All of my weeks are busy – but this one has seemed more so. My head is spinning with things I might write about. I am flying about on different tangential thoughts and mapping out ideas, only to be interrupted by a seemingly more meaningful plan. And then, half-formed, this – as well – is interrupted by, by… I don’t know… by life!
Since I don’t seem to have more than a half-formed interrupted topic to share, it may be appropriate to write about processing, organization, and time. The cognitive process for children with autism is different – said plainly: they think differently. My own crazy week can be seen as a practical example of the way that intense scheduling can have an impact on my own cognition and organization. My strategy for dealing with this has been to focus on the next task at hand, and not worry about all of the other things I have to do.
Although that is not quite the whole truth of the process. I have been preparing for the tasks ahead of time, in incremental steps. This in essence is a temporal understanding: organization of what needs to be done, the steps to be taken, the length of time it will take to accomplish them, and the ability to priorize tasks.
Time is a tricky thing in our house. Craig and I often joke, when one or the other of us queries about something we were planning, “I thought you were going to _____?!?” Invariably the response is, “Oh yes! I am planning to do that in my spare time!” This usually cracks us both up.
Sometimes I steal time… Shhhhhh- don’t tell! I find a place where I can take some time to myself and where it won’t be missed. I used to get up extra early to accomplish tasks, but often I seem to add hours to the end of my day. It is a good thing (and not such a good thing) that I can run on little sleep.
And then there is H. I have taught him to tell time on an analogue clock six times now. I have taught him to be able to tell time to the hour, the half-hour, the quarter hour and to the minute. We have sung songs, made clocks out of paper plates, played games, moved our bodies like the hands of a clock, used visuals, timed activities, done clock puzzles, used a visual timer (http://www.timetimer.com/ ), made a collection of timers and hourglasses, provided watches and other learning tools, and H even has a cool collection of pocket watches. It just doesn’t stick… he learns it… and then it is gone… it’s like his mind has some sort of teflon coating when it comes to this skill.
I used to think that the concepts didn’t stick because once it was accomplished I thought “Good… check! ✔ That skill is learned! We can move on to other things!” and we would focus on another needed skill. The list is long. There are always a myriad of other things to practice, experience, explore and accomplish; so many that seem infinitely more important than telling time on an analogue clock. I thought that the reason it didn’t stick was because we weren’t doing a good enough job to reinforce the skill – and that if we just focused on it more consistently- then the skill would stay.
I was wrong… (Yes, I know! Again!)
There is wide acceptance that in individuals with autism there is a challenge with Executive Functioning. Executive Function (EF) could possibly be defined as being a kind of behaviour governor – the mental function that is the overseer of our actions, and our understanding of cause and effect. EF is the moderator between our impulse and our actions as we interface with the rest of the world. It helps us plan ahead, organize and manage our time, problem solve, and reflect upon past, present, and future events, possibilities and consequences. Basically EF is the manager of our brain or the conductor of the mental function train…
So let me connect these ideas if I am able, by recapping. H is challenged with EF and also does not seem to be able retain the concept and skills of telling time. Well, when these two things are considered together – it actually makes sense that he is not retaining the skill. It was Michelle Garcia Winner (see link in Blogroll -➤) that I first heard mention this connection at her Social Thinking presentation on Organizing Strategies to Prepare for Homework and the Real World. This was a real “aha” moment! For H to retain the ability to understand time I believe we have to assist him in gaining skills and understanding about organizing, goal setting, breaking down larger jobs into a series of steps, and also priorizing tasks, combined with an understanding and a sense of the passage of time. Until some of these other temporal understandings have had the opportunity to develop, teaching him to read the clock – yet again – will likely be like teaching a child to turn the pages of a book and expecting that this will somehow help them to know how to read.
Don’t get me wrong… I am ready for round 7… ding ding… except that now I have a much deeper understanding of what it is that I am really teaching, and how large a task this will be.
I can’t help but wonder at this point, how often we might misunderstand or underestimate the skills involved in what we are teaching kids. This experience gives me a myriad of perspectives to consider the next time something doesn’t seem to stick.
Hmmmm…. I know that our next step will be use the Time Timer (visual timer) to work upon the sense of the passing of time… – but I still kind of wish the solution was as magically simple as getting H this cool Star Trek clock. Beam Me Up!!
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2011)