Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hey, Miss Emily...Another Crazy Diatribe from Rose

Above is a paper Ben completed for an English course at the tech college he attends.  Although it's pretty good and shows the depth of my little "quiet man", I think you have to notice the brevity he has always had with ideas; he has always gotten to the point because of the mental and physical demands of writing. There are mistakes that the teacher did not draw attention to.  She graded on what he had to say, not perfection.  This is an important point.

Okay, so I read the write-up by Gerald Grow you introduced me to here:  

He had only critique, no answers.  He took the information he had gathered and put it together in a rather wordy treatise. Obviously, words come easily to him.  Am I being flippant? I was pleased to see Dr. Silverman covered.  But dear, I am old and tired and I have no energy for that.  I could never read "experts" opinions of anything for Ben.  I had to have it from the horses mouth.  I had to know ideas that worked.

I've looked all morning for a story Ben dictated to me when he was 8 years old.  The paragraph above is very typical in it's brevity to what Ben would do in school. Below is a  true conversation we had one time he was doing his homework, writing a paragraph:

"Mom, what is the least amount of letters you can use to make a word?"
"Ben, they are usually at least 3 letters, maybe more."
"Mom, how many words in a sentence?"
"Ben, you've got to use at least 3 words in each sentence, try to have at least 5."
"Okay Mom, how many sentences in a paragraph?"
"Ben...why don't you write what you've want to say?  Three...there are at least 3 sentences in a paragraph."

And he would count them out and write a simple paragraph with as few, short words as possible.  EVERY TIME!

BUT, when he was 8 years old, I read about a mother who had her child dictate stories to her.  And I tried it with Ben.  It was 5 pages long, he told me where to capitalize, where each comma and period went, things that he was incapable of attending to when he wrote it out himself. It was very complex; very descriptive; very, very beyond his years.  It was a beautiful story about a magic egg. (I've built it up so much maybe it's better I can't find it...ha!) Ben just told me he wouldn't have given permission anyhow, it's embarrassing to him what he did as a child. His childhood is a source of pain to him. 

Sometimes, teachers can't see the burden they put on little shoulders.  Output is so difficult for some kids.  But it doesn't mean it isn't up there. Rather than trying to make the visual learner perform as a non-visual or typical learner, WHY, for the love of God, don't they give them accommodations that allow them the same success in school as the smarmy, left-brained troglodytes? Did I say that out loud? It's for the love of Ben.  I adore him. No test, no theory, no compartmentalizing experiment or maladaptive "teaching" process covers the beauty, the complexity that is Ben.

P.S.--I was one of the smarmy ones.

Now, from discussion with Dyslexics, who are 20% of the population and who I theorize are part of the hidden horde of autistics yet to be discovered once they start building up the "co-morbidities"....they are visual learners. And to a person school is a distant memory of torture. To give credence to their way of thinking would "not be fair to the other students".  Who said being forced to attend school without reward is fair?

When I was in the classroom, I could almost tell you who would have trouble, who was the outlier by their handwriting. I'm telling you our story and Ben's excuse. Typing helps, but still...what every visual learner needs is a secretary.  I've always told Ben that. Mr. Gage may want to help, but simply trying to understand the visual mind is only a curiosity.  There is no meat on them thar bones.

Thank God the architects, the artists, the writers, the poets, the dancers, the inventors, the actors, the dreamers, the crazy ones who didn't fit the mold weren't helped into being "normal". Those that don't think linearly, or sequentially or how they "should".

P.P.S.--Ben may have been concise, with errors, but what he said was perfect.

P.P.P.S.--this isn't the blog entry I started out to write.  I took what Dr. Grow very seriously the first time I read it.  Like it was "truth" about my son.  But somehow a deeper truth came out.  I'm sorry...

