Language-Expanding Exercise for my Hyperlexic Boy

We have been busily preparing for our new school year, and I have not had much time for blog posts, but I want to post something that may help others of you that have hyperlexic (or even not reading yet if you just do this exercise out loud) children that need to expand their language.

You can’t really say that P is non-verbal.  He can definitely talk.  If he thinks you may have a cookie hidden somewhere, he will break out in one of his most common lines: “[Mom], Can I have a ____ (fill in sugary snack here), please.”  That is not a problem.  He can also read anything you put in front of him (although you may not understand well because of his articulation issues and he may not understand the meaning of all the words).  What I am trying to help him do, is to EXPAND his communication.

Lindamood-Bell uses the Talkies program for just this purpose, but he is really still at the very beginning levels because of some receptive language issues, so we needed something to help him understand how to describe what he sees (concrete and then later images brought to mind).  They use a modified version of the “structure words” in Visualizing and Verbalizing.

In V/V, the structure words are: What, Size, Color, Number, Shape, Where, Movement, Mood, Background, Perspective, When, and Sound.  Talkies simplifies it to: What, Color, Number, Shape, Size, Where, Movement.  I also have cards that I got here, that give a visual cue when needed. We use the nice, simple pictures in the “Picture to Picture Book,” to describe images, but I have also been using videos that P loves and making questions that get at those same ideas in the Talkies structure words.  We have a subscription to Amazon Prime and we use videos that are free with Prime, but you could use whatever videos you have.

Here is an example of one that we used this week:

Super Why: The Gingerbread Boy
Minute 0:00 through 2:05

0:08 What is the boy’s name?
The boy’s name is _____________________.
0:10 What size is the boy?
The boy is _____________________.
1:00 How many Super Readers are there?
  There are _______________________Super Readers.
1:10 What are the Super Readers doing?
They are _________________________.
1:41 Where are the children?
The children are at the ___________________________.
 
1:54 What color is the question mark?
The question mark is ____________________________.
 
2:05 What is the weather in Storybook Village?
The weather is ____________________________________.

We read the questions together and he fills in the answer.  If he is unsure what a question is asking, we looks at our structure word cards for a clue.  We started this last year, about mid-year and he had a tough time with most of the questions and needed lots of help.  Now he almost never needs help and I have seen him watching the video more closely, instead of passively.  He is excited to fill in the correct answers and I have made them just a little more difficult, but he has kept up.  I usually make one sheet of questions for each day of the week (from just one episode per week), so that one episode will have about 30 questions.

I have been so excited about this exercise and wanted to share it because it uses something he is interested in, helps him observe and describe (rather than using language for requesting all the time), increases his attention, and models proper questions and sentence structure.  I am hoping to soon be able to leave more blanks for him to form the sentence more independently.

If you would like to see the whole week’s questions, I am including it here: Super why gingerbread boy season 3 episode 5.
Feel free to try it yourself or modify it for your own lessons.  Sorry for any typos!  These are usually done at 11 or 12 at night!

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Visualizing and Verbalizing® at Home

I originally said that I would not post the V/V® steps on this blog because I found a PowerPoint presentation that already had a good summary of the steps here.  However, I recently discovered the V/V® training videos uploaded by someone to youtube.  Before I went through the V/V® training, I wanted to implement V/V® at home, but I had a very hard time understanding what it should look like.  I did see that they sold (expensive!) training videos, but I was not sure if they were worth the money.  If you are like I was (interested in the program, but are a little unsure), this post should be a real help to you.  With the manual, a few workbooks and these videos demonstrating the most important steps, it will be much easier to do V/V® at home, either in your homeschool program, during the summer, or after school.  Again, please don’t rely on this alone to do the program.  This should give you a better picture of the program and can accompany the manual and other materials from Gander Publishing.

****UPDATE:  Sorry, readers, it looks like the person who uploaded the V/V instructional videos (not me!) did not actually have permission to do so, which has resulted in youtube removing the videos from their site for copyright infringement and the empty links have been removed.  If you want to purchase the videos, they are available here.  They are expensive, but if you’ve never actually seen V/V in action, it could be worth it.

Here is my post about some general Lindamood Bell® information and here (below) is a very brief summary of the steps with the videos illustrating those steps:

Visualizing and Verbalizing® Steps

1. Set the Climate

Tell your student what you are doing and why.  Make a small simple drawing to illustrate.

2. Picture to Picture

Student looks at a simple picture and describes it so that the clinician has the same image in their head.  The student should use the structure words (see below) as prompts for further details.  Compare the images and point out missing/misrepresented element in a non-confrontational way.

The Structure Words are:

What
Size
Color
Number
Shape
Where
Movement
Mood
Background
Perspective
When
Sound

3. Word Imaging

The student makes a mental image of a familiar noun.  The student describes his/her own mental image to produce the same image in the clinician’s mind.  Use structure words to probe for more details.  Compare images.

