Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

B is for bee

with 14 comments

Bee of Halictus genus, possible Halictus scabiosae

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Here is a dilemma for you: when trying to teach new experiences, do you use the strengths to your advantage, or put in extra effort to mitigate the weaknesses?

I know you, smart reader, you’d say it would depend on what you were trying to teach.  See, I know you now.  Okay.  Pudding will be 4 in December.  At this age, she is not expected to be able to read.  The “average child” (does anybody know one?) is expected to know the alphabet, know that letters make sounds, and letters together make words. She can do all of that, albeit in her own way (I think one day Pudding will record a cover version of Sinatra’s “My Way“- that is how she lives).

Pudding has an advantage with some pre-reading skills, I believe due to her autism.  Some call these “splinter skills” but I hate that term as it doesn’t recognize them for the superpowers I know them to be.  Instead, I call them spectrummy skills.  She has an amazing memory, and she is a visual learner, finding it easy to see patterns.  As a result, without trying, she has learned a few words just by seeing them often.  Words like her name, “hot”, “up”, “stop”, you get the idea.  One method for learning how to read is by using “Dolch” words, also known as sight words.  The idea being that the child would memorize a set of the most frequently occurring words in the English language, enabling him or her to read by rote.

One of the sensory difficulties that Pudding has is dysfunction with auditory processing.  As far as we can tell, her brain doesn’t seem to filter out extraneous sounds, and all the background noise that I can filter out comes at her all at once.  Her defense against this assault is to tune out.  This is why I frequently fail to get her attention just by using my voice, and sometimes I have to touch her to make her listen.  When sounds do reach her ear, they seem to be garbled.  Her brain has to decode the strange sounds and turn them into words, which is why it takes her some time to respond, especially in a noisy environment.  That is why I implore you to give Pudding and others like her ample time to process your words.

Many children learn to read by associating sounds with letters, and groups of  letters, and putting them together.  C-a-t spells cat.  Here Pudding is at a distinct disadvantage.  So many of the sounds are so similar to her ear that a phonic approach is problematic.  This is how the majority of children learn to read in schools though.  A thorough understanding of phonics enables a child to read several words they’ve never encountered before, incrementally raising their vocabulary every time they read a new book.

So here is the thing.  Do I opt for the sight word approach which will come more naturally to her, or do I begin the phonics approach, because I know it will be more difficult, and require more practice?  Do I work with her strengths, or against her weaknesses?  I’m thinking of this, because the following is a conversation she and I had this morning:

Pudding: What letter does bed start with?

Me: You tell me, what letter does bed start with?

Pudding: “B” is for bed!

Me: That’s right.  Now, can you tell me what sound a “B” makes?

Pudding: buzz

Yeah, you got me there, kid.  You do it your way.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 23, 2010 at 5:00 am

14 Responses

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  1. That’s GOLD Pudding!

    LOVE IT!


    September 23, 2010 at 5:33 am

  2. Ok, here’s where my homeschooling proclivities are going to come out. To me, does it matter how they learn it if they get there? Why force her to learn it in a way that’s more difficult? It will make her NOT like it, or enjoy it, and could have lasting negative effects on her learning experience. Coleman taught himself to read by age 3. I’m pretty sure it was a “sight” word method. As an Aspie, his decoding skills are superior and so figuring it out just came naturally to him. Julia learned to read in a more traditional setting at pre-school. I’m pretty sure that involved a combination of sight words and phonics, but now at age 5 she seems to be above average in her reading skills for Kindergartners.

    To me, if she’s going to have an IEP when she gets to school, I would have it written in to play to her strengths. Life is hard enough for our kids, and if they have a preferred method of learning that gets them to the same place as their NT peers. I say that much the better. 🙂


    September 23, 2010 at 8:50 am

    • Yeah, I think that is my instinct too. I think trying to force a way of learning that is difficult for her might be too harmful for her esteem. The sight method is a bit limiting though. I like the idea of a combined approach, that might be the way to go.


      September 23, 2010 at 9:12 am

  3. This is a great question. My gut is to say that Pudding already has enough difficulties, why force a more difficult learning style, when she could find success another way.

    I find I am adapting our life constantly. That might mean finding the just right socks for B, or going through 13 different kinds of bottles for A. We find things that work for our kids to make their lives more manageable. Should the same be true for learning? Perhaps. Interesting question, I am eager to hear the replies.


