The Snowball Effect

The snowball effect began with, what I now think of as, a leap of faith.  Richard and I leapt into that great abyss better known as the unknown.  It turns out this was actually not true, it would be more accurate to say we chose to neither believe nor disbelieve, but instead began to examine all we were being told.  Perhaps it’s better to say that instead of leaping into we jumped out of.  From there it was more of a hop to begin presuming competence.  However, as a commenter on this blog said, “presuming competence isn’t enough.” And knowing what we now know, I have to agree.  It’s the starting point.  It’s like that initial leaping off point, it’s just the beginning.

At the moment we are experiencing something akin to being in free fall.  It’s the feeling of discovery, limitlessness, surprise, and pure ecstasy that comes with being present without expectation or preconceived ideas about what should or will happen.  Our perspective continues to change as we move along.  Like any great adventure, the path is at times rocky, but the triumphs are exquisite.  As we move deeper into this process it becomes easier and more familiar to be solidly in the discomfort of the unknown.  There is bliss in that.  True bliss.

Last fall I wrote a post about how I was worried Emma was not comprehending a story that had been sent home in her back pack from school.  It was a simple story, perhaps 1st grade level reading with some questions that she seemed unable to answer.  In the post I write how I am trying to find ways to help her reading comprehension.  I talk about presuming competence.  What I am struck by now is not Emma’s level of supposed incomprehension, but by my own.  I reread all the comments just now and am amazed, amazed that though I thought I was presuming competence, I was only able to go so far with my presumptions and, as it turns out, wasn’t going far enough.  I could only presume as much as my limited thinking would allow me.  The idea that she was not only comprehending this story, but was so far beyond it, was not something I was capable of fully understanding, let alone considering.  I was much more stuck, as it turns out, than my daughter was.

Now jump forward to yesterday afternoon, almost nine months after I wrote the post I refer to in the above paragraph.  Emma chose to talk about adjectives.  We watched the BrainPop movie about adjectives and then she took the quiz.  I copied what Rosie had done, asked her to read the questions silently to herself while using a laminated card to direct her visually and then quickly guided her to read each of the four multiple choice answers.  She only hesitated once, on a question about a possessive adjective, but otherwise breezed through the quiz with 90% accuracy.  Not only was Emma reading faster than I was able to, but she was accurately answering the questions faster than I could read them, let alone answer them.

The snowball effect:  “The basic workings of a literal snowball effect can be illustrated by taking one’s average baseball-sized snowball and dropping it down the side of a snowy hill. As it descends it gathers more snow and whatever leaves, sticks, etc. are in its way. The snowball accumulates not only size, but speed.” ~ From the Urban Dictionary

Self Portrait


20 responses to “The Snowball Effect

  1. I have found that the teachers in my 6 yr old son’s life often presume incompetence when he is unable to respond orally to questions. They’re not bad teachers – they just are not used to a child with communication challenges. I remind them that if he cannot or seemingly will not respond to a question they need to try another angle – something more visual/written like multipe choice or cloze statements. He will usually get 100% this way. It’s in his IEP but they still forget. I have to be constantly vigilant – reminding them not to confuse communication challenges with lack of cognitive ability. I learned this presumption of competence from your blog. Thank you.

  2. PS we also use FastForword from Gemm Learning to help with reading comprehension. It’s online and very visual.

  3. SenNur Fahrali

    This brings so much joy to my heart. I am so happy for all of you. Thank you Ariane for keeping us abreast. Emma is soaring with your love, there is more to come

  4. Presuming competence is in the mind of the presumer. It is wonderful when people choose to act on their presumption of competence in us, an even so they can only act within the confines of their own boundaries. Presuming competence is an invitation – sort of like issuing yourself a ticket for a great ride.

    People use their tickets in various ways. Some tuck them away for safe keeping, knowing they have a ticket they could use someday. Some stand in the line to get on the ride, but become discouraged by the long wait with little progress. Others get on the ride, close their eyes and hang on in fear. And finally there are a small portion of people who ride the ride with eyes wide open, experiencing the exhilarations along with the gut wrenching plummets. Some do this once, but a rare few keep buying tickets and keep riding. They seem to know that even though the plummets can feel like devastation to hang on because the vastness of these plummets show the capacity for exhilaration. Each time these brave souls buy another ticket and ride again their boundaries expand. The potential is limitless.

