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The Boy Whose Brain Could Unlock Autism

IMAGINE BEING BORN into a world of bewildering, inescapable sensory overload, like a visitor from a much darker, calmer, quieter planet. Your mother’s eyes: a strobe light. Your father’s voice: a growling jackhammer. That cute little onesie everyone thinks is so soft? Sandpaper with diamond grit. And what about all that cooing and affection? A barrage of chaotic, indecipherable input, a cacophony of raw, unfilterable data.

Just to survive, you’d need to be excellent at detecting any pattern you could find in the frightful and oppressive noise. To stay sane, you’d have to control as much as possible, developing a rigid focus on detail, routine and repetition. Systems in which specific inputs produce predictable outputs would be far more attractive than human beings, with their mystifying and inconsistent demands and their haphazard behavior.

This, Markram and his wife, Kamila, argue, is what it’s like to be autistic.

They call it the “intense world” syndrome.

The behavior that results is not due to cognitive deficits—the prevailing view in autism research circles today—but the opposite, they say. Rather than being oblivious, autistic people take in too much and learn too fast. While they may appear bereft of emotion, the Markrams insist they are actually overwhelmed not only by their own emotions, but by the emotions of others.

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One Solitary Life

He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty

He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself

He was only thirty three

His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth

When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend

Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind’s progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life

Dr James Allan © 1926.

 

Merry Christmas to all

Merry Christmas from Mr. Darcy

   My daughter Beth is a smart, beautiful, caring person.  She is a teacher and advocate for special needs children.

And she is talented.  I mean she is really talented.   She can knit and crochet.  She can look at a pattern once, and churn it out.  While watching a movie.  In the dark.  With all kinds of special twists, turns and doo-hickies in the scarf or sweater or afghan or blanket or…..  well you get the idea.

 

But she is also a terrific photographer.  She has a great eye for details, and a sense of the exact moment to snap that picture.   I could take thousands of pictures, every day of my life and not come up with even one of the gems that she does on a regular basis.

 

Exhibit A:   Merry Christmas from Mr. Darcy.

NOTE:  Beth called me to let me know that is not her picture.  It was taken by some of her friends.  To see more of David and Deborah’s work, please go to www.dsquaredphotovideo.com.  (Egg on my face!)

For comparison, here is Beth’s original picture, which I still think is terrific!

 

How Hard Should We Push Our Kids?

Have you ever worried because your child seems unmotivated?  Perhaps he does the bare minimum amount of work required for his school assignments.  Maybe your daughter waits to be told what to do and needs constant supervision to ensure that she completes assignments.  These children just don’t seem to care if they learn or not, and they are certainly not self-motivated when it comes time to do schoolwork.  Here’s an interesting thought.  Everyone is motivated to do something, and if you learn to be observant of your child he will show you what motivates him.

Ideally, you want your child to have intrinsic motivation, meaning they are internally motivated to succeed at tasks.  These are the children who push themselves to greater achievement.  Working hard to achieve good results is very satisfying.  They want to do well and don’t need to have a teacher standing over them to keep them on task because they feel rewarded by a job well done.   In extreme cases, and sometimes into adulthood, these students appear self-driven to accomplish their goals.  Children like these do not need much parental pushing to challenge them to work hard because they have learned how to motivate and push themselves toward greater knowledge and skills.

Then there are the children who are not intrinsically motivated and are dependent on externalized prompts and perceived rewards to entice them to work hard.  They will work for prizes or extra privileges.  They respond to reward systems that offer some sort of desirable treat or activity with great frequency, because they can’t work too hard or long for a distant reward.  They tend to live in the moment and not give a lot of thought to what may or may not occur in the future. They need lots of pats on the back and little rewards to keep them going because they are not intrinsically satisfied by working hard and getting things done.

Do these children need to be pushed along?  I think so.  Without any parental input they might never choose to do schoolwork.  For some of us, if we wait until our children indicate that they are ready and willing to learn we could be waiting a long, long time.  Usually our children have at least a few areas that are of interest to them, but often these are not the academic subjects that we must teach.  Our children may be motivated to play video games or draw pictures, but for activities that are not highly interesting to them they simply don’t have the internal drive to do those tasks anyway.

