Monday, November 17, 2008
Kathleen asks Tom what the object is on the page, and Tom replies "that's just a toothbrush."
"And what do you do with a toothbrush?"
"Well, when it's bedtime I go upstairs, and then I go into the bathroom. And then I brush my teeth. And I use my toothbrush to brush my teeth."
"What goes with a toothbrush?"
"Well, when I brush my teeth I use my strawberry toothpaste."
It's the long winded approach, but it gets where it's going. But now try this on for size. Kathleen asked Tom what foods he likes to eat. We got into a conversation about trying new foods, and he said "I don't like trying new foods."
"But sometimes," I said, "you like trying new foods. Like garlic bread. You liked garlic bread."
"Yes," said Tom. "This summer we went on a whale watch. We went to Provincetown, and the waves were huge. I felt scared, and I was crying. Some people threw up!" (Here I tried to interrupt to get him back on course, but Kathleen stopped me)
"But after the whale watch," Tom went on, "we went into the town. I saw the pirate museum, and I wanted the pirate toy. But I didn't get it. But then we went to the candy store, and we went to the restaurant. And I wanted pizza. But Dad said, I have something neeew you might like. And he said try this bread. And it was garlic bread. And I liked it!"
A ha! At the very end of the shaggy dog story, there was the garlic bread - safe and sound, and really foremost in his mind after all. Who would have guessed? You'd think I would have worked it out, but today I was surprised again.
We were at Kathleen's and Tom pulled out a toy I'd never seen - a little turkey-like plastic bird. I asked where he'd got it, and he went off on a long riff about picking things up off the ground and why we don't like him to do it, and how he feels about that... and on and on...
"But Tom - where did you get THAT bird?" I asked again.
"Well, when I lived in Pennsylvania, I went to pony camp."
"Yes, you did - but - "
"And my favorite horse was Scooby. And there were lots of different animals living there. There were pigs, but they weren't pink. They sometimes got angry. And there were goats. Do you know what goats like t eat? They like crab apples. And grass. And there were sheep. The sign outside the sheep pen said 'baa baa black sheep.' And there was Fred the Rabbit. I liked to feed him. And sometimes we went inside the barn, and had lunch. And that's where I found this toy."
Now, I know I am somewhat directive in my style, which is something I have to work on. But I have to say it never occured to me in my wildest dreams that Tom's long winded, totally off-topic wanderings weren't off topic wanderings at all, but rather shaggy dog stories with a point and a purpose. I guess it just goes to show what you can learn if you stop assuming you know what's going on, and actually pay attention.
Lesson - mostly - learned.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
As part of our birding unit, Tom and I went to the local beach with a camera at lowish tide to see what we could find in the way of bird tracks. As you can see, we found a lot more than we counted on! In addition to tracks, we also discovered (on the tidal marsh side of the road) a whole colony of what I believe are fiddler crabs: crabs that dig holes, and have one huge claw. Mighty cool indeed.
Once we found and photographed these tracks, I cut and pasted them into a word document. Then I added lines beneath each photo, and asked Tom to write captions.
So... can you figure out what made all these tracks? Any ideas about what was going on?
Sunday, November 2, 2008
We've had Tommy meet with a math tutor once a week, because I thought it was important to supplement TouchMath, which is calculation-oriented, with some content on number sense (focusing on the purpose of the calculations in real life, but also on non-calculation skills like graphing, understanding the concept of multiples, etc.). In conversation with our tutor, I said,
"I know Tom can multiply - but I don't think he has any idea of how to USE multiplication. I'm not even sure he fully understands that 6X3 is the same as 3X6, or the same thing as six groups of three."
"Actually," she replied, "lots of people don't understand that. I'm not sure I fully understood that until I was in high school."
We went candlepin bowling, as usual on Saturday. As usual, Tom spoke to no one, and threw the ball two-handed (instead of the usual way, with one hand). He did well: around 70 points. Naturally, I wanted him to interact; to throw the ball "right;" to keep his eye on the scoring screen to know when his turn was up. In other words, I wanted him to act "normal."
