UPCOMING EVENTS and BOOK REVIEW
The Book Launch held on April 24th was attended by 90+ people. Standing room only!
Book Bag | By Steve Pfarrer
Daily Hampshire Gazette, April 20, 2018
"I TEACHED HIM TO TALK": STORIES OF CHILDREN WITH AUTISM
By Marion VanArsdell Levellers Press levellerspress.com
Marion VanArsdell, who formerly worked in Northampton schools as an early childhood special educator, recalls that when she was teaching in the early 1980s, children with limited language skills or troubling behavioral issues were often simply considered to have "developmental delays."
As VanArsdell outlines in her book "I Teached Him to Talk," it was only students like "Lisa" (not her real name), who spent much of the school day hopping from one foot to the other and humming, that were considered autistic.
Today, she notes, educators and parents are much more aware of the full range of conditions children can face under what's know as ADS, or Autism Spectrum Disorder — and there are also many more strategies teachers can use to help those children develop, she writes.
In her book, by Levellers Press of Amherst, VanArsdell describes the first two years of the special preschool program she and other Northampton educators set up at Jackson Street Elementary School; she focuses on a number of students who enter her classroom and how she and colleagues find ways to work with them.
"Luis," for instance, arrives with three words: "no" and "shut up." He's an energetic kid who has trouble keeping still. But he also appears to be a ready visual learner, VanArsdell writes, and she and her fellow teacher, Lilly, start using visual cues like cards with words and pictures attached to them to get Luis to expand his vocabulary.
By the following May, VanArsdell writes, "I begin to realize Luis is outgrowing us. The boy who arrived with three words is now using his expanding, though unique, language to negotiate with his friends and to persuade his teachers to let him choose the order for his work tasks."
The book includes many other examples of day-to-day activities in the classroom, showing how VanArsdell introduced new words and the concepts behind them to children, as she notes that processing language is one of the biggest challenges autistic children can have.
There is success: One of her first students is "Katherine," who uses "echolalic" speech, simply repeating words and phrases she has memorized from TV and other places. But nearly 20 years later, when VanArsdell retires from teaching, Katherine is at the goodbye ceremony to say hello and tell her about the two jobs she has.
"We used to think she would reach her limit and stop learning," Katherine's mother tells VanArsdell.
"Instead it seems that she just keeps on making progress."
There will be a book launch for "I Teached Him to Talk" Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Florence Civic Center.