Saturday, October 28, 2006

Narrations as a Form of Speech Therapy

Oral narrations are a wonderful way to do speech therapy. After we read a passage from a book, Pamela narrates what she read. This was and is very difficult for her, but she has improved over the years. After she does her narration, I open the book and ask her three "therapy" questions to practice the language structures she is learning that week.

Narrating books is much more interesting than canned speech therapy exercises. As we read from several books a day, Pamela has many opportunities to practice the art of speaking during the day. Some books are above her reading level, but she still finds ways to narrate. I remember reading biographies about autistic people who were bored silly in school because they were secretly reading, but still being taught their alphabet in class. I never want to underestimate Pamela, and I want her to tackle to our rich literary heritage. I would rather err on the side of going above her level, rather than dumbing down her material, and I assume that, if she understood nothing, she would balk and have meltdowns every time we open a book. As she continues to seem eager for reading, I hope I have found a proper balance between easy and challenging books.

We just finished reading Mary Emma and Company by Ralph Moody, the fourth in a series about Ralph's family. I believe this is right at Pamela's reading level. I asked Pamela to narrate what she remembered from the book and this is what she said:
Ralph has a new house. His father died. He is in heaven. Ralph said, "Goodbye, Colorado! Hello, Massachusetts!" He has a stove. It got burned. They can make a better stove. It is beautiful.

Mother has some laundry. She can wash some clothes. Grace is helpful. Mother can dry clothes. They can fold clothes. They can make money.

Ralph saw a fire. A bridge was broken. He saw a fire chief. A fire chief can chop wood. Ralph got bridge logs.

A May basket is for church. It has some flowers. Grace got a basket. A basket is beautiful. A note is for happy Mother's Day. Mother is happy.
Pamela's narration seems immature. When she was four-years old, her developmental pediatrician told us she might not ever speak, much less read or write. On top of having autism, she has syntactic aphasia, or "difficulties in using words in the correct order and/or forms for effective communication" (page 3 of Teaching Language Deficient Children). Pamela, like others with aphasia, drops little words such as prepositions, conjunctions and articles: years ago she might have said, "fire Ralph" for "Ralph saw a fire." Her brain is not wired to spot grammatical patterns and apply them. For example, three weeks ago, she could not string together these words: "does not have any." Up until this point, she could manage, "has no." Last week, I introduced the new phrase into her multi-sensory language activities through written stories, listening and repeating, oral and written narration, copywork, and dictation. Now, she can say the phrase smoothly, but it will take another week or two for it to become part of her daily speech patterns.

When put in perspective, Pamela’s oral narration of Mary Emma and Company is absolutely fabulous!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Teaching What They Need to Know When They Need to Know It

The beauty of a Charlotte Mason philosophy is teaching what my kids need to know when they need to know it. One does not have to work every single exercise in a grammar book or memorize spelling lists to become skilled in the mechanics of writing. For example, I have never formally taught spelling. When they make a spelling error in their studied dictation or writing, I develop a spelling lesson around that word (using either similar words or those that offer a contrast).

Yesterday’s studied dictation of the first four lines of Daffodowndilly illustrates this process. In her previous dictation, Pamela had confused “were” with “wore” and wrote, “She were her greenest gown.” This was the only mistake she made. I wrote a short lesson tailored to what she needed to know under the dictation:
wore = past tense for wear
were = past tense for are

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet.
Her sun-bonnets were pretty.

Her gowns __________ long.
She __________ her greenest gown.
Her jeans __________ blue.
She __________ her blue jeans.
She __________ red ribbons.
Her ribbons __________ curly.
She __________ new sneakers.
Her sneakers __________ bouncy.
Her earrings __________ dangling.
She __________ long earrings.
Her socks __________ short.
She __________ solid white socks.
Pamela spent about five minutes doing the lesson. Then she studied the first four lines of the poem, aced her dictation, and recited it nearly perfectly. She is ready for the entire poem. She has never memorized language for recitation so quickly, and, clearly, the multi-sensory way of learning is what she needs. She was so proud of her accomplishment: as soon as she put her pencil down, Pamela told me, "Congratulations!" for she knew she had written it perfectly. After her recitation, her face lit up with her bright smile. Because of her flat affect, a smile meant a strong emotion.

