With all due respect, may I ask you something? Does your child have a learning disability? Would you be willing to bet your child's love of learning on that they don't? In this chapter of our ongoing series on education and learning, we're going to take a brief look into the nature of "learning disabilities." Including that we all, to some degree, have them. I'll also show you a more accurate way to identify learning disabilities; brain learning paths. Otherwise known as the Four Emergence Decision Trees. Ready for some more fractals?
Chapter Twenty Eight
Will the Normal Learners Please Stand Up
Years ago, I remember seeing a cartoon, an annual meeting for the "children of normal parents." Seated in the auditorium, there were maybe three or four people. Can you picture this? Three or four "children of normal parents." That's it. Three or four.
I expect we'll soon see a similar cartoon for the "parents of normal learning kids."
My point. There are no normal learners. Not even kids with excellent grades are "normal learners." In truth then, we all have our troubles with learning. Kids and parents alike. Not just minor struggles, mind you. Full blown, whale sized, wrestle with the devil struggles. At least, in one or two major subjects.
Of course, most of today's parents did not themselves get diagnosed with a learning disability back when they were in school. And when we hear stories today about mercury and learning disabilities, we cringe with potential regret. Imagine? With "potential" regret. We're guilty even when we're not sure something happened. What a world we live in! We feel guilty for things which may never have occurred.
So can we tell, with certainty, if a kid has a learning disability? And if we all struggle with learning, does this mean learning disabilities are the norm? If so, is there a fractal with which we can clearly identify the nature of these learning disabilities? Something more compassionate than asking a scared little kindergartner five hundred questions?
The good news. As we spoke about in Chapter 21, there are, indeed, fractals for identifying learning disabilities; the Four Social Priority fractals. Each offers us a detailed and recognizable visual pattern which describes what may distract a child (or an adult). They also show us the approximate time during childhood wherein this learning disability would have occurred. As well pointing us to how we might best reach this child.
In this chapter we'll look at a second group of learning related fractals. I call these fractals, the Four Decision Trees. With them, we get a visual model for the paths children's minds follow when they process data. The four brain learning paths young minds take whenever they try to understand something. Especially something new.
Before we start though, I need to offer you some gentle advice. My advice. Read this column slowly. Why? Because this chapter's drawing is far more complex than previous drawings. Certainly too complex to be grasped in a casual read. And perhaps too complex to be grasped in several serious reads.
Please know, I am not trying to discourage you here. My intention is merely to help you to get as much out of this chapter's fractals as you possibly can.
Know too that I am in the same state as you are in here. In other words, it will probably take me years to realize the implications of how these fractals combine. As well as to discover how best use them to help our children.
Why show you this diagram then? Because if you are still reading this, then there is something special inside you. Something our children need. Hope.
I also feel that offering you something new is better than tweaking something old. You know. The "polishing a turd" cliche which so applies to making symptom reduction the primary approach to learning disabilities.
More important, who knows. Some of you may feel so inspired, you may do your own research. God knows our kids could use your help. If so, please remember I welcome your questions. And your input. After all, finding a way to help kids learn is my thing. Remember?
Finally, know there is an up side to the complexity I am presenting here. The up side? If you can find it in you to stay with what you feel, then you'll get to experience, first hand, what many kids feel on a daily basis. You see, most students feel intimidated by complex learning. If this includes you, then know that what you're feeling here could lead you to many aha's. Including that even geniuses struggle to learn.
Have you ever thought about this then? That even geniuses struggle to learn. No? This lack of awareness in even smart folks always amazes me. Especially since all normal births result in baby geniuses.
Perhaps what happens then is that those who grow up to become geniuses are somehow born, not more intelligent, but more stubborn than most. Maybe these kids intuitively do what I've been urging you to do here. Maybe they simply do not give up in the face of complex learning.
If this is true, then where is our genius? I believe this chapter's fractals hold the clue to our rediscovering it. How? By showing us where in the learning process we get lost. Are you at all curious as to where you yourself get lost? If so, then please stay with me just a bit longer. I promise you'll be amazed at how simple these fractals actually are. Once you learn to recognize them for yourself, that is.
Okay. Big breath now. Ready? Okay.
All Learning Follows a "Path"
Begin by allowing this phrase to seep into your visual mind; "all learning follows a path."
