and we will call the color “red”. After the child has mastered color matching for these three colors, you can teach him to choose a square of the desired color by name by ear. After mastering this skill, you can proceed to teach your child to name these three colors using the same material.
It’s better not to start learning with the color of the subjects, for example, “This is a red car”, as it can be too difficult. We begin to learn with simple color samples, and only when the child masters the names of the colors can we come to a combination of color and the name of the subject, but this happens much later.
During such training, until the child attains the skill of naming red, yellow, and green without any prompts, I would avoid combining color with the name of the subject and trying to generalize these skills in a natural environment. This can be difficult, as parents and professionals are too focused on flowers, because these are the skills that are usually taught to preschoolers. Like the parents of that boy, it seems to them that if a child can add a color name, that’s good. So sometimes you have to retrain the child so that he does not.
Flower Training - Highlights
Children with autism can be taught flower names. Let's repeat the main points.
1. I would not recommend teaching flowers when it comes to a child who still has a very low level of skills, who has just begun to learn speech skills. This is a very common mistake, so it is important for all parents and professionals to understand why too early flower training or learning to always add color to the subject name is a bad idea.
2. You need to start learning color when the child is ready for this, and the first stage is this or that sorting by color. I usually use colored paper for this.
3. When we teach a child to name or define the names of flowers by ear, it is always necessary to teach 2-3 colors at a time. You can never choose only one color for training, because from the very beginning it is necessary to develop conditional discrimination of incentives.
Flower names are a great target for a child who is on the third level according to the results of the VB-MAPP test. At this level, he needs to learn more complex and advanced speech skills. This level corresponds to the development of speech in a child with a typical development at the age of 30-48 months.
Flower training should be quick and easy. If this is not the case, then most often the reason is that the training was started too early. In this case, you should return to work on the development of more basic speech skills.
We hope that the information on our website will be useful or interesting for you. You can support people with autism in Russia and contribute to the work of the Fund by clicking on the “Help” button.
Question answer. How to use visual support for autism?
Recommendations for parents of children with ASD on the use of visual support
Visual support is the use of pictures or other visual objects in order to communicate some information to a child who is difficult to understand and use speech.
As visual support, photographs, drawings, three-dimensional objects, written words or written lists can be used. Studies have shown the very high effectiveness of visual support in autism.
Visual support for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is used for two main reasons. It facilitates the communication of parents with their child, and it facilitates the communication of the child with other people.
In this guide, parents, other family members, and professionals are given instructions on how to effectively use visual support. Although this guide deals with children, visual support can be useful for anyone of any age. Also, it can be used not only by parents, but by any people who care about the child.
Why is visual support so important?
The main signs of ASD are difficulties with social interaction, problems with the use of speech, as well as limited interests and repetitive behavior. Visual support can help in all three areas.
First, it can be difficult for children with ASD to understand social signs during everyday interactions with other people. They may not understand what is expected of them in social situations, how to start a conversation, how to respond to attempts at social interaction of other people, or how to change their behavior in accordance with the rules for a particular social situation. Visual support can help educate children with ASD on social rules, and children with ASD can use it themselves in social situations.
Secondly, it is often difficult for children with ASD to understand and follow oral instructions. They may not be able to say what they want and what they need. Visual cues help parents convey their expectations to their child. This prevents conflict situations and reduces problematic behavior due to communication difficulties. Visual support supports relevant and positive modes of communication.
Finally, some children with ASD are very anxious and may behave badly if the usual daily routine changes somehow, or they find themselves in an unfamiliar situation. Visual support helps them understand what to expect, what will happen next, and this reduces their anxiety. Visual support helps children focus on the most important aspects of the situation and cope with change.
When to use it?
The Now-Then Board is useful if you teach a child with ASD to follow directions and teach him new skills. The board motivates the child to do something that he does not like, because then something pleasant will follow. The Now-Then Board also teaches the child the language to understand the steps in a few steps. If a child has learned to understand the Now-Then board, then this will help him understand and use more complex visual support systems.
How to use it?
- Decide which task the child must complete first (this will be the image under the inscription "first"), and what a pleasant lesson or reward awaits him immediately after completion (the picture under the inscription "later"). What follows “then” should be sufficiently motivating, only then is there a high probability that the child will follow your instructions.
- Place on the board images (for example, photographs, drawings, written words) that symbolize the first and second lessons. To place images, you can use stationery tape, Velcro (Velcro).
- Show the board to the child with a short oral instruction. Try to use as few words as possible, start with the word "first." For example: “First put on your shoes, then swing.”
- If necessary, remind the child of the blackboard during the assignment. For example: "Another boot, then a swing."
- When the task is “completed” first, draw the child’s attention to the board again. For example: "You put on your shoes, now swing!". Immediately provide your child with the promised item or access to enjoyable activities.
- In order for children with ASD to begin to appreciate the Now-Then board, they must receive a pleasant lesson or desired object immediately after completing the “first” task. Otherwise, the child will no longer trust what is shown on the board.
