Johnny has started to tackle spelling at school but we have run into some bumps. He is very eager to learn to read, spell and write but the combination of Autism, sensory, and Apraxia of Speech together challenge everyone working with him to find other ways to teach him and find other ways for him to show what he is truly capable of. How do you ask him to spell a word when he has audio processing challenges? How can he write the word down that he knows how to spell if he has fine motor challenges? If he has articulation challenges how can he say the word that he is being asked to spell so that everyone understands him? ie the words “the” , “she” and “he.” The “th”, “she” sounds are very advanced for his tongue positioning right now and in fact for his age not all of his peers will be able to produce these sounds yet either.
What is happening in the classroom? Johnny is doing really well in the reading program of senior kindergarten and the teacher wants to concentrate on that passion and build on that. She is worried about overwhelming him because of everything he is working on in and out of school so she is not expecting him to spell in kindergarten. The only thing is that Johnny wants to try but he does get anxious when he pushes himself too hard or the actual visuals of all the letters overwhelm his mind and he needs to stop and take breaks because its just too much info at that moment. I was talking to Johnny’s Autism SLP from the school board and she had the same concerns as I did. She told me that she has already met with the teacher and told her that we should only step back when he gets frustrated but find other ways to teach him spelling. The teacher has her heart in the right place but in her 25+ years of teaching she has only taught 2 other children with Autism and she is relying on her experience of teaching neuro-typical children.
One of the ideas the SLP had was for him to use letter blocks or loose letters at school on a table and let him use them to spell with. She also suggested using our magnetic letters at home and keyboard. At the hospital where the OT is working him she is taking flash cards and covering up some letters in a word and having him tell her or try to write in the missing letter. He really likes the variety of these approaches so far and is now spontaneously grabbing pencils, markers or crayons and paper and wanting to practice writing letters not just at home but at school or therapy settings.
Last Tuesday I thought I would try out the SLP’s suggestion and see if he would try and spontaneously spell some of the words that he learning to read and spell in his SK class. I didn’t suggest anything except to say “let’s spell some of your WORD WALL words from school” and I followed his lead.
He quickly found “W” ‘s and turned them upside down “now they are M’s for Mom” and he spelled it. I asked him to do one more before snack time and then he said he needed “Ds”. “Little Princess” his baby sister was not releasing any D’s to him so he quickly improvised by taking “P”‘s and flipping them “upside down this is small D Mommy.”
More and more I am learning that when it comes to Autism the motivation is everything. I always here that this is the same for all children but its not. I think when you have Autism and other challenges its like you have so many balls in the air that you are juggling at the same time and then on top of that someone is always trying to hand you another ball just when you thought you had mastered the balls you were already juggling. The hard part is getting Johnny motivated into accepting yet another ball and WHY this is beneficial to him when he clearly is showing the body language of a fifteen year old bored teenager. I think Johnny is teaching Mommy to be a very creative Mommy and teacher because when you get him interested in something its amazing to see where his mind will go.
His Autism SLP from the school board wrote this when I sent her the above pictures and told her about how he loved her idea:
“That is terrific! He is such a wonder! Thank you for sharing.”