Yes, there are many children who need a gentle push to keep them moving in the right direction.  How much we push depends on the needs of the children.  For example, a student may appear unmotivated when in fact he is a struggling learner and the work actually is harder for him than for most children.  We push such a student to do his best by providing the support and strategies that will help him learn.  When there is truly a learning difference, we can’t just push the child to try harder.  We can, however, teach this child how to be persistent, how to advocate for what he needs and the importance of doing his best in everything he sets out to do.

Another factor in how much we should push our children is their developmental level.  Notice I did not say to go by how old they are, but by their developmental level.  That is because there are great variations in maturity, and using chronological age as the determining factor in your expectations for a child is often not the best criteria.  Some children are slower to mature, and all the well-intended pushing we can muster will not force their bodies and brains to mature more quickly.  A rule of thumb that I use is to push the children in order to challenge them, but don’t push so much that it just frustrates them.  In that case, pushing our children backfires and we have additional resistance to our attempts to move them along more quickly.

A final consideration is your child’s temperament.  Some children tend to be shy or introverted.  Should you push these children into social situations because they have to learn how to deal with a lot of different kinds of people?  While that may be true, I think it’s important to be sensitive to our children’s comfort level.  I have an introverted child who finds crowded social situations stressful and draining.  Should I push him into more group situations so he can get used to it?  I think not.  If I force my child to engage in a lot of social activities when he does not feel the need for them and does not enjoy them, I think it sends a message to the child that I am trying to change him.  In the child’s mind, our attempts to push them into uncomfortable situations often become translated as “There must be something wrong with me because I really don’t enjoy this at all.”

We all want our children to be successful.  Some will mature and become more motivated while others will always be more reliant on external motivators.  Here’s the rub.  We can do our children a disservice if we don’t push them because their childish ways could prevent them from learning what they need to know.  On the other hand, if we push too hard we can frustrate and discourage our children and that negatively impacts our relationship with them.  How do you decide how much to push your children?  As for me, I always felt like I was just the slightest bit out of balance no matter how much or how little I pushed my children.  Being a good teacher and parent is not an exact science, but we can continually make corrections as needed once we learn to observe our children and the ways they learn.

Blessed and Blessing During Holidays

The holidays present families with many opportunities to share the love of Christ.  It’s a wonderful experience when a family can serve together, ministering to others in ways that are personal and meaningful.  Some families make arrangements to minister together and enjoy fellowship as they seek to bless others.  Having a child with special needs presents challenges for participation in some activities, but with a little advanced planning it can be done.

When a child has health issues, it may be difficult to commit to scheduled ministry opportunities.  It is not always advisable to go out in inclement weather, and a child with asthma may not do well in cold weather.  A child with a weak immune system may become ill too easily to risk exposure to many people.  Even the presence of a new baby can make the thought of packing everyone up to pursue a ministry opportunity a bit overwhelming.

If this has you nodding your head or mentally adding your own list of hurdles to the ones I have mentioned, let me get you thinking in another direction.  There are ways you can enjoy fellowship and bless others right from your own home.  During this holiday season, your family might be better suited to invite other families to your home to engage in a ministry activity.  One simple but much appreciated gift to others is to bless those in nursing homes, hospitals, or the military with notes and cards.  Provide a stack of cards and blank postcards along with crayons, markers, and colored pencils.  Adults and children can work on cards together, praying for the future recipients.  Children who are not able to write could draw pictures or use rubber stamps to decorate the cards and envelopes.  Some children could put the cards into envelopes and put postage stamps in place.  Sing a few carols together and you may have the start of a new holiday tradition for your family.

Children can bless their own families by writing the addresses on the Christmas card envelopes.  Besides helping to get the task done they will be practicing penmanship, learning how to address envelopes properly, and working on language arts as they apply rules for capital letters. Another child can apply the postage stamps, or sign the cards for the family.  And yes, I’d count that as “school”!

For those who are able to venture out, look for volunteer opportunities that will allow everyone in your family to actively participate.  My family has volunteered several times with the Salvation Army Operation Christmas Cheer.  Since this program has a variety of jobs we were able to match up our children with a task appropriate for their ages as well as their personalities and special needs.  My daughters each had a designated food item to hand to families as they passed by our line.  Both of them were busy but not so pressured that they couldn’t smile and say “Merry Christmas” to those they served.  They were right next to me so I could provide support as needed.

