Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for the ‘Learning Disabilities’ Category

Nonverbal Learning Disabilities at School

Posted by nliakos on June 27, 2008

Educating Students with NLD, Asperger Syndrome, and Related Conditions, by Pamela Tanguay. London and new York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2002.

How I wish I had read this book years ago, when my daughter was struggling in elementary and middle school and I couldn’t figure out how to help her! How I wish her teachers had read this book! I would like to give a copy to each of the schools she has attended (seven now), to help them to recognize NLD in other children before it is too late.

Pamela Tanguay, of NLD on the Web, has written a very practical book for educators (but good for parents also). Included in the eleven chapters are an entire chapter on “Arithmetic and Math”, one on “Reading, Spelling, and Vocabulary,” one on “Penmanship, Writing, and Composition” and one on “Organization, Study Skills, and Homework.” These give very specific advice on how to teach, and how not to teach, children with NLD of different ages. There are also more general chapters on the school environment, teaching strategies, social and emotional functioning of the child with NLD, and spatial and psychomotor challenges.

The book is probably way too idealistic. The kinds of accommodations Tanguay recommends are so far-reaching that I doubt they could ever all be put into place. It would require teachers to teach whole classes as if all the children had NLD! It would also take far more time than teachers have. Tanguay warns that every accommodation and strategy that is not used places a road block in front of the NLD student, setting her up to fail. (I wonder how actual NLD students who manage to graduate from high school and college and even go to graduate school succeed, because they surely did not have all of Tanguay’s recommended accommodations!)

Still, some of her advice would not be too difficult to implement, and certainly every teacher who has a child with NLD should read this book. If it does nothing else, it may convince the teacher that the child is not being lazy or noncompliant when she cannot do what she is told. Tanguay reminds us that since these children are fluent talkers with large, often precocious vocabularies, people often assume that they are smart in other ways as well, or could be if they just tried hard enough or paid attention. Tanguay explains, for example, that people with NLD cannot attend to two modalities at once, so if the teacher demonstrates something as she explains it, the whole lesson is wasted on the NLD child. The teacher must first explain verbally, and only then demonstrate. You can see how this would be awkward and time-consuming to implement in a real classroom–especially if only one child requires it. Yet it explains much about the struggles of these children.

Posted in Education, Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Smiling at Shadows: A Mother’s Journey Raising an Autistic Child

Posted by nliakos on June 8, 2008

by Junee Waites & Helen Swinbourne (Ulysses Press 2003)

This is a very moving account of the life of a severely autistic child and his loving parents, who like many parents of children with disabilities, discovered strengths in themselves they probably never knew they had.  Australians Junee and Rod Waites tried to understand their son Dane’s world as much as possible, finding that his autism brought unusual gifts along with its well-known deficits.  Their struggle to educate Dane and make him as independent as possible is inspiring.  Dane functions amazingly well in a world that must have been as strange to him as another planet.

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Born on a Blue Day: A Memoir (Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant)

Posted by nliakos on March 19, 2008

by Daniel Tammet (2006; Landmark Audiobooks 2007, narrated by Simon Vance)

This book is one of the most interesting books I’ve read recently.  Daniel Tammet is a young British man with autism and savant syndrome; he is extraordinarily gifted in the areas of mathematics and languages.  Unlike many (or most?) people with savant syndrome, he is verbally articulate and is able to describe, for example, how he “sees” numbers as mental landscapes having shape, color, and size; how he goes about learning (or creating) a new language (he learned enough Icelandic in a week to go on national television and be interviewed in the language!); and his experiences as a volunteer English teacher in Lithuania–his first time living away from home!  What a gutsy guy.  He’s a real inspiration.

Here is one of several videos on YouTube about Daniel Tammet:

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior

Posted by nliakos on March 19, 2008

by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson (narrated by Shelly Frasier)

I first read this marvelous book in 2006 and just listened to the audiobook.  It is so  fascinating.  Temple Grandin, author of Emergence: Labeled Autistic; Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism; and The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism here considers the way animals perceive the world and the way people with autism perceive the world, and finds them to be surprisingly similar.  She postulates that autistic people may occupy a middle ground between human perception and animal perception.

There are numerous fascinating examples about cattle and dogs as well as other animals.  Grandin matter-of-factly shows how autistic people, including herself, react in many ways in the same way animals do to stimuli in the environment.  For example, whereas people screen out irrelevant details from what they see, perceiving only the whole, animals (and autistic people) are unable to screen out anything and do not perceive “wholes”; in other words, we see the forest, and they see the trees.  More accurately, we see the tree, and they see each leaf and bit of bark.

Dog owners in particular will gain much knowledge about their pets from this book.  Grandin knows a lot about dogs and shares her knowledge here.  Reading it will improve the ability of dog owners to understand and communicate with their dogs.

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Asperger Syndrome

Posted by nliakos on December 6, 2007

edited by Ami Klin, Fred R. Volkmar, and Sara S. Sparrow; Guilford, 2000

This is a collection of heavily documented academic essays on Asperger Syndrome. They are very detailed and not easy to read. As I read them, I will add a brief summary of each chapter.

