Archive for July, 2012

I am not much for keeping strict schedules. I don’t even own a watch. Haven’t had a need for a watch in about 7 years. If I really need to track the time, I have my cell phone. Otherwise, I just prioritize my day. Up until lately, that has always worked. Now, my life is getting busier than it has been. I am homeschooling 2 children, including therapies for the youngest. Living off-grid to the degree that we do, requires much of my time also. All chores are done without electrical appliances or modern conveniences. We get teased often about living the “Little House” life. Guess we do in most people’s eyes. With that life, I see how important the routines are becoming.

I have been phasing into a routine. It is time to take it to the next step however. I need to set a definite routine with a time schedule. This is not only for my daily chores, but the kids’ schooling as well. Having the time schedule will allow me to gauge how well we are on track for when needs done that day. I am seeing that with everything that needs to be done each day, things may slip passed unless a schedule keeps us on track.

My first step is listing everything that needs to be done on a daily and weekly basis. Daily chores are a given, but the weekly ones are being split up throughout the week so that I don’t have too much going on a single day. On the kids’ part of the schedule, a listing of their school subjects and activities will be noted. Once I have the basics written down, I am having to set a time frame for each task or lesson.

Currently, this is a typical day’s routine. The schoolwork is always done best if started right after breakfast & their morning chores. Morning chores for the kids involve feeding the dog and cats, straightening their beds, and putting their breakfast dishes in the sink. Little Miss feeds and waters the cats while Pookie assists me in getting the dog food into the dog’s dish. After a quick washing of hands, it is time for school to start. As I get Pookie ready, Little Miss starts on her morning calendar notebook. Group lessons are done next. Bible devotional, and reading of a book related to the unit study are the first lessons completed. Little Miss then begins working on her workbox assignments. I have them set up so that she is able to work completely independent for the first few assignments. While she is doing them, I am working with Pookie on his workboxes. Pookie’s workboxes do not take him very long to go through. He has 4 of them, which for his age and developmental level is pretty good. He completes 2 workboxes, takes a break, then completes the remaining 2 workboxes. After lunch, both kids lay down for a 1 hour rest period. I don’t require naps, but feel the hour of reading or playing with a quiet toy in their bedroom is an important habit to develop. During that hour, I quickly do a larger chore, such as doing a washtub of laundry to hang on the line. I hand wash the laundry several times per week, so am always able to have it done and hanging on the line within a half hour. Sometimes, if there is an opportunity, I may even sit and read until the kids’ hour is up. The afternoon is spent doing the school assignments that are hands-on. Most of the time, Little Miss has a hands-on activity and Pookie will be right there watching and sometimes participating in the activity. Art projects are done together as well. After all the schooling is finished for the day, they have free time. They play outdoors or we may go on an outing. Supper is usually about 5:30 or 6:00pm with their bedtime at 7:30pm. That is when I finish the lighter cleaning that I hadn’t completed throughout the day. Then I have my “Momma Time” when I crochet, work on the computer, or do some more reading.

The routine is working, but if we spend too much time on any one thing, then the entire day is thrown off. So, now I am taking on the task of putting time limits on how long we should be spending on each thing. I am seeing so much waste in our time each day. While the thought of being on a structured schedule seems confining to me, I am hoping that it will be good for the kids. Everything I read talks about the importance of a routine in autistic children. We had had a routine, but the more structured one will be a change. Hopefully for the better. In this area, I can relate very well to my son. I don’t deal with changes very well either. Changes bring with them a feeling on insecurity in my surroundings and I have a hard time getting used to the changes.

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I love a challenge. It forces my creative side to the forefront. It also teaches Little Miss that you do not have to buy everything premade. With that in mind, I am challenging myself. For the next few weeks, I am going to start making a supply of TEACCH tasks for Pookie and a few things for Little Miss also. The idea is to have fun, skill building activities to add to their workboxes for next term. Here are a few ideas I am working on this week.

At the photo print kiosk, print out 2 copies of a family photo enlarging it to a 5×7 print. Adhere one photo onto a 6×9 clasp envelope. Laminate the envelope and the second copy of the photo. Cut the photo into about 5 strips to make a simple puzzle. With a sharp knife, carefully cut a slit in the envelope to open the “pocket”. Store the puzzle pieces in the envelope. When using the puzzle, place the envelope into the workbox if needed to give a young child a reference to look at while completing the puzzle. To make this project using only what I have on hand, I am using packing tape to laminate the puzzle pieces. I already had some duplicate prints of pictures from my scrapbooking days.

This next activity is to teach sorting skills. I have a 3-sectioned container like those you would carry a lunch in. Using my 1-inch circle punch, I cut out 11 circles each from 2 different colors of cardstock. One circle of each color is adhered to the inside of a small section of the container. I use packing tape for this so that I can change it out later if I need to. The remaining circles are placed into the larger section. This same activity can be used many ways. Cutting pictures from magazines, you can sort types of animals, plants, etc. The ideas for categories are endless.

For a child learning to read, here is an easy activity. Find pictures in magazines or through Google Image search that correspond the words they are learning. Make a poster adhering the pictures to a small sheet of poster board or the inside of an opened file folder. Write the name for each picture on a strip of cardstock or index card. This matching game will help to test the knowledge of the child as they have to read the word and place it on it’s picture. This can also be done with shapes, colors, and numbers.

A quick idea for teaching a child a new poem or Bible verse – print out the poem to be memorized onto paper. Cut it apart at the end of each stanza. Have the child place them in proper order. For a Bible verse, you can do the same, except to cut apart phrases or each word for the child to place in order.

For a science center activity – Little Miss had learned the 3 types of leaves (simple, complex, and needle) as a part of her Leaf unit study in MFW-K. I made 3 pockets, like the library card type, and on index cards am placing pictures of various leaves from trees and other plants. The pockets are adhered onto the inside of a file folder. She takes the index cards and places them in the appropriate pocket to sort the leaves by type. You can also do this with various species of wildlife to be categorized as one that goes through simple or complete metamorphosis.

There are so many types of activities that you can easily make for your kids. Whether you homeschool or not, the activities can benefit them. For those who’s children are enrolled in a public or private school, the homemade activities can help to reinforce academics that your child is struggling to learn or to remember.

As I do more, I will be posting ideas and hopefully more pictures.

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I am not one to enjoy strict schedules, but am coming to terms with my need of one.  Living off-grid, my daily chores are done without the convenience of electrical appliances, laundry included.  Add on to of that the homeschooling and working with Pookie on his therapy, my days are getting busy.  So, I am now working on a daily schedule.

I am finding it to alternate between being a reasonable decision and being a pain in the keester. 

I am starting listing all of the daily chores.  I am dividing them so that I don’t have more that 1 large job to do each day.  Some will be done throughout the day, others after the kids are in bed at night.

The kids’ school work is set up so that Little Miss’ is working independently while I work with Pookie.  Some work will be done together, most with be independent.

As I get closer to having a finished schedule, I am feeling better about it.  Now, the hard part…getting us used to following the routine schedule.

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Today I took Pookie to the library in town. It is a small city library. Normally, I have Pookie in his stroller as he always stresses out while there.  This time, I had only Pookie with me. We left the stroller in the car.  He went to the children’s area and played with a toy there.  He was very content and played for nearly a half hour.  There was no meltdown, no stress.  This was the best library trip we have had. 

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One of my most frustrating moments is when we run out of something we need for a homeschool assignment.  To help decrease the chance of that happening, I take advantage of the back to school sales. 

Today, I found at one store the 24 count boxes of Crayola crayons for 50¢ each.  They also had colored pencils for the same price.  I bought enough to get us through the upcoming school term.  The same will be done with all other school supplies. I am dedicating a bookcase just for storing the supplies. By the time we begin the new school term, we will have everything we need for the year.

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Our plans to homeschool year round was a great idea…..in theory. In practice, it is not so easy. Kids more interested in playing outside than in doing their schoolwork is a constant issue we deal with. In the cold months, it is much easier to get kids excited about schooling. In warm months, the lure of playing outdoors in the pool is too great a temptation.

I have found a happy medium in getting Little Miss excited to learn. The first is to not fight her natural tendency to want to be outdoors. Summer months are the perfect time to explore nature. She loves to catch new insects to place into the observation jar. Even Pookie becomes very interested in watching the insects. The magnifying lid makes it easy for them to really get a good look at the insects.. We generally release them again by nightfall. We have been collecting books about birds, reptiles, and other critters that are from our area. Teaching Little Miss to access these books to find the critter she is observing is a valuable skill. Not only is she learning to look them up in these books, but there is another critical skill involved. In order to find the critter in these books, she must pay close attention to detail. Some things, like a bird, require her to be very observant. The females especially are a challenge as they all possess the trait of being varied shades of brown to blend in to their surroundings when nesting. Some have very subtle differences from one species to another.
Learning to focus on these details is a skill that will serve her well throughout her life.

