Trips and Screams

July 6, 2017

This is just a record of our trip interrupted many times by Robert making all sort of noises of unknown origin. There is nothing to learn about how to address such behavior, only a description of our clumsy attempts to go on while simultaneously addressing the behavior without any previously developed plan.  Almost every trip we take together has some moments like those.  I usually ignore them in my writing but they do happen and they do affect all of us in many ways.  

I am still getting back on track after four-day and 500 mile long vacation.  On Saturday, we went to Pleasure Bay for a walk around the bay.  Calm and peaceful.  Robert was calm.  He just insisted on getting his buttermilk crispy chicken sandwich and fries as he didn’t want to eat anything from the grill.  Specially since he ate four hamburgers the day before.  He said “Fries” hundred times or more. That is all.

On Sunday, we drove to Horseneck Beach.  We went for a walk along the beach, but surprisingly not extremely long walk, as Robert wanted to return to our spot relatively soon.  We played with strong waves for no longer than 10 minutes.  Still, Robert seemed to get some sort of rash from  water.  The water was not very appealing.  It seemed dirty with plenty of brown remains of the ocean plants floating in it.  We left the beach after a little more than an hour, but I got sunburn anyway.  We drove to Newport for the Cliff Walk.  Jan didn’t leave his jacket in the car.  It was very hot, and he got overheated, but Robert didn’t let him take off his jacket anyway.  I saw them from far away.  Jan attempting to carry his jacket and Robert trying to put it back on Jan.  His efforts were accompanied by screams of protests. Jan gave up and put his jacket back on.  I was upset.  Had they been not walking so fast and leaving me far behind I would insist on Jan not wearing a jacket.  Robert cannot dictate everybody what and when to wear .  This has been a problem lately.  It is mostly problem with Jan’s clothes not mine. There is for a reason for that.  For once, Jan forms habits which Robert notices and then he wants his dad to follow them to the fault.  Secondly, Jan  gives up easily, when Robert insists.  I usually present Robert with my passive resistance and that works. I stop in the middle and let Robert know that until he stops “insisting” we don’t go anywhere or don’t do anything.  On the way home,  we stopped in Fieldstone restaurant.  We spent relaxing time there with nice service and food everybody liked. Since I don’t remember Robert screaming, it is possible that he didn’t or if he did that was easy to manage and not loud.

On Monday,  we drove to Weirs Beach in New Hampshire, found a parking spot with some difficulties and went on an hour-long boat ride.  Robert was fine.  No screaming.  Well, there was some screaming before, as we drove this way and that way looking for a parking spot.  It was rather whining than screaming with words, “Boat, boat, boat” placed in between shouts.

In the afternoon,  we arrived at the Days Inn in North Lincoln.  We unpacked and went to Truant Tavern in Woodstock for dinner.   First, we wanted to go to Brewery, as we  had never been there before. , but it was very noisy and the rules for seating were unclear, so I decided to leave,  Robert didn’t mind, although before that he made some disgruntled noises. I think walking through very crowded maze of corridors  with lots of commotions  made him feel lost and confused. He doesn’t like that.  Truant Tavern was perfect.  Calm and empty at that time, a few minutes before 4 PM.  We sat outside.  It was a very pleasant afternoon. No noises.  Robert ate everything from his plate and some from Jan’s (clam strips).  We returned to a hotel.  Jan and Robert went to the pool while I went to the store to buy a few items.

Unfortunately, I bought a bottle of coke hoping to leave it for the following morning for Robert, but Robert drank it that evening  and then he couldn’t fall asleep until 2 AM.  He also had a lot of allergies, as he kept sneezing.  Maybe his stomach also bothered him. He went many times to the bathroom and spent a considerable amount of time there every time. It was clear that he was not feeling well, and he kept pacing the room getting up over and over. But he did it quietly trying not to wake his dad. As for me, when Robert doesn’t sleep, I don’t sleep either.

