Updates To Language Section Provided In Book 2
In going through this section, at least initially, I suggested readers “go back” to the three-page,
basic, brain structure and function overview often to better understand the issues. See the Table of Contents for the page number and “keep a finger on those pages” as a place marker as you go through this section. For a person who had not read some of my previous works, this section could seem a little overwhelming if not read with the help of that basic overview. However, when the overview was kept as a “reference”, the issues, in my opinion, became clear rather quickly and were much, much more easily understood – especially when the University of Calgary video on neurodegerenation was also kept in mind – a video that clearly showed how mercury completely devastated neurons and shrank them to approximately half their original size. Again, this video, for those who had not viewed it, was available on my website and I encouraged all parents to view this information.
The video on neural degeneration could take quite some time to load, but I urged you to take the time to allow it to load. A picture in this case was worth more than a thousand words – truly, it would leave you speechless – and I suspected that this video showed exactly why, so many children with autism – indeed – now lived – speechless!
As I now looked back and tried to remember “what had worked” for Zachary in terms of language development, and looked at that from a brain structure and function perspective, there definitely were some things that had been absolutely key – things that were now so much better understood when looked at from this brain structure and function perspective.
I did want to remind readers that the first thing we had done was to place Zachary on a casein free, gluten free diet. For him, that had made a huge difference. I knew that for some parents, the change in their children did not appear “that great” when their children were placed on cfgf diets and as such, many appeared to give up after a few months. Given it took gluten close to ten or eleven months to leave the body, we had decided to stick with it, and I was glad we had. Indeed, it had taken close to a year for Zachary to finally put together two or more words. I now understood why that was (more on that later). Zachary was fantastic as “labeling things”, but, conversation, had simply not been there and that first year had seemed so, so difficult as a result of that. In looking at language development, however, there appeared to be no doubt that even though some children with autism were on cfgf diets and others were not, there were still certain “common themes” to language development for those children with autism who did develop language. Perhaps the most common of these “themes” was that behavior known as “echolalia” or the repeating of words said by someone else.
Echolalia was defined as follows - I quote:
“ECHOLALIA is a meaningless, persistent, verbal repetition of words or sounds heard by the patient - often with a mocking, mumbling, staccato, or parrot-like tone. Echolalia is in response to the same stimulus, whereas perseveration is repeated responses to varied stimuli.” [end of quote, emphasis added, Jacob Driesen, Neuropsychology and Medical Psychology Resources, Glossary, http://www.driesen.com/glossary_e-i.htm].
Meaningless! Every time I read that word as it related to echolalia, I could not help but laugh. Perhaps “the experts” did not understand this parroting, but that, in my opinion, certainly did not mean this language was necessarily “meaningless chatter”.
Why was it that children with autism so clearly engaged in this “parroting” behavior when it came to language? They pretty well seemed to do this universally. Indeed, it seemed “rare” to find a child with autism that did not engage in this parroting form of language. That in and of itself told me there had to be “something” to echolalia – it had to serve some kind of “purpose” in these children.
For decades we had viewed this behavior as “dysfunctional”. Now, as I looked at this “parroting” from a brain structure and function perspective and thought about language development in Zachary - it made perfect sense! This form of language, in my opinion, was anything but “meaningless”.
Functions in the temporal lobe included, among others, the following: auditory processing, memory acquisition, understanding of language, voice and face recognition, categorization of objects, some visual perception, ability to distinguish between truth and a lie. All of these had implications in the behavior known as “echolalia”.
Of these functions, clearly the obvious one relating to language was that of “understanding of language”. But these “other functions” listed above, also very much played into language development – in not only a child with autism – but, in any child.
Let us remember my three major premises: 1) there appeared to exist little or no communication among the various parts of the brain in children with autism, 2) those functions co-located within a specific part of the brain (i.e., the temporal lobe) appeared to have “magnified communication” in children with autism, and 3) it appeared those functions that were co-located within a specific region could be much more inter-related than we could have ever imagined in the past.
If one considered issues relating to face recognition and the interaction of children with autism and their caregivers, the assumption of little or no communication among the various parts of the brain in these children would certainly help explain issues in “facial interactions”. Functions of “face recognition” resided in the temporal lobe. Yet, visual attention functions resided in the parietal lobe, and visual processing resided in the occipital lobe. As such, several parts of the brain were involved in the simple act of “face recognition and facial interaction”, and, needless to say, if those parts of the brain were not communicating properly, it would not be surprising that children with autism would have tremendous difficulty in this area.
What was known about these children, however, was that in looking at the face, they very much tended to focus on the mouth of the person speaking. Again, this was not surprising to me given that auditory processing and the understanding of speech were co-located in the temporal lobe along with face recognition. Thus, it made perfect sense that a child attempting to “break the code” to language would focus on the mouth of the person speaking. The same was also true of persons who were deaf and who learned to “lip read”. Their auditory processing was impaired, and yet, they chose to try to decipher language in others by “lip reading” – again, focusing on the mouth! Auditory issues were clearly documented in children with autism and although, like Zachary, their hearing usually indicated they could hear, there certainly appeared to be certain frequencies that were more bothersome to these children.
As I discussed matters of “hearing” with a man who was losing his hearing, he commented to me that even with a hearing aid, he often could not hear what was being said by those next to him because of the “background noise”. “Background noise” had been the major issue in his hearing loss. Could it be that in children with autism, they too heard the “background noise” more? Could this possibly play into the fact that these children were so easily distracted and had an “attention deficit”? Perhaps. The more I looked to my son for answers to his autism, the more many other things made sense, too!
For example, in looking at echolalia specifically, clearly one needed to be able to “understand language” to communicate. But, how did one come to learn anything – be that language, a skill – or pretty well anything else? Repetition!
It was well documented scientifically that the solidification of “memories” was very much impacted by repetition. In other words, the more you practiced something, the more easily you could do it. The more you practiced or repeated in “language” matters, the more easily you could remember it (i.e., memorizing a poem, learning new words, a new language, etc.). Clearly, for example, the more often I used “a new word”, the more easily I remembered that new word and its meaning. What was “echolalia” if not “repetition of language” – repetition that in my opinion, was the child’s way of coming to understand and solidify language – both the words themselves and the “when to use this word”. In other words “echolalia” was nothing more than the building of “references” as they related to the development of language – and hence, the term “reference communication” to describe what I had so clearly come to understand Zachary’s early speech development.
Not surprisingly, Zachary no longer engaged in echolalia. Echolalia, in Zachary, had disappeared as his understanding of language had increased. Now, when he ever repeated a word, it was because it was “a new word” and that “repetition” was usually accompanied with “spell …., mom” (with the “…” being the new word). When I spoke, or anyone else spoke, if the words used were words Zachary already knew, he did not repeat them.
Obviously also involved in language development was the function of auditory processing – also located in the temporal lobe. Note that although certainly a “plus” to language development, a child could be deaf and still have an understanding of language. As such, although “desirable”, auditory processing certainly was not “a must” to the “understanding of language”. It was very interesting that although the “understanding of language” was located in the temporal lobe, the “production of language” was located in the frontal lobe – along with motion, smell and control of emotions – all functions I now believed to be much more inter-related than we could ever have imagined.
The sense of smell was discussed at length in both book two and book three and would be discussed somewhat later in this text. The point I wanted to make here, as smell related to communication, however, was that clearly, smell did play a role in communication as well. This was clearly evident in the animal kingdom. Yet, a person could hold an orange in his hand, and have an understanding of what that was simply based on smell and/or touch. The sense of smell had functions located in both the frontal and temporal lobe – parts of the brain that clearly involved language functions also. Likewise, I could hear a bird’s song and know that this was “a bird” without having to do anything – myself.
Simply smelling something or hearing something provided “some form” of communication or understanding in and of itself. I think that society made a huge error in assuming that the lack of a response meant “no understanding” because, clearly, that was not the case. As I considered the fact that the “understanding of language” was in the temporal lobe and the “production of language” – for example, a verbal response – was in the frontal lobe, this only made even more sense in my opinion. Clearly, production and understanding were two very, very different things! I could simply smell or hear something and have a complete understanding of “what that was” without – myself – showing a response (i.e. verbalization) – and I suspected many children with autism understood much more than we could ever imagine, too!
Note also that to “produce language” did not require working eyes, ears or vocal cords – indeed, language production and understanding could be based completely on – motions and/or touch. I very much suspected that this was why sign language appeared to work for many children with autism who were non-verbal.
Zachary always loved learning anything that involved motion. I had only started to teach him some of the basics in sign language. He was always very, very excited to learn new words such as “stop” or “go” in sign language and then play with me as we applied those signs or motions during our playtime outside. I had started to use motions in working more with Zachary in the area of safety and crossing the street and had found that he understood concepts much better if I made use of motion such as sign language. This was all very, very new to me, and as such, I still had a great deal to learn in this area, but, I certainly could see the potential that existed in terms of communication with children with autism via the use of – motion! In my opinion, this was truly one of our most untapped tools yet, perhaps one of our most effective tools in communicating with children who have autism! Motions could certainly be used to teach many, many concepts. This was not to say that verbalizations were not also important – clearly they were - however, what I was saying was that motions were a valuable component that should be included with other methods in attempting to communicate with the child who had autism.
In my opinion, it was important to use as many forms of communication as possible. For example, if a child had shown any ability to verbalize sounds there was hope there. Granted, cerebellum damage could impact one’s physical ability to speak, yet, the cerebellum continued to develop until the age of twenty or so and as such that provided hope that perhaps, even in the case of cerebellum damage actually impacting the motor functions involved in speech (i.e., physical nerve or muscle damage), there could be the ability to later down the road come to overcome some of these limitations as well. If there was one thing I had come to understand in this journey with autism, it truly was that the human brain and body were amazing indeed in their ability to adapt to injury. Thus, if one approach did not work, perhaps another would.
As such, I would encourage as many different ways as possible in attempting to reach these children by using not only motions, but phonics, word associations, etc. to help these children break the code to communication. It could take a lot of work to get that “first crack” in the shell, but once that “first crack” came about, it certainly opened great doors of opportunity. Society had seemingly given up on so many of these children, yet, I knew that no matter how difficult things could be, past, present or future, I simply could never give up on Zachary. I knew there were still many challenges ahead, but, those would be things I simply had to deal with one day at a time.
As I had stated earlier in so much in the life of the child with autism, it appeared that stimulating as many parts of the brain at once was key to their understanding, and given that motion was a valuable tool for communication – one that already existed and was very well developed – in my opinion, this avenue was perhaps one of the main keys to unlocking the doors of communication with those children with autism who were still so completely in their own world. In my opinion, motions would in all likelihood help with the understanding of many concepts for these children – whether verbal or not.
One could be deaf, mute and blind and still learn to communicate. Motions did not have to be “seen” – they could also be “felt”. As such, making specific motions in the palm of one’s hand, for example, certainly was a way of establishing communication with a person who could not speak, hear or see. Everyone could pretty well “feel” something on the skin – and that “something” could certainly be “the feeling of communication motions”. Thus, clearly, motion and language production were absolutely tied to one another. If one could not “feel” something on the skin, if that person was also blind, deaf and mute, then, what “other options” were available for communication? I could think of none. As such in order to be able to “produce language”, you had to at least be able to “feel language or communication motions” on the skin.
Thus, in looking at language production it would be very, very difficult to obtain “language production” in a person who was blind, deaf, mute and who had no feeling whatsoever in the skin. But, I knew of no one that was “that impaired”. Note that a person could be paralyzed from the neck down and still be able to have “feeling” on the skin found in the area of the face. As such, it appeared almost impossible to be completely without the ability to “feel something” via the skin. And, as such, the skin, and the sense of touch was absolutely key to language production in persons with impairments in sight, sound processing, and/or speech. The one thing that appeared to be “unfailing” when it came to the ability to produce language was the ability to “feel language”.
As such, in persons with all kinds of disabilities as they related to communication, one of the critical keys was motion – and hence – sign language! It was because of this that I now felt sign language should be taught to all children in school because, if someone became disabled later in life in a manner that impacted actual speech vocalizations, sight, or sound production, one thing that a person could fall back on was the ability to at least be able to “feel or see the motions of language”.
