From Different Angles

June 12, 2014
This morning, Robert and I studied together.
1. We worked on unit 17 from Reasoning and Writing addressing, among other things, the difference between two “if” clauses: “If you do X AND Y, I do Z” and “If you do A OR B, I do C. Jan, who was going to work later, helped with the lesson by giving Robert a model of what was supposed to be done. A few days ago, Robert and I practiced OR and AND in different contexts. He learned to follow one of the two commands: “Hold a red crayon OR a blue Crayon” and “Hold a yellow crayon AND a green crayon.” Nonetheless, it took Robert a while to grasp the difference between those two conjunctions when presented in different settings.
2.Robert was also naming angles as right, acute, or obtuse. As long as each angle stood alone and was not a part of a polygon, Robert didn’t have any difficulties with completing the task. However, when he had to count how many right, acute, and obtuse angles different polygons had, he was lost. The angles which were determined by vertices and sides of other shapes, were hiding from him. He saw polygons and could easily name them, but he didn’t see angles.
It reminded me of the time, when Robert was learning to name angles using three letters and making sure that the letter next to a vertex was in the middle.
He didn’t have a problem with that. When however the angle was a part of the parallelogram, he had a lot of difficulties. It helped him when I colored the angle and he could focus only on colored rays.
3. Yesterday evening, our water heater stopped working. It was a problem because Robert won’t go to bed without a bath. He wanted us to fix the boiler, but when that didn’t happen, he reluctantly agreed to boil a few pots of water and mix them in the bathtub with the cold water. He was not happy and he was extra suspicious. Nonetheless, the bath he took. That was the day he had a swimming lesson. That called for washing his hair under the shower. So he did! He made a few grunting sounds when the water coming from the shower was not exactly what he expected, but he rinsed his hair anyway. He just dried them a little longer.
4. This afternoon, Robert noticed that his comforter managed to creep out of its duvet cover. Robert tried to put it back, but somehow a part of the comforter got lost in its cover. Robert asked for help in the simplest way, “Mama, mama, mama”, he said dragging the bedding to the kitchen. He did similar thing just a couple days ago. Then, I showed him the “inside out” trick. At that time, as I was turning the cover inside out, Robert protested, “No, no, no!”. Still he let me do that strange thing. Today, he didn’t object. I turned the duvet inside out, asked Robert to reach two opposite corners inside, grab the corners of the comforter and pull them in. He did just that and was pretty pleased with himself. And so was I.

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Keep Smiling

June 11, 2014
Yesterday, Robert and I were reading a section from The Social Skills Picture Book for High School and Beyond by Jed Baker. The section referred to the welcoming and unwelcoming ways of looking at people. Of course, given diagnosis of autism, one might be tempted to conclude that Robert is not able to differentiate between welcoming and unwelcoming expressions on other people faces. However, given my prior experiences with Robert, I don’t think that this is the case.
Something else had to stop Robert from trying to decipher other people attitudes toward him.
I realized that this morning when I walked with Robert to the van that took him to his day program. There were a few gentlemen already there. Robert struggled to say, “Hi”. He said it very softly with his head down. With my help, he followed with clearer, “Hello” accompanied by a quick glance at others. Then, without any prompt, he uttered, “Good Morn” . The gentlemen were smiling at him in the most welcoming way. All of them. They smiled as if they were saying, “We understand that you are struggling, but we appreciate your effort.”
In the past, when another van was taking Robert to his school, and another group of Robert’s peers was occupying the seats, Robert had never experienced a welcoming expressions on his classmates faces. Because they were all his classmates. They were not aggressive, they were not mean, they just ignored him as if he didn’t exist. Just from happening every day “polite” shunning, one could assume how lonely Robert must have been in his former classroom.

Today, such a difference! Maybe it was that now, Robert is travelling with adults, not adolescents. They know better. They understood that everyone has to struggle so they empathize with Robert’s difficulties.
Robert climbed on his seat quietly and got busy fastening his belt. I didn’t see his face.
I believe, he felt the same warmth I felt. He just doesn’t know yet what to do with it, how to reciprocate it.
One day he will learn. Just keep smiling at him.

