Monday, September 29, 2008

Footage of the Princess in Action

Click here for previous installment of the Princess Dress Diaries.

The Queen Mum fretted over many needless worries. Since the Princess nervously pulls up her nightgown from time to time and has never worn hose nor fancy attire nor pearls, the Queen Mum feared the worst. The Princess has not worn a dress in years, much less a formal dress with the potential for so many wardrobe malfunctions. Due to the Queen Mum's sudden, unexpected illness, the Princess, who tends to sit in all manner of unladylike postures, did not practice how to sit like a lady. The Queen Mum worried the Princess might tire of her duties as the Passer-Out-of-Programs and have to replace said Princess.

None of that happened. The Princess felt the power of the dress and acted the part with beauty and elegance. She required only one lesson of how to sit (keep your feet flat on the ground). During her half-hour reign, she did not stim nor make funny noises nor ask when she could sit nor leave a trail of pearls in her wake. Her hand went nowhere near her nose. She coolly handed a program to every party that wanted one (and a few that did not). She permitted herself to be hugged and kissed by her loving tias, cousins, and grandmama. In short, the Princess knew she was every inch a princess and did her duty like royalty ought to do.

Click here for the next installment of the Princess Dress Diaries.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debut of the Princess Dress

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Smashing success! Gave programs to ALL guests. Stood on duty for thirty minutes. No meltdowns. No wardrobe malfunctions. Too tired for words. Film to be processed and posted.

Congratulations, James and Alyson! Thanks for letting Pamela be a princess!

Click here for next installment of the Princess Dress Diaries.

Lunch at Mother's

No, not Steve's mother! Mother's Restaurant is a popular place to get typical New Orleans style, home-cooked food. People wait in line for food here, and we did as you can see in the photo of Pamela and her grandfather! David and I were not hungry, so he had a bag of Zapp's potato chips (I have forgotten how addictive they are) and I ate Pamela's bread and a leftover biscuit. Pamela ate red beans and rice, recalling what we ate every New Year's Day when we lived in Louisiana.

Pamela and Tia Patty

A Big Group Shot

Steve's Cousins and Bernard

Backdating Her Journal

Pamela Walking with Tia Julie

The Glaser Cousins


The Rehearsal and Rehearsal Dinner

Pamela came downstairs dressed in her rehearsal dinner attire and wowed her aunties and grandparents. They thought she looked smashing! She and her babies hung out with her Tia Susie in the courtyard until we were ready to go. Tia Susie showed her all of the baby clothes she purchased for her first grandchild due in two months. Pamela and her tia compared many of the items to her babies, but all of the hats, booties, onesies, etc. were too big for Pamela’s babies.

The rehearsal was at 6:30 and was mercifully fast. The chapel is absolutely beautiful, and I am looking forward to seeing it in full wedding splendor tomorrow. Pamela and I (or Steve) will stand behind the back pew, facing the front door, next to a table that will hold a basket for the folded programs. I will hand one to Pamela, and, if all goes well, she will hand one to the guests, which may reach a hundred. If Pamela bails, Steve and I will be her back-ups! We practiced our little assembly line pattern a couple of times and that was it for us. One thing I love about the bride and groom is that they are laid back, relaxed, and putting everyone at ease. I hate stuffy, toxic affairs, and the wedding promises to be the exact opposite!

We stayed in the garden district for dinner. We slowly filled a banquet room, and Pamela patiently waited while they served wine and the appetizer (stuffed crab). Alyson started handing out gifts to those assisting with the wedding, including this tree stand for Pamela's room. Pamela peeked in the bag with this perplexed look. She looked at Alyson and then me, so I smiled broadly and said, "You can hang things on it in your room. It will look beautiful." Pamela still wasn't too sure but relaxed and did not toss it over her shoulder like she used to do with other unwanted gifts.

Pamela could not eat anything from the dinner, so we ordered her a burger and fries, which made Alyson's brother James (not to be confused with the groom James or her grandfather James) mouth water. He asked if he could have a bite, and she chomped on her burger and said, "No!"

Steve had wondered off to chat with his sisters, so Pamela placed her babies next to her in his chair. I was completely delighted, surprised, and, in tears, when Nancy Kashman and her husband Steve (not to be confused with my Steve or the Steve two seats to my right) arrived all the way from Phoenix. Nancy, an OT certified in Sensory Integration, helped me figure out Pamela's sensory needs early on, and she has followed Pamela's progress since she was about four years old. The last time Pamela and Nancy met was in 2000 when we visited them the weekend they opened their deli and put their waiters through the gluten-free, casein-free wringer.

