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Teaching my ASD child English - understanding expressive language

(14 Posts)
DrDoNothing Wed 03-Oct-12 23:19:05

My DS is in Y6, and is academically able, but has an ASD. He is at a private school and has not had much ASD-specific support as he is well-behaved and is overall level of attainment is satisfactory to excellent

We have been looking at senior schools, and many have reading/comprehension papers for admission.

I had him do one today that I found online for 11+ admission. He completed the work, and then I went through his answers.

This is as far as we got in the passage before dinner/bedtime:

"She walked the children to school through the rain. All the way up Gutherie Road and Arlington Rise, all along Bedford Crescent and Southfield Street, the cars stood stationary in lines. Their lights glowed like devilish pairs of eyes. The rain fell ont heir impervious metal roofs. Heat came in great sheets of steam off their armoured bonnets. The arms of their windscreen wipers went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. In each one sat a man in a garish tie and a crisp ironed shirt, his suit jacket hanging from a page beside the door. These men glanced at Juliet as she went by, one after another through their beaded windscreens.

She went along the leaden pavements holding her insubstantial umbrella."

And these the questions/his answers

Q"What are described in line 3 as glowing 'like devilish pairs of eyes'?" (1)
A The street lights.

Q Find 2 phrases from lines 1-9 which describe the cars. (2)
A (1) Heats [sic] came in great sheets of stream [sic] off their armoured bonnets.
A(2) The arms of their windscreen went back and forth.

Q Find 2 details about the men inside the cars from lines 1-9. (2)
A1 They are formal.
A2 They like to make their cars look nice.

Q Why do you think the author has described them in this way? (3)
A This is because to make a book interesting you need a description of the setting.

Q Using your own words, what does the adjective 'leaden' in line 10 tell us about the day? (2)
A This tells you that the day was boring, harsh and unpleasant.

Q Why do you think the umbrella is described as 'insubstantial' on line 10? (1)
A It isn't waterproof.

Obviously not a very good set of answers (10/10 for spelling though), so I tried to work it through it with him.

I am an adult, and not an English teacher, so I don't really know what a 10 year old should be capable of, so I was unsure if I was expecting too much.

zzzzz Wed 03-Oct-12 23:44:34

Sounds pretty good to me.

AgnesDiPesto Wed 03-Oct-12 23:56:43

Seems very literal. Needs to understand that 3 point question he needs to write more than a 1 point question. I would think of getting comprehension books aimed a bit younger and test out what level he is able to give good answers. I do think its quite hard vocab, my DS (one without ASD) is 10 and would have given better answers but would have struggled with 'leaden' 'impervious', 'garish' and he is top of his class. Can you show it to school?

DrDoNothing Thu 04-Oct-12 00:01:41

Anyway, I went through this and asked him to read the text prior to 'devilish pairs of eyes' more carefully, and he realised his mistake there fairly easily.

I suggested that 'phrase' in the second question was more specific, although I wasn't sure if his answers here was completely wrong: '"their armoured bonnets" and "their impervious metal roofs" was what I thought they were looking for here.

Not too bad.

Then for question three I asked him to think about the language and atmosphere being conveyed by the story.

He wasn't sure what 'impervious' meant, so I explained, and I asked him why he thought the author talked about 'armoured bonnets' and 'impervious metal roofs', he thought it was something to do with them being proud of their cars.

So I asked kinds of things are 'armoured', and he said 'knights', and I added 'tanks', and I asked 'what would you associate those things with?' and he said 'fighting'. 'Or war', I said.

'What do you think it would tell you about the people if they had been described instead as "riding their horses down the street, whispering words of encouragement in their ears, patting their manes".' So he said 'that they were loving people.' 'So what's the difference here when the men are described as in 'armoured' cars with 'devilish eyes'. Didn't get it, so I asked 'do you know what dehumanised means'.

He didn't. I said 'do you think it would matter if we had a whole lot of old toys and crushed them.' 'No that wouldn't matter', he said. 'How about if we had a lot of people and we killed them.' 'Yes of course that would be bad'.

I asked him 'what is the name of the literary device when the author says 'back and forth, back and forth, back and forth'?'. He didn't know. Eventually I said 'repetition'. I asked him why the author might emphasise that, what types of things do the same thing over and over again. After saying 'yes' to 'people' doing the same thing over and ever, he suggested a pendulum, to which I said 'well machines generally do the same thing over and over without stopping or getting bored'.