But while he was doing his thing, another boy just his age was throwing a temper tantrum. I mean, a real doozy. Another boy his age was rolling the ball - and then rolling on the ground himself. These were not "special needs" kids: they were twelve-year-old boys who are NOT on the autism spectrum.
Later this week, I was talking with Tom's speech therapist.
"I just don't think he fully grasps the ideas of same and different or bigger/smaller," I said. "I mean, he can tell you three ways in which a swan is different from an eagle - but he can't tell you whether six is bigger than nine."
"But he could tell you if you put it differently. For example, if you said 'I have six toys and you have nine toys. Who has more toys?"
She went on to ask whether Tom had trouble in changing his schedule, based on our unpredictably changing job requirements. I responded that he really didn't - he's not an especially rigid person.
"That's huge!" she exclaimed. "Most kids have a very hard time when their routine is disrupted."
Last night, my husband Peter and a local selectman put on a "star party" (observing the moon and planets through telescopes) right down town in front of the library. I stayed briefly, but the kids hung out. One man said to me "wow - I never knew Jupiter had stars around it!" "Those are moons," I replied without thinking.
Y'know, Tom knows all about the moons of Jupiter. He can also name all the planets in order, and describe each. Hm..
Today, I took Tom, Sara, and a friend of hers for a little expedition. We went to a state park, and started exploring a trail. Within about a hundred feet, we knew we weren't on a "real" trail, but both my kids saw a quarry and wanted to check it out. The friend, who is very neurotypical indeed, was scared to stray off the trail - and almost burst into tears with anxiety. As we turned back, Tom wanted to know what the problem was. Why was Sara's friend crying? All he and Sara wanted to do was explore!
Later in the day, we took another path to the "sliding rock." It's a big boulder you can climb and slide down. My kids scampered to the top and slid without thinking twice. Sara's friend wouldn't even think of climbing to such a height. A perfectly reasonable anxiety - but one Tom has never shared.
This week, I also heard from a friend of mine. She has a 13 year old who is truly the perfect kid. He's tall, handsome, a fine athlete, a brilliant student - and a really delightful human being. Not only that, but so far as I can tell he's never had a pimple! I asked how he was. "Where do I start? " she said. "Well, Joey's been diagnosed with OCD. He got to the point where his rituals took two hours a day to complete, and what with traveling soccer four days a week and advanced high school classes, he just couldn't get through everything. So now he's seeing a therapist..."
Tom is, of course, my first child. I have no close nieces, nephews or neighbor children to compare him to. All I really know, as a result, is that he's twelve, and autistic. I know that some 12 year olds can stay home alone, call friends, make their own play dates, even pick up younger siblings at friends' homes. Tom could no more do those things than fly. But he CAN... evidently... do a great many other things that are beyond the reach of his typical peers.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
On the day she stayed home, we were planning a "bird beaks" lesson based on the recommended activity in the KONOS curriculum. It involved finding household items that resemble various different kinds of beaks, and foods (or non-foods) that resemble tasty bird treats - and then experimenting to figure out which kind of beak (and bird) works best with which food item.
We made spaghetti to simulate worms and used peanut butter to stand in for mud... found some unpopped popcorn for seed... tossed some uncooked rice on a plate to be bugs... and so forth. The kids had a great time with tongs, tweezers, and other "beaks," trying to grab each type of food. As they decided which type of food went with which type of beak, we then looked through our bird guides to find real-life examples of the birds, beaks, and food.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
We got an hour of indoor instruction (feathers under a microscope, mix and match food and bird game, exploration of birds and their beaks). Tom was distracted by an exhibit of eggs and skeletons, but managed to tune in to check out an owl feather under the microscope.
Following the indoor presentation, we hiked a bit around some ponds (just a few birds here and there) and then walked down to a fabulous spot on the tidal marsh facing Sandy Neck (a strip of pristine beach that sticks out into Cape Cod Bay). We had a chance to try out a real spotting scope and watch osprey on their nest - but the real highlights were the crabs and insects we discovered right next to the boardwalk!
