Monday morning came so quickly. On the drive down to school for 30 minutes my child was talking about Pontiac Firebirds, whether they were black or blue, how fast they go, and what kind of cars I (mommy) should race (because, obviously, that’s what I do in my spare time). He was rocking out to some music on one of his iPad apps.
By the time we got to school, he’d gone quiet and reached for my hand. I know he anticipates the fly-by of the big 6th graders who run past like a blur, avoiding the little guy by less than an inch on the playground.
Almost without a discussion, the tutors and I have delayed entering the playground melee before the bell rings to line up for class. When he started school, Toots was on that playground by 8:00 a.m. The whistle does not blow to go inside until 8:12. Now we get on the playground around 8:10.
The other day, a little boy from Toots’ class, without prompting from anyone, approached Toots and asked if he wanted to play tag. Toots smiled at the ground. He made no eye contact but the tutor and I encouraged him to go play. He shuffled off toward the other boys. The tutor, using her skills, helped integrate him into the game. Thirty seconds or so later, the bell rang.
I was filled with the warmth of a kind gesture. This little boy knew Toots was alone and took him under his wing. Before the whistle blew, Toots was chasing a few other boys with a smile on his face. Another of the boys tried to high five Toots after the whistle blew. He did not know how to handle the gesture but, with a prompt, high five’ed him back. This was Toots being shy.
Shy is defined by Wikipedia as:
In social psychology, shyness (also called diffidence) is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort, or awkwardness experienced when a person is in proximity to, approaching, or being approached by other people, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people.
Now, by contrast, in class, Toots will not read above a whisper in a reading group. The other kids in the group, in which he was first placed, became frustrated because Toots read too softly to be heard. He was prompted to read louder. His teacher told him to “scream it out”. He simply could not do it. Shy? I don’t think so…
Her solution? She placed him in a lower level reading group. The reason was to build his confidence in reading aloud. There, the other kids, less confident of themselves, read softly at times too. I guess she felt that if she gave him something that was easier, he would increase his volume. I’m not a teacher but my gut says this isn’t the answer.
Reading aloud could increase his oral fluency and help improve his speaking skills. Is it right to do it by giving him less challenging material? Are we sacrificing reading skill to develop confidence? Or does he simply need one level for oral fluency while he needs another to develop his reading skills?
I’m not sure where his reading comprehension skill comes into play in all this except that when he is “with me”, he can answer comprehension questions. When he is “elsewhere”, he cannot.
I tried talking to him about it. He says he knows he is a good reader and he is not afraid or scared to read in front of the other kids. Hence, not shy. But if I ask him a “why” question about the reason for the lowered volume and I get no where. “I’m sorry,” is his standard response.
Googling about reading aloud and autism led me to lots of articles and blogs. Everything led me to believe that there is no real “system” in place to help teachers teach children with autism to read. There is a hole. Teachers teach. ABA tutors facilitate where behavioral problems occur. When a teacher does not have expertise in teaching an autistic child, she is left doing what she sees best. Admittedly, that best is better than I can give him with no credentials whatsoever.
But my gut still says something is wrong. Toots can read. His comprehension of what he reads is not as great as his reading but it is passable. So what exactly is the problem? I don’t know. Does the teacher know? I don’t know.
One of the sites I found helpful was readerswithautism.com. There, I found an interesting concept called anaphoric cuing. You can read about it here. Basically, to understand anaphoric cuing, you must know what anaphora are. As the site explains:
“Anaphora are words, often pronouns, which refer back to reference words previously used in the text. For example: ‘Dan opened his book, put his head down on it, and fell asleep.’ In this case, “his” and “it” are anaphora and “Dan” and “book” are the reference words.”
“Anaphoric cuing involves teaching the child to identify the anaphora and to pause to relate them to their reference words while reading. In this way, the student begins to connect the parts of the text to one another. The active engagement required to relate words to one another supports the child’s connection to the text and reduces his or her habit of passive decoding.”
I know that Toots constantly mixes up the pronouns. In reading them, perhaps he is getting lost. Autism. His words going soft, may be a cue that he’s lost the meaning. He cannot tell us this. I think he may be trying to decode – not just words- but meaning. Pronouns can be confusing. Perhaps, anaphoric cuing is in order.
On the playground he may be shy. In the reading group? Maybe. Maybe not… Truly, in this instance, only time will ease shyness and rule it out. And when that time passes, will an opportunity be lost? What do you think?