My son, Josh, loves to help others but has AD/HD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in addition to sensory processing challenges that made the noise level in the warehouse setting adverse for him after a few minutes.  He and his Dad took on the job of helping people by pushing carts or carrying boxes out and loading them into cars.  They could talk to and sometimes pray for the individuals they were assisting.  Josh’s hyperactivity and willingness to work were actually applauded and Josh felt affirmed as he served others.

If your child has a wheelchair or other equipment it can be tough to navigate in some settings. Visiting a hospital or nursing home to deliver cards or sing carols is a great way for a physically challenged child to minister along with his or her family.  Nursing home and hospital staff are used to medical equipment and these areas are disability accessible. When my family visited a nursing home, I saw tenderness revealed in Josh as he held an elderly man’s hand and helped him walk slowly back to his room.  My hyperactive son was patient and attentive in ways I hadn’t seen in other settings. The blessings flowed across generations in that situation.

It may take creative thinking and problem solving, but there are many that families with special needs children can bless others in special ways during the holidays.  Whether your family thrives on excitement or prefers to have a more low key atmosphere, you will be blessed as you allow the Lord to use you to bless others.

From Surviving to Thriving

From now until the end of the year, time seems to speed up for me.  There are fewer hours of daylight and it gets dark earlier and earlier as the trick or treaters photo: trick or treaters trickortreaters.jpgholidays approach.  I am very affected by the lack of sunlight and if you, too, experience the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder then you know what I’m going through every fall and winter in Ohio. I know, logically, that there is exactly the same number of hours in every day regardless of the amount of daylight.  Apparently there is a part of my brain that does not respond to logic, though, because after dark my body thinks it is night and therefore time to sleep.  Once the sunlight is gone, I have a very hard time leaving the house even if it’s only early evening.  I might make mental plans during the light of day, but once it looks like night it might as well be 3:00 in the morning as far as my body is concerned.  I feel sluggish and move in slow motion.  So while my schedule fills up with all the festivities of the season, I feel less capable of actually meeting any commitments.  At the same time, the calendar dates keep pushing me forward like I’m on a moving sidewalk, and ready or not I’m propelled ahead.   Have you ever felt this way?  It can rob you of the joy of celebrations anthanksgiving crowd photo: Thanksgiving 2010 DSC01947.jpgd leave you feeling overwhelmed.  If you can’t imagine how you will fit everything in and get everything done then you may feel more relief after an activity is over than genuine enjoyment during the activity.  I’d like to anticipate activities in a pleasant way and not let my mindset be one of just surviving the busy schedule.  I want to feel joy, not just obligation.  I want to be fully in the moment, not counting down the hours until I can mark another task off my checklist.  So how can we move past the legitimate demands of a busy schedule during the holidays and set the tone for creating good memories with our families?  I’ve found it helpful to recognize patterns in my family members and myself so that I can take these into account before committing to activities.  I know that one of my children is an introvert.  He likes people, but a little goes a long way for him and if he surrounded by people for hours on end it drains him and he needs some time alone to recharge.  Two of my children are definite extroverts who never tire of the party and are energized by being around other people.  Given these differences, I try to make allowances such as allowing my son to sit and quietly read a book during part of the event.  He’s not being disruptive and he’s less likely to feel agitated and over-reactchristmas gathering photo: Christmas Gathering Bryan010.jpg when he can have mini-breaks as needed.  One of my children needs more sleep than the others.  Knowing this, I try not to schedule her for events that will last too late into the evening or that occur on consecutive days.  I can’t always avoid having activities that occur at less than ideal times for my daughter, but I can limit the amount of time spent away from home even if it means we leave a little earlier than everyone else.  I try to be preemptive and prepare healthy, portable snacks so that even when we are on the go my children won’t become so hungry that they either become cranky or devour too many cookies and other sugary treats.  I actually keep snack-sized Ziploc bags full of healthy snacks in the console of my van, in case I forget to grab them before we head out the door.  Instead of trying to do everything myself, I have the children work alongside me.  They can fill snack bags with pretzels or carrot sticks.  They can help with wrapping gifts and putting stamps on envelopes.  If I didn’t have the children working with me I wouldn’t have nearly as much time with them and they would doubtless pick uptimes square new years eve photo: times square new years eve NewYears.jpg on my increasing level of stress.  Whether it’s baking or gathering needed supplies, I want my children to recognize that they make important contributions to the family. Planning ahead for my family also means taking into consideration the possibility of illness and how that could impact our ability to participate in all of the seasonal happenings.  I’d much rather add things in if we are able than fill up our calendar only to have disappointed children when they can’t participate in every possible activity because they are sick with a virus.  So I schedule the activities that are “musts” for my family, but try to leave our options more flexibly open for the possible addition of other events.  As for me and my struggles to do anything once it’s dark outside, I have a couple of strategies that I implement.   Whenever possible I try to have someone, preferably another adult, accompany me when I am going out at night.  Knowing that someone else is counting on me to do something with them helps me to force myself to take action despite my body’s reluctance to move.  Having the company of another adult distracts me from my feelings of utter lethargy so I can actually accomplish tasks.  I also know my tendencies well enough to recognize that it’s far better for me if I can schedule as much as possible during daytime hours.  I’m better rested and more alert when it’s light outside, so that’s the time when I can be most productive and enjoy what’s going on around me.  If the holiday season kicks you into survival mode, maybe it’s time to think about how you could move beyond just surviving to thriving.  Being able to say an enthusiastic “yes” to your family’s most valued traditions will take some forethought.  By considering your individual differences and the needs of your family members, you can strategically plan to fully enjoy the memory-making moments.