The neat thing is how connected learning becomes. In her speech therapy program, we have turned our focus to three aspects of sentence structure last week and this week: does not have any, his/her in the subject of a sentence, and is/are in a sentence with the structure, subject-is/are-adjective. The spelling lesson reinforced the structures she is mastering in the association method. It thrills me every time a moment of connectedness emerges.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Tale of Two Doctors, or Why TV Does Not Cause Autism

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. ~ George Santayana

A gap in the treatment of disabled children worried a lone doctor in Vienna. Austrians rebuilding war-torn cities had no time for the retarded. The doctor lobbied local politicians. He opened the first clinic of its kind in Europe, and frustrated families flocked to it.

One day in 1954, the Austrian doctor glanced at two girls sitting in the waiting room. Both were washing their hands in dry air. He had seen repetitive movements before, but their actions caught his eye. Curious, he carefully examined them, compared their developmental history, and noticed a pattern.

The doctor uncovered six more patients like the girls at his clinic. He filmed them and scoured Europe for others fitting the profile. Twelve years later, he published his findings in a German medical journal that garnered no attention. His paper never even made it to the cutting room floor of the international press.

Another lone doctor traveled a parallel path in the city of Gothenburg. In 1960, he observed the same collection of unusual symptoms. He boxed up the records matching the pattern for safekeeping. His practice kept him busy, but the Swedish doctor intended to study the mystery some day.

Years passed. Both doctors in the two cities continued to document their girls and find new ones. Frustrated by the lack of interest in his research, the Austrian published a description of the disorder in English in 1977. It did nothing. More years passed.

Then a miracle happened. The two finally met at a conference in Canada. Imagine the joy of finding another professional with the same enthusiasm for these sweet girls. Inspired, the Swedish doctor collaborated with other on the first report of this syndrome published in English in a mainstream medical journal.

This report sparked interest in Rett Syndrome, named after the Austrian doctor. It took another quarter century to identify the primary gene that mutates and causes this syndrome. Now, they have a strain of female mice that show similar symptoms when this gene goes astray. They are well on their way to curing this developmental disorder.

What does the history of PKU and Rett Syndrome have to do with autism? Doctors once labeled these disorders as mental retardation. Seeing and investigating a pattern led to the prevention and treatment of PKU. Seeing another pattern revealed the gene and animal model for Rett Syndrome. Vast epidemiological studies did not produce these revelations. Large numbers cloak vital little patterns. By chipping away at unique profiles, researchers peeled back layers of retardation.

The lessons of the past imply that autism, like mental retardation, is a collection of syndromes. By sorting puzzle pieces by pattern, doctors might shorten the time needed to spot a new causation. Correlating the perceived increase in autism to one cause (television) is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle from a huge pile of pieces. Too many unrelated pieces blind the puzzle builder unless first sorted logically. The past tells us to conquer the puzzle by working in separate clusters.

Moral of the Story: Study the profile or your child. Try to identify therapies that seem most promising for an autistic child like yours.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Happily Ever After--For Some, or Why TV Does Not Cause Autism

Does television cause autism? If “yes”, watch this rerun!

Does correlation imply causation? If “yes”, watch this rerun!

Today’s episode of “Why Television Does Not Cause Autism” opens with a fable. . . Once in a rocky land of farms and snow, there lived a dentist named Harry. His wife Borgny cradled their darling girl named Liv. Her parents loved her and played with her, and nothing seemed amiss with their beautiful babe. Liv learned to walk in an odd fashion, but never started talking. Liv’s little brother Dag, born three years later, fared far worse: he seemed alert and normal for a few months, but never even learned to sit. He stayed infantile for the rest of his tragically short life.

One doctor after another diagnosed both children as hopelessly mentally retarded. Since all the fairy godmothers had gone into retirement, the faithful mother took them to a non-physician healer, an herbalist, and even a visionary, but her efforts came to nought. The parents had suspected the strong musky odor of their children’s urine to be a clue, but nobody had any ideas.

The parents persisted in their quest and, through some family connections, found a doctor wise in the ways of chemistry. He had no answers, but, as a consolation, offered to test their children’s urine. The kindly doctor ran routine tests that got routine results. Then something magical happened. In test for ketones, the urine turned dark green and faded away. The color startled him for it should have turned red-brown.

