On Pictures and on Words

Many children with autism go through programs of matching pictures.  They might match identical photographs or the different photographs of the same concept (for instance pictures of different chairs).  They can match objects by the categories to which they belong.  They can match part to the whole thing.  They can match by the same color, shape , or … function.  Matching, as simple  as it seems, is the  great introduction to complex language concepts even for those who seem not to have language.

Robert did a lot of matching in his first years of ABA at the private school.  He also did a lot of matching with me, although in a different format.  I used many toddler level workbooks to provide opportunity for more “natural” matching by connecting pictures by lines or by placing stickers in proper places.  Although Robert completed each of the book twice or three times (Yes, I bought a few copies of each workbook), working on those simple exercises allowed Robert to flexibly move from one kind of matching to another.  On one page he matched body parts of different animals to the animals, on the other he matched animals to their habitats, and so on.

A few years later, I introduced Robert to simple (?) verbal analogies.  Although by that time, he could already read, those analogies were much harder for him to complete than matching pictures. Since picture matching is also a form of analogy, I had difficulties understanding what was a nature of this problem and thus how to address it.  Luckily, I found. through Remedia Publication, a  workbook in which one part of the analogy was presented as a picture and another one as a word.  For instance, Robert had to glue  pictures of a bird, a whale, and a bear in rectangles with words: ocean,  nest, or forest.

I think that this phase helped Robert with understanding of the analogies expressed by words only.

A few days ago, I returned to the same workbook.  I wanted Robert to do something very easy and almost mechanical. Just to make him feel good about his abilities. Oh well, as soon as I observed Robert  completing his tasks without any hesitation, I changed my mind.  I did not want to be mean.

I simply discovered another learning/teaching opportunity and the skill I neglected to practice in this environment: talking.

Because the words do not come easy to Robert, in the past we used them only in a very limited way.  It is not that I was silent through the activity.  I did comment, I think.  I also elicited a few singular words from Robert.

This time, as Robert was placing pictures in proper spaces, he had to say an almost (almost!) complete sentence, ” A fin is a part of a fish.” or

“A beak is a part of a bird.”  Four sentences of similar structure.  If he missed an article, I did not ask for correction.  I repeated after him without an error.  (I think.) If he missed any other word, he was encouraged to repeat.

I wanted Robert to practice talking in sentences, but I also wanted Robert to understand the nature of analogy by describing it with a word. Thus, in this case,  the emphasis on “IS A  PART”  of each sentence.

In other exercises the emphasis was on “IS THE OPPOSITE OFF”   (Happy is the OPPOSITE of sad. Back is the OPPOSITE  of front.  ) or “LIVES IN”  (A whale LIVES in the ocean. A boy LIVES in the house.

As I am working with Robert, I  am often not exactly sure what I am teaching and what I am missing.  That is why I am returning to the same exercises we have completed in the past, because at different times they offer  opportunities to learn something entirely different.

In the past, Robert learned that words represent objects (or the concepts).  He learned that those concepts are in different relations with each other.  Now he was learning words representing RELATIONS  between words… and/ or objects.

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