Quest for Language

Robert was not deaf.  I had a proof early on, even before formal testing was done at the New England Medical Center that he wasn’t.  I still remember  bare, little feet carrying Robert down the stairs of our old house in Keansburg, NJ. They moved as quickly as they could.  Not too fast, however,  as  Robert was not able yet to alternate his feet while walking down or up the stairs.  Robert hurried downstairs because he heard the song from Pinocchio.  He couldn’t resist the song. He had to be near the sound.  He would like to touch the sound.  Since he couldn’t he only touched TV.

Regrettably, the song was the only proof I had that Robert could hear.  He never reacted when I called his name or tried to tell him something. He didn’t talk either.

Robert was not deaf. But he had no language.  He didn’t understand what I was saying or what anybody else was. He deciphered  environmental sounds as signs that something happened.  That I passed by the door.  That  my car moved  by the house. He knew someone was at the door wanting to come in.  But he didn’t have language. After  six months of  working through discrete trials on differentiating aurally between two labels he couldn’t discriminate between any  pair of words.  I resigned myself to the fact that Robert will  never communicate and decided to teach him thinking without language.   I came to that radical idea because I had read Poincare’s book on mathematical discovery.  I read it many years before.  I barely remembered it.  I hardly could relate to its premise of thinking without words. But for Robert’s sake I entertained the possibility that it might happen.  Believing that you can think without words was the only workable choice. Accepting the opposite would lead me to giving up on teaching as useless.  If you cannot think without language there is no point of teaching anybody who does not possess some language. I wasn’t enthusiastic about starting that program.   I was not equipped with any theoretical knowledge.  I didn’t have any experience. Still I had t start somewhere.  I started with Robert’s toys, well educational toys or manipulatives.  I used some of them before with Robert while practicing  matching by shape or color.  I decided to concentrate on practicing basic elements of thinking, that, I hoped  I could practice  without help of words.  I concentrated on classifying, sequencing, and deciphering clues

I didn’t do much of the classifying of objects  myself as the school was working on it with Robert.If  I did some exercises it was to provide opportunity for additional practice and for generalization of a skill in another setting.  It had to  go smoothly since I don’t remember much about it.

For sequencing I used picture cards.  I started with cards representing stages of drawing a picture.   So on one picture there was just a square, on a second the square had a triangle on top, on the third and fourth windows and doors were added to complete the drawing of a house. After Robert learned to order those sets of pictures I turned to another set.   In this set the person was completing something – be it a snowman, a puzzle, a sandwich, or a picture.  We did this activities mostly in silence.  Robert didn’t talk, and I was told (I won’t mentioned even that person name) that talking would only confuse Robert. As you might guess, I regret that dearly.

I believed that if he had to live without language Robert should learn to flexibly read cues.  I didn’t have much to go on but a set of wooden pegs of different sizes and colors and a set of different plastic shapes in 10 different colors, and -of course – a set of attribute blocks.  I started to organize those pegs, shapes, and blocks  by size,  color, or shape etc, and wanted Robert to decode the pattern and complete it.

I didn’t work on color or shape matching skills he already had.  I worked (at least I believe I did) on Robert deciding what was the rule behind organizing. The rule I change randomly.

At that time I didn’t work with Robert on completing simple patters ABAB or ABBABB.  There was a reason for that, but since that reason is related to another aspect of teaching, I will address that later.

A few weeks after I started this program Robert for the first time differentiated between two verbally presented labels.  I doubt if my work with Robert – which was mostly mute- had any effect on Robert gaining access to the world of words.  Karen, a new teacher, was responsible for this breakthrough.

And yet I wonder…

Climbing With the Wrong Ladder

The term PREREQUISITE SKILLS”  is woven into almost every teaching curriculum. It states that before you attempt to teach D or E you have to make sure that the object of your educational efforts knows A and B, and has some familiarity with C.  From preschooler to college students the demand for prerequisite programs/courses is loud and clear.  It comes from strong convictions that learning is a linear process like climbing a ladder – you go up step by step.  Of course there is a room for some small exceptions.  If you see that a student has legs long enough to stretch them over two steps of the ladder you assume he can omit one of the prerequisites.   And of course you don’t always have to take A before B.  You can take one of the A’s variations, say A1 or A2 and from there switch to B.

