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Archive for January, 2013

For about 2 years now, Little Miss had been working on the Keepers of the Faith program.  The program is based on Biblical principles.  The program is similar to scouting, but can be done as a family or as a club.  Unlike scouting, there are no dues to be paid other than your own personal expenses for materials or awards.  The cost is very minimal.

Little Miss started out in the young girls’ program, Little Keepers of the Home.  This year, Pookie has begun the young boys’ program, Little Contenders for the Faith.  At age 7, they advance to the older children’s programs of “Keepers of the Home” and “Contenders for the Faith.”

A fair portion of the program is based upon academic skills.  Young children who learn to recite, write, and the phonetics of their ABC’s can earn the “ABC’s” award.  Like in scouting, the kids earn these acheivement awards which come in the form of a pin or a charm.  I purchased fabric to make each of the children a banner on which to display their award pins.

I have always known that Little Miss loves earning the pins.  She gets so excited about it!  Her Daddy and I make a big deal out of any new awards she receives.  He gives the handing out of the award as much attention as though she were receiving an honors award.  He recognises the hard work done and praises the kids for their efforts.

Last week, I received a box from Keepers.  In it was Little Miss’ new manual.  She graduates up to the “big girls” program this year.  The box also contained a few awards that were earned over the past few months.  She was thrilled!  One special award though was a real treat to hand out.  Amazingly, Little Miss was more excited about this one than her own awards.  Pookie had completed a unit study with lapbook on the Creation story from the Bible.  Among the awards in the box was one called “Creation.”  This is Pookie’s first achievement award.  When he was handed his award, he carried it all around the room.  He kept turning it over and over as he studied it carefully.  Little Miss also got a Creation award for her unit study, but she seemed unfazed by that.  She was too busy smiling with pride at her brother.

Looking over the awards that Keepers makes available, there are many that both kids will be able to work towards over the next 8 years or so tha tthey are of age to be in that program.  The awards have suggested guidelines on what a child should do to receive it, but they are also open to your own customizing to fit your child’s ability levels.  This is what helps to make it possible for Pookie to also earn awards.

Seeing his complete enthrallment, as well as Little Miss’ joy, at receiving the awards makes it even more important to us.  Kids love working for them.  Though Pookie may not fully comprehend what the awards are all about, he sure was happy to get it.  We will be setting aside a special spot just for the displaying of their award banners.  By making them something that we hold as something to be proud of, they will continue to work towards earning them.  Not that simply getting an award should be the goal, but that they learn that we respect and take pride in the efforts that they make.

Each week, there is at least one activity in their workboxes that goes to an achievement they are working on.  By reading through the suggested activities for each award, I am able to match the requirements to whatever curriculum they are doing.  There are awards for each of the states in the USA, for example, which means that when she does a unit study on our home state she will earn that award.  She is currently learning how to crochet.  Once she makes a couple of  projects, she will earn that award.  Pookie will earn the ABC’s award as soon as he is able to write each letter.  Currently, I am teaching him the letters and their sounds.  As he is non-verbal, I am able to know if he understand phonics through use of a chart.  I say the sound and he points to the letter that makes that sound.

If you are looking for a special way to encourage and reward your children for their school efforts, take a look on the Keepers’ website.  They have a wide array of topics and skills to choose from.  Their service is fast and very courteous.  I have been pleased with each order I have received from them.  The true joy though is in seeing the pride that Little Miss has in her accomplishments and Pookie’s happiness.

 

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Working with Pookie has been, and will continue to be, an exercise in patience.  Not only on my part as I homeschool him, but on his also as he learns to communicate with us.  He learns differently than his sister.  Yes, this is a common within all homeschooling families in that each child has their own learning style.  When a child has special needs which affect their ability to learn, the differences can be more visible.

We were told early on after his diagnosis that he would likely always be behind in his schooling.   Those with Classic Autism can have developmental delays that affect their schooling.  Some may be physical limits that prevent them from writing, others may have cognitive delays.  In fact, there are some cases of Classic Autism where the child also has a mild form of mental retardation.  On the other side of it, you read of cases where the child with Classic Autism is very intelligent but has other issues that discount a Asperger’s diagnosis.  Like all levels of the spectrum, Classic Autism has a wide range of limits and abilities that gives each child a uniqueness.  There are no “cookie cutter” autistic cases.  Each is unique.  Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.

