Thursday Thingamajigs

Introducing my youngest son today.  His story brings me to today’s thingamajig suggestion.

Drawman is 15. He was diagnosed on the spectrum at 2 and benefitted from intensive early intervention. He is what many would call a ‘typical’ high functioning teenager on the spectrum. He is a doodler, cartoonist, maker of board games, independent researcher not terribly adept at small talk, prefers to be alone.  He has no tolerance for his brother. He hates school. Every minute of it. His Sunday gloom is intense during the school year and starts Saturday evening. He is a rule follower, but not the rule police.

Drawman likes to doodle while listening to teachers go on and on and on and on. It’s how he self regulates. But often times the doodles become cartoons with story lines and he is soon lost in that world and not really listening to the teacher go on and on and on and on. There is one paraprofessional that has very little tolerance for this. She needs some professional development time and retraining, but that is for another post. Yesterday was a tough one. Drawman was not interested in anything his Civics teacher was talking about, so he started drawing and was soon lost in a cartoon. Parapro gave him three chances to stop, then took the drawing away. Well, you don’t take things away from kids. It’s invasive, it’s personal, it’s disruptive. He was barely hanging on yesterday. School was really getting to him. He reacted in an unpleasant way.  He called the parapro a Nazi. In front of the whole class. Because that is the worst thing to call someone. Because she was absolutely the worst thing when she took his drawings away. Because he knows not to swear at school.

Parapro removes Drawman from class and walks him directly to the dean. I will spare you my thoughts about that until another post. The dean gives Drawman 3 lunch detentions. First infraction, and he gives him 3 lunch detentions. Sigh.

I am getting to the thingamajig, I promise.

In emails and phone calls with his special education teacher, and texting with Drawman, I suggested he needs a replacement behavior. Although I am a huge proponent of allowing doodling (excellent TED talk on doodling) and as a teacher was never bothered by students doing such, I realize that doodling is different than developing a story line and creating a cartoon while listening to a teacher go on and on and on. Doodling engages one part of the brain, while developing a whole cartoon requires more specific and complex brain engagement. We clearly need something else for Drawman to do when the doodling turns into cartooning.

Fidgets.  There are all sorts of them. All colors, sizes, purposes. But have you noticed that they are all sort of the same and not terribly satisfying?  That most of them wear out and get used in ways not necessarily intended?  I am not talking about them being a distraction to others or that peers will want one if Joey gets one. I call bullshit on those beliefs/excuses. I am talking about effectiveness of the kinds of fidgets we offer kids. Especially in high school.

I believe that when we offer a fidget, it shouldn’t come from a box of plastic crap in the teacher’s drawer.  I believe fidgets need to be carefully chosen specific to a student’s needs. They aren’t just something to play with so Joey will sit in his chair. They are supposed to satisfy a sensory input need, be helpful in self regulation and attending longevity.  In a perfectly tolerant and supportive world, this would mean kids could crochet or knit, or tie knots or build with a handful of Lego bricks, or do some hand weaving, or create with some wiki sticks or pipe cleaners while listening to the teacher. Ah, but we are a looooong way from that ideal, aren’t we?

I am now on the quest for the right fidget for Drawman. He is open to it. He doesn’t want anything that looks like a baby toy. He listens best when doodling, so I need to find something that engages the fingers primarily used when doodling. It needs to be small enough to put in his pocket. It needs to be something, mindless yet satisfying.

Here it comes……

Today’s thingamajig is cloth marble mazes. Like these. You can get them on Etsy, see many examples on Pinterest or you can make your own. I will be making a few of these over the next few days and will vary the maze path, marble size, texture of cloth, as well as how tightly or loosely the marble glides in the maze path, and size and shape of the cloth.

And of course, I will share the results with you all.

I sure hope Drawman can draw in lunch detention today.  Kind of expecting a phone call soon.

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