Failing Schools? Failing Teachers? Or… Failing Materials?
The issue of how to best teach a child with autism was certainly one all parents of children with autism struggled with. There was absolutely no doubt that discipline or “control” and communication went hand in hand when it came to the learning situation.
Just as my sister-in-law Christine had made the decision to home-school her son with autism, so too had I taken on the role of teaching Zachary. There was simply no denying that I best understood my son and best understood his every utterance and gesture. Although I realized there were basically no curriculums designed specifically for children with autism, I still had to have an understanding of “what” to teach Zachary in terms of what was “appropriate” for his age. Wanting to make sure I at least covered “the basics”, I ordered a homeschooling curriculum for first grade.
So, there I was – materials in hand – ready to teach my son. I knew Andrew had done much better when taught at home in terms of academics than he had done while in school. Naturally, there was a tendency to assume that if children were falling behind in school – especially special needs children – that, “the problem” was - “with the teacher”.
Well - now - “I was the teacher”. As I worked with Zachary, I soon came to very clearly understand why it was that we now had so many “failing schools”. Granted, there was a great deal more to learn today and that alone surely had to play into the equation somehow. Yet it was not that teachers had gotten that much worse or rather that there was “too much to learn too quickly” – but rather – the materials provided to students today simply failed to explain – the basics – the concepts! There were many, many examples of this I could provide. I knew that for Zachary to understand anything in his world, he had to understand the parts to the whole to then understand the whole – he had to understand how the pieces “fit together” and that meant he – especially - had to understand - “the concepts”. Given how important “concepts” were for all children, not only children with autism, I wanted to provide for parents very concrete examples of these issues.
Take for example the simple “concept” of determining “which number is bigger”.
Zachary was an excellent counter. He could now “keep counting” quite high. He also knew how to count by tens, by fives, by twos – both odd and even, etc. He was also starting to grasp how to multiply numbers and, indeed, knew almost the entire “three times” table to “twelve times three”. Zachary had just turned six in August of 2003.
Zachary simply adored counting. This made perfect sense to me given he very much needed order in his life and needed to understand “patterns”, etc. in determining how things “fit together” or worked.
Well, as I enthusiastically pulled out my materials for grade one mathematics, I quickly realized that teaching certain concepts was going to be a lot more complicated than I had originally thought – and this concept of “which number is bigger” was certainly one of those “concepts”.
Zachary’s materials included something like this…
Instructions were given to put a circle around the numbers that were “bigger than X” – “X” representing a specific number. So, for example, the exercise could involve putting a circle around any number bigger than 39. Well, that certainly sounded easy enough – yet, Zachary, a child who loved numbers, had great difficulty with this simple exercise. So, as with everything, I looked closer as I tried to determine – “the problem”.
In no time at all, “the problem” became very apparent. Below was a reproduction of something similar to what Zachary needed to do.
Put a circle around the numbers that are bigger than 39.
Zachary was then required to do the same type of exercise for “smaller than”.
In looking at this simple problem, I originally had thought, Zachary would “breeze” through this stuff… this was “so easy”. Wrong!
As I watched Zachary start to make circles, I quickly realized that he was circling everything. It appeared as if he was simply “not understanding” that only “some” numbers could be circled. But, then, I looked closer! Zachary was doing exactly what he was being asked to do – he was circling the “bigger” numbers.
Note that the “Intructions” were written out in smaller font and hence, every number in the box was “bigger” than 39! As such, Zachary’s answers were correct – based on visual input!
Yet, if asked verbally, if 34 was bigger or smaller than 39, he could easily give me the correct answer. Thus, verbally, and conceptually, he understood the concept – visually – it was completely missed! The reason the concept was missed visually was because, quite frankly, the concept had not been taught. The materials had moved immediately into “examples” or “exercises” and had completely failed to teach the basics – the concept itself – that was taught elsewhere in a section not even remotely close to this one – and indeed – a later section!
This particular exercise seemed to “just assume” that if you could count to about one hundred (100), you would know the numbers that “were bigger” and that the “visual cue” of “smaller numbers” in the instructions would not have an impact in what the child perceived as “correct answers”. Well, this certainly could not have been further from the truth – at least not in Zachary’s case.
Granted, one could argue that the exercise had “purposely been done that way” to ensure the child understood the concept and did not go “just based on physical size” of the actual numbers. This certainly raised a very interesting issue – was Zachary more of a “visual learner” or an “auditory learner”?
Clearly, when asked “verbally” Zachary could usually provide the correct answer – he understood “the concept” and applied it properly. Yet, when provided with “this visual”, he had completely failed the exercise – over and over again! So – did that make Zachary a “more visual learner” – in my opinion, the answer to that was – no!
The simple fact was that the “concept itself” had not been grasped here – visually – yet it had clearly been grasped when using auditory cues/questions.
In addition, it was interesting to note that auditory processing and the understanding of language (i.e., instructions) were co-located in the temporal lobe. As such it made perfect sense that auditory learning or teaching of the materials provided for “better results” in Zachary. Only visual perception of faces, places and body parts was found in the temporal lobe with the understanding of language – not exactly things that were useful in this particular exercise!
Again, certainly, one could argue that the materials had purposely been made that way to ensure the child actually understood the concept. While, there was no doubt in my mind that this could very well be true, the fact remained that Zachary had not grasped the concept but rather had only been “fooled” by the visuals and the fact also remained that the materials provided only “examples or exercises” – and had still failed to teach the basics – the concept itself!
If anything, “the concept” had been, in my opinion, destroyed by the visuals – not enhanced. The goal of learning, after all, was to help children understand “concepts”! Thus, visually, Zachary had easily been fooled and failed miserably in this exercise, yet, from an “auditory perspective”, he had passed rather with flying colors – and hence – once again, my belief that Zachary learned better when “auditory means” were used. For Zachary, this simple concept had been very, very difficult indeed to teach. The visuals fooled him all the time!
Note also in the above example that the concept of “equal to” was also an issue given the number 39 was also found in the box. “Equal to” – another “missing concept”. Thus, although the materials attempted to teach “bigger than”, “smaller than” and “equal to” – they failed completely in teaching or explaining any of these concepts! Right from the start, the cart had been placed in front of the horse – and there could be no moving forward until things were placed in their proper order – especially not for a child whose very world, whose very understanding of everything was so very, very much based – on order and understanding how “the parts” fit together to form “the whole” – “the concept”!
Alright, so this homeschooling thing was going to be a little more complicated than I had originally thought. I would simply get “better materials”. We had a wonderful store nearby that provided all kinds of schooling supplies – you could order almost anything through this little store. It was a store managed by a woman who had taught school for decades. I thus went there in search of “better materials”. To my surprise, there were none to be found. Math books simply failed miserably to teach even the basic concepts – they all provided “cute pictures” and “lots of colorful or fun examples” – but basically – very little in terms of teaching actual concepts!
