Short Confusion and Quick Recovery

February 26, 2015

This evening, when Robert was changing improper fractions into mixed fractions, he was suddenly startled by the fraction 49/9.  So instead of dividing in his head, he rewrote the problem in a long division format. He still didn’t come with the answer. He hesitated and then he wrote on the side of the paper: “9, 18, 27, 36, 45”  when he got to 45, he already knew the answer: 5 and 4/9

I don’t know why Robert was confused by this particular problem. He was changing many other improper fractions.  Many operations he performed in his head (  23/7, 5/4) and many he completed with the help of  long divisions (82/3, 47/2).  I don’t know either why he forgot how much 49 divided by 9 was. It just happened and there is no point in delving on the causes of his confusion.

The important thing is that Robert used an appropriate tool to help himself recover from a short confusion. He did that without any prompting coming from me.  Writing multiples of a divisor was a tool I introduced to Robert years ago when I was teaching him to divide with reminder. Over the years, I had an opportunity to suggest to Robert to do just that whenever he had difficulties with division.  Today, however, Robert used this tool of the mind (To use Vygotsky’s very appropriate terminology) all by himself.

He clearly appropriated this tool.


Teaching While Sick

February 25, 2015

When Robert is not feeling good, I usually change the format of our sessions to just doing simple puzzles,  arithmetic operations, map reading as planned by Daily Geography, and a few easy speech exercises.  (For instance,  asking questions based on pictures from No Glamour Asking wh Questions). It is not the time to work on reading comprehension or learning new science concepts. The work is mostly mechanical, easy to complete and doesn’t take much time. Of course, when Robert is very sick, I just let him sleep or watch his IPAD.

When I am sick, it is almost the same.  I prepare worksheets that Robert can complete with minimal help or with no help at all.  It is mostly because when I am sick, it is much harder for me to find a way to present something new, understand nature of Robert’s possible errors, and find a way to address them. We don’t do any language related exercises as I don’t want to breathe my germs on Robert.

I have been sick with cold or flu or whatever else that might be since Saturday.

On Saturday, I found myself completely unable to teach Robert anything.  When I got up of bed to make myself ginger tea and get an aspirin, I found the kitchen floor covered with breadcrumbs. It has been our custom to sweep the floor together.  I used the broom and Robert followed with dustpan and dust brush. Coordinating legs and arms movements necessary to do sweeping was  difficult for him. At least I have always thought so. But this Saturday, I was desperate so I asked Robert to sweep the kitchen floor. At first, he was slightly surprised, but then he took a broom with one hand and began sweeping. “Use both hands”, I said as I sat down to drink my tea. Robert did. When he kept the broom in two hands he was also better adjusting his whole body. It seemed that the problems with gross motor coordination almost disappeared.  Yes, Robert was not a very good sweeper. He missed a few places.  However, the coordination was not the culprit.  Lack of practice was.  When Robert took out dustpan to finish his cleaning, I returned to my bed asking myself why in the last ten or so years I had been convinced that Robert was incapable of sweeping.  Why did I assume that the fact that Robert was not able to do something 10 years ago meant that he was incapable of ever learning how to do it.

All my experiences with teaching Robert kept proving that Robert can learn if he is taught properly. So why did I give up on teaching sweeping?

Why did I have to be sick  and  break our teaching routines to gain a better insight into Robert’s abilities and into mine blind spots.


Going to the Dentist

February 12, 2015

Robert went to the dentist this morning. The visit was long overdue as the last one happened more than 3 years ago. As he turned 19, he seemed to outgrew pediatric dentistry practice.  Except that I wasn’t ready for the move.  I was afraid that the adult doctor might not have much experience with special needs population.  After all, so many of my friends’ children kept having all dental services under full anesthesia. I though that Robert’s dentists and we, the parents, worked very hard to make sure Robert tolerates all dental procedures including extraction (of baby teeth) and fillings.

