If the story of Miriam and Amélie has made you think and you also want to help this cause to change the world
In a reality saturated with stimuli, understanding the gestures that are essential for others helps us to share the infinity of worlds that exist in the same world. As a society, the challenge has been – and continues to be – to find a common way to communicate that includes everyone, and not just the majority. Decipher that list of symbols that allow you to understand, for example, that your emotion and mine, even if expressed in a radically opposite way, can convey the same thing.
But how do we learn to decipher an emotion for the first time?
When he was still very young, Miriam Reyes' cousin had already been diagnosed with autism. On the day of her third birthday, Miriam prepared the happy birthday song with pictograms, a kind of labeling that consists of adding an image to each word. "I came to your house and I showed it to you. José took the paper from me and ran to his mother to show him the song. It was his way of telling us that this was how he learned, "she tells us, excited, Miriam.
All the ways of ordering the world
The statistics say that one out of every 150 children has a way of ordering the similar reality – never identical – to that of José. Worldwide, 64 million children live with autism. In 2014, the protests of relatives and associations of those affected in Spain motivated the change of the definition that the RAE maintained of the term "autism". They considered that the reference to a supposed "congenital inability to establish verbal and affective contact with people" was completely removed from reality.
The current definition of autism will say that it is "a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social communication and a series of restricted interests." For a mother or father of an autistic child, this definition includes the infinite nuances scale of their own experience. "I always explain that we have to learn to see the child or the girl, first with a personality or a way of being as we all have, and then there is their autism, which can vary a lot," explains Miriam. "You have to see a lot beyond the label of autism because there's a child behind that is unique."
For children with autism, words are just a succession of aligned letters that lack symbolic value. Thus, the word cat does not symbolize the animal that says meow, who likes to scratch and who, they say, can live seven lives. The word cat, without its symbolic value, is just a row of consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel: g-a-t-o. That is why an image that acts as a bridge on which to cross from the word to the idea it represents is essential.
"When my cousin's diagnosis arrived, the experts told us that children with autism are visual learners: they need images and pictograms to learn," says Miriam. "At that time I was studying architecture and visual thinking was something that I exercised in my day to day. That he took it as a series seemed fascinating to me. We decided to adapt what he needed so that he could learn and evolve like the rest of the children. "
Millions of families united by the same need
Some time later, Miriam left the prestigious Swiss architecture studio where she worked and went to Seville where she met Amélie Mariage, co-founder of Visual Apprentices. Together they created the story José's underpants, to help you in that vital moment of leaving the diaper. After the success with José they hung the story on the Internet and … boom !, the adventure began: "They immediately wrote to us from all corners of the world to thank us for having shared the story, since many families hardly found adapted material to pictograms to be able to work with their children ".
For Amélie, Miriam and her environment, it was like opening a Pandora universal box: "At that moment we realized the social demand that existed. We went from looking at ourselves as a family, as an independent nucleus, and from having the feeling of being alone to … wow! There are a lot of families out there who have the same need as ours. "
"We went through associations visiting families to see what their needs were." And in that search, in that new path of pictograms and yellow tiles, began Visual Apprentices. "We think: if nobody is doing stories with pictograms, nothing happens, we put ourselves to work and we do it ourselves".
Two collections of stories came out of the demands they found among the children and their families: the one they called Learn, for younger children in a more initial moment of learning key gestures, such as emotions or social skills; and the collection Enjoy, more focused on fun and entertainment, but always with the visual support of the pictograms. They created all the stories digitally with an open license, available to everyone on the Internet. As of today they are translated into five languages, they have been complemented with interactive applications and their materials are used by more than one million children around the world.
The theory of the ramp
Miriam tells us that another of the key moments was when they started writing to them professionals and families of boys and girls who did not have autism. "We realized that what was useful for children with autism was also serving for the whole," he explains.
Then Miriam displays her wonderful theory of the ramp: "I always explain that the access ramps to the building were originally designed for someone with motor difficulty or wheelchair, but in the end, we all climbed up the ramp and, many times, we climbed faster that by a ladder ". And with that idea, they made the leap to the next branch of their project, the Visual Schools: "We use all the visual tools to create those ramps, so that the child with a specific need can go up and the rest can also go more fast in learning ".
Last year they were in an educational center and this year they are already in 10, where they accompany the teachers in the process towards a more visual and inclusive education. "90% of teachers who use our tools use them as inclusive tools, with all children." In addition, through its platform on-line, More than 10,000 families and professionals have already received training in visual education tools.
The project has received many awards and recognitions nationally and internationally, but it is clear that for them the best is in what is not seen. "We have an emotional salary that is priceless." Like the time Sergio's father, a child with autism, told them that he had just published his first book of stories. "He told us that the first story he read was our Explorer oiler, that really connected him with reading and from there to writing. Knowing that, that your story has put that bit in the life of a child, is the most exciting, "they explain.
It is important to learn to label the world to learn to order and understand it better, but there will never be a label that can cover the unique universe that each child is made of.
look at her
listen to her
Content adapted from Miriam and Amélie's video
1 in 150 children is diagnosed with autism in the world. Amelie and Miriam founded Visual Apprentices, an organization that designs stories with pictograms to facilitate their integration and learning. They have trained 10,000 families and one million children use their stories around the world.
(Miriam) Amélie and I met while studying in Seville. I was studying Architecture.
(Amélie) I was doing an Erasmus, but I do not know, "Jo, I'd like to do something else, I'd like to change the world", yes, but it's so generic, where do I start?
(Miriam) It all started a bit because of a personal story, it was the day of my cousin José's third birthday, we already had a diagnosis, of autism, and the professionals had told us that children with autism need images, that they need pictograms to learn . Then I prepared the happy birthday song with pictograms and José for the first time looked me in the eyes as if to say "look, this is how I understand it". We hang it on the Internet …
(Amélie) And this story was reaching more than 13,000 children in less than three months, we realized the social demand that existed.
(Miriam) And we decided to take that step of founding Visual Apprentices as an organization. We have 20 stories in five languages that are free on the Internet, we have already trained 10,000 families and professionals, and there we realized a little of the power that visual learning had for all children. This year we are working with 10 educational centers to transform them into a visual school.
(Amélie) So that there is an education that allows them to be able to develop their potential and get to give the best of themselves. We are called as "the girls of the stories", and in the end we see that this can really transform children's lives. It is something that you can not explain.
This content has been developed by Yoigo.