In our last speech session, little man finally 'got' the PECS! For those who don't know, PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System; so little man would give me or someone else a picture to communicate what he wants. Up until this point, he seemed to be very resistant to the idea and needed alot of help to attain the right picture and make the exchange. But this time, he just seemed to get it all of a sudden!
The speechie was over the moon about it. Come to think of it, so was I. So what happened? ... Well... after walking into the room, she (the speechie) presented little man a board stuck with a photo of a certain toy that we know he likes. She also had the main componant of the toy already out on the table. This is so that he knows we are not going to try to take it away, but are going to give him the other pieces if he just does the right thing (give a pic). This was successful! After a few assisted tries, he began to pick up the photo and give to her himself.
When he began to lose interest in that toy, we popped it into the finish box. Then she decided to offer him a selection of photos of other activities that he generally likes. We weren't sure if he would choose one, but she tried anyway, since he has had exposure to the photos before. To our mutual excitement, he did indeed choose one. And not just a random one; he chose his favourite thing!
Even as I write this, I am reliving the sheer delight that this small action of his brought me. 'He did it! He did it!' I sing out over and over in my head and in my heart. We were just so happy.
Over and over he would give the correct picture in exchange for the parts he wanted. She placed the picture on a different part of the board to see if it would confuse him. It did not. She began to add other pictures on to see if he would make the correct selection or if he would just pick any picture. He chose correctly every time. She turned the photo upside down or sideways. He righted the picture and then gave it to her again. He was amazing! He was totally adorable. I think he also was pleased with himself... what a honey :).
He does not do any of this at home though. It seems he only associates that PECS action with the speechie's office. But I think that is partly my fault.... I haven't exactly provided him with a proper PECS board here. We have only had a few pictures stuck around the house for him. The success of this session did motivate me to go out of my way to get stuff to make up a proper board for him. I can't wait to see if it will work!
Anyway, during the session, I mentioned to her that I had been trying to break a pattern with him lately. He likes to stand up on the couch when I put his shoes on, and totally cracks it if I try to put them on anywhere else. Obviously this is inappropriate, so I need to break this pattern.
'Strange though' I said to her, 'he screams and goes mental over this new way of putting shoes on, so to give him a measure of comfort, I wanted to let him go back to his room and start walking to the car from there as he usually does. But he didn't do it! He didn't even want to. He just went to the car with me from where we already were. It's like the other pattern is broken now too.'
That was when she mentioned he may have a gestalt style of learning. What is that, you say? Good question. One I also asked the speechie:
...Basically, it is where he sees and learns in a 'whole picture' format. So putting his shoes on and then going from back in his room to the car is all part of one WHOLE pattern. By breaking tone small part of it - the shoes-on-the-couch thing, I have inadvertantly broken his whole pattern. No I am not sorry haha! It has turned out for the best in this case.
But that was an 'aha' moment for me big time! This - if it is in fact true - is now a key in my hand to understanding his way of seeing the world. The term was already familiar to me, but since I had forgotten what it meant, I went home and did some thorough research on the gestalt theory of learning. By 'thorough research' I mean I googled it.
Filtering out the technical jargon, this is essentially what I found, in my own words:
To say one has a gestalt style of learning is to say that they tend to see the bigger picture, or to see situations as a whole and understand the way different parts all fit together to make it all work.
One of the websites I found had listed many characteristics of gestalt learners, and I was very pleased to find that many of them did aptly describe my little man. I recommend a visit to Child 1st, which is where I have got the following list from. It has a great post there with alot more detail about what Gestalt learning is for autistic people. But I really love the way they listed the characteristics in an easy to read format, so I copied it to here for quick reference. Some of these I have already seen in my little man and can tick on the list. For other things, I will wait for more obvious signs.
Common Strengths of Gestalt Learners
- Learns best through movement (tick!)
- Will focus on whole picture (tick!)
- Needs emotional relevance to self (tick, tick and tick!)
- Needs to see and hear the whole image/sound in order to learn (tick!)
- Prefers not to have step by step directions
- Works best when understanding the desired end product and intuitively does what is appropriate (tick!)
- Exhibits good memory for images and whole concepts (double tick!)
- Might need to close eyes or turn head away from teacher in order to process learning
- Learns best with 3-D / hands-on (tick!)
- Needs to move while processing new information, but with very little external stimulation that would distract (tick!)
- Needs quiet time alone, especially when processing new information (double tick!)
- Appreciates seeing examples of what is required, hearing metaphors and associations when learning
- Must be able to see, hear, move and or verbalize the whole context before learning details
- Needs to learn kinesthetically (using their hands) to process learning
- Quickly grasps the main idea (tick!)
- Is often highly intuitive
- Picks up on the intention and emotion of the teacher while learning
- Needs to physically process what he is learning
Challenges in Learning for Gestalt Dominant Children
- Learner will see the whole picture but might have difficulty breaking it down into a sequence of words in order to express what he sees
- Learner might have trouble explaining how he arrived at an answer once he’s solved it (such as in math problems when directed to show his work)
- Might reverse or transpose letters or numbers
- Although he might quickly grasp the main idea, he may have great difficulty in communicating the details in a linear way (logical sequence of steps)
- May have difficulty with penmanship
- May have difficulty listening to a lesson unless he is able to look away or shut his eyes.
- Might have difficulty with fine motor activities
- May have a difficult time processing new learning and committing it to memory unless he has time to reflect without visual or verbal stimulation
Gestalt Dominant Children Under Stress
- May exhibit clumsy movement
- Seeing and hearing details may become difficult
- May have difficulty communicating
- May have difficulty listening and remembering
- Communication between the hemispheres may shut down
When things like this happen - the PECS breakthrough and discovering things about the way your child ticks - it really is like recharging the batteries a bit. The difficult times are many and prolonged, and when that happens, it's easy - very easy - to feel hopeless. It is just so mentally exhausting. These occasional breakthroughs are just enough to keep me going until the next times something exciting happens. And it makes me hope that maybe, just maybe, he will start talking soon.