Monday, April 30, 2012

It Might Just Add Up

We have a new unorthodox approach to math with John.  The nice thing about raising John is that his inflexibility has really helped me to think outside the box in many ways.  

I am even having to completely rethink normal moment to moment interactions with him.  I'm reading Ross Greene's book about dealing with explosive children.  A lot of it has resonated better than any book I've read so far about any of his many diagnoses.  

So I tried Greene's Plan B parenting strategy when John brought me a worksheet he had just completed 100% incorrectly.  John is working on multiplying multiple digits and he is struggling.  He finally managed to be successful with single digit multiplication after three years.  That answer is described here.  When John realized he didn't have a single problem correct, he and I both became convinced he was about to have another explosion.  

I took a deep breath and applied the problem solving strategy.  I echoed back his statements to show empathy and asked what was up.  He finally revealed that he is extremely frustrated because he tries to do the work, and it takes a long time and then he finds out he has to do more work and he'll probably still get it wrong.  But he also knew that he should be able to do it on his own and was frustrated at needing help.  I shared my concern, which was that I was afraid he was going to give up every time he encounters something difficult.  Then I invited him to work with me to find a solution that was doable, realistic, and mutually satisfying.  

It took a while, but he calmed enough to say he was really tired, and stressed but he knew he would eventually have to do the work.  We had already averted one meltdown earlier in the day using this method.  I think he calmed more quickly because he recognized the pattern.  I empathized, understanding how his hand would ache and he would have trouble concentrating.  I suggested that we both agree that he didn't need to reattempt the worksheet right then.

I put several suggestions on the table and asked for his input as well, but he wasn't feeling quite up to that. He gave me valid reasons why my suggestions wouldn't work.  And then, based on some of his responses and the fact he was calm enough I wasn't more concerned with his verbal abuse and disrespect than helping him, I offered a solution that we both agreed on.   I certainly would never have come up with it on my own.

I suggested that we wait until after lunch and then I work the entire worksheet from scratch while he watched.  I promised not to explain as I worked, just to let him watch.  I asked for his assurance that he would pay attention and if he felt comfortable, could jump in and direct me as I worked.  Oddly enough, this was satisfactory to me even though I normally would consider it cheating. 

 John is very visual.  He has a very hard time with fine motor control in writing and keeping columns of numbers in line, contributing to many calculation errors.  Auditory explanations are extremely frustrating and irritating to him.  I realized that if he saw the procedure enough, he'd become more confident and allow the process to sink in.  I don't know how long we will continue with me doing all of the math, but for now, I think this might work.  And honestly, if it takes less than three years for him to become competent at this particular skill,  we will be time ahead.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Needles and Drama and Stares, Oh My!

John had an appointment with a new pediatrician today. He recently had some questionable results on some blood work, and we decided to follow up.

I fixed lunch before we left, but John explained he wasn't all that hungry and requested we take the food with us for later. I agreed.

The pediatric practice is inside a complex for the Children's hospital, the Medical Mall and Erlanger Hospital. The place is a massive labyrinth of parking structures, long corridors and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style elevators.

We parked in a garage, rode an elevator up to the children's hospital, walked a long corridor, stopped at an information desk, doubled back on ourselves through a different parallel passage and took a different elevator down to the pediatric office. This is a large operation. The waiting room is humongous, with glass walls. There are two reception desks. I think checking in to give birth to Hannah was less rigorous.

We were taken back beyond the fire door into the group of exam rooms. The highest number on a door I saw was 15. I knew we were probably in for a long wait. Our appointment was at 1pm. I suddenly found myself with a cagey twelve-year-old, OCD enough to be wearing two watches, in an exam room until 2pm. He was already nervous. But suddenly the small room, his tired butt and his overwrought nerves had the best of him, about the time the doctor walked in.

Immediately, he pointed out she was an hour late and that she should be paying us for our time, while pumping his fists in the air. As she started taking his medical history and recording his current medications, he became very fidgety and started ranting about anything that came to mind.

"I'm starving to death. You people were an hour late and Mommy didn't feed me lunch."

The doctor raised a questioning eyebrow in my direction. I turned to my agitated son, "John, remember you didn't want to eat earlier. The food is in the car. You may eat it when we get done."