Okay, here I go...I have Grows work to my right.  I will go down the line of table one.
1.  Oh, God, I just can't.  This is too much.  I can't look that deeply into Ben.  I see the GESTALT of him, not the incremental "disabilities".  Forget this idea. I want to smack him, Grow, though.  He's like the dude that screams, "You misspelled 'the'..." He's going at it from the lack. I walked out of a parents meeting where the OT had 3 pages of things Ben couldn't do, and I didn't go back for a year.  You've got to realize, parent's of kids love their kids, and don't like to hear only what is wrong. What a nasty man.

Starting all over again, I know there was something rich here. Because this is a consensus of all the "visualists" Grow knew, I will break it down into people I know and have spoken with to understand Ben.

LACK of WORDS: Ben doesn't have this.  Ben is reticent to talk for some reason, but not this. He used to speak more haltingly, but he always found the word. I have an artist friend, whom I've never heard speak, who refuses to speak in public.  He says people think he is dull because he can't find the words.  A picture tells a thousand words, you know (simultaneously perceived, as Vgotsky notes).  It's not just an expression.
He says his art speaks for him.  He "talks" to me a lot online, and I love his stories.  He says writing gives him
a chance to think it over and find the right words.  He was diagnosed as Dyslexic.  He just thought he was stupid.

ABSENCE of ANALYSIS. The root of analysis is ANAL, isn't it?  Enough said. Oops, also, words used with socially shared meaning.  Sounds like Autism, eh?  Ben is the quiet man. He listens.  A lot of socialability is the ability to use your words to coerce others into doing what you want, king of the mountain games.  If thought is pure, why does it have to be shared? It has it's own merits. Nirvana is not a collective state, but an individual one.

WORDS AS LABELS OF UNSEEN PICTURES: ?Brevity? Think of autistics with severe communication problems.  They may use a word in a totally novel sense, because they "see" what it is they want, and for some reason equate those words to it.  Ben and I seldom have "conversations" of more than a few words, but we often play act out using similar scripts we find amusing, Drama-less Drama.

FEAR OF WORDS: The left brain is full of words.Words do separate.  The right brain is full of simply being one with the universe.  Visualists don't fear words, they don't use them to think. Analysis is the opposite of Intuition. And as far as I can tell, analysis has not given science any great advantage over art. Seeing IS forgetting the name of the the thing one sees!!! That is exactly what the intuit, the artist sees.  It is what the dreamer sees. And much of science has not come from grinding analytical thought into mush in order to find the secrets of the universe by straining through them, but from dreams, and ideas---the most perfect scientist being an artist, who observed without words. Leonardo Da Vinci saw the future, not the next step, but many steps.He did not theorize, he observed in detail, like the visualist running sand through his fingers.

STACKING, PACKING AND ENFOLDING WORDS.-- Literalists ("this is exactly what I mean to say") versus allowing interpretations ("make of it what you will".) My dyslexic artist friend will NEVER tell the meaning of his work to me.  He would prefer each individual interprets it for himself.  His meaning isn't importent. Ben has no desire to share his ideas, but to continue to work on them in his mind until he has the whole of it, at which time he will present it..

DIFFICULTY WITH DESCRIPTION: Look at Ben's work.  He does not dramatize, it isn't a game to coerce others with his ideas.  His sole purpose is to cut to the chase, to tell it like it is, not to convince you of anything.. My artist friend sends many, many pictures...with little "telling". Why describe when the truth is right there, unencumbered with manipulative language.  Why describe pictures to someone?  There is an essence there to behold without the "telling of what to think"---also known as "education".  (Sensory, independent interpretation shared instead of literal facts.) Sometimes a few word  tell it all, when more only serve to coerce or confuse. What is expository writing but selling your ideas? An autist, an artist, a visualist does not sell his words, but his ideas.  A person with autism must contantly be coerced into worlds of words that have no meaning to him. Life is to be experienced, not described.  The true meaning is lost in the description.

