Did you know I taught the binary system of numbers to my son when he was maybe 9 years old? Not only that – at the time he could go back and forth between the binary and decimal system for small numbers.

The twist is that my son has Down Syndrome, is Autistic, and non-speaking. But I wouldn’t classify him as a genius.

Over years I have worked on and refined a process that I call Non-Linear Education – that I have used to help my son overcome barriers – both imposed by society and sometimes by his multiple diagnoses.

In this podcast, I talk you through the 7 steps involved in teaching complex math (or science) to your child with Autism or Down Syndrome or other disabilities.

Download / Print the 7 steps at www.functionalnutritionforkids.com/binary

If you have enjoyed this podcast, I would love it if you could leave a review wherever you are listening!


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Disclaimer: The information in this Podcast is for educational purposes only. Vaishnavi Sarathy, Ph.D. is an educator, not a doctor, specifically not your child’s doctor. Please consult your physician before implementing any supplement or diet recommendations.

Audio Transcript:

Welcome to the 100th episode of Functional Nutrition and Learning for Kids! I am your host Vaishnavi Sarathy – or just Vaish – and this is where we optimize learning for your Autistic child, this is where we break glass ceilings for your child with Down Syndrome. This is where we abandon the idea of intellectual delay and blaze new trails in learning and brain health through food, gut health, learning strategies, and through my very favorite tool – Non-Linear Education!

Today I am going to share a personal story that I have never shared in detail before – and this is the story of how I taught my son who has Down Syndrome, who is Autistic and non-speaking – Math – and not just Math – the binary system of numbers – and how to go back and forth between Binary and decimal – he was 8 or 9 at the time.

When I first shared parts of this story with friends and family, do you know what the first reaction was? Some of you may be feeling this right now!

It was disbelief. Some would say “No way”. I started posting about my journey on Facebook Groups at the time. I was part of a few really progressive (or so I thought) Facebook groups that were really invested in their kid’s growth.

I have since found that most Facebook groups are grounds for – how do I say this politely – wallowing in one’s opinions and struggles and hoping everyone shares them. There is actually huge value to this initially – to find your tribe, your group, your people that understand your pain. But do you know the biggest problem with finding this tribe, this group is?

It is this – if you don’t find the right tribe, most people just want their pain to be validated. But after pain, comes growth. With pain comes growth. And I was at the place where I thought people would want to know more about what I was doing, but interestingly, I was either ignored or dismissed.

And lest you think I am entering my own pity party, there are two lessons in this – lessons that are valuable to anyone seeking a journey that is off the beaten path – like teaching a child with Down Syndrome the binary system.

First, no one will validate you. No one will tell you it is possible. You just have to believe in it and keep trying new things. It is the new things part that is critical. If you do the same old rote learning system and hope to break new ground, it won’t happen.

Second, for your child, there will be no one as forward thinking as you! This is not a job to be outsourced. It has to be you.

Over years, I have gotten busier in my speaking lifestyle – creating courses, training parents, teaching kids, and tutoring, and I now have less and less time to do the ground breaking things that Sid and I did 7 years ago.

And I notice us slipping into rote learning. Because I am trying to keep his school happy, I am trying to cover curriculum, I am trying to make sure he gets his basic attendance. That we are moving at the pace that school wants us to – which is fast and shallow. And I notice that we are fast and shallow – nothing gets done. When we are slow and deep, when we sit with a topic and go where it takes us, worlds open up.

More about this in another podcast – I do want to talk about the difference in learning being fast and shallow vs slow and deep, but this is actually different depending on the age. Younger kids actually do better with a fast and shallow learning style.

I spent one week teaching Sid multiplication. Basically, all I did was say – in many different ways – that multiplication is repeated addition. I did this by saying exactly what I just said – drawing it out, showing apples, dots and potatoes in various arrays. That’s about it.

Then I thought that Sid might need to know some multiplication facts. By now, it was obvious to me that singing multiplication tables all the way to 20×20 the way I had done as a child was a terrible idea. I did consider going 6 once is 6, 6 twos are 12, and so on.. It is so tempting to ram facts into our kids that have been rammed into us. I still find it hard to resist.

But I did a few word problems for a few more weeks, and since he was homeschooled at this time – he might have been 7 or so, we were done with multiplication in a month. That’s it.

So I thought what next? I figured, why not follow the same pattern. Next month I told him, that repeated multiplication is exponents. And then we ran over some exponent forms. Again we did this for a few weeks. And I was bored.

So I thought what next – all our number systems – you see – whether binary or decimal are based on exponents – powers of two or 10.

This turned out to be a surprisingly easy concept to teach – and within the next month – we were converting simple numbers to their binary forms.

By this time, I was stunned – myself. How did this happen? What did I do? What did Sid do? What exactly is going on here?

I had no idea then, but in retrospect, I have isolated 7 main ideas that enabled my 8 or 9 year old son to start working on binary number systems.

Some people say that I must have a genius for a son. Others think I am deluded, or out to fraud the world. Of course, I have no answer for those people, but for those who think that my son is a genius – this is not the case, because when we dove into deeper equations like quadratic – when we did conventional math curriculum – we are doing it right now – 10th grade Algebra – he is not really that interested. He is doing OK, not phenomenal. It is hard for him, it is unmotivating for him.

And I know why – I am not following the 7 principles that I followed back in those days.

1. For a child – especially a child in special ed – who has been inundated with repetitive information for most of their lives – bring the information FAST and FIERY!

There is no need to go into 20 worksheets of how to do multiplication,followed by 20 word problems. Move quickly through ideas – not shallow, but just enough depth. Keep it interesting, that’s where the Fiery comes in.

2. Avoid death by worksheet. Here is a rule I want you to keep in mind for your Autistic child – the more worksheets you do on the same topic, the less likely it is they will stay focused (or learn).

3. Look around for the simplest way to teach a complex idea. For example – all I said is one sentence – Exponentiation is repeated multiplication. Don’t go on and on into details just yet. There is a time for that.

4. Don’t test, just teach. Don’t get sucked into repeated feverish testing. As long as it looks like your child is remotely engaged, and doesn’t hate what you are doing, for the beginning, teach more than you test. Beginning skills and understanding rely far more on INPUT than OUTPUT. You can ENGAGE your child in communication, like pointing, or choosing, but don’t make every engagement a TEST.

5. Don’t stay on a topic too long. Find a detour – go somewhere else – you can always come back. By too long, I mean more than a month!

6. If it is not fun for you, your child is not going to learn it! This is common-sense, but very few educators actually use it. We had a Geography teacher for Sid who used to say in class “I know everyone hates Geography – it is not fun”, and Sid actually loved Geography. So don’t do that. Don’t be that person.

7. Please believe in the core of your heart that despite what every doctor, teacher, or educator has told you – your child is truly capable. This is called Assuming Intelligence, and all the steps above will fail if this one is not in place.

So here you go – there are 7 steps to teaching your child the most complex concepts in the world! And you can go to www.functionalnutritionforkids.com/binary and get a worksheet to complement this podcast. Print it out – and make sure to USE It!!

I am so glad you joined my 100th podcast, and whether you choose to teach binary math or rocket science, or poetry, I wish you the best of journeys. As I bid goodbye to you today, if you have found value in this episode, I would love it if you left a review. Here’s a convenient link for you – www.ratethispodcast.com/vaish 

Onward my friend, see you at 101!