The doctor spent the next few months testing over twenty liters of urine and began to recognize the footprints left by the suspect. He tested people in institutions throughout the land, and some tested positive for these footprints. Doctors from far away tested the urine of other affected children, but less than two percent showed the trail left by the villain who had stolen their intelligence. Through analysis of family history, they found the thief had appeared in generation after generations of affected families.

Harry’s and Borgny’s children were never cured. Dag died at the age of six. Heartbroken, they never had another child. It took another twenty years for other dedicated families and doctors to develop a special diet and screening tests to prevent this one cause of mental retardation in very small minority of children. They died knowing that their efforts led to the screening of nearly all children worldwide to lock-up that particular villain and protect developing brains from harm.

The story you have just read is true. The names were not changed to recognize the heroes. On December 6, 1962, a ceremony was held at a special dinner in Washington, D.C. for the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. In a moment the results of that dinner . . .

The kindly doctor received a glass statue of the winged seraphim, Raphael, the angel of science, healing and love, for “opening a new era in the study of mental retardation with his discovery of the disease phenylketonuria, or PKU.”

Harry, Borgny, Liv, Dag . . . The Egeland Family of Norway
The Kindly Doctor . . . Dr. Asjørn Følling
The Magical Test . . . Ketone Test
The Villain . . . Phenylketonuria
The Past . . . Untreated Cases of PKU

Contrast this fable, both fabulous and true, to a recent study by two Cornell business professors asking Does Television Cause Autism? Autism does not have a cause, but, like mental retardation, it has multiple causes. Finding one cause of many will most likely come from teamwork between parents, doctors, and dedicated people working together. Finding causes of autism will be like peeling away layers of an onion. Finding one cause will take years of research and experimental statistics, not broad epidemiological studies. Some forms of autism will eventually be discovered and given a new name. Some will be preventable or manageable, but others may never have an answer.

I conducted an informal, non-scientific poll of my email list, Aut-2B-Home, to find out how listmates could have helped those researchers:
  • Some suspected satire because the study’s title seemed like a rerun of the refrigerator mother theory.
  • Television may attract autistic children because of its very nature: highly visual and repetitive. Perhaps the question ought to be, “Does autism cause television addiction?”
  • The study neglected other underlying factors: (1) parents of autistic children tend to be engineers, possibly the first to purchase VCRs, who live in areas on the cutting edge of technology and (2) many autistic children have asthma and allergies, which lessen in dry climates.
  • Television might have enabled children, formally classified nonverbal retarded, to learn language, upgrading their diagnosis to autism.
  • Some children showed no interest in television at an early age because of difficulties in shifting attention.
  • A few parents have seen a connection between television and either seizures or extremely negative behaviors.
I close with a quote from one of my statistics books:
Statisticians are often stunned by the over-zealous use of some particular statistical tool or methodology on the part of an experimenter, and we offer the following caveat. Experimenters, when you are doing “statistics,” do not forget what you know about your subject-matter field! Statistical techniques are most effective when combined with appropriate subject-matter knowledge.
(Statistics for Experimenters, 1978: pg. 14-15).

Stay tuned for the next installment of Tammy Glaser's special coverage of the link between autism and television . . .

Saturday, October 21, 2006

She Turned Me into a Newt, or Why TV Does Not Cause Autism

Lisa Jo Rudy was absolutely right to compare the logic of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to a recent study by two Cornell business professors asking Does Television Cause Autism? A judge named Bedevere and some villagers try to convince themselves a young woman is a witch because witches and wood float as do ducks. If she weighs as much as a duck, she must be made of wood, which proves she is indeed a comely hag. After rigging the scales, the witch and duck balance perfectly, and the villagers haul her away to the stake. Bedevere says to King Arthur, the smartest of the bunch, "Who are you who are so wise in the ways of science?"

Before getting to the study, let me make you wise in the ways of statistics (I have a master’s degree in that field). If two variables have a correlation, one does not necessarily cause the other. A professor at a small college in Pennsylvania requires his students to analyze statistics on life expectancy from The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1993. The variables in this table include life expectancy at birth, the number of television sets per person, and the number of physicians per person. When calculated correctly, the statistics correlate the number of television sets per person and life expectancy. Aha! TV deprivation may cause early death and, to solve this problem, the United Nations ought to ship televisions into these deprived nations. Right? Wrong! In this case, an underlying factor (poverty) is driving both variables (television and life expectancy) making them appear to be related.