Now take a moment to picture the last word in this phrase. The word "path." What picture forms on the screen of your mind when you think about this word.
I think, a place where a journey will begin. Or takes place. Or a way to get from where we are to where we want to go.
My first image? A place I visited once. A painfully steep worn rock climb, ascending to an Anasazi ruin. I remember feeling compassion for the austere people who once lived there, a community of men and women who had walked this path so many times, they had literally worn the rock on this path down into a gully. Can you imagine?
And you? What did you just see? Was it a well worn dirt path or an untamed rocky climb? Was it a grassy summer park or a trek along the ocean shore?
Know that any and all images the mind creates are perfectly good scenes in which to learn. Every image holds the potential to take your mind to where you need to go.
More important. The opposite is also true. No images. No learning. Which is why so many folks with healing energies encourage us to visualize what we need. Why? It works, that's why. Including that it works for healing the learning mind.
Now you're ready to explore this chapter's drawing. The Four Decisions Trees. Please begin by noticing that in the center of this drawing, there are four quadrants, each holding a fractal for a path on which we learn.
What do these four paths represent? Each tree documents an order in which we as learners process new ideas. As well as showing us the places at which we potentially get lost on our journeys toward this learning.
Now let's narrow our focus to just one of these Decision Trees. Let's look at the one in the lower right quadrant; the one I've labeled, the Asperger's Decision Tree.
For now, please try to ignore what you think this label means and for the moment, stay focused on your imaginary path. What I mean is, rather than trying to hurry toward the intellectual meaning here, at this point, simply allow your eyes to freely wander over what you see, noting especially the colors of the four processes; "Precision (orange)," "Correction (yellow)," "Digression (red)," and "Bluntness (blue)."
What do these processes represent? First the logical definitions.
Now the visual versions.
Precision. Have you ever met a child so particular and fussy that only brilliantly informed teachers can get this kid's mind to open? A child who listens only to those teachers who speak so clearly and precisely as to be considered poetic. Or so scientifically proof laden that there's no room for doubt?
How about a child who travels this path inwardly, as in he or she requires this kind of precision from themselves? In other words, have you ever met a learner so self critical that nothing she does is ever good enough, and no amount of precision can satisfy her lofty standards? For this kind of boy or girl, no homework ever feels done. Not even homework meant to be a first draft.
Know that at times, I've been such a learner. Perhaps this is why I try so hard to be this kind of teacher. Even to myself. At the least, fact and word wise. And certainly, visually fractal wise.
The up side. These children's results are usually spectacular. And they always want to give you their very best. The down side. These kids' standards make them inaccessible at times. And for the other kids, standing next to them makes even good students feel inadequate.
Correction. Do you know any children who, by their very nature, feel compelled to adjust and refine and add to whatever the other kids say? Each additional fact a potential amendment meant to reduce the error in some poor fellow student's mind? Each adjustment a righteous move toward the ultimate version of a truth?
How about a child who does this to him or herself. Know any kids like this? You know, the kind of students who preface every line with disclaimers as to what they might be omitting. Or missing. Or incorrectly stating. Or be totally wrong about?
Did you sense any of this in my opening today? Okay. Yes. I admit it. I'm like this at times too. A man for whom once done learning can totally come apart at the seams when what I deem as a previously unseen fact comes into view, provoking urges in me to redo it all. This despite the supportive words of others who feel what I've done is fine. To me though, what once felt done now feels dreadfully unfinished and misguided, a first draft at best.
The up side. This is the child you want in the class think tank, the ever clever, motivated, make it better girl or boy. The down side. Like most drummers I've met, you can't get these kids to stop beating their drums. Oy vey! What a pain!
Digression: Have you even had kids feel compelled to give you each and every detail of a trivial story. Something you care nothing about? Why their homework isn't perfect. Or completed. Or neat. Why their hair is purple. Or their pants down to their ankles.
What about you, yourself? Do you drive yourself crazy seeking ultimate solutions to personal decisions; the right car; the right woman; the right wall paper; the right dress?
How many dresses did you actually try on? A little embarrassing, is it?
This is digression; climbing out onto the too thin limbs of the tree of learning. The journey from the sturdy trunk and main branches out into the thinly related ideas.
