Preparing for the Imperfect World

July 18, 2018

I don’t know any well established method to teach Robert that the world is not the perfect place and thus we have to deal with its imperfections one way or another. It would be cruel and illogical to set up the environment in a way that would demonstrate to Robert that things break, events don’t follow the anticipated order, and the people don’t always keep their word.

Still, these things happen and when they do, the opportunity arises to learn from those incidents. We might call it accidental teaching  to differentiate it from the approach called ‘incidental teaching”

The term “Incidental teaching” has already established meaning as it applies to a child directed learning.  The teacher/ therapist sets the student’s surroundings in such a way as to increase his/her ability to initiate contacts with other people and/or objects.

Accidental teaching is never prearranged and thus takes both, the student and the teacher, by surprise. Dealing with imperfect world is not easy for any individual, but it is specially difficult for people with  developmental or psychological impairments and for their teachers. On the other hand,the most basic way to learn about universe imperfection is to… survive it.

Then you can fix it or ignore it and go on. Lesson learned.

For better or worse, the world provides ample opportunities to experience and learn from surrounding us imperfections.

1. Accept the change. Robert expected cheeseburger and fries for dinner, but the restaurant didn’t serve burgers. They offered chicken fingers and fries. Robert still protested angrily.  (Luckily his loud protest were muffled by very noisy other diners) “Robert, if you don’t want chicken fingers we can cook hamburgers home.” I said knowing that leaving a restaurant would not be a preferred option for Robert. So he relented. His fries and chicken fingers, by the way were very good.

2. Ask guilty party to fix it for you. Robert ordered number 4 in McDonald’s buttermilk crispy chicken sandwich with fries and sweet and sour sauce. He sat down ready to eat,  unwrapped the sandwich, and screamed in consternation.  There was no chicken in the bun.  Robert kept making noises of uttermost displeasure by such a betrayal as he followed  his respite provider to the counter. He got another sandwich, which he refused.  He didn’t want the bun, he only wanted chicken. And he got it.

3. Look somewhere else for solutions. Not even week later, another problem in a different McDonald’s The soda machine didn’t work. That meant no coke with the sandwich.  Again, Robert expressed his dismay by noises and patting his cheeks in quick, light motions. His respite provider proposed buying bottled coke in a store next to McDonald’s. Reluctantly, Robert entered another store, bought coke, brought it to McDonald’s, poured it to McDonald’s paper cup and proceeded to eat.

4. Ignore it. The key to the car couldn’t be fixed. The new one was too expensive and we, the parents decided to use the spare key instead. Robert was not happy.  He tried to fix the key with the screw connecting metal part with plastic one.  It didn’t work. He insisted on his dad to repair it. Dad couldn’t. Robert kept insisting, but the solution didn’t provide itself. As time passed, he insisted less and less, once a week, once a day, then he stopped.

5.Wait for solution.  The car didn’t want to start. The battery was down.  Robert wanted to get home, but the car would not take him there. So he waited and waited.  Finally AAA arrived , jumped start the car and we drove home.  This time, Robert didn’t scream.  He knew already what to expect. He has waited for AAA a couple of times before that.

He knew that world is not perfect but sometimes it is manageable.








On Sudoku and Screams

July 18, 2018

For more than 2 months I have been silent. There were times I wanted to write about Robert learning to solve Sudoku. I wanted to record his struggles with understanding, in the context of that game, what “vertical” and “horizontal” lines are. I thought about recording the changes in his attitudes toward the puzzle from resistance to sly smiles when, after smoothly placing the last few numbers, he completed the task.

I considered writing about how I approached the problem.  I analyzed the puzzle and chose the number that was easiest to place. After feeling a few spaces with that number, we took a break by doing something else.

When I asked Robert to find what number was missing in either horizontal line or a vertical one, I covered the rest of the puzzle with two papers.  This way Robert couldn’t step off the track.”Only up and down”, I kept telling Robert.  “Only left and right ” I kept repeating. “No stepping off the ladder, no stepping off the path.”

I didn’t have to help him finding missing numbers in squares, as that he figured by himself.

Still, he became frustrated easily. So, I printed a few 6 by 6 Sudoku.  He solved them quickly with either minimal help or without help at all  and he seemed ready for the next challenge. So we went back to 9 by 9. Every day, we solved one Sudoku.

As of now, I still prompt him by suggesting what number to look for first or turning his attention to the fact that one number is missing in the column, row, or a square.  Yes, I didn’t take off the scaffolding yet, but I am happy to notice that he is using less and less of my support and maybe one day he would fight boredom with the new skill.

I wanted to write about this process. However, my wish to record that was blown off by sudden, unpredictable, unexplainable, sharp screams often accompanied by self-injurious behavior – slapping quickly his own cheeks.  Those screams cut through all the sentences, and all the thoughts that were just forming and replaced them with the confusion, powerlessness, dread and the need to find the cause. Instead of writing I kept calling physicians to find the culprit. I am still doing that…