Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Why I'm glad my friends are so insightful

Recently a friend and former teacher came to visit just as I was putting away the homeschool lesson for the day. Oliver and I had been working hard on one-to-one correspondence for a number of weeks and still, he wasn't getting it. I was having a hard time not being frustrated, mindful that I can't teach effectively once I start in with the pessimism: "He's NEVER going to get it!" But still, after trying everything I could think of to get the concept across I felt myself heading in that direction. Dangerous territory for the whole family! I said as much to my friend and her reply startled me with its clarity. In essence she said: "Then put it away. If you are trying so hard and he isn't getting it then he isn't ready. Do something else for awhile and come back to it. He'll get it eventually but don't make yourself -- or him -- crazy." I think I really needed for someone to say this to me because taking the long view of things often gives us such needed perspective.

Her advice made a lot of sense to me and it is something that I practice regularly with Sami without even thinking about it. You know, with Sami it is pretty easy to trust in the developmental process. Not ready to potty train? Fine. Let's give it some time. Tying your shoes? Reading? Who cares! We'll try again in a couple of weeks. And really, it has been as easy -- as not worrisome -- as that.  With Oliver, however, trusting in the developmental process hasn't been so worry-free. But after years and years of mothering Oliver you would think that I might be just a tiny bit more relaxed about it. After all, I've seen astonishing growth in my boy. I've seen his plateaus followed by bursts of development over and over again. I spend a lot of time being amazed by him. He and Sami just have a different rhythm to their forward momentum.

So we abandoned our lessons for awhile. I still incorporated numbers and counting into everything we did but I didn't try to sit down with him and match numbers with quantities again. Until today. Today was Sami's first day of school and so I figured it might be a good time to break out the numbers and counters again. And do you know what? It was like he had been doing it all along. He still had trouble remembering some of the names of the numbers, thanks to his aphasia, but he very clearly matched them with quantities. And each time he counted out the right quantity he proudly turned to me and said: "You did it!"

"No," I reminded him: "YOU did it!"

A couple of nights ago I listened to a speaker who reminded the audience that we cannot "pour language into our kids." This has kind of stuck with me because I like the image and because it is so true for just about everything. I mean, as much as we might like to, we can't pour anything into our kids (and here I'm also thinking about Resident Teenager!). Language, development, learning, reason. ... these are things that our children have to come by naturally through the course of living. What we can do is support them (with the right environment and teachers and all that), pay attention to their own individual rhythms, create lots of learning opportunities, and find a way to trust in the process.

And sometimes, I remind myself, the process of living and learning can even stretch well into a person's fortieth year!


  1. You needed to be told it and you've said it to me, who needed to be told it.

    Such a lovely post.

    Oh! And do try grid games for the ol'one to one, if you haven't already. There's a grid to fill yourself at the end of the below linked page. We always fill them left to right. They can be played as one player or multiple.

  2. Such a good reminder. Thank you.

  3. This post makes me happy.

  4. sometimes we just need those little reminders- sometimes the obvious answer seems so far away...

    and way to go oliver :)

  5. Funny how the universe gives us what we need when we're ready to hear it/learn it, eh? I needed this reminder so keenly today, my friend. Have been struggling with the creeping pace at which my own boy is learning and hitting the "anxious worry" button over and over. Funny, all I seem to get is, well, anxiety and worry. So NOT how I want to parent.

  6. I love that he looks at you and says, "You did it!"

  7. Hey, there! Are we living parallel lives? Jack is 6. We just started homeschooling. We know he hasn't "gotten" counting or one-to-one correspondence until ... ta-dah ... just this summer. But here's our theory ... vision development. Yep, until the visual processing part of his brain matured, he wasn't ready to learn it.

    You know something that worked for us? Using movement to count. If we move the object to one side as we count it, he gets it. Almost like using an abacus.

    Can't wait to read more of you - Clearly, I've been missing out.

  8. Very good advice! It's something I've learned in the trenches. When it's the right time, developmentally, for the child to grasp a concept, learning *isn't* a struggle.

  9. Anonymous12:05 PM

    Learning is a lifelong process. It doesn't stop at forty or fifth or sixty. Curiosity and interest in the world around one keeps one's mind flexible and young. My grandmother just celebrated her 90th birthday and she's learning Greek so she can understand what people are saying when she visits her great-nephew in Greece next month.
    And as for "you did it!" That's so cute. Oliver knows that HE did it, but pronouns are a difficult concept for people with autism. He's used to hearing you say "you did it!" when he accomplishes something so that's what he says. Funny how something so seemingly simple as pronouns can be a source of puzzlement to people with autism. I can only equate it with learning a foreign language. I speak French and I frequently spend time in Paris, where my firm has an office, but I will never speak the language like a native; it's the pronouns that I struggle with, similar to an English-speaking person with autism. Odd, isn't it?