Thursday, September 10, 2009

Good News, Bad News, and Great News

Good News

GL continues to struggle with the concept of addition. We had been working on it for eight months when he said, "You mean the answers are the same every time?" He thought if we kept asking the same questions, we must want different answers. The next day, he still didn't believe we weren't changing the answers, but after several weeks, he did (reluctantly) concede that there might be only one answer to each problem. Of course, he takes that back whenever he's in a bad mood.

Months later, still working with the same handful of addition facts, he said in exasperation, "You mean I'm supposed to just memorize them?" He was sure there was some sort of magic trick involved, and we were expecting him to read our minds: "I'm thinking of a number..." Some days he still believes this. He memorized the "doubles facts" (1+1, 2+2, 3+3, & c.) because Saxon, which we were using at the time introduces them first. (Presumably so kids won't be intimidated by them later when they introduce multiplication. I don't know whether GL will ever get that far.) So far, no other facts have stuck.

Knowing (at least some of the time) that the answers didn't change and he could memorize at least a few of them, he still couldn't or wouldn't understand how to get the right answer. Never mind that we were still working on the same handful of problems; never mind that we tried to get him to work them out with every kind of manipulative imaginable; if he counted two piles of teddy bears or pennies or what have you, there was no reason those numbers should have any relation to the number you got by counting the pile that resulted from pushing them together. Why should it? It was a different pile. To him, counting was one list he had memorized, addition facts were another list he had partly memorized, and he couldn't see how we could even imagine there was a connection.

He did make a breakthrough when we switched to Numicons. I went to the Free Resources page and downloaded, printed (on card stock), and cut out the Numicon Shapes. He still doesn't seem to get the idea that the same number is always the same shape, but you can push two cards together and count up all the holes and they are still two cards.

So he has a method of finding an answer, but it's hit or miss if he gets the right answer. That's mainly because of his counting technique. He tends to count items in random order, so he's never sure where to stop or start. We've tried to persuade him to count the way you read: left to right, and top to bottom. So far, he's not convinced of this rule. (Yes, we've tried Linking Cubes.) Even if we could demonstrate that it helps you get the same number every time you count the same group, I'm not sure he sees that outcome as desirable. So what if he counts the same group several times and gets a different number each time? He seems to believe the number of items actually changes. Part of the problem is poor motor planning. He has a hard time putting his finger on an exact spot and remembering where he put it last time. It's not fine motor vs. gross motor; he has an equally hard time counting large objects vs. small objects.

The facts you can learn by rule aren't any easier for him. If you tell most kids that you can add zero to any number and get the number you started with, they believe you. After you demonstrate with a few examples, they can add zero to any number. Not GL. He insists that if you add zero to any number, the answer is zero. I even made a card with a zero on it and zero holes in it, because Numicons don't include zero. I guess they think it's too obvious. He can work out 1+0 with the cards. All other numbers + 0 = 0. I set those aside. Since he can count (sort of) I thought he might get the concept of +1. He does count smaller numbers more accurately. He can work out all the plus ones with Numicons, but even with repeated reminders that "(number) plus one means what number comes after (number)" he can't figure it out without the cards. Even with the cards, his answers are unreliable because of counting problems. He won't believe that if a number is printed on the card, you can start with that number and count from there.

Okay, Here It Comes

Today, after reading each +1 problem, I said, "That means what number comes after (number). What comes after (number)?" He would tell me (and he always got it right) and I would say, "That's your answer. (Number) plus one is (answer)." He seemed skeptical at first, but he selected that answer. After many examples and a lot of praise, he began asking, "Is 1+ (number) (correct answer)?" He got through the usual number of problems more quickly than usual, and got all the +1s right. So he got the concept today. If the past is any indication, he'll forget it (or change his mind) tomorrow.

Bad News

GL's meds are still not working right. We're getting by, (barely) but we know he can do much better when his meds are working. His doctor still doesn't believe us. I got his PT and OT to summarize their impressions of his performance and behavior over the last several weeks, and the pattern was the same as at home, only less severe. He loves therapy, and is always on his best behavior there. They both noted he was unusually angry and uncooperative. His PT even noted that he yelled at her this week and that he has never done that before. His OT agreed to write up her observations to corroborate our case.

In the past, we had cut videos and TV out entirely because he had so much violent behavior afterwards. If he watched a half hour of Veggie Tales, he would melt down and hit people every day for a week after. Several months ago, we found that he could watch DVDs on an LCD screen and not experience this effect. We normally limit DVDs to one or two a week because GL tends to obsess about them, which leads to behavior problems. This also means that they are a real treat which we can use to reward good behavior. The only times when he was not hitting or screaming at his brother this week have been when he was watching a video or sleeping. So I've had to keep videos running almost constantly for BB to get any school done. BB naturally thinks this is unfair. I agree, but tell him it's more fair than getting hit.

Great News

We finally found another doctor who will see GL despite his bad insurance. (We had a prescription for PT and OT for eight months before we found anyone who would take it.) I wouldn't wish government insurance on anyone. It was only as a favor to a colleague that he even considered taking on another patient with this insurance. Even then, he made sure GL wasn't on the other government plan (the one the rest of us are on) before he agreed to see him. He also asked us not to refer anyone to him because this insurance is so unfavorable to providers. When he heard who GL's current doctor was, he said, "Yes, I'll take him." Apparently Dr. X has a reputation. But the earliest appointment he could schedule is in October. September is going to be a long, long month.


Blogger At A Hen's Pace said...

I remember B18 having some of the same kinds of math issues. Not as severe, but basic things like understanding that he ALWAYS has five fingers on one hand, and you don't have to start from one every time you count on your fingers.

He began to understand more math in 5th grade when they used Touch Math with him.

He still has trouble doing basic math in his head, like figuring out how many minutes or hours he has until [event], but he compensates well.

I pray for you guys when I think of you. I know how frustrating it can be to teach the same thing over and over, with little mastery taking place.

Praying just now for the new doc and the right new meds...


September 17, 2009 at 11:50 PM  

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