Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What happened at school today?

Joey has been picking up on questions about his day. He's at least starting to understand that we expect him to make some kind of answer, and that saying something to the effect of "I had fun!" means the activity is likely to be repeated. He will answer yes and no questions with more or less accuracy, depending on how tired he is and how much of his attention you have.

However, he will not talk about school. Trying to get him to talk at all immediately after school is a lost cause. I am going with the working assumption that he is tired, trying to regain his bearings, and perhaps is simply unable to access language after a lot of hard work. I'll keep you posted as I test this theory, as he gains more ability to communicate with us. Anyway, no point in grilling him immediately after school. I'm lucky to get any words at all.

However, asking him questions about school is generally problematic. If he's really with me and I have his attention, he'll give me scripted responses (What did you do at school today? "I had fun, Mrs. Huff was at school today, Went to school" etc.) and will answer all yes/no questions with "yes" (Did you sing a song today? Yes. Did you read a story today? Yes. Did you play outside today? Yes. Did you turn your teacher into a frog today? Yes.) For other activities, I get some spontaneous answers. (Did you sing a song in Speech Camp today? Yes- Wheels on the Bus! Did you enjoy swimming today? Yes- sprinklers! Fun!) For school... nada. i have no idea what he's doing this week. The teacher sent me home a note on the first day, but since then, nothing.

I find this a little odd, and a little worrying. I could do some more peculation as to why school seems to be a taboo subject for question-answering, but it wouldbe just that- speculation. It's also worrying that I have no way to really supporting the school program at home. If I don't know what songs are being sung or what stories are being read, I can't keep up the theme at home. For example, if they are doing, say, Three Billy Goats Gruff, I can play the Leah's Farm Signing Time more, maybe plan to take him down to Maymount to feed goats this weekend, and read him fairytales with trolls, and talk about fairies and things with him. Or if they are singing "Wheels on the Bus" every morning, I can get out his buses and we can sit outside and watch the Fred Bus and the trolley go by, and talk about how people get where they need to go. But I have to wing it.

I'm starting to think he really did turn the teacher into a frog.


VAB said...

Sounds like you need a communication book that Joey can bring to and from school each day. I know some teacher's don't like doing them, but it only takes the a couple of minutes and, as you say, it let's you gear things up at home. We have found that writing friendly/complementary stuff for the teacher each day makes it more likely that they will remember.

Our guy was the same way when it comes to school, and still is pretty reluctant to go into details. I think it could be an overload thing. We got some millage out of pushing the "Did you turn your teacher into a frog questions." We'd go, "Did you ride on an elephant?" "Yes." "Awesome! Hey everybody, MK got to ride on an elephant today. What color was the elephant MK?" And so on until he would say that he didn't ride on an elephant, but rather did math.

Still, even now we get much more millage out of the communication book. Because you can then say things like, "Oh, you learned about cowboys today. Did you draw a picture of a cowboy" And so on.

Joeymom said...

We have a communication book. The teacher has yet to write in it.

I sent her emails requesting information. I received no response.

Next step: the phone call. If I get no response, I'm going to make an appearance in the classroom.

Anne Corwin said...

Interesting...I can actually remember being in early primary school and not being able to say anything but "I played" when my parents asked me about school. They got a bit frustrated with this, IIRC.

However, the reason I couldn't tell them about what had happened at school had nothing to do with the emotional content of school or the subject matter surrounding it -- it was that I could not spontaneously come up with the language to describe what I had done.

Additionally, my sense of time was a bit weird back then; if asked what I'd had for snack that day, I might have answered in terms of something I'd had a week ago rather than on that specific day. This was basically all due to language issues; I don't know exactly how to explain it, but it had something to do with not being able to put "recent" experiences INTO language, or even categorize recent experiences linguistically in the first place.

I could remember images of what I'd done, and sensory impressions, but it took a long time to sort out what those images and impressions took a long time to congeal into something I could describe. I still actually have some issues in this regard but I've gotten a lot more sophisticated in terms of verbal scripting, and often I note down what I'm doing during the day as I finish it in an effort to keep better track of what happened when, etc.

Not to say that this is exactly what Joey is experiencing; only he knows what goes on in his own mind, but in my case it definitely had to do with spontaneous-expressive language difficulties rather than any unwillingness to talk about school or preference to avoid the subject. I remember it being very exhausting to even *try* to talk about initially and I recall wanting to escape from those questions as fast as possible.

