Autism and Reading Comprehension/Oblique Language

Bird is working hard in middle school but confessionally the work load and complex concepts he is bring home to work on exceed Elementary school by a lot.  This is not an issue for his twin sister at all who has homework but because she has never had a big delay seems to have understood 95% of what she is learning.  His grades are good he got all A’s and B’s and one C so not awful but the C was quiet a blow to his ego and means we will need to put in more hours on math which this year is very non-concrete and involves lots of word problems!

Bird is working on his non-fiction book report right now among other things and the nuance and number of idioms, oblique descriptions and references to things not mentioned for pages is making the comprehension a bigger issue that before.  When we read White Fang in 5th grade Bird understood after reading it a few times,” On the sled, in the box, lay a third man whose toil was over,—a man whom the But at front and rear, unawed and indomitable, toiled the two men who were not yet dead.” and that this meant one man had passed away so not so non-concrete that he could not infer what had happened.

Right now he is reading Fly Girl and we are spending a great deal of time going over the language used because it is non-concrete and loads of reading between the lines and history refernces.    Some might ask why not pick a book with more concrete language to them I would say because he has to learn how to read things that are not literal and look for more than one meaning in a statement now that he is a fluent reader with a substantial vocabulary (funny I always think of Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element when I write vocabulary…little ADD sorry).

The process of going through the book together will seem tedious to some and make sense to other so hear me out if your still there.  Bird’s rate of acquisition for words is in the 30’s if obtained in the natural environment and maybe 10 if acquired through ITT (table time where you get the dictionary out and have him write the word, definition and then review the words usage). Many people will hear or read a word 4 or 5 times and understand it’s meaning in context but this does not really happen with Bird or lots of kids with autism.  So we sit together and he reads the book to me while I take notes and ask questions so maybe we get through 9 pages in 40 minutes on one day and 15 pages in a half an hour on another depending on content..the gist is that it is pretty time consuming but necessary.  I hear from parents that their child will get stuck on a level of ability and believe that what is really needed to pass that hump are simply a crap load of hours!  Here is the breakdown of what we did for those looking to see where he is and maybe if they need to scale back on books or pick ones that are more difficult.

Words he did not know:

Ferrying, Loony, You’re, Debutante, Anxious.

Looking at those words you see that they range from things your 1st grader knows to things your 7th grader knows.  Bird can tell you about gear ratios but NOT you’re meaning you are so we have some holes in his language and I will address this at the bottom.

Here are some phrases we spend time talking over and by this I mean that I would ask him to give me his thoughts on the phrase and then little by little go through context clues to try and help him understand that language is more elegant if used with less directness sometimes.

“It takes one to know one” – his ipod has the idiom of the day and it’s worth using for our kids though this is more of a colloquialism.

“Silk is for show girls and debutantes.” the book is set in the 1940’s and referring to stockings which were hard to get back then.

“I’m shy about my fair looks” explaining fair vs. dark skin

“Ida Mae Jones I though you was a white woman walking over there…” so we needed to discuss if he thought she was white until he knew who she was what color might she be?

These are a few examples of reading between the lines, inferences and colloquialisms specific to a time period like “silk.”  They have value but building these references takes time.

A more simple vocab word was “overalls”which he did not know.  Drawing the picture of overalls gives him a visual on something he has seen but previously had no word for but should know if visualizing the characters in this book.
This summer we went back and reviewed the words from 1st-3rd grade (not all but many and clearly we did not get to the Y’s) around 500 of them were done.  It was pretty amazing how many simple words we just assumed he knew. This create issues in his understanding of what is being said because he has more advanced language in some areas and with some basics no idea at all.  We reviewed each word and I would ask him to use them in 2 spoken sentences which is also great for thinking before you speak and getting better syntax.  I gave him a list of openings for his sentences so that each one did not start the same which is his tendency.  Here are some of those opening:

Although, He, She, I, Never, Today, Yesterday, Tomorrow, Last week, In truth, Don’t, Please, Why, Can, and a few more.

So if the words was “justice” he would need to use it with the first word on the list of openings and then the second word.

“Although justice was what the man asked for he looked guilty.”

“He said,”Truth, justice and the American way.”

So when we would find a word he did not know he would write it on an index card, then look it up in the dictionary, then write the definition and one sentence about the word.  We would daily go back to the words he had mastered and was working on both marked as such and review the words until they were mastered.  The ratio of known to not known words for me working with him was 1 mastered to 2 not mastered and they were mixed so VR so he might get 3 he knew and then 5 he did not know to keep it engaging.

I recommend if you start the program above you do it with a shorter book and reward at the end of each 10 pages.

Good Luck! and ask questions or give references to good sites if you can!






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