If you’ve ever discussed with me my passions when it comes to supporting students, teenagers with language impairments (specific language impairment, mild intellectual disability, high functioning autism/Aspergers) has to be one of my favourite challenges. Starting from about 10 years of age, these kids are getting bigger and expectations placed on them by the school curriculum, peer interactions, and supports and understanding don’t always follow.
One of my favourite groups to run when I was working in Canberra was the “High School Language” group that I developed in my time there. It was for the kids transitioning into year seven who we moving into mainstream classes, with and without support, with a range of diagnoses – SLI, ABI, Asperger’s/HFA, Dyspraxia etc. A group run at the horror time for all of us at 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon in term one of year seven. We (the kids, parents and myself) looked at a bunch of skills, like organisation, dictionary skills, text types (and language such as knowing what was expected when you were asked to write a paragraph) and whatever else crept up, including spelling (but don’t tell anyone, that part wasn’t in my brief ;)
A task that provided a lot of interaction by the students was one where we planned a hypothetical trip to the movies.
Simple, right? Year 7 kids go to the movies with their friends all the time!
Yeah, not so simple for some of these kids. So, we worked on the task as a group on a few components:
1. Finding out what movies are on, at what theatres and at what time.
I had the paper, but since no-one uses a newspaper to find movie times any more (well, I don’t. Do you?) the kids were let loose on the laptop to try to figure this out. Myself and the parents gave some prompting along the way, but really we tried to get them to learn from one-another, as there was a range of skills and experience in the room. Some of the kids knew the name of their local cinema, others went straight to googling “movie times” (which is quite successful if you allow Google to access your location!) and so on.
Negotiation skills came into play, as the kids who were usually sitting back in their friendship groups got a chance to have their say on what they wanted to see (we also had some kids negotiating with their parent to try to let them see an M rated movie!). Reading the movie schedule and synopsis was another task that was easier for some than others.
2. Getting There
I was mean, and made the kids figure out how to get there by public transport (a little mean for Canberra, I know, but they were usually keen to start to learn some of these skills to get out of the house with some independence like their peers and older siblings). Again, I have some paper timetables corresponding to the areas I knew the kids were living in, but getting them to figure out what route number to catch and where from via the ACTION Buses site was a task they were keen to try. Testing out their alphabetical order skills again once they figured out how to find the page itself. They then needed to figure out what time the buses were to get there and back, and make sure they had enough time to buy tickets etc. (The trip planner wasn’t available then on that site. If I was in NSW, I’d just get the kids to bookmark 131500.com.au like I have ;)
3. How much was this all going to cost?
Money is always an issue, and some of the kids in the group had reasonable money handling skills (enough to not get ripped off handing over a $20 not for something) others not so. I just suggested that as a good skill for the families to continue on as needed.
But, more pressingly, we needed to find out how much this little excursion was going to cost. Finding ticket prices for movies and buses (again, pre MyWay/Myki), then also trying to figure out if the kids could budget snack money (and discussing the pros of buying a bag of M&Ms from the supermarket rather than at the cinema!).
While many of the skills couldn’t be taught in the short time we had together, the parents and children went away with practical and motivating) skills to work on at home and in their everyday lives.
A paper in the Paediatric Language session of the recent conference presented by Danielle Le Rossignol highlighted students with SLI and their computer use and access to other technologies, such as mobile phones and social media. Danielle received a Churchill Fellowship to travel to the UK and USA to investigate supports being provided in those countries to children and adolescents with SLI and Dyslexia. Her full report can be downloaded via this link.
Danielle highlighted some of the areas of technology use that are often just assumed as second nature and part of life for teens these days.
Many teens with SLI use texting to keep in touch with friends and family, and, like the rest of us, to organise social contact. Teens with SLI are more likely than their peers to have literacy difficulties, and so find this a barrier to texting in some cases. This difficulty or reluctance to engage in texting can lead to reduced social opportunities, which kids with language difficulties are likely to have less of anyway.
Apparently, kids with SLI are less likely to use “textisms” (e.g. l8r, LOL) than their non-SLI peers as learning this extra vocab takes time in itself. So don’t blame the kids with the language difficulties for them ;)
Teachers often send students home to look stuff up on the internet, but as I saw with my kids trying to figure out search terms to find relevant information is not always easy, let alone digesting the Wikipedia page they found it on. There is a Simple English version of Wikipedia, which is a wonderful initiative, though of course limited in what is covered.
I know that I misinterpret things that are written on the internet at times, and kids with SLI are prone to not ‘getting’ the subtleties of their friends spoken and written language. Facebook is difficult for many people to use well, so the kids with SLI will need to often be shown how to navigate FB, set appropriate privacy settings, and consider other issues such as bullying and safety.
The take home message being that we can’t just expect kids with language to be able to use technologies easily, but if we can give them positive first experiences, and give them some instruction in use, they can take these skills on enthusiastically as a means to engage with peers and with the curriculum.