Materials could provide a hundred examples of this same exercise – or they could provide a hundred examples of calculus – or geometry – or algebra – but, until the concepts were taught – examples were useless and the child was basically left to figure things out – for himself – or the teacher was left having to do a lot of “extra work” to teach “the basics” – the concepts – that had so often seemed to so miserably failed to be taught in the actual materials! Overwhelmingly, the theme in “teaching materials” appeared to be “ cute examples – but no concepts”!
Well, that was slightly discouraging. As I spoke to my husband about this issue, I stated: “Well, I’m just going to have to come up with my own materials where those I bought fall short”. I had no idea just “how bad” things really were when it came to “teaching basic concepts” in schooling materials! I literally found myself spending many, many hours coming up with “my own materials” for Zachary. Interestingly, although it could take me a long time to come up with what I needed, once I had what I believed taught “the concepts” – Zachary grasped them and moved forward quickly.
Below was a reproduction of what I had made to teach Zachary the basics of “bigger than”, “smaller than” and “equal to” - to teach Zachary – the concept and help him “get over” the fact that he was so easily fooled - visually!
Note that there were two parts to this. The first provided a visual representation of the concept along with key phrases. I knew that just being able to get the right answer verbally would not be enough for Zachary – he also had to be able to understand “the concept” and apply it using “visuals”, too!
The second part provided the same “key phrases” but not the “visual” and as such, this second part could be used for “practice” to make sure Zachary completely understood the concept without “extra visual cues” provided in the first example. I made sure I also instructed Zachary to “keep counting” past 119 to show Zachary that “this did not end” at 119… that the same concept could be applied as you “kept going” or “kept counting”.
This issue of “visual learner” verses “auditory learner”, again, was absolutely key to the learning situation and in my opinion, parents had to look for “those things” that best allowed the child to learn the concepts and generalize them. I knew Zachary to learn very well from an “auditory perspective”. Surely, other children may very well be “more visual” in their learning – however – the thing I advised parents to constantly watch for was whether or not the child was learning concepts visually – or being fooled easily and not seeing the concept because of the visuals provided. As with everything in teaching any child, materials were absolutely key and had to “put across” the proper message – or else – materials could quickly become very, very counter-productive and indeed, waste a lot of time – and energy – two things that were so very precious to parents of children with autism!
My best advice to parents was always to keep in mind that if something did not look like it was working, perhaps another approach was necessary. To keep using a failing approach, in my opinion, was senseless – especially in a child that had some verbal skills because that indicated the child understood the basics in communication. Thus, if “still failing to get it”, it was probably “the approach” that was failing in communicating the concept properly!
Note: Although I could easily
have made these in a “smaller size”, I wanted to provide for parents two
separate pages, as I used them as I felt that was “more useful” for those who
wanted to teach this concept as I had done with Zachary. I simply put these
two pages back to back in a plastic sheet cover and that way, I could easily go
back and forth between the two and still keep them clean. There was no
denying, that even with “these visuals”, Zachary still had a little difficulty
grasping the concept – visually – but, I think he finally “had it now”.
Note that I provided synonyms for Zachary to help define “greater than” or “less than” or “equal to”. In providing synonyms for Zachary, I always used “equations” or made use of “equals” because the understanding of language and categorization functions were co-located in the temporal lobe and as such, I had always found that the more co-located functions I used, the greater Zachary’s understanding. Thus, in teaching Zachary, I made use of a lot of “synonym” equations when going over instructions – especially if I noticed any hesitation in Zachary’s understanding of “what was needed” in the exercise or his understanding of “what he had to do”.
For Zachary, this was a very difficult concept to learn and he still struggled with it at times – but, usually, he “got it” now. I usually worked with the first sheet only at first. It took several days of practice (perhaps three hours in total) for him to really even begin understanding this concept - visually. Clearly, Zachary’s focus was very much on the physical size of the letters as opposed to the concept itself because he clearly still continued to struggle when we went back to the exercise book. He did much better if we simply worked off my sheets alone.
Once he started to understand the concept based on the sheets I had made, I could simply pull out “sheet two” without the “visually increasing numbers” and ask him for the “bigger” or “smaller” number than X and he would pretty well always have the correct answer. Note, that I also suggested providing “written questions” – exercises that were not provided in auditory means – in order to make sure that the concept was understood by simply reading and answering as opposed to “hearing” and answering. The reason I say this of course, was because auditory processing and understanding of language were co-located in the temporal lobe. As such, if I only “asked” Zachary “which is bigger, 10 or 38”, he could certainly focus on the “auditory” aspect of the question and answer based simply on that and not look at the sheet itself. If I wanted Zachary to start “taking in” visual input in learning also, I needed to make sure that he was focusing not only on what he “heard”, but what he also “saw”. As such, I would suggest to parents that they actually write out a couple of questions on “bigger than”, “less than” or “equal to” and then have the child read those and provide the answers – without auditory input – in other words, without saying or verbalizing the questions – out loud.
In my opinion, it was also very important to be careful of the “order” in which the answers were presented. I found myself, for example, asking the question almost always with the smaller number first and I did think Zachary had picked up on that. As such, it was important to make the answers “more random” or switch the “answer pattern” so that at times the correct answer was first, but at others times, it was second, or third, etc.
There was no doubt in my mind that Zachary was absolutely better with auditory than visual cues in many, many things and I very much suspected this to be true of many other children with autism. As such, I used auditory processing in teaching concepts, however, in order to help him learn visually, visual tools had to be provided to help rebuild those connections that may have somehow been severed. Thus, personally, I taught concepts using a lot of auditory processing, and then reinforced by providing visuals also! Whenever possible, I would also use motion and colors, too – two other aspects to life that I knew were absolutely key for Zachary!
The issue I had with so many teaching materials when it came to “visuals” was that, too often, they were simply too confusing or provided too many distractions. Cute pictures were fine for “normal” children, however, for Zachary, too often I found they provided nothing more than a further distraction. I found so many materials had “too many cute pictures” but “no concepts”.
For example, in one of the books I had, the exercise involved determining “order” – who was first, second, third, fourth, and so on. In this particular example, there were cute pictures of people in various positions. They all had the same clothing on. Each had a specific number on his clothing – much as you would in a race – and the numbers went from 1 to 10. Of course, given the exercise was to understand if the child understood the concept of “order”, the numbers on the clothing did not match the 1-10 position for the person in the line. Thus, the person with number 5 on his clothing could be in first place and so on.
Well, needless to say, that was very confusing for Zachary. When I asked him who was fifth in line, he of course answered “one” because the first character had a number 5 on his clothing. The important thing to note here was that the concept – once again – had not been taught. Only an example had been provided to “work on”. Once again, the materials assumed the child understood the concept and failed to teach the concept itself.
