Reading & Language Delay in an Autistic Child

Filed Under (UnLearning Difficulties With NLP) on 11-02-2011

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I sincerely hope that the following entry will give some helpful pointers to people you know with a similar problem.

Here’s a query I received:

I have a 9-year-old son with autism who is enrolled in a public school (3rd grade). He has made steady progress in all academic areas except reading. The district primarily blames this lack of progress on his autism/language delay.  Based on my work with him at home I have been wondering if he may have another disability which is effecting his reading. He has had all prereading skills in place for many years and is sounding out CVC words. It’s been difficult to get past this beginning stage.  My question is how I could find someone who could do a good assessment for further disabilities, since he does have a significant language delay.  I’d also like to know what the necessary components are of a good reading program.

…and here’s my answer:

Your 1st question is how you could find someone who could do a good assessment for further disabilities for your son’s reading and language delay.  My answer is: with difficulty.  Wherever you go, people will give you generic info which won’t shift you forward & may cost you big money.  I don’t know how you could find someone, but I’ll tell you the following which if you implement will save you a lot of running around.

Although I’m no expert in work with autistic people, I know that they’re incredibly VISUAL, which means that they process most information from their environment by seeing pictures in their imaginations [=photographic memory].  Being highly visual, which every autistic person is, is a coin with 2 sides.  Side 1: these people are immensely creative, perceptive, intelligent, observant, quickly intaking information, and often artistically / mathematically / mechanically / technically gifted.  Would you call any of those traits a disability?   Side 2: any of these traits can be a drawback if the person uses his visual skills overfantastically in the wrong context, due to which he has way too many pictures in his head to be able to concentrate on anything else!  People who are highly visual, and especially autistic people, often see so much at once that they get a total mishmash in their heads which causes them all sorts of problems.

One of the problems is language delay. Let me explain 1. why your child has it and 2. how we can help shift it:

1. WHY he has it: autistic people have their visual sense so overdeveloped that it crowds all other senses = leaves them less developed.  Just like when in blind people the visual sense is gone, hearing and feeling are developed much stronger as a compensating, coping, balancing survival strategies, autistic individuals have the visual sense so highly developed that their hearing and feeling are often very low.  This explains why some autistic people don’t communicate well with their environments, don’t socialise well, don’t know what behaviors are (not) appropriate to display.  They often don’t have control over bodily functions [such as bowel movements, eating], nor are they in control of all the pictures they see in their heads, which causes chaos and frustration.  Because the overdeveloped visual sense leaves the hearing sense less developed, your son has language delay.  The development of language has to do with internal dialogue which autistic people have very little of or don’t have at all, as well as listening, hearing themselves speak, and hearing sounds around them.

2. HOW we can help shift it: help him gain control  over his internal pictures.  If he’s not in control of his pictures, it’s terrifying for him. How do you do this?

1. Ask him to see a cat [or his favorite animal, toy, sports player’s shirt] or something he’s familiar with and highly interested in.
2. Ask him how many pictures of this object / person he sees in his head at once or how many pictures of what else he sees at one moment.
3. If he sees many pictures of the same or various objects / people / scenes at once, teach him to separate them so that he sees only one picture at a time.  Make it a game – tell him to move the other pictures to the floor, side, or sky for a moment so they’re out of the way of the picture of the object you asked him to see in points 1 and 2.  Teaching this skill may take some days, but it’s the first step to success.  Persist even if it feels weird – every new skill feels weird at the start.  Give the brain time to learn it.
4. Ask whether the picture your son sees moves or is still.  If it moves, freeze the movement.  How?  Make it a game, tell him to imagine he’s holding a remote control and watching TV.  What happens when he presses the pause button?  The picture on the TV screen freezes.  Teach him to freeze the pictures in his head.  Once he learns that, he’ll be able to freeze them when he needs to describe something – and to describe = to think about its content = to develop internal dialogue = to talk about it out loud = to develop language.

The fact that autistic people often have great ability to visually recall familiar things will help here. Another thing to bear in mind is that autistic people often aren’t able to visually construct pictures of new contexts which also contributes to their language delay, because if they don’t see new contexts, they never learn to talk about new contexts = they stay forever stuck in their familiar worlds.  Did your son ever get terrified when you told him about going to a new place?  If he did, the lack of visual construct is the reason!  He’s so used to having all his familiar pictures in his imagination that visualising new places / situations is not easy and is thus scary.  The key to success here is learning to keep control over his pictures.  Once the visual chaos is gone and he sees pictures nicely, clearly, and still, he’ll be able to learn the words associated with the pictures and even add words into the pictures he sees.

Initially your son won’t have the vocabulary to explain how or what he sees, because his linguistic skills are weak and delayed.  But start with simple objects such as animals / toys / furniture / colors / food items / body parts / clothing / cars / gardening tools etc. and give it time.  Make it a game every time and ensure he and you are having fun – fun will be half the battle won!

Your 2nd question is what the necessary components of a good reading program are.  My answer is:
1. that people are taught to visualise the content of what they’re reading [= reading comprehension = remembering what you read once you’ve closed the book]
2. that people have still [=not moving] clear pictures in their heads.  This applies to seeing written words.  If the words or letters move around the page, reading will be impossible.
3. that you hold your reading material in front of your face at or slightly above your eye level instead of in your lap, because above your eye level is where your visual field is = your brain will process a visual activity visually, not in feelings which are in your stomach [gut feeling] and lap area.
4. that you implement this advice with your son at home, because reading programs in mainstream education will NOT tell you this.

Contact me for NLP help if your child or a child you know experiences delay in language or reading regardless of whether the child is autistic or not.

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