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Visual Language in Autism

Howard C. Shane, Sharon Weiss-Kapp
176 pages, Available Online Only
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While the employment of visual supports is an accepted and relatively non-controversial topic in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) treatment, the authors contend that students with ASD are often introduced to visual support systems that create an artificial limit to what those students are able to express. They offer a new approach, developed during the last decade and more extensively during the last three years, that is systematic and comprehensive.

Visual Language in Autism provides a wide-ranging system of visual representation linking cognition and language, tied to the daily activities of children as they progress through their lives in school, home, and in the community. In providing such an inclusive use of symbolism, the book helps to aid individuals with ASD integrate basic activities of being, doing, knowing, and expressing. Such integration is a prerequisite for orientation to space, time, and particularly, relationships. The book provides a range of assessments of experiential world knowledge, and levels of visual representation that are mapped to language and cognition.

The book helps clinicians and educators provide a systematic progression of visual symbolism, leading the student from basic perception to metalinguistic understanding and use. A strong visual language also provides an organizational matrix that can be mapped to conceptual understanding, which is likely to enhance a student’s overall communication ability and, in turn, enable the person with ASD to relate to the world of objects and events, and to find his or her way to relationships with family, friends, and community.


  • Christine Yannone, MS, CCC-SLP, Advance Magazine (2008):
    "The use of visuals with clients is divided into three modes: Visual Expressive Mode (VEM), Visual Instructional Mode (VIM), and Visual Organization Mode (VOM). This clear delineation should help clinicians better plan, create, and explain the use of visuals to caregivers. The authors offer theory, research and practical suggestions throughout the manual. As would be expected of a piece of work that describes therapeutic application of visual language interventions, the book is filled with exceptional pictures illustrating the ideas discussed."

  • Melissa Fichter, MA, George Washington University, Doody's Review Service:
    "...The book is accompanied by a CD that contains printable versions of the Monarch Natural Language Assessment, Experiential Knowledge Profile, and Key Factors in Selecting an Electronic Communication Device…This is a book for teachers, professionals, and parents who are unfamiliar with or have just a basic understanding of how to use visual symbols to supplement language instruction. The VIP provides useful gestalt ideas for teaching language using the typical heightened visual capacity of persons with ASD. The most useful information is on special considerations when working with a person with ASD (e.g., controlling inappropriate behaviors, inclusive classrooms, using visual symbols inside and outside the home), the appendixes, and the CD with printable profiles/assessment charts."

  • Chapter 1: In Search of a Visually Based Language System
    Language and Conversation Skills
    Learning Capacity and Comprehension
    Ability to Refer to and Orient to Time
    Developments in the Use of Visuals
  • Chapter 2: Fundamentals of Communication and Language Acquisition
    Language Fundamentals
  • Chapter 3: Three Modes of Visual Language: VEM, VOM, and VIM
    Visual Cues
    Communication Displays
    The Three Modes
    Does Visual Language Blunt Speech?
  • Chapter 4: Assessment, Part 1: Visual Skills and Other Key Skills
    Obstacles to Assessment
    Testing Strategies and Key Assessment Principles
    Assessment for Placement in Visual Immersion Program
  • Chapter 5: Assessment Part 2: Experiential Knowledge
    Previous Research
    The Experiential Knowledge Profile
  • Chapter 6: Intervention: Applying the Three Modes of the VIP
    General Instructional Objectives
    Areas of Communication Skill Development
    Additional Intervention Principles and Guidelines
    Language Instruction Mapped to Routines
    Visual Immersion Program Instruction
    Temporal Displays
  • Chapter 7: Special Considerations
    Controlling Inappropriate Behavior
    Expression of Pain and Discomfort
    The Inclusive Classroom
    Using Visuals Inside and Outside the Home
    Interventions for Pre-Level 1 Learners
    Intervention for Learners Who Read
    Selecting Appropriate Assistive Technology
  • Appendix A: Monarch Natural Language Assessment
  • Appendix B: Informal Language Milestones
  • Appendix C: Experiential Knowledge Profile (EKP)
  • Appendix D: Monarch Individualized Pain, Illness, and Discomfort Awareness Program
  • Appendix E: Key Factors in Selecting an Electronic Communication Device
  • Index

About The Authors

Howard C. Shane

Howard C. Shane, PhD, is Director of the Center for Communication Enhancement at Children's Hospital Boston and an Associate Professor of Otology and Laryngology at the Harvard Medical School and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the MGH Institute of Health Professions.

Sharon Weiss-Kapp

Sharon Weiss-Kapp MEd CCC-SLP is a Clinical Assistant Professor at MGH- Institute of Health Professions and a Senior Clinical Associate in the Autism Language Program at Children’s Hospital Boston. Ms. Weiss-Kapp is the author of Creative Reading Instruction: Reading by the Rules a multisensory, structured phonics reading program for students with language based reading difficulties, and she is a lead-designer of educational software. She is a founding member of the Hanson Initiative for Language and Literacy (HILL) which provides teacher training, outcomes based research, and develops literacy materials for schools. Ms. Weiss-Kapp consults to numerous public and private schools and presents nationally on the topics of autism and literacy.

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