Category Archives: reading

How we Communicate – A Podcast

*This was an assignment for English Composition to create a podcast about something you care about.  This is mine after many revisions and incorporating notes from my teacher.  A written transcript of the podcast is below, but if you can, listen first!

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 4.19.00 PM

Emma – 2016  Photograph by Pete Thompson

This voice?  The one that you’re hearing read these words?  Yeah, that one.  It isn’t my voice.  It’s my mom’s.  You’re probably wondering why a teenage girl would want her mom to read what she’s written.  In my case, it’s because I can’t read what I write out loud.  There’s not a direct line between my brain and my mouth.  It’s more like an elaborate maze.  I can’t speak so people understand what I mean.  If asked a question, my mouth says things that do not answer the question.  My brain doesn’t think in words the way most people’s do.  Names of things and people get handed to me instead of the words that would make sense to the person questioning me.  Sometimes I blurt out whole sentences from another time in my life.  (Emma’s voice) “I bounce a balloon to Emma.  I bounce it back to me.”  They may be images that remind me of the person I’m with or where I am, or words I’ve heard spoken by others, things that get caught in my mind, or unrelated scripts, but that convey the exact emotion I’m feeling.  (Emma’s voice) “No more ice skating.  Ice skating’s gone.”  In any case, what I manage to say usually baffles the people I am speaking to, causing them to misunderstand me.  Not being able to speak what’s in my heart so that others are able to understand can be challenging, but I can type things that I cannot reliably say.  There are computer generated voices that say the letters as I type them and sound like this – (Computerized young girl’s voice) “I am your friendly computerized female voice.  I sound like I’m maybe five years old.”  (Another computerized young girl’s voice) “Or I can sound like this and pretend I’m British.  But yeah, it’s just not me.”  Or I can sound like this.  Okay it’s not my voice, but with some direction, Mom sounds better than a computer.

Imagine for a minute that you can’t talk to people in any way that makes sense to them or you.  Imagine if every time you opened your mouth to speak other words tumbled out.  If you are like me, you might get used to not answering people’s questions or being able to stay on topic.  So what would you do?  How would you interact with people?  Would you ignore their questions?  Pretend you didn’t hear them?  How would you express yourself?  Maybe you would try to connect with scripts you’ve memorized, things you’ve heard other people say in similar situations or maybe you’d find non-word based ways to communicate.  That’s what I do.

(Sound of footsteps, people talking and the subway)

Sound is everywhere.  I don’t have a filtering system marking one particular sound as more important than another.  Can you understand what I’m saying right now?  Mom had to raise the volume of her voice so that you could hear it above all the other noise.  My brain doesn’t do that.  It hears all sounds equally and does not discriminate.  But some people’s voices are not as dramatic to my ear as the honking of a horn.  I love the sound of honking horns.  (Horns honking and traffic noise)  Favoring some sounds dilutes others, but music has the best sounds of all.  (Body Knows Best – Anya Marina)

Music is my first language.  It is a friend who loves me unconditionally.  It’s there when I need it and does not shed a tear if ignored for some time.  Music is a positive force as it stands by my side.  I like hearing the same melodies repeated and did so even when I was very young.  It’s been a comfort to me as long as I can remember.  Music grounds me and plays a huge role in seeking my creativity as it allows me to perform as I choose to.  It’s a way to communicate; it gives me hope, tells me I am not alone and inspires me to create.  Though people respond differently to music, I believe there are always emotions involved. Music has the ability to transform my fearsome thoughts laden with anxiety and stress.  (Music fades out)  It calms me and this has been the case throughout my life.  When singing lyrics I stumble and have trouble articulating the words, (Lose Yourself – Eminem) but I can remember the sounds I hear and recreate them with my voice.  When I sing I am not apart from, but instead am part of.

