Vocabulary and text comprehension are critical skills for reading and academic success. The ability to understand and tell a familiar story forms a strong part of the foundation for these later skills. Between the ages of two and five, children’s narratives (i.e. ability to recount events or tell stories) progress from simple phrases about past events to telling more elaborate personal stories (like what happened at school or at the dentist that day) to retelling of familiar children’s books, and on to creating stories of their own.
Narrative skills are critical for school success and are often a strong predictor of kindergarten readiness and later academic success. When children are asked “What did you do over the weekend?” by their teachers, children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other language difficulties often have trouble answering this question. Similarly, when asked “What did you do at school?” by the parents, the child demonstrated the same frustration in understanding the question, remembering, and verbally recounting the experience. Even children who have recovered from other language deficits often demonstrate difficulty with narrative language skills.
Types of narratives include recounting events, unsolicited accounts of events, event casts (i.e. “broadcasting” of ongoing actions), making up stories (i.e. fictional stories), and scripts (i.e. response to tell what is done in a certain situation) (Heath, 1986). These skills not only tell us about a child’s language and literacy development, they also give us insight into their social, emotional, and cognitive skills (Engel, 1995).
Research in speech-language pathology supports the significance of narrative language:
Bishop and Edmundson (1987), in a prospective, longitudinal study of language-impaired children, found that the best predictor of a positive outcome was the ability to tell back a simple story to pictures.
Botting, Faragher et al. (2001). McCabe and Rollins (1994), and Westby (1991), have similarly documented the importance of oral narrative skills for a child’s social and school success.
Loveland (1989) compared children with ASD to children with mental retardation and found that both groups were able to answer questions about a puppet show or video skit they observed, but that the ASD children produced more bizarre responses demonstrating their difficulties with grasping the story as a representation of meaningful events. When compared to typically developing peers, children with ASD lacked the complexity in responses compared to their peers (Losh & Capps, 2003). The children in this study also showed problems inferring, building on causal relationships in narrative contexts, and demonstrated deficits on emotional understanding measures.
Narrative Based Language Intervention (NBLI) is a hybrid language intervention approach that combines naturalistic activities (such as story telling) with skill-based activities to address children’s language and communication goals (Swanson, L. A., Fay, M. E., et al. 2005). The goal of NBLI is to help children develop skills for generating narratives while at the same time addressing their individual needs to develop crucial underlying language skills.
Some of the benefits of NBLI include the ability to target multiple language goals simultaneously (i.e. narrative skills, comprehension, morphosyntax and complex syntax, vocabulary, and social thinking); and the ability to target other goals simultaneously (e.g. memory, sequencing, pretend play, self-help skills, reading).
ABOUT TIMO STORIES
Animated Speech has incorporated NBLI with scaffolded (i.e. making implicit information more salient and gradually building complexity ) stories to improve the story retelling skills, personal narratives, answering questions, following directions, imitation, reading comprehension, syntax, and vocabulary skills of young children with autism and/or significant language problems.
Animated Speech, with support from Dr. Lauren Franke (speech-language expert), has developed a computer based NBLI program called Timo Stories.
Timo’s Library has 6 colorful stories at 2 levels about everyday events and problems and includes 2 levels of materials:
a) Level 1: Mostly simple sentence patterns and concrete concepts
b) Level 2: Incorporates complex sentence patterns and more complex sentence patterns
Timo Stories includes the following key features:
· Stories depicit predictable events, in language that is simple, yet complex enough to cover a range of topics
· Addresses comprehension, story-retelling, vocabulary, turn-taking, verbal reasoning & more using stories about common events and problems
· Combines a naturalistic linguistic environment and direct teaching
· Timo’s Think Tank features 6 activities to practice vocabulary in multiple contexts
· Story Scramble reinforces sequencing and retelling each story
· Tracks student progress
· Based on Narrative Based Language Intervention (Swanson et. al. 2005)
· Engages and motivating stories and Timo engages child through dialogue and calling the child by name
· Offers intensive opportunities to learn via books and reinforcing games
· Stories written in an explicit style as a processing aid
· Provides Ideas for activities away from the computer for generalization
Timo Stories has many benefits for the student including:
· Supports and promotes social interaction with Timo rather the just working on the computer.
· Offers numerous opportunities for children to build their comprehension, syntax, and story retelling skills.
· Emphasizes earlier development of mental state vocabulary.
· Teaches child to grasp and remember information – retelling stories with increasingly complex syntax and concepts.
· May help with the development of early theory of mind skills.
· Opportunities to learn & practice vocabulary in multiple contexts of increasing complexity.
· Stories & activities designed to help students develop background knowledge of every day events & problem solving