Autistic Children: Thinking in Pictures instead of Words

October 20th, 2009  | Tags:

Communication skills for autistic children differ from the norm, including their thinking process. The majority of children with autism find words to be “too busy”, so they usually find it much easier to remember information with pictures. Through remembering specific pictures, autistic children can learn to understand other people and express themselves to a certain extent.

Autistic children generally learn verbal language by converting any text into much more easily understandable pictures. While most people have a tendency to do tasks in order, individuals with autism have a radically different visual style of thinking. Therefore, the actual shapes of the pictures and the color of the pictures plays a crucial role in the way they’ll think and feel. Pictures help autistic children discover a vocabulary that’s much easier to express.

According to several studies, people with autism usually think visually because the section of the brain which deals with visual tasks is far more active. In addition, the language and spatial centers in the cortical regions of the brain are not as synchronized as those without the disorder.

Visual thinking allows children with autism to compensate for spoken and written words. Because their brains function differently, they can better comprehend things by building visuals and memorizing them. An autistic child takes concepts, which are sensory instead of being word based, and compartmentalizes them into small details to construct a complete picture.

In time, autistic children can learn abstract words and ideas through visual concepts, like pictures and objects. For instance, if a certain stuffed animal makes a child excited, it would become their chosen visual symbol for the word exciting. Really bright colors in pictures can intensively stimulate the brain activity in the thinking processes of most autistic children.

Autistic children usually find it much easier to express themselves within a highly structured environment. Because people with autism think visually, it’s important that they are taught using visuals, such as pictures, objects, line drawings, or symbols. Through spatial memory to pictures or objects, people with autism are able to associate the appropriate words and develop communication skills that allow them to function in society.

For children with autism, a string of words or verbal instructions are learned through visual demonstration. For instance, the word “up” is easier to express in a picture of balloons in soft colors being lifted upward. Concrete visual methods, like flashcards and blocks in soft colors, are easier to retain among autistic children and help in teaching numbers and other concepts. Long verbal phrases need to be avoided or written down because autistic children have difficulty remembering a lot of steps or word sequences.

Research that compared the brain regions of people with autism to those without found that most people with autism excel in art and drawing. As such, autistic children do well with a color coded system that allows them to think through a remembrance of pictures. For example, an autistic child learns about what to do at an intersection by thinking of its concept. These thoughts are tiny color coded pictures of various types of intersections. When the situation arises, the mind gathers this information and presents it visually so the autistic child remembers what to do at an intersection.

Autistic children generally think in detailed pictures instead of words because it’s much easier for them to categorize and remember the information. By associating a noun to the color and shape of pictures or objects, the autistic child creates a spatial way of thinking that makes it easier for them to comprehend and communicate.

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