Music can be both private and public, but it needs to be loud.  (Music gets louder) No one composes music in a whisper.  My body needs to feel the beat so that I can be consumed by it.  (Volume increases steadily and then fades)  When that happens I become part of the music, like another instrument or an extension of it.  I jump and dance and move.  My arms swing or are raised up and my head bops, my whole body keeps time to the beat.  I’m transported to another reality and it is in this alternate reality that I am most happy and comfortable.

At home my need for high volume can cause problems because the members of my family have differing sensory needs that come in direct conflict with mine.  (Heartless – Kanye WestMy older brother has to have music as background, while I perform alongside, so it makes sense for mine to be public and his to be private.

(Emma’s brother)  “Yeah I think it’s totally fair that you’re able to use the living room.  It’s not like you play bad music or anything.  If you played music I didn’t really like, I’ll just shut the door and go in my room and hang out.”

My mom and dad both work at home and need quiet in order to concentrate.  I am told to wear headphones, which encumber my movement and dilute my experience.  My family has worked out a solution that allows me to commandeer the living room in the evening.  For several hours I am blissfully able to indulge my love of loud music and dancing while my brother stays in his room or hangs out with my parents in theirs.

Until about a year ago I didn’t know the joy of creating music.  Until then I was an audience member, but not a participant.  My parents encouraged my love of music and hired teachers to help me expand my interests.  Guitar is beautiful to listen to, but it is difficult for my fingers to recreate the sounds flowing through my mind.  Piano is also hard and requires dedication and lots of practice, but I think it’s a better fit for me.  Singing is easy and my lack of inhibitions, great sense of tone and ability to mimic sounds I hear makes it the best choice of all.   Eliot is my piano teacher and Karen is my singing coach.  Eliot came first.

(Eliot) “Emma has a great ear.  She can learn to sing new melodies really quickly and accurately.  Recently she’s been listening to the car horns outside and sings their exact pitch.  Emma is a fun, expressive and creative singer/performer.  She brings a lot of life, passion and feel to the material.”

Karen came next.

(Karen) “Emma has really great pitch control.  She knows exactly how the melodies go whether she knows the words or not and she makes it a real point to study each specific thing that happens in the song and can honor each thing in the song by movement and she can also emulate the sound really well as far as consonants and vowels.”  

(Gimme Resurrection – Anya MarinaKaren and I have great fun together.  I feel at ease in her presence, which is important when you are learning new things and trying to be creative.

Eliot and Karen have taught me to be patient with myself.  From them I have learned how hard it is to become masterful and yet I’ve decided it’s better to love the process of learning as much as the final product.  Communicating isn’t just talking, it’s developing a connection with another.  Music connects us all.  I wrote these lyrics and composed this melody, so this voice?  Yeah, this one’s mine.

Emma sings Over and Coming
Eliot Krimsky on keyboard

The girl’s going in the bed
the girl is going inside
the girl is going outside.

Who is this girl I see?
Who is that girl I see?
Watch careful-ee-ee-ey
Listen to me-ee-ee

Over and coming and over and coming,
over and coming and over and coming

Go, go, go,
go, go, go,
go, go, go, go

Go, go, go,
go, go, go,
go, go, go, go

Find a way
to seize the day
Dare to be the leading girl!

The girl walks out the door
the girl walks in the door
the girl is a teenager.

I am the girl you see,
I am this girl you see,
Do you believe in me?
Please do believe in me.

I’m ready to fly if you let me,
I’ll go
Turn up the music and
just don’t say no.

Starting and going and starting and going
starting and going and starting and going
Starting and going

Do, do, do, do, do, do….

“How Did You Learn To Read?”

A few days ago someone asked Emma, “How did you learn to read and spell?”  Last night, in response to this question Emma wrote, “I learned by watching the words my mom read to me.”  She went on to write, “I was able to read many years ago and could write, but didn’t have any way to show it.”

I asked, “Were you able to read as a very little girl?”

Emma wrote, “Yes.”

“As a toddler?”

“Yes,” Emma wrote again.