As stated in my second book, this was also seemed to provide the reason so many of us instinctively “used our hands” and “motions” when we talked.
Although motions were very, very, important, it was also necessary to keep in mind that, in a child with some verbal ability, perhaps they should be varied somewhat. The reason I stated this was because if a child had any verbal ability that meant there was hope in helping that child to actually talk. Yes, sign language should be used, but when dealing with children who had the ability to speak somewhat, although motion, it appeared could be key to language production and word associations (all in the frontal lobe), the understanding of language appeared to be tied more to auditory processing since both those functions were co-located in the temporal lobe.
Thus again, would it not make sense that functions that were closely linked – physically – in the brain, were probably located “together” because they impacted one another more than did functions located in other parts of the brain. It just seemed to make sense to me that neurons most closely tied together would most “interact” together.
With Zachary, I had always done things like “acting out letters” with my body parts as I called them out. I had worked on teaching him to understand the alphabet in many different ways – the computer, singing and acting our songs, puzzles, and body part motions. There were also good suggestions in The Phonics Handbook by Sue Lloyd that could be used to teach the alphabet and associated phonics.
My concern with using “just constant or repetitive motions” was that if a child had the ability to speak and yet motions were better understood, I wondered if a child would come to prefer to simply “use motions” and use speech less – even if the ability for speech was there. I did not know. In my opinion, it was important to teach the same thing – the same concept (i.e., the alphabet) - in many ways to show the child that “the concept” was key – not the motion or method. In so much, for Zachary I soon saw it was “teaching of the concept” by using co-located functions that was key - to breaking the code!
In trying to get actual language production - actual verbalizations – in children with autism – especially children who had shown the ability to utter - “something” – I truly felt “multiple ways” had to be used. The idea was to show the child that the “constant” was “the concept” (i.e., the alphabet or the letter-sound association, etc.) as opposed to the motion itself for example. Motion was critical – of that, I had no doubt – but I also recognized the need to help move these children toward actual verbalizations if possible also. Sign language could be a powerful means of communication when no other communication was possible, but if other means of communication were possible one had to maintain hope of developing those capabilities also in these children.
Although language production seemed very much related to motions – both functions in the frontal lobe - the understanding of language was located not in the frontal lobe with language production, but rather in the temporal lobe with other functions. When one really started to look at those functions co-located in the temporal lobe along with the understanding of language, clearly, many, many of these functions appeared to be so very inter-related.
With Zachary, tools I had used (like the video I came to call “the alphabet train” video – a video that was actually entitled The Miracle of Mozart ABC” by Babyscapes, and available at http://www.babyscapes.com/ourvideos.html), had made use of both sound and motion – and specifically of sounds that provided for “letter/sound associations” – something that surely could “tap into” functions of “word associations” that were co-located along with language production in the temporal lobe. Note that auditory processing, the understanding of speech and categorization functions were co-located in the temporal lobe and as such, this video also very much “tapped into” those functions as well. Also note that “word associations” (frontal lobe) were nothing more than “very specific categorizations” (temporal lobe function) and as such, word associations, provided, in my opinion, the critical key to bridging the frontal and temporal lobe functions – the critical key to bridging language production (frontal lobe) and the understanding of language (temporal lobe).
Language production (frontal lobe) clearly could occur “without making sense” to someone else. For example, I could speak or babble and not have anyone around understand me. A person could produce vocalizations that made absolutely no sense to anyone else. A newborn child could “babble” without having a clear understanding of language. Thus, language production, in and of itself could in my opinion, occur without an understanding of language. As I thought about Zachary’s language development, I realized that the key was that, too often, we interpreted things like echolalia as “meaningless language”, but perhaps, it was only meaningless to the person listening and that it was actually “just a step” in the acquisition of language skills. The goal was to move from “just production” of language to an understanding of language in the sense that “others” – not just the child – could understand it also. Although Zachary had been unable to actually “produce language” for quite some time, I suspected he had been able to “understand” a great deal of it for quite some time also prior to actually “producing it”.
Understanding what was important to the understanding of language and how that understanding was acquired appeared to be very key.
Again, I could not help but think that co-located functions had to be “more inter-related” with one another than perhaps we had ever imagined – and that meant that if this were true, those functions key to understanding language had to be co-located with “understanding of language” functions – and that meant – “other” temporal lobe functions simply had to be key to understanding language. Likewise, “other frontal lobe functions” had to somehow be key to the production of language. And, the challenge – and indeed, perhaps the answer to issues of speech in children with autism - came in “bridging the two” via “similar functions” such as “word associations” (frontal lobe) and “categorizations (temporal lobe) that could act as key link to help rebuild connections that, in my opinion, very much appeared to have been severed.
The understanding of language was a temporal lobe function, co-located with memory functions and auditory processing. But, the understanding of language was also co-located with other functions in the temporal lobe – and in looking at those functions it truly appeared to me that almost all functions in the temporal lobe had something to do with the understanding of language.
For example, the temporal lobe also included functions involving emotions. Clearly, emotions were tied to the understanding of language. As described in book two, often, a person that experienced great sadness or trauma often appeared as though they lost the ability to understand what someone was trying to tell them. It was often as though “they were failing to hear – failing to understand” what was said. Likewise, a person experiencing great fear or stress often failed to understand language as the “emotion” took over. There was no doubt that often it was very, very difficult to “reach” someone who was in a heightened state of emotion – as such, it was difficult to “make them understand”. Note that “control of emotions, however, was not located in the temporal lobe – but in the frontal lobe – along with actual language production.
Note that emotion functions were located in several parts of the brain - the temporal lobe and amygdale (part of limbic system) as well as in the frontal lobe (control of emotions). Of these, key in the understanding of language was the ability to perceive emotions in others – a function that resided in the amygdale. The amygdale was known to synapse directly with the frontal lobe (where resided “language production” functions). There was no doubt that the ability to perceive emotion in others was also key in the understanding of language – a temporal lobe function. If this part of the brain - the amygdale - was not communicating properly with other functions relating to the understanding of language (temporal lobe), and/or production of language (frontal lobe), clearly, the understanding of language and/or the production of language would be somewhat impaired.
Perceiving emotion in others could involve both sight and/or sound (i.e., tone of voice). Note that voice recognition was co-located in the temporal lobe along with the understanding of language. As such, this very much explained why Zachary always understood emotions better when they were specifically verbalized to him. Yet, his visual understanding of emotions and how those played into the understanding of language was clearly impacted.
For example, on many an occasion, I had cried with Zachary in the same room. In fact, I could be sitting right next to Zachary and crying my eyes out and he simply paid no attention to me whatsoever. Yet, if I verbally said: “I’m a sad mom”, that immediately grabbed his attention and he always felt upset when I told him – verbally – that I was upset. As such, if I said “I’m a sad mom” and I was across the room from him, he would rush over and attempt to comfort me. Yet, if I failed to verbalize my emotions for him, it was as though he simply did not “see them” or “understand them”.
The same situation existed if I said: “I’m a mad mom”. Zachary knew that he was not supposed to do something that would result in a “mad mom” and as such, often, to get him to listen, all I had to do was say “if you do that, I’m going to be a mad mom… if you want a happy mom, you have to…”. Thus, when it came to the understanding of language and perception of emotions in others, clearly, verbal cues were much more powerful to the understanding of language than visual cues.
Likewise, I had stated in my second book, that when Zachary was shown a picture of himself when he had a horrible rash, he had failed to recognize that it was him in the picture. To Zachary, this could have been any child. Yet, when – told – that “this was Zachary”, he experienced tremendous distress. When – told – this was “him”, he – understood – it was “him” and it had been as though that had triggered a memory recall of the experience itself – and as such, his reaction to the picture was amazing in that it appeared to be worse than having gone through the experience itself. Yet, had he not been – told verbally – that his was “him”, there would have been no reaction to that picture.
Thus, clearly, the understanding of language was tied emotions and memories and was very much dependent on auditory processing.
I was happy to say that since I had worked on issues of emotion with Zachary, he had made tremendous progress in this area as well. Now, just a “sad face” was usually well perceived – as were many “other faces”.
Recently, as Zachary read a book we both truly enjoyed, I had noticed something rather interesting. Zachary was now beginning to have much more expression as he read. This particular book was a favorite for both of us – The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (ISBN 0-06-025665-6). Although we both loved this particular book, we did not read it that often only because I always wanted to provide variety for Zachary. I never wanted reading to become “just memory recall” as it apparently was in so many children with autism – children who had a fantastic ability to remember entire books word for word. I had many, many books for children – literally bins full – and as such, providing variety for Zachary when it came to reading materials was not a problem. Yet, every once in a while, we would pull out “an old favorite” - The Giving Tree.
As I listened to Zachary reading the story to me, there were times when his voice had that monotone sound – that flat, no expression to it tone that almost all children with autism seemed to have. Yet, at other points in the story, Zachary truly showed proper intonation as he did the proper voice fluctuations in reading say, a question, in the text. He also showed emotion in his reading in parts of the story. It occurred to me that as Zachary was exposed to the story on several occasions, he had to now have a much better understanding of things like the “emotion” in this story and as such, I felt this was why he could now express that emotion in his reading of the text. Note that he also had a better understanding of words that introduced “a question” and as such, his intonation certainly had to be impacted as he now recognized more “question words”. Note that memory and emotion functions were co-located in the temporal lobe along with the understanding of language.
As I thought about Zachary’s reading of this text, clearly, again, so much could be explained by my theory of little or no communication among the various parts of the brain in children with autism. So many of these children were known to have the ability to read something – language production (frontal lobe) – and yet, could have no understanding (temporal lobe) of what they were reading. As such, language production (frontal lobe) could be there without the understanding of language (temporal lobe). Likewise, a person could understand language (temporal lobe) and not be able to verbally express that understanding via actual language production (frontal lobe). Also, language production and emotions were found in separate parts of the brain and as such, certainly, this had to play into the issues of proper tone or flat tone in what we saw in these children. Production of language – the actual verbalization of words – was located in the frontal lobe, yet emotions were found in the temporal lobe/amygdale parts of the brain. As such, again, if these areas were not communicating properly, certainly, this had to have implications for the expression of emotions in speech production. I also suspected Zachary’s love of onomatopoeias was due to the fact that these words were usually spoken with a great deal of expression and/or emotion. Words like “crack” or “squish” or “brrrrr”.
Also, goal directed movement, visual attention, the sense of touch and manipulation of objects were co-located in the parietal lobe. Note that I did not have to hear, smell or taste to be able to read Many of the primary functions needed for reading appeared to be located in the parietal lobe including the ability to integrate sensory input into a single concept. Indeed, reading difficulty was a sign of parietal lobe damage. The inability to recognize words and symbols was a sign of occipital lobe damage. The occipital lobe was associated with visual processing. Clearly, visual processing was an important contributor to the proper understanding of the written word, but it certainly appeared that the function of reading – in and of itself – “reading production” – appeared to be a function not of the occipital lobe, but of the parietal lobe. I could “read” without sight, for example, by using Braille – a “reading” system based on touch. Of course I was not saying that sight was not important to reading – clearly it was – but, it was not “absolutely critical” – I could still read, without sight if I made use of the sense of touch!
Thus, much as the production and understanding of language were found in separate parts of the brain, the frontal and temporal lobes, respectively, so too, did it appear that the “production of reading” and “understanding of reading” could, perhaps, be found in different parts of the brain, the parietal and occipital lobes, respectively.
If this were true, it appeared that to get “production” or actual “reading” to occur in a verbal child (one who could speak), one had to focus on those functions located in the parietal lobe. Yet, to have that “understanding” of what was read (not spoken), it appeared the functions in the occipital lobe (i.e., identification of color, locating objects in one’s environment, ability to recognize words/symbols, etc.), were more important.