The doctor's hackles seemed to smooth. More run-of-the-mill questions peppered with increasingly louder rantings, "When I turn thirteen, which will be in September, September 22, I'm going to be able to watch PG 13 movies. Daddy let me watch Iron Man once and that was fiiiiiiiinnnnee, but, oh no, now, I'm not allowed to watch them. It's not even like I was scared. This place is a cage. I was taking the Miralax but sometimes you don't give it to me. It works okay when I have it."

The doctor had been doing a pretty good job ignoring all the venom and drama from the other side of the room but then turned to look at me and asked if we were going on and off the Miralax. I explained that, sometimes, he had it with lunch instead of breakfast.

It was a little reminiscent of when people used to ask him about homeschooling during a Monday appointment and he'd answer with, "Well, we haven't done school in a loooooong time." Yeah, Friday was a long time ago.

She decided we needed to do another test just to confirm the results were nothing to worry about, and left the room. There is no greater fear for John than the prospect of a needle piercing his skin. She left us trapped in the small room for about 25 minutes to really let the angst settle in. He threw his glasses across the room, causing one lens to pop out and slide behind the trashcan. He started rocking and wailing about how he didn't want to be a human experiment and how he had a God-given right to free will and his free will was to not have a blood draw.

I tried several things to calm him down and just tried to be calm and supportive. At last a woman stepped in the door carrying gloves and a couple of vials. Somehow, John had time to note her supplies and decide to bolt out the door behind her.

He. Was. Gone.

I explained he was very phobic and I would go find him. Unbothered, she sat down and said she'd be right there waiting. I stopped, first, at the restroom and found it empty. My heart started to race as I realized I had no idea where he would go. I went through the fire door and saw him through the glass waiting room wall straight ahead. The problem was, I couldn't get to him that way. I had to turn right, follow the wall about 75 feet, make a u-turn and go that distance on the other side.

About the time I made it to the open hallway, I noticed John standing in an open elevator, repeatedly and desperately stabbing at a button like people do in the movies when they are chased by the bad guys. I normally have a no-chasing John policy because that usually causes problems. Today, was not a day for standard policies. I sprinted that corridor in my silk Enwrapture skirt and flipflops, nearly diving into the elevator as the doors shut.

We rode the elevator to the basement, viewed the supply area and rode the elevator back up. I put my arm around John's upper back and scraped him off the wall of the elevator. A nurse in blue scrubs looked concerned, "Is everything ok?"

I thought, Of course, you mean not all your patients go for a jog right before their lab work?

As she followed along behind us, kind of strafing side to side with her arms out, lest John make another break for it, I noticed all fifteen of the waiting room occupants, including the receptionists, were standing in front of their chairs, craning to see the only excitement they'd had since they got there.

We got John almost all the way to the exam room when he grabbed a hand rail on the wall and started banging his head on it. Ms. Lily, the lovely, patient nurse who was about to draw his blood, the blue-scrubbed nurse and I somehow talked him back into the room.

Ms. Lily suggested John sit anywhere he liked in the room. She didn't even have to say that. John picked the floor, huddled behind a chair just in case he needed to whack her with it if she came too close. She calmly explained that we needed to try to get the blood in the office because otherwise they would go to the lab and someone would probably hold him down.

He went on about not being an experiment and free will and then he said that people who hold people down should be given a death sentence from God and should go to hell. Then he decided he'd rather go to heaven instead of going through this, maybe even hell.

"They say you only feel a prick, but I feel the prick and then the needle going through all the layers of skin and into my vein and then I feel it SUCKING the blood out and my arm is sore for weeks afterwards." I thought of how clothing tags bother many on the Spectrum.

Ms. Lily, calm and patient as ever, said, "John, we care about your health. You are not an experiment. And I don't remember ever being in the Bible that God said anything good about whacking people with chairs. Why don't you ask God to help you be brave, instead. It works for my daughter. He'll do it, every time."

I then suggested he stand up and he did and we hugged tightly a few minutes. Ms. Lily, went on the other side of the room and John willingly got on the exam table and did his usual, wrapping his legs around me and one arm.

