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What strategies do you use to help rigid thinkers be more flexible and creative?

My 10 year old has great *number* flexibility and can approach math problems from multiple directions to find an answer, but not so much with language.  He writes excellent summaries but struggles to write (or condense or expand) stories and retain a story feel.  If I try to explain something with an imaginary example, he gets hung up on whether the example is accurate instead of plugging in the analogy to his situation.  If I said, "If your brother is hitting you, you should..." he wouldn't take the advice, because actually it was his sister who hit him, or it was his brother but the brother pinched him.  I guess it's a "can't see the forest for the trees" situation.

I don't think there's anything outside the range of normal going on, but if I could help him to work on this he would find communication, both written and interpersonal, so much easier.  What has helped your kids?  I'm open to all ideas!

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Have you introduced him to concepts like "hypothetical situation" and "thought experiment" and told him he can do this with numbers but it's time to start learning how to do it with words too?

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26 minutes ago, Rosie_0801 said:

Have you introduced him to concepts like "hypothetical situation" and "thought experiment" and told him he can do this with numbers but it's time to start learning how to do it with words too?

Not well.  Typing out my question to the Hive helped me clarify it, too.  I've used words like "hypothetical" in a grumpy way in the midst of a misunderstanding, but we should sit down calmly at another time and talk about what that means and connect it to his number flexibility.

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My DD8 is like this. Honestly, I don't think we can make her less rigid -- it's just her personality. Rather, I'm spending a LOT of time working on having her see things from other people's perspectives, having her learn how to compromise, and otherwise talking situations through with her so that she can work through the rigidity. 

But I'm pretty sure the rigidity is there to stay. (And she's a brilliant math problem solver. Honestly, I'd guess that's positively and not negatively correlated to rigidity!) 

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14 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

But I'm pretty sure the rigidity is there to stay. (And she's a brilliant math problem solver. Honestly, I'd guess that's positively and not negatively correlated to rigidity!) 

I see a connection there, too.  I agree with you that the traits are probably related.  What's worked well for you in helping your DD empathise and compromise?

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Not quite the same, but we talk about intent. If mom says don't eat while you're sitting on the couch, what is her intent, why might she be saying that? So, do you think standing on the couch to eat is within that intent, even she didn't say no to that?--still need reminders on thinking that way.

Thanks for your post also, though, as it helped me think through some actions and words of my child to see if that might be going on sometimes with him.

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4 hours ago, caffeineandbooks said:

If I said, "If your brother is hitting you, you should..." he wouldn't take the advice, because actually it was his sister who hit him, or it was his brother but the brother pinched him.  I guess it's a "can't see the forest for the trees" situation.

No advice just I struggle with the same things with my son, but he's only 4.5. So, I'm going to stalk this thread.

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9 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

My DD8 is like this. Honestly, I don't think we can make her less rigid -- it's just her personality. Rather, I'm spending a LOT of time working on having her see things from other people's perspectives, having her learn how to compromise, and otherwise talking situations through with her so that she can work through the rigidity. 

But I'm pretty sure the rigidity is there to stay. (And she's a brilliant math problem solver. Honestly, I'd guess that's positively and not negatively correlated to rigidity!) 

 Can you explain how her rigidity is positively correlated to being adept with math? Do you mean she sticks to a problem without easily giving up? So rigid personality wise, but not rigid in the sense of being unable to approach mathematics from multiple directions?

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17 minutes ago, Idalou said:

 Can you explain how her rigidity is positively correlated to being adept with math? Do you mean she sticks to a problem without easily giving up? So rigid personality wise, but not rigid in the sense of being unable to approach mathematics from multiple directions?

No, I just mean I think of mathematical intelligence as kind of correlated with the “engineer” personality type, which is a bit spectrum-adjacent 🙂 . 

I don’t think DD8 is all that close to the spectrum and the OP’s son doesn’t sound it, either… but as a personality type, I do think the correlation mostly works. (This is my personality type, too.)

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9 hours ago, caffeineandbooks said:

I see a connection there, too.  I agree with you that the traits are probably related.  What's worked well for you in helping your DD empathise and compromise?

It’s really a work in progress!! We keep talking and talking about it. We constantly model the internal states of other people. I facilitate conversations about compromising. I do lots of Socratic questioning of the “How would you feel if someone did that to YOU?” form. In my more frustrated moments, I’ve assigned essays that require modeling other people.

This kind of thing is completely natural and intuitive to my younger DD5, so it’s very interesting to think about how to develop it in a kid who does not find it easy. I do have a let of empathy for this, since I definitely access this stuff on an intellectual level more than on an emotional level myself.

DD8 is also a stickler for fairness and justice, and I really try to harness that.

