May 31, 2015

Robert still doesn’t have a friend. A person who would come to our house to hang out with him.  Or who would invite Robert to his/her house to do together the nicest thing possible …nothing.

It hurts.

It hurts me to see that and feel powerless.

It hurts him even more, as his loneliness is never named as such but instead it is felt with every cell of his body.


Making Connections with Analogies

May 29, 2015

Over the past six or seven years, Robert and I practiced analogies. At the beginning, my rationale for practicing simple analogies on the 1-3 grade level was not exactly benign. In case Robert was subjected to IQ test, I  wanted Robert not to do very bad. Well, Robert was subjected to such test in the process of qualifying for services from DDS and he did bad enough to be accepted without any doubts.

Even after the testing,  we kept returning to practicing analogies.  I found them in the series  Take It to Your Seat, in two  Steck-Vaughn Analogies  workbooks (for grades 2-3 and 4-5) and in Analogy Challenges by Mindware.

I work with Robert on analogies not to prepare Robert for SAT, which, by the way, got away with that part of the testing.  I do that because analogies offer great opportunity to work on connecting different aspects of concepts.  That might lead to a better understanding of links between words and between the items which the words represent. Of course, over the years the emphasis has changed to involve more talking on part of Robert.

Analogies offer an opportunity to practice language as not just communication device, but also as a tool for thinking and recreating the structure of the world surrounding Robert.

Today, as we practiced completing the sentences presented on pages 32 and 33 of Analogy Challenges, Robert was baffled by this one:

canoe is to paddle as sailboat is to ________________

He had to choose the answer out of four words: water, ropes, wind, oars. He immediately chose water as the thing that goes with the boats.  Except “water” didn’t complete this analogy.  So I presented the task in different way.  I wrote:

paddle moves the canoe, ______________moves the sailboat. This time, Robert chose wind.

Luckily, most of the analogies were much easier for Robert to decipher the kind of connection they presented. I asked Robert not to just complete the sentence and then read it aloud, but to also (wherever it was appropriate) to change the wording in such a way as to include the nature of relationship.

First Robert read,” sled is to ______________ as  ice skates are to ice.

Next he stated, “I use sled on the snow.  I use ice skates on the ice.

Understanding the nature of the analogy would allow Robert not to go for the first word associated in his mind with sled  (which might as well be winter) but to  look for the nature of the similarities instead.

It is not so simple for Robert to find how the concepts are connected in one pair of the words and apply that connection to next pair. Finding the correct word describing the nature of relation and saying it aloud in a long sentence is still a challenge for Robert. And that is why we kept practicing.


Surviving Blackout

May 28, 2015

Robert and I study almost every day although not as much as we used to. Moreover, we do tasks that I believe to be easy for Robert. Although this belief is not always confirmed by the reality, still it is mostly correct. Today, for instance, Robert with a few prompts talked about next “Situation” presented as a picture in “Meer Pictures for Problem Solving”. The drawing presented a family in the dark living room during blackout. TV doesn’t work, the book cannot be read, the father carries a candle, and almost every person in the picture seems to be concerned one way or another.

Robert has always hated when electricity went off. When that happened in the past when the whole family was home, it wasn’t so bad. We all gathered in one room drinking hot cocoa and talking.  Well, Robert mostly listened. Being close to each other was a way to make up for lack of TV or light. It was much more difficult  when  Amanda was in Oregon and dad was in California.  I wasn’t able to provide appropriate level of comfort for Robert just with a few candles and a flashlight. Robert was very upset and demanded that I restore electricity immediately. He kept pulling and pushing me toward fuse box in the garage.  Unfortunately, the problem was not there.  The half of the town was dark and the prognosis was for a few hours without light.  During the first part of those “few” hours Robert asked thousand times, “Light, light, light” He asked calmly and he asked angrily.  He used dramatic high pitch.  He screamed, “Light, light, light!!!!!”. He begged, “Light, light, light?” he wanted light, and he blamed me for not providing light for him.

I decided to take him to McDonald in the other part of town.  Robert couldn’t refuse a chance to eat fries and chicken nuggets, but he was not giving up on light. Between each two fries or two sips of coke, Robert voiced his demand loud and clear, “Light, light, light”, over and over, and over.

To calm him down and to keep him quiet I promised Robert that the light would be back when we get home.  The effect of that (white?) lie was such that Robert gobbled all his fries as quickly as possible placing three or four of them in his mouth and gulped all the soda in a second.  He was ready to go home and make sure the light was where it was supposed  to be.

But of course, it wasn’t.