The first visits went with just little bumps.  Robert tolerated cleaning rather well.  But then came extractions. Since there was an infection around the tooth (based on a bump on the gum), the shot with anesthetic didn’t do its job. Robert had to be in a lot of pain.  So, when the need for another extraction came about, Robert protested vehemently and was very successful in hiding under his dad’s jacket and/or wiggling out of anybody’s hold. That was when the dentist suggested full anesthesia.  I thought, we should try again.  We found another dentist, almost 30 miles farther away but with a lot of experience with special needs population. He noticed the bump and proscribed antibiotic before scheduling extraction. My husband and I came with Robert.  Robert was anxious and tried to wiggle out of the dental chair. When, however, the shot came he kept still, instinctively knowing not to make anything worse. The extraction wasn’t short, as the tooth squeezed between two growing new ones broke. So it took a little longer for the dentist to get everything out. Not much longer, but still more than just pulling the tooth out. Robert was patient.  Sometimes, he raised his head more to check what was going on then to escape. But then Jan and I were on both sides of Robert holding his arms so there was no point of attempting to wiggle out of the situation. After that visit, others went much easier. The matter of fact, each visit was easier. I could go to the dentist without Jan.  I held Robert’s hands more for emotional support than as a way of restraining him.

Maybe it helped that with the dentist’s approval we could take pictures of the tools and the whole procedures.  The pictures, when I look at them now, seem rather gross, but they provided a lot of needed information for Robert.

We liked this dentist a lot.  Still, when I noticed that Robert tolerates all the procedures pretty well, I decided to return to the old practice.  It was not just because of the distance, I wanted Robert to get used to different dentists and different dentists get used to Robert.

When Robert was 13 years old, the X-ray showed that one of the tooth is growing sideways, pushing on the root of another tooth. There were two options – to take out the tooth or to put braces on the upper teeth.  We chose braces.  Surprisingly, Robert tolerated the terrible molding substance in his mouth beautifully.  That shouldn’t be a surprise. The years of pica, putting inedible objects in his mouth, brought unexpected benefits. Robert didn’t mind this molding substance in his mouth.  After all, it felt like silly putty or play dough – two things his mouth was well acquainted with. it took many visits, but the tooth came out as straight as it should.

As the time pass, the dental hygienists became more and more used to Robert.  As they did with typical children, they called Robert and asked me to stay in the waiting room.  I was called only later to talk to the dentist following the exam.

Yes, today, I stayed with Robert while he had his teeth cleaned and X-rays taken. But it was a completely new place with a new hygienist and a new dentist.  My presence was as much for their benefit as for Robert’s.

Before the appointment, I stated that Robert tends to close all opened drawers and cabinets even if that means getting out of the dental chair in the middle of any procedure. well, he didn’t get out of the chair, but pointed to the not completely  (quarter of inch was left of perfect alignment) closed drawer and kept repeating, “Close, close.”  When I closed the drawer, satisfied Robert put his head on a chair and let the hygienist finish her work.

By the way, no need for any tooth repairs. Next visit in six month.

I do think that the need for a lot of dental work to be done when Robert was younger might be a result of using too much sweets as reinforcers during ABA therapy. Later chips were introduced, but that led to stomach problems.


Not so Lazy (After All) Week at Home

February 4-5, 2015

It is harder and harder for me to continue with this blog. It might be that since Robert goes to his Day Program every day and is 8 hours out of the house, I do have less opportunity to observe him and teach him.  It might be that the fact that he comes home happy every day, makes me feel less needed and thus less invested in teaching him and explaining his ways of perceiving the world. It might be that the recent times have been relatively hectic and thus I had less time to record our learning/teaching time together. It might be that I have forgotten the reasons I started this blog and became disconnected. Not exactly that.  Recently, our hours of studying together became haphazard.  It is not much continuity there.  But then, Robert’s learning was never a simple process of accumulating knowledge and skills. Mostly because, I didn’t know how to teach him. There were times when good advice from teachers and therapists could put me on track for period of time. Sadly, never for long. There were great curricula, that engaged both of us for a period of time, showing directions and offering some tools. But they were more like short segments or vectors than  a never ending geometric ray.  As soon as we hit a bump, we jumped from one approach to another.  Then, we tried again a year or two later.  So lately, we have not done anything radically different from what we had done before.

Robert stayed the whole week at home. There were snow days and sick days and again snow days.    Robert mostly slept and watched movies on his IPAD.  When he felt a little better he kept learning with me.  Surprisingly, he didn’t seem to mind one little bit.  Maybe because he considered his tasks to be easy and more reason to glow with pride than to struggle with understanding.

1. We returned to the old curricula: No Glamour Sentence Structure NO Glamour Question Structure. We completed them 4-5 years ago.  But this time it went much more smoothly. For each section Robert grasped a pattern of words from just one example and easily generated proper sentences.

2. We returned to Daily Geography Grade 4. Only a few stumbles there and they all were related to the sections I had omitted during the first approach.