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Posted (edited)

It's kind of funny, because my kids do this for different reasons.  Sometimes one of my kids will say things like in the OP because it's a loophole.  But, there are people who really don't have flexible thinking, either generally or situationally.  In my experience with it, there are people who do an ADD-hyperfocus thing that makes it hard for them to see possibilities other than the thing that they already had in their head.  The engineer-types that I know tend to go to the extremes.  Either they get an idea of a solution and then will invest way too much time into solving the problems associated with their proposed solution or else they have very flexible thinking and throw out a bunch of possibilities and then do the one that is easiest or least-crazy. 

I used to think that spouse was just being pedantic when I'd say something like 'Gee, the kids have done so much sport that I have a ton of uniforms to wash!  I have so  much laundry to do today!  I need to go get it out of the dishwasher!' and he' couldn't figure out what I was trying to convey, while I'd look at the fact that somebody was currently loading the dishwasher but talking about needing to go do something, and there was a lot of laundry, so they probably meant that they needed to get it out of the washer.  But, spouse really couldn't think beyond the words.  

With the kids, I talked about flexible thinking almost like pattern-matching.  I'm big on the idea that they can solve a lot of their own problems, so I talked explicitly about whether what they were asking fit a general concept that they already knew about.  Like, if I said 'No cake' then I probably meant 'no candy' too - pick the closest applicable framework for the question you are asking and assume it applies.  But, for my people who do this, it's definitely situational. My good problem solver for practical problems can't figure out how to reword a sentence, for instance.  

Edited by Clemsondana
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46 minutes ago, Clemsondana said:

But, for my people who do this, it's definitely situational. My good problem solver for practical problems can't figure out how to reword a sentence, for instance.  

I'll agree with that. And at least for my young kids, it also heavily depends on level of motivation. Ability to rephrase a sentence in an essay DD8 is interested in does not equate the ability to rephrase a sentence in an essay she's bored by. And same goes for everything else. 

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For writing specific fluidity, Kilgallon grammar & writing. It is imitation writing, and starts off with a clear model. 

 

For life, practice thinking through options A, B, and C. If I choose A, then the likely outcomes are...etc...

Once a child is the habit of thinking through options, then you can add more options. D may not be easy right now, but what if (insert circumstance) were different? 

Can we work to make D a viable option? 

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15 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

My DD8 is like this. Honestly, I don't think we can make her less rigid -- it's just her personality. Rather, I'm spending a LOT of time working on having her see things from other people's perspectives, having her learn how to compromise, and otherwise talking situations through with her so that she can work through the rigidity. 

But I'm pretty sure the rigidity is there to stay. (And she's a brilliant math problem solver. Honestly, I'd guess that's positively and not negatively correlated to rigidity!) 

+1 One of my children advanced quickly in math and generally has a strong mental acuity. But he is a very concrete thinker and could not write fictitious stories at all. I spoke with his writing teacher (he was a very slow writer, too) and she said this is not uncommon. Some kids - especially if they read a lot of non-fiction - have a really difficult time imagining scenarios, or get “stuck” on unimportant details for sense-making. In our case, the teacher encouraged him to write ‘fictions about non-fictions’ (“tell me a story about something that happened to an Emperor penguin in his natural habitat”). Was it a boring story? Yes. But we try to meet children where they are.

By the way, my sibling (who is very gifted), absolutely hates writing, especially fictions. Even gifted children aren’t great at everything. 🙂

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4 hours ago, FO4UR said:

For writing specific fluidity, Kilgallon grammar & writing. It is imitation writing, and starts off with a clear model. 

 

For life, practice thinking through options A, B, and C. If I choose A, then the likely outcomes are...etc...

Once a child is the habit of thinking through options, then you can add more options. D may not be easy right now, but what if (insert circumstance) were different? 

Can we work to make D a viable option? 

Oh, my neighbor gave me a box of her old curriculum. I remember one is Kilgallon's Story Grammar, but I think I won't be able to use it for a couple more years. Did your children like it?

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You can definitely teach flexible thinking - it's a big part of teaching kids with autism, who tend to have a rigid, inflexible cognitive style (and some studies have shown that at a neural level, with fewer, more rigid brain connections).

I had a whole lot of research connecting the detailed thinking of maths post-grads and people with autism, but it's on my other computer. But it's not to do with the rigidity so much as the detailed, pattern-seeking way of thinking - seeing the trees rather than the forest.

Children tend to be more rigid when they're younger, because it's harder to see things from multiple perspectives and hold those perspectives simultaneously. Giving opportunities to see different perspectives, and how they can both be correct, is important. On an active level, just throwing a ball but mixing it up, making things unpredictable and enjoying it, having new experiences which are unexpected; all those things increase flexibility (part of why world travellers tend to be more cognitively flexible than those who stay in their hometown). 

Time in nature can increase flexibility as it is inherently unpredictable. 

