Why Read To Readers?

Do you still read to your children once they are proficient readers themselves?   It’s true that they may read just fine independently and that should be encouraged, but let’s consider some of the benefits of listening to someone else read. When you listen to a good narrator, you learn how to pronounce words you may have only read silently and mispronounced in your mind.   This is one of the ways I knew my children had been exposed to a new vocabulary word, when they said something that was phonetically correct but not the accurate way to produce the word. Listening to me as I read aloud also exposed them to variations in inflection, volume, and timing which are important components for developing language skills. When I read to my children, even after they were good readers, I could explain vocabulary and themes in the context of what we were reading together.   I could pause for discussion, something that typically does not happen during independent reading.   Hearing my children’s perspectives helped me to see how they express and process information.   It gave me insight into some of their personality traits as they learned to think critically about our reading selections.   Sharing a book together gave us common experiences which generalized to other activities.    We sometimes quote favorite lines to each other or make a reference to a literary character with shared understanding.   Another benefit of reading to younger children is that you can tackle more advance material and facilitate a love for good literature from a young age. Listening to someone else read is good practice for comprehension, as the children are taught to visualize what they are hearing.   Good readers can picture what they are reading about, which is why seeing a movie based on a book can be disappointing when it doesn’t match what we had imagined while reading.   When someone reads aloud it also provides the listeners with good practice for auditory skills.    Learning to tune in to the auditory channel is an important skill that impacts many other academic and life skills.   I recommend listening to stories performed by a good narrator even for young children who are not yet readers themselves.   Learning to listen and visualize will serve them well in their own independent reading endeavors.   Memory is enhanced when a visual image is recalled, so encourage your children to picture the story along with you as you read to them.   I read to my children even when they were in high school and quite capable of reading without me, because the shared experience meant not only reading together but time together and connections made despite busy schedules.    How many of us love to read but are hard pressed to find the time to actually sit down with a book that’s not related to work or school with our children?   Several years into homeschooling I discovered audio books for me.   Again, a good narrator makes all the difference when listening to a story, but having access to audio books allowed me to “read” that way while doing dishes, laundry, crocheting, and other tasks.   I still find that I have little time to just sit and read, but I no longer have a sense of reading deprivation as I go about my day with my little MP3 player loaded with audio books. Reading and being read to can be enjoyable for all ages and levels of readers.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black?

In a family where three out of five members have been diagnosed with AD/HD, it is not unusual to hear frequent reminders back and forth. These prompts are necessary, since forgetfulness and becoming distracted are daily (if not hourly) occurrences. What’s frustrating is when the distractible person is reminded to do something he had actually remembered that time, and he is reminded anyway because there’s no way to know if and when he will actually recall something on his own. There’s no consistent clue to indicate when something has been received and retained or if it has evaporated before being acted upon. During busy times, the distractible members of my family get even more forgetful and sometimes need multiple reminders about a single task. Sometimes they try to help each other remember things, but forget that they’ve already reminded the other person. My two AD/HD children don’t like to lend money to their non-AD/HD sibling, because they know they are likely to forget a.) that she’s borrowed from them and b.) if she’s paid them back if they do happen to remember. Other times I prompt my children to do a task, only to be assured that they will…but they don’t follow through without further reminders. So I found it amusing when I heard my distractible Beckie indignantly tell her distractible father, “I’m not YOU, I’ll do it!” when he reminded her again about something that needed to be done. The reality is, sometimes she does remember. Often she does not. I guess it was harder for her to be reminded by someone who also is distractible and forgetful at times.