The professors studied many variables related to climate and television viewing by using a Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Time Survey: precipitation, hours of daylight, ethnicity, military service, income, education, etc. Did you notice anything missing from this list? That is right! The actual survey did not include autism. Statistical number crunching correlates precipitation and television viewing.

Buried in Table 2 of the study and left out of the most media coverage of this issue are the other factors found to be statistically significantly correlated (the ones with three stars ***): hours of daylight, bachelor’s degree, and employment. Why does television trump these other variables? People who live in rainy places or have less daylight watch more television. People who work or have bachelor’s degrees watch less television. Imagine how foolish the headlines would look: “Does darkness cause autism?” “Can employment prevent autism?” “Can college prevent autism?”

Stay tuned for the next installment of Tammy Glaser's special coverage of the link between autism and television . . .

Friday, October 20, 2006


Just when I think I have Pamela figured out, she amazes me again! Last Sunday, I mentioned Pamela's mastery of two verses from A.A. Milne's poem, Growing Up On Wednesday, she nailed the entire poem! I am stunned, speechless! This is truly a miracle. She has never memorized a verse of a poem in three months, much less three days!

For years and years, I have avoided recitation because trying to teach an aphasiac poetry was painful. Her tongue tripped over little words, her word order was all over the map, and she sputtered and stuttered. Memorization of anything except catchy phrases from television and radio was completely out of reach. Yes, I settled for "No payments until October 2006" and "I just saved a bunch of money on car insurance by switching to Geico" because it was better than nothing. After disastrous flirtations with recitation, I concluded Charlotte Mason was totally wrong about recitation when she said, "All children have it in them to recite; it is an imprisoned gift waiting to be delivered, like Ariel from the pine" (Volume 1, page 223). Being imprisoned in the pine with Ariel seemed more inviting that teaching Pamela poetry.

It only took ten years, but I have finally found a system for memorizing poetry that works for Pamela. When she recites "Growing Up," her face shines and she giggles. A.A. Milne poetry is now part of her repertoire of stim phrases, repeated for her personal enjoyment. If given the choice between stimming on advertising and poems, the latter wins!

Charlotte Mason recommended teaching poetry through auditory channels, Pamela's weak spot. I have known for years that she is a visual-kinesthetic learner, so other elements of Miss Mason's philosophy work better for memorization of poetry (copywork and studied dictation). Here are the steps:

First, I type up the poem in prose fashion and slightly alter the spelling and grammar to conform to standard Americanized English. Here is how Pamela's new poem, "Daffodowndilly" by Milne, usually appears:
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
"Winter is dead."
This is how the poem appears in Pamela's studied dictation sheet:
She wore her yellow sun-bonnet. She wore her greenest gown. She turned to the south wind and curtsied up and down. She turned to the sunlight and shook her yellow head, and whispered to her neighbor, "Winter is dead."

Second, I break up the poem into manageable pieces. For Pamela, four lines is the right length, and she focuses on four lines at a time.

Third, Pamela writes the first four lines of the poem from the studied dictation for her copywork (penmanship).

Fourth, she studies the typed version. When ready, I recite the poem to her, a few words at a time, and she writes what she hears on a clean sheet of paper. When finished, she compares what she wrote to the typed version to look for any mistakes.

Fifth, whenever she makes a mistake in her dictation, I turn it into a grammar lesson for the next day. Prior to the next studied dictation, we cover a short lesson that will help her avoid the error in future dictations. She repeats step four and cycle from grammar lesson to studying to dictation until she makes absolutely no mistakes.

Sixth, after a perfect dictation, I ask her to recite. Usually her recitation is nearly correct, but halting. Within a few days, she has perfected it!

Seventh, we go back to the third step, turning our focus to the first eight lines of the poem. I keep adding four lines at a time until she has mastered the entire poem as copywork and studied dictation. After all the visual and kinesthetic work, the recitation comes much more naturally!

I know this sounds dull and tedious, but it is not! Yesterday, when Pamela started "Daffodowndilly" she had already placed her next order for "The End" by Milne. For the first time ever, memorizing poetry is sheer joy.

Who Needs to S-P-E-L-L in Front of the K-I-D-S?