When we first started homeschooling Pookie, I had purchased Preschool and Pre-K level workbooks at the discount store.  I knew that he would require a lot of repetition and practice to learn.  I found quite early on that the worksheets were beyond his ability at that time.  I tucked the workbooks back onto a shelf and got busy working with him on tactile activities that would build up his fine motor skills.  That is one of his largest challenge areas.  As an infant, he had never developed the pincer movement.  It is amazing how much that affected other areas!  Holding a pencil has been tough.  I have had to aid him in doing so.  He still lacked the ability/understanding to press down to transfer the pencil marks onto paper.  The hurdle needed to be crossed before he would be able to do the worksheets as they are intended.

At first, I placed a worksheet into a sheet protector and gave him a dry erase marker.  This worked well due to the marker not requiring him to apply much pressure.  I found that one problem with that option was that I did not have a page to put into a portfolio.  I had nothing that I could use as a comparison to judge how much progress he was making.

Today, I got out a workbook and his Pen Again “Twist n Write” mechanical pencil.  I helped him place his fingers properly on the pencil and gave him the worksheet.  The worksheets were ones that required him to draw a line connecting 2 matching objects.  Simple page, but for a child with Pookie’s challenges, it required some extra effort on his part.  I verbally guided him at first, then as he did the 2nd page, he was doing it on his own.

It has taken nearly 7 months of work to reach this point.  He has far yet to go, but this step is a big one.  Not only does it show that his fine motor abilities are growing, but it shows a cognitive progress also.  It demonstrates that he is understanding visual discrimination.

We are enjoying a season of progress.  It seems that with Pookie, his progress comes in spurts.  He will progress in a few areas, then suddenly will stop progressing for a short time.  During the low progress times, we simply end up maintaining what he has achieved and pray that he doesn’t have a regression.  As those familiar with autism already knows, it is a long term journey where you deal with a lot of the “2 steps forward, 1 step back” routine.  It is as though they are chugging along and suddenly hit a wall.  They have to regroup before moving forward again.

Through all of this, we know that the Lord is guiding us in working with Pookie.  The Lord also is blessing Pookie daily.  Rarely do I have a day with Pookie where I don’t have an “I saw God today” moment.  Those are some of the most precious times.  Each day, we see examples of the Lord’s grace in our kids.  Whether it is Pookie making progress, Little Miss’ compassion and love for her brother, or simply seeing the joy in the kids.  It is all blessings.

The progress being made hasn’t happened overnight or without work.  It has taken patience and will continue to do so.  There are days when things just don’t connect, but those days are few.  We learn to roll with it.  The blessings are worth any time it is taking to achieve the progress.  Each new step made is a gift and a cause of celebration.  It is a time of thanking God for His generous blessing.

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On Tuesday, we had a breakthrough with Pookie.  I have been working with him from the very beginning.  While we were awaiting the appointment to have him evaluated by the OU Child Study Center, I was researching therapy approaches.  After reading about the various methods, I began using FloorTime with him.  Sitting with him as he played and playing alongside of him.  In the early days, he ignored me completely.  He would sit there spinning his car’s wheels, seemingly oblivious to my presence.  Over the months that followed, he slowly began including me in his play.  I would imitate his behavior.  He would stop his play, look at what I was doing, and then go back to his play.  Sometimes, he would take my car and spin the wheels before giving it back to me.  Tiny steps, but progress all the same.

This interacting has gradually increased over the past 2.5 years.  Now, he will play ball with others.   Basically, he tosses it to you and you toss it towards him.  He doesn’t attempt to catch it, but loves the game anyways.  Most play is still done side by side though.  He will watch as you do something or will sit near you and do his own thing.

In recent months, I have been noticing that he is watching me a lot closer now.  He is especially observant when I am preparing a meal.  At first, I thought it was merely due to him wanting something to eat.  I have come to realize that is not always the case.  I began including him with meal preps.  Sometimes, he will hold a butter knife with my help as I guide him in making his own peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Another time, he may pour an ingredient into a bowl for me or play with a bit of bread dough that I had pinched off the loaf I was kneading.

On Tuesday, I was stirring a pan of ravioli on the stove.  He cuddled up next to me and gestured towards the spoon.  It has a very long handle, so I let go of the spoon and asked him if he would like to stir the ravioli.  He held tightly to me with one hand and took the spoon in the other.  As I held the pan’s handle, he stirred the ravioli.  Later, he was watching as I cleared the table.  He picked up his plate and put it in the dishpan without being asked.  That afternoon, I was reading a book.  Pookie brought a book over and sat next to me and looked at the pages in his book.  He now follows me around quite often each day, constantly watching what I am doing.  Sometimes, he will attempt to imitate me.  Other times he simply watches silently.  This has been the step forward that I have been looking for.

