Tag Archives: literacy and autism

Emma’s Story

This is the story Emma made up and wrote this morning before she went to school.

I had to give her support a couple of times when she would say a word, such as “the” or “to” but then would forget to actually write it and wrote the next word (always a noun or verb) instead.  According to Dr. Marion Blank, the woman who created the literacy program we have been using with Emma for the past nine months, children on the spectrum dislike non-content words.

Emma then took her story over to her dad and read it to him!

We first met Dr. Blank almost a year ago now.  Before that first meeting we both read her book “The Reading Remedy” and were impressed by it.  In January of 2011 we began implementing her program with Emma.  During those first few months we worked on the beginning of letter formations and sequencing.  In April Emma was able to form all the letters of the alphabet and we began the first level of the literacy program.  Over the last seven months Dr. Blank has added other elements to the program, specifically designed for Emma so that we now are working on a spoken language program in conjunction with the literacy piece as well as the Phonics Plus Five and Reading Kingdom programs.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com

These Last Few Days

Every day for the past month, Emma has gone on the bus to summer camp with her brother, Nic and her therapist Joe, shadowing her.  Joe tells me this year has been terrific.  Emma has tried new things, been engaged and interacted with the other children more than the year before.  Today is their last day before coming out to join me in Aspen.  Because it’s their last day, Nic told me, they can do whatever they like.  Nic said he was probably going to play soccer, practice his archery, swim “a bunch of times” in the the lake and do gymnastics.

I am interested to hear what Emma will do.  When I called last night, she was with Joe in her “study room” so I couldn’t speak to her to ask.  Not that I would have gotten a clear answer.  The future and past are difficult concepts for Emma to express.  I never know when I speak with her if she’s referring to something she wants to do, did do, will do in the future or wished she could have done in the past. Despite my confusion in regards to what time frame is being referenced, Emma is usually without complaint.

Emma at camp – 2011

Every afternoon upon returning from camp, Joe and Emma go into her “study room” where she works on her literacy program.  I haven’t worked with her for the last ten days, so I am eager to see how she is coming along.  Emma’s literacy program, perhaps more than anything else, has caused a significant shift, in Emma, but also in me.  The progress she’s made since this January when she was just learning to form her letters, to now, where she is writing one and two sentences, is tremendous to see.  But I also feel she is gaining a certain degree of self confidence.  Working with her has been incredible as I know how hard it is for her, but she continues to do the work anyway.

Sleep, wake up, sleep, wake up, go on the airplane and see Mommy!

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com

A Brilliant Mind

I have maintained in previous posts, that I continue to believe in my daughter’s brilliance.  Current IQ tests do not account for children who are non-verbal or with limited or impaired speech.  I have no way of knowing what Emma’s IQ is, but I can tell you there are things Emma does, on a daily basis, indicating her mind is capable of some pretty astonishing leaps.  What follows are a number of examples.

Our refrigerator light is out.  The first thing I did was replace the bulb, only to find that wasn’t the problem.  A little later Emma opened the refrigerator door and pressed a switch on the ceiling of the refrigerator and immediately all the lights came back on.

“Wow Em!  How did you know to do that?” I asked incredulous.

“Lights broken,” Emma said, nodding her head up and down as she removed her caramel yogurt from the frig.

“Yeah, but how did you get them back on?” I went over to her and watched as she reopened the door and pressed on the little white button that activates the lights when the door is opened, something I did not realize until Emma showed me.  The lights flickered for a second and then went out.  Emma reached up and matter-of-factly jiggled the switch and the lights came back on.

“There,” she said, with a certain degree of satisfaction.

After a few days of all of us wiggling the switch, the lights flickered on and off feebly one last time before remaining permanently off and I had to call the company to get the light switch replaced.  Now to many of you, this may seem completely commonplace, but I can tell you, I had spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out what was causing the problem.   I should have saved my time and just asked Emma.

