Aurality and Literacy (#235)

Charlie started Lesson 2 of the Edmark Reading Program and got 22 out of 25 correct!

This lesson follows the same format as Lesson 1 of presenting (on the left) a line drawing and then (to the right) three smaller-sized line-drawn pictures, one of which is the same as that on the left. In the new procedure, his teacher covered up the three choices and asked him first to "point" (SD1) to each picture and tell her "what is that?" (SD2). The three choices are uncovered and SD3 given: "Find another [of the 1st picture]."
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SD is an ABA term; it stands for "discriminative stimulus" and is the instruction delivered at the beginning of a discrete trial by a teacher/therapist "in response to which [she/he] would like the child to exhibit a particular behavior." When Charlie’s teacher started him on Lesson 1, the SD was simply "Find the same," but it was duly noted that Charlie needed that instruction broken down into a few more steps. In particular, his teacher noted that–especially with Lesson 2, in which the drawings of simple objects (leaf, hat, ball) are replaced with abstract figures such as shapes and squiggles–Charlie started to catch on when she called each picture a discrete name.

Charlie was able to sort out the pictures–the visual stimuli–when he heard a name assigned to each. Without that aural component, the differences among the pictures were a jumble.

"It’s so clear he’s a visual learner." Evaluators, autism "specialists," many a professional has often informed us that Charlie’s strength is–like that of "so many" ASD children–in his sight. Charlie has had several PECS books; time and again we have taken photos of every object in his daily routine and made cards with laminate and velcro.

I do think that Charlie likes–prefers–to look at things. For the past few days, he has been highly motivated to look at some fifty photographs that he has arrayed on his bedroom floor. In his home ABA session today, Charlie did all of his programs with great focus and accuracy and then ran to look at those photos. "He’s not into the music anymore," the therapist noted to me after the session was over—just a few weeks ago, listening to his favorite songs had seemed a consistent source of interest and comfort to Charlie.

In the past, Charlie has refused–sometimes aggressively–to putting away the photos, or to pulling himself away from them. I have been careful to make sure that he and I clean up everything in due time, lest the photos develop into a self-stimulatory ritual he refuses to break away from. By keeping his looking at the photos within clearly prescribed boundaries, the photos have become less of an obsession and more of a pleasurable activity.

Many of Charlie’s stims that he has had the hardest time breaking away from have involved him looking at something: The numbers on a digital alarm clock. Three shape blocks arrayed on the floorboards. A certain-shaped pot for cooking rice.

And many times I have noted Charlie’s excellent ear, and this in a child who is clearly speech-delayed and disabled. More than a few times I have figured out a garbled phrase on the basis of the vowel sounds Charlie uses or on his melodic intonation.

This kid has quite an ear.

This kid is a visual stimmer and an aural learner.

I would not be surprised if we one day discovered that Charlie had perfect pitch. He has an endless memory for songs. Charlie’s understanding of non-verbal communication is finely honed and it only takes an angry burr to one’s voice, a passing tone of annoyance, stiffened shoulders, a fire to the eyes, to set him on edge.

If Charlie once had a single-minded fixation on red objects–a spot of red paint, red socks–this is not a sign of unusually acute vision. It is a symptom of Charlie’s difficulties processing visual stimuli such that he fastens onto one visual element–a color, a shape like the number 3–and blocks out all the rest of the rainbow world.

And so has reading been a seemingly Sisyphean task for Charlie for the past three and a half years. And so has his teacher’s figuring out that infusing the sounds of words into each step of his reading programs has been the crucial element we have been missing out on. As if, for Charlie, reading cannot be only a matter of looking at letters on a piece of paper but must involve hearing the sounds of those letters put together into words.

Anagignôskô is the ancient Greek word for "I read." The basic meaning of this word is to "know well or certainly; know again, recognize." When you read you are getting to "know again" certain characters–letters in certain formations that (as you remember) equal a word. We cannot be sure, but it seems that the ancients, when reading to themselves, read out loud, the better to re-hear the sounds of letters patterned into words.
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The better to remember what a certain array of letters "sounds" like.

The better to give voice to the words the eye recognizes as equivalent to the spoken language of the tongue (the ancient Greek word for which is glôssa–and this word also means "language" same as the Latin lingua, which is the etymological root of our word, language).

Sound, I am thinking more and more, is the best way to communicate something to Charlie. It might be in the form of the spoken word (mine: "The bus is here, let’s put on your coat!"; Charlie’s: "I want eat brown noodles"). It might be in the music of a happy voice ("lovely boy!") or the volume and tense tone of Annoyed Mom. With my parents visiting for a few days, Charlie has been pausing a bit more as he tries to calculate in two more voices in the sound-cosmos around him.

For Charlie is a boy with a discriminating ear, screening out the bigger buzz of stimuli as he learns to focus on what his teacher (whose name he called out tonight of his own accord) has to tell him. Has to teach him.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Aurality and Literacy (#235)”
  1. kyra says:

    it’s interesting to look at the power of voicing words, voicing language, in the ancients, as you mentioned, and also in primitive cultures where there is very often no written record of the language used. i would bet charlie has perfect pitch too! good for him and for you that those pictures can be such a source of fascination and comfort for him. it’s funny, but fluffy is also highly sensitive to our mood but still his ability to read non verbal cues is pretty impaired. a pitch change must be coming in on one signal while the complex patterns of body language must come in on a bunch and therefore, they often get scrambled and come in fuzzy for him. but we are working on it!

  2. mom-nos says:

    “More than a few times I have figured out a garbled phrase on the basis of the vowel sounds Charlie uses or on his melodic intonation.”

    I’ve had similar experiences with Bud. Sometimes when he’s scripting, he hums the dialogue without saying any words at all. I can almost always tell what script it is because of the cadence, tone and inflection in his hum.

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