The Denver Autism Wheel

Measuring the marigold, math problems and mindfulness

Posted on: October 13, 2010

I saw the movie Hans Christian Andersen when I was a kid. “Inchworm” was one of my favorite songs from the film: the rhythm, the repetition and the haunting melody that resolves to the happy end phrase. For reference, here’s the clip on You Tube.

In addition to spawning a fascination for Denmark (more on that in a later post) and a fondness for Danny Kaye, the film and that song have added significance to me now because they helped Chris realize something important about himself: he’s a much better auditory learner than a verbal learner.

“Two and two are four, four and four are eight…” Chris can pop into that song anywhere in the melody (with that uncanny perfect pitch of his—no, I’m not at all jealous 😉 ) and use the lyrics to complete the appropriate addition homework.

His school uses the Everyday Math curriculum which has caused him no end of distress because it places the burden of alternate learning styles on the elementary student. He was in the throes of another tear-filled episode of slogging through alternate methods of dividing numbers (none of which was long division, BTW) when I pulled the plug and told his teacher to pick the one he was best at and let him solve the stupid problems.

The trouble is that Chris, like so many of his autistic peers, has trouble generalizing concepts, so each instance of dividing using the lattice method and dividing using some other method, was a unique, specific instance of unrelated activities—not a unifying process of coming to understand the “concept of division” through various means. Chris’ typical brother Luke, on the other hand, views his Everyday Math curriculum as a puzzle to be solved and really likes it. To each his own; gimme long division any day of the week.

When I was in college, I took a class in education psychology which told me I was a verbal-tactile learner. My best method for understanding something new in technology is to go through a hands-on tutorial with some kind of expected output at the end (a demo that results in a test web page, for ex). When it comes to most other topics, I’m an avid reader and have very good comprehension and the ability to share and extrapolate from what I’ve read to form general concepts. Hah! Autiemomkate: Bug in a Box.

Chris has realized that he is not a verbal learner. He told me as much, and his teacher and para-pro agree and have modified his curriculum to help. To me, though, the fact that his school is helping comes second to his realizing that’s what they’re doing. He knows he’s much better at hearing information and demonstrating his understanding, and (sharing the trait with his mom) doing the hands-on demos in science and computer lab. Chris has realized that he’s an aural-tactile learner.

The pieces start to fit together. When I was a kid, I got one of those times tables charts in my math book and used it as a cheat sheet while memorizing the times tables. It worked for me. But I’m a verbal learner. Chris has that same chart in his math book, but each time he refers to it, he uses a finger to trace between the numbers along the top and side down to the answer. It doesn’t stick. He can’t remember them that way. But he remembers the “Inchworm” song…we’re currently working on getting a set of songs about the times tables. Don’t care if they’re cheesy, want to see if they work…will keep you posted.

The fact that Chris knows this about himself and can articulate it to me is huge. It means he can provide insight to other people (theory-of-mind folks, take note) and take the first steps in learning to advocate for himself and find teaching methods that work to help him become a successful learner. Even if it’s just a small step towards those goals, it’s still a step. “You and your arithmetic: you’ll probably go far.”

1 Response to "Measuring the marigold, math problems and mindfulness"

Visiting from ICLW and I’m hooked after just two posts! You offer so much important information in such an accessible way.

You’ve definitely given me something to consider in this post about the way I approach each math homework moment with my 8-year-old son, who has learning difficulties as part of his mystery genetic syndrome. His anxiety ramps up just at the thought of math … crying, practically hyperventilating. We have to spend the first 5 minutes just calming down enough to even look at the paper.

I noticed the other day that he couldn’t even keep the meaning of a + sign present, especially in a vertical problem. So I put a big + sign on another piece of paper to see if isolating it helped. Nope. Then I wrote “plus” under it, which he then read. Success! I kept it there for him as a reference, and it calmed him down enough to work through the rest of the homework sheet.

Not sure yet what that tells me about his learning style, but it sets me off on a mission to discover what tools we need to put in place so that he has the best chance of success.

Of course, I do hold out hope that at some point this will just click for him. Last year, he had the same hyperventilating reaction to the idea of reading. Then, one day, he sat for an hour and a half reading “The Fire Cat.” Blew me away. Now he reads all. the. time.

I can dream that his math mind will kick in the same way. Meanwhile, I’m off to investigate ideas for supporting his success.

ICLW #15

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