Tricking the Mind to Use Itself

In many posts written before this one, I indicated that Robert gets a lot of cues  from his environment.  He believes it is his responsibility to maintain the environment as unchanged as possible.  In the last few years, however, he began accepting the fact that the words, when introduced  clearly and with advanced notice, have the power to alter the order in space around. Still, in his actions,  Robert relies heavily on what he sees and only slightly on what he hears. When he sees that the roll of toilet paper ran out, he immediately replaces it with a new one.  When I tell him to replace the roll, he takes time to process my request.  I have to repeat  it a few times, before he checks the bathroom to confirm that he understood me properly, and only then he fetches a new roll.

When we practice language skills, this problem presents itself in a dichotomy: written versus oral. I noticed, more than six years ago, that when Robert had to fill blanks in written sentences he couldn’t retrieve proper words from his mind.  When, however, he had a bank of words in front of him, he could fill the gaps by choosing properly with only occasional error.  We worked on his ability to make free associations by drawing webs of words associated with the main word.

It was very difficult for Robert.  We were sitting in the dinning room and Robert tried to name a few objects that could be found in the kitchen.  We got up and looked inside the kitchen, named a few objects, and came back to the worksheet.  Robert still had difficulties. As if he could not carry those words in his mind from the kitchen to the dining room table – seven steps altogether.  In the end, I wanted Robert to just memorize names of four objects found in the kitchen.  Except, he couldn’t memorize them.

I made a list. He read it a few times but did not retain any words.  I read with Robert all four words: sink, oven, table,and  spoon touching each word as we read.  Then, I covered the words with my hand, but proceeded to touch this part of my hand under which the word was hidden.  Surprise, surprise! Robert named all four words.  He didn’t see them! Still, he knew they were there.  I don’t understand this mechanism, but it seemed that as long as the words were somewhere on the outside of his brain (on the paper, under my hand), he could refer to them and remember them even when he didn’t see them. Just knowing their location sufficed to recall them all.

After we practiced this way many times, he was able to remember these words (and other) without any additional support.

Yesterday, I encountered another problem.  As we were practicing with No Glamour Vocabulary Card, Robert had difficulties choosing from four words the one which didn’t belong in the set.  I gave the verbal direction, “Which one is not a furniture: table, chair, pencil, or sofa?” Robert was lost.  He clearly couldn’t follow such a long chain of words and analyze their relationship at the same time.  Similar difficulties he exhibited with other sequences. This  and the following example are consistent with defective working memory, I believe.

I asked him to write down all the words as I was saying them.  When he did that, he was able without any difficulties to choose the correct word.  We did that again with a few other sets of words.  He was always right. When he saw the words, he was able to perform well.

In next step while I was reading the words I drew one horizontal line for each word but left all of them empty.  As I asked, ” Which one is not a vegetable: carrot, apple, spinach, onion”,  I touched each line as if I suggested the place where each word was supposed to be.

With slight delay, Robert touched the line assigned to “apple” and said ” an apple”.

I am not really sure what I was doing there.  I hope that  as I was drawing these empty lines, or was covering the list of words I tricked Robert to use his brain in a new way, as if I was helping to create  some new templates for thinking.

In one of my early post, I wrote how I used the fact that Robert knew how to add double numbers (8+8 for instance) to teach him add doubles plus one (8+9).  I got the idea from Saxon Math, but I went a step farther than the authors of the curriculum did and I used empty squares as the last step.   Those empty squares, just like empty lines might have helped Robert organize his abstract thinking and form concepts.