What if problematic behavior occurs?
If problematic behavior occurs, continue to physically prompt the child to complete the task “first”. Focus on the assignment, not the problematic behavior. After that, it is still important to provide a pleasant lesson or a desired subject, since the goal of the board was to complete the task “first”, and not work with problematic behavior.
If you think that problematic behavior is likely, then first include in the Now-Then board only those tasks that the child performs with ease and willingly. If it is difficult for you to control the problem behavior of the child, then perhaps you need the help of a behavioral consultant.
Autism treatment and drawing classes. How to teach a child with autism to talk
After the photographer Arabella Carter-Johnson and her husband realized that their daughter Iris Grace had autism (experts later confirmed the diagnosis), they tried many ways to help the 2-year-old girl learn how to communicate with others and talk. At home, a special sensory environment was created - but the kindergarten “did not go,” and therapy with the help of dogs and horses did not give a result. But paint painting exceeded all expectations - a child with autism blossomed in front of his eyes. Here's how it started.
First joint classes
In our home therapy sessions, I, following Iris, were slowly looking for an approach to my daughter. I sat next to her on the floor and repeated everything she did. At first she pushed me away, but then she accepted me. I continued to be cautious with eye contact, knowing that it was very difficult for her, and behaved as quietly as possible. She was interested and smiling, looking at her favorite pictures in books, trying things by touch, bringing them to her face like she did. At first we played together for only a few minutes, then - longer and longer.
Iris has made it easier to maintain eye contact, and although no improvement has yet been observed with speech and communication with other people, I felt that we were taking important steps in the right direction. She welcomed my presence nearby and was happy about the time spent together, she even began to attract my attention with the help of a water pen.
A very exciting addition to our kit: a pen filled with water and a white rug turning blue where it touches it. Drying, the traces disappear, and the rug is ready for work again. Simple but useful. The eternal rug for doodles, and no mess.
Iris nudged my hand so that I started to draw, then I took a pen and tried it myself, and then, having finished, passed it to me again. We worked together and I rejoiced. Each time my daughter accepted me into her game or wanted me to join her, it seemed to me that I won a fabulous prize.
Iris two years: draw with pencils and felt-tip pens together
Iris was interested in pencils, pens, and crayons and could play with them for hours. Most of the time the walls in the house were covered with scribbles, I already lost count of how many times they had to be repainted. Having changed my attitude to this, I realized that I should support this strong interest by simply redirecting it to other surfaces. Having bought a couple of rolls of wallpaper, I cut them into pieces the size of a wooden coffee table and put these pieces on it, sticking the ends with tape on both sides.
Iris appreciated the innovation and curled for hours, completely covering the paper with multi-colored curls and circles intertwining and overlapping each other. She bounced on tiptoe, sometimes singing. The daughter even involved both hands, working them simultaneously, blissfully, freely and joyfully spreading the color. The paper-covered table was an amazing success, and the walls remained intact for several weeks, but this could not last forever.
Flashes of color, acrylic, March 2013
. My eyes followed the blue pencil line: she walked along the wall, wriggling all the way to the door, and then, gracefully wagging, returned to me. Iris came here recently - just a couple of minutes ago the wall was untouched. Reflecting once again how to explain to her that “we are not painting on the walls!”, I noticed how an angry jagged line flowed into smooth, petal-like loops, hinting at a significant change in mood.
I accepted the challenge. Having painted a smiling face, I handed over the felt-tip pen to my daughter. She giggled and met my gaze, and then, looking down, drew a straight line, then again passed the felt-tip pen to me, pushing me to the paper.
I finished the man, adding earth, a tree, a bird in the sky and the sun with triangular rays, telling a story along the way. We took turns adding details to the picture, and Iris enjoyed the new game for a while. We worked well together, understanding each other, and then the car drove up, the gate clanged heavily, breaking our world and interfering in it, and Iris moved away.
I wanted to use Iris's latest hobby to get closer to her, and I began to draw more. I drew a lot of stories with a man and funny animals. They were vital in drawing Iris' attention to what I was doing and allowing me to penetrate deeper into her world.
3 years: how Iris began to paint
We had a very successful day: I painted letters in the sand, and Iris began to speak them out loud. Then I prepared an easel that my grandparents presented to my granddaughter for Christmas. Я возлагала на эти занятия большие надежды: дочка получала столько удовольствия от своих карандашей и историй, которые я рассказывала по картинкам, что я была уверена: ей понравится, а я смогу увязать рисование с речевой терапией.
Обмакнув кисть в краску, я оставила на листе несколько длинных мазков, показывая дочери, как рисовать. Она терпеливо стояла рядом со мной, а потом попробовала сама. But as soon as the paint began to drain on thin paper, and it began to frown and deform, Iris became angry. Sobbing, she collapsed to the floor, still clutching a brush in her hand. I felt just awful. I was counting on a fun learning experience, not on torment leading to an upset.
Removing the easel and paints and wiping the stains from the wooden floor, I mentally returned to my previous idea: large pieces of wallpaper attached to a coffee table. I decided to change only one detail: pencils for paints, and leave everything else untouched.
