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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Homeschool, Autism, and Time Management

When we started homeschooling this year, I decided it was time for Tom to take more responsibility for his own schedule. One of the strategies I thought we could try was a kitchen timer. We'd hand him the timer, and have him time his own breaks (our "lessons" are based more on content than on elapsed time).

Early on, we established that breaks would be ten minutes long. I showed him how to set the timer, and told him he could take the timer upstairs to his room so long as he listened for the alarm and let us know when it was time to start work again.

This worked beautifully for a few weeks. He mastered the skill of setting the alarm, and did a terrific job of letting us know it was time to get back to work.

Then, he started trying to negotiate for more time - fifteen, minutes, or maybe twenty. When we were firm, he started making the changes himself, and mentioning them to no-one.

Just yesterday, my husband Peter and I were exchanging notes, and Peter mentioned that Tom had actually reset the timer for 25 minutes... and that, since Peter had gone back to work (in his office) during the break, he really hadn't noticed the passage of time until he looked up at the clock!

At first, we commiserated, saying "how frustrating is that? We've really got to pay more attention to the time ourselves."

Then, we realized what a huge leap Tom had taken. Not only had he really, truly mastered the idea of measuring increments of time - he had also mastered the concept of RELATIVE increments of time (20 minutes is longer than 10 minutes), and he had worked out how to MEASURE a longer increment of time. Even more impressive, he had figured out how to manipulate his own schedule by SECRETLY changing the setting on the timer - a big jump in terms of "theory of mind." He knew we weren't paying attention, and that he thus had the power to make changes secretly, and change the schedule to his own benefit.

Having finally noticed the significance of this change, I then realized that he'd made other "silent" leaps that we'd essentially ignored. For example, he's decided to learn to bowl one-handed - entirely on his own - and while it's tough for him, he's persevering. He's noticing the emotions of other kids in the bowling league, and when one boy was upset we talked about the clues that showed us "upset" (red eyes, for one). Tom then remembered that HIS eyes had been red when HE'd been upset! He was also able to identify that a girl telling her friend to "shut up!" was just fooling around - because of the tone of her voice (which he was able to imitate).

Homeschool gym and "Hot Jazz" (afterschool jazz ensemble) are also a real breeze this year. Tom's joining in, paying attention, and generally connecting with the experiences being offered. While he still isn't really chatting with anyone else, he IS doing pratfalls, acting silly, taking his turn, smiling a lot - all wonderful social skills.

These changes are really pretty exciting - and seem to bode well for this year. Right now, I'm also considering a change in his clarinet teacher. He's working with a wonderful musician who was also the dean of a college music education department - and while it's good to be working hard on the basic skills of music and rhythm reading and execution, it isn't much fun. At this point, it seems to me that Tom should be focusing more on the idea of music as a way to express himself, join in with others, and generally find a place in the world - and less on sight reading and musical theory.


The Glasers said...

This is so exciting!!!! All of these "little things" add up to something big over time!

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