PROBLEMS OF WRITING IN SEQUENCE:  Ben, Native Americans, autists, artists, Adhd kids....all must visualize time in order to understand it.  Look up the visual clock, used with many LD kids so they know that "get this done in 15 minutes" has meaning to them. Ben never had a sense of time in that he would so easily traipse off to "lala land" as Dr Jill Nolte-Taylor described her descent into her right brain when an embolism destroyed her ability to use her left brain. Time is a construct without meaning unless visualized.  If you have no sense of time, you have no sense of sequence. Right brain thought is not linear, as a sequence, but associative. Dyslexics often lack the ability to sequence, as a student I had did.

DIFFICULTY WITH TRANSITIONS: Do we even have to go here?  Lala land is a very fine place, and it can be left more easily if the "great pulling out" is predictable.  No time sense?  It seems like you are always being demanded of something.  Ben did a great cartoon of a harried child sitting at his desk in the first frame.'The teacher, shown as only a voice caption, says, in the second frame:  "Do this, do this, do this!" and the child is working with the pile.  The third frame, the disembodied voice commands "Do that, do that, do that!"  and still the child just keeps his head down, working on the larger pile.  The fourth frame brings about the final insult.  "Do this!" and papers scatter everywhere...."ARRRRGGGGHHHH!" the child yells. My painter friend tells me he "gets lost" in his paintings and loses all sense of time, and can easily go 24 hours without stopping for anything. Time is of no essence.

OVERUSE OF "TO BE"--Everything happens all at once and in the present time...Listen to Bolte-Taylor as she describes the right brain as living in the now, and the left being concerned with the past and the future..Look to studies of dyslexics and others who must visually segment their time in order to finish projects, using calendars, coloring, alarms, to a much greater degree than others.  Planning ahead is a laborious process.  I use passive sentences a lot, we all do until we are trained not to.

NARRATIVE:  The last thing in the world I see Ben as is a storyteller.  Yet I know many dyslexics, or visualists, become award winning writers.  It is because they have learned to give words to the stories in their minds. Sally Gardner was a severely dyslexic child of successful lawyers.  She did not learn to read until she was 14 years old. and was sent to a school for the mentally ill where she had to fight to survive. She had always told herself stories to calm and ease the pain. She said out loud the stories of what she would do to the bullies, and frightened them enough to leave her alone..  Maybe the secret to her success was she sewed costumes for theatre groups, then became an illustrator of children's books before she wrote...she had the visual constructs of storytelling before her.  Her books, to me, are highly visual and read somewhat like scripts She is highly descriptive of surroundings, her heroes and heroines almost always based on those who live outside the confines of polite society who succeed because of magic. Magic and love are always a part of her stories, like the myths spoken of somewhere.  Mr. Grow's words....magic would not be my first descriptor.

PROBLEMS OF CONTEXT: Making assumptions of others  ability to "see" the context they have in mind sounds very autistic to me.  It is tiring to have to transpose one's visual thoughts into non-visual thoughts.  Visualists first language is pictures.  Ask anyone who speaks 2 languages...they "think" in two languages, too.

FORESTS AND TREES: All I can think here is yes, detail, grains of sand, wheels of cars,facts about subways.AND YET, for those who have obtained success...things like seeing the picture in your mind before you begin (My artist friend, Mr. Jones), seeing the whole code before you begin writing it, Temple Grandin building the building in her mind and working out the kinks as she travels through it, Jacob Barnett's ability to visualize mathematical relationships in the plaid fabric he loved, a dyslexic economist who feeds the details into a gestalt without being able to tell why she knows what is going to happen. (I can't think of her name right now but I see her face.(...aaaaaa, it's happening to me!! )  Is this a problem or a higher order of thinking that sacrifices the mundane middle ground? Sweeps up and uses the leftovers on each side, so to speak.

AESTHETIC INDISCRIMINATION:  Oh, Lord, give me an effing break buddy....Expository writing is a type of writing that is used to explain, describe, give information, or inform. Where the hell is the aesthetics in that??? Here, read this story by dyslexic (visual) poet Philip  Schultz

It's entitled "The God of Loneliness".  He doesn't tell you what to think, but if you have half a heart, he knows where he is taking you.