We never needed to spell in front of Pamela. We could get away with saying anything in her presence! She processed strings of words so poorly that she struggled to follow conversations, even with her bionic ears. Yes, we did try Berard Auditory Integration Training twice, and she lost many hypersensitivities. We tried Earobics, Ease disc, and auditory digit spans, and we still could say anything in front of Pamela. Fast Forword sounded like a possibility, but pricey. We accidentally discovered another way, cheaper and more fun, albeit more gradual!

Back in 1999, the Charlotte Mason philosophy of homeschooling grabbed my attention. A literary road to an education seemed tailor made for our family of bookworms. Because of Pamela's delayed reading and language skills, I began reading books aloud to Pamela. She sat by my side, eyes following my finger on the page, tracking left to right, top to bottom. We read together and enjoyed all the books in Year 1 of Ambleside Online. We laughed and sometimes cried our way through Year 2 for the books really touch the emotions.

About halfway through Year 3, we noticed Pamela tuning into and following conversations more. She was processing what we said and reacting! She was hearing family chitchat and asking questions! She was listening in on phone conversations. Like Sam Gamgee, she became adept at dropping eaves. Here is a classic example of Pamela's new and improved auditory processing:

Steve in a phone conversation with a coworker: "We need to sell the dogs!" (Sell inventory that is moving slowly.)

Pamela in an outraged voice: "You can't sell the dogs!" (We have two.)

During a visit last Christmas, Steve's family gathered around the dining room table and asked about Pamela's progress. She was watching television in the living room, part of a great room combined with the dining room. We told them about her new snooping skills. Steve said, "Watch this!" and he turned to me and said, "Tammy, do you think we should leave for home Wednesday?"

Without missing a beat, Pamela shot into the dining room and asked, "What are we doing Monday?" the day we were supposed to return home.

Who knew that cozying up with an autistic child and living books for hours and hours of reading pleasure was the key to improving listening skills? However, I will warn you of a downside: we have to leave the house to discuss any plans not already laid in concrete.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Before we bought a digital camera, I lived with clip art for Pamela's speech therapy stories. Good clip art was hard too find because I never could find exactly what I wanted. That is why I love googling images. More often than not, I can find the perfect image for a story.

Take today for example. This week I am introducing the possessive pronouns, his, her, and its. I am also introducing patterns on clothing and other material: striped, plaid, flowery, solid, and print--try finding free clip art for that! Pamela loves Disney, so I googled "Minnie Mouse" for images. Of 24,500 images that hit, I found toys in which Mickey's gal wore three different outfits: polka dot print, flowery, and bridal. For each image, I right clicked the picture at the web site and pasted it into the personal description story.

Here is one of the three personal description stories about Minnie Mouse's clothing. The color-coding focuses Pamela on the new syntax for the week.
Polka Dot Print Story

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Who's Coming Out with Me?

We follow a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education. Pamela does copywork (for penmanship) and studied dictation (for grammar, spelling, capitalization, or punctuation). She has never been able to master recitation of poetry because she found it difficult to remember what little word went where. Over the summer, I had some revelations, and my new approach seems to be working! Yesterday, on the drive to see the movie One Night with the King, Pamela recited the first two verses of "Growing Up" by A.A. Milne, to her father, just for fun:
I’ve got shoes with grown up laces.
I’ve got knickers and a pair of braces.
I’m all ready to run some races.
Who’s coming out with me?

I’ve got a nice new pair of braces.
I’ve got shoes with new brown laces.
I know wonderful paddly places.
Who’s coming out with me?

Every morning my new grace is,
“Thank you, God, for my nice braces.
I can tie my new brown laces.”
Who’s coming out with me?
The answer came to me at a Charlotte Mason conference in Boiling Springs, North Carolina last June when three presentations and one of Pamela's abilities inspired the final solution. One presentation covered studied dictation and described a very simple, efficient way to do and document dictation, while another on recitation encouraged me to keep trying. The presentation about good instruction left me with a profound thought: information must have context and meaning and must be connected to previous knowledge for the mind to remember. Finally, I realized that Pamela had been reciting for years in the form of echolalia (television commercials and videos) and Mother Goose rhymes. She can memorize word patterns with enough exposure.

