Saturday, March 10, 2012

Testing without Touching

Let's be honest. The issue of typing while holding Lilli's hand or arm has some skeptics wondering if we are making Lilli type the words we want her to say. And now, Lilli is so used to where the letters are when typing, that sometimes she even partly looks away as she is typing a familiar word. She uses peripheral vision often, and always has. I think that is an autism thing. It's kind of wrapped up in the direct eye contact is difficult-issue. So when we are holding her hand and she is typing while looking sideways, I can understand why people might think that she is not doing the actual typing. It can also look like some kind of "typing torture." Especially out in public, when I am trying to get her to tell me something and she is turning her head, pulling her hand away, and whining or crying. I do not feel like I need to prove anything, because we all know she is doing it. But for the sake of other children who could start out this way, I want to chronicle Lilli's progression in typing on the ipad. You have to start at the bottom of the mountain before you get to the top. We are climbing somewhere in the middle right now.

I cannot wait until the day Lilli types all by herself, without us holding her arm. And she will. Goodness, she's only been typing for a few months! We don't need to rush things. Lilli is able to type individual letters completely by herself, although it is slow. She prefers to have someone stabilizing her arm. This week for the first time, she typed to Morgan that she wants to learn how to type by herself. That has been the ultimate goal all along, but having Lilli want to achieve that goal herself is key to getting there.

For now, Lilli types much better when we are alone and it is quiet. No pressure. No one saying, "Wow, I want to see her type!" It is so cool, and I don't blame anyone one bit for wanting to see it in person. Everyone is curious and wants to see her do it. But right now, she will only type with people she is close to, who spend a lot of time with her and believe in her. It generally goes well when there are few distractions, and it helps if we have a motivating reason for her to type. She does not do well with an audience, and kind of crumbles out in public when overwhelmed by noise and people. She also acts weird when I try to video tape her. Like any kid, she sees the camera and instantly freezes or does something wrong on purpose. Last week I was taking a video of her doing an app on the ipad she has done correctly a hundred times. She looked at the camera, whined, and then picked every answer except the right one. Kids. I just chalk it up to performance anxiety and try to overcome the urge to explain it to others. It's that whole, "She just did it yesterday, really!" thing that happens to parents when they try to get their kids to perform for someone else.

Touching Lilli's arm does not matter except for when it comes to taking a test for school. The school wants us to test Lilli without touching her so that it is completely Lilli choosing the answers or typing the words. So this is one of the things we have been working on for the past few weeks. To see what she knows and get Lilli working on the right grade level, Leslie has been testing her by giving Lilli a second grade benchmark test. She is enlarging the test questions on a photocopier or typing them in large font. Then she cuts them apart, and lays them out on the floor. Lilli has to read the questions silently to herself, choose the right answer from the multiple choices, pick up the answer, and put it on the question. She does really well with this method. I do not know the final test score yet, but I know she is getting most of them correct. This is proof that she can read, she understands, and she knows a lot! Test taking is not easy, even if you know the material. We are blown away that Lilli is able to do this. We think it helps that Morgan has been working on matching for so long. ABA therapy has laid the groundwork for this method of test taking for school. From ABA, Lilli knows how to pick up a card and lay it on top of a match. A multiple choice test question is basically matching.

We have learned a lot from this method so far. It has taken Leslie several weeks to get through the math and language arts benchmark tests. We now know what Lilli has not learned or was never taught, such as alphabetical order, and advanced patterns. We learned that Lilli amazingly knows about place value and rounding. We learned that we need to work on teaching her how to take a test, because there are questions that require her to "look back" at charts or graphs to answer, and that is tough.

Leslie takes Lilli's arm and has her silently point to the question and then each of the  answer choices. Then she waits for Lilli to pick up the answer she chooses.

This is a language arts question. Lilli sometimes concentrates better when chewing on something, in this case - a lego.