I attended PCDI/NECA three day long workshop in December of 1995.  One of the methods presented there seemed appropriate for Robert.  Picture Activity Schedule.  Great and simple idea.  The child has a book with a few pictures representing a few activities.  After seeing a picture a child chooses an appropriate toy, plays with it, puts it away, and goes to the next picture.  If my son were presented with a book of 3 photographs, he would complete easily each activity just after a short training – maybe a few minutes long-  not necessarily in discrete trails format.

Unfortunately, his teachers developed a step by step program. Robert couldn’t go to the next step if he didn’t master the steps below it.   The first step required that Robert TOUCHES the picture in the book, reaches for the toy that was presented in the picture and was placed next to it, completes the activity, and  then proceeds to the next page.  The problem was that  Robert DIDN’T TOUCH the picture.  He just tried to reach for the toy (puzzle with 4 pieces) and complete that puzzle.  Of course he was not allowed to do that without first touching the photo.  Every time he tried to do so the teacher stopped him and moved his index finger to the photo.  Only then he could finish the activity.

Touching the picture seemed completely meaningless since the toy was just in front of Robert.  Even looking at the photo was meaningless since it was not related to any real choice.  Robert didn’t have to choose from two activities based on the photo. He had to complete just the one in front of him.

It is possible that the authors of the program wanted to also teach pointing.. Ability to direct one’s attention by pointing toward something is an important skill.  Children with autism had been found to suffer from deficits in shared (joint) attention.  However, this program taught Robert the opposite of what it intended.  It taught that there was  no reason for looking or pointing at the picture since the photograph didn’t provide any clue as what to do.  The clue was on the table all the time. Robert saw it even before he opened the picture book.  The required prerequisite for this program was not logically connected to its  goal.  Had Robert had two activities to choose from  then the picture would lead him to the proper choice. There would be a reason to look at the photo (although not necessarily to touch it).

I need to make a few comments:

1. Adding an unnecessary  step to a multistep process might not only prolong the time of learning but also derail the possibility of learning altogether.

2.The underlying cause of adding “empty” steps might be the patronizing belief that children with disabilities cannot use or do not need logic  in solving problems.

3. There are children for whom learning a sequence of teachers’ pleasing behaviors (and that includes touching a picture)  is not difficult.  The problem I described above doesn’t affect them.

4.How many times teachers rely on wrong, unrelated, and unnecessary prerequisites?  Does this problem is restricted to special education?

Relative Intelligence 2

Many times I felt that what I was teaching Robert seemed to others much above his ability to understand.  I did consider that this might be true. However, as long as Robert didn’t protest I went on with my teaching of skills or concepts as if he understood or WAS ON A WAY TO UNDERSTAND THEM.  I did that because I really didn’t know what he knew or what he was capable of.

But then I persuaded myself that teaching what appears to be beyond child’s ability although might look foolish to outsiders was still better than teaching much below child’s ability to learn. 

UNDERESTIMATING is much more damaging to the child’s development than OVERESTIMATING.

When we overestimate we just make fool of ourselves.  When we underestimate we bury the child’s brain.

Luckily for me, Robert taught me that early on.  He was as determined and persistent in teaching me as only a child with autism can be.

First lesson Robert gave us:

Our family was passing by MacDonald on a way to Stony Brook Audubon Park when Robert, between three and four at that time, started to wiggle in his car seat. He kicked many times the seat in front of him.   He made loud noises.  From past experiences we knew that wiggling, screaming, and kicking meant that our son wanted us to stop at MacDonald.   Yet, we pretended we didn’t know what he meant as we decided not to stop at MacDonald but go to the park first.  We kept silent or talked about something else as if we DIDN’T KNOW what was on Robert’s mind. As we purposefully ignored Robert’s behavior, the behavior got worse. Still, we felt very assured that what we were doing was right as we were already past elementary training in Applied Behavior Analysis.  We knew that we should ignore the behavior- put it on extinction.  We were prepared for the increase in screaming and kicking as typical extinction outburst.  By not paying attention to kicking and screaming (as long as it was not dangerous to Robert or others) we would have taught Robert that tantrum was not a way to request anything.

