From Literary Theory to Basic Literacy (#234)

One day into trying the new procedure for the Edmark Reading Program–asking Charlie to point to and label a picture, then to "find another" of that picture from a choice of three–Charlie mastered Lesson 1. Breaking the procedure down into smaller steps did help Charlie to "upload" each picture (if I may make a discrete reference to a computer metaphor) and then to clearly understand what sequence of steps to execute.
The "new procedure" seems quite obvious now that it has been figured out. (I have also been keeping in mind that Charlie has had to learn to attend to stimuli (such as flashcards) and has a separate program in his home ABA sessions for this.) By divvying up a task into smaller parts , Charlie does each step separately and then is taught to bring them together into a whole that is indeed greater than the sum of its discretely learned parts.

"Obvious" to someone–like Charlie’s teacher and teaching assistants and our home speech therapist–whose training and vocation is to teach kids like Charlie. But "obvious" to me in hindsight, after consulting with them.

Ever since "autism" became the mainstay of Jim’s and my vocabulary seven years ago, I have had to re-educate myself. We Autismland inhabitants know that the Internet is a crucial and readily accessible source of information. But for the minutiae of Charlie’s education, I have turned to one of my oldest friends—–books.

There are bookshelves, bookstores, libraries of autism books out there, and more and more by autistic authors. There are a myriad of psychological, philosophical, theoretical, academic books that deepen, trouble, and question my understanding of autism; among these are autobiographies by autistic writers and parent memoirs of the kind I am writing.

And then there are the books that, along with our ever-growing cohort of therapists and teachers (many the charter members of the Autism Hearts Club), have done the most to teach Charlie the skills he needs to live the independent, the good life, books whose titles capture so many aspects of life in Autismland: A Work in Progress. Teaching Language to Children with Autism. Explode the Code.

My own educational background definitely leans towards the literary and the philosophical. I have been reading since I taught myself to at the age of four. My parents never put a limit on to how many books my sister and I might get (toys were another matter). Reading, breathing; reading, being: The words are synonymous to me, and to Jim, too.

But reading has not come at all naturally to Charlie. At his age–8 years and several months–I was scouting around my fourth-grade classroom for extra books because I had finished all the lessons (and thereby encountered a book on Greek mythology that led to—well, keep reading). At his age, Jim was called to the front of the room ny the nuns to prove that he could read the copy of JFK’s PT-109 that he had checked out from the town library.

My graduate degree is in Classics and Comparative Literature–in, more specifically, Romantic poetry, Asian American literature, and literary theory with some strong dashes of European philosophy. I well remember some grad students friends (one of whom was fluent in Russian and German and also highly skilled in both computer programming and rock-climbing) saying "Hey Kristina, there’s this thing called Asperger’s Syndrome in which you have obsessive interests, are are socially awkward, prefer to be alone, eccentric—sound familiar?"

Jim often brings home the latest books from his university’s library about "autism and the problem of meaning" or some such only to wonder, "Not quite sure what this is going to do for Charlie." At which I often respond, "His teacher said he got the next four parts of Explode the Code and he did six staight minutes on the Nouns and Sounds computer program with the speech therapist and he’s meeting mastery criteria for multi-term object labeling and he asked to use the bathroom and ran in!"

"That’s great!" says Jim. "What about his talking?"

"He did VB and worked on imitating after a time delay, sorting six categories, mastered EIGHT programs. And a goofball, Miss Cindy said." (The programs are those in the ABLLS.)

Jim is a historian by training and vocation. "So, just think, a year ago we had Tara visiting and we knew Charlie needed something different and here he is."

Me, I’m a literary type at heart who has drawn on poetry to piece together Charlie’s often metaphorical associations of the concrete with the conceptual. I love learning languages. I used to write poetry. But my real education—the curriculum I will forever be pursuing–has been in the school of Charlie knocking his head hard and me knocking mine even harder as I try to think beyond a headache for solutions.

Literature is one thing that, it can be argued, makes us human. But basic literacy for Charlie is an epic goal for an IEP and for the ages. It behooves me to keep reading the books–the autism literature–that can best teach Charlie to be everything he can be for–in the words of a favorite poet–"‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’"

One Response to “From Literary Theory to Basic Literacy (#234)”
  1. mom-nos says:

    They’re using Explode the Code at school with Bud, too, with a great deal of success. It’s interesting – I’ve been going back and forth about whether whole-word reading or phonics is the right approach for teaching Bud to read. He is SUCH a gestalt learner that on the surface whole-word reading seems like a natural fit (he’s been able to point and click on words on the computer for some complicated navigation since he was about 2); but letters and their sounds have also come pretty easily to him. Just in the past two weeks “sounding it out” has started to “click” for him, and he’s been reading some three-letter words (cat, hat, sit, big, can). I’ve had to harness my enthusiasm and not push too hard (or, as his teacher calls it “drill and kill”) and turn him off completely. But, like you and Jim, both my husband and I are big readers, so it’s VERY exciting to see this skill emerging in Bud!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

  • What’s all this about?

%d bloggers like this: