Why Our Approach Works
APRICOT, Inc. was formed to provide services based on Pragmaticism Methodology. The term pragmaticism was coined by Charles Sanders Peirce in the 1800's to refer to the functional and natural consequences of how thinking and human language is greater than the parts of language such as words or grammar. Ellyn Lucas Arwood is the contemporary originator of Pragmaticism Methodology which looks at the learner or whole child, not just the products of the child or learner. Learning language is a function of the brain and today’s neuroscience provides the research for understanding how language functions. Language is the tool for literacy; how we view, think, read, write, listen, speak, and calculate. The more language a learner is able to use, the better the learner is able to think. The better a learner is able to think, the better the learner is able to function in society.
Pragmaticism Methodology is not a program but a philosophy based on a theoretically sound and logical approach supported by neuroscience and evidence-based data collection over the past 45 years. Ellyn Lucas Arwood is also the creator of the Neuro-Semantic Language Learning Theory (NLLT) that is based on the neuroscience of the brain The NLLT provides a theoretical basis to Pragmaticism Methodology. The effectiveness of Pragmaticism Methodology has been documented qualitatively and quantitatively with different populations including those with severe needs as well as those with mild academic or social needs. APRICOT, Inc. was founded on the premise that practitioners and theoreticians from many disciplines must work together in order to provide quality assessment and remediation for the communicatively handicapped.
The material presented in the following paragraphs are excerpts from back issues of "News from APRICOT, Inc." These Question and Answer exchanges were a semi-regular feature in the APRICOT Newsletter; they provided a forum for parents, teachers and clinicians to obtain Dr. Arwood's views on a variety of issues. The hardcopy newsletter ceased publication several years ago. This material is copyrighted by APRICOT, Inc. Further reproduction or dissemination without the express written consent of APRICOT, Inc. is unlawful.
What is pragmatics?
Pragmatics refers to the use of either verbal or non verbal behavior in context. The way in which a child initiates a verbal interaction or the nonverbal way a child walks across the room to signal a listener are examples of considering behavior in a context. The study of such behavior is called pragmatics. The study of pragmatics was used by the American philosophers during the latter half of the 19th Century to denote an area of philosophy which dealt with the interactions between science, God, and mankind. These philosophical writings, speeches, letters were best known as the pragmatists' writing of people such as William James. One of the pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce, created a new term, pragmaticism, to denote the difference between what can be held constant and measured in the external world and what is altered through a person's use of symbols. According to Peirce, in the use of symbols, the final representation is always greater than the pieces. So, an idea such as "There goes the cat!" is different than the addition of each of the separate pieces (there + goes + the + cat). Since the use of use of signs and symbols is uniquely characteristic of people, Peirce wanted this term, "pragmaticism", to also represent such uniqueness. Thus , when verbal behavior is used, there are consequences within the learning system as well as effects upon the listener that are different than the individual meanings of the words. These semiotic (sign usage) consequences raise the level of meaning of the symbols in unmeasured and non quantifiable ways -- thus, the difference between pragmatics and pragmaticism.
Are a high percentage of those children labeled as behaviorally disordered actually children with language/ learning problems?
Yes. I gave a presentation in Nebraska in October, 1987 titled "Learning How to Behave" and what I meant by that is that a child who is trying to organize a particular way to behave does so only with language. If the child doesn't have the language, then the child behaves according to the situational information without concern for the consequences. Many of our children who have behavior disorders do not have the language tools to mediate their behavior with their learning; so, they get part of the information such as "Sit down", but, they don't get all the information such as "Sit down in your seat." The result is that they are sitting down next to somebody rather than in their own seat and they are in trouble again. Many of our kids try to follow instructions and to comply, but they can't process the words and match the words with their behavior. In other words, they don't have the language to mediate learning and behavior, so they end up in trouble. The children that are identified at three and four as having the potential for behavior problems because of such things as aggressiveness, inappropriate responses to others' interactions, and problems with socialization are also those kids who are at risk for language/learning problems. Sometimes a study of some of the case histories of these young children show them becoming juvenile delinquents in later years. In Oregon, we have classes of kids who have been diagnosed as behaviorally disordered, and so far I have not met one of those children who did not have a language/learning problem.
How are learning and behavior related to each other?
The child's behavior (his/her ability to read, write, talk, walk, draw, move, etc.) is a representation of what's going on in the child's learning system. That is, as the child gets information and is able to use the information physically in the biological system, then the representation of that input is the behavior itself. So whether or not the child is able to comply or follow-through after being given directions, and so forth, depends upon how much information the child is able to organize and therefore to represent, according to the way we expect him/her to represent it through our conventions.
How does language help change a child's behavior?
