March 29, 2015

Every evening, Robert reminds me, “Notebook, notebook.”  He takes the notebook from the drawer and brings it to the dining room table. He looks at me expectantly, waiting for the first prompt. If the prompt doesn’t come, he begins on his own, “I went to”, he hesitates and then adds what is appropriate for the day, Mac Donald, swimming pool, grocery store, bowling alley, walk.  It is harder on those days when Robert just stayed home.  The phrase, “I went to” hangs in the air.  Robert looks at me for help.  “Cross it” ,I tell him and suggest the word “ate”.  Robert gets back on track. “I ate”, he writes, “chicken (or poblano, or potato and cheese) for dinner”. Then he adds, “I did laundry” ,”I watched Netflix”, “I read”, or “I studied with mother”.  If the worksheets are still on the table, I point to some of them to elicit more specific answer, “I learned about tornadoes” (or digestive system, or magnets…)

This evening, Robert wrote about his trip to Vermont.  He informed his job coaches at his day program, that he stayed in Hampton Inn, skied at Killington Mountain, ate at the lodge and at the UNO restaurant.  He was able to add important to him details – swimming in the hotel’s pool, going up the mountain not on a ski lift but in a gondola, and stopping at the rest stop on the way there. I still help him by asking him questions, giving him two choices, suggesting the useful word.

Writing in his Notebook seems very important for Robert.  It is Robert who reminds me about this obligation.  If he forgets to do so in the evening, then he tells me, “Notebook, notebook” early in the morning before he even dresses up.

I believe that writing in the Notebook helps Robert relive his experiences and learn to express them for his own benefit and the benefit of the reader.

I cannot overestimate the importance of his writing – from learning some of the useful (repetitive) phrases, to putting events in order, to learning to communicate with others, to being able to analyze his actions.

I cannot overestimate that importance.  At the same time, I am acutely aware that one of the reasons why Robert is so keen on writing in his Notebook, is because his job coaches/instructors at his work, are reading them.  Their readings make all the difference for Robert.  He feels that what he is not able to say, but what he can write, has some significance and meaning to others. And that makes all the difference.

Sadly, that was not his previous experience.

The Past: Spring 2005

Robert joined a new collaborative program.  Everyday, Robert carried to school packets of worksheets he had completed at home with me.  I asked him to do that hoping that bringing worksheets to school would: 1. Let the teacher be more aware of Robert’s skills and deficits. 2. Increase the importance of home studying in Robert’s mind.

Well, I thought so. But, one morning, after dropping Robert in the classroom a few minutes before the first bell, I realized that I forgot to tell something to the teacher, so I returned.  As I opened the door I saw Robert throwing all of his home worksheets into a recycling wastebasket. Knowing Robert, I was sure, that he did what he saw his teacher doing every day.  He just wanted to spare her trouble, so he threw the papers away himself.

I learned a bitter lesson about parent-teacher cooperation then. My need to share was considered presumptuous interference into this teacher’s field of expertise.

In the following years, sending to school Robert’s worksheets or journal entries didn’t seem as meaningful to Robert or his teachers, as I hoped for.  But Robert, at my insistence, continued to do so. While some teachers responded positively, some just ignored Robert’s work, but never disposed of his papers the same way the teacher in the collaborative program did.

I don’t regret that.  Robert formed a habit of writing and now he, with the help of his job coaches and instructors, benefits from it.


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