Ms. Lily asked permission to come over and look at his vein and he agreed. She told him she wouldn't do anything without telling him first. He said, "Make sure Mommy is holding my elbow straight so it doesn't collapse. If it collapses, it'll bend in my arm and hurt way worse and defeat the whole purpose. And no more updates. Just get it done." He turned his head away from the victimized arm and didn't even flinch, as usual, during any of the process. In the end, he was happy-go-lucky and we left as if this was a normal doctor visit any child might have.
And he got to eat his lunch when we got to the car.

Asperger's word of the day: Sometimes, you just have to ride the wave.... And sprint in your flip flops.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Please Leave My Kitchen

I've made a few huge strides in learning to speak Asperger's in the last few weeks. Part of it is that John is able to communicate better as he gets older. Part of it is discovering Wrong Planet, a forum that includes mostly adults with Asperger's. I'm realizing that experts in the field of Autism can only give us Neurotypicals their observations about Aspergian behavior and thought patterns. That's like learning about a culture from someone who has only studied the culture, not lived it, let alone, been born into it.

Wrong Planet gives me the opportunity to learn from people who have Aspergers and have lived long enough to be able to speak NT fluently enough to help me understand their perspective. The same phenomenon exists after reading Look Me in the Eye and Be Different, books written by an Aspergian to explain his point of view.

Those new insights, combined with consideration for John's own unique personality, the way our family works, and lots of talking with my mother who has her own unique insights into why children behave the way they do, have led to some important discoveries. I plan to share them over the next few weeks here. One such discovery, I blogged about on Mamaholly.

Another discovery is simply asking John to leave my premise when he is being obnoxious or belligerent or argumentative or even, uninvited assistant parent. I have spent years, before realizing his neurological differences, punishing his disrespectful behavior. I've tried to explain why his behavior was inappropriate. I've also "tried to be patient" and explain the expectations and why he was receiving whichever consequence I had contrived at the time. I've tried stickers and rewards and many other techniques. If anything worked, it worked only for short periods of time.

John's behavior can be infuriating and, apparently, so can mine, as is seen in his frequent rages. As I've learned more about Aspergers, I'm learning how frustrating it can be to him to communicate or to keep his mouth shut when he disagrees. I see it is common to have a hyper-vigilant sense of justice, such as I've always seen with him.

I thought I had the key as soon as I learned John had Aspergers. I thought he just didn't understand social cues and all I would have to do is teach/explain/draw/write out the expectations and he would become cooperative and grateful for my guidance. Yeah, it's been nothing like that.

Now I know, that that is a flawed outsider's perspective. Yes, it is true, that many Aspergians don't pick up on subtle social cues, body language and idioms. But, I am learning, that some who learn the expected pattern disagree in principle with the concept. The social pattern of greeting someone with the question "How are you?" and the expected response of "Fine" is a perfect example.

Some Aspergians think the social convention of a contrived question in the form of a greeting call and response is ridiculous. I can actually see their point. So, some of them, either choose to go along with it, begrudgingly, because it is more important to them to maintain certain relationships or consider themselves something of social idiocy rebellion leaders and will painstakingly tell you in great detail exactly how they are because you actually asked.

I think John falls into the second category on many occasions. He frequently sees a social convention and makes the valid choice not to comply. There are consequences to making such a choice, as there are to any form of rebellion. Unfortunately, if one doesn't play the expected social game, one can find himself isolated, not welcomed into relationships or gatherings or even the victim of ridicule or bullying. I have actually come to admire his audacity and willingness to lose for the sake of doing what he believes is right. I've decided to give him much more freedom in this manner.

Unfortunately, what he believes is right frequently flies in the face of what I believe is right. While I now recognize it is a valid choice for him to make, I also realize that his rights frequently preclude my rights for not being abused verbally. I've adopted a pattern of politely, sweetly asking him to leave my kitchen (or any place I own), when he is doing something that bothers me, as soon as it bothers me. I used to try to be patient, a practice which succeeded in sending mixed signals and allowed me to become frustrated and angry in ways that were not becoming to me as a parent.

I have started trying to visual how I would react if he were simply an annoying or bothersome adult I happen to know. If the annoyance is mild, I usually overlook it and then just avoid making plans with that person in the future. If it persists, and the relationship is valuable enough, I may have a conversation explaining my boundaries. Sometimes, I just avoid certain subjects or nod my head instead of sharing my opinion. If it's bad enough, I leave or ask them to leave depending on the location. In none of my interactions with fellow adults do I try to tell them how to behave or punish them.

