‘Visualizations’ are a theme of the chapter ‘interior design’. (See the recommendations.) Visualizations are employed to enhance orientation in space and also in time. In fact it all starts with a clear and uncluttered visual structure; if that isn’t enough visualizations serve to supplement and improve the visual clarity of the design.
Their use for autistic students is advocated and described in ‘The Autism Toolbox’ where they are called ‘visual supports’ or ‘visuals’.
Visualizations vary from very concrete to very abstract. Route signage is a type of visualization and so are landmarks and clocks. They can be a wide variety of pictures, colors, texts or symbols such as arrows. They can be displayed on doors, closets, cupboards and cabinets, crates, boxes or drawers to indicate their content. They may be attached to pegs in wardrobes and bathrooms indicating users and use. The same goes for time tables, programs and similar aids which help structure activities at home, in schools, in treatment groups and wherever people are living together and collaborating.
Visualizations facilitate ‘search moments’; especially if these coincide with ‘shift moments’ since simultaneous searching and shifting can be too much. To people on the spectrum such ‘search moments’ occur several times a day; partly because of memory problems and partly because the logic behind storing things and the lay-out of buildings isn’t always clear to them.
Visualizations at the concrete end can be the reference objects themselves, such as in the case of Tim Landschip whose apartment contains a minimum of things:
“… he doesn’t have a single closet in his home, but only racks with stuff. ‘If I would store my stuff in cupboards and closets, I simply forget I have them,’ (…) Landschip says. He will consider buying new bananas as long as he has one in view; once all are gone, the concept of ‘banana’ simply doesn’t occur to him anymore.”
(Visual memory loss can take extreme forms by the way, such as in the case of Paul Isaac.)
So, at times the object itself is needed as a reminder, such as the aforementioned fruit in a bowl or a game in the open cupboard. Here a certain dilemma presents itself, since open cupboards are generally not advisable because too many details can create confusion, or else fixations. Of course it is possible to combine a closed cupboard with an adjacent open shelf on which to place the object – such as a board game – as the visual reminder.
Landschips problem is with his memory. However, it could also be a problem with understanding abstractions, which many people on the spectrum have.
At the abstract end are symbols – such as traffic signs – which appear rather often in daily life. The stylized ‘man’ and ‘women’ signs for toilets already are a little more concrete if they allude to pants and skirts, instead of showing ♂ and ♀.
A young man, for instance, is searching a toilet in the hallways of an office building, while in front of a door to which a icon is attached of a man, a woman and a wheelchair. “Are you looking for something?” the nearby receptionist asks. The young man: “Yes, the toilet.” “You’re right in front of it’” she says, but he doesn’t see it. The receptionist comes over and opens the door and only then it becomes clear to him the toilets are behind it. The icon – there was one – was too abstract for this young man.
Which visualizations work best differs from person to person; one needs an object such as a dish cloth to know the dishes are waiting and for the other a photo will do, while for the third the written word ‘dishes’ is sufficient. This variation is the reason it’s worthwhile to find out what colors, styles, type-faces and imagery suit the individual best.
It’s even possible that another sense is more effective than vision: touch for example. In this particular case, it’s worth considering giving a specific tactile character to door knobs, drawer handles, light switches and the like in order to facilitate the negotiation of rooms by touch.
Visualizations are also used to define ‘zones’ (see zoning). Strengthening the link between rooms and their main use with the aid of a door-sign is an elementary example of this.