Labeling EVERYTHING For The Autistic Child!!!
If there is one productive coping mechanism in all this... it is labeling. By tagging names to everything, the autistic child comes to see that everything in and of itself is "an entity". Even a fraction can be an entity in and of itself even though a fraction is also a part to a whole. For example, if you label a fraction, such as 1/2, even that assumes an identity of its own... it becomes a "whole" concept in and of itself. As such, it is my opinion that teaching fractions as early as possible is a CRITICAL key for these children... not the adding and subtracting of fractions... just the concept of the parts making up the whole.
If you think about it, if partiality is the issue for these children, what better way to make them understand "partiality" than teaching fractions!
Most persons would never think of teaching fractions to a 2, 3 or 4 year old. In fact, the materials I purchased to teach Zachary fractions were for grades 2 through 6. This, however, should not be a concern for parents since the only thing the child really needs to understand is the fact that the whole can be "broken into parts" and that "parts" fit together to form a whole... and that "those parts" have a name too! Once the child understands that everything has a "label", he can more readily ask: "what's that" to get the labels he needs to further understand his world.
I found that for Zachary, if I "labeled" everything for him, it helped him cope tremendously. His need for order necessitated he be able to associate a thing, an activity, everything - to a "label".
When you label something, even if that something is a "partial", for example, 1/2 - this is a fraction... a part of a whole, but by showing the child that 1/2 means something in and of itself, that "partial" takes on an entity of its own and is recognize as a whole in and of itself.
When rewinding the VCR while the tape "went backwards" on the TV screen (something that used to totally upset Zachary), I would provide the label of: "Rewinding...It's ok...we're just rewinding...we're rewinding the tape so it's going backwards". As I said this, I showed Zachary how "rewinding" was similar to "walking backwards"... and I'd tell him, "it's just going backwards" as I walked backwards to help solidify the concept of "rewinding". Knowing that this "activity" was called "rewinding" made it something he could better cope with.
It was the same thing with everything that upset him. For Zachary, walking backwards in and of itself had in the past been very stressful until I figured out that if I "labeled it" as "walking backwards" as we did it, then, he could cope with this "lack of order". Once again, "walking backwards" had taken on an identity of its own. So, as I made a game of "walking backwards", I'd say..."walking backwards..." to him...and then, it became fun. It was the same thing for "walking sideways...", "backing up" (in the car), "turning around", "windows up"/ "windows down"/ "windows halfway" (in the car), "going the other way", "brushing teeth", etc. The label helped to make all the difference!
With a process, such as "brushing teeth" or "cutting hair", I found that Zachary could easily tolerate the activity if I brought a "sense of order" to it. So, for example, as I brushed his teeth, I would count them out loud for him. As I cut his hair, I would make him hold a bowl and I would count the "clumps" of hair as I cut them and put them in the bowl. That brought "order" to a process. Eventually, I could easily do these activities without the "counting". At first, Zachary found it a little stressful without the "counting", but he adjusted since we had "done this" before, and that, in itself, provided a "frame of reference", an understanding of the activity and end result.
If I labeled every object, every activity, everything...it helped him cope tremendously because he now "understood what that was"... and even a "partial" has a "whole" entity in and of itself when you label it (i.e., 1/3.... this partial is 1/3... 1/3 represents something in and of itself).
Labeling something as "in the middle" and showing him exercises with things "in the middle" (i.e., a big stack of blocks, a small one and an "in the middle one") helped him grasp the concept of "in between" situations. Or simply labeling the stacks as "big", "bigger", and "biggest". Such concepts as big, bigger, biggest, small, smaller, smallest, tall, taller, tallest, short, shorter, shortest, some, more, most, etc. - all these became instant sources of fascination and amazement for Zachary because they helped him understand the "in between" situation!
Labels also helped Zachary with sensory issues as well. When he heard loud vehicles go by, Zachary would always cover his ears quickly. I found if I said: "that's a broken muffler", or in a food store, when the humming of the freezers or the ceiling lights was quite audible, even for me, I'd just have to tell Zachary something like: "those are loud freezers...listen... can you hear the freezers?", and that would help him cope. The P.A. systems were still challenging... some stores had them quite loud and that still startled him. I found that if he was distracted, however, he could better tolerate those as well. Now, when Zachary hears a loud car, he himself will say: "broken muffler"... and he's ok with the loud sound. I do believe there are times, however, when his ears actually "hurt" from the noise. Auditory issues are among those I hope to further address this year.
A simple way to help with auditory issues was simply to buy Zachary a pair of "shopping ear muffs". We kept these in the car, and wherever we went, we simply asked: "do you want your shopping ear muffs", and he would answer "yes" or "no" depending on the place we were going to. He knew the types of sounds in these places and as such, he could decide whether or not he needed to wear his ear muffs. At first, I made him wear them in all stores... and he loved them. In no time, he would choose to take them off himself in specific locations but to keep them on in others.
This simple thing - labeling everything - was an absolutely HUGE help for Zachary!
Zachary soon learned to actually "create" his own labels too! As he verbalized these, I would search out "what he was trying to say", "how he was seeing things" and I would then further explain the object of his intrigue in order to help him better understand it.
For example, Zachary came up with the word "truck train" to define "freight trains" because the engine looked like a "big truck", whereas more streamlined passenger trains, he called "car trains" because they had people on board. Freight trains, like trucks, moved cargo and emitted quite a bit of pollution in the form of "smoke". Passenger trains, like cars, moved people. Understanding Zachary's "view" of trains made it simple to explain the difference to him and provide the proper labels of "freight trains" or "cargo trains" and "passenger trains".
Another label Zachary came up with was that of "flower head". This one he came up with as he watched Dr. Seuss' "Daisy Head Maisy"... the story of a little girl with a flower growing on her head. To a therapist, "flower head" would indeed be "odd language", but when understood from Zachary's perspective, it all made perfect sense! I found Zachary's sister to be a huge help in understanding Zachary because she had watched the same videos he had, learned from the same software packages, etc. A sibling was an invaluable resource when it came to understanding Zachary's "talk". The key to "Zachary's labels" was simply to make sure I clarified his "funny labels" so that he truly understood "real life". In the "flower head" example, I made it a point to show him that flowers do not really grow on heads... that they just grow in dirt or sand. Given my concerns with "pretend play" and the autistic child - a section I hope all parents will read - I was always certain to make absolutely sure that Zachary understood what was "real" and "what was not real"... and again, labels helped me to do that!
Labels and fractions, when combined, make for a very powerful tool for the autistic child in terms of helping him overcome issues of partiality! For more on this very critical issue, see my sections on: Using Fractions (under Exercises I Do At Home), Words That Teach Quantity (under Teaching Language), and Words To Cope© to see how each of these can be used in "labeling" everything for the autistic child.
In thinking back, it occurred to me that although, in general, Zachary, for a long time, hated to even open a book, the one type of book he had actually liked in the past had been the "I Spy" books by Jean Marzollo. I now understood why - these books provided a fantastic opportunity to label countless items and for Zachary that provided a greater understanding of his world.
Labeling - via the use of fractions, words to teach quantity and words to cope - is in my opinion, the most powerful tool parents have in helping them recover their autistic children! :o)