If the Corona virus epidemic has taught us anything, it probably is the value of friends and family in negotiating our way through difficult periods. Talking to friends and catching up on Zoom allow us to share how we feel in our dark moments. Friendships empower us to face reality and to realize that we are still ok and sane!
Even though we can strengthen our existing friendships remotely, it is generally more difficult to develop new friendships online. Existing friendships are what we capitalize on in difficult times.
This Cornavirus time is, therefore, another wake-up call for us to seriously reflect on how to assist students with special needs to develop friendships. I was struck by a recent posting by a mother of a child with special needs. It vividly describes the plight of a boy who does not have friends. She wrote:
I’ve been doing this for 19 years, so I’m used to it. But really, no, not doing okay. I’m so depressed and sad for him. He is lonely and anxious and doesn’t understand why people don’t want to be with him. He’s lovable but they can only take him in doses. His sadness turns to rage, on me mostly. And I stand there with my invisible shield on and I take it. Because no one else can or will take it from him. I’m going to be there for him no matter what. And right now, during this…pandemic, I have to be here for him 24/7. Because he has nothing to do and because he’s so full of anxiety. It’s really hard.
This mother’s cry for help is not uncommon, and it requires our attention. The posting highlights the boy’s isolation and lack of friendships. It also describes the parent’s desperation within this context. While some parents of typical students could probably identify with this mother, the extent of the challenges are different when you have a child with a significant disability.
I remember when I first started to teach online in the late ’90s, I attended a training session on blended learning. The message was that online learning is not “just like classroom learning.” You cannot take what you do in face-to-face classroom teaching and simply put it “online.” You need to identifythe main purpose of the learning exposure, and then select the strategy best fit to achieve the goal. One has to integrate learning purpose and strategy from the get-go.
This integration requires that one has knowledge and understanding of the different types of online strategies, their strengths, and their limitations. There are no hard and fast rules for what strategies work best for students with severe communication difficulties. The secret to success is: one needs to be open-minded in observing each student’s pace of learning and adapt strategies to suit the student’s learning outcomes.
Paying Attention to Detail : Enhancing World Knowledge and Understanding of Concepts.
Today’s narrative is different from the previous two stories as it focuses attention on observations made while watching a pond with turtles. This type of observational narrative encourages children to focus attention on detail. Encouraging children to look more carefully at their environment builds on their world knowledge and understanding. What we see depends on how carefully we look and listen. Careful observation is not only the basis for acquiring knowledge, it is also related to understanding concepts and making sure that we have something to communicate about. Having something to share with another is at the basis of developing communication skills.
Background to the narrative
I have friends whose house is next to a big pond. If you stand in their sunroom, you can see the turtles and fish swim in the pond and sometimes you can even see a snake swim in the water. When I first saw the pond I couldn’t see anything in the pond. However, after a while, when I looked more carefully, I realized you can see a lot! My granny always said if you look too quickly you can’t see anything, however, if you look carefully, you will be surprised at what you see!. Today I am telling you about the turtles that live in my friends’ pond and if you look closely at the pictures, you will see what I saw! Continue reading “Story-time with Erna #3: For Parents and Their Young Children—About Turtles in a Pond”
Pre-amble to the story: Talking about taking turns.
As soon as my granny sat down to tell us a story, she would ask: “So, which story do you want to listen to?”. In response to this question my brother, Nico and I would start to shout out the stories we wanted to hear. Our shouting often became louder as we tried to persuade my granny to tell the story we wanted to hear. Then, my granny would ask : ”Who picked the story last time?”. My brother, Nico and I would then quickly start to point at each other saying “You chose last time!”. However, my granny was a wise woman and would remind us who selected the story last time by saying something like “ Let’s think about this. Erna, didn’t you choose the story about “How the Animals Chose their King?” When granny said this, we all knew that Granny was well aware of whose turn it was and that we needed to quickly step in line before she changed her mind about the story! This was indeed Nico’s turn to choose the story. I had to accept that this was his turn to choose. This time, however, Nico chose a really good story. See if you agree with me..
It is not uncommon for parents to express uncertainty about how to go about playing with young children who are not able to express themselves. These children often have a limited repertoire of toys that they are interested in. All we need for play is to identify one toy (e.g. teddy), action (e.g. jumping), or object (e.g.. car) that the child is interested in and use it as a basis for play. We want to be aware of what the child is interested in and then for us to extend what s/he does with the toy/object to expand involvement with us and the toy/object or action.
