Simon Says Teach Conditional Directions

On August 23 New York Times published an article Simon Says Don’t Use Flash Cards.  The article reported on a research which claimed the superiority of specific games over flash cards in teaching young children. The games, need to be said, required the children,  more or less explicitly,  to follow conditional directions.  Since I didn’t find in the article any referral to children with disabilities I had to assume that the research did not include participants with autism. Despite that I believe that the teachers and therapists of children with autism should read the article carefully and supplement their students’ IEPs with some of the mentioned games or their variations.

Sadly, only once ( in 2006)  I was told by the speech therapist of the importance of teaching the concept of  “First….then” .  That was not exactly,”If….then” but it was pretty close.  Short of formal teaching, I used “First… then” a lot during those errands I did with Robert. I would say, ” First we will go to the grocery store, to buy X, Y, and Z  then to McDonald” . In 2006 Robert was at home for four and a half month, so we did a lot of errands together and a lot of practicing of  “First…then.”construction.  Soon from “First…then” we moved forward in two directions.  One lead to making longer list of errands that would include bank, post office, store, and McDonald at the end. Second direction lead toward understanding  cause and effect relations as they applied to Robert’s actions.  “If you do this, then we  do that.” I do believe that I used this phrase a lot, but  don’t remember the circumstances or Robert’s reactions.

I do remember that with the help of this construction I was able to “convince” Robert in 2011 to buy a shirt. Previously, Robert never let us leave the store with a piece of clothing purchased for him.  Never.  With the help of the sentence, “Only if we buy a shirt in Wal-Mart and take it out of the store (Very important distinction, as on one occasion Robert let me pay for a shirt, and then grabbed it and ran to put it back on the same rack he took it from.), we can go to Applebee’s for lunch.”

By that day in 2011 when Robert with mixed emotions carried a bag with a new shirt to the car, we had already completed two trainings related to conditional sentences and directions.

One involved a book Comprehending “Conditional Directions”  That Begin with “IF”.  Robert understood such directions , for instance “If the giraffe can fly, touch your nose” with the help of a simple algorithm. I placed the first part “If the giraffe can fly” in a box at the top center of the page. Two lines lead from this box to either “yes” or “no”.  From “yes” the line went toward second part of the clause (“Touch your nose”), from “no” the line went to the expression, “Do nothing”. Later we simplified the presentation of such algorithms hoping that Robert would apply the concept with reduced support.  He never get fluent but he seemed to grasp the concept.

Second training come in the summer of 2010 when I started using level A of SRA program Reasoning and Writing”.  In a simple graphic method involving  pictures of two people doing different things (one person representing a teacher, second a student)  and an arrow the program introduced the novel for Robert concept: “If the teacher do this, I do that.”

That was a revolution! Robert went through years of discrete trails in which the emphasis was on doing what the teacher did, or what the teacher asked him to do.  Robert became all too good in imitating other people gestures and following simple commands to be suddenly forced to do something different, or even worse: Not to do what he was told or rather shown in the picture above the arrow. The teacher in the picture was touching her nose, the student in the picture was tapping his head.  If I touched my nose, Robert was supposed to tap his head. But how could he?  For 8 years he was taught to do the same! Moreover, when he finally  grasped that he should do something different, I confused him even more by touching my ear (instead of nose) and NOT ALLOWING HIM TO TAP HIS HEAD!

It took a few weeks of practice before Robert understood the concept and even found it entertaining. Still, he forgets it quickly as imitation was strongly imprinted in his brain by eight years of practice.
The same applies to conditional sentences.  After longer break he is unsure what to do.  But surprisingly he became pretty good at understanding “IFs” as they relate to his own life’s activities.  That,in turn, increased his ability to adjust to new situations and novel conditions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Sadly, Robert never played “Simon Says” which requires similar skills to those we practiced with Reasoning and Writing. He was unable to play it when he was younger.

He doesn’t have anybody to play it with  now, when he, probably, can.

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