language problems - mental connections

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Marguerite, Apr 30, 2008.

  1. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    I mentioned on the Good Morning thread earlier this week that we had organised a special one-on-one lesson for difficult child 3 with his English teacher. It was on Tuesday (yesterday) and I sat in, as his supervisor.

    The way his schooling works - difficult child 3 generally does all his schoolwork at home. He gets worksheets from different teachers for different subjects. When he completes a worksheet I sign off on it and put it in an envelope. After a week's collection, I post it all back to the school (reply paid envelopes) and there the teachers mark it and post it back. All difficult child 3's records, teacher's comments etc are all kept on computer so all teachers can access it to see how he is progressing. These teachers are available for individual lessons when required and also available over the phone and via email, if a student is having trouble with the work. Some of the lessons are done on-line. Occasionally there is a study day scheduled (optional) which is held at the school. Or a school excursion (also optional). But most of the time, it's our home routine. difficult child 3 can do schoolwork in his pyjamas if he wants to.

    On Tuesday we got to the school just before 10 am. The teacher took difficult child 3 & me to the library and into a private room there (smart thinking). I'd been concerned that she seemed to be asking more from difficult child 3 than he can handle. The work currently is dealing with writing about environmental issues, especially with newspaper article writing. He has to read and evaluate such articles as well as try to write his own. This has required a level of complex understanding which is right at his limit of capability, if not beyond it. So I asked his teacher to work through a worksheet with him, so he could learn what she requires, as well as she being able to learn what he can do, and what he can't.

    I really wasn't sure about her to begin with - she was joking with him a lot, pretending to be stern, and he doesn't always see the joke. But with a little more time than the last meeting (which was the first time she'd met him) I think she now understands. One other thing he has to do, with every worksheet, is write out a list of words he's found in the sheet which he didn't understand. But he says he DOES understand, at least individual words. It's collectively he has trouble understanding.

    As she talked, I was asked to write down a list of words she wanted him to work on. Any word she asked him to define but which he could not, I had to write down. I also made short notes for him to use, to recall what she wants from him with his written work. And I wrote it down instead of him, because he can't physically write much. He has to use a computer.

    I noticed that she often would ask, "What does this word mean?" and he would say, "I know what it means, but I just can't say it." Over and over again, this happened. He could even use the word in a sentence, but not define it. As I said to her afterwards, he seems to be lacking his own internal thesaurus. He has trouble in finding the right word sometimes. His speech is jerky, repetitive (almost like a stammer, but entire phrases get repeated).

    He now has a long list of words he must define, including words he knows well (but couldn't express the meaning of). For example, "metaphoric". He knows what a metaphor is and can give examples, but can't describe it specifically.

    We've noticed similar things before - his brain has developed along different lines, in terms of his language development. We now seem to have come up against this brick wall of his language limitations, and need to find another way to help him overcome this - he needs to build the connections in his mind, between words and their meanings. He can visualise meanings but not verbalise them. And of course, for the academic standard now required of him, this isn't good enough.

    This evening I finally made contact with one of my best friends who is also our speech pathologist. And hey, she needs the business right now, she's been very ill and is trying to get back into her career. So tomorrow afternoon she is going to be assessing difficult child 3's degree of semantic pragmatic dysfunction. She's also supposed to be testing easy child 2/difficult child 2 at some stage, for similar problems. Not sure when that can happen, though. easy child 2/difficult child 2 is now supposed to be responsible for her own health care costs, but this is one we'll have to help her with.

    difficult child 3 also has some exams coming up in two weeks, including one in which he has to do a creative writing task (still a huge order for him). He needs to be drilled in all this, but it takes time away from his other subjects, which can suffer when we put too much time into one area. And yet - he needs it, desperately.

    A few years ago, we found an exercise which helped him mentally connect ideas and qualities of a particular object or concept - we bought him a 20Q game. Because the 20Q asks various questions about "what you're thinking of", and you have to think of the answers, these answers then get connected in the head of the player (if they were not already connected) and we felt it would help. For example, you think of the word "apple" and the 20Q asks first, "is it animal, vegetable, mineral or other?" You can answer, "yes", "no", "I don't know" or "not relevant" (I'm going from memory here, I might have the wording slightly wrong. The 20Q is in the car and it's cold outside tonight!)
    It then asks, "Is it bigger than a house?" or similar. Each question makes you think "apple" in the context of that question, so you can determine the answer. All this helps make mental connections. (I really recommend this if your child has delayed language to any degree, especially due to Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)). Eventually you have answered enough questions for the 20Q programming to have eliminated almost all other possibilities, and it will 'guess' very accurately. It's a lot of fun especially at parties.

