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Books Beyond Words: Telling the Whole Story in Pictures

Books Beyond Words are full-colour picture books that address some of the problems in understanding experienced by people with intellectual and communication difficulties.

Sheila Hollins (UK)

Books Beyond Words are full-colour picture books that address some of the problems in understanding experienced by people with intellectual and communication difficulties.

By telling the whole story in pictures, they help people to prepare for an event or re-visit something that has happened, such as going to hospital. They are able to relate the pictures to their own experiences, without being distracted or confused by accompanying text. The pictures share information but they also illustrate emotions relevant to the topic or experience.

Sheila Hollins, Beth Webb and Lester Sireling created and devised the first Books Beyond Words in 1989 after realising that many people have better visual than verbal literacy - not just people with intellectual disabilities. Probably 20% of the adult population in the UK have literacy difficulties for one reason or another. Since earliest times pictures have been used to communicate. This series now includes some 30 titles covering such diverse subjects as epilepsy, abuse, bereavement, depression, making friends, going into hospital, falling in love.

Many pictures from the books have been used to illustrate topics on this site.

A vital part of the development of each book is the involvement of people who have intellectual disabilities. They monitor the pictures, interpret their meaning and, when necessary, ask for changes to be made until they are satisfied that the illustrations will be clearly understood by future readers.

A supporting text is provided at the back of each book, giving one interpretation of what is taking place. Guidelines are also provided for carers, supporters and professionals, including notes on how to use the book together with useful resources and organisations that may help with particular problems. The Guidelines may include a glossary of special terms.

How to Help People with Intellectual Disabilities Use Books Beyond Words:

The following are some ideas supporters have found helpful:

  • Read it just like any other book. Start at the beginning and read the story in each picture. Then read the text, but please don't read the text to the person or group of people you are supporting.

  • Consider which pictures might be most relevant to the person you are supporting.

  • Sit down beside the person you are supporting and offer them the book, asking them to turn the pages themselves.

  • People will take the meaning they need from each picture. If possible, encourage them to tell the story as they see it.

  • Depending on the response of the person you are supporting, prompt them to say what is happening. For example

    • Who do you think that is?

    • What is happening?

    • How is (s)he feeling now?

    • Do you feel like that?

    Their responses will help you to judge how much they have understood, and to know what is important to them.

  • Don't feel that you have to use the whole book in one sitting. Allow the person enough time to follow the pictures at his or her own pace.

  • Provide as much support and reassurance as is needed by the people you are supporting, and answer their questions honestly.

  • Some people will not be able to follow the story, but they may be able to understand some of the pictures. Stay with the pictures they feel able to work from.

Some Examples:

GOING TO THE DOCTOR
The following pictures from Going to the Doctor show two patients experiencing different medical procedures.

First of all we see Mr Lane having his blood pressure taken:

Then we see Miss Smith having her ears syringed:

These scenarios show the doctor and nurse using the book to explain what they are going to do. Picture numbers 10 and 35 illustrate ‘consent’ by showing Mr Lane and Miss Smith deciding whether they will agree to have the recommended procedure. There are four other scenarios in this book: Being Examined, Injection, Blood Test, and Prescription, while the text at the back of the book includes a Guide for Supporters/Informants, and a Guide for GPs and the Primary Care Team.

For further examples, please click on the links below:

HUG ME TOUCH ME
In Hug Me Touch Me, Janet is rejected when she wants someone to hug her, because she always picks the wrong person. She learns when she can and can’t hug and touch people. The pictures show how she talks to her supporter and is helped by her to establish some friendships.

GETTING ON WITH EPILEPSY
Getting on with Epilepsy tells one man’s story – on the bus, at work, and out with his friends. We see him having a seizure, going to the doctor, having a brain scan, an EEG, a blood test, and taking daily medication. There are examples of activities that people with epilepsy need to be careful about, such as drinking alcohol and swimming alone. The book shows that it is possible to enjoy an active and independent life with epilepsy:

GEORGE GETS SMART
In George Gets Smart we follow George’s daily life – at home, at work, on the bus and in the pub. It is the story of a man who does not keep himself clean and does not understand why people seem to avoid him. He often feels lonely and unhappy. His life is changed when he is helped to be clean and to wear appropriate clothes.

GOING TO COURT
Going to Court is about being a witness in a Crown Court. A young woman witnesses a crime and her supporter, the police, and the court usher, give her the confidence to appear as a witness.

FEELING BLUE
Feeling Blue tells the story of a young man who is depressed, and whose supporter calls the doctor to make a home visit. Over a series of visits, the doctor is able to help him to feel better. The doctor is shown using pictures to aid the counselling process.

 

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Feeling Blue tells the story of a young man who is depressed, and whose supporter calls the doctor to make a home visit. Over a series of visits, the doctor is able to help him to feel better. The doctor is shown using pictures to aid the counselling process.

 


Publishing Information:

Books Beyond Words cost £10 each (including postage & packing) in the UK. For overseas packing charges, contact the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Information about all the Books Beyond Words titles can be found on the Internet:
at http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/publications/booksbeyondwords/aboutbbw.aspx. Titles can be ordered from this web-site.

Leaflets about the series can also be obtained from:

The Royal College of Psychiatrists,
17 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PG.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7235 2351 (ext 146)
Fax: +44 (0)20 7245 1231

This article was first published on the site in 2003.


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