Anne Frank is turning in her grave

Monkey is doing a Big Project on the Holocaust for school. He’s been “working on it in class” which means, of course, that this weekend we’ve discovered he’s done… next to nothing. Monkey is many fine and wonderful things, but one of his dubious “talents” is the ability to appear extremely productive when, in fact, he is simply working on spitball origami or dreaming up the five hundred latest characters in the pseudo-Pokemon world of his own creation.

Needless to say, we’ve been a bit busy with other concerns about Monkey, so I’ll be the first to admit we haven’t been as on top of his schoolwork as we probably should. When we got his last report card—the one with perfectly mediocre grades and an apologetic note from his teacher about how she doesn’t feel he’s “working up to potential”—I’d merely sighed and set it aside. Because shortly after I’d written about how hope is dangerous, we’d begun the slow slide, again, into more bad days than good. And as we struggled with that, then we had the possibly-a-seizure, and yeah, it’s hard to care about homework when you’re just grateful for any day that seems halfway normal and calm.

But we’ve had a few good vacation days, so we decided to dive into getting him caught up.


Let me just preface this with GOD BLESS OTTO, because that man is brilliant. Monkey has to do all kinds of little mini-projects as part of this unit, and one of the things he had to do was make a map of Germany and label the concentration camps. (Cheery fun for everyone!) Monkey’s fine motor skills are… well, to say they’re poor would be putting it kindly. Also, his ability to look at a picture and then draw it is EXCELLENT if you’re hoping for a Picasso-esque rendering, but not so very fantastic if you wanted the result to, you know, look like the original. But Otto knew exactly what to do, and my boys went off to work and later, the solution was revealed: They’d found a map online, blown it up, and tiled it and taped it together. Then Otto taped it to the window with the larger sheet of paper on top, and Monkey traced it. So he ended up with a map of Germany that ACTUALLY LOOKED LIKE GERMANY. (It shall hereafter be referred to as the Thanksgiving Miracle.)

There was more planning and working and eventually Monkey laboriously typed out various statistics for each death camp, printed it all out, cut them into rectangles, and the rest of the map was labeled.

There was a brief scuffle over Monkey wanting to use “little frowny faces, because it’s sad” instead of circles to mark the pertinent locations. My attempt at explaining why that would be disrespectful completely boggled my son’s mind. “I’m not making FUN, I’m SAYING, it’s SAD!” he protested. Still, I nixed the frowny faces. Because I am MEAN.

Next, it turns out he was supposed to be writing a report on The Diary of Anne Frank. But he’d left the book at school in his desk, and he hasn’t finished reading it yet. Of course.

“I’m almost done,” he said.

“Really? How much do you have left?” I asked.

He thought about this for a moment. “About half,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Those words ‘almost done,’ I do not think they mean what you think they mean.”

Meanwhile, the core activity he’s supposedly been working on in school is reading a book called Daniel’s Story and doing “guided responses” in his journal. This is the stuff we’re not even supposed to worry about, here at home. But I made the mistake of taking a look at how he’s doing.

Digression: I’ve taken to reading a lot of books about Asperger’s, lately. I’ve yet to find the one titled Why Is My Aspie Suddenly Weird And Angry And Largely Incomprehensible To Me And When Is He Going To Stop It?, but I’m ever hopeful. Within the last few days I JUST HAPPENED to read a section on how the rote memory skills of Aspies often give them these huge stores of factual information and giant vocabularies (sounds familiar), and then this makes it seem like they have higher-order reasoning and comprehension abilities when they do not. Monkey’s latest trick, you see, is that he’s taken to getting a C on every reading comprehension test he takes, even though he can quote the whole damn book back to you. Because if the question is anything where he has to THINK or INFER absolutely anything about the story or a character, he just guesses. I’m not entirely sure if he CAN’T do it, and just gives up, or if the mere idea of it is so distasteful to him he’d rather not bother, but either way, the result is the same.

So. We look over Monkey’s journal responses to Daniel’s Story. We found this gem:

Here is what happened in the book today:
Daniel tells about how his family was forced from their home.

How does what I read relate to me?
I own a book about the Holocaust.

Brings a little tear to your eye, doesn’t it? I mean, the compassion, the depth of empathy?

Before the weekend is over, Monkey is supposed to write about why or why not the Holocaust could happen again. I am REALLY looking forward to THAT. I think I will ask Otto if he can help him with it… you know, maybe just tape something up on the window to get him started? Have him trace out some higher-order philosophical arguments to support his position? No…?

Well, look. Otto did such a good job with him today, it’s his own fault that I’m going to put him in charge again tomorrow.


  1. Velma

    That is hysterical! Well, hysterical and strangely familiar… I can see this is coming for my son. Right now, he’s still young enough that he doesn’t have to do a lot of extrapolation, but I see what his older sister is doing and I know he is going to have much more trouble with his work as he gets older.

  2. Heather

    Otto is a prince, for sure. And not a prince like Humperdink, a good one. You should give him a kiss … one of the top 5 kisses in the whole world….