Parents of children with autism often clearly indicated that their children often had the ability to read (production of reading) but failed to understand what they read (understanding of reading). Perhaps we now had a better understanding of why that was when we considered that language was nothing more than “symbols” that had to be understood… and to understand symbols – or written language – it had to be categorized – and categorization of language symbols resided not in the parietal or occipital lobe – but in the temporal lobe. As such, clearly, all lobes, frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital had to be properly communicating in order to achieve both the production and comprehension of language. Indeed, if connections had been severed, in my opinion, the way to “rebuild them” had to be in finding “bridging” or “similar” functions across each area involved in speech.
As I completed this text, an interesting study had just been done in England. It appeared that – at least in the English language – as long as the first and last letter to a word were in the correct place, that the brain could “fill in” the other letters and still understand “the writing” – or the written word.
This was indeed all very interesting, especially since I knew that children with autism also often had dyslexia (i.e., making a “b” instead of a “d”) and that the ability to distinguish between left or right was also a parietal lobe function.
Note that damage to the parietal lobe resulted in reading difficulty and the inability to differentiate properly between left and right. Yet, the inability to recognize words or symbols was a sign of damage to the occipital lobe – responsible for visual processing.
I had heard of this study on a message discussion board, and no one seemed to have the link to the original study. However, the study apparently had shown that it did not matter whether or not the letters in a word were in the right place, as long as the first and last letters were in the correct location, the brain could still make out the text and a person could still “read” because humans apparently did not see words as “individual parts” but rather, saw words as “wholes”.
Gvien evreyhtnig I had cmoe to udnresatnd in Zcahray in trems of his need to udnresatnd “the prtas” bferoe the “wohle” mdae snese, nedelses to say, I fuond tihs vrey, vrey itneerstnig idneed. I kenw Zcahray to be an ecxelelnt raeder, and that maent he had to hvae the aibilty to see “wohles” acrcoridng to tihs sutdy. Did tihs smilpy maen raednig was a rgiht barin atciivty bceuase the rgiht barin porcsesed “wohles” as opopesd to “prtas”? If taht was the csae, taht smilpy maent taht Zcahray’s “raednig fnuctoins” had not been ipmarierd”.
Alright… that was as much as I could type to give you an idea as to what this study was saying… especially given that word processing packages automatically corrected errors… it had taken me a long time to type just that one little paragraph. :o)
Again, this was all very, very interesting. A sign of occipital lobe damage – responsible for visual processing - was the inability to recognize symbols or words. Clearly, Zachary could recognize words and read very well. But, did that mean that “he” was reading the way a normal person did – apparently, seeing words as “wholes” or was he taking “the parts” to come up with the wholes? The reason I asked this was because although I knew Zachary to be an excellent reader for his age, another sign of occipital lobe damage was difficulty in drawing, etc., and clearly, with signs of dyslexia showing up in my son’s writing, that could indicate “issues with drawing”.
Of course, issues with drawing were also a sign of parietal lobe damage as was difficulty with eye hand coordination, difficulty with reading and difficulty in determining “left from right”. Interestingly, Zachary had no problem with differentiating “left from right” in “other things” – things that did not involve writing.
Zachary could easily read or recognize words and yet, when it came time to write his letters, clearly, there was some dyslexia there. Issues with eye/hand coordination and left/right distinction, both signs of parietal lobe damage, certainly appeared to be at play in dyslexia… but were they? If life was not already complicated enough at times, now I had this additional, yet very intriguing, puzzle before me as well.
As I considered “the written word” that was read – clearly, Zachary’s reading – especially for his age – was excellent. Right vs left did not seem to matter much – if indeed that was a problem for him. But yet, when it came to actually writing something – a motor function – then, the “left vs right” was absolutely an issue. That was all very interesting to me given it seemed “written language production” – writing itself – was very much a function that required input from the frontal lobe (the motor cortex). As such, Zachary could easily read (written language production), but could not easily “produce” language from a motor perspective. Note that language “production” (what I had simply thought was verbal language production) was a function of the frontal lobe – but, now, I wondered if this “language production” was not also “language production” for the written word also.
Thus, there were many, many aspects to “language production”. It could be verbal language production (frontal lobe) or the production of language having to do with the written word – reading (parietal and occipital lobes) or it could be “language production” in the sense of writing itself (a function that clearly involved the motor cortex - also located in the frontal lobe). Note that when it came to “reading” – I could read without sight (using touch as in Braille) but I could also read without actually verbalizing something – without actual speech production (frontal lobe) and hence simply “read quietly”.
“Reading” could be viewed as a different type of “language production” – a very specialized form of language production and language comprehension that involved the written word as opposed to the verbal word! And, just as areas for verbal language production (frontal lobe) and comprehension (temporal lobe) had to be properly communicating, so too did written language production or reading (parietal lobe) areas of the brain and written language comprehension (occipital lobe) areas need to be properly communicating as well! This could certainly all get rather confusing – but it certainly was all very interesting also. Clearly, language and/or communication in humans involved several major parts of the brain and it could get rather complicated – rather fast. For language and/or communication to occur, these various parts had to have the ability to properly communicate with one another – something that clearly was not happening in many children with autism.
Yet, as confusing as all this could be, the one thing I now absolutely saw without a doubt was that most critical of all had to be the ability to properly – categorize language – whether written or verbal!
A person had to be able to “categorize” what he said, what he understood in terms of spoken language, what he read out loud (production of written language) and what he understood in terms of “written language” (reading quietly). To make sense of anything in life – it had to be - categorized!
Thus, in teaching a child with autism, in my opinion, one had to first determine whether or not the issue was one of verbal communication or written communication and then look at functions co-located with each of these in order to work on the desired behavior or function. Thus for verbal language functions, I believed one had to make use of bridging functions between the frontal and temporal lobes whereas in written language functions, one had to perhaps focus more on bridging the occipital and parietal lobes when it came to actually reading a text but on bridging parietal (eye/hand coordination) and frontal lobe (motor) functions when it came to actually producing written words (writing). Clearly, “to write” did not necessitate I need to understand “what was being written” and as such, it was not, in my opinion, the occipital lobe that was key to overcoming “issues with writing” but rather the bridging of the frontal and parietal lobe functions.
To understand both the written and verbal communication, it appeared required the bridging of the temporal and occipital lobe functions. Given that “vision” bridge available to join temporal and occipital lobe functions and that the only functions relating to vision in the temporal lobe had to do with “face, place and body part recognition”, I was now beginning to understand why teaching language by using “body parts” had worked so well for my nephew Andrew and why children with autism so often focused on – the mouth – as opposed to the eyes. The eyes could provide very little in terms of “breaking the code to language”, but the mouth – now that was something worth investigating for a child attempting to break the code to language!
Again, this certainly could help explain why these children were often such excellent readers and yet had difficulty in other areas of “communication” and why they so very much, focused on – the mouth of others - as opposed to the eyes! The mouth in and of itself provided many insights into language for these children. Of that, I had no doubt. The eyes, although they provided some “non-verbal communication” also required bridging over to the amygdale – yet another part of the brain. As such, it seemed the eyes – for these children – were less important in “breaking the code”.
When it came to difficulty in understanding language, perhaps we needed to keep in mind that a “question” posed to a child verbally would involve the understanding of verbal language as opposed to the understanding of written language. It certainly would be interesting to study how well children with autism understood the written verses the spoken word and how using methods providing for the “categorization” of language could help with these issues given such methods could provide a variety of options to help activate as many parts of the brain as possible [more on language categorization later in this text].
Also, I had noticed that if Zachary hesitated in any way or if his attention was diverted, all I had to do was spell the first word in the next sentence or say it, and he would then keep going. This was very much parallel to the fact that hand over hand techniques also worked well with these children. In hand over hand techniques, all one had to do was do the first motion and usually, the child could go on to complete the motor task required. Note that motor functions and memory relating to motor functions were co-located in the frontal lobe along with speech production. As such, it made perfect sense that methods that paralleled hand over hand techniques in the area of speech production would work very much in the same way as they did with motor activities or in functions such as “reading”.
In looking at “reading” I now understood why this task came rather easily to children with autism – clearly it involved many, many aspects of the brain and as such, reading had to be an area or function that could more easily be “decoded” by the child than were perhaps other functions. The more tools one had available for “decoding”, the more likely the probability of success.
The other thing I had come to understand was that Zachary showed great enthusiasm in reading specific types of words – words like “CRACK!” or “vvvvrrrroooooooommmmm” or “buzz” – words that sounded very much like the actual sound – something known as onomatopoeia – where the words seemed to imitate the actual sounds associated with the objects or action they refer to. Zachary absolutely loved reading and/or hearing words like these. As I thought about that, this too appeared to now make sense given that auditory processing and the understanding of language were co-located in the temporal lobe. What words would be best understood (temporal lobe function) if not words that sounded (temporal lobe) just like the actual thing (memory also in temporal lobe)? These words also very much activated the frontal lobe given that the language production in the vocalization of these types of words in particular provided a very powerful word association – an association that appeared to bridge the frontal (word associations) and temporal lobes (auditory processing, etc.).
But, there were other things Zachary clearly also loved to read… anything having to do with color for example, or the repetition of words like: “up, up, up” or “down, down, down”… or the reading of opposites. Small phrases like this involved repetition but also could easily trigger one’s imagination in that it was very easy to picture these things. Production of language (actual verbalization of these small phrases), imagination and word associations (i.e., opposites) were co-located in the frontal lobe and as such, I was not surprised that Zachary loved to verbalize such words.
Given my concerns over “pretending” – as clearly expressed in both books two and three, I was always certain to make sure that I explained to Zachary the difference between real and pretend in anything involving “imagination”. For persons who had not read books two and/or three, my concern here was that imagination and the concept of self were co-located in the frontal lobe yet the ability to distinguish between truth and a lie was located in the temporal lobe. As such, if the two were not communicating properly we had the makings of a very nasty situation indeed – a situation whereby a child could literally lose his sense of reality as he engaged in imaginary play. Yet, although I had major concerns with this issue of imagination and the concept of self, there was no denying that in the simple act of reading books a great deal could be learned in order to help these children.
Repetition was involved in memory (temporal lobe) formation and memory formation in the understanding of language (also in the temporal lobe) and as such, small phrases such as these – “up, up, up”, or “down, down, down” - appeared to also activate both the frontal and temporal lobe at once.
All this certainly had huge implications in terms of the types of books we should be using to teach these children – the types of books that could perhaps best maintain their interest.
All of these things, undeniably, were very, very interrelated and very much tied to not only the understanding of language, but to the actual production of language as well, as clearly, there were “some things ” – key words, key phrases, key associations – that simply produced a much greater reaction and interest when it came to actually producing language in Zachary.
Likewise, I had no doubt that emotion itself (temporal lobe) and emotion perception (amygdale) and control (frontal lobe) – or the lack thereof – also played a role in language production and understanding. These would be discussed in greater detail later in this text in a section dealing specifically with emotion in communication.
Also co-located in the temporal lobe with the understanding of language was voice recognition. Whose voice did one not recognize most if not – my own. As such, again, “parroting” or echolalia in children with autism, again, seemed to make sense when looked at in terms of the understanding of language and the theory that co-located functions could be much more inter-related than we may have ever imagined. Likewise, a child understood and responded most to the voice of a parent. Something said in the same way, to many persons at once, could often mean different things to different persons, yet, persons who knew each other usually understood exactly what one was saying when to someone else, someone less familiar with the speaker, there would appear to be “more confusion” as to the understanding of what was being said in spite of the “same tone” having been heard by all. Clearly, very subtle differences in tone could often also make a huge difference in what was being said or implied.
The function of face recognition was also co-located in the temporal lobe with the function of the understanding of language. There was no doubt that “those we knew” and “recognized” were those we best understood. Indeed, persons who knew each other well could very much communicate with facial expressions or “certain looks” only. Husbands and wives could “understand” what the other was “thinking” before any communication seemed to even exist. I knew that with my own husband, there had been countless times when we had been thinking about the very same thing at the very same time. Yet, it was always harder to understand “a stranger” and know what “they were thinking”. One certainly could have either an accurate understanding of another person based on “first impressions” but one could also be very, very wrong also. Thus, again, there could be no denying that both voice and face recognition clearly played a role in the understanding of language.
