My son has had pretty good teachers so far, but I’ve heard of great teachers who make parents of special needs children swoon. One is an elementary classroom teacher who began the first parent-teacher meeting with, “I just read your child’s entire file.” That’s not called getting off on the right foot. It’s getting off on the best foot possible.
As a former licensed teacher and mom of two school-aged children, I find that good teachers don’t deny or sugar coat issues; instead, they are proactive by anticipating problems and dealing with them. Like the ripple-effect theory, an effective teacher addresses and manages an issue before it grows. But instead of waiting for the first ripple to appear and then using classroom management skills to redirect the student and classmates, there are effective ways to begin classroom management from the beginning. Similarly, some teachers are willing to go beneath the water’s surface to see if a special needs child has kept his head above above water (aka on grade level); is doing the doggie paddle to stay afloat; or drowning – academically and socially.
That same teacher will have high expectation and teach him how to swim. It doesn’t mean that he has to learn the breast stroke correctly (some may never put their head in the water, thus the need for special education accommodations and modifications), but we as parents want to see measurable progress. And sometimes that progress begins with having a teacher who takes the time to better understand the diagnosis – digest huge files of test scores, evaluations and school to parent communications; attend a special needs-related conference; or ask for a recommended book from a parent. If I had such an parent-teacher experience, I might fall in love on the spot.
Here’s some exciting suggestions from Thomas Armstrong, a former special education teacher in both the US and Canada, who offers ways to “activate the strengths” of special needs students in Education Week’s “7 Ways to Bring Out the Best in Special-Needs Students”:
1. Discover your students’ strengths
Armstrong suggests ways to do this that would make any special needs parent excited: from talking with previous teachers, discussing strengths and abilities and focusing on the highest testing scores and positive teachers comments. This is why, in my opinion, when teachers tell me that my child is love of her life or write on a report card that he is a pleasure to have in class, it doesn’t make me happy. I need more. My child is above his years in oral retrieval and can repeat things that he has heard, even when looking 100 percent disengaged, and if a teacher knew how to tape into this strength, I would cartwheel. And if a teacher does this, I want to know. The author also recommends doing a strength-based inventory – and has one in his book, Neurodiversity in the Classroom: Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life.
2. Provide positive role models with disabilities
Suggests creating a curriculum unit for both neurotypical (NT) and special needs students, entitled “People with Disabilities who Changed the World,” including Carol Grieder, Steven Speliberg and Temple Grandin. Heck, I’d even do the research for my son’s teacher, and she could teach this as she finds appropriate. This is way to show special needs students that despite their challenges, they can be successful in life.
3. Develop strength-based learning strategies
Teachers can do this by combining strengths with a deficit and uses examples such as:
Strength + Deficit = strength-based learning strategies
Drawing + Reading = illustrating vocabulary words
Knitting + Place value in math = knit rows of ten
4. Use assistive technologies
Apps such as speech-to-text programs can help students who speak well yet struggle with writing skills.
5. Maximize the power of your students’’ social networks
Goes as far as suggesting teachers “create a graphic representation of a student’s peer network, identifying both strong and weak relationships,” and use peer teaching, cross age tutoring or another social-learning approach. Over and beyond? I’d gladly settle for a budding relationship to be paired up for class partner activities.
6. Help students envision positive future careers
By recognizing a particular strength, let’s say art, help students see where they can use a talent or skill in a career, like graphic design. This is something that I do at home, but if a teacher can also do this, results can be far-reaching. Recommendations can be used as early as age 15, when IEP transitions (from school to “real life”) begin. Parents are always looking for this information and would love to have a teacher’s insight early on.
7. Create positive modifications in the learning environment
Suggests a child with Down’s Syndrome “who loves to humorously mimic others, build a simple puppet theater where he can act out math word problems in front of the class and get positive feedback.” The point is creating a positive contribution to the class while increasing learning opportunities.
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As a parent of a reluctant reader with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), I am always looking for ways to motivate my little guy to read. And if I can encourage him in a practical, fun, or silly way, I am going to try it. Last night we sang, instead of reading, a nonfiction book about mountains. I can’t take credit for this — my son started it. So I topped him with my worst Opera voice. After laughing so hard that our stomachs ached, we were finally able to get back to the book, although the giggles hit as we turned each page.
