Friday, June 02, 2006

James and word skills

My 11-year old autistic son, James, continues to amaze us with his language skills. He speaks at about the level of a 2-year old, if that, and usually his conversation is no more than demands for food and entertainment. But he has learned to read and write to some extent in school. He is now doing his own searches on Google. He types the thing he's searching for all by himself; the problem is, he doesn't understand the use of the space key.

He called me to help him the other day, and I saw that he'd typed "grinchcatinthehat" - naturally, it didn't turn up any hits. He wanted "The Grinch Grinches The Cat In The Hat". It's interesting that to him, the word is just the letters; he doesn't see the space as part of the word. As Dean said, "Well, of course! DO YOU TALK LIKE THIS? No, you-talk-like-this! " Quite logical.

I have an idea, though. James experiences everything visually. Maybe I could get him to see the space bar as a "rectangle", and then he might notice a rectangle after every word in a sentence.

It's interesting that both James and Thomas (14, also autistic, but not quite as severely) learned to read through the "whole-word" system, which has been so criticized for replacing the old phonics system. For these kids, though, it works, because they see each word as a picture, not as a collection of *sounds* that can be strung together. That's a leap in abstraction too far; you see what you see - seeing and sounding are two different things. I wonder if a language like Chinese would be easier for an autistic person to learn than an abstract phonics-based language like ours? They'd probably be better at memorizing the look of the characters, rather than trying to decode every word the way we do.

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