Read about Linda’s Why for her passion behind the Making Sense of Language Arts Program:
“I may have a very active imagination but when my son, Mark, was a newborn he didn’t cry when he needed me. He made a calling sound, that I was sure sounded like, “mom”, (just like his three-year-old brother). At six months, he ran a very high fever; the calling sounds stopped, and he cried when he wanted me like every other infant does.
Before he turned a year, I started noticing that he was repeating the same vowel sounds over and over, but not making words. It sounded like, to him, he thought he was making words and since his brother had started speaking in sentences at eight months, I figured he was trying to speak to me. The doctor thought I was a pushy mom and said Mark was way too young to be trying purposeful speech. Over the next three months I saw him become increasingly frustrated that he could not communicate, he would yell the same thing over and over. One day we were watching a quiz show and the statement was “This dinosaur has three horns.” Though he was less than one and a half he shouted out, “I eh a ah”. His brother yelled, “Did you hear him Mommy he said triceratops.” I could have sworn I heard it too!
On our way to the doctor’s office for his eighteen-month checkup Mark started yelling at me, repeating the same thing over and over. He was frustrated and I felt very ignorant because I had no idea what he wanted. When we got into the examining room, I gave him a crayon to color on the paper that covered the table, (as I always did to ease the waiting) and he wrote the word “Zoo”! We had passed the zoo on the way to the doctor’s office and he was very upset that we hadn’t stopped. I could not believe my eyes. When the doctor came in, I reminded her about her comment about “purposeful speech” (which had become a common refrain by then) and asked her, “guess who wrote ‘zoo”? She could not believe it either. After a few Piaget type exercises she decided he was indeed trying to speak and was ready for speech therapy.
For the next year and a half Mark learned to write better but he did not learn to speak. He grew increasingly frustrated and we grew increasingly poorer. Then we had him evaluated at the Center for Developmental Disorders at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The speech therapist described his problem as “psychomotor”. “You know how most children can see you do something and imitate it? Well, Mark sees it, but he can’t imitate it. We are going to have to stimulate his muscles to teach him how to make sounds. For two years I watched as the miracle of speech was unfolding for Mark. She touched his lips, his teeth, his tongue etc. He learned to make the sound of letter after letter.
I will be forever grateful to the speech pathologist that diagnosed Mark’s trouble and prescribed a teaching method that was effective in helping him speak. That experience has given me a heart for others who undergo problems with language development. Watching, probably, hundreds of hours of therapy I learned to use alternative methods to teach children who did not learn through traditional means. Throughout the years I have tried to learn more and become more adept at understanding why multi-sensory teaching works and how to do it better.
I have been asked by resistant teachers, “What makes you an expert?” My response is, “I’m not.” But any job that we leave to experts alone only benefits a few people. There are only so many “experts” to go around and so many children who need help with language arts.
I have learned to do whatever it takes to help a child in my care learn to work with the learning style he or she has, to optimize what is gained from the educational experience. The proof is in results. We have seen scores of children who had been passed on to the fourth grade without knowing all the letter sounds, be able to read within six months.
The key lies in finding what learning style is best for each child and teaching to his or her strengths. As Paul Harvey said, “unable to trace the origin of this story, I call it my story.” I can’t begin to site all the sources of all the ideas gathered here.
What is important is that the desire and skill to teach to a child’s strength becomes your story too! Multi-sensory therapy doesn’t have to be a privilege reserved for the few—to learn language arts in the means that best suits each child’s abilities.
Tutors with no expertise can be trained to use these techniques and open the world of language for our children. Paraprofessionals with very little training can evaluate a child’s expressive and receptive language abilities and assign lessons tailored to each child’s needs and abilities. Schools, afterschool programs and any organization interested in youth development can provide the kind of resources necessary for children who think “differently” to flourish and grow.