The up side. This child will add spice to your most boring journeys. And potentially rescue the most dreadfully lessons. The down side. Focus, kid, focus! You just took the learning minds of the whole class down fifty two side roads! Can we please get back to today's lesson now.
Bluntness: Have you ever wished you could just blurt out, "Enough, you blubbering toad!" Or, "Wake the heck up and get to the point!" Or, "What were you thinking, you pin headed idiot!"
Of course, in real life, these outbursts are mainly "in bursts." Silently voiced verbal ejaculations spit into the ether of the learning mind. On the other hand, there are kids out there who, in the midst of a teacher's best work, love to throw a logical monkey wrench into the minds of the class at large. Stir it up. Start a war. Or just plain have a "what about me" outburst.
The up side. This is the kid who will get the digressor to shut the heck up. She'll say for you what you've always wanted to say but don't for fear of getting fired. The down side. When this kid focuses on you, it's teaching at it's worst. Power struggles and failed peace efforts and unwarranted compromises. No fun at all.
So there you have it. The four decision making processors of the learning mind. Precision. Correction. Digression. And Bluntness. Now let's take another trip through this lower right quadrant, the one labeled, the Asperger's Decision Tree. What does this quadrant show us about the Asperger's like kids?
The Asperger's Style Decision Tree
Please turn your attention to the drawing once more and to the lower right quadrant. The AS quadrant. Let's start by slowly exploring the how these processes unfold. Top to bottom. Left to right.
First, we have two rectangles, a large tan one and a smaller white one. Let's start with the tan colored one first.
Inside this box, written at the top, we have; "Internal Locus of Control." Followed by two colored decision boxes labeled, "Precision," and "Correction."
Precision and Correction we've already spoken about. "Locus of control," though? What the heck is this?
Let's dissemble this phrase, starting with the first word; "locus." Locus is a variation of the word, "location." Which makes the locus of control the central point around which something happens. In this case, the location of the learning mind. The site of the learner's identity.
Then there are the word, "internal" and "external." These words refer to where this site is in relation to everything else. Is it inside the learner or outside the learner?
Kinds with an "internal" locus experience the drive to learn as coming from inside themselves, while kids with an "external" locus experience the drive to learn as coming from outside themselves. Mostly, from their teachers.
Next there is the word, "control." This word refers to how "in control" these students feel. Especially with regard to who decides the path on which they must learn; themselves or someone else. Which explains what these words imply about how students feel about learning. As well as how confident they'll feel about the learning process. Who is in charge, so to speak.
Finally we have two more decision boxes, "Digression," and "Bluntness." Again, we've already discussed these processes.
These two processes are then followed by a Decision Tree label; in this case, an "Asperger's Decision Tree" label. As well as by one of the four Social Priority buttons. In this case, a little yellow "Understanding" button.
Here then is the path learning takes through the minds of folks with an AS style of learning style.
What about the other, smaller white rectangle on the right?
Here we see a fractal for the person's normal approach to learning. In this case, we see a number "three," which refers to the third Social Priority; Understanding. This then is followed by the two upper most learning process boxes from this Decision Tree; "Precision" and "Correction."
What does all this mean? Let's take a look.
Interpreting this Decision Tree
Okay. I know. I've given you a lot to take in. Know it is easier to understand than it might at first seem. Starting with that there are many similarities here to what I've already shown you in Chapter Twenty One, regarding how the four Social Priority Fractals work. And how, when taken to excess, they become the basis for the four main learning disabilities.
So how are Decision Trees and Social Priorities similar?
For one thing, like the four Social Priority mind focuses (Comfort, Neatness, Understanding, Freedom) , there are four Decision Tree mind processes (KA, OCD, AS, ADD). Here, each mind process is a style of thinking which the brain employs during learning. A path the mind follows. A heroes' journey. Especially considering how kids who by nature, struggle with the more significant examples of these four paths suffer. These kids truly are heroes, just for trying to engage in school.
Next notice that these four Decision Tree mind processes stack the same way as the four Social Priority mind focuses. Vertically and divided, into an Upper Pair and a Lower Pair.
Like the Social Priority Upper and Lower pairs then, the Upper Decision Tree Pair describes the way these kids learn on good days, while the Lower Decision Tree Pair describes how these children learn on bad days.
