Friday, February 15, 2013

Griffin's Super Power

Even before Griffin was diagnosed with Asperger's, I had heard about autistic "super powers."  Basically, people on the autism spectrum are lacking in social skills (and often language skills and motor skills), but they excel in some other area.

When Griffin was a young toddler, he showed an incredible interest in music.  He loved musical instruments, toys and books that played music, and he was obsessed with his musical aquarium (it hung in his crib and then moved with him to a twin bed).  He used to sing the tune of a familiar song but use a single word over and over.  For example, he would sing the word "Mom" to the tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

So we started to think that Griffin was our musical child (despite the fact that I'm tone deaf and Jared has no--I mean no--rhythm).  Then his musical interest shifted to manipulating music.  He got a toy for Christmas that played music, had a small keyboard, and had turn tables and dials to control the tempo, volume, and sound of the music.  He loved it!  We eventually had to ban him from taking it in the car because he wanted to take it everywhere.  The loud music (his favorite song over and over and over) was too annoying for the driver (me).

He loves to use an app on my old phone called HeyTell to record songs, sayings, and noises from his favorite movies, shows, games, and everyday life.  The app is designed to let you record a memo and send it to someone else (like an audible text), but Griffin figured out how to HeyTell himself so he can listen to his recordings over and over.  He even plays his recordings from the phone as he records them on the iPad so he can further manipulate his music and sounds.

Griffin still seems to have a special interest in certain aspects of music, but he's not obsessed with it anymore.

The next candidate for Griffin's super power was reading.  I didn't even know Griffin could read yet until one day when he read an entire book to me.  It was roughly a first grade reading level.  He was four.  I read to my kids a lot, but I hadn't even started teaching Griffin how to read.  He somehow learned it by himself.  And then we went through months of him asking questions about our ridiculous language, and he noticed every exception to every pronunciation and spelling rule.

I have no idea what his current reading level is, but I'm pretty sure it's at least a third grade level.  One day a couple weeks ago, I had just picked him up from preschool and we were driving home.  He told me he had an important note for the parents in his back pack and he tried to hand it to me right then.  I told him I was driving and needed him to read it to me.  He basically took one deep breath and read the whole thing without even pausing between sentences.  It had words like "participate" and he didn't even hesitate on the tricky words.

So I thought maybe reading was Griffin's super power.  But lately another power seems to be rising:  math.

Griffin has been interested in numbers for a long time.  It can even become a problem at times.  For example, he might ask how many bites of something he has to eat at dinner.  I tell him the amount of food I want him to eat (like all of your green beans and half of your meat).  He insists on being told a number of bites to eat.  Then we both start using less patient tones as I say, "I don't care how many bites it takes you; just eat your green beans," and he pushes with, "but seriously how many bites?"

When Griffin was very young, he took notice of numbers around him and started asking me simple math problems.  I answered his question and then looked around to get to the bottom of why he asked.  One day (he was probably 3) he asked, "What's 2 plus 2 plus 2 plus 1?"  After I told him the answer, I followed his line of sight to the rug where we take off our shoes.  On the rug were three pairs of shoes and one lonely shoe without its mate.

I could tell that Griffin was processing numbers and relationships between numbers.  He would ask me more math questions as we drove from place to place.  Sometimes his problems were too tough for me to do in my head.  Or he would talk too quickly for me to keep up ("Whats 5+6+7+8+9+10?" while I'm merging onto the highway, for example).

Eventually Griffin's math questions took us into areas I wasn't sure a preschooler could understand.  Months ago he was asking me various subtraction problems.  Inevitable, he asked me about a smaller number minus a larger number (like 10-12).  So, remembering the way my grandma would always answer our questions with the matter-of-fact truth, I told him the answer was a negative number.  I briefly explained.

Now he understands without my help.  Several weeks ago, I was cleaning the kitchen and Griffin yelled from the next room, "Mom, 40 minus 50 is negative 10."  My jaw dropped.

