Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Deja Vu All Over Again

When Ethan had his last visit with the developmental pediatrician, she handed him a stack of coloring papers and asked if he wanted to color while "I talk with mom." Ethan obliged -- with one crayon. He proceeded to make the same approximate scribble on every page, making a pretty good dent in the whole stack.

I love how sneaky these doctors can be, because of course the pile of papers wasn't just a distraction to keep Ethan busy, it was a test. Later, as we talked, she had to a chance to weave the pile of scribbles into her diagnosis. Yes, Ethan should still be defined as having classic autism, she said, due to certain characteristics such as repetitive behavior and lack of creativity or flexibility, as evidenced through the darned coloring papers. At the time, it kind of annoyed me.

Now, I see she has a point.

See this picture?

Oh, if Dr. Milanese could see it now! Look at the variety! Look at the colors! By looking at it, you would not know: 1) Ethan now colors this way because his teacher posted a list of several steps to making a "good picture," and he now reminds himself of the rules when he starts coloring and 2) This exact picture has come home from school at least 6 or 7 times. Same person in the middle. Same tree. Same blue sky. Same sentence: "I am playing outside."

"Where did you draw this?" I will ask him.
"Writing center," he answers. "We get to draw whatever we want."

"Why do you always draw the same picture?" To this I get no answer. One time, I gently urged, "Maybe next time you could try to draw a different picture." He was so proud, when he brought the picture home. It was the same tree, sky, and person. But a swing had been added. "I am playing on the swing," the sentence read. "I did it different this time," he said proudly.

Okay, so creativity is not my boy's strong point. He's about as different from Anna in this area as night from day. Fine, Dr. Milanese. You made your point.

For the first part of the year, Ethan's homework assignment each week was to pick a word, write it several times, then draw a picture about the word. Ethan's choice of words was, well....interesting. We had ice cream and pizza, red, pencil, chair and curtains, to name a few.

"Okay, what are you going to draw?" I asked him enthusiastically the first day. I think pizza was the word. Ethan decided on a man at a restaurant reading a book about pizza. So the next week, when we sat down to draw a picture about ice cream, the first thing I heard was: "He's at a restaurant. Reading a book about ice cream." And every time, when I ask him to add more detail to the picture, he says, "Oh! I forgot the floor. And the ceiling. And walls."

Now they've graduated from pictures to stories. We just got a paper home, and it's official. This week, Ethan is being asked to write a story and draw a picture about it. Ethan didn't get this at first. "We're going to read a story and write about it," he told me. Uh, no buddy. "You're actually going to write your own story," I told him. He didn't know what to say to that. Uh-oh. I can see it now. I'm sensing he's going to want to write a story about playing outside. Next to a tree. Or be reading a book in a restaurant. Under the ceiling and above the floor.

I don't mean to mock my now six-year-old. I actually opened his progress report yesterday and had tears in my eyes. He's already at or above where he should be by the end of the year in many areas. His teacher's quite impressed with his math ability. She called him "a confident writer." There were glowing comments from his music and art teacher. I can't tell you how grateful I was when I looked over those two pages.

But now I know the true definition of concrete thinker. And as a writer who has often dealt with an overactive imagination, I try to wonder what it's like to sit down to craft a story and have no new ideas...to, as his teacher says, "enjoy solving math problems" (shudder)....to have amazing ability to memorize rules and apply them while simultaneously having such gaps in picking up certain pieces of information, like how to color or to chat with someone, inherently.

Yeah, yeah, Milanese, I know. And I know what will happen on our next visit. Ethan will color pictures just the way he should be, because he's now learned the rules. He's been taught. Yet you'll have something new in your bag of tricks, some subtle way to prove why he's not a typical six-year-old. And you know what? Ethan will master that rule, too. And the next. What he lacks in originality he makes up for with other ability. He's going to surprise us all. He already has.


Deenie said...

I don't comment often but today I feel compelled to let you know that I read all your posts and I really enjoy learning about your Ethan :-)

Deb said...

Thanks Deenie! It's nice to hear the feedback! :)