Thus, for the kids whose learning style has features of Asperger's, Precision is king and Correction is the modifier. In other words, Correction is what keeps feeding the person's drive for Precision. Moreover, this is how the minds of these kids work on a good day.
On bad days then, when these pairs get inverted, Bluntness is king followed by Digression as the modifier. This is how these kids face learning on bad days.
Now consider what it's like to be one of these kids.
Kids whose learning style leans towards folks with Asperger's will, without thinking, feel internal urges to correct other folks. And themselves. Even when they know this other to be expert in what's being discussed. And even when they themselves know nothing about the topic.
They'll also feel urges to fight to the verbal death in order to prove they are correct. Or "precise," to voice it as these kids really feel it. Thus, while the more medically minded refer to these kids as being rigid and inflexible, they're actually neither. At least, not from the point of view of these children's themselves. To them, they are simply being accurate and truthful, while the world is being sloppy and careless. More on this in the next chapter.
Finally, consider this. The Asperger's Upper Pair Fractal is "Correctly Precise Understanding." This, in fact, is what drives them to try to do so well. Does it then make sense they would have trouble socially? Who wants to be corrected by a pedagogic perfectionist all the time. No one I know. Not even these kids.
On the other hand, think about how good this must feel to them to do. Mostly, because they personally feel in control while doing it. The "internal locus of control" feeling, remember. Translation. The feel as if their actions and decisions stem from inside themselves. Not from others. And this being in charge feeling fuels a lot of what they do. And think. And say. And feel.
And on a bad day, then?
On a bad day, they overdue their efforts to be Correctly Precise, and fall into the abyss of infinite digressions. Labyrinths wherein they get so overwhelmed, they simply quit. But not before having a blow up. A bluntly rude outburst. A frequently loud flare up. Again, not a very socially engaging technique for connecting to others.
Of course, this bad day path feels bad to them too. In part, because they feel so lost and confused. In part because they feel so out of control. Thus, the "external locus of control" designation.
Now consider how this mind path unfolds in an adult learner's mind. Let's say we are talking about a forty year old woman who needs to replace her living room blinds. What will this process be like for her?
To begin with, she will have to become expert in all styles and manners of living room blinds, even down to the methods for attaching blinds to walls; screws versus toggle bolts; into wall board versus into molding.
Next, she must successfully avoid urges to redo the entire house. Why? Because each and every alteration requires precisely coordinating this change to the decor of every adjoining room. Why of course! Moreover, the new blinds must initiate a thought provoking theme, both philosophically and aesthetically. After all, you cannot just change things any old way. Not only do colors and styles need to match, so must the prices and longevity. And health hazard potentials.
Now with all this on the table, many trips to stores, both online and in person, must be a part of the process. Are you getting that this is about precisely learning the correct blinds. "Correctly Precise Understanding," remember.
This is a look inside the AS mind. The path to correctly precise learning.
The ADD Style Decision Tree
Now please turn your attention to the lower left quadrant and to the tree labeled, the ADD Decision Tree. What does this quadrant of the learning mind tell us?
The first thing to notice is that the ADD Decision tree is almost the mirror image of the Asperger's Decision Tree. Thus, when kids with ADD begin to learn, the path their minds follow is nearly the opposite of the one the kids with Asperger's follow. Not completely opposite, mind you. But almost.
To see this difference for yourself, notice how the Upper and Lower pairs are the same in both Trees. Only the pairs are reversed. Thus, the Upper pair in AS kids' Tree becomes the Lower pair in ADD kids' Tree. And visa versa.
What does this mean? It means that on a good day, while the AS kids will feel good about learning, the ADD kids will feel bad about learning. And while the AS kids will feel in control and doing what they like best, the ADD kids will feel out of control and forced to do something they dislike; learn. All this right from the start and regardless of who the teacher is.
Further, none of this happens through any fault on their parts. There is no injury provoking this response, nor is there any defect in their biology.
Neither does this happen because of a lack effort on their parts. Or on the teacher's part. Nor from any lack of intelligence in either of them.
