Autism Flashcards: Helping Learning and Communication

This may be a generalization, but autism is often linked to a visual learning style. It follows that using flashcards (especially picture cards as visual aids) for learning can be a great tool for parents to help their child on the spectrum.

Looking back on our foreclosure history, late-night online shopping has been replaced by searches for educational material later that night. While home schooling has become a reality for many frightened parents, the internet has been almost shattered by desperation to find the best home schooling methods. Many parents have come across flashcards about autism, a traditional teaching tool for teaching new words and concepts.

Old fashioned flashcards

Traditional flashcards are mostly simple little cards used to aid in teaching language and concepts / procedures. The card usually has a word and / or a picture, or sometimes even a phrase or phrase. The value of flashcards is questionable; some believe that memory cards are primarily useful as a simplistic memory tool. In arguing in this direction, some researchers and educators believe that the cards do not contribute to the improvement of reading and language skills, because they bring little value in terms of comprehension.

On the other hand, some (like Nicholson, 1998) believe that memorizing words in flashcards actually results in better reading, as flashcards can facilitate automaticity by helping children read accurately and quickly. Nicholson states that flashcards might actually promote understanding, because when kids aren’t struggling with every word, the extra mental energy can be applied to understanding. Flashcards serve as scaffolding, words are recognized and read with precision, so that maximum effort can be applied to comprehension, the essence of reading.

Digital flashcards

Maybe the flashcard debate should be moved to the digital world to be relevant to kids today. Learning is moving towards the digital landscape at an astonishing speed. For parents of children with autism, digital platforms can be particularly useful for language learning.

A systematic review of the literature investigated the impact of technology on people with autism spectrum disorders. Valencia et al., 2019 presents the review by explaining why computers are a great tool to help individuals across the spectrum learn and develop skills. The authors talk about the pleasure many people with autism experience from interacting with computers, because such interactions occur in a safe environment.

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Parents of autistic children might agree that flashcards on iPad can seem a bit more exciting than the traditional type. Preference aside, parents are obviously interested in the results of strategies that promise to help children learn more effectively.

Unfortunately, research into the success of memory cards is scarce, even more so when looking for studies in specialized educational institutions. Research (Alanazi, 2017) suggests improved reading and writing skills when flashcards are used in populations of children with learning disabilities. For children on the spectrum, however, early intervention may require specific strategies to facilitate language learning.

Autism and flashcards

One of the fundamental characteristics of autism is the difficulties of social communication. This can include problems with expressive and receptive language, which leads to frustration and behavioral problems, especially when children are not able to express their emotions and feelings. It follows that flashcards can be more than a learning tool for children with autism, flashcards can also function as visual aids to facilitate communication and the expression of needs and emotions.

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The benefits of visual aids for autism

Traditional memory cards facilitating such communication are commercially available. For example: My Feelings and Emotions for Special Needs, Autism as a Memory Aid, Empathy and Social Skills Support, and Digital Cards can be downloaded to your child’s mobile device.

When it comes to digital flashcards, there seems to be a clear technological edge. Research (Zaffke et al., 2014) mentions how memory card applications can be used to create social stories for children with autism. The authors describe how a specific memory card application enables users to create personalized content incorporating images, text, and audio on mobile devices.

One study (Harris et al., 2015) examined the effectiveness of using direct instruction cards to teach a child to answer age-appropriate social questions in a preschool environment. The child had developmental delays and a suspected diagnosis of autism. The authors concluded that the use of direct instruction cards appeared to have been successful in teaching the child appropriate answers to social questions.

It may sound almost robotic; asking a child to use predefined answers to social questions can raise questions of social spontaneity and understanding. The argument for flashcards in a reading context can also apply to social contexts: if a child feels comfortable with how he will respond to social questions, he can use that level of comfort as a scaffolding for develop social skills. For many people on the spectrum it can be stressful to answer social questions appropriately, so holding such cards could serve as an encouragement to pursue social situations, and the practice makes perfect!

The teacher’s best friend

For teachers, there can be significant challenges in teaching vocabulary and reading skills to specific special education populations.

A quasi-experimental research study describes the influence of using flashcards and puppets to develop vocabulary (Wahyuni, 2019). Surprisingly, the eighth-graders in the study showed more interest in flashcards than in puppets; the author suggests that flashcards can be an effective aid in helping children develop vocabulary in special education settings.

For teachers, the best way to use flashcards for autistic students may be to incorporate the special interests of the children. For example, for many children on the spectrum, trains are particularly fascinating. A lesson on trains could incorporate picture cards for visual learners, and words related to transport (verbs, sentences and new words) could also be taught by flashcards for better vocabulary development. It may sound too specific, but the vocabulary of transport or “getting around” could be generalized, it could serve as a scaffolding to develop more vocabulary.

Training themed flashcards could also be incorporated to teach social skills. Appropriate answers to social questions, for example between a driver and a passenger, could be prompted by flashcards. It can help build a more general conversation later on. This not only makes learning fun, but according to research (Winter-Messiers, 2007), special skills could help develop skills that might be difficult for children with autism to learn otherwise.

Critical mind

Like any other educational medium, flashcards have advantages and disadvantages. Parents are the critical thinkers in the best position to judge whether this medium is appropriate for their child. A free digital memory card app can be a convenient way to test it out. For best results, parents should adapt flashcards (digital or traditional) to appeal to their child’s particular interests because, when a child is fully engaged, flashcards can be a great educational tool.

The references:

Alanazi, Mona. (2017). Use of memory cards to cope with reading and writing difficulties in SEN pupils. Multidisciplinary journal of educational research. 7. 53. 10.17583 / remie.2017.2211.

Harris, M., Mclaughlin, TF, Derby, KM and Clark, A. (2015). Using DI flashcards with and without prompts to increase social issues for a preschooler with autism with measures of generalization across school personnel. International Journal of Applied Research, 1, 951-955.

Nicholson, T. (1998). The Flashcard strikes back. The Reading Teacher, 52 (2), 188–192. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20202039.

Valencia, K., Rusu, C., Quiñones, D., & Jamet, E. (2019). The impact of technology on people with autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review of the literature. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 19(20), 4485. https://doi.org/10.3390/s19204485.

Winter-Messiers, MA (2007). From Tarantulas to Toilet Brushes: Understanding the Special Areas of Interest of Children and Youth with Asperger’s Syndrome. Remedial and Special Education, 28 (3), 140-152. https://doi.org/10.1177/07419325070280030301.

Zaffke, Aaron & Jain, Niharika & Johnson, Norah & Alam, Mohammad Arif Ul & Magiera, Marta & Ahamed, Sheikh. (2014). iCanLearn: A mobile application for creating flashcards and social stories ™ for children with autism. 8456. 10.1007 / 978-3-319-14424-5_25.


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