Importance of Little Words

There are long words like “multiplication” and “reciprocal” . Robert has difficulty saying them but understands their meanings.  There are also little words like “instead”.  Robert can say them, but is not sure what they mean.  When I advised, “Multiply instead of dividing” , it was the word “instead” that confused him.  Many speech pathologists  suggest to teach children with disabilities  those important little words  such as “First… Then, If, Before, After”  to give the children tools to mentally organize their space and time.  The word “instead” should join the list of such words.

The concept of replacing one thing with the other was unacceptable to Robert.  When he was younger he refused to wear new shoes or a new jacket. He screamed and tried to get out of his car seat  when I changed the route home.  He protested going on a different trail in the park he visited often  although in any new park he could follow any path. He had extremely hard time throwing away broken dishes or toys.  He didn’t want to buy anything new with a smart exception of food, balloons and bubbles. He , simply, didn’t condone replacing  one thing with another.

As  he grew, he became more flexible in accepting unavoidable substitutions.

Yet, they still confuse him. When Robert couldn’t follow my verbal advice on multiplying and yet was able to apply written algebraic  formula, I assumed that he didn’t know the word “instead”.  It is also possible that he knew the word’s meaning but was reluctant to replace a sign for division with a sign for multiplication.  He might perceived the very act of doing one thing (multiplying)  IN PLACE  of another (dividing) as utterly wrong.

Interestingly, when he saw written formula, his resistance disappeared.  With the support of the algebraic equation he divided fluently and soon mastered this algorithm.

What does the problem Robert encountered with the word “instead” tells  about language – thinking connection?  Can a person understand the essence (the act)  of “instead” without learning the term for this concept?  Does the knowledge of such words as “before, if, next, and instead” help elicit thinking or ‘only’ organize thinking?

Or, vice versa, does Robert’s dislike of replacing one thing with another results in diminished understanding of the word “instead”?

To what degree those of Robert’s behaviors which look like they were caused by  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder would decrease if Robert was familiar with the concept of “instead” ?

Those are important questions.  Since, however, I cannot answer any of them, I have to concentrate on finding a way to teach word and and the concept behind it.

As Robert applies written formula to divide fractions I interject the word “instead” every time he changes division to multiplication.  “Instead, instead, instead.”  Then I start the sentence and wait for Robert to finish, “You multiply….” Robert continues, ” Instead of…”

The hard to understand his approximation for “divide” follows.

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