As my latest self-defense mechanism I started asking him to leave as I would a persistently annoying adult. He has routinely, calmly, maybe with some muttering, left. No throwing. No screaming. No arguing. It was actually a little eery at first. Even eerier, a few minutes later, a very meek John would approach the doorway and say something like "May I come back in?" followed with an "I'm sorry if I was rude."

In my excitement, I decided to put my teacher hat back on, subconsciously. I found myself saying, "That was rude. Please leave my kitchen." But that didn't work. He didn't always agree that what he was doing was, in fact, rude. He respects the fact it is my kitchen and I have a right to choose how I am treated in there, but he feels the need to argue when he believes his character is maligned.

Most of John's annoying or inappropriate behaviors build, so I just ask him to leave as soon as it starts, before either of us is angry. It helps that I accept it isn't my failing that allows him to speak that way. It is simply a choice he has made, on his own, though it isn't the choice I would have made. The result is more peace than I've experienced since I taught him, a screaming, 20-month-old foster child to sign "please" before I would pick him up.

Telling him not to be rude, or to come back and say something in a respectful manner, or to apologize, or just to close his mouth is viewed as impinging on his rights. And in a logical extension of that, he is willing not to impinge on mine by continuing to berate me in my own kitchen. Oh, and interestingly, this peace has extended to his interactions with his sister because he's not constantly fuming about the way I've disrespected him.

Asperger's word of the day: Respect. Yep, even in speaking Asperger's, you have to give it in order to receive it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

It Seems Like the Right Time for a New Post

My boy. Oh, how I love my boy. I might very well be bored without the challenges he presents me.

John's meds have been affecting his appetite. It's unusual for us since most of the time we have to ensure he isn't just obsessively stuffing his face despite obvious pain and fullness. But he has said he isn't hungry when he wakes up. I proposed a solution: let's switch your breakfast and reading time slots so you can eat a little later.

He was thrilled yesterday afternoon when I mentioned the possibility. He even remembered the change this morning. Now, we don't have a schedule because I need or even want one. He NEEDS one. He wants one. He is comforted by the schedule that has taken us years to develop. He needs it posted. In fact, he even needs to argue with it occasionally. But in the end, it always wins because it is written. And things that are written contain the utmost authority for John.

It was a simple switch in time slots. I had thought that part would be obvious to my very logical and linear son. Everything he would normally do at 7:30, he would now do at 8:00 and vice versa. Except that's not how he saw it. Here's what really happened:

Previous Schedule

New Schedule

What Really Happened

7:00 Wake up/Get ready

7:00 Wake up/Get ready

7:00 Wake up/Get ready

7:30 Breakfast/unload dishwasher

7:30 Free Reading

7:30 Argue vehemently how he should have extra time to get dressed in the mornings. Insist on knowing what breakfast was going to be. Drink water. Lots of water. Starts Reading.

8:00 Free Reading

8:00 Breakfast/unload dishwasher

8:30 Restroom/drink/change laundry/sharpen pencil

8:30 Restroom/drink/change laundry/sharpen pencil

8:40 Stops reading. Gets a drink of water. Lots of water. Visits the bathroom. Attends emergency schedule adjustment meeting called by Mom. Argues how he is right on time and Mom has grossly miscalculated. Previous diagram is shared and he argues nonetheless that he should be allowed an extra half hour for everything due to the schedule change. “Who care’s about stupid schedules anyway.” Finally eats some yogurt. Dishwashes isn’t unloaded and laundry isn’t changed. Mom reprioritizes, prays silently for His grace which is sufficient.

8:50 Prayer Circle

8:50 Prayer Circle

9:00 Math

9:00 Math

9:00 Math -- “Look Mom, I finally got you back on schedule.”

All I can do is giggle, blog, and wait for tomorrow when I will try again to help him adjust. Tomorrow will be better. I'm sure he'll keep me on track.

Asperger's vocabulary of the day: Flexibility. It can be difficult for Neuro-typicals as well as those who reside on the Spectrum.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Birthday, Bah Humbug

It's John's birthday. He has high expectations. He's cognizant enough to have been counting down to this day for weeks. Because of that, at 9:30 am, I'm already writing about how miserable everyone in the house is.