Robert went with us for breakfast in the hotel.  He ate a half of English muffin but reluctantly.  He made a few sounds of displeasure or confusion.  Hard to tell.  Enough to turn attention of a Chinese woman, who commented on Robert to her family, as all three, the husband and two boys, turned to observe Robert.  I was infuriated.  I stared at the woman with most angry eyes I could force myself to make.  Every time she looked at Robert, I resisted her stare with lightning  after lightning coming from my eyes.  Robert was not screaming any more but he was taking to the trash every item that expired its usefulness for his dining parents – plastic fork, then plastic knife, then one cup, then the other.  He got up at least 7 times walking to the trash and disposing of the garbage.  This way he kept himself occupied. He also must have felt that with every item removed from the table we were closer to leaving.  So there was no more making noises.

We drove to Lincoln Woods for the walk to Franconia Falls.  Robert and Jan went ahead waiting for me to catch up from time to time.  There were muddy places that had to be navigated carefully, but Robert didn’t mind.  He made the first set of noises when we got to the second bridge and weren’t sure which way to go next.  Robert doesn’t like our hesitation. It confuses him and scares him.  Moreover, it breaks the rhythm of things. As soon, however, as his dad chose the direction, he followed him up the narrow, steep, and muddy path to the Falls.  I lingered behind, finally deciding to turn back  and walk slowly down. Too slippery for me.  Robert and Jan passed me on their way back.  I heard Robert screaming again, I fell down.  I didn’t hurt myself and was more concerned with another sharp and loud sound than with my dirty pants.  On the way back, Robert screamed again when he got to the first muddy place and a group of young people blocked the better path around the mud.  Still, he followed dad on the other side.  He stopped before crossing another muddy site.  Two little girls walking in the opposite direction, far away from him, decided to run back to their parents.  As Robert walked down with his dad and pass them by (again on other side of the wide road) he screeched.  Was he angry at the girls that they treated him as if he were dangerous animal?  Did he sensed their contempt and fear?  I am afraid so, as he usually feels much more about people reaction to him than you would give him credit for. No, he was never, NEVER in any way dangerous to strangers, he never approaches others and tries to navigate as far as possible from other hikers. He didn’t make any noises for the rest of the hike. Given the fact that the walk lasted 4 hours (6.4 miles) those episodes that all together didn’t last longer than 20 second should not concern me, but they did.  The Chinese woman’s stare got to me and everything seemed harder to accept.

We went for lunch to the same Truant Tavern we diner the previous day because I wanted to eat outside as I was sweating.  In the restaurant Robert made three times 3 second long noises.  I cannot tell why.  I just told him, that if he continues we have to leave.  That didn’t make him happy.  He responded with the murmur of anger but then  calmed down.,For the remainder of our stay there, he was perfect. It helped that as we waited for food I tried to interest Robert with pictures from our trip and pictures of him riding a horse and playing mini golf.  That seemed to distract him from whatever bothered him.  Although he didn’t want to look for long, he seemed to regain his posture, as he smiled and kept answering my questions about our trips. As usual, he responded either with one word utterances or with repetitions of two-three word long phrases.  Any way, no more inarticulate noises in the restaurant. Just pleasant lunch, with all of us enjoying each other company. I wonder, however, if looking at the pictures of himself, somehow reminded Robert who he was and let him centered himself on that realization. Maybe, he understood that the pictures and the questions were our ways of turning attention back to him and maybe he just wanted that – more personal attention in the very changing environment.


While we were driving home, Robert demanded to go to the restroom.  There was none on the way.  Besides, he had already gone to the restroom in the restaurant just 30 minutes before. Moreover, he also kept asking for coke, which he kept drinking.  So I assumed that he really didn’t need to go that badly. Still, he kept whining and demanding restroom and coke for  all the 30 minutes that took  us to come to the Service Area on Route 3.  According to Jan, there was nothing urgent.  Nonetheless, when he went yesterday with Pam, to Applebee’s, he exhibited discomfort in the restaurant bathroom. Something was clearly not right.  So this morning I let him sleep longer and didn’t rush him from the bathroom to get ready for the van.  Jan drove him to his program later.  We hoped that Myralax and  two Metamucil  wafers would do the trick. Also asthma medication might address possible breathing discomfort, if Robert felt any.  I am not sure they did but there was no more screaming.  There was a smiling young man getting ready for his day.

