Teaching Independence At Home: Visual Labeling

July 4, 2012

Preventing Behaviors

A mom was sharing with me about the challenging behavior her son, Gavin, exhibits when it comes to cleaning up his room.  “I’ll ask him to put his Xbox games, MP3, puzzle books, and clothes away at the end of the day,” said Julia.  “I think that it’s fair to ask a 10-year old boy to clean up his room, even if he is on the autism spectrum.”

She added, “He really seems to understand what I want him to do but when it comes down to actually doing it that’s a different story.  He starts whining, then screaming, and will try to knock an item out of my hand if I attempt to hand him one. What can I do?”

It’s been my experience that an inability to put things away in their proper place is a fairly common problem for kids on the autism spectrum.  It can happen with having to put away dishes, laundry, or groceries too.  It’s a problem related to the person’s struggle with being able to organize their environment…and possibly a problem with remembering where items belong.

I paid a visit to Julia’s home to observe this challenging interaction take place.  I arrived at the same conclusion as Julia:  Gavin seemed to understand what he was being asked to do but did not seem to know what to do next.

Solution:  a positive support strategy that involved using visual aids to improve understanding and organizing. 

One of the most common positive support strategies for kids on the spectrum to be more independent in their living environment is to visually label their personal spaces and belongings.  Visual labeling can show where items belong in a drawer, cabinets, closets, or on a shelf.  You can watch a short online training video of visual labeling here.

An additional benefit to using visual labels is that you tap into one of your child’s strengths: visual processing.  If your child struggles with comprehending verbal instructions (due to auditory processing problems, impaired receptive language, etc.) then using visual supports will help him to bypass their auditory deficit and use one of their strengths: visual processing.

Over the next several days, Julia grabbed her digital camera and started taking pictures of all the items that she wanted Gavin to put away.  Julia then printed the pictures out and laminated them.  She then purchased some Velcro and used it to adhere the pictures to the locations in which the items belonged.  Over the course of the next two days she demonstrated to Gavin how the pictures represented the location in which he was to place his Xbox games, socks, books, and so on.

“It took a few days,” Julia shared, “but Gavin caught on!”  “I still have to remind him when it’s time to start cleaning-up and putting his items away, but there’s no longer any screaming because he knows exactly where they go!”

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Michael Woods, M.A. BCaBA CPI

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About Michael Woods

Christ-follower, husband, chocoholic, and peanut-butter lover! I'm a father to triplet boys...each on the autism spectrum.

View all posts by Michael Woods

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