Since Pamela adores nursery rhymes, they must have meaning for her. Over the summer, she did studied dictation one rhyme at a time, which focused her mind on the context behind the little words she easily forgets. Because she has previous knowledge of these rhymes, dictation allowed her to focus upon little words. For every mistake made in a dictation, I wrote a short language arts lesson, providing both meaning and context behind the rules. Because it took a week or two of repeated dictations to get a perfect dictation, the process repeatedly exposed Pamela to a poem in a multi-sensory way (by seeing the poem while studying for a dictation, hearing me dictate it, and writing it for the dictation).

The big break through came after our first page of nursery rhymes. Pamela must have been bored for she handed me When We Were Very Young and she said, "I want 'Growing Up'"! She stunned me because that poem has twelve lines! Several sentences are very similar, and I would never have picked something I assumed to be so difficult. Going back to good instruction, this poem has meaning for Pamela. Having enjoyed the poem enough to ask for it, she clearly has previous knowledge of it. The proof is in the pudding for she has already mastered eight of twelve lines.

In the process of learning two verses, we have covered many topics in language arts: subjects and verbs, complete sentences, using uppercase versus lowercase letters in sentences, contractions for is, adding the suffix ful, adding y to words with e at the end, and using articles with singular versus plural nouns. Studied dictation is such an elegant way to teach children what they need to know when they need to know!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Snoopy Dancing in Carolina!

Pamela amazed me today! This morning, she rifled through my drawer, looking at wrapping paper. She folded a small piece around an extra copy of the book Stuart Little and announced her intention to give a present to Amy, one of my algebra students. What a sweet gesture! Amy, a fellow E.B. White fan, beamed when Pamela handed her the present when we met for algebra.

After algebra, my goal was to practice the A-Q/A-Q way of conversing. Before the speech session, I wrote the title "What's your favorite. . ." on a piece of paper and placed the words "year?" "color?" "food?" "month?" "season?" "book?" in a column. I instructed Amy to repeat back whatever questions Pamela asked, and I recorded their replies.

Pamela easily answered Amy's questions, but needed some help keeping the conversation going. I prompted her to continue with the next question in the column until we reached seasons. Amy replied, "My favorite season is winter because I like to ski in West Virginia." Suddenly, Pamela began asking very appropriate questions about that state, "Where's West Virginia?" followed by "Who's in West Virginia?" Amy does not know anyone in the mountain state, so I prompted Pamela to ask, "What's in West Virginia?" and Amy supplied the name of her favorite ski resort. When we reached the end of the list, Pamela smiled and said, "Goodbye!" for she was ready to head home. Ending the week on such a promising note tickled me to death!

My Name is Tammy, and I am a Techno-holic!

Objects TogetherI love technology, especially digital cameras which are so handy in teaching children with autism. Yesterday my digicam helped me illustrate a difficult passage in a book. Pamela was reading the introduction of the second lesson of our science book. The third and fourth paragraphs discuss how distance affects how big or small an object appears. The lesson tells the child to look at an object outside that is far away and cover it up with their thumb. Since a sign of autism is difficulty looking at things pointed out or tracking moving objects, I was unsure how well Pamela processed those two paragraphs. So, we headed outside and took the following pictures. Pamela narrated, I wrote down what she said in correct English, and she typed what she understood about the pictures:
A lamppost is big. A thumb is small. They are together. The size looks right.
The lamppost is far away. The thumb is close. They are apart. The thumb is small, but it looks big. The lamppost is big, but it looks small. This is an optical illusion. It can trick the eyes. Something closer can look big. Something farther can look small.
Lamppost Far AwayThumb Close

Then I rewrote the material from the third and fourth paragraphs of the book with syntax Pamela can easily understand and added it to Pamela's typed narration. It extended what Pamela observed to the earth, the sun, and other stars:
The sun is big. It is far away. It looks small because it is far away. The earth is small. The earth looks bigger than the sun. It is not! This is another optical illusion because one million earths can fit in the sun.
The sun is a star. The sun looks bigger than a star. They sun is far away. Stars are very, very far away. They look very, very small. This is another optical illusion because some stars are bigger then the sun.
How digital cameras help me homeschool both children:
  • Portray ideas concretely
  • Set-up schedule or communication board
  • Depict steps in a task
  • Show when a bedroom looks clean
  • Illustrate Social Stories
  • Document field trips
  • Display big projects in a portfolio
  • “Scan” textbook pictures to study for a test
  • Record steps in an experiment
  • Transfer drawings digitally
  • Magnify nature specimens
  • Reveal the environment of nature specimens
What I did before I bought one:
  • Order a CD when getting film developed
  • Search for Google images
  • Borrow one
Between my love affair with Excel and digital cameras, I can neither confirm nor deny the fact that I am a techno-holic!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where's Betsy?