I got up this morning and had a delightful run. My thoughts were preoccupied with a blog post about how I didn't even know John was being born twelve years ago, but I was already being prepared to be his mother in very important ways. I was going to reveal what a blessing it is to know and love John and how he has stretched me and challenged me in ways no one else on this planet has. He has helped to uncover parts of my character I'd rather not address and might not have recognized without him. He has shown me strength and faith I didn't know I had. He needled his way straight into my heart the first moment I laid eyes on his impish smile and his little bald toddler head.

But then the day went a completely different direction. I popped back in the house with a smile in my heart and plans to pour out affection and sweet words on my son. But he was edgy. He was rude to his grandmother. I could hear agitation in her voice. And she's normally very understanding and patient with him. He refused to do his normal morning routine and he had also thrown a spoon at his sister. He absolutely would not apologize because he didn't hit her, the spoon did.

I put on my understanding, Aspie-talking hat and went to nip it in the bud. I'm not exactly sure why his typical antics flew all over me this morning. It may have been because he was so utterly rigid in the face of something so simple and necessary as a little consideration. (Yeah, I know, I wasn't thinking Aspie, right there.) It may have been that I had built the day up a little too much in my own head.

I screamed and I cried. I bawled for the loss of that lacy-edged vignette I had enjoyed during my run. I cried out to God. I had myself a neuro-typical meltdown. I kind of understand the release it brings. I furiously texted two wonderful, godly friends who helped me think it through.

John had been Disneylanded.

When he was younger, Theo used to say that John was allergic to fun. If he found out we were going to do something fun, he seemed to do everything in his power to sabotage the experience, even though it was something he wanted to do. Disneyland is a supreme disappointment to him. He builds it up in his mind and wants it to be utterly perfect, expects it to be so.

Then he is devastated when the temperature is hot. There are lines. The music on the rides is loud. The food vendors don't all automatically serve everything magically gluten free. And there are lots of people EVERYWHERE. Sights. Smells. Sounds. Disneyland (without proper planning) is a recipe for overstimulation and the let down of reality in what claims to be "The happiest place on earth."

I thought I had prepared properly for this birthday. I prepared him to expect a normal school day to maintain a routine, but I had gotten that motherly twinkle of excitement and decided to let him pick all three meals for today and planned to have some fun projects and make school just a little bit special with a video during history and some board games during math.

In the meantime, he had some birthday twinkling of his own. I think he planned on this being the "Happiest day on earth." I believe he imagined no responsibilities, delicious food, the freedom to choose his own everything, everyone would be nice to him, he wouldn't get in trouble, he would be showered with affection and his little sister would not dare to do anything annoying.

Reality wasn't nearly so awesome. I knew to expect this to a certain extent. That's why I tried so hard to find a way to make it fun while not taking him out of routine too much. That's where I went wrong. I should have done everything in my power to make it as mundane as possible while still acknowledging it is his birthday. Since his brain was already at Disneyland, I needed to make his real world more like a rainy day, curled up with a good book.

I learned a long time ago (and have to relearn from time to time) that John is the worst predictor of what will bring him happiness. It was too much pressure to have him choose three meals. The truth is that I would have picked something similar with him in mind but it would have caused him less stress. After the day is done, he'll still be mulling over how the day might have been better had he chosen grilled cheese rather than cheesy bbq fries for lunch. I should have spent less time planning special projects and more time reassuring him that things would be the same despite it being his birthday. I should have given him a written list of what to expect and what was expected of him.

After my tantrum, John seemed relieved instead of appalled. I guess I expressed outwardly what was going on inside of him. We aren't playing Yahtzee during math, he's doing a set of electronic worksheets and I hear him humming, relaxed. I'm giving him some space so he can work in peace. And the girls are taking a lovely bubble bath and behaving like it's a special day in his stead.

I'll read him this blog post later while I tear up. He'll listen raptly and rub his face and say something like, "I love you, Mom. Sorry you got upset. Can I have some grapes?"

I'll say "Yes, you can eat the whole bag. I bought it just for you."

He'll be thrilled! And then he'll complain how it was really just a small bag of grapes so he's still hungry. And then I'll know we're back to normal and I can stop freaking out about the fact I had a meltdown earlier.