Merry Math with Robin Hood

Robin-hood-disneyscreencaps.com-5024            Do you remember learning about Robin Hood?  He stole from the rich to give to the poor.  In Robin Hood’s world the monarchy wanted more money and more treasure.   Prince John sent out the Sheriff of Nottingham and his lackeys to collect exorbitant taxes from the poor working folks.  Sometimes he asked the people for more than they had to give.  Robin Hood took to living in the forest with his band of merry men, and did what he could to help the poor people of Nottingham.  Whether you agree with his methods or not, the story can be a helpful learning tool for teaching math concepts.

Some children are naturally hands-on oriented in their learning.  For struggling learners, offering some tactile input can be a vital part of helping them understand the concepts being taught.  To promote generalization of newly acquired knowledge, children need to make connections between what they already know and the new material being presented.   Like links on a chain, their knowledge base grows as each new bit of information is connected to prior experience.

My children liked to watch the Disney cartoon version of Robin Hood.  So when they were having some difficulty with the math concept of “borrowing” along with place value, I had one of those inspired homeschool Mom moments.  I lined them up by age, so that my youngest child could represent the “ones”.  My middle child was assigned the “tens”, and my oldest child was to stand for the “hundreds”.  Then I got out the Cuisenaire blocks and gave some of the single blocks, 10 rods, and hundred blocks to each child according to their assigned place value.

My first two children were working on the math concepts, but even younger children could be included with a little extra support.  I didn’t expect my preschooler to understand the actual math concepts being taught to her older siblings, but she could work at her own level as she practiced counting the ones cubes.  She loved being a part of things and having a supportive role in her big brother and big sisters’ learning.  Because she was standing up, actively included, and moving around with manipulatives in her hands she remained engaged in the whole process.

I became the Sheriff of Nottingham complete with my assumed sheriff voice which made my kids laugh.  The children were the beleaguered citizens facing constant harassment from the greedy tax collectors.  I approached my youngest child and informed her I was there to collect her taxes and held out my hand to demand ten blocks.  She counted what I had given her and discovered that she had fewer than ten in her possession.  I told her that she would have to borrow from her “neighbor” in the tens column.

As she turned to her sister AKA the tens column, I explained that she would have to borrow ten at a time.  Now in addition to acting out the process of borrowing from her neighbor, I illustrated the math problem on a dry erase board.  I moved on in my role as the Nottingham sheriff and approached the child representing the tens.   When the “sheriff” demanded a hundred in taxes this child found that she, too, was short of the amount being required.  She had to borrow from her neighbor, the hundreds.

I used a different color of dry erase marker for each step, so the children could visualize each individual step while still seeing the whole picture.  After going through several examples with the Sheriff of Nottingham insisting on payment of taxes requiring them to borrow, the written problems seemed to make more sense to the kids.  At that point, I started to fade some of my cues and instead of talking them through each step I began to ask them what should happen next.  As they gained confidence, I had the children mix things up and change places so they could each have the experience of enacting the place value roles of the ones, tens, and hundreds.

