Gingerbread Village

December 24, 2014

Almost every year, a few days before Christmas, Amanda helped Robert to build a gingerbread house. She didn’t bake gingerbread but used kits purchased in stores. I am not sure if she really cherished that experience. I am not entirely convinced that Robert liked that activity.  For them, because of my insistence, it was the thing you had to do before Christmas. And it was not always easy. Making frosting by mixing powder with water could result in a watery disaster and a big mess. Often, Robert didn’t follow directions correctly. He pushed too hard, too little, or in the wrong direction and the structure collapsed. They had to start again. How frustrating!. But year after year they did it.

This year, I bought the Gingerbread Village Kit.  Robert opened it a day after Amanda came home. But he didn’t bother Amanda by insisting they do it that day.   He just waited patiently.  And waited.  Finely, this morning, they sat together at the dinner table.  We, the parents, joined them too.   Amanda, the experienced builder, was in charge. Robert attentively followed all the suggestions.  Over the years he learned by experience how much frosting he should apply and how much pressure he should use to make sure that the walls stick together. Jan and I felt slightly overwhelmed. We did not always know what to do.  We were  not much more than spectators. Still, our performing  children appreciated our admiration. That is right.  We couldn’t help but admire Amanda’s ability to show the way and Robert’s focus and efforts.  Mostly, however, we were touched by Amanda’s and Robert’s ability to smoothly and efficiently work in tandem.

December 31, 2014

This afternoon, Robert with Jan’s and my help (Amanda is back in France.) built four gingerbread sleighs.  Jan helped with structures and I helped with decorations. But our inputs were almost negligent as Robert was almost independent. If he was not completely independent, it was because we, his parents, wanted to be in involved too and thus we interfered with Robert’s creations. Luckily, he didn’t mind.

January 3, 2015.

As of this morning all four sleighs lost their gummy Santas to Robert’s stomach. The candies decorating gingerbread cottages and sleighs are gone too. Oh well, till the next year.





As of Today 11

December 16, 2014

We are still  learning.  Robert and I. But not every day.  Lesson after lesson from Singapore Math, grade 4. We review and relearn but in a new format. We still practice rounding up and estimating.  Today, Robert demonstrated sparks of independence. To estimate (for instance) 384+1217- 848 he drew three line segments: 300__________350_________400;    1200____________1250_____________1300


Next, he placed:

384 on right side of 350 and rounded it to 400;

1217 on the left side of 1250 and rounded to 1200;

848 on the left side of 850 and rounded to 800.

He added and subtracted in his mind.

He seemed  more confident than before and rather pleased with himself.

We followed with unit 54 from Reasoning and Writing Part B. Robert  slightly hesitated while completing  sentences describing routes the character took to reach another point on the grid. For instance, ” X went three miles north and two miles south.” More problems Robert had with exercises related to understanding speed.  After learning that a specific character runs 4 inches per second, Robert almost automatically counts by four to find out where on a picture, the character finds himself at a given time.  And yet, some of the simple questions still baffle him.  The simplest ones are the hardest.  “How many inches in a second does X make?”  It should be easy, because above the picture it has been written, ” X travels four inches in each second”.  But by the time, Robert has to answer the question, he has already forgotten the sentence he read.  He used it to complete the picture, but not to answer the last question.  As of now, he needs my prompt to return to the sentence to find the answer, as if he couldn’t switch attention back from the picture to the sentence.

Discovering these kinds of problems allows me to understand Robert better and to some degree address the issues he has.  It might be that the problems with reading comprehension are the result of similar approach to the text.  When you read, you go down, down, down the page. To find answer to comprehension questions you have to go up, returning to what you have already read.   In case of those exercises, the picture placed between sentence and the question related to that sentence seemed to be an obstacle to retrieving the same information Robert has already used.

We followed with a page from  Talking in Sentences. This time, Robert was  using a sentence structure similar to this one, “Birds have wings so they can fly.” Just the animals were different.

Lately, I am using a lot exercises from Walc 6, Workbook of Activities for Language and Cognition Functional Language by Leslie Bilik-Thompson.

For someone who doesn’t have any training as a speech pathologist, this book is absolutely priceless as it addresses on different levels many troubling aspects of Robert’s language as both communication tool and thinking tool. Some levels are easy, some are difficult. The book allows me to find appropriate zone to start with. For instance level 4, Two-Step Directions With Multiple Object Manipulation was much too hard, Level 2 One-Step Direction with Single Object Manipulation was too easy. Level 3 One Step Directions with Multiple Object Manipulation provided some challenges without overwhelming Robert with complexity.  It was also preparing him for the next level.

Unfortunately, there are tasks which are very hard for Robert on every level.  “Yes and NO” questions are still very hard. The difficulties are caused, in part, by Robert’s reliance on signals coming from my face. Robert can find the right words to finish the sentences , but not to answer “Yes or no” We still struggle.

Robert also has problems with telling sentences with a given word. He was confused by the demand to use “apple” in a sentence. There are too many choices for Robert to be able to zeroes on one.  Too many choices, I have to add, with too little practice and/or exposure to models.

Not surprisingly, Robert has more difficulties with retrieving synonyms than with antonyms. Antonyms come to him almost automatically.

But, Robert has much fewer difficulties asking Level 1 Situational Questions.  The past work we did using two different workbooks (Nashoba WH  and Teaching Children of All Ages to Ask Questions brought some small but encouraging results.





Understanding Speed

December 4, 2014

For the last few days, Robert was reintroduced to the concept of speed via lessons from  Reasoning and Writing, Part B. This is not an easy concept, so I had to admire the cleverness of the authors of the curriculum who developed a series of exercises allowing students to understand the concept of speed. As different pairs of characters race through the rectangles to the finish lines, Robert learns that those who reached the end in shorter time were faster than those who reached the end later.  In the subsequent exercises, rats and beetles ran over congruent rectangles representing units of length and Robert compares the number of feet (rectangles) passed in one unit of time.  That is speed. The concept is formed.

I don’t know of any other curriculum, that would put so much emphasis on concept formation, as does this one.  Most of my experiences were with the subjects where the concept was verbally defined.  The definition served as an introduction.  But for those students whose language lacks proper tools to understand definitions, the other methods of presenting new concepts are needed.  For those students, the definition with its precise vocabulary has to come later, AFTER UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPT. The new words are there to describe what the student has learned through different approaches.

Today, as we were driving,  Robert and I shared our observations about how fast or slow we went.  Fast, slow.  It was a traffic our, so it was mostly slow. Very slow.

On Disastrous Effects of Reading Minds of Others

December 2, 2014

A few days ago, Robert again “read my mind”.  At this point, I will write without quotation marks and state plainly, “Robert read my mind.” He was supposed to answer a simple”yes and no” question.  Very simple.  I am sure he was capable of providing correct “yes” response.  I was so sure, that I dared to THINK  “NO”, believing that THIS TIME my thinking would not affect Robert’s reasoning.

But Robert answered “NO” .

We read one or two sentences prior to the question.  They were SOOOO simple. The question was simple and the answer was obvious.

Still, I KEPT THINKING, “NO” and Robert followed with “NO”.

I asked again, covering my mouth.  I knew that all too often Robert gets clue from watching my face.  I kept thinking “No” and Robert followed with “NO”.

I let some time pass before returning to the same question again.  Meantime I asked similar question while Robert and I were busy folding laundry.  Robert answered correctly.

We returned to the worksheet.  I asked again.  I covered my face again, leaving only eyes uncovered.  I kept thinking, “NO”.  I felt the confusion growing on Robert’s face.  Still, he felt compelled to follow my thinking.  He said. “NO”.