Happy Birthday, John. I love you so much. Now, get back to work.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Walls of Our Hearts

It's been a hard few weeks. I don't know which of John's official diagnoses are accurate, relevant, all part of the same thing or which he seems to have recovered from like Reactive Attachment Disorder. Certainly the label of Aspergers Syndrome has been quite helpful in helping our family communicate with each other. I only mention his alphabet soup list of disorders (Bipolar, OCD, Written Expression Learning Disability and Sensory-Motor Disorder on top of the aforementioned AS and RAD) to say regardless of what those mean, you can tell he's got it rough.

Sometimes we experience what I call an emotional death spiral. This has been one of those times. There's been prayer as well as avoiding God on my part. I find myself realizing I'm very fragile. I post (on Facebook) or tell the medical health professionals that I'm have a very hard time, Hannah's having a hard time, we all are getting sucked into the black hole and I usually get a lot of very flattering commentary that I'm exactly who God ordained to be his mother or "Sounds like you are doing all the right things!" in a little doctory sing-song.

The truth is that we aren't drowning. For all of what is going on with John, we are actually doing well compared to others. But, wow, I feel like I've been treading water for a really long time and I'm pretty tired.

Thanks to some intimate talk with a dear friend, I realized I was not casting all my burdens on God. I started reading the Bible daily again, even though I had been not been experiencing the Word jumping off the page for a while. I was in a spiritual desert.

This morning I read Proverbs 25 to match today's date for lack of inspiration to read anywhere else. A verse jumped of the page! "25:28 Like a city that is broken down and without a wall so is a person who cannot control his temper." Theo and I had just talked last night about how God had woo'd us back again and we were needed to change the mood of the house instead of allowing John's moods to be in charge.

I knew immediately this was something to cover during our Bible lesson in school today. But John was having nothing of it, school, that is. "You didn't say we were going to do a full day of school, you just said we were going to do school!" There was more of his typical mix of hilarity and venom.

I kept that Word about controlling my temper in my heart, prayed, and remembered that he is hurting. I remained firm on my expectations while being kind and loving and trying to go out of my way give him gentle touches when he was in his most agitated moments. I also proceeded with our school day, encouraging him to jump in frequently. He slammed the bathroom door into the wall, leaving a hole in the drywall. He hurled a plastic shoe very hard at the glass in the front door. He writhed on the floor and upturned chairs and the vacuum cleaner. As long as I was peacefully moving on with the day while reminding him what was next those fits became softer and shorter. He didn't throw anything toward any people and he didn't touch any of us in his rages. We loved him and waited without paying too much heed to the anger that welled. To engage him or to force him to stop is only to escalate and create a dangerous environment. While this wasn't fun, he was in control enough to keep from hurting those he loves.

He refused to come into the room to participate in Bible and Etiquette but I saw at one point he had been quietly sitting in the other room listening as I taught Hannah. I talked about how bad things could get in a city if the walls were down. Then I talked about the walls of our hearts and how if we have trouble with our tempers it breaks parts of those walls and bad things can then get in.

It took until 5 pm for him to be calm enough to complete all of his tasks. He was still refusing to admit that he had anything to do for Bible and Etiquette because he had listened and, in his mind, that was the only point.

At that point, Theo called. I took a few minutes to talk in private about the situation, plying the older two children with cheese sticks for those precious moments alone. My temptation would be to say that he needed to write down what he had heard because I taught that class once already and without him participating, answering questions, making eye contact I had no way of knowing that he had absorbed the information. My primary goal was to encourage him to participate cooperatively when he is supposed to tomorrow, and other days.

Based on Theo's suggestions and the time I had had to relax, I had a new plan. I asked him to come sit at the white board. I wrote the class names on the board and then did a flow chart, basically. If he chose to listen to me explain something, he could then just tell me what he heard this morning and we could discuss. If he chose not to listen politely, he could write 5 sentences for each subject. One sentence is usually enough to send him into panic.

He chose the easier path. I drew stick figures of tossed chairs and overturned vacuums. I drew pictures of a stick boy sitting in a chair with circles on his head representing open ears. Because he chose to calmly stay, given his options, he was able to absorb the visual information and even giggle about his obviously unhelpful and silly behavior. I kept it light hearted. We talked about what I wanted as far as sitting in class and so on. He was in agreement and repentant. That conversation was a victory in itself.

