• Increasing Literacy in Times of COVID

    Lindamood-Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing Reading Program is a rocking way to increase reading comprehension skills and something you can do from home!

    Who knows what the 20-21 school year will bring for our kids. Let’s face it—there’s no guarantee it will be safe enough for them to physically stay in school for the duration. Now there’s a cringe-worthy thought!

    One thing looks certain: our kids will need extra support this year. This post offers one method to help grow their reading comprehension skills no matter what comes next.

    I had already found and fell in love with Linda-Mood Bell’s (LMB’s) Visualizing and Verbalizing program in September 2019. I still adore how it addresses the heart of comprehension difficulties. Its central idea is clear:

    To better understand content, learn to create vivid, detailed mental images of what you read.

    This process is called dual coding. Dual coding happens when you learn something through both word and image.  

    The program is for people at all different reading levels.

    So it meets the student where they are. The program starts with having you verbalize what you see in a given picture. Once you master that skill, the visual aids vanish and they lead you step-by-step through a series of progressively more challenging exercises. The next activity is visualizing words, after that, visualizing sentences, and finally. visualizing paragraphs.

    To help you start your reading journey, they also supply these structure words:

    A simple premise and basic tools, but not so breezy with autism or nonverbal learning disability!

    A lot of our kids have trouble painting a picture of verbal information, so they naturally lean on processing things through words instead. Verbal processing needs to happen in sequence, and in small chunks. This takes more time and effort than making an image in your brain. When you make a visual in your brain, lots of info can be processed simultaneously.

    A quick contrast between verbal processing and visual processing:

    Verbal processing happens in the left brain hemisphere and visual processing happens in the right. Verbal information is digested sequentially in little bits. Visual information is organized synchronously—so rich details and the big picture are perceived simultaneously.

    The goal of the Visualizing and Verbalizing program is to make and strengthen new neural connections in the areas of the brain that visualize information. 

    With a little imagination, you can jazz up the assignments.

    For example, in Picture to Picture, where you describe what you see, it’s easy to find a slew of images from the web that will fit any hobby or obsession. So if your kid happens to be a Star Wars fanatic (ahem, like mine), you could use “Kylo Ren,” “Yoda,” or my favorite go-to, “Darth Vader.” This picture is a fun activity for all SW fans out there. (Note: This kilt-wearing man truly exists, and his fascinating videos can be found on the world wide web!)

    This program really works. It can be done—like balancing on a unicycle while playing the bagpipes, except easier!

    With enough practice, it can be done. “Ten weeks of intensive reading intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder was enough to strengthen the activity of loosely connected areas of their brains that work together to comprehend reading.” Says a study of the Lindamood-Bell program by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It’s hard work, and it takes tenacity, but it does the job. If you keep at it, you can see results in as little as a few weeks.

    You can get in touch with a center and have your child evaluated remotely. They also run online Visualizing and Verbalizing training events for caregivers and educators. You can find more information about the program here.

    ***********

    References:

    https://lindamoodbell.com/press-releases/uab-study-on-children-with-autism-improved-reading-and-brain-activity-utilized-lindamood-bell-instruction

    https://lovetoteach87.com/2019/05/02/examples-of-dual-coding-in-the-classroom/

    https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/11/17-1

     

  • Stealth Midline-Crossing Exercises

    Sneaky…Sidewinders…Stealth Do-Gooders, we know who we are.

    We slip supplements in our child’s smoothie on the sly. We act like dumb bunnies so they can polish their social pragmatic skills as they explain the art of Uno, or we pretend we’re at a loss for what to do next so they can test-run their planning abilities. I know, it takes one to know one.

    So how about adding some subtle cross-body exercises to your toolkit? Occupational therapists do them with our kids all the time, and we can do some of them too, FOR FREE!

    Cross-body movements happen when you move your arms and/or legs across the imaginary vertical line running down the center of your body.

    When we cross our midline intentionally through exercise, we engage both sides of the brain simultaneously. When both sides of the brain are activated, they communicate with each other as they work together. This can lead to more coordination between the two brain hemispheres and more coordination in the body.

    Babies practice cross-body coordination by crawling. It’s a building block of walking, eye-teaming, and later, reading and writing. If you ask an 8-month-old why she crawls, she’ll say “Sashee-watchee–kwak–kwak,” but really she is exercising to grow and integrate her brain and nervous system. She is also building up her core strength.

    For a lot of our kids, this cross-body coordination doesn’t come easy. There can be issues with balance, core muscle strength, body awareness, reading, and writing. The more consistent exercise they can get crossing their midline, the better. 

    Here are some easy midline-crossing exercises (imperfectly demoed below) you can do almost anywhere:
    Standing Cross-Crawl. Do these s-l-o-w-l-y so that most of the time you are balancing on one foot.

    Arm Swings
    Cross-Body Arm Swing Exercises
    Side Stretches

    Cross-body exercises also relieve anxiety, increase focus, and support a sense of calm. As a stressed special needs caregiver, I was glad to find that these exercises could help both of us.

    cross midline brain balance hook-up pose
    No sweats required!

