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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lights! Camera! Action! Autism!

We had David's parent-teacher conference last night, and as always, my boy is the proverbial "Little Engine That Could." They've changed the report card structure this year and oh, was it a wonderful change.

His new math report card shows his proficiency percentage in relation to set goals. For instance, one of the goals is 100% accurate computation of basic math facts in a timed, 100 question drill. Right now, he's sitting at 77%. Normally, that would give me a bit of a twinge. He tries so hard, but math is rough for him. It's good, but obviously he needs to work on this.

But this new report card? It also shows the class average on the same metric. Class average on that item? 72%! In fact, on just about everything in math, David is above the average percentage for the class. Not by a huge margin, mind you, but above all the same.

This doesn't mean he can sit back and take it easy - we still want to see 100%, but it does mean that he's holding his own and I can see that now, and see where he is in relation to his neuro-typical fourth-grade classmates. What a relief to see those scores.

The only downside to the meeting was hearing that David is occasionally being disrespectful to his aide, a lovely woman that I know he likes just fine. David is usually extremely well-behaved, but his aide is new to him this year, and only assists him in math. Unlike previous years where he had the same aide at his side for several hours a day, this one is occasional and he's not bonded with her yet like he did with his former aide.

His teacher let us know that on occasion, he's had to step in and tell David to be more respectful, and as he talked to us about it, it became clear that what we probably had here (as the old movie goes) was a "failure to communicate."  He couldn't remember the specifics of what was said, but I hazarded a good guess. The instances probably went something like this:

David was directed by the aide to focus on his paper. He replied in an angry tone "You're not my mother!"

David was told to erase his answer and write it again more legibly. His reply was a frustrated "Do you think I'm stupid?"

I was right.

So now we tread the fine line between the way David communicates and the way the world perceives him. I can educate his teacher and his aide so that they know the truth:

David is quoting movie dialogue.

He does it often at home - he's a cinephile in the extreme. He can watch a movie just a few times and know most of the dialogue by heart. If it's a movie he particularly loves, he sometimes falls back into favored lines when he's struggling and doesn't know what to say. Often they're contextual, if you know the way that David thinks. Let me break it down for you:

"You're not my mother!" - Coraline. Specifically, when she's trying to get away from a horrible situation. He got called to the carpet for not focusing on his work, and he was uncomfortable and wanted to get away.

 "Do you think I'm stupid!" - Princess Jasmine says this when she realizes that Aladdin's been lying to her. In this case, David meant it literally. He feels stupid because he knows he can't write well. He's using a movie quote with an applicable word.

Another favorite of his is a firm and angry "I can't tell you!" when he's asked about something that he has to explain. I'm not sure what movie it's from. It may not even be a movie. David is telling you - quite literally - that he doesn't know how to phrase a reply. He doesn't know how to explain it so that you will understand him. This happens a lot when we're doing homework and he knows the answer, but can't tell you how he got it. I can't tell you means, quite honestly "I can't tell you. I want to, but I can't."

So now his teacher is educated, his aide is educated - they understand where David is coming from with this and it's most likely not from a place of disrespect but of self-frustration and a reliance on devices (like movie dialogue) for communication.

That's part one of the equation. Part two is a bit harder.

Part two involves educating David to realize that his words are being perceived as disrespectful. David needs to learn that while he's just throwing phrases out there and hoping they'll stick, his choice of words (and his mimicking of their delivery in whatever movie he's copying) may not be socially correct for the situation and could get him in trouble.

In other words, he needs to pick his words and think before he speaks. That's tough for any fourth grader, much less one whose brain doesn't select words the way most people's brains do.

We need to develop a rote repertoire of phrases for him to fall back on when he's frustrated with schoolwork. Phrases like "I don't know it," (which he also needs to learn is an okay answer to give), "I don't know how to say it," and "I need more time." He also needs to understand that when the teacher or aide tells him to focus, the appropriate answer is "Yes, Mr. L" or "Yes, Mrs. M" and delivered in a polite and respectful tone.

There might be an explanation for his behavior, but he still needs to know it's not acceptable behavior, in these circumstances. Educating both sides will make it easier on everyone and move everyone toward the goal of helping David help himself.

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, what you're posting here is probably a good approach for any kid that age, brilliant autistic like your kid, or brilliant not-autistic but socially challenged like my stepkid. I'm going to try some of your tactics and suggestions here instead of straight discipline and see if they stick. :)