Given I knew right away what the problem was, I decided to add a number line above the people. I labeled each dot on the number line starting with 0 and going up to 10. Above the 1 on the number line, I wrote the word “first”, above the two on the number line, I wrote the word “second” and so on all the way to “tenth”. I then told Zachary that “1 = first, 2 = second, 3 = third, 4 = fourth” and so on. Once I did that, he much more easily understood the concept of “place in line”. I then drew various animals under a similar number line and asked Zachary to tell me which animal was “fifth” or “seventh”, etc. I then removed the number line altogether and asked him the same type of questions. Finally, I drew people in a row and put names below each one and asked Zachary to tell me who was “fourth” or “second” in line. Again, he could provide the correct answer. Thus, although the pictures were “cute” and colorful in the materials I had purchased to teach Zachary, they had - again – completely failed to teach – critical concepts – and, indeed, for Zachary, the “cute and colorful” pictures had only further distracted and confused him.
Teaching materials seemed to be overflowing with “confusion”. For example, in science materials, all five senses had been discussed. Then, as the child progressed in the materials, he was expected to associate a word with a sense. Some of the words provided were things like “sweet” or “bitter” – clearly words associated with only one sense. But, then, there were words that could be descriptive of more than one sense, yet the child was expected to pick only one correct “sense” as the answer when clearly, there could be more than one sense involved with that particular word. Examples of this included words like cold, slippery, big, square, wet, etc. Clearly, something could taste cold, feel cold and look cold (i.e., outside). Likewise, something could feel or look slippery, or feel or look big, or feel or look square, or feel or look wet, etc. As such, in many, many cases, there truly was more than one correct answer and yet, the child was expected to pick “the correct answer”.
Perhaps the ultimate example in confusion that I came across, however, had to do with an exercise in mathematics that involved the teaching of units of ten. In this exercise, a child was given a box with items to count. Then, to the left of each box, there were two columns – one for tens and one for “ones”. As such, the page looked something like this:
Thus, say that the first box had 16 apples in it. The child was expected to place a 1 in the tens column and a 6 in the ones column, and then put the number “16” in the answer column.
Well, there were a few problems with that. If you put a 1 under the “tens” column and then a “6” under the ones column, that can get rather confusing in that it now appears that “1+6” = 16 and clearly, that was not the case. Thus, for the publisher, providing just that “one header” at the top was easier to do, but, for Zachary, this was clearly very confusing – especially since he also knew that 1+6=7. As such, in order to once again teach the concept, I had to do something additional on my own. I decided to add the words “tens” and “ones” just after the “1” and “6” within the boxes as opposed to having the single header at the top.
I found that to teach Zachary this concept, I also had to make use of physical “units of ten” materials that I could purchase. These showed Zachary how ten ones made one ten, and so on. As such, I had something he could physically count and manipulate with his hands also as I tried to teach him this concept.
This had been a very confusing topic for Zachary. Unfortunately, when working with a child who lived by reference, as I very much believed to be the case, that first reference was absolutely critical and as such, incorrect or confusing references such as what had been presented in these materials had only made the lesson more difficult for Zachary and for me. Not only were the materials truly lacking in properly teaching the concept – they had made it so that now, I had to correct something inaccurate that had been provided as the all critical “first reference”.
To make matters worse, when I turned the page, I saw the following:
Note that the first example had been “provided” for the child. Now, I was certainly no genius, but even I knew that 16 did not have 10 tens in it! Was it any wonder children were having difficulty today? Of course, one could say that this was just “a typo”, but, a typo such as this or lack of attention to detail in what was being taught created tremendous confusion for Zachary – as I was certain it would for any “normal” child as well. I knew many, many teachers. I also had several siblings who were teachers. As I explained my frustrations to them and looked at some of the materials they taught, they simply said, “we see this all the time”. In other words, teaching with materials that provided no understanding of the concepts, jumping right into examples and providing confusing examples were all just “part of life” in teaching. Teachers were then expected to “point out the problems” or provide explanations for things that had been presented badly in the first place.
Thus, not only were the concepts not provided or taught to start with but, teachers were spinning their wheels and wasting their time having to explain why those things that were provided were quite simply – wrong! If this was the caliber of materials provided for teaching today, let me just say that I had “concerns” as to how children were being taught. And then, we had parents and government bodies crying that we had “failing schools” and children who did not understand even the basics and teachers who needed to be “tested” when perhaps, teachers were not the true problem with our schools. Was it any wonder that children were failing to understand the basics! In my opinion, the basics were not taught in many of the materials teachers and students were provided with. Add to that the fact that we had so many more children with special needs, and this certainly all made for one wonderful mess!
The other thing I had noticed in teaching Zachary when the exercise required “circling the correct answer” was that he wanted not only to “circle the right answer”, he also wanted to “do something” with the wrong answers, too. This again, went back to that “all or nothing” issue. I found that if I simply told Zachary to put an “X” on the “bad answers” that this was enough to alleviate his frustration with “the leftovers” that were not the “correct answers”.
I very much felt that this need to “do something” with “everything” in front of him (i.e., all the numbers in the box) also very much posed a problem in the learning and evaluating situation. I could immediately recognize the issue here – I very much doubted that a teacher would recognize that perhaps the need for the “all or none” played into wanting to circle everything too.
Thus, I knew that it was not an issue of Zachary not necessarily understanding the concept, at times, as much as it could simply be “his need” to “do something” with “everything” – to not leave “any pieces” by themselves or “not part of the whole”. This was an issue I had very much noticed in Zachary when we first started working on this concept. With a little practice, I found he could “move on” without having to “do something” to every number in the box, but, I also knew this was still “an issue” to be dealt with – an issue that would keep resurfacing time and time again in “various shades” due to the very nature of how I now believed Zachary’s brain worked – that need for the “all or none” – and that strong aversion to the “in between”.
To circle “some numbers” and leave the rest alone, by definition, created an “in between” because some were circled and some were not. As such, the need to “do something” to each number was clearly there – clearly an expression of Zachary’s difficulty with the “in between” situation – but, when understood, certainly something that could still be “worked around” and explained in order to – teach the concept – and then, move on! Clearly, there could be no denying that there were two issues here – teaching the concept – and dealing with the frustration of the “in between” – the leaving of “choices” or “potential answers” – untouched. But, in teaching “greater than”, “less than” or “equal to”, my focus had to be on those “concepts”. It had been simple enough to tell him to circle the correct answer and put either a square or an “x” on the wrong answer and then to gradually start moving to “just doing the circles and leaving the other ones alone”. In recognizing the issue with the “in betweens” or “partials” in life, all teaching now became also an opportunity to help with that issue as well.