Closely tied to face recognition was the function of visual perception that also existed in the temporal lobe. Note that, interestingly, most visual functions were located in the occipital lobe. Indeed, the occipital lobe had functions that appeared to be related solely to sight. The frontal lobe appeared to have no visual functions at all. That was indeed very interesting given this was where “language production” was found. And hence, again, this certainly showed that language production was not dependent on “vision” and yet, in trying to produce language in children with autism, we often used visual cues. Perhaps this was one of the reasons so many were still “non-verbal”.
Also interesting was that visual attention was found not in the occipital lobe with other critical vision functions, but in the parietal lobe with somatosensory (body sensations) processing, spatial processing, touch perception, manipulation of objects, goal directed movement, 3 dimension identification and what appeared to be a very key function - the integration of sensory information that allowed for the understanding of a single concept – in other words – the integration of the “parts” into the “whole” – what I saw as one of the major issues in children with autism.
Although most of the visual functions in humans were in the occipital lobe, clearly, certain visual functions were located outside of this region. As such, I could not help but ask why that was. In my opinion, the visual perception in the temporal lobe, a visual function co-located with the understanding of language, had to be related to other functions in that area – and that very much included the understanding of language. Note that visual perception in the temporal lobe was associated with the recognition of faces, places and body parts. As such, again, I truly felt that visual perception in the temporal lobe was somehow very much related to the understanding of language and that in trying to have children with autism understand language, those “visual cues” had to involve, in my opinion, face, place and body part recognition “visual cues”. In other words, using body parts to help with the understanding of language. Looking back, that had been exactly what I had done with Zachary in labeling so much for him… I had used my hands to physically touch everything as I showed it to him… and I had used his hands to make him touch everything also. I had used my body to “form letter” (best I could :o) ). So much I had done had involved – my body – just as had the phonics program my sister-in-law had used to teach her son – phonics!
In my opinion, this involved more than just “recognizing a person” when it came to the understanding of language. There was no doubt that a child best recognized and understood his parent. Yet, the child with autism had also revealed something else that appeared to be very key. In matters relating to communication the child with autism focused not on the eyes of another person, but rather on – the mouth!
The deaf often quickly learned to “lip read” in order to communicate. How very interesting indeed that, children with autism focused not on the eyes of a person, but on the mouth! In my opinion, this again, was an attempt to “break the code” to communication.
Again, this seemed to indicate that motion and voice recognition was key to communication. Note that “voice recognition” could take on a couple of forms. Voice recognition functions definitely involved recognizing a “familiar person”, but they also appeared to involve recognizing “familiar sounds”. Again, auditory processing was also co-located in the temporal lobe with the understanding of language. Clearly, sounds (or lip motions involving face recognition and visual perception also in the temporal lobe) had to be recognized to be used in helping with the function of the understanding of language. Sounds that were not recognized were simply not understood and recognition required repetition and categorization for the understanding of language to occur. As such, again, in echolalia, it was my belief that what we were seeing was the repetition and categorization functions so necessary to the understanding of language – the repetition of sounds (auditory processing) from familiar faces and voices – all temporal lobe functions!
Clearly, a normal child in language development repeated words spoken to him by his/her mother. Repetition helped solidify memory in almost everything and as such, it made perfect sense that children with autism would repeat everything they heard at first – much as would any child going through the normal steps of language development. In my opinion, what we were seeing in “echolalia”, as such, was much more than simply “parroting”. This simple act of repeating what was heard clearly activated almost the entire temporal lobe. Echolalia was the building of references for future use and a critical language development step that - because it occurred in “older children” - had simply not been recognized for what it truly was in children with autism.
Also co-located with the understanding of language in the temporal lobe was the categorization of objects. Of all the functions in the temporal lobe, perhaps the most critical of all for children with autism was that of – categorization - for within “categorization” was the ability to “order one’s world” - to make sense of it – to “break the code” – to almost everything in life!
Although at first glance it appeared that this was a function relating to concrete objects, clearly, the categorization of objects was absolutely key in the understanding of language also. To make sense and be understood, words were “things” that also had to be categorized. The word “sad” meant something very different than the word “jump”. As such, in order for language to be understood, it required not only that I be able to categorize it but that the person communicating with me also have this ability. For the child with autism it was critical to help with “categorization functions” as they related to language as this would certainly help with the greater understanding of language in these children.
As such, when I presented Zachary with a new word, I now usually always helped him to categorize it by providing for him things like the spelling of that word and a definition of that word. Examples of “how to use the word”, were also critical!
Note also that the processing of music was also located in the temporal lobe. Many studies had now indicated that music therapy was helpful for those with autism, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. Zachary always loved to be sung to. Indeed, if my theory of heightened communication and inter-relationship among the various functions co-located in a specific part of the brain were correct this indeed, would argue that music was also somehow tied to the understanding of language. From the time both my children were very small, I had always played classical music for them as they went to sleep – calming music, such as that of Mozart.
Mozart had composed music from as early as five years of age and his music, unlike perhaps other forms of music, was believed to help in activating neurons that stimulated very specific pathways in the brain that helped increase receptivity and retention in learning. The “Miracle of Mozart” video series by Babyscapes, Inc. were produced based on these studies (www.babyscapes.com, 8391 Beverly Blvd, #276, Los Angeles, CA 90048, USA, 888-441-5437). Babyscapes, Inc. had produced that Miracle of Mozart ABCs video – “the alphabet train video” – Zachary still loved to this day!
Music had indeed always been important in Zachary’s life.
A song was a grouping of words and/or notes. It had a beginning and an end and usually, some kind of “pattern”. The word of a song was always followed by a specific word – in other words, the song stayed the same – its words did not change over time. As such, a song could easily be memorized and recalled. These factors helped explain why children with autism, such as Zachary, loved songs. They were “language” that was “already categorized” and did not change. This also explained why my son used to scream if the radio or CD in the car was turned off in the middle of a song. Children with autism seemed to always need that “all or nothing” and had no room for the “in between” in anything, and herein was the key to so many issues I had seen in my son.
Note that loss of flexibility in thought was a sign of frontal lobe damage. The frontal lobe was associated with motor functions (perhaps explaining also loss of flexibility in motor functions, ie., obsessive-compulsive behavior and repetitive behavior), the production of language (perhaps explaining loss of flexibility in speech and the need for “sameness” in speech production), olfactory functions (perhaps helping to somewhat explain lack of flexibility in food choices), control of emotions (perhaps explaining lack of flexibility in emotional responses – i.e., the “all or none” extremes in emotions so often seen in these children and the desire for only one “acceptable” emotion – i.e., “happy mom”), and the assigning of meaning to words (perhaps explaining again, inflexibility in speech). Damage to the frontal lobe also resulted in the inability to properly interact with others (i.e., socialization required flexibility), issues with task completion, and difficulty in problem solving (again, something that required – flexibility).
In trying so hard to build references for future use, children such as Zachary wanted things to be “this way or that way”. It appeared as though only “definite extremes” were acceptable.
There were many ways to teach "the in-between" situation to children with autism in order to show them that "references" included more than just the "extreme" scenarios of "this way" or "that way". Once Zachary understood there were “in betweens” and “different ways of doing things”, life became much easier for all of us. Using fractions as I described in my second book under the "Exercises" section was a great place to start.
Recently, I had read a book for Zachary that had well illustrated this issue and the need to teach the “in between”.
This book was The Fire Cat by Esther Averill (ISBN: 0-06-444038-9). In this book, a cat becomes a firehouse cat. Below was the part of the text on page 13 in this wonderful book:
"Pickles, you are not a bad cat. You are not a good cat."
After Zachary read that, he paused. I could see that Zachary was trying to figure out the answer... if not good or bad, what was he? Children with autism knew the “this or that”, but, in this case, the cat was “not bad” and he was “not good”. The book then went on to give the answer:
"You are good and bad. And bad and good. You are a mixed-up cat."
Zachary thought that was absolutely hilarious. What was great here was that this simple children's story provided for the "in between" situation and showed that there was more than just one extreme or the other. In this case, the answer was “both” and the book provided another answer as well… a third answer… “a mixed-up cat”.
I could then add “more answers” for Zachary… saying for example: “some days, he’s a little bit good and very, bad, but on other days, he’s a little bit good, and very, very, very, very bad”… or I could say, “on some days, he’s just a little bit bad, but very, very, very, very, very, very, very good”. Or, I could say, “on some days, he’s not good at all, he’s just, very, very, very, very bad”. This simple example could easily communicate “degrees” of the same thing – those critical “in betweens” that Zachary so needed to understand in order to move away from a world of “this way or that”. Such statement could provide “degrees” or “shades” or “in betweens” for things like “good versus bad” but also “shades” for the same concept, for example, “shades of good or bad”.
In my opinion, it was books and software like this that were needed for children with autism. Books that taught "the in-between" in a fun way... books that made a statement, then provided the opposite... and then, provided the "in-between"... and in my opinion, the more "in-betweens" provided, the better! :o)
There were many ways to show "in-betweens"... you could do it with play dough to show big, bigger, biggest... and go a little more in depths by showing for example, big, a little bigger, a little bigger still, almost the biggest, the biggest. You could really do this with almost anything... spoons, twigs, rocks, etc. and then apply the concept to more abstract things like "emotions" and other aspects of life too where children had more difficulty [more on this later]. Once the concrete was used to teach the concept, it was in my opinion, much easier to teach the same concept in more abstract situations.
During the day, I could easily say to Zachary, “you are a very good boy today”… and then, later expand on that and say, “you are a very, very, very good boy today”. Thus, again, with this simple example, I could reinforce the concepts of “shades of the same thing” and the fact that one did not have to be just “one or the other” – that there were different degrees to a whole lot of things in life! Teaching this concept of “degrees” or “in betweens” – that was one of the very primary keys in my opinion!
Another key in this, however, was that although “inflexibility” appeared to be a sign of frontal lobe damage, “categorization” was not in the frontal lobe, but in the temporal lobe and as such, herein in my opinion, was the potential to unraveling the problem of “inflexibility”.
Everything in life had to be categorized in order to be understood. That included motions, emotions, word associations, etc. Thus, although there appeared to be “inflexibility”, via functions of categorization and the teaching of the “in between” some of that “inflexibility” could certainly be overcome. Thus, teaching the “in between”, in everything – be that emotions, different ways or motions for accomplishing a task, different ways to say the same thing, etc., was absolutely key since each of these “in betweens” could then be categorized in one or many categories. There was simply no denying that categorization functions were critical to overcoming so much in the life of the child with autism!
It was critical to teach these children that there could be “other ways” to come up with the same answer – to teach them that there were often many ways of doing the same thing. For example, it was necessary to teach them that there were many ways to come up with the number 4. The “peg system” I had described in my third book, in actuality, could be applied to so much in the life of the child with autism. “Pegs” provided “first references” that could then be built upon. This concept was so critical that I wanted to provide for parents what I had written on the “peg system approach” in my third book, in order to once again, provide that “common ground” for all parents. For those of you who had read book three, this would be a little repetition and I apologized for that, but, this was also “good review” of an absolutely critical concept. :o)
Start Of Materials From Book 3 On “Peg System”
In so much of what I had come to understand in Zachary, there could be no denying of the critical role of “that label” or “that reference” for him to draw on an the need to show Zachary “more options” or “more ways” to look at things as he formed new memories. The key in my opinion, truly was in making him see that, for example, there was more than one “reference” for adding numbers for example.
I selected these particular examples because they involved short term, long term and working memory. These were but a couple of examples … but, the concept was the same whether one was working with numbers, language or something else. It was also important to keep in mind my belief that the various parts of the brain were perhaps much more inter-related than we may have ever imagined.
Let us take first the simple concept of teaching basic addition. Teaching basic addition obviously involved the working memory, short-term and long-term memory. This also involved functions such as “categorization” and “auditory processing” in the temporal lobe and “higher functioning” in the frontal lobe. Although visual processing was usually involved, clearly, a blind person could learn math too.