    But the problem is now beyond the 20Q's capacity to help.

    So, any ideas on exercises he could do, to help him find definitions, synonyms, anything else?

    One quick digression that came up in the session with the English teacher - she was talking about context, and how a word may seem to have a different meaning in a different context. She was also connecting with with the concept of metaphor. The word "stunted" came up and she asked difficult child 3 what it means. Again, he could give an example but not define the word itself. She then mentioned "bonsai". I quietly told her that before our recent election, our national leader John Howard was called bonsai, for his short stature plus willingness to do whatever George W Bush told him to do - "Bonsai" = "a little Bush".

    A classic example of metaphor. She liked it very much.

    Back to topic - all ideas welcome, on how to help difficult child 3 develop his own internal thesaurus.

  2. gcvmom

    gcvmom Here we go again!

    Has difficult child ever tried explaining something to a younger person? Just wondering if he's feeling pressured to perform, and doing this with a younger child might ease that mental weight on him... just a thought. Don't really know what to suggest -- perhaps developing some other types of word games like the electronic 20Q game that you can play with him... we have that one, too :) Hopefully your speech therapist friend can help. Pictionary comes to mind... can't really play it on your own, though -- it's similar to 20Q except you have to draw the clues. There are some books for younger kids that illustrate language and meaning, especially contextual... I'm thinking of the "Amelia Bedelia" series by Peggy Parish.
  3. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    semantic pragmatic dysfunction

    That's an interesting phrase. My son is delayed a bit in that. He's great at spelling and vocab but putting it together on his own, or gleaning the core meaning from a short story is difficult for him. Like you, we play 20 questions at dinner, and he rec'd an electronic 20Q for Christmas. It really helps. I can tell when he doesn't get something because instead of telling me he doesn't know what it means, he kind of zones out so I'll ask him if he knows, and when he says, "No," I'll explain it. I create a lot of metaphors because I write poetry and paint so it just comes naturally.
    You've done a lot of what you need to do already.
    I like gvcmom's idea to have him teach a younger child.
    Best of luck.
  4. Sheila

    Sheila Moderator

    Sounds as if it may be a combination of expressive language disorder, retrieval fluency and maybe processing speed, but that's just a wild guess.

    Wish I could offer some advice on remediation, but I can't. Can you contact his neuropsychologist for ideas?
  5. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Sheila, we don't have a neuropsychologist. I'm not even sure we have any in Australia. The specialist psychologist who assessed and diagnosed him has now retired; previously she worked for the Autism Association and then freelanced for a few years part-time before retiring.

    Teaching a younger child - finding one suitable is not easy. His best friend is also autistic with some language delay, and is not very patient. The neighbour's kids over the road - difficult child 3 could maybe teach them in maths, but these kids are already way ahead of difficult child 3 when it comes to a lot of what they do in English.

    Besides, I don't think it would make any difference to him - he interacts equally with adults or children. Evan babies, he views as just being smaller but with cognitive abilities equal to his own. He finally 'gets it' that babies don't talk, but he assumes they think at his level.

    What seemed to work with his teacher, and what I have been doing, is getting him to put the word into a sentence. Also what helps for him, is etymology - what is the origin of the word, in terms of language roots? Where did the word come from, and why? He is beginning to be interested in Shakespeare, in that he invented a lot of words now in common use (such as "bubble" - first used by the witches in "Macbeth").

    Thanks for putting it in those terms, Sheila. I think his processing speed is high, I've noticed difficult child 1's seems to be high as well, but the retrieval fluency is perhaps the crux of the matter, perhaps aggravated by past problems with expressive language.

    The problem is, these kids start out with expressive language problems but the brighter they are, the faster they adapt. But this adaptation is a veneer, underneath there are still problems only they're now harder to identify because the kid has become so skilled at covering them up. It's not a conscious deceptive thing, must a desire to appear as normal as possible so that it becomes instinctive.

    For most of us, as we learn our brains put in all these connections at a very early age. But for those with language delay, those connections are fewer and scattered in different parts of the brain. This is going to slow down retrieval. That's why the 20Q was so helpful - it was putting in more connections, the more it got used.

    Pictionary - he's not good at drawing, lacks confidence as well, but it might be worth a try. The thing is, he CAN, when pressed, put a word in a sentence. But trying to find the WORDS to describe it, is the problem.
    His teacher stressed to him, "I don't want you to do what so many other students do, when asked to define a word. I don't want you to use another form of that word in its definition. For example, when asked to define 'symbolism', I don't want you to say, 'Something that uses symbols to get the meaning across'. You need to define the word independently."
    But he already does this. Or tries to.

