Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Multiplication Tables

I've found a great new website: http://www.wrongplanet.net/ 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.

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