Dynamic visual supports to aid in the emotional regulation of students in self-care tasks.

Finding effective tools

So often parents of children with ASD report they find it difficult to engage their children successfully in self-care tasks, such as nail cutting, hair washing, teeth brushing. Most frequently parents report that in order to complete these tasks they engage in the popular practice of a night time hairdresser (while their child peacefully slumbers) or the less attractive attempt on a moving and distressed child. This never ends well for parents and more frequently leaves a child feeling fearful, emotional and stressed. It is likely that every subsequent attempt will reinforce these self-care tasks negative experience and one to avoid.

Visual supports with a dynamic element have been used very successfully at Giant Steps over the past few years to support the comprehension, emotional regulation and therefore participation of students in self-care tasks such as nail cutting, hair brushing, hair cutting and teeth brushing, for example.  These supports continue to be extremely effective in supporting students to actively and calmly participate in self-care tasks that would normally require careful planning and a small army to complete (and likely involve a few tears).

What are dynamic visual supports? Essentially, they are a PowerPoint presentation in which different parts of the visual are manipulated to highlight the action that is to be completed, bringing the action to life in the forewarning. For example, a brush would move down a picture of the student’s hair. A visual countdown is also used to indicate to the student how long they are expected to engage in the task and each step is often followed by some extra ‘bells and whistles’ that can provide some extrinsic motivation for our kids and could include animated pictures, preferred characters or snippets of video. NB. These supports will not be adequate for supporting the comprehension of those students who do not have an understanding of colour photographs.

Hopefully you have started to think about how these might benefit someone you know of to more successfully engage in self-care tasks with an increasing level of independence. Your next question might be, how can I access these supports? Giant Steps love to share! We have uploaded templates for hair cutting, hair brushing, nail cutting and teeth brushing to the resource section on this site. Please feel free to download and customise for any children you have or work with. You might like to do this by selecting other bells and whistles (Thomas YouTube clips worked well for a student) or changing photos so they exactly replicate the real item or person.

Rachael Bowen
Giant Steps Sydney
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