He is marching: Caesar. Caesar! Caesar! Caesar! They saw Brutus. They saw a fortuneteller. Ides of March. Beware of the Ides of March. They had a fortuneteller because they had a rain. Caesar was sick because party. Brutus whack Caesar. Caesar death. They had Mark Antony. Mark Antony was angry. They are having a funeral.
There are many things you cannot tell from pure text. Does Pamela enjoy reading Shakespeare, or is it a deadly dull droning of meaningless words for her? Would she be able to act out any of the play? Does the story affect her emotions? Since Pamela said so little about over two acts of a five-act play, should I give up on the bard? Why give a person with autism a task that befuddles high schoolers who speak English and understand emotion perfectly well?
Now try reading the text with a description of Pamela's nonverbal communication. Clearly, she could act out some scenes in the play for Pamela was quite active even though she sat during her narration. Her emotions change appropriately throughout the narration. Her shifts of attention to me reveals a high level of comfort with the material.
He is marching: Caesar. [Turns her head to me abruptly. Almost like a soldier. Chants and pumps fist.] Caesar! Caesar! Caesar! [Giggles and recovers her composure.] They saw Brutus. [Gazes at me.] They saw a fortuneteller. [Laughs. Turns hand as if doing an aside.] Ides of March. [Looks to the camera. Imitates the tone of the fortuneteller in the BBC play.] Beware of the Ides of March. They had a fortuneteller because they had a rain. [Looks at me again.] Caesar was sick because party. [Leans head back. Strikes her chest.] Brutus whack Caesar. [Feigns death.] Caesar death. [Turns head to think. Looks at me again.] They had Mark Antony. [Quickens pace of speech.] Mark Antony was angry. [Acts angry and covers face.] They are having a funeral.
You still do not have a clear picture of how the play captures Pamela's imagination until you see how she narrates it. As you watch Pamela narrate, keep in mind, as my friend Di points out in her presentation on communication,
Children with ASD found to experience particular difficulty with:
- gaze shifts,
- shared positive affect,
- joint attention,
- using a range of communication means and functions,
- use of gestures/non-verbal's,
- social affective signaling and
Relationship Development Intervention helped me become a better guide to Pamela so that she could broaden her ability to communicate more effectively (among other things). By decreasing my verbal communication, I gave Pamela the chance to be an equal and competent partner. By increasing my nonverbal communication, Pamela learned to understand it and communicate nonverbally herself. By slowing down and feeling comfortable with long pauses, I gave her time to process what I communicated and think through her own response. (Check out Di's presentation for more specifics on this.)
I edited out my part in setting up and keeping the narration going. My role was completely opposite to what is usually recommended for teaching autistic children to speak.
- I began with a very open-ended question: "What do you know about the play Julius Caesar by Shakespeare?"
- I did not interrupt her to correct grammatical errors.
- I gazed at her attentively, smiled (because I truly enjoyed watching her narrate), and affirmed her with nods.
- I did not hit her with a bunch of nit-picky questions that would cause her to falter.
The whole point of narration is to share what you know, which comes instinctively to most of us anyway. If you are a bit foggy on this effective, quick, and inexpensive way to assess children, check out this classic article: We Narrate and Then We Know.