    This ride is not for the faint of heart. We love deeply the few who keep buying tickets and keep riding. This is how it comes to be that an autistic can deeply love another human being she has never met in person. Know how muchly loved you are, Ariane ❤ ❤ ❤

  5. I reread that post. Patently, you had the idea that she was likely bored with the boring material. You were totally getting there and so close, and on the right traintracks in the right way. Remember the glory of the journey is in the journey, the directionality, the flow of the water of it. When you seem so cruel to your past selves they are still your self to me, your self who is my Ariane, and maybe because I see time differently than you do, this really hurts my heart. Please try to be more gentle with my friend who is traveling a brilliant unknown road to ever greater joy.

    • Aw.. Ib… did you think I was being cruel? Not at all intended to read that way, but am taking this very much to heart because I never, ever want to hurt you, my dear, wonderful friend, whom I love so very much.

  6. I would love, love to see film of the exchange on how you scaffolded the material, how you used the laminate card, how you scaffolded to make the answers unfold. I would like to attempt to mirror the technique. Will you guys be in NH for the IOD conference next week?

  7. Jeanne – we will not be, I’m sorry to say, though it sounds like a wonderful conference!

  8. thank you so much for your blog. i’m not autistic or know anyone who is, but i’m learning a lot from you about the autistic community. i guess many of us normals only know the stereotypes from movies, but i’m learning that there are many autistic people who are capable of so much more and are even brilliant compared to normals (is it ok to use the term ‘normals’?) thank you for sharing your life with us and i hope you enjoy the fall down the rabbit hole…an amazing adventure awaits and we’re falling with you. 🙂

    • Jodiine – thanks so much for this comment, so glad!

      I think the term “normal” is less accurate than it’s perhaps meant to be. It’s not a term I use, but I certainly know what you mean. The only thing “normal” about the word is that it represents the majority, otherwise it’s pretty meaningless. At this point I use either majority and minority or Autistic and non autistic. Some people call those who are not Autistic – “allistic” as it encompasses all the variations within the non autistic majority, including bi-polar, etc.

      Falling down the rabbit hole… yes, that is what Richard calls it too!

  9. Pingback: It’s not about me | The Southville Optimists' Club

  10. Oh my goodness!! Great post. I find myself in the same place–my aspie has always done things somewhat longer than others but the a light switch comes on and he barrels through like a steam engine, never leaving a clue he struggled. That is with EVERYTHING but reading :-(. After 3 yrs if pre-k and 2 yrs of K my 7 yr old still struggles with alphabet and concept of reading. I’d love to hear what you guys have done to help Emma. Thank you.

    • Hi Misty – not sure we’re doing anything particularly brilliant, but doing our best to continually assess our own thinking and how we may be holding her back. So for example, last fall it never occurred to me to have her read something silently to herself and then read multiple choice questions and the answers silently and have her point to the letter of the correct answer. Instead, we kept “dumbing” down the material while continuing to have her read aloud and answer aloud. This was unhelpful.
      Seven is still very, very young. Your child is on their own timeline, holding them up to others will only cause you to worry. Trust that your child can and will read and write and may well be doing so even now, but even so, using less spoken language is a great way to begin. My daughter did not “know” the alphabet, but she could read (we just didn’t know it)!

  11. Need I continually remind you – you have an extremely intelligent daughter, who has caught onto the wing of a bird and is flying freely as she grasps the knowledge offered to her and then takes off again!!! Jenn can read a page of information in a glance, can give you generalizations about it, but not the nitty gritty. This is why having her books, readings, etc. downloaded into PDF format, she comprehends facts, etc. by being read to. Each of our children are such a delight as they go from one learning stage to another!

    Amen, Ariane, amen!

  12. Presumed competence…what a thought provoking concept that really is something to think about in every aspect of life. We presume so much about people in general every day let alone the ones closest to us who we interact with moment by moment. This post gives me so much to think about~

    (I follow Leah Kelley on Twitter and her link lead me to this post.)

    • Love Leah and so glad you’re here! Presumptions, judgments, we all have them, do them… I have to make a conscious effort to practice raising my awareness so I recognize just how often I am in this place of deciding I already know/understand/been-there-done-that!

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