Today’s blog is a message of hope for all of you with distractible, inattentive, and forgetful children. It may also, in a way, be making a case for attempted brain washing used totally in the sense of “for the greater good.” I’ll let you decide. Yesterday my daughter Beckie and I were talking about things that needed to be done. Beckie has ongoing issues with managing her schedule and her possessions. She usually gets places on time, but often leaves out food that needs refrigerated and leaves other unfinished tasks that are sacrificed in order for her to get where she needs to be at the right time. She always thinks that she’ll have enough time, or can get “one more thing” done before she has to go. Like many distractible individuals, she loses track of time and rushes out the door at the last minute leaving a trail of partially completed chores in her wake. Yesterday, I was reminding her of something she needed to do, and she was reminding me that she never remembers it at the right time when she could actually do it. I had just been working with her on history, having her visualize events so that she could recall them later. So I said, “Put it in your brain,” meaning that she should visualize herself doing the job. Beckie’s immediate response was, “Writing it down would work better.” Whoa! Isn’t that exactly what I’d been telling her for years? Just for kicks, I asked her to repeat what she’d said. She repeated her statement about writing it down, which thrilled me and gave me hope. I’ve probably told her that thousands of times over the years, but this is honestly the first time I’ve heard it come back from her own lips. Maybe, just maybe, all the things we say to our kids sink in. It’s possible that with enough repetition, our oft-repeated bits of wisdom gradually ease their way into our children’s long-term memory where it serves them when we are not physically there to prompt and remind. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that this will probably not become a habit for some time. I’ve found that my non-AD/HD child can learn a new rule or skill in about a third of the time it takes my AD/HD children. The AD/HD kids need a lot more repetition and practice, along with more direct supervision and support along the way. But we can’t let that minimize the successes we do see, even if they are longer in coming. As I’ve mentioned, I have been nagging (I mean “coaching”) Beckie to write things down on the calendar when she has something planned. When she mentions an event to me, I prompt her to write it on the calendar so she won’t forget and we can all see what is planned on any given day. I also have a dry-erase board by the phone, and about 40% of the time she remembers to write down when someone has called for me. This may not seem impressive, but we are up from 0% of the time so it is an improvement. She also writes things down on the calendar, but again we are not up to 100%. Not yet. But we are making progress, and sometimes the natural consequences of not writing things down increases the incentive to remember to do so in the future. For example, last weekend Beckie had remembered to write down her evening babysitting job. Then in the afternoon she got a phone call from a friend about a birthday party they were going to that night. Oops! Since it was not on the calendar and all the planning had been done between Beckie and her friends, I knew nothing about it. What followed was much scrambling around to get a gift, card, arrange transportation with her Dad and to let her friend know they would have to leave the party early to get back for Beckie’s babysitting job. In Beckie’s unreliable memory, the party was the following weekend. This made the case for writing things down on the calendar better than any of my theoretical examples could. So when I heard those sweet words, “Writing it down would work better”, I felt like perhaps I can help my child develop strategies that will serve her throughout her life. For her sake, I hope so.
