Monday, October 26, 2015

Why I Use Math to Connect with My Son

"What's 39/100 + 61/100 equal?" I ask six year old J.

In a matter of seconds, a grin stretches from ear to ear as he bounces up and down, his arms wiggling like he's doing some herky-jerky version of the chicken dance, before gleefully answering with, "100/100 or 1 whole!"

He's back, I think to myself.

Thank you for coming back to me.


Why I use math to connect with my son who has autism from And Next Comes L

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To the bystanders in public who see me asking my son these types of math questions I must appear insane, which I likely am, so don't rule that out. But, while they may be temporarily dazzled by my son's brilliance, it is quickly replaced by judgment, assuming I must spend hours upon hours drilling my son with math flashcards. But that's simply not the case.

See, my son has hypernumeracy, which is a fancy term for saying he's ridiculously good with numbers.

While most two year olds are starting to assert their independence in everyday tasks, J, instead, was teaching himself how to tell time and skip count by obscure numbers. Somewhere between ages three and five he mastered multiplication, adding and subtracting fractions, percents, and a whole bunch of other math concepts. This past summer, for instance, at age five, he taught himself (and me!) Roman numerals. It was never my idea to help him learn what three million in Roman numerals is, but he learned it. And he drew them. And he lived and breathed them. Every loose part, toy, or crayon suddenly turned into Roman numerals.

Now that he is six, I'm not sure what kind of math he will be learning next, but it excites me. Not sure when I will be dusting off the good old calculus textbook, but I'm hoping it won't be for a few more years. Hopefully.

So yes, it appears like I am asking my son inappropriate math questions for his age, when his typical peers have just mastered things like counting to 100 or place value. He's just well beyond that and has been for years.

But there's another reason why you will find me asking him these kinds of math questions.

He has autism.

As a result, he withdraws into his autism bubble frequently, where he quietly scribbles endless sequences of letters and numbers onto his Magna-Doodle, while simultaneously chewing on the string that attaches the pen to the Magna-Doodle. Or he escapes with chalk. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with letting him seek the comfort of his own little world as I think we all benefit from seeking solace in our own ways, but there are times when I need him to be alert and focused on his surroundings.

In order to pull him out of his autism bubble, I need to connect with him through his love language of sorts. That love language being the concreteness of letters and numbers. He just thinks in numbers. They give J comfort because they never change.

Letters, symbols and signs are my closest allies because they never change. They just stay as they are, fixed in my memory. And whenever we're lonely or happy, in the same way that you might half hum a song to yourself, we summon up our letters. When I'm writing them out, I can forget everything else. I'm not alone when I'm with letters. Letters and symbols are much easier for us to grasp than spoken words, and we can be with them whenever we want. - Naokie Higashida, The Reason I Jump, p. 49

So when you see me asking what appears to be inappropriate math questions for his age to my six year old, you are actually seeing me, a tired mom, trying desperately to connect and engage her son with the world around him. You see a loving mom embracing her son's love of numbers and math. You see a mom who deeply cares about her son and embraces his quirks.  You see a mom speaking her son's love language.

But most importantly, I hope that you see that gleeful little boy who is accepted for who he is, autism quirks and all.
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22 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post. Thank you for opening up and sharing this peek into your family :)

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  2. Beautifully written. You are an inspiration

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  3. Lovely. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. This post will linger with me. It is so beautiful and personal, and good for any parent! Thank you so much for sharing!

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  5. Absolutely beautiful! What a perfect post in every way!

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  6. Beautiful story, Dyan. J is lucky to have a mom like you.

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    1. Thank you! And I am just as lucky to have a son like him. :)

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  7. Iwas reading this post and thinking it was about my 5year old. I can have a number conversation with him so easily.

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    1. Glad I'm not alone in having math/number conversations with young kids! ;)

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  8. This was a beautifully written post. I have a teenage son who loves maths and is also autistic. One of the best things we got him was a large whiteboard for his bedroom and sheets and sheets of graph paper! There's loads of fantastic maths YouTubers for your son to discover as he gets older...best wishes.

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    1. OOOHHH!! My son would LOVE a whiteboard in his bedroom. Such a great idea! Thank you!

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  9. I thought I was the only one who did this! My ASD son is now 17, and I’ve always made it a point to enter into his world...whatever he was interested at the time...when he was 8, he was obsessed with Chemistry, he was reading college level texts...so we talked about that until he got tired of it. Now it’s Dr. Who and animated movies, so we talk about that.

    That’s really what it is about: enter into THEIR world, whatever it happens to be. You are a great mom!

    Are you a homeschooler? If so there is a wonderful group for homeschooling with Autism, etc called Homeschooling our Aspergers, ADHD, ODD etc...

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    1. Thank you for your sweet comments! Right now we're immersed in the world of Pokemon and traffic lights, so I taught myself how to play the Pokemon trading card game so that I could teach him and play with him. We read Pokemon stories together and do Pokemon themed activities. Immersing ourselves in their world makes a huge difference.

      I'm not a homeschooler, although I did consider it. We decided to do French Immersion and I just supplement him (or afterschool him) with math and other activities that are more his level.

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    2. I know this is an old post but I was hoping maybe you could point me to the homeschooling group you are talking about.

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  10. My son just turned 5 and his world is numbers. I am sitting here crying as I reply to your post because I realize he isn't alone. When he was diagnosed with ASD only about 3 months ago the doctor said it was great that he loved numbers but that we shouldn't allow him to center his whole world around them but try to encourage the things he wasn't working with, like letters. While so many of his NT peers are just starting Kindergarten and figuring out that apple starts with A, and my fellow ASD parents are telling me about all the books their kids are reading I'm sitting in a corner going "he learned basic algebra today". The world is such a scary place at times and to know my son isn't alone with his love for numbers. Thank you for posting this.
    I always try to enter his world and see things from his way, but I was afraid I was setting him up for failure by encouraging the math and number skills. Thank you again for posting this.

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    1. You're welcome, Michael! I'm so happy you to connect with you through this post and make you and your son feel a little less alone. You should really look into the book "Uniquely Human" by Barry M. Prizant. He writes a lot about obsessions in autism, but refers to them as "enthusiasms." I think you will find the book so helpful for helping you realize that you can use your son's strengths in math and numbers to help him with so many other skills. Anyway, looking forward to chatting more in the Facebook support group.

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  11. This is so cool. What a beautiful way to connect and draw him into your world by entering his first x

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