I am not gloating about Robert’s ability to read my mind.  I am deeply disturbed by that skill.  I have been trying for almost 20 years now, to extinguish that “talent”.  Almost 20 years ago, I discovered that Robert was answering correctly the questions he didn’t know answer to. He knew, however, what I knew.  I wrote about this phenomenon in two previous posts:  Teaching as Dismantling and ” Unclear on Yes and No, Following Body Language. When he was three, he deduced from unnoticeable to me movements of my arms what was the correct response.  My mind was talking to Robert through my arms.  I noticed that and redesigned the format of asking any questions from that point on.  Then I noticed, that my mind speaks to Robert through the way my mouth is silently shaping itself to produce the sound of the first letter. I kept covering my mouth when asking questions.  But Robert keeps reading my mind in ways, I am not able to even name.

And that is why he is not learning.  The more skillful he becomes in reading my mind, the less motivation he has to rely on his own brain.

He doesn’t use it, he doesn’t trust it at least in the context of our one on one teaching/learning.

“Reading my mind” is not a good skill, it is a barrier to learning and to some degree functioning efficiently in the world.

It is a problem.


Thanksgiving Weekend Part 2

December 2, 2014

I still cannot figure out the reasons why Robert and I spent Friday and Saturday home.  Jan had to go to work on Friday, but on Saturday, he didn’t have any appetite for going out either.

It might be that we just ate too much and the food made us lazy.  It might be that Robert’s gorging on black and white cake resulted in a stomach pain of some sort.  Any way, he woke up late on Friday. He moved from bed to bed as if he were looking for a place that would soothe his discomfort. He returned to his bed  and fell asleep again.  An hour later, I convinced him to get up by reminding him of the plans we had made the previous evening: deposit all cans and bottles and go to McDonald for lunch.  He got up, ate breakfast, but he was clearly not in a mood for going out. He was not in a mood for joining his friend who came for a morning visit. The friend understood, and left.  I mentioned a plan visit to McDonald, but that didn’t calm Robert either. He was not in a mood for any fast food place. He was not in a mood for anything really.

I didn’t know why he was making noises that didn’t say anything more than, “I am miserable. ” I didn’t know why he was miserable. As I always do when I don’t know what bothers Robert I followed with  attending to possible causes of physical discomfort.  Inhalator for possible tightness of lungs due to asthma.  Metamucil crackers for probable problem with lingering gases. Omeprezole for acid reflux.  Soothing words.

It got better. By noon, Robert still didn’t want to go out but ate some leftovers and a bowl of arugula. Moreover, he didn’t have anything against studying with me. We completed the whole unit from Reading Comprehension for Hyperlexia and Autism among other things. Robert studied for almost two hours, but he, nonetheless, didn’t want to leave the house.  I don’t know why.  In the evening, he rode on exercise bike for 20 minutes and helped his dad to start the fire in the fireplace.

Saturday, Robert didn’t dress up until  6PM.  But while in his pajama, he studied with me, completing the last unit from Reading Comprehension, washed dirty clothes, played Synonym Board Game with his father and me, watched TV, ate poblano and the remaining chicken cutlet, and enjoyed a very short visit of  another friend.  And no, he didn’t want to go anywhere.

Only when he was back in his pajama, did he state his plans for the following day, ” Ski, ski.”

Feeling guilty of not doing anything for two days, we drove two hours one way to Mount Sunapee, so Jan and Robert could ski for an hour and a half. Except, they didn’t check which trails were open and soon they found themselves with only one option – going down the black diamond trail. Robert stopped and looked at his dad questioning the sanity of the world which didn’t offer any good solution, then carefully and silently followed his father directions.  He listened as attentively as he had never did on easier slopes.  They both learned their lesson and before going up again, they checked what other trails were opened.

On a way back, we stopped at Food Court in Merrimack, NH where double cheeseburger seemed to provide for Robert the perfect ending to the Thanksgiving weekend.