Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Job Skill For Michael

Michael is a 20 year old young man with autism who doesn’t speak but who types on an iPad to talk.  Because he needs physical support from another person to use his fingers to translate his thoughts into words on a keyboard, people have questioned whether the words he types are his own.  When he was 8 years old, professionals at his school refused to allow him to receive physical support to type.  Ten years later, after seeing the video: Kayla’s Voice, empowering people with autism, Michael started to type again.

Michael will graduate from school at age 21 in June of this year – 2011.  He has talked to various transition coordinators as well as his family and support staff to help him decide how he wants to spend his days as an adult.  He wants to take courses in psychology to understand why people do the things they do.  He wants be a volunteer but hasn’t determined exactly in what way.  His main goal, though, is to work in a library shelving books.  If you saw the 1000 or so video tapes and DVD’s in his room perfectly shelved – and always in their right place, it would be clear to you, too, that shelving books would be a fantastic job for Michael. 

The challenge is that no one ever thought to teach Michael how to alphabetize.  Many of the people in Michael’s school don’t know he can read – let alone believe he knows the alphabet.  Michael can put books labeled with numbers in order without a problem, but if he is to work in a library, he’ll have to know how to sequence letters.  Michael is extremely motivated to learn, though.  He has often said over the last 6 months that getting a job would allow him to be normal.

S: can we work on the job training and alphabet?
M:  yes

I tired to illustrate the concept of “this letter comes before that letter” by using a Thomas and Friends DVD cover.

S: Thomas comes before Annie (the passenger car) A comes before B

Michael got confused and frustrated – unable to make the connection of the concept.  I decided to make small flash cards with each letter on the alphabet on them and spread them across in a long row across the table. Every time I showed Michael a letter, He wanted to type the letter on the iPad.  I didn’t want him to need to fulfill another habit.

S: The keyboard is to talk the cards are for practice right now.
When you put the books in order on the library shelves the letters won't always be in a row like A B C D E. That means you have to think about sections of the alphabet not just letters that are right after each other.
So we need to help you understand where letters go in the alphabet. What do you think will help you?
M:  I think in stead in and need to understand the alphabet

S: I agree! yes you need to know the alphabet well enough so we can say to you here is the letter G does J come before or after G do you see what I mean?
M:  talk to me more

S:  ok

I used sections of the alphabet to help Michael “see” what letters are next to each other.  I started with A B C D E.  I gave him each caard to place in order in front of him in what I called the practice are.  Then I removed the cards.  I randomly gave him one card at time (either the A B C D or E) saying the books starts with the letter D.  He placed the D in the practice area.  I gave him the letter E, and I was surprised to see him place the E after the D.  I gave him the rest of the cards in random order and he placed them all in their right place. 

We moved to the next letter of the alphabet including the “chunk” of letters he just mastered: B C D E F.  He was able to place the cards in the correct order as I gave them to him randomly.  We continued with the next letter and mastered “chunk”: C D E F G until we got to the middle of the alphabet.  He expressed more happiness by giving lots of smiles and making “happy grunts”.  It was clear that he was pleased with himself that he was learning.

S: is this helping you understand the alphabet?
M:  I think I am getting the hang of it

S: cool. do you want to keep going or work with grand mom later
M:  I want to easy now.

Michael completed the entire alphabet and smiled through the process as he placed every letter card in the correct order all the way to the letter Z.

S: that was absolutely fantastic mike. let's let grand mom practice with you and I'll come back on Friday to learn the next step together.
M:  yes

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