My son, Josh, needed increased response time when he was younger. When asked a question, he took longer than most to formulate his responses, so often he was skipped over in a group setting. The teacher or coach would ask him something, get no response for several seconds, and move on to someone else. Part of the problem was that Josh gave no indication that he’d heard the question. He did not change his facial expression or otherwise let the speaker know that he was actually thinking about what had been said. It was frustrating to Josh to know the answer but have such a limited window of opportunity to express it that he often was unable to reply in the time allotted. I worked with Josh to develop a few strategies to let the speaker know that he had heard and was processing what was said to formulate a response. The first strategy was to hold up one finger in the “wait a minute” pose, to indicate that he needed a little more time. This was probably the easiest to implement, since it did not require an oral response when Josh was already struggling to formulate a verbal answer. The next strategy was to actually say something like, “Give me a minute, please” or “Could you repeat that?” (This was much preferable to saying, “Huh?” which happened so frequently when he was younger that I screened his hearing multiple times!) This strategy let the speaker know that Josh was intending to answer, and the repetition often helped him and gave him a little more time to process. Josh also learned the strategy of asking for clarification, by simply asking “Are you saying ____?” or “Is this what you mean?”. It’s also important to teach our auditory processing strugglers to use verbal strategies when they are on the phone, because obviously visual cues like the upheld “hold on” finger won’t work. Once when I was on the phone with Josh I asked him a question and he was quiet for so long I wasn’t sure he was even still on the phone. I asked if he was still there and he told me, “Yes, Mom. But my train of thought is still boarding.” I’ve also noticed that Josh’s train of thought will sometimes derail entirely if he is interrupted during the boarding process. When that happens, often by well-meaning people trying to help him out or speed things along, Josh’s train has to go back to the beginning and start all over again. So instead of moving things along more quickly, it actually backfires and takes even longer. This is where it’s helpful to teach our kids the gestural cues as well as verbal scripts so they will be less likely to be interrupted and the train of thought can actually leave the station.
In a family where three out of five members have been diagnosed with AD/HD, it is not unusual to hear frequent reminders back and forth. These prompts are necessary, since forgetfulness and becoming distracted are daily (if not hourly) occurrences. What’s frustrating is when the distractible person is reminded to do something he had actually remembered that time, and he is reminded anyway because there’s no way to know if and when he will actually recall something on his own. There’s no consistent clue to indicate when something has been received and retained or if it has evaporated before being acted upon. During busy times, the distractible members of my family get even more forgetful and sometimes need multiple reminders about a single task. Sometimes they try to help each other remember things, but forget that they’ve already reminded the other person. My two AD/HD children don’t like to lend money to their non-AD/HD sibling, because they know they are likely to forget a.) that she’s borrowed from them and b.) if she’s paid them back if they do happen to remember. Other times I prompt my children to do a task, only to be assured that they will…but they don’t follow through without further reminders. So I found it amusing when I heard my distractible Beckie indignantly tell her distractible father, “I’m not YOU, I’ll do it!” when he reminded her again about something that needed to be done. The reality is, sometimes she does remember. Often she does not. I guess it was harder for her to be reminded by someone who also is distractible and forgetful at times.
Happy Mother’s Day (a little late, but still heart felt) to all of you mothers, and all who have mothers. There! That should cover everyone. I was thinking about the kinds of things I wanted my children to learn from me as their Mom. I wanted to teach my children some rules they could utilize throughout their lifespans, thinking something along the lines of, “Mom always said…” Here are some examples of principals and ideas I hoped to pass on to my children:
1. It is better to take responsibility for your actions than to weasel out of things.
2. If you don’t learn about your freedoms and rights it will be easy for others to take them away.
3. Your friends may move away or stop being your friends, but your siblings will always be in your life so you need to learn to get along with them.