Another “blah buster” is to use the outdoors as a classroom when doing science experiments. This is the perfect opportunity to do the messy ones. We always seem to come across fun science activities that cannot be done indoors. One such experiment is the geyser made from a 2-liter bottle of soda and a package of Mentos candy. Building and setting off a volcano is another one. You can help them build & set of a small homemade rocket. Another great activity is using solar ovens to make a simple lunch. Why not give an older child a science experiment utilizing solar power? One such experiment that my husband did when he was in school was to build a small solar water heating system. The idea was to see who could get the water to heat up the hottest. In his experiment, he found that he could heat water very hot by simply doing 3 things – paint the water bottle black, place it in wet sand, and to place it all into a box with a glass lid. The black bottle will absorb the heat best. Wet sand also absorbs the heat very well. Placing it in a box with a glass/plexiglass lid has a greenhouse effect to draw more heat. Let the kids experiment with various ways to get the water heated. What works best?

Setting up a sensory table with messy items, such as water, is good for younger children. Pookie loves to play in a dishpan of water. Another favorite is to let them fingerpaint outdoors before getting into the pool to cool off – and rinse off the fingerpaints! Gather leaves and make castings of them with plaster of paris. Place a sheet of paper on a tree trunk and do a crayon or pencil rubbing to make a texture design of the tree trunk. Compare the rubbings from various trees. Which ones are more smooth?

If you have a garden, consider teaching the children what plants or insects are great natural repellents for the insects that like to eat your garden plants. A very helpful gardening experiment is to teach how plants affect each other. I remember one year when my Mom had planted hot peppers along side of her bell peppers. The bell peppers took on the “heat” of the hot peppers! The same thing happened with her tomatoes that were on the other side of the hot peppers. What caused this to occur? Can the kids figure it out?

There is so much that you can do to make the summer months of schooling fun. You end up thinking outside of the box, but it is worth it. The fun that you can have as a family will make learning more enjoyable for all.

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Happy Dance Time!!!

Saturday I was awaken in the very early hours of morning by Pookie. He was tugging on my hand and saying, “Jink.” He wanted me to get him a drink! This was a first. In the afternoon, he came over to me and said, “change butt” to let me know he needed a fresh pull-up. If that wasn’t enough, he came up to me in the evening and said “want jink.” I am so happy for him!!! My non-verbal son is beginning to talk with purpose. It is a huge step forward for him. It gives us so much hope that he will one day be talking enough to be considered verbal.

The Lord is blessing Pookie daily. Most days, it is in the very tiniest of ways that we only see in hindsight. Once in a while, however, we have a day like today. It reaffirms in me the belief that I have that our son is a walking example of the Lord’s grace and blessing.

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There are days when teaching Pookie to communicate goes much more easily than others. Unfortunately, most days can be a challenge. I am quickly learning that a huge portion of how well he learns is directly dependent on how demanding I am. Let me set the scene for you, with a bit of background to make it seem more clear.

Pookie was first diagnosed with the lower functioning form of autism called (Classic) Autism Disorder back in July, 2010. At that time, he was 27 months old, but only had another 8 months of eligibility in the state’s Early Intervention program. Upon his 3rd birthday, he would be out of the program. When tested, he was cognitively only about 8 months old. He understood what was said to him at a 6-8 months of age level. He was completely non-verbal. A few months before, he was completely in his own world and didn’t respond to even his name. We knew he was not deaf, but he wouldn’t respond to audible stimuli, such as us talking to him. He did not make eye contact. When playing with toys, he would only turn a toy car over so that he could spin it’s wheels. Hinges were another object of great interest. One of his cars had hinged doors and he would sit and spin the wheels or open/close the car doors for hours at a time. If Little Miss played next to him, he was totally oblivious most of the time. Luckily, she is a very sweet girl and would be content to sit near him and play.

We began early intervention with the therapists coming once each week to our home. In many ways it was a sad time. I am both horrified and dismayed at how many times he was expected to respond like a much higher functioning Asperger’s child. Some days, it felt as though Pookie was being set up for failure. Unfortunately, most people think of Aspies when they picture an autistic child. In reality, the Aspies are much higher functioning than a low functioning person with the Classic Autism Disorder like Pookie.

