The Numerical Mind

I have found Nate’s mind to be particularly fascinating. It is clear that he thinks differently than I do and sees the world through a different lens, which can lead to marvel and wonder–but also confusion and misunderstanding. On Wednesday of last week, we had Nate’s PPT (Planning and Placement Team) meeting, which officially placed Nate in Kindergarten for next year. Along with Chad and I, there were seven representatives of the school system present–Ms. Susie; Ms. Mollie; Ms. Cathie, Nate’s BCBA; Ms. Kathy, the school nurse (aka Nate’s best friend after a session of yoga); Ms. Jen, Nate’s occupational therapist; and Ms. Christine, who represents the school district. Full house, eh? Those that work with Nate on a regular basis went through and presented Nate’s current progress report and shared draft goals for Nate to achieve in Kindergarten next year. At a different school. Without them. (Insert sobbing here.)

Susie’s presentation was light and breezy. She is so proud of Nate’s progress this year; he’s nearly mastered every IEP goal that we created. So she wrote some new ones to start working on now and to carry over into Kindergarten. One of them was getting Nate to identify his numbers. In particular, she wants Nate to identify the numbers 1 through 10.

Both Chad and I heard a record screeching to a halt when Susie shared this goal. We love Ms. Susie — she knows our boy inside and out.  But how could she think that Nate doesn’t know his numbers!?! As I may have shared with all of you, Nate’s been demonstrating remarkable numerical skills since June 2013. It started out of the blue with no prompting or direction from me or Chad.  At first, it was matching, like this:


Then, I’d be in the kitchen making dinner and turn around to find this…. (This is in July 2013…I think we were missing the cards between 12 and 25.)

In Order

And then Nate would be playing and I’d peek over and find this….

In Order, Too

What do you mean Nate doesn’t know his numbers!?!

Susie was real polite about it. She didn’t want to tell parents, in front of a school panel of seven, that they were wrong. So she politely deferred the issue (though we approved the goal). After the meeting, Susie went back to her classroom, sat down with Nate, whipped out her video camera, and sent me and Chad this. (Nate’s wearing a pressure vest. It’s part of his sensory diet that’s administered throughout the day.)

Wait, what?!? You all know that two and five are Nate’s favorite numbers — and he gave her other numbers instead!?! Chad called me when he saw the video. Obviously, it was the room…or the temperature…or the color of M’n’Ms that Nate was working for.  Because Nate knows his numbers.  So I made some numbers, got out Nate’s token board, and sat Nate down.  This is what he did.


Slightly better — he got two right — but it’s clear that’s he’s just grabbing anything and handing it over when asked.

Well. Maybe the numbers don’t look right…so I got his clock puzzle pieces, which he’s put in numerical order many times on the floor.  Watch this.


First, he appears to count them in his head, which would suggest he knows his numbers. Then he gets the first request right and then? He bombs out. So I figured, let’s take another tactic. Let me ask Nate to put numbers in order, which he obviously can do, right?  Right?!?


I tested this over and over again. Nate can only put numbers in order if I give him the starting number. After that, he’s good to go. But, for the life of him, he cannot put numbers in order when asked (though clearly he can do it when no one is looking).

So what’s the lesson? Nate skips a few steps in learning the basics, in this instance anyhow. He skipped learning individual numbers and went straight to creating order — and memorized that order without learning its meaning. I am certain that this lesson (to me and Chad) will be repeated throughout Nate’s education. He might appear to have learned something only for us to discover that he learned it out of order; he’s demonstrating the top of the pyramid skills without having created the foundation for that skill. So now, we have a new goal in his IEP and a new goal around the house — learning numbers. For a kid who is so in love with them, I’m betting Nate will catch on real quick.