After we hugged, Nancy knelt next to half-starved Pamela, who was just digging into her long-awaited meal. Nancy says, "I remember working with you when you were this high. So, how old are you now?" Pamela eats a fry, and says, "I'm nineteen years old and I have two babies!"

Nancy and I nearly collapsed on the floor, laughing! When she recovered, Nancy said, "That was beautiful! She answered my question and elaborated on it."

Pamela stayed with us in the very loud, crowded room and sat next to her grandmother while I chatted with Nancy. Nancy was astonished at how calmly Pamela sat there. She noticed how much more Pamela uses her eyes to track what was happening and how much more facial expression she has. She was very impressed, especially when you consider that we woke up at four EST to fly to New Orleans and Pamela was hanging on at nine CST at night in a very noisy setting. When she had reached her limit, she asked if she could sit on the floor, so Pamela sat in the corner with her babies and rocked a little. About a half hour later, Steve and her went back to the room. We never even had a hint of a meltdown the entire night! Not one hint!

Pamela's cousin James put it all into perspective, "I am amazed. I remember every Christmas we never saw Pamela because she couldn't handle the noise. She'd hide in the bedroom of our house in LaPlace and watch videos. Look at her. She's sitting at the table, handling it all!"

The Trip to New Orleans

Why am I up at 5:30 blogging? All these words are rolling around in my head. If I don't get it out of my system, I will not be able to fall back asleep! So, there!

We woke up at four in the morning yesterday. Pamela dressed, played on the computer, and watched television while we got ready to go. At about 5:15, we were gearing up to leave the house and I noticed Pamela was holding a little bag that she used for storing her tape cassettes for stimming. Rather than tell her imperatively to put it away, I looked at it with curiosity and said, “I wonder what’s in the bag.” I held out my hand and Pamela brought it to me. When I opened the bag, I was in awe! Pamela had backed all of her baby essentials in the baby’s own luggage! That right there almost made the trip worth it because it seemed like she was trading her stimming for people!

We drove an hour and a half to Charleston and checked our luggage in the dark, hoping to avoid the Nor'easter that had already plunged temperatures into the sixties. Pamela traveled light. She wore her purple backpack with its solitary spiral notebook and pencil. She carried her babies, Baby Alive and David, and their luggage. A couple of times, Steve asked her if she wanted to put them in her backpack for our convenience while going through security checkpoints. NO! Those were her babies and she was treating them like real people. She hung onto them for the entire trip. The man at the curb of the airport said, "Now, don't drop your baby!" She gave him a double-take and replied, "You're joking! Comedy!"

Pamela loves flying and riding buses, escalators, elevators, trains, and subways, so she finds navigating in and out of airports easy. We took an early flight to Houston and had about a ninety-minute layover before catching one to New Orleans. David and I giggled our way through the cheesy shopping catalog in the seat pocket. I could spend an entire post about the burp gun, marshmallow gun, and myriad of useless gadgets that would make Billy Mays weep. On one page is a sappy pillow with the words “Kiss me before you fall asleep” and on the other is a dog tag that says, “I like to kiss my dog.” EW!

David lucked out on the last leg of the trip. Since Steve has a platinum card with that airline, the computer upgraded him to first class. He wanted to sit next to Pamela, so he switched with David. Imagine being sixteen and flying first class! The second flight was the worst for me. The pressure on my eardrums was fearsome, but they withstood the landing. I felt like I had vertigo for the rest of the day and my left ear did not clear up until the next day!

We arrived in New Orleans hassle-free, rented our car, and headed to the French Quarter where our hotel is. Driving from the airport downtown was a shock. The landscape has completely changed right down to the sound barriers along I-10 and the massive pumping station adjacent to it. The old, rotating cow along I-10 that amused on my way home was gone. Familiar buildings are damaged, restored, or gone: so many complexes in sad condition or newly restored. Katrina happened three years ago and completely changed the face of New Orleans.