Over all, it was a beautiful weekend interrupted a few times with screaming.  The noises were relatively short and in four-day long stretch not too many.  Still, I didn’t grasp the reasons for their occurrences. Was that asthma, stomach discomfort , maddening allergies, change of routines, confusion?

All of the above?

Possibly yes..

The Odyssey. Next Chapter Please

June 28, 2017

A week ago, we started reading The Odyssey.  We read the abridged version as it is presented in 9 chapters in Reading Mastery 6.  Usually after reading each chapter, Robert, with my help, completes 2-4 pages of worksheets from Workbook and Skillbook.

It takes a lot of time and a lot of energy to do so every evening. The problem is that Robert INSISTS on reading and completing exercises EVERY EVENING.  That might be because the story is so enticing that Robert wants to find out what is Odysseus’ next adventure.  But it is entirely possible, that it is Robert’s need to follow the same routine every day that forces him, and me, to stuck to it and read even when we are both too exhausted to do so.

That is what happened four days ago.  We had a busy Saturday.  In the morning, Robert went with his dad to the town’s landfill to get garden soil while I cleaned the house.  In the afternoon, we went shopping and then for 4 mile long walk along two sides of Charles River. When we returned home, I made dinner while Robert took a nap.  Then around 9 PM, he realized that we didn’t do our reading yet.  So he searched through the copies of all the worksheets I prepared for the whole week and pulled the ones for the chapter 3 of The Odyssey. “Read, read, read”, he said.  “No, I am too tired”, I responded, but he didn’t accept that response.  He insisted, “Read, read, read”  He followed me everywhere holding the textbook in his hands.  “You have to take a bath now” I told him.  He agreed,  went to the bathroom, finished his bath quickly, put on his pajama and…. grabbed the textbook.  “Read, read, read”. I gave up.  We read the chapter.  He read one paragraph, I read the next one, and then we tried to synchronize our voices to read together the following section.  Reading together was always the most difficult part, but that was exactly the reason why we kept practicing it.  After finishing reading, we moved on to workbook exercises.  They are usually easier to do, consisting mostly of one word answers.  Still, by the time Robert completed them, I was exhausted.  My eyes were hardly open, and my mind was closing for the day.  There was no way I could lead Robert through the whole text of the chapter to help him answer questions from skillbook worksheets.  That would require going back to the text, rereading some of the paragraphs, explaining some of the details.  I couldn’t do that.  Even if I forced myself to do so, the benefits for Robert would be negligent.  I tried to put the worksheets away, but Robert protested again.  He was agitated and anxious.  “Work, work, work” he kept repeating and in a clear sign of distress he kept patting quickly his cheeks.

“Robert, bring me a glass of water”, I asked.  Robert got up and went to the kitchen.  I quickly tore the two pages into many pieces.  I didn’t hide them, because from the past, I knew that he would keep looking for them.  I didn’t  just tear them into two or four pieces, because Robert would try to assemble them together like a pieces of the puzzle and keep reading.  I had to tear them into many small pieces.  Robert brought me a glass of water, looked at the pieces, moved them around, decided they were not usable and threw them away.

Next day, I made the copies of the same pages.  Without rereading, I went with Robert over the text of the chapter and then Robert answered all the questions related to the story.  With or without my help.

I though we were done with reading that day.  Robert wasn’t.  He wanted to read the next chapter.  yet again, he went to the pile of worksheets and pulled the one for the  chapter four.  Luckily for me, he only found worksheets coming from the workbook and not the skillbook.  So we read, the next chapter, Robert completed exercises from his worksheets and then moved to writing in his notebook.

