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Why is visual performance important for children with autism? How to improve it?

It is never too early to familiarise your child with visuospatial skills as it means more opportunities to use or acquire information throughout their lives.

Visual performance for children with autism For individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), vision is one of the sensory integration problems that are frequently found among them. As such, they may have difficulties interpreting things visually such as pictures, sequences and puzzles. Therefore, focusing on visual performance drills such as matching-related tasks help children increase their ability to scan, locate and spot similarities / differences. There are 3 common drills that will help:

Block imitation

Block imitation teaches the child to look at a block structure built by an adult and use his/her own blocks to construct and replicate the adult’s structure. Before they are able to successfully do that, the child has to observe, scan and plan with the end in mind. This helps to build essential skills such as generalisation of basic matching abilities, the ability to build structures and development of visual discrimination. Most notably, it trains their ability to use another person’s model as a form of guide to complete a task which hones a child’s executive functioning.

Puzzles There are a variety of puzzles ranging from single to multiple pieces for children of different ages. By doing a variety, it helps children to complete puzzles of differing complexity while training their brain, visual skills and fine motor skills. When children are engaged in puzzles, they first have to trial and error where they pick and grasp pieces aimlessly and try to fit in. Ideally, they should be able to grab pieces that are more likely to fit and orientate them accordingly until it fits correctly. The pieces that are more likely to fit are the ones that have associated colours, parts of the picture or of the same shape.

The process of trial and error provides opportunity for the child to refine their hand-eye coordination while developing their fine motor skills.

Puzzles are a fun way to challenge young minds while teaching and preparing them early in life for important social skills such as independent and interactive play.

Matching On a basic level, matching helps children to learn how to identify objects that are alike or the same. This helps to prepare children to identify objects that are different and eventually move on to sorting items. By learning how to match and sort, it builds a child’s observational skills and increases their awareness of detail and environment. An interesting point to note, there are different levels of matching. We usually begin matching with 3D - 3D (identical) objects. Once mastered, we moved on to 3D - 2D (identical), 2D - 2D (identical) and lastly, 2D - 2D (non-identical) matching.

Within each drill, it is conducted in levels of gradual difficulty. For example, a 3D-3D (identical) objects drill starts from an array of 3 and will be slowly increased to 5 and subsequently 8 to 10. This could be increasingly difficult for children with ASD as they now have more stimulus that they have to focus their attention towards and yet be precise. By ensuring that the array is progressive, it also gives the adult an opportunity to see if the child is ready for more information.

Matching enables the child to problem solve and develop their memory. Additionally, it provides a chance for the child to demonstrate that they are capable of making a connection between the model item and pictorial representation. It utilises their ability to store, organise, retrieve and recall information in relation to something they have seen before.

Importance of visual performance Through different drills which tackles a variety of skills, children with ASD are given a chance to improve their visual performance abilities which impacts their environmental and social awareness. Ultimately, all these skills are important stepping stones for other functional and organisational skills such as counting money, getting dressed and completing worksheets at school. It is never too early to familiarise your child with visuospatial skills as it means more opportunities to use or acquire information throughout their lives. At Healis, we believe in working progressively alongside with parents towards exposing your child to level-appropriate activities that enhance skills while having fun! The earlier the education, the larger and longer lasting the improvement.

Written by: Jermaine Tan

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