Too Quick to Blame

June 10, 2014
A week ago, Robert made noises in the bank. That took me off guard. I felt embarrassed. Unable to properly react, I left the bank. Of course, Robert left with me. Although we had planned going to the farm and to a park, I didn’t feel it would be appropriate given Robert’s unpredictable behavior. And thus, despite Robert’s protests, we returned home.
Robert didn’t want to leave the car. I turned it off and went home. Fifteen minutes later, Robert came too. We talked about not making noises. I mean, I talked. Robert, embarrassed as well, was agreeing with me, “Okay, okay”, he kept repeating after each of my scolding statements. The soft way he kept saying, “Okay, Okay”, melted my heart, so we went to the farm and to the park after all. At the farm we walked into a green house and bought a few herbs and a freshly baked bread. Then we drove to the Moose Hill Audubon. Robert was patiently listening to my conversation with the person in the visitor center about oncoming native plant sale. Then we went on a short Boardwalk Trail. It was a wonderful day. We rested on the bench standing at the edge of a meadow. We watched birds entering and leaving their homes, enjoyed scents of unknown plants, and admired wild irises. Robert was relaxed, calm and happy. I was too. On a way back to the parking lot I tripped and fell. Robert screamed and quickly patted his cheeks. He was upset. He was concerned. He was scared. I slowly got up. My knee hurt, my hand was bleeding. Robert was still making grunting noises. “I fell and you scream. That is not right.”,I said stupidly. As soon as I finished this idiotic observation, I realized, that if it were Robert who fell, he would not scream. He screamed because he was afraid for ME. He screamed because he felt MY discomfort.
We walked silently back to the visitor center. Robert rested on the bench while I went to wash my hand in the restroom.
It was only then that I understood why Robert made those grunting noises in the bank. Only then!
I should understand his behavior sooner. After all, he had never before behaved inappropriately in any of the banks he went with me. Not when we did transactions with tellers, not when he waited in line, not when we spent long time at the desk with the managers while opening an account or straightening some errors. Not even when the baskets which should have lollipops were empty. Never!
But then again, I had never felt so strangely in any bank before.
Cashing Robert’s check was not a problem. He signed the check, handed it to the teller, got his money, and put it in his wallet.
It was only when I turned to the man sitting in the open enclosure to ask a question that something strange happened. A tall woman coming from nowhere appeared in front of me, as if blocking me from trespassing. I realized that she came from a room with closed doors as if I were watched suspiciously from behind. I felt uneasy, as if I did something terribly inappropriate. Almost apologetically I restated my problem – need to recover Robert’s password so I could practice with him online banking. The woman stated in a manner which was both dismissive and pushy, that since Robert had a guardian, he couldn’t be allowed to do his online banking anyway. I responded that this didn’t sound right, because we had done online banking three years before. And exactly in this moment, Robert approached us making grunting noises and running his fingers through his cheeks.
As I washed off the dirt from my hand in the visitor center of the park, three hours later, I finally understood that Robert was upset, because he was afraid for ME. He thought we were fighting. The woman was a foot taller and she stood extremely closed to me in what one might called, my personal space. I felt intimidated, confused, and uncomfortable.
Those feelings negatively influenced my ability to understand Robert’s perspective. I didn’t think about how Robert read this situation and how he felt about it. I heard his noises and treated them as if they were expressing unprovoked anger.
If I were not so quick to blame Robert for inappropriate behavior, I would understand that he was afraid for me. He might either think that I was under sort of attack, or that I was arguing. He doesn’t like arguing.
If I were not so quick to blame, I would tell, Robert, “It’s okay, it’s okay. We are not arguing. I am just asking for advice. It’s okay. The lady is friendly. (I would lie) It’s okay.”
That would be the end of it.
But I didn’t do that. I left upset with Robert for loudly expressing his frustration. I left heartbroken that “Robert’s ‘irrational’ behaviors returned without a reason.” Robert left confused and ashamed.
Everything because of being too quick to blame and to slow to understand.

