Month: February 2014


We Never Even Learned That!

Dylan comes home from school and tosses himself onto the couch with his iPad. He doesn’t get up for an hour, even though Shane and I are pleading for help with a jigsaw puzzle. Finally Dylan comes in, looks at the puzzle, deems it worthless and goes back to his game.

He has a quiz in science tomorrow. I’ve asked my husband to study with him, which he says he has done. So I decide to give a quick pop quiz.

“Dylan, get me your binder,” I yell cheerily. He grunts. A few minutes later, I yell “get me your binder” less cheerily.

A moan escapes him, as if I’ve asked him to carry the couch to the kitchen.

He throws the 20-pound binder onto the table. “I don’t know why we have to do this,” he whines.

“Flip to the science section,” I say.

“I don’t know why we have to flip straight to science,” he says, in great pain.

“Get me your skeletal system review sheet,” I say.

Now he is really irritated. “I don’t have a skeletal review sheet!” he says. “We never did anything like that!” He flips through angrily, and pulls out a drawing of the skeletal system.

“All we have is this warm-up,” he says, tossing the half-sheet of paper at me.

“What’s this?” I ask, pulling out the piece of paper behind the drawing.

“It’s just another warm-up!” he whines, wandering away from the table and into the next room. It’s two pages, full of information on the skeletal system.

I yell to him in the next room, reading the first question verbatim.

“We never even learned that!” he moans.

“You did,” I say. “I’m reading from your paper.” I ask him another question from further down on the paper. He answers incorrectly.

“No,” I say. Then I read him another question, and another. He guesses, and sometimes gets something close to the answer, but obviously has no idea how the skeletal system works, what bones are made of, or anything else about the functions of the skeletal system.

“Here,” I say, plopping down the paper in front of him, onto the puzzle he’d once deemed unworthy – which now has his full attention, so that he may escape the agony of studying.

He groans. He grunts. He looks at the paper for less than a minute.

We try again. I quiz him briefly, before realizing he still can’t answer any of the questions. Audible agony continues to escape him. He doesn’t open his mouth to speak, so we can hear nothing more than grunts.

“I don’t want to do this either,” I tell him.

“Then don’t,” he says. “Why don’t you just let me figure it out by myself?”

I think, because you are NOT figuring it out. You are sitting on your butt playing video games. You are not learning to study, or trying to do better in school. You are failing and you are treating me like crap for trying to HELP YOU.

I say, “I have waited four months for you to figure it out, and you haven’t done it yet. So I am going to continue to help until you do.”

Then I walk away. I give up. I call Bill on his cell phone. After less than a minute, Bill determines the problem. It’s not unfamiliar.

Bill says, “Do you want me to deal with it when I get home?”

“Yes,” I say.  “If I have to deal with it for even another minute, I may put him through a wall.”

Bill comes home. Over dinner, I declare that Dylan will not play any video games for the rest of the week. There is some discussion about Dylan’s giving up video games entirely until he learns to study.

We talk about how we don’t know what quizzes he has, except this one. We talk about him getting low grades in social studies and – oddly enough – chorus. There is more discussion about Dylan’s attitude, but he continues to mumble, roll his eyes and grunt.

I took him off the medication to avoid this behavior. It’s not as all-consuming and despairing as it was when he was on stimulants, but it is just plain rotten. He may as well have TEENAGER stamped on his forehead in flashing, neon green ink.

Eventually, Bill quizzes him on the skeletal system. Somehow, they get through it. Bill gives a ridiculous lecture about respect that Dylan never hears, then they part ways.

Dylan is likely to get a much better grade on his test, thanks to all of this pushing and prodding – but it is only thanks to me. And honestly, having lived through school and studying once already, I don’t know if this is worth it.

Don’t You Have a Clock in Your Head?

Shane and I were in the car today, on our way home from a two-day trip. We were trying to figure out when (and where) to eat.

I said, “The GPS says we have 2 hours and 15 minutes to go.  The city with all the restaurants is 45 minutes from home, and we’re going right past it.  So do the math. Figure out how long it will take us to get to the restaurant.”

He did a quick calculation. “It would take one hour and 35 minutes.”

I did the calculation myself. The 35 confused me. In my calculations, it was an hour and a half away. I wasn’t as worried about his inaccuracy as I was curious about how he’d arrived at his answer. So I asked him.

“I just subtracted,” he told me. “I got 95 minutes, which is an hour and 35 minutes.”

He’d taken the number of minutes in an hour, multiplied it by 2, then added 15 to the total. Then he subtracted. He’d figured it out in just a few seconds, but it pained my brain just to think of it.

“Don’t you have a clock in your head?” I asked. Shane had no idea what I meant. So I explained that I had a visual image of a clock in my head – which, now that I’m admitting it out loud, may be kind of strange.

But my clock moves pretty easily in 15-minute increments, so I can visualize how long it will take to get from one place to another, just by “seeing” it on the clock in my head, and watching the hands go around.

Then I had a sudden, horrific explanation for Shane’s thinking.

Shane grew up on digital clocks. We do have a clock or two with hands, but for the most part, he uses clocks that display numbers only. His favorite time, in fact, is 11:11, because it is the only four-digit repetition on the digital clock. He also enjoys 1:23 and 12:34.  He can’t visualize a clock with hands because he grew up on clocks without hands!

While I was realizing this, and attempting to explain it to my 21st-century son, he said, “Oh, I know what I did.”

“What you did with what?” I asked.

“I subtracted 40 minutes instead of 45,” he said. “It would take us an hour and a half to get to the restaurant,” he said.

And how long, I wonder, will it take to create an image of a clock in his head, so that he can tell time quickly and accurately without needing to figure out the numerical value of an hour?

Shane had a vision processing disorder when he was born, which continued well into second grade. I wonder if not having a clock in his head also means he doesn’t have visual images in his brain, for example, to represent words?

Maybe his visual processing screwed up the way he processes all kinds of things – and maybe he’ll never have the ability to visualize things the way I do. Maybe it’s the reason he can’t remember song lyrics, and the reason he can’t remember people’s names.  Maybe he can’t visualize words in his head, which is why he can’t spell. Maybe he’s going to always have to do things in a more complex, confusing manner than most people do.

Or maybe – just maybe – he calculates time the way he does because he grew up with a digital clock.

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