When I spoke about the reality of Pookie’s level of autism, I was often hurt by the callous and sometimes mean-spirited words that other parents of autistic children or the therapists would feel free to say to me. Some thought I was giving up on Pookie ever being “cured” or becoming someone who would be able to live out a “normal” life like any typical child. Others felt that I had limited our son. The most vicious said that because I didn’t pursue getting him on a mile long list of supplements and diet change according to the DAN approach, I was acting as though I wanted my son to remain autistic. I have learned through this that the most difficult people to have around are parents of children on the autism spectrum or idealistic therapists who are ill-informed as to the varying level of autism. I have learned that there is NOTHING out there for parents of the children with Classic Autism. Because of the ability that most Aspies have to integrate into classrooms and function with some assistance, the greatest emphasis in therapy approaches and research is done for them. They are among the larger percentage of the cases of autism spectrum being counted today. The ones with Classic Autism Disorder are in the minority in the spectrum. In some ways, I say “Thank God” for that! There are some days when I get angry at the way the ones dealing with classic autism are being ignored where therapies and research is concerned. This Momma’s only thought is for my own son as I wonder, “What about Pookie? Is there nothing out there to help him?”

It was a blessing that when we were waiting for the evaluation date for Pookie to be diagnosed, I found Jenny McCarthy’s book, “Louder Than Words” at our local library. I read the book and while I may not agree that everything she did would work in our situation, I admired her drive in doing everything she could for her son. In some ways, it has inspired me to do as much research as I can in to the various therapies available.

We live 80 miles from the nearest cities that have the variety of therapists Ms McCarthy spoke of whom are trained in working with autistic children. Yes, there are some closer who are great with Aspies, but as I mentioned before, there is nothing for the more severe cases. Because of this, I felt driven to learn as much as I could. I found that it was a good decision on my part to do this. You see, when the early intervention folks come and are expecting your child to perform like a higher functioning child on the spectrum, there is going to be a wall hit at some point. The child could hit the wall when the therapy is demanding from them things that they are in no means ready for. For example, one therapist was insistent that Pookie ride a tricycle, even though he was no where near being ready for that yet. On the other hand, the therapist may hit the wall when all of their preconceived ideas of how to treat the child fails and they have to reevaluate what they are demanding the child to do. I have seen both ends of it. Pookie hit a wall and began stimming far more than usual & avoided interaction or eye contact whenever this one therapist was around. You could literally watch as his total demeanor changed into a regressive state when he saw her enter the house. There was one therapist who insisted that he had to say a certain word of her choosing, even though she knew that he was incapable of it. Many therapy sessions were wasted over that issue as weeks went by and he was no closer to even trying to say the word she was demanding to be said. Eventually, we stopped going to her for his therapy. We were disillusioned by the total disregard that the therapists had for where Pookie was at that time. Instead of looking at what he could do and building upon it, they insisted on their own agendas that did no good for him during the entire time he was in early intervention.

I realized that if Pookie was going to have a chance, I would need to take charge of his therapies. No one knows what he can do better than I do. I am with him daily. I see his moods and can “read” his behavior well enough to know what will and what won’t work. I began using the Floortime approach and had great results with it. He began making eye contact and responding to his name. If I held out my hand and asked him to come with me, he would walk up to me and take hold of my hand. I learned to never grab his hand but to allow him to take mine. He still to this day does not his hand to be held. He much prefers to be holding yours. For safety reasons, I have a monkey backpack that he can wear. It has a long “tail” that I can hold onto so that Pookie can walk next to me, but not wander away. I also have an umbrella stroller that we use quite often. This allows him to feel safe and comforted when we are in places that are crowded or has too much stimuli for him to deal with while walking. One such place is when we go to the library. With school being on break for the summer, the library can get quite busy in the children’s area. At times like that, Pookie needs the stroller just to be able to handle what is going on around him.

Once we had a good handle on getting Pookie to respond to the interactive play and verbal commands, I began incorporating the TEACCH approach. This is still in it’s early days with him. Some days, he will do great while others he will be melting down and not wanting to do his task boxes. I always have a back-up plan in place for those harder days.

I have been doing ASL sign language with him daily. As often as possible, I will sign as I speak to him. In teaching a new sign to him, I gently take his hands and assist him in making the sign, saying verbally the word as we make the sign. After many times of using the hand-over-hand approach, I encourage him to make the sign himself. I do this at first by gradually holding his hands lighter and lighter until he becomes used to signing the word without my touching his hands at all. Little Miss is learning sign language simply by watching and practicing the signs herself as she repeats the words the signs represent.