I knew that and yet, for reasons I cannot explain, I did something different.  I said, “Yes, this is MacDonald.  We are not going there now.  I know that you want fries and chicken fingers, but we are going for a walk first.  We will come to MacDonald later, after walk.”  I said that, or something like that not really sure what part of that speech Robert understood. Well, it was worse than that.  I said that not believing that Robert understood ANY of my words.

Yet,  Robert stopped screaming, kicking, and wiggling. Just like that!


I got it.  Robert was not mad because he wanted to go to MacDonald. He was mad because HE WAS NOT UNDERSTOOD. Because he couldn’t let us know what he saw or wanted.

He, probably, wanted to go to MacDonald but much more than to eat fries he wanted to connect with us; to share with us.  And we were not getting it.

By treating Robert as incapable of communicating we rendered ourselves incapable of communicating with him.

Second Lesson

It was late evening. After supper I was taking Robert to the bathroom on a second floor of our apartment to prepare for bedtime.  As we turned from a narrow hallway to the stairs we passed the main door to our town house.  Exactly in this moment Robert leaned on the door stretching his arms toward the chain lock at the top of the door. “Open, open” ,he screamed.  I immediately “understood” that Robert wanted to go outside.  I stated, “No, we are not going outside.  It is dark.”  I opened the door to demonstrate to Robert that it was, indeed, dark.  He took a step outside, looked left and right, and calmly returned inside.  But as soon as I put a door chain in the lock, Robert screamed and stumped his feet.  He kept repeating, “Open, Open.” Then he said, “Call dad”.  When he said that we returned to the kitchen so we could call Robert’s dad who worked late that evening.  Yet, when  I took the phone of the hook Robert became upset again and ran to the door. He didn’t want to call, after all

The whole next hour or two we spent by the door.  Robert spread himself on the floor kicking and screaming in distress.  Got up and leaned on the door reaching for the chain lock.  He was saying, “Open, open, outside, door, call dad”  in different orders.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Over and over.  I tried to ignore it. I tried to persuade Robert, that we couldn’t go outside. I tried to pick up Robert and carry him upstairs despite kicking, hitting, biting. But Robert, Little Houdini, could wiggled out of any arms and he wiggled out of mine.  Once, twice, ten times. All during this everlasting tantrum I  was convinced that Robert wanted to open the door so we could go outside. My brain was fixated on a way to dissuading Robert  from going outside and nothing else entered it for a long hour or two.

I became exhausted and gave up on  Robert’s a bath. Instead I  decided to wait for my husband to help me. I sat by the door.  Robert was still spread on the floor kicking and screaming. I couldn’t help but admire his determination.   And just then a different idea entered my mind.  Radical idea!  So just to check how ridiculous that idea was I… unlocked the chain.

Robert immediately got up from the floor and calmly walked with me to the bathroom upstairs. He took a short bath,  went to bed, and fell asleep.

So that was it.

My son  wanted the lock to be open not because he wanted to go out.  He wanted his father to be able to enter upon returning from work.  He was letting me know using all of his vocabulary  that related to the situation.  He was saying “call dad”  because, at that time ,he couldn’t separate words “dad” and “call” so he only could say “call dad”. Thus, when he kept repeating  “Open, open, call dad, door.”,he was trying to say, ” Open the chain lock so my dad can get inside when we are sleeping upstairs.” I should understand that it was not about going outside.  After all, he calmly returned home after I let him look outside.  Moreover, he didn’t try to put his shoes on, as he used to do whenever he wanted to let me know about his plans for outside walk. I should know. I should understand!