4. Single Sentence Imaging

The first sentence of a paragraph is read aloud by clinician or student.  The student makes a detailed mental image and describes it to the clinician alone, then goes into more detail using structure words.  The clinician guides the student to an image consistent with the text.

 5. Sentence by Sentence Imaging

After the first image is established, the image is changed with each sentence, always based on the original image.  Structure words are usually used to probe for details on the first sentence only.  The student describes changes in his/her mental image as the sentences progress.  It is here that the multi-colored felt pieces are used.  Each one represents an image and at the end, the student reviews the paragraph, sentence image by sentence image, referencing the felt pieces and then summarizes.

6. Sentence by Sentence with HOTs

Same as above, but HOTs (Higher Order Thinking questions) are incorporated (inference, predictions, etc.).

7. Multiple Sentence Imaging with HOTs

Images are now described multiple sentences at a time (2-3) and each image is a felt piece.

8. Whole Paragraph Imaging with HOTs

The student reads or hears and entire paragraph at a time and images.

9. Paragraph by Paragraph Imaging w/ HOTs

Images are now described a paragraph at a time (2-3) and each paragraph image is a felt piece.

10. Page Imaging with HOTs

Imaging is described a page at a time, instead of small steps.

I hope that something here has been a help to you as you teach your child(ren)!

Lindamood Bell Programs General Overview: Using Gander Publishing Resources at Home

Since I had a very hard time trying to figure out if I could do the Lindamood-Bell programs at home when I was searching on the internet, I am posting this here in hopes that it will benefit someone else.  There is no way that I could explain every step of each program, so you will need to get the manual (some libraries even have them), but I hope to give you an overview so that you can get an idea of what the programs are all about and see if you would like to try them at home.

I think I started hearing about LMB programs in about 2007/2008.  I was so excited to hear that this “Reading Clinic” addressed hyperlexia as well as dyslexia.   You can read about hyperlexia in a former post, but basically it is decoding skills (sounding out the words) that are far above comprehension skills, accompanied by a fascination with letters and words.  It is said to be the “neurological opposite” of dyslexia.

Lindamood-Bell has four main reading programs.  The ones used most frequently are:

  • Seeing Stars®:
    The Seeing Stars® program develops symbol imagery—the ability to visualize sounds and letters in words—as a basis for orthographic awareness, phonemic awareness, word attack, word recognition, spelling, and contextual reading fluency.*
    This would be for dyslexia/decoding problems.
    I will summarize all the Seeing Stars steps in my next post, so stay tuned!
  • Visualizing and Verbalizing®:
    The Visualizing and Verbalizing® (V/V®) program develops concept imagery—the ability to create an imaged gestalt from language—as a basis for comprehension and higher order thinking. The development of concept imagery improves reading and listening comprehension, memory, oral vocabulary, critical thinking, and writing.*
    This would be for hyperlexia/comprehending problems.
    I summarized the steps and have videos here.

The other two programs, used less often, are:

  • LiPs®:
    The LiPS® Program develops phoneme awareness. Students learn to recognize how their mouths produce the sounds of language. This kinesthetic feedback enables them to verify sounds within words and to become self-correcting in reading, spelling, and speech.*
    Parts of the LiPs® program are sometimes incorporated into the Seeing Stars® students if they need it.
    (You can see the steps for LiPs in this link in a paper written from the person that developed this program.
  • Talkies®
    The Talkies® program is the primer to the Visualizing and Verbalizing® program for students who need simpler, smaller steps of instruction to establish the imagery-language connection. The goal of Talkies® instruction is to develop mental imagery as a base for language comprehension and expression. Talkies® instruction may benefit students with prior third-party diagnoses of expressive language delays or autism spectrum disorders.*
    Parts of the Talkies® program are sometimes also used in the V/V® program for students with less language that can read.
  • There is also a math program called “On Cloud Nine®”

*Descriptions of the programs are from the publisher’s website (ganderpublishing.com).  My own comments about the program are in italics.

Nanci Bell has made some great presentations at the UC Davis MIND Institute’s Summer Institute
(MIND = Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/mindinstitute/

Here is a video of Nanci Bell discussing V/V® and Talkies® for hyperlexia.

The more I heard about it, the more I knew that Visualizing and Verbalizing® (V/V)® would be great for my older son, D, but when I discovered that instruction in the center cost over $100/hour, I knew that would never be possible for us, especially since the program is usually very intense.  Four hours a day, five days a week is not uncommon. (Twenty hours X $100 = $2000/week!!!!)  I should say that there are discounts for more hours, etc., but for us it would still always be out of reach for us.