Use Fixations To Make Learning Easier

Research has shown that strong emotions make memories stronger. Likewise, if you can connect something familiar and chain it to new information it will be better understood and more likely to be retained. For a child with Asperger’s or any child who has a particular area of interest, you are probably finding ways to tie the interest to many areas of learning already. If a child is fascinated by Thomas the Tank Engine (and there’s something about that train that especially appeals to many on the autism spectrum) then you could use train cars to represent the components of a multi-step direction. The train cars could be used as manipulatives in math, or to demonstrate how to connect ideas in a writing assignment. For a child with a short attention span who’s always asking you how much schoolwork is left to do, the train could have a car to represent each subject and as the subject is concluded the car is removed so the train gets visibly smaller as progress is made throughout the day. As an added bonus, your child won’t have to keep asking you if they are finished for the day since a glance at the train will tell them the answer. A train could be used to represent minutes earned on the computer, for example, so each car earned for a desired behavior equals five minutes of computer time. If you can’t figure out how to use your child’s areas of interest, ask your child for ideas. It’s likely that they can come up with something and you can tweak the ideas to find something that will work satisfactorily for both of you. As with any new strategy, you will need to give it some time to see if it’s helpful. Once you get past the novelty stage you will have a better idea of how to enact your plan. Keep in mind that children with learning challenges perform inconsistently from day to day – even minute to minute on the off days, so what works one day may not work the next. In a week or month it may work again. Not all children have a particular interest area. Some, on the other hand, are downright obsessed. This fixation may change from one thing to another in phases, or it may be lasting. Your child will show you, over and over, what they like and are seeking. The general strategy of using what the child is interested in will stay the same. Some people are hesitant to encourage their child’s passion about a given topic, and that’s understandable. Yet with many less-desirable behaviors we can’t merely remove them or they will just be replaced by something else. My own son has always been fascinated by weapons. Of course I’m not going to look for ways to include that in our school studies or incorporate weapons as reinforcers no matter how engaging that would be for him. Since he also hyper-focused on Legos we could use those. Try to think creatively and be more flexible than your teacher’s manual instructions. If you know there is something that will engage your child, try to think of a way to use it. When my daughters went through their “Pretty Pony” phase or the “Teeny Beanie” era they were included in many academic realms. Now my girls are beyond that phase, but I’ll fondly remember teaching them as they included their ponies and encouraged them to boldy go where few Pretty Ponies had gone before.

Memory Problems? Make A Movie In Your Mind

Do you have a child who can tell you (in great detail) about a movie he saw months ago, but can’t remember what it was that you sent him to get from his room? Can your child quote lines from a movie she’s seen one time, but can’t recall what you just told her to do? Hmmm… I don’t think I’m the only one with kids like this! For whatever reason, my struggling learners are wired to remember what they see in movies but struggle to retain auditory information long enough to act on it before it evaporates. And that’s assuming they were actually listening in the first place. So, I suggest taking advantage of this stronger visual recall by pairing visual cues with auditory cues when giving directions. For example, if you send your child to get a pair of scissors, make cutting motions with your fingers as you tell them to go get the scissors. Okay, that may not be the best example since with our kids we also have to bombard them with various safety reminders and we certainly don’t want to act out what might happen if one runs with scissors. But you get the idea. Another technique that is especially effective with our creative and drama-loving children is to teach them to “Make a movie in your mind”. Tell your child to picture himself doing what you have asked, and encourage him to make his mental movie in color and with details. The more detailed the movie, the better the chances of recall. I’d tell my children that I was going to give them some instructions, and to make a movie to visualize themselves doing the tasks. Usually if I told my kids three things to do they would not remember all three things. Besides the working memory issues, they would get distracted along the way and lessen the likelihood of recall even more. With the movie technique, they could stop and mentally “watch” the movie again to remember what they had been assigned and picture themselves performing the tasks. In the movie, they could see themselves doing what they needed to and could check to see if they were missing anything. It took some practice, but this strategy made a huge difference for my kids. They went from being able to follow one simple direction at a time to being able to follow multi-step instructions. Just as athletes can improve their performances by visualizing themselves doing things correctly, our struggling students can improve their recall by taking advantage of their visual and creativity strengths.