4. If you don’t learn to discipline yourself, others will be willing to tell you what to do.
5. Hard work almost always pays off.
6. Decide who you want to be and start acting like him/her now.
7. Learn to deal with boredom while you’re young – you’ll be ready to handle mundane tasks as an adult.
8. If you use the last of the toilet paper roll, replace it.
9. Make decisions about how to respond to others before you are in the heat of the moment.
10. Give others the benefit of a doubt when you can, and choose to forgive.
Here are some of the incidental things I know my kids learned from me:
1. Mom doesn’t like finding empty milk containers in the fridge.
2. Mom needs more sleep than we do.
3. When Mom is tired, she’s not as patient.
4. It’s better to tell Mom we broke something than to leave it for her to find later.
5. Sometimes even Moms cry.
6. All people should be treated with respect, especially Mom.
7. Mom doesn’t give up on us.
8. Mom is pretty funny sometimes.
9. When Mom says “No”, she means it even if we take turns asking her.
10. It takes a while to get her there, but when we make Mom blow it’s an impressive show.
So some of the things I’ve taught my kids aren’t exactly the kind of ideals I’m proud of but I think I managed to get some good in there, too. My kids’ lists of what they learned from me might be interesting to see. Perhaps someday when I’m feeling particularly strong and resilient I will ask them to write it down for me. Until then, I’ll keep working to develop the wisdom I intentionally try to pass on to them.
I have been on the road and have pictures to share! I’ve met many new people and re-connected with some old friends. In the lower picture, I am with Jamie. We met in Cincinnati. The picture at the top shows me with my good friend, Carol Barnier. We are kindred spirits in many ways and Heads Up will soon be offering Carol’s wonderful books for sale. I saw Crystal briefly in Cincinnati. I think we originally met in Indiana, didn’t we Crystal? I suspect that some people who have heard me share stories over the years come to my sessions to find out what my kids have been up since the last time they heard me speak. Also, somewhere along the way on my homeschooling journey, I became one of the veteran homeschoolers. Now, people with kids who are like my Josh was when he was little look at me with awe as if I’m some kind of survivor. Which, frankly, is a pretty accurate assessment for both Josh and me! I hope that people are encouraged and think, “If she did it, maybe I can do it, too.” As overwhelming as it was to work with a struggling learner while wondering if I was doing everything I should in the right order, at the right time, with the right child…it worked. When people found out I was homeschooling they’d ask me if I intended to homeschool my kids through high school. That was too much for me to think about. I was more of the mindset that I would homeschool for the next minute, the next day, at least the rest of this year, etc. until gradually two of my children did complete high school at home. I’m honored to share with you, my fellow travelers on this homeschooling journey. It has been humbling and memorable, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it by giving up too soon. My children have truly made me into a better teacher than I ever wanted to have to be! But “easier” is not always “better”, and so we travel onward.
I’ve noticed something interesting about the way my AD/HD guys (husband and son) answer questions. Their approach to conversation is sometimes a challenge for me, the mere “neurotypical” that I am. When I was first getting to know Scott, I would ask him questions to see how he thought and to learn more about him. I am pretty logical and sequential and so is my communication style. We didn’t know back then that Scott had AD/HD because he wasn’t diagnosed until after our son was and by then we were in our early 30’s. So it puzzled me when I would ask Scott a question and he would answer by asking me a question. This was not a matter of repeating back what I’d asked for clarification purposes, but would be a different question that could change the course of the conversation. I might ask something like, “What was your favorite vacation while you were growing up?” Scott’s response might be to ask, “Do you like to travel?” It wasn’t a matter of Scott’s evading the question, and there was still a connection with what I’d asked. It’s just that his response didn’t answer the question. Scott’s amazing brain just works in a way that allows him to connect with one topic and from that topic quickly make connections with many related thoughts that shoot off like the spokes from the hub of a bicycle wheel – only probably not as organized and predictable as the spokes. If I really needed a definitive answer, I learned to come out and say, “You can’t answer a question with a question.” This forced Scott to slow down and give me something definitive to work with so we could reach some sort of conclusion. Often he would ask me out and have no plan in mind for what we would do. I didn’t know him well enough yet to understand that he was tapped out in the planning category just by setting up an exact time to be with me. So he would pick me up, and I’d ask what he wanted to do. Then he would ask me what I wanted to do, etc. We have since learned how to communicate when I need specific information even though it still does not come naturally to Scott. I’ve noticed with my son, Josh, that he often doesn’t answer a straightforward yes/no question with “yes” or “no”. Today his dad asked him if he’d had enough pizza. Josh responded that he’d had five pieces. So, does that mean “YES, I’ve had enough,” or “NO, I’m still hungry”? I’ve learned to communicate with Josh to narrow things down for him in very specific ways and eventually I can usually pull the answer out. Sometimes with Josh it’s a matter of distractibility or making excuses rather than just saying “yes” or “no”. For example, when asked if he liked a certain movie he might give you enough information that the answer is implied even though he doesn’t come right out with it. Other times, I’m still unclear even after his response so I just have to try again and ask, “So does that mean you DID or DID NOT like it?” To me this way of communication seems like it would be much more work for Josh and Scott than just responding with a simple reply or an affirmative or negative response, but to them it is natural to answer questions in a more circuitous way. What comes naturally to us does not feel like hard work, and as long as it’s working for us that’s what we’ll tend to do.