That let me to discover much better approach to reading those chapters.  We do that in two phases.  First day we read, talk a little about the text and do simple exercises.  The following day we review the text again, retelling the plot and then we complete skillbook exercises related to the story items.  Then we go and read the next chapter.

That helps with retaining the memory of the story.  It also helps to connect events from previous part to the following one.  So, at least in theory that would allow for better grasp of the whole book.

Adjusting to the Changing World

October 2, 2014
Many times, I have heard that children with autism do not like changes in their environment or their daily schedules. That might be true for many individuals with autism. It is certainly true with Robert. He scans every new place he enters, and from that time on, he attempts to prevent any changes. If he notices, for instance, that the keys are kept on certain shelf, he will always put keys on that place, no matter where he finds them.
I also many times heard the conclusion that many “specialists” on autism deduced from this observation. “Since the children with autism don’t like changes, their environment should remain as unchangeable as possible.” Thus, the specialists advise that the same activities in the same places should fill the days of children with autism.
Of course, complying with such suggestion would reduce even further ability of children with autism to adjust to changes, and consequently will result in limited opportunities to learn and experience new things.
That is what my son’s teachers in his first (private) school realized many years ago, and that is something that they and I have tried to address by introducing “controlled” changes to Robert’s environment.
The most important tool in moderating the environment is language. The problem is, that Robert’s language was and remains very limited. But it still can be used in very simple forms.
In his private school, Robert wanted always to sit in the same chair at the table. Moreover, he wanted all his classmates to sit exactly at the same places every day. That led to problems, because not everybody in the classroom would comply with Robert need for sameness. One of the ideas to remedy the situation was to introduce place mats with children names written on them, and move them around. Their placement was supposed to control where the children sat. Moving them around would result in children switching their chairs. Thus, not the past, rigid arrangement controlled this aspect of the environment but the words written on movable place mats. This was a huge step toward flexibility.
The words can introduce change, prepare children for it, and give them tools to deal with any alteration of their worlds.
Changes are part of life and thus arming children with autism with means that would allow them to accept and adjust to different arrangements of surrounding them space and time is a necessity.
Unfortunately, the public school, Robert attended for last eight years was not capable of similar programing. The mantra, that the environment should be as stable as possible to prevent discomfort of a child with autism ruled unchallenged. Consequently, only unpredictable alterations of Robert’s environment provided opportunity to practice adjusting to changes. But that not always goes smoothly.
Just today, Robert was riding a horse. It is and activity, he completed almost every week for last few years without any problem. But today, as I observed him, he stopped, pointed toward the entrance to the arena, and kept repeating something quickly and rather loudly. No, he didn’t scream, but he didn’t whisper either. It was clear, that he was agitated. I didn’t understand his speech but I guessed that there was something in the arena, that wasn’t there on any of the previous occasions- a chain in the doorway, separating arena from the rest of the barn. I knew, that Robert wanted it to be removed.
Removing the chain to satisfy Robert was the last option to consider, because it was important that Robert learn to tolerate the chain on the door during his riding. Asking Robert to get of the horse, was not a good idea either, because it would signal to him that he did something wrong. And Robert hated that feeling. With the instructor’s consent, I promised Robert that the chain would be removed after he completes three more rides around the arena. After he circled the arena three times, the chain was removed. The lesson, by the way, was over too.
I know now what change Robert has to be prepared for before the next lesson. Now it is time to use words as a mitigating tool. I will talk to Robert about the chain in the entrance to the riding arena as something to be expected and tolerated. I hope, my words do the trick.

