Softly, the words trailed off to incomprehensible mumbling. “Louder,” I shout. He sits forward and yells the first word of the sentence, with a jutting tilt of the head for emphasis. The rest of the words are perceptibly softer and softer, til they end up a mumbly jumble of mush. He knows how to read each and every word. What then, is the problem?
It’s not the modulation. He understands how to make himself heard. Modulation is a symptom of what lies underneath. And what is underneath is ugly. Like lifting large rocks and seeing all the bugs scamper from the light of day.
It’s the meaning of the words. The sentences make no sense, largely due to pronouns. Those incomprehensible chameleon-esque words that change meanings with circumstances and references. Tootles has and can read the words as written, with proper pausing, sounding mostly like he understands. He doesn’t.
I’ve read posts that tell me I shouldn’t worry much about this whole pronoun issue. After all, my son is just facing a “delay”. He’ll get it. I had been lulled into a false sense of security by books and articles. And who wants to face a pronoun – it’s such a slippery job. After all, I did some paragraph reading and comprehension questions with Toots and he answered correctly! Plus, his IQ falls in the average to above average areas in reading, and “All kids have trouble with pronouns…”, right?
Oh but then the first grade reader came home. He had to read aloud to me every night. I ask him the comprehension questions. I might as well have spoken Swahili.
I had never paid much attention to the way pronouns infest the English language, changing with the referent, requiring “me” to become “you” to “him” and so on. Let me show you how lost he gets with a story right out of his reader called “Big Bill”:
Problems start with “My name is Bill.” “No, my name is Tootles.” The first person narrative is confusing. Why isn’t he reading about this boy in the third person? It should read, “The name of the boy in the picture is Bill.”
The second sentence is, “I like to play with my dog, Shep.” Seem easy? Obvious? Tootles’ voice goes soft because he has no idea what he is saying. He’s smart enough to know Mommy is going to ask him questions at the end and he wants to comprehend but the language is too confusing. “I feed Shep.” He did not know “feed”. He did not understand what “too much” food is or how food made one “fat” or what “fat” was…
Time references were more confusion. The second photo of the “Big Bill” story shows the third and fourth pages. Those words make a complete disconnect from Bill and Shep to talking about Bill growing up to be a “big man” “one day”. Tootles knows the numeral “1” and the word “day” as opposed to “night”. I can only imagine how these two words together might create an image in his mind. As for “big man”, not sure what he thinks of the idea of growing up. We don’t have any success talking about “growing up” except that it means his foot will reach the gas pedal of the car he expects he will receive.
And then there is that pesky concept of “still” in the story, as an adverb – a point in time. Dictionary.com gives this meaning for the word “still”
10. at this or that time; as previously: Are you still here? 11. up to this or that time; as yet: A day before departure we were still lacking an itinerary 12. in the future as in the past: Objections will still be made.13. even; in addition; yet (used to emphasize a comparative): still more complaints; still greater riches; 14. even then; yet; nevertheless: to be rich and still crave more.
Are you kidding me? I’m expected to teach this to a first grader with autism? It’s just not happening. My son still believes “yesterday” means what happened three years ago, the same as 24 hours ago. I was just excited recently when he added ‘yesterday’ to his vocabulary as a past event.
In the story, “still” is used three times in two different ways! Tootles went quiet each time. Add concepts of God giving him a job to do, doing the job well (well alone had to be likened to “good”), and doing that job in the future? Overload. Way overload.
Then – look at the comprehension questions – “Whom does Bill want to be like?” Toots was lost. I turned the page back. I told him there are three ‘people’ in the story. I named them. Tootles was so lost by this point that he thought Shep, the dog, was Bill.
Pronouns do matter. They are fundamental to basic listening skills, let alone reading comprehension at even a first grade level. Without learning these, Toots may be able to fly under the radar through school, but he will not have the enriching experience school is meant to be.
So, what can I do? I found a couple of very useful ways to help him learn. First, there is this video of using pictures and words together to help grasp the concepts of pronouns. This teacher is a wonderful example of how not to mix up with praise when the child says “you”. It’s so tempting to say, “You’re right, it’s me!” and then mix them up again! I recommend this video – it’s a teaching method I’m going to try:
Another site I found useful for teaching pronouns in daily life situations is here at Let’s Talk Speech and Language Services.com. If you scroll down to “Pronouns”, the author has a lot of ideas that are helpful.
I saw a lot of other links, but these seemed the most clear and useful for teaching a child like mine. We will see how far I can get with him.