Unexpected Reading Breakthroughs

I am going to be a guest blogger on Hip Homeschool Moms this week and I decided to write about a minor-miracle we had with Jackson's reading last week.  In addition to that big breakthrough, we also had another big "ah-ha" moment.  I wanted to write about it here also and just link the 2 blog posts together so you could get the big picture.  So, if you've already read Part 1 of this blog on Hip Homeschool Moms, just skip over it to Part 2.

Part 1

My son Jackson, has always struggled with reading.  He does not like to read independently nor does he always understand what he is reading.  Comprehension has been the biggest road block to his advancement in a number of areas.  His special education teachers spent hours on the who, what, when, where, why questions with limited success.  They communicated that he refused to read out loud and when asked to answer simple questions about a passage, he would often have an outburst of some kind that involved kicking, spitting or yelling which led to an overemphasis on behavioral interventions and resulted in the side lining of his reading education.

From the minute we began our homeschooling adventure, I knew reading had to be a priority.  I started slowly with simply reading out loud, followed by basic comprehension activities.  I quickly discovered that he did in fact get very upset when asked these questions.  It did not take me long to figure out that my voice had power.  I could sooth or irritate, teach or torment.  I quickly learned when to speak and when to remain silent based on his needs at any particular moment.  I knew I had to change my approach to his reading challenges, I just had no idea where to begin.  

Then I listened to him.  I stopped berating him with The Five Ws worksheets, I stopped making charts of setting, character, problem, solution, etc... I gave him a book, asked him to read and watched him.  I did not correct his pronunciation errors or redirect him when he got distracted.   I was silent for a solid month.  I just observed and smiled a lot as he read to me.  And I noticed something peculiar.  Everytime he began to read out loud, within 30 seconds he would begin yawning and put his head on my shoulder.  I had never noticed it before, probably because I was too busy correcting him or telling him to pay attention.  So I jumped on my BFF, Google and found this article by HSLDA entitled Visual Processing Dysfunction Characteristics.  It mentioned that one of the signs of this learning issues was yawning shortly after reading begins.  This was a huge lightbulb moment for me!  

They suggested a few things to try to see if a visual processing dysfunction was the culprit behind a child's reading problems.  One idea caught my eye immediately because it had been suggested to me a few years earlier by our developmental pediatrician, but I dismissed it as unnecessary because Jackson's reading seemed fine at that time...Colored Overlays.  I ordered a pack of multi-colored transparencies from Amazon.com that day.  From the get-go that he preferred the darker colors that reduced the contrast between the white page and the black letters.

I decided to take a video of Jackson reading before and after using the dark blue colored overlay.  I can not stress enough how profound the change was in a 30 second time period.  Note that this video clip is of him reading from the same page - only a few seconds elapsed between the clips.  The only change that occurred was the addition of the overlay.   For those of you who have a child with ADD/ADHD/Dyslexia/ASD or any other learning disabilities, you will appreciate the "before" clip and laugh at how distracted and spacey Jackson is while he is reading.  It makes the "after" clip seem like a totally different child!


The most valuable lesson I learned through this process was that Jackson has great reading skills and comprehension ability, the challenge is figuring out how to get it out of him!  It's all in there, he just has a number of peculiar roadblocks that have prevent him from "succeeding" academically in this area.  Whether it is a visual processing dysfunction or even a speech and language delay, learning differences need to be addressed with patience and with an open mind to a new and unexpected technique.  I'm excited to tackle the next challenge in Jackson's education...since we've only been homeschooling for 6 weeks!

Part 2

After this discovery, I decided to push him a little farther in his reading comprehension. The hope was that this increase reading fluency and focus would translate into better comprehension.  Again, I was surprised by what I discovered.

I started with a new workbook that I picked because of its use of multiple activities for a single story.  Most comprehension materials I had used up until that point were all short passages coupled with a few questions and the information just went in one ear and out the other.  I wanted to find slightly longer passages with 6-10 activities that I could stretch out over a full week.  I finally found a good starter book at the 2nd grade level, which is about where Jackson's comprehension falls.  What I love about this book is that he can read the same story everyday for a week and be challenged to remember more and more details as time passes.  He is like a sponge that needs time to absorb the information and then process it before he can give it back to you.

Here is a video clip of him trying to answer a who question after reading the story only 1 time (and yes, we are using the blue overlay for his reading at this point, and yes, he is obviously distracted by the video camera:)

Now here is a clip of him on the 3rd day of reading the same story.  This time he was asked to do a sequencing activity, which has been impossible up until this point, even with basic concepts like how to build a snowman or get dressed.


I was genuinely surprised at how easily he ordered the parts of the story.  He was still a bit distracted by the video camera - he is a bit of a ham after all, but never the less, he knew the sequence of events in the story!  There was no yelling, kicking or spitting out of frustration!  This was a big moment for him and it will hopefully translate into more comprehension success in the future.

These 2 big discoveries illustrate why I am so excited about homeschooling autism.  The one-on-one attention that Jackson clearly needs is just not available in a big public middle school special needs program.  His 6th grade classroom had 7 students, all with completely different learning disabilities.  There was no way his teacher could spend this much time and thought on his reading.  We were told that during his morning Independent Reading Time, which was 20 min of silent reading at their desks, that he would just spin the book around and play with it and when the teacher would eventually come over to him and try to read with him, he would blow in her face and kick the desk. She tried to "focus his attention" and employ "behavior modification" to get him to do his work, but he simply refused to cooperate, therefore he was labeled as unmanageable and too difficult to teach.

It saddens me that those teachers have missed out on the experience of breaking through to an autistic student in such a profound way.  As a professional teacher myself, it is these moments that make a career of educating worth every challenging minute.  I am so blessed to be the one who gets to experience all of his victories and rejoice with him because he is clearly proud of himself as well!

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  1. Ali this is wonderful! I am going to remember about the colored overlays and see if our Intervention teachers use them at all. Congratulations on this major moment.
    I wanted to tell you about a type of pencil I saw used in the Intervention classroom at one of our schools. I bought one for Pattie and she can use it much easier than the regular pencils. Here a link for them on amazon.com but I have bought them in a teacher supply store here.
    They have pens as well!

  2. I love that idea Fran! Stocking Stuffer for sure:)

  3. I'm so excited for both you and J - what an awesome motivation for you both going forward!!

  4. I was googling homeschooling curriculum for autism when I came across your blog. I'm amazed! I can't wait to try out these things with my son and see if it helps. Thank you! Oh, and your son is hilarious!


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