Last week was standardized testing week for my daughter, Beckie, who is 16. My friend who is a certified teacher and fellow homeschooler administered the test to Beckie while I administered the test to her son. We have teamed up to do this for several years now, and although the test is different as the kids progress other things remain the same. For example, Beckie is impulsive and likes to do things quickly and get them over with so she can do something else. She is a “big picture” and “close enough” kind of kid. When careless mistakes are pointed out to her, she is quick to point to all her correct responses and as for the error? Well, she knows what the answer should be, and that should be good enough in her opinion. Her attitude tends toward, “Oh, well” and she quickly gets over it. My friend’s son is very focused and meticulous about his test responses. He is detail-oriented and methodical. When told to “make your marks heavy and dark” on the bubble answer sheet, he does so with the result that the back of his scoring sheet has raised bumps that you can feel as you handle the paper. My friend and I teach our children the usual test-taking strategies: read the directions carefully, eliminate wrong answers to narrow down your choices, skip hard questions and come back to them if you have time, if you have time left at the end of a section go back and review your answers, and so on. Both of us still feel that these are good test-taking strategies, so we review them every year prior to testing. Our children can parrot the strategies back to us because by now they have them memorized. Yet every year during the test, we find ourselves telling my friend’s son to hurry up a bit so he will finish a section before time runs out. Then we tell Beckie to slow down and take her time. And every year Beckie finishes every section early, and her friend is working through the final minute to complete his section. My friend urges, exhorts, and begs Beckie to go back over her work in the time remaining and make sure she has not missed any important detail. Since Beckie reads at a rapid rate, I worry that she will skim over a small word like “not” and won’t realize that she missed a vital piece of information. Gentle reminders prior to each subtest result in Beckie’s demanding question, “Do you think I’m dumb or something?” I also don’t want her upset while she’s taking a test, since strong emotions can also interfere with her performance. The “Hurry Up” friend and the “Slow Down” Beckie both completed all the sections on their test within the time limits given. The scoring sheets have been mailed in and it will be a few weeks before we get the results. I anticipate that my friend’s son will do very well as he has in years past. Beckie will probably be okay with her test results, and will tell me “I told you I did well” to further her case for proceeding with her own method of test taking. Stay tuned!
Tonight I will be in Mansfield, Ohio presenting “Helping the Distractible Child” to a homeschool support group at The Bookery. This Thursday through Saturday, April 16th – 18th, I will be speaking at the Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati. To see my workshop topics check out http://www.cincinnatihomeschoolconvention.com/ and then it’s off to Missouri where I will be presenting workshops at the Southwest Home Education Ministry (SHEM) Home Education Convention at the Springfield Expo Center on April 23rd through April 25th. In May, I will be at the Heads Up! booth at the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP) convention from May 7th through May 9th. I will be presenting workshops for the Information Network for Christian Homes (INCH) in Lansing Michigan on May 15th and 16th. Please stop by the Heads Up! booth and say hello! I would love to meet you in person.
