Reading and Computers

Question:

I’m looking for a computer program to help my student read better.

Suggestions:

Before we get into talking about computerized reading programs, may I ask why you want one?  Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not at all opposed to using computers as a tool. But good teaching cannot be replaced by a computer.

And sound reading approach needs to focus on phonological processing, not just phonic. A useful book for parents and educators is Reading Reflex : The Foolproof Phono-Graphix Method for Teaching Your Child to Read  by Carmen and Geoffrey McGuiness.You can find out more about phonemic awareness and phonological processing at sites such as:

LD Online

Ed by Design 

FCRR.org

Reading – First

Dibels

SAEE Publications 

A good reading resource is Orchestrating Success in Reading by Dawn Reithaug.

Excellent FREE information is available here.

While not all children with autism read, many do. Some children are hyperlexic and learn to read as very young children. Here’s a link to help you learn more about hyperlexia.

As with much of their learning, a child with an autism spectrum disorder may not follow a typical learning path. It’s wise to approach reading through many avenues; hence the concern over a search for one computerized program that will teach children with autism to read. It’s hard to imagine any one-size-fits-all strategy since each individual has his own pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

That said many people with autism have strengths in the visual area, while auditory processing is a more difficult method of taking in information. Academic approaches should keep this in mind and provide opportunity for the child to learn in visual (seeing), tactile (touch) and auditory (hearing) ways. Below is the link to one method of teaching reading visually:  http://www.readingreallyrocks.com/pages/1/index.htm

Among others that support a multimodal approach are:


Some children appear to read well. But they may be proficient at “word calling” while remaining weak at comprehension. A program that is often useful is Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking by Nanci Bell. (Click on the book’s picture for more information.)

If your child would benefit from having words read to him from the computer, here are a couple free programs:

Here is an assortment of computerized reading programs. This list is not exhaustive and comes with no particular endorsement:

Wynn Literacy Software

Laureate Learning Systems

Kurzweil 3000 (free trial available)

Reading Upgrade

 

http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/instructor/everykidca n.htm

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Failing Everything at School

Question:

Failing all subjects

Jim is in grade 9. While he seems bright and verbally skilled, he’s failing all subjects. He rarely hands in assignments. He constantly loses things. He denies that he’s disorganized and refuses all suggestions and assistance. He insists on doing things the same way, even when what he’s doing obviously is not working. Half the time he’s furious with the adults in his life and resenting that they’re always trying to make him do things.

Suggestions:

Just how blunt are you when you talk to him? If you’re subtle or indirect, he might not take in your meaning. And how much talking do people do to him? In general, when a student is messing up, we as educators talk to him. And the less the kid responds or seems to get it, the more we talk to clarify and make our point. This does not work well at all with kids with autism because of their auditory processing weakness. In fact, the more we talk, the less sinks in and the more agitated/frozen/dug-in they usually become.

The best description of this I know of is in Donna William’s book, Somebody, Somewhere.  It’s a fascinating read, almost like reading a novel. Donna wrote when she was in in her 30’s, she has autism, a B.Ed. degree and is extremely articulate in describing things from her point of view.

When a kid seems bright enough and speaks well, we often forget about the auditory processing problem and use oral language as the way to communicate. While it is one way, it’s not the most effective especially in emotionally charged situations when the student’s ability to understand what he hears will go way, way down. Read Donna William’s descriptions. You’ll enjoy it.

The one thing I’d do with Jim is use visuals. Tons of visuals. Always. He’ll get information from something he can see so much easier than if he’s expected to learn by listening.

Author and presenter Linda Hodgins has created a workshop on using visuals for behaviour problems. Click on the title to take a look. It’s available in DVD or VCR format and called Visual Strategies Workshop.

Linda also has two excellent, easy-to-use books: Solving Behavior Problems in Autism and Visual Strategies for Improving Communication.

Another video you might find helpful is Visual Supports in the Classroom for Students with Autism and Related Pervasive Developmental Disorders.

