Each week we try to review a research article. Though not intentional, several of our posts this week related to visual supports for students with autism and other disabilities. Thus, we thought it would be helpful to review a research study on the use of visual supports.
Today’s research article was published by researchers at the University of Kansas. However, the article is now over 10 years old and several of the authors have moved to other institutions. You are probably wondering why we would review an article that is over 10 years old. We have 2 reasons for doing so. First, while the article is old, many teachers and parents do not even know about visual supports. Sadly, research does not always result in translation to practice. Second, the authors completed a cool study with results that we found compelling to share with you. Finally, if it worked 10 years ago, it most likely will work today–especially if we augment the practice with a little technology.
The authors of this study included Sarah Dettmer, Richard Simpson, Brenda Smith Myles, and Jennifer Ganz. The study appeared in Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities in 2000 under the title, The Use of Visual Supports to Facilitate Transitions of Students with Autism. You may find a copy of the study (and many others) here.
Participants in the study included 5- and 7-year-old boys with autism. Both boys experienced difficulties transitioning between activities. The researchers used a withdrawal research design. Specifically, researchers observed behaviors and collected data in baseline. This was followed by intervention procedures and additional observations. The researchers then withdrew the treatment and continued observations. Finally, the treatment was reinstated while observations continued. A design such as this demonstrates experimental control and shows the effectiveness of an intervention if observed behaviors change as a result of treatment and treatment withdrawal.
For this study, baseline (or pretreatment) observations demonstrated the difficulty of transitions for each child. One mother physically removed her child from community settings due to challenging behaviors and refusals to leave. Both boys required 2-5 minutes of transition time combined with multiple verbal and physical prompts.
The intervention consisted of the use of visual supports. Researchers taught parents how to use visual schedules to communicate to their children upcoming events. If the intervention sounds simplistic to you, it is. The simplicity of the intervention adds to the quality of the study.
Both boys experienced decreases in total transition time. Specifically, one boy decreased from 5 minute transitions to 1.5 minute transitions. The other boy decreased from 2 and 3 minute transitions to transitions lasting 30 seconds.
The most surprising finding in this study (and the reason we still want to talk about it 10 years later) is the fact that one student verbally requested his picture book when it was removed. The other student went looking for the visual support materials. The students wanted their visual schedules.
So why 10 years later aren’t we all using visual supports for children who need them?
If you have a child or a student with autism who experiences difficulties with transitions. Consider using visual supports as a strategy to reduce transition difficulty. If the student has an iPad consider purchasing iPrompts so a visual schedule may be made in seconds.
Happy transitions everyone!