Finding Directions

May 26, 2016

I had the idea of working simultaneously on Daily Geography Level 3 and Daily Geography Level 6.  I imagined that the  level 6  would widen Robert’s horizons while Level 3 would increase his independence and consequently his self-confidence.  So, for the last couple weeks, we studied using both curricula.  Sometimes one or two units from level 3.  Sometimes one unit from each level.  Sometimes just one unit from level 6.

In the past, Robert completed with me all 5 levels of Daily Geography. I used them as the easiest approach to reading comprehension. Except I didn’t have the clear idea of what exactly I was doing and what exactly  Robert was learning.  Well, Robert did learn elements of Geography: directions,  parts of the map, US states, using legend.  But  reading comprehension  is another story.

One of the surprising findings while working with both levels was the realization that for Robert neither level was more difficult than the other one.

I also discovered that Robert had difficulties with processing questions he was reading.  I didn’t realize that before because… I always helped Robert by repeating the question he read.  So he must have attended to my words and not to words he had just read.

He read questions without recognizing the informative value of some of the words as those directing him toward the answer which, I was sure,  ( still am) he knew.  The simplest example would be this question, “How many states are in Southwest Region?”  Robert directed his attention toward words “southwest region” and completely ignored phrase “How many”. Consequently, he didn’t know what he was supposed to do.  To help him, I covered the part of the sentence in such a way that only words “How many” were visible.  Robert read them again and waited just a few second until I uncovered the rest of the question. Then still a little hesitant, he counted all four states.  With some of the following questions I asked Robert to find the important words that would tell him what to do.  That seemed to helped Robert.  Twenty minutes later, we returned to almost the same types of questions but in connection with Northeast region.  Robert was more independent  despite the fact that this time he had to deal with  not four but nine states.

It is possible that by performing second activity  not long after the first one, Robert  relied on memorized connections between specific words and tasks they called for.  But it is also possible that Robert understood that specific words can give him directions straight forward to a correct answer.

Surviving the Jungle Out There

May 18, 2016

Last Monday evening, Robert and I went to see the new Jungle Book movie.  Pam, who usually comes on Mondays, was sick so I tried to replace her and provide some excitement  That is why we went to movies. It was a Disney movie.  The movie  retold the same story that old Disney cartoon Jungle Book had told before. It should be a children movie.  But it wasn’t.  At least not for Robert.  For Robert it was a jungle and he was being immersed in it by his mother.

Moreover, I thought that the  3D version of the movie would be  more entertaining than the regular one.  For better effects I chose seats very close to the screen.  Everything was fine at the beginning. Robert watched all the ads and all the previews.  He watched the beginning of the story and calmly consummated  his Swedish Fish candies.

Then, as soon as the candies were gone, Robert said, “Home, home.”  I didn’t expect that. I didn’t make a connection between the appearance of the Shere Khan and Robert’s  demand to leave the theater.  I didn’t make a connection between rather dark and gloomy setting of the movie and Robert’s raising anxiety.  Because, sadly, his anxiety kept raising as did the volume of his demands to go home.  With the appearance of the herd of elephants and then the gigantic serpent Kaa, Robert was getting more and more upset.  So, I decided to leave the theater.  Except Robert didn’t want to.  He protested even louder when I took off the 3D glasses and got up.

I didn’t know what to do.  Luckily, there were very few people watching the movie and they were seated at the very end of the auditorium.  Still, Robert was disruptive and I didn’t know how to remedy that. .   There were hardly lighter moments in this version of the story.  The screen reminded mostly dark and gloomy.  Yes, it was a jungle there.  Even Baloo, when he first showed up, seemed slightly threatening.  And then there was immense King Louie, the jungle fire, and helpful but still threatening elephants. Robert was petrified.  The characters were so real and so close. Every few minutes, I tried to entice Robert to leave.  But although he had difficulties being immersed in the jungle,  he didn’t want to leave without final resolution. He had to stay. At some point Robert began to move my arm toward the screen.  It took me a while to understand that Robert wanted me to get into action and save Mowgli from Shere Khan or even better take him home.  Only then I realized how petrified Robert was and only then I started to reassure him by letting  him know that it was only a movie, a make-believe story, and that it would end well.  That helped a little.  Robert and I survived to the end, but as soon as the credits showed up on the screen with great relief we both left.

Keeping Records

May 7, 2016

For almost two years now, every evening, Robert has been approaching  me saying, “Notebook, notebook.”  I have followed him to the dining room table.  There, Robert takes his special pen and writes down what he ate, where he went, or what he did.  Some sentences come to him easily. Some sentences need my prompting – sometimes one word, often more than one.

Of course, Robert had been writing in his notebook for years.  The difference, the last two years made, is that now he is the one who initiates that part of our evening routine.  Every day! That change came with Robert’s participation in his Day Program.  He  finds it important, if not enjoyable, to share with his instructors and peers the events taking place in his life.  He cannot talk freely, the words don’t come when he needs them, so he shares by writing.  It is easier.