'So you see that the atmosphere/imagery used here is of machines, rather than people.', I said.

I went on to talk about the people in the cars, and where they might be going. 'To a restaurant?', he suggested. 'Not in the morning when people are going to school.' 'Ok to work.'

I asked him 'if people are all the same, we might call them clones, but what word do we use to describe the fact that people are actually all different'. He wasn't sure. 'Individual.' 'Oh yeah' was his reply.

'What in the passage tells you that the people were all the same?' 'In each', he replied.

'Ok, so what does "leaden" mean?'
'Don't know'
'What's lead?', I asked
'A metal.'
'What do you know about lead?'
'It's poisonous, it's grey.'
'And what else?'
'Don't know.'
'How about a "lead weight". If someone was carrying a lead weight, why might they drop it?'
'Because it's boring?'
'No, because it's heavy.'

I then looked up 'leaden' online, and it gave a definition which was much 'heavy', 'grey', or 'slow'.

I asked him to think about what the weather was like, he said 'rainy'. 'What other clues are there to the weather?' He didn't notice the car lights suggesting it was dark or overcast, and had to be heavily prodded to figure out the steam from the bonnets suggested it might be cold.

We then spent about 10 minutes discussing umbrellas.

'What does "insubstantial" mean?' I asked.
'Don't know', he said.
I looked up 'substantial' and gave the definition as 'large' or 'strong'. 'So what does insubstantial mean?'
'Not large'
'Yes, but what do we say if something is not large'
It took a good bit of prodding to get the answer 'small'.

He thought that the umbrella might be too small. I asked him what other problems you might have with an umbrella, what problems he had seen with umbrellas. He suggested not being waterproof, so I asked him to think about weather and what kind of weather we might have with rain. He didn't know, so I asked him to list all the kinds of weather. He went through snow, sun, and so on, I'm not sure if I said 'windy' or he did in the end.

It was then quite a struggle to get him to the point that an umbrella might get damaged by wind. I showed him two umbrellas, one intact, the other blown inside out by the wind.
I asked him 'if you had bought this umbrella and it got blown inside out and broken by the wind the first time you used it, would you buy another one?'
'Why not?
'Because it's broken.'
'Yes but the one in the shop wouldn't be broken, it would be a new one. Why wouldn't you buy another one the same in the shop, what's wrong with the one in the shop?'

Eventually I had to give the answer 'because the umbrella in the shop is not strong enough'.

(I guess 'insubstantial' here means small, given the context of a woman with children, and there's no suggestion of wind, but I wanted to see if he would pick up the concept of umbrellas being vulnerable to wind, and needing strength, but he did not)

It took quite some to cover this, less than a third of the marks, and I think it was a little dispiriting for both of us.

Am I doing it wrong? Am I discussing this at too high a level for an NT 10-year-old, let alone an ASD one? (Like I said, I am not a teacher, nor am I 10, so I find it hard to adjust my expectations as I am not sure where they should be.)

DrDoNothing Thu 04-Oct-12 00:09:05

The answers I would give (I am not an English teacher!) would be something like

1. The cars' lights

2. (1) 'their impervious metal roofs'
(2) 'their armoured bonnets'

3. (1) they were wearing garish ties and crisp, ironed shirts
(2) they had jackets hanging on a peg on the door

The author described the men in this way because she wanted to suggest that they all looked the same, that they were like robots all doing the same thing.

4. The adjective 'leaden' tells us the day was grey and overcast.

5. The umbrella is described as insubstantial because it was too small to shelter four people.

DrDoNothing Thu 04-Oct-12 00:21:14

This is btw off the exam paper for North London Collegiate School, which is the 5th place school in the country, so I may have chosen too hard an exam, but otoh it is aimed at 11, and my DS is at that level in other areas, so I don't want this to let him down.

AttilaTheMeerkat Thu 04-Oct-12 06:33:05

"He is at a private school and has not had much ASD-specific support as he is well-behaved and is overall level of attainment is satisfactory to excellent".

I would state that he has not had much support purely because he is at a private school (these also operate outside the LEAs remit). Many children with additional support needs as well can go unnoticed in many private as well as some state schools simply because good behaviour is shown in class and they can (currently at least) keep up to some extent with their peers.