    Okay, okay, I’m done now, and I mean it.

    Anybody want a peanut?

  3. Jessica

    I think the answer to that question is one that any boy might write. I once taught 8th grade English and had a bunch of kids give answers like that to the question, “How does this story relate to your life/life in the United States today?” The best was in response to “The Lottery”: “We give thanks at harvest time.” Ummmm…not really, but good try! ;)

    Also, regarding your digressive book title, now you have a topic for the book you’ve always needed to write!

  4. Karen

    I remember those days… and I have survived them. WITHOUT an Otto. Don’t ask me about the time my son had to construct the complete original shakespearian theatre… out of toothpicks and cardboard!!… I can’t discuss it without spitting fire and that’s just hazardous.

    I say hand it over to Otto… he’s just too darn good at it.

  5. Flea

    Yeah. Definitely and Otto kind of weekend. There are weeks when I throw up my hands and turn all the kids over to the Hunny. There were a couple of years, there, in fact …

  6. navhelowife

    Oh my gosh, what a depressing project. Sorry, not helpful :) but if you need pictures of a camp, let me know. I can email you some we took at Dachau.

    And I’m glad Otto is able to connect and break down the projects so that Monkey is not totally overwhelmed.

  7. Carolyn

    Monkey has a pseudo-Pokemon world too???? I swear we need to get these guys together!

    We also have factual vs. inferential issues. Ds is taking a higher level history course, and the only things he’s missing on tests are the inferential questions. His huge store of factual information and large vocabulary are working in his favor during the essay portions, thank goodness the other is not affecting (effecting?) his GPA…yet….

    Good luck with the Holocaust project. At least you caught it now…it could be due tomorrow. :-)

  8. ellen

    this is a perfect example of the typical Aspie condition, and it helps me to understand… I have usually had at least one student with Aspberger’s each year, and this year, I have one who I am pretty sure does, but not diagnosed. MIght I add, that he is my favorite student, because his point of view is so unique, it always makes me think. And, smile.

  9. meghann

    Yep, sounds just like Ryan, whose mind is like a steel trap. That boy remembers EVERYTHING. But ask him the actual meaning of something, or the whys of it? Yeah, his answers are usually a wee bit off. You know, like Pluto is a wee bit far away from the sun.

  10. Becca

    My own aspie self is lacking in empathy, so I can’t disagree, but I wonder if it’s also a problem with abstract concepts? I still have a lot of trouble with the abstract, and I wonder if he might benefit from a few examples of what he could write in response to that type of question. This will also help if the problem is that he has no rehearsed answers to that question, so he didn’t know what to write.

  11. Julie @ Party Supply Kits

    Oh Gosh…Otto is a saint for sure! The oddly familiar “almost done” is absolutely a daily occurrence with my own son.

  12. Woman with Kids

    Lol, Monkey is great. And literal. Boy 1’s go-to term is “I did it.” It does not mean anything near what he thinks it means.

  13. Sarah

    Any chance I could get the name of the book or article you were reading? I have a friend with an 11-year-old son who was tested for Asperger’s but only met 7 of 9 criteria … so, no diagnosis, but lots of characteristics. She’s looking for any good resources.


  14. Laura

    Monkey answers questions like he’s on the witness stand being cross examined by opposing counsel. He is literal, brief, and will tell you nothing more than you asked for or absolutely need to know. He will be a brilliant expert witness some day.

  15. Karen P

    Wow seems like a pretty heavy project for a kid of that age. Isn’t he in fourth grade? Otto is a saint! My very smart oldest child wrote a non sensical response to a question in high school. His answer was something like Hi Mrs so and so I don’t know the answer but just want to know if you are reading this. He got an A on the test, she obviously didn’t check his test very well.

  16. elz

    Thus far, we’ve had only one “Science Experiment.” Which was the easiest home assignment ever. I’m sort of sweating what is to come. I vividly remember dioramas of Colonial Williamsburg and the Spanish Armada failed British invasion…eeech…Think we can borrow Otto in a few years, you know yours will be (hopefully) done with school projects by then?!

  17. monica

    “Within the last few days I JUST HAPPENED to read a section on how the rote memory skills of Aspies often give them these huge stores of factual information and giant vocabularies (sounds familiar), and then this makes it seem like they have higher-order reasoning and comprehension abilities when they do not.”

    we’ve been having many, many reading comprehension conversations at school lately. s11 reads well and can give you many, many details, but when it comes to comprehension – he’s got nada. also, would otto like to come to thailand?

  18. jwg

    Other issues aside, if Monkey is really in Fourth Grade, or even Fifth, that is a really poor topic of study. Even kids without Aspbergers are not ready to understand more than the superficialities of what went on, or to understand all the subtexts in Anne Frank. They are likely to be terrified. What kind of strange school district is that, anyhow? And what possible meaning could a map of the location of the concentration camps have? Seems to me this material is more suitable, and important, for much older kids.