The next time, just in case, having covered the furniture in the nursery with old sheets, I put mugs filled with paint on the table, allowing my daughter to decide when to draw. We did not have to wait long: soon the white sheet became multi-colored.
Iris painted very carefully: a bizarre mixture of ease and thoughtfulness. Making strokes, she used many techniques: color curls, zigzags, spots and dots. Surprisingly, she spilled almost nothing on the floor and absolutely nothing on herself. The colors were separated from each other - no blurry.
While the painting was drying in my office, I realized how pretty it was for the first attempt, so I took a picture of it in memory of the joy that this new lesson brought us.
Just walked up and hugged
The next few days, things were the same. Iris's interest in drawing intensified, and she spent more and more time on this lesson. Thanks to the new hobby, I had many opportunities for interaction with my daughter, who seemed very happy. The uncertainties and defenselessness that usually arise in social situations receded while she held the brush in her hands. Iris jumped in delight, listening to me if I told her about the flowers and how to mix them.
I think I found another key to the world of our baby. For a long time not feeling such enthusiasm, I decided: let Iris draw when she pleases, exploring this new way of self-expression, and rearrange the furniture in the kitchen, making room for a table.
By the end of the week, I was photographing another work by Iris. My heart beat faster: the intricacies of blue, green and yellow strokes looked very impressive. I did not expect that a three-year-old child is capable of this.
“Have you seen this?” Asked PJ, pointing to the picture. - It's brilliant, seriously, go look.
“I know, you read my mind.” I even photographed her. Maybe insert into the frame?
“She seems like that.”
- Yes, not the same as before. I think to continue in the same vein. I know, I have compiled a whole list of classes, but.
- Throw the list out of your head! Continue what you get. Now this is drawing. You know what Iris did this morning? Hugged me! Just walked over and, smiling broadly, hugged.
PJ looked incredibly happy. I knew how much this hug meant to him, and how long he waited until his daughter could express her love in this way. The hug was voluntary and sincere. Fine - even without words.
Delight was in the air. The positive energy surrounding the modest pine table has had a huge impact on our family.
Music at Dawn, Acrylic, March, 2013
Drawing changes her
. I slid the table under the kitchen table to allow the painting to dry, and wiped the floor. The activity turned out to be very active, and tiny splashes of paint were visible literally everywhere.
Then I heard the noise of the gate. When PJ entered the kitchen, Iris was still spinning there. She met him with a smile, took her hand and pulled to her table.
“Iris, what are you up to?”
“Let me get him out.” - I again pulled the table into place, and Iris shared her joy with my father, showing him all the same white dots and waves.
PJ looked terribly proud.
“They are truly amazing, don't you find?”
- Yes, but all parents think so about the drawings of their children. I agree that they are special, but what if it only seems to us like that?
All evening we talked about the pictures of our daughter, about why she likes drawing so much, how easy it is to communicate with her, when she draws, how it changes her. And the more we talked, the more inspired. How great it is to focus on something positive, and not on another problem!
Unlike many other activities, which ended with my daughter pushing me away, now Iris finally wanted me to be next to her in the kitchen. I became part of the process, helping to make up the colors she wanted to get. She took the chance to speak as many words as possible, and Iris eagerly answered.
Rolling balls, acrylic, March 2013
The next morning, mom came with refreshments and a vase of flowers to the kitchen table. PJ heard a noise from the gate and also looked at us to take a break. We looked at each other and smiled. Iris painted at her table, blurring blue and red so that in some areas it turned pink, and in others purple. We heard her say “ball,” dipping a brush in white paint and pressing it to the paper. Having turned the brush, the daughter drew a circle in the far right corner, and another one closer to the middle. I dragged the brush over the paper, drawing a white stream.
While we were drinking tea, mom talked to Iris near her table. My daughter did not push anyone away, on the contrary, she seemed pleased and proud of her work. PJ and I watched her, not believing our eyes. Our girl became so bold, assertive and self-confident: she knew what she wanted and how to show it to us.
Iris and I quickly got involved in this new ritual. I knew when she needed another blank piece of paper: she pulled over the edges of the sketch to be removed, and ran to the office for the next. I pulled out mugs and prepared paints. Having organized everything, I proceeded to other kitchen affairs, but remained at hand, if needed, or served as a speech therapist.
The Iris technique was constantly evolving: the daughter experimented with all kinds of tools, household utensils and materials, made up her own colors, dipping brushes from a mug to a mug, moving her own way and constantly studying what happened.
Sometimes we did not know where the next creation of Iris has the bottom, and where the top, because she painted from all four sides of the table. In such cases, we would seat my daughter on a chair, and I would raise a picture. PJ asked: “By this side?”. Then I turned the picture. "Or this one?" Iris either frowned or danced a little: a simple but effective method that helped us more than once.
Our baby, who had previously hid herself deeper on the sofa with books, was dancing now in the heart of the house, surrounded by colors.