How much additional support has he had to date there?.

What are the state schools like where you live?.

zzzzz Thu 04-Oct-12 07:10:44

Presumabley school are coaching him already, most entrance exams being just after Christmas. What do they think?

My eldest two are considered brain boxes at school. One secondary and the other yr 5 (I would expect her to get an academic scholarship), at very competitive school. My third child has a severe language disorder.

While I don't think the answers above are expansive, they do sound like one point answers, so adequate. Go and talk to the English teacher before getting too worried.

merlincat Thu 04-Oct-12 11:53:34

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AgnesDiPesto Thu 04-Oct-12 12:46:19

perhaps it would be worth getting a private SALT to do an assessment and identify where the gaps are?

RoleyMo64 Thu 04-Oct-12 14:49:09

Hi there

I am in a somewhat similar situation - my son is at a private prep, he is currently in Y7. He is not diagnosed with ASD but we are going through the process and one of the big markers for him is difficulties with expressive language.

He began to fall behind in English in about Y5, where all the metaphors/understanding what the author means/atmosphere of the story stuff started kicking in.

I got him assessed by an EP, and as a result of his language test results he was allowed to drop a language (they do two) and get extra 1:1 English tuition from the learning support department in that time.

He also has speech and language therapy specifically focused on teaching him the words to use to express his own emotions etc, and talk through social situations and chains of reasoning about motives.

His English is definitely improving as a result of this. He scored much better in the exam at the end of Y6, and more importantly is starting to comprehend some of what goes on in stories.

However, we are also looking at senior schools, we have been and looked at one of the top ten by results, and there is no way on God's earth he will be up to the standard required in English (other subjects are good).

So we will be looking for a less-selective school that is prepared to continue supporting him in English, as the nature of the teaching he needs in English is qualitatively different from most children, and therefore he needs 1:1 support.

Oh, and the paper you went through (looks like a Bond to me) is typical of a 10 year old who is capable of getting into a very selective senior school. Top set at the prep my kids are at would be able to do it. Middle set would find it harder, bottom set would struggle much like your son. This is at a moderately academic prep.

DrDoNothing Thu 04-Oct-12 16:10:36

Roley, the questions are from North London Collegiate School, which I think came 5th in the exam league tables last year.

DS does French, English and Latin. His marks in French and Latin are fine, and in English I think he gets C/C+ type marks. He hasn't had 1:1 support.

We don't want his poor English to compromise his other abilities, he's academically voracious. I don't know if the more selective schools would or would not provide enough support, really difficult to say.

RoleyMo64 Thu 04-Oct-12 18:21:23

I'd suggest talking to your school. (Unless it goes up to Y8 and you are planning to move early). He will presumably have been doing English exams along the 11+ line at least in Y5, and you can look at his test and see how well he did/what sort of problems he had.

You can also then talk to the teacher about what sort of marks he is getting in english (at our prep if you get anything below a C it means they'll probably be asking you to reconsider your choice of school although they hand out a piece of paper saying C is "in line with expectations" whatever that means) and if you explain that you are concerned about entrance exams he/she will probably give you a reasonably unvarnished idea about which schools your Ds is likely to get into.

You may find that there is a deputy head or someone else you can talk to about senior transfer - our prep offers all Y6 parents a chance to talk to the deputy head academic about senior transfer; he asks in advance which schools you are interested in and then basically lets you know whether your child is likely to get in or not, and also whether the school is likely to suit your child.

That aside, all the senior schools we have looked at, whether they offer a lot of support with SEN/SN or not, are absolutely insistent that everybody who comes in has to pass the entrance test.

AgnesDiPesto Fri 05-Oct-12 14:58:48

In French etc he is only having to translate concrete information eg swap one noun for another. Lots of children with ASD are great at rote learning information so this is easy for them. This is very different skill to having to interpret, infer, analyse, persuade etc which are higher level language skills.

I think you should get a SALT or EP assessment done. You do not want to get him into a school only for him to flounder when he is there

Most highly selective schools will refuse to have children who require support. Often they will take children with mild dyslexia but nothing else. The worst scenario would be that he gets in and then the school later decides it doesn't want him if difficulties become clear.

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