I’ve found this reference useful:  Higher Functioning Adolescents and Young Adults With Autism: A Teacher’s Guide.

A helpful book is Autism in Adolescents and Adults.  You might not need to read it all right away, just browse at first. It’s a simple book where one page describes a problem or behavior and the next gives a suggestion (mainly visual suggestions).

A fair proportion of all kids with autism suffer from depression in the teen years. In adolescents depression most frequently comes out as anger rather than acting morose. That might be part of what you’re seeing.

And, it can look a lot like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or co-exist with OCD. People with autism tend to be rigid in their thinking and behavior. Because of their neurological differences, it can be hard for them to gather information from their environment, process, store and retrieve it when they need those facts. This makes it difficult for them to derive meaning from what’s going on, relate it to past experiences and come up with good strategies. When it’s hard to make sense of your world, you cling to what you think you know – hence the rigidity.

Another reason for depression in such kids is that around this age they notice just how different they are from their peers. And for kids with average intelligence, it’s frustrating to think inside that you’re smart but not to be able to get things that the kids around you seem to grasp with ease.

For teens with autism, medication is not at all unusual and can have a positive effect. It might help his mom and the doctor if the school provided checklists of the behaviour that you’re seeing in Jim. If his physician believes that medications may be helpful, there’s a very good chance that he may not get the meds right first try. He’ll need behavioral feedback to assess the dose, timing and if that’s the correct medication as there are a number of possibilities that could help

When you have a spare five minutes with Jim, go to the Do2Learn website and try these short games on emotions and facial expressions with him. I’m betting that he will be unable to correctly identify the facial expressions on these people. If so, that’ll give you a clue about one of the reasons his behaviour escalates.

We derive a lot of information from the facial expressions and body language of others. For the most part, no on teaches us these things – we just pick them up automatically. Not so with most people with autism, PDD and Asperger’s. Rather they need to be taught how to read non-verbal language. There’s a step-by-step short program designed by Dr. Tony Attwood specifically for autism/Asperger’s called, Exploring Feelings: Cognitive Behavior Therapy to Manage Anger  . (I’m assuming that anger is a problem, or that he does not stop to consider his choices before responding).

Another helpful program is Michelle Garcia Winner’s Thinking About You, Thinking About Me.

Despite the fact that your student has autism, Asperger’s of PDD, he’s still a teenager. At his age adolescents are finding their own way, wanting to be independent and make their own decisions. Rebelling to some degree against authority is normal. So in summary, how can you help?

  • Use visuals rather than relying on verbal information
  • Allow him choices within the parameters you set out
  • Enhance his skills at picking up on nonverbal cues
  • Social skills training in managing feelings
  • Teach and model appropriate ways to handle frustration, protest and anger
  • Find ways to get him to “buy in” to what you want him to do by showing him what the long-term result will be
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Reading Comprehension Difficulties

Question:

I have a student who is in first grade and reads at a high grade 3.5 level . While his level might 3.5 in decoding, his comprehension is next to nothing. Is there some way to still push his reading forward yet address his comprehension issue. My coworkers believe that I should not push him on in his reading level. They said the focus should be on comp. I believe it should be both. I would like to have him continue reading at the level he is challenged at, while addressing his comprehension with books he is familiar with, like Dr. Suess, and ask questions at that level. What do you think?

Suggestions:

You and your coworkers both make good points.  A student who can decode well but has little understanding of what he reads may become a good “word caller” but not a proficient reader. At the same time, you need to build on current strengths and what is for this child a success.

I think you’re on the right track, for several reasons.  Everyone needs to feel that they are progressing and students often pay close attention to which level they are reading. So, he could continue to practice his good decoding skills at a challenging level.  A key component of good comprehension is fluency; those children who struggle and stumble over decoding words often lose the meaning of what they are reading because it’s taken them so long to decipher the passage. If your student can decode with ease, that will help his fluency.