3. We worked on reviewing operations on whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. I didn’t use the old Momentum Math program but instead I presented to Robert loose pages from the old edition of 6th grade Everyday Mathematics and a few other workbooks. Since Robert could very well subtract a mixed number from the whole number I went one step farther. I asked Robert to do all the operation in his mind without writing them on paper.  For instance: 6- 3 1/4= 5 4/4-3 1/4=2 3/4 (The numbers in bold are the whole numbers, the rest are fractions). I asked Robert not to write the middle part but keep it in his head or/and say it aloud. That went pretty well.

4.We went back to copying the same drawings, we did a couple of years ago.  Robert still struggled with oval shapes (too flat or too round) especially when the arches ended with a sharp corner. This time however, Robert after making two or three copies tried to draw the object from his memory.  He remembered most of the parts but those ovals didn’t come well.

5. We jumped to a higher level science workbooks and textbooks.  We both stumbled there.  I didn’t know how to introduce the concepts so we both struggled.  In the end, I just concentrate on the meaning of new words and not on the whole processes.

6. Cursive writing with an emphasis on a capital letters we neglected years ago.  I am still baffled by the fact, that Robert can copy even such letters like capital G but cannot copy a simple contour of a body of a fish (without fins or a tail).

7. We did a few History Pockets in the past. The last one, Ancient Civilizations,  Robert completed just before he joined his Day Program.  Since at that time, Robert was still at home, we had lots of time and could finish each of the six packet in one day. This week,  I hesitated with starting Colonial America.  It had difficult vocabulary and addressed events that Robert probably couldn’t grasp. So we worked slowly in three afternoons. Moreover, we didn’t follow instruction exactly and instead of a pocket we made a folder. I was very surprised when Robert decided to take the completed folder to his Day Program.  I was surprised because in the past, Robert has never wanted to take History Pockets to school.  I soon learned that it was his Case Manager/Instructor in the Day Program who read Robert’s note in which he mentioned that he was learning about 13 Colonies and who asked him about that. Robert, who hardly can explain anything with his own words felt obliged to bring the whole folder and show it to the Instructor. Moreover, not a week later, Robert rushed with next pocket about first settlements completing it in two days and again taking it again to his Day Program. He wanted to show off.

Showing Off!  Robert!!

It has never happened before.


For the first time in his life, Robert was not only proud of his work but also  wanted to share his accomplishment with those who appreciated it.



Doctor to the Rescue

February 3, 2015

Last week, Robert was sick and said so. This is a huge, HUGE progress.

In the past, I had to deduce from Robert’s behavior if he was sick and what  could be hurting him. That was not easy, as Robert couldn’t locate the pain.  When I asked, “Does your stomach hurts.” He would say, “Yes”.  However, when I continued asking about lungs, throat, or head, Robert would have confirmed that each of these body parts was hurting as well.  I knew that he had to be sick when he lost appetite or when he didn’t want to go for a walk. ( He always wants to go for walks.) I knew that when he screamed it was because he was in a terrible pain.  The reason I knew that the pain had to be terrible was that Robert’s never complained when he scraped his knee or bumped into something.  I knew the pain was very bad, but I didn’t know what was hurting.  Robert couldn’t really help with the diagnosis. I assumed that for him the pain was like something attacking him from within his body and that drove him mad.  I still remember him jumping out of the bed in the middle of the night, screaming, and hitting his own head with the full force of both hands.  I tried to hug him in a way that would prevent him striking his head, he pushed me away.  No, he didn’t strike me, he wanted to hit HIS head not mine.

I still didn’t know what was hurting, but I know that it was NOT AUTISM that caused this behavior.  It was the pain and the lack of ability to communicate his pain to others. I usually assumed that it was either gases in his stomach, asthma, or headache and I gave Robert Metamucil crackers with water, Advil or Motrin, and Albuterol inhaler to address all three possibilities.

(Of course, there were times when Robert’s pain was caused by other things and it took a long time to find out what it exactly was.)

The fact that last week, Robert kept saying, “Doctor, doctor”, was of huge importance.  It was the first time, Robert not only let us know that he was sick, but wanted us to do something about it.

I suspect that locating the pain was still difficult to Robert, as he was answering, “Tongue, tongue” when asked what hurt.  His tongue seemed fine. But it was something in his mouth.  Anyway, we went to see a doctor.  Robert got an antibiotic and slept for a few hours. After he woke up, he asked for a doctor two more times, but without the tone of urgency so characteristic to the previous day. After good night sleep, although still relatively weak, Robert had to feel better judging by the fact that he interspersed sleeping with some eating.