    September 23, 2010 at 12:31 pm

  4. My almost six year old daughter sounds a lot like your Pudding. We started the kindergarten homeschool three weeks ago and started right in with phonics. It’s how I learned to read and can find my way through languages, medical terminology and more because of the phonics program used in my education. I want the same for my daughter. I am finding though that there are certain sounds or words that are really tripping her up because of her auditory processing challenges. “First” and “third” are very difficult for her during math lessons because she hears them as the same. “F” and “T” and “F” and “E” look the same to her and those confuse her too. As for the phonics, she’s doing pretty well with well defined sounds, but the trickier ones like the short vowel sound of e and i? Forget it. I’m not sure what we’ll do about it. She doesn’t seem to hate the phonics lessons though and while it’s a challenge for her, she seems up for it for now. If she protested much more, I would reconsider my approach. I think I may just continue through the lessons, teaching what I can, with her absorbing what she can and continue to let her do what she does best: teach herself what she really wants to know. She knows how to read quite a few words because of her skill at recognizing patterns, memorization, etc.


    September 23, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    • I definitely see the advantages to the phonics approach. I love your line “teach herself what she really wants to know”- it does sound like our girls are a lot alike. The only difference might be that Pudding’s perfectionism would make her stop trying if she found it difficult. Maybe she’ll grow out of that as she gets older (I can hope).
      I was reading recently that an audiologist can successfully check for APD when a child turn 5. I don’t know what the advantage would be to knowing that if the child is homeschooled though. I’ve been on some sites that mention the Earobics and FastForword systems as a way of helping, but I have no personal experience of them, don’t know anyone who has used them, and can’t vouch for their effectiveness. If anyone reading has experience with these programs, I’d love to hear about it.
      I like the web site http://www.starfall.com which looks like a nice approach that builds up slowly, but Pudding isn’t there yet on the computer- if only this was an app!
      Thanks for commenting Laura.


      September 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm

  5. I’m in the “go the easy route” camp. I think if you reinforce her strengths, she’ll be able to build on those to help her in the other areas. As Laura #1 said, let the school pick up the harder parts. They’ll know what to do. Many kids learn sight words (stop on a stop sign, exit, off and on) without really reading them. But whatever helps her have fun and enjoy books now is great. In my small and uneducated non-expert opinion…


    September 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    • With every opinion I’m swayed! Perhaps as she gets a bit older things will be clearer. I’m also just assuming her next school will do a phonics approach, but given that westilldon’tknowwheereintheworldthatwillbe I should perhaps worry about more imminent problems. AT least I think that is what my ulcer is telling me to do!


      September 23, 2010 at 3:55 pm

  6. As a former teacher I think that a combination approach is best for a lot of kids. There are so many words in the English language for which the rules of phonics simply do not apply so sight word learning is really the only way to learn those words. Trying to “sound them out” is impossible. On the other hand, a good handle on phonics is essential for reading once books become more complex because it gives the reader tools to figure the an unfamiliar word out when it is encountered in a book. It’s impossible to teach every single word before it is encountered as a sight word, but if a child knows how to sound out a word then they can usually figure it out or at least approximate it closely enough that they can use that approximation plus the context to figure out the word. After they do that with the same word enough time it then becomes a sight word. Good luck!


    September 24, 2010 at 8:30 am

    • Thanks Natalie- this is why I love having a blog, I get expert opinions simply by asking for them! Thank you for your comment. The two approaches do indeed have benefits and disadvantages. Do you (or anybody else?) know of a program that does combine the sight and phonics approach?


      September 24, 2010 at 8:38 am

  7. Perky is similar to Pudding in that he picked up a lot of frequently seen words without actually being taught how to read them. He started actively wanting to know what every single word he came across was not long after he turned 4. The teaching approach used at his school with all students is the THRASS phonics approach. It has helped Perky enormously. Now, Perky attempts to read every word on his own – in fact, most nights the bedtime stories are read by him to us! I am not sure how easy it is to get the THRASS resources as a parent but this site might be able to help you: http://www.thrass.com/

    I got a huge laugh out of Pudding’s logic, of course a ‘B’ sounds like buzz!!!

    Amy (DQ)

    September 26, 2010 at 5:44 am

  8. I am the lead teacher of an Autism Classroom. The majority of my students began to read by learning sight words some moved on to a phonics approach when they are ready, but not all. I use EdMark as a reading program in my room and I really like it. You can get it as a computer program or in a paper pencil method. they have sets for sight words, functional words, environmental signs, etc. The computer programs have built in prompts and monitoring. I know you said Pudding is not there yet with the computer and you wished for an App for Earobics. Do you have a touch screen monitor for your computer? I have found those work very well! Or the best thing would be an iPad!


    September 30, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    • Libby, thank you so much for commenting. I’ll definitely check out EdMark. We don’t have a touch screen for the computer, nor can we afford one, sadly. Yes, an iPad would be amazing. Now if anybody reading would like to send us one….


      October 1, 2010 at 1:06 pm

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