Sunday, November 11, 2012

Teacher of ACC Student - Communication

Alexandra Berube is a former Kindergarten teacher (and professional tutor) who taught a student with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum in her classroom. She has been tutoring the student who has ACC from Kindergarten through 3rd grade and has very generously written two guest blog posts here regarding her teaching experience with the student, which are titled: How to Support a Student with Unique Learning Needs and From the Beginning.

Her guest post today is a follow-up from an e-mail conversation that took place between Alexandra and I (that was shared on this blog at the end of Alexandra Berube's previous "From the Beginning" guest post). I'm including that e-mail conversation here again below--as a preface to Alexandra's follow-up guest blog post today.

In a recent e-mail exchange I asked Alexandra a question regarding her student and communication, which I am sharing here with you:

"You mentioned that the student with ACC was nonverbal in Kindergarten--and I became curious (as I am sure other parents will be) about his communication needs in the school setting (and in your classroom) and how they were met. With the range of effects of ACC being so broad, there are some children who are nonverbal, some who are verbal, some who are verbal but who have varying degrees of speech/language issues, and some who use gestures, sign language, augmentative communication and/or some verbal words.

I am making an assumption that possibly the student's main form of communication now, as a 3rd grader, is verbal?"

Alexandra's reply (shared with permission):

"I'll send you something this week about his verbal skills--he wasn't actually nonverbal in that he couldn't speak, he just chooses not to a lot (to this day). He uses hand gestures, and we constantly ask him to use his words. He can speak very well and has an extensive vocabulary, and actually has for some time, because he loves to read. But he is frugal with his words when he wants to be, especially if he's not enjoying a task."


The Use of Speech by a Student with ACC--When to Speak, When to Stay Quiet, and When to Push
by Alexandra Berube,

In response to a question about Max's verbal skills entering kindergarten, I'd like to clarify a previous note that I made. I had mentioned that when Max* entered kindergarten he was nonverbal, but he wasn't actually nonverbal in that he couldn't speak, he just often chooses not to (to this day).

Upon entering kindergarten, he very rarely wanted to use his words, and it took a lot of prompting to get him to do so at all. He was much more likely to use them in social settings, especially because all of the other students would interact with him verbally. But when it came to academics, he typically shut down and tried to find any way not to speak. I would ask him to use his words, and each time I would need to make the judgment call about how much it was worth it to push him. Sometimes I could tell that it was a challenging task and there was no need to try and push him to express himself verbally, when a hand gesture suited just fine. For example, if asking him if he had hung up his coat yielded a nod, that was fine.

It is very possible that it requires him more mental energy to focus his ideas to speak, because his brain has to sort through a number of activities to get to that point. The pathways may not be as direct, especially when extracting memories or thinking abstractly (such as mathematical reasoning). In this way, it could be that it is quite tiring for him to formulate his ideas verbally, and so he does so frugally.

However, in academics it is often important for the student to be able to express their ideas verbally, as you can imagine. And I knew Max could do it, because he did so in social situations. So I would tell him that he needed to use his words, and hold him to that, when I felt it was truly necessary for him to do so. I wouldn't put him on the spot in a group activity, but if I was working with him one-on-one, I would say, ‘we need to use our words,’ and wait for him until he did so. If he replied with a gesture, I would repeat my request. Sometimes it would be a sitting match until he gave in. It really just takes feeling out the student to see how much patience they have at the time. If I could tell it was going to enrage him, I wouldn't push it. But other times I would just say, ‘I understand that by nodding your head you are agreeing with me, but let's use our words. How can you tell me your answer with your words?’

Of course, this takes a lot of patience, and judgment to decide when it's worth it to push the student and when to let them stay within their comfort level. But this very conflict is a main aspect of teaching, especially in young children, so it really just comes as part of the territory when working with any student. You scaffold up to a point, just before their frustration level hits, and then try to work them one step forward, bit by bit.

