Friday, October 22, 2010

Theo, What Are You?

If there were a lovebug aptitude test, Theo would score off the charts. He has achieved genius level with his ability to say things so sweet it's impossible to think the words are from a 7-year-old boy. An impromptu improvised song about his love for his little sister and her hugs and kisses, for example. His ability to cuddle, protect, and all-around send your heart a pitter-patter are at a level so high, his peers may never catch up.

But my Theo isn't a savant. He doesn't calculate complex numbers in seconds. He still can't add 5+3 without a number line. He can't compose music. After 10 months of piano lessons, he still struggles to plunk out Twinkle Twinkle. And he doesn't have a photographic memory, though his memory does surpass most kids his age, probably.

People who don't know about autism (and I surely would have raised my hand 5 years ago, so no judgment here) think of Rainman. An autistic savant. Someone who is genius but "weird."

But the truth is, obviously, that autism is a huge spectrum. Theo would be called high functioning, but with a below-average IQ (though I've never believed any of the IQ tests. I'm not in denial, I just know he  hasn't been tested properly because he doesn't respond well to that form of testing).

Temple Grandin, an Aspie (aspergers) woman who has basically revolutionized what we know about autism, says there are three types of thinkers:

These children often love art and building blocks, such as Legos. They get easily immersed in projects. Math concepts such as adding and subtracting need to be taught starting with concrete objects the child can touch. Drawing and other art skills should be encouraged. If a child only draws one thing, such as airplanes, encourage him to draw other related objects, such as the airport runways, or the hangers, or cars going to the airport. Broadening emerging skills helps the child to be more flexible in his thinking patterns. Keep in mind that verbal responses can take longer to form, as each request has to be translated from words to pictures before it can be processed, and then the response needs to be translated from pictures into words before it is spoken.

Patterns instead of pictures dominate the thinking processes of these children. Both music and math is a world of patterns, and children who think this way can have strong associative abilities. They like finding relationships between numbers or musical notes; some children may have savant-type calculation skills or be able to play a piece of music after hearing it just once. Musical talent often emerges without formal instruction. Many of these children can teach themselves if keyboards and other instruments are available.
These children love lists and numbers. Often they will memorize bus timetables and events in history. Interest areas often include history, geography, weather and sports statistics. Parents and teachers can use these interests and talents as motivation for learning less-interesting parts of academics. Some verbal logic thinkers are whizzes at learning many different foreign languages.

Theo definitely doesn't fit into two and three, so the visual thinker category seems closest -- though not perfect. I wonder if he really does think in pictures. His language is developing rapidly now, and little by little I get a clumsy idea of how his brain works. I am hopeful that he'll eventually find the words to express the machinations in detail, as lots of spectrum teens and adults do to support children in discussion boards, blogs, etc. It's an exciting thought.

By the way, if you haven't seen the movie Temple Grandin, see it immediately.

I'm hearing her speak at a conference tomorrow. She's the keynote at an Autism/Aspergers conference. I don't even pay $100 bucks to see people I like in concert, but the chance to see her speak was too incredible to pass up. I think one day it will be like saying you saw MLK or the like. Particularly exciting is that her mom will be speaking too; she will talk about what it was like to have a daughter with autism in the 50's, when doctors told mothers that they ruined their children by not giving them enough love.

Temple will be speaking about her new book on social skills. Theo's lack finesse, but he sure has the heart. The other day he said, "You know what I'm imagining? I have lots of friends and I keep them forever."

There is still so much more to learn about the pictures in his head. 


Anonymous said...

Theo is kind and loving with the biggest 7 year old heart. I love him so much and I know I'm not the only one. His sweet smile can conquer anyone, no matter what their state of mind. I am positive his picture of having many friends forever will be fulfilled. That's just Theo. I wouldn't expect anything less from him or those who have been blessed to experience his love and warmth.

Hugs and kisses forever,
Aunt Lisa

Elyse Orecchio said...

I love you, thank you! He's so lucky to have you in his life. <3