Last week I wrote about discovering that Joey had difficulty counting small sets of objects or pictures. Although he can sequence numbers and identify numerals, he seemed to be getting hung up on the act of counting. I was stumped for a bit. Joey’s unique profile makes it difficult for him to touch items in order to count them, and it is unclear what he actually sees in his visual field. We have no idea if he is seeing double, or if he has difficulty tracking items in front of him. How do you learn to count when you may count the same item repeatedly because you can’t see the items clearly?
In my DIR/Floortime coursework with the International Council for Developmental Learning, I frequently hear the phrase “go slow to go fast” or “go slow to go up”. I decided this is exactly what Joey needed with counting. I knew he was capable of the concept, but I was not sure he truly understood the concept because of his physical limitations. Something in his basic number sense seemed to be off.
So we counted small sets of items. Joey would get mad and frustrated with me, and I’d try to make it fun, but also to keep pushing. I knew Joey could count. Slow and steady.
Today, when I brought out the picture cards to count he began to fuss. He was clearly frustrated and didn’t want to waste his time with something he couldn’t quite grasp. “Read” he said on his device, and looked frantically towards the bins that contain our books and other, non-counting activities. “Soon” I replied, “But first, we’ll count.”
Slow and steady. Modeling counting sets of items. Guiding his hand to touch each item. Giving him an opportunity to count in his head while I pointed to the items. Then giving him a chance to count by himself. Slow. Steady. Numbers 1-5.
Today we used cars with fire engines on them, and I made the noise of the fire engine each time a fire engine came along to join the group. “Honk! Honk! Wheeerrrrllll Wheeerrllll!” I’d say, and bring another fire engine picture to the line of cards. “Now how many are there? Count those fire engines!”
At one point during this work Joey went from frustration to laughter. True Joey laughter. The kind he makes when he tells a math joke. It was as though suddenly he understood counting. After he began to laugh he was correct in counting amounts every. single. time.
I took fire engines away and had him count the new amount. I added fire engines. I added a bus and asked him to count the total amount. He giggled, laughed, and tilted his head back with giggles. Then he reached for one of the number card choices I was holding and grabbed it from my hand. Yup. He was right. Five vehicles now.
Was he playing me all this time and just now decided to let me in on the joke? I wouldn’t necessarily put it past him… but at the same time, it didn’t feel like that in the moment. It felt like I was asking him to do something he didn’t understand. He’s not used to getting answers incorrect when he works with me, and what I saw over the last month, after I discovered he was having difficulty counting, was true frustration.
Today, after all that practice, slowly counting sets of objects and matching them to the numerals he knew so well – today did it just click? Was it the noises I made? The silliness of the game of adding fire trucks to his tray? I’m not sure we’ll ever know. What I do know is that Joey laughed his head off today while counting, and was able to count despite his laughter. The laughter of a kid who never gives up.