Language Development Miscellaneous

Sequencing for Children: What’s the Big Deal?

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As I wrote in an earlier post, I've decided to start working more intensively with my 4 1/2 year old foster daughter.

I'm always fascinated by how every child's learning profile is so different. I love the challenge of trying to see how the different pictures fit together, so that I can plan an effective learning plan for each one.

G, for example, has a very hard time expressing herself, when asked a specific question. She needs a lot of verbal cuing in order to be able to answer. Helping your child answer questions is very different than teaching your child how to ask questions. However, I have a few tricks that I use. For example, sometimes I help her by telling her part of the word, or by giving her two choices to pick from, one of which is absurd, or couldn't possibly have happened. So if I want to know what she did outside on the playground, I'll ask her " Did you go on the slide today, or did you ride on an elephant?"

Even if she didn't go on the slide, she's at least able to tell me "No, I didn't." I joke with her a little about it, trying to help her extend the conversation a little with her (that's a floor time principle, I'll go into some more of that in a different post). The main thing is to keep her interacting with me, and to keep her focused on what we're talking about. This is how I find out about her day, since I don't get a chance to speak to her teacher in the afternoon.

Oddly enough, even though it's so hard for her to tell me about her day, or what she's learned in nursery school, she does remember most songs that she's learned. Twice, she even memorized a part from the play that her sister was in last year. It was funny, actually to see: her sister practiced it so much, that she picked it up too.

I guess it seems confusing: how could a child have such a weak auditory memory, and yet still be able to sing songs or memorize longer passages?

I've had many parents of autistic or PDD children ask me this very question. The key is understanding about the sequencer.

The sequencer's job is to put things in order. It's kind of like the factory manager in charge of an assembly line, in that it wants to keep everything moving along, at the right pace. And just like an assembly line, sequencing deals with one piece,  then the next piece, then the next. It's focused on details. Our language system uses the sequencer in order to function. We process words, then sentences, then paragraphs, or even an entire lecture. But we have to do it in that order; you can't try and understand a sentence before you interpret the words in that sentence.

Most kids with weak language development, however, are spatial thinkers. That means that they don't process things in a linear fashion, like the sequencer does. They free associate: imagine a mind map, or a spider's web. There is a logic to how things are connected, but it's not linear, one thing after the next one.   Because of their ability to associate, spatial thinkers don't look at one piece at a time (remember, they don't think sequentially). Instead, they see the whole picture. There's a reason why we say a picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes. That's because one picture can show us a ton of information, all in the space of about 3 or 4 seconds.

What it comes down to is that kids who are strong spatial thinkers may be incredibly creative, dynamic thinkers, but they're much more likely to have a lot of problems with language. Language, whether it's spoken, heard, read, or written, is sequential. It's an auditory skill, which spatial thinkers are naturally weaker in: think see-saw, with auditory skills and spatial skills on opposite ends.

So that's a quick run down of the sequencer.

G's sequencer is seriously dysfunctional. She is a child that lives in the moment. When she initially came to us, she had a very hard time connecting her behavior to a consequence, bad or good. She was fearless, and yet feared everything. She was afraid of what a toy would do, but had no fear of a hot stove - even when she felt the outside, which was very warm. In order to discipline her, I learned to give her a consequence immediately. But even so, there were numerous times when she had to get a consequence (usually a time-out worked best- her mind didn't understand logical consequences) hundreds of times. Yep, you read that right folks: HUNDREDS of times. It wasn't a matter of finding a better consequence - her mind just couldn't make the connection.

(For all of you worried about the "terrible" effects of time-out, she did learn eventually. And she only stayed in time out for about one minute - don't worry, she's just fine, and not traumatized at all. Believe me, sticking your hand in a hot oven, or running into the street, is a lot more traumatizing than time-out will ever be).

Another example: she's terrified of being left behind. If I walk a little faster up the street - for instance to catch up to another child who's walking a little too far ahead, she has a tantrum, crying hysterically.  It was bothersome, because no matter how much I explain to her that I'll be right where she can see me, it seems not to sink in. For a long time I thought it had to do with abandonment issues, related to her history, but somehow I knew that didn't fit, since she had no memory of her parents.

Finally I realized that her sequencer must be so out of whack, that she can't even imagine in her mind where I'll be in 30 seconds from now. So for her, when she sees me moving ahead, I could be going anywhere. I could disappear into thin air for all she knows. She can't project in her mind the sequence of me at point A, leading to point B, in 30 seconds from now.

Scary. That's something that even year-old babies have pretty much down pat.

So, this is one of the areas we'll be focusing on, after we work on auditory memory.

What? Why would she need to work on auditory memory first if I just said her sequencer is what's out of whack?

I'll get into that tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Anybody out there struggling with similar problems with a language-delayed child? Let us know in the comments below, and I'll be happy to help you with a specific solution.



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1 Comment
  • Lisa @ Two Bears Farm Dec 4,2011 at 1:31 pm

    I love how deeply you analyze what can assist her, and where the problem originates.

    We use time out too. You’re right, sometimes you just have to keep trying. And no, it doesn’t traumatize.

    Thanks for stopping by my guest post on Esther’s blog and leaving a comment yesterday!

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