In the last month, I noticed another behavior which I couldn’t understand at first.  After Robert wrote down what he ate, what he did, or where he went, he  was still not ready to close his notebook.  He wanted to write more.  He was holding his pen moving it above the notebook pages  showing me that there was something else to be noted.  Except, I didn’t know what.

One evening, Robert came home late after going with Pam to the restaurant and bowling alley. It was too late for us to  study together.  We only had time for a short note in Robert’s Notebook to record his outings with Pam.  Robert, however, did something surprising.  He began searching among workbooks and papers until he found  a few worksheets.  He placed them on a table in front of his chair and sat down to complete them with (well still) my help.  It was late.  Moreover, two of the worksheets presented problems which I considered two difficult for Robert.  Robert was supposed to find the time of the flight through different time zones. At that time we still worked on understanding time zones by comparing the time in different zones.  We also counted elapsed time.  Both skills were relatively new and not  mastered yet.  Still, Robert insisted.  Step after step, we came to the solution. I am not sure he grasped it.  When, however, I was telling Robert that the problems were really, really difficult, he smiled.  Smiled.  He wanted to do difficult problems!

Since the other few worksheets were rather simple, Robert finished them quickly with my minimal assistance and only then he reached for…. Notebook. That is when I finally understood.

Robert wanted to write not only about his food, daily chores, or places.  He wanted to  note much more meaningful activity – his LEARNING.

Even more, he wanted to write about solving difficult problems!  That is why he smiled!

If he wanted to write about how hard he studied it was because someone else was admiring Robert’s determination to study and the skills he kept acquiring and honing.   I called the only place when that could happen – his Day Program, Lifeworks.  I confirmed what I suspected. For  every evening filled with learning and writing in a notebook there was a morning, when Robert’s case manager, Nicole read with him his notes from home. She praised Robert for hard work and sometimes admired the fact that Robert studied difficult topics.  That is why Robert wanted to solve difficult problems.  He wanted to be admired.

Lessons Learned in Philadelphia 4

Learning to Trust

April 27, 2016

Robert had to leave.  He shouted, “Car, car” , during the beginning of the presentation.  I put my finger on my mouth and whispered, “Shshshsh” .  Robert put his finger on his lips and whispered ,”SHSHSHSHSH”  then… he shouted again. He had to leave.  Except, he didn’t want to.  He didn’t want to stay but he didn’t want to leave either. I don’t know why.  Did he want to share his pain of not knowing where our car was with such a large  audience?  Or was he in the clutches of his obsessive compulsive disorder that  forced him to remain until the end of the presentation despite the fact that he really wanted to be somewhere else searching for our car.

I got up first hoping that Robert would follow. He didn’t.  Then Jan got up, but Robert tried to pull him down to sit. Nonetheless,  Jan began to leave and this time Robert stood up too. He still hesitated.  There were three other people in our group.  We, the parents,  wanted them to stay and listen to the short introduction, but Robert believed that they should do what we did.  We were supposed to stay together. Nonetheless, we left without Margaret, Jack, and Cynthia.  We sat on the bench next to the door, trying to regroup our thoughts and decide what to do next.  (I have to say, I was shaken.  This has never happened before.  Still, I wasn’t surprised. ) As Jan and I discussed what to do, Margaret, Jack, and Cynthia joined us.  I felt guilty for spoiling their visit, but Robert was clearly relived.

Soon, we joined the other visitors leaving the lecture, We walked toward the Independence Hall.  We passed through the building quickly.  Just to make one picture for Robert to contemplate it later.  We waited outside a few minutes for other members of OUR group and started moving back toward the hotel.

We walked slowly talking to each other about the city, history, and …the car.  Robert kept asking but not as often as before and not as dramatically and loudly as he did during the lecture.  He walked with his father, a few steps behind me.  Then he moved quickly to the front. I got ready to take his hand when  I noticed that Robert was already holding Cynthia’s hand.  Not mine, not his dad’s but Cynthia’s, the person he just met not even two hours before. He was calmer.  Much calmer.  The missing car was still on Robert’s mind but the frequency and the amplitude of the repetitive waves of his demands seemed to approach null.

I walked next to Cynthia and Robert watching him holding her hand, letting her hand go when other people were passing them and then searching for it again.

I tried to understand  Robert’s emotions.  Was he holding Cynthia’s hand because she was the one who knew Philadelphia best and her knowledge of the city translated  into assurance that everything would be fine?  Was he trusting our group for the simple reason that all members stayed with him in his moment of weakness?  I know  that Robert doesn’t like to scream or misbehave in public and although he cannot help himself at the given moment, when the crisis pass,  he feels sort of ashamed.  Maybe he was relieved that in this company he didn’t need to feel ashamed as everybody half understood and half felt the reasons for his actions. Did he sense the empathy surrounding him?  As I kept asking myself those questions, Robert kept holding Cynthia’s hand.