Two of my children have difficulties with auditory processing, attention, and working memory. I have been working on their listening skills for most of their lives. I officially started “speech therapy” activities with Josh when he was 2 years old, although as a speech/language pathologist I was basically using communication strategies with him since birth. (Ah, the joys of being the firstborn, right?) By the time Beckie came along five years later I was incorporating therapy techniques throughout our daily activities. Whereas my daughter Beth would listen and respond the first time I said something, the other two often seemed to tune out or mis-hear what I’d said. (This happens with my husband as well, but I never approached him about working on it!) We did many activities together over the years to address the auditory processing difficulties, but one of our favorites was to read a familiar story together but alter it as we went along. I would begin the story, but change a key feature to see if the children were listening and paying attention. For example, I’d start out reading the traditional story of the Three Little Pigs, but when the wolf came to the door I’d have him huff and puff and threaten to take all their macaroni and cheese. The children would giggle and tell me that wasn’t what happened, and then we worked on oral language expression as they told me how the story should go. We did similar activities with flannel board stories, and I would deliberately change the story and put the flannel pieces on out of order to see if the children noticed. Sometimes the changes to the story were subtle, and other times illogical to help the children develop their ability to sequence events and make logical predictions. Another favorite activity was to listen to recorded stories. The children liked following along with the audio books and turning the page when they heard the beep, but I also had them listen to stories that did not have books accompanying them. That way, they had to just tune in to the auditory piece and visualize what they were hearing without visual cues to rely on. The ability to visualize is important to reading comprehension and was a fun way to work on auditory skills. Just be sure to listen to the recording yourself, first, to make sure the narrator is animated and interesting to listen to or your child may become bored and tune it out. I enjoy listening to audio books as I do various tasks, and I know firsthand that having a good narrator is key to enjoyment and the ability to attend to what’s being said. For young children or those with a short attention span, a collection of short stories might be best. Older students, even those who can read by themselves, may enjoy an entire audio book. To check comprehension, stop the recording periodically and ask a few questions. I always asked my kids how they pictured different characters and what they might look like. The more details that children visualize, the better the chances that they will remember what they’ve heard.
Once more, I have an amusing auditory processing moment to share. My son Josh, asked me if we had any ice cream in our downstairs freezer. I told him we had some mint chocolate chip down there, and was surprised to see the puzzled expression on his face since that’s one of his favorite flavors. Then a few seconds later he broke into a grin as he told me, “It sounded like you said “Cement Chocolate Chip” and I was wondering what ingredient would be so hard that it would be like cement. Then I figured out what you were really saying. So, can I have it all, Mom?”
Josh tends to take things very literally. As a speech therapist, I have worked with him over the years to help him recognize and understands figures of speech, proverbial statements, metaphors, and to make inferences from what he hears and reads. He has gotten better, although he still tends to take things literally unless it is a familiar phrase or concept. He has also progressed in his problem solving skills, using logic and past experience as a guide.
I am usually glad to see him try to reason things out on his own, but once when I wanted him to follow a direction literally he went in another direction. I had found a recipe for making omelets in a zip-loc bag. It was recommended for families because each member could put the ingredients they preferred into a zip-loc bag and then boil the bags until the omelet was cooked. Then each person could have an omelet exactly as he or she liked it, and it could slide from the bag onto a plate for serving. This sounded like a good idea to me, so I decided to try it out. I mixed up an omelet, put it in a zip-loc bag, and put on a large pot of water to boil. A few minutes later as I worked in another room, I called to Josh in the kitchen to see if the water was boiling. He said it was, so I asked him, “Would you please put the zip-loc bag into the water for me?” His reply was the usual, “Sure!” About five minutes later, I went to check on my omelet, and to my dismay I saw that the bag had leaked and there were rivulets of egg and other ingredients floating around like some sort of disgusting soup. Then I realized that the bag was not leaking…there was no bag! Josh had opened it up and dumped everything in the water. He remembered me saying to put the bag in the water, but that didn’t make sense to him and I had never asked him to boil anything in a bag before. So, he reasoned that I must really mean to empty the bag’s contents into the pot. For future reference, I encouraged him to ask for clarification if I was giving him a direction that didn’t make sense to him.
More recently, I handed Josh a jar of salsa, a bowl for the salsa, a bag of chips, and a bowl for the chips. I asked him to put the salsa in its bowl and put the bag of chips into the other bowl. He said the usual, “Sure” and proceeded to put the salsa into the bowl. I continued on with other things and Josh finished what he was doing and wandered off to play on the computer. I had to laugh when I saw a full, unopened bag of tortilla chips inside a large bowl. I showed it to Josh and asked if that was really his idea of putting the chips in the bowl. He grinned sheepishly and said he just “spaced out” on that one. I am choosing to believe that’s the truth.