Seriously? Is that possible? After thirty-one years of watching our Greg struggle to learn and seeing the most surprising results of years of work, I say, ”Yes.” This blog will show you one lesson that worked with our son.
There are one or two basic educational concepts that I learned while at Millersville State College back in the early 70s which have served me well in my teaching career and in my role as a parent of a child with autism. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my teaching years at Milton Hershey School resulted in untold benefits as they provided instruction in best practices at myriad workshops as well as a practice ground to implement these workshop skills with my students, and now, with my son. People never stop learning. This, I have seen firsthand in my 34 years of teaching, and so, we continue to work daily with our son who is now 31 years of age.
Recently I created a book, and Greg chooses to read it almost every day. My educational goals for Greg are cleverly housed in a scrapbook/storybook, and he is not aware that I have created this book especially for him with education in mind. We have learned to catch that teachable moment and repeat the lesson daily in order to effect change in our son who is academically challenged in many different arenas of life.
In this instructional blog, I will share enough basics to get you started in creating a lesson/book for your child. First, choose one or two essential goals for your child. Ours were to teach Greg his new address and to get him to stop bowling gutter balls whenever the shot is too difficult. Most children need some reinforcement in a deficit area, and by housing that instruction in a new context, you just might be able to change a behavior that is challenging or offer instruction in an area of need.
Next, decide on your medium or method of instruction. Greg was an artist as a child, and we saved as many of his drawings as possible. (He burned most in our fireplace since one of his fixations was watching fire, but we managed to hide just enough in boxes to pull from to use in the scrapbook.) I then wrote a story in which I had Greg’s favorite characters, Sesame Street guys and Garfield, teach Greg his address. This week, I asked Greg to tell me where he lives, and with a short prompt with my fingers to show him the house number, I was gratified to have him recite our new address! He still struggles with the town’s name, but if he got lost, a policeman could put the street name into a data base and maybe come up with our town and find the two frantic parents, Jay and me.
The next Saturday bowling date, we were surprised to see Greg trying to knock down those pins instead of electing to send the ball into the gutter whenever he had a split or other difficult roll. After reading his new, birthday present scrapbook, he took the written instruction, ”No gutter balls” and carried that lesson with him. In other words, he internalized it. I can now prompt Greg at bowling by reminding him of his book: Ernie and Bert don’t make gutter balls” or by prompting him exactly like the book, “No gutter balls.”
You have to keep finding ways to teach a child until he masters a concept, and if basic instruction in a classroom does not work, then use the visual, auditory, hands on (kinesthetic) or combination of any recognized instructional methods to push home that difficult concept. Study your child. Think about how he/she learns. In Greg’s case, his auditory processing is extremely delayed, and we observed over the years that he learned best by watching other children or studying a videotape or reading a book. The scrapbook offers visual instruction while “hiding” a few educational concepts, a subliminal lesson of sorts.
I used Greg’s art along with photographs of items around our house that I needed to make the story complete. With alphabet letters purchased at Michaels, sticky tape that I used to secure the art and a stack of background paper offered at all craft stores, I spent one day creating, and it was well worth the time. It is impossible to share all the pages of the scrapbook, but a few are posted below to give you an idea of what worked with Greg.
1). Choose your goals, one or two at most. 2). Decide on your medium or method of instruction. 3). House the goals simply and directly without overwhelming the child. 4). Personalize the lesson. 5). Repeat the lesson daily (even multiple times a day) until there is mastery. 6). Return to the basic lesson several days or weeks later to see if it was truly internalized. If not, repeat!
Guy Smiley teaches Greg his address.
Greg drew his Sesame Street guys obsessively from ages 4 to about 12. It was at that time that OCD set in, and drawing became too painful for him.
Bert seems to be saying, “No gutter ball, Greg.”
This is the first page of Greg’s book. If Bert and Ernie preach it, it must be so!
Remind your child of personal stories or other memories of his/her childhood. If you don’t have art work, use photographs or sketch some stick figures yourself!
For a child with autism, the visual must correspond with the text or confusion might result.
Humor brings home the message that Greg is a very picky eater. He ate raisins as a toddler, then gave them up forever when one got stuck in his teeth!
Greg depicted Kermit as a female, possibly because he saw this image in a video. I repeated this humor again in the story by suggesting that maybe Kermit in a skirt is his grandmother. Greg laughs whenever we read these pages.
I could not include all 20 pages in this blog, but these 7 give you an idea of the content and layout of the book. My next goal? Greg needs to learn how to make choices. He gets stuck and hovers back and forth. A lofty goal....we’ll see just how powerful Super Grover is!