When it came to teaching Zachary, I also knew I needed to allow him a little more time to help him deal with these issues of “parts to the whole” when it came to teaching materials. For example, one of his math exercises involved measuring the parts of a house - the roof, the walls, the door, etc. and indicating “how long” each “part” was. Well, this particular house only had the “shell” of the house and a door. There were no windows and no chimney. Zachary very much knew that pretty well all houses had windows and chimneys. As such, he insisted on drawing them in before we could move on to the next exercise. Again, this had to do with his issues with “parts to the whole” and the aversion to any “in between”. A house, after all, was not “complete” without windows and a chimney. Thus, again, in this example there existed an opportunity for working on issues of “partiality processing” and the “in between” situation.
Again, recognizing the issue was always the first step in addressing it!
Parents who were not clear on this issue of “dealing with the in between situation” were encouraged to read all books I had previously written – especially books two and three. There was a great deal more discussed on this issue in these texts, and the implications of all this, in terms of teaching, communicating with and understanding these children, were absolutely huge.
Another example involving “a house” had to do with an exercise in which only part of the house was drawn. It had a rectangle with windows and a door as well as a chimney – already drawn – and the child was then asked to “draw the missing part” – for the roof. The roof, of course, would have been a “triangle”. Zachary could easily draw “the triangle” to complete the house. However, when I then said, “what shape is that?”, he answered: “a pentagon” because a “house” looked like a pentagon. As such, he was not paying attention to the “current task” involving the triangle (the part to the whole), but rather, now that the “part” had been put in place – the roof – parts no longer mattered – because, once “the whole” was understood, that was now what he focused on – at least for the time being. If asked about “the house” later, and asked “what’s that”, he would identify the object as a “house” first and then break it down into its “parts”. At other times, I noticed he would focus on the fact that there were “four windows” or that it was a “brown house”. As such, colors, shapes, sizes… all these were very critical in how Zachary “saw things”.
I was actually surprised at how long I had to ask Zachary “about the roof”. If I simply pointed to it and said: “that’s a…”, expecting him to say “triangle” given this was a “shapes” exercise, Zachary answered, “that’s a… roof”. Yes, that was correct… it was “a roof”, but, again, the exercise itself – shapes – had now taken a “backseat” to the “real reference” – this was indeed “a roof” to a house – not a triangle. If I then said, “it looks like…”, then Zachary could easily say “a triangle”.
Again, clearly, this indicated that Zachary lived very much “via reference”. A roof was a roof… and that was it… and yes, it could “look like” a triangle if asked that question – specifically.
Another very similar example of this issue with “communication” and Zachary’s “reference living” had to do with “a pig”.
In this particular math exercise, pictures of animals were provided and were to be matched with shapes. For example, there was “a pig” and “a cow” and “a giraffe” that could be used. Next to the animal pictures, there were shapes to choose from to be “matched” to the animal. Thus, you were supposed to match a pig to a circle or oval, a cow to a rectangle, a giraffe to a triangle. When I first did this exercise with Zachary, as we looked at the page, I stated: “A pig looks like a ….”, and then, I, of course, waited for the answer… thinking this would be “real easy” for Zachary… and of course, came the answer… “a pig”. So, yes, Zachary was correct again. He knew from his “reference” that “a pig looked like a pig” – there was that definite “this or that” and “a pig” certainly looked like “a pig” and nothing else. To get the “correct” answer – or at least the one required in these materials - all I had to do was say, “A pig looks like what shape?” Now, he easily answered… “an oval”.
Another example of the fact that Zachary clearly “lived via reference” and needed to do “something” with all possible choices in a question and the impact of this on the teaching or learning situation had to do with an example involving the phonics for the letter “b”.
At the very top of the page in this exercise, Zachary was provided with three “b” words along with a picture for each – boy, baby, and bush. This part of the text did not require Zachary “do anything” other than see these were “b” words.
Next came eight more pictures, only in this case, Zachary was required to circle only those pictures that started with a “b”. These pictures were for the words: bow, bear, bat, bed, box, butter… along with two “incorrect answers”… a shovel and a tree. The problem with the picture of the “shovel” and “tree”, however, was that the shovel had a brown handle and the tree had a brown trunk… and “brown” as Zachary clearly pointed out as he circled the “brown tree” and “brown shovel” certainly started with a “b”, too!
I tried to explain to Zachary that we were not really looking for “colors”, just “things” and that these two things were a “shovel” and a “tree” and hence, they really were not “b” words. Well, Zachary quickly figured out that the picture of the “tree” looked very much like the picture provided just above for “bush” and so, now, that “tree”, according to Zachary, was still something that should be circled because it was “a bush”.
Thus, in this simple example, clearly evident, again, was Zachary’s desire to “do something” with each picture – if a picture “didn’t fit” in an obvious way, Zachary simply came up with a way “to make it fit”. As I looked at this simple example and how Zachary had reacted to it, clearly, I could see his point – “brown” did start with “b” and so both the “brown shovel” and “brown tree” could be correct answers for “b” words, too. This, again, also showed the importance of colors in Zachary’s world.
Another example of how colors had influenced Zachary’s answers when I taught him had to do with an exercise that involved circling things that were “alike”. For each part of the exercise, the typical “three were the same” and “one was different” were given and the three the same had to be circled or the one that was different had to have an “x” placed upon it. In circling his answers, Zachary would very much refer to the colors of the objects.
For example, in one exercise, there was a fork, cup, spoon and knife. Obviously, the one that did not belong was the cup, but, in circling the fork, spoon and knife, Zachary seemed to think they belonged together more because they were all “silver” as he clearly stated, “it’s a silver spoon, a silver fork and a silver knife”. The example immediately following that one again, indicated the importance of colors for Zachary. In this example, there was the brown face of a man, a brown table, a brown chair and a bed that had a brown frame but a blue bedspread. In selecting those items that belonged together, Zachary clearly picked those items that were most similar in terms of color as he verbally stated “the brown face, the brown table and the brown chair”. I certainly would have not understood Zachary’s answer had he not actually verbalized the color in determining his answer. It was only as he actually verbalized his answers that I came to understand them. The bed, although it had a brown frame, had much more blue on it than brown and as such, Zachary perceived that as the item that did not belong – even though clearly, the bed, table and chair were all pieces of furniture and hence, the “correct” answer in terms of what did not belong should have been “the face”.
Time and time again I had seen the importance of colors in Zachary’s world. I now very much believed that colors were the primary way in which Zachary classified his world. If indeed children with autism were so dependent on colors for understanding their world, then within this was a very powerful tool for teaching these children. Using colors to help “teach” concepts was certainly something to consider. In my opinion, materials should be made to teach concepts using colors to reinforce the “correct” answers and then, as the child came to understand the concepts, colors could become secondary as they could then be “mixed” so that “correct answers” were not always of the same color. Given there were many “shades” of colors and given the fact that children with autism had such attention to detail one certainly could use different “shades” of the same color to teach the concepts first. This would help reinforce the “correct” answers but also provided enough “variation” so that the answer was perhaps not as “obvious” as we may perceive it to be because, clearly, children such as Zachary do not see things simply as “yellow” or “red” but were very much sensitive to “shades” of the same color and as such “all yellows” were not “just yellow” – they were – technically – different.
