How to Help Your Child with Autism Communicate Using Comics
And read this new article, ‘’How to Help Your Child with Autism Communicate Using Comics,’’ written by Bill Zimmerman, creator of MakeBeliefsComix. The article appears in the August 2018 issue of Autism Parenting Magazine at: https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/help-child-with-autism-communicate-using-comics/
MAKEBELIEFSCOMIX FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM
Here are some examples shared by people who use MakeBeliefsComix to help children on the Autism Spectrum.
"As the mom to a little boy with autism, I just wanted to thank you for your free MakeBeliefs Comix. I don't know whether you know much about autism, but in very general terms, lots of these kids are extremely visual learners and they are a bit blunted in their ability to recognize how others around them are feeling.
"I use PowerPoint to make little 'social stories' for my son... on a regular basis, as I've found that humor and visuals can really reach him.
"Sometimes my little stories are about not leaving the backyard...other times, they introduce new vocabulary words and are about cowboys whose horses get stolen so they are reduced to riding cows! Whatever is needed, I produce.
"At any rate, a friend just recommended your MakeBeliefsComix site and it's like Santa came early! The fact that the characters look charming, one can customize the conversations, AND that there are various emotions shown make this a site I'm going to recommend to all my fellow special needs parent friends.
"It is so excellent that you can choose the emotion/facial expression of each character. Cole's teacher starts every day with their Emotions Board, where students tell how they feel and move that icon to their 'In' box on the wall. When one of them gets frustrated, the teacher asks the child how he is feeling and may ask the other kids how they think he's feeling. Then he moves the 'frustrated' icon to his 'In' box. When he chills back out and feel happy awhile later, they comment on how happy he looks and he runs to move the 'happy' icon. They practice making various emotion faces every day, too, but make it fun. This has really helped Cole in looking at other people and reading their feelings. That comic strip is just the perfect tie-in! Thank you!" -- LeAnne Cantrell, Mandeville, Louisiana
(In a later interview, Ms. Cantrell spoke about how the different facial expressions and moods shown in the MakeBeliefsComix characters' faces led to a breakthrough with her son Cole: "I sat with Cole for several months in front of the computer showing him how the words 'angry', 'sad', 'worried' matched the characters' facial expressions. Today, Cole can express his feelings verbally without acting out. This is a huge breakthrough for me to have him talk about what he sees and feels.") MakeBeliefsComix has also added a new *Autism/Spectrum category* in our printables section. Its intent is to help children with autism identify different emotions as well as draw them on faces.
Ms. Cantrell's remarks reinforce the value of comics in supporting children with autism who learn visually, in building an understanding of emotions and in developing comic strip stories, or scripts, to help children learn and prepare for activities and engagement with others. For example, a parent sitting down at the computer with a child can create a three- or four-panel comic strip that shows two people greeting one another and then filling in talk balloons with text that suggests what a conversation might be like when two people first meet and interact. This could include such things as saying "hello" to each other or asking "how are you?", and introducing themselves to each other. You can build all kinds of stories to deal with other subjects, such as discussing the different emotions we have in different situations and how to express them, as well as interacting with people in the community or at school, even dealing with a bully. Creating comic-strip stories can help children better understand how to handle themselves in different situations, some of which can be distressing to them at first but which, in time, can be mastered through building visual stories that help explain the situations more clearly and the path for negotiating them.
MAKEBELIEFSCOMIX FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM
- One psychiatrist who works with children with autism also suggested to us that for those children who are silent or do not speak, it would be helpful for parents or therapists to read aloud, with expression in their voices, the words that the youngsters write in the thought and talk balloons for their characters in the comic strips. Doing so helps reinforce the emotions expressed both in the characters' facial and bodily expressions and in the words they utter.
