Monday, December 05, 2011

A Broad Range of Communication

Communication is more than text. We have been doing exams, which are narrations of what Pamela learned in Term 1. I have been recording the exams so I can write a transcript of them. We made it all the way through Act III, Scene I of Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar"—yes, we are really reading the entire play, unabridged, bits at a time, after watching a BBC recording of the passage. Reading just the transcript only tells you the words she used and what she remembered to share. Since Pamela struggles with aphasia, you might not be impressed by what she had to say.

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
  • imitation.

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.


Bonnie said...

Excellent! I'm going to show my students next Spring when we read Julius Caesar! Pamela did so well.
She has delight. Lots of it.

Stephanie said...

Wonderful post! I'd never thought about the link between RDI and narration.

walking said...

There is a huge link. Narration allows the child to share what they know using a full range of expression that cannot be captured on a standardized test or in a worksheet. Narration invites imagination and deep thinking. Narration is open-ended. Guide and guided have no idea what rabbit trail they may end up exploring as a result of the narration. It is inviting and ripe for productive uncertainty.

If you read carefully the article on narration, the do's and don't's sound very much like coming to a shared understanding, scaffolding the child, fostering a warm relationship, etc.

Lisa Jo Rudy said...

Tom's English teacher is having her class act out a slightly simplified (updated English) version of Romeo and Juliet - and it's sheer fun for Tom! He loves being Romeo... not quite as excited when it's his term to be Mercutio. He's a lover, not a fighter lol!


Lisa Jo Rudy said...

On a related note, am intrigued to find that Tom is far more capable of managing complex and/or open-ended material than I'd realized. Much of my approach has been supportive rather than challenging, and now that he's back at school I can see that my approach was great to build skills and self-confidence, but insufficient to challenge him to the next level. School turns out to be the right place for him - now - but was not ideal several years ago.

Stranded said...

Everytime I come to this blog I learn new things and get a huge boost of encouragement.

Go Pamela and Tammy!