Griffin received a toy cash register for his birthday.  It holds money but it also houses a working calculator.  He loves it!  He started taking it every time we left the house, even though it's way bigger than his lap.  He loves typing in math problems.  I thought I was brilliant when I bought him a little calculator to put in his Christmas stocking.  It only cost $1 and it's really small.  But Griffin still kept taking his cash register everywhere instead.  I asked him why he didn't take the smaller calculator.  His answer?  "The little calculator can't show as many numbers as the cash register."  Sure enough, the cash register has a larger display for more digits.

There have been several occasions of Griffin applying math to time, as in calculating how many minutes until something.  Last Tuesday I had a dentist appointment, and the kids went to my friend Megan's house during my appointment.  Griffin kept asking me how much longer until they could go to her house.  At one point, I told him an hour and a half.  Ten minutes later, he asked me yet again.  I told him it was now an hour and twenty minutes.  He replied, "So, 80 minutes?"

Now Griffin is applying math to everyday life.  Yesterday he and Nora were playing with play dough and Griffin was trying hard to convince Nora to give him her play dough.  After lots of lobbying, he said, "Nora, I need 1,000 play dough and I only have 900.  So I need 100 more."  She bought it and gave up her play dough.

Last night Griffin and I made cookie dough together (we freeze it in little balls and pretend that we'll keep it to bake later, but everyone in my house ends up eating the dough balls for dessert/snacks).  I was seriously enjoying the time with Griffin.  He insisted on reading the recipe card (which he's never done), so I got to teach him about fractions (like 1/4 cup) and abbreviations (like tsp.).

We had to melt two sticks of butter.  I put them in a bowl and put the bowl in the microwave.  Griffin loves pushing the buttons on the microwave.  I told him to start with 30 seconds.  The butter was barely even softened.  So I told him to do 20 more seconds.  He said, "Then you should have just said 50 seconds the first time."  I chuckled, he did as I asked, and the butter still wasn't even starting to melt.  I told him to do 20 more seconds.  Without missing a beat he said, "That's 70 seconds."  I looked at Jared in disbelief that Griffin was keeping a running total in his head.  The butter just started to melt.  So I told Griffin to do another round of 20 seconds.  "Ninety seconds," he said as he punched in my request.  We checked the butter.  It was fairly melted with a few stubborn solid parts.  I suggested that we do 15 more seconds, but Griffin felt we should do 14.  He punched in the numbers and hit start.  I asked him how many seconds we had microwaved the butter altogether, and he smiled and said 104.  Seriously.

I have no idea the depths of Griffin's mind.  I am continually shocked at what I discover he already knows, which begs the question of what he knows but I don't know that he knows (you know?).  He may or may not have a musical super power or a reading super power or a math super power.  He may just have intellectual growth spurts in these areas and then slow down as the rest of his peers catch up.  {For my fellow "Friends" fans:  Griffin is like Ross' "Science Boy."  What's was his super power?  "A super human thirst for knowledge."}

What I do know is that this is thrilling and exciting, but I'm terrified of what will happen when he starts kindergarten this fall.  He needs much more than what kindergarten curriculum has to offer.  Yet he will likely struggle with many of the social aspects, as well as his tendency to take things strictly literally and his inability to be flexible.  I am going to have to work very closely with his teacher to keep him engaged and also anticipate and alleviate his meltdowns.  It will be interesting!

After Griffin and I successfully made the cookie dough, learned about reading recipes, and discovered Griffin's mental math abilities, I was overflowing with joy.  "Griffin!"  I squealed.  "How did you get to be so handsome and so smart?"  He smiled a genuine, sweet smile.  And he let me kiss him four times on his face.  Then he ran off with a spoonful of cookie dough.  I stood smiling in the kitchen, thinking about what a super kid he is.



  1. I love this post! It's so neat to see him showcase his super powers. Making cookie dough together sounds so special - I'm glad just the two of you were able to find a minute to do that. And of course the Friends reference made my day.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. And I was fine until your last paragraph.....and now I'm bawling like a baby! I can just picture his smiling face, and that picture has brought me such joy. What a gift he is!