Initially I was illustrating the math problems on the dry erase board, but as their understanding grew I had the children write down the section of the math problem that represented their roles with each child using a different color.  When they seemed to grasp the concept and were able to demonstrate it consistently, I ended the lesson by allowing each child to have a turn being the Sheriff of Nottingham.

My children loved the drama of acting out math problems in the roles of Robin Hood characters.  They had blocks in their hands, different colors in the written work, and the creativity of portraying characters from a movie they knew well.  It helped them to have that experience of acting out the math problem as characters from Robin Hood because they could think back to that activity to help them recall how to complete the math procedure.  Whoever would have guessed that learning math would be so memorable and fun simply by utilizing the merriness of Robin Hood?  I want to encourage all who read this to feel free to BORROW this idea to teach your own students the concept of borrowing in math!

The Smell of Victory

It’s funny what our kids remember about their childhoods.  Their memories are distinct and individualized, and some of their most significant memorable moments didn’t even register with me at the time.  As my children have gotten older they have revealed some past experiences with lasting memories that I wish I had known about sooner.  Have you ever asked your children what they remember most about their homeschooling times or other childhood events?

I was talking to my son, Josh, recently and he was reminiscing about his favorite childhood toys.  He spoke fondly of his Creepy Jake makes Creepy Crawlers Crawler machine, and I do remember him spending hours creating various colors and combinations of wiggly creatures.  I knew that Josh loved doing experiments and mixing colors, although since he was colorblind I’m not sure what the colors looked like to him.  I understood the thrill of potential danger as the light bulb heated up to cook the slimy liquid into a wiggly solid.  What always surprised me, though, was that my sensory-avoidant son actually liked working with slippery, gluey goop that had a strong odor that Josh described as akin to the smell of a rubber sole on a sneaker.  Since Josh invested a great deal of time and effort smelling various objects to see which ones were aversive to him and which were “safe”, I asked him how he could tolerate that Creepy Crawler smell.  With a grin, he told me “Because the smell of Creepy Crawlers was the smell of victory!”  It represented another successful experiment and allowed Josh to experience the satisfaction of creating a rubber creepy crawler of his own design.  Victory made tolerating the smell worthwhile.

One of my daughter Beth’s significant memories is coming up with hiding places for herself and her siblings in case of emergencies.  Following the tragic murder of the young man who grew up next door to us and the events of the terrorist attacks on 9-11, Beth coped by trying to plan for contingencies.  Not only did Beth work with her siblings to discuss various spots to hide in our house, she made sure they enacted multiple practice runs just in case.  She coached her little sister on the importance of staying silent in her hiding place (a huge challenge for her) and even thought through where the pets could go to be safe.  We had emergency supply boxes in the basement in case of natural disasters, and Beth revealed even at her young age that she had a strong desire to care for and protect those around her and would respond with courage instead of fear when faced with a threat.

One memory that surprised me to learn was when my daughter Beckie shared an experience she had at a local art program.  Beckie has always been creative and enjoyed a variety of art mediums, so every Saturday morning we would trek to a local art college that offered classes for school-aged children.  Beckie seemed to love the activities, and attended classes on Saturday mornings for many years.  Recently she disclosed an experience that happened during an art class years ago.  Unbeknownst to me, a teacher had held up Beckie’s paper as an example of what NOT to do and displayed it to the entire class while lecturing them about following directions and paying attention to the assignment.  Poor happy-go-lucky Beckie was crushed and humiliated.  Since she has ADHD, attention to details and oral instructions have never been strengths, but until then she felt like she could be creative and express her free-spirited artistic nature.  This experience gave her a strong message to try harder to conform or risk being embarrassed publically.  And I didn’t find out about this until years later!

There are also memories we all share, like the time Beckie plopped drips of vanilla ice cream on our black dog and then proudly announced she had transformed him into a Dalmatian. We had obviously not studied genetics at that point in our homeschooling.  The dog, Shadow, is tied in to many childhood memories during our school days, since he and the kids grew up together.  Being the pet in a family with distractibility challenges Shadow had to work hard to get attention.  I can still picture him walking around with his big metal food bowl in his mouth, trotting nonchalantly around the house letting us all know he needed to be fed.  If that didn’t get the desired result quickly enough, he would drop the bowl and start banging it around in food dish hockey style until he was impossible to ignore.  School would come to a noisy halt until Shadow’s needs were adequately met.  It was a pretty effective method for the dog that refused to be forgotten at meal time.