But how could I?  How could I even assume that my  4 years old would care if his father were able to enter the house?  How could I believe that he  understood that the inside chain would prevent his father from entering?  How could I see a caring, thinking, planning, full human being in my disabled son? He had autism, he couldn’t talk!

And yet, how could I not?.

Why Are You Teaching Him THAT? 2

Relatives, teachers, friends had the best of my son in mind when they asked me that question.  They asked because they doubted my son could learn the skill they considered too advanced for him.  They asked because they believed I should spent time teaching Robert something more basic, concrete, and useful.

“Why are you teaching him that? Isn’t that too difficult for him?”  Asked very loving relative as she watched Robert looking for a symbol of a state capital on a map grid.

Unfortunately, teaching something commonly considered “basic” might be, in many cases, much more difficult than teaching something regarded as more advanced.  For instance, I ran through three grade levels of workbooks teaching one geography skill – reading maps at the time  when Robert had very limited reading comprehension. I did that, because it was easy for me and for Robert.

I tried to teach my son many prepositions over the years and in different formats. Yet,he still doesn’t know “above, below, beside” He knows, however,  main and intermediate map directions.  He can point to something N, S, E, W, NE …of another place. He can state which direction one should go from point A to B.

The matter of fact at, some point,  I considered using the directions from compass rose to teach some of the prepositions he still is not sure about. I abandoned that idea for now….

Teaching map reading skills – finding symbols, using grid, naming directions required less expertise than working on improving reading comprehension of short stories. Teaching reading maps was concrete, elementary, and, as we found during our cross country trip, very useful.  .

Why Are You Teaching Him THAT?

The list of people  who asked me at some point or another, “Why Are You Teaching Him That?” is much too long to ignore this question, and attitudes behind it.  The truth is I attempted to teach Robert everything I believed I could.  Teaching something is better than teaching nothing.  Teaching what you know how to teach  is better than teaching something you don’t know how to teach.

Bethany, a nice clinical supervisor of one of my son’s program asked me ” Why are you teaching him to count by five?” The question seemed proper. At that time, my son couldn’t memorize any other addition fact than those of the form a+1. But he could count by 10. Moreover, he was able to complete simple patterns of the form ABABA.  So I started to teach him counting by five by simply squeezing 15, 25, 35  between 10, 20, 30, 40.. It was all written on paper.  He could see it.  He could notice the pattern. He could extend the pattern.   Then he could count aloud without visual support. Later, he applied this skill to tell time  and count coins.  The fact that he could utilize the skill in practical ways would satisfy Bethany.  But I credit this skill which much more. Counting by five helped Robert  to master counting by any other number up to 12.  That lead to  memorizing multiplication facts, dividing, and finding common denominator of fractions.

Every new skill opens a path which allows to learn something else.  That is why teaching something is better than teaching nothing.  And that is why you should teach what you know how to teach.




In one of the first days of September 1996, Karen, a new teacher assigned to work with my son was heartbroken.  She cried! According to what she told her fellow teachers, she felt like a failure.  She had worked intensively with Robert for the whole week and the only thing she taught him was to aurally discriminate between two commands: “Touch a cup” or “Touch something else” (I forgot what that “something else” was.  But it was another object.)  Nothing more! She doubted her teaching abilities!

Of course her clinical, PhD level, supervisor explained to her that she managed to teach Robert what other teachers were not able to do for the last 12 months.  That her success was really a huge breakthrough.  For the first time Robert accessed …language.  He understood sounds as words – sounds with meaning.