Filling the Gaps. Exercises in Reading Comprehension

June 23, 2014
Robert and I spent a couple of hours on Friday and on Saturday reading two stories from The Reading Comprehension Kit for Hyperlexia and Autism, Level 2 by Phyllis Kupperman. It was published by Linguisystems. A few months ago, we read and analyzed first two stories about a girl named Brianna and her fondness for toy trains and real trains. This time we concentrated on the first independent trip along the city block by the boy named Alec.
I am aware, that the stories address experiences of children much younger than Robert, but unfortunately, at the time when his age matched he protagonists of the stories, I didn’t have this book. Thus some of the concepts those stories introduced have remained unfamiliar to Robert.
I regret not having this book earlier for another more important reason. I am not a reading specialist. I am learning as I go on, often from the additional books I encounter. (For instance, The Magic of Stories or The Power of Retelling) Kupperman’s book offers very methodical approach to reading comprehension.
The comprehension starts not with reading but with deducing what would happened in the story based on titles and illustrations. There is a lot of “priming” by having a student/child discuss some of his/her experiences as they might relate to the story they have not read yet. The teacher/parent asks questions trying to evoke future understanding of the text by placing it in the context of a child’s real life events. There are also pages devoted to clarifying meaning of some words in the story.
After reading, the student retells the story, to answers the comprehension questions, and visualizes it through drawing pictures (Robert needs a lot of help with that part mostly because of his difficulties drawing). There is also a page allowing Robert to understand which pronoun replaces which noun.
To make it all much easier to deal with, there are colored strips with phrases or full sentences that could be used.
I don’t know the nature of difficulties Robert demonstrated while trying to retrieve answers from his memory, but I know that those strips help him a lot. It is much easier to look for answers on the “Outside” as that requires choosing from responses clearly visible and already formulated. I do believe that this approach is not replacing the memory, but does clarify for Robert what is expected.
At this point, Robert is probably ready to answer some parts without the help of the strips with written replies.
Each story requires two 45 minutes session with a short break between them. I don’t spread it over a couple of days, because Robert tends to forget quickly and reviewing takes too much time.
Unfortunately, the two stories about Alec dealt with the problem of independence – walking alone where it is safe, and not going alone where it is not safe yet.
This is a problem. We live on the a very narrow, but relatively busy street. Robert doesn’t know any of his neighbors. So sadly, we cannot replicate Alec’s experiences.

Bacon, HIs and Mine

This post was a part of another one I wrote on March 31. After close reading, I decided, that it should stand on its own as this is a separate and important topic. Moreover, today, on April 2nd, another trip to the supermarket brought a nice, calm solution to the described problem.

Just before the lunch, we went to Stop and Shop to buy Robert’s favorite Tyson chicken. At the beginning, everything went very well, as it always goes. Robert tried to buy his favorite Thai Chips, but I gave him a choice of chips or chicken. He put chips away and found Hot and Spicy Tyson Chicken instead.
But then, I chose two packages of Farmland bacon, because they were on sale: two for 4.99. Robert removed them from the shopping cart and put two packages of Oscar Mayer instead. He must have been convinced that I made a mistake and he attempted to correct it. After all I always buy Oscar Mayer. When I tried to explain to Robert why this time I wanted to buy Farmland, he didn’t accept my explanation about higher and lower prices. I don’t blame him. Rarely during our shopping, I asked him to choose cheaper item. I don’t think Robert understands that concept yet. Anyway, when I asked Robert to switch back, he became agitated, protesting rather loud. I stood my ground and told him that since we disagreed, we would not buy any bacon that day. Although unhappy, Robert put Oscar Mayer bacon back. Of course, I could easily predict that this would happen and plan for this situation. But life does not always let us prepare for the unexpected thus managing one’s reaction to such event is a true challenge.
The entire “discussion” lasted maybe half a minute but it was a loud exchange and I considered it a setback. Because, I was loud too. Being stern and using a full voice served two purposes. For once, if I whispered, it would give Robert the wrong impression of my weakness caused by the embarrassment. Secondly, I did not want anybody, who witnessed this exchange to consider me the victim of someone out of control. The image of people with autism being out of control has been already installed with too many bystanders. Robert is not out of control, even though his behavior was problematic.
Despite the appearance, I was pretty shaken, as this was the first problem in the grocery store since 2006. In eight years of going to the store, we didn’t have any problems. Robert could find anything and was never insistent on buying something I told him not to, because we had it at home or because it was not good for him (like cheese in a can).
While, I understood that the reason Robert wanted to switch one Farmland bacon for Oscar Mayer’s, I didn’t anticipated such a strong reaction. Was it because he is much more stressed by staying home and resulting from that his sleepless night?
Yes, I appreciate the fact that Robert has been so wonderful in stores in the past. I appreciate that he agreed to leave Oscar Mayer bacon in the store and leave the issue unresolved until later. I appreciate the fact that the rest of our shopping trip went smoothly as Robert demonstrated much more independence using self register – scanning the items and even entering the codes for tomatoes and apples.
I appreciate all of that, but I still worry.
Robert does too. He hates confrontations. He is exhausted and slightly depressed after they happened. Yesterday, he was sad too. Luckily, he had his last cooking class in the session. He was among his peers. He was busy. He was happy.
Today, April 2nd, after a morning session of learning, Robert and I drove to the Stop and Shop Supermarket. Before we left, I asked Robert, ” Could we buy one Oscar Mayer bacon for you and one Farmland bacon for me?”
“OK”, he said.
Still, I wasn’t sure. But at the store, he chose one his, and I chose one mine kind of bacon. It was that simple.

