Tag Archives: accommodation

Autism, Visual Thinking and the Parking System

Many autistic people think visually. As a young child who thought visually I was often thought to be stubborn and insisting upon my own way when in reality I was merely trying to keep ahold of a thought. Today in my work I come in contact with many on the spectrum and see the same phenomenon at work. Let me explain with two examples:

Example Parking Objects: Every day Britt comes to school with a toy from home. It is very difficult for her to leave the toy in her cubby so she carries it with her. Sometimes this works out ok; other times it poses problems such as when the toy is large or makes noise or is something other children want to play with. Whenever someone attempts to put the toy in her cubby or elsewhere Britt falls to floor crying loudly and becomes inconsolable.

Britt is a visual thinker. When an object is out of site, it is as if it were lost forever because she can no longer see it. We placed a bright piece of construction paper placed by her cubby for Britt to use as a parking space. She put her toy in this garage and we took a picture. After printing it we held the picture next to the actual garage with the toy parked in it so Britt could see the picture was the same as the toy parked in the garage.

Next we played a game. We gave Britt the picture of Minnie Mouse in the garage to hold. We asked, “Where is Minnie Mouse?’ Britt could see both the real Minnie Mouse sitting in the garage and the picture of Minnie Mouse in the garage. Next we turned our back to the garage and asked, “Where is Minnie Mouse?” Britt could see the picture of Minnie Mouse in the garage. We increased the distance between the garage and Britt. As long as she was holding the picture she could see Minnie Mouse and know Minnie Mouse was in the garage.

In a few days the picture of toy in garage was printed smaller and attached to the bottom of Britt’s visual schedule. Britt did not yet understand to make the picture in her head, but this strategy has served her well for several months now because it supports her visual style of thinking, allowing her to be separated from favorite toys.

Example of Parking Thoughts: Each weekday morning Eli’s grandmother picked him up. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday she brought him to preschool. On Tuesday and Thursday they went to grandma’s house. Each morning at breakfast mom would tell Eli if it was a school day or a grandma’s house day. If Eli thought he was going one place and it turned out he was going the other place he had a meltdown and had trouble the rest of the day.

Eli is a visual thinker. When he thought he was going to grandma’s house and it was a preschool day he had no way to hold his thought – i.e., he had no where to put his visual thought for safe-keeping – until the time he needed to retrieve it. As a visual thinker, this meant he had to hold onto the picture of the activities he had in mind to do at grandma’s house until the next day when he could actually go to grandma’s house. In doing so he was unable to fully engage in today’s activities. Furthermore, everything he did in his today was a mismatch to the picture in his head (activities at grandma’s house). This mismatch precipitated intermittent crying and throwing of objects throughout the day.

This often happens with visual thinkers. When thoughts are pictures you need to keep seeing them in order to not forget them. Often this leads to behavior that doesn’t work well. In this case Eli was not able to engage in any of his school activities and spent time crying and throwing things. The whole time he was at school he talked about being at grandma’s house and what he was going to do at grandma’s house.

Eli had been using a daily visual schedule. Drawing on his familiarity, we used a small dry erase board, labeling it Another Day. I started drawing with a dry erase pen each of the things he talked about. For example, he talked about playing Candy Land, eating goldfish crackers, cheese and grapes and swinging outside at grandma’s house.

Once these things were drawn on the page labeled Another Day this page was placed next to his visual schedule. This allowed Eli to know he could return to his thoughts about what he would do at grandma’s house whenever he wished. He knew where to look. This meant he no longer had to keep the picture in his head. Thus, he was able to engage with the activities on visual school schedule. Periodically, he would go over his schedule, point to the dry erase board and “read” the pictures, reciting aloud what he would do Another Day at grandma’s house. Occasionally he would add a picture item. Thus, Eli learned a system for how to park a visual thought in a way that worked with his visual thinking. This allowed him to engage in the activities at hand because he knew he would not lose his thoughts and plans for grandma’s house.

Conclusion: There are many ramifications of thinking visually. Often, children on the spectrum can benefit when we understand how their thinking works and give them visual strategies compatible with thinking style. Always remember to consider the impact of visual thinking when unproductive behavior emerges.

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on May 5, 2016.
To leave a comment at the end of this blog at the Ollibean site click here.

Autism, Accommodation and Differential Expectations

People generally are very pleased with themselves when they have made an accommodation for me. I know this because they proudly announce it! In turn, I have learned to say thank you when people announce their thoughtfulness at making an accommodation for me. I truly am thankful because it allows me a fuller participation in the events going on around me. It also makes me smile because I have been making accommodations for people my whole life and it has never occurred to me to announce it!

The fact is that autistics are required to make numerous accommodations every day they are among other people. This is because the world is not set up in a neurologically friendly way to autistics. We live in a very fast paced world where speed in understanding and responding to people is expected. We also have much information constantly being delivered over numerous electronic devices. We expect everything to happen instantly!

For the most part this isn’t a good match for people with autism because we generally have a “too much” experience of the world due to the way our sensory system takes in information from the world around this. Once that information “arrives” it is then, for many autistics, processed differently. A common result of our difference is referred to as a processing delay. This means it takes more time for us to process and respond. Not only is this is a huge disadvantage in our fast paced world of instant expectation, but one unspoken assumption is that I will accommodate for my differences and act “appropriately,” i.e. act as a neuro majority person acts.

It takes time and energy to accommodate another person regardless if you are the person with autism or the person without autism. Based on years of observation of numerous autistics, myself included, I can see autistics pay a much higher cost for the accommodations they must make as compared to the neuro majority person. Part of the reason is the sheer volume of accommodations an autistic is required to make each day compared to others. The really funny part of this is that autistics rarely are in any way acknowledged for the heavy burden of accommodations they must make just to survive in this world while others are thought to be the people making the accommodations! Furthermore, I am expected to make accommodations for you while you have the option to choose when, if, and how often you will make accommodations for me.

This differential is a result of assigning the measure of normal to the experience of the majority of the people. Even though I make considerably more accommodations for you than you make for me, because your experience of the world is considered the norm and my experience the deviation it is the understanding of the majority that I need you to accommodate me and this is true. However, nobody notices all the accommodating other autistics and I have done all our lives!

Another funny thing about this whole accommodation situation is that when you accommodate me, even if you do not announce it, everybody considers you to be a really good person for making accommodations for an autistic. For you, making accommodations is not only optional, but when you do so you are considered a good person.

For me, making accommodations is not optional. Because your ways are considered the norm I am expected to do whatever I need to fit into this norm. For me, making accommodations for you is not optional. It is expected and therefore, no credit given. In fact, the only time people notice me in regard to accommodations I make for them is when I neglect to make them! When I cannot or do not make accommodations for you something is considered to be wrong with me.

The double standard is that you are known as a good person for the accommodations you make for me while I can only be known as a bad person when I fail at making an accommodation for you. And just like you will not be thought of as a bad person when you fail to make an accommodation for me, I will never be thought of as a good person when I do make accommodations for you – at least this hasn’t yet happened in my life even though I have made considerably more accommodations over the years for neuro majority people than they will likely ever make for me!

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BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on April 10, 2016.
To leave a comment at the end of this blog at the Ollibean site click here.