The question which was never posed loudly but, nonetheless, reminded on everybody’s mind was, “Why was Karen, a person new to ABA and autism with no more than one week of training, able to get results that  her more experienced colleagues could not?  Caroline and Evelyn were both very good at what they were doing.  Caroline in the first half an hour long session with my son transformed this constantly moving  ball of mercury into an attentive preschooler.  She had warm personality and iron will and used them skillfully.  I credit Evelyn with teaching  Robert to imitate other people’s gestures.  She switched from the  least to the most intensive prompting schedule to assure errorless teaching and eliminate “magical” thinking.  That was the first huge breakthrough. There is no doubt that Evelyn and Caroline were great teachers, and yet it was novice, Karen, whom I credit with opening a new world to Robert.  All three teachers used reinforcers. After all, the methods of teaching derived from the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis rely heavily on reinforcers as a way to increase the frequency of the specific behaviors including correct responses to teacher’s directions – and hence – increase learning.   The reinforcers used with Robert were mostly pieces of candies, cookies, or chips.  Access to preferred toy, video, or computer game can also be a reinforcer if it is something a child wants strongly enough to pay for it by following teacher’s instruction.  The ABA crowd believes in power of reinforcers.  And rightly so.  Although not once reliance on reinforcers in teaching has been criticized by humanitarians believing in altruistic motivation of higher ethical standard, there is no doubt that reinforcers are involved in daily lives of each of us.

So Caroline, Evelyn, and Karen used reinforcers – the same M&Ms, potato chips, or sips of grape juice. Moreover they all were teaching using the same format of discrete trails.  The same objects placed in front of Robert and the same short directions, “Touch this, touch that”. The only difference between Karen and Robert’s previous teachers was that Karen couldn’t hide her emotions.  She couldn’t help being happy, really happy (not just showing sort of artificially sounding approval) whenever Robert answered correctly.  She couldn’t help feel hurt when Robert was wrong.  She was new, she was sensitive, she took it personally.

Her reactions were giving Robert directions.  He wanted to avoid Karen being sad, as if the air escaped from her.  He wanted to see Karen’s eyes lighten up.

Of course nobody answered the question this way.  Well, nobody even posed that question.  I came up with this answer after many years of learning about my son, of discarding all the misconceptions that were brought by the diagnosis of autism. It is so easy, when confronted with someone who seems so different, to negate his/her humanity, the ability to be sensitive, observant, and simply… a good human being.


Teaching as Dismantling

I don’t remember all 12 animals pictured on the wooden pieces of the puzzle.  I  remember only four of them: elephant, giraffe, walrus, and toucan.  I also remember being hot and cold from conflicting emotions.  Robert and I were sitting at the small but heavy, wooden table across from each other. The wooden puzzle was placed on the table.  I held two pieces at a time in my both hands and asked Robert to point to one of the two animals pictured on these pieces.  He did. He did it again.  Every single time he chose correctly the animal I asked for. At that time I believed that Robert didn’t know any words receptively.  And here he responded correctly every  time.  Well, at the beginning I was only asking for an elephant or a giraffe or for another animal while contrasted with an elephant or a giraffe. I could believe that Robert knew those after many trips to the Zoo and some other learning opportunities I provided before.  I could believe that.  I almost did.  But when Robert could differentiate between pictures of a toucan and a walrus I knew something was wrong.  I knew but I still hoped it wasn’t.  So I changed presentation format.  Now, I took two pictures and placed them on the table. I lowered my head. I folded my arms.  I asked the same questions.  Now Robert answers became random.  He didn’t know “walrus”.  He didn’t know “toucan”.  And he didn’t know “elephant” or “giraffe” either.

So why his responses were correct? I knew, I must have done something to direct Robert’s attention toward proper answer.  I still don’t know what it was.  Nobody was there to observe from the side.  Was that slight movement of my arms or my eyes? Was that the  tilting of my head?   I don’t know.

What I, however, realized then was that Robert knew something.  He knew how to read what picture I wanted him to point to.  He knew that from reading cues I was giving him unaware of that fact. He knew something about me, I didn’t know myself.

I also realized that I would have to dismantle his way of reading cues before I could teach him my way (our way) of responding to the environment – physical, acoustic, human.

Seventeen years later I still wonder if that is possible or necessary….