I had seen this time and time again in Zachary also. Whenever there was a “shade of red” that was perceived as somewhat different, he would ask me “what color is that mom” even though he clearly knew “red” as a color. Thus, although the “normal person” saw “red” or “blue” or “yellow” this was not the case with children such as Zachary – he saw each color very much as an individual and specific color. Clearly, Zachary understood colors to be “similar”, but he also understood them to be technically “different” as well – much more than would a “normal” person.
I knew that in school, Zachary would have received a “wrong” for the answers he had given me but clearly, they were not “wrong” when understood from Zachary’s “color perspective”. He had been able to “explain” his answers and they made sense. For all of two seconds I had attempted to explain to Zachary why these answers were “not correct”, but, I soon realized that “I was wrong” in telling him that. Zachary’s “references” were accurate – and when I tried to tell him they were not – there came that “unprovoked crying” because his “reference system” was failing him – not because it was “inaccurate” in reality, but because it was “inaccurate” according to someone else’s personal judgment. Thus, the “correct answer” was one of determining whether or not to go “by facts” or “opinions” as to “what was correct” – and clearly, that shovel was brown – and so was that tree or bush!
Thus, in order to “move away from colors” in answers, one would clearly have to explain to look at “something different” or “something other” than colors for the answer.
The issue of “unprovoked crying” and “unprovoked laughter” had been addressed in my third book, Breaking The Code: Putting Pieces In Place! In Zachary, both of these were clearly tied to his “reference systems” and resulted from either a failure in his “reference systems” – as in the case of “unprovoked crying” or from a new way or reference for looking at the same thing, as in the case of “unprovoked laughter”. For Zachary, it certainly appeared that unprovoked crying and unprovoked laughter also had to do with “categorization” functions (temporal lobe) that were disconnected from control of emotion (frontal lobe) and word association (frontal lobe) functions. As such, when Zachary’s reference systems failed (i.e., categorizations in his world), or when new references or “alternatives” were understood for past associations or understood to work in a new, unexpected way that was perceived as funny or “advantageous”, he clearly had great difficulty controlling the emotion that resulted from that system failure or change in reference systems. I provided examples of this in my third book and encouraged all parents of children with autism to read that information also.
The interesting issue in terms of the “brown tree” or “bush” and the “brown shovel” that this brought up, at least in my opinion, was the fact that although children with autism were the ones who had such difficulty with the “in between situations” and hence so often wanted to “do something” to every answer, even though they were clever enough to come up with an explanation for their “now correct answer”, it was often the “teacher” who had the desire for the “all or none” and had a need for things to be “this way” or “that way” when it came to such exercises – and hence, the “teacher”, in this case myself, also had that social fixation on the need for “one or the other” too – again, not wanting to allow for the “in between”! Thus, clearly, we both suffered from the same “problem” in this area – at least to an extent – and I suspected this was true of all “teacher-student” relationships – in general.
Our school systems were clearly based on “right verses wrong” answers and very rarely did we seem to allow for the “in between” – even as “normal” adults – even when the answer given by a child “made sense”, we as adults still tried to show that “it did not” and that it had to be “the expected answer” or it was “wrong” – and that simply was not correct or right!
If society wanted and/or expected “only one right answer”, then adults who were producing these “teaching materials” needed to spend a lot more time evaluating what to include in their exercises so that there could be no “other answer” provided by the child. Certainly, those who had put these materials together had not taken the time to really look at what they had done and how a child could respond the way Zachary had.
In my heart, I could not tell Zachary that this was “wrong”, because, clearly it was not. Likewise, to introduce the concept of “a bush” starting with “b” and giving a picture of “a bush” that was basically the same size as the picture of the “tree”, was another serious error in judgment on the part of those who had put together these materials. Quite clearly, that “little tree” could certainly be viewed as “a bush”, and hence a “b” word. Given I knew colors were so critical in Zachary’s life, I very much understood why he had processed information the way he had. In so much, I had always found that colors were one of the primary ways in which he evaluated information – as was physical “size” – as clearly indicated in the math example above dealing with “bigger than”.
Another example of this involved the “short a” sound. Again, pictures were provided and Zachary was supposed to circle the pictures having a “short a” sound. Pictures were provided for ham, hat, bat, cap, dog and cow. Again, Zachary focused on “size” and “made a fit” – that “cow” was just a “small picture” and so, it was “a calf” – and that had a “short a” sound, too, and so, to Zachary, that one was right also and only the “dog” needed to have an “x” on it.
Color and size were both fairly concrete – concepts, on the other hand, were rather abstract, and in these cases, color and size had definitely taken precedence in terms of determining the “correct answers”.
In my opinion, given “colors, shapes, sizes and counting of objects” were so critical to Zachary, clearly, these had to provide critical keys for the formulation of materials for these children. In addition it was also critical to provide “synonyms” for these children in order to help them understand instructions.
For example, when asked “which one does not belong”, I would say to Zachary that he had to put an “x” on the one that was “too different” and that “too different equals not the same”. That made things a little easier for him, although, again, clearly, there were issues with “reference living” even in that. I tried to make things easier for Zachary in terms of understanding, but, at times, even I found myself having a hard time putting things in a way that was “accurate” and easy to understand. At times, it was quite difficult to achieve “both” – accurate and easy to understand.
For example, in another exercise where Zachary needed to put an “x” on the one that did not belong, this became clearly evident. Three of the four were easy enough in that choices were identical except for the “one that did not belong” and so, those were obvious enough to Zachary. The fourth example on this particular page, however, was slightly different, and as such, Zachary hesitated a little. The example had two small buildings and one very large building. The two small buildings, however, in this case, were not identical. They were different in size, shape and color – although still clearly, much, much smaller than the much larger building. As such, the one that “did not belong” was clearly “the largest” of the three buildings. Yet, I had told Zachary to put an “x” on the one that was “too different” and that “too different equals not the same”. Well, obviously, in this case, all three buildings were “not the same”. Zachary had used the “too different” part of my instructions in coming up with the answer – but, clearly, he had hesitated on this one. My instructions had at least been more helpful than the instructions provided in the book itself – instructions that simply stated “put an x on the one that does not belong”. For Zachary, clearly, those instructions were “not enough” given he had such a tremendous attention to detail and as such, he needed a few more instructions to understand the task.
Providing “instruction synonyms” as I called them, had always been a tremendous help for Zachary and those “extra instructions” I provided for him, usually included “equations” of some kind – usually involving the words – “equals” or “opposite of” or “not equal to”.
Note that categorization functions and the understanding of language were co-located in the temporal lobe and as such it made perfect sense that “equation instructions” were best understood by Zachary.
