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Posts Tagged ‘sensory’

Ever feel like you are homeschooling multiple age groups in spite of the fact you are only dealing with one child at that time?  Welcome to my world.

Little Miss is easy to homeschool.  She is a bright and articulate little girl who works at her age level or above, depending on the subject.  I can prepare her lessons and place them in her workboxes at night and she can move through the lessons with minimal assistance from me.  Not because the work is too easy, but because she is capable of reading instructions and following them.  Not so with Pookie.  He needs constant guidance.  I not only am teaching him, but I also serve as a motivator in keeping him on task.

One aspect of homeschooling a severely autistic child that no one seems to talk about is the multi-level teaching that you have to do.  Let me explain.  Pookie is 6 years old.  He is very smart and picks up new information very quickly.  One case in point being when I taught him the sign for the word “eat”.  Pookie was grunting and pointing at a snack that he wanted.  I knew what he was wanting, but chose to take this as a teaching moment.  I asked if he was hungry, using sign language as well as speech.  He smiled and I asked if he wanted to eat.  Again, I used both speech and signing.  He watched me and then got upset.  I think he realized that the grunt & point technique was not working anymore.  I took his hand and using a hand-over-hand method showed him the sign for eat.  He got mad and pointed again, this time with a stronger grunt that was on the verge of becoming a screech.  I told him to stop fussing and show me that he wanted to eat.  He then immediately did an approximated sign language gesture that closely mimics the gesture for “eat”.  At that point, I gave him his snack.

Seeing how quickly Pookie can learn, I know that he is a smart kid.  It took only a couple of his workbox assignments for him to do the visual schedule very well in working through the remaining workboxes.  Often, I have noticed that if being taught something that is never changing, such as North America’s location on a world map  always being the same continent, he learns very quickly.  Abstract and conceptual learning are tough however.  Those things are much more difficult for him to grasp.

This is where we reach the idea of teaching multi-level developmental stages.  On one hand, I am teaching Kindergarten to a child who is academically able to do most of the work.  In fine motor skills, this same child is only two years old in his developmental stage.  Mixed in between his developmental age and his chronological age, you have various levels of his development in all areas.  This has a profound affect on how I have to teach him.  It is like teaching several age levels all at the same time, in the same child.  Does any of this sound familiar to you parents who have a special needs child?

So, the big question becomes, how do I teach a child whose developmental and academic levels are all over the place?  Start by learning what teaching style your child needs.  Are they visual learners?  In the case of autistic children, many are able to learn best if taught using visual techniques.  Others may do best with hands-on or through listening to you read a story.  Pookie is a mixture.  In some areas, Pookie needs constant repetition, such as when learning phonics or other subjects that require a lot of memorization.  The question for me was what technique works best in providing that repetition.  I use two simple approaches in teaching Pookie.  The first is to provide as many hands-on or tactile projects as possible.  The second is the use of visual aids.

Let’s say that I want to teach a child about the continents and oceans.  One method would be to point to the map and slowly name each one, repeating the process until he can accurately locate them upon request.  Another is to provide several activities that each teach the same information but in different ways.  Again using the oceans and continents as an example, you could:

Print 2 maps, cutting out the continents and oceans from one of the maps. Have the child match the pieces on the other map.

Make labels of the names of the continents and oceans. Have him place the labels on the correct places on a map.

Make a match game using pictures of each continent and it’s name label.

Point out each continent or ocean out on a map and keep repeating the names until the child can accurately point to each as it is named.

Print out a worksheet or two that teach the names for the child to complete.

Using a tray of salt, have the child draw a continent with their finger.

Make a 3-dimensional map using air-dry clay

All of these methods, and many more than I didn’t mention, can teach a child the same information in various ways that maintain the child’s interest.  Including as many forms of sensory input will also help the child to retain the information.

In Pookie’s situation, the varied methods also address his developmental skills.  He receives sensory input that is very important for him.  He is able to practice many of the OT styled tasks that are similar to what his therapist does during his therapy sessions each week.  Each separate activity brings with it a new, fun way to learn as well as demonstrate knowledge.

Often, I will have 2-3 activities in one day that all teach the same information, but in different ways.  For example, in one workbox, I may have a matching game.   In a second workbox, a tracing activity.  In the third workbox, I might place a puzzle.  Three very different activities that all teach one topic.

It is a challenge sometimes to come up with new ideas for teaching Pookie.  It is worth every moment of planning though.  The progress that I see in him makes the time and effort well worth it.

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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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Sensory Afghan

Our son, Pookie, is obsessed with textures.  He loves the sensory input he received from them.  One of his favorite places to go is the carpet isle of Lowes.  He rubs his hands across the variety of swatches.

With that in mind, I dug out an old crochet booklet that I have had for several years.  I apologize for the lighting, took the picture by oil lamp light.  The book is called, ” 63 Easy-to-Crochet Pattern Stitches, Combine to Make an Heirloom Afghan”  by Leisure Arts.

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I am going to use the idea of a stitch sampler to crochet Pookie a textured afghan.  By using a variety of stitches and yarns, I will be able to make him a blanket that will not only keep him warm but provide sensory input that he craves.  I may make a smaller one as well for when he is in the car seat or we are away on an outing.

