Saturday, October 5, 2013

Homework. How do I?

This is reprinted from Yes, That Too because it fits. The title is different.

Trigger Warning: Uh. I got triggered while writing it but am not sure what warning to give. School stuff, generally related to teachers mistaking the results of executive dysfunction for other problems and acting on that mistake?


I read the shoes post. If you don't know what post that is, you should probably go read it now. No, really. Go read it. Now.
The whole thing is important. But what I'm thinking about right now is mostly the executive functioning stuff. Because that's a problem I have too. 
She even told my mother that she wouldn't let me read at my level until I had nice handwriting.
That's one thing I was never told, though I did get banned from handwriting my math homework twice. I was told that I couldn't get math classes that were appropriate to my level because I needed to learn to get organized. It doesn't work like that. Keeping me out of work that I can do doesn't make aspects of my disability go away. It just doesn't. Never did, never will. I'm not going to magically gain the ability to do daily homework because I'm suddenly in an easier class, or fewer classes, or whatever else.
I had no trouble whatsoever grasping the academic content. It was not a challenge. Getting the work done was because the attitude was still "if you're so d*mn smart just do it, god, what are you stupid or something?"
I've been there. I've been there so much it's not even funny. No one said it in exactly those words, but I've been there. Usually I was lazy, which isn't true, bad at time management, which is kind of true but doesn't get at the root of the problem, or doing too much, which has sometimes been true but also wasn't the problem. The problem wasn't that I had too many other things I was trying to do. If that were the problem, I could have done my homework fine in sixth grade, when literally all I had other than school was Hebrew school for two hours three times a week. I still had problems. I got caught with homework for other classes under my desk fairly regularly in sixth grade. In seventh grade and later, I was just better at hiding it. I think eighth grade is the last time I got properly caught (I'm not counting the times that it was knitting or chainmail done openly and the teacher didn't like it, because that's not executive dysfunction. That's can't sit still well/coping mechanism for auditory processing stuff.) My record for most homework assignments completed between getting on the bus to school and the end of the day? Seven. All five "core" classes- math, science, social studies, English, Chinese, plus drama and an after school extra math class I was in because my school wouldn't put me in my level of math class until I got organized and that's a thing I'm not capable of doing myself. (No, they did not offer any help with doing so or methods I could use. Because if I'm so smart, I should be able to figure it out. Or something.) For reference, my classmate in that after school math class? She spent about six hours per week on that homework, aka basically the length of the school day, during which I went to seven classes and did six other assignments. I was fast. It wasn't always good, but it was done. Usually.
Teachers kept up with the "if you're so d*mn smart why are you so d*mn stupid?" and I stopped taking classes that were academically even a bit of a challenge-no one would help me get set up to do the work, so fine, I can pull a great GPA in classes that I can do actually in class.
My coping strategy was a bit different. My GPA was good but not great. I took classes that I could get done during school hours/on the bus to and from sports, with the exception of the occasional paper that would be done between 2am and the start of school on the due date. I'd go to sleep around 8pm as usual, then get up however early I estimated I needed to and hope for the best. My final exam story for English in 9th grade? Written between 12am and 7am on the due date. My research paper for high school? Written between 12am and 7am on the rough draft due date, not edited beyond the in-class edits we did between then and the final due date. Shorter papers were typically between 4am and 6am on the due date, and I've lost track of how many times I did that.

Now, for the problem. How do you get people to understand what the actual problem (executive dysfunction, I mean) is? I'm not sure. I've never managed it before. Never. In middle school, they didn't understand and so they wouldn't let me get into the classes I belonged in (for math, that would be ~2 grade levels ahead, everything else was to be in Honors/AP which didn't exist in middle school so that part's OK.) Well, except 8th grade when they had a pre/post test and I got higher on the pre-test end than most kids got on the post-test end, so the teacher ran around talking to people and got me an independent study. Which, um, hello? If I can't get my homework done, what makes you think an independent study is a good idea? It was better than properly being in the math class, since I was actually allowed to work on my other stuff during class time and could sometimes even do it, but it still wasn't what I needed. I need outside support of "you are working on this thing during this time" and I need stuff to be weekly at least. Not daily. Daily is a set up for failure.
In high school, they didn't understand the real issue, but there was a procedure for testing out of math classes and the independent study for 8th grade made it clear to everyone that I should be looking at that procedure. Also, Honors Pre-calculus didn't check the homework. AP Calculus BC only checked it three times all year, always with warning. I finished two of those three, and none of the others. I think I finished my Pre-calculus homework once? Maybe?
In college, you generally just need to pass the class, and no one gives daily homework, which is basically the bane of my existence. Unless I can get it done in the approximately hour before it's due? Not getting finished. Which is a problem. Bigger projects, longer term projects, I can usually get started sooner by enough to finish them. The week mark is about when I start being able to start stuff with enough extra time to actually finish it, even if it takes longer than an hour to do. I'm still working straight through that final hour, though. I really wish there was an accommodation for executive dysfunction, because goodness, do I ever need it.