What is interesting about this is that for years, when Emma was very young, I assumed she didn’t like being read to because when I tried she would grab the book, insist on flipping the pages faster than I could read them, and generally seemed (to me) uninterested.  But from what she wrote last night, it suggests I was incorrect about these early assumptions or at least was partly incorrect.  I am no longer shocked by all that I didn’t understand.  It no longer surprises me to find out, even now, how wrong I was and continue to be about so much when it comes to my daughter.

Because Emma did not sit quietly while I read to her, I thought she didn’t like being read to.  Because Emma preferred holding the book and would turn the page before I had time to finish reading the words I assumed she wasn’t interested in the story.  Because Emma protested if I tried to take the book from her to continue reading, I assumed she wanted to be left alone.  Because Emma seemed distracted while I read, I believed she didn’t like the story, didn’t care for the book, didn’t like books in general.

How would I have viewed her various therapies, preschool, and later grade school, had we understood that she already knew how to read at such a young age?  Our decisions on how to proceed, our opinions regarding what others told us, so matter-of-fact, so sure of themselves… who knew how wrong they all were?   How wrong we were?

People say things like – parents know their child better than anyone.  In our case no one knew our child better than anyone.  We didn’t.  All those therapists who worked with Emma didn’t.  All her teachers, everyone who came in contact with her, not a single person during those early years ever said, “I’m guessing she already knows how to read” or “maybe she already knows, but we haven’t found a way to help her show us all she knows.”  Emma’s need to move, her inability to consistently say out loud what she intends, her deep need for sensory input, her attempts to regulate herself, none of that was understood by anyone, including us.

Had we not begun to find ways for Emma to communicate through the written word, had we insisted on her “speaking,” we would continue to be in the dark. All the things emphasized in  school for a child like Emma who is physically capable of articulating words made us believe spoken language was what we needed to concentrate on.  What we are seeing is that the less we focus on her speaking and the more we focus on her writing, the more she is speaking.

“Hey Em, do you want to put the smaller string in your backpack, just so you have it?” I asked as we headed down to meet her school bus this morning.

“N” “O” Emma said, as she bounded toward the elevator.

A self portrait in the making

A self portrait in the making

The Pitfalls of Reading Out Loud

When Rosemary Crossley was here she spent several hours working with my daughter.  One of the many discoveries we made was that Emma can and does read very quickly, but if asked to read out loud, she will stumble and get so caught up in pronunciation I question whether she is able to comprehend what she’s reading at all.  I know I have trouble following the story.  Yet most schools ask children to read out loud, both as a way to assess what they are capable of, and also to make sure they are at the correct reading level.  If a child reads a first grade reader out loud with great difficulty, the impulse is to make the reading material simpler.  Except that if this is done with my daughter she will be stuck reading kindergarten and beginning level reading books for the foreseeable future.

I know Emma is able to read much more complicated texts than beginning readers.  I know this because I have seen her read with Rosemary and me very quickly.  I have witnessed her ability to read, not only faster than I can, but her ability to accurately answer multiple choice questions related to the text with ease when  given some resistance.  In other words, if she is asked to wait a beat, instead of being allowed to immediately point to an answer, her accuracy goes way up.  Without the pause she is just as likely to randomly pick any answer.  From Rosemary Crossley’s book, Speechless, “The resistance I provided slowed her down very substantially, and the quality of her output increased as her speed fell.  I gave Jan a picture of a cow and asked her to write me a sentence about it.  Instead she typed, THIS TYPING IS HARD.  I HAVE TO THINK.  That was, of course, the aim of the exercise.

This idea of providing resistance is a tricky one to explain to people.  I have had some people say they just cannot understand why this would be necessary.  The only way I know of to better explain, is by comparing it to the way many, who are like my daughter, will perseverate on a word, or will rely on favorite scripts.  It is not that these scripts have no meaning, it is more that they are often difficult for others to understand.  If I hand Emma her iPad and ask her to type me a story, she will most likely write something like, “rollercoaster, kiteflyer, greenride, hurricane harbor, waterslide” which is also in keeping with what she might say out loud.