With Pookie playing the “monkey see – monkey do” routine, trying to imitate what I am doing, the teaching can truly begin.  Now, I can show him how to complete a TEACCH task and he will be more willing to follow the visual instruction.  This simple step forward has opened up so many doors for us.  Already, he is trying to use the Tap To Talk app on his tablet to communicate.  We started with the simplest picture of a drink cup.  When tapped, it says “I want a drink, please.”  Whenever he wants to get a drink, I have him first tap the picture.  Thankfully, there is also a picture for his favorite snack – popcorn!  We are using that one also.

Teaching Pookie how to complete new TEACCH tasks will be easier now that he is actively trying to imitate what I am doing.  It is such a blessing that we have reached this milestone.  It hasn’t been easy and it has taken a lot of time to get here.  It gives me so much hope however.  I now have one more thing to utilize in helping our son.  I thank the Lord for opening that door for us.

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It has been a while since I posted about Little Miss’ homeschooling.  I wanted to share the way she uses workboxes with Heart of Dakota curriculum.  The inspiration behind it came from Natalie’s blog, Distractible Me.  I found my workbox tags at her blog.  (Thanks Natalie!)

Little Miss has her own visual schedule.  I have a small pocket chart that has a storage pocket along the bottom.  I place her workbox tags in the clear pockets and as she completes each assignment, she places the tag into the storage pocket.  I love this!

We have a timer set for about 35 minutes, based on the idea that public school has class periods of about 40 minutes.  This gives her ample time to complete the given assignment.  If she dawdles and time runs out, she sets aside the assignment to be completed later.  If she finished early, she is allowed to use the remaining time to play outdoors, watch a video or play a game on her tablet, or some other activity of her choice.  When the timer beeps, she restarts it and begins her next assignment.

I have an activity center set up that I change out twice during the school day.  One time the activities are science related, the next they may be geography, art, or file folder games.   She has 2 “center” tags in her visual schedule.  When she reaches one of these, she chooses one of the 2-3 activities at the center.  If she finishes early, she can choose another one to complete also.

She works through her schedule very well.  After completing the last assignment on her schedule, she finishes any work that was not completed in the allotted time.  This will encourage her to work more efficiently so that work is done on time.

She is enjoying this routine.  If she completes and assignment early, she is helping Pookie with his activities.  This has been a minor issue we have had.  She sees the activities he is doing and they always look more fun than her own work.  It is hard on a young child to understand sometimes that a younger sibling (especially one that has special needs issues) has to learn in a different way.  In Pookie’s case, he learns best through hands-on and visually.  His lessons are always through an interactive approach.  To a young child, that may look far more inviting than doing a worksheet or writing practice.  So, I allow her to help Pookie with his activities once her own is completed.  This is eliminating any jealousy that may come up.

At the end of the day, we are playing a board game together or doing something else that is our Momma/Daughter time.  I am finding that by doing this, along with allowing her to help with Pookie’s lessons, really is benefitting us all.  She is actively participating in her brother’s education as well as having the attention from Momma.  One issue that I always try to keep in mind is that I never make her feel like she is being left out.  When you have a special needs child who requires much more attention and aid, it is easy to overlook the amount of time spent with the other siblings.  I never want her to feel like my attention is always focused on her brother.  So, I make a point of including her as much as possible as well as having our private time each day.

 

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Shopping Meltdown

No doubt about it.  A shopping trip is often a fun time with our kids, but there are some times when a fun trip can quickly turn into a dramatic event.  Today was one of them.

Little Miss was watching a movie with our grandson at his home.  I took the opportunity to take Pookie with me to the grocery store.  At first, he did great.  The store was quiet enough that he didn’t have the sensory overloads that can occur at times.  That was until another parent with 3 kids was in the same isle we were in.  The oldest boy, who looked to be about 10-12 years of age, bumped their shopping cart into ours.  When his Mom said nothing, he did it again….twice.  After the 3rd bump, Pookie reacted.  My quiet son suddenly cried out with a look of sheer unadulterated terror on his face.  He reached for me and began trying to climb onto me to get out of the shopping cart seat.  I tried to comfort and calm him, but he was beyond calming.