Language is the tool for learning. So if you have a child who has an impaired learning system, the more language you give that child, the more information that child has to function. Therefore, the more language we give the child, the better the tool, the better the functioning, and the better the behavior. We have to provide lots of information to our language/learning impaired children. For example, if we have a child who has hurt another child, but does not understand the relationship between hitting and hurting, we may have to present a verbal sequence such as this:
Q: Did you fight with that child on the playground?
A: No . . .
Q: Did you hit that child on the playground?
A: No . . .
Q: Did your hand touch that child's face?
A: Yes . . .
Q: When your hand touched that child's face did his nose bleed?
A: Yes . . . . . . . . . .
Well, this is what it looked like... Then we proceed to draw a picture of: a) both children with the first child hitting the other child's face b) the child with the resulting bloody nose, and c) the children doing what they should have been doing on the playground without any injury in order to compare the unacceptable behavior with the acceptable behavior so that the child has a visual representation of what is expected rather than just an auditory input.
Do you believe that there are such things as behavior problems in children?
No, not really. I don't refer to them as "behavior problems" because I know that usually there is an underlying explanation. Behavior can be a problem when it is not acceptable or when it is not conventional or when it is considered abnormal or aberrant; but, unacceptable, abnormal, aberrant or unconventional behavior results when a child does something that is outside the realm of opportunity for doing something else. If we change the opportunities, then we change what the child does and therefore we limit behavior problems. These are outside the neurobiological results of chemistry changes which some children display along with the behavior problems.
Do you believe in rewards and reinforcers as a means of controlling behavior?
The token reward system works very well for conditioning a child who has no language, but once a child has language then language becomes the tool that mediates the behavior with the learning. Therefore, even though we may think that we are reinforcing a particular act into a certain kind of behavior and even though we may think that we are punishing a child - that child's language will determine whether or not it is being suppressed or punished. It is a lot easier to work through the child's language/learning system than it is to try to second guess what is being reinforced, rewarded or punished.
When attending a staffing on my child, I heard references to scores on memory tests that don't seem to reflect my child's functioning?
The concept of memory has often referred to "information that can be recalled". Types of variables that offset recall has been researched over the past two hundred years. Most of this research has concluded that recall is best when the material is meaningful. In other words, the more meaningful the material, the better the recall. When a child can recall classroom material, then the mater is meaningful or a meaningful "memorization" process such as a mnemonic device has been use, Once the mnemonic device has been "forgotten", the material can no longer be recalled. Research also shows that such "memorized" material is not "lost" but is stored in an unconnected form. When "connections" or "semantic relationships" are created so that the material is added to other information, the recall is permanent. Therefore, when a school tells me that a child has a "poor memory", I immediately assume that as educators, we, haven't made sufficient "connections" for the child.
Should children with learning/language problems be expected to perform on reading achievement tests that emphasize phonic skills?
Children with learning/language problems cannot integrate auditory concepts (e.g., linguistic ideas and temporality) with what is visually recognized. Therefore, these children cannot manipulate visual symbols (letters) by acoustically rearranging, coding, decoding, etc. without also losing the meaning of the word being "attacked." Asking these children to perform well on a phonics test is asking them to use a neurological process they don't have and therefore can't use. Since most parents and educators want children to be able to use graphemes for communicating ideas (writing) and for learning about others' ideas (reading) then all assessments should reflect such goals. Evidence of learning would not be based on an achievement measure but on what has been achieved. Formalized measures that ask for recognition of written ideas without phonic skills being analyzed will also function as assessment measures.
Does the diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) indicate a language problem?
ADD represents a specific physiological problem and currently many people are diagnosing ADD based upon specific behaviors such as the inability to visually follow or track or based upon rapid eye movements in relationship to a specific focus. If we watch our children who have language/learning problems, we will see that many of these children have very quick movements of the eyes because they are trying to get as much meaning as they can from the environment.
Perhaps we should look at the diagnosis of ADD as an etiology, that is, there is a deficit in attention, therefore, certain behaviors occur; but, in fact, attention is an output or representation of the learning system. That is, we are able to attend only when something is meaningful to us. So when we, as educators, increase the ability of the child to organize what he/she is able to see and take in and make meaning out of, then we also increase his/her ability to attend.
For example, an eighteen month old child will sit and watch cartoons for 45 minutes, attending to the color and music changes in them, but that same child would not focus or attend to a dimly lit room, soft music, formal place setting and quiet talk in a fancy restaurant because the information is not meaningful. That is, it is not symbolized as: "Oh, this is a restaurant and I am supposed to be quiet here." Similarly we may find that many of our kids that have problems cannot attend in class, but could sit in front of a computer for hours.
In summary, if you have a child that has been given a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder, you have a child who has been diagnosed because of noticeable behavioral characteristics affecting the way the child learns. Perhaps we could approach the problem from a different perspective - which is: The child shows a number of problems with his/her learning system as evidenced by certain behavior. Let's work with that learning system trying to make information more meaningful, thus, making the child's learning system work more effectively so the child functions or attends better.