From Concrete Examples to Ideas

June 27, 2019

Years ago, I was asked by one of Robert’s instructor, “Why are you teaching him that?”  By “that” she meant counting by five.  The tone of her voice was such that I felt guilty of overburdening my son’s brain with completely useless challenges.  It appeared to me that this teacher believed that learning one thing leads to overcrowding the brain and thus making impossible for it to appropriate more knowledge.

I tried to explain that learning to count by five, might help with time telling (not necessary with digital clocks) or counting money.  At that time, I didn’t say that learning to count by five makes a student familiar with a concept of counting by any other number be it three or seven and that might help with learning multiplication or division.  I didn’t say, because , I had already understood that the person with whom I had this discussion would have never believed that Robert was capable of multiplying or dividing numbers.

Yet, I now understand that learning one skill related to specific activity  and then using it in a completely different activity helps the brain to grasp the concept behind that skill and see it in more general if not abstract form.

This occurred to me as I was first watching Robert turning his horse full circle while riding around a barrel and a few days later navigating to turn his kayak in a different direction and return to the beach. Both actions required using one arm with either more strength or more frequently  than using the other one. Learning to perform one activity helped with acquiring skills needed to complete different task. As a result an Robert grasped the abstract idea of asymmetry of movements as a way of dealing with specific situations.

The years of teaching Robert and learning with him, convinced me  that any new experience might unlock the door to learning something else.  Despite knowing that, I was reluctant to let Robert participate in 5 km run organized by HMEA. When Jan, his father, wanted to run instead of walk with Robert during the IncredABLE event I was against it.  After all, Robert had never ran before. well, sometimes while seeing joggers in front of him, he ran after them… for a few yards.   But they did participate.  They ran, they walked, they ran…. The completed the course.  Robert didn’t complain.  He was mighty proud.

A few days later, as he was learning to play soccer, Robert for the first time began not walking and kicking the ball, but running and kicking and running again. Tim, who was his instructor and tried unsuccessfully encourage Robert to run after the ball a few times in the past, was surprised by Robert’s new skill.  Both Tim and I attributed that change to Robert’s 5KM run.


Out into the World

June 24, 2019

I haven’t written for over a month. Yes, we still do our desk, table really, work. Each day Robert

solves Sudoku,

completes a page of picture analogies,

reads a chapter or two from one of the Useborne Young Readers series,

listens to a text read by me from Functional Routines and answers related questions

solves a few math problems currently from Spectrum Algebra 6-8 (they are easier for him than remaining problems from Singapore Math 5A

completes a sheet from Say and Glue – easy but great for an independent work

practices pronunciation with the help of different materials

There is nothing new here. And precisely because there is nothing radically new but just a variation on the old routines it is much easier for me to write about that mundane daily tasks  than about Robert’s other activities. Although each  of them presented me with an opportunity to see Robert in a new light, strangely, I am reluctant to write about them.


On May 19, his current program HMEA organized a great fundraising event with an opportunity to either walk 1km or run 5km.  I signed Robert and Jan (his father) for a walk, knowing that although Robert is a strong walker, he has never run.  Well, sometimes, when he saw runners on his hiking path he suddenly began running after them… for a few yards.  However, Jan decided that he and Robert would rather run.  And so they did.  Well, they run then they walk then they run.  Robert was extremely excited when he started following other runners.  Yes, his steps although quick were very short, yes he flapped his arms and hands.  But he had the biggest smile on his face I have ever seen.

He and Jan finished the race which happened to be more like 7 kilometers long, because of the error in setting the distance.  Well, they were second to last, but still happy and still proud.

The reward for being almost last was that Jan and Robert didn’t have to wait in line for hamburgers and chips. They got them in the tent and then they sat on the grass to eat.

Seating on the grass just like everybody else as negligent as it might look was another life enriching experience for Robert.


Horse Show

On June 1, Robert participated in another fundraising event at Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital.   The hospital is also a home to many horses who patiently help children and adult with disabilities enjoy riding.  Robert was anxious the morning before the show.  I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to participate. But he calmed down and finished his routine that included weaving between cones, carrying rubber duck on a plastic shovel and leading the horse with one hand, taking a ring from one cone and placing it on another, turning the horse 360degrees in a small space, riding in half seats over logs, leading the horse between logs, trotting, riding with hands up and moving the horse backwards white staying between parallel logs.

With this last task Robert had problems.  He moved the horse only two feet and then the horse crossed over the logs.  Robert needed some reminders of how to move from one task to another, and a couple times he got confused.  That is true, but it was much more than he expected of himself and what we, the parents believed he could do.

What surprised me most, however, was that as Robert remained on the horse waiting for other riders to complete the trail, he tried to convince the person who stayed next to him to go back to the center logs. He wanted to correct himself and repeat the task of moving horse backwards while staying between the logs. He must have realized that  he didn’t perform correctly that maneuver and he wanted a chance to do better.



From the day Robert sent a letter with a check for NEHSA he wrote himself , he kept repeating “lake” or “kayaks” many times a day. So, on Friday, June 21, we left early to get to Sunapee Lake by 10 AM.  Little did we know that because of rain, the kayaking lessons were canceled.  When we finally got the message we had already made three quarters of hour trip. So I called NEHSA to ask if we still could participate in the afternoon session (the weather was going to improve).  But NEHSA volunteering angels decided that since we were so closed and didn’t mind drizzle, Robert might as well have his lesson. And he did. A few times he got himself into tight corners and needed help and a few times he managed to get out of them on his own. To manage that he had to practice turning the kayak in one direction or going backwards. As usually, after moving toward one end of the lake, Robert wanted to return to the dock.  He had to learn that the lesson was not over yet and that there were other places on the lake to visit  It was hard for him to add new dimension to his kayak excursion and it was a difficult task for Carly to convince Robert to keep exploring.  But she did.  Of course for Robert the wide lake is doesn’t give him any clue as to what direction to take, and thus the only direction he always has in mind is the place from which his kayaking started.  From any other place on the lake Robert rowed most skillfully toward the place where e began and where there was a car that would eventually take him home.