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Sunday, November 2, 2008

When Are High Standards Too High?

In the last few days, I've had a number of reasons to wonder whether I'm holding Tommy to too high a standard.

We've had Tommy meet with a math tutor once a week, because I thought it was important to supplement TouchMath, which is calculation-oriented, with some content on number sense (focusing on the purpose of the calculations in real life, but also on non-calculation skills like graphing, understanding the concept of multiples, etc.). In conversation with our tutor, I said,

"I know Tom can multiply - but I don't think he has any idea of how to USE multiplication. I'm not even sure he fully understands that 6X3 is the same as 3X6, or the same thing as six groups of three."

"Actually," she replied, "lots of people don't understand that. I'm not sure I fully understood that until I was in high school."

REALLY?? Oh....

We went candlepin bowling, as usual on Saturday. As usual, Tom spoke to no one, and threw the ball two-handed (instead of the usual way, with one hand). He did well: around 70 points. Naturally, I wanted him to interact; to throw the ball "right;" to keep his eye on the scoring screen to know when his turn was up. In other words, I wanted him to act "normal."

But while he was doing his thing, another boy just his age was throwing a temper tantrum. I mean, a real doozy. Another boy his age was rolling the ball - and then rolling on the ground himself. These were not "special needs" kids: they were twelve-year-old boys who are NOT on the autism spectrum.

Later this week, I was talking with Tom's speech therapist.

"I just don't think he fully grasps the ideas of same and different or bigger/smaller," I said. "I mean, he can tell you three ways in which a swan is different from an eagle - but he can't tell you whether six is bigger than nine."

"But he could tell you if you put it differently. For example, if you said 'I have six toys and you have nine toys. Who has more toys?"


She went on to ask whether Tom had trouble in changing his schedule, based on our unpredictably changing job requirements. I responded that he really didn't - he's not an especially rigid person.

"That's huge!" she exclaimed. "Most kids have a very hard time when their routine is disrupted."

REALLY? ohhhh....

Last night, my husband Peter and a local selectman put on a "star party" (observing the moon and planets through telescopes) right down town in front of the library. I stayed briefly, but the kids hung out. One man said to me "wow - I never knew Jupiter had stars around it!" "Those are moons," I replied without thinking.

Y'know, Tom knows all about the moons of Jupiter. He can also name all the planets in order, and describe each. Hm..

Today, I took Tom, Sara, and a friend of hers for a little expedition. We went to a state park, and started exploring a trail. Within about a hundred feet, we knew we weren't on a "real" trail, but both my kids saw a quarry and wanted to check it out. The friend, who is very neurotypical indeed, was scared to stray off the trail - and almost burst into tears with anxiety. As we turned back, Tom wanted to know what the problem was. Why was Sara's friend crying? All he and Sara wanted to do was explore!

Later in the day, we took another path to the "sliding rock." It's a big boulder you can climb and slide down. My kids scampered to the top and slid without thinking twice. Sara's friend wouldn't even think of climbing to such a height. A perfectly reasonable anxiety - but one Tom has never shared.

This week, I also heard from a friend of mine. She has a 13 year old who is truly the perfect kid. He's tall, handsome, a fine athlete, a brilliant student - and a really delightful human being. Not only that, but so far as I can tell he's never had a pimple! I asked how he was. "Where do I start? " she said. "Well, Joey's been diagnosed with OCD. He got to the point where his rituals took two hours a day to complete, and what with traveling soccer four days a week and advanced high school classes, he just couldn't get through everything. So now he's seeing a therapist..."

Tom is, of course, my first child. I have no close nieces, nephews or neighbor children to compare him to. All I really know, as a result, is that he's twelve, and autistic. I know that some 12 year olds can stay home alone, call friends, make their own play dates, even pick up younger siblings at friends' homes. Tom could no more do those things than fly. But he CAN... evidently... do a great many other things that are beyond the reach of his typical peers.

Who knew?

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