These words are powerful to her, they hold a great deal of meaning, but to most people, they are seen as gibberish.  If this then is used to assess her capabilities she will not be well served.  However if I ask her to type me a story and then hold one end of a rod while she holds the other end with her typing hand and types with one finger while I pull her hand back after each letter is typed, she might type, ““One day there was a boy called george. He had been in afight can’t tell you how he got into the fight but he was bruised all over.  He fought a lot and his teacher was very angry.  The next day he was all purple and his mother said you can’t go to school looking like that.  The very clever boy covered himself in flower and his teacher thought he was sick and sent him home.  The end.”  

Incidentally, that story is one Emma wrote when Rosemary was here working with her and is typical of the sorts of things she can and does type when given the kind of resistance I’ve described.  (You can read the entire post I wrote about her session with Rosie, ‘here‘.)  However, ask Emma to read out loud a story similar to the one she typed and she will have a great deal of trouble.  What she is capable of is far greater than what one might assume from what she verbalizes, whether that means reading out loud or with spontaneous speech.  Ask Emma to sing the lyrics of a song, in Greek no less, and she will get much of it right, but that’s a whole other post.

But how does one convince others that this is so?  Particularly when many are trained and told that reading out loud is a good indicator of ability.  There is surprisingly little written on the topic of the problems with reading out loud for those who have spoken language and word retrieval issues.  Again, in Rosemary Crossley’s book, Speechless, she writes, “her reading aloud was bedeviled by the same word-finding problems which affected her spontaneous speech, preventing her reading with any fluency.”

Obviously there needs to be more written about all of this.  The closest I have found, other than Rosemary’s book, Speechless, is a blog, The Right Side of Normal,  that concentrates on “right brained children”.  And on that blog, this post specifically, Silent Reading versus Reading Aloud, which deals with, at least some of what I’m discussing here. If others know of other resources discussing any of this, please do leave me links in the comments section.

Rosemarie Crossley

Rosie

Bedtime Stories, Memories and Love

Almost every night after Emma has brushed her teeth and flossed, she will find me and say a version of – “Mommy time to read stories now.”  Last night I found her in her bed.  I stood in the doorway and waited to see if she would say anything.  “Mommy read stories?”  she said.

“Em, do you like The Wind in the Willows?  Or should we find something else to read?”

“I like Wind Wills,” she answered.

So I picked up from where we’d left off the night before and began reading about Mole, who having smelled his old home returns to it with Rat accompanying him, despite the fact that it’s late and a snow storm is threatening.

Emma nestled against me, as she almost always does, with her head on my shoulder, sucking her thumb, about thirty tiny shreds of what was once a down stroller blanket strewn about her neck.  The Wind in the Willows, for those not familiar with it was published in 1908.  The lyrical language tells a beautiful story about four friends – Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger – and their various adventures along the Thames river.  I don’t ask Emma questions about the stories I read to her during bedtime.  I don’t want her to have to work.  I want her to feel no pressure.  I have no idea what she takes in or even understands, the only thing I know is that she enjoys being read to, just as I did when I was young.

My mother read to my sister and me Winnie the Pooh, Mary Poppins, My Family and Other Animals, while my father could be heard reading to my brothers in the living room, such tales as The Three Musketeers, King Arthur and other stories involving sword fighting and adventure.  I much preferred the stories my mother read and would lay my head on her shoulder, just as Emma does with me.

I used to pause occasionally and make a comment such as, “Oh I wonder what Ramona will do.  She seems sad that her Mom has to work and isn’t home when she gets home from school.”  Emma usually said nothing or if I lingered for too long, would say, impatiently, “Keep reading.”  or “Don’t stop.”

Being read to still conjures up fond memories of snuggling in my parents bed with my mother and sister, sometimes falling asleep, other times, listening to the antics of various animals and characters while feeling safe and loved.  I can only hope I am providing Emma with similar memories.

To read my most recent Huffington Post, click ‘here.’

To read my guest post on Special Needs.com, click ‘here