Tag Archives: math

There’s No F in IEP

This week Nigel received his mid-term progress report for his first term back at regular school after over a year of homeschooling. He is receiving an F in math, and I am not surprised. What’s that you say? How am I not surprised? Because a few weeks ago we discovered that the entire time I was homeschooling him, I was teaching him out of the wrong book.

It all started at his IEP last September, when I requested the school-issued math book so that I could teach him exactly what his peers were learning so that he would be up-to-date when he transitioned back into regular school. I also knew that at the end of eighth grade, this year, this month, actually, there would be benchmark testing for his entire grade, including him, whether he was still homeschooled or not. I wanted him to know what he needed to know. The school’s sped coordinator spoke to Nigel’s previous math teacher at the school, and then he, the sped coordinator, went to pick up the math book and brought it back to the meeting to give to me. I thanked him and was very appreciative that the school complied with my request for the book, since they are not obligated to do so.

And since last September, Nigel and I diligently worked through that book every single day, along with working on the other school subjects. I felt certain that we kept up very well, since we made it two-thirds of the way through the book by March, two-thirds of the way through the school year. When he started back at the middle school that month, initially I was more concerned with how he was doing socially and behaviorally than academically. Things seemed to be going well for the most part, and then it was time for Spring Break. After that, I started asking him how things were going in class, and how he was doing in math. I asked him where they were in the math book, if it was near where we had left off with homeschooling. That’s when he told me. “Mom, I found out that was a seventh grade math book we did homeschool with.”

I wanted to scream. “Are you serious?! Are you sure? It didn’t say seventh grade on it!”

He confirmed that was indeed the case. And had I not been so busy with Aidan’s health issues at the time, I would have marched straight into the sped coordinator’s office and let him have it. Or the math teacher who recommended the book. I was angry. I felt like I had wasted Nigel’s and my time and effort and had put him at a great disadvantage for returning to regular school and taking the required benchmark testing. My heart raced and I clenched my fists. I took a deep breath and vowed I would deal with it when I had time. I went home and trundled Aidan off to whatever doctor’s appointment he had.

A few days later, maybe that weekend, I remembered what I had read around the blogosphere about there being no accidents. Carrie mentioned it, and Jess and Pixie expanded on it. I started to calm down when I thought about that. And then Nigel wanted to rent Kung Fu Panda that weekend, which we hadn’t seen yet, and guess what the theme of that movie is? That’s right – there are no accidents. The wise old tortoise master says it several times. And I started thinking that maybe I was meant to receive the wrong math book. Maybe I received it because that was what Nigel needed me to teach him, and what he needed to learn. I realized that no one had intentionally given me the wrong book, it was just a mistake, and I was glad I hadn’t stormed into someone’s office threatening to bestow one of Mama Mara’s Ieppie Awards in the Worst Great Idea category.

And so the benchmark tests are in two weeks. It is what is and what will be, will be. I’m not going to get stressed out over it, and I certainly don’t want Nigel to be. His transitional IEP will be coming up soon, and I’ll be sure to diplomatically let everyone know the reason behind his (very) low math grade, without pointing fingers. And if anyone apologizes for giving me the wrong math book, I’ll surprise them by thanking them. Because I learned a lot from this experience. And not just how to divide fractions again.

When Autism Does Not Equal Liking Math

There’s a saying in the autism community that you’re probably familiar with. “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.” This loosely translates to “When an autistic teen doesn’t like math, he really doesn’t like math.” And neither do I, making it an arduous task to teach it to him. After trying to teach him long division and triple-digit multiplication late last year, I finally said, “Oh, look! A calculator!” and the two of us were much happier. That is until this year, when we got to algebra.

I tried to explain to my son as he gently banged his head on the kitchen table that if he wanted to attend the local public high school at some point (which he has indicated that he does), he would need to learn algebra. A simple equation like 2c + 1 = 7 would send him into a tirade: This is an outrage! Letters do not belong in math!

After explaining to him that the letters are called variables and they symbolize numbers that we need to figure out by solving the equation, an idea came to me. As we sat on the couch together with the dreaded math book in front of us, I suggested to Nigel that we substitute a question mark for the variables. In other words, 2c + 1 = 7 would become 2? + 1 = 7. I could actually feel Nigel calming down as soon as I rewrote the equations. And it worked. He listened to my instructions and he could solve the equations.

The drawback to this, of course, would be when we got to two variables within the same equation: 2x + y = 7. I started to think that we could use other symbols besides question marks, like an asterisk. Then I thought, okay, maybe the question mark is just a crutch, just something that will help him to understand the concept of variables so that he can learn how to solve the equations, and after a while he won’t need to substitute ? for c or x.

Following our local public school calendar, which gave all of last week off for conferences and Thanksgiving, we homeschoolers also took last week off. Today we got out the math book, Nigel groaned, and I turned to a new chapter, one that started working with two variables in the equations. We started working one together, and I wrote it out just as it was in the book: y = 2x + 8. Nigel did not ask about the question mark. He did not yell about letters not belonging in math. The question mark had been just a crutch, one that he quickly could do without. But he still reminds me every day that he doesn’t like math at all. “Just humor me,” I tell him, and then I explain what that means.

On a side note, I just discovered this article, Reaching an Autistic Teen, that I loved and wanted to share. It’s about a special school in Decatur, Georgia for autistic teenage boys. Be sure to check out the last page – there’s a bit about one of the boys wanting to build a “magic cabinet,” and it reminded me so much of something Nigel would want to do. I absolutely loved it.

Comes the Dawn

Recently I wrote about experiencing setbacks with Nigel’s development and how it gets me down. It seems like I’ll never get a break. But what I didn’t remember is that usually when setbacks occur, soon afterward something happens that’s positive, a step in the right direction. And that’s exactly what happened today.

The school subject that Nigel has the most trouble with is math. Yes, math. Is that “anti-autistic?” I seem to read so much about how math appeals to autistic people because of the formulas, the predictability of working with numbers, and I don’t know why else because I’ve never liked math, so trying to come up with reasons to like it is a stretch for me. But I’ve always done okay with it, learned the basics, use them regularly, and identify the importance of mathematical knowledge as I’m trying to teach Nigel. But he has so much trouble with it (and no interest – must be genetic), that even when we go over the same problems and I walk him through so many and do them with him, he still doesn’t get it. After working on multiplying fractions for close to two weeks with no hope of him retaining any of it, I wasn’t sure what to do.

Then I remembered: break it down into written steps. That’s the only way I’ve been able to get him to pick up his room. That’s how some of his classroom teachers got him to work on activities and follow directions. And that’s how he was able to just get through the day when he was younger: having a schedule broken down into steps. I decided to break down the steps of what he was having the most trouble with – changing improper fractions into mixed numbers. Here is what I wrote for him:

Steps to convert improper fractions to mixed numbers:

1) Divide the numerator (# on top) by the denominator (# on bottom)

2) Write down the whole #

3) Multiply the whole # by the denominator

4) Subtract that # from the numerator

5) Answer is the new numerator for mixed #, placed over same denominator

He did the next problem completely unassisted in less than two minutes. I have to remember to break things down into written steps more often. Why do I forget? It should be common sense to me by now! Maybe I’ll remember better now, since I’ve written about it here. I think that’s something that works for both of us.