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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Hands in His Pants – Chewing, Sucking, Hands in Pants…

Question:

I am a special education teacher who is currently working with a bright nine year old boy. His current diagnosis is multiple handicap, he does have some autistic tendencies. Two behaviors which are quite concerning are placing his hands inside his pants and sucking/chewing on his hands when he is excited. His team is trying to develop a behavior plan, but we’re not in agreement. Any suggestions?

Suggestions:

Children with disorders other than autism may share some of the sensory sensitivities commonly found in people with autism spectrum disorders. That may be what your student is experiencing.

Do his parents notice the same behaviors at home?  What strategies have they found that work? Are they some that you could emulate at school?

He sucks or chews his hands when he’s excited. Perhaps he has a need for extra sensory feedback in his hands and/or his mouth.  When he’s excited he has less ability to inhibit the need to suck or chew. You may not be able to get him to stop chewing his hands but you might be able to substitute this behavior for one other people will find more acceptable.

Is he a child who always has something in his mouth? Does he chew on pencils, erasers, etc.? If he’s craving oral-motor stimulation, possibly if he has a regular dose of oral-motor input throughout the day, he’ll not feel quite the need to chew on his hands when he’s excited.

You could try offering him other things to chew or suck. For some children, crunchy foods like pretzel, crisp cereals, carrots, and celery help fill the need for something in their mouth. Others do well with gum but you might have to experiment with flavors until you find the one that has the most settling effect.  Sour candies work well for some children. (If they’re stale or frozen, they stand a lot of sucking and each candy then lasts for a long time.

Drinking through a straw gives good oral-motor sensory feedback. He could have water in a sipping bottle on his desk and sip through his straw whenever he wanted throughout the day.  Thera-tubing is another chewing alternative.  I know a couple older students who chew on plastic coffee stir sticks or toothpicks throughout the day.

If it’s feedback through his hands he’s craving, some type of fidget toy might work. You could try koosh balls, stress balls, fabric swatches (try bits of silk, satin, corduroy, fake fur, etc. to see which he likes), a pencil grip, small plastic toys, or a smooth stone. Ask him what things he likes to handle – he may come up with suggestions that would not occur to you. One child I know likes to rub a piece of plastic pot scrubber between his palms.  Another presses his palms hard against his desk or on his thighs.

If he does the chewing/sucking when he’s excited you might be able to decrease the behavior by preparing him ahead of time. While most of your students would have already internalized that the favorite subject comes after Science.  The child with autism may have a poor sense of time and find it a surprise when he hears that the anticipated event is happening now.

He may be over stimulated by the sights and sounds other children find enjoyable.  A visual schedule on his desk may help prepare him for what is coming next and make it easier to sit through Math, knowing that the treat is coming once Math is finished.

When you introduce substitute suggestions to your student, you’ll have to give him an explanation as to why you want him to try these things.  Although it’s perfectly obvious to you, he may be unaware that other people find it unpleasant when he sucks on his hands. He may not have noticed or interpreted that look of horror on the face of the girl sitting next to him.  And, it he might be doing this because it makes him feel good or calms him.

He’ll need to understand why you want him to stop doing it and that he can get similar feelings through different means.  A social story is a good way of explaining what you do and don’t want him to do.

The hands-in-the pants could also be a sensory issue.  Again, it could be something for his hands to do and any of the fidget toys mentioned above could work as a substitute.  A piece of fabric or small fidget toy could be kept discretely in his pants pocket or in his desk.

Is he bored or overwhelmed when he does this?  Is it a cue to you that he needs a short break to get a drink of water or sharpen his pencil? Is he on overload and using this as a method of tuning out what’s going on around him?

This could be the start of early adolescence and he may like the sensations produced when he handles his genitals.  If so, that may be acceptable in certain circumstances but not in a classroom.  He can be given clear directions that he may do such things only at home in his bedroom or bathroom but no where else (or whatever parameters you and his family work out).

This is another instance where using a social story is very helpful. Carol Gray gives examples on this and similar topics on her web site.  Another resource you might find helpful is the book Sexuality: Your Sons and Daughters With Intellectual Disabilities by Karin Melberg Schwier and Dave Hingsburger.

As with any new skill, it will take guided demonstrations and practice before he learns to substitute any of these other devices for his hands.  Rather than constant verbal reminders, a visual picture of what he should be doing would be helpful as a cue card. One cue card could be taped to his desk and the teacher could have another one she could hold up when a reminder is needed.

When a child shows an obsessive behavior, it is very difficult to eradicate that behavior.  Rather than fight that battle, you may be better off replacing that behavior with a similar but more socially acceptable one or limiting that behavior to certain times and places.

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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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