Saturday, October 11, 2008
I am grappling with this question this week - in part because I simply can't figure out whether the problem is conceptual or semantic. Obviously, Tom can tell the difference between, say, a peanut butter sandwich and a cat. He can even tell you, when asked, the differences between summer and winter, oceans and lakes, and so forth.
He knows that birds belong to the same group - and that the bird group is different from the reptile group.
When I place two equations in front of him - say 7 +2 and 2 +7 - he can handily tell you that each adds up to 9.
When I ask him - "So - do 7+2 and 2+7 add up to the same thing?" He looks at me confused and says "I don't know... um... no."
"But - they both add up to nine."
"And nine is the same thing as nine, right?"
"I don't know..."
"Look, Tom, here's 2 + 7 using the cuisinaire rods. And here's 7 +2. Can you place them one on top of the other?" (He does - and they are identical in length.)
"Are they the same length?"
"I don't know... no."
"Tom! Look at them! They are exactly the same length!"
"OK, I tell you what, show me two rods that are different." (He pulls out a blue and a red rod.)
"These are different."
"Yes, they are. Now show me two the same." (He pulls out two reds.)
"These are the same."
"Right. So... are these two rods (7+2) the SAME length as those two rods (2+7)?"
OK, folks, is Tom just playing dumb? Am I using the wrong words? Or is he truly not grasping what looks to me to be the most basic of concepts? SOMEthing is going haywire here!!
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Early on, we established that breaks would be ten minutes long. I showed him how to set the timer, and told him he could take the timer upstairs to his room so long as he listened for the alarm and let us know when it was time to start work again.
This worked beautifully for a few weeks. He mastered the skill of setting the alarm, and did a terrific job of letting us know it was time to get back to work.
Then, he started trying to negotiate for more time - fifteen, minutes, or maybe twenty. When we were firm, he started making the changes himself, and mentioning them to no-one.
Just yesterday, my husband Peter and I were exchanging notes, and Peter mentioned that Tom had actually reset the timer for 25 minutes... and that, since Peter had gone back to work (in his office) during the break, he really hadn't noticed the passage of time until he looked up at the clock!
At first, we commiserated, saying "how frustrating is that? We've really got to pay more attention to the time ourselves."
Then, we realized what a huge leap Tom had taken. Not only had he really, truly mastered the idea of measuring increments of time - he had also mastered the concept of RELATIVE increments of time (20 minutes is longer than 10 minutes), and he had worked out how to MEASURE a longer increment of time. Even more impressive, he had figured out how to manipulate his own schedule by SECRETLY changing the setting on the timer - a big jump in terms of "theory of mind." He knew we weren't paying attention, and that he thus had the power to make changes secretly, and change the schedule to his own benefit.
Having finally noticed the significance of this change, I then realized that he'd made other "silent" leaps that we'd essentially ignored. For example, he's decided to learn to bowl one-handed - entirely on his own - and while it's tough for him, he's persevering. He's noticing the emotions of other kids in the bowling league, and when one boy was upset we talked about the clues that showed us "upset" (red eyes, for one). Tom then remembered that HIS eyes had been red when HE'd been upset! He was also able to identify that a girl telling her friend to "shut up!" was just fooling around - because of the tone of her voice (which he was able to imitate).
Homeschool gym and "Hot Jazz" (afterschool jazz ensemble) are also a real breeze this year. Tom's joining in, paying attention, and generally connecting with the experiences being offered. While he still isn't really chatting with anyone else, he IS doing pratfalls, acting silly, taking his turn, smiling a lot - all wonderful social skills.
These changes are really pretty exciting - and seem to bode well for this year. Right now, I'm also considering a change in his clarinet teacher. He's working with a wonderful musician who was also the dean of a college music education department - and while it's good to be working hard on the basic skills of music and rhythm reading and execution, it isn't much fun. At this point, it seems to me that Tom should be focusing more on the idea of music as a way to express himself, join in with others, and generally find a place in the world - and less on sight reading and musical theory.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
When we purchased the KONOS "attentiveness" kit, which includes a unit on birds, one big reason was that the kit contains an Owl Pellet Dissection Kit (which, it turns out, are available on Amazon!). Tom has always been fascinated with owls, and of course owl pellets contain all the "left-over" materials not digested by the bird after it gobbles its prey (eg bones, fur, etc.). We thought dissecting a pellet would be a great activity - not only because it's bird-related, but because it really builds those beginning science skills of observation and manipulation of tools.
