Judith Lautner (judith) wrote,
Judith Lautner

My summer of 98

It seems freakish now that 1998 was eight years ago.

I left the City of San Luis Obispo in February 1998. That summer I worked as a traveling clinician for Lindamood Bell Learning Systems. Now and then I think about what I did then.

To prepare for the summer I went through a two-week training course. Because of scheduling conflicts, I was put into a general group, mixed with parents and others who bought the program for their own use. I learned later that this training wasn't as good as that offered specifically to clinicians. For me there was a horrendous amount of OJT.

The fact that I had to learn a lot on the job doesn't usually cause me that much concern. In this case, part of the issue for me was that the people "training" me, watching my performance, were 20 years old. I think, actually, the average age was 22. They were bright college students but nevertheless I could not shake the feeling that they were babies and they were telling me what to do and how to do it. The management training was about nonexistent. They didn't know how to do this well.

It was one of the few jobs I have held where I was constantly fretting, worrying about my ability. It wasn't easy for me to tutor individual students of all ages, keeping track on a sheet of what we did, and then take my break between students to brush up on the next student's status. I didn't feel I related that well to the students and I felt rushed to get everything done. It was exhausting and I was always happy to have an hour off, even though I didn't get paid for time when I did not work.

In spite of all this, which is the personal side, I took away some interesting things. First, the primary program, which is training in phenemic awareness - the order of the sounds in words. Lindamood Bell trains students to recognize the order of sounds visually, orally, and sensually. They learn how a 't' sound feels in their mouths as well as how it sounds to their ears and looks on paper. I wholeheartedly believed in this system, and I still do.

Second, the comprehension program. This program came later, and seems a little less scientific. The students start out by reading one-paragraph "stories". The tutor asks about details the student could learn from the story and makes sure that the student does not repeat the language word-for-word. A lot of people read fluently yet have absolutely no understanding of what they are reading. Lindamood Bell refers to this type reading as "decoding". They get by in school because they learn how to memorize large chunks and can spew them out later. The way that the tutor helps the student is by asking him or her to describe the pictures that they see in their heads when they read the sentences. One sentence at a time. Some students have no pictures, and that's where the problem really lies. The tutors help them to learn how to visualize.

I saw how this worked. When I first started work I followed another clinician around as she worked with students. She was really thorough and tough with an older student, a student in his early 20s. At first he could not make the pictures to save his life. She kept pressing and pressing, day after day. It is slow work and difficult. At the end of the summer that student was doing so much better I was amazed and absolutely converted. I could see the results, particularly in older students who had been suffering their whole lives.

I think about this picture stuff. The author of Animals in Translation, Temple Grandin, is autistic and one way she describes autism is by saying her head is full of pictures rather than words. She compares "normal" and autistic persons by saying normal people think in words. But we don't, not always, not maybe even most of the time. Just for a moment try to catch what you are thinking. Are there identifiable words? This is one reason I think "mind reading" is such a hoot. There is no script in there that anyone can read, not even the person thinking. Yes, it's true that normal people are more comfortable using words and being creative with words - this is something Grandin has to do by rote, using words - but we also have many pictures in our heads.

And while I'm at it. One of my favorite programs on XM radio is Sonic Theater. The slogan they use all the time is "The pictures are in your head". I find this really irritating and condescending. They go to great lengths to explain to people that they can understand a radio play just by listening. Well duh.

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