Saturday, January 23, 2010

Judo moves on an atypical mind: Plan iMac

If you told me my 13 yo's measured IQ and reading levels 20 years ago I would not have received the news well.

Among other things, I might have assumed someone like him would be institutionalized.

In reality, things are more hopeful, interesting, and challenging. Whatever level he tests at, he seems to extract the information he is interested in from printed materials -- including newspapers. His reading interests are regrettably focal, but I can work with them.

He can barely print and his hand printed spelling is very poor. On the other hand, he's oddly good at old-style dumb-phone texting. There's something about tapping out each character that helps him slow down and process words. So I've given him texting privileges, and, each day, once school is out, I start texting him from my iPhone. I loathe the high cost of texting, but as an educational aid for my son it's extremely cheap. My superficially indulgent mobile phone experiment has been a robust success.

So how did he figure out the phone? How is he able to tweak every obscure setting despite the awkward UI? How did he learn to text? I can't explain this, any more than I can explain his peculiar game skills and non-verbal visual talents. All I can do is look for opportunities to leverage his strengths against his weaknesses. The struggle feels like a cross between dance and judo.

I've just introduced a new move. The early signs are encouraging.

First, some background. For years we've had to sharply restrict his TV access because he became agitated after watching commercial TV (he does much better movies and commercial-free DVDs).

Being TV free has disadvantages. Besides the loss of the electronic baby sitter (I'd use it if I could), I suspect he could learn from selected videos; his visual processing is far stronger than his auditory processing.

For similar reasons we've had to restrict his computer time, even though he has a relative knack for computer interaction. I have been amazed by his ability to bypass my home security measures. Recently he guessed an obscure password; I suspect he intuited it through a mixture of seeing it partly typed and then coming across it in a different setting. How can someone who tests so very badly be consistently breaking my computer security? There's something there I should be able to use.

So now I've made another Judo move. After years of restricting his computer access I've seemingly reversed course and created a "Learning" account on an iMac I've moved into an area we can supervise. This account provides him and his siblings unlimited access to homework resources, educational web sites, his email and twitter, encyclopedia, educational and scientific videos, iTunes U and the like. It does not, however, give him any access to the web sites and game software he loves to use. To get to that material he will have to hack through OpenDNS and OS X Parental Controls. A good challenge.

Today I saw him playing with Scratch, a visual programming language he learned in grade school. Interesting.

I'll report on how Plan iMac turns out.

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