Tag Archives: teaching autistic children

Emma’s Story

Emma told me I could post her story on here this morning.  This is a story she wrote yesterday with Rosie (Rosemary Crossley).  Rosie developed a technique more than thirty years ago to help people with a variety of issues, specifically those that make speaking difficult or impossible .  Em held onto a tube with one hand while Rosie held the other end as Emma typed.  Rosie began yesterday’s session by asking Emma to write a story that began with either, “once upon a time” or “one day.”  I was standing near Emma, with Richard, Joe and Em’s teacher, Katie, all watching as she typed the following.

“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.” 

Not sure I can actually continue writing here…  but I’m going to try… *Breathe*

I have read this story more than a dozen times already.  I know I’m totally biased, but I’m just going to say it – what an incredible story!  There are so many layers to it.  This story that Emma wrote with great concentration, with little pause is the first story she’s ever written.  She was focused and when asked about the word “flower” she verbally said “powder” in explanation.  Rosie explained that flower/flour are words that sound alike but are different in meaning.  Rosie explained that the powder kind is spelled “flour.”

But there’s more…  A little later Rosie brought out a math app called Math Magic where Emma proceeded to zip through addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  None of this is particularly noteworthy, except that Emma has never been formerly taught division.  She was choosing the correct answers from a field of four.  A sample equation is:  “56 ÷ 8” and the multiple choices available were: 2, 9, 7, 6.  Emma chose the correct answers independently.    Allow me to say that again.  Division.  Emma chose the answers independently.

It was at this point that I felt so many things all at once it was almost impossible to speak.  But more than anything I kept thinking about how we continue to underestimate our daughter.  I had no idea she could do division.  Not only can she do division, she can do it quickly.  There’s another app Rosie recommended – Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. which Emma also did as we watched.  Not only did she listen to the short lesson, but then read all the questions silently, read the multiple choice answers and chose the correct answers.  It seems verbal speech is tricky, particularly when she is expected to answer questions verbally.  When asked to read silently and then identify the correct written statement by pointing to it, Emma did beautifully… about Ellis Island, no less!  The only interaction Rosie provided with both the math and Brain Bop was to use a laminated card that she silently moved across the words as Emma read and she did not allow Emma to point to any answer until she’d finished reading all the choices.

I cannot imagine how awful it must be to be so capable and yet treated as though you were not.  I imagine it must feel like being “bruised all over.” I imagine it must feel like you “fought a lot”.  My wish for my daughter is that she may continue to do all that she is doing, while we provide her with every opportunity to flourish and continue to show the world how very “clever” she is.  The only limitations are the ones we provide.

I am incredibly grateful to all who believe in her, all who have helped and who continue to help us so that we can be better parents to our daughter.  The list continues to grow…

Rosemary Crossley

Rosemary Crossley

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

An Inability to Generalize

I first heard that term used in reference to Emma almost seven years ago now.  It was one of those things people say, in this case her early intervention therapists, where you hear the words, you know what they are saying, but how exactly this is being applied to one’s own child suddenly doesn’t seem clear at all.

Emma, like many children diagnosed with autism, has a difficult time applying something she’s learned in different situations and settings.  For example when she was much younger, I tried to teach her what a t-shirt looked like by holding up an actual t-shirt, one of hers with a pink heart on it, she was able to remember what that particular t-shirt looked like and called it a “t-shirt”.  If I then took out a different t-shirt, one of mine or a different colored t-shirt from her drawer, she was not necessarily able to understand that this too was called a “t-shirt”.  If I showed her a flashcard with a green t-shirt and explained that this was the color green and then pointed to a slightly different shade of green, and perhaps on a chair, she wasn’t able to tell me that the color I was pointing to was green.  Temple Grandin, speaks about this at length, she calls it “thinking in pictures.”  She says she stores images in her mind and then flips through the images to come up with the correct one to fit the word being used.  She then goes on to describe how problematic this retrieval system is for her.  One can easily understand how difficult that must be.

Over the weekend I worked with Emma on two words:  “yes” and “not”.  “Yes” was a bit easier for her to incorporate into her writing, but “not” completely threw her.  If I said, “Emma, what are these?” and pointed to a picture of three trucks.  She answered correctly, “These are trucks.”  If I then asked her, “Are these trucks?” pointing to the trucks, she was able to understand that if you answer, “Yes, these are trucks” it didn’t change the structure of the sentence, one just needed to add “yes” to the beginning of the sentence.  But if I then asked, “Emma, are these trucks?” while pointing to three frogs, she had a terrible time answering, “These are not trucks.”  When I asked her, “Emma, give me the one that cannot walk,” from a field of four objects: a bus, a truck, a plane and a kid,” she handed me the kid.

I know Emma understands what “not” means, but in this context she was baffled.  It reminded me of those first few years when we were new to all of this, and almost constantly perplexed by almost everything she said and did.  I remember watching in dismay as she proceeded to memorize several hundred flashcards that her therapists used with her.  The therapist would hold up a card with a picture of a bike, and Emma would shout, “bike!”, the card with a dress, Emma would yell, “dress!” and on it went.  I fully expected her to go on to a regular kindergarten, at the rate she was going.  But very quickly I realized that though she had no trouble with her memory, could memorize some 400 flashcards, she could not use the information beyond the flashcards.  In other words, the information wasn’t being translated across a larger field.  She did not use the words, we now knew she knew in everyday sentences.  If we went out into the park and I saw a kid on a bike and said, “Em, look!  What’s that kid riding on?” she couldn’t tell me it was a bike.  It didn’t look exactly like the flashcard with a bike.  For one thing it was a kid’s bike and for another it had pink plastic tassels on the handlebars and a little bell with a picture of Dora on it.  This bike looked completely different from the bike on the flashcard and so Emma was at a loss as to what this new thing was called.

The good news is, Emma now can identify a bike, any bike, but it took awhile.  This is what we are up against when trying to teach Emma.

For more on Emma’s courageous journey through a childhood of autism and our admiration for her, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com

Emma with her green blanket when she was 3.