Ann Logsdon, a school psychologist who helps parents and teachers with special needs students, writes that children with learning disabilities often avoid reading and, as a result, don’t get additional opportunities to increase their reading skills and comprehension. She does suggest five practical ways to motivate your struggling reader at home in Top 5 Ways to Motivate Your Child to Read: Encourage Reluctant Readers with These Easy Strategies:
- Try a Variety of Reading Materials – Pair Books with Unabridged Audio Books
By simultaneously using a hard copy book and audio-book, you can follow along. Listening to audio before hands-on reading helps readers understand main ideas before beginning reading. And turning the audio on after reading serves as a “self-check” for comprehension. Another source for audio-books is Big Universe’s Read Aloud books.
- Watch More Television
What a great idea to increase sight word recognition by viewing closed captions on tv or DVDs! That’s one way to turn screen time into a relevant reading exposure. For example, my son is now excited that he can recognize some words on the big screen and is trying to read commercial and programming text on the TV.
- Create Their Own Books on Tape
Ann suggests children can read a book into a tape recorder – and when playing it back, even silently follow along with the book. She recommends, “Some research has indicated that as your child listens to himself and hears his own reading becoming better, his skills will likely improve. Reward your child for the errors he finds and corrects as well as for his successes.”
- Have a Family Reading Night
By dedicating thirty minutes per night, everyone can read from the same book or different ones. If you are a competitive family, you could even track number of minutes reading and reward the winner who reads the most with a special meal or choice of favorite family activity.
- Adapt Reading Materials to Your Child’s Reading Level
In the classroom, it is possible to attain textbooks on tape and CD ROM versions of textbooks, although you need to work with the IEP team in order to make this possible. Another way to reduce reading frustration is to identify unfamiliar vocabulary before reading and help him or her understand the meaning. Also modeling pronunciation is great for those who have articulation issues, and creating new sentences increases contextual understanding. When it comes to reading literature, there may be lower-level reading versions that will help your child to comprehend the fiction better, in order to keep up with classmates and reading assignments. And another great fall-back plan on is simply sharing the reading, especially when the reading becomes cumbersome and frustrating.
Let us know if you use any of these strategies and how your reluctant reader responded. And try singing a book to each other. At the least, you’ll share a silly moment. But you’ll know that you made reading fun.
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If you are a parent of a struggling reader, you will see determination lead to tears. Helping you child read one word, when the next one stumps him just as much as the first, is an exercise in patience and endurance. You find that helping read the words won’t help him learn the skill to read. As a mom who could once make things better with encouragement, there is no bandage for children who are frustrated with reading. They know that they are not on grade level reading. They see their friends take home chapter books, and they are still reading short books. They hear their peers read aloud and know that they themselves hesitate, correct, and struggle much more than playmates at recess.
Frustrated with my son’s own frustration, I called a clinic meeting with his teachers to explain that what once was a good time to cuddle and read is now a battlefield, ending in tears. We came up with plan to use easier-to-read books that resemble chapter books, so he feels like he is progressing faster than he is. We also figured out how to reinforce his strengths and give his lots of praise and opportunities for the things that he does well: anything with numbers. Yet, with these steps, his is reluctant to attend school and has cried that he doesn’t want to go because of reading. He is too young to be asking to stay home, pretending that he is sick and counting down the days until weekend or vacation. According to an article by Imagine This!, struggling readers often can be characterized by “might start acting out in class or responding with negative feedback. They often use self-defeating phrases.” I see that we are there – and this list of pointers to “turning their negative thoughts into positive ones” is going to come in handy.
Imagine This! provides ten ways to increase your struggling reader’s self-esteem:
- Explain that how well she reads has nothing to do with her intelligence. Every person is unique and has to learn in the way that is best for them.
- Encourage him by setting realistic goals that allow for many small successes.
- Chart her progress so that she can see improvement.
- Help him find reading materials at his reading level that are interesting to him.
- Help her break up assignments into smaller, more manageable parts.
- Provide goal-based praise rather than person-oriented praise, such as, “You did a great job sounding out those words” rather than, “I’m proud of you.” This will help him focus on the task he accomplished well.
- Show patience. How you react to her reading difficulties will set the tone of the experience. Your patience will help her learn patience with herself and will help her feel safe as she practices reading.
- Give frequent praise. Learning to read is difficult and can easily turn into a stressful experience. Your praise will help create a positive reading experience.
- Help her focus on the positive. Have her list 10 things she likes about herself, including things she can do well.
- Tailor instruction to his learning style. Some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and some are hands-on learners. By teaching with a variety of learning styles, you provide opportunities for him to succeed in his area of learning.
