Monday, July 5, 2010

Teaching "because"

In the course of my much-delayed spring cleaning today, I came across these handwritten exercises, one of many that I devised for J about 9 years ago when he was about 5. And I recalled how every night back then, as part of his bedtime routine, I'd present him with pairs of sentences like these and ask him to circle the correct one:

We want to go outside because we open the door.
We open the door because we want to go outside.

It is fall because it is cool outside.
It is cool outside because it is fall.

We go to school because we need to learn things.
We need to learn things because we go to school.

You are dirty because you need to take a bath.
You need to take a bath because you are dirty.

When go on the trip, there are too many bags because you can't sit in the back.
When we go on the trip, you can't sit in the way back because there are too many bags.

You don't drink orange juice because you don't like orange juice.
You don't like orange juice because you don't drink orange juice.

This particular worksheet then segues into why-questions:

Question: Why can't you sit in the back when we go on the trip?
Answer: Because...

Question: Why don't you drink orange juice any more?
Answer: Because...

At the end of this worksheet there's an extended back and forth with written question prompts and blank answer lines which I later filled in with his oral responses:

Question: Why don't you use the second floor bathroom?
Answer: Because I am scared of the second floor toilet.

Question: Why are you scared of the second floor toilet?
Answer: Because earlier the toilet was broken.

Question: Why was the toilet broken earlier?
Answer: Because I broke the toilet.

I can still hear him chuckling as he delivered that last line.

Some people quickly conclude that when an autistic child has trouble grasping the meanings of abstract words like "because," it's because he or she has trouble understanding abstract concepts--e.g., causality. But there's a big difference between conceptualizing and labeling, and in a later post I'll discuss reasons why what looks like a conceptualizing problem is often actually a labeling problem.

As for J in particular, one indication that he didn't have any trouble grasping causality back then was how quickly he figured out which sentences to circle. Another of course, was (is) his mischief-making. One doesn't generally disable toilets to get a reaction from one's parents unless one understands cause and effect.

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