Planning the Future (Sort Of) Forgetting the Past.

For many years now, Robert has been planning the future.  Next day, to be precise. His plans are simple and expressed in his own concise manner:

“Bridge Center.  Wendy’s.  Dad” is Robert’s plan for  Saturday.  It means that he will attend the program at  The Bridge Center.  After the program, he will eat lunch at  Wendy’s Restaurant.   Dad would do the driving.

“School.  Poblano.  Four. ” This is the plan for Wednesday.  Robert expects that after school, he will have four poblano peppers for dinner. Sometimes to be exact he adds, “With cheese.”

Although succinct, the plans are repeated a few times  as Robert wants to be sure and reassured that he and I are on the same page and no changes are looming.

Planning for  the future, seems relatively easy for Robert.  Unfortunately, recalling the past, even the past that happened 5 minutes before, has been a challenge.

For a long time, I did not know how to help Robert answer the simplest questions, “What did you do today?” or even  “Where did you go today?”.

It has to be said, that although Robert could respond properly to many questions about pictures, answering questions that related to his own life was impossible for him.  It still is very hard and confusing.

A couple of years ago, I started teaching Robert to answer just one question, “Where did you go?”

We did our lessons in the car.  One Saturday, as I was driving Robert from his Bridges to Independence Program, I asked, “Where have you been?”  and immediately provided him with an answer, (technique from Verbal Behavior), “Bridge Center”.  I repeated the question and waited for Robert to answer, “Bridge Center”.  Which he did.  Over and over until we got to the gas station.  After I filled the tank, but before we left the station, I asked again, “Where have you been?”, and fed him with an answer, “Bridge Center, Gas Station.”  I was not driving yet, so I used my fingers to count the places.  One finger for The Bridge Center, two fingers for a gas station.  I repeated this cycle until Robert listed both places himself.  I did not pay attention to the clarity of his pronunciation.

We kept repeating the question and the answer until we got to Wendy’s Restaurant.  In the restaurant, I asked a few times, “Where have you been?” and Robert answered sometimes with prompt, sometimes independently.  I also asked, “Where are we now?” That response came quickly and easily, “Wendy’s”.

As soon as we got in the car, still in parking lot, we repeated the extended list of places with the help of three fingers this time.

My line:  “Where have you been? Bridge Center, gas station, Wendy’s. Where have you been?”

Robert’s line: “Bridge Center, gas station, Wendy’s”

Over and over, until Robert could answer just after, “Where have you been?”

We practiced a little on the way home, but not too much, as he became a little annoyed and asked for music.

At home, Robert with my help wrote a journal entry.  Today is Saturday.  I went to Bridge Center, gas station, and Wendy’s.” 

In the evening we expanded this entry to.  Today is Saturday.  I went to Bridge Center to cook and meet friends.  I went to gas station to get gas for the car.  I went to Wendy’s for fries.

Recalling what he was doing in these places was easy, except for The Bridge Center.  When Robert does too many thing in one place, somehow that becomes harder to  remember or to choose from.  Getting gas at the gas station is as obvious as getting fries at Wendy’s”.

It is a good technique, while applying this approach to teaching recalling the past  ( places and activities connected to them), to opt for a similar design.  Two (or one) places connected to activities that are easy to name and one that is a little harder.

I think, this approach to teaching about things that happened in the past (even in the previous hour) has been working.  Unfortunately, I practiced this skill only on Saturdays.  That is not enough to make a difference.

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