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Archive for July, 2014

One of the things that I have been finding to be really helpful for our son is the use of visual aids. When he is challenged with trying a new activity, a meltdown is usually imminent.  He has a fear response that he has to work through.  One of the ways that he expresses his distress is to let out a loud, high pitched scream.  In an effort to help him regulate his voice volume, I found this cute volume meter on E-Learning.

voice volume meter

Often used for autistic children, charts like this are just as effective in use with typical children who are not yet reading.  All children can use visual schedules to help stay on track with chores or home routines.  You can find these at E-Learning as well.  By using visual aids, you can bring independence to your children.

One of my favorite daily routine charts for kids is one made by Kathy at Cornerstone Confessions.  The free download gives you several options to choose from.

My Day

 

What are some of our favorite visual aids for autistic children?  Are there some that you find more helpful than others?

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After checking online for websites to make Pookie his own communication book, I stumbled upon a resource worth looking closely at. Melissa Toth, of “The Autism Adventures of Classroom 83”, designed a PECS Communication book starter set. This book, designed for students in her classroom, contains 27 pages and over 500 PECS picture cards. The book pages are tabbed to make locating each topic easier. Ms. Toth sells the book through her store at Teachers Pay Teachers.

This book is a 94 page PDF download of just over 55 MB in size.  Quite a hefty sized file for the price!  The download includes 2 versions of the same communication book.  The first version is a book with pages containing the pictures.  This version is perfect for those who cannot use the PECS picture cards yet due to fine motor delays or maybe a child who easily loses picture cards.  The second version has blank pages with the picture placement areas designated with borders.  The pictures cards are printed separately to be laminated and placed into the book using self-adhesive hook and loop tape.

For Pookie, I am choosing to print out one of each versions.  He will mainly use the one with removable picture cards.  The second will be a “back-up” book to have on hand when away from home.  This will help to eliminate the chance of cards being lost along the way.  Having the book without removable cards with us on field trips, such as our frequent trips to the zoo, will make life easier for all of us.

One option that Ms. Toth gives is that of having her customize the front cover for your child.  Upon request through email, she will add your child’s name and picture to the front cover.  Once done. she will email the cover to you for printing.  I contacted her with the picture and information already.  Within a few hours, I had a reply.  She asks for a couple of days to customize the cover, which is just fine by me.

When I spoke with Pookie’s speech therapist, she was excited about this book. It is one that she will be able to recommend for her other client families. At a price of $7.50, the cost of the book is very low considering the quality of the product you are receiving. It is not uncommon to find communication books for sale at a price over $50. To be able to purchase the PDF of the book makes it much easier later on to replace cards or pages that become lost or damaged from use.

What really makes this book special is that it is a great launching point for those new to using a picture communication system.  Often, it is easy to know what items to have pictures for.  The problem and confusion for parents however come in knowing what conversational cards you need as well as those that are useful for school and outings.  This book takes care of that for you.   Being homeschoolers, there are a few picture cards in the book that are not applicable to our lifestyle and homeschooling.  This brings up another reason why the version with removable cards can be a benefit.  You can simply leave out of the book any cards that are not needed.  Once you know the size of the cards, you can easily draw a graph of squares in that size on a word processing document.  Next, add into each square a picture that you may need.  One such example is the “people” page.  Instead of using the PECS style picture symbols to represent people that Pookie comes in contact with on a regular basis, I can add actual pictures of them.

Once printed out, the book pages will be heat laminated and cut out.  The book is set up with the spiral binding along the top edge.  If I find that we need extra pages, such as a page for religious activities, I will simply print out an extra blank page and make a tab in the correct spot.  A small sticker, such as a cross for a religious page, will provide the reference needed on the tab.

For the version with pictures printed on the book pages, you need only print the pages, heat laminate, cut out the pages, and bind.  This is as close to instant gratification that you can get!  If using the version with removable cards, you print the book pages and picture cards out, heat laminate everything, cut out, bind the book, then use hook and loop tape to add the pages to the book.  The sheets of picture cards are organized by the book page.

Here is a list of the categories that you will find in the communication book.

• Title page
• Yes/No
• All About Me
• I want ___
• I feel ___
• I want to play ___
• Let’s Chat
• People
• Describe
• Recess
• Questions
• Verbs
• Days
• Months
• Weather
• Art Time
• Lowercase Alphabet
• Uppercase Alphabet
• Numbers
• Hygiene
• Home things
• School things
• Food
• Breakfast
• Lunch
• Dinner
• Snacks

I highly recommend checking into this resource for a communication book.  Of all the options available online, this one is by far the most economical.  I have found online the binder style PECS books with about 150 picture cards and 6 pages to place into the binder priced at $ 103.00.  On websites such as Etsy, you can find books ranging from $45 and up.  The $45 books contain 80 PECS symbols.  These are a far cry from the over 500 PECS cards you get with the book download that I ordered.

