Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gaining Language...For Emily

I always liked to pat myself on the back, I worked so hard to teach my son language visually...I'm guessing I attempted to teach him the meaning of over 300 words, mostly verbs and prepositions when he was 3 years old. Using Catherine Maurice's book, "Behavioral Modification for Young Children with Autism",  it was based on the work of Ivar Lovaas, the man who tried to beat the gay out of young boys.  There was no "table readiness", as the radically neurodivergent Kassiane writes about here...  (I hope she doesn't mind me linking to her, I'm not exactly a friend of Neurodiversity scholars, although I understand what they are trying to say.)  You see, the first thing they ask in the book  is to "make" your child look you in the eye.  Something told me that was wrong.  Then, you manipulate the child until they stayed seated at the table ready for your commands.  That seemed wrong, too. Kassiane talks about what amounts to destruction of self.  Today, they call it teaching social skills.  It always sounded to me like it was exactly what Kassiane said it was.  I'll be dammed if I would teach my kid to kiss butt to get along.  I taught him how to cuss and flip off kids who called him names.  I am an evil mother. I could not let bullies take advantage of him...teaching him to stick up for himself...that's the only social skill one needs.  All the rest is manipulation to get what you want. Or to keep you entertained while you are putting in time on this earth.

All I did, was daily present words either through a picture, or through actions.  We might get through 1 word in and hour, we might get through 10.  I don't remember how I did it, but when I figured he understood, I checked the word off the list.  As I say, Catherine Maurices book listed around 300, maybe, words in order of complexity, if I remember right.  I made sure I was well rested, patient, and if things started getting hairy, we quit.

"Ben, look--hat....above"  and pointed to the picture of a hat above a desk, for example.  Then I might give him a hat, and say, "Above", and if he put it above the table, I try saying "above t.v." or "above chair" just to reinforce and we'd go bouncing around the room with the new idea.  Or so I thought.

At night, I would ask Ben, "How was school today?"

I knew he might not answer, or he may say just "school" at most.

OR, he would go into a long diatribe, repeating word for word what he had heard on a video.

"Oh, look, the puppy is playing with the ball.  He is such a happy puppy!  He has gone up and down the street, looking for Tommy, but Tommy isn't there.  Here, Tommy!  Where are you Tommy?  The little dog was sad.  His boy was not around.  He barked and barked, hoping he would hear him."

 It must have been a story he heard at school. 

That was how he answered, "How was school today, Ben?"  I would just cry.

I just could not understand...but I had the notion he thought he was doing the right thing.  He heard people making noises at each other all the time, and he had an uncanny ability to repeat LONG strings of dialogue he heard on the videos he loved to watch.  He might only hear these dialogues one time, yet he could repeat them word for word.  He may have known what he was saying, but the ONLY way he could say it was to have an auditory script of it in his head which he played back perfectly.  In pre-kindergarten, he attempted to give a "talk" at school, using the first three minutes of this Charlie Brown Special. He held up a paper, just as Charlie Brown does in the beginning and started repeating word for word Charlie Brown's speech on the Transcontinental Railroad. His teacher marveled and told me all about it. Can you imagine?  Listen to the first three minutes.  That is what he repeated.

What the hell????  I am teaching him single words, but he can repeat this whole dialogue?

  How could he repeat two or three minutes of dialogue, but not be able to tell me two words about what went on at school that day?  He must have had some degree of understanding because he chose the very thing he loved the most, railroads. At another time, he might have memorized a script about space. 

Jacob Barnett's mother talks about how her son quit talking when he was two years old.  The next time he spoke was at a lecture given about the planets by a college professor.  Jacob was three or four years old then, and answered a question regarding the elliptical shape of one of the planet's moon.  NO DIALOGUE for nearly two years, and he answers a college level question in preschool!

Ben had a similar difference that overshadowed conversation..the ability to memorize scripts from videos.  He didn't memorize live conversations, ever.  But video dialogue was intriguing to him for some reason.  Imagine a preschool child memorizing a script about the first American Transcontinental Railroad...

It's really, really, really, really, really, really complicated.  

 Scott Barry Kaufmann talks about an internal dialogue.  I see that in Jacob Barnett's development, the atypical intensity in chosen interests, like it can't be helped.  Ben's language was only of interest to him where it pushed his internal passions farther. Conversation is secondary in each of these cases...the idea is primary. Internal ideas, working things out...ideas, not conversations.  Conversation??  Any old words will do.  It doesn't have to make sense.

Seeing and hearing about Jacob....Scott Barry Kaufmann's attempt to map the great unknown in his own head....this is all manna to me.  It's like heaven, seeing kids aren't defective but so different few if any can understand.