Journal, Page 16

June 6, 2014
This week, Robert was home. We were both waiting for the recommendations about his adult program after the three weeks long vocational evaluation was completed. Robert was anxious and did not feel good. But since doing nothing doesn’t seem to make Robert feel better, we didn’t skip even one day of study. We just took more frequent and longer breaks. It was not a very original teaching. In more difficult times, the routine keeps both of us focused. So we continued most of the old programs. As before, Robert likes Reasoning and Writing exercises the best. The most difficult task is for him to retell the story, based on numbers he placed in the picture when I was reading the story for the first time. Those numbers followed the movement of the cat which tried to catch the goldfish, but was grabbed by the turtle instead. We continued with Linguisystem Cards for Adults and pronunciation exercises with the help of the spelling book level D and IPAD. The new thing is the curriculum Functional Routines for Adults and Adolescents. I believe that Robert recognizes practical implications of those illustrated stories followed by questions and seems interested and eager to practice. On Monday, we made a short trip to Roger William Park and Zoo, stopped at two banks, and bought pajama pants at KKohl’s Department Store. On Tuesday, we cashed Robert check at the bank, went to the farm, and then to Moose Hill Park. On Wednesday, we went to see Maleficent.
On Thursday, we didn’t go anywhere. We still studied, but after lunch Robert fell asleep and didn’t want to go anywhere. I think he didn’t feel good. It rained all day, and it was damp and dark outside. In the evening, Robert had to feel better as he rather happily took care of the two loads of laundry.
Today, Robert went with Pam to the library and later for a walk. She said, he was pretty anxious in the morning. Later, we prepared together chicken fingers and that improved his mood a lot. We studied for two hours and then watched TV.
I was pretty tense this week, and so was Robert. We read each other feelings and got even more anxious.
Oh well,

On Filling Gaps

June 4, 2014
1.Learning the meaning of “OR”
Today, Robert and I worked on Unit 13 from Reasoning and Writing. One of the tasks called for Robert to pick up “red or green pencil as opposed to the task of picking “red and green”. Robert didn’t know the difference. We repeated the series of exercises twice, but Robert still has not fully grasped the ideas behind each of the two conjunctions. I need to rethink the way to teach that. I will probably use cards with written words “and” and “or”, but I am not sure yet.
2. Learning to Whisper.
After studying for 2 hours we went to see Maleficent. Remembering that a few weeks ago when we went to see Rio 2, Robert spoke twice and rather loudly, I tried to practice whispering. We had done it before, maybe a few months ago. We started with just blowing air and then adding voiceless consonants. With some consonants, Robert could whisper, with others he was unable to. I don’t know why we stopped. Today, we tried again, just for a few minutes. It was not enough for Robert to whisper in the Theatre, but it, at least, gave him an idea of what it is to speak softly.

3. Paying with money and rounding to the next dollar.
On Monday in the Zoo, on Tuesday at McDonald and on the farm, and today at the movie theatre, Robert was using cash instead of his credit card. Robert’s refusal on Friday to give enough money to his job coach to pay for ordered lunch, allowed me to discover another gap in Robert’s understanding of financial operations.
So, for the last three days, Robert was not allowed to use his credit card but had to pay using cash. On Monday, he rounded up $3.50 to $4.00 to pay for his watermelon frozen lemonade. On Tuesday, he gave the cashier at the farm store $11 to pay the bill of $10.49. Later, at McDonald, he used exactly $6.09 to pay the bill of $6.09. Today, he had to pay 4.50. He found out that he had only three one dollar bills, so he gave ten-dollar bill to the cashier. In three transactions he needed support, in two others, he didn’t.
4.Touching objects in the Museum.
On Thursday, I learned that Robert kept touching untouchable displays at the Museum. I realized that this behavior was enforced during our frequent trips to science museum, where every visitor is encouraged to touch, manipulate, check, and recheck all the displays to literally have hands on the presented ideas. At least a year has passed since our last visit to the Museum of Fine Arts and/or Metropolitan Museum of Art. I have to plan a visit to one gallery at the Museum. Maybe tomorrow?
(Update. We didn’t go to the Art Museum yet, as it rained all day and Robert was very sleepy.)
5. Staying in his seat during work and/or asking for a break.
It happens from time to time, during our studying sessions, that Robert suddenly gets up and runs/walks around. Since I perceived this behavior to be a stretching exercise, I didn’t mind it much. Now, I have realized that it might be problematic during work or any group activity. Had Robert had words to use before getting up, his behavior would be seen differently. I think I will place cards with phrases, “I need to stretch.” or ” I need a break” on the table and demand that Robert uses them whenever he wants to get up.
6.Greeting people.
I noticed that Robert still had to be prompted to greet the people who worked with him. Today, I used the unit on arriving at work from Functional Routines for Adolescents and Adults by Beverly Plass as an introduction. But, of course, learning at home with me and practicing in the community with other people are two different things.

