We never found out why Ian was hooked on the word Tuesday (‘From the Inside’, Chapters 4 and 6) but it should have been taken more seriously than it ever was. At the time, we just thought it strange and clever. An indication of something going on ‘inside’ that couldn’t easily be seen. What we should have realised was that our child had an instinctive understanding of words, an innate grasp of the patterns of words, that – had we but realised – would have made teaching him language a whole lot easier. I mean, let’s be honest, the lad knew the alphabet when he was 2, without being taught. Surely that should have been a clue?
I have hours of video footage of Ian when he was in class. Yes, I know, it was a nightmare for the therapists and reminded them of their worst moments at college, but it was incredibly important. When you watch yourself or someone else doing something on the screen, you get a different perspective. You often see things you didn’t realise you did, or things that you didn’t realise were happening. I watched all the video footage. If I had an epiphany about a differing approach which I thought might work better for Ian, the next morning I would spend time with that therapist, watch the footage with them, and we would discuss it.
It brought interesting things to light, too, when I conducted an experiment. Three of us started several new tasks on the same day. One of these was ‘Turn on the light’. This was in the earliest days, when it was more about getting Ian to respond to us than the thing we actually wanted him to do. I videoed each of us in turn, teaching Ian this new task, one after another on the same day. Wow. I watched the video footage straight afterwards and immediately saw that not only were we all presenting the task to Ian using different language – ‘Turn on the light’, ‘Turn the light on’ and ‘Put on light’ – we were all achieving different levels of success for the same simple task. We all watched the video the next morning, then we tightened up our act. Later, there would be time to generalise and introduce a flow of different language for the same thing, but in the beginning, no.
One of the things that recording Ian’s therapy sessions brought to light – and even then, not straight away – had to do with Ian’s interest in words. You’d think we would have known, but it’s amazing what you can miss, even watching video footage. I had bought a set of animal flashcards. They were beautiful, with excellent animal photographs. For some reason, I made it my mission to teach Ian all of them. I wouldn’t be happy until he could whip through them, either identifying the picture of the animal, or reading the name. It took ages – and I mean years – for him to learn them all, and my dedication of this specific task was, I admit, rather obsessive. But Ian didn’t mind. For him, the flashcards represented known territory and single-word answers, a predictable task where he felt secure and pretty much in control. We didn’t do it every day, but intermittently I would produce the flashcards and Ian would identify the animals one by one. Each time, I tried to fix a couple more names in his head until eventually he knew them all.
But in the beginning, I was teaching Ian to identify his plastic animal toys and to match them to the flashcards. I would hold up a card and ask Ian to give me the animal represented on it, and then I would make the associated animal sound. Ian enjoyed this task – as you can see from the photo above. This was Ian at his best, learning and enjoying it. It makes me really happy to look at these pictures today.
Now, the flashcards had writing on the back, the name of the animal that was shown on the front. What we missed and should have seen, was that Ian was more interested in looking at the words, the written names of the animals, than at the pictures of them. He kept grabbing at the cards – I thought he wanted to hold them, but no, what I only realised later was that he wanted to see the word on the back.
When I finally realised what he was up to, when I finally took the plunge and instead of presenting the pictures to Ian, presented him with the words, I found he could already read them. Which is interesting, because – if you’ve worked it out – I would have been holding several flashcards in my hand at once (as in the photo above), and when Ian pulled them towards him, the word on the back wasn’t the animal we were focused on, but the one before.
Ruth had a way of putting it. If you’ve read the book, by now you probably agree …..
‘From the Inside – raising, teaching, loving an autistic child’ – available from http://www.emuink.com