The more confident I am in his abilities, makes him more confident in himself. We’re getting there.
As a classroom teacher, one of my favorite times of the day was the time I spent doing a Read Aloud for my students.
We developed as a community of learners as we listened to the wonderful words that took us on amazing journeys of imagination.
We learned ways to express ideas and paint pictures with words.
We learned story structure and extended our vocabulary. We also summarized and paraphrased along the way paying attention to the difference in main ideas and details.
We asked questions to help us discover why the author composed the story in a certain way and why specific words were used. We talked about the characteristics we thought would make the character a good friend to have or someone to avoid.
As we returned to our seats, our thoughts went beyond the words presented in the story as we made predictions for the future or changes we would make if we were the author. We also pondered how stories and characters within the same book were connected as well as ways they were connected to other things we had read.
We used this time to not only develop as listeners, readers, and writers but also as thinkers ….
As I now look at the Common Core, I realize how many of these things I was already doing …
As I look at the English Language Arts Standards for Reading:Literature , I notice how many of the things I did fit into the first 3 main areas:
- Key Ideas and Details
- Craft and Structure
- Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
Think about the things you already do that fit into these categories …
Think about the ways the books you find on Big Universe can help you with these three categories …
I think the stories on Big Universe are great for read alouds, modeling strategies, comparing characters, and many other skills …
photo credit: Kathy Cassidy via photopin cc
Do you have a “book bag” with go-to titles for different topics? These are the books that pop into your head at the mere mention of a word. If someone says “silly books” the cover of Mr. Brown Can Moo appears in my mind’s eye.
And when someone says “sibling problems” or “jealousy” I instantly see Mama, Chester, and Ronny raccoon from the cover of A Pocket Full of Kisses by Aubrey Penn. Animal stories have a way of making life lessons easier to understand, and when they’re done well, kids can see themselves and reflect on the message.
Read on Big Universe
A Pocket Full of Kisses
written by Aubrey Penn; illustrated by Barbara Leonard Gibson
Tanglewood Press, 2006
It was Okay for a while, but now Chester doesn’t like having a little brother. Every time he thinks Mother Raccoon has given him just a little extra love, she goes and gives it to his brother Ronny, too. Finally, with a story about the stars, Chester begins to understand about a mother’s love. This story helps “big brothers” understand that parents can never run out of love for their children.
- Raccoon protagonists make this a story that’s easy to swallow for “big brothers” who want to make sure that they are loved, too. It could also work in a classroom where “jealousy” is the issue at hand.
- There is just enough humor that the human “big brother” can see his jealousy but not be embarrassed by it.
- It offers parents a means to physically demonstrate their unconditional love in a way that is precious to a child. If you have two (or more) children who sometimes forget that they are loved equally, this is a nice reminder.
- If you’re in a house with siblings (or soon-to-be siblings), this is a great story for talking about love, jealousy, and being the ‘bigger’ child.
In our house, there are no brothers or sisters, yet as a three-year-old our daughter couldn’t get enough of this book. Great books make an impression that can last a lifetime. What books fit that category for you?
As a Mom, I feel like the most over-used word in my vocabulary is “No” — followed closely by “Don’t.” I get tired of hearing myself say them, so I can imagine how weary my daughter is of listening to them. I’m sure its true for teachers, too.
Our job as parents and educators is to guide our children and help them make good choices. There is no way to eliminate “no” and “don’t” from our vocabulary, but it would be nice not to hear them so often. It would be nice to have an assistant to help with the teaching. That’s where books — especially picture books — come in handy.
There is no shortage of children’s picture books with stories whose intended purposes are to teach a specific lesson, whether it is the ABCs of friendship or the XYZs of potty training. There is a book for just about anything we want to help a young child understand. The hard part is finding a book that gets the message across without beating the theme to death.
In books like No, David!
By David Shannon and No Biting!
By Karen Katz — both personal favorites — the lessons and expected behaviors are explicit.
Sometimes, though, it’s better to let the kids glean the lessons from the story and/or its illustrations. What’s With This Room?
by Tom Lichtenheld
is another example of the kind of book helps children learn by observing the wrong way to do things. How can this help the “no”-weary parent or teacher?
- You aren’t the one saying “No.” Even though [name your character] says the exact same thing you do about being sloppy, kids will believe him or her first.
- The kids don’t hear “No.” The listener or young reader is looking at what happens and thinking about what’s going on. They are exploring the story by anticipating events or their consequences.
