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


Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

this is a very comprehensive overview. I'm going to tag it on a yahoo group i am on locally as i know there are individuals interested in it. there is also a school locally that does this method- i of course find it interesting because of the deaf aspect- i looked into it for Andrew thinking it might be a match awhile back- didn't quite fit for us but i have some of the books;) I have some of the books for everythign!

Christine said...

I am so glad that you posted this and I really can't wait to read more. We bought the manual and some other materials and I tried to work with it a bit but we really got stuck on learning the phonemes so I decided to give it a rest so that we started again Oliver wouldn't dread learning. I'm pretty sure Oliver has more than 50 words in his vocabulary so I might have to re-visit this and take a closer look at the second unit.

walking said...

Every child is different as you know. For Pamela, this has been what she needed all along for verbal communication. Of course, RDI is the thing for broadband! :-)

Christine, we never did anything with Northampton symbols and went straight to the second unit. If Oliver has more than fifty nouns in his vocabulary and can read them, he may not need the Northampton symbols.

JEMD1966 said...

Your comment about relaxing syntax when speaking reminded me of an experience I had when we were exploring Kindergarten classes for Timothy (before we looked into homeschooling him). We were observing a class at a time where the class was broken up into little groups and cycling from one teacher to another. One teacher's group was called "social time" where the teacher gave out snacks and chatted with the kids. I remember the teacher saying to one of the students "Would you like some crackers or chips?" The student replied in a friendly, enthusiastic voice, "Chips!" The teacher got a disgusted look on her face and said back to the student, "I WOULD LIKE SOME CHIPS, PLEASE." Although we would all like to have the "please" from our kids, it felt like she was trying to teach him a very stilted form of communication that (if successful) would actually set him apart from his peers instead helping him to communicate with them. This was one of the reasons we decided not to pursue this Kindergarten...

walking said...

Jennifer, I completely agree with you on relaxing the standards for conversation. It is too bad the teacher missed the student's broadband communication (tone of voice). Tone can make all the difference in the world!

RDI consultant, who is an SLP too, gave me a great tip for handling this: repeat what they say and add one word. In response to "Chips!" the teacher could smile and say, "Chips, please!" or "More chips?"

LAA and Family said...

Wow Tammy, thanks for posting this. I have read your other posts about the Association Method here, but it has been a while. I'm not really sure if it is something Samuel would need or not. I know I need to have him tested to see the degree of help he needs in his English. In the meantime, we are repeating first grade English exercises this year. We'll be starting some outside speech therapy to supplement the 20 min. per week he gets from the school system!

You are an amazing teacher and you are so generous to share your methods with us to the degree that you do!

Phyllis said...

You are such a gifted teacher! I cannot imagine being able to make up the worksheets you do, and if I could they would take ALL of my time! I was so impressed with these entries, however, I ordered the books you suggested and think it might be just what I need for at least one of my boys, perhaps more...
Thank you and God bless,

walking said...

LAA and Phyllis, I am not as creative as you think for I am standing on the shoulders of giants like Charlotte Mason and Mildred McGinnis. I am weaving that with the ongoing work of Dr. Steve Gutstein (RDI) which dovetails beautifully. Without their work, I would not look so gifted and talented in the teaching world!

LAA, all kids make garden variety syntax mistakes. If your son gets in the lifelong rut Pamela did, that is the time to dig deeper.

Phyllis, feel free to ask questions. I remember reading some of these books five or six times before it started to sink into my brain. I have helped several people get started, so I did not mind sparing others the headache of figuring it out from scratch. I love the nature studies you are recording at the Bergblog!

Hanako said...

I am the beginning of the journey - my son is going to be 6 years old in August. He's been in an ABA program since he was 20 months old. I just learned about the Asscoiation Method and am trying to get all the info I can on it! It sounds like a promising program for him to use in conjunction with his ABA program. He has apraxia and is non-verbal (no clear words). Thank you for the info on your blog!