Part I, Behavioral Aspects

1. Volkmar and Klin, “Diagnostic Issues in Asperger Syndrome”

Hans Asperger described four boys with social and motor deficits in 1944. He called what these boys had autistic psychopathy. A year earlier, Leo Kanner had described a syndrome he called early infantile autism. Asperger’s work was not translated into English until 1981 (by Lorna Wing, who also modified Asperger’s original concept). Whether or not AS and autism constitute different forms of the same thing is still unclear. AS also shares characteristics with other conditions: schizoid personality in childhood, nonverbal learning disability, developmental learning disability of the right hemisphere, and semantic-pragmatic disorder. It is extremely difficult to compare the different conditions because diagnostic methods vary and different studies use different diagnostic criteria.

2. Ozonoff and Griffith, “Neuropsychological Function and the External Validity of Asperger Syndrome”

External validity means that a syndrome is truly unique. This article discusses the fact that AS does not yet really have external validity; it is still linked in the minds of many (professionals as well as the general public) with high-functioning autism (HFA). The authors examined studies focusing on motor skills, visual-spatial abilities, executive functions, and theory of mind to see if any of these neuropsychological domains could clearly distinguish between AS and HFA. Again, it was difficult to compare studies because the subjects in the studies were not always clearly one thing or the other. The problem is that psychologists are trying to see how Aspies are different from autistic people, but the same diagnostic criteria are not used for all the studies; so it is impossible to determine if the groups really differ or not. The authors conclude that the only area which offers any support to the validity of AS as separate from HFA is Theory of Mind (Aspies seem to have it, autistic people seem to lack it), but they admit the difficulty of coming to any real conclusions because very few comparable studies have been carried out, and there has been a lot of sloppy research.

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »

Bridging the Gap: Raising a Child with Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Posted by nliakos on June 23, 2007

by Rondalyn Varney Whitney (Perigee)

This book served as my introduction into the world of NLD. I found it enlightening and enormously helpful. Whitney writes with candor about her own son Zachary, and as an occupational therapist she writes with special expertise about the sensory integration dysfunction characteristic of people with NLD. She gives excellent advice concerning home and school environments. After borrowing the book from my local library, I decided I had to have it on my own shelf and have ordered it from Mapleleaf Center.

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »

Helping the Child Who Doesn’t Fit In

Posted by nliakos on October 22, 2006

by Stephen Nowicki, Jr., Ph.D. and Marshall P. Duke, Ph.D. Peachtree 1992

The subtitle of this book tells us that the authors “decipher the hidden dimensions of social rejection”. I borrowed it from my local library system after a hold of perhaps six months; from the look of its tattered cover, a lot of people are anxious to discover these hidden dimensions.

I found the book surprising because most of what it talks about is the same stuff that ESL teachers, international student advisers, and Peace Corps volunteers know by heart: nonverbal communication (we all know that its messages outweigh the verbal messages we send when we speak), including proxemics (the cultural rules for using space and touching others), customs which govern the use of time, gestures and facial expressions. The ESL teachers also know about the importance of stress and intonation in spoken language; add to this vocal tone, loudness, and intensity. (It was no surprise to find Edward Hall’s 1966 classic The Hidden Dimension in the list of references at the end.) Tacked on at the end of the list is something the authors call “objectics or style of dress,” including body odor (another familiar problem area in some ESL classes, because what smells bad differs from culture to culture; Americans tend to try to mask all natural body odor.).

So none of what I was reading about was new for me; what was new was the idea that people (here, specifically children) growing up within a particular culture may for some reason fail to absorb the unwritten rules. It isn’t until the end of the book that Nowicki and Marshall hypothesize three reasons for this lack of absorption: lack of exposure to appropriate experiences, emotional problems, or brain dysfunction (p. 138) They do not go into much detail.

The idea that some people unknowingly break the rules of nonverbal behavior and are socially stigmatized for it is a very interesting one. It seems very likely that such behavior does make others uncomfortable and possible that their discomfort results in avoidance and even ostracization of the hapless rule-breaker. However, the idea that simply making such children aware of the rules and practicing “appropriate” behaviors can cure the problem seems hopelessly optimistic to me. It might work as well with those children whose simple lack of exposure to nonverbal norms causes their “dyssemia” (as the authors name the condition they are describing) as it does with the people of other cultures that we find in our ESL classes; but I can’t see how it would be effective with children whose dyssemia is caused by either brain dysfunction or emotional disabilities.

The authors provide plenty of exercises and activities both to screen children for dyssemia and to alleviate it, so perhaps I should not criticize their approach without having tried out their methods. Nevertheless, it seems too facile. Besides, many of their suggestions are extremely time-consuming (e.g., create a dictionary–or a set of flashcards– of facial expressions or postures, using pictures cut from magazines or photographs you take yourself).

At the very end of the book, the authors throw in a paragraph on medication, suggesting that if hyperactivity or ADD are also involved, then stimulant drugs may be tried after consulting “a knowledgeable physician”. I found this advice to be gratuitous; moreover, it has nothing to do with the subject they are writing about. Perhaps in 1992 one could not publish a book on child behavior problems without recommending these drugs. They may not have foreseen the North American problem of overdiagnosis of ADHD and the abuse of these medications.

A review I read of the book also criticizes Nowicki and Marshall for making claims which are not backed up by research. They do mention one study they conducted on 1,000 children, but otherwise, most of the support they provide is anecdotal.

They have produced a test for assessing dyssemia: the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy or DANVA. At the time of publication, several of the subtests had not yet been validated, but by now they presumably have been.

In sum, an interesting and different approach to the problem of social rejection, but one which seems to say that understanding the problem and somehow teaching the rules will make the problem go away. I take that part with a grain of salt.

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »