On Joining Groups

I started writing this post with a simple lesson in mind, ” Don’t give up after the first failure.”  Robert’s first encounter with a day care was a disaster.  So I gave up. Later, I learned that trying again and easing Robert’s way into new places and new situations could bring positive outcomes. But as I was writing I discovered another, more important, connection between our experiences with Robert, and the possible effects of one on one aide at school on Robert’s delayed (if not missing entirely) understanding of  belonging to a group of his peers. 


July 31, 2014

When Robert was 2 years old, I left him once, on a trail basis, in a day care.  I picked him up two or three hours later only to learn that he had extremely hard time and so did everybody else.  He cried without even short break during the whole time he was there.   So I have never signed him again.  It was long before Robert got his diagnosis, but I had already known that the serious diagnosis was imminent.

A few month later, Robert had equally hard time separating from me during three hours a week of his early intervention program followed by equally hard time in his special preschool.  He did not have problems with separation when he joined private ABA school.  I believe that it was because he knew some of his teachers as they had already worked with him during home program.

Nineteen years later,  I brought Robert to a new program – a cooking class.  He knew the place, he knew the person in charge and yet, he didn’t want to stay.  He did not want me to leave.  So I stayed.  I stayed the whole two hours.  Robert was tense.  Although he followed directions and did a fair amount of work, he watched my every move.

The next week, he found his way to the kitchen and joined the group not even checking if I was still there.  I was there.  At least for the next five or ten minutes.  Then, not really sure if that was a right decision, I left. Somehow,Robert understood (or felt) that my presence was unnecessary or even unwelcome.

This pattern of requesting the presence of a parent during the first encounter with a new place or a new activity, repeated itself when Robert joined Walking Club at local ARC.  The first time, he attended it, he requested his dad’s company. “Requested”  is an understatement.  It was clear that Robert would not make one step without his dad and that he wouldn’t let  his dad take one step without him either. So dad accompanied him during that walk.  The next Saturday, however, Robert joined the group without even looking at his dad.  He understood, yet again, social rule about this group.  It excluded parents.  And for a good reason. It is harder to connect with peers when the parent is present.  Even if the word “connect” means only “observe” and “follow” .  Parent (be it me, be it Jan) was like a magnetic charge which although invisible, was  pulling Robert away from the group and thus it was making the identification with other member of the walking club much more difficult.



As of Today 10

July 29, 2014

We had rather uneventful day.  In the morning, Robert, just like yesterday, completed a puzzle with US states.  Then he tried to find the names of 20 states based on their contours.  He did exactly the same thing almost a year ago. He recognizes some states like Texas, Florida, California, i Massachusetts , others he has to look for at the puzzle map.  In this he is not different than I am.  I too can name only a few states  just by looking at the contours.  So, we are doing it, because it is rather automatic and calming activity for Robert.

Yesterday, Robert and I introduced ourselves to simple machines.  I was learning with Robert, as I had forgotten most of them, long ago.  As I improvised building some of those machines with strings, pencils, and flat surfaces of books or rulers, Robert seemed very relaxed  and almost interested.  He knew that I was learning together with him, and he appreciated the change of roles from teacher=student to two pals  looking for answers.

Robert partially independently and partially with my assistance reviewed another chapter from Singapore Math.  The first two pages of the review went smoothly, then the word problems started requiring two or even three math operations.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  Robert still needs a lot of practice with word problems with one operation.  should I guide him through or just skip the problems. The answer was provided by Robert.  He doesn’t skip anything.  So I guided Robert, but I don’t think he learned anything at all from that.  Oh, well, It is over.  The new section would be much easier, as Robert is already familiar with angles and knows how to categorize  and measure them.  That will leave a lot of room for independence.

We worked on unit 47 from Reasoning and Writing.  Robert is still a little confused while looking for a mystery character or object by crossing over, or folding flaps on those items that, based on mine or his questions and answers , could not be the mystery object.

I used the cards What’s Wrong? to entice Robert to provide one word answer (he had very little problem with that) and expand it to the whole sentence.

Robert had his horse riding lesson with a new instructor and a new horse. He helped me make a pumpkin pie for his dad.  He folded laundry he set on yesterday.  In the evening we all went for a short walk to the nearby park. Uneventful day.








Still in Fourth Grade

During the last few weeks, Robert was solving problems from 4th grade Singapore Math. He had already known most of the algorithms needed to perform mathematical operations. For instance, he knew how to find a fraction of a number.
With some restrictions.
He quickly could write that 3/8 of 40 is 15, but he would hesitate how to find 3/8 of 344 When he could do the division and multiplication in his head, the answer came immediately. If he couldn’t divide in his head, he was not sure what to do. It seemed as if Robert solved the first problem without realizing what mathematical operations he applied and thus he couldn’t extend the method to larger numbers. The only way I could address that was by slowing him down and having him name each math operation as he was performing it.
But Singapore Math introduced the fraction of the number not by presenting rigid algorithm, but as a few sections of a rectangle divided into congruent parts.
To find 3/8 of 40 or 3/8 of 344, the student drew a rectangle and divided it into eight equal parts .  Then he shaded 3 of those parts. The whole rectangle representing 40 (or 344) was clearly divided by the number from the denominator and multiplied by numerator.


40:8=5      5×3 =15

When Robert followed this method he didn’t have doubts what to do – he divided and he multiplied appropriately even when 40 was replaced by 344.

Moreover, similar drawing could be used to do the opposite, to find a number knowing the value of its fraction. for instance:  Find a number knowing that 3/8 of that number equals 18 (or 345) . I didn’t practice with Robert solving those problems as I was not sure how  to do it without confusing him. The Singapore Math offered easy solutions.




Robert drew a rectangle and divided it into eight sections. He shaded three of them and above just those three sections, he wrote 18. Thus he found out easily that one section was 6 and the whole eight sections had to equal 48.
In the past we often used rectangles to represent sums, differences, products, and quotients when Robert had to solve so-called “word problems”.  But I have never used them as a way to present the ideas behind the algorithm Robert knew already and the one, he did not learn yet.


Besides Singapore Math, Robert is still practicing with calendar doing exercises based on 4th grade Saxon Math.  He is also practicing  other skills with the help from 4th grade Math Sylvan workbook. Although this workbook offers many opportunities to use skills in slightly different contexts, it also has  errors, which its publisher is not willing to correct. This is the problem with hastily published workbooks for children and anxious parents, even publishers don’t take them too seriously. Sad.



When “Same” is Different

July 24, 2014

Years ago, when Robert was 5, 6, or 7, I signed him for a trip, organized by a local chapter of ARC, to the Roger William Zoo. Since that was the zoo which our family visited often, I did not anticipate any problems. After all, it was the place, Robert already knew well.
I was unpleasantly surprised when I learned that there was a problem and a big one. Apparently at some point after entering the Zoo, Robert spread himself on the ground refusing to follow the rest of the group. I could easily imagine the difficulties experienced by those who were taking care of him. Robert’s strong will had presented itself to me on a few occasions already. If Robert wanted something, he would neither give up or let other persuade him to change his mind. I didn’t ask for all the details as to how long the tantrum lasted and how it ended. I tried to understand why it happened in the first place.
Soon, I understood the issue. The group followed a different path than Robert used to take during our visits to the Zoo. He had already established routines. First, the stop at the restroom by the entrance, followed by visits to zebras, emus, and cheetahs viewing areas, and then left turn toward wetlands. Our family chose that route to avoid a pizza place on a way toward the rest of the zoo, but to stop there on the way back to the car.
The group didn’t follow any of those habits and thus Robert was convinced that everything was wrong.
It was the same place. Being in the same place called for following the same routine. But that did not happen. Everything was different and thus everything hat to be wrong.

Had the group visited a new place, Robert didn’t know yet, then his strong convictions about right ways and wrong ways of visiting would have not interfered with the prior plans of the organizers. In different places, Robert expected and accepted different things to see and do. In the same places, he wanted the same things to happened in the same order.

Although hearing about Robert’s vehement protests was not very pleasant, it was , nonetheless, enlightening.
We, the parents, understood that we had to keep avoiding repeating the same routines as they solidify quickly into concrete in Robert’s mind. We learned to draw numbers on the zoo maps showing the directions and order of visits to different sections of the Zoo. Even, when Robert didn’t grasp the connection between points on the map and the directions of his steps, he knew that there was something else controlling his movements, The map became a tool mitigating the influence of established habits.
Now, as Robert’s receptive language allows him to understand more, telling Robert what to expect ahead of time, helps a lot.

Against Better Judgement

July 22, 2014

When Robert was seven or eight, he unexpectedly threw tantrum in the Museum of Science. (It was not his first visit there, but the first tantrum in that place.) He spread himself on the floor and screamed. Because I didn’t know what caused this attack of protests, I didn’t know what to do, but leave. And so we did. My husband, not without difficulties, carried Robert to a car.
At home, my husband and I decided not only to visit the museum next weekend, but to buy family membership.
Our reasons:
1. We didn’t know what caused Robert’s tantrum. Only by going back we could observe and find some clues as to the reasons.
2. We decided to start with very short visits, and leave as soon as we would sense discomfort on Robert’s part.
3. Tickets were too expensive for visits that might last only 30 minutes or less. Much less. So the only choice was to buy membership and don’t pay for tickets on every visit.
We did return many times, but we didn’t find out what caused Robert’s tantrum. He simply didn’t have another one.
So, I still don’t know why he had a tantrum on that day.

Many times in the past years, I was afraid to leave home with Robert when he was in “distress”.
I am not sure if “distress” is the appropriate word to describe those symptoms/behaviors that were hard to deal with – making loud noises, hitting his own ears or cheeks, or jumping in place. Those behaviors were difficult to deal with when they happened at home, but in the community they seemed to be much harder to manage.
One of the assumption I made was that Robert’s behavior in the community would get much worse than it was at home.
But to my surprise, very often when we went out – to the park, museum, swimming pool, or for horse back riding lesson those symptoms of distress either disappeared completely or changed into just a slight anxiety, still observable but not bothersome.
I wondered many times what caused that improvement in behavior. I wondered, because understanding the reason behind it, would also shed the light on causes of Robert’s prior “distress”. Was Robert simply bored at home? Was he, as every bored person loosing his own image? Did the community activities allow him to regain the sense of self? I am doing something, ergo, I am somebody. I am among other people, thus I am a person. Maybe this, maybe something completely different was behind that improvement. Whatever it was, I am glad that against my better judgement I kept taking Robert out, and gave him a chance to find himself. At least to a point.

Two Weeks in Review

July 18, 2014
To read or not to read.
Robert completed the last one of the seven History Packets, Ancient Aztec Civilization. We followed with reading two short texts about Aztecs from Top Readers. More Reading Comprehension workbook. I hesitated with presenting Robert with the text about Aztec warriors, as it was very cruel and mentioned human sacrifices to Aztec gods. Eventually, we read it. I thought, that maybe Robert should know that not everything is a progress and that there is a cruelty in the world. I am not sure if that was the right decision. After all, Robert cannot use words to ask about what worries him and what did he make out of the story. And thus, I couldn’t address his reaction what ever that might be.
Coloring with IPAD
We sort of recover (at least I did) when Robert was coloring Aztec Calendar. He used IPAD to help find appropriate colors for different sections and specially for day symbols.
Another day, Robert used Ipad again to color different gems drawn on the worksheet. It was easy for him, as each gem was clearly displayed as soon as Robert printed its name and hit the search button. He only hesitated with topaz as, he found out (as did I), that multiple colors were assigned to that stone. Luckily there were two objects to color, and thus Robert used two different colors for them.
Functional Routines – continued.
After reading again the text about cleaning bathroom in Functional Routines although on an intermediate level, Robert and I cleaned a second bathroom. It went quickly. Robert independently cleaned the sink, counter and the mirror. I assisted with cleaning toilet.
After reading a text about making quasadillas, Robert prepared one for himself. I watched him and gave him 2 or 3 suggestions. Although he ate a half of the quasadillas he made, he was not very fond of that food.
Biking on The Shiny Sea Path
I went with Jan and Robert with the goal of helping in case Robert stays too far behind Jan. Jan always goes first to make sure Robert stops before crossing each street. I was supposed to watch Robert from behind, mainly because in the middle of the summer there were many more people (and dogs) utilizing the trail than in the fall or spring. But it took 10 second for Jan and Robert to disappear from my view. Both of them waited faithfully for me at each stop sign only to disappear again after crossing the street. Although I trudged behind cautiously and slowly, I felt relieved as I realized that Robert didn’t need another person riding bike with him. Specially since that other person, me, after two years of not riding, was extremely stressed while being passed by other bikers and passing other people and dogs on very long leashes.
More work needed on sharing.
Encouraged by Robert’s willingness to share his calendars with family friends, I went step further. I asked Robert to give the reading kit to the person in charge of Life Enhancement of his day program. I did that after checking that Robert mastered the tasks, well to a certain point. Robert was hesitating but took the kit to the program and LEFT it there!!!.
That was a big next step. Thus, I wanted to take another one. On Thursday evening, Robert and I reviewed two sets of cards from Supper Duper School Company. Robert didn’t have any problems answering the simple questions (auditory comprehension) or changing 26 irregular verbs from present to past simple. I made sure that Robert knew that he mastered the skills and thus didn’t need those sets anymore. Robert was not convinced, but put both sets in his backpack and took it to His day program. Except, he was not able to part with those sets. He had them for years and knew them well. Did he grow attached to them? Did he felt their place was in the certain drawer in his home and thus they should be returned there? I don’t know, but both sets are back in the drawers. Not with some hesitation on Robert’s part.
After he took them out of his back pack he was asking in his own almost wordless way (By walking after me with both boxes and saying, “Cards. cards.”) what to do with them. He put them in the drawer, then took them away, then put them back, then he asked dad, as if he was the judge with the last word.
Stomach pains and anxiety.
A few days ago a glass bottle with Robert’s favorite pineapple Fanta broke during unloading. Robert remained calm all the time I cleaned the glass and the liquid. A day later as Robert was trying to empty the dehumidifier, the handle broke (not Robert’s fault) and gallon or two of water spilled on the floor. We cleaned it together and again Robert was focus and calm.
Today, after Robert spilled a few drops of green tea on a coffee table, he became extremely upset. He made noises, he patted his cheeks, he made faces. As soon as he wiped those few drops he calmed down. Nonetheless, as always when Robert displays inappropriate behavior, I asked him to do a few easy worksheets. He did them, almost all by himself without any visible discomfort. After he finished, he sat on the chair for a few minutes, then ran to the bathroom. He was sick. he had stomach problems. I should have noticed. After all, yesterday after returning from the Day Program, he didn’t eat much, a few crumbs of dry, Italian bread. He didn’t ask for poblano or chicken. I just assumed he ate a lot during lunch, he usually buys on Fridays.
In the past many times, I have half noticed that when Robert was not feeling well, his reactions to small problems became huge. The problem is,however, that I keep noticing problem behaviors BEFORE I can see that Robert is sick and thus I still don’t have habit of using the problem behavior as a diagnostic tool for Robert’s physical discomfort.

Questions On Ethics of Writing about Someone

July 17, 2014
Two years ago, when I started writing this blog, my friend, Ewa, expressed her concerns if not her apprehension. She asked what right did I have to write about another person without that person’s consent. She found it even more disturbing that I wanted to report on a life of a person who might not be able to give a consent. What about his privacy, about intimate details of his every day struggles?
Two years ago, I was sure she was wrong.
It is true that rarely, if ever, I write about teaching and learning in general terms. I am always recording what I have learned about teaching just ROBERT, about just HIS learning. It is always about him and about my way of understanding him through the ways he responds to the teaching. It is not about abstract person with autism, OCD, and severe language delays. It is about Robert.
This is as personal as it can be.
I believed that without my writing, nobody, including me, would really know Robert. The way he perceives the world. The rules he deduces from repeating themselves events. The rules, he tries to maintain. His not efforts to be helpful would not be recognized but might lead to confusion and disappointments.

In the past, not only did I feel, that I had a right to document Robert’s life as it had been unfolding itself to me, but that I had the obligation to write about him. I am understanding Robert better not only through our studies together, but also through this writing. Many aspects of Robert’s behaviors became clearer when I am forced to think about them during writing.
I do want others to know Robert too. Sadly, it is very easy to dismiss him after short observation. He rarely answers other people greetings or questions.He never explains himself. He moves among people as if they didn’t exist to him, or as if he knew that he doesn’t matter for them. It is hard to know Robert. But I think, that his very survival depends on other people knowing him. Besides, he is worth knowing.
I do hope that one day, it would be possible for Robert to read at least some posts I wrote about him and see himself through my eyes.
For those reasons until now, I haven’t had any doubts about writing this blog.
So sudden emergence of doubts about appropriateness of recording all the events from Robert’s life, took me by surprise.
He is a 22 years old man. He understands things I don’t. He perceives the world differently. I have very limited knowledge of what he feels or what he knows.
So am I even able to present correct profile of my son?
But even if I report correctly on the problems Robert has when he wants to maintain rigidly the same rules in new situations, do I help him or expose him to the ridicule of others.
This Wednesday, Robert had hard time accepting a new rule needed to address a novel situation. Although I understood Robert’s “point of view” and could very well empathize with him, I found myself unable to write about it. I was afraid that I could very easily create the wrong picture of Robert in the eyes of others. That gave me pause.
Also this week, I wrote a short post in which I mentioned by the first name one of Robert’s friends. Only later, I asked the mother of this friend for permission to do so. Although, she was fine with it, I asked myself a question, “How would I feel if someone else wrote the blog about Robert?”
I don’t know the answer.

I know that that with each RIGHT word the shield protecting Robert from misunderstandings and false impressions can get stronger.
But finding the right words is sometimes a challenge.

Exchanging Gifts. Sort Of.

For as long as I can remember, Robert had problems with giving or even lending his things to others. For instance, it was almost impossible for him to lend a movie to anybody. He expressed distress by screaming and tried to reclaim his property with all his might. I believe that his actions were caused by his conviction that the things should stay in their proper places and the proper place for the tapes or DVDs was on one of the shelves in our home. At the same time, Robert also had hard time accepting that our friends left something in our home. Our friends could bring cakes and we could all enjoy their taste, but if anything was left, Robert made sure the friends took it back.
Last Saturday, Arthur, Robert’s friend with an affinity for calendars, stopped by with his mother, to pick up a few calendars, compliments of a few non-profit organizations, I saved for him. Robert wasn’t exactly sure what was going on. He picked up all the calendars but when asked to give them back to Arthur, he readily complied. Then he picked them again and return them again. He noticed a different calendar in the pile of workbooks and, assured by me that this one was really his, he took it to his bedroom. Just in case.
Not much longer after Arthur left with a few calendars, our friends stopped by. They brought a box of cut-up mangoes. Robert joined us for a piece of a cake but as soon as he finished eating frosting, he ran to his bedroom and brought… a calendar. He offered it to our guests. It looked as if a new rule was forming in Robert’s mind, ” All the guests should be given calendars. ”
Nonetheless, Robert was clearly relieved when I told him that this was his calendar and he could keep it in his room.
A couple of hours later, as the guests were leaving WITHOUT the box containing the last three pieces of mango, Robert again attempted to return the box to them. When they told him that it was a gift for us, Robert smiled. He smiled not because he liked mangoes. He had always avoided eating them in the past. He smiled, I believe, because just this moment the idea of exchanging gifts without any formal reason such as, for instance, birthday, struck him as a very pleasant one indeed.

Routines Versus Routines

July 8, 2014

While teaching Robert I do rely on routines because they make the teaching easier for me and studying smoother for Robert. He does like routines too. Unfortunately, routines can also narrow the vision which in turn can lead to loosing perspective and finally to eliminating a wide area of skills from the teaching syllabus.
I have been aware of that and I have tried to resist the damaging aspects of routines, by…. introducing new routines.
Our routine for the last few weeks called for following next units from a few chosen curricula materials: Top Readers, Singapore Math, SRA Reasoning and Writing, Functional Routines, and Just for Adults Photo Cards from Linguisystems.
From time to time, I add something different like Match Up thematic puzzles (Landforms, Landmarks and so on), History Packets, the section about science topic, different reading approach, board games ( Allowance Game) and so on.
I felt pretty pleased with myself,
Until a few days ago.
As I read a short text about cleaning a bathroom from Functional Routines, Home booklet, I noticed that I could teach Robert to clean the bathroom too. Over the last two weeks we read the same unit three times -on two different levels, and yet I have not attempted to clean the bathroom with Robert. Moreover, as I skipped through the pages of that booklet, I found many more things Robert could learn and benefit greatly from such learning.
Why didn’t I practice with Robert cleaning the kitchen, or making a waffle?
Why it has been so difficult for me to try something new with Robert?
Maybe because I don’t have a model to follow or a courage to try something without seeing a model first.

In 1995 during the PCDI conference, I watched the video of a young man emptying a dishwasher by placing all the dishes and silverware where they belonged. I immediately knew, that I could practice that skill with Robert at some point. And a couple of years later Robert was doing that chore all by himself.
In the summer of 2007, Robert did laundry in a laundromat with his teacher and classmates, during his extended summer program. I have not seen Robert doing it, but encouraged by the teacher’s lead, I began working on that skill at home. Now, Robert washes all our clothes without even being asked. A full hamper motivates Robert to start the washing machine.

Today, Robert and I cleaned the bathroom together – sink, toilet, mirror.
We left the bathtub for another day. It went very smoothly.
I think that Robert can clean the sink and the counter independently from now on. The same goes for the mirror. As for the toilet, it requires more practice.

This post is not about what Robert can learn and how. It is about MY inability to set the good goals and objectives for Robert without models or encouragements coming from other sources – from a workshop, a teacher, a booklet.
I wish, I could attend many more conferences like the one I mentioned above. I wish, I could follow more leads coming from teachers on how to expand Robert’s skills. I wish, I could find more booklets like Functional Routines.
Despite everything I am doing, I am stuck in “HERE and NOW” and I need a push to move forward. Sadly, I cannot push myself too far and thus I cannot pull Robert either.

Cards from Vacation

We did it two summers ago. We did it last summer. We are doing it again, this summer. Every day, Robert reads one of the texts from Top Readers MORE Nonfiction Reading Comprehension, level 4. The texts are short. One might say they are a little chaotic in their desire to squeeze as many concepts/ information as possible in a few sentences. They are nicely illustrated. They are like cards sent from the summer camp!
The activities below the texts couldn’t be easier and less….academic. The comprehension questions come with two possible answers with one of them being an obvious choice.
Then come word searches, sudokus, or crosswords. That is recreation! Just what the vacation should be for.
Except, something is missing.
Postcards from vacation are, by definition, attempts to share overwhelming new experiences with someone who is not privy to the same overload of senses exposed to new views, sounds, and smells.
Postcards are hastily made short reports on vast and not fully processed experiences.
So the texts from Top Readers are like postcards but, in Robert’s case, postcards not related to any prior experiences. Such “experiences” have to be created artificially.

For this reason, we read a paragraph about Special Silk AFTER we had completed the History Packet about Ancient China. And for the same reason, Robert will read the text about Aztecs and Mayas after he completes a history packet about Aztecs Civilization.

Today, however, I used the texts from Top Readers differently. Not like postcards but like snapshots advertising specific travel destinations. Yesterday and the day before, we read three texts – one about Marco Polo’s journey, one about Africa, and one about wildebeests. Today we are going to Rodger William Park and Zoo in Providence. There is an African section there. There are wildebeests sharing space with, much more popular, zebras. And there is a Marco Polo Trail starting in…”Venice”.
Off we go.

I am not advertising Top Reader series mainly because it has been out of print for quite a while now.
Still, I like the idea behind this approach for summer learning -light, a little chaotic, and stress-free…