If you considered how math was usually taught, it was normally something like this:
1+1 = 2, 1+2 = 3, 1+3 = 4, and so on.
In other words, the “peg” or “constant” was the number “1” and what changed were the “other numbers”. It soon became evident to me that in working with Zachary, a child with autism, a child who very much lived “via reference”, there was an inherent problem in this approach. If I taught Zachary math in this way, I was teaching him “a reference” – that 1+1 = 2, 1+2 = 3, 1+3 = 4 and so on. Although this was true, I was in actuality, only providing a partial reference for Zachary. Given I knew his was a world of “reference living”, I personally, saw a huge problem with this. I was only providing one of many possibilities for the sum of “2”, or the sum of “3” or the sum of “4” and so on and not showing that – potentially – there were many other ways to come up with the same answer. Indeed, there were many other possibilities… and they increased tremendously the “bigger” the number for the sum.
As such, in teaching Zachary, I decided to “peg” the answer. In other words, I did the following for numbers 1 through 18 (because to do basic math, Zachary had to be able to add at least up to 9+9 to get to the stage of graduating to counting involving units of “ten”). In “pegging” the answer, I now provided for Zachary an understanding that there were “many ways” to get to a specific number, “many options” available for doing the same thing.
For example, to get the number 18, you could do:
For Zachary, this did several things. It showed him first and foremost that there was “more than one way” to do the same thing and it provided for him “the references” he needed to draw from. Granted, you could never provide “all references” in “all situations”, but, by using math, I could provide the “concept” that there were “more possibilities” to something than “just one” – in anything… be that math, language, behaviors, routines, etc. This concept, in my opinion – the concept of showing “more ways”, “more options”, was key in getting children with autism away from their “inflexibility” in so many issues.
But, this simple concept also provided much more for Zachary. It provided for him “the pattern” to see how things worked and hence, the ability to understand how to “break the code”. Zachary easily picked up the concept that on one side, the number went down by one - on the other, it increased by one. Thus, he could actually “see” how this worked.
But, there was still more… for Zachary, this still provided a basic reference… a starting point that he could associate with – a reference easily retrieved and drawn upon or enhanced from there. The obvious “key reference” – though not the only reference for “18” – was the middle point – the fact that 9+9 = 18. For children who loved that concept of “sameness”, this particular reference was key. From this reference point, Zachary could then in his head come to learn to “move up or down” in the chart.
In my opinion, it was also necessary to focus on providing what I came to call “primary pegs” – those basic reference points – the starting points – that could then be used as “key references” in charts such as the “18” chart provided above.
Primary pegs – in basic addition – would include the following:
These “same numbers” being “added together”, were in my opinion, key in the life of a child who loved “sameness” and as such, could very much be used to one’s advantage in teaching math based on a “peg system”.
But, there was still more… for Zachary, this also provided that key “categorization” that was so necessary to the understanding of math, language and so many other things in life. A chart such as this provided for “inherently correct” places for things. That was good – initially – but in my opinion – this was but a first step. Eventually, I could easily go to “moving them around” though… thereby, once again, increasing flexibility. For example, although the answer remained the same, I could now change the way “things appeared” in the chart. I could select a “random order” for all the ways to “make 18”, I could show addition involving “even numbers” first, then “odd numbers”. There were truly many things one could do to show that one answer could be achieved in many, many ways. The beauty of this was that it also prepared Zachary for the eventual learning of “negatives” being added into the chart. For example, I could show the fact that [–2+20 = 18] and so on. I could simply add in the “negatives” later on to further build on the concept - in this case - of math – although the application of this same concept could be done for many, many situations relating to many, many other issues.
I also taught Zachary the 1+1 =2, 1+2 = 3, 1+3 = 4 and so on method, but, my primary focus, initially, was on my “peg system” whereby the “peg” was - the answer – not a “variable” within an equation! Providing the “normal method” allowed Zachary to then see how “pegging” different parts of the equation changed the answer! In everything, I tried to provide for Zachary different “ways of looking at things” – “more ways than one” way!
Teaching Zachary math in this way certainly involved his working memory… and it made that “working memory” work in a “flexible way” – because now – he truly saw there could be – more than one way – and I could then apply that concept to much more than “just math”. I could “carry this lesson” to all aspects of life!
As I worked with Zachary, so many things became evident to me. The simple fact was that whether or not a child had autism, all children - all persons - pretty well had the “same brain” – overall. Functions within the brain were all located “in the same place” regardless of whether or not one was “normal” or suffered from autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s or any other disorder. A “disorder” in the brain resulted in just that – “dis – order” and the key was in providing once again for something that made sense – in breaking the code to how to once again – provide “order” so that things could once again be understood. As such, these methods could be used for teaching – all persons…
There was no doubt in my mind, that in a child with autism, that “first reference” even if “inaccurate” could be “engrained” in the brain and committed to memory – just as easily as an accurate reference and hence, it was critical to always correct Zachary’s inaccurate guesses or inaccurate utterances during the day… his “inaccurate anything”. An inaccurate point of reference once burned into memory, in these children would be harder to correct at a later date because memories had a way of becoming “more solid” over time – even “inaccurate memories” or “inaccurate labels” (as I discussed in greater detail in my second book – Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost!). In my opinion, it would take a great deal more work to “change a bad reference” in Zachary than it would in a “normal person” – and as such, I worked very hard at providing as accurate yet flexible a “first reference” as possible in teaching my son.
End Of Materials From Book 3
Again, a great deal more on this and many other topics was provided in my previous books – books I strongly encouraged all families to read.
Important in all this, however, was the fact that this same concept of “key pegs” could also be applied to language in conjunction with categorization functions [specific examples of that later in this text].
The last function of the temporal lobe I wanted to discuss in this chapter was that of the ability to distinguish between truth and a lie. Although at first it appeared this function was not related to the understanding of language clearly – it was! Repetition allowed the solidification of memories. Memories, once formed and burned into the brain, were not easily “reversed”. Memories, like anything else, could be categorized and that categorization would include a determination of whether or not something was true! The more a person heard something, the more they came to believe that “something” to be true – whether or not, in reality – it was. A person who was told that s/he was “retarded” or “stupid” – if told often enough, would certainly come to believe that. The fact that the understanding of language, auditory processing and memory were all co-located in the temporal lobe along with face/voice recognition (those we believed most were those we knew best) and the ability to distinguish between truth and a lie certainly appeared to make for a nasty situation when it came to this issue.
No man stated it better than he who provided perhaps the best example of the dangers that were simply waiting to be awakened via the manipulation of thoughts and memories as they related to self-worth and the perception of the worth of another human being to society.
“If you tell a lie long enough, loud enough and often enough, the people will believe it.”
Within the functions co-located in the temporal lobe, clearly was the ability to manipulate one’s understanding of the truth via the manipulation of the understanding of language as it related to other functions in the temporal lobe.
Truths, lies, memories, faces, voices, sounds, smells, emotions, and – indeed - all sensory inputs - all of these things had to be categorized – that all key function located in the temporal lobe – a function located in a lobe not associated with “inflexibility” as was the “frontal lobe”. Indeed, categorization functions in the temporal lobe provided, in my opinion, the keys to greater flexibility in these children because categories could be made “flexible” in spite of “inflexibility” resulting from frontal lobe damage. The temporal lobe provided via its categorization functions, a way to increase flexibility in children such as Zachary.
Categorization - a function, that in my opinion, held the keys to further releasing children from the shackles of autism.
The topic of categorization was such an important topic in the life of the child with autism that, truly, it necessitated a chapter of its own because categorization spanned far, far beyond “just language” – categorization, truly was the key to “breaking the code” – to everything in the life of the child with autism! As such, this would be one of the primary topics in my next chapter – “Building Critical Bridges: The Key To Order And Understanding In The Midst Of Chaos!” For now, however, I needed to complete the “Updates” to the language section initially provided in book two.
There was no denying that absolutely all incoming sensory input needed to be not only categorized – but, integrated. The integration of sensory input in order to allow for the understanding of a single concept was a function located in the parietal lobe. The only sensory input actually located in the parietal lobe was the sense of touch. Perhaps this helped to explain why so many children with autism had such a heightened sense of touch. Keep in mind that based on everything I had come to understand in my own son and other children with autism, it appeared to me that those functions co-located within a specific region of the brain appeared to be much more inter-related than we could ever have imagined.
I also could not help but wonder if “heightened communication among co-located functions” did not help explain the very heightened sense of touch in so many children with autism.
Touch and somatosensory processing were co-located in the parietal lobe along with visual attention and the integration of sensory input to allow for the understanding of a single concept. If indeed their existed “magnified communication” among co-located functions, simply due to “physical proximity of these neurons” or due to the fact that the brain of the child with autism attempted to “compensate” for lack of communication among the various parts of the brain, would that not make one “overly sensitive” to issues of touch given “touch” was located in the parietal lobe – where sensory information was supposed to be integrated. If indeed “other sensory input” was not “making it to the parietal lobe” to be integrated, but only or primarily the sense of touch, co-located with the integration of sensory input function, provided input to this process, would that not make a person “more sensitive”?
Interestingly, sight, sound, touch and smell all seemed “stuck on high” in so many of these children. Why? I knew many of these issues had now greatly subsided in Zachary – especially since I had put him on digestive enzymes. Note that somatosensory processing and touch were co-located in the parietal lobe along with the sensory integration function. Digestive enzymes helped to break down offensive foods such as casein and gluten that were known to act as hallucinogens or natural opiates on the brains of these children. Still though, there was some sensitivity in Zachary when it came to the senses, and as such, I could not help but wonder about the “stuck on high control knob” when it came to sensory input in children with autism.
If that “sensory integration function” that allowed sensory input to be viewed as “one concept” resided in the parietal lobe, apart from the senses of sight, hearing, taste and smell, then, it stood to reason that if there was little or no communication among the various parts of the brain, the child with autism would have difficulty integrating all these senses in attempting to understand “single concepts” – and indeed – that was certainly what I had observed in my son and so many seemed to refer to as “sensory overload”.
If sensory information was not being properly processed by the brain and not properly categorized, would that not result in “a lot to deal with at once” as sensory input kept “coming in”? In my opinion, it certainly appeared to be the case.
A task that we all did subconsciously - the integration of the parts to the whole - something so necessary to the understanding and categorization of “the parts into the whole” [i.e., incoming sensory input itself and its categorization] – I found my son had to do consciously – at least until I started to make him understand “how things fit together” by labeling absolutely everything for him. That allowed Zachary to not only have “a label” but it allowed him to finally “categorize” his world and make sense of it.
For Zachary to understand “a pencil” for example, he needed to have the various parts of the pencil labeled for him – the lead, the eraser, the color, the wood, the metal eraser clamp/holder, the mark on a paper, the purpose of a pencil lead, of a pencil eraser, etc. Each and every little “part” of the whole had to be defined for him to help him understand what he was seeing and touching and the purpose of each part was explained, too, as much as possible.
It finally occurred to me that I had never actually shown Zachary how to hold a pencil. I think we all take it for granted that such simple things came “naturally”, but, for Zachary, that was not the case. It was as though he did not know “what to do with this thing”. As such, I decided to show him exactly how to hold a pencil.
I found I had to give Zachary time to familiarize himself with anything new in life. I truly believed this "familiarization process" Zachary always went through was simply his way of trying to make sense of new "parts" in his world. Pencils were no exception. I had purchased the biggest set of coloring pencils I could find a while back. Before Zachary could actually use them as tools, he had to "familiarize himself" with them. He had to align them, stack them, etc. until the "newness" was gone. Only then could I even begin to put a pencil in his hand and help him draw/write. I had found that to be true with almost all new tools.