- Laughter can lighten the mood. Most of the time, these stories the events and consequences are exaggerated to make sure the lessons aren’t missed.
Last but not least … the kids feel superior to the character! That little ego boost might just help their self-esteem and confidence enough to “act on” the message. The other plus is that they empathize with the characters and can suggest ways to make things better.
Often kids see themselves in the book character, but they don’t see themselves AS the book character. Because you are talking about a “third person,” you’ve eliminated the pressure your students may feel about the topic at hand.
In the child’s mind, you’ve separated the behavior from him or her, so he or she might be more interested in talking about choices and consequences.
Children’s book illustrators are an incredibly talented bunch. They often have secondary activities that aren’t directly related to the text in their illustrations. We have found stories that are just fun to read that have no specific lesson at all, but which end up being stories where we can talk about behaviors.
For example, several years ago while I was reading the words about spending the day at the beach, my five-year-old was dissecting the illustration, talking about the child pouring sand over another child’s head. I hadn’t picked the book for “teaching,” but a lesson was hiding in plain view … and I wasn’t the one who pointed out what was “wrong.”
Do you have any favorite life lesson books that you’d recommend to other teachers and parents?
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My son came home with his weekend reading books from his first grade teacher. Yet, every time I asked him to get his reading books, he avoided it. Nothing is unusual about that. So I sat him down and started looking at the books, and he surprised me.
“No, not that one! Keep that one covered!”
“The one with the ginormous ant!”
Overlooking the current portmanteau (a faux compound word), ginormous, I had bigger fish to fry. Larger-than-life sized ants on every page made me wonder if the Good Lord made ants very small on purpose. It is from that perspective only that they could ever be called cute little creatures. Hesitating to pick up the book myself, I suggested that we could cover the pictures, something that we do often. No dice, he already saw the book pictures during school and will remember them as he reads the book. So we read the other books, none of them dealing with bugs.
The next night, we received a red folder with a book and follow-up activity from his Special Education teacher, Ms. Christine. We sat at the kitchen table, I opened the folder, and Erik began screaming “Biters!” It was a spider book. No photos, just very detailed drawings depicting even hair on the spider’s legs. That was a no-go. At home, we are working on Erik’s fear of bugs with a therapist. “Biders” are enemy number #1. All of the rest come in a close second. He used to have a keen interest in bugs, but I think maybe he learned too much.
Now I feel pretty guilty about this development. I do not like bugs. There are some bug names that I will not speak or nor type out. I stay out of their way as long as they stay out of my way. And if they come my way, like my grandmother inadvertently taught me: jump, run, squeal. Well, we live in the country, the birthplace of Lyme-disease, and my super power against all bugs big and small is the vacuum. Unless it is too big and won’t get suctioned up. And then I’ll let it crawl away, and I will turn my eyes away. I don’t like them, dead or alive.
As a mom of two boys, I didn’t want to pass on this heredity trait, so when my boys took an interest in bugs I would calmly tell them, “Oh, show your father.” When Erik took out library book-after-book on bugs, I didn’t read those to him. I nonchalantly said, “Oh Matthew would LOVE to read that one to you.”
I don’t know when this changed…Maybe when the wasps kept coming in from the hive in the attic…Or when I had to call a neighbor to remove a wasp that had chased us onto the enclosed three-season porch. Oh wait, that was me. Last fall, our babysitter rang the doorbell, Erik opened the front door and began screaming blood-curdling yells, staccato, at the only girl he has ever loved. The poor girl jumped back, “What’s wrong?”
There was a spider web, reaching from all corners of the front door frame. And a big, black spider looked him in the eye.
Our babysitter-superhero grabbed a stick and flung the web and the spider into the bushes. And we haven’t thought about spiders since then, except in therapy sessions.
I told my son we didn’t have to read the spider book. He asked me to get permission from his teachers and I promised. And then – thinking that I solved the reading problem of the day, he began bawling. I reassured him to no avail, and in-between sobs, he admitted, “I can’t read chapter books. Everyone in my class can read chapter books, why can’t I?” A bad opportunity to explain autism, dyspraxia, or another complicated label, I told him that he will learn.
So we have a bigger problem than arachnophobia. We have to build up his confidence while waiting for his reading skills to improve. Not ready for chapter books, his teacher will help him practice books that resemble chapter books. A good compromise. And I need to figure out how and when to explain what learning disabilities are – without limiting his potential.
In the meantime, no more bug books will be coming home.
