I am often amazed at how the pressure of “getting things done” can prevent one from meaning-making with others. The inability to take time to be with another can have significant impact on our well-being as parents and teachers.
A colleague and I were driving to do some training at a school. It was early morning, and we had had a late start. Getting back into the car with two cups of coffee for my friend and me, I felt quite relieved, as I had difficulty understanding the coffee attendant, who was speaking with a heavy southern accent.
I recently observed a three-year-old girl who was going to start in-classroom learning after an extended time at home during COVID. She and her father were visiting her grandparents for the first time after an 18-month gap due to COVID. Even though they frequently interacted online via Zoom or FaceTime, the excitement and anticipation in seeing each other was significant. However, the little girl, on only a few occasions during the two-day visit, wanted to leave the loving embrace of her father. She was able to name all the letters and colors and sat down to do focused desk work for a surprising amount of time. She seemed happy to withdraw into her own world and engage in learning material; however, she was reluctant to interact with her grandparents.
This observation made me think of a book I have been reading by Krista Tippett, entitled, Becoming Wise. In the book, she interviews Ann Hamilton, an artist who makes the statement that we really must practice listening because our everyday spaces are not set up for listening. She expanded on this idea by pointing out that it is not only that we don’t have time and space to really listen, but that when we do listen, we tend to want to do so by using earphones to improve our own ability to focus on specific information. We don’t really listen or we are “plugged in”; and she explained that “It is very hard for me to wear headphones at all or sunglasses because then I feel like I’m not where I am, wherever that is” (Tippett, p. 88).
I couldn’t help thinking of how the use of earphones on my iPad has helped me to isolate myself from the environment in recent months. It was almost as if I needed the earphones to protect me from the outside world. Although it did help me to focus my attention on what I was working on, it clearly also functioned as a buffer against what was going on around me. It dawned on me that I too have become skilled in using this buffer to isolate me from outside world during COVID.
Recently, I was asked to provide information on the background to and motivation for my book on meaning-making in AAC intervention. Why did I write this book and what do I regard as the main contribution of the book?
I recently followed an interaction between communication professionals on twitter in which they commented on the difference between compliance and engagement in interacting with young children. It made me acknowledge that Twitter can be used in really constructive ways: These short messages can make you think! Please see the postings as well as the comments on the postings below (Nov. 13 & 14, 2020).
Twitter Postings and Comments on Compliance and Engagement
(November 13 & 14, 2020)
Communication isn’t about pressing buttons to get things. Communication is about deepening connection, meaning-making and engagement. These things drive us to keep communicating (Alex de la Nuez).
Let’s not confuse compliance with engagement. Doing something I don’t necessarily want because someone tells me to do it is compliance. Doing something I want to do because you’ve inspired me to make my own choice is engagement. (Chris Bugaj).
• True, true, but we all have to do things that we don’t find engaging. (Cathryn Robbins)
• True. Compliance also isn’t always learning. Following directions doesn’t necessarily mean content is being learned. This can be especially true for students with language delays. (Mollie Kropp)
These postings and comments highlight some important concepts in thinking about the differentiation between compliance and engagement. I briefly summarize the primary points below.
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.
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”
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.
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.
I recently went back to South Africa to see my mom, who is 88. She is in a nursing facility with 24-hour care, unable to walk, and at times quite confused. During the past year she had a couple of ischemic attacks, which rendered her unable to speak for certain periods of time. Recently, however, she has regained some speech, although verbal expression remains difficult. In spite of all these factors, I looked forward to our visit.
I talk to my mom on the phone from New York on a daily basis. Even though interactions are difficult, we are able to maintain interaction for sometimes shorter and sometimes longer periods of time. My visits with her are less focused on content and more on celebrating the joy of being together.