In my opinion, if a child had difficulty perceiving the part from the whole, then the act of placing a pencil in his hand, by definition, introduced a new "part" to his body... one he was unable to understand and cope with... perhaps one he was unable to separate in terms of "what belonged to him" verses "what was a separate entity" in and of itself... because once these "parts" (the pencil and the hand) touched, to the autistic child, did they not became a "whole" that needed to be understood in terms of its parts... and unless the "parts" were well defined, Zachary, in my opinion, would experience frustration as a result of the simple act of trying to hold a pencil. It had now been quite some time since I had to introduce “a pencil” to Zachary. Yet, this was one of those things I wished I had understood and introduced to Zachary much earlier on because I now found myself in a situation where, when we did homework, Zachary understood the concepts well enough (i.e., basic math) but it took us a long time to get through a specific exercise because of his writing difficulties. I certainly wished I had started teaching him how to write much, much earlier on.
When I had first tackled actually teaching Zachary about pencils and how they worked, I was sure to label absolutely everything for him. Clearly defining the hand as an entity in and of itself, the pencil as an entity in and of itself, a sheet of paper in and of itself and stating "I'm putting the pencil in Zachary’s hand" as I did this, I found helped Zachary with this issue of holding a pencil.
To define the pencil, I told Zachary about the pencil's color, that the "thing inside" was "lead for writing on paper" as I showed him how the pencil made a mark on paper when you used it... the pencil mark itself was also labeled as "a mark". When I first started using a pencil with Zachary, I used things he was familiar with – such as shapes and numbers - when I wrote as I said: “it’s a circle” or “it’s a five”.
In addition, I defined the "eraser" as something to "erase a mistake" as I showed Zachary how to do it. Making a "mistake" in a familiar shape was an easy way to put across the concept of a "mistake" as I erased it. For example, I could state: "let's make a circle" but then, actually draw a square... Zachary would understand that "this is not a circle" and hence, I could say: "oh, no... that's not a circle... that's a square... I made a mistake... let's fix it" as I then erased the square and said: "all gone" and drew a circle in order to show him “the purpose” of an eraser.
Notice again, that every single aspect was defined... the "thing I drew", the "mistake", the "let's fix it"... to help Zachary understand the issue that "this is wrong but there is something we can do to fix it"... the concept of "let's fix it" became a HUGE coping mechanism for Zachary in terms of understanding how parts fit into the whole... as did the concept of "it's broken" ... or "it's stuck"... all these simple concepts helped him to cope with the world at times when it just seemed to make no sense to him... in so, so many issues... until they could each be individually addressed. I encourage all parents to use these simple phrases to help their children cope. For more on this, see Words to Cope, provided earlier in this text.
By saying: "it's stuck", for example, I could joke with Zachary about the fact that the pencil was in his hand, on his skin, without causing him too much stress. The concept of "it's stuck" allowed "things to be put together to form a new whole" without creating a huge amount of stress. This concept of “it’s stuck”, I had used to help with overall issues with touch, and with anything else as it related to things "going together", like stickers on things, bandages on skin, labels on food cans, etc.
With Zachary, I found doing these simple things helped him tremendously. By working with familiar things, I could easily reduce stress levels to help him understand the issue of "creating a mark" without introducing a new stressful concept. At first, since I used a shape he understood and loved, his love of circles (a "whole entity" in and of itself) allowed me to trigger his interest as I helped him deal with the overall issue of holding a pencil. The sheet of paper also needed to be defined. I explained "a sheet of paper" to Zachary as being something "to write on" as I showed him how to make a circle or letter on it - something he was familiar with. As I moved on to "other markings", I defined those too, whether they were just "marks" or "sketchings", or scratches, etc. They were defined to help Zachary cope with this new concept of "writing". The sheet of paper, I further explained in terms of its color (i.e., "this paper is white"), its shape (i.e., "the paper looks like a rectangle" - as I showed him the outline of the paper with my hand), its surface (i.e., "it's smooth - as I used his fingers and pushed them across the page), etc. Thus using familiar concepts of color, shape and texture further helped with the overall issue of "writing" in terms of removing the stress from the situation.
Note that I would not use a "workbook" here - just one plain sheet of paper - at first, one that had no lines - then one with lines as Zachary became familiar with the concept of "paper". A workbook involved a lot more in terms of defining the "parts" that made up the "whole" in terms of a "workbook". The concept of "pages" to a workbook was a difficult concept for Zachary to grasp at first. A workbook (or any book) involved a "front cover", "back cover", pages in the middle - if not numbered, they became much harder to define for Zachary. Thus, it was extremely difficult to explain how the "pages" fit together to form a whole. In addition, a workbook could have writing on it and, in my opinion, if a child with autism did not yet understand the alphabet and how letters "fit together" to form words, then, that also introduced a whole new area to deal with. Plain paper was better, in my opinion, to get started with this issue of writing.
When I thought back to everything I had gone through to introduce Zachary to writing and the simple act of holding a pencil, it brought back so many memories of “what worked” and areas of difficulty and I now understood why certain things had worked.
For example, I now, without a doubt, knew that colors played a huge role in Zachary’s life – and that included the area of learning. When I had first started to tackle the issue of writing, a friend of mine showed me a fantastic new mechanical pencil, marketed under the name Rainbow Stix.
These mechanical pencils had something I had never seen before - the lead that you inserted into the pencil had three colors - red, blue and green. Simply turning your wrist slightly as you wrote made you write in multiple colors. :o)
For Zachary, these mechanical pencils had provided that fascinating "unexpected" - multiple colors apparently coming from the same object. First, the mark was red, then blue, then green. Zachary had been totally captivated by these pencils right from the start! As I wrote, I called out the colors. After I showed him how I could write in multiple colors, with the same pencil, apparently not doing anything to make the colors change, he just had to try it for himself - he picked up the pencil and started to draw/make lines on a piece of paper. He found these totally cool - and so did I! :o) The neat thing was that although the lead had three colors, as you wrote and the colors mixed, you ended up writing in a whole bunch of colors. Each day, I saw the importance of color in Zachary’s life. For more on that, I encouraged all parents to read the chapter in my second book entitled Color: The Pot Of Gold At The End Of The Rainbow© in the life of the autistic child! :o)
I had purchased these pencils via my local Staples store. There were four mechanical pencils per pack, with 12 refill leads for about $2.50. These pencils were made by Pentech (310-456-7799), a maker of children’s toys and a subsidiary of Jakks Pacific, Inc.
I was glad I had found fun tools for teaching Zachary to write, but still, I certainly regretted not having started on “writing skills” much sooner.
I found that when we did Zachary’s homework for example, that a page he should complete in a few minutes could take up to twenty or thirty minutes just because of his issues with writing. He knew the answers, but just could not write them down fast or well enough and I found that slowed us down tremendously. As such, this was one area – writing - I certainly encouraged all parents of children with autism to tackle as soon as possible. Now, things were much better than they had been when we first started to tackle this issue, but there was no denying that writing was still an issue for Zachary. The formation of letters was coming along well, but the speed certainly tried the patience. I found that if I simply held Zachary’s hand in mine, and still allowed him to do all the motion, that this was somewhat helpful.
In writing, it was really within the last year that I also came to notice that Zachary actually had what appeared to be real physical issues with "just holding" the pencil. As I did more research on autism, I discovered that "limb apraxia" was common in these children. Although there was no denying that Zachary had to “understand” the pencil to want to use it, I came to see that it truly was as though Zachary had no physical strength in his fingers. So, I bought a couple of "squishy or sponge balls" that he could squeeze now and then to build strength in his fingers. That seemed to help too.
I also noticed Zachary was pretty well ambidextrous. He could do things with either hand and did not seem to always prefer one hand over the other - there was maybe a slight preference for left in writing, but, other things, he did with his right hand, like eating. So, I decided to focus on the right hand (we tried left, but I just found it too hard). I decided to provide a "reference" for him in order to show him how to hold a pencil. I showed him how to put his index finger and thumb to hold the pencil and told him to "put his fingers on the crack" - the "crack" being the part where the pencil sharpening ended and the "color" of the pencil started - that was "the reference" and he came to use it pretty well immediately when I just reminded him to "put his fingers on the crack". The other reference I had to provide had to do with the "sleeping finger" - the middle finger acting as a place for the pencil to "sleep on" along with the area between the thumb and index finger. From early on, these basic references I had found helped tremendously with “writing issues”. Finding the “reference trick” – it appeared – was key for Zachary.
On parent discussion boards, I had read of other parents putting a rubber band around their children’s fingers – not too tightly of course – in order to help hold the pencil in place. I had not tried that, but it certainly was an idea for children who had tremendous physical difficulty in simply holding a pencil.
As with everything, understanding the issues always made them much easier to deal with.
There was absolutely no denying that for Zachary, labeling everything had been absolutely key to his progress.
If incoming sensory input involved sight and/or sound and/or touch and/or smell, each aspect was defined as much as possible - everything heard, seen, touched, tasted, smelled. I explained everything I could to Zachary by providing him with as many labels as possible and as many explanations of those labels or sensory inputs as possible. Providing explanations relating to - the “purpose of things” - in addition to - actual labels for everything - I found to be absolutely key!
That was because a label provided an entity in and of itself, much as did “a purpose”. Even -“1/2” - once labeled as such, was an entity in and of itself that could be classified on its own, even though it was only a “part” to a whole. By providing a label for something – even fractions – that “something” became a “whole” in and of itself. Zachary used to have tremendous issues with doors, cupboards, or windows that were partially open either in the house or in the car - until I provided for him a label for the partiality by stating that “the door is half open” or “the car window is 2/3 open”, etc.
For Zachary, the label always provided the understanding he needed – the label to the “part” that could then be categorized in and of itself!
Although having to provide such levels of details appeared overwhelming, it really was not that difficult. The key was to move Zachary to the point where he now asked the “What’s that?” question in order to understand his own world. Zachary had finally moved to that stage and that had opened an entirely new world for him. When he needed to understand something or label something so that he could categorize it, he would now finally say: “what’s that, mom?” because he knew that mom had a lot of answers to help him make sense of his world and that helped tremendously in reducing his frustration levels.
Given these children truly lived “via reference”, I had to actually teach Zachary “what to say” when he needed help understanding something. As such, I literally would tell him: “When Zachary does not understand something, Zachary says: What’s that, mom?…” so that he had the actual sentence he needed to use to help him get the answers he needed. So many of these children had such wonderful memories that once told something, they had a tremendous capacity to remember it for “future reference”.
The life of the child with autism appeared to be as a huge puzzle and as such, as the child came to understand or tolerate his “puzzle” (i.e., his environment), often, leaving that puzzle or environment behind could lead to a tremendous amount of stress – because with a change in environment came a whole new set of sensory input that now needed to be understood. This, in my opinion, was why so many of these children loved “routines”. It was also my opinion, however, that routines were exactly what these children did not need! When you made life a routine, you reinforced “sameness” and that was exactly the opposite of what you wanted. Teaching flexibility – that there could be more than one right answer or more than one right way – was in my opinion, absolutely key to getting these children on the road to a better life.
Certainly, everyone needed “some” routine in life, but, as with everything, it was a matter of “degrees” and in my opinion, the child with autism only needed as much “routine” as any other “normal child”. Life was anything but routine and children with autism had to adapt to life – not to a synthetic environment.
I discuss these issues in much greater depth in my second and third books – Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost! and Breaking The Code: Putting Pieces In Place! I strongly urge all parents to read both these books, provided in full on my website.
Also discussed in my previous works and, in my opinion, very much related to learning language was the fact that Zachary loved anything that had to do with colors. Indeed, some autistic adults stated they coded their world based on colors. On a parent discussion board, an autistic adult once stated how he learned in school by “color coding” what the teacher was writing on the board. This was how he had learned his alphabet and had unscrambled so much of his life as a child. I had found that absolutely amazing, especially given what I saw in Zachary in terms of his absolute love of colors. It was, after all, in his “room of colors” that he started to actually speak – the day I had finished painting that room. Although I did not realize it at the time, the picture of “Zachary’s room of colors” had actually involved not only colors, but categorizations. This room had the alphabet on one wall, numbers on another, and shapes on yet another wall. I now had no doubt that Zachary used colors to somehow categorize his world – colors were simply “too much” a part of his world not to be playing a key role – of that, I was absolutely convinced! Granted, I did not fully understand the role of colors in his world, but there was simply no denying that colors were somehow very, very, key!
