Monday, September 03, 2007

Can't or Won't

If you have a child with any number of different disabilities or trauma, you will find yourself being asked that question, and asking it yourself.

Most of us come to understand that the question is based upon a false dilemma. It is not that the child simply can't do it or willfully won't do it, but that the task the child, or adult, is being asked to do is difficult and reasonable expectations have to be made. Forming those expectations in a way that is realistic and encourages the child to develop, can be difficult. You have to get to know the child.

I'm going to use myself as an example. I have a problem where I switch words, especially names, without realizing it. I have a conversation like the following with one of my kids almost every day:

Me to Andrew: "Go tell Andrew and Frankie to come to dinner."
Andrew to me: "You mean tell Brian and Frankie."
Me: "Yeah. What did I say?"
Andrew: "Andrew and Frankie"
Me, sighing, "Okay...well... please go get them."

Most of the time I could swear I said what I meant to say. I don't notice. Less commonly I will do it with nouns other than names. Sometimes I will search for a word I know well. Sometimes my brain will just substitute another word. In an extreme form this is called "aphasia." I once, in a discussion about attendance policies, said to a colleague, "Well, what aphasia policy have you used in the past?"

When I teach, I know times when this is likely to happen, and they are extremely inconvenient times. The worst is when I am comparing and contrasting two things. I mean, if I am trying to explain the subtle differences between the positions of Jones and Smith and I start mixing up their names without noticing, I am going to confuse the students. So I control it.

I write the names of each example on the board. If I don't have a board, I write on a piece of paper in front of me. I make myself speak at half-speed. I look at the written names, and write short notes under each name as I go. I listen very, very carefully to what I am saying.

I can do it, and it takes effort. I tell my family that when I make this mistake at home to point it out to me so that I can work on it, but I also tell them that if I am tired, or driving, or engaged in any other activity that takes concentration to please just go with it and only ask me about it if they didn't know what I meant.

I think you can construct any example for yourself. Can you sit and walk with better posture than you do? Can you do it all day? If you stop doing it at some point is it because you are being willful and noncompliant?

What about your last failed New Year's resolution? Could you have done if you had tried?

I can't do long division in my head, could I learn if I really wanted to? Probably, but it isn't going to happen.

My mother in law has trouble with vertigo. Could she learn to skateboard if she really, really wanted? Almost certainly not.

We are slowly figuring things out with Frankie. His tendency to talk constantly is not something he is doing to be rude. It is part of the ADD. He can control it, but he has to put effort into it, and that takes concentration. When he forgets it is not because he is being defiant.

So we are being selective about how much we ask him to try. We know that at school he is asked to do it all day. Whenever he acts impulsively, someone redirects him. When he gets home on school days he is allowed 90 minutes of video time. We have decided that that is his "down time" and we make an effort to let him talk and not correct him. He narrates away, encouraging his new pet to take down the critters, cheering whenever he kills something, complaining when he doesn't have enough money to buy what he wants. In short, he talks non-stop. Hubby is often in the same room, working at his computer while wearing his noise cancelling headphones. I sometimes decide that is a good time to walk the dogs and am considering a pair of those headphones for myself.

We are working on interrupting though. When he interrupts one of us holds up a hand. When I do it I keep my hand up as a reminder that it is still not okay to speak, and as a hint to whoever I am talking to that I need to take a break from our conversation. I try to remember that though it is appropriate for me to correct and re-direct him, getting angry is not helpful.

And I am thinking about this because I did not do so well today. Oh I've been much, much worse. I was signing off from my computer after reading an email from another mom about why she couldn't do the car pool shift she had offered to do yesterday, and getting ready to go to my office to work (and apparently to write a blog post). I said, "Carpooling is a nightmare!" And turned to Hubby to talk about the afternoon, "I want to get as much work done as I can, but if you..."

"What's car pooling?"

"Not now Frankie! Hubby do you need me to..."

"I just want to know what carpooling is!"

I took a deep breath and held it and looked at Hubby. He said in that patient teacher's voice, "Carpooling is when people take turns driving."

"Why is it a nightmare?"

"I'll explain in a minute. Let's listen to Yondalla now."

Me, irritable and fast, "Whendoyouneedmetocomeback?"

"Take your time, I don't..."

"But why is it a nightmare?"

I believe I may have given Frankie a dirty look as I slammed my last book in my backpack and said, "I'm leaving!"

Behind me I heard, "Why is she mad?"


  1. I don't like this post! I have way too many faults myself and I don't want to talk about it! :)

  2. I had a lot of problems with my feet and legs as a kid. It is all generally better now (braces, exercises ad nauseum as a kid). But when I am especially tired or stressed out, I will inadvertently trip over my feet, lose my balance, or turn an ankle. My partner (and now I, too) have started seeing this as a signal that I need to rest, decompress, or destress. I have come to (sometimes, sort of) appreciate this early warning system that my legs/feet give me, if I am having a "glass half full" sort of day.

  3. Oh yeah. That's very familiar to me! The 2-second memory span that comes with ADD gets me, too.


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