Teaching Out of Autism

So what do you teach a child you don’t know anything about even though he/she is your child? How do you teach someone with whom you cannot communicate?  The insistence on teaching gross motor imitation is one of the best ideas brought by ABA crowd.  A child imitates therapist’s gestures accompanied by a short direction, “Do this” . This installs the idea  that another human being is a source of important cues ( information).  That it is beneficial to look for cues to another human being.  It is very important to state that the goal is not to teach child all the separate movements – touching nose, raising hands, clapping, stumping feet, but to teach imitating what the therapist does in this moment.  It is extremely important distinction.  Robert learned all the movement very quickly, and when he heard his therapist’s making a noise with his mouth (At this time, Robert heard sounds, but not words.), Robert responded with a chain of all previously practiced movements.  He was touching nose, clapping hands, patting his head, and stumping his feet.  He hoped that one of those movements should satisfy his teacher.

Yet there was something I taught Robert even before he started his discrete trails.  I taught him something I believed was easy. Well, It wasn’t!

I tried many things.  Nursery rhymes and finger-plays! Of course I tried that!   Hundred times! Thousand times! Robert liked them.  He was sitting in front of me on a table.  Face to face. He gave me his hands over and over so I could do all the right movements for the spider song and many other songs.  Yet whenever I released his hands from my grasp, his arms froze in the air.  He couldn’t finish one movement by himself.  He waited for me. And of course he didn’t repeat even one word from any of the songs.

What I finally taught Robert somewhere around his third birthday was to string beads.  The beads were large and the string was easy to operate as it resembled shoe lace.  But the teaching wasn’t easy!  Only when I started teaching hand over hand I realized how many complex steps were involved in this activity.

Picking up a bead.

Picking up the string.

Aiming the string at the hole.

Pushing it through.

Letting the string go.

Moving the bead from one hand to another.

Pulling the string from the other side of the bead.

Putting it down and starting over while not letting this one bead slip of the string.

I think I used something which resembled “Forward Chaining” I read about in Foxx’s book on “Increasing Behaviors”.

I did  all the teaching in  a few short sessions spread over one hour.  Each session was approximately 20 second long.  Out of these 20 second at least ten was spent on dealing with wiggly, escaping behaviors of my son.  Robert was sitting at the table.  I was standing behind him, bent over to prevent him from hitting my chin with his head.  Nonetheless, he managed to do just that a few times.  In every session, we worked on just one new step adding it to the previous ones. To be precise, every time, Robert was starting from the beginning and continued until a new step.  When he mastered that step, I finished stringing the bead and we started again after a break.  By the time Robert strung two beads independently, I was exhausted and  depressed.  I doubted if my efforts, my aching chin, and Robert’s clear dislike of the process were worth anything at all. What was the purpose?  To demonstrate that he can learn to do something?

Sadly, yes.  I wanted, I needed to see Robert’s learn.  Learn something.  So he did.  So what?

And then….

Some time later that day, I saw Robert sitting on the floor with a box full of wooden beads stringing them one by one until the string was at least half full!

First independent activity in his life.

First few minutes spent purposefully in an organized way.

The first few minutes I could relax.

I could give Robert a box of beads and go to the bathroom alone!


Learning Robert 2

I noticed that the posts that I wrote first are displayed below those I wrote later.  That wouldn’t be a problem if all the posts were separated essays not connected to each other.  But they are not.  I am describing a process.  It started with an unusual event (a student understood computer voice but not people’s voices).  It lead to formation of two hypothesis explaining the event.  Now I will write about another event that puts different light on the first one  …

In the first week of September 1996 there was a breakthrough.  Robert’s new teacher Karen was able to lead Robert to mastering auditory discrimination between two labels “touch cup”, “touch spoon”.  Again, I am not sure if those were exactly those two labels.  I think it was a “cup” and something else. Still the important thing was that Robert finally could touch one of two objects at least 80% correctly when asked to do so. 