Of course, in middle school, in high school? I generally didn't have the words I needed. Executive dysfunction? Sure, I know what that is now. I didn't then. And even if I did have the words? Well, for any teachers in the audience: would you have believed the twelve year old who was telling you that being in easier/fewer classes wasn't going to cure their executive functioning issues? Honestly? Would you? Or would you think they had no clue what they were talking about/they were making excuses/whatever other reason that kids, even ones who actually do know what's up, don't need to be listened to when they're difficult or complicated?

That's what I thought.


  1. I looked things up on my own in high school and knew that one of my main problems was executive function by then. (Another being a completely lacking sense of self-efficacy, definitely related.)

    I had most of these same experiences: Doing homework on the bus or in class, but when I went to a magnet high school where that wasn't enough, I fell apart and ended becoming very ill. Luckily I don't remember actually having to hide that I was doing homework in class (even for another class). I also ended up with a couple useless independent studies, in my case near the end of high school. (I knew for sure I was mystically good at taking tests when I made a 5 on the AP exam for my E&M independent study despite how incapable I'd been of actually preparing.)

    On TV, the parents sit their kids down at the dining room table when they get home from school, and the kid does homework while the parent cooks dinner or something. I feel like if that had been my real life, it would have prevented my self-efficacy/self-esteem from ending up a black pit of despair. At one point in high school, I was forced to stay after school to work on a project I wasn't making in progress on, but at that point the supervised "work" hours were useless because my ability to work on it had been broken so badly (by the lack of support for the executive function difficulties and other factors, like an open-ended assignment and all my proposals for how to fulfill it being shot down). This was the "research" project I had to do at age 14--following one the year before that was unsuccessful since my human fibroblasts kept dying and anyway were the wrong type of skin cell for the study I was trying to replicate, not to mention my difficulties using microscopes in general--as part of the science and technology high school I'd joined because of its excellent math program.

    That 10th grade year was a bad one, and I dropped out, broken, and developed conversion disorder the next year. Which led to me developing PTSD when I couldn't say "no" or move to avoid unwanted sexual contact. Which has happened many times since. My academic anxiety and inability to do homework only healed somewhat. Graduate school was right out due to that early experience with research.

    My mom always rhetorically asked me, "How can someone so smart be so dumb?"

    I hope parents and professionals are reading posts like these, so that the Autistic child doesn't have to be stuck trying unfruitfully to communicate their inability to do homework while being treated as if they're simply refusing to do homework.

  2. *nods in understanding*

    It didn't help me that in elementary school, where things might have been caught and good homework habits established, I didn't *need* to do homework because I knew everything after covering it in class once. My grade 4 teacher tried. She spent a year working on me to get me to do my homework (though I don't remember how she did it or how successful it was by the end of the year). I've always believed that if it was followed through with the next year, I might have been able to surmount the difficulty. (Now, reading comments about how EF can affect things, I don't know. Asperger's hadn't been rediscovered when I was in elementary schol.) Unfortunately, in grade 5, we had a teacher who made me the teacher's pet. I didn't have to do *anything* in the class. I was free to read ahead as a chose (which I did). And I *didn't have to do homework*. (I don't remember whether I had to do the work assigned in class or not... I think I did, but that entire year is rather foggy. More so than the rest of my childhood.)

    Okay, get into high school (my high school, which was known for its academics, was grade 7-13). Suddenly, homework became an issue. And another problem cropped up.


    I've been told (I certainly don't remember it!) that my parents got a call from the school about a project I hadn't handed in. Mom searched my room (see my reply to the post on living skills for what that was like) and finally found it. Completed. I apparently told her that I couldn't hand it in because it wasn't perfect yet. And this was apparently a Thing more than once. (Again, I don't remember any of it; most of what I remember of high school assignments and projects is hurrying to finish them the day before they were due, or like Alyssa, in prior classes or between classes.)

    I've learned to do better at work projects. I've learned to do better with my writing. Sometimes. When the depression doesn't have me in a pit, or I'm not so lacking in spoons that I have no energy for anything except surviving the day. But it's still a problem, and it's part of the reason that I never finished more than a semester and a half at any university or college, despite being intelligent enough and interested enough in the classes.

    Afraid I can't offer solutions - see the above paragraph re the fact that I'm still doing it, a lot of the time. I've just learned that when I *do* have the energy, and it's something that interests me, I can work harder on it, and sometimes bull through to the end. (This does not count when I'm in an inspired mood for my writing - then it's fairly effortless, and it actually energizes me.) It does have a cost, in that it drains me the same way passing for NT does, though. So it's a cost-benefit analysis each time it comes up. (And that's another thing that can be problematic with dysfunctional EF - but I suspect that's a different post.)

    :) tagAught