Writing It Down Would Work Better

Today’s blog is a message of hope for all of you with distractible, inattentive, and forgetful children. It may also, in a way, be making a case for attempted brain washing used totally in the sense of “for the greater good.” I’ll let you decide. Yesterday my daughter Beckie and I were talking about things that needed to be done. Beckie has ongoing issues with managing her schedule and her possessions. She usually gets places on time, but often leaves out food that needs refrigerated and leaves other unfinished tasks that are sacrificed in order for her to get where she needs to be at the right time. She always thinks that she’ll have enough time, or can get “one more thing” done before she has to go. Like many distractible individuals, she loses track of time and rushes out the door at the last minute leaving a trail of partially completed chores in her wake. Yesterday, I was reminding her of something she needed to do, and she was reminding me that she never remembers it at the right time when she could actually do it. I had just been working with her on history, having her visualize events so that she could recall them later. So I said, “Put it in your brain,” meaning that she should visualize herself doing the job. Beckie’s immediate response was, “Writing it down would work better.” Whoa! Isn’t that exactly what I’d been telling her for years? Just for kicks, I asked her to repeat what she’d said. She repeated her statement about writing it down, which thrilled me and gave me hope. I’ve probably told her that thousands of times over the years, but this is honestly the first time I’ve heard it come back from her own lips. Maybe, just maybe, all the things we say to our kids sink in. It’s possible that with enough repetition, our oft-repeated bits of wisdom gradually ease their way into our children’s long-term memory where it serves them when we are not physically there to prompt and remind. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that this will probably not become a habit for some time. I’ve found that my non-AD/HD child can learn a new rule or skill in about a third of the time it takes my AD/HD children. The AD/HD kids need a lot more repetition and practice, along with more direct supervision and support along the way. But we can’t let that minimize the successes we do see, even if they are longer in coming. As I’ve mentioned, I have been nagging (I mean “coaching”) Beckie to write things down on the calendar when she has something planned. When she mentions an event to me, I prompt her to write it on the calendar so she won’t forget and we can all see what is planned on any given day. I also have a dry-erase board by the phone, and about 40% of the time she remembers to write down when someone has called for me. This may not seem impressive, but we are up from 0% of the time so it is an improvement. She also writes things down on the calendar, but again we are not up to 100%. Not yet. But we are making progress, and sometimes the natural consequences of not writing things down increases the incentive to remember to do so in the future. For example, last weekend Beckie had remembered to write down her evening babysitting job. Then in the afternoon she got a phone call from a friend about a birthday party they were going to that night. Oops! Since it was not on the calendar and all the planning had been done between Beckie and her friends, I knew nothing about it. What followed was much scrambling around to get a gift, card, arrange transportation with her Dad and to let her friend know they would have to leave the party early to get back for Beckie’s babysitting job. In Beckie’s unreliable memory, the party was the following weekend. This made the case for writing things down on the calendar better than any of my theoretical examples could. So when I heard those sweet words, “Writing it down would work better”, I felt like perhaps I can help my child develop strategies that will serve her throughout her life. For her sake, I hope so.

Alternative Literature Assessment

Beckie and I finished reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and I wanted to give her a non-traditional assignment in addition to traditional assessment measures. So I went through two week’s worth of advertisements from the Sunday newspaper and cut out pictures that could be tied in somehow to a line from the play. For example, I used a picture from an ad for Glade air freshener and paired it with this line from Act 4, Scene 3 when Juliet says, “Shall I not then be stifled in the vault, to whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in, and there die strangled ere my Romeo comes?” Beckie’s assignment was to tell me the context for the line. The pictures were not in a sequential order, and Beckie surprised herself with her ability to remember details from the play. Her favorite quote was paired with a picture of Yoplait Go-gurt with large letters proclaiming “With calcium for STRONG BONES!” and Juliet’s line again from Act 4, Scene 3 asking “And, in this rage, with some great kinsman’s bone, as with a club, dash out my desperate brains?” I chuckled at the picture from the Hamburger Helper ad with the friendly little hand for Act 5, Scene 3 when the feuding families are reconciling and Capulet says, “O brother Mountague, give me thy hand.” Beckie had fun with that part of the assessment, and also wrote an essay response and took a multiple choice test. Those were the three components for her final exam on Romeo and Juliet. Just for fun we also watched a movie version, and I found a “Shakespeare Manga Romeo and Juliet” in graphic novel form at the library. Manga is a Japanese art form, I think, and this one portrayed the story as taking place in Japan with the two main families being rival mafia families. Now that Beckie has the idea of using pictures from ads as part of her assessment, she can find the pictures herself for the next time we want to use that option as part of an assessment.