It turned out the owl pellet was a hit - but the dissecting tools were too much for Tom at this point. That's because his fine motor skills are somewhat delayed (part of the autism, I suppose) - so that holding the pellet with pincers and then pulling it apart was tough. As a result, it was up to Dad to actually "unpack" the pellet and place it, on white paper, under a folding desktop magnifying glass.
Under the glass, Tom was intrigued to find bits and pieces of a real mouse skeleton (though his sister was completely grossed out!). We also found a huge amount of mouse fur, and other miscellaneous jetsam. Evidently, Tom was already versed in owl digestion (who knew? it was probably in a video or TV show he saw) - because he was immediately able to explain what he was looking at, why it was in the pellet, and how owls eat and then excrete their leavings.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Interestingly, to me, many of the exhibitors were very focused on selling us on "what boys like," on skill building, and so forth. I found myself, more than usual, aware that my child was NOT like most boys... that he ISn't a skilled engineer-in-training, or "loaded with energy," or any of the usual stereotypes. In fact, he spent a fair amount of time in the exhibit hall engaging with soft animal pelts... blech.
Not to complain, because he really did do a great job, and enjoyed the one program we did attend (weaving). But I did find myself continually looking at "cool" programs (US Constitution for Kids, Exchange City, Invention Camp, Challenger Space Programs) and saying to myself "too abstract... too group-oriented... too focused on fine motor... too this that or the other."
It feels strange, because honestly I've felt - at home - that Tom's doing a great job, developing all kinds of skills, and really progressing. Yet out there in the "real" world, where typical kids are more common than those with autism, it's still a pretty rocky road.
On the up side, I got lots of ideas - not only for homeschooling, but also for marketing my new unit studies materials!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
In our case, it may not be 50-50 proposition, but it's closer to 40-60 than most.
It's true that I'm in charge of developing and putting together most of the curriculum materials and overall concepts. But day to day, Peter and I split things up. We can do this because we're both self-employed - which means both of us are flexible, and neither of us gets time off.
The "up" side of this arrangement is that Tom has an extraordinary education. I'm the linear teacher, dedicated to building specific skills; creating logical sequences of content; ensuring that we cover all our bases; setting up tutors and field trips. Peter is the inventive, serendipitous teacher - dipping into unexpected areas of interest because they just happen to come up. He's the one who got Tom excited about building a giant marble maze; he's the one who gets hands-on with animal skeleton and such.
The "down" side of this arrangement is that neither Peter nor I get a real break - EVER. If we're not working, we're teaching. If we're not teaching, we're maintaining the house, cooking meals, shopping, going to Sara's "back to school" night, or preparing lessons for tomorrow. Of course, not all of this is a grind: homeschooling often entails tramping the woods, combing the beaches, or going swimming! Still, though, there's no option for down time until about 10 at night.
Meanwhile, there's the anxiety related to being self-employed. On the one hand- no one employer can leave us high and dry. On the other hand - any ONE of our employers can demand attention at any moment. And, of course, you never know when a contract may dry up (one biggie suddenly got put on hold, putting our schedules into a brief freaked out tizzy!).
Tom, meanwhile, sits at the eye of our hurricane. For a kid with autism, he does surprisingly well with constantly-changing teachers and schedules. But I sometimes wonder how much time he spends wondering and worrying about what's going to happen tomorrow!
Last year, we developed the idea of focused trash collecting. We told Tom he could pick up red, white and blue trash, to be used in the creation of a "found art" representation of an American Flag. We painted a piece of plywood black, drew an outline of a flag in chalk, and started gluing. We entered the flag in the Barnstable County Fair 4-H art exhibition - and it won a prize!
This year, we started out by collecting feathers. Thanks to Tom's eagle eye, we found quite a variety, including the soft downy kind that help birds stay warm and the big, waterproof kind that cover wings.