The personal description story about Betsy was a hit! Today, we got together, but only Amy came. Pamela waited five minutes before asking Amy, "Where's Betsy?" Amy explained that she was getting her eyes checked at the eye doctor.

I nearly fell off the sofa because usually Pamela does not seem to notice new acquaintances for a long time. Last spring, Pamela participated in a church musical. At the time, we had been faithfully going to services every Sunday for the previous six months. Our pastor directed the performance, and I never thought to remind Pamela of the pastor's name, which is in every single bulletin Sunday after Sunday. At the first rehearsal, Pamela wanted to know how long it would take, so she yelled, "Hey, woman! How many minutes?"

Pamela and I in CostumeAt that point, I wrote a Social Story about rehearsals and included Pastor Debra's name. Even reading her name several times was not enough. Pamela would come up with variations like "Abra Ca Debra" and "Ca Debra". She still is not solid on the pastor's name after all this time.

Today, Amy and Pamela played another round of animal riddle game. Amy totally stumped Pamela with a platypus. She went through every single animal in the Outback, except that odd-looking mammal.

Navigating Questions & Answers

I am tailoring Navigating the Social World to guide activities for conversational practice. The focus is on communication and social skills (Section Two), namely basic conversational responses. At home, Pamela is adept at asking and answering questions about her enthusiasms (calendars, The Hoober-Bloob Highway, and Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga). She can ask and answer simple questions already mastered at her present level in personal description stories (see page 14) with people in the family. She needs to work on following up a statement (with either a statement or question).

I want Pamela to leave each session flush with success and joy, so I limit conversations to her interests and sentence structures she can easily do: answer and ask yes-no questions. The first time Pamela and Amy took turns asking each other what states they had visited, "Did you see Alaska?" I noticed that Pamela struggled with following up her answer by asking question. She needed prompting to continue the conversation even though it was a repetition of the same question. Clearly she had difficulties switching roles.

The second time I turned the conversation into a riddle game to simplify the conversation structure. Amy would pick a year, and Pamela would ask questions like "Is it a leap year?" or "Does it start Monday?" until she guessed the year. Then we reversed the tables: Pamela would pick a year and Amy asked her questions. Amy and I both needed a cheat sheet I made in Excel as a crutch. Pamela sees the calendar in her head and needs no crutch. When reading history books, she will often tell us the day of the week an event occurred. Pamela reveled playing a calendar game with another teen, and Amy was amazed at Pamela's savant skill.
Years Cheat Sheet
The third time we played the riddle game, but focused on the topic of animals. Both Amy and Pamela share an interest in animals. Pamela was highly animated, and her face lit up whenever she or Amy solved the riddle. Clearly, she succeeds at Q/A/Q/A types of conversations in which one person always asks the question and one person always answers it. She has no problem being either the questioner or answerer as long as it is consistent during the conversation. At home, I plan to vary the conversations to get her used to A-Q/A-Q so that the person answering a question continues with a new question.

Angels and Algebra

I am tutoring two students in Algebra II and dreamed up a terrific payment plan. At the end of every session, they spend 15 minutes practicing conversation skills with Pamela. This is one homeschooler's way of sneaking positive autism awareness into the school system!

As a child, Pamela struggled to converse due to syntactic aphasia. We tried Teach Me Language, but the book assumes that visual cues, drilling, and practice will develop social language. Such activities frustrated Pamela because she tripped over little words like articles, conjunctions, helping verbs, and prepositions, not to mention word order and tense. Clearly something more than autism affected her capacity for language.

Back in 2003, Steve's parents told us about an ABC segment featuring the association method. This very structured, highly sequential, multisensory way of teaching syntax is the key to helping Pamela learn syntax!