As soon as I heard about this breakthrough which involved only two labels I took a set of picture cards (Schaffer’s First 100 Words) and spreading randomly 2-5 of them a in front of Robert I asked him to point to the picture representing the object I was naming.  He could point to at least 50 pictures correctly.  So I called the school.  We set a meeting and Robert demonstrated for his teachers and clinical supervisor his ability to label those 50 words.  That was clearly not something they expected.  After all he was hardly able to differentiate between just two of them after almost 12 months of intensive teaching.  And how intensive!  Three times a day, each time consisting of three chains of 10 trails.  “So”, I remember clinical supervisor saying,” Let’s make sure Robert REALLY knows those words.  Lets take three of them: bed, table, and chair and work on them in discrete trails format.”

And work they did.  The teachers worked on these three words every day:  90 times a day posing one of the three demands, “Touch a bed; touch a table; touch a chair.”

Two or three months passed by.   Again I spread 3-6 pictures  in front of Robert and repeated previous routine.  Except that this time I was choosing from two sets of Schaffer’s cards – 200 total.  Robert pointed correctly to at least 100 of them.  Just to clarify.  I asked for the same picture a few times demanding that Robert chooses it from different groups of pictures.  He KNEW 100+ words.

But there were three words that proved to be extremely confusing for Robert.  He was aiming his hands at them and moving it quickly back or redirecting for something else.  He looked at me trying to deduce from my face or my body language if he made a right choice.  He clearly was not sure what he was supposed to point to.  He knew 50 new words as compared to the previous informal evaluation, but he didn’t know bed, table and chair. He didn’t know the words he was so intensively taught.

This development lead me to a new hypothesis on Robert’s ability to learn from computer program and not from his teachers (or me).  It was the method of teaching that inhibited his learning. Constant repetitions, even if he answered correctly installed doubt in Robert’s mind as to what the answers should be.  Teacher was asking over and over for one of three items, no matter if Robert’s reply was correct or not.  Forget reinforcers – candies, chips, or sips of juice.  They didn’t lead Robert anywhere.  They were not cues for him.  The cue was that he was asked again and again.  That cue meant that he was wrong over and over.

I wonder what would happen if I didn’t check Robert’s receptive vocabulary at home.  If I didn’t realized that he unlearned things he was taught and learned things he wasn’t taught formally. Would his teachers ever doubted the method?  Probably not.  They were recording dutifully each single answer.  They might do some scientifically looking graphs. That would not bring them closer to the general facts about Robert’s learning. About what he knows and what he doesn’t.

The explanation of what makes me go on and on in teaching Robert those things that other people consider ridiculous given his IQ comes from the second conclusion: I also do not believe that Robert learned all those 50 words in a few days after “breakthrough” I think he knew them long before he was able to DEMONSTRATE his knowledge.

So, there must be a phase when Robert “knows” but cannot communicate his understanding or retention of information.

But that is again another story.

Learning Robert

The question I posed had many answers.  The first was that Robert must have memorized the order in which the program presented the pictures.  According to this theory Robert responded to the complex pattern of visual stimuli.  He was still not given credit for ability to discriminate aurally between labels.  It has to be said that as long as I remember Robert always had an ability to discriminate aurally between specific sounds.  What he didn’t have was to understand sounds as communication tools. So Evelyn, one of the teachers, spent some time on the computer program trying to figure out the pattern of presentation.  She didn’t discover any. The second theory was that Robert’s ability to discriminate among sounds was much sharper than in typically developing children and thus he couldn’t generalize into one “word”  differently sounding utterances.  Whenever someone said a word, the same word, for Robert, according to that theory, it presented itself as different sound.  Different in pitch, length, volume, accent, and whatever else can be different.  That faulty, human pronunciation was contrasted with a consistent computer voice that was providing directions in exactly the same manner.  That theory was consistent with my observation of Robert’s ability to discriminate among sounds.  For instance he knew (without looking) which car passing outside his apartment belonged to his mother.

As you might have noticed, both theory would opt for Robert having and applying some special skills not observed typically in children. One being ability to memorize complex pattern and second having a hearing too sharp for his own good. I don’t negate a notion that Robert possesses some special skills. Unfortunately, I encounter them often and blame them for most of my difficulties in teaching my son. Still  a few months later, when Robert finally gain some minimal grasp of language as a tool of communication a simpler explanation presented itself.