Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Numbers Game

The other day I was driving Ethan home from school when he announced one of the kids had handed out birthday party invitations to the class. "We need to call and tell them we are coming," he urged. "The number is ...." he proceeded to give me the phone number without missing a beat. Then he stopped. "Did I get that right?" he said to himself, digging out the invitation from his backpack and checking. "Yes!"

I sat there shaking my head, wondering how in the world he did that. I can barely remember my own phone number. I'm only half-kidding.

Ethan loves numbers, time, calculations, dates, and counting. Math is a joy. This is quite common with people on the spectrum. Not to oversimplify, but part of the reason has to be that numbers are so predictable. Numbers do what you want them to every time, unlike pesky people who can be so hard to read, who don't live by hard and fast rules.

Ethan asked to have a calendar in his room and is always sure to keep it on the right month. He has inherited my freaky ability to remember anyone's birthday (as well as age) and loves to announce this information to anyone who will listen (by the way, thanks little guy for informing everyone at the hair salon how old I was, once you learned the hairdresser and I had the same birthday).

Playing a board game with Ethan takes me back to childhood with my brother Nate (who shares some of Ethan's interest in numbers; apparently in kindergarten the teacher was annoyed he spent most of the time watching the clock. My mom's argument was, who cares if the boy doesn't want to color? He can already tell time!). Every time we play Sorry or Chutes & Ladders, Ethan (like Nate) has to calculate the possibilities for both himself and anyone else playing.

"I need a six! I want you to get a three," he'll announce, wishing the evil big slide on me in Chutes & Ladders. Or, "I do NOT want you to get a two," he'll say, staring at the cards, willing it to be any other card so I won't win the game and send him into tears. Sometimes I just want to play the game, you know, without all of this calculating, but Ethan will have none of it.

It goes without saying that math is a breeze for Ethan at school. He adds and subtracts numbers in his head quite easily, which infuriates Anna. She has an idea in her head that he's the one who's good in math while she's the one who's good at reading...only Ethan is a pretty good reader, too. She finds it terribly unfair that he doesn't struggle with either, and she doesn't quite get it when I tell her he is going to very soon face challenges with retelling and writing stories, exploring themes, that kind of thing. She's just annoyed, mostly because she works so hard at math and it doesn't come easily. I can empathize. Sometimes I watch Ethan and Dan with numbers and wonder what it would be like. I remember getting a tutor in high school for Algebra 2 and still being barely able to make it above a C average.

I wasn't surprised to see Ethan come home after a visit with the grandparents the other day with a shiny new calculator. Apparently they'd taken a trip to Ocean State Job Lot and were allowed to pick out one small item. Of course the calculator would be more appealing than any toy.

I knew once the Olympics came on he'd enjoy it because every sport involves some kind of timer, and watching the numbers. These events come down to mere hundredths of seconds. It's all about the clock-watching. Sports and numbers, what could be better? The other night we had a double-whammy. We watched people try to beat each other out in the bobsled while Ethan played with his Usborne "Telling Time" book. This book has single-handedly taught Ethan how to tell time. It's got a big clock on each page with hands that move, and it tells a story that follows a family through each hour of the day. The reader is supposed to move the hands on the clock to match what time it is in the story -- which Ethan loves to do. But lately he's liked to match the clock in the book to real life. And so, as we sat on the couch and watched TV, he continued to check his watch (of course he wears a watch!) and then slowly move the hands on the clock to match the real time.

"Ahh, 7:37," he'd say, then look over at his book clock. Slowly, he'd move the minute hand to just the right place. "There," he'd say proudly, looking immensely satisfied. A few minutes later, he'd start again. "Okay, 7:40..." Anyone else would be bored out of his mind. Ethan was in his element.

A few weeks ago he discovered his V-Tech tablet had a timer setting, and that it was great fun to set it and measure how long it took to do, well, just about anything. I thought we were having our own version of the Olympics; like getting ready for the day was some kind of sport.

"Let's see how long it takes you to get dressed," he announced.

"Uh, okay..."

"Ready, go!" he called from his room. I actually found myself feeling the pressure, racing to get ready, as if I were one of the bobsledders trying to beat my personal best, trying to stay on the podium.

Then he wanted to measure how long it took to brush his teeth. To make his bed. To walk down the stairs and find his shoes. We were just about to the point when Ethan was begging to take the timer to Target and calculate how long it took to shop, when the tablet's batteries mercifully died. Let's just say I haven't been all that eager to replace them.

I told Ethan I would play a game with him after I finished writing this. He needed me to give him an exact time, of course, so I said 15 minutes. He set the timer on me. The clock-watcher has told me my time is up. I have no choice but to comply. In this house, numbers are king, and numbers never lie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is quite cool. I remember when I was littel having a fascination for numbers too. I can therefore relate to the annocning your age at ht ehairdresser. I did this with my grandma, when I asked another lady how old she was and she siad like 65. I said: "Oh, that's really not old, since my grandma is already 68." Grandma loved ot tell that story years later.

I also loved calendar calculation, ie. calculating what day a specifc date would be on. I think Ethan would love this too once he grasps the concept. (Unlike savant people, I don't do it from memory, I actually understand the underlying mechanisms.)