Sunday, February 12, 2006

Reading 101

Sweet M's IEP for the current school year calls for her to be reading at a K.5 level by the end of the year—the end of what would be second grade, if we were counting.

As disappointing as this goal was to me—chronic reader that I am—it seemed appropriate enough since she wasn't reading at all last year. But as a person who makes my way through life reading, the idea that my daughter might not ever read at all, let alone read with pleasure, was weighing heavily on me.

Although I know M has been doing better in reading since we recognized that this was a reading emergency and started a sight word program at home, I was curious as to how her teachers thought she was doing and was looking forward to the parent-teacher conference.

M, the teachers reported, is now reading at an early first grade level. She's done a years worth of reading instruction in four months.

Her reading teacher described how she—the reading teacher, not Sweet M—started to cry in a recent reading lesson because M had gone from reading nothing at all to reading full paragraphs in a matter of days. Seeing something like this, she said, is the reason you do this sort of work.

Although I will probably forever wonder why M spent two years struggling—herself crying—with the Wilson Fundamentals reading program before her teachers switched to a sight reading program combining the Swain and Merrill approaches, I am grateful that she is, at last, learning to read.

M has taught us that she is completely capable of learning to read—once we learned how to teach her.

That got me thinking about how much more I learn about her every day. Every time I think I have a handle on her ASD-ADHD-OCD-ODD-PDD, NOS I learn something new.

The latest thing I've learned is that M, though fairly well coordinated, has a visual problem with what her eye doctor calls "crossing the midline." When she was having her eyes examined recently, the eye doctor asked her to track a light without moving her head. In the process the doctor and I could both see that at the point where the eyes need to track across the center point of the visual field, her eyes stop, ever so slightly, until she can refind the spot. Her right and her left brain don't communicate with each other with the ease that we NTs apparently have. And, of course, this can have implications for ease of reading because it will be difficult to keep your place if you lose your focus or tracking right at the center of your visual field.

This anomaly would also explain a rather astonishing result on her recent neuropsychological tests. On a test of fine motor skills called the Purdue Pegboard test, Sweet M, to my complete surprise, scored in the lowest percentile (<1) when asked to put pegs in a pegboard with her right hand (her dominant hand) and left hand separately. Since fine motor skills have never been a huge problem for her, this was shocking.

But what was really amazing was that when asked to perform the test using both hands at the same time, she scored in the 61st percentile, or slightly above normal. What to make of this? I'm not completely sure, since I didn't see the test protocol, but my guess is that when she had to cross the midline (use her right hand to perform a task on the left side of her visual field) that it was nearly impossible for her to do the task. But when she could use both hands, it was a breeze.

All of this reminds me of a book that was popular back when I was in college: Julian Jaynes's The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Jaynes's book was controversial at the time, and isn't tremendously fashionable now, but essentially he argued that consciousness (we might add, NT-consciousness) developed when the mind adapted and started communicating more fluidly across the brains' hemispheres. Perhaps, this suggests to me, that at least some of M's problems with so-called "theory of mind" and language processing have to do with this bifurcation of her brain.

But reading books—my most recent stack is pictured above—and spinning out theories is easy when compared with reading what is actually going on for our kids.

Sweet M has been being tested and retested for more than five years now. How, I asked myself, and I asked her OT as nonconfrontationally as I knew how, could this "crossing the midline" problem have gone unnoticed—not just by the OTs, but by the dozens of others who have examined her over the course of these years.

Well, her OT said, probably because we couldn't get her to follow the directions, so we couldn't fully test her. In short, we couldn't read her because we couldn't reach her.

We have to reach farther. We have to read more carefully.



Mom to Mr. Handsome said...

You made a really good point about all the specialists missing something so important in Miss M. I wonder all the time about what the doctors maybe missing about Gabe. Everything that he has had problems with, I have directed the "specialists/therapists/doctors" in the right direction. Even his diagnosis of Autism.It scares me to think that I need to be responsible for my son's medical care. That's a heavy weight to carry, especially without a medical degree.

I'm glad you were able to find what it was that was preventing Miss M from being the best reader she can be.


kristina said...

Cheers to Sweet M and to you! It was a long time ago I felt sad that Charlie displayed (it seemed) zero amount of interest in books, while my husband and I have been long-time avid self-taught readers. I now think of this as yet another way in which Charlie is so totally himself, original, unique.

We're just as thrilled that he's started to recognize and match sight words--something we tried three years ago and that he plateaued with quickly. Why did the school stick with Wilson for so long? On the other hand, maybe she was absorbing a lot more than was apparent, or could be detected by Wilson.

Charlie also has tracking problems--trouble with getting both eyes to look at the same thing simultaenously. One of our ABA pre-reading programs involves getting him to focus both eyes on a card with a word---after years of teachers letting him get by (i.e., away with) with his eyes sliding away when looking at a card and never, never learning and having endless frustration.

I clicked on the book photo to see what you're reading-------

Happy Valentines to your sweet girl and to you!

MothersVox said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MothersVox said...

Hi K and K!

First, KC: I have no idea why the school stuck w/ Wilson for so long. Probably because it works well with many LD kids . . . they try it first. My guess: M's behavior was so extreme that they weren't focusing on her learning, just on getting through the day.

As for what I'm reading, it's sort of autism 27/7 right now. I just hit the library to look for a book on the social construction of "feeble mindedness" and wound up with 10 more autism books.

I really liking the William's book called Exposure Anxiety. Explains a lot of M's behavior . . . esp. the echolalic TV-gram speech and profound need for control.

So glad Charlie is getting the eye focus that he needs to read!

Happy V-day to you and Jim and Charlie!

And now K, aka M to Mr. H :) . . . Unfortunately, I think we have to really be on top of what goes on with our kids and their testing and treatments, but we're also not alone . . . there are a lot of us out here on this ice shelf!

Happy Vday to you and Gabe!


Christine said...

The ability of tests to really measure anything about our kids is something that I think about a lot. I mean Oliver doesn't really participate in those tests so the only accurate picture the testers often get is of his non-compliance.

I agree with Kristen that it is sometimes overwhelming to always feel like I have to point the "experts" in the right direction.

Re: your reading list. I think it would be really interesting to know which autism books you would give 5 stars. ...

Diamond said...

It seems like all anyone ever wants to do with Noah is test him. On the other hand, it seems like all Noah ever wants to do is ignore the tests - LMAO.

I agree with one point and it certainly is a strong one - it's all in how each individual child needs to be taught in order to be able to learn. That goes for almost any child with any type of learning disability. My youngest son couldn't read at 15 - turned out the school was going about it all wrong, when they started teaching so he could learn, what a difference it made!!

Anonymous said...

I'll second Kristina's cheers! It sounds like you and M have made two major breakthroughs. Truly great news.

I've come to the perpsective that these tests our kids take only measure how well they perform on the tests. Ultimately we need to judge how relevant the performance on a particular test translates into a broader context of life and learning. Sometimes it translates well, other times it's somewhat meaningless.