    I'm just looking at his work for this morning. It's about newspapers and how they work. The question is, "What two things should all headlines do?" I'm sure the teacher wants something along the lines of, "Headlines should inform but also be brief, as a means to tell us what the story is about, and to also entice us to read it."
    What he's written - "headlines should be large and in bold, or maybe underlined, or even double underlined, or even bold and double underlined, so they stand out." He did go on to say, "They should make us want to read the article," but honestly, to get him to see things this way is like pulling teeth. He's willing, he just seems incapable. His mind is rotated 90 degrees from the horizontal, to use a mathematical analogy.

    The interesting thing is, he can write poetry. I'm planning to teach him mathematical forms such as villanelle or triolet, at some stage.

    Thanks for the ideas so far, I'll let you know how we get on.

  6. Sheila

    Sheila Moderator

    There's a lot of info on the internet on receptive and expressive language disorders. I probably oversimplify by classifying receptive language as input (written or verbal) to the brain, and expressive language is output (written or verbal). So, if difficult child can't access the words he needs I'd think he still has some expressive language problems.

    Just my $0.02, but I think language "delays" can be overcome; language "disorders" can often be remediated but not cured in their entirety.

    You might want to consider running this by Marti in the Sp Ed 101 forum. Her daughter had some language-based problems and she has experience with-various test instruments.

    I hope you're successful in finding a treatment or therapy -- formal or informal. As we peel the layers away, seems too often something else becomes visible.....
  7. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    The speech pathologist had agreed to see him this afternoon but rang to cancel. We had a long talk over the phone about what she wants to test for and said she will moderate the tests as she progresses and discovers things. She thinks she will be able to test him on Monday or Tuesday. In the meantime, she asked me to email his teacher and invite her to have input, ask questions or add her own concerns to the list. I've done that, so now it's a matter of waiting. Because of the way the school system works, this teacher has a fairly large caseload and may not have the time to call the speech pathologist.

    I'm short of time at the moment, only grabbing a few minutes here or there, so when I can I'll talk to Marti about it. I have already searched online for answers (for easy child 2/difficult child 2) and not found anything sufficiently specific. I do vaguely recall a word game we have somewhere, which might help even more than Pictionary.

    He says he's completed his English work, but he closed the file so I need to open it and read it. I suspect he didn't do a thorough enough job and just guessed at some of it; I need to make him do it properly (which, of course, slows us down even more).

    Still, it's the only way he has a chance to learn.

    I'll keep you all posted.

  8. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It

    This kind of problem is so hard, because often it seems that the information is in the person's mind, but they can't get it out. to be honest, this sounds like a more severe form of what I experienced on topamax. IF topamax is avail in australia, DON'T ever try it - I really think it would make this much worse. I don't think you do medications, but wanted to let you know in case it ever came up.

    Much of this is what we were told went along with hyperlexia. When difficult child was little we were told that there was no help. i am glad to see they are wrong. Heck, maybe he could design a 20q program for the computer, that you could put specific topics in pertinent to him?? Or someone with computer skills you know could? Sounds like that might be a big help.

    Sorry he is struggling with this.

  9. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    The ironic thing, Susie, is difficult child 3 has the skills himself to design a computer program. He may well do it when he is older. Who else understands the problem so well?

    I finally checked out our game supply and found the word game I thought might be good - Scattergories. I think I'll dig it out tomorrow and maybe organise a game with difficult child 3 and perhaps a couple of neighbourhood kids. Alternatively, the speech pathologist's genius (and NOT Aspie) daughter. She's younger than difficult child 3 but has an amazing vocabulary, as well as a quick mind. She will give difficult child 3 someone sharp to pit himself against. Then after that, difficult child 3 can give her the maths coaching lesson her mother wants her to have. I might call the mum tomorrow and try to set it up over the weekend.

    So much to do, so little time...

    I finally had a chance to look at his work - tomorrow morning he and I are going to sit down and go through it all, while I make sure he has properly answered everything. He has one more week's worth of worksheets on newspapers, and then it's short stories which his teacher thinks will be easier for him. I hope so - he has to catch up in his other subjects.

  10. Christy

    Christy New Member

    our national leader John Howard was called bonsai, for his short stature plus willingness to do whatever George W Bush told him to do - "Bonsai" = "a little Bush".

    It is wonderful that you are so on top of your difficult child's education. I'm wondering if he can use it in a sentence correctly then obviously he is familiar with the meaning of the word. Is the definition then necessary?

    Off topic, but by the way, I just read something you wrote in the Obi Wan post and I thought that was so cool how difficult child and friend act out scenes and have costumes. I'm sure the Star Wars wedding theme would be a hit-LOL My son is also a huge fan.