Eventually, I was able to be trained in Seeing Stars and Visualizing and Verbalizing myself, so that I could teach it to my kids.  For those of us who live in the real world and cannot afford $2,000/week for tutoring, I would highly recommend that you do it yourself.  It can be integrated into your homeschool curriculum or be done after school or over the summer.  The materials can be purchased at ganderpublishing.com and the manual goes through the program step-by-step.  If you want to be even more prepared, you can attend one of their workshops.  In the training, for the most part, they wanted  you to stick closely to the “script.” ( You say, “X” and then the students responds and you say “Y” if it was correct and “Z” if it was not.)  There are even many sample dialogs in the manuals.

Here are some general LMB-ism that apply to all the programs:

  • There is big time bribing (eh… make that “rewarding”) going on constantly.
    I am not saying that is necessarily such a bad thing.  Most of these kids are doing the program because they have had major problems in the area that they are working on (decoding, comprehension) and this is the last thing they want to do when they are finally out of school.
    – Filling your bucket with magic stones (see below) gets you five stars on your “star card.”  If it is filled, that card can be used as “currency” to get prizes (small prizes , like trinkets from Oriental Trading).
    – Something really great (maybe getting something correct that they usually struggle with) gets you another type of card.  With that card the students gets up and drops it into a box and rings a bell.  Every time that bell rings, everyone stops for a second and cheers.  There is a weekly drawing with these cards and someone will win a prize.
    -Some kids have additional rewards worked out with in conjunction with their parents.  “If you get through X number of pages or if you don’t do X (insert problematic behavior), you get that toy you’ve been wanting, etc.
  • Every response (right or wrong) from the student earns a “magic stone” that is dropped into a small metal bucket and makes an nice affirming “clinking” sound each time.
  • A big part of the program is how you handle errors.
    Every response gets positive feedback before a correction.  (The student may say, “LIT” for the word “LIFT” and the clinician would say, ” I love how you got that /l/ sound, and that vowel sound was perfect.  When you say the word, ‘LIT,’ what do you picture before the T?”
    The student may say, “I,” and the clinician could answer, “I picture the letter ‘I’ in the word “LIT” too.  Let’s check if that’s right.”  We look at the card together and the student corrects it, get more praise, and several magic stones in their bucket.
  • The clinician constantly prompts for imagery.  (What do you SEE when you picture the word?  What do you PICTURE for the sentence you read?  How do you PICTURE the man in the story?  What do you SEE for his shirt?  Do you PICTURE him with shoes on?)  You are trying to get them to make an image in their head whether it be in decoding or comprehending.
    You show them something (a letter, a word, a part of a paragraph), they read it and then you cover it up, so that their brain has to make the picture in their head.
  • You want to make the child feel successful.  When they feel like they can do it and that you believe in their ability, they feel more confident and are more willing to try harder.  Plus, they can do it!  Every human being has great potential.
  • You “set the climate” at every session.  (For example: “Today we are going to picture letters in your head”) and they use simple drawings to help.  (Draw a head with at thought bubble that has a letter in it.)

These are the general things that apply to all of the LMB programs.  I will go into greater detail about the specific programs in future posts.

Hyperlexia

Just before my oldest, D, was three, and still did not talk, he was already reading. Much before that, before a year old, he showed a fascination with letters and books. I loved reading growing up, so I was thrilled to have a son that would also enjoy getting lost in a good book.

What I didn’t know, was that D couldn’t have cared less about the story. He just liked the letters. He quickly learned the alphabet and easily identified all the upper and lower case letters. Soon after that he learned their sounds, which brought him a whole new level of giddiness. When he started putting those sounds together to make words, his joy was complete and that was what he did constantly.

We had some therapists that wanted us to take away the letters, and for a while I tried to comply, but letters are everywhere! Even if we took away his plastic letters, there were books and signs and toys with letters everywhere. In the end, we just decided to try to use reading and words purposefully. He was already reading, so why not use that skill to teach him the other skills he was lacking? This worked for us and by the time he was talking well, the reading (decoding) obsession faded. What remained was a tendency to read without comprehending what he was reading and that has taken years to address.

Hyperlexia is not defined in the DSM, so its definition is actually a bit fuzzy. There is a common theory that there are three types of hyperlexia:

Type I: A “normal” (known as neurotypical or “NT”) child that just reads very early. Development does not lack in any particular area.
Type II: A child on the Autistic Spectrum that reads well beyond language that they seem to have (receptive or expressive) otherwise. Many would call this a “splinter skill.”
Type III: A child that has some autistic traits, and seems to read beyond their language abilities, but the autistic traits fade in time.

I am not sure that these are great categories for several reasons. For one, hyperlexia type I is just an early reader. There is really no need to even give it a name. What do you call a child with no delays that jumps twice as high as his peers? A hyperjumper?

