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Teaching independence with visual navigation cards

In this post we will talk about how to teach independence with visual navigation cards to help children and adults learn routine actions. We will discuss How to design and prepare a visual navigation card, and how children are taught to use it.

How to use visual navigation cards to teach independence

Teaching children everyday activities, household chores for example, is not always simple. Kids want to do things their own way. A neurotypical child, looks at the modal people around him (parents, kindergarten teacher, siblings, kindergarten friends, etc.), and tries to do the same. Sometimes they miss important steps in action, because learning from imitation isn’t always enough for a more complex action. In children with communication problems, it is sometimes more difficult to teach complex action, because they do not perform imitation properly, and sometimes a verbal explanation does not “speak their language”. In the children with ADHD, sometimes you don’t succeed in “simple” actions because they don’t remember to perform Action A before B, and B before C, and when they start a process from the middle, it frustrates them because the action they wanted or had to do doesn’t materialize.

We’ll take an example, a simple process like going to the bathroom. Supposedly a very simple process, but it actually consists of a lot of steps. You have to open the light, open the door, go in, close the door behind you, take off your pants, take off your underwear, sit down, ‘go’, wipe until clean, lift your underwear, pick up your pants, flush, wash your hands (wash, pump soap, lather, wash), open the door, step out, close a light, close a door. How to wipe, how to wash your hands. It seemed simple to us, because we forget how hard it was for us to learn all the actions in the right order when we were little. Visual navigation cards can be used teach any routine process from going to the toilet to folding laundry.

Break down complex operations into parts

If we see that a child has a constant difficulty in learning a repetitive action, it is worth examining where the problem is rooted, and try to simplify it. Sometimes you only have to focus on one element of the complex action, such how to wipe your buttocks. Sometimes you have to change the method of teaching to “speak a language” that the child understands.

One of the methods I studied teaching in Israel, in a learning disabilities diagnostic course was called “visual navigation cards”. It’s basically the same complex breakdown of action I described above, into small steps, depending on the child’s need, and presenting them to the child through images. In the image below is the visual navigation card for the toilet routine that is hung in our house.

Toilet routine visual navigation card

You can see in the example that every action is displayed visually. We numbered the actions, so will be easier to track correctly. We saw that as a result of the change, our child improved, but we added more actions that were missing to a new version (close the door after entering, put on soap, and wash). You might need to break it down further, or take out steps to simplify learning.

A method that is also suitable for older people

I recently had a conversation on Facebook, with an adult autistic person, who lived in a hostel. He complained that his instructor was repeatedly saying, “I don’t understand how you can’t operate a dishwasher. It’s such a simple action.” And that he’s just standing in front of the dishwasher with no idea what to do with it. I suggested that the guy, to ask the instructor, to take a picture of every step of the dishwasher activation process and hang the visual navigation card next to the device. If we say to someone over and over “how can you fail to do such a simple action” probably for him it’s not simple, regardless of age.

Visual navigation cards are suitable for anyone with difficulty executing a process. From children to the elderly with dementia, or even office workers, who have difficulty running the coffee machine.

Think IKEA furniture. Do you know how to build a new chair without looking at the instruction manuals? Do the instruction manuals “speak” to you, and is it easy for you to complete the process? Or maybe the instruction manuals don’t speak to you, and you’ll always ask someone else to help with the construction? Most people can’t build new furniture without the guidelines. Most people use the “navigation card” (the visual guidelines page) that comes with the furniture, and manage to assemble them. Whoever needs help assembling is because the visual guidelines don’t speak their own language.

How to teach independence children with ADHD

As I mentioned, the method was originally developed for ADHD students. For example, parents of such students might hear from the teacher over and over again: “It’s hard for him to get ready for class.” That’s a “simple” routine action, and a lot of students have a hard time with it. If the student reads well, the card does not have to be visual, but it makes it easier for students with dyslexia for example even at a later stage. Break down the process into steps: (Sit down. Put anything you don’t need on the table for the next lesson in your backpack. Take out the books, notebooks and equipment required for the next lessons until a break.) This is probably enough steps, but if the teacher indicates that it hangs between certain stages, you produce a more detailed navigation card.

Other examples for students: homework, math concepts, accessing online tasks, verbal problems.

How to make visual navigation cards

1. Identify a routine action that is difficult. (toilets, dressing, household chores, heating food in the microwave, etc.). Try to figure out at what point the child gets stuck.

2. Break apart the process into as many steps parts as you think are necessary.

3. You can use AAC device to find Images, such as in the example we displayed. You can photograph the process step by step, such as in the example I gave on the operation of the dishwasher.

4. Write the action next to each image, so you and the learner will use the same language.

5. Print the pictures, and arrange them conveniently: in a table, a single row, or column.

6. Optional: It is recommended to laminate the card, depending on where you place them.

7. Hang the card where the action often occurs. For example, on the wall in the bathroom, on the kitchen wall next to the dishwasher, or on a binder that is always in the student’s bag.

If there is no problem reading the navigation card can be step by step sentences. (such as the 7 steps for how to create visual navigation cards).

How to teach visual navigation card usage

Now it’s relatively simple. When the kid does the action, you remind them to look at the card, and make sure they haven’t missed any steps. My eldest still picks up his pants in the toilet before we wipes, and then he’s bummed out that he’s getting his pants soiled. So we hung up the card, and every time I see him pooping, I remind him that he has the card next to him. He looks, makes sure he hasn’t forgotten steps, and the process is more pleasant and successful for him. The images themselves were created with the AAC app, are beautifully laminated. The visual navigation card is like a map. Each image is the coordinates for successful navigation through the multi-step process.

You can read about our use of navigation cards and also teach your child how to dress in independence.

Visual navigation cards can also be found on the website store in the Navigation Cards category.

If you would like us to create similar tabs for you that are not listed there, please contact us.

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