Zachary also had a little trouble understanding concepts that involved “things that changed over time”. For example, if asked to circle “things that get bigger” or “things that get smaller” over time, and given pictures of a dog, a pencil, an ice cube, a baby and a plant, he had a little difficulty with getting the right answers. Again, more explanations were needed. For example, if I acted out eating an ice cream cone and said, “does it get bigger or smaller when I eat it”, Zachary could then understand the issue and provide the correct answer.
I think the issue here may have been that in “just looking” at the pictures that provided a very specific reference. What was missing, for Zachary, was the “thing that needed to happen” to make something get “bigger or smaller” over time. Thus, to Zachary, in looking at “a dog”, it was as though he had just that “snapshot” of the “dog” at “this time” and hence, there was not that inherent understanding that the dog would get bigger over time because the variable of “over time” was missing – all Zachary could see was “the now” – the current “reference”. Likewise, a pencil had no reason to get smaller unless “used” and in providing just a picture of “a pencil”, there was no indication for Zachary that it was “being used” and hence, why would it get smaller – on its own? If I gave Zachary explanations indicating that as you wrote, for example, the pencil was used up and you had to sharpen it to write some more, then he could easily understand that the pencil would “get smaller” over time.
That was of course, only my interpretation of what I believed to be going on in Zachary based on how he had reacted in this particular instance and based on his “greater understanding” of the exercise once I provided an “explanation” of “an activity” that could make “this thing” change over time. Until that “extra force” or “activity” acting upon the “thing” was provided, Zachary seemed to have a hard time seeing how things could “change” – on their own.
Once the concept was understood, however, it was easy enough for Zachary to get the answer later on. Again, it was a matter of teaching – the concept!
I had also noticed in working on “science” issues that those things that involved exercises having to do with “the senses” were absolutely fascinating to Zachary. There was no denying that things involving “sounds”, “smells” and motion were those things he loved to do best and that explanations of “how things worked” were absolutely critical for Zachary and as such, again these were things that certainly could be used to one’s advantage in teaching these children.
For example, understanding that sounds were just “vibrations or air waves” was very, very fascinating to Zachary, especially as he could then see that “ripples in water” were “just vibrations too”, etc. Likewise, helping him to understand the difference between “pitch” (equals high or low sounds) and “tone” (equals loud or soft sounds) helped me tremendously during the day. When Zachary’s voice was “off”, I could now simply say: “I want a low pitch, please” or “I want a soft tone, please” and Zachary would respond appropriately. Again, providing a label had been absolutely key in his understanding of the issue.
Likewise, motions were very useful in teaching Zachary. I had seen that time and time again and as such, motions were perhaps one of our greatest untapped tools in teaching children with autism. Not surprisingly, one of Zachary’s favorite things to write or see written by someone else was “a squiggle” – something that involved a lot of and usually quick motion during the very act of writing.
Interestingly, an area that was often viewed as “difficult” for children with autism – “pretend” – had been no problem whatsoever for Zachary as he worked on an exercise where he needed to distinguish between “real” and “pretend”.
In this exercise, two pictures were given. One was “real” – the other “pretend”. Zachary had to put a circle around that picture showing something “real”. Examples included a train with a happy face on the engine verses a real train, a boy sleeping in a bed verses a pig sleeping in a bed, an animal reading a book, etc. Zachary easily was able to complete all such exercises requiring him to distinguish between “real” or “pretend”. Clearly, he knew the difference between real and pretend and had no problem showing me that.
Interestingly, if examples of “real” verses “pretend” included one of each in the exercise, for example a boy sleeping in a bed verses a pig sleeping in a bed, then, Zachary had a much easier time with the exercise. If however, there was “no reference” provided to compare the two to each other, then, that was more difficult. For example, if Zachary was given three pictures and asked to circle a “yes” or “no” to indicate whether or not something could really happen, he went more with what he actually saw. Thus, if there was only a picture of a dog in a car for example, with nothing to compare that to, such as a person in a car, then, Zachary had a harder time with that. Past references to draw upon were always absolutely key to Zachary and if none was available, then, things were much more complicated for him and required more explanation in order for him to get the correct answer. Also very interesting was the fact that when “asked” if a dog could drive a car, Zachary could much more easily come up with the correct answer than if he was being asked to look at a picture to determine if that could be true.
Obviously, in a “picture” that showed a dog driving a car, certainly a child could just look at that picture and based on “seeing that” decide it could be true, but, yet, if asked – verbally – when no picture or visual of this was provided – then, Zachary could easily provide the correct answer.
Thus, again, as with everything, understanding the issue was really the key to addressing it. I knew Zachary lived via “reference” and clearly those exercises that provided “real” verses “pretend” references – one of each – were the easiest for him to deal with and exercises such as those, he breezed through easily. Again, very interestingly, was the fact that the understanding of language and auditory processing were co-located in the temporal lobe along with the ability to distinguish between truth and a lie. Was this why Zachary could provide the correct answer more based on a verbal question as opposed to one involving sight? I was certainly of the opinion that this was indeed very much the case. The only sight perception in the temporal lobe had to do with face/place/body part recognition. These things were not at play in the exercises Zachary was asked to complete. Sight (primarily in occipital lobe although visual attention was in the parietal lobe), as such, clearly took a back seat in “understanding language” (temporal lobe function) when it came to the ability to distinguish between truth and a lie (another temporal lobe function).
As such, perhaps the expression “seeing is believing” was more reflective of how easily one’s ability to distinguish between the truth and a lie could be manipulated due to the fact that these functions resided in separate parts of the brain! As I thought about this, surely, it was easier to mistake someone for another based on “visuals” (sight) than sound (voice). I could often “see someone” and think they were someone else. Never, however, had I mistaken another man’s voice for that of my husband – at least not yet. :o) Of course, mine was not the best vision – but I certainly always felt I had “very good ears”.
All of this, for Zachary, had tremendous implications for “watching tv”. If this indeed was the case and that “seeing is believing” because of the fact that one’s ability to distinguish between truth and a lie was more easily manipulated via visuals, then, that certainly could explain why persons with mental illness had such a difficult time distinguishing between the “real” and “non-real” when watching television.
The ability to distinguish between truth and a lie was in the temporal lobe – while vision and visual processing was primarily in the occipital lobe. As such, for now, I simply told Zachary that “television” was “pretend”. Granted, there were some things that were “real” in the sense that they involved real people speaking about world events, however, most things on television were clearly “pretend” or “not true” and as such, “pretend” was indeed a much better label for Zachary when it came to helping him distinguish between “real” and “pretend” in matters relating to the television. As with so many issues that had proven difficult for Zachary, the issue here was in my opinion, once again, a matter of a “moving target” or “moving references” with things being “real” at times and “not real” at other times.