SUMMARY:  I used to think my way of thinking was superior to people like Ben's way of thinking.  I was ighly structured and analytical.  I played the game well enough to be in the top 1% of test takers. Ben has taught me how little that means. Mr. Jones and Ben are both smarter than I am, see things that I don't see.  I'm tired of people trying to tell me why my son is defective.  He is what he is.  No one arrived  at any new thought or changed the world thinking inside the box .  

If I could speak (and write) all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  (1st Corinthians 13:1)


Emily Morson said...

Ah, you just put your finger on what I found dissatisfying about the Grow paper. He keeps saying that teachers aren't going to be able to help "visual thinkers" unless they understand why such students have problems, building up an expectation for practical advice. Then you get to the end and realize that that promise was never fulfilled. If I were in your shoes, looking for practical information about helping a visual thinker with writing problems, I'd be frustrated, too.

Mostly, I was interested in and excited about some of the thought processes described in Grow's paper. They made the wheels in my head turn, and I wanted to know what you thought. Did any of the descriptions of seeing everything at once or using words as pointers for pictures seem familiar to you? Either with Ben or with other students you've taught?

From everything you've said about Ben, I thought his writing would be less grammatical. But actually, he doesn't make a lot of grammar mistakes and he has long, complex sentences with pretty effective style. In fact, he writes better than a lot of my classmates at Northwestern did. The one constructive comment I would've made, had I been his teacher, was that he starts off making a point ("there are many theories about why this story is so popular, and one of the most popular is x") and ends up giving a thoughtful plot summary and his own personal reaction. You have to fill in for yourself how the plot summary supports the theory he's discussing, and whether he agrees with the theory. Excuse the rambling--the point here is, his writing was pretty good even mechanically, and his teacher was wise to grade him on his ideas and not the slight flaws in how he expressed them.

Ben's strategy of using the fewest letters, words, and sentences possible is brilliant. And he's definitely not the first kid I've heard of whose dictated stories are way better than his written ones because his ideas outstrip his mechanical writing ability. I really wish teachers would allow dictation for English assignments and teach difficult things like handwriting on the side. These skills are important to learn, but it's okay to learn them on a slower timetable, and they shouldn't be allowed to get in the way of learning and expressing your ideas.

Actually, my brother had somewhat similar writing difficulties to Ben in early elementary school. One thing that helped was going to a Waldorf school where the main writing they did was making their own "textbooks" that retold what they learned in class. He couldn't generate ideas, organize them, put them into words, and physically put the words on paper all at the same time. But once those things were separated out, he learned how to do them all. Eventually his mechanics were good enough to allow him to express his ideas fairly well, and he's now a good writer. I wish that way of learning had been available to Ben.

When you get a chance, I'd love to hear what you think about the non-linear thinking ideas I talked about in my post. :)

BTW--I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that those of us who do well with writing are smarmy troglodytes. ;) (I wasn't, although I was insufferable in plenty of other ways. ;D). I could write a very long post on the ways that being verbally talented can *also* make school miserable.

usethebrains godgiveyou said...

I thought he was describing what I perceive as a right brain thinker. That was what I respected highly...but it was like he wanted to use the information to make them left-brained. And I was thinking...where do you think culture comes from, big boy? It ain't all about description.

Yes, I will go through tomorrow and expound on that if you would like.

Happy Elf Mom said...

It just hurts to see the ideas being stuck upon the old stretching rack that is the high school essay.

Sorry, Ben!

Yep, his ideas are great. He needs to socialize the reader with a LOT more fluff, or go into journalism as I did.

Ya zing 'em with the first three words, and spit pretty much everything out in the first sentence. The rest is formulaic. Go look at the AP reports and see if I'm not right. :)

usethebrains godgiveyou said...