    Good Luck!
  11. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    Christy, you said, " I'm wondering if he can use it in a sentence correctly then obviously he is familiar with the meaning of the word. Is the definition then necessary?"

    I was thinking that as well, but his teacher is insistent. And it does make sense I guess - it all would be working towards helping him have confidence in using synonyms.

    He's just spent ANOTHER day STILL working on the same worksheets. I rang his Year Advisor to talk to her about it. She said we COULD simplify the work for him, but if we do then we will permanently remove his chances of ever going to uni.

    The way it works - English is a compulsory subject for the HSC (Higher School Certificate). He can have it dumbed down for him, with the wording made more concrete, but there are certain outcome requirements which unfortunately involve a certain amount of abstract interpretation. We do have the option of choosing "Life Skills" versions of these subjects, including Life Skills versions of History & Geography (which are not compulsory to the HSC).

    But if he chooses Life Skills English, then he may get his HSC, but not qualify for university entrance.

    Mind you, there ARE other ways of getting in to university, including enrolling in a TAFE (technical college) course and using that as a springboard into uni. It's what easy child 2/difficult child 2 has to do, since the subjects she chose to study for the HSC were ones which never lead to a high enough score, to qualify for uni entrance. You could get full marks in these subjects but because they're seen as easy, they get scaled down. We have the ridiculous situation with our HSC, that students who want to go to university to study Medicine are advised to NOT study Biology for the HSC, but to study Physics and Chemistry instead. Biology is seen as easy and gets scaled down; Physics is seen as difficult and gets scaled up. So we have the ridiculous scenario of First Year university students studying Medicine, suddenly discovering that they know absolutely nothing relevant to their course. Uni courses now have to teach high school Biology all over again, to their medication students. Utterly ridiculous!

    I've coached students through their HSC exams, students who chose Physics in order to get a higher mark, and who simply can't handle it.

    difficult child 3 may need to switch to Life Skills English, according to his Year Advisor. His English teacher seems desperate to avoid this happening. I can sympathise, but he will fail outright if he falls badly behind in everything else, in a desperate attempt to keep up.

    This afternoon he took a half hour break for lunch (he watched a half hour TV quiz show while he cooked some noodles and ate them) and then was back at work. But he decided to leave English for a bit and get on with some other subjects, all of them available as online lessons. He has done four of them.

    Our usual goal is two subjects' worksheets per day. Spending four days on one worksheet is a recipe for disaster. If he takes this long, with my help - no wonder he can't do the same work in two hours in an exam.

    Next year difficult child 3 will be in Year 10. This is an important year in our high schooling - it's the year he sits for the School Certificate. Thankfully, a lot of it is now assessment-based. He is beginning to do badly in exams, partly because he's so bogged down with some subjects that he gets no time to practice exam technique. And his English teacher is concerned because Year 10 English requirements are very high and we're going to have to put a lot of work in with difficult child 3, to get him up to that standard.

    Once he's past the School Certificate, we have the option of Pathways - he can do his schooling part-time. Since we know he's going to need extra time anyway (to wait for his brain to mature and catch up to his intellect) then we'll be taking this option. He can still work full-time, but on half the number of subjects and so do a more thorough job. We did this with difficult child 1 as well, and it made a big difference. If he had stayed in mainstream he would have failed the HSC. As it was, he was already halfway through his final year when we pulled him out, dropped half his subjects, and dragged him the rest of the way in the same correspondence school difficult child 3 is now in. They worked hard with him, he worked hard, and he passed English, Ancient History and Biology. Two years later he was ready for the next three subjects, which he also passed. Again, not a brilliant mark but he DID matriculate.

    At this stage, it looks like the speech assessment will be on Tuesday. I wish we were already there, I want answers and solutions.

  12. Christy

    Christy New Member

    Here's something I thought of and it may not be practical in your son's situation but I thought it worth mentioning....

    Does your son recognize the definition if he sees it? Could he use a multiple choice or matching format to get the right definition. He could then copy the definition to the appropriate worksheet. You could use a source like to get choices if this would be something you are making up yourself to help.

    When I was teaching, we did a vocabulary exercise from time to time where the students would copy the definition, draw a simple picture to remind them of the definition, use it in a short sentences, then rewrite the definition in their own words. Each word was on a seperate sheet of paper folded into four squares, one for each activity. This would be a lot of work if you have a page full of terms like you mentioned and I am sure many of the words are too abstract to make a picture (Although, some kids are very creative, I was amazed at the pictures how some drew to represent the word, but whatever helps!)

    Good luck with the spech evaluation, I hope you find some good information and new ideas to make this task easier!
  13. Sheila

    Sheila Moderator