“Moving targets” or “moving references” were always much more difficult for Zachary to understand and as such, they required much more in terms of explanations, etc. I always made sure I spent a great deal of time on these issues because clearly, the result of “not understanding” these things, as I explained in my section on pronoun confusion and on matters of “imaginary” verses “real”, in both my second and third books as well, could in my opinion, result or at least contribute to either the loss of self and/or the loss of one’s sense of reality and as such, I felt it was critical I absolutely address these issues with Zachary. I encouraged all families to read both my second and third books for more on these very, very critical issues.
Like many, many other parents of children with autism, I had also very much noticed that Zachary could answer questions much more easily if given a “choice” of answers. If no “choice of answers” was provided, then, it almost appeared at times as though he did not understand what was being asked. Yet, this was not the case, since, just giving “choices” for answers clearly revealed he knew exactly what the answers were. Thus, it was not an issue of “understanding the text”, but rather something else. Zachary had very much understood the text – of that, I had absolutely no doubt.
I very much felt, again, this had a lot more to do with the “this way or that way” aspect to Zachary’s life and the need for references. When given choices, by definition, things were “this way or that way or that other way”, but this was not the case with an open-ended question where no “answer choices” were provided. As such, obviously, providing “answer choices” or “multiple choice type answers” to pick from had made all the difference in Zachary’s ability or desire to answer. In my opinion, it was critical to include as many choices as possible to try to get away from that “all or nothing” rigidity and allow for “in between” situations. Obviously, one certainly would want to move from “choices” to open ended questions whereby no choices were provided.
As with everything it was really a matter of actually teaching Zachary how to answer a question in order to provide for him a “reference” of how to do that. This was still very new to me and as such an area I still myself was working on. Yet, given I very much believed these children lived “via reference”, I knew I had to “teach” Zachary the concepts behind “conversation” and how it worked and that required “teaching how to answer a question” and providing for him that understanding that conversation was nothing more than statements of fact, questions, exclamations or a “response” to any of those, involving two or more people. I knew I had to give Zachary an understanding of “what” conversation was and “how it worked” in order to move him toward “more conversation”.
As I had no doubt that Zachary now understood language, neither did I have any doubt that he would have been seen as “simply not understanding” if he had been in a school setting and evaluated by a person who clearly did not understand how he looked at and responded to his world.
I now knew small things made a huge difference in understanding Zachary. Questions, for example, had to be worded in a very specific way – they had to be “positive” questions as opposed to “negative”. For example, if Zachary were asked: “You don’t want to go to the park?”, and indeed, he did not want to go, he would answer: “Yes” – meaning, “that’s right - I don’t want to go” acknowledging that the question, as asked, was correct in providing “his answer”. A “normal” person would most likely have answered: “no” as opposed to “yes” in order to indicate a desire not to go to the park. “Negative” questions, I found, were rather confusing until I finally realized that Zachary’s answers to such questions were nothing more than an acknowledgement that “the statement within the question was correct”. If I then followed up with the “positive” version of the same question, indeed, I found this to be the case almost 100% of the time. For example, if I now asked: “Does Zachary want to go to the park?”, he would respond “no”, again indicating he did not want to go to the park.
I had noticed this was an issue for Zachary time and time again. It was as Zachary was crying one day that I had finally come to understand the issues with “talking in negatives and positives”. We were at home and Zachary had hurt himself slightly. He was crying and as I went to comfort him, I had said: “Oh, you’re not a happy boy…” and he had replied: “yes”. At first, I thought he was trying to tell me that he was happy, but, given the situation, I knew this could not be true and it was then that I realized that he was acknowledging my statement of “you’re not happy” to be correct. I then confirmed my suspicions by asking: “Are you a happy boy?” and “Is Zachary a happy boy?”, and, just as expected, this time the answer was “no” as opposed to “yes”.
“Talking in negatives” was simply much more difficult for Zachary – and when issues of “pronoun confusions” also crept in, it was easy to see how communication or responses given by children with autism could be interpreted to mean the exact opposite of what they should. It would certainly be easy to think that children with autism were “not understanding” in such situations when in fact, they understood perfectly well and it was again, the adults, who failed to simply understand the issue hidden within these responses. Obviously, the key to overcoming confusing conversation was simply to use “positive language” and to avoid “negatives” such as “do not”, “not”, etc. in asking questions. I also found that if I gave Zachary the answer and had him repeat it that this also helped. For example, I would have Zachary repeat: “No, I don’t want to go to the park” or “No, I’m not happy”.
In so many things, it was as though “the positives” were easier to deal with than “the negatives”, in everything from conversation to directions. I was certain this was somehow all tied together in terms of how information flowed in Zachary’s brain and that this touched many, many aspects of his life. There simply had to be something about why “going forward” was better than “going backwards”, why some letters were written properly and others could be written backwards, why negative sentences “worked backwards” in how they were interpreted. I suspected all this was somehow interrelated, but I did not understand “the mechanics” of it in terms of information flow in the brain.
Zachary certainly had finally reached that point where conversation was there and each day I found myself more and more thankful as I considered Zachary’s progress. Looking back, I could not help but be amazed at how far he had come in spite of the fact that there were still hurdles ahead that had to be overcome. Finally understanding Zachary, however, made all hurdles seem so much easier to tackle.
There was no doubt that “socialization” in and of itself was difficult for children with autism. Likewise, actual schoolwork involving “social studies” or matters requiring “creativity” were much more difficult for Zachary than were things that involved “rules” – such as language, math or science. Zachary clearly was a “left brain dominant” child – of that, I had no doubt.
Materials that involved creativity, such as drawing activities where Zachary had to come up with “his own drawings” were much more difficult for him. If he was told exactly what to draw (i.e., draw a house or a tree), that was much easier although a “first attempt” at anything usually resulted in a “You draw it, mom… draw a…” response because Zachary always wanted to be shown “how” first. He always wanted that “reference” to draw on. If then asked to draw the same thing again, he usually hesitated a lot less. But, if he was given very broad instructions, such as “draw your family”, or “draw something you find at the circus”, or “draw something you like to do”, where specifics were not given, then, the exercise was practically impossible for him unless a great deal of help was provided.
If given a picture and asked to provide a “personal” example of something he liked, again, that was virtually impossible for Zachary to do on his own. For example, say he was given a picture of a little boy who liked to fish with the words “my favorite place is…” below the picture, Zachary could only “see the picture – the reference - before him” and so he gave the answer “fishing” even though he had never really gone fishing in his life. In other words, he could not see that he had to “look beyond the picture” or – the reference - to something “he” actually enjoyed doing. If asked to draw what he would like to be when he grew up, Zachary would revert to a “past reference” and draw – “a truck”. Clearly, he could not be “a truck” when he grew up, but, it was something he very much associated with. He did not even attempt to draw a “person” or “truck driver” – just “the truck” – that “reference” that he so often seemed to revert back to in life, or in moments of stress, as discussed in my previous books.