I love both you guys, I hope you know, but Ben did the best that he could. While looking for his third grade "Magic Egg" paper, I came across the psychological testing results done before he entered college. I KNEW Ben was learning disabled, but it was NEVER taken under consideration. On the WIAT-III, Ben's listening comprehension was at the 96%tile. Not a genius, but close. His essay composition was the exact opposite.Very close to intellectually disabled.Overall, with the highs and the lows, he's dead average--100. That is why he could tell me, but not write the story. That is just the way it is.

Happy, you told one time that G couldn't read well at's the same thing in a way...a severe learning difference that make school torture.

Emily, rather than see it as a glitch in output...I like the total package of who Ben is. Some of what Grow wrote about touches upon the reality of what Dyslexics feel their reality is. They DO live in different worlds, opposite say they live in their right mind sounds much better than saying they are stupid, evil, not trying hard enough, crazy, or LD, PDD, ADHD, or whatever other label society/science would put on them.
Have you ever heard of the tyranny of the left brain? Collectively, it's always writing a wordy critical exegesis of the right minded ones, and would dominate them in a societal way. The right minded ones are looking at the patterns made by dust in a sunbeam.

But the right minded ones can be, are, our culture. The left brained ones are full of ideas, but in a way, not free to think. Look at the structure you both refer to. Ben can't seem to follow the "rules" that come so easily to all of us. Thinking in Pictures,for some, being a "visualist", I have been told, is a much quicker,more efficient way to think. I heard a severely dyslexic inventor speak. He said he wouldn't change his dyslexia, that it made him "free to think". Mull that one over for a while. Do words get in the way of true thought? (Politicians have a LOT of words.)

I have a lot of words. But if I hadn't tried to be an artist, a visualist---I wouldn't have entered that world. Seems even deep desire won't get you there if you don't have the right wiring.

Oh, Lord...I do go on...

Emily Morson said...

Wow, we interpreted the Grow paper really differently. I got the sense that Grow isn't a visual thinker himself, but values visual thinking and hopes not to turn dyslexic people into verbal thinkers, but to teach them how to express their ideas in expository writing that a more linear thinker can understand. I do think that's a useful skill to learn, just like verbal people could benefit from learning how to visualize better.

I *love* your ideas about how the very ways of thinking Grow describes as problems (in the context of writing) are also gifts. Amazing, too, how many I can relate to as a nonlinear verbal person. (Time? What's that?).

Personally, I don't think visual thinking is a disability, just a way of thinking, which makes some things easy--like art, or experiencing things in the present, or seeing the whole point of something at once--and other things difficult, like writing an essay and analyzing things in certain ways. The more you tell me about how Ben thinks, the more I admire what he can do.

IDK, to me, both the things visual thinkers do well and the things they don't matter. Both the gift and the disability are real. As a society we just don't value the things visual thinkers do well enough. We pay too much attention to the disability and not enough attention to the gifts and the person underneath.

Sorry about the O.T. and all the people like that you've encountered, who can see only the weaknesses. Good on you for standing up for Ben. :)

usethebrains godgiveyou said...

No, Grow isn't a visual thinker, but he wants them to be "more like him" because he does one thing well, when in fact I just see him as the opposite of who they are. Yin and Yang. When is he going to start drawing?

I'm touchy. No expert has really helped me arrive at my unconditional love for Ben. I don't want him to be like "regular people". I've worked to understand him for what he is, and to see the beauty of it. NO DREAMS of him being "indistinguishable from his peers". That's where fear, not love lead a person. Things that are being done in the name of science are punishing to small children. I used to be in that camp. But I see with different eyes, now. I'm sorry I'm not being helpful.

The fox tells the prince, in "The Little Prince" something like this:

"It is only with the heart, that one can see rightly. What is essential, is invisible to the eye."

What is essential, cannot be "observed". I have seen parents who arrived at unbelievable understanding of their children, unbelievable. And I have heard experts say their children lack humanity. I'm sorry.

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

I'll be damned... Borat's cousin pulls his brain out.