In other ways, we are working toward Lilli being able to prove what she knows independently. We are back to holding the stick while typing. Well, Morgan and Leslie are. I am the lazy one. I hardly ever know where the stick even is most of the time. We were using the stick before, when Lilli was typing one and two words at a time. That was in January. Morgan and Leslie were touching the bottom of the stick as she slowly picked out each letter to type one word. Then Lilli started typing more. Well, now she is typing sentences and paragraphs. At some point, we all stopped using it. The stick makes things go a lot slower. She has so much to say, and it already takes a lot of time for her to gather her emotions and concentrate of typing out her thoughts, one letter at a time. We all agree that it is easier to just hold her hand because we can feel her pull us toward each letter. But that means she is technically not typing independently. And onlookers think or say, "How can you tell she is doing the typing and not you?" Well, we can feel it. But we do want her to work toward independence.

Now Leslie and Morgan are having Lilli type while holding the stick and they are holding the ribbon that is attached to the bottom of the stick. I will put a picture below so you can see this. You just cannot control what a person is typing if you are holding the ribbon attached to a stick. It somehow comforts Lilli and helps her feel more stable to type this way. But it does take longer than holding her hand directly. Lilli is not happy about this. Morgan has even started to have Lilli type one letter without being touched at all. For example she had Lilli independently type the letter "V" for Veggie Tales last week before she could watch a Veggie Tales Youtube clip. She was pretty mad about that deal, but she did it.

The touchscreen monitor. Typing on a touchscreen keyboard that I downloaded for free. See how Leslie is holding the ribbon at the bottom of the stick? Lilli is working on her spelling words here.

Since Lilli communicates through typing, spelling is an important subject for Lilli. Leslie started giving Lilli a weekly spelling list, and she also is working on vocabulary words and definitions. Lilli can easily spell the words while typing on the ipad or the touchscreen computer monitor while we hold her arm. The school has loaned us a touchscreen monitor, and I downloaded a touchscreen keyboard onto my laptop. We hook the laptop up to the touchscreen monitor, and have Lilli type into a Microsoft Word document. 
The touchscreen monitor allows us to save documents in microsoft word.  

Leslie has Lilli make up sentences with her spelling words. Leslie also has her type a lot of other things for different subjects, including math equations. With this method, we can save Lilli's work in a Word file and access it at any time. 
Leslie holds the stick while Lilli types her spelling words and sentences. But we needed a way to test Lilli on her spelling, where we are not touching her arm at all. We put a velcro alphabet on a board so it looks like a giant keyboard. Leslie tells Lilli the spelling word, and Lilli has to pull the correct letters off the board and put it up on a velcro chart on the easel. This is new just in the past week for Lilli, but so far Leslie says she is doing great with it. The idea is that Lilli will prove that she knows how to spell without being touched. We might be able to use this velcro board method to ask her other short-answer, fill-in–the-blank style test questions as well. It takes a lot longer than typing. But this is easier for her to do independently because the letters are so big.  

The latest brainstorm in how to have Lilli prove that she knows her spelling words. The word "DOG" is just for show. She was spelling the words "pharmacy" and "telephone" this past week. 

The benchmark tests will be scored, and an IEP meeting is coming up in just a few weeks. I have been busy compiling pictures and videos of how Lilli is learning, so that the IEP team can see what Lilli is able to do. It has been so awesome for me to look at videos from September and compare them to videos from this past week. Amazing, how far she has come. I thought I would share a few on here for everyone to see. Maybe someone might get an idea to use with a child they know. Testing a non-verbal child who has autism and cerebral palsy is not impossible. It just takes a little creativity, a lot of time, paper, and scissors.

This last video is my favorite. Lilli has a list of spelling words, and Leslie is having her write a sentence for each word. Leslie does not know what Lilli is going to type. The spelling word is "speak." I just love the sentence Lilli writes using the word "speak."


  1. I love her sentence too!! Sweet, sweet video!

  2. Amazing. It is such a treat to see how quickly she is progressing. Keep sharing.