Shyness? Maybe, Maybe Not…

Yawning before getting out of the car for school…

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?

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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10 Responses to Shyness? Maybe, Maybe Not…

  1. Lisa says:

    I think it is a combo of things. My guess is that he does struggle with anaphhoric cuing. Then he knows he is disconnected and feels self conscious so he doesn’t read as loud because he’s concentrating on the text and isn’t worried about reading at a volume for others to hear. Plus, autistic children can have voice modulation issues too…

    • solodialogue says:

      Wow, Lisa, I think you are right! He does have voice modulation issues but I think he could easily do the louder volume if something “else” was not holding him back… Just going to give it a little time.

  2. thorgerdur says:

    My son talks softly when he is insecure. We tackled this by reenforcing loudness and taking turns repeating and acting out while talking. A simple “talk louder, please” and then taking turns talking loud. Acting and reading together increases reading comprehension. We played a lot while doing this.

    • solodialogue says:

      You know, my son talks softly when he is insecure too. We have had the voice modulation programs in the past, including a meter to show which voice is which and when to use them. There is something more than just volume going on. So true that acting and reading increase reading comprehension! We are reading aloud every night. He is quite the “ham” at home with it. Different environment, people and text, yields completely different results at school. :/

  3. savvyadvocatemom says:

    I think it is one of those trust your gut things. You know what Toots can do. I don’t think a lower level will do it. I think maybe some one on one time reading IN school would boost his confidence if that is the problem. If he is getting lost, more one on one time may be in order. Any literacy specialists at the school? I am getting ready to fight the math fight again with Random’s school. It doesn’t go away, but you get better at the arguments.

    • solodialogue says:

      You know, I thought so long and hard about maybe my instincts being wrong but then here you come Lori! I just don’t know. I’m going to give it a little time and stand back. I have the utmost respect for this new teacher. So, I’m going to sit this one out for a couple “dances” while the new partners get to know one another. (My cousin is a reading specialist in Washington State. I spoke with her last night and she thinks the object is to increase his comprehension to his reading level.) I’m sorry you have to fight the math fight again (sigh). I will be writing about our battles someday…when I can. xoxo

  4. Mary says:

    Once again, I have learned something totally new! 🙂 Freckles does read and talk softly sometimes. I will have to see if this is what’s going on. I have been reading a book to her at bedtime (ok, it’s Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book–don’t judge!). She stops me and asks a lot of questions about what is going on. Not sure if it’s something like this or just Gaiman’s writing style being harder to decode. I do stop and have her find the clues like “Why can Silas leave the graveyard?” and “Why is he neither living nor dead?” I want her to figure out what the characters are on her own.

    For a minute there, I did think moving her down a level might be an answer. I will talk to the teacher. And after all that fussing I did about moving her UP…oops!

    My local library has a program where they have specially trained dogs in the library and children can build confidence by reading to the dog. A handler is there the whole time but parents have to go away. The dogs don’t judge or correct the kids like adults would. I almost took Freckles but we never made it. I was hoping it would get her to speak up and get over some of her fear of large dogs at the same time. I would recommend just visiting the library while this was going on and casually observing to see what your kid’s reaction was before actually signing up for it.

    • solodialogue says:

      Oh Mary, what a lovely program! I would love for Tootles to read to a dog! I just asked him and he would love to do it! Shhh – hubs has been trying to get me to break down and get another dog (ours passed away a couple years ago) but I have not given in… The pros and cons have me divided. This is just another big one in the pro column should our library not do this program. I will check. Thank you! (and of course, I wouldn’t judge!) 😉

  5. OK – going all the way back to my kindergarten teaching days…. and an idea popped into my head.

    Have you ever recorded Toots reading aloud? Has he ever listened to himself read?

    Here’s what I propose while you’re “waiting it out” – I would have him read a couple of his favorite books out loud into a recorder app (like iRecorder Pro or something along those lines) and then have him listen back to himself and follow along in the book. Like one of those read along with the tape story books we used to listen to as kids. I wouldn’t video it so he won’t get distracted by watching himself – the goal is just to get him to hear himself. You might even consider reading a page yourself, then have him read a page, and so on until the book is done and see if he can pick up on the volume differences in your voices. See if he can hear himself as easily as he can hear you. Then have him keep practicing until he can easily hear himself – then maybe he will start to naturally modulate his volume. Maybe he just doesn’t know how soft he sounds when he’s reading…

    If nothing else, he might get a kick out of hearing himself talk. I myself LOVED this as a kid – I could go on and on for hours. My parents still have cassette tapes of me just reading books, listing off the states and their capitals, whatever….. I just loved hearing the sound of my voice. I think that’s why my parents got me a tape recorder – they got tired of listening to me talk all the time! 🙂

    • solodialogue says:

      I love the idea of doing this just to do it! Since I wrote this, I have seen for myself in our nightly reading that the stumbling blocks appear to be directly related to insertion of pronouns in the sentences! We just finished a story about a cat who liked to hide in paper bags. One sentence was “She likes to play with them.” He did not get it at all. I had to go back and tie ‘she’ to kitten and ‘them’ to bags! Then it made sense but it’s a doubly hard job and he gets very frustrated. I will give your suggestion a try. Not sure what reaction I will get. He only enjoys hamming it up if he likes what he is doing. He doesn’t seem to like when he doesn’t understand- just like his mama…(sigh). xoxo

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