For those of you who won’t be at any of these gatherings, as well as those who do plan to attend them, I’d appreciate your prayers. I am currently in week six of moderate-severe headaches that are not responding to treatment. Since last week I also seem to have a sinus and lung infection, and am seeing another doctor about that tomorrow. My doctor has decided I need a CT scan of my sinuses, but it will be a challenge to fit one in around the conference schedules for the next several weeks. I truly desire to help as many people as I can and to let God use my experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly!) for the benefit of others. Please pray for relief from the headache pain and for healing, energy, and endurance for me at the conferences. I will be doing a lot of talking, and lately my vocal resonance has been off and I am coughing quite a bit. I’m also afraid that the ongoing headache pain is making me a bit kooky. So then I wonder if I lose cognitive functioning, will I even know it?!? And so I pray some more and solicit your prayers as well.
Today’s post has been inspired by The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Before I had children of my own, I was of the opinion that Peter Rabbit was kind of a brat. He didn’t listen to his mother, got himself into trouble, lost articles of clothing, and left messes for someone else to clean up. Then I had my own “Peter Rabbit” kind of child. With my highly impulsive son, I saw similarities with the little rabbit who didn’t listen and got into preventable and unfortunate situations on a regular basis. Even my daughter who is 15 months younger than my son recognized at an early age some unfortunate parallels from the Peter Rabbit story and our own family. Being the compliant, “neurotypical” child, she identified with Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, who are described as “good little bunnies” who follow directions and do what they are supposed to do. As a side note, if all of my children had been like Beth, I would probably be giving parenting workshops at conferences instead of the topics I currently present for struggling learners. I also have a sinking feeling I would be judging all the parents with kids like mine! So God spared me from myself by humbling me with my challenges. In The Tale of Peter Rabbit when I would get to the line, “But Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!”, Beth would say, “Just like Josh, right?” At this point, Josh would sigh, but I think he was secretly rooting for Peter to somehow be able to get away with it this time. Now, before we judge little Peter Rabbit too harshly, let’s consider a few factors that may be in play in his situation. Peter may have inherited a tendency for some of his behaviors, since we are told his father “had an accident” in the very garden Peter ran to as soon as his mother left for her errands. Plus, there is mention of a cousin who apparently has had a run-in with cats. There is a family history implied here. Now, consider the lack of strategies throughout this scenario. Did his mother get his attention before giving her instructions? No. Aren’t her directions long and wordy, making it more difficult to process them? Yes. She didn’t have Peter repeat back what he’d heard to make sure he understood it. Even her parting words, “Now run along and don’t get into mischief” seems almost like an expectation of trouble to come and puts a negative tone on the situation. Peter may have stopped listening after “Now run along…”. All things considered, it doesn’t sound like a good idea to leave Peter alone! How irresponsible of Mrs. Rabbit, come to think of it. Her approach works with her other bunnies, but Peter clearly needs more support. So now I’ve gone full circle from thinking Peter is a brat to defending him, and I know it’s because I’ve felt protective of my oft-misjudged son. At the end of the story, when Peter makes his way home and is dosed with medicine and sent to bed, his sisters get to have a treat of bread and milk and blackberries for supper. The “good little bunnies” get the reward. My pre-Josh attitude was “Serves Peter right! He made bad choices and maybe this will help him learn to do what he’s told next time.” Now, I think if I were Mrs. Rabbit I would hold back some of the yummy blackberries to make sure Peter got to have some when he was feeling better the next day. And as he was eating them, we would talk together about what had happened and how to do things differently in the future. I would reassure him that I loved him just as much as I loved his sisters, and tell him he was every bit as special as they are to me. My advice is, if you have little Peter Rabbits in your life, love them. Support them. Teach them. Teach them again when they forget. And when people give you a look or misunderstand your child, remember that they are probably not blessed with a Peter Rabbit of their own and don’t understand because they haven’t experienced what you have. And then love your Peter Rabbit some more.
