Different Kind of Change

June 16, 2015

Over the  last five or more years, Robert had many opportunities  to count the amount of change received after purchasing something. Unfortunately, all those opportunities were reduced to math workbooks – mainly Saxon Math Grade 4. Robert practiced with pencil and paper how much he should pay and how much change he should get back. The only school program  that addressed buying in practice was The Collaborative that  Robert attended when he was 13 and 14 years old.  Every week he went with is classmates on a trip to a store.  With money and short shopping list provided by parents, Robert,under the supervision of his teachers, purchased the items , paid for them, and got the change. None of his other programs followed this approach. Sadly, I wasn’t either.

Despite easily solving math problems that required Robert to count first the total amount paid for two or three items and then the change from $10 dollars, Robert didn’t quite understand the idea of paying with money and getting change back.  How could he if he could so  conveniently paid for everything with his debit card.?  Our trips to grocery stores usually ended with Robert pulling his plastic and paying with it.

I realized that there was a problem, almost a year ago,  when Robert wanted to pay with$1 bill for his lunch which cost $10.  He had $10 dollars in his wallet but in one dollars and five dollar bills. He didn’t have any idea that he should count dollars up to 10.  For him all the bills meant the same thing in practice. He gave one bill strongly believing that it should suffice.


This Friday, another issue came to light.  Robert went to a bowling alley with Pam, his skill instructor. He wanted to play, but he didn’t want to give his only ten-dollar bill to pay for shoes and games.  Finally, he was persuaded to do so.  However, he didn’t want to accept $6 in change.  He tried to give it back over and over. It took Pam some convincing before Robert accepted the change and began bowling.  But he didn’t forget those six dollars.  When he finished playing he wanted to give them back to the attendant.

I am not entirely sure what Robert was thinking.  Did he try to give back  $6 believing that he would get his $10 back?  Or did he thought that $10 dollars was the amount he should pay for the right to bowl and the $6 belonged to the attendant. It is clear, however that Robert didn’t understand the process of paying and receiving change.  That process interfered with Robert extremely strong conviction that the things should stay in the place they were in the beginning. Ten dollars in Robert’s wallet.  Six dollars in the attendant’s cash register.  His efforts to return the money (and maybe even get his money back) were a result of that belief. Robert’s insistence on returning the money was also a consequence of the lack of opportunity for Robert to practice in real life situations what he learned at the table.  For Robert solving money math problems is not the same thing as paying with money at the bowling alley. One might say, Robert didn’t generalize the skill to a different settings.  He didn’t because most of his teachers, and that include me, didn’t realize that as many people with autism, Robert needed to practice the same skill across different settings.

Sadly, I realized that , but didn’t do anything to help Robert connect his academic abilities with real life needs.


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