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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Draw Together Paragraphs - using drawing to support language development

Drawing can open up an extra channel of communication for non-verbal and less verbal people with autism. It can also be an effective teaching tool to support the development of conventional verbal and written language.

Today's post will give you a quick tutorial on one teaching technique that I have developed for using drawing to teach the meaning concepts of words, sentences and paragraphs (a word's meaning is modified by the grammatical structure of a sentence, and the concept of a "paragraph" is a group of sentences that all involve the same topic and could be included in the same picture). For convenience sake, let's call it "Draw Together Paragraphs".

Here's the finished picture from a session I had with Kevin yesterday (thanks to Kevin & Carole for letting me share this with you!) featuring Mr. Bean, Teddy and the members of Kevin's family:

picture taken with my iPad camera (Oct 24-12)

Start with a big piece of paper. Draw a line across (about a quarter to a third of the way up from the bottom) - written text will go below the line and the drawing/illustration will go above the line. I usually start with a topic sentence (in this example "It's Halloween"), then I write the first sentence and my student will draw a picture to illustrate the sentence's meaning. Then the student writes the second sentence and I will illustrate it, and so on.

In this example, I've used a sentence structure that Kevin can re-use substituting in other characters and costume ideas (this supports the expressive grammar so that there are not too many difficult things distracting from the main point of the exercise, which is "do you know the meaning of the sentence?"). Kevin likes to choose the colours used to draw the people, even when it's my turn (he also "fixes" my drawings if they don't have all of the details that he thinks they need!).

The strength of a turn-taking exercise is that each person has an opportunity to follow written/verbal language directions and also to use language to give a clear direction to another person. We're learning language in an interactive and pragmatic (meaningful) way, which encourages generalization of the information to other situations and settings.

And here's another important part - Kevin loves making these pictures and if you went to his house, you would see that the kitchen/dining area is well decorated with them. Because he is relaxed, happy and engaged while we are doing this activity, his mind is set for optimal learning and retention of the information. With your individual children and students, modify the activity (with favourite topics, using favourite art media, etc) so that they find the interaction fun and enjoyable. Also, make sure the language level matches your child/student - this may take some trial and error and will be instructive about what the functional level of language knowlege really is.

~ Therapy always works best when the person on the receiving end is voluntarily moving toward the activity you've set up (entice, invite, engage, modify, repeat) ~

Sheila B

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sorrow and Joy - Two Sides of Life's Coin

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." - Helen Keller


This picture of my husband and me, taken at our son's wedding last year, perfectly encapsulates what I want to say ... let's see if my words will let me explain.

If you met us casually, you would see a happy family: wise-cracking, irreverent, sarcastic, (immature?) ... we have a lot of fun together. Depending on your own outlook, you might think disapprovingly to yourself that we lack seriousness, that we don't understand the way the world is or else how could we treat life so lightly? You would be wrong.

Somehow, in this unguarded moment, the wedding photographer has caught the essence of the more complex side of our mixed family emotions. We are watching our son get married to a girl that we also dearly love, our other two boys are "co-best-men", and all the people around us are smiling, so why these looks on our faces?

Because our daughter is not there, and it is an unchangeable fact of our lives that she can never be.

We are a happy family, that is true. There is also a deep current of sadness that runs underneath that happiness - it doesn't negate it, but it surely changes it. It's hard to explain to other people that losing our daughter to cancer is always a present tense event in our lives, that we are never over it because every day we get up and she's still not there ... that at every celebration and major life event there is a Kaylee-shaped hole that only we can see.

It's not even a discussion that you want to get into with most people because you know they won't get it, and in their "not knowing" may say something that is impossible for you to hear without responding negatively:

.... it's really for the best .... this will make you stronger .... it's God's will .... you've learned some valuable life lessons from this .... in time you won't feel so bad ....

... horse puckies

The major reason that I started working in autism was because it was the only diagnosis that seemed serious enough to be worth my time after I lost my daughter. I stayed with the population because I felt a kinship to both my ASD clients and their families. Here were people who were finding everyday life a challenge, but still getting up each day and trying again. These were people who dealt with difficult days with crying and laughing, recognizing the basic absurdity of many human conventions and bringing a dark humour to counteract the crises. It's a "thinking flavour" that I get (and share), and it's a group of people who have become very near and dear to me.

drawn by Adam V, 2011

You don't choose your life events, but you can choose the people you surround yourself with and the way you approach living once you know that it's a high-wire event without a net. I choose these wonderful, complex, unusual and talented people on the autism spectrum - their mix matches my mix.

"Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down" - Oprah Winfrey