Yesterday while Emma and I worked on her literacy program requiring her to choose the word “leg” from several options, she positioned the cursor over the correct button then clicked on the space bar.  Then she looked over at me with a mischievous grin as if to say – did you see that?

Again, hitting the space bar instead of clicking on the mouse or the return key never would have occurred to me.

Another thing I’ve noticed while working with Emma is that she has an amazing ability to see patterns.  So, for example, if I show her a series of “words” but with only parts of the letters showing such as:  _a_s,  r_ _ _, _e_ _, _ _s_ and ask her to find the one that can be “eats” she will find the correct one immediately, less than a second, faster than I am able to.  I am consistently amazed by this.  It is in keeping with her ability to know instantly when a photograph is missing from her pile.

Emma’s box of photographs – over 200

The other day Emma was singing while shooshing around on her scooter.  Richard was reading in the rocking chair, Merlin happily nestled in his lap.  “You know what she’s doing right?” Richard said looking over his reading glasses at me.

“Yeah,” I said without looking up.

“She’s created her own carousel.  Do you hear her?  She’s singing all the songs they play on the carousel.  And watch.  She’s going around and around on her scooter in the same direction as the carousel.”

I stopped reading and watched and listened.  Emma was currently singing “Georgy Girl” one of the many songs they play at the Central Park Carousel.

“I wonder if she’s singing the songs in the correct sequence,” he wondered out loud.  “We’ll have to make a note of that next time we go.”

Emma riding on the Central Park Carousel

These are only a few examples of Emma’s brilliant mind.  There are countless others.

We, as a society have a tendency to view ourselves and others with a critical eye.  We are taught early on to look at our deficits and then do all we can to take corrective measures to make up for those deficits.  I don’t believe this kind of thinking is helpful with children diagnosed with autism.  The deficits pile up unbidden until that’s all we can see.  Our children are routinely viewed as “less than” as we struggle to help them.  I feel strongly a more balanced approach is necessary.  Our children are often brilliant.  If I approach Emma with this in mind, I am able to more fully help her, by focussing on her talents, on the things that are easy for her and using those assets to help her with the things that are more difficult.   In addition I find I can learn a great deal from her.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Dreams For Emma – Autism

A follower of this blog and mother of two children on the spectrum asked me if Emma used an ipad.  I wrote about Emma’s ipad last fall for both this blog as well as the Huffington Post, so in responding to her email, I reread both those posts.  The one for Emma’s Hope Book is entitled Emma and Lists.  What struck me was how far Emma has come since then.  I looked at the date – September 24th, 2010 – and while yesterday I was feeling a bit discouraged with Emma’s ongoing struggles with handwriting, I cannot help but feel incredibly optimistic with her progress after reading those posts.  It’s funny how rereading something I’d written less than a year ago can have such an impact, but it has.

Emma has certainly come a long, long way.  In the post “Emma and Lists” I write about how when I am feeling a little sad or discouraged I make lists.  I go on to recount my current lists, (hopes) for Emma.  “Help Emma with Reading,”  “Help Emma with writing,” are two such items.  I remember when I wrote that post, thinking that these were dreams, perhaps dreams I might not ever see accomplished.  And yet, here I am in July of 2011 and not only are both these dreams coming true, but so are others that I hadn’t even thought to put on my list.  Things like:  beginning math concepts, writing in full sentences, learning to type, following three and four step commands.  These are all things Emma is in the process of learning.

I will try to remember to take a photograph of Emma’s handwriting this afternoon.  She is coming along.  She is learning, she is progressing.  It’s easy to forget, though.  I forgot that last September I could only hope Emma might one day learn to read and write.  That she is now doing so is remarkable and wonderful.  Last fall we were still riding on the wave of our success with having finally gotten her out of diapers at night.  We were still struggling with getting her to sleep through the night.  I’d forgotten all of that.  It seems so much longer than ten months ago.  It feels as though years have slipped by.

I haven’t dared dream for awhile now.  But rereading those posts reminds me of how important it is to have dreams, for ourselves, for our children.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, and to see how far she’s come in one year go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com