This is so confusing to me, to go back over it.  WHY could Ben repeat a dialogue in preschool but not be able to answer a question without a script?  We called it "t.v. talk", and man-alive would he get mad when you said, "Use your words, don't use t.v. talk."  T.V. talk was primarily how he communicated until grade 4, when he began to use script-free speech.  Strangely or not, he spoke haltingly, almost stuttering when he used his own words.

If you can figure it out, Emily, let me know. 


Emily Morson said...

Those are some long and complicated phrases he memorized! Unbelievable he could memorize something like that after hearing it once or twice, especially if he only understood some of it. Not to minimize his early difficulties at all, but if he still learns this way it must help with lecture classes.

My brother followed a similar but less extreme pattern. He did speak in words, but late and not often. The phrases he quoted were shorter, and often taken out of TV show dialogue. He used the identical inflection and tone of voice. He seemed to be drawn to phrases with high emotional intensity, e.g. when characters were angry with each other, so a lot of what he quoted was...inappropriate.

No, I don't have the answer, but I can tell you what it looks like.

Typically, little kids start recognizing the words in the general stream of speech bombarding them. Then they start putting those words together to make more and more complicated sentences. It seems like instead of isolating words early on, Ben was taking in large chunks of speech stream whole. I guess he must have been understanding these chunks by matching them with context, or with his knowledge of the topic being talked about (like with railroads). And it sounds like he needed help taking those chunks and breaking them down more and more finely until he got to words. Almost the reverse process of what typically developing kids are doing.

People are still researching how typically developing kids figure out how to break the continuous speech stream around them into words--quite a feat, when you think about it. So we're still figuring out what Ben's *not* doing. Recently, people have started studying how autistic kids learn single words. Apparently, in an artificial lab setting, autistic kids can learn fake words for objects just as well as typically developing kids with the same vocabulary. But it's not clear if these autistic kids learn the same way Ben does. And I'm not sure how well a one-time word learning study represents the overall language learning process for these kids.

You're asking a good question. I don't know of anyone who's asking how kids like Ben learn language. (Although for all I know, a grad student somewhere is studying this right now).

There's a theory going back at least to Vygotsky that thinking is essentially imagined conversation (in a similar way to writing in a diary). I don't know if that's true for people in general, but for Jacob and maybe Ben it sounds like thinking was more about self-awareness, planning, turning over memories, & the other things Scott Barry Kaufmann talked about. Since typically developing kids, at least, do use social cues in conversation to learn words, this could be a piece of the puzzle. I doubt it's the whole story, though.

usethebrains godgiveyou said...

Okay, now...this is just weird. You were talking about your brother and the inflection and everything....The dog woke me up at 3 am and I'm thinking I HAVE to get up and tell you this story...

I went to parenting meetings for kids with ADHD because Ben fit them...when they talked about their kids, they were talking about Ben. It was so freeing. It was like when normal kids parents talk about soccer and stuff, only we bitched about school and how hard it was on our kids, and about how many times we had been told all our kid needed was a good whipping. To our chagrin, most of us had tried that and it didn't work...

So anyhow...I offered to go to an IEP meeting with a Mom. I just want to give you an example of how @#$%ing clueless psychiatrists can be.
Why the @#$% is it always about drumming up fear with those people? Boogah-boogah zero degrees of empathy.

So Old Lady Crunchy Granola with her Sante Fe Native American Bangles says, " I think Bobby may be schizophrenic. I've heard him talk in at least 3 different voices..." I tried to tell her that the kids will mimic, with tone, inflection, etc., what ever script of language they have memorized.

"I have my degree in psychiatry. I know what I am talking about." I'm paraphrasing, but she implied it.

"So why are you so @#$%ing dumb?" I'm paraphrasing, but I implied it.

Thank God, she was not back to the school the next year. Hopefully she is far, far away from our kids. Because they have enough difficulty in this world without being labelled schizophrenic. Not that there is anything wrong with it...We can't help what we are born to be. But this was just such a gross misunderstanding of something she should have known better about. That's where all the navel gazing in psychiatry gets you...guessing at people's inner lives based on outside behavior is why so many people don't trust psychiatry. I think sometimes projection goes BOTH ways.

usethebrains godgiveyou said...

Uhm...lecture classes...yes, he's never taken a note in his life, but it could be the dysgraphia. Still, he scores in high 90 percentile in science and history.

usethebrains godgiveyou said...

I have a friend who is dyslexic who reads whole paragraphs easier than single words. That's what she told me, and I have to take her word. Her son is labelled autistic, interestingly.