Found this fabulous article on gifted students with spatial strengths and sequential weaknesses. It was a revelation for me.
I'd known since he was born that Chester did not think like other people. I remember telling his kindergarten and first grade teachers, "He's so visual", usually in the context of why we were still reading picture books at home when he was capable of comprehending chapter books. He really hated being read to until about third grade. He often loses track of the question you asked while he's supposedly thinking about it, although he's very fluent when he initiates the conversation. He understand mathematical and logical concepts but still counts on his fingers. His teacher told me he has surprising gaps in his knowledge base and thought perhaps it was an attention problem, as I mentioned earlier this week.
But it's not an attention problem, it's a translation problem. He thinks in pictures.
For example, instead of saying, "the kitchen door", he'd say "The door that looks like a window that leads from the kitchen out onto the deck." It's a picture of the door. When I ask him if he likes the science experiments they're doing in class he says, "What I really like is chemistry because you take the yellow liquid in one test tube and the blue liquid in the other test tube and you pour the two together and Boom! A mini mushroom cloud!" Also a picture.
I talked to Chester a bit about this last night to see if my hunch about the way he thinks is correct. At first he didn't understand and thought I was criticizing him. Then I told him how I can't figure out elasped time without picturing a clock face and manipulating it in my mind, which is hard. "I know," he said. "I hate that." Bingo! And then I told him that many famous smart people thought in pictures--Einstein and Edison particularly--but they had trouble in school and no one knew why. The more I explained to him about thinking visually, the more excited he got. Eventually, he told me, "I feel like you're a psychiatrist and I'm lying on that bed-thing."--a word picture that told me he had had some insight into how his brain works, too.
I passed the article along to Chester's teacher this morning and she seemed to think I was onto something. I'm hoping now that we know what the issue is, we can figure out a way to help him be less frustrated at school. There's at least one girl in his class (one of Chester's best friends, not coincidentally) who has the same issue, I'll bet. When we're discussing our Junior Great Books stories, she always acts out her answers to the discussion questions, rather than just answering them. Maybe we can help her (and the other spatial thinkers), too. Wouldn't that be terrific?