To cope with being in the stores, sometimes Pookie will go into “Pookie-Land” and withdraw enough to allow him to manage with all the stimuli around him.  He isn’t completely withdrawn, but just enough that he can process and cope with what is going on around him.  When that child kept bumping their cart into ours (even though I tried to move away) he in effect jerked Pookie out of his coping zone.  The result was that he was frightened to the point of pure terror.

I did all of the usual techniques that would normally calm and distract him.  One is to have him help me push the shopping cart.  He walked a couple of steps and his knees gave out.  He was shaking so hard from the fright that he couldn’t walk properly.  I stood there in the store isle holding him in my arms with his head on my shoulder.  As I gently spoke to him and rubbed his back (another calming technique) I could feel him shaking and his heart pounding in fear.  I quickly finished getting the absolute essentials  such as milk, bread, and eggs.  The entire time, I had to carry my son.  He was afraid to get back into the shopping cart yet would drop to the floor if I tried to have him walk.

The parent of the boy who caused such emotional distress in my son never said a word to her boy.  In fact, when her young daughter saw how distressed Pookie was and remarked about it, their mom simply said that he was a “spoiled momma’s boy” and went her merry way.

I would like to say that this kind of thing is rare.  Sadly, it happens more often than you might think.  Some parents choose to allow their “darlings” to act however they please in stores and other public places without any thought of teaching them proper behavior.  When their child causes a problem for someone else, they don’t reprimand their own child, but will ignore their child’s actions and speak unkindly of the one who was upset or harmed.

Unless you have or know personally a child with Autism, you have no clue how difficult it is for them to be in public places.  To have to cope with all the sensory stimuli that overwhelms them on a daily basis is one of the most courageous things I have ever witnessed.  To watch my son face it, coping well, only to be completely terrorized by a naughty child breaks my heart every time.  To watch the naughty child’s parent ignore their child’s behavior is difficult at best.

If my son is to grow up able to handle necessary tasks, such as going to a store or other public locations, I have to expose him to it.  I try to take him to quieter locations whenever possible and gradually build him up to being able to handle a busy location.  It is absolutely critical that he be able to manage it as he gets older.

It is quite ironic that I am having to train my Autistic son to cope with busy, public locations when many parents choose to ignore training their “typical” kids how to behave properly in those same places.

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Our kids have been taking a holiday break for the past little while.  I have my mixed feelings about this.  I know that the time off is great for everyone, but I already am seeing that getting back into the routine can be a bit bumpy.

We are started back up doing a very light load yesterday with a bit heavier amount of schoolwork today.  That has worked out great!  Tomorrow morning, we have to drive Daddy back to the truck.  Because of the distance we have to drive (160 miles round trip) we will have another light day tomorrow when we get home.

Pookie is letting me know that he is ready to get back to the homeschool routine.  I see more and more just how much he needs the consistency of the routine we had set up.  Days that are not going according to his schedule cause him to have more issues.  He gets cranky and just seems “off” more than often than not.  Luckily, once the routine is re-established, he gets back to normal rather quickly.

Little Miss is doing an increased curriculum now.  We are adding more writing, which she doesn’t always enjoy, but it is broken up into smaller assignments.  That alone makes it much easier to manage.  We have also added a totally new incentive to get her to write more.  For Christmas, we found each of the kids a very inexpensive android tablet.  Little Miss has her own email account (was needed for the kids’ tablets to be set up) and will be emailing close family, our Pastor and his wife.  The idea is that she has to handwrite the email message before typing it in.  We use a prepay Internet WiFi device, which I will turn on after I have proofread her emails so that she can send them.  Answering emails from others will give her further practice in spelling and sentence composition.

Pookie has Tap-To-Talk on his tablet.  What a blessing this will be!  The free starter app has the very basics that is giving him a start.  The app is basically pictures, arranged by category, that when tapped will speak for him.  Through this device, he will be able to communicate with others.  I am looking for an app that will turn his tablet into a word processor also.  If he has trouble writing, he can at least learn to write and spell using the word processor.

Overall, the schooling is going well.  The introduction of technology into their homeschooling will not only be an incentive, but a wonderful teaching tool.  For Pookie, it will provide him with a voice.  It is his communication board.  Thankfully, even though we live off-grid, we will easily be able to keep their tablet batteries charged.  All it takes is a power inverter in our car.  LOL

By the end of this week, the kids will be back to their routine of using workboxes and doing a full day’s curriculum each day.  I can’t wait to get it back to where it should be.  Gratefully, the kids are ready too.

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