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Ever since our son’s diagnosis 3 years ago, Autism Awareness  has taken on a whole new dimension.  It isn’t that I were not already well aware of autism.  A dear friend has a daughter on the spectrum.  For me, personally, the focus on autism is more bitter than sweet.  I am speaking from our family’s experience.  Most people will not have had the same type of experience, thankfully, but it happens. 

When most people think of an autistic child, they think of the socially awkward kids who have a very high IQ.  Most people of my generation knew kids in school that were called nerds.  These same kids today would likely have been on the spectrum as Aspergers.  Not all, of course, but a good number of them.  The fact is, about 80% of all cases of autism spectrum that are diagnosed today are “spectrum” diagnosis (Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, etc).  The number of people diagnosed as Classic Autism (aka Infantile Autism, Autism Disorder, and Kanner’s Syndrome) only make up about 20% of the cases. 

It makes sense that the focus on research and treatment will be towards the larger number in the equation.  Most therapies that we have experienced with our son were geared more towards a moderate to high functioning child than to a child as low functioning as our son.  The therapists failed in their efforts because they were ill-equipped to work with him.  I have heard from others that in their locations, this isn’t the case.  I am glad to know that.  It is good to know that thre are low functioning kids being given whatever help they may need that the family cannot provide themselves.

There are nationally known organizations who have made their names on the autism awareness and research ideals.  We all can think of some.  During the month of April, they have fund raisers and there is a huge media presence.  The sad part is, true “autism awareness” is still far from the goal.  There is a growing awareness for Asperger’s and PDD-NOS.  I don’t begrudge the families that.  They need it.  The daily challenges of Asperger’s and PDD-NOS are just as real and tough for the families as our family faces.

What I would love to see one day is a true Autism Awareness.  Classic Autism, on which the spectrum is connected, is a completely separate disorder.  It cannot be cured through diet, supplements, or any of the other therapies out there.  It simply is what it is.  Yes, a healthy diet benefits us all.  If your child has a sensitivity to certain foods, then you should help them to avoid those foods.  That is common sense.  To berate a parent because they haven’t taken their child to every snake oil sam out there to search for a cure is hateful.  Each family has to do what they feel is in the best interest of their own child.  I know many will argue that their Aspie child is autistic.  Have you ever paid attention to the actual criteria that separates the two?  The panel of specialists who diagnosed our son were very clear with us and further research on our part backed it up.  The child with classic autism disorder is developmentally delayed to a degree past what an Aspie may be.  In our son’s case, there were markers that they used which were very telling.  To today, he still is markedly delayed in his development.  He doesn’t speak beyond the babble that a 6-8 month old may do.  He is unable to feed or dress himself.  He is unable to use a toilet, though we are working on that one.  He often needs to be comforted as you would a young toddler, needing rocked or cuddled to be comforted in a situation that overwhelms him.  In many ways, where his physical development is concerned, he is more like a young toddler than a child 5 years old. 

The prognosis for our son is that he will always be behind his peers in development.  Nearly 80% of kids with Classic Autism never develop an ability to communicate through speech.  They may have a few choice words or phrases, but they cannot effectively communicate through verbal means.  Most who have Classic Autism spend their entire life having to live with a relative or in some other situation where they can be given the aid that they need.  The chance of him being able to live on his own as an adult and support himself is no where near as good as it is for an Aspie or PDD-NOS diagnosis.  There is always a chance that he will, but the reality is that he will always need some degree of assistance.

These are the cases of Autism that people rarely, if ever, hear about.  The Autism Awareness that is so well known would be better named if it were called “Asperger’s Awareness” or “PDD-NOS Awareness” instead. 

Our family doesn’t support any of the Autism Awareness organizations.  Nor do we encourage anyone else to.  I refuse to support an organization who told me on the phone that the best thing we could do for our son it to place him in a facility and walk away.  (Yes! I was told that within a month of our son’s diagnosis)

What we do encourage is to have people become educated on what Autism and the Autism Spectrum diagnosis criteria are.  Learn what you can about it so that you can understand should you meet someone on the spectrum.  Learn what supports the family needs.  As a parent of an autistic child, something as simple as a stranger being understanding when my son is crying in terror in a busy store or not pull their child from my son’s vicinity when he starts flapping his hands.  Education can breed compassion & understanding.  Above all, that is what we all need.

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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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I have been looking at more ideas on ways to help our son to be able to communicate what he is learning.  One method that I am looking at is the flannel board activities.  It seems to be a natural progression to me.  It would provide not only the method to practice & communicate information learned, but adds a sensory activity through touch.

I did a quick search online and found a very fast & easy project on the Dr. Jean & Friends blog.  On the blog, she shows how to make a mini flannel board out of a file folder.  In simple terms, she turns the file folder into a pocket to store the flannel board figures with the outside of the folder being the flannel board.  I won’t post instructions since she has a wonderfully simple tutorial with pictures at the link above.

I am looking at her idea in a couple of ways.  Often, we have need for various colors of background.  For our son, there may be times when a brightly colored background may be distracting.  In that situation, a neutral color background may be best.  Yet there are times when making the scene from a story that the colors can be brighter.