“Light, light, light”, Robert asked, and screamed, and begged.  I promised that the light would come back after his bath.  So, Robert rushed to the bathroom. After a short bath in lukewarm water in the bathroom lighten by one candle held by me, just as Robert was putting on his pajama, the light returned. All the lamps were on. Robert turned them all off and went to sleep.

I am not sure what memory Robert had of any of the previous blackouts, but he was  looking at the  family in the picture with clear empathy. He clearly knew what they were going through. 

Learning to Separate 2

May 26, 2015

I packed all our clothes in one duffel bag while Robert was still sleeping. Since we were going only for a two-day long trip to New York City, one bag for the three of us was sufficient.  I thought that by doing all the preparation for hastily arranged jaunt I would avoid Robert’s interference with packing.

I was wrong. As soon as Robert’s eyes caught a glimpse of a duffel bag, his hands did quick unpacking, removing some items of garment and bringing others not always appropriate for the occasion or for the weather.  He packed everything by making one big ball of all the clothes in the bag. Since I was already tired, I got pretty upset and not in the mood to stand my ground.  Somehow, witnessing Robert’s rearrangements of the bag for the twenty-first time didn’t make me more prepared or tolerant, but to the contrary exhausted and helpless. So I withdrew to my bedroom to unwind and rethink what to do.  I was upset and I considered not going on the trip at all.  After a few minutes, however, the most obvious idea entered my mind, “Robert should pack his own clothes in his own backpack.”

Of course, Robert still protested.  He wanted the things the same way, they had been for the last couple of years. He protested, but I insisted. Knowing that I was teaching Robert another important skill brought back energy, I didn’t have before. Confronted with my regained strength, Robert gave up and  brought his backpack. He carefully separated his clothes from ours and placed them in his backpack. He was in charge of his clothes during the length of the trip, unpacking and repacking the backpack as he pleased. I didn’t mind.  I didn’t mind at all.

1. Why it took me so long to understand that Robert could and should pack his own clothes? Typical children assert their independence early on choosing the clothes they buy, wear, and pack for the all kinds of outings. Robert has been doing that for at least a year, except I didn’t notice. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that.  I liked this”, he was switching the clothes in silence. Yet, if  I didn’t “hear” the message it was not because Robert didn’t use words.  I didn’t hear, because I didn’t “listen”.  I didn’t listen, because, I didn’t expect Robert to be able to make his own choices despite the fact that he kept making them for at least a year.  Sadly, Robert’s diagnosis was a reason for my refusal to see that Robert’s need for some independence. 

2. It is much harder for me to “argue” with Robert now.  It is not because of his size. I am not afraid of him.  He is not aggressive although sometimes he demonstrates his anger by making faces and strange noises. It is harder now, because of the exhaustion I feel when I am confronting the same behaviors/issues over and over again.  It is the repetition that drains me.  Because I feel drained I don’t have the strength to analyze the possible solutions and I repeat the same approach over and over again.  Just like with the duffel bag. I packed it. Robert repacked it.  I packed everything again not without Robert’s protests.  I felt to overwhelmed to think so we continue to pack and unpack.  Last Thursday, I felt so stressed that I had to retreat to my bedroom and calm down.  removing myself from the commotion and a few minutes of peace opened my mind to the obvious solution, “Let Robert pack his own clothes in his own backpack.”




Learning to Separate 1

May 26, 2015

Every week during the last few years either my husband or I drove Robert to the pool for his swimming lesson. When Robert came with me, he usually went to the family locker to shower and change clothes.  When Jan brought Robert to the pool, they used men’s locker room.  Over the time, I tried to stay outside while Robert was changing clothes and only peaked if it took him too long to get ready for swimming or for a trip back home.

When Jan was taking Robert to the men’s changing room, he worked on similar skills and more. He wanted Robert to do everything independently beginning from entering the room to entering the pool’s deck and waiting for his lesson.  Under Jan’s directions Robert could not only to do that but also upon finishing lesson he was able to go back to the locker, take a shower, get dresses, and go upstairs to the parents’ waiting area to meet Jan.

Just last Thursday, instead of using the family changing room, I directed Robert toward men’s locker.  I told him to meet me on the other side in the swimming pool.  Robert hesitated but went inside.  I rushed to the pool and waited there. But after a few minutes I decided to wait by the door I left Robert.  I went there and minute later, Robert already in his swimming pants came out.

I think he tried to reconcile two different experiences – going to the pool with me and using different entrance and going to the pool with dad and using men’s locker.  He was not really sure what that change of rules meant for him.  I asked him to go back to the pool by passing again through the men’s changing area. He hesitated, but went there.  I rushed through other door to the pool.  Soon Robert appeared.