Colors, I knew were key to Zachary’s categorization of his world. Now, however, I also very much knew that they played a role in the control of Zachary’s emotions also.
The frontal lobe involved functions relating to motion, control of emotions and word associations. As discussed in my earlier works, Zachary had a few key phrases he used all the time. These included “green truck” and “blue circle”. In “Saving Zachary: The Death And Rebirth Of A Family Coping With Autism!”, I had written the following words in the chapter entitled “The Revelation”:
“It explained why, when frustrated, if Zachary could not find something to spin, he reverted to “pretending” to be spinning with a finger or to some object that provided order and as such, it explained non-sense language...his walking around the house saying words that appeared to be totally out of context...such as “green truck”, “circle, square, triangle”...the reciting of all shapes, the alphabet with associated words for each letter, etc., prior to going to bed...there was order there! Zachary used to go around the house and say, “circle, triangle, square” , or “circle, circle, circle, etc...”, or “green truck” (had wheels and he loved to spin wheels... but also something concrete that “made sense” ), or “fan”, or “carousel”, ...they were all things that I had perceived as “non-sense language”, something so characteristic of autistic children, yet, now that I understood Zachary’s need for order, I understood this too... to him, these were not “non-sense” words, these were things that in his world....had order. Whenever he used these “non-sense” words, I now knew that he was giving himself an “order fix” as I came to call it. He did this when he was stressed out, or simply after a period of time when we had been watching a movie or doing something else that had basically no order to it”. [end of quote, book 1, Saving Zachary: The Death And Rebirth Of A Family Coping With Autism!].
Note again, the common themes here… color, control of emotions, motion, word associations… constants [i.e., things that did not change – such as shapes, letters, etc.]… categorizations… all those vocalizations that had once seemed so “nonsense”, once again, appeared to make complete sense. Control of emotions, motor activity, language production, word associations… all these things were co-located in the frontal lobe, and in my opinion, perhaps much more interrelated than we may have ever imagined! Interestingly, the identification of colors was located in the occipital lobe – not the frontal lobe. Yet, clearly, colors played a huge role in Zachary’s life. As such, I wondered if there were “other functions” associated with colors that could be involved or whether this part of the occipital lobe was actually “working properly” in these children and as such, they were “drawing upon colors” as a key to categorizing and understanding their world. I suspected this could very much be the case – that functions involving colors were working properly and hence were somehow being used in all parts of the brain – not just the occipital lobe.
I knew that Zachary very much categorized things based on colors. He remembered things more if they involved colors – both categorization and memory functions were in the temporal lobe.
I knew Zachary’s visual attention was always very much drawn by anything that involved colors. He loved to touch things that had color – such as my “yellow car” as he brushed his hands along the car each time he walked by it as he vocalized the words: “a yellow car”. He loved to play with a Rubic’s cube and although he clearly liked the puzzle aspect to that toy, he would usually ask me to make a “blue H” or a “green T” on one of the faces of the cube. As such, again, color clearly was key. It was not simply “make an H”, he gave very specific instructions – always involving colors! Visual attention, touch perception and manipulation of objects were all parietal lobe functions. As such, clearly colors were involved in Zachary’s parietal lobe functions too!
The absolutely fascinating thing about colors was that they appeared to involve the “crossing over” of senses. For example, some persons were said to “hear colors”. This phenomenon was truly fascinating to me. According to this particular website, http://www.school-for-champions.com/senses/synesthesia.htm, by Ron Kurtus, I quote:
“Synesthesia was a condition in which the real information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense. A person may see colors when hearing a sound or may experience a smell when seeing a certain color. Such a person is called a synesthete. There is much to be learned about this phenomenon… Synesthesia is a linking of senses that seems to happen in a small percentage of the population. It is most often the experiencing of colors in association with other senses. It seems to be caused in the processing of information in the brain. There is much study needed to understand this phenomenon.” [end of quote, emphasis added, Ron Kurtus, , http://www.school-for-champions.com/senses/synesthesia.htm].
Hum… a “linking of the senses”… that was very interesting indeed. Could colors provide a way for Zachary to perform sensory input integration (parietal lobe) functions that had appeared to be so malfunctioning in the past via the use of colors and hence, almost “bypassing” that parietal lobe function if indeed that part of the brain was not working properly? That certainly was all very, very interesting to me given I knew colors were so very important in Zachary’s world! I wondered if children who suffered from severe autism could perhaps also suffer from color blindness and hence perhaps did not have access to what could indeed be a “backup” system for other functions in the brain.
More interesting however, was this quote as it related to the point of stimulation - again, I quote:
“Syn-es-the-sia n. Physiol. Sensation produced at a point other than or remote from the point of stimulation, as of a color from hearing a certain sound (fr. Gk, syn = together + aisthesis = to perceive)…
Synesthesia is an involuntary joining in which the real information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense. In addition to being involuntary, this additional perception is regarded by the synesthete as real, often outside the body, instead of imagined in the mind's eye. It also has some other interesting features that clearly separate it from artistic fancy or purple prose. Its reality and vividness are what make synesthesia so interesting in its violation of conventional perception. Synesthesia is also fascinating because logically it should not be a product of the human brain, where the evolutionary trend has been for increasing separation of function anatomically.” [end of quote, emphasis added, http://web.mit.edu/synesthesia/www/synesthesia.html].
Colors… could they indeed be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for children with autism and their parents. I was now truly suspecting that, at least for some, this could indeed be true! Zachary, after all, had started talking again – in his “room of colors”!
The information on this site also stated that whereas a “normal person” saw, say, each of the letters on this page as black text, persons who experienced this phenomenon or type of perception saw each letter in very specific colors. As such, they had, for example, an almost automatic color-coded alphabet.
If that were indeed the case in some children with autism, clearly “sensory overload” from the simple act of reading a book for example would be overwhelming indeed given each letter, could potentially have its own specific color. Likewise, certain touches, smells and sounds could be perceived as colors. If this were the case, then, could not concrete things like objects be perceived as colors too?
Particularly interesting to me was the first comment from this site – the definition of synesthesia – and the fact that it occurred at a point other than or remote from the point of stimulation (i.e. not in the occipital lobe – where color identification would usually be perceived).
This certainly could explain some of what I saw in my son in his constant need to seemingly color code so much in his world. I knew Zachary did not color code his alphabet, but I certainly would be paying much more attention to this particular issue in the future in order to figure out exactly what roles colors did play in my son – and how they impacted his understanding and/or categorization of his world. Clearly, I already knew colors were involved in controlling stress in his life – of that, I had no doubt – but, I needed to understand much more in this area!
I wondered for example how the thalamus played into this. The thalamus was involved in conscious and subconscious tasks as well as in the integration of central nervous system and peripheral nervous system input to the cerebral cortex. Clearly, the sense of touch was a “peripheral nervous system” input. How was it that Zachary appeared to consciously need to “order his world or sensory input” before he went to bed – a function that in a “normal person” occurred pretty well subconsciously? How was it that “verbalizing green truck” something Zachary used to control his level of stress or frustration? How was it that a touch could be perceived as a color? I knew that if two tasks were presented simultaneously – one conscious and one subconscious – the basal ganglia processed the conscious first (see book three for more on this critical issue that can absolutely impact “issues of safety”). How did that fit into all this? This was all, very, very interesting to me.
As I thought about this issue of the impact of colors in my son’s life, I could not help but remember how difficult it had been to teach Zachary colors. Zachary had a very difficult time learning colors - at least in expressing them to me. I worked and worked with him on that. Now that I looked back, and thought in terms of "order" and "partiality", and “references”, I was of the opinion that teaching "red, blue, orange, yellow", etc., was not the best approach.
If I had to do this over again, I would have started with just one color – teaching Zachary the many shades of one color first!
For example, I would teach "blue", "navy blue", "royal blue", etc., before moving on to the next color. You see, if I introduced "this crayon as 'red' " and then showed this one as "green", and this one as "blue"... that was what I was teaching a child... red, green and blue. And so, that created a specific reference. But, if I tried to introduce "another blue", or "another red" then I introduced a confusing "variation" for my child. So, I think if I had to do this again, I would start with variations within a single color, labeling each one (i.e., "royal blue", "navy blue", "light blue", "dark blue") before introducing another color. Again, this was just a thought, based on "order" and "reference living", but I believed this would make teaching this concept much simpler.
Using the computer's color palette under the font/colors/more colors/custom was also a fun thing to do to teach colors. Zachary was always fascinated with anything I did that involved colors and using the computer's color palette allowed me to show him how "adding more" of one color or "less of another" resulted in different shades and different colors. :o)
Below, I provided pages I had created for each main color for parents who wanted to try this approach. Note that printers tended to distort colors during printing [when compared to what was actually seen on the computer screen], but, these at least provided for parents a starting point to teaching colors based on hues or shades of the same thing first. Also, I would encourage parents to take actual objects around the house to show the child how the colors actually applied to his world.
Finally, I encouraged all parents to consider obtaining paints to show how, physically [using motion of paintbrushes] the "mixing colors” created new colors. This could also be done by buying colored plastic sheets and simply putting them one on top of the other and putting them up to the light. Actually showing the child “how to make colors” had the advantage of using “motion” and I strongly believed motion helped in the production of language in these children based on the fact that both production of language and motion functions were located in the frontal lobe.
For example, you could easily show a child that:
red + blue = purple
white + red = pink
white + black = gray
blue + yellow = green
yellow + red = orange
red + green = brown
and so on...
If indeed children with autism did somehow color-code their world it was necessary to teach them colors fairly early on because although I felt that colors could definitely be used to one’s advantage in teaching children with autism there was also a problem in not understanding the child’s color-code – especially if it was completely “made up” by the child.
If my suspicions were correct and the child with autism in some cases did “color-code” his world”, I wondered if once that world was coded in his mind, if that child would stop wanting to actually “decode” life as it truly should be understood or as it was “normally” understood – thereby perhaps further slipping into his own world.
Although I firmly believed colors could be used to one’s advantage in teaching the autistic child to decode life, I also believed that if a child was left alone to decode life for himself, that perhaps, this “code to life” created by the child himself, indeed could lead to the child withdrawing further and further into his own world and leaving the “real world” behind and as such, it was in my opinion, critical to establish “common ground” when it came to colors – and that meant providing labels for colors, so that communication between the child and the rest of the world, if actually somehow done via colors, would be enhanced as opposed to possibly hindered.
It was also important to note that some children were color-blind. Boys were more often color blind than girls. As such, if your child appeared to grasp certain colors but had difficulty with others, please keep in mind the fact that they could have difficulty with perceiving certain colors. Bright colors were often the easiest and best perceived by those with color blindness.
In working with color sheets, if I had to do this again – to teach Zachary colors - I would start with colors that had the least variation and then move to those that had the most and thus yellow was probably the best place to start to teach "different shades" of the same thing. Interestingly, yellow was one of Zachary’s favorite colors and a color the human eye perceived rather well.
These “color sheets” were also available, as full page sheets, on my website under Parent Teaching Tools. In my opinion, it was best to provide only one color at once. As such, I would not introduce colors based on these smaller scale samples. I scaled these down only for discussion purposes in this text. In actually teaching colors, however, I would use full-page representations and teach the various shades of only one color at a time. To introduce a child to different colors at once – as shown in these scaled down pages – would in my opinion, introduce too much confusion. Thus, I would introduce “only yellows” first. Although, not all colors were provided here, there were in my opinion, enough to teach the concept that there was more than one yellow, more than one blue, more than one red, etc. – and that was the key – teaching the concept. Once the concept was grasped the child should have little difficulty understanding “other colors”.
I knew for a fact that colors were very important to Zachary, and as such, if colors could somehow be important to all children with autism that certainly provided a great opportunity for using colors to one’s advantage in teaching these children to “break the code” to so much in life – including language [more on this later]. The important thing to note was that in teaching colors this way, the child could see that there was “more than one yellow” and again, that had to help increase flexibility in these children in that they could see that things really did not need to be just “this way” or “that way” – that there could be “many ways” to see “kind of the same thing”.