When we arrived at the hotel, we bumped into Pamela’s aunt and mother of the bride, Janet, and the bride, Alyson. Pamela had not seen Alyson in about five years because the few times we have visited family in Louisiana she was either attending college or working in Mississippi. At first, Pamela had no idea who this strange woman was and her face was completely blank. I said to her, “Pamela, Alyson is a grown up and ready to be married.” Suddenly, her eyes lit up and an enormous grin bloomed on her face when Pamela finally recognized her cousin.

After we checked-in, we collapsed in our room for two hours before getting ready for the next item on the agenda, the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Head Cold Hiatus

Click here for previous installment of the Princess Dress Diaries.

I am sorry but I have to postpone the rest of the Association Method overview until next week thanks to one nasty head cold. David came down with it two weeks ago, and Pamela did the same last week. Is it already Thursday? I have lost track of time! I had a slight sore throat that did not worsen until I woke up on Sunday morning. From that day on, I have been one drippy, congested mess. Since the health food store is a half-hour drive, I had to make due with what I had on hand to slay this cold.

I felt so bad Tuesday night I was beginning to doubt I could fly to New Orleans on Friday for the debut of the Princess Dress. I sent out prayer requests to my email list friends and started steaming out my sinuses with hot water following up with saline nasal spray. After periodic steamings, I finally settled down at three in the morning and spent the rest of Wednesday sleeping off and on between steamings, except for a two-hour window in which I found out said princess dress was NOT ready (GRRRR), the kids got hair cuts, and we shopped for shoes and a rehearsal dinner outfit for Pamela. I went back on the steam cycle and lots of prayers and finally slept the entire night, starting at about ten. I woke up once or twice to sip on some juice and did not get up until six in the morning.

Today is Thursday (ALREADY?). I slept soundly all night and woke up with a fairly clear head (mild congestion), but I have air flowing through each nostril!!!! While it does not compare to the parting of the Red Sea, it qualifies as a miracle from God to me! Air flow! Semi-clear head! No headache! No fever! No muscle aches! Thank you, God!

I got up at my usual time (six in the morning) and Pamela came up to me while I was sitting at the computer. She said, "Tammy!" I turned to her and she said, "I'm so sorry." I asked, "About what?" She held my hands and said, "About your cold." Later today, at the mall, I grumbled about feeling bad, and she squeezed my arm and kissed it! She was very attentive to me in the car: when I needed my purse, she handed it to me. At one point, the strap got wrapped around the handle I grab to adjust the seat. I got so frustrated and leaned back to take a breather, so she leaned over and patiently undid it for me. WOW! That is what RDI is doing for our family in a nutshell!

The good news is that I think I can fly tomorrow! The bad news I faced a lengthy to-do list. I managed to do the items in red in less than five hours (including a one-hour round trip in the car):
  • Take the dogs to the kennel.
  • Beg Mom to hem Pamela's pants (she's a great quilter so it is easy for her).
  • Pick up dry cleaning.
  • Pick up the Princess Dress and bolero jacket.
  • Buy shoes, hose, and bras for Pamela (I couldn't find any yesterday).
  • Buy three outfits, hose, and bras for me!
  • Pick up Nature's Way HAS which cured my last sinus infection.
  • Pack our bags smartly.
  • Finish the laundry.

David has been a great sport and asset to me. He narrated several books and typed others to get some homeschooling done. He took care of the dogs, did the dishes, wiped counters, made beds, and cooked for Pamela and himself. He carried around laundry baskets when I was too achy to do it myself. He even did disgusting things like put away people's clean underwear in their drawers (apparently this requires major handwashing--LOL). Poor David faced the worst injustice today. He sat in the back of our tiny Kia with our two dogs, Loa ("Driving Miss Daisy") and Arwen ("Driving Miss Daisy Crazy"). As a reward, I let him cut loose in the mall. When I was ready to shop for me, I asked him to sit with Pamela (who was sick of shopping at that point), who was holding her two babies (not dolls, babies). Any teenaged brother who will do that for his older autistic sister is a superhero in my book!

Here's our haul, in case you want to see it (except for the ladies unmentionables because this blog is rated-G):

Princess Dress and Bolero Jacket

Dress and Rehearsal Dinner Duds

Digs to Go with the Duds

Queen Mum Attire

What Keeps Queen Mum's Nose from Running

Click here for next installment of the Princess Dress Diaries.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What I Understand about the First Unit of Language

Yesterday, I gave an overview of the Association Method. Today, I will explain what I know about the first unit of language (which is not much since we skipped it)! I learned nearly everything I know in the teaching manual for the Association Method. You can attend multi-level courses at USM Dubard, which offers a certification program, but that did not seem feasible for a homeschooling mother of two!

