I don’t think I have told you all before, but a couple of years ago, we sought out the expertise of a psychologist to help us understand Jack better. We were already pretty certain that he had autism and was gifted but decided to have Jack undergo testing so we could put a few more pieces of the puzzle together. The psychologist confirmed our thoughts and diagnosed Jack with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Jack’s cognitive assessment (testing a range of different intellectual and cognitive functions) has been instrumental in helping us to understand how Jack thinks and learns. Jack is Twice Exceptional (often abbreviated to 2e). Twice Exceptional is a term used to describe intellectually gifted children with a disability; exceptional ability in some areas and significant learning difficulties in others. This is Jack.
Jack can remember the house we lived in when he was two and can tell you what he ate for lunch on the day we went to the museum three years ago. He can solve complex algebraic equations, he can hone in on a drum beat in a song and recreate it, he can recite novels verbatim, builds amazing Lego creations and draws with intricate detail…. he also is highly distractable, has great difficulty holding information in his short term memory, can not process more than one step of a verbal instruction at a time, is unaware of time passing, requires daily support and physical supervision to do self-care tasks like dressing and brushing his teeth, is not able to quickly and accurately scan information (as you would when reading) and struggles with prioritising information as it comes in; he is easily over-loaded with sensory input.
What this means for reading is that, while many other children will learn to read and spell on their own by simply being exposed to literature, Jack most likely won’t. He needs direct and explicit instruction that is broken down into small chunks of information and presented in isolation without distraction.
Knowing what we know about how Jack learns, this is how I am approaching reading and spelling with him. I use short chunks of time – maybe 5-10 minutes – to work with him. For spelling, I am using a THRASS chart. Do you know THRASS? I was introduced to it fairly recently and really love the way it clearly shows all the different spelling combinations for a single sound (why does English have to be so complicated??).
Jack and I are working through the chart using picture cards. These picture cards are called Writer’s Block (ours are from Modern Teaching Aids). They are intended as writing prompts but we are using them for spelling at the moment.
It’s so important that I break each step up into short, manageable chunks. First, Jack will choose a card, then:
- I’ll ask him to say the word and break it down into sounds,
- Jack will spell out the word using our movable alphabet (ours is from Wood Puzzles),
- next we look at the THRASS chart – every word has a vowel. On the THRASS chart, the vowel sounds are on the bottom half of the chart separated by a line.
- In the case of ‘newspaper’, the child starts with the ‘n’ sound, the identifies the ‘ew’ sound (selecting from moon, screw or glue), back up to the top of the chart for ‘s’ & ‘p’, /a/ is a vowel sound so down the bottom again (selecting ‘a’ as in baby), up to the top for ‘p’ and finally, down the bottom for ‘er’ (selecting from teacher, collar, doctor or measure)
Am I confusing you all yet? :/ Sorry. You can see what I mean in the picture where I have placed the two red dots. We are using the chart in a very basic way but I can see that this very explicit approach to spelling is having a positive impact on Jack.
He knows now that all words need a vowel (either a single or combination of letters), he knows that this means using a blue letter from the movable alphabet pieces and choosing a spelling combination from the bottom of the THRASS chart. All very simple, concrete steps.
And this understanding is starting to translate over to his reading too. He is starting to see letters, not as single entities, but as groups of letters which can make one sound. Today he read, a-stro-n-aut using his knowledge of THRASS. And that is a huge step forward.