I am so grateful to have found this resource.  I love the fact that with it being a download, I can print out extra sheets as needed to replace any that become worn or cards that may be lost.  This was a big selling point for me.  Unlike custom made books, like those sold online, I won’t have to buy anything extra to replace the cards, pages, or even the entire book should it become worn, lost, or damaged.

Check out the links above and see for yourself.  It is definitely worth a look for anyone needing a communication book.

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One of the greatest challenges that our son faces is going into stores or other public places where he is bombarded with stimuli. There is never a rhyme or reason to it. You cannot always predict when it will happen. Out of the blue, a place he has been to without issue previously will suddenly become the source of a case of overwhelming stimulation. Sometimes, I can predict when this will happen, but not always. For example, I know to never take him to a discount store, such as Walmart, during the holiday shopping frenzy just prior to Christmas. That can be overwhelming to a typical adult, let alone an autistic child. I often take the kids to the zoo on a day when the zoo has a lower number of visitors. This is due in a large part to the distress Pookie feels in large crowds. He becomes very nervous, easily frightened and stressed. Once in a while though, we will go on a normally quiet day only to find that a school or daycare center is having a field trip. On one such day, a group of kids ran past Pookie’s wheelchair with one child nearly running into it as they raced by. Pookie screamed in fright and immediately went into full meltdown. Luckily, we go there often enough that one of the workers saw what happened. He came over and quietly asked me to follow him. We ended up going into a quiet, shaded area that was empty and off the main walkways. Pookie was able to eventually calm down and was able to again enjoy his time at the zoo. This isn’t always the case. There are times when he will become stressed from anything from acoustics to the level of activity around him.

One thing that we have learned which helps is music. Pookie loves listening to music and often will start humming the tune. With some songs, he will begin to “sing” in his own sweet way using his babyish babble to the melody of the song. He is in tune enough that others can easily recognize the song he is singing. I am slowly adding music to my phone so that he will be able to listen to his favorites anytime he needs to. Another idea is to get him an mp3 player with headphones so that he will always have his music available.

It is really sweet to hear him when he does sing. Lately, he has been trying to hum/sing 3 different songs: “I Am” by David Crowder, “Overcomer” by Mandisa, and “God’s Not Dead” by Newsboys. He absolutely loves those songs! When he gets stressed, if I play one of them, he will calm down much faster than with anything else. It is fascinating to watch. He relaxes and his jerking, agitated stimming becomes gentler and slows.

Another of his favorites is a CD we have of the VeggieTales songs. He loves the VeggieTales. While at his therapy sessions, he will hum a song from the CD from time to time. It all depends on how stressed or challenged he is in the session. Last week, he became upset in his speech therapy session, shaking and clinging to me. His usual therapist is on vacation and another was working with him. Bless her heart, she got out her tablet and found a YouTube video of “Jesus Loves Me” and played it for him. It was just what he needed. He calmed and was able to finish the session. At one point, he began humming the song.

I find it amazing just how much music has become a coping tool for Pookie. We all love listening to music at home and in the car. Little did we realize just how much the music is aiding Pookie and giving him the ability to be in places that would otherwise cause him to shut down. With Pookie, he doesn’t always have the screaming meltdowns. Sometimes, he gets so stressed that he climbs into your lap with a tight grip on your shirt, and is shaking as he cuddles against you. He doesn’t scream until you try to move him. You basically have to sit and hold him, talking gently to him, until he has regained an ability to cope. During that time of stress however, he shuts down, ignoring any attempt by others to engage him. The only thing that distracts him enough to pull him out of that level of stress is music. Without it, you simply have to wait it out and keep talking quietly to him as you hold him close.

I am so grateful that music is helping Pookie to manage the over-stimulation around him when we are away from home. It has been a Godsend. I am also grateful to artists like David Crowder, Mandisa, and the Newsboys who record music that has become such a blessing to Pookie. As long as he has his music, he is able to be an “Overcomer” of the very limits that being over stimulated can bring. If I could, I would tell them personally just what a precious gift they have given our son. Through the music, doors are opened to him that would have been difficult for him before. He is learning to adapt to the world around him, step by step, with music gentling the path from a rough terrain to a gentler slope to climb. Thank the Lord for the music and those who share their talents to bring it to others.

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