Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Math and FASD

We have started to view math for our daughter quite a bit differently now - she is in 5th grade.

4th grade is when the math gets pretty abstract and FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) kids start to really get out paced by their classroom companions, at least that is what we found. The curriculum that our school uses is Everyday Math - which is great for the average kid - it introduces high level concepts early and circles back to them over and over as the years go on. For our sons the curriculum is great, for our daughter with FASD, the curriculum is a disaster.

We have arrived at a strategy that has reduced our daughter's stress level, continues to educate her in the life skills area of math, and allows her to stay in the classroom for math. During the supported times in the classroom, when the teacher is instructing and working with the students our daughter participates and follows the class curriculum which she is able to do BUT when independent math time comes around she works on her IEP goals - which is to gain independent mastery over the concepts of time and money (about 3 years below the current grade level expectations.) We seem to have landed on a good strategy for us, the school, and most importantly her.

For your FASD child, you may need to ask yourself, what do you really want this child to know on their own, reliably, independently? Sometimes this takes some acceptance of what may be some harsh realities. It took me some time to realize and truly accept that our daughter would not be able to stay on grade level in math, and perhaps in many subjects. Math was glaring though. My husband and I are both engineers and we realized early on that our daughter had very little number sense but it was hard for us to understand why. Trust me, we tried everything we could think of to get her to understand numbers. Eventually we learned about FASD and we are still coming to acceptance of that diagnosis. Not that we don't believe it, we do, but we need to understand just what this means for our daughter and for us.

We hooked up with a neuropsychologist this year and she has really helped us "see" some things. One of the things that she has brought to the fore front for us is our daughter's stress level. We came to realize that our daughter was a giant stressball over school. She ate paper, she pulled her hair out (literally) one strand at a time, she chews her nails, she puts small objects into her mouth, she would cry in the evenings over homework, she would retreat into non-verbal world where she used hand gestures or barked (literally like a dog) to communicate. The neuropsych tuned us in to all this and pointed out that we (and the school) were asking her to do things that she just couldn't do and she sooooooo wanted to please us and her teachers and the combined effect was devastating, it was tearing her apart. So we stopped asking her to do things that were too hard and we started focusing our energy and her energy on the things that were important - life skills.

I mean really, does anyone here use long division in their daily lives?

Since we shifted our focus and have brought the expectations down to where they are just right expectations, we have seen her stress level sink down and she is a happier child. Now that wasn't easy, we had to strip away a lot of our blinders. We've had to face some very scary notions. Will she be able to graduate high school at this pace? Maybe not with her class. Maybe not ever. But the expectation that she somehow maintain grade level performance was causing her too much pain. Once we threw out that idea and started developing expectations that were based on who SHE is and what SHE can do, life got better, for everyone. And she's making measureable progress.

To get to this point I had to be able to say that I didn't care if she didn't work on 3 digit multiplications along with her classmates because I really needed her to be able to tell time and to be able to grasp the concept of relative time. To know that chocolate chip cookies bake for 15 minutes, not 15 seconds and certainly not 15 hours. I had to let go of long division (much less algebra) and realize that if she can't make change (or know about how much change she should expect) she's gonna get ripped off.

So my advice about math is this. First, figure out what your child reliably knows about math. What is a skill that is reliably reproducible? Then go to the next skill that isn't reliably reproducible but is somewhat understood and focus on that. Your child may want to follow along on the classroom instruction like mine does. She enjoys that part. But when left to her own devices she leaves behind the concepts the class is working on and she works on HER next important skill (like telling time). The concept is familiar but not solid yet so she can conceptualize being able to do it and it is work for her. Doing this, rather than working at a goal that is so high it feels unattainable, will keep the child from sharpening a pencil for the third time.

Why does a child sharpen the pencil for the third time? I suggest it might be because sharpening a pencil feels manageable for the child, the expected work waiting at her desk is not manageable but rather, overwhelming.

It took me a long time to really see my child. I'm not saying I'm an expert at it but we're trying. I don't know where this road will lead us but it finally feels right. Throw out the grade level expectations, the standards based metrics, the standardized tests, and the classroom curriculum. Look at your child, consider what they need to learn AND what they can actually do - now write the standards for your child and expect that the school will help your child reach them.

ahem - stepping off soapbox

Respectfully submitted,

1 comment:

Marika Ujvari said...

Right on, Amy!
Beautifully written. It grabbed my attentetion and tugged at my heartstrings.