Then, following some ideas suggested in the KONOS bird unit, we explored our feather collection. Peter (my husband) and Tommy sorted them, and compared them to photos. Peter had Tom use a magnifying glass to look closely at the quills and barbs, and a spray bottle to wet the feathers and watch the water roll off. Tom also drew the feathers and labelled the various parts.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Homeschool gym is a sort of substitute for ordinary school gym, only much more interesting. Kids spend about an hour in gym-type activities - but in this case they include things like... ultimate frisbee, rock climbing - things you might actually WANT to do. No "president's fitness test" here. After the first hour, you get changed and get a 1/2 hour swim lesson follow by free swim (including time on the water slide!).
One of the nicest things that happened this time around is that a woman I know locally brought her autistic 11 year old to join the group. This is a boy who, I thought, might have a tough time. Certainly his mom was concerned. But lo and behold, he had a terrific time! Not only did he join in as he could, but no one said a word (beyond encouragement) when he chose NOT to join in.
This mom thought perhaps the fact that the instructors were men might have made a difference. I suspect she's right. Tom, who has NEVER cared for group sports, jumped right into soccer (of all things!). He ran, kicked, and even threw the ball back in when it went out of bounds. His pratfalls were also a hit: everyone giggled when he "hit the wall" and pretended to slide down to the floor!
Friday, September 12, 2008
To start out with, though, we decided to read The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. It's a wonderful classic, and is terrific for vocabulary, narrative and character. What's more (and I had forgotten this), the protagonist, Sam Beaver, is surprisingly similar to Tom in many ways.
Having read the first few chapters of the book, in which Sam is sitting quietly on a rock with his field glasses, watching the swans swim around a pond, we went for a nature hike. The idea was just to enjoy the lovely weather and collect a few feathers.
Well, here is Tom - sitting on a rock, using his binoculars, and watching a swan on the lake! Turned out there were actually THREE swans on this little lake... amazing!
Monday, September 8, 2008
Last year, I set out to find homeschooling resources and units that I could put to use right away. I was looking for multidisciplinary, multisensory kits, containing books, DVDs, games, and hands-on materials for the arts and sciences. I'm not a Christian homeschooler, so I was looking for secular content. I found science kits. I found art kits. I found downloads and printables. But nowhere could I find a secular, multisensory, multidisciplinary themed unit full of great "stuff" to put to immediate use in our homeschool.
So... I started creating my own unit studies. My idea was to create units that engage an "out of the box" learner, who takes in information not only through words but also through eyes, ears, hands, and imagination.
I quickly realized that I was building just the kinds of units that I myself had been looking for. Even better, through my blog I was also describing just how we used those units, and what we added to off-the-shelf materials to enrich our homeschool experience.
A few weeks ago, I started building an Amazon.com "A-Store" where I could make all the unit studies materials we've used available to homeschoolers. Embedded in the store is information about what we did and how we did it - though of course there's much more information (and photos) about our adventures here on the blog.
So far, I've set up the store to offer all-you-need units on...
- Colonial America
- The Wampanoag Indians (Thanksgiving)
- The Human Body
You can get to my A-store by clicking on this link or on the ads at the top of this blog.
Let me know what you think of my A-store! If you like it, please let your friends know it's here - and that it's growing! If you see places where it can be improved, please let me know that too.
Thanks so much!
Friday, September 5, 2008
We picked up a few items - velcro for our new schedule cards, magazine racks, a weekly and monthly dry-erase calendar, pencils, and so forth. More importantly, we bought a big crate in which to put all of last year's materials (including wall art, timelines, and poster presentations). It was time to clear the decks for a new year.
After all the old stuff was off the walls and stowed away, Tom and I made a list of all the categories of activities we had in mind for the year. Then we put a number next to the category to indicate how often we'd do each activity per week (Reading - 5, and so forth). Then we made up the right quantity of cards for each activity. This year, we decided to color-code - so we could find the cards more easily. So reading and writing are pink, math is green, etc. Lastly, we put velcro patches on the back of each card, so that it could be mounted on our schedule.
