Not all autistic children need the association method! If your child is developing language, late but in a similar pattern as other verbal autistic children, you can probably adopt a wait-and-see attitude. However, children who seem to struggle with learning language at the same rate as their autistic peers might benefit from this slowed-down, exaggerated, highly spotlighted way of learning language.
Here's a brief history lesson! Mildred McGinnis, a speech therapist for the deaf, in the early 19th century worked with aphasic soldiers after World War I. In time, she began to notice similarities between these men and a subgroup of deaf children who struggled to pick up language at the same rate as their deaf peers. She spent the rest of her career devising a method to teach children who showed signs of aphasia, whether they were deaf or hearing, how to understand and use language.
The association method is based on a model outlined in the manual, Teaching Language Deficient Children by Etoile DuBard and Maureen K. Martin. The model assumes that children with severe language disorders are extremely poor guessers at language and require the learning of language to fall into tiny, systematic chunks. Mildred McGinnis designed her approach on information theory to reduce a language-disordered child's chances of making errors in decoding, organizing, associating, storing and retrieving sounds, then words, and eventually sentences. She broke down down the learning of language into three units.
First Unit of Language - This unit concentrates on learning phonemes expressed as Northampton symbols through drop drills and learning nouns through cross drills with the goal of the child being able to say, read, lip-read, listen, and write at least fifty nouns. If your child has major fine motor delays, you might consider typing or using magnetic letters or flashcards to scaffold the writing step until writing is not a problem. If your child has a working vocabulary of at least fifty nouns (both receptive and expressive) and can read, then you can skip the learning of Northampton symbols and move right into the second unit, which is what we did!
Second Unit of Language - This unit concentrates on learning six highly versatile, but limited sentences and corresponding with syntax that can be gradually expanded one element at time, through stories. These stories serve very specific purposes: animal (yes/no questions, numbers, plurals, "can", adjectives), inanimate object ("it" and color), personal (personal pronouns, "am"/"are", preposition round-up (prepositions), descriptive (being able to describe a place), and present progressive round-up (present progressive tense) stories.
Third Unit of Language - This unit expands tense and ability to narration through stories: experience stories (past and future tenses) and imagination stories (sequence language).
Using multi-sensory methods (the seven steps of learning syntax), they learn to read and articulate sounds, sounds combined into words, and words combined into sentence. The highlights of this method include:
- Teaches both receptive and expressive language.
- Provides structure, repetition, and sameness in language.
- Children say, read, lip-read, listen, and write new elements.
- Waits for complete recall without prompting.
- Associates auditory with visual symbols.
- Emphasizes precise articulation.
- Uses Northampton symbols for learning sounds.
- Teaches one small element at a time.
- Slows down the rate of speech to spotlight new elements.
- Uses cursive to distinguish words.
- Color-codes new elements for emphasis.
- Focuses attention on written material (eventually stories).
- Associates auditory with visual symbols.
- Builds gradually on previously mastered language.
Before closing, I would like to let you know how far Pamela has come with the association method. When we first started, she could not say a complete sentence with correct syntax and words in the right order. In her reading, writing, and speaking, she often dropped articles and prepositions. She had no idea about irregular verbs and would write or say "goed" and "wented". No matter what I did, she confused progressive and present tense, saying "it was run" or "it running" but never "it was running"! In 2004, we started off with the very first sentence in the second unit of language: "This is a ___________." It was a long, slow, but worthwhile process to get to where we are today.
Where are we in 2008?
Pamela reads and writes with very consistent syntax. Less of it shows up when she is speaking, but when I think about the pragmatics of speech, how many of us answer every question in complete sentences? "Are you hungry?" "Yep!" It sounds stilted to say, "Yes, I am hungry." Pamela has more time to retrieve words and reflect on syntax when she writes and you can see that she retains it. When we are having a conversation, I loosen up because we are also focusing on broadband communication (gestures, facial expressions, vocal intonation, and pacing as well as words). When we take our time in orally narrating a story, Pamela can use proper syntax as you will see when I blog the third unit of language.
Last year, we worked hard on simple and progressive, past and present tenses. This week, I formally introduced future tense with the word "will" in her first official experience story. In an experience story, you address what will happen, then you experience it, and you end with what happened. I wrote it about the flat tire we had last week. It just so happened I had a camera with me and I figured I could use my time wisely by snapping pictures.
You can enlarge the picture in this experience story by clicking it. Notice how I spotlight the words will and did with red. They both have similar syntax in comparison to is and was which I spotlighted with blue. When we first started the association method, I had to introduce sentence syntax separately from question syntax. Pamela is advanced enough to learn both at the same time.
Pamela also reads one story from her syntax-controlled readers (which I will blog in another post). Here is the question and answer sheet to review the new syntax:
This is a typical sheet Pamela does to practice the new syntax through copywork, written narration, and dictation.
We also practice the new syntax orally. Pamela filled out the practice sheets while we were waiting to get the car serviced on Wednesday. She picked up the new syntax right away. We decided to head to the health food store while we were in town. I thought it would make a great experience story, so, before we left, I asked her these questions and she told me the answers. I wrote them all down to reinforce our conversation visually.
When we arrived home, we did a follow up story to spotlight the difference between future tense and past tense. We also covered picking up lunch from Hardee's on the way home.
If this post has captured your attention and you are breathlessly waiting for my next post with more details and film footage of us working together, chew on this lengthy pdf file and this monograph. In the next couple of posts, I plan to cover each unit in greater detail and show you how we apply the association method in our homeschooling day. I will not give you enough to fly without the manual, but I think you will walk away with a better idea of whether or not to purchase it.
Click as follows to read about the rest of the association method:
The First Unit of Language
The Second Unit of Language: The First Sentence
The Second Unit of Language: An RDI Perspective
The Second Unit of Language: The Next Five Sentences