Rounding Angles

I wanted to add this commentary to my previous post about teaching Robert to write and draw but after thinking it over, I decided to add this short post instead. It took us, his teachers and me, a lot of time to deal with the problem I described below, so it might warrant a separate post.
When Robert was very young (4-6 years old), he was unable to draw any picture with angles. Squares and triangles were “rounded” in such a way that they resembled deformed circles and not the polygons they were. Robert couldn’t stop at the polygons vertices even for a nano second. In smooth, continuous motion he slid to the next side leaving the curve where the vertex should be.
I thought about a few remedies to address that.
One was to ask Robert to raise his hand after completing each single segment as this movement assured that he stopped. Robert used this approach when he was asked, for instance, to draw a house.
Another one was to suggest to Robert to begin with placing all the vertices on paper and then connecting them. When Robert saw those black end-points, he considered them his cues to stop and start anew with a next side of a polygon.
It took long time and many trails for Robert to master that skill.
Moreover, although he doesn’t need to use it to draw triangles or square, he still uses it to “plan” other drawings.
Lately, for instance, he learned to place five dots in a way that helps him to draw a five sided star. Quite an achievement for him. He also places appropriate number of dots on a circle to draw a hexagon, pentagon, or octagon.
When he was learning cursive writing, he encountered most difficulties while writing lowercase “s” as it required drawing slant segment (drawing aslant line is problem in itself) and then turning it into a curve at the top of the letter. Again, Robert tended to “round” that corner. He still does this, if he is not reminded not to do so.


November 13, 2013
Robert and I were “playing” with riddles.  The riddles were simple and based on well known facts.  I read one to Robert, he read one to me.  He did not have any difficulties answering my riddles, but I had problems answering his.  I simply couldn’t understand half of the words he was reading. I asked him to slow down, divide words into syllables, and speak louder.  I understood one sentence but not the second or third.  I got one syllable words, but not the more “telling”ones which usually were two or three syllables long. Somehow we managed to solve all those simple, based in fact, realistic riddles.

Then came a page with the silly ones.   I did not believe that Robert who has never encountered silly riddles before was capable of understanding them.  I believed that he could solve them  choosing the answer from the word box simply by association, but I did not think that he could get the “silly” part.  I lead him through the first one.

The second and the third Robert did on his own:

“The city popular among cows.” Robert quickly chose, “Moo York”

“How the ocean says “goodbye”?” Robert chose,”It waves.”

It was clear that Robert chose “Moo York”  because it sounded as the name of his favorite place “New York” .  He chose “It waves” because of the obvious connection to ocean.

I did not feel satisfied.  I really wanted to explain to Robert, why those answers were silly.  As I was trying to figure out how to explain the funny aspect to Robert and read the clues and the answers again, I noticed that Robert’s face radiated with shy amusement.

