It’s time for our third early literacy update! In January you read about how we’ve started working on literacy with our son, then we had an update in March. This ‘report’ is about the progress since then, using Reading Recovery as our model, a developmental approach that focuses on individualized programming within a one-on-one relationship. Today’s post will focus on the implementation of what was discussed last time.
Recall from the last update that we had been working on hand-over-hand writing, thinking about the motions of lines and circles when writing, using a laser pointer to write letters on the wall or ceiling, making story books of simple sentences written in language that is similar to how he speaks featuring subject matter he likes and/or about his friends, getting him to look at each word that we read to him or as we get him to read, pointing to the words when reading, and cutting up sentences and rather than matching them to the sentence, having him re-construct the sentence by thinking about the message.

We have since consulted with our beloved occupational therapist expert, Maude Le Roux, about the writing piece, since we have been doing a lot of preparatory work for fine motor skills in occupational therapy. Maude liked the idea of focusing on the curves and lines of letters. At her clinic they use plasticine-type clay to form the letters which works on finger strength required for writing. We have since purchased plasticine in a drab grey colour. Maude said to avoid colours as we don’t want him associating certain colours with certain letters or shape patterns.

Dad has been doing hand-over-hand writing with our son because he is so motivated to spell and write out a ‘plan’ each day of the activities he wants to do, which is something they started doing at school. Most of the time we just write the plan for him as he dictates it to us and on occasion I will have him read it back to me, pointing at each word as I read, slowing him down when he races ahead. We have yet to start working with the grey plasticine, however we have begun playing with kinetic sand variations daily which should prepare him for then working with the much stiffer plasticine.
Also recall from the last update that our son was asking what the first and last letter of all words are throughout the day. He has since moved to asking how you spell words. Whenever we’re talking, he’ll stop and ask “How do you spell (the word)?” So we will be talking about how it’s time for bed and he’ll say “How do you spell bed?” We’ll say, “We’ll do that again tomorrow!” and he’ll ask, “How do you spell tomorrow?” then follow it up with “T…” This goes on with all things, all day long.
We’ve also done some reading at home. I had purchased some basic little Paw Patrol early readers that are in order of 1 to 12 or so. We started looking at them and I was experimenting to see if he would be able to read any of them. I noticed he really was doing what the Reading Recovery expert told us we want him to do, which was looking at the photo for clues. Then I was pointing at the words and having him sound out the letters.
It seemed to me that he had memorized some words, recognizing them from other reading/spelling activities and then was stumped on words he didn’t know. He could sound out the letters no problem but struggled putting the sounds together to form the word, so I would help him. In addition he has requested that I read parts of his train book to him. It is like a train encyclopedia with adult-level text but I am pointing at each word as I read it and waiting on him to guess or recognize some words or at least I sound out the first sounds to help him out. He seems to enjoy this because he is so motivated by the material.

April 13th:

  • We’ve been reading the books I’ve made 2-3 times a week since the March Break (We were reading them almost everyday prior to the March Break and multiple times a day as requested by him). He is now pointing to each word from left to right when reminded to “read slowly” (3-4 words per sentence). However, if he is reading fast he points the first word and then the second word twice while saying the entire sentence.
  • We’ve tried the cut-up sentences about 4 times now. This one seems to be more challenging for him to do independently. I’ve left the page open for him to use as a visual guide to put the words in order and he has been able to put them in the correct order. However, if the visual is not there, he is unable to put them in order.

April 23rd:

  • The photo of him reading: I left him in the room with another therapist for a minute. I came back and he was sitting in the corner with that book reading aloud (he was not asked to so). I didn’t interrupt and he continued even when I came in, for about 3 minutes, before he noticed I was back. It was so CUTE!

