Continuing with our spotlight on early literacy, we follow up from last month with our updates and next session with our early literacy expert. The last week of each month, we’ll cover our progress teaching our son about reading and writing using Reading Recovery as our model, a developmental approach that focuses on individualized programming within a one-on-one relationship.
Once the holiday season was over and winter was in full swing, I contacted our Reading Recovery early literacy expert. I told her that our son was now letting Dad do hand-over-hand writing with him.
On January 15th we received word from school that they worked on hand-over-hand printing with markers and on distinguishing between long and short lines in the letter “A”. In the photo, you can see our son at school with his occupational therapist drawing lines in shaving cream on the wall.
On January 18th we had our second visit from our early literacy expert. We asked my son, “What’s this?” He responded, “cup” and I asked “What does it start with?” and he replied “p“. Then I said “Now say it” and he said “cup“. I asked “What did it start with?” and this time he said “c“. Our early literacy expert said he was listening to me and the most salient feature that popped out the first time was the last sound he heard, “p“.
However, when I got him to say the word himself, it helped him self-correct. Our early literacy expert said that with everything we do and with every teaching goal we have, you want to shift the learning over to him. She said to think about it not only along his idiosyncratic path, but also along a developmental path of literacy skills such as knowing what letter is first and last in a word.
Tips from our early literacy expert
Children don’t have to know all their letters and words to start reading. And it’s fine to just rely on memory in the early books. The pictures are there to support the content and we want them to learn to scan the page for meaning and understand the process of reading from left to right about what is in the picture.
If the activity is frustrating for him, go at it from another angle when he’s interested. We don’t want him to associate this activity with being frustrated.
We showed him a picture and asked what it is. He said, “It’s a CN snow plough” so the early literacy expert wrote down “This is a CN snow plough.” I went to read it with him and he grabbed my hand and pointed to the words rather than pointing himself. She said this is fine. She said I was scaffolding the process for him. Eventually we want him to point on his own to each word so he has to fixate on the scribbles one at a time.
It’s not until that looking happens that you can depend on other systems for reading. She told us that he has very good language skills and a good sense for the letters, but this is the next challenge: Looking. People think of fine motor skills as using the fingers, but it’s also the eyes. You have to call up from the brain how to move the eyes in a very disciplined, systematic way in order to be able to read.
For this to work, we have to have his brain’s attention. Spaces separate words in our speech so we want him to see the spaces between the words by making sure we leave big spaces between the words. The early literacy expert also clarified with him, asking him if what he said was “This is a CN snow plough?” She wants to keep the language structure simple because this moves it from just being a word on the page to being actual language.
Next she suggested we write out the sentence on thicker paper and read it as you go “This is a CN snow plough“, reading it in a natural voice. We want to convey that it is not just reading words, but that it’s part of a message. So we teach that you go left to right and go back to the left again for the next line. Say, “I’m going to cut that up and you help me read it.” Cut together then you can make him match it to the story asking “Can you see my story? Can you put it back together?”
It can be a Matching game which is low level. We want to get it to a higher level where he can construct it by thinking about the message “This is a CN snow plough” so you can even take pieces away as well. Just keep remembering to go from left to right with nice, big spaces and make sure his eyes are looking. Use bigger pieces until the fine motor skills are ready for smaller writing and pieces.
Make his own Little Books
- Make little simple stories that he knows. Using kids’ names is a great way to start with actions in the little books. We’ll get the most from him by making books for him about what he’s interested in.
- Knowing that his name is the most powerful thing for his memory right now, we can expect that he’s going to learn to locate that in print so a sentence that starts with his name helps him learn where a sentence starts.
- Next mix it up a bit by turning it into a locating activity. For example, “Jimmy is jumping. Where is Jimmy?” By putting a familiar name at beginning and end, it challenges the mind and eye to do something different. Also by changing the names you use from his to his friends’ names, he has to look to see if it’s his name or someone else’s.
- Things that are familiar for him are going to apprentice his eyes in the looking task but the focusing piece is going to be language. “This is a…. ” When you read something is he going to expect it’s permanent? It’s always going to say the same thing so you have to say what is written right there. It’s conceptual. Getting him to do it in the direction of print is the trickiest step of all.
- Know his language pattern. Don’t write “This is a ____” if he never speaks like that. Follow his natural language structure.
- Make books by having a bunch of cut-out pictures and let him choose what to put in the book. The key is to make it interactive. When you’re writing the words in the book, make sure he is seeing what you’re writing and is engaged.
- Engage him to do only whatever you think he can. It can’t take a lot of time. He has a short attention span. In terms of teachers doing this at school, it has to be the play work otherwise it gets long and laborious and the child’s like “Get me out of here!” Don’t bother with the cutting out the picture and making of the book itself. We are only focusing on creating the story together.
See if he starts to do the motions of writing letters. See if you can make headway with using a marker and doing it on paper.
- Think about the motions of lines circles. For instance, for the letter “L” you might say “down across”.
- Use a laser pointer to write letters on the wall or ceiling.
I focused on what our early literacy expert suggested: matching what we wrote to his natural language structure and interests. I picked up a dry erase and magnetic board and we began writing sentences and pointing to each word with the marker, and then encouraging my son to point with his finger.
I tried something else at bedtime. I started spelling the names of trains on him. He will suggest, “Tornado” so I draw the “T” then the “o”, etc. on his body: his forehead, the top of his head, on his tummy, or along his arm. He laughs when I get to the ticklish spots with the cutest belly giggle ever! I love that we’re making literacy fun.
He also has been asking us multiple times per day about a word: “What starts with (word)?” and “What ends with (same word)?” eager to know the first and last letter of the said word, whether it be a friend’s name, an object such as a toy, food or drink, or an item of clothing. He also guesses before we can give him a response, so he’ll say “b…n…a” almost randomly suggesting letters.
We encourage him to sound it out. So if he asks about “banana” we’ll say “b…b…b…ba-na-na” and he’ll reply, “b”. In the car on the drive home from school I also heard him reciting a song they sing at school: “Apple… a…a…apple; Boat… b…b…boat….Elephant…e…e…elephant” so by encouraging him to sound out the word, I was drawing on his experience doing that with the song at school.
We have not made any personalized Little Books yet. That is our next step which will be reported in next month’s update. Stay tuned…
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Until next week… here’s to affecting autism!