It was less confusing for Robert to change after the lesson.  His teacher, Lucinda, pointed to the glass above the pool to show Robert that I was waiting in the same place where dad waited for him last time. Robert accepted that change without any hesitation. He entered the men’s locker and 10 minutes later he met me waiting by the other door. No, I didn’t wait upstairs.  I was too anxious. I went down and waited by the door.  I am not sure how uneasy is separation for Robert.  I know it is still hard for me.


Learning More, Understanding Less

May 19, 2015

I am for teaching Robert as many subjects and topics as I am capable to teach.  At the same time, not once, instead of teaching I  confused Robert with too many words when I attempted to explain the subject completely. It might be because Robert processes words in a way that I don’t fully understand. It is not that he grasps the meaning of my directions/explanations slowly. I suspect that he grasps the meaning of just a few last words (or a few first words.  I am not sure even of that.) and then he replaces words he didn’t catch with other ones. I don’t know where those “other” words, unspoken by me, come from.  The less words I use to explain something, the more effects they have.  Adding words, that might show another side of the subject calls for extra caution as they instead might cloud the image already formed in Robert’s mind.

I don’t think this problem is typical of only children with special needs.  Imagine asking for directions and having someone giving you all the information about the way you should take – directions that would consist not only of names of the streets, but  also  descriptions of the all  buildings or  trees.

As I noticed before, Robert  had a strong tendency to compartmentalize his life and refused to accept that some elements moved  from one part of his life to another.  He pushed me out of his classroom when he was five, and he kept pushing his teachers when they arrived for home visits. Only respite worker could take him to McDonald but not his parents. Each of us belonged to specific places, and we shouldn’t encroach on other people terrains.   I do believe that it might be that similar separate structures exist in Robert’s mind that don’t allow him to see the same subject in a different light.

When I was teaching Robert algorithm for multiplying large numbers I was smart enough to ignore the method of partial products.  It is a great method which really demonstrate clearly to the student what is the basis for the multiplication algorithm. But for Robert it was important to associate only one method with one task.  Only when Robert became very good at multiplying large number I dared to present Robert with method of partial products.  We even completed a few examples.  At that point, Robert’s skill was strong enough to withstand the attack of the new method.  To the contrary, he seemed pleased almost as if he understood the idea behind the multiplication algorithm a little better.

Not so much luck with subtracting those fractions that needed regrouping. I made a mistake of switching between the two methods – changing mixed fractions into improper fractions or regrouping by changing just  1 into a fraction of the proper denominator.  I tried to follow Momentum Math  to the fault.

Of course, I did that because I believed that Robert knew already one of the methods and had the prerequisite skills for the second method.  But I also knew that Robert didn’t master any of the methods yet.  He  was still prone to making errors as he had tendency to lose track of what he was doing specially when subtraction demanded not only regrouping but also finding common denominator.

As I said, I followed Momentum Math curriculum without really taking into account Robert’s level of understanding of all steps needed for subtraction. As we read the problems, Robert attempted to solve the problem using the required method.  This way, problem after problem,  he grew more and more bewildered until he didn’t know any more what to do.

So we will go to the beginning following all the steps he had already mastered in the past and those that are still puzzling.

I don’t give up, however, on teaching another algorithm at some point.  If not for the sake of improving Robert’s arithmetical abilities than to give him much more important lesson:  different methods can help to achieve the same goals just like different people can bring you to the same places.

And although Robert learns best with as succinct instruction as possible, adding non important words, phrases, or sentences could better prepare Robert for flexibly adjusting to our noisy, imperfect  world.

Loosing Momentum and Catching It

May 13, 2015

For the last two weeks, Robert and I were working with Momentum Math 6th Grade. It was the third time we used this curriculum.  Since the last time, Robert had many opportunities to practice similar skills with the help of different programs and with the added support of a few worksheets I designed for him to address areas of weaknesses.  Moreover, the first 10+ units didn’t seem to present any new challenges for Robert but to the contrary allowed him to have a better grasp on general ideas and their connections. So, I expected smooth sailing through the chapter addressing placing fractions on number lines.  Many times Robert placed fractions on the number lines while working with Saxon Math grade 4th.

He knew…. Well, he was supposed to know that the  algorithm to complete such tasks began with counting into how many parts one unit (for instance between 0 and 1 ) was divided. He was supposed to know that, at least I thought so. But he didn’t know.  He was frustrated and I was frustrated as well. I had a feeling of being a failure as a teacher not because I didn’t teach Robert, but because I didn’t know why Robert didn’t know what I assumed he should have known.