It was not an issue of Zachary being “unable to pretend” or imagine himself in a particular situation. I knew all too well that Zachary had the ability to pretend – once shown how – once provided “a reference” to draw upon when it came to “pretending”. With Zachary, I had all too clearly seen that any “lack of pretending” or “lack of imagination” was simply the result of not having a past reference to draw upon.
I knew there were many who thought that children with autism were unable to engage in “pretend play”. In my opinion, that simply was not true, and indeed, once provided a “reference” of “pretend play”, I believed there was a danger of the child perhaps integrating the pretend and the real so much that he literally could not tell the difference. This area of “pretending” was an issue of great concern for me as discussed in both my second and third books – a topic I strongly encouraged all parents to read about.
There certainly seemed to be many other “traps” to watch for in teaching materials – materials that too often failed to teach – concepts – and the teaching situation overall. My intent here was simply to help parents be much more conscious of the issues in communication as they related specifically to the teaching situation. If there was one “trap” to watch for it certainly had to be materials that failed to teach – the basics – the concepts – and provided confusing information!
Materials I had done to help Zachary in learning time, money, basic addition, etc., were provided on my website for all parents of children with autism under a link entitled Teaching Tools. I also provided information on teaching colors based on what I had now come to understand in Zachary although I had not used this particular method for teaching Zachary colors. He already knew them by the time I had figured out what “the problem” was and why colors had been so difficult for him to learn.
It had taken me close to three weeks to make my “time” materials. Zachary now understood time and could read it fine. I knew children who were eight and nine years old who did not understand how to tell time as well as Zachary did. A woman who had taught school for twenty years had once told me that she had fourth graders who had problems telling time. Well, given children today were not being taught concepts but rather were expected it seemed to figure things out based primarily on examples – let me just say that my response to her was “I’m not surprised!”. Granted, my “time” materials were much more involved and looked much more complicated than what one would normally find in schools, however, there was no doubt that my “time” materials taught the concepts – and that, I was certain, was why Zachary had so quickly grasped how to tell time. He understood how it “fit together”!
Obviously, I could go on forever on this topic as clearly, examples of poor materials were quite plentiful, but I certainly hoped these examples had provided enough of an understanding of “challenges” faced by children with autism when it came to teaching these children. Indeed, as I considered all of this, I now understood why so many children overall – including “normal” children – had so many issues with schoolwork.
In my opinion, it was not teachers that appeared to need to be most put to the test – it was the materials themselves! Granted, there had to be a certain level of competence in teaching, however, there certainly had to be an even much greater level of competence necessary for those who came up with these materials in the first place!
Failing schools? Failing teachers? Failing children? Failing materials? In my opinion, the answer to the first three could be found in the fourth!
Of course, there was no denying that in the midst of budget issues, children with “special needs” had become rather “valuable commodities” to school systems.
My nephew, Andrew, had been diagnosed with PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder). Quite frankly, as I learned more and more about autism, the one thing I came to understand clearly was that the “label” mattered very little – autism was autism. Labels simply provided ways for society to ease the pain of a parent in my opinion. After all, it was much easier to tell a parent that his child had “attention deficit” than to tell a parent that child had autism. Likewise, it was much easier to tell a parent that a child had “autism” than to tell a parent that child had “schizophrenia”. Yet, clearly, all these disorders were but shades of the same thing varying only slightly in “matters of degree”. A label of “autism” certainly did not change the fact that my child shared well over one hundred characteristics with persons having “schizophrenia”, nor did it change the fact that my child shared well over one hundred characteristics with a person having “Alzheimer’s” [more on this in book three].
Truly, in my eyes, “the label” was irrelevant. A label of “this” or “that” did not change who my child was. In my opinion, all a “label” provided was a way for society to justify itself – to justify “research or education” fund allotments – and not much else. Indeed, as I looked at “how labels were used”, there could be no denying that labels were used, primarily, for the allocation of funds – and quite frankly, that “allocation of funds” most often did not provide funds directly to that child who had been “tagged” with the label and hence – marked for life – or “defined by his label”.
As I considered the issue of “allocation of funds” based on labels, there could simply be no denying that the bulk of funds “tied to labels” went to “research” or “cookie cutter social programs” that clearly were not tailored to the child as they should be. Unless funds were “velcroed” to a specific child – tagged to that particular child – just as was his label – the label, quite frankly served as nothing more than a “budget item” for society to determine its budgets and capital expenses when it came to “expanding programs”. Unfortunately, too often, it appeared those “expanded programs” resulted only in getting “more stuff” for the school in general as opposed to actually getting “more help” for the individual child – and therein was the problem with “labels”.
I had discussed this issue at length in my second book, Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost! When my nephew Andrew had been in the school system, for a time, funds for his education – the education of a child with very special needs – had at one time been “velcroed” to Andrew – specifically. In other words, the funds had to be used only for Andrew’s education. Andrew’s mother had noticed that over time, Andrew’s aid was being used to help more and more with “normal children” in the classroom. Although Andrew had been in an “integrated class”, he clearly was still very, very far behind in many subjects. The school had slowly started to use “Andrew’s aid” as a “general aid” to help with all children. When Andrew’s mother raised the issue that funds for Andrew were supposed to provide for an aid to help Andrew specifically in school, the school was quick to “redefine” how funds for special needs children were to be used. No longer would the funds be “velcroed” to the child – they would simply be “velcroed” to the program – in general. As such, Andrew basically lost his aid and his mother made the decision to school him at home. Thus, labels, quite frankly, were nothing more than ways of getting “extra funds” for schools, and yet, it certainly appeared to be the case, for too many children with special needs, that those “extra funds” in no way had to be “velcroed” to the child with the special needs and herein was the perfect example of why a label was nothing more than a way to get “more funds” - be that in research or education – and provided very little in terms of actually meeting the needs of the child himself!
There was simply no denying that children with “special needs” provided “greatly needed extra funds” for ever increasingly financially strapped schools and research programs and it was time parents awoke to that fact and realized what was really going on when it came to “labels” and the special needs child! Schools such as that my nephew had attended had been quick to request “additional funds” for “special needs children” and yet, they had no program in place to deal specifically with children such as my nephew – no special curriculum, no special activities – nothing! In my opinion, from what I had seen with my own nephew and read on so many parents discussion boards, there could be no denying that schools certainly wanted the “extra funds” but that they did not necessarily want to deal with the “special needs” of the child for whom those funds had “supposedly” been received. Granted, this was not the case for all programs and/or schools, but in my opinion, it appeared there was just “a little too much of this going on” – and that was very much to the detriment of the child to whom we had affixed “a label” in the first place!
Schools were supposed to be there to help these children and their families and yet, more and more, parents were finding themselves battling these institutions to get the help they needed for their children – help that had “supposedly” been “funded” for these special needs children. When it came to the issue of schools and children with special needs perhaps it was time for a major overhaul.