With writing, I think it's exposure to different writing styles and also just getting better at it, with more experience.

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On 7/2/2021 at 3:28 PM, Idalou said:

Oh, my neighbor gave me a box of her old curriculum. I remember one is Kilgallon's Story Grammar, but I think I won't be able to use it for a couple more years. Did your children like it?

Yes. I mean, it's still schoolwork, but they found it meaningful  

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Some children are very literal.  In terms of writing, I would first suggest topics that are non-fiction or historical.  Let's say he's read about dolphins and really enjoyed learning about them.  Once he is very comfortable with the subject, try a story about dolphins where the dolphins can talk, for instance.  Build slowly.

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On 7/1/2021 at 8:34 PM, caffeineandbooks said:

I don't think there's anything outside the range of normal going on, but

This is how ASD1 would look. Not trying to diagnose, just observing that’s how it would present. Severe ADHD and ASD1 merge and have similar social thinking deficits. (Someone mentioned ADHD below.)

On 7/1/2021 at 8:34 PM, caffeineandbooks said:

.  I guess it's a "can't see the forest for the trees" situation.

Look up detail vs gestalt thinking. https://ct.counseling.org/2013/12/processing-the-whole-with-clients-on-the-autism-spectrum/

On 7/1/2021 at 8:34 PM, caffeineandbooks said:

He writes excellent summaries but struggles to write (or condense or expand) stories and retain a story feel. 

You can look at the narrative language development charts and see where he is. https://mindwingconcepts.com/pages/methodology

On 7/1/2021 at 8:34 PM, caffeineandbooks said:

If I try to explain something with an imaginary example, he gets hung up on whether the example is accurate instead of plugging in the analogy to his situation

You’re correct that he’s hyperfocusing on details and missing the big picture. That’s missing the gestalt. Later his ability to focus on details will be a superpower but it’s messing with his social thinking and social interactions. 
 

 

On 7/1/2021 at 8:34 PM, caffeineandbooks said:

I'm open to all ideas!

Trying to link article https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=social-thinking-social-communication-profile

You might see if he falls in one of these profiles.  Particularly read to exclude RSC profile. That would be much more concerning. I’m assuming it’s not but see about the rest. 
 

Im thinking about options for nurturing gestalt thinking. There’s stuff for perspective taking and theory of mind, etc. But I’d just flat tell him he’s hyper focused on a detail and to think big picture. There’s theory of mind and theory of own mind. Until he realizes his theory of own mind, he’s not going to realize that someone was thinking differently.
 

Can he use his thinking to PREDICT things? Like if you pose a scenario can he predict what the person meant when they said xyz? Predict what they would do or say? https://media.pedagogisktperspektiv.se/2020/12/PeterV_1.pdf. Peter Vermeulen has a book on context / mind blindness and is now writing on prediction.

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Posted (edited)
On 7/3/2021 at 5:00 AM, bookbard said:

Children tend to be more rigid when they're younger, because it's harder to see things from multiple perspectives and hold those perspectives simultaneously. Giving

You have research for this? The Social Thinking people say just the opposite , that you can see perspective taking in the play of five year olds. In fact it’s so evident that they don’t feel the need to establish it in a standardized way to establish it requires intervention. It’s why the ADOS and SallyAnn and similar testing works.

I’m nitpicking concrete vs rigid here. Concrete, physically based, sure. But rigid, not taking perspectives , no.

Edited by PeterPan
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14 minutes ago, PeterPan said:

You have research for this? The Social Thinking people say just the opposite , that you can see perspective taking in the play of five year olds. In fact it’s so evident that they don’t feel the need to establish it in a standardized way to establish it requires intervention. It’s why the ADOS and SallyAnn and similar testing works.

I’m nitpicking concrete vs rigid here. Concrete, physically based, sure. But rigid, not taking perspectives , no.

Seriously? Yes, you can see SOME perspective-taking in 5-year-olds. But it obviously gets more sophisticated as kids get older.

 

21 minutes ago, PeterPan said:

This is how ASD1 would look. Not trying to diagnose, just observing that’s how it would present. Severe ADHD and ASD1 merge and have similar social thinking deficits. (Someone mentioned ADHD below.)

It’s a spectrum for a reason! Some kids are rigid and not awesome at perspective-taking without actually having diagnosable autism. At some point, you’re simply diagnosing personality types, and that’s not necessary…

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A good way to think of it is in terms of that old morality experiment which everyone seems to learn about in Psych 101. Someone you love is dying, but the richest man in town has the cure. He refuses to sell it to you - do you steal it?

A younger child is more likely to say "It's wrong to steal" - i.e. black and white thinking. An older person is more likely to be nuanced; while it's wrong to steal, it's also wrong to let someone die, and so stealing the cure may be in service of the greater good. 

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