Kerry was character. Coming from a third world country, he had never gone to school, nor had he had any intervention until he was seven years old. Although he was seemingly nonverbal, he was quite the wild melodramatic guy, often emitting using over the top gestures to make his feelings known. It appeared he learned some of it from watching TV. It was Kerry's second year in school, when he was assigned to my bedroom. Even though he had been in our school for over a year, no one was aware that he had any verbal communication.
His mom told me that he liked to watch “Night Line” so I decided to stay up and watch it. That night Ted Koppel was interviewing Jennifer Flowers about her affair with Governor Clinton. The next day, I asked Kerry if he had watched the show. To my utter shock, his interest peaked and he said “da” which I soon learned mean, “yes”. From then on Kerry answered my questions using a few letter sounds with accented syllables. I do not remember how I asked what the host was, but whatever I said, Kerry understood and responded. “De dod l”. (Ted Koppel) Stunned, I went on to ask what they were talking about and he said. “Da de de Din don”. (Governor Clinton) I asked him if Governor Clinton had a girlfriend. Kerry said. “Da” (yes) I then asked him if he knew what a girlfriend was and he said, “de” (no) Next I asked him if Governor Clinton had a wife? He said “da”. (Yes) I went on to ask Kerry what Governor Clinton's wife's name was. He said. “De de de Din don”. (Hillary Clinton) I asked him if he knew what the word wife meant. Kerry said “de” (no) Finally I asked him what Governor Clinton wanted to become? Kerry said, “de di den”. (President) Again I asked Kerry if he knew what that meant and he said, “de”. (No)
I was thrilled to realize that Kerry could communicate and that I could converse with him if we were both privy to the same information; otherwise, there was no way he could be understood. It was the inflections of the “da” and “de” that wave his communication attempts clarity. It was obvious that he had a phenomenal memory and could parrot back information, but I was not sure of what to make of his seeming lack of comprehension. For example, he showed me pictures of some famous bridges in a magazine. He was naming them “do de dade did” (Golden Gate Bridge), Da did (Bay Bridge), de den did (Brooklyn Bridge), but he did not seem to comprehend that they were all bridges, or the concept of a bridge . he could name them, but he did not appear to be forming categories. He could repeat word for word things he had heard on TV. Yet, if I gave him a simple verbal directive, for example to walk over to the window, he was lost.
One day, we were working on a deck of anton cards cards that showed the picture on one side and the word on the other. I was impressed that he remembered them all so quickly even the obscure ones. However, I also noticed his quick, barely perceptible glance at the word on the back of the card as he handed them to me. I picked up a black magic marker and blacked out all the words. Without the words on the back, he could not select any of the correct answers-the pictures alone mean nothing.
Kerry could not write on his own. I used facilitated printing with him. I would hold the chalk and he would move my hand to print. His favorite activity was baseball so when it was his turn to choose an activity, he would take my hand and print “baseball” on the chalkboard in large letters. One day, I looked on my calendar and the word “baseball” was printed on it. At this point in development, Kerry could not print without physical support. None of my assistants advised to do it, and the printing was not similar to any of the other kids. It resembled a smaller version of the printing that appeared when he moved my hand on the board. I was confused. I ran into Kerry at summer school a year or two later. He could now print on his own so I asked him to print the word baseball. Sure enough, it was Kerry, who had independently printed the word 'baseball' on my calendar that day, long before he demonstrated that capability.
Lessons I learned from Kerry:
oLook for word approximations. (Kerry's sounded like Morse code with appropriate inflections)
oJust because a child can respond to simple questions about material, does not mean that he understands what the words mean or underlying concepts.
oUse what is most stimulating. Learning to print the word “baseball” on my calendar, so we would go out and play was certainly more stimulating than learning to write his name.
oSome students can not follow a simple direct if it evolves movement. It appears as if one channel closes down to allow the other to activate.