Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Rules

On a home school discussion list, one mom said she was having difficulty getting started teaching her 5 year old because he is "stubborn". I think he had just learned some bad rules. He had refused to start until his 5th birthday because "you can't start school until you're 5." The family had recently moved from a rural area to a neighborhood with many young children, and after playing with them, had begun refusing to do anything that was "no fun". Here's my response:

Although both my kids are stubborn, the one with autism is the hands-down winner. Part of his stubbornness is his absolute adherence to "The Rules". The problem is that he comes up with rules from who knows where, and expects us to know them. But when we state the obvious (e.g. you can't go out in the snow barefoot) he accuses us of doing the same thing. The key has been to teach him, where necessary, a new set of rules. It's useless to argue or reason with him, but once something is established in his mind as a rule, he does it automatically, and gets angry if we don't follow it to the letter every time.

So when we want to start something new, before we start or even suggest it to him, before he has a chance to even think of objecting or arguing, we say matter of factly, "This is a new rule. From now on, we will ______ every ______ (before/after) we ______." When we first started hs, (on his 3rd birthday) the new rule was, "From now on, we will have 'learning time' every morning after we eat breakfast." He's 12 now, and on Saturdays, Sundays, Christmas, the 4th of July, etc., he asks, "Do I have the day off from school?"

We started slowly, singing the alphabet and counting to 20. We made gradual additions: alphabet flash cards, memory work, counting objects, and once he had his letters down, Phonics Pathways. It took him months to get his vowel sounds straight (even his brother took several weeks) but after that, consonant sounds were relatively easy. I liked the way Phonics Pathways had them sounding out words so soon. Later, after they had been reading groups of words and simple sentences, they seemed to hit a wall, but Fun Tales helped them over it.

Some other rules we've had to teach:
Life isn't all fun. Get over it.
You don't have to want to; you just have to do it.
Different families have different rules.
What the neighbor kids have to do has nothing to do with what you have to do.
(Especially when one is bossing the other) I'm the parent; you're not.

This emphasis on rules may make me sound like a stick in the mud, but we find that it is only after the rules are established that fun is possible.

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