As we approach the 2 year mark of when Pookie was first diagnosed, I see so much progress. He is laughing and quite ornery some days. He indicates when he wants something to eat or drink. He is interactive with others daily. He is beginning to assist me in dressing him. The best progress is in that he will say words from time to time. In the past couple of weeks, he has said a couple of words with true intent, not just mimicking what he has heard others say.

As I prepare for autumn, when I begin homeschooling him at a Pre-K
level, I am filled with hope for Pookie’s future. I have already learned what his learning style is and have been adapting curriculum to meet his needs. There are days when I wish I had another homeschooling Mom who understands classic autism that I could talk to. There are many days when I feel as though my husband and I are on our own in this. Our church family is supportive, but living so far away from the city, it is not feasible to connect up with anyone. Most of the women work outside the home and I don’t like to interfere with their family time. The nearest support group for families with kids on the spectrum disbanded due to lack of members coming on a regular basis. That group wasn’t much help to me anyways as they were all Aspie or PDD-NOS families. The meetings discussed what worked for these higher-functioning children, but there was nothing geared towards the low-functioning. So, I simply lean on my husband and my prayers to the Lord.

Pookie is doing far better than he was 2 years ago. There is much yet to accomplish, but the change in him already in these 2 yrs has been so rich in blessings. Only the Lord knows how far Pookie will progress.

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Over the past couple of weeks, the cicadas have been very noisy at night. Recently, Little Miss found an empty shell that a cicada had shed. A trip to a library found us borrowing the book, “Cicada Sing-Song” by Densey Clyne. If anyone is interested in the book, it can be found through Gareth Stevens Publishing (http://gsinc.com) along with other great titles.

This children’s book is one of the best I have seen for teaching in an entertaining way. When I turned the title page, the first thing I saw was the full page of diagrams. On top are drawing depicting the life cycle of the cicada. Below are 2 drawings, top side and underside of the cicada with the anatomy labeled on each. Graphics in the remainder of the book are actual photos depicting the various stages of a cicada life cycle.

I loved how excited Little Miss became as she learned little facts about cicadas. Did you know that the sound made by a cicada is the loudest of all insects? The males are the ones that you hear. Each species has it’s own “song.” The males will make their sounds very loud to attract a female of their own species. They become quieter when a female is present, then get louder again when she leaves. The sound also serves a purpose in frightening off their natural enemies – birds.

Little Miss went out and found more cicada shells. It is so fun watching her as she looks them over carefully and identifies the body parts using the diagram in the book. We found more than enough information in this one title to be able to make a lapbook. There is a glossary in the back of the book that can be used as a vocabulary list. I am so happy to have found this little gem of a book. We are not yet at the point in the MFW-K curriculum to be doing the insects unit study, but this was a timely project that we worked into the curriculum while she was so interested in them.

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Pookie has been consistently doing something new the past 2 weeks.  He is starting to talk!  We are so excited for him.  The Lord is doing great things for Pookie.  The speech is coming in single words, but his point is being made.

About a week ago, I took him out to the car to run a couple errands.  As we started down our gravel road, Pookie said “town.”  I answered that yes,we were going to town.  He repeated the word town again.  After going to a store, I took Pookie to the car.  He patted the side of the car, with a look of longing on his face, and said “home.”  He wanted to go home!  I let him know that we were done and going to be going home.  He smiled and repeated “home.”  This progress for Pookie is huge!  He doesn’t talk like that very much, but the fact that he did it gives us hope that he may one day be verbal.

I am still teaching him sign language, but doing it through signing as I speak to him.  I tested him one day.  He was wanting a snack.  I normally will ask him in signing & verbally to show me what he wants.  One this occassion, I asked in signing only.  He took my hand and let me to where his snacks are kept.  He pointed to the snack that he wanted   He understood what I had asked him.  I hadn’t been cetain if he responds to me due to the verbal or the signing prompts.  This allowed me to see that he is learning the signing.

I am so excited for the progress he is making.  The meltdowns are almost non-existant no.  I am convinced that most meltdowns are causd from frustration.  Not being able to communicatea need would frustrate anyone.  As he gains more ability in communication skills and make his needs/wants known, the frustration level has dropped significantly.

I am excited about homeschooling Pookie.  I am seeing the difference in him.  He must have interactives to learn at this point., but I am finding ways to accomplish it.   I am so grateful to the Lord for His blessing in this.

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