As far as type II, the whole idea behind the term, “splinter skills” is one that many people with autism have objected to. It conjures up the idea of a person that is “low functioning” (another not particularly helpful term) that has an interesting, though not particularly useful ability in music, art, math or some other area. The reason that people are surprised at these abilities is because they are presuming “incompetence” and low IQ. It would be better to just say that it is an area of strength, just as any of us may have greater abilities in any particular area. Also, reading is a very important skill, not some “fascinating” ability for people to stop and stare at like a circus act.

Also, I am not sure that hyperlexia type III actually exists. To say that the autistic traits fade in time may just be children that have successfully used reading and other abilities to “catch up” in areas of delay. The problem lies in how we define autism. Currently, it is primarily defined in terms of delays. However, if we could see what it actually is neurologically, I think that many of them would still have some of these characteristics, like my oldest, who has no real measurable delays anymore (falls into “normal” range) but still struggles in some of the common areas affected by autism (language comprehension, reading social cues, and others). We also know that the ability to read can be a tool to help the person move beyond their delays in development, even if they were born with the neurological make up that would describe a person with autism.

I think that hyperlexia can be better defined as decoding skills that are far above comprehension skills, accompanied by a fascination with letters and words. The term can be helpful when speaking to therapists and teachers because it helps them develop a plan to help the child. It lets them know that the written word can be a powerful tool for this child and that comprehension needs to be monitored.

My next son, P, was (is) an even more extreme hyperlexic. He read and spelled out words shortly after he turned two years old and surprised visitors and strangers with his spelling abilities. To this day, his favorite activities involve encoding (spelling) and decoding (reading) words. He also seems to understand language better if he sees it written first. Sometimes it seems that he just can’t find the words to say and he uses his iPad (with the LAMP Words for Life app) to make the sentence and then read it. Because he does have some spoken language, I was unsure if this type of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) would be useful to him, but it has become an important tool in our communication toolbox and I am so thankful that we have been allowed to use the iPad and app (for now) through his school. I am not sure what will happen next year when we will be homeschooling for a greater percentage of his day.

Some people have seen hyperlexia as a “disability.” Some have told us to avoid spelling with P, so that we don’t “feed his obsession,” even telling us to hide the letters, but I am glad that we learned by then that it was useless. It is just another way that he is his own person, with his own unique strengths and I choose to celebrate those strengths, not squelch them.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad “A Word”?

I almost named this blog, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad A Word.” I remember the first time I heard it concerning my children. My oldest (D) had an evaluation by Early Intervention for a speech delay when he was barely a year old and I remember that there was a Developmental Therapist and Speech Therapist at my house and they seemed to be trying to tell me something without telling me it directly. After observing him they exchanged knowing glances and mentioned how he constantly ran into the sofa and other objects. They pointed out his lack of sustained interaction and eye contact. I really didn’t know what they were getting at, but they recommend an evaluation by an Occupational Therapist and repeatedly used the term “sensory integration.” I locked the term in my memory and rushed to my PC to look it up as soon as they left. I found that it was almost always used when talking about Autism. “Autism?” I thought. “Well that can’t be right.” I read more and worried more and waited for the OT evaluation.
When the Occupational Therapist came to do the evaluation, she continued with the “sensory” talk, but assured me that it didn’t mean that he was Autistic. She, of course, could not make a medical evaluation anyway, but there began my journey that would change my life forever. Occupational therapy, Developmental Therapy, Speech, Floortime, tens of thousands of pages of books, countless internet sites, videos, evaluations, hyperlexia, IFSPs, IEPs, and hundreds of other acronyms familiar to the exclusive “Autism Mom” club members. There was no “cure” and for me, at that time, that meant that “experts” believed there was no hope. For some “experts” that is exactly what they meant. After six months of intense speech therapy failed to produce even one spontaneous word or sign and little, if any, understanding of speech, I was told that my son may never speak. Well, his the story of his journey “off” the spectrum (maybe, maybe not) is for another day, but he did learn to speak and quite well, thank you very much.
When our second son (P) seemed headed for a similar diagnosis, we had little fear of the “A Word.” We knew what to do and he would be just “fine” also. We worked and read and took him to therapies, just like we did with our oldest, but he didn’t make the same progress. He was hyperlexic, like our oldest had been, but even more extreme, and was reading and spelling shortly after he turned two. He was so smart. Of course he would make amazing progress! Well, he has and he does make great progress and he is very smart, but he is still definitely on the spectrum. However, I don’t say that as a disappointment, like I would have ten years ago. I realize that he has his own set of challenges and his own unique set of strengths. Do I want him to talk? Yes. Do I want him to stop being Autistic? Not necessarily. My hope for him is that he can do what he wants to do and my hope for the rest of us is that the world will value him for who he is and not judge him by what he cannot yet do.
reading a book

sleeping with a giant book

unique solutions

spelling makes me happy

words all over the house always