Once that was complete (and we'd had lunch), we started filling in our monthly and weekly calendars. My hope is that, by using all these scheduling tools, Tom will get a better sense of how time flows, and how to think about and schedule activities and projects. Of course, in week one things were pretty loosey goosey - but starting next week, lots of outside activities will start up, and the calendar will become more complex.
These Dry-Erase calendars make it easy for us to see what's coming up - and for Tom to get a better sense of how time flows, and how to think about planning ahead.
We stuck the calendars up on the sliding doors (too little wall space for a homeschool, really...), and then figured out our schedules for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (knowing a cousin would arrive on Friday afternoon!).
The space was all ready - and, it being the first day of homeschool, it seemed to me we'd done enough. So we set off for a "nature hike" down to the harbor. I stuck a baggie in my pocket, keeping in mind that we're starting our Birds unit - and lo and behold, we found several feathers to stow away for the future.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
I've written up our plan for the school district and submitted it according to regulations. So far, no response - but I figure no news is good news.
We've got all our Touchmath books ready to go. Our tutor hasn't given us a time yet - but it's early days, right?
We've got our first novel picked out for reading: "The Trumpet of the Swan" by EB White. I picked it out to go with our unit on birds (and, to be honest, because A - I have my own copy and B- EdHelper has a literature review unit on it that I can just print and use for reading comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling!).
I've got a lot of writing materials set up - though I suspect we'll go slow on writing to start with. I want to get Tom going on keyboarding, and though we have a new software program to teach keyboard, NONE of us has tried it yet!
Our first multidisciplinary unit is on Birds. I'm using the KONOS birds kit as a jumping off place, but I suspect we'll get quite creative. To start with, we'll do a KWL (what we know, what we want to know, what we learned) chart, and we'll use it as a tool for planning. Meanwhile, I'm trying to get either Mass Audubon or a local birding group to offer an "intro to birding" for a group of homeschoolers... so far, nothing. I have an Eyewitness video on birds and am just about to get hold of a few books and other resources. We'll go search for feathers; take photos of birds in the area; probably investigate bird families...
We've also signed up for candlepin bowling... homeschool gym at the Y (though I'm not sure it'll meet...), and we're waiting to hear about clarinet lessons and ensemble options. Of course we'll continue with speech therapy too... and perhaps start implementing some RDI elements into our program. Certainly I want to give Tom more responsibility for managing his time and getting more independent - I'm thinking that just giving him a timer and creating a schedule on paper (in addition to the velcro schedule) will help.
In reading this over, I realize that I'm taking on an awful lot - and there's an awful lot still up in the air. But I'm not too freaked out ... YET! After all, this is pretty much what we were doing last year, and it worked out just fine... And if it's too much, we can always scale back.
Not sure if this is a plus or a minus, but it seems that I'm really excited about learning about all this new stuff. I can't wait to learn how to go birding... how to paint like Monet... or to design my own totem pole. Hmm... Who is this homeschool program supposed to be for, anyway?!!
Power By Ringsurf
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Power By Ringsurf
Friday, August 22, 2008
Math - Upper Level Touchmath + weekly tutoring
Reading - List of 6th grade novels; reading comprehension with Edhelper.com
Writing - Eclectic - Writing Strands, Edhelper materials, etc.
Music - Clarinet (and possibly piano) lessons, some kind of ensemble program
Art - Mostly built into unit studies
PE - Tennis, bowling, hiking, cycling
Units (history/geog/science) - Birds, Impressionism, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, North/South Poles, Water, The American West, Sound/Music
We (Tom and I) were lucky enough to discover a discounted cuisinaire rod set, a set of science materials and a KONOS kit with all kinds of cool stuf inside, and it inspired me to search Ebay for homeschool goodies. I've already ordered a pile of videos - but am surprised at how little seems to be available that's anything like the KONOS box. Somehow, I expected homeschoolers to be out there creating amazing kits full of wonderful art materials, science stuff, explorations... But it all seems to be books, software and videos with an occasional lapbook or something added for good measure.