He didn’t need explanations.  He got it.

Another Day, Another Lesson, Another Regret

November 10, 2013

Yesterday and today, Robert, his dad, and I played The Allowance Game.  As our pawns moved along the board, Robert was spending and earning money but did not feel very happy about that. Robert’s objective was clearly to move his pawn back to the starting place and end the game so he  seemed irritated that we continued to go around the board a few times. There were many things to learn during the game.

1. Learning the meaning of the word, “receive”.  Robert encountered this word, just a few minutes before the game while reading a text about how much rain different kinds of forests RECEIVE each year.  I felt obligated to “translate” it as “get”, but I was not sure if he understood this word in such context.  During the game, however, he quickly figured out, that when he stops on the field that says “RECEIVE $1, he can get one dollar.

2. Yesterday, Robert was not sure when he should return his money to the bank and when he should pay another player for buying lemonade from him/her. Today, I explained that to Robert before the game.  Since, however, his pawn never stopped on Lemonade Stand, he did not have an opportunity to demonstrate his understanding.

3.The game allowed Robert to practice counting small amount of money such as $1.35 or $0.80 and soon he had no problem with that. He had, however, problems
when change was needed.  For instance, he had to return $1.80, but he had only two one dollar bills.  Since I didn’t believe he could decide that he needed $.20 back, I helped him without really explaining that operation.

4. Mainly, however, Robert was learning to ENJOY playing board game.  His emotions oscillated from annoyance and impatience to contentment and glee. There were moments he clearly seemed happy playing the game with us.

I introduced a few games to him when he was 5, 6, or 7 years old:  Hi Ho Cherry-O, Connect Four, Potato Head.  In the private school he was attending at that time, he learned to take turns while playing  Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land. Robert followed, with more or less prompting, the rules of the games, but he clearly did not enjoy playing.  For him they were not more fun than discrete trials.  To increase “fun factor” I bought Elefun and Penguin Pile Up.  Since, however, the only people he played those games with were member of his family, who consider it obligation and not an entertainment. So despite butterflies flying out of the elephant’s trunk, and penguins sliding down the iceberg, the “fun factor”never materialized.  I was disheartened, and put the games away. A few years later we tried Operation, Trouble, and Guess Who.  Robert reluctantly complied.  so, the games returned to the shelf. As he did with memory games and puzzles. During one of the conferences on verbal behavior, I heard about Cariboo. Robert seemed engaged in playing that game and didn’t mind that he had to talk while playing. Still, there was no sign of amusement, or satisfaction. Since the game seemed  easy for Robert,  I bought another game by Cranium, Balloon Lagoon. Mistake.  There were too many games in this one.  It was hard for him (and me) to constantly switch from demands of different sections of the game board.No matter what game I introduced it was always a chore for Robert and never an entertainment. I had the same impression yesterday.  Not today, though.  Today, I observed short but multiple sparkles of joy of playing the game with us.

With those sparks of budding happiness came a realization, that over last 18 years, I (and everybody else) overemphasized rigid rules of the game and underestimate the company of other players.

Lesson from Cormorants

Half through our walk around Boston’s Pleasure Bay, we took a short break to look at the Bay and Castle  Island.  Surprisingly, I did not  tell Robert what HE was seeing. Surprisingly, because usually I cannot help but to “enrich”  our walks with pointing or naming everything Robert should notice:  airplanes landing or taking off, motorboats, sailboats, and ferries; seagulls and cormorants;  people walking, running, biking, roller skating, swimming, children on the playground. There is so much to notice on Castle Island that it might be a great place to practice/teach/drill (?) joint attention.

The airplanes  flying over the bay almost every minute  offer the perfect opportunity for teaching pointing:

I stretched my arm. “Airplane”

I stretched Robert’s arm.  “Airplane”

Minute later, another plane.