The first unit of language is for children who cannot read and have very little language, if any. The goal is for them to learn to say, read, lip-read, listen, and write at least fifty nouns. In the first phase of the program, children learn the Northampton symbols shown to the left. As you can see (click the picture for a better view), the manual provides detailed information about each symbol and its associated sound. If you are familiar with The Writing Road to Reading or Orton-Gillingham-like methods, these symbols are based on the concept of phonemes. (Warning Label: We tried WRTR and, well, in our house, it was "The Writing Road to Crying"--Pamela and David fared much better with At Last! A Reading Method for Every Child for reading and Handwriting without Tears for writing.)

Children first focus on Northampton symbols, mastering one symbol-sound at a time. To do this, they undergo multi-sensory steps, which I have explained in a much earlier post. Going through all multi-sensory steps and incrementally progressing from phonemes to syllables to words are vital. Children with severe language disorders really do need this much focus and repetition in all sensory channels. What distinguishes the Association Method from how ABA therapists typically approach language is the incremental progression and emphasis on multi-sensory. Again, I do not believe all autistic children need to do this, but kids like Pamela need a more structured, multi-channel approach.

Once children have learned several symbols, they can play simple card games like Go Fish and Concentration with cards made from the symbols. Pro-Ed does offer materials that make preparing to teach this unit less time consuming, such as 282 4 x 6 phoneme manuscript cards. I know you might be thinking playing Concentration with phoneme cards is no big deal. If so, I dare you to watch Connor's Story and NOT CRY!

Two-Sound Syllables
The second phase, a transitional one, uses drop drills combining two phonemes into one syllable. They are started once children learn three Northampton vowels and three Northampton consonants and are taught in the seven steps described in another blog post. This exercise got its name for two reasons: the syllable drops down the page and the activity is dropped in the next phase. Notice how color-coding distinguishes between two sounds in these drills. Children learn to read simply consonant-vowel words after mastering only a few symbols! Pro-ed offers noun cards for the first unit of language: 193 4 x 6 small picture noun cards (also available as 8.5 x 11 cards).

Once they can read, repeat from lip-reading or hearing, and write ten syllables from cross drills, children transition to cross drills in the final phase of the first unit, which trains the eye in left to right, top to bottom reading. I Can Talk's page on the Association Method shows a boy doing a cross drill at the dry erase board and another boy reading from his personal story book, where all drills and stories are stored. Simple nouns are drawn from each set of cross drills, formed into seven groups of sound patterns. Each group increases the complexity of the word with V representing by phonemes having a vowel sound and C representing those with a consonant sound:

Group 1 - CV or VC
Groups 2 and 3 - CVC
Group 4 - CVC or CVV
Group 5 - CVC or VCC or CCV or CVV
Group 6 - CVCC or CCVC
Group 7 - CVCV or CVCVCV and beyond

The appendices of the manual are quite extensive and necessary to implement the pogram. Appendix A covers phonetics and the Northampton symbols. Appendix B has over 140 pages of sample content from a typical child's book for all three units of language. Appendix C provides a standard vocabulary list of nouns taught in the first unit of language, while Appendix D provides more detail on sample stories used in the second and third units. Appendix E outlines a typical program showing the progression from first phonemes to first syllables to words for a chlid with dyslexia. That's not bad for $52 plus shipping!

You can read about the second unit of language here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Overview of the Association Method

I haven't blogged about our work with the Association Method in a long time and I would like to give a quick overview today. About five years ago, my in-laws told us about a segment on Good Morning America about this method of teaching nonverbal, autistic children to speak. At fourteen years old, Pamela could speak: she had a HUGE vocabulary of nouns and stock phrases. But, she had no idea of how to put words together so as to make sense. We could understand her, but her confusing syntax made it hard for others to understand her. We were living in the Shumagin Islands at the time. Their library offered a great interlibrary loan program so I ordered a copy of the manual for the association method from a library in Oregon. After reading it about fifty times (LOL), I concluded that Pamela had had full-blown aphasia as a child and still had syntactic aphasia as a teen. I purchased a copy because it seemed like it might be the miracle we needed to get Pamela over the language hurdle.

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