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I read the first sentence of Nirvi Shah’s list of “Books Recognized for Social-Emotional Lessons” and stopped:
“Wanda Petronski has a weird name and wears the same old faded blue dress to school every day—and her Connecticut classmates don’t let the little Polish girl forget it for a second.”
Wait a minute. I had a “weird” Polish name. Classmates asked if I were Indian (they didn’t say Native American Indian back then), and laughed before I could answer. They also butchered the pronunciation, and my second-grade teacher made a spectacle by diagramming my name, phonetically, on the chalk board. Classmates slandered my last name, followed by haughty laughs. None of them had a Polish last name. And none of them heard a litany of Polish jokes in-between lessons from Jake. My best defense was an eye roll, perfected in fourth grade. And that fourth grade crush ended pretty quick.
And what about Wanda’s faded blue dress? I cringe when I remember my blue jeans in sixth grade. My mother bought me three or four pairs of same jeans, and not a label like Jordache. Not slim and dark wash, not paired with cowboy boots. I wore Sporting Gear and sneakers. I had no defense. I heard snide comments, whispers and loud mockery – all in front of my teacher while we waited to hand in paperwork. My eye roll didn’t work so well here – I kept my head high and my back turned. I thought that these girls were my friends, and learned how girls can turn on you like a friendly-to-ferocious-dog in nanoseconds. But more importantly, I couldn’t understand why my teacher, who heard things like this and saw other things, never lifted her eyes in my direction.
This book, The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, written in 1945, not the 1980s, could have been written 2013. Although a lot more to Shah’s overview, and much more to the book, the Open Circle Program at Wellesley Centers for Women has compiled a list of the top 25 books addressing Social-Emotional learning.
So, you can see why I think Social-Emotional literacy in the classroom is a good idea. Aside from integrating Social-Emotional-themed books into the classroom, there are classroom-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs available to schools. Collaborative for Academic, Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a not-for-profit organization that works to advance the science and evidence-based practice of social and emotional learning. The organization was founded in 1994 by Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, educator/philanthropist Eileen Rockefeller Growald, Timothy Shriver, Linda Lantieri, Mark Greenberg and David Sluyter.
Here is the 2013 CASEL Guide. What do you think of Social-Emotional literacy? Have you used any recommended books or curriculum ideas? We’d love to hear from teachers who are implementing Social-Emotional literacy in their classroom.
There are two facts we know about kids.
- They have lots of questions.
- They love (corny) jokes.
One of the best ways to tap into their natural curiosity and sense of humor is with a book. They may be clever, but with the right book, you can sneak a little bit of learning right past their eagle eyes.
I confess, I am a HUGE Sylvan Dell Publishing fan, and have been for a long time. Their informational picture books consistently offer young audiences quality stories. Each story is built around a practical learning topic, with additional activities in the back that are perfect whether you read the book in school or at home. The fact that you’ll find every title in both English and Spanish shouldn’t be dismissed, either.
This week’s book reviews are a selection of Sylvan Dell Publishing titles that guide kids to discovering answers to their question. These are stories that are more about the show and less about the tell.
Read on BigUniverse.com
Deductive Detective | El detective deductivo
written by Brian Rock; illustrated by Sherry Rogers
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2013
Book Level: unknown; Audience Level: LG
How can this be? Someone stole Fox’s cake from the Cake Contest … on Owl’s watch, no less. Thirteen bakers and twelve cakes. There’s a thief in the house! Deductive Detective is on the case. He surveys the scene, collecting clues, and shares his process, all while eliminating suspects.
- The story is fast paced. Kids will “quack” up at the clever word play. That said, some of the double entendre may be missed; and some adults may not appreciate the misspellings for effect (e.g., Moose makes a chocolate moose cake).
- Bright, busy illustrations give young listener’s plenty to look at. Some pages are text-heavy, so the quality illustrations will keep their attention.
- In addition to the factual data, each spread includes a subtraction problem … sneaky, sneaky!
- This is a fun story to share and offers opportunities not just for prediction, but as a model on how to solve other problems.
- Highly recommended for school or home. Deductive Detective would make a great gift for an elementary student, paired with a magnifying glass, a small notebook, and a pencil.