The flannel board figures can be stored in a binder until needed.  Place a labeled sheet of cardstock into a sheet protector with the figures.  When needed for a lesson, the figures can be removed from the sheet protector and placed into the flannel board file folder’s pocket.

I am now searching for ideas of activities.  My mind is spinning with what I am wanting to make, just wanting to see what printables I can find to turn into the flannel board figures.  Print the items to be made into flannel board figures onto cardstock, color if necessary, laminate, then add the rough side of adhesive-backed Velcro onto the back of the figures and you’re done.

Looking at the various free file folder activities available, these would easily be made into flannel board activities.  There are so many available.  By turning the file folder games into flannel board activities, you avoid having to buy so many file folders to make the games.  Storage of the figures in baggies or in sheet protectors in a binder will take up far less space than my file folder game collection is taking currently.  I may simply get a few pizza boxes from the local pizza shop to turn into stackable storage boxes that can be labeled by subject.

 

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We are in our 2nd week of using Heart of Dakota’s Little Hands To Heaven preschool/Pre-K curriculum, but I wanted to share what we are doing with Pookie. First, for those who are new to my blog, let me give you a bit of background so that you may understand why we made certain adaptations. Our son, age 4, has a very low-functioning level of classic autism disorder. He is nonverbal, even after 2 years of speech therapies. Unlike a typical child, he never developed the pincer movement and has difficulty using his fingers to pick up or hold objects. He has to “palm” or use his fist to pick up and hold objects. Due to the lack of pincer movement and a sensory issue with objects in his hands, he is unable to feed himself or to even drink from a cup without aid. This is complicated with a weak muscle issue that he was born with. Though he will be 5 in early spring, he is cognitively between 18 months and 2 years of age.  We do not believe this to be accurate as the testing requires him to be able to answer or perform in ways that he is physically unable to do at this time. With that in mind, I want to share how we did a few of the activities.

Reading to Pookie is always fun. He loves to be read to.  When I get a book from the bookcase, he quickly goes to the couch and waits for me without being asked to do so.  I read the Bible and other stories to him, pointing out the pictures. After reading a story, I go through the pictures a second time. I point to each one, naming them. I then ask him to show me a specific item at which time he will point to that object in the picture.  This gives me a clear indication of that part of his understanding.

One art project involved drawing on paper with a crayon, then washing it with black paint. Because he is unable to hold the crayon on his own, I lightly held his fingers in the proper position to hold the crayon. He guides the movement of the crayon, while I simply aid him in not dropping the crayon. This worked out very well. Painting the black wash over the crayon markings was easy for him to do on his own. I have a set of paint brushes with a knob styled handle that is easier for him to grip.  He liked watching as he brushed the black paint over the crayon markings.  The black paint didn’t stick to the crayon, so the colors shown through.

A fingerplay activity is done in a hand-over-hand method. I have him sit next to me.  I recite the words as I guide his hands to do the motions. This is the same method that I am using to teach him sign language. In time, he will be able to make the motions on his own, but for now, it is a way to teach them.

The circle activity for math was done in a slightly different way than the lesson manual suggested. I wanted the activity to also serve a sensory & fine motor skill developmental function to aid in building his fine motor skills. The activity was themed on  circles & colors. Using his paint dauber (bingo marker type) he drew his circles. For this, I have to lightly hold my hand below his forearm to support his arm as he uses the dauber. He made circles in several colors. Next, he sorted colored pom-poms by placing them inside of the circles with matching colors, red pom-poms in the red circle, etc.

The letter “A” activity had to be changed to something within his ability. I put some rice into a shallow dish and guided his hand to draw the letter A in the rice with his finger. On a piece of paper, I wrote the “A” and “a” with a dashed line between on art paper so that he could do it with his paint dauber.

One day, the lesson manual called for using a caterpillar activity.  The suggested activity was not within the abilities of Pookie, so I adapted it.  We made caterpillars by gluing pom-poms onto a piece of cardstock in the caterpillar shape. I bent a pipe clearer to make the antennae for him and using a q-tip, he put paint on one pom-pom to make the eyes.

An activity teaching the numeral 1, which involved cutting was completely out of his ability, so again, we used paints.  The activity was to cut out 1 tree to glue to the page for the numeral 1.  Instead of the cutting activity, I painted his hand and wrist brown (this is another sensory activity to aid him in his sensory issues) and helped him make a handprint on art paper. After washing his arm & hand, he used paint daubers to make colored leaves on his tree.

I am thrilled that the Heart of Dakota curriculum is so easy for me to adapt.  Pookie loves his lessons.  I am seeing that the one thing he loves to do above all else is to paint.  Who knows?  They say that autistic children have one or two areas that they excel at.  Maybe this is the beginnings of one of his.

It is such a blessing to find a curriclum that is not laden with worksheets or other activities that would set Pookie up for failure.  Even in the work that Little Miss is doing in her lessons, I am already seeing where minor adjustments may need to be made for Pookie later on when e is at that level.  I am so glad that we were guided to it.

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