In Zachary, he clearly often spoke using colors. He also quickly grasped concepts that included colors. For example, in teaching Zachary about streetlights, I had told him: “Red = stop, green = go, yellow = be careful”. Note that I often used equations (i.e., equals) in teaching Zachary new concepts. Now, however, he had been able to move somewhat away from “just equations” as now, he could state either the equation or “go is green”, “yellow is be careful”, “stop is red”. In other words, he was slowly moving away from “equations” to “little sentences”. Granted, he still used primarily “equations”, however, the fact that he, himself, had started to move away from equations in certain areas of his speech, such as this, showed that he now understood the concept well enough and started to be a little more flexible in how he used it.
In book two, given so much of this was still so new to me, I had concerns about whether or not using equations in language was a good or bad thing given equations had to be used in math also. For example, when I had first written the section on language found in book two, I was not certain as to whether or not I should be using “K+N = N” (as in knee) or “KN says N” in teaching the phonics for this sound. Now that I had a little more time with Zachary, clearly, the use of equations in language was not a problem for him. When Zachary read something, he did not have to say the equation – he just read the word because he now knew that K+N=N or KN says N. Given we were still a little way from “basic algebra”, I no longer saw the use of equations in teaching language as a problem. By the time “basic algebra” came around, I suspected that introducing K+N=N as a math concept (i.e., thus, K = zero in this equation) would not be an issue. The simple fact was that there were plenty of “other letters” to use for that equation – like “x” and “y” and “z”, or combinations of “a” and “b” and “c”, and those letters, I had not used in “equations” relating to language and as such, I suspected that would help further reduce any confusion there might exist further down the road in relation to math. Thus, I was now perfectly comfortable with using “letter equations” to teach phonics and indeed, believed that for “special sounds”, this was the best way to go!
Zachary had been taught phonics using sounds only. I had not used the motions approach taught in The Phonics Handbook by Sue Lloyd when I had actually taught Zachary his basic phonics. In my opinion, that meant that – at least in Zachary’s case – auditory processing alone had been sufficient in teaching him phonics. Given that auditory processing and the understanding of language were co-located in the temporal lobe, this made sense to me. Yet, I now very clearly saw why the approach used in Sue Lloyd’s The Phonics Handbook had worked so well for my nephew Andrew who had PDD. Motion was co-located in the frontal lobe along with the production of language, and as such, I now suspected that in the production of language, motion was absolutely key!
As I had pulled out The Phonics Handbook to look at its teachings as I wrote this book, it truly appeared that the author had stumbled upon a very critical key to teaching language production without even realizing it. Everything in this handbook had to do with the understanding of language – the teaching of sounds for reading. Yet, in her approach and attempt at making phonics fun via the use of motions, the author had clearly stumbled upon what I now saw as one of the primary keys to language production in children with autism – motion! In attempting to teach the understanding of language, this author had uncovered a most valuable key to the production of language! The funny thing was that in the preface materials, no mention whatsoever was made of “motion” as it related to language – and as such, I doubted that this author understood what in my view, were the huge implications of her approach.
The introductory comments in this handbook did, however, also very much confirm my suspicions that sight was not key to the understanding of language and that children learned language better if they made use of sounds. As such, “sight reading”, a method used in so many schools today, was in my opinion, the worst method we could be using to teach children language – be that the actual production or understanding of language! In my opinion, The Phonics Handbook by Sue Lloyd was key not only to “phonics” but perhaps key to actual language production as well!
All of this made perfect sense given that auditory processing, memory functions and the understanding of language were co-located in the temporal lobe. The temporal lobe, however, had very little to do with visual perception. The only visual perception that appeared to exist in the temporal lobe had to do with face/place and body part recognition. Note that the method presented in Sue Lloyd’s The Phonics Handbook also included “body parts” as phonics were taught using motions that very much involved “body parts”. In addition, The Phonics Handbook made use of “associations” as children learned their phonics. The “associations” were not only “word – or letter - associations” but “motion associations” as well. Word associations and motions were functions co-located in the frontal lobe with language production and as such, it made perfect sense once again, that this approach worked so well for children!
Note that The Phonics Handbook had been created for “normal children” and yet, it had worked wonderfully with my PDD nephew – a child very much on the autism spectrum. As such, methods such as this one, surely could be useful in integrating children with autism in “normal classrooms” as well.
Thus, word associations, motions and language production were co-located in the frontal lobe and auditory processing, visual perception as it related to body parts, memory, voice recognition, categorization, and the understanding of language were co-located in the temporal lobe. Clearly, activating all these functions at once – as did the materials in The Phonics Handbook – in my opinion, was absolutely key not only in helping with the actual production and understanding of language, but in helping to bridge functions of the frontal and temporal lobe – overall!
As stated earlier, in my opinion, finding “bridging functions” among the various parts of the brain was the key to re-establishing neural connections that may have been severed – and clearly, word associations in the frontal lobe provided a key bridge to categorization functions in the temporal lobe. Word associations were nothing more than a very specific categorization and phonics were but a form of word association – the association of a letter and sound – and hence, the merging of these functions provided for parents of children with autism, perhaps the best opportunity for actually producing language in children that were non-verbal and increasing the understanding of language as well!
If my theory were correct that co-located functions were much more interrelated than we may have ever imagined, that meant that by using motions, production of language, and word associations in the frontal lobe and bridging over to the temporal lobe’s categorization and body part recognition functions - motion and - word associations - especially - provided in my opinion, the means of allowing for greater communication between the frontal and temporal lobe overall.
Indeed, if the understanding of language was tied to almost all other temporal lobe functions, as very much appeared to be the case, then any “bridging over” in my opinion, had to also provide an opportunity for “bridging over” to other functions as well – and that – in my opinion – had tremendous potential within it for teaching children with autism – or any person with communication issues between the frontal and temporal lobes.
This also explained why we saw echolalia in children with autism. Echolalia – the production of language and repetition of words – words that had “associations” - in my opinion, was but another way of “bridging” the frontal and temporal lobes – a way of breaking the code – to language!
In thinking about all this, as I looked back on so many things we saw in children with autism, I could not help but be totally amazed at how the brain of children with autism – and I suspected of all persons - appeared to work. It was as though these children inherently recognized that given their limitations in terms of communication among the various parts of the brain, they inherently knew to use as many functions as possible in “breaking the code” to everything in their world. For example, in engaging in echolalia or the parroting of words and sounds heard, these children were drawing on functions involving 1) “voice recognition” – the recognition of not only the voice of the person speaking, but of their own as well, 2) repetition functions, something so key to solidifying memories, 3) additional auditory processing – as both the sounds of others and their own sounds now also had to be processed, 4) face and voice recognition functions as they focused on the mouth of the speaker, 5) visual perception – again relating to the face and mouth, 6) the ability to distinguish between truth and a lie given repetition solidified what we believed to be true, and finally, 6) the all important function of categorization.
Thus – echolalia or the parroting of another person’s speech - a behavior we had for so long seen as “mindless repetition” in the children of autism, in actuality, was in my opinion, the child’s amazing way of activating as many parts of the temporal lobe as possible in an attempt to “break the code” to communication! Truly amazing indeed! How we could have seen echolalia as “mindless parroting” for so long was truly a testimony of how “retarded” we were in understanding this issue and how “advanced” the child’s adaptation mechanisms for “breaking the code” to language – and so much more - truly appeared to be! Needless to say, my respect and admiration for the determination and adaptation of the child with autism – a child faced with so many challenges – had increased tremendously, and the admiration I had once had of “experts” had been equally – decreased.
The determination of these children to “break the code” – to everything in their world – was absolutely amazing to me. I now understood the need for those “order fixes” I had so clearly seen in the past with Zachary. These had been his way of not only trying to “break the code” in categorizing his world but also his way of coping when his world seemed to so very much fall apart as he failed to understand it and those around him had so failed to provide that critical understanding for him. I now understood what I had once seen as an almost “fanatic need for order” – a need I now clearly saw as a means of making his world – make sense!
In thinking of the many, many children who had been left in a world of their own because we had so failed to understand them, my heart could not help but feel - tremendous sorrow.
I now finally understood so much in my son and that understanding on my part had made such a huge difference in his life. Much of his stress and mine were now gone. I now had a better understanding of how I needed to teach him and it was this understanding I hoped to provide for other parents as well in order that perhaps our journey with autism could help so many other families as well. I now had a son who could once again communicate with me – a son who now finally understood that if he did not understand something, he just had to say: “what’s that” and someone would now be there to help him understand his world – to help him – “break the code” to so much that had once been but a pool of confusion in which he had been drowning. Zachary and, indeed, our entire family, had now learned “the basic strokes” to moving forward in helping to remove not only Zachary – but our entire family – from the shackles of autism that had once so firmly grasped and suffocated our family and so painfully weighed us down as we all struggled to understand and overcome this disorder we had once only known as – “autism”.
Living with a child who had autism had truly been a lesson, at least for our family, in how little we had understood in so many areas not only in these children, but in the human brain as well and how the result of that lack of understanding in even the basics had been so very detrimental to so many – for so long.
As had so often been the case in my journey with autism, so much of what I had once known to be true of autism based on what I had been told by “the experts” had totally collapsed when it came to the issue of communication in children with autism. What I had read and heard of autism over the last 20 years had been but a great - deception. Once again, what man had known to be “so true” of autism – that echolalia was “just mindless parroting” – had proved, for us, to be exactly the opposite of what we had once thought to be true. This “mindless parroting” now appeared to be a very powerful attempt and mechanism in understanding language.
Because we had failed to understand, we had applied a label of “retarded” to so many children. Yet clearly that label belonged on someone else. I knew many would take offense to that statement. Quite frankly, I took offense at the labeling of children with labels such as “retarded” just because they were not understood. I took offense at making a child a further victim – a victim of a label - by those who were “experts” who chose to further victimize children and the mentally ill rather than recognize their own limitations. My opinions on this issue were not an attack on a specific person, but rather, an observation of society overall because truly – it was all of society that had so failed to understand these children and given them labels they simply did not deserve. I very much also included myself in the “retarded” in this issue because for 20 years, I too, had failed to seek to understand these children and just accepted “a label” – an easy copout – for the failure to understand a child or person with mental illness, although clearly, I had not been “working this issue – for decades” – as had the CDC and NIH!
It was not until this issue touched me personally that I truly felt the need to understand and the need to find answers when all too often the answer I had seen in almost everything relating to autism was - we simply do not know or understand. No longer would I ever accept a “we don’t know” as an answer and just leave the search for those answers to someone else. No longer would I accept the lies of the CDC when it came to vaccines and neurodegeneration. To this day, this organization continued to argue that vaccines were safe when, clearly, they knew otherwise. My son did not have another sixty years for society to figure this out. As his mother, it was my duty to seek those answers – myself – answers to help me to truly understand my son – my only son – a little boy whose precious little butterfly kisses - I simply refused to let - slip away!
The extent to which we had so failed to understand so much in children like Zachary – for so very long - and the consequences of that lack of understanding were in my opinion - simply overwhelming. Was it any wonder so many children with autism were non-verbal and that so many still lived – in their own world!
“We cannot order men to see the truth or prohibit them from indulging in error.” Max Planck, Philosophy of Physics, 1936
“If you tell a lie long enough, loud enough and often enough, the people will believe it.” Adolf Hitler
“We still do not know one-thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.” Albert Einstein
And herein were the dangers of assuming anyone was “an expert” when it came to understanding so much in life! When answers given to what we saw in autism were “we don’t know” or “we don’t understand”, I now knew to “keep looking”, because, clearly, there had to be answers out there!
I certainly did not consider myself “an expert” in autism – but I certainly was an expert when it came to my son. No one knew him or understood him better than I did and it was as a mother only – not an expert – that I shared my story in the hopes that, perhaps, our story could help another family build a bridge of communication between even just one more mother and child – or father and child.
Like structures no longer cared for and broken bridges, so many lives had collapsed under the weight of autism… and now, it was my hope that our journey helped other to rebuild their broken bridges and broken lives also. The road could certainly be long, but there was simply no denying that it could be very, very rewarding also!