For all you veteran homeschoolers out there - what's great?? And what's especially great for a kid who needs lots of inspiration when trying to stay on task doing anything with his two hands? I'm collecting Usborne and DK books and videos... using Edhelper and Enchanted Learning online, and of course making good use of all kinds of local programs, events and resources. But with all that, I'm kinda feeling uninspired, and hoping to find some great hands-on kits.
Am I missing something terrific??
Power By Ringsurf
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Dangerous Dan the pirate hauls up the "buried" treasure, which was marked with a floating X
Tom watches as Sara holds up the key to the treasure.
If anyone reading this blog happens to be in Hyannis, MA during the summer, make a point of checking out the Pirate Adventure ship on Ocean Dock. This probably isn't for every kid on the autism spectrum - but for us, it was an absolutely terrific experience.
The boat is a real boat, outfitted like a pirate vessel. The pirates are three charming Irishmen (according to them, Irishmen make the best pirates!). The experience was timed down to the minute - and not only were the kids, ages 2-12, engaged for the entire hour and a half, but they also learned something about maps, points of the compass, landmarks... and water cannons.
The boat took off exactly on time, but since we had been asked to turn up half an hour early there was time to choose a pirate vest and get a painted-on "tatoo." On board, the "pirates" immediately provided the kids with clear rules and directions that kept them focused and on task ("all hands on deck" means gather in the bow and put your hands on the floor; "look out positions" means stand on low benches along the rail and look out to sea; and so forth).
There was a storyline that involved real, honest-to-goodness experiences - a "bad" pirate on a sailboat who was squirted with cannons but later was taken aboard as his ship had begun to "sink." A real "treasure" that was found with the aid of a legitimate map of the area. Real flags to be raised and lowered.
Tom, at 12, was the oldest child on the boat - and by far the tallest. But that really didn't matter. He was a little anxious with so many kids around (maybe 20 kids), and not quite sure what to make of the squirting water. But overall he was engaged, took part in almost every aspect of the adventure, and talked about it with real understanding afterwards. Sure, he got overexcited here and there - but wow, what a great time.
I think it was the combination of clear structure, kind actors, and the intrinsic interest of the experience that made it work for Tom. Put it on your list if you're on the Cape anytime soon!
Power By Ringsurf
Yesterday, he and I were at the tennis facility watching sister Sara in her group lesson. I was chatting with Tom, asking him whether he, too, might soon be ready to learn in a group. He got quite upset at the idea, and explained that he JUST wanted to play with Scott. He didn't want any groups, and he didn't want to play with anyone else.
I asked why.
"Because other kids might want my toys!"
"But, Tommy, you don't play with toys on a tennis court. Just balls and racquets!"
"They might say hi to me!"
"Yes, they might. Is that ok?"
We went back and forth on this, me explaining that ALL you have to do when someone says "hi" is say "hi" back - and you're done! No need for long conversations - especially on a tennis court, where you're far apart from one another anyway. Finally, in frustration, I told Tom that at some point he would HAVE to play with other people besides the pro, because we just couldn't afford to give him private tennis lessons for the next ten years! Either that, or quit tennis.
He made it clear that he did NOT want to quit.
I have some ideas for scaffolding tennis - perhaps I'll ask the pro about a teenager who'd be willing to play with Tom as a paid "buddy;" maybe I'll pay for some semi-private lessons with Sara... but that's not really what's bothering me.
My question is - what's so scary about saying "hi"? Is it the possibility that someone might then take the conversation to the next step and say something like "what's your name?" Is this social anxiety (a psychological issue) or is it just a feeling of uncertainty (something we can address through social stories and practice)?
When we do practice social interactions, by the way, the result is the same: Tom acts as if I'm a new kid he's anxious about, and refuses to interact! Great method acting, but not especially helpful in the long run...
Power By Ringsurf
Sunday, August 17, 2008
I decided to try to teach him to ride a bike.
We tried on grass. He fell. The grass was wet. He melted down completely.
We tried on a tennis court. He fell. He didn't even scratch a pinky. He melted down completely, burst into tears, stamped his feet, and ran away.