    I’ve given this one a try when I’m about to have my own melt-down. Just a quick cross-body “hook up” I found in the book “Educate Your Brain.” 

    We also love these morning exercises with Moe Jones, where he crosses the midline plenty. He’s a very welcoming, daddy-like, and calming presence. One repetition of his workout routine takes only 5 minutes.

    My goal is that we do these exercises just 3, 5, possibly 10 minutes a day to help with reading, writing, and having a general sense of centeredness and peace. Just another something for the toolbox. There’s always room for one more!

     

     

    References: Mayo Clinic, wholebrainliving.com, “Educate Your Brain” by Kathy Brown

  • Executive Functioning Workshop Sarah Ward-Style

    In mid-March, like many other parents of school-aged kids, the guarantee of my son being *Someplace OK Other Than Home* crumbled before my eyes, just like that.

    It was welcome to Mom’s Living Room Elementary School, Ltd. Class is now in session! Within days we were buried in Zoom meeting invites and assignments due by Friday. 

    I thought I could buy myself a few more months of simplicity before the scattered schedule of middle school started in September. But never mind all that, there we were!

    Judging by how I squeaked through juggling multiple classes in high school myself, my guess was that the multiple class digital format was going to be kind of a wreck…and it was. I futzed around E’s various Google Classrooms and Learning Boards, attempting to prioritize his work while he lounged on the couch playing Roblox. It got old fast. There had to be a better way!

    The name Sarah Ward surfaced in my panicked brain. I had heard about the speech therapist’s executive functioning training programs in 2019. Executive. Functioning. Where the Executives Function…with big desks, rolling chairs, conference rooms, and pants suits. I didn’t like the sound of it—no, not at all—not until mid-March.

    Suddenly I was all about Sarah Ward…where could I buy her materials? Go to her classes? Get a consult??? PLEASE and NOW!

    Not soon enough, I found a 5-hour seminar on facilitating executive functioning skills during remote learning through her website https://efpractice.com. It was one of the best $79 I’ve ever spent. 

    The goal of the seminar was to help kids and adults who have challenges with things like:

    • breaking down projects into smaller chunks
    • estimating how long tasks or projects will take
    • staying on task
    • remembering what the task was in the first place!

    Climbing a sheer rock faceAccording to Sarah, the thing that helps most (besides having a personal assistant) is to be able to “see” and “feel” yourself doing the project or task in advance. 

    A TALL ORDER

    The exercise of picturing and sensing myself interacting with something I want (like counting out five million dollars) or picturing doing something I want to do (like Dancing with the Stars?) to make it a reality is familiar enough. But I thought it only applied to BIG GOALS. BIG THINGS. Like Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” types of things—not your average, every-day, piddly things, like cleaning a room, or better yet, managing a morning routine.

    But, surprisingly, there are people out there who DO picture and feel themselves doing such things…even little things, BEFORE doing them, even if it isn’t conscious. In her webinar, Sarah quotes Russell A. Barkley, a clinical professor of psychology famous for his studies of ADD/ADHD:

    “Repeatedly practice self-monitoring, self-stopping, seeing the future, saying the future, feeling the future, and playing with the future so as to effectively ‘plan and go’ towards that future.”

    For example, getting ready in the morning. You could fumble around, you could wander, pick things up and put them down again, and find the right things through the process of elimination or muscle memory. Or you could have, even if subconscious, a sequential plan—not in words, but in pictures. 

    ………………………………………………………………………..

    And if a person can’t picture or feel into the future (yet), she suggests that we can help them do just that by supplying them with the images they need, like so:

    “Why not just write a nice, colorful list?” I ask. Because a word list isn’t enough.  It’s too far removed from the “doing.” Before writing, we IMAGine. We have an image, and we write about the image. Who knew? 

    “How about an icon list of actions, then? That has pictures!”

    No, even that won’t be as effective, because the person taking the actions needs to be in the picture. For example, if a person is given a series of photos of themself taking all the major steps of brushing teeth, it will be much easier to follow than an ADL list (pictured). The brain will see the photos as a whole action, like a movie clip, and not a bunch of little, difficult-to-remember-parts. 

    I saw a few of her visual aids before I went to her workshop. They resonated much more with me when I saw her teach and demonstrate them—when I saw the whole picture. She is a fun, dynamic, clear speaker. The tools she offers are very user-friendly. Of course, it takes patience and tenacity (read: doggedness) to use them over and over again and make a real difference.

    If you don’t have photos at the ready, you can ask “Ok, what do you picture doing next?” or “What are you doing next?” This can help the person start “seeing” and “feeling” into their next action.

    And now with COVID and technology, you don’t have to go anywhere fancy or far to attend one of her workshops!

    Sarah Ward’s techniques break down anything from simple tasks to complicated long-term assignments. She offers a simple formula to accurately estimate time on all kinds of projects. She also goes over exercises to help develop time-consciousness.

    I hope you get to experience one of her workshops. It’s well worth it!

     

     

    Photo credits: www.thecoffeeapple.com, www.anglofiles.com, Tommy Lisbin for unsplash.com, Arina Wong for unsplash.com, istockphoto.com