When he reads orally to you, does he pay attention to punctuation marks? Pointing out to him the purpose of commas, periods and question marks can help guide him towards getting more meaning out of what he reads.

Since people with Asperger’s and autism tend to be literal and concrete, many such children prefer nonfiction to fiction reading material.  Nonfiction is more straight forward and doesn’t require understanding characters’ emotions or motivations. You might want to work on first building comprehension for nonfiction readings.

At what level of comprehension is he in other areas, such as when you are having class discussions?  Is he at the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy, able to answer rote questions about who did what or is able to point out patterns, analyse, synthesize, predict and play with the information? It may be easier for this child to tackle such higher order thinking on subjects that keenly interest him rather on topics foreign or those with which he has little personal connection. You might want to increase his skills at responding to such material orally before you ask him to work independently in writing.

Does he like Dr. Suess?  Although entertaining for most children, not all may be able to get past the playing with words and unusual language constructions the rhyming forces. He may not relate easily because people don’t speak the way many of Suess’ characters talk. If he enjoys Suess, then that would be a good place to begin building his comprehension skills, especially with the easier books.  If the nonsense appeals to him, he might also enjoy Dennis Lee’s Alligator Pie  or the Amelia Bedelia series

Most good readers make movies or pictures in their minds as they read.  I wonder if your student does.  Since most people with autism spectrum disorders are stronger visually, no matter how verbal they appear he may be better able to make connections to what he reads using visual strategies. A program that guides you in teaching this skill is Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking® by Nanci Bell.

Some kids with Asperger’s appear highly verbal, especially in their areas of interest, yet can have weak language skills.  Perhaps he’d be able to demonstrate his understanding to you if he didn’t have to use solely his oral or written language skills. Does he like to draw?  Could he make a picture depicting what happened on that page of the story? Rather than printing answers to questions, could he fill out a concept map? The University of Kansas has a series of Strategic Instruction Modules that use visual methods for a teacher to present information and for students to record what they are learning.

Learning strategies that work is key for capable students with autism spectrum disorders. If your child could understand that all stories follow a pattern, he may find fiction less incomprehensible. He could with a story grammar approach, dividing his page into four boxes.  One box would have the heading Setting and he’s print there where and when the story took place. A second box could be labeled Characters and there he’d identify the main character and one or a couple helper characters. The third box might be labeled Problem and here he’d either describe the problem of that story or chapter or draw a picture showing the problem. The fourth box could be titled, What Will Happen Next?  Again, he could respond in words or with a picture.  This could be a whole class or small group, rather than an independent exercise to begin with while he’s developing the skills.

If he enjoys using a computer, there are many sites with either free software downloads or 30 day trial downloads of programs that help you state and organize your ideas visually.  Here are just a few:

Mind Mapping

Inspiration

Smart Ideas

Visual Mind

Metacognition is a crucial part of successful reading. We often take it for granted that students are intuitively picking up these skills since they are so much apart of us as adult, good readers.  Social skills and language pragmatics are things many kids with autism and Asperger’s do not learn automatically or with ease. (They share this weakness with many children with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome and other such neurological disorders). Metacognition involves thinking about how we think.  If you don’t stop to reflect while you’re reading, little of what you read sticks in your mind. If you’re not processing the material as you read, you tend to carry right on when you misread because the glaring discord of nonsensical words doesn’t penetrate. It’s harder to maintain interest and to store the material in your mind if you don’t make connections to what you’re reading.  Click here and here for a metacognitive guidelines that can help guide children in the reading process. And no, you do not need to work in education to help your child increase his metacognition skills.

Metacognitive skills need to be modeled and practiced.  It’s OK while reading aloud to a class to stop yourself and say, “That didn’t make sense. I’d better read that sentence again.”  After rereading the passage, continue with, “Oh, yes.  Now I get it. That’s talking about…. I remember when… That makes me think about…”  It’s useful for kids to hear the kinds of self-talk we use inside our heads to help us make meaning of what we’re reading.

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