(for the record, I've been diagnosed with PDD-NOS and AS, and am currently 28 years old)

Niksmom said...

Annec, wonderful insights for us NT moms, thanks. :-)

JM, I had a similar problem w/Nik's school all year long. I finally talked with the teacher directly about it (after going throught the case mgr and getting no response other than, "They still aren't doing that??). I explained that as Nik is non-verbal and that consistency of routine is so important in helping make progress, I needed to know more about his days. I created a very simple sheet that she can fill out and send home. School has specific communication books they use (well, they have them anyway) but the single sheet is simpler...lots of check boxes so Miss J doesn't have to spend time thinking about what to write.

Maybe you can create something along those lines with boxes for things like "Today I worked on (box) MATH (box) Colors (box) Whatever you want" (you get the idea. Then put a line after each one for details.

Nik's has boxes, too, for each of his therapies. I find this is the only way I can keep track of when he has them and with what degree of regularity.

Sorry to ramble. If you want, I can send you a pdf file of what I send to school to illustrate. You canemail me at niksmother at gmail dot com.

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

Ben was the same way, it felt like pulling teeth to get an answer. From what I gather, a lot of NT kids are the same way! Every day up to Junior High, I asked ..."DO YOU HAVE TO KNOW EVERYTHING?" he finally answered!

I don't ask anymore. On the days he brings up spontaneous discussion about school, I count my blessings.

Thanks Joeymom, for bringing up a point of consternation for parents. Thanks, Anne C.,for finding the words to explain it.

Joeymom said...

Oo, Annec, thank you! I remember having that problem when I was little, too. I've been concerned about problems with generalizing skills, but I mustn't forget the language/communication processing issue. I'm getting as bad as his teachers at preschool! :P

I had a little worksheet for the techers when he was at preschool- little check boxes. This lady said she didn't want to communicate that way, but maybe I ought to slip one in the bag- a little reminder that I can't just ask Joey about these things. ;)

Joeymom said...

r.b.- My mom's answer to "Do you have to know everything?" was "Yes." ;) Then there was often a lecture about why she wanted information from me about school, why she was interested in my day, and what it meant to be part of a family.

I bet that doesn't work too well with most teenagers. :P

Maddy said...

I do so sympathise, both with the lack of communication with the school and Joey about school! I always wanted to reinforce what they were doing at school too - very frustrating.
I developed a cheat sheet [tick chart] of about six questions for them both for when they came home from school. [without yes/no answer option]
It was torture for everybody - another campaign died!

Suzanne said...

just one more thing about teacher/home communication book.
You say the teacher doesn't write in it.
Do you? I know you emailed, and might call.
I agree with vab, if we write more, they generally do as well.
Not always. I have major problems getting cooperation from their primary teacher on this. She prefers a sheet with symbols to circle re tasks done that day (not always detailed enough to help me carry-over) sort of like this
keep trying! and make an appearance at school!
It sounds like Joey is communicating well RE other subjects. That's wonderful.

Suzanne said...

sorry, that link took you to the general page, rather than the "school" sub-category.
I don't know if it would even help Joey tell you about his school day.

what is UP today with me and "word verification??? errrrrgh!

Christschool said...

I have a simple answer about why Joey doesn't want to talk about school, "he doesn't see any need in talking about school". Its as simple as that. I'm like that as well. My wife stopped asking me how work was because she only gets one response "It was fine". I don't talk about work at all at home. Why, because that was work and now I'm home. I don't like work, so why would I want to talk about it when I come home? I'd much rather immerse myself in something I do enjoy and talk about that.

I think it goes back to the fact that some people enjoy social talk, while others don't. Its a need my wife has learned to live without which I think she is fine with. She usually tells me what she has done at work and I listen, knowing its important to her, but my mind is often elsewhere when she is talking and all I hear is blah blah blah. She knows this but none the less has adapted to my style I guess because some of my other qualities she likes sort of overide the lack of social chit chat.

Joeymom said...

It's the "I don't like work {school}" possibility that worries me. This child is five years old- if he's not happy at school, I want to know why so we can work to support him better.

In teaching social skills, answering questions is one that is important, especially in young children who have many years of school ahead, where they will need to answer questions of all kinds. And unfortunately, one must answer those questions to prove their intelligence and ability to grasp and use the material being conveyed, and the important skills being taught.