Although frustration is not a good addition to the lesson, nonetheless it does happen.  The worst thing teacher can do in such situation is to continue subject pupil to similar exercises over and over without taking time to understand the roots of the problem.

That is what I did.  We finished the whole section, which meant that  Robert wrote all the right answers but he didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t learn anything.  How is that possible?  Yes, it is possible. The student follows the teacher and is able to write the correct answers, but doesn’t  have a slightest idea of what he or she did and why.  It is much more common that any educator would like to admit.  Of course, I felt like a failure. And that is not a feeling that supports learning.

What should I have done instead?  Take a break and give Robert a break. During the break,  analyze what had happened, and understand the nature of Robert’s confusion.  I could quickly made a few easy pages requiring Robert to place only halves, thirds,  and fourths  on the number lines.

I should make the task  clearer, almost self explanatory  with small denominators. I should.  I haven’t done that yet. Instead, in the following days,  I asked Robert to work with me on problems in the following three chapters- adding and subtracting fractions. I knew that he could solve many tasks independently and a few with my minimal support. I just wanted him to regain momentum.  And he did.

What Counts the Most?

May 12, 2015

Robert had a busy Saturday.  He studied in the morning: fractions, identifying problems, natural resources (What the earth give us?) Later, we all went for a walk to Castle Island in Boston.  We all walked around Pleasure Bay.  As the path led between the bay and the ocean, we all could feel strong,  freezing wind overmatching our spring jackets. There was no time to stop, look, and talk.  We just hurried to escape the cold we subjected ourselves to as we were  fooled by bright sun and a very few clouds we saw at the parking lot.   So there was no explicit teaching there.

In the evening dad took Robert to see the movie Avengers. That was another attempt to have Robert watch more age appropriate features.  Well, Robert was a little scared and in the most scary moment requested to go to the bathroom more for a short break from the tension than for any other reason.  Nonetheless, he overcame his fears, and seemed interested in the action.  At least as interested as his dad was.

On the way home, they stopped at the grocery store to buy a few items.

The most important development of the day (a week, a month, a year) happened between the trip to the Castle Island and the drive to the movie and it had everything to do with an eggplant.

No, on Saturday, Robert didn’t participate with preparing his meal.  He was too tired for that. I made breaded slices of eggplant with mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and many herbs.  Robert began to eat.  I rushed with a napkin, not really believing that it would prevent Robert’s shirt and jeans from being covered with tomato sauce.  Based on past experiences, I knew that it was a lost battle.  Yes, Robert would use the napkin.  But he would use his pants and shirts also.

And that was a problem because Robert hated to change his clothes in the middle of the day.  He had done it in the past when being told, “If you don’t put clean shirt and pants on, you cannot go with us.” That meant no walk in the park, no bike, no restaurant, and no movie.  So Robert would change,but he didn’t like it and demonstrated his displeasure with loud vocalizations, dramatic gestures, and moving back and forth between the drawer with clean clothes and me hoping that I would give up. I never did, but I didn’t like that either.

So this time, as I was handing Robert a napkin I wanted to prepare him for the need to change his clothes after eating.

Giving Robert  ahead warning could later lessen his resistance to change.

“Remember that you need to change your clothes if they get dirty”, I said this as a reminder and left Robert with his eggplant.  Well, 20 minutes later, the eggplant and the sauce were gone, all the dishes were already rinsed in the sink, and Robert’s shirt and pants didn’t have one tomato stain.  Nothing.


Dealing with Problems

May 3, 2015

No, not those kinds of problems.  It is not about  tantrums and not about OCD related problems. It is not about problems with, so-called, behaviors.

It is about dealing with PROBLEMS related to understanding concepts – including the concept of …PROBLEM.

In a school year 2005/2006, when my son was in a Collaborative Program, he often brought home worksheets he completed while having a group speech therapy. Those pages addressed in a very simple ways the deficits in Robert’s pragmatic language. A few of the most suitable pages came from MEER Pictures for Problem Solving by Maureen M. O’Connor and Pamela Patrick Vorce.  I believe that I ordered one of the last copies of the book from Linguisystems. It is currently out of print and my efforts to find if it is still available somewhere proved to be futile.

At that time, I was mostly concerned with teaching academics and although I recognized the value of using MEER curriculum, I stopped after a few units called by the authors more appropriately: “situations” .

I taught what was easiest for me to teach – math and science.  Later I added reading and working on language to fill the void left by the school.  Only occasionally I went back to dealing with understanding problems and problem solving. Sadly, I didn’t use MEER curriculum.