Then it was his turn to tell me what he had learned in Bible. He had heard some of it and we had a great discussion about those bad things being able to get into one's heart and how the Holy Spirit had helped me this morning with that passage and how I thought it might help him. I told him I knew he didn't know how to control his temper but that if he wanted to learn and asked God to help him, surely it would be done over time.

He was thoughtful and quiet. After a few minutes he made a connection I would never have dreamed of. "Mom, the Bible says God didn't give us a spirit of fear..." John has mind-blowing, hallucinatory, debilitating fears and anxieties. We talked about how the enemy was like a thief coming to steal, kill and destroy. And what we had been given instead of fear was power, love and a sound mind. Wow!!!! What a thought! Those are exactly things that were frequently missing from my boy and fear was left in its place. We both agreed it was time to pray about that temper control to help build up those walls that protect his heart.

Aspergers vocabulary Word of the day: Proverbs 25:28 Like a city that is broken down and without a wall, so is a person who cannot control his temper.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Multiplication Tables

I've found a great new website: It's an autism community. It's very helpful to find other parents dealing with similar issues. It's also very helpful to find people contributing who have autism spectrum disorders and children of parents with ASDs.

I went there yesterday to see if I could find some help with John's issue of peeing all over the bathroom. I didn't find anything that quite hit the nail on the head yet, but I did find something else very interesting.

We've tried to move ahead in math but John still hasn't mastered basic multiplication, which makes division very difficult to learn. With his anxiety, if he doesn't know the answer immediately, he won't even attempt the problem. So math has been at a grinding halt for a couple of years. Let's throw in the fact that he has severe written expression problems and we spent all of last year getting him comfortable with the concept. He's finally comfortable and, as always, gets nearly 100% correct, only he has never gotten any faster.

We've tried math wrap-ups, Timez Attacks, other online math programs, saxon math, daily drills, math board games, flash cards, incentives, punishments, moving on while keeping a chart handy. Nothing has met his crushing anxiety and stood up to it.

But yesterday I read the advice of a grown man who has Aspergers and holds an advanced math degree. He had John's math issues as a child. His advice to the mother asking for help was to remember to tell her son explicitly that the tables are to memorize not to calculate. He had always thought he was supposed to calculate them on the fly but never got any faster. He wished someone would have thought to tell him to memorize them, not to worry about figuring them out.

OH MY WORD. I've talked to multiple friends about the hallmark of John's issues seem to be about not being able to connect the dots. This morning, I sat down with him and shared what I had read. I knew I was on to something immediately. I pointed out that he didn't have to think about what John 3:16 was. He didn't have to look it up. He just had it memorized. He didn't have to remember his address by finding it on a map, he just remembered it. A sparkle began to glimmer.

I got out the flash cards. I reminded him that I was going to do something new, I just needed to know which ones he already had MEMORIZED. If he had to think about them I was going to put them in the don't know stack. In the past, the don't know stack made him very upset. I understand now. He knew them if he was just given enough time. I was simply being impatient according to him, not giving him a chance. So we went through the cards and he basically only had 1's, 2's, and 10's down pat. I put them aside and showed him the don't knows. Because I reiterated that those were the ones that weren't memorized with immediate recall, he tolerated all of this.

Next I picked four cards from the don't knows at random. If learning them in ordered groups was tempting him to count up, I didn't want to repeat the same mistake. I already know that he can recall random facts like where we sat in a restaurant three years ago, so they didn't have to be in any grouping as long as he started memorizing them instead of calculating them.

I placed them on the table and wrote the answers on post-it notes. We stuck the answers to the table and then I mixed up the cards and had him match them to the answers. He did it gleefully about four times. Then I picked them up and had him say the answers as I went through those four in the normal flashcard manner. Small hesitation on one problem but he had them all. I explained what I was doing and why and how there was no pressure if something went in the don't know pile and I added the four new cards to his already knows list. He nailed it.

We went through it twice and he asked to learn four more! In about thirty minutes he had nearly mastered 8 new problems. They were completely chosen at random and I stopped giving him the mnemonic devices and other tricks that had helped me. He doesn't learn like I did.

Aspergers word of the day: connect the dots. Visually probably.