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Monday, January 21, 2013

The other frustration

Lately I've been experiencing what for me is a new kind of frustration with Janey---frustration with her intellectual disability.  I can honestly say until this point, I was not bothered by her retardation.  I still am not, nearly as much as I am with the autism and the resultant behaviors, but I'm starting to feel that frustration, just a little.

Mainly, it's just not getting how she learns, or how she doesn't learn.  A good example is an app she was trying to do on the iPad last night---Jumpstart Preschool.  It's a little beyond her, but she's interested in it.  There was a matching task---you click on kites or umbrellas or something, which reveal a capital letter, and you need to find two that match, like Concentration.  She seemed to somewhat get what it wanted her to do, but she couldn't seem to get that she needed to try new kites if the first two didn't work.  She sat there clicking the same two kites for about 15 minutes.  I didn't jump in to help---I was trying hard to not do so, to see if she'd get it.  I don't think this was a case of stimming with the sounds.  I think she really wanted to do the matches, as when I finally jumped in and did one for her, she was delighted.  But she didn't or couldn't make the mental jump that would have told her---you need to click around to find the right letters!  Today, we were trying a math program her school uses---First in Math.  They had kind of a trippy game, where a slot machine looking bar showed something like two blue stars.  Floating around below it were all kinds of shapes in different colors.  You had to put a blue star with the other two blue stars.  Janey did understand this, and a few times, did it perfectly.  But other times, she put a shape over the shapes that were already there (which I don't think the program should have let you do) and then, she seemed to be totally thrown off, and kept putting the right shape over the wrong shape in the area where she'd get no credit for it.  She would do the same thing about 10 times, without seeming to realize that she had just done it right a little earlier.

Both those cases show the frustrating part.  It wasn't that Janey didn't get what the task was asking, I don't think.  But she wasn't able to make the mental corrections and steps to get it right.  It might have been a matter of motivation, but I don't think so---in both cases, she liked a lot how the program reacted when she got it right.

It struck me watching this that I would never, ever be a good homeschooling teacher for Janey.  I've realized this with my boys (although they made it very clear that had no desire to be homeschooled!)  I get frustrated far too easily.  I don't know how to teach, especially how to teach Janey.  There is probably a method that would work better than ones I try, but I don't know what it is.  And I just start thinking "How can she not get it?" and I know that's mean.  She doesn't get things because her brain is not set up to get them.  I don't believe it's all hidden in there someplace.  I think her brain has severe functioning problems.  She is able to use the parts of her brain that aren't as affected---rote memory, for a big huge one, and music, and gross motor skills and even fine motor skills in terms of technology---it was not that she couldn't manipulate the mouse at all.  But she can't learn new patterns easily at all.

I can accept in myself that I get frustrated with the autism.  No-one on earth, I don't think, could hear Janey's hourlong screaming spells and not be upset.  But the learning delays---I feel like I should have more patience.  I feel horrible that I get frustrated with that.  I guess it's an area where I should instead feel very grateful to her teachers and therapists, who have the patience in that area I do not.  And I do feel that gratefulness, but I wish I had that gift, the gift of teaching.


mknecht24 said...

Good heavens, I could never be a teacher. I do not have the patience or adaptability required. A thought for you...maybe the iPad isn't the best teaching tool for Janey. Those apps assume that kids have certain reasoning skills. Janey probably does great when someone can guide her past the snags when she gets stuck, right? I'm guessing she knows the right answers. She just cannot always navigate the app when it doesn't follow her logic. That is not a reflection of her lack of intellect rather I think it shows her remarkable intellect. Unconventional but clearly highly developed. When you talk about Janey's speech patterns, I am always amazed at her ability to get her point across in her own creative way. She is an incredible kid. :)

Sakurafleur said...

Oh god, I could never home school Olivia either. I have patience for a lot of things, but it's not in schooling.

Suzanne - have you heard of a guy called Ido? He's on facebook and he has a blog and he's written a book. He is an amazing guy - seemingly most of his life having a learning disability, but actually quite opposite. I am not saying that our kids are geniuses, but it just gives that glimpse that maybe something else is going on... here's a link to his blog.

I am not saying that our kids have his capability, but reading his book and blog has really given me some other things to think about and other ways to look at things. Not that I don't think you are doing an amazing job - you have taught me SO much. I love your blog and I have given your link to Olivia's therapists as an example of someone who is a real thinker.

audball said...

I think it's really telling that when you helped Janey with that first matching game, she was happy and not angry. I think she was really wanting to succeed and your helping her do that was terrific. I know that lots of people look at helping our kids (too much) as being a negative, but I honestly think some kids work better when *shown* the correct way to do things.

There is an approach called "errorless learning". I can't remember if I ever spoke to you about it, but you can read about it here:

There is an idea that while some kids learn by "trial and error", there are a number of kids who need to see the correct way of doing something a number of times to get the concept. If anything, trial and error just serves to reinforce negative behavior (the child remembers the "bad" feeling associated with getting a wrong answer), and completely misses the point of the lesson.

So following along with what mknecht24 said, maybe if you sat by Janey and tried a few of the games, allowing for success - either by her or with your help - she'll get the game?

The other thing is that many kids on the spectrum have difficulty with executive function. Working memory is tough for our kids and what we think may be our kids "not getting it" could actually be that they have truly forgotten the pattern to solve the problem. The *ability* is still there, but the pathway is kind of blocked. There are some great books on improving executive function (particularly "Smart but Scattered" by Peg Dawson) that are easy to incorporate in every day life. I'm not on the spectrum and I found the book to be tremendously helpful :)