Hi, I’m B1L, but you might know me as the father of Danny, a little boy with high-functioning Autism and SPD. He and I make regular appearances in my wife Patty’s life and also in her blog, Pancakes Gone Awry.
Patty and I actually came up with her blog name in our dating days before marriage; one of us was making pancakes that obviously went horribly wrong, but we devoured them anyway.
We decided instantly upon that “Pancakes Gone Awry” would be the name of our forthcoming collaborative ’zine’. I was going to write record and concert reviews using various aliases like ‘David Dove’ and ‘Amazon Galindo’, and Patty was going to do journaling, musings and commentary.
Sure, we didn’t do it right away like we planned, but to be honest, there weren’t too many things for us that ever did go exactly according to plan. On our first ever planned date, I bought us concert tickets to see ‘Low’, but then realized that I lost my identification and so we couldn’t get into the Metro. So instead, we went record shopping and ate frozen novelties at “Sweeties Ice Cream Shop”, and basically had a great time chatting about everything from family life to William Burroughs to the Ponderosa.
I guess we learned early on that it wasn’t the perfect execution of the *plan* that mattered, only how we dealt with the obstacles along the way.
Present day: a friend of mine on Facebook took one of those tests to determine what percentage ‘Autistic’ he was (whatever). His results came back low, implying that “he is the opposite of ‘Autistic’, whatever that would be.” To which I promptly replied, “That would mean that you are ‘Flexible’.”
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that there are times when I just wish Danny could turn off, even ignore what he’s feeling, make a blind leap of faith and just *TRY* to do what I’m asking. (It’s a hamburger, you’ve eaten them before and liked them, I’m positive…Remember when you didn’t wear socks before and got the blister? Please just put the socks on now…Okay, I wiped all of the mustard off of it, should be good to go now, please stop throwing it in the garbage…Oops, I put syrup on it already, not knowing you would suddenly hate syrup after 500 breakfasts where it was okay…) My lack of negotiating acumen and my rookie mistakes put me on the “un-favorite parent” list more often than not.
At least, until Lego.com came along. For a time our weekday evenings were really lacking in novelty, and Danny had gotten hold of this idea that he *really* wanted me to set up a computer for just him to use, so he wouldn’t have to wait around for us to be done with the laptop. Once I finished the job, we were suddenly spending time together…getting sucked into a game that Danny discovered a new and abiding love for…Pharaoh’s Quest.
We played it pretty religiously, on conditions that homework/therapy were completed first. In the beginning, it was too difficult of a game for Danny to control, but we made an interactive compromise. I would move the protagonist and Danny would shoot the gun. It was difficult at first, but eventually, he was so good at knowing when to shoot, it was almost as if he could read my mind. After awhile Danny was good enough at the game, that he could play all by himself, and I wasn’t really needed anymore.
…until Agents 2.0 came along. (And man…that game is hard, even for me.)
What I mean by wishing Danny could just *TRY* what I’m asking, is that I wish we could interact with homework like we do over video-games. And by homework, I mean Math.
Math is my absolute favorite subject, and yet I am at a complete loss as to how to teach it to Danny sometimes. I tend to think of math like I do about writing, that there are just so many ways to get the job done, that we shouldn’t focus too much on any rigid process– to do a problem the exact same way every time– not when you can have a trustworthy set of basic principles that could guide you through *any* given problem.
But my son whole-heartedly prefers mathematical processes over principles; I am slowly learning that this is just who he is, and how he thinks. This is the ‘pancake’ I am given to eat, the idea that I need to adapt to, and it’s truly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I have to accept that I can only do my best to try to be like Danny, because it is totally unrealistic to expect him to be like me, or think like me.
All I’ve ever wanted as a parent is to be able to teach the precious secrets of the universe to my son as he sets off on his own adventure to discover the world inside and outside of himself; I find it somewhat painful when we can’t even agree on how to do a simple math problem.
The other day, though, he and I had a breakthrough, (well, mostly me.) Danny was struggling with adding two numbers together; meaning, he wasn’t able to find a process that worked correctly every time. Sadly, his ability to memorize whole storybooks at age three, stubbornly refused to manifest itself at age seven into something resembling an ‘additions’ table. And then it hit me– I was trying to explain addition as if he could SEE the numbers adding together in his head. And then I remembered, that Danny needed to SEE and TOUCH something with his hands when he couldn’t visualize it.
So I grabbed two colors of Legos. Red and Yellow, 9 each. Then, I said:
“Put 5 of the Reds together (to represent this number), and then put 4 of the Yellows together (to represent that other number)”. He complied.
“Good. Now put them together into one stack.” Again, he did it.
“Great, now you’ve added them together. Now count the total number of Legos.” He did it, but lost count in the middle…
“Okay, now let’s try it differently. Try to count them by removing the Legos one at a time from the stack.”
And lo and behold, it worked. He did it for the next ten problems and got the right answer every time. It was a slow process, sure, but a trustworthy one.
Soon after, we got to do addition homework with *THREE* numbers. No problem, I just grabbed the same Legos I did before and threw in 9 Blue ones. He did the new problems the same way, and again started getting right answers consistently. Even better, there where no tears of frustration– he enjoyed doing his homework (well, until about 10 problems later– he is a kid, after all.)
Now, while I know Danny cannot bring Legos into his math tests, any more than he could bring a calculator or even an old-school abacus, I just have this feeling in my parental gut that if we can provide more ways for him to find correct answers consistently, in a way that he favors, that he will eventually be able to use the new ideas to shape and mold how he thinks about numbers and even problems, whether those problems are physical or abstract.
There’s just something so tangible and palpable about the work involved when it comes to Danny’s homework– that the work *feels* physical rather than simply mental. I feel as if we are tearing down insecurities, dams and obstructions, digging new ditches and canals, erasing old boundary lines, even diverting old ‘thought traffic’ to new mental destinations.
I hope that one day, Danny and I have enough common language and experience that we could reminisce about times like these; I hope many years from now we can bask in a mutual appreciation of one other and what we’ve created individually, staring and admiring the wonder of it all like two tourists surveying the splendor of the Grand Canyon.