I discovered those gaps mostly because I work with Robert and because I listened to all the job coaches who worked with Robert during three weeks long evaluation period. They just shared their observation. Sadly, many of his teachers in his former public school had rarely or never done that. The fact that I was not made aware of those and similar gaps during my son’s long stay in the transition classroom is the most demeaning commentary on the quality of special education programs in our public school.

First Check

June 3, 2014
Last Friday, Robert got his first check. He was waving a white envelope when I came to pick him up. He was happy and so was I. Except, I didn’t know what to do with this check. First, I wanted to go straight to the bank and encourage Robert to deposit his first earned money in his checking account. But then, I wanted to take a picture of the check and… frame it. When we got home, I noticed that Robert’s last name was misspelled as one additional letter popped in the middle, so I decided to call the Employment Agency first to get advice on how to proceed.
Meantime, I thought about the check some more and came to the conclusion that the best way to proceed would be to go to the bank and cash the check. This way Robert would learn what earning money really means.
Robert has had a checking account for six years now. He wrote, at least, 30 checks during that time. He paid for his medical appointments and for his ski lessons. But although he wrote dates, proper amounts in digits and letters, and faithfully copied the names of the institutions, I am not sure if he got a clear idea of what all of that meant.
Moreover, in retrospect, I realized that my approach to teaching Robert banking was full of holes and resulted in Robert not understanding the values of the money. On paper, he could do most of the math related to withdrawing or depositing cash and checks. That knowledge, however, didn’t carry over to a real life.
I didn’t notice it, because I “cleverly” gave Robert an ATM card he was using to pay for some of his small purchases. I was proud when he kept sweeping his card in Subway or McDonald’s restaurants or when he paid for his take out from Outback Steakhouse always adding a tip to the bill.

Almost a year ago, as Robert tried to pay $3.50 for frozen lemonade, I noticed that he didn’t know how much money he should take from his wallet. One dollar, in his opinion, should suffice. My response to that was to do more practice at home of rounding to the next dollar. But despite our frequent visits to the grocery store I have never practiced with Robert buying things with cash. He always paid with his debit card.
The last Friday, Robert again wanted to pay one dollar for his lunch. He had twelve dollars in his wallet, but he took out one dollar and expected that it would cover the price.
The previous week, he only had one paper bill and it happened to be a ten-dollar one. So he just took it out and paid for his lunch. This time he had three paper bills in his wallet – two one dollar worth and one for ten dollars. He took one of them and was sure it should suffice.
His job coach thought that Robert’s reluctance to hand an appropriate amount of money was caused by his distrust of her. That was not the case. It was the result of Robert still not grasping the connection between numbers on the bills and their purchasing powers. He doesn’t grasp that connection, because I have never given him a chance to experience it first hand.
It is time to fix that. That is why we will cash the check and make a few trips to different stores and pay with cash.

Full Day of Work and Sounds

I don’t know English well enough to find the most appropriate verbs and/or adjectives that would correctly present the sounds Robert was making today. Beside one scream in the morning all the other noises were not only toned down considerably but also hard to name or even categorize. Sometimes, they sounded like mixture of moaning and singing. Other times like laugh interrupted by confusion. They were not created to have any impact on Robert’s surrounding. They were soft, heartbreaking, and very personal.Whatever bothered Robert, he was dealing with his feeling through those song-like whining.

Robert woke up with his lips dry and white. He was holding his breath a little too long before exhaling. He was in pain. He said his stomach hurt, but that is what he learned to say when asked about pain. It might be that his chest hurt or his head. We gave him inhaler for possible asthmatic discomfort and matamucil cracker for digestive system problems. I told him that he could sleep longer and didn’t have to go horse riding. My words had the opposite effect. In a few second Robert was up. He spent a lot of time in the bathroom, so I again suggested to him to skip the horse riding lesson. But he didn’t want to.
As we drove, he chose listening to music, but was tense and a few times he produced some soft sounds. I asked Kate, his instructor, to stop the lesson as soon as the noises would interfere with the lesson. But there was no need for that. Robert followed all the directions given by Kate, although his reactions were rather delayed.
On a way home, he wanted to stop at the Supermarket. I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea, given his obvious discomfort, but agreed, nonetheless.
It would have been a very nice shopping experience if I were not so stressed. Robert helped bagging and got a sticker for helping the cashier.
After returning home, he fell asleep. He helped dad in his garden work then they went for a walk in the Moose Hill and to Subway Restaurant. Two first activities were accompanied by sounds.
We studied together in three intervals. First, Robert read Amelia Bedelia Makes a Friend and with my help (mostly turning pages) answered questions I wrote to accompany reading. The book is on a very low reading level. Its 32 pages could be read in 10 minutes. Decoding is, however, not a problem for Robert. Comprehension is. This book presented Amelia’s Bedelia problem of literal understanding of expressions in a very simple way. Robert answered two pages of questions and then he drew the appropriate pictures.
We proceeded to lesson 11 from Reasoning and Writing. A few years ago, I couldn’t really work on “If” problems (If I do that, you do this.) even though there was a picture model in the book to demonstrate to Robert what he was supposed to do. It didn’t offer sufficient help. There was a need for another person, live model. At that time, Jan was in California and Amanda was in Oregon. Now, with Jan coming to participate in that part of the lesson, it is much easier for Robert to understand the concept and respond timely and fluently.

We did most of our regular daily studies. After we finished, Robert again returned to making sounds and I returned him to piano to have him sing Are You sleeping? and to a set of Apraxia cards, to have him talk.
Robert relaxed watching on PBS the musicians performing on Ed Sullivan show. He kept running and finally seemed relaxed.
Still, before he went to bed, we approached piano three more times and sang together, “Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?”
Obviously, not yet.

Journal, Mostly on Making Noises

May 31, 2014

I haven’t written in a few days. I couldn’t write, because I had too much to tell, share, and analyze.
Having too many things to say at the same time, stops me like nothing else from writing. All those observations and experiences are all tangled together in a hard to untie knot. That is when I just write a page in a Journal, a simple report on what we did and/or what happened.

Yesterday, Robert was making noises. He uttered more long vowel sounds (and they were much, much longer) than he produced in a whole month of our speech exercises.
When we practice speech with the help of Speak It on IPAD, he still shortens his vowels. Yesterday and today, however, he made those vowels very, very long.
Of course, I was concerned. More than concerned. I have not noticed such behavior in a few years. Their return seemed like a big step backwards. I had almost forgotten about them and certainly didn’t anticipate their resurgence.
As it had been the case in the past, I became afraid that Robert had another bout of stomach pain. The different way of breathing and longer time spent in the bathroom seemed to confirm that suspicion. With that suspicion comes regular paranoia aimed at new food. What made him feel bad? Back to reading labels of every new item on his menu.
Was he making noises because he was disappointed that his evaluation program ended? I am not sure, if he really understand that…
Was he making those long vowel sounds as a way of singing? After all, he loves his weekly music therapy at Bridge Center.
Was he making noises, because he didn’t have anything else to do?
Should I really stop that behavior as highly inappropriate or should I embrace it as a way of practicing long sounds?
Well, yesterday, I went through the old procedure from years ago. When Robert was running and making noises, I responded, “I see, that you want to talk, so let’s talk.” I, then, took a set of language cards and we practiced saying different words.
Today, I did something different. I took Robert to the piano (needs tuning desperately) and played a very simple tune a few times while Robert tried to follow.
To my complete surprise, Robert was able to change the pitch of his sounds.
Rewind: A couple of weeks ago, my friend Jean played one note at a time and Robert sang that note. She played maybe two or three notes altogether. That surprised me as well, because….
Because until now, I didn’t believe that Robert was capable of changing the pitch of his voice on purpose, or when directed by anybody.
What has happened?
Is the music therapy he has been having for more than a year now responsible for that development?
How come I didn’t notice that sooner? Did I stop believing it can ever happen?

After “singing”, we still practiced words from apraxia language cards.
Robert was also working, completely independently, on a few math worksheets (easy, but wide range of skills required). He felt might proud about that. He did lesson 10 from Reasoning and Writing which was the test.He did well with only one small hiccups.
He didn’t make any noises after we finished studying. Maybe, his stomach stopped hurting.