Why say all this (and risk provoking the ire of the medical community)? Because regardless of whether biology is involved or not, right from the start, by their very natures, these kids feel forced to Bluntly Digressing away from Learning. Moreover, why they experience requests to learn as being forced against their wills to learn does not matter one bit. It matters only that we figure out how to help these kids to see it is in their very natures to be this way.
Moreover, their natures are not going to change. So yes, medical straight jackets may alter what we see. But inside, they will still feel the same; resistant when asked to learn. Moreover, this holds true even when they like the topic and ask to be taught. Why? Because they experience this learning like they experience all learning; as something being forced onto them by some force coming from outside themselves. The external locus of control, remember?
So am I saying their situation is hopeless then? Not at all. I'm simply saying that lasting solutions to any of our problems require we see and accept our natures. This, in fact, is the only way we can learn. Why? Because it is the only way we can circumvent blame.
This, in fact, is what makes these four Decision Trees so valuable. They show us, in real terms, what the nature of our problems are, all without blaming any thing or any one; not biology, not psychology; not parents, or teachers, or kids.
They also show us where we need to look for solutions to these problems. Where we can really offer useful help to these kids. And in the cases of AS and ADD, this begins by learning to notice how these two learning styles mirror each other. And how it feels to have two learning styles which follow such different paths; two almost polar opposite paths, mind you.
So how do these kids feel when they interact in school? In the case of the Asperger's style kids, they start out feeling great. In control. Loving what they're doing. The masters of their world.
And in the case of the ADD style kids, they start out feeling terrible. Out of control. Hating what they're doing, And wanting to burst out of wherever they are.
Now think about what I've just said. Is it any wonder these two groups of kids treat each other the way they do? And that they often dislike each other to the point where they mock, taunt, and tease each other?
This, in fact, is one of the main conflicts schools fail to compassionately address. The conflict between the nerds and the rebels. And because ADD style learners account for perhaps half of all students, the ADD style kids (the majority culture) win. And all of us lose. You see, in the conflict between those who love learning and those who love freedom, freedom wins. In our culture, anyway. Which means, the kids who love learning feel the need to hide this love, while the kids who love freedom are admired. Even by the teachers.
The odd thing here is, look at what happens to the ADD kids when a teacher gets them to hang in there and finally learn something. To see this, simply picture the ADD Decision Tree upside down. The inverted kayak metaphor, remember?
So what do these kids feel? Of all things, they surprisingly find they like learning. And in fact, it now feels good to them.
They also feel in control and hopeful now, as if they have won their battles with learning and now the war itself has ended. The internal locus of control, remember? So much so, in fact, that some of these kids may wonder why they ever thought learning was so bad.
Unfortunately, the following day, when their minds reset to their default learning path, they will once again feel trapped by requests to learn; forced to do something they do not want to do; and compelled to respond the only way they know. By rebelling against learning.
The Kanner's and OCD Style Decision Trees
Know that, at this point, I'm well aware that I've given you much too much information. I sincerely wish there was an easier way. At this point then, what I'd like to do is simply touch on the high points of the last two Decision Trees. Briefly. And hopefully, succinctly.
Please start with the Upper Left Quadrant. The Kanner's quadrant. Here, you'll see that on a normal day, kids with Kanner's Autism feel quite empowered. This despite what many project onto what these kids look like. Think about it, though. Being fine with bluntly shoving away anything which doesn't feel good. Can you imagine? No guilt. No shame. Nothing but a clear and total focus.
Think I'm exaggerating this? I saw Temple Grandin do this at a conference and I have to say, I felt quite envious at one point. Not that I want Kanner's Autism, mind you. Just that she, at one point, effortlessly shut down some self promoting therapist with less effort than it would take to brush away a fly in winter. Amazing to watch. Let me tell you.
So what was this? "Precisely Blunt Comfort." That's what it was. The awesome but totally antisocial feeling of simply brushing away an annoying person. Wow!
And the upper right quadrant, the OCD quadrant?
Here we see that, like the way the learning minds of the Asperger's and ADD style kids mirror each other, the learning minds of the Kanner's and OCD style kids mirror each other's decision trees as well. Thus, the mind of a kid with OCD drowns each time they try to learn. In what? In Progressively Digressive Corrections. In other words, they lose themselves in ever increasing efforts to refine how and what they are learning. And in how they are storing what they are learning. And in how they are being taught what they are learning.