I’ll Remember to Forget

Josh and I find ourselves in a new stage of our relationship as mother and son. I am now middle-aged and he is a young adult. My goal, as always, is to encourage Josh to greater independence in his use of strategies to help his weak executive functions. His goal is to use me as his favorite strategy, since Mom can be counted on to have a suggested solution she has already thought of and thus save him the work of coming up with a strategy on his own. Add to that dynamic the demands I have on my brain to work as a speech therapist, run a small business with my husband, homeschool Josh’s youngest sister, participate in church and volunteer activities, and keep track of appointments, etc. and I find myself feeling challenged to remember everything I need to keep track of. Usually, when I think of something I need to remember I write it down in my planner or on my calendar so I have a written reminder and don’t have to retain it in my memory alone. At this point, I think if I want to try and remember something new I will need to delete some files in my brain to make room. So when Josh and I were driving together on our way to volunteer at our local Humane Society last week, I remembered something I needed to do later that day. Since I was driving, I couldn’t write it down. I also sometimes call home and leave myself a message on the answering machine for later, but this particular day my daughter Beckie was home and would recognize my number and answer the phone. Since I didn’t want to have to prompt her through writing down a detailed message, I opted to try and solicit help from Josh. I explained that I needed to remember to do something when we got back home, and asked him to remind me of it when we returned home so I could take care of it. He grinned at me and said, “O.k., Mom, I’ll remember to forget that, too!” So, just as I want to discourage Josh from using me as his default strategy to remember things he needs to do, I clearly cannot plan on having Josh as part of my own bank of strategies.

The Miracle of the Fish

No, not THAT miracle! I’m talking about Beckie’s fish, a pet Beta she keeps in a wall-mounted bowl in her room. It’s not that she doesn’t like the fish or care what happens to it. It’s just part of how her AD/HD manifests, that she can remember the daily task of feeding the fish but the non-routine cleaning of the bowl eludes her attention. I noticed in July that her poor fish was swimming in about 2 inches of water in a very dirty bowl. I told her she needed to clean the bowl and add water right away, because I didn’t see how the fish could survive much longer in those conditions. She said she would, but that she’d need her Dad’s help to get the bowl off the wall to be cleaned. Her Dad said he would help, but he also has AD/HD so they both immediately forgot about it. Last week, I thought about it again and checked in with Beckie to make sure she had taken care of it. She still hadn’t! Yet the fish lived on. So I managed to catch both Beckie and her Dad at home and called them together to remind them about the fish and to urge them to act on it right away before they forgot again. They managed to get the bowl cleaned and filled with fresh water in about 30 minutes. It wasn’t that the task was too hard, it was that it wasn’t part of an established routine and the fish was unable to do anything to get their attention long enough for them to take the necessary action. Though things were looking pretty grim for him in his bowl of evaporating water, Neon the fish is presently happily swimming in a full bowl of clean water.

Are you absorbing?

