How do we decrease neurological stress?  The following is an excerpt from my recent book titled “Visual Supports for Visual Thinkers: Practical Ideas for Students with ASDs and Other Special Educational Needs”

Visual processing

A research team funded by the National Institutes of Health found that, in people with autism, brain areas normally associated with visual tasks also appear to be active during language-related tasks. This provides evidence to explain a bias towards visual thinking that is common in those with autism.

Try this little activity: the following statement is about neurological processing.

“Visual’s a strength, auditory ain’t.”

As you say this, make goggles with your hands to cover your eyes. Then try saying it again while cupping your hands to make ear muffs over your ears. This little exercise will help your brain to remember a key statement about the preference for those with ASD for visual versus auditory learning. This understanding is the first step for taking a different course of action when responding to the behavior of those struggling with neurological stress.

To process information auditorily means to capture the spoken word, interpret its meaning, and find the most appropriate response within the vast catalog of possibilities in the brain. That requires a great deal of work for any brain, but often becomes a daunting task for individuals with ASDs.

If someone gave you a list of 20 grocery items to buy verbally, you would probably be able to remember the first six or seven and forget the others. To decrease your stress about keeping all 20 items in your brain and increase the likelihood that you will successfully purchase the entire list, you would probably want to write them down.  Furthermore, you feel a sense of accomplishment as you check off each item.

It is not that you did not hear the items or that you did not understand their meaning, but rather that it is more difficult to process and respond to auditory information at a certain point. That is why our lives are filled with to-do lists, calendars, recipes, directions, and other visual supports. Visual’s a strength, auditory ain’t.

Research has shown that individuals with ASDs demonstrate strength in visual learning.

Visual supports organize a sequence of events, enhancing the individual’s ability to understand, anticipate, and participate in those events. Did you know that approximately 65–70 percent of the general population is considered to be primarily visual learners? Let’s see if you fall into that percentage. Take a moment to answer the following questions.

  • Do you use a calendar?  Yes  No
  • Do you use a list for grocery shopping?  Yes  No
  • Do you use a map to find a location?  Yes  No
  • Do you make “to do” lists?  Yes  No
  • Do you use a recipe to make a dish?  Yes  No
  • Do you read directions to assemble a toy?  Yes  No
  • Do you ask someone to write down information?  Yes  No

If you said “yes” to three or more, you might be a visual learner! It is in this way that visual processing becomes a common link between the neurotypical brain and the brain with autism.

by Lisa Rogers

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1 Comment

  1. Part of only remembering the first six or seven items comes from the natural limits of short term memory (stm) which is 5+/- 2 items. This is not related to autism, but is universal.

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