As young children learn to count the small numbers – 1 to 5 – they all learn to count these numbers backwards, too. Everybody knows, good things happen when you count down. Races begin; rockets take off; that sort of thing. Excitement, cheering, happiness… We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt it.
Ian always loved the pattern of numbers. Once he had learned one to ten, he was away. As a highly visual child, he immediately saw that the teens would be followed by the twenties, by the thirties, and so on. One, followed by one to nine, two, followed by one to nine, three, four, five, six, etc. That simple.
And if he knew numbers in one direction, so he also knew them in the other.
The smallest numbers 1 – 5 became part and parcel of his day, particularly at bath time. You want Ian to do something for a longer period? Count him through it. Ian’s version of getting soap onto his hands is a little casual. So, to get him to properly soap his hands, it goes like this:
“Take the soap, Ian. Rub. One, two, three, four, five, turn (he turns the bar over), six, seven, eight, nine, ten.”
Now, at least, you can see there’s soap on his hands.
In Ian’s mind, a quick swipe is sufficient for washing under his arms. No it isn’t! You are a man now, with hairy armpits and a grown man smell. You will wash properly! One, two, three, four, five. And he rubs under his arms in time to my counting.
I reckon people with special needs have enough problems on their hands, without adding ‘not nice to be near’ to the list, don’t you?
So we do our best to make sure Ian always smells pleasant. Of course, he’s autistic, and it’s an uphill battle. It’s almost like he goes out of his way to do the opposite. But we do our best. Truly, we do.
Many years ago, I discovered that if I counted backwards, I could get Ian to do things he didn’t want to do.
Because he knew that when I got to zero, it would end.
And it didn’t matter where you started – five, or forty – because when you got to zero, it stopped.
How useful is this ?!
In truth, there is never a better use for it than when we visit the dentist. It takes a bit of persuasion to get a dentist to count down while he’s working, but we’re lucky. Our man is one of the best, and he bought into this because he very quickly saw that it worked. Ian happily opens his mouth when asked (thank you, ABA discreet trials) and as he approaches Ian’s mouth with his instruments, the dentist starts counting backwards from twenty.
It’s a bit awkward at times, because if the dentist needs more time, he changes pace, draws the numbers out – which in Ian’s mind is not acceptable; it should be almost metronomic, and if I see a slightly alarmed look in Ian’s eye, I have to step in – but he does okay, and Ian cooperates.
Watching the man’s mouth as he counts.
Waiting for the zero, when the instruments are withdrawn and he can close his jaw.
I don’t know how often I’ve used counting, either forwards or backwards, to motivate Ian. Daily? Oh, more than that. For so many years.
Little numbers, so well used.
Thank heavens for little numbers.
“From the Inside – Raising, teaching, loving an autistic child” – available as an eBook on Amazon or in paperback directly from the publishers, EmuInk.ie