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Archive for March, 2011

Autistic Meltdowns

Meltdowns are a common occurrence with autistic children.  If you are not familiar with them, it can often be confusing or frightening to watch.  Each child will respond to stimuli differently, but I will describe here how my son, Micah, reacts.

Stimuli for Micah can be either an attraction or a source of great distress.  Things like new textures can be a form of stimuli that he can’t get enough of.  Micah craves it.  Even at 18 months old, he would sit under a cedar tree for over an hour just touching the leaves.  He enjoyed the way that they felt.  He was always drawn to those trees.  It was as if he was obsessed with touching them. They were calming to him and he was content to remain under the tree to feel the leaves.

Not all stimuli as this calming effect.  There are many sources of stimuli that cause a pain response in Micah.  We have learned to identify potential problematic stimuli, but often we are learning as we go along.  Let me give you some examples of stimuli that have negative effects.

Fluorescent lighting can be a huge one.  Some autistic children, or those who have medical conditions which make them prone to seizures, can have a seizure brought on by the lighting. 

There is movement in the long fluorescent light tubes most often used in stores and businesses. Children with sensory issues can be ultra-sensitive to the lights. Many people do not realize that light in these tubes moves.  Normally, we are unaware of the movement as it happens very quickly.  If the lights are not working properly, either blinking or the movement in the light tube is slow enough to be able to track it Micah will begin to scream out as if in pain. His worst stim response is when he begins to hit or bite himself also. It is a moment when he is simply in terror that is beyond his ability to cope.

Crowds or situations like being in a busy store can often cause a screaming response. If the room’s acoustics cause an echo, it is certain that Micah will have the pain reflex response. This response was once explained to me in this way. Imagine the pain of bee or wasp stings inside your head. You are in pain, scared, and unable to understand what is happening. It is an unsettling image right?

Can you imagine not understanding the stimuli around you other than knowing that it is causing you fear and physical pain? Add into that the inability to communicate to others what you are feeling. There is a complete loss of control over your situation. This is what Micah goes through every time he is hit with a bout of overstimulation. Is it any wonder that he will scream, hit or bite himself, or withdraws into himself to get away from it? How frightening would it be for any of us to deal with this each day of our life?

Our world is filled with stimuli. Sounds, colors, textures, smell, movements, tastes all are some of the many types of stimuli. New places can bring a whole new set of stimuli that the autistic child is being forced to adapt to. Things that we all take for granted are terrifying and often sources of pain to a child with autism. Yet, in order to be able to function in our world, they are forced to find a way to adapt. I cannot imagine the courage each and every autistic child must have to cope.

As a mom, I am in awe of my son. He has so much courage and trust. He trusts us to take him safely through these situations and many others. There are days, like last Friday, when I see him struggling, having a meltdown and it breaks this momma’s heart. I feel helpless in my lack of ability to take it all away. It is a feeling of having failed to protect him from it. Knowing that I must take him out and expose him to these things to help him learn to cope, yet knowing that in the helping, I am putting him into the situations is a hard thing to accept. My heart breaks each and every time. I know it must be done though. I cannot shelter him from the world. All I can do is gradually ease him into it. Often, there is no “easing” him into it. There are always the surprises. Unexpected loud noises or actions happen. There is no way to fully prepare Micah for these things.

I write this for one purpose. If you see a child having a full out meltdown out in public, have compassion. That child you are dismissing as a spoiled brat just may be an autistic child struggling to cope with their surroundings. That parent that you think lacks in parenting skills may be dealing with a heart broken knowing that they cannot make the coping as easy on their child as a typical child.

As a momma to an autistic 3 yr old, I can tell you that while my son is melting down, I am often struggling inside with my own emotions. It is not easy to watch your child go through this. Maybe one day soon I will write about how I cope. That is a topic for another day though.

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Ever since I bought “Sue Patrick’s Workbox System – A User’s Guide”, I have been readng her approach to homeschooling.  I must admit, I have read through her book several times now.

One of her teaching strategies is to utilize Learning Centers.  These centers offer a choice of activities around the specific them of that center.  File folder games, mini interactive posters, and other hands-on tasks can provide an opportunity to reinforce lessons being learned.  Simply pick a topic and add about 3 tasks to choose from.  In her book, Sue recommends having the child choose 2 out of 3 choices. 

One idea that Sue encourages is the use of interactive posters.  I love the idea.  I took the baic idea and shrank it down.  Blending the idea of interactive posters with file folder games, I decided to try using cardstock as the base/game board.  The following is a description of one topic I am working on right now.  NOTE:  these work great as tasks for the workboxes as well as at your learning centers.

Life Cycles:  Choose the subject of the life cycle.  In this example, I will use a butterfly.  On the center of a sheet of cardstock, draw a circle.  Draw a line down the center and another across the center, dividing the circle into quarters.  Starting at the top, number each section in order going clockwise around the circle.  Laminate and set aside.  This will become your game board.

On a second sheet of cardstock make a circle of the same size and divide it into quarters to match the game board.  Using pictures or clipart you have cut out, place one picture of each life cycle stage on a section of the circle. Laminate and cut out the game pieces.  Using Velcro, place each game piece in order onto the game board. This version is good for a child who is not yet able to read.