Similar to Deductive Detective: Fur and Feathers by Janet Halfmann, Gobble, Gobble by Cathryn Falwell, and Happy Birthday to Whooo? by Doris Fisher,
Read on BigUniverse.com
Habitat Spy| Veo, veo un hábitat
written by Cynthia Kieber-King ; illustrated by Christina Wald
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2011
Book Level 3.7; Audience Level: LG
Visit and explore thirteen habitats, from the arctic to woodland forests above ground, and caves and marine environments below. Each spread asks kids to find natural objects in the imagery. Each habitat is presented with rhyme and action verbs, making it less story and more poetry like.
- Readers use their visual detective skills to find the items described in each poem. Some are easy, like the animals; but others take a little more knowlege, like finding the hemlock in the forest.
- Simple poems and beautiful illustrations make this an excellent selection for developing readers. The text is accessible and the imagery helps them decode words that may be unfamiliar.
- Beyond the natural detective work, there is a broad array of action verbs. This can be useful for helping young writers expand their word bank with more descriptive vocabulary.
- There are four pages of content in the back. The Creative Minds section is always good, but this is one of the best I’ve seen.
- Highly recommended for school, and particularly home. This would be great to read before a trip to the zoo, a hike, or a walk around the neighborhood.
Similar to Habitat Spy: Julie the Rockhound by Gail Langer Karwoski, Deep in the Desert by Rhonda Lucas, Desert Baths by Darcy Pattison, Felina’s New Home: A Florida Panther Story by Loran Wlodarski, and
Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
My son sat on the couch and was speaking, but I couldn’t follow. I was busy doing something, any of those mundane things that moms seem to do in the kitchen.
I asked, “What did you say?”
He repeated, slowly with deep pauses, “Thank you for the birthday gift.”
“Are you reading?”
“Yes. I have a card from my friend.”
I ran over to him, giving him a well-deserved, yet unwanted hug, “I am so proud of you reading your thank you card!”
My son is seven-years-old, and this is the first time I ever heard him read new reading material, spontaneously and without help! Clearly not at seven-year-old reading benchmarks, we do sit and read practiced books from school, where he can show-off his “reading skills.” I quote his skills because he uses every reading “strategy” that the school teachers endorse – from using picture clues to memorization. Reading is not a leisure activity, even though we sit on the couch together instead of at the kitchen table.
But there he was, on the couch, with no prompting, reading. All weekend long he has been reading everything he can – from finding his favorite ice-cream in the freezer (no pictures on the label) with nearly no assistance to reading (and rereading) the calendar on the kitchen counter.
This success story is one that I want to share with his teachers who work so hard with him on reading. My husband and I fought against school administration, arguing to retain him after his first year of Kindergarten because he didn’t met benchmarks. End of year, he still struggled with identifying letters and phonics, and we didn’t want him surrounded with first graders who were well into advanced sight word lists.
His second year of kindergarten was better, but what was the game-changer was when his IEP’s PPT (Planning Placement Team) suggested sending him to an outside evaluation by a nuero-developmental pediatrician. We already knew that he was on the autism spectrum with PDD-NOS, which is as non-specific as you can get. This means that you can’t fit his learning, speech and social skills into any sort of “autism-box” or common stereotypes. You have to know him and the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and see where he fits, and the puzzle piece is the best metaphor to explain him and PDD.
So when the new evaluation report came in, we saw that he was still diagnosed with autism, yet his struggling speech was more than stuttering and articulation issues. The doctor said that he also had dyspraxia, another neurological condition that affects his brain cortex, which controls his speech and motor skills. I found out in our meeting with this doctor, this is the reason why he will sometimes ask for “salt” when he means grated “cheese” – and even why as a non-verbal toddler learning sign language, he would confuse the hand sign “more” with his other main sign “done.” The doctor recommended different reading and articulation programs. My son’s resource teacher and speech therapist implement these, and his first grade teacher works very closely with them – providing writing samples that illustrate his articulation errors.
I have learned the hard way that finding out what works for a child with special needs is a series of trial and error, but the best starting point is with an expert. If we had begun my son’s schooling with this piece of paper, I can only wonder if we wouldn’t have lost a year.
This reading breakthrough reminds me of the first time he signed on his own. At the time, he was non-verbal, and we were all outside on a warm spring day playing. Above us, in a tree, a bird began singing. I looked at Erik, and he was standing there, under the tree, signing “bird.” Unprompted. Spontaneously. An amazing moment even greater because that sign was not one that we learned with birth-to-three therapists, over and over like many others that he still confused. He picked it up from the DVD series “Signing Times” and just applied it. Soon after, he spoke his first word ever. It was the beginning of a new developmental stage – just like this weekend’s spontaneous reading – and I am one proud mama.