I’ve heard that individuals with autism think in pictures, not words. Temple Grandin has even written a book (Thinking in Pictures copyright 1995 Random House) describing her very visual way of viewing and interpreting events. My daughter, Beckie, has learned to compensate for the deficits in her working memory by visualizing what she is hearing or reading. Gander Publishing has wonderful resources for “Visualizing and Verbalizing” for reading comprehension and all three of my children experienced this technique with their “Time Flies” history programs. I think being able to make associations helps Beckie retain information, and I observed one such association last week. I had been asked to come and observe some classes and do a bit of educational consultation with the instructors. I went to observe on three different days, and watched the students as they interacted and engaged in a variety of activities. I took notes as I watched the children, and as an assistant in the classes Beckie knew why I was there and saw me taking everything in. When she was leaving to go assist in the classes last week she asked me, “Are you coming in to absorb today?” It took me a moment to realize that she was asking if I was going to come and “observe” again. She corrected herself and said “I mean ‘observe'”, but I think the association of “absorb” and “observe” is pretty fitting for what she saw me doing. I was observing, by absorbing all I could about the classes and how they were run. In fact, I think if you really want to be observant, you should be absorbing. Thank you, Beckie, for another word picture!

Special Needs Homeschooling – Memory Difficulties

All children forget things they’ve heard now and then, but for some children forgetfulness happens frequently and is problematic. Parents of the chronically forgetful are faced with the difficult task of trying to determine if their child is genuinely not retaining information or is being willfully non-compliant.

One way to determine if memory issues are causing difficulties is to check in with the child is to see if she can repeat back what you just told her to do. A child who only remembers one out of three directions will not be able to comply with completing all three. Sometimes a child with working memory difficulties can repeat back what they’ve heard immediately, but the information is not retained long enough for them to act on it before it is forgotten. When memory issues are causing difficulties, there are a number of strategies to improve retention and compensate for weaknesses.

One way to help those who have trouble remembering things is to develop routines that can become habits. For example, if you want your child to do the same three things every morning, have him perform the activities in the same order and in the same location each day. Once there has been enough repetition to form a habit, the child no longer has to work to remember the three morning chores.

Some children remember sequences and lists better when using music as an auditory prompt and reminder. Try making up songs that incorporate the task you want your child to complete. Generate your own song or use a familiar tune and change the words to fit the activity.

Songs allow for repetition, which helps with memory and can aid your child in sticking with an activity for an adequate amount of time. For instance, you could sing a song about washing hands to help your child remember all the steps involved and to keep them washing long enough to get clean. They can learn a tooth brushing song and sing it in their minds to keep them brushing and remembering to brush the top and bottom teeth on both sides.

Another strategy to facilitate memory is to use visual cues in addition to the auditory directions given to a child. For young children or those with language delays, use gestures along with your verbal directions. If you need to remind your child to put his coat in the closet, point to the coat and then to the closet as you tell him to pick up the coat and hang it where it belongs.

When a child has difficulty remembering routine daily activities try using pictures, charts, and lists that can serve as constant visual reminders. This will relieve some of the burden on auditory or working memory alone. Post the charts or checklists where the child can see them at the time and place they are needed to complete the tasks. This will also help the child to be consistently reminded through visual cues without the parent needing to frequently prompt and repeat what needs to be done.

For activities that are not part of a routine, the child needs to develop strategies using internal cues to help retain the information long enough to complete tasks. For some children, repeating the directions to themselves over and over until the job is done may be effective. For example, the child who is likely to forget what he was sent upstairs to retrieve might prompt himself by repeating, “Go to the bedroom. Bring back the history book.”

My own children benefited greatly by applying the “make a movie” technique. Before I’d give them a direction, I’d instruct them to “make a movie in your mind” about what I was telling them to do. Then I would tell them step-by-step what I wanted them to do. I’d ask them to picture themselves completing the task and encouraged them to imagine themselves following the directions to completion.

The more color, detail, and even humor that was included in their movies, the easier it was for them to remember what they needed to accomplish. I’d tell them to push the “play” button and then send them off to do the errand with a reminder that if they forgot what they needed to do they could replay the movie in their minds and see if that helped them remember.

Memory challenges can be frustrating for parents and children alike. By incorporating strategies into daily activities, children can begin to develop skills and learn to compensate for their memory difficulties. It’s never too early or too late to work on improving memory.