I want to encourage you to take time to reflect on shared memories.  Allow each family member to share a particularly meaningful or memorable event from the past year.  In addition to the memories you have deliberately made, will there be incidental memories that have impacted your children?  We all want to know what are children are thinking about and how they are feeling.  Sometimes, just asking a few questions and sharing our own memories can open up conversations that otherwise might never happen.  Lead the way, Moms and Dads, and then enjoy listening to your children as they share funny, serious, or significant events that will give you a deeper insight into those children you love.

To Boil, Just Add Ice

Have you ever wondered why your children do certain things?  Maybe you have asked them to explain but they aren’t even able to tell you.  If you are like me, it helps you to understand something when it makes sense to you.  But as in many situations in life, I think there are some things we will never comprehend or know for sure and our kids will continue to engage in behavior that baffles us at times.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Here’s one example.  I have taught my children the basics of kitchen safety and meal preparation.  I’ve shared a few tricks such as salting the water in a pot to bring it to a boil faster and cleaning up as you go instead of having to wash and put everything away all at once at the end.  So when my son, Josh, announced his intention to make some macaroni and cheese for himself I wasn’t surprised.  I had taught him how to make that easy meal years ago and he had done so many times.  As I was putting some clean dishes away, though, I glanced at the pot of water on the stove.  Josh had filled it to an appropriate level for cooking his noodles but there were ice cubes floating on the surface of the water.  Clearly I had missed something, because putting ice in water that needed to boil made no sense to me.

I’ve had similar moments of bewilderment during homeschooling moments.  I knew that my Josh and Beckie had some learning challenges.  They tended to want to cut corners when it came to school work and would be satisfied with doing the minimum amount of work possible.  They were reluctant to go back and correct their work when mistakes were made.  Yet when they did not know the answer to a question, instead of just leaving that space blank and continuing on they either drew a question mark where the answer should be or wrote “What?” to indicate their confusion.  This meant that once I went over that work with them they had to erase their question mark or “what” in order to write the answer.  Wait a minute!  These kids who are minimalists when it comes to writing answers are actually causing themselves more work because they have written responses that just have to be erased later.  Why on earth would they make the work harder than it has to be?

When I was directing the homeschool day, I made sure we hit the harder subject areas sometime in the middle of our school day so we could begin and end each day with non-frustrating work. As my children got older, I allowed them more freedom in selecting when they would work on their various subject assignments.  I think it’s important for children to begin to learn how to budget their time and manage their own schedules. My approach personally is to get the harder work done so it’s not hanging over me until I do.  My two struggling learners took the opposite approach, starting with the easiest task and working through the list until the hardest item was the only one remaining to be completed.  Why wouldn’t they just do it to get it over with?ice melting photo: Melting Ice Cubes Melting_icecubes.gif

Here’s what I learned about my children through these seemingly baffling actions.  My son who put the ice cubes in the water to be boiled?  It’s a little game he plays to watch the ice cubes as they melt and see which one “wins” by lasting the longest.  It has nothing to do with cooking and everything to do with curiosity and making a mundane task more entertaining.  I’m too pragmatic to think of something like that, but it’s the way my son’s mind works and I think it’s actually pretty neat.

All right, so what about adding the extra work to a written assignment by writing “What?” or a question mark?  Interestingly, Josh and Beckie both did this but it occurred years apart and neither knew the other had done the exact same thing.  I’m not sure if it’s related to their ADHD or other learning challenge, but from what they were able to tell me they did it because it was an assignment that required a written response.  Thus, they felt it would be incorrect to leave it blank without writing anything and they didn’t want me to think that they had missed or forgotten that item.  The written question marks and “what?” responses were like place markers for them, ensuring that I knew they had made an attempt to respond even when they weren’t sure how to answer.

How about putting off the hardest subjects until last?  I think there are several aspects to this.  It is not unusual for individuals with ADHD to become overwhelmed if they think a task will take a long time.  My kids wanted to avoid having to work for a long period of time (which to them could mean anything longer than 15 minutes) and so they put it off hoping that something would come up to give them a reprieve or excuse not to do the work.  It’s also known that many procrastinators and individuals with ADHD work best under pressure.  Since they have often difficulty motivating themselves internally for less-interesting tasks, the external pressure of a deadline helps them kick it into gear and get the work done.  This has been the case with my three family members who have the ADHD diagnosis.