  19. Brigitte

    I’m with Jessica in that those journal responses seem like they could be from ANY boy of Monkey’s age. I don’t think, unless they’ve suffered a massive personal tragedy of some kind (and sometimes not even then), empathy enters the male repertoire of emotions until sometime in their early 20s. Maybe. ;-)

  20. Susan

    I have to say that I agree that 4th grade is a little soon for that topic. When I grew up in Georgia we barely covered it in 5th grade (I think there was maybe a page about it in our history book), then didn’t really get into it too much until late middle school. I had a 6th grade teacher assign The Hiding Place for us to read, even though it says on the copyright page that it should not be read by children under 13. This was a group of 11- and 12-year-olds in a special advanced literature class, but I guess the teacher did not realize that advanced in reading skills does not mean advanced emotionally and therefore ready to handle the book. I had severe psychological issues for years after having to read that and went through counseling. My mother was a teacher and actually knew the teacher who assigned it. The problem with that teacher was that she taught high school for many years and assumed she could use the same lesson plans for 11-year-olds that she did for 16-year-olds. It’s a wonder she hasn’t given the 6th graders Catcher in the Rye yet. Or Emmanuelle.

    Ed. note: Okay, so many people have mentioned this, I feel like I should clarify: Monkey is doing this for a 5th grade gifted program. So, I’d agree it’s only borderline-appropriate, but not completely beyond reasonable. I don’t think.

  21. paige

    Aaaannnd…this is where I, as an English teacher, have had to get very creative. I’ve usually got at least one kid who is “on the spectrum”, and at least one or two with significant learning disabilities relating to higher order thinking.

    Thank you and Otto for being there for Monkey and helping him with projects like this. Modeling the critical thinking process is helping him and keeping him accountable is also helping…even if it’s torture for you all.

    My oldest is not neurotypical, so I feel your pain. He’s in community college now, though..pulling down A’s and keeping up with a almost full time job. The torture will be worth it!

  22. s

    ooohh the tracing of the map – BRILLIANT and I am definitely stealing that idea for one of my boys, whose fine motor skills are pretty lacking and attention to detail umm zero unless it involves legos or tools and nails/screws… maps? not a chance.

  23. Monique

    Oh, Monkey. EVERY SINGLE TIME you write about him I want to go find him and hug him. He seems like the type of child who gives and receives loves freely. He makes me happy and my heart aches for him at the same time. And I now feel like he gives me glimpses into my future.

    My 2 year old was diagonised with autism this past Wednesday. Which has made this Thanksgiving and weekend…interesting. But I’m still thankful, and full of faith that it’ll be okay. And that’s because of my faith in God. And because of you and your Monkey. I’m sure it’s hard and full of a lot you don’t share but I can read about how much you love your son and how much that matters to him. So it makes me think love is most imortant. Everything else is details.

  24. Liza

    Is your name Inigo Mir-toya?

    I think the assignment, while maybe on the complex side, seems age appropriate. I remember reading Anne Frank (the old, edited version) in 5th grade, Roots in 6th grade, and Catcher in the Rye in 8th grade. And while reasonable minds may differ as to how I turned out, I don’t think my education be blamed. :)

    Good luck. And GO, OTTO!

  25. jwg

    That’s the problem with many gifted programs. They don’t realize that intellectual and emotional development are two different things and don’t necessarily develop at the same rate. They think they can just push the curriculum down a couple of years while what they really should be doing is more in-depth work on age appropriate topics, particularly in terms of what kids read and discussions of social/emotional topics. I guess Math and Science are a lttle different but think of how much more meaningful works like Anne Frank are for an adolescent than for a nine year old.

  26. Michelle

    I’m extremely empathetic and have a tendency to feel others’ pain too much. That said, I always had a hard time with the how does it relate questions. Ask me how it makes me feel, how the people involved feel, or the possible motivations for actions and I’m able to answer in depth and for hours. Throw in how it relates to my life and I draw a blank. Fortunately I was usually able to BS my way through the school work. So Monkey’s answer makes complete sense to me. Plus, I like the idea of the frowny faces. :)

  27. Sarah G.

    Tracing, we are very big into tracing. My sixth grader had a huge project this summer and part of it was producing illustrations flora and fauna on Lewis and Clark’s trail and all sorts of stuff about an Indian tribe that would have been encountered.

    My totally uninterested in drawing boy freaked out. But when I showed him the joys of google image search, cut and paste, and tracing over the whole mess he was able to pull it together.

    It wasn’t a bad project, but was far to drawing intensive for my son. My daughter, however, would have been all over it.

  28. Katie in MA

    Good! Yes! Keep that Otto busy or he will begin cleverly working out ransom for all his services. And with those results, Thanksgiving Miracles and all, you will HAVE to pay up.

  29. Clarity

    LMAO @ the journal, that’s a classic!!

  30. Annette

    I feel your pain. We have had success since hiring a speech therapist/ tutor to help him with thought organizing strategies.

  31. Tracy B

    Ok, in Monkey’s defense….If I had to read all those books and do projects all at the same time, I’d get confused, too! :o( And IT is SAD. Sorry!

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