April 25th:

  • While playing jenga, he independently made the letter ‘T,’ using the jenga pieces. During our play with kinetic sand we worked on our fine motor skills by pinching little bits of the sand to make eyes, nose, and mouths for our kinetic sand people.
  • He is currently able to trace a straight and curvy line with his finger and pencil independently. He is also able to trace a heart with his right hand but requires minimal support to do so with his left hand. We have not yet tried this with a pencil.

May 3rd:

  • Today he pulled out the book about him and his friends and asked me to read to him. He helped me point to words and required reminders to slow down.

May 4th:

  • We worked on reading today. He demonstrates the ability to point to the words from left to right approximately 70% of the time. If he begins reading fast he ends up pointing to the same word over and over again while reading the whole sentence which he has memorized.

May 8th:

  • In the morning we focused on challenging him through play. One activity he really enjoyed doing was spelling out words. He would ask therapist how to spell a certain word but instead of them just spelling it for him, they would sound out the letters and he would try to guess the correct letter for the word.

May 24th:

  • We’ve recently found some level 1 books that caught his attention. He often brings them over to the cozy corner or desk and asks me to read them. They contain a lot of the sight words we’ve been working on such as, ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘it,’ ‘the,’ etc. Together, we’ll point to the word and he is usually able to read it (the sight words in the book) himself or with minimal support. He has been able to recognize majority of the sight words we’ve worked on while we read.
  • We have tried the cutting out words activity quite a few times but recently he has not been interested in it. I believe he finds it challenging and not as fun as reading the book.
  • The occupational therapist (OT) and I have been working on numerous early literacy activities such as colouring in the lines of various big shapes using a small piece of crayon (as this makes him have to use his pincer grip). Once he is able to do this independently we will start using smaller shapes as it requires more precision.
  • We’ve also been working on forming letters using wooden pieces (lines and curves). He can sometimes tell us whether a letter needs lines or curves. For example, he now knows the letter ‘A’ requires just lines and the letter ‘C’ requires a curve. He can form a few letters with minimal support such as the letters ‘T,’ ‘L,’ and ‘H.’ If the letter has been started by his therapist/OT he is usually able to add the missing piece in the correct spot.
  • When practicing to write letters we usually put a sticker at the top of the page to indicate where we need to begin forming the letter. He requires reminders to start at the sticker. He also requires hand-over-hand support to form most letters. He has demonstrated the ability to print the letter ‘O’ and sometimes the letter ‘L.’
We had a follow-up appointment at the developmental optometrist in May for a follow-up after our visit two years ago in which she assigned vision exercises for sensory integration of his central and peripheral vision. We brought her the school’s report on the progress of his vision exercises and she was very pleased. School has been working on these exercises with him for over a year, no more than five minutes per day. They are things like laying flat on his back while looking out of his peripheral vision to follow an image up and around, looking through red or green lenses and following and tracking objects.
After an assessment here’s what she had to say. Our son’s right eye is far-sighted, with astigmatism, and the left eye is essentially fine. What that means for him visually is since that right side is so blurry, he tends to suppress the vision: central vision absolutely, and maybe slightly peripheral as well. He’s more dominant in the left eye, and probably on the peripheral left side as well. When reading, one has to converge both eyes as a team ideally to track and focus. Right now it’s only the left eye that’s doing that for him.
She said last appointment when she checked 3-D vision and everything else that was fine, it was ‘age-appropriate’ fine but now that he’s starting to read it’s not. His vision will need to be ready to use both eyes as a team which she will do by balancing the eyes with glasses. Of course I am wondering how in the world we will get our son to keep a pair of glasses on! She said that sometimes it will help him see so much better, that they surprise us and want to wear them. We’ll find out this summer! Stay tuned!
Next steps
Our next step will be to connect with our Reading Recovery expert again and report on all that has happened. She will likely re-assess his readiness for a more formal Reading Recovery program again, and it may be that he will need to be wearing his glasses comfortably to make sure that he is able to see the text in front of him. Stay tuned for another early literacy report when school starts up again in the fall.
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Until next week… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!

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