And God Laughs
I told God my plans and He laughed. So now I am living, laughing, and loving according to His Plans.

The Talking Drum





As a teacher I was never beyond using any creative, unusual, unorthodox and flat out one of a kind system to help a child learn to communicate. Duke was a just turned four year old in my preschool class who had a generally cheerful disposition, a brilliant smile, an absolute love for music and anything with wheels, and significant delays due to autism. He did not imitate, he did not vocalize speech sounds, he did not use signs or picture symbols and he did not take kindly to anyone who tried to place these demands upon him. And when I say he did not take kindly to it, I mean that this four and a half foot tall four year old who was built like a line backer went into full combat meltdown. He once attempted to break my classroom window, and I was astonished by the durability of window panes from the 1960s.
I noticed that Duke would sit transfixed during music activities, especially activities that involved instruments. So I began a "make it up as you go along, but take data to save your arse" language program. During direct instruction sessions, I would have him sit with me, and between us would be a drum. I would say a word that I wanted him to imitate, and then tap the rhythm of the word out on the drum. Then I would say the word again and guide him through tapping out the rhythm. If the word was a feasibly small object I then went through tapping the real object on the drum to the rhythm of the word and having him do the same. This worked best with highly preferred objects like toy cars and trucks, a spoon (to get a bite of pudding), a cup (for a drink of chocolate milk), and for fun sing song turn taking activities ("Hello Duke" "Hello Teacher"). I honestly had no idea if this would work or if I would have a proven failure of a communication education system. For Duke, it clicked. He heard the rhythm and music of the words and associated them with the objects.
After about a month I could hold Duke's most favorite item, a toy car, out of his reach and wait for a vocalization without the drum (we had practiced and learned it there). He would try every behavior pattern possible to wear me down and convince me to just surrender and give him the car. At first it took an average of 10 minutes of a tantrum before he would make eye contact and in what I can only imagine was pure disgust say "car". This soon spread to bubbles, light (for a light up toy), cookie, and so many more words. His vocabulary grew steadily, and the average time of negative behaviors before he would vocalize a word got down to as low as an average of 15 seconds with many spoken words without any negative behaviors.
The drum then became a way of introducing language in a social turn taking situation. I speak/drum first and then you answer/drum back. The rhythm of speaking to another person. I had never appreciated the music in a conversation before, but as we tapped out the beat I heard it in all my conversations and in the rhythm of my every day language. I could give him all the words in the world, but it was not until I found the beat that he was able to utilize them and discover language. Now even when I listen to classical music, or jazz, or any music without vocal accompaniments I still hear a language and speech in the talking drums.

* Photo courtesy of istockphoto
3 comments:

This is very cool...you are a genius :)


heh. I am very pleased to read a post about experience from your teaching. Very pleased. I follow a music therapist on twitter. I bet she would really like this post, too. Barbara


Very cool. So many of our kids have a natural ear and affinity for music. The trick is trying to find a way to leverage it to their benefit. Sounds like you found a great way.


Job 8:21

"He will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy."



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Wild Olive

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Creative Victory

This is Me

I am a thirty year old enigma who has defied every expectation ever placed upon me and refused every definition created for me. My greatest passion in life is to make a difference in the lives of children with special needs and their families. As a special education teacher I broke all of the unwritten rules to make sure that my kids received the services they needed and had a right to receive. I have never been so proud to be reprimanded before in my life. Now, due to unpredictable twists in life, I am learning first hand what life is like when you rely upon a wheelchair for mobility. I am a medical puzzle with the pieces slowly being identified and put together, and my medical bills alone could fund a small nation. It takes a village to keep me alive. :) However, I am not defined by the genetic misspellings. I am a teacher, a daughter, an aunt, a friend, a dreamer, a reader, an amateur photographer, a writer, an advocate, a star gazer, a world changer. I am stubborn, situationally shy, quick to use humor and wit to make others laugh or cope with a situation, sarcastic, fiercely independent, giving, compassionate (sometimes to a fault), protective of those I love, defiant of arbitrary boundaries, perfectionistic, self conscious, self assured (yes you can be both!), articulate and occasionally dramatic. And that is just what I could fit in two sentences! :)

Who's On First, What's On Second, I Don't Know! (Third Base!!)*

Simple Vocabulary Definitions for those who may not speak fluent medical :)

Undiagnosed Progressive Neurological Disorder- This is the diagnosis that is believed to make everything else fit together. It explains my frequent infections, my muscle weakness and dystonia, my dysautonomia, my cardiac issues, my inability to regulate blood pressure, my dysphagia, my ataxia, my severe fatigue, my extreme nausea, my gastrointestinal dysmotility and IBS like syndrome, my unbelievable migraines, my sensory changes in my arms and legs, my vision issues, my hearing loss (so much for blaming medication), and so much more. Going back to infancy and childhood, this would explain the severe apnea, the significantly delayed motor skills, the reason why I could never keep up with my peers in physical activities, the neurogenic bladder, the malfunctioning thyroid, and my frequent illnesses and vomiting. This is the diagnosis now being used since the DNA testing for Mitochondrial Disease came back odd and I can not afford the expenses of a workup at the Mayo Clinic. We are treating symptomatically.

Pan-Dysautonomia- "Pan" means that it impacts many different systems of my body, "dysautonomia" is a failure of my autonomic nervous system or the part of my brain that does all of the automatic things that do not require conscious thought like telling your heart to beat, regulating your blood pressure, adjusting your body temperature, maintaining balance in space, digesting food, hunger and thirst, etc. It is believed that I have had this from birth based upon my history of symptoms, including severe life threatening apnea as an infant, but the cause remains elusive at this time

Dystonia- abnormal muscle tone and spasticity, including painful spasms, that primarily impacts my feet and lower legs and is now starting to be a problem in my back

Ataxia- difficulty maintaining balance and coordinating/executing movements

Dysphagia- difficulty swallowing due to any number of causes including muscle weakness and poor muscle coordination

Adipsia- the absence of a sense of thirst



Other Medical Issues- Lupus Anticoagulant (autoimmune disease that causes me to tend to form blood clots and has already caused two deep vein blood clots and one mild stroke), Migraines, unknown connective tissue disorder, abnormal gastric motility, allergies, history of v-tach and severe sinus tachycardia, changes to my echocardiagram that include leaking valves and a new murmur, low blood pressure, ataxia, untreated PFO (small hole in my heart that increases the risk of stroke), chronic lymphadema in my left arm, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Narcolepsy/Idiopathic CNS Hypersomnolance (believed to be a result of the dysautonomia and my brain's inability to regulate the sleep/wake cycle), mild hearing loss, malformed optic nerves, polycystic ovarian syndrome, pernicious anemia, vitamin deficiencies


* Title comes from an old Abbot and Costello routine that I chose to memorize in 6th grade and absolutely love.
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