My son has never had a good internal sense of time passing. When I said it was time to work on a certain subject, my son always wanted to know how long it would take and how much more work we had for the day. He also is forgetful and inattentive, so even though the answers rarely varied he asked the same questions daily because he didn’t remember from one day to the next. I thought it might help if I gave him a visual and tactile depiction to represent what we needed to accomplish for school each day. I found some interlocking links and selected one link to represent each school task for the day. I told Josh he could remove one link each time he completed a subject. That way, he could see and touch a visual representation of how much more schoolwork he needed to complete. I thought he might even become more motivated when he saw the chain getting shorter as the day went on. One day, Josh was having a particularly “off” day. We all have off days, but when my struggling learner has an off day, it’s really OFF. Josh just couldn’t seem to focus or sustain his attention to anything. By the end of the day, he had draped the links around his shoulders to help himself remember what he was supposed to be working on. All I could think of was Marley’s ghost from Dicken’s The Christmas Carol when Scrooge asks about the chains Marley has and the reply is “I wear the chains I forged in life.” Poor Josh! He looked like he was wearing the chains he forged during the school day, and that was just for one day. Imagine if we carried over all the unfinished links to the next day and the next. Soon, Josh would buckle under the weight of so many unfinished tasks. We had to start each day fresh. I am reminded of the Bible verse in Lamentations 3:23,23 “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.” Each day is a new day, with new challenges and opportunities. Let’s try to help our kids without dragging any chains from unfulfilled tasks from the past and focus on each new day as a chance to try again.
Research has shown that strong emotions make memories stronger. Likewise, if you can connect something familiar and chain it to new information it will be better understood and more likely to be retained. For a child with Asperger’s or any child who has a particular area of interest, you are probably finding ways to tie the interest to many areas of learning already. If a child is fascinated by Thomas the Tank Engine (and there’s something about that train that especially appeals to many on the autism spectrum) then you could use train cars to represent the components of a multi-step direction. The train cars could be used as manipulatives in math, or to demonstrate how to connect ideas in a writing assignment. For a child with a short attention span who’s always asking you how much schoolwork is left to do, the train could have a car to represent each subject and as the subject is concluded the car is removed so the train gets visibly smaller as progress is made throughout the day. As an added bonus, your child won’t have to keep asking you if they are finished for the day since a glance at the train will tell them the answer. A train could be used to represent minutes earned on the computer, for example, so each car earned for a desired behavior equals five minutes of computer time. If you can’t figure out how to use your child’s areas of interest, ask your child for ideas. It’s likely that they can come up with something and you can tweak the ideas to find something that will work satisfactorily for both of you. As with any new strategy, you will need to give it some time to see if it’s helpful. Once you get past the novelty stage you will have a better idea of how to enact your plan. Keep in mind that children with learning challenges perform inconsistently from day to day – even minute to minute on the off days, so what works one day may not work the next. In a week or month it may work again. Not all children have a particular interest area. Some, on the other hand, are downright obsessed. This fixation may change from one thing to another in phases, or it may be lasting. Your child will show you, over and over, what they like and are seeking. The general strategy of using what the child is interested in will stay the same. Some people are hesitant to encourage their child’s passion about a given topic, and that’s understandable. Yet with many less-desirable behaviors we can’t merely remove them or they will just be replaced by something else. My own son has always been fascinated by weapons. Of course I’m not going to look for ways to include that in our school studies or incorporate weapons as reinforcers no matter how engaging that would be for him. Since he also hyper-focused on Legos we could use those. Try to think creatively and be more flexible than your teacher’s manual instructions. If you know there is something that will engage your child, try to think of a way to use it. When my daughters went through their “Pretty Pony” phase or the “Teeny Beanie” era they were included in many academic realms. Now my girls are beyond that phase, but I’ll fondly remember teaching them as they included their ponies and encouraged them to boldy go where few Pretty Ponies had gone before.