Mysteries and novelty keep life interesting.  When our children act in ways that do not make sense to us, it causes us to look a little deeper to try and understand them.  We may never know why our children do some of the puzzling or quirky things they do, but any insight we gain will help us to be better parents and teachers.  As you grow in your understanding it will help you teach your children in ways that are reflective of their unique personalities.

Be Original – Within Reason of Course!

A few years ago I saw a spoof of a motivational poster that said, “Remember, you are unique, just like everyone else.”  I had to laugh because it’s a human tendency to want to believe you are unique and special, which is actually a very common desire.  I wonder how many of us have ever had the thought that there is no one else in the world who can relate to how we think and feel.  Ironically, while we are longing to be unique we also want to be recognized and included as a valued member of a group.  We want to belong, but we want to belong on our own terms and be appreciated for the unique qualities that set us apart.

Our children look for groups with which they identify so they can have a sense of belonging.  It’s reassuring to know that no matter what, there is a place where you are accepted and where there are people who care about whatever is happening with you.  This desire begins in childhood but continues throughout our lifetimes.  Life is meant to be lived within the context of relationships, sharing commonalities as well as differences.  One of the challenges we face as parents and educators is to help our children forge their own identities without being unduly influenced by those around them.

As the mother of three children, I came to realize that my kids often responded in different ways even when they were in a shared situation.  My son, Josh, was usually pretty oblivious to the reactions of those around him.  My daughter, Beth, was so sensitive that she read meanings into situations and was easily offended or hurt.  My daughter, Beckie, was such an optimist that she made excuses for others even when their behavior was blatantly appalling.  In order to help my children learn how to be part of a group while developing their own sense of individuality, I had to recognize that just as each learned academic skills in their own way they developed their personalities differently, too.

Josh, who was diagnosed at a young age with severe attention deficit hyperactivity outside the box photo: Outside the box 100_3099.jpgdisorder (ADHD), has always been an “outside the box” kind of thinker.  So far outside, as a matter of fact, that I’m not convinced he ever truly realized there was a “box”.  His creativity has always amazed me, and I tried to encourage it because I perceived his unusual perspectives as a wonderful gift.  I can’t say I always understood his thought processes, and I certainly was never able to predict what he might say or do next.  Yet it gave me great pleasure to see glimpses into how his mind worked and to consider ideas that would never have occurred to me without Josh to introduce them.

path less traveled photo: The path less traveled Alpha037.jpg            Josh’s various ideas and experiments did stretch out our school days, because he never seemed interested or even able to take a direct approach to a task.  If there was a scenic route, Josh would take it.  If there wasn’t, Josh would forge one and leave the well-worn path to the less adventuresome.  He often struggled academically, but he could leave most people in the dust when it came to creativity.  As a thoroughly “inside-the-box-and-it’s-probably-taped-up” kind of thinker, I made a point to share with Josh my genuine admiration for his ability to come up with unusual solutions to problems.

I have to admit that I was disappointed when not everyone shared my enthusiasm for Josh’s quirky and unpredictable ideas.  Couldn’t they see how special he was?  Josh left many adults as well as other children baffled by his thought processes, and he was equally baffled by their lack of understanding as he expressed his ideas.  In what I considered a “genius-for-being-inside-the-box” idea, I enrolled Josh in art classes where I was sure his gifts would be recognized and appreciated by someone besides me, his mother.

Josh enjoyed exploring new art mediums. He had many ideas to express, but even in art class he tended to be non-conforming to others’ expectations.  When Josh saw how something was done, it seemed to trigger an onslaught of alternative possibilities in his mind.  Instead of being embraced, his creative drive in non-traditional directions was met with attempts to redirect him to more specific tasks.  As Josh grew older he informed me that, “People expect you to be original while following a strict set of rules.”   Apparently Josh was over the top even with other creative types.

If you’ve ever felt like you are just not as creative as a lot of people you know, try to remember that thinking inside the box is not all bad.  Creative people need help to make their visions become reality, and those of us who are generally logical and detail-oriented may have just the skill set they need to help those visions become realities.  For those of you who are naturally creative, thank you for sharing your unique ideas.  While it’s true that in some circles you will be asked  to tone it down and “be original while following a strict set of rules”, please know that there are those of us who will continue to admire and applaud you for your originality.