There does come a point where one must display skill or risk others assuming the skill has not been gained, and acting accordingly.

Christschool said...

I agree with some of your points, especially as they related to my childhood. I have a distinct memory of being in 1st grade and there was a project the class was doing where we had to glue together matching pictures. I remember thinking "this is stupid" so I'm going to just mess it up on purpose. Later, I overheard the aide in the class talking to the teacher and telling her, well what do expect, he's retarded.

It was when I was intellectually challenged in a subject I was interested in that I was most responsive. I'll spare the details from 1st grade and jump to high school. It was in high school when I had structure and a fear of other students when I isolated myself and really concentrated on my schoolwork. I excelled and was on the high honor roll each semester. I was able to pick my classes so I would pick the ones that I was interested in and that helped me to concentrate and excel.

At Joey's age, I was a daydreamer, interested in space, planets and such. If it didn't have anything to do with that subject, I didn't care for it.

Perhaps Joey's teachers could use his interests to spark learning. Its not the child that is wrong, its the teacher's inability to teach the child that is wrong.

I would never have understood the social niceties that are required when people ask you questions when I was 5 years old. I wasn't looking for social praise and thought it was a bit phoney as I remember (still do). I think NT kids are so driven by their social needs, that they don't always have the power to pursue an interest and this can be a detriment as they get older.

However, my lack of desire for social conversation I don't think is particularly all due to autism. I think most men and boys are just not as motivated for chit chat as women and girls seem to be. I think as boys turn to men, the need for social chit chat greatly decreases.

Joeymom said...

Yes, I'm very worried that this teacher may be unable to use Joey's interests to motivate and teach him, which is really important at this age.

ONe thing I should note is that Joey is VERY interested in social praise. This can fool people- including me- into thinking any occasion for it is something that will spark response.

However, I am still very concerned that he is interested in talking about other parts of his day- even speech camp, which didn't go so well this week because the person teaching it was unable to cope with Joey's interests or use them for teaching- and is unwilling or unable to talk about school. It's a red flag to me- something is different here. IT needs investigation to be sure Joey is getting the support he needs and education he deserves.

Thanks for all the advice and insight- lots of us to think about here! :)

Niksmom said...

After reading some of the comments, I wonder...maybe Joey is still processing things for himself before trying to articulate it to you. Perhpas he has not yet formed an opinion? (Am I misremembering that this is a new school setting for him? If so, ignore my whole comment! LOL)

Joeymom said...

Joey definitely has an "after school mood" where he doesn't like to talk, and I have assumed he is processing (his day? the transition to home? something), and may even be unable to access language while he does so. I don't see this as a problem. It's kind of like my own "after-movie mood" when I am processing movies before I can talk abotu them, and it bugs me to have people yammering about a flick while I'm still processing.

The problem comes when he will talk about other parts of his day- say, at dinner- but not school. He'll talk about breakfast. He'll talk about the activity or video we saw between breakfast and the bus. He'll talk about speech camp. He'll talk abotu therapy. He'll talk about special events or activities we did during the day. he talks abotu Sunday School, church music, the zoo, the farm, the art project... but not school.

I'm far more concerned with teh fact that the TEACHER won't talk about it, either. I can't just ask Joey, " What story did you read today?" and I can't get the teacher toanswer this question either. If he's reading, say, The Grouchy Ladybug, then I can spend time here at home talking about clocks and time and even reading the story to him more, so he has more exposure and more opportunity to process the lessons. IF I have a better grasp on how school works, I have more information about where to look for meltdowns and causes of meltdowns, or other signals of support needs.

The complete disconnect between home and school is thus not a one-sided, simple issue. there are lots of facets that are potentially problematic.

JoeyAndyDad said...

One of the exciting things this summer has been Joey's emerging ability to talk about what he has done in the recent past.

We've known for some time that his memory is astonishingly good- it's the ability to share his experiences and feelings with others that we are trying to help him develop.

That's why it's more than a little odd that school- at least since he's been able to talk about himself for say, the last 9 months- has never been "worth talking about".

We know he has loved school in the past; one of his favorite totems as a 2-3 year old was his miniature school bus that resided on the downstairs banister while he was at school. He loved the bus and going to school.

Unfortunately, the poor thing has gone to school since he could remember! He may be getting tired of it, but he's got another 13 years headed his way, minimum.

So we want to know if something's wrong.