What Have You Actually Done?!

Dylan has been writing a paper for two weeks.

When he was tested in fourth grade, his processing speed was in the 9th percentile. Unlike his height, which has always been above the 75th percentile because he is very tall, his processing speed has always been very, very low.

This means that writing for two weeks is an insufficient amount of time for him to finish a 1,000- to 1,500-word paper.

The key word for Dylan – whether or not he knows it – is tool. For 15 years, we’ve offered him tools to speed up his processing speed. Fidget toys, including his brand new fidget cube, have been great – although rubber bands are equally successful. Chewing gum, mints, lollipops and hard candies are also great motivators for the brain to process.

Unfortunately for the public schools, the most successful tools for Dylan are music and movement. Restraining his movement actually makes his brain process more slowly.

Now that we have the 1.5-hour supervised shifts, I am always sitting next to him when he works.

The music never stops playing. Dylan never stops singing, except to drum on the table. He taps his foot, bangs on his knees, drums his fingers on the desk. He knows every word to every song, and I’ve never heard any of them before.

He sits on a kneeling chair, so he is leaning forward most of the time – or sprawled completely backwards. He sings and sings and sings.

He scrolls through whatever is on the computer screen in front of him. He scrolls up. He scrolls down. He tosses a ball at the wall. It bounces three, four times. He puts the ball down. He sings and sings. He never stops singing. He scrolls up again. He scrolls down again. He clicks out of the scrolling document and goes into the paper he is writing.

He types maybe six words. He sings and sings. He sings while he is typing. He stops typing and drums along with the music. He goes back into the scroll-able document. He sings and sings. His feet move constantly. He goes back to his paper – the 1,000-word document he’s been working on for two weeks – and he stares at it.

To me, he is doing absolutely nothing. He is just singing and staring. He is staring and singing. There can’t possibly be anything going on inside his brain.

I explode regularly. I try not to, but I can’t seem to control myself. It bursts out of me like a comical word balloon.

“What have you actually done?!” I spurt. “How could you possibly be getting anything done at all?”

He explodes back. “I have done ALL of THIS!” he says, waving his arms at the screen. He points to three very short paragraphs. I find it difficult to believe that they aren’t the same three paragraphs he showed me yesterday.

“You aren’t typing anything!” I say. “You can’t possibly type and sing at the same time, and you haven’t stopped singing for one second!”

He continues to sing. He types an entire sentence.

“See?” he said. “Now will you please get off my back!”

“What did you type?” I ask. If I were singing and typing, I would be typing the song lyrics.

He reads me the sentence, which is not a song lyric at all.

I am surprised. Again.

And again, I have to back off, and let him do it his way, even if it makes no sense to me at all.

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