- Kathy Hanson, a pediatric occupational therapist, in Mesa, Arizona, says, "Using comics in therapy allows me to add some fun to the therapy process. In addition, it allows a child (youth) to see his behavior through the eyes of someone else, where it can be easier for him to come up with creative solutions than it may be when just confronted with a need to change his behavior. It's a place to start communicating. Using comics in this way can reduce defensiveness. I have used them with kids from elementary age to high school. People of all ages like comics!"I have used your comics to teach things like stranger danger skills/stranger awareness, sensory strategies, interpreting body language, how to deal with bullying, and understanding and respecting personal space. I have used them a lot with kids with autism, but also Down Syndrome, ADHD, and cognitive disability. I have used them in multiple ways including:
1) Creating a situation for a character in panel 1, letting the character point out the problem in panel 2, and then showing an appropriate response that I am trying to teach in panel 3;
2) Creating a situation in panel 1, having the character realize the problem in panel 2, and showing the characters in panel 3 but leaving it blank so the child can come up with a solution;
3) Creating a situation and letting the characters act out a solution, then letting the child tell me if it was a good choice and discussing it.
"I almost always use 3 panels in this way: In panel 1 a problem or situation is introduced, in panel 2 the character, often in the thought bubble, lays out what he thinks is the problem or knows about the situation, and in panel 3 he makes a decision and acts.
"For instance: Panel 1 - Girl and man with park background. While picking flowers, the girl has wandered a short distance from her family who is having a picnic. Man asks girl to help him find his lost dog. Panel 2 - Girl considers that she is not supposed to talk to strangers, but the man needs her help. Panel 3 - I would either show the girl turned around and returning to her family thinking 'just run away, there's nothing to say', or else I would show characters and leave it blank and we would discuss the options the child comes up with. To set up the context, I either type a few sentences before the comic strip or verbally set it up before we read the comic. Sometimes I leave a blank bubble for them to write in an answer, but most of the kids I work with have handwriting that is too large. If we are working on writing also, I may print 2 or 3 blank lines below the comic for them to write a response. The situations take place anywhere outside or inside, such as at the park, at home, in a store or mall, in a restaurant, etc.
"My favorite characters are the dog, the 2 girls with the black hair, the bunny, the cat girl, the frog, the boy with black hair, the girl with light hair, and the rat. These are my favorite because they show a range of emotions without me having to incorporate baseball, laptops, guitars or such into the stories. However, I do use those characters and your single items at times also. The kids don't make their own comic strips because I go into the home for therapy and, even though I have a hotspot on my tablet, I don't have access to their printers. I have had a child make a book of the comics, I sometimes leave the comics with the child, and sometimes I leave them with the parents to discuss with the child. Sometimes I cut out and paste the comic in the middle of a short social type story, to add a fun visual, but often I just present a single strip and we pick characters to read and then discuss it."
- Cyndi Smith, autism consultant, South Bend (Indiana) Community School Corporation, said, "I would like to use your wonderful program to show students with autism how social interactions work -- especially using thought bubbles to show the student with autism what others might be thinking in a given situation. So I might be using a talk bubble and a thought bubble in one square -- since people often say one thing but are thinking something else. I need to show the progression of an interaction, to help the student to see what is actually happening in that interaction. Sometimes I would probably develop two different sequences: one that showed what actually happened in an interaction with the student, and another that would show how the student could have acted differently which would have resulted in a better outcome. I have only used your site as I have described, to show thoughts versus speech in others -- to show intent in a given situation.
"I do not know if hearing emotion in another's speech will necessarily teach a child with autism to understand emotions. I have found it to be more helpful to give a label to the emotions the child is displaying (to give him a name for the emotion, e.g., 'I can see you are mad/frustrated') and then showing him a better way to express that emotion (if there is a problem)... However, I would encourage whatever works!"
- Another special education teacher, Bozena Syska, says with regard to children with autism, "My suggestion would be to print the comix out and have them hanging in the place the student is being taught, or maybe somewhere at home where it's their stuff. Also, in an education environment the educator or parent could make their own comix and hang them with the student's -- 'this is your emotion, but this is how I feel.' They can refer to any comix hanging on the wall when they're having a bad day and say, 'Remember when you said you were happy? etc.' "
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AND TRY OUR NEW LESSON PLANS SECTION We've just added this new section to give you some ideas of how other educators are using MakeBeliefsComix.com in the classroom. Lessons are included for language comprehension, for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, for foreign language instruction, and using comics to help children with autism.