To this day, Max rarely greets me with a verbal hello. His family always wishes he would say hello, but a hug suits me just fine. I know it is important for children to have strong social skills and know how to greet others, but to me, forcing him to say hello does not seem worth the effort, since I already know that he has this skill. It's at times when I need him to show me that he is grasping the concept that verbal skills are required. If I need him to summarize the text we just read, he needs to speak. If we’re playing a game adding sums, he needs to speak. If we're just saying hello and goodbye, what says it better than a hug?

I do not engage in power struggles with children just to win a point. I can’t say that enough.

I should explain the way that he expresses himself when he chooses not to use his words. Most of his gestures are pretty standard, such as nods and shaking of the head. He prefers to tap his fist on the page to signal when he has completed reading a passage, rather than verbally telling me so. He does seem more comfortable using hand gestures when his ideas do not seem to need elaboration (such as, I'm done reading this passage). We never made any attempts at sign language, because he doesn't need help in the ability to express himself verbally. It's just a matter of enforcing that at times he must give in and speak, even if he doesn't want to.

The funny thing is, if you get him started on a topic that he really cares about, he can talk about wolves or chickens all day. He can actually speak very well and has an extensive vocabulary, and has for some time, because he loves to read. Over the years, he has become much more open to speaking during academic tasks, and needs less prompting. I think there is a level of trust that he knows I will appreciate what he has to say, which gives him more purpose in choosing to speak. If a child knows they are being heard, they’ll want to make themselves heard.

*Name has been changed.

About Alexandra Berube

Alexandra is the Managing Director of Boston Tutoring Services, a tutoring company that offers one-to-one in-home tutoring in Massachusetts. She is also a former Kindergarten teacher who also tutors students in grades
K-8, in all subject areas, including test preparation.

Would you like to have a print copy of this article?

Alexandra has given me permission to convert her article to a pdf format, which you can access by clicking on the link below:

The Use of Speech by a Student with ACC--When to Speak, When to Stay Quiet, and When to Push - printable version

Watch for more guest blog posts from Teacher/Tutor, Alexandra Berube.

In a few days I will be sharing another blog post from Alexandra regarding the topic of Math-Multiplication and her student who has Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum.

As a former Kindergarten teacher (who taught a student with ACC) and a professional tutor, Alexandra Berube will share more upcoming guest blog posts here--where she will reveal additional insight into her student who has Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum and how it affects the student's education, and she will also be sharing teaching strategies that have helped her student.**

**Please Note: Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum has a very wide range of effects--ranging anywhere from no symptoms--or mild learning disabilities--to severe mental and/or physical challenges. It can sometimes also be seen with other medical conditions, genetic syndromes, chromosomal anomalies and more. Every person with ACC can present differently in terms of their development, cognitive abilities and educational needs.

Each child who has ACC is a unique individual with their own abilities, weaknesses, challenges, motivations, strengths, as well as their own style of learning.

Speech & Language Issues Associated with ACC - by JoAnn Tully, MS-SLP

*Note: JoAnn Tully is the mother of a grown daughter who has ACC and is also a Speech-Language Pathologist.

Working with Your Speech-Language Pathologist to Evaluate the Communication Skills of the Child with ACC - by Judith Stickles, M.A., CCC-SLP


  1. Alexandra, what great information. My boy is a talk-talk-talker but in academic settings tends to be less willing to express himself. I think I will print out your post and take it with me to his teacher conference.

  2. I have to say that this is very interesting reading. My daughter who is in Early Childhood program is non verbal but is starting to emerge with pop out words. She is labeled with Speech Apraxia and when she is being active and social the words/sounds seem to be popping out more. She is not speaking on request yet but some times she will mimic sounds or words she hears. Sometimes I wonder if she is refusing to speak on her terms. She has such a sense of humor and will play games of ignoring you. I have hopes that her progress will continue and someday will be able to tell me why she is upset or not. Time will tell.


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