I stretched my arm. “Airplane”

I stretched Robert’s arm.  “Airplane”

Again and again. I could repeat the sequence 30 times or more, but I usually took a long break after 5 times at the beginning of the stroll.  By the time we returned to our car, Robert and I pointed to airplanes maybe 5 more times. Over the few years Robert “noticed” seagulls and cormorants, dogs swimming and fetching sticks, blue blossoms of chicory and burrs of burdock plants.  I don’t think Robert mastered shared attention during those trips, but he certainly became more aware of his surroundings.

Later I used the trips to help Robert “remember” what he had seen on the Castle Island.  As we walked, I “helped” Robert noticing over and over three or four of the same things.

“What do people do at Pleasure Bay”

“People walk” “People run”.  People talk on the phones” , People swim”

Since many people walk, run, and talk on their phones, Robert had an ample opportunities to hear and repeat what the people did.  On the way home, in the car, we repeated a few times the phrases from our list.  At home, Robert wrote, what he remembered: “People walk, run, swim” A gesture, placing a hand by the ear, reminded Robert that the people also talk on their phones.

I have never planned teaching ahead of any of the trips.  The more someone has to learn, the more teaching opportunities the world presents.   I realized that when one day, Robert and I watched diving cormorants.  They floated on the water, dove for  quite a while only to  emerge in  different spots. What a great, alive illustration of concepts, “appear” and “disappear.”  A few weeks earlier, Robert encountered these two words in one of the vocabulary workbooks. I wasn’t sure if he grasped their meanings.  Diving cormorants showed Robert much better than I did what appearing and disappearing mean.

Almost every  excursion to Pleasure Bay was “enriched” by some sort of learning.

But yesterday, I did not tell Robert what HE noticed.  It was a beautiful day and sitting next to each other in silence was the best way to enjoy it.

And so we did.

Back and Forth in (teaching) Time

A few days ago, the teacher at Robert’s summer program made me aware that Robert had difficulties telling time.  I was surprised, but not exactly.  I was surprised, because Robert was taught how to tell time more than ten years ago.  Step by step, he was told how to tell time to:

the full hour,

half an hour,

quarter to and quarter past an hour,

up to five minutes

up to a minute

I was not “EXACTLY” surprised, because I remembered that Robert had always had some difficulties when the time on an analog clock was a few minutes before a  full hour.  Since for such time an hour hand was close to the NEXT hour, Robert kept making one hour mistakes.  When the clock showed 10:49, Robert read, “11:49”.

I kept addressing that problem from time to time,  but never have I insisted on 100% correctness.  I hoped that in the future, as Robert would be required to tell time in order to organize and/or follow his daily routines, the errors would dissipate.

They did not.  Maybe, because the time telling has  never became important to  Robert and/or Robert’s teachers.  And that might include me.

Faced with such conundrum,  I considered two approaches.

One was to use the Teaching Hands Clock. Teaching Hands Clock  is a clock that has  a small oval attached to the hour hand. As one end of the oval approaches but not reaches full hour, let’s say 11, the other end still keeps the correct hour (10) inside the oval. I have seen  Teaching Hands Clocks many times  in the catalogue of the store  Different Roads to Learning, but somehow, I have never ordered it.

The other method is to connect the teaching of telling  times with teaching another, related  skill.  I want  Robert to learn to tell how many minutes TO  an hour or PAST an hour.  I  hope, that if Robert understands  that, for instance,  five minutes TO 11 is the same as 10:55, then he will almost naturally master time telling.

I have to emphasize that if Robert were younger, I would use Teaching Hands Clock, because  at that time I couldn’t rely on any of the skills,  that support Robert’s learning now.

But at present it would be much more enriching to connect two different skills in such a way that they could reinforce each other.

I am convinced that in some instances teaching a concept what seems to be more complex, facilitates the understanding of  the simpler one.  Sometimes, placing a simple concept in a wider picture allows to better understand its function and its mechanism.

If that won’t be the case in teaching time telling, I can always use Teaching Hands Clock.