Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Learning Something that's Really Difficult

When was the last time you really gave yourself to learning something that was really, really difficult?  I am 43 years old and I am finding that I have very little capacity to learn something new at this point in my life.  I have a friend in her late 30's who is taking piano lessons for the first time in her life.  Another friend who is learning how to swim.  I have numerous mom friends who are discovering a new found drive to run marathons or tri-athalons (and posting the pics on Facebook).   I'm quite impressed with all of them.  I had a brief thought that I would learn how to knit and teach my girls.  This idea was almost immediately abandoned with one glance at my daily to do list.

Learning something new can be really hard.  This is especially true if you are not particularly motivated to learn it. Or if you are a person who, like many autistic individuals, has a difficult time being motivated by much in the first place.

The number one task that Josh needs to learn right now is to wipe after he goes to the bathroom.  At 10 years old, Josh is ALMOST done with toilet training.  It's been 8 long years of adventures in potty training and my son has come a long way.  He has not had an accident in almost two years.  He takes himself to the bathroom, even if it's in the middle of the night.  The only problem is that he has not mastered wiping.  If and when it's up to him (and if he's not being supervised) he's quite content to poo then just pull up his pants and just move on with his day.  His mom is not so happy with this.

With the help of his home therapists, we are working on a strategy for mastering wiping.  The first step is to teach the process of wiping in general.  Thus, we have been practicing putting peanut butter or chocolate sauce or toothpaste on his arm then wiping it off with a toddler wipe.  We ask him to look at the wipe and answer the question, "Is it dirty or clean?"  On a good day, he can get it right about 75% of the time.  On a bad day, he does not care one bit and seems greatly annoyed that we are asking him to engage with this inane task so he just echo's whichever option was given to him second.  ("Is it dirty or clean?"  "Clean."  "Is it clean or dirty?"  "Dirty.")  On a very bad day, Josh resorts to crying and head hitting which usually results in peanut butter, chocolate or toothpaste in his hair.

Everything that Josh learns how to do for himself takes about 5 to 10 to 100 times longer than your typical person.  Using a fork, putting on a t-shirt, putting on his own seatbelt; all of these things have taken an unbelievable amount of time and coaching to master.  However, in so many of these things, ardent practice and great determination have yielded success.  Sometimes I can't believe how much he HAS learned to do for himself!

Yet with every challenge, I can feel like "this one is going to be impossible".  It's just so darn messy to make Josh keep working on wiping himself.  His visual impairment, low motor abilities, and lack of motivation results in a "poop getting everywhere" scene almost every time.  It's incredibly un-fun. Thus, it's so easy to take the short cut and just do it for him "just this once".  Yet I know that we are on a long journey and we must prevail.  I can't be wiping Josh's butt for him when he's 30.  This lesson, tough as it is, must be taught and the skill must be mastered.  I am praying for the determination, endurance and discipline that we need to help him to learn this really difficult thing.

What are the things in your life that are really difficult for you to learn?  Where do you experience the  need for determination, endurance, and discipline?


  1. we're starting the toilet training process with daniel right now. *crosses fingers*

  2. This was inspiring. It was also really helpful perspective. It makes me want to do my job better, and encourages me to keep practicing and moving forward - hopefully doing the right things - even when progress does not look like it is happening. There is so much going on around us that is so profound that we need to be awakened to see.

  3. Thanks for bringing up the idea of motivation, Susan - it really struck me. If our kids are uninspired or unmotivated to do something, why bother doing it? It makes sense, right? (sometimes I think they're way smarter and more common sensical than typical kids - ha). When Jacob is highly motivated to do something, his learning is really accelerated (like when he really wants one of his favorite animals, he will climb over mountains of obstacle courses! when he doesn't care, he will sit there). So I'm inspired by this to find more ways to inspire and motivate him as he does his therapies. Good call.