The Theory Behind My Teaching Tools...
In my opinion, the autistic child is a child that lives "by reference" as explained in my second book, Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost! As such, in my opinion, the FIRST reference you give an autistic child needs to be as accurate as possible... and that means - as complete as possible, too! More importantly, it is, in my opinion, critical for the child to know that there is often "more than one answer".
In working with Zachary, I found that "how complex" something looked was not as important as "how complete" it was and "how well explained" it was. For Zachary, to grasp a concept, he always seemed to need to see how the pieces fit into the whole. Categorization is also important to him. I've always found that when I introduced a new concept, I had to introduce it with "all the possible answers" for him to understand best. Unfortunately, the way students are taught today, one concept is taught and it is slowly added to over time. Of course, in many things, that is the easiest way to teach, but, still, I believe a more "complete puzzle" approach is better for not only children with autism, but for all children.
I will create my tools based on what I think will work best for Zachary. I am happy to share these tools with other parents of the autistic. Right now, all I know is that there is basically no consensus in what works or does not work for the autistic. Yet, these children are similar enough to be all labeled as "autistic" and as such, in my opinion, there have to be similarities in best teaching practices, too... and that we simply have not "stumbled upon them" yet. I am very much of the opinion that categorization and showing how the parts fit into the whole are key for Zachary... and as such, I will be building my tools for him with that in mind while keeping in mind also those parts functions in each part of the brain. If my tools are useful to other parents - great!
I would ask that parents who do use these tools let me know what they find "works" and "what does not work". Perhaps that way, we can come up with "best teaching practices for the autistic". I just know that I, personally, can not wait for the government or those in education to come up with tools for my son - I know him best and I see what works and what does not. Granted, all these tools will be "in trial" in our home this year, but, in my opinion, I've had enough of "things that don't work" to know that I have to try something else.
It is my opinion that tools we have today, for the most part, do not work for the autistic because they are written in a ways that do not "categorize" information in a manner that makes sense to the autistic child - a child who very much needs everything to be perfectly defined in order for it to make sense - at least in my opinion. Most tools in schools today also do not "maximize" the use of functions in each part of the brain. As you go through my materials, you will come to understand why I feel that - especially - is so critical. Other existing tools, I found to be "lacking steps" and thus assuming the child could "make the connection" and figure out the "missing step" or piece of the puzzle. With practice, I do not doubt that autistic children can do that... but, first, they must be shown each step to the puzzle. Thus, to ask them to "deduce" something from looking at an assignment where "pieces are missing", in my opinion, is not the way to go. The pieces have to be provided and explained before they can be memorized/learned. These children live via "reference" and "retrieval" of information... and as such, references must be as accurate and as complete as possible from the very start.
I find this to be a very fine balancing act. There indeed is a point at which there can be "too much" information for any child for a "first try". The key, in my opinion, lies in knowing "how much is enough", "how much is NECESSARY" for the concept to be learned properly and "how much is TOO MUCH". With my tools, I find Zachary may need to be shown something only once or twice, yet need more repetition in other concepts. The fact that I try to touch on all concepts, really allows one to take the concept that needs more work and focus on that while "letting go" of those things already learned.
Finally, my tools will be geared to teaching the autistic based on the assumption that various parts of the brain may very much be acting independently from one another, as explained in my second book, Breaking The Code To Remove The Shackles Of Autism: When The Parts Are Not Understood And The Whole Is Lost! That means that I will be looking at specific functions within the brain and will try to devise teaching tools based on other functions in that same part of the brain. For example, in production of language, the only "sense" also in the frontal lobe is that of smell. Can children be taught language based on smell? I do not know. I very much suspect it is possible. However, there is also "movement" in the frontal lobe in the form of motor activity planning, execution and memory tied to motor activity. Thus, in my opinion, language production may need to make use of "motion". This certainly would explain why some children who are autistic can do "sign language".
In terms of language comprehension, found in the temporal lobe, the key there, in my opinion, is "categorization"... or compartmentalization of language... hence, the bubble graph concept, etc.
The reason I have decided to build my tools based on these assumption is simple. I know Zachary can see, hear, taste, smell and hear... but I also know that those "sensory inputs" are not being properly integrated. Thus, it is as if "they come in" but basically go nowhere. So, if I plan on making use of that sensory input, I am now going to assume that the only place it makes sense is that area in which it enters the brain. Thus, smell is associated with the frontal and temporal lobes, sight with the occipital lobe along with some visual perception in the temporal lobe, hearing I know to be located in the temporal lobe with auditory relays in the midbrain. When it comes to making use of "hearing", auditory relays, in my opinion, are almost worthless... that is, the sound of a strange voice is not that helpful. But, in the temporal lobe resides voice recognition and face recognition... and the voice we most recognize is our own and that of our parents or other family members. Visual attention resides in the parietal lobe along with touch, manipulation of objects, 3-D identification and goal directed movements. Thus, to use visual attention in the production or understanding of language would, in my opinion, be difficult. That's why I believe using categorization would be more beneficial in the understanding of language.
Visual processing is all by itself in the occipital lobe. Many researchers believe that the occipital lobe seems to be "not impacted" in autism. I disagree. Visual processing, like all other senses, in my opinion, basically "dies" where it enters because it is "not getting visual input" to where it needs to go. Thus, Zachary can look down the street and even though there is a car coming, I can ask him 10 times if he sees a car coming and he will say: "no"... when there is one! In my opinion, in the autistic, sensory input takes a "back seat" to a previous memory given that these children live "via past references". This, undoubtedly, helps explain all the "blank stares" we see in the autistic. When someone is "thinking"... anyone... there is a tendency to stare into space as we try to retrieve information. In my opinion, that is exactly what we are seeing in the autistic... they are constantly trying to "retrieve" information based on past references that MAY apply to the current situation. Unfortunately, all too often, those past references are incomplete or inaccurate... and that can have, in my opinion, potentially devastating consequences - up to and including death!
I am of the opinion, however, that as the child grows and the brain continues to develop and adapt to its predicament, that there is the possibility that new neurons will form to help "put things together" more and more for the autistic child. I think that as the autistic child "breaks the code" in one area, it begins to make sense perhaps in other areas too. There is, after all, SOME visual functioning in at least 3 major parts of the brain: visual processing in the occipital lobe, visual attention in the parietal lobe, some visual perception in the temporal lobe. Thus, I think the challenge for parents lies in finding tools that make use of the various functions in very specific parts of the brain.
All I know is that, as a parent, I'm not willing to "wait" for society to figure this out. I know my own son and based on what I see and understand in him, I will be coming up with specific tools for him. That is the best I can do as a parent. If I am correct in my thinking, many of these tools could also be used in "normal settings" because all children have the same brain structure and function in terms of "what is located where in the brain". It is simply, in my view, that Zachary has "less access" in terms of the ability to integrate information from specific sense... at least until his brain can regenerate neurons that appear to have been damaged/severed due to mercury exposure.
There are a few things you'll notice in the tools I provide. I use specific colors for a reason. Based on what I have come to understand of the human eye, the colors best perceived by the center of the eye are red, green and yellow. Blues are perceived more in the peripheral area and as such, may not be the best colors to use in teaching materials. Red and green cones are found in greater number than blue cones in the eye. Red and green cones are also located in the center. Yellow is the color that best reflects light. We "see" objects because light gets reflected off surfaces. Since yellow is the best color for reflecting light, in my opinion, it is a color parents can also use to their advantage. For those of you interested in reading more about how color is perceived by the human eye, the following is a good link on the subject: