Supporting a visually impaired child after a diagnosis of autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behaviour. If a child with a visual impairment is diagnosed with ASD, typical strategies and resources to support may not always be suitable or appropriate, depending on the level of sight the young person has.
This blog covers how ASD resources and strategies may be altered to support the individual needs of the young person with sight loss.

Routine and structure

It may sound simple, as most children enjoy routine and structure – however, for a child with a visual impairment and ASD, this is vital.

Knowing what is to come, and being prepared for any change in this routine, will help to prevent problem behaviour, create calm, and allow them to engage in the activities of the day. For a sighted child, a visual timetable and now and next board can be used; however, for a child with limited or no sight, objects of reference can be used to create a timetable for the day. This is when an object is systematically used to represent an item, activity, place or person. This helps to create an understanding of what is happening in the environment. These objects need to be meaningful, motivating and frequently used to be successful.

Children having fun

Consider also what the environment is like. Having an organised, clutter-free room (whether in the classroom or at home) will create predictability and independence. A constantly changing or cluttered environment can cause extreme anxiety and uncertainty.

Colourful paper birds

Tactile resources

For an autistic child with a visual impairment, the other senses become more important. Tactile resources to help communicate meaning can be beneficial, so that the young person learns to associate a particular texture with, for example, an emotion or a basic need, such as hunger.

However, it is important to understand that some ASD children can be tactile defensive (may not like/tolerate certain textures), so it is important to choose textures that they like.

A ‘task wall’ could be created to show, for example, a weekly/daily or task routine.  There are some fabulous ideas for creating tactile books and resources here.

Braille

If a young person with a visual impairment is able to read Braille, resources can be adapted into Braille for the young person to access independently. There are many resources available, such as now and next board, social stories and comic strip stories, emotional regulation boards, etc.

Verbal social stories

Social stories are stories which were devised to help children with ASD better able to understand social situations. They are a short description of a situation, which may cause anxiety, or a child may find difficult to understand. It can also be used to prepare for change in routines. These stories are usually written down, however, they can also be recorded or spoken to the young person.

Focus on precise language

Keep communication clear and precise. Many children with autism have processing delays and may need longer to respond. Keep sentences and instructions short and to the point. Allow up to 10 seconds (yes, 10!) for them to respond. If you interrupt during that time, they may need to start all over again.

Also, if you do need to repeat the instruction, ensure the exact language is used. Altering the words or the order could be extremely confusing and overwhelming. Also, keep language direct and avoid using abstract language.

Even with a child with some vision, it is important not to rely on facial expressions, body language or tone of voice as these are difficult for autistic children.

Three children pose for a photo, laughing and smiling

Further support

If you care for a visually impaired child who has been diagnosed with autism, please contact us to speak to our specially trained staff about the available support.  Call us on 0300 222 5555 or email info@henshaws.org.uk

Our charity provides a Specialist College in Harrogate for young people aged 16-25 living with a disability.  You can find out more about what we offer here.

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Sarah
Sarah
Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.