My child is in school already, why should s/he still learn to play like this?
There is a direct link between children’s ability to play with themselves and others, and their ability to learn. This also applies for children of school -going age. Children learn primarily through play. They make up action stories (e.g. the doggie runs in the yard, he runs fast, he sees daddy coming in the car, what does the doggie do? He runs to the car to greet daddy). In playing out a simple story like this, they learn about sequential actions and logical outcomes. If we can get a young child to play like this, s/he is well on the way to learning.
What toys do I use?
We need to watch carefully what toys the child spontaneously engages with. We need to observe how s/he uses the toys to develop their play skills. Allow yourself to expand play around the object of your child’s interest by adding one or two ideas that you think the child might relate to. Parents can be most intuitive in knowing what a child might enjoy – and if it doesn’t work, then you can try with another object/action/toy later on. It is not how many times we have to try that is important, but where we are heading for!
Gaining a young child’s attention is often difficult and expanding that interest to include a slightly longer engagement with the toy can be quite difficult at first. Remember this is an activity that you and your child should enjoy together. Don’t allow a play session to change into a “teaching session”. The idea is to have fun together. Play, communication and learning can only happen when a child is interested and enjoy what they are doing with you.
One of the great joys in my life as a young child was the experience of listening to stories my grandmother told us. These stories were quite unique, as they were folk tales that were orally communicated from generation to generation. All these stories were about animals—for example, The lion and the Jackal, Jackal and Wolf, Crab and the Jackal, etc. In my retelling of these stories, I am using the book Famous South African Folk Tales by Pieter W Grobbelaar and Sean Verster.
Although the main purpose of this presentation is enjoyment, these stories also provide great opportunities for parents to talk to their children about the content of the stories to ensure that they understand what happened; and why certain characters acted in certain ways. There is no better way to enhance children’s learning than to focus on their ability to understand oral and written language. At the end of the story, I will provide a couple of pointers on how parents can facilitate talking about the story with their children.
A good friend of mine recently invited me to join in an online course focused on understanding the concept of abundance and what it means in our lives. At first, I thought I have too many other things that needed my attention, but then I thought: What better time could there be than now?
The Cambridge dictionary defines “abundance” as a situation in which there is more than enough of something.The opposite of abundance is scarcity, a concept that parents and teachers are most aware of. This awareness is prominent in our attempts to get young children to understand the concept “more” to allow us to understand when they want more food, want to watch more TV, or play for a longer time.
We recently lost one of the big research giants in the field of augmentative and alternative communication: Lyle L. Lloyd. He died at the age of 86 and was a professor in Special Education and Speech and Language Pathology at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, for 34 years.
I recently read the article “After years with no way to communicate, Newburgh teen finds her voice.” Like so many other similar stories, this heartwarming narrative gives an account of how a young women is using supported typing to “communicate.” The mother describes how this strategy has helped her teenage daughter to communicate and find her “voice.” Her daughter points to letters on a letter board while another person (the facilitator) supports the daughter’s wrist during the process of typing.
Although it is good to read positive stories like this, it is important that we alert parents and professionals to the pitfalls involved in describing “supported or assisted typing” as a communication strategy.
Recently during a professional development session in the schools, we were observing a video of a teaching aide using augmented input by pointing on a student’s device. As we engaged in discussion, participants expressed some confusion about the assumptions underlying augmented input as seen in the video and questioned its role in promoting the student’s expressive ability using the device.
The video showed a group of children listening to a teacher telling a story. The teaching aide was pointing to some core vocabulary on the student’s device (reinforcing core concepts used by the teacher) while the teacher was narrating a story. The purpose of the augmented input by the teaching aide was presumably to enhance the student’s understanding of the narrative.
Participants’ confusion in observing this video related to the different ways in which the device was used: How is the teaching aide using augmented input on the child’s device assisting the student in understanding his role in expressing him/herself? Providing input on the child’s device by repeating concepts used by the teacher can be confusing if the child needs to learn to use his/her device for self-expression. This dilemma is not new to AAC intervention, and different solutions have been proposed over the years. Two of these solutions are discussed below. Continue reading “Augmented Input and Meaning-making”