Saturday, November 04, 2006

Baby Steps in Figurative Language

Autistic people tend to take words literally, so they need to learn how to discern meaning from figurative language. This is why I think Pamela can benefit from reciting poetry. Not only does she learn to improve her spelling and grammar, but she also sees how to interpret words in different ways.

Yesterday, she had her first lesson in personification with the poem, Daffodowndilly. I dictated the entire poem to her yesterday, and she wrote it perfectly. She recited the whole thing with a few, very minor glitches. Since she knew the poem so well, I decided to see if she had figured out the meaning behind the words. Here was our conversation:

Me: "Who is she?" (pointing to "She wore her yellow sun-bonnet")
Pamela: "A girl."
Me: "No, who is she?" (pointing to "She wore her greenest gown")
Pamela: "A woman."
Me: "No, look at the title. What is she?" (pointing to "Daffodowndilly")
Pamela: "A bird."
Me: "No, but you’re close! What does 'Daffodowndilly' sound like?"
Pamela: "A flower." (smiling)
Me: "Yes! Now, what kind of flower is it?"
Pamela: "A daffodil." (smiling brightly)
Me: "What season is it?"
Pamela: "Spring!" (without any hesitation)
Interpreting the season is a skill we have been practicing. Originally, she would take everything so literally that seeing the word "winter" automatically meant the poem was about the frosty, snowy season. Pamela knew the poem described spring without hesitation, showing how much she has honed her understanding of language.

While I think it important for autistic children to learn functional skills, I want more than a utilitarian education for Pamela. I aspire to balance learning to function in a neurotypical world with appreciating the finer aspects of life. Charlotte Mason, a Victorian/Edwardian era educator, makes a point that applies to children today:
We teach him those things that are proper for a person of wealth to know (as Locke said), OR we teach him enough art, reading, writing and arithmetic to prevent him from being illiterate. In both cases, the focus is on utilitarian education. The child is being indirectly educated to a profession rather than for personal growth. (page 156)
Schools should feed their students knowledge until they've created a healthy appetite in them. Then the students will go on satisfying their hunger for knowledge every day for the rest of their lives. We need to give up the farce of teaching students how to learn. That's just as ridiculous as teaching a child how to lift a fork to his mouth and chew without giving him any real food! They already know how to learn. Lessons given for the sole purpose of improving the mind shouldn't be a priority in the future. (page 348)
This begs the question. Does Pamela have a healthy appetite for poetry? When she finished her recitation of Daffodowndilly, she named the next three poems she plans to learn: The End by A.A. Milne, Cradle Song by Alfred Tennyson, and A Pirate Story by Robert Louis Stevenson.

1 comment:

Mary said...

This is impressive, Tammy. She clearly enjoys the meaning and is planning in studying more poems. Developing an understanding of figurative language is terrific.