Instead, Robert and I discussed (with a few independently retrieved words and many verbal prompts.) problems and their possible outcomes as they were presented in Jean Gilliam Gaetano Problem Solving Activities. It is rather easy book although sometimes Robert or I became a little confused with the logic of the outcomes.

Still, I felt that something was missing from our conversations. Only lately, I realized that it was possible that Robert didn’t understand the word “problem”. That was a problem in itself and it was made worse by the fact, that I didn’t know how to make Robert appropriate the meaning of this word.

Sadly, I don’t have many ideas of my own in those fields of teaching where I lack expertise.  Language is one of them. I need examples.  I need curricula, I need advise.  So I looked for support and I found it in No Glamour Problem Solving by Linguisystems.  Unlike two previously mentioned workbooks, this one steps up its exercise from easy to difficult rather quickly.  Unlike the previous two books, this one requires student not only to look at the pictures but also to read a short story or listen to the story read by someone else.  That makes everything more complicated for Robert.

At the same time, the first set of exercises required Robert to  identify problems. He had to state, “This is a problem” when the picture presented a crying boy or a broken window.  He had to state “This is not a problem” when a girl was reading a book or a boy wearing a helmet was riding a bike in the park. I didn’t ask why something was a problem as that supposedly harder part was easier for Robert than just pointing to the picture where the problem exists.

After working with No Glamour Problem Solving for a few days, I decided to support our sessions with return to MEER Pictures for Problem Solving precisely because there is no reading or listening to story required.  The story is in the picture  and can be retold by Robert with more or less support from me. It is also possible that the reason I feel more comfortable using MEER is that the pictures allow me to see what Robert sees. I think we are sharing the same visual images. This might not be true when we read the text or listen to each other reading. The mental images we create might be quite different.

Each unit in Meer curriculum consists of one large picture presenting the “situation” or problem and four smaller ones that might or might not relate to it. This format offers opportunity to talk about problems, possible consequences, probable solutions and more.

For Robert who tends to see the life’s event as a linear sequence, in which every event has just one result, being exposed to a few possible outcomes of one situation helps to perceive events as less organized or even messy, but also offering variety of solutions.



Four Poblano for Robert, One for Dad and That Is That

Almost a year ago I wrote about Robert’s rules regarding poblanos. I made five.  Robert eats four and dad, if he is at home, eats one. When dad is still at work, Robert places one poblano in the refrigerator with the intention of leaving it for dad. However, the intentions are tricky things, they get weaker with the passing minutes.  So by the time Robert’s dad gets home, poblano is already eaten. Even  the container it was placed in is already rinsed and placed inconspicuously  in the dishwasher. https://krymarh.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/four-poblanos-for-robert-one-for-dad-or-not/

Having that knowledge in mind, I made five poblano on Friday evening. I was sure, Robert would eat four of them, place one in the refrigerator and eat it in the next hour or half of an hour.

The poblano were ready around 6:30.  Robert ate four of them and placed the fifth on a separate plate.  A few minutes later, it still remained there.

Knowing that it might be difficult for Robert to tolerate uneaten poblano, I gave up and suggested that the consume it.

“No, no, no, no”, he responded adding, “Dad, dad, dad.”

Well, that would be a very nice thing indeed, if there were no strings attached.

Robert left the poblano on the plate with the expectation that his dad too, would be so drawn to the dish, and thus  he would appear soon in the kitchen. Robert knew that his dad was in New York. Nonetheless, the power of poblano would easily overcome such a distance.

Except it didn’t. For the whole four hours it didn’t. With every minute Robert became more distressed and upset. He called. “Dad, dad, dad.” almost all the time. Even when he studied with me, from time to time he produced loud high pitch scream that pierced my ears, and shook my whole body. He led me to the poblano and pointing to it with his hand, he demanded that I rectify this unbearable situation. There is poblano for dad, but dad is not there to eat it and Robert does his best to resist, but not without terrible suffering.

Twice, Robert handed me the phone, “Dad, dad, dad”. I called Jan.  He was already in Rhode Island just one hour from home. Robert took the phone from me, “Come home,” he said without prompting and gave me the phone back.

The following hour was as torturous for Robert as it was for me. Maybe, Robert got more hungry, maybe he got more worried about dad, but his high pitch sudden screaming, which he executed every minute or two,  was tearing the air and making me jump.  I just couldn’t get used to it, or prepare myself for it.

Dad got home around 11 PM. Robert noticed the car lights in the driveway, ran to the door and then he came back. He ran downstairs again to unpack dad’s duffel bag and start the laundry.  When he came back upstairs, he glanced nonchalantly at his dad.  Dad was eating poblano. Robert didn’t wait until the poblano was gone, but turned back and went to bed.