For a child who can read, you can take it the next step.  Add word strips of the names of each stage to be placed on it’s picture.  This will allow you to expand your life cycle wheel to meet the needs of children in 2 different abilty levels. 

Label the Parts – this idea can be used for many subjects.  Have a picture of a plant, animal, human skeleton, or other item on a sheet of cardstock.  Draw lines going outward from the parts to where you want the answers to be placed.  Laminate and set aside.

Make word strips of the name of each part.  Laminate and cut out.  Using velcro, attach the names in their proper place.

Game Instructions & Storage – You can write the game instructions at the top of  piece of cardstock or the back of the game board before laminating.  Add 2-3 vertical strips of velcro for storing the game pieces on.  Store the games in a 3-ring binder.  To make them easy to locate when needed, you might want to consider having the games organized by class subject.

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This week, I got a bit closer to getting next term ready.  We have chosen to school year round.  With Daddy on the tuck and away so much, our homeschool breaks are centered around Daddy’s days off at home.

Currently, I am working on building up my literature lapbook resources.  Making a list of books and downloading any lapbook printables that are available online.  The goal being to have most of this completed so that I am not having to look them up as I go.   I will be able to print up lapbook “kits” ahead of time so they are ready when we are. 

Craft kits are aother time saver.  I go through magazines and books of children’s craft ideas, making a list of projects.  When I go to the store, I have a list of all the supplies needed for a month’s worth of projects.  To make the craft kits, I copy any patterns needed and place in a gallon sized baggie along with the items needed to make that project.  By doing these ahead, you avoid  extra trips to the store or possibly forgetting a craft item that is needed.  You are also able to take advantage of sales this way.

I learned about the website, http://www.otplan.com recently.  This is a free resource with a searchable database of occupational therapy activities.  I was able to find simple tasks for my son to do that work help with specific skills he needs practice with.  I am going to incorporate many of these into his preschool workboxes.

Over the next week, I am making more interactive posters.  I am working towards the goal of having a set ready for lamination when I go to Mardel’s next time I am in OKC.   The Mardel’s Christian book stores have a room in the back where you can laminate large posters for about 25 cents per foot.  We laminate our file folder games, posters, and other interactive activities packets that we make. 

Warm weather has finally arrived and looks like it will stay awhile.  I bought a variety of trail mixes, dried fruits, yogurt covered raisins, cheese crackers, and mini vanilla wafers.  We mix it all together in a large bowl or roaster pan to make an awesome trail mix that the kids love.  We bag it up in small baggies and store them in a large container.  Whenever the kids want a snack, these are ready to eat.  No recipe needed.  Just gather up your favorites and mix together.

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Something that I have always preferred to do is plan ahead.  I don’t like surprizes popping up last minute.  When it comes to my little ones’ education, that is especially true.  So, today I started working on planning for next term.

DD will be celebrating her 5th birthday in a couple of weeks.  She started homeschooling 2 years ago as a preschooler.  For some reason, she decided that she wanted to “do school” and so we have been doing it ever since.  At first, it was very relaxed.  As she got closer to school age however, I began making it more structured.  If she were in  public school now, she would be in the PreK class.  Because of the homeschooling, she is actually doing Kindergarten level work on most things, except Math which is done at 1st grade level.

DS is just starting out in Preschool level.  We have been working mainly on therapy with him for the past 18 months.  Now, having found the Workbox System, I am preparing to Preschool him at home. 

My first step is taking a look at the available curriculums.  This is where planning ahead helps.  I have plenty of time to plan out the subjects we will have in the upcoming year.  Making interactive posters & file folder games to correspond with the curriculum also takes time and planning.  One of the ideas in using the Workbox System is that you offer several ways for the children to learn a concept.  The following is one example.

If your child is learning geometric shapes in their workbook, they have a series of pages in the book that cover this information.  I am making an interactive poster of the shapes by laminating a purchased poster.  The poster has the geometric shapes with their names printed under them.  I have a second copy of that poster which I have laminated and cut apart.  Using velcro on the back of the pieces, DS can match the shapes on the poster.  For DD, the shape names are covered up and she is able to then velcro the cut outs of the shape names onto their shape.  This makes the poster interactive for both children, yet challenging to each of them.  For DS, I have a wooden puzzle of shapes for him to learn to put together.  For DD, I am putting together a file folder game where I have pictures of common objects and she has to sort them by their shape.  These activities give the children several ways to learn the same information.  The more ways you present the information, the more they retain the knowledge.

There are lapbooks to plan, unit studies, literature for DD, art, and field trips.  I am planning the field trips to be outings that we take when Daddy is having his days off from truck driving.  I want him as involved as possible in their education.

An on-going project that we are doing is mapping where Daddy is each day.  I have a large wall map of the US that we use.  Each day, we move the push pin to the location where Daddy is that day.  If you have relatives who travel often or live in different states, you can have them send you postcards from their state.  Each state has postcards which give the state’s statistics and information.  These can be a fun way to get the kids excited about learning about them.

As I work on the planning of next year’s studies, I am gettign more excited about it.  I find myself wanting to get started now.  One idea that I found online was a homeschool mom who had a “1st Day of School party” for her son.  She had a large cone made of paper which was filled with school supplies, snacks, etc.  She mentioned that the gift idea is one that is done in Germany.  I think it is a great idea and am already planning on doing this with my little ones.

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