New Book, ‘Visual/Spatial Portals to Thinking, Feeling and Movement,’ Offers Groundbreaking Therapy for Autistic Children

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Psychologist Says Visual/Spatial Awareness Has Been Underestimated in Therapy for Developmental Disability

“Visual/Spatial Portals to Thinking, Feeling and Movement,” a new book co-authored by Dr. Serena Wieder, clinical director of the non-profit Profectum Foundation, offers ground-breaking new therapeutic strategies for students with learning and autism spectrum disorders.

The approach developed by Wieder and co-author Harry Wachs, O.D., addresses a child’s visual-spatial knowledge -- an essential building block to learning that’s often underestimated in therapy for developmental disability, Wieder says.

“Visual-spatial knowledge – understanding where you are in space and where other things are relative to you – is essential to anything you want to do,” she says. “When development of that knowledge is delayed, it has a domino effect on other aspects of development.”

An example of a typical child with still-developing visual-spatial knowledge is the toddler who finds himself separated from his mother in a store, she explains. Without the familiar visual anchor of Mom, the toddler is confused, lost and anxious. But even without therapy for developmental disability, this child will likely learn to use visual landmarks, his own experiences and a growing comprehension to orient himself.

“Imagine you’re an older child or teen whose visual-spatial knowledge has not developed beyond that of the toddler separated from his mom in the store who does not know where to turn to find her,” Wieder says. “You would experience the emotions of that frightened toddler on a regular basis. You would be too upset to learn, and you’d be too afraid to engage in the kind of play and social interaction that helps other areas of cognitive function develop.”

Part 1 of Wieder’s book walks readers through the role of visual-spatial knowledge in both emotional and cognitive development, including illustrative examples from the co-authors’ combined decades of clinical and research experience.

Part 2 is a step-by-step manual of effective tools, including hundreds of activities, to help children improve their visual/spatial knowledge no matter where they are developmentally.

“The therapy for developmental disability is integrated with our model of DIR (Developmental Individual differences Relationship) and Floortime, which is an approach for actual interactions with the child,” Wieder says.

DIR and Floortime were developed by Wieder and colleague child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan; the two had worked together for decades, including co-authoring two books.

“This is a very valuable book – especially for parents and professionals who deal with children with special needs and autism,” writes celebrated pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, Harvard professor emeritus and noted author. “I recommend that you read it and treasure it.”

Adds Dr. Ricki Robinson, clinical professor of pediatrics at Keck School of Medicine, University of South California, and author of “Autism Solutions: How to Create a Healthy and Meaningful Life for Your Child:

“This ground-breaking book reveals how visual-spatial challenges undermine learning and development and the interventions that can make a difference.”

About Serena Wieder, Ph.D.

Psychologist Serena Wieder is clinical director of the non-profit Profectum Foundation, which is dedicated to the advancement of individuals with special needs through educational programs. She was co-founder of the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders, and she directed the DIR Institute. Her research has focused on diagnostic classification, emotional and symbolic development, and long-term follow-up of children treated with the DIR approach. Dr. Harry Wachs is a pioneer in visual cognitive therapy.

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Ginny Grimsley
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