They also feel forced to do this by some external force. The teacher. The world. Their spouse. And so on.
Conversely, Kanner's style kids begin learning efforts by feeling powerfully in control and razor focused. And why not. Should you have a different path in mind, they will simply shove you, bluntly away, with no remorse whatsoever.
Unfortunately, these kids lack the ability to digress away from Precisely Blunt facts. Thus, while OCD kids can get lost in digressions and wallow in a mire of possibilities, Kanner's style kids desperately need these digressions in order to escape their rigid precisions.
Sadly, even when they do, this feels terrible to them. Why? Because this part of their learning mind is governed externally. Thus, they feel out of control and desperate to get back to the safe comfort of what they already know.
Before I close, I want to tell you two things. One, how I came to discover these four Decision Trees. And two, how I feel about having Asperger's. First the how I discovery thing.
In part, this discovery happened because I was sitting in front of one heck of a boring teacher. A woman who was supposed to be teaching us therapeutic visualization. Oddly, she somehow managed to avoid using visual images in her presentation almost entirely.
As this seminar was to be three days (and as I was bored as hell), I decided to use this time to try to find the fractal for Asperger's. Why? Partially because I was so affected by a little eight year old apsie I was seeing at the time. And partially because I myself have Asperger's and wanted to know myself better. This lead me to discover the AS fractal.
The second fractal came when my friend and co-teacher, Ed, asked me, not long after this seminar, if there was a similar fractal for ADD. (Ed has ADD. Seriously, he does. He even curses me out every time I catch him in it, too.) Anyway, by exploring the differences between Ed and myself, we promptly found the second fractal. In about twenty minutes. Not to bad for two seriously learning disabled dudes.
The last two fractals came to me when I thought about how nature always balances her creations. Thus, since I had found four Character Types and Four Social Priorities, I figured there must be four Decision Trees. There are.
There are also four fractals sets in this group as well. The fourth being four fractals which describe human gender. I mention this only as I will not get a chance in this book to explore these fractal. As the poet said, "miles to go before I sleep." And at this point, I think I've given you quite enough fractals for one book.
As for how I feel about having Asperger's, the odd thing is, when I tell people I have it, they usually think I'm kidding. Or exaggerating. Or just plain weird. After all, why would anyone want to label themselves this way anyway. Moreover, since Asperger's seems to be this decade's diagnosis du Jour, some may think I'm simply joining the parade.
I'm not. Not even close, in fact. I simply see this label; Asperger's, and a fractal for my way of learning. In other words, as a precise way to describe the path with which my learning mind follows. And the minds of many other people, label or no label.
This fractal also happens to be a pretty good way to teach those with Asperger's how they affect other people. How they hurt other people and push them away, primarily by inadvertently correcting them. Of course, in hind sight, I feel very guilty for having done this myself, both for my life long lack of social skills and for the many folks I've offended.
Can you see where this is going? In part, because I never stopped struggling to learn what all this meant, I now know how I best learn and from whom and where. Which means I get to choose the path my learning takes.
In many ways too, this knowledge has also helped me to become the man I've always wanted to be. A man whose work could have the power to make the world better for children. And a man whose words can socially open hearts and minds, rather than offend all readers. Most times, anyway.
Then too, at times I wonder what my life might have been like had I not discovered these four fractals. If I was still the man who could not restrain his need to puke out facts, all the while correcting anyone who thought differently. Have you any idea how painful this was? For them, and for me? Can you see how this pain mirrors the two kinds of pain present in all learners? Putting facts before people and the pain of not knowing?
Know also, that for the people with whom I've had the pleasure of working, understanding Asperger's has given them enormous hope. And feelings of progress. And genuine healing. Even as recently as last night, in fact, when I taught these four Decision Trees to a woman struggling to better understand her husband and herself.
By teaching her to see the Four Decision Trees, she felt better. And I felt better. And hopefully, her husband will feel better as well.
So here we are. Close to the end of the whole enchilada. And what a concept. The "path through the learning mind." What a fractal as well.
I pray you're now feeling what I have been feeling; hope for all of the learners of the world. Especially for the youngest ones.
Until next chapter then. I hope you are all well.