Daily Living with Autism #8 — Fractions that fracture

back view of a student answering a problem on the chalkboard

I know this is going to sound like a broken record because I’ve talked about math worksheets in past blog posts.

But because it just happened two days ago on a hot and humid “homework afternoon”, and I ended up all hot and bothered, with my son C all scared and flustered, the memory is still very raw and real for me. And I’m afraid, for him too!


What aspect of math, and by extension my tussle with C, am I on about this time you ask?

Fractions. Or more correctly, improper fractions and mixed numbers.

How it all began

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The day actually started well.

Typically our friend would return home proudly announcing the topic learned for the day. It’s his way of sharing with us bits of info about what happened in school everyday.

On the day in question, he volunteered this: “Today we learned about improper fractions and mixed numbers, daddy!”

Okay, I thought. He just started to learn it, so it ought to still be fresh in his mind right?

Mistake #1.

Anyway, I replied cheerily by telling him that’s great. And if there’s a math worksheet on improper fractions, we’ll work on it together later.

Now typically after his usual lunch and bath and before homework time, he would get some “unwind time” with his Lego pieces. He would form various traffic signs and vehicles (transportation’s his thang!) with them on our living room coffee table — now his permanent play table!

This day though he started the session not by playing but by whining and complaining about a missing Lego piece. Not unusual, since our dear friend has executive function challenges. That means, among other things, he’s bad at organising stuff like his toys, and arranging them to be systematically put away so it’s easier to find when he needs them.

Just to be clear, we’ve tried our level best to help before. We’ve tagged toy boxes, labelled them clearly, sat with him to teach him the how-to’s and the where-to’s aka Maria Kondo (or some semblance of that).

But if we’re honest, it’s at a point now where we may soon need Maria’s direct intervention! (Ms Kondo, if you’re reading this, HELP!)

Improper fractions that led to improper parenting

mathematical equation written on blackboard
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Unfortunately, it took quite a while for him to find his toy so by the time he did (with our help no less), the delight was more of a relief as lots of emotional energy had already been exhausted along the way.

Both for him and I.

Not exactly the right ‘mood’ to segue into the homework portion of the afternoon.

Mistake #2.

Looking back now, I wonder if that little Lego hunt might not perhaps have been his way of delaying what for him was a stressful yet unavoidable moment: completing his worksheet on improper fractions and mixed numbers!

For it wasn’t long before we sat down at the dinner table — now our regular adult work-from-home and kid’s homework table — that I realise how difficult this math topic was proving to be for him.

To cut a long story short, C found it befuddling that in a mixed number like 2 and 3/4, the ‘2’ is more than meets the eye. It actually represents, as the rest of us already know, four equal parts multiplied by 2. Also, he simply couldn’t convert a mixed number to an improper fraction, in this case 11/4. Even when I showed him how, ie 4/4 + 4/4 + 3/4 = 11/4 (“just add up the numerators son”).

A clear cut case of the literal side of his unique brain hamstringing his ability to look beyond appearances.

Unfortunately, my brain and my patience were also hamstrung in that moment. So after repeatedly explaining to him, breaking down every step in the conversion to the simplest I can think of, I lost my cool and ripped into my boy!

Mistake #3.

Fractured relations thanks to an “improper (fractions) parent”

baking cheese cooking crust
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To cut a sad and long story short, the afternoon ended with a tear-stained math worksheet and sullied emotions all around.

Sure the worksheet got done, albeit with an extra page dutifully copied thrown in, since the first was soaked and the writing barely legible (fine motor skills being yet another regular challenge for C).

But the day really looked like it was just yet another tragic episode of bad parenting, thanks to one dad who ought to have been more ‘woke’ and experienced.

I don’t know where that dad is but that afternoon, I wish I was him.

So as not to make the day a complete disaster, I took C out of the house for his regular frisbee time. No sense in staying cooped up at home with the atmosphere having just ended so miserably right? Some fresh air outdoors might well do us both some good.

Thankfully it did. And thankfully that dad I spoke of ‘returned’ as well.

I apologised to C. Said I should know better. That fractions can be hard and C was well within his rights to struggle with this new math topic. And that the question before us should be how to help him better grasp the concepts.

However, the more important question is the one that’s still in my head right now, two days after this “fracturing incident”:

“How long more before the impractical, unrealistic expectations this stubborn dad carries around for C are completely parried down?”

I guess, once again, only time will tell.

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