Teachers write stories targeting specific language objectives. Right now, we are covering personal description stories (see page 14) that focus on personal pronouns he and she. When I started tutoring the first student, whom I will call Amy, I wrote a personal description story, imported a picture of Amy, and treated it like a Social Story to provide Pamela information about Amy:
This is Amy. She is a musician. She can play a tambourine. She can sing. She can draw. She can go to school in Smalltown. Amy is sixteen-years old. She had a summer birthday. It was July 17. She has green eyes and black hair. She has short, straight hair. Amy can read. She likes Little House books and The Chronicles of Narnia. She likes animals. She likes lions, tigers, and cats. She likes elephants. She likes horses and dogs.
Another student, whom I will call Betsy, came to her first session last Monday. This time, I made up simple question cards written with syntax already mastered to assist Pamela in asking questions for a new acquaintance. I instructed Betsy to answer the question and repeat it back to Pamela, and they went back and forth. Pamela could understand Betsy and answer her with some prompting, but not as much as I had anticipated. Pamela did a fantastic job because this is the second time she had ever seen Betsy. She finds it difficult tuning into acquaintances.

During this conversation, I recorded Betsy's answers and wrote a story about Betsy and included a picture:
This is Betsy. She is an artist. She can shop. She can buy some paint and art supplies. She can ride horses. She can go to Smalltown High School. Betsy is fifteen-years old. She has a birthday next April. It will be April 4. She has blue eyes and red hair. She has thin hair. She has long, wavy hair. Betsy can read. She likes Oliver-Twist. Betsy likes animals. She likes cows and dogs. She likes horses.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


If you are expecting a post about the television show Friends, leave now. Since 2001, we have evaded capture by programmed television delivered by cable, satellite, or even rabbit ears. I have no idea what people say around the water cooler, nor do I care!

We were recently discussing friendship on my email list, Aut-2B-Home. I felt a bit left out of the conversation because Pamela does not seem lonely. Unlike some high-functioning teens, she does not yearn for friends. She has not reached out beyond our social circle to make her own friend. She never longed for a bosom friend when we read Anne of Green Gables. I have often wondered why she has never expressed the desire for a friend, so I decided to investigate.

I did not want Pamela to think she was deficient by not having a friend, so I simply asked her, "Do you have any friends?" To my amazement, she answered, "Yes." Curious, I delved further, "Who is your friend?" She replied, "Loa", who is our gentle, slothful mutt. I asked her to list her friends, and her list included her father, her brother, her grandparents, and me.

Her sophisticated idea of friendship blew me away. In our peer-crazed culture, we restrict the concept of friendship to humans and people outside of the family circle. Pamela is more inclusive! The first three definitions of friend show that she is right on target in her perception of the meaning of that word. Pamela clearly shows regard and affection for the friends she listed. We all give her assistance and support in one way or another, and she supports us the best she can by keeping her room neat, helping us find keys, and bringing in the groceries. We are on good terms and are not hostile with one another! Pamela is much more advanced in her concept of friendship than we give her credit.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Nifty Science Project

Solar System--DistancesMy neurologically typical--the diagnosis autistic people give people like me--son is in his freshman year of high school homeschool. For junior high and high school, we plan to keep Apologia as our spine for science. David is now working his way through biology and has fallen in love with our microscope.

The junior high material is too advanced for Pamela, my autistic aphasiac teen, who functions at an upper elementary grade level. We are trying Apologia's elementary science books. Pamela chose astronomy, one of four texts. She has just completed Lesson 1, and the book has engaged her imagination.

We have thoroughly explored the bonus material for readers of the book: Pamela made a montage of her favorite photos from the Hubble Telescope, a model of planet sizes using balloons (pictured below), and a model of distances in the solar system using 392 paper clips and ten marshmallows (pictured left). She printed photos depicting the relative size of the planets and more detailed biographies of Copernicus and Galileo. She loved the online solar system animations, which stimulated her vestibular system and ignited a gigglefest. She writes her narratons on notebook pages from a PDF file: Pamela illustrates and writes a narration of every reading. Her course notebook is already quite thick after only one lesson.

Solar System--CircumferencesWe are Excel fanatics, and my husband and I both agree that no education is complete without a solid grounding in Excel. I made spreadsheets to estimate the distances between planets based upon the paper clip model and the planet sizes based upon the balloon model. When she entered the numbers, Pamela was fascinated to see the formulas calculated for her. I designed another spreadsheet in which Pamela can organize words roots. She looked up the root, language, meaning, and examples of words with the roots in a dictionary (i.e., astro-, Greek, star, astronomy, astronaut).