Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hope and Faith

A Facebook friend posted a link to an article about Representative Gabby Giffords' road to recovery since being shot in the head last January. The first minute-and-a-half of the radio program compares an interview with Gabby four years ago to her reading from her husband's new book. Her halted delivery reminded me of how Pamela reads. The description of Gabby's expressive language reminds me Pamela's road to language:
  • "It's very difficult to carry on a conversation. It becomes very one-sided."
  • "Her language is still halting — mostly one- or two-word thoughts."
  • "We can have a conversation — it's difficult for her. She struggles; she gets frustrated."
  • "Now, Giffords speaks in full sentences, according to Kelly. The challenge for her, he says, is stringing those sentences together."
  • "Language recovery has come slowly."
  • "I've come to learn that your brain can rewire itself to some extent. And she can find where those words are now located."
Isn't it amazing that a gun shot to the head causes the same kind of challenges Pamela faces with autism and aphasia?

While Giffords goes through hours of rigorous speech therapy every day, Pamela and I both burned out on it. Unlike Giffords who has already mastered the language once, Pamela is still building language from scratch. Giffords has been at it for less than a year; Pamela has been at it for twenty!

Last week, we were doing "exams" as I posted earlier. Our exams look very differently from what is usually done in this No Child Left Untested world because exams are basically narrations. I ask her to tell me about a topic, and Pamela shares what she knows. This exam is on mythology. Because she is not ready for the book listed for the year we are doing for CLUSA, I substituted an Ambleside Online book we have never read: Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Wonder Book.

I asked Pamela to tell me about her favorite story of the two we read last term, but she wanted to narrate both. The text of the two narrations are quite different and I have been pondering why. The story of King Midas was less complicated than the story of Perseus and Medusa: it involved fewer characters, fewer changes of scenes, and fewer plot developments. It had more of a repeated narrative (much like fairy tales). She could personally relate to the realistic elements of "The Golden Touch" while the story about Medusa contained far more fantasy. Pamela has an interest in children and the character of Marygold captured her imagination from the very beginning.

Pamela's knack for calendars and anachronisms came to light here. Hawthorne stated that Midas had turned a book into gold, but Pamela knew that the story was set in "B.C. times" and, therefore, he must have turned a scroll into gold. She may have trouble fully expressing her thoughts, but her chronology is superior to one of America's great authors.

Many years ago, before I learned other ways to approach language deficiencies, I drilled speech anomalies to the point of killing any joy Pamela felt in sharing her thoughts. Now, rather than stop her in the middle of a narration, I patiently listen because I know that recitation, copywork, studied dictation, and living books are more respectful ways to address grammar and speech glitches. All I do in the context of a narration is rephrase what she said to matching closely what she said in more correct English.

In the video, I edited out the long pauses between Pamela's initial sentences. I am not the most patient person, so, during this exam, I am knitting socks to prevent myself from jumping in too soon. When Pamela finally ran out of things to say, I probed a little further through declarative language. Asking questions that are too specific with clear right or wrong answers box her into a corner. Making declarative comments gives her aphasia a little wiggle room. I was fairly certain Pamela remembered Medusa's snake hair, so I guided her to it through declarative language. I reworded myself to give her a couple of opportunities, and Pamela didn't catch my drift until I asked about what animal her hair was like. You can see by her body language that she is quite confident in this process and she does not feel pressured or frustrated.

I will close an excerpt from the final page of Giffords' book, written and read in her own words and voice: "It's frustrating, mentally hard, hard work." Fortunately, we have learned to find joy, hope, and faith in this journey toward language.

Gorgon's Head. They had. He had a pierce. They had sword. They had cut your head. They had a fighting with kill Medusa's head Medusa's head was wicked. They had a shoe. They fly away. They had a horse, had a wing. Was cut. Medusa's hair was cut. Alive. Snake. Die. Medusa's head turn to stone.

Do Golden Touch: King Midas had a little girl named Marygold. They turned into gold. They had a strangers. They had rose turn into a gold. Scroll turn into gold. They cannot read. The stuff breakfast turn into gold. They cannot eat. They feel sad. They count the money. Marygold turn into statues. Feel sad. They had the water. They get rid of the gold. Marygold turned back to normal.

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