Asperger’s or ….

This week, I encountered an ever-present question. Is it Asperger’s or 11 year old boy?

When Daniel was little, I struggled for years before figuring out what was going on with him.  I have always struggled with guilt for not finding out sooner.  As time goes by I am repeatedly faced with the dilemma  of sorting out what is a legitimate struggle related to Daniel’s unique cocktail of Asperger’s and other syndromes and what is just the usual lessons of childhood tinted by Daniel’s specific quirks.

Daniel has processing issues.  A sound linked to a specific letter grouping will enter his understanding and get filed away in his brain.  However, he has intense difficulty pulling that information up when he needs it.  This is a large part of what causes his struggles with reading. Comprehension is not a problem, recall is.

Daniel is good at math. Actually, he is great at math.  He grasps the concepts with ease.  However, he hates memorizing. This is probably also linked to his processing struggle.  Comprehension is excellent but memorize is difficult.  Multiplication tables have to be memorized.  Memorized and then used repeatedly until they enter the long term memory part of his brain.  Since Daniel hates to memorize he hates to work on multiplication.  He resists practicing his multiplication.  This week, division was the lesson of the week.  The problem ballooned.

On Monday night, Daniel spent 2.5 hours doing math homework.  He completed 9 problems out of 28 assigned.  I saw tale-tell signs of procrastination.  Scribbles on the white board, slightly erased.  One time when I walked by, the problem written on the white board had small lines traced through it, making it look crackled.  I asked Daniel what was going on.  His response, “Mom!  I am just not fast!”

I tried to point out the signs of distraction.  The situation started to quickly escalate into a full blown confrontation.  I decided to email Daniel’s teacher instead.  With Daniel standing next to me, I sent the following email:

Ms. H,

We are having a hard time with math homework.  On the nights when Daniel comes home with math homework it is taking him hours to complete the twenty or so problems that he has.  For example, tonight, he has 28 problems.  In 2.5 hours of working on his math primarily independently he completed 9 problems.

I am trying to figure out if there is a problem that he is struggling with or if he is just not staying on task.  I was wondering how quickly he is able to complete math work in class.  Does it take about 15 minutes to complete a problem?  Is he working mostly independently or does he have a dedicated person helping him with his work?  Daniel is insisting he just isn’t that fast.  I am inclined to believe that there is a focus issue that I need to address.  However, I wanted to get your input.  Is he really slow working on his math?

I appreciate your input and assistance in this.  Thank you very much!

Rachel McCumber

Later that day, I received this response:

Mrs. McCumber,

Hi.  Received your email with regards to Daniel and his Math homework.  He does  not have an issue in class completing CW.  He can work independently.  When homework is assigned he avoids it.  I have modified his work by the amount and simplify the directions down to solving and still it seems he is avoiding it.  He definitely can do it as he demonstrates this and it will take him at most 5 minutes to complete a division problem.  He needs to work on mastery of his multiplication facts.  I did give him a set of cards to practice at home and he should do these every night.  He takes timed tests and avoids division, which is not an option.  I will send a set home so he can work on them.  Perhaps you can put a timer on 10 minutes and let him work on division one night and multiplication another.  This will increase his speed and accuracy.  He needs this mastery of multiplication facts to do the majority of 5th grade math.  I hope this helps.  Look for practice timed tests in his folder.

Thank you for your email and your support.

Ms. H

It was exactly as I thought.  The learning disabilities might be making memorization a chore, but the avoiding of unpleasant tasks was all 11 year-old boy.

I have seen extremes in this kind of circumstance.  My father insisted that Dyslexia was a myth and my sister, a severe dyslexic, was not only prevented from getting help but punished severely for being lazy.  A friend of mine has a brother who has some mild disabilities.  Their mother decided long ago that these disabilities meant he could do nothing for himself.  At 35, he has never lived on his own, held a job, finished school or even been required to help with household chores.  These extremes are the easy way out.  It is so much more difficult, time consuming and emotionally draining to try to meet your child where they are, supporting them when they struggle and requiring growth and maturity of them as appropriate.  It requires understanding the uniqueness of your child and responding in kind.  There is no autopilot, no one size fits all.  I think having a child with Asperger’s Syndrome simply magnifies this struggle.  As with everything in life, I look to find balance.  I must balance between the instinct to protect and provide for my children and the duty of wisely giving them ever increasing independence and requiring corresponding responsibility.

In this situation, I began by eliminating the obvious.  Instead of fighting with Daniel at the emotionally charged moment 2.5 hours into a long homework grind, I verified with a knowledgable person regarding his observed abilities. That gave me better understanding. It also let Daniel know that he had a team of people working together to support him.

I started by eliminating any computer games that were not multiplication or division related. While Daniel was at school I pulled out two glasses.  I put 48 stones and marbles in one glass.  This represented his 4 hours of combined tv time for the whole weekend in 5 minute increments.  When he got home, I sat him down with his math homework, an egg timer and the glasses.  I read him the email I had received from his teacher.  Calmly, I explained that he had 5 minutes to finish his first problem.  If he did, great.  If he did not, I would take a 5 minute stone from his tv time.

As expected, Daniel balked.  His faced seized up and he started working up a frenzy.  I calmly removed a stone from the full glass and placed it in the empty glass.  The apologies started immediately followed by a begging to put the stone back.  I refused.  Daniel started his homework.

TV Time in a glass

With the tick-tick of the timer as a constant reminder to stay on task, and the marbles winking at him from their glass, Daniel quickly finished his first problem.  He seemed almost surprised and smiled as he showed me the timer.  It had taken him 2 minutes.  I set the timer again to 5 minutes and walked a short distance away.  Again, Daniel finished quickly.  He finished 18 problems in less than 30 minutes!

Maybe the visual of the stones in the glass works better for Daniel because of his Asperger’s.  The problem it addressed was simply the problem that every child has to confront.  Deciding to tackle difficult tasks instead of avoiding them. Daniel started to see this as a win-win situation.  He completed his homework quickly and had time to play with friends. Also, his daily practice of multiplication and division had him improving from 35 problems/10 minutes to 56.

This technique has been expanded and improved upon as the week has gone by.  Daniel looses tv time for poor choices but can earn it back by being extra helpful around the house or going above and beyond his normal responsibilities. It is satisfying to have found a piece of the puzzle. On top of all of these things, both he and his brother won 1st place in their elementary school science fair!  Way to go!!


About aspergersmom

I am a 35 year old woman. I am the wife of an amazing man, who keeps me sane. As a recent California/Florida transplant to the midwest and the mother to a combined family of 6 children; 3 boys, 3 girls, my life is an adventure. I blog and raise our family with my best friend.
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