Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wordless Books - Part 1

A lot of students with autism are behind in reading / comprehension, or what public schools sometimes refer to as ELA (English Language Arts). As I learn more about autism, what it is, and what it is NOT, autism is NOT a deficit in memorizing and recognizing sight words, but it *IS* a deficit in the dynamic information processing that adds up to "MEANING MAKING", not just reading / comprehension.

A developmental foundation of reading comprehension is COMPREHENSION (meaning-making) BETWEEN PEOPLE.

I read the Michigan Dept of Ed Vision Statement for English Language Arts, and I want what it says there for all of my children...my asd child included...for them to be meaning makers, spoken, written, in all aspects of communication.

From the Michigan Department of Education ELA Vision Statement: "The essence of the English language arts is communication—exchanging and exploring information and insights. We are meaning-makers who strive to make sense of our world. We use the English language arts in every area of our lives, not just the classroom. They help us deal with other people in the world around us. Listening, speaking, viewing, reading and writing are naturally integrated in our attempts to communicate. We continually improve our understanding by using our past experiences, the circumstances in which we find ourselves, what we are hearing, reading or viewing. Only when we understand or when we are understood are we communicating—only then are we using the English language arts."

I am amused by the fact that the Dept of Ed seems to desire this vision for just the gen ed students.

Let me share with you something I learned that illustrated for ME the difference between calling words and actual comprehension:

I heard Dr. Ingersol, a developmental optometrist from Excel Institute speak a couple of years ago about vision therapy. He gave an example, similar to this one, that presented some of my asd child's issues in a way I had not considered before. He told the audience:

"Go to the bathroom at the top of the stairs, look in the white cabinet behind the green towels, and please bring me the box of alka seltzer."

He said that you and I created pictures in our mind, one of the bathroom at the top of the stairs, another snapshot of the green towels inside the white cabinet. We have no problems with this.
Then he gave us a memorization task. He rattled off a list of 20 or so unrelated words to see how many we could memorize. I got exactly FOUR. Some people got six or seven, but no one got more than that. The first four words he rattled off were "the, was, just, inasmuch". There' s no meaning in those words when they're bunched together--they're unrelated.

He said that some of our kids are not creating pictures (the stairs, the white cabinet), but instead they're trying to REMEMBER the WORDS. They can't remember the words in the alka seltzer sentence past "Go up the stairs". After "go up the stairs," they're lost.

When my child's (former) teacher told me that my daughter knows an incredible number of sight words, and can read a book at grade level but can't tell you what happened in the story, it tells me she's not comprehending meaning, that she is not MEANING MAKING.

At one point, when my daughter was still in public school, I was told by an excited staff member that my daughter could remember the last thing that happened in the story. I disagreed, saying, "She's not comprehending. She is remembering the last few words in the book. There's a difference."

(Autism is not a deficit in memorization of sight words. And TEXT can be a huge obstacle for a child who can memorize sight words but not comprehend meaning between self and others.)

Psychologist Barbara Luskin (mother of a child on the spectrum) reminds us: "As parents and teachers we need to think about what our goals are for those we are involved with. Not so much how we teach but what we want a person to know." I want my daughter to understand that comprehension is not about memorizing the words!

We know that babies can interact (early meaning making between people) before they understand words, that thought preceeds language, but for some odd reason, in autism, we sometimes assume with language (spoken) and reading (written words), that meaning making naturally comes along with it. (sort of like teaching a kid to point and assuming joint attention automatically comes with the point-and I'm back to "what is it we want them to know?")

I purchased a selection of wordless books so we could work on story telling together, without the distraction / obstacle of text, so we could focus on meaning making. I'd never heard of wordless books until one of my children (not asd) began to participate in a study at U of M a few years ago, and every time the university students come to the house as part of the research, they bring this same wordless book and ask me to "read" it to my son. It's interesting that every year, the story I'd tell from that same book grew bigger, broader, as I "read" it to my son, based on his level of understanding. I automatically tailor it to where he is. I'm learning with RDI(r) to tailor them to where my asd child is, developmentally, as we re-do the foundation work toward experience sharing (or meaning making) between people.

The University of Google can offer lots of lists of wordless books, and so can major booksellers. Check it out! We like Mercer Mayer's series about the boy, the dog, the frog, etc. Jan Ormerod has some lovely stories.

It's one of quite a few things we do at home to "do over" what was skipped in my child's development.

1 comment:

m said...

Great post Penny. I found out my dd was reading from memorization too.
(a result of trying to teach her to read before she had hemispheric brain integration) She is now able to make pictures in her read and can comprehend rather well. But the reading with memorize words really hurt her ability to read new or difficult words (and therefore spell too) because she had did not use any strategies(a prefrontal cortex/autism issue)when she came to a word she had not memorized. We had to slow down, REteach her how to sound out and break apart words, and to learn to monitor whether what she was reading was making sense (or had meaning as you put it.) I actually am having to go back and teach several sound blends. Unfortunately, I did not figure all of that out until this year at the age of 12. BTW she is coming along well. Rhonda

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