Now, we COULD try training wheels - but with a 5 foot tall 12 year old??
We COULD quit, but we have a 12-mile long bike trail going in just down the road, and it'll be a fabulous route through tidal marshes, woods, cranberry bogs... I am NOT going to miss out on that, and I want Tom to enjoy it too.
Any thoughts much appreciated!
Power By Ringsurf
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Now, the folks at the ticket office DID say it was a bit rough out there - and they DID offer dramamine. But they did NOT tell us "if you stand on top of the boat you will be utterly soaked because we are heading into 4-6 foot waves!" Naturally, we hadn't brought towels or new clothes (nor did anyone else) - and it was a helluva ride.
Lucky for us, we all have pretty tough stomachs. But of the four of us only Tom truly, truly HATES fast amusement park rides and roller coasters. And this was like an hour-long roller coaster ride with no way off! The poor kid was panicked and in tears almost all the way out... and we were stuck outside because there was NO WAY we'd be able to make it down the stairs without killing ourselves.
Finally, we got out to the Stellwagon banks, where the whales feed. Lucky for everyone, a lovely humpback decided to perform for us - doing full-body leaps out of the water, rolls, and flipper waves. But in the past we'd stayed out on the banks for 45 minutes or so, observing lots of whales. This time, just the one. Tom did tearfully watch and say "it's cool" - he really is a huge whale fan.
The way back, fortunately, was smoother. And, though we're not ABA parents we DID offer a big reward to both kids for great behavior. By the time we were back on shore, Tom was totally over his fears and all was right with the world. The sun had come out, and we watched the gorgeous dunes and light houses slide past...
An amazing thing, how Tommy can absolutely freak out one minute, and be over it the next... He talked about it a bit later, but in fact - at soon as the waves ceased, his anxieties did too.
Power By Ringsurf
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Power By Ringsurf
Saturday, August 9, 2008
The camp program, which included as many high school aged "staff members" as it did "campers," was mainly geared to middle school and high school kids with a serious interest in music. Out of about 30 kids, only two were younger than Tom - and most were much older. So far as I know, Tom was the only camper with "special needs," and the camp was in no way therapeutic: it was three hours a day of solid, intensive, challenging music instruction.
At the end, these kids were playing far above the usual junior high and high school level of performance. The pieces were truly challenging: "Take Five," "The Barber of Seville," "Phantom of the Opera," and so on. Tom is a solid clarinet player with some experience playing in bands - but he's never performed on this level.
What made this program work for Tom?
The bottom line for success wasn't knowledge of autism, specialized instruction or expensive aides. Instead it was, very simply, good teaching - and a knowledge of what makes kids tick.
George, the band leader in charge of the program, knew of Tom's autism. Joe, the woodwind instructor, learned about Tom's diagnosis on day one. Between the two of them, here are the simple, low-tech, highly effective steps they took to make the experience successful for Tom:
Transposing the actual sheet music so that it reflected a 6th grade level of musical knowledge (clarinetists don't seem to play the upper register until they're older than Tom is)
- Spending a little one-on-one time with Tom to be sure he was truly reading and following the music.
- Seating Tom front and center in front of the conductor, and from time to time recalling his attention by saying his name.
- Occasionally seating a high schooler next to Tom to be sure he was following the more difficult music (apparently he was playing the flute part by ear instead of reading the clarinet part!)
- Providing regular high fives and encouragement (something all the students received throughout the two weeks)
- Focusing on the music rather than on acquisition of "appropriate social skills."
Both my husband Peter and I found ourselves thinking "If only the school district had put accommodations like this in place, we may never have needed to start home schooling!" But they didn't. And we did.
Parents and teachers may disagree with me, but I have a theory about why Tom has done so well in the last year with community inclusion.
This year, we placed him in typical small-group programs - including music, bowling, tennis, gym, and so forth - with instructors who had no training at all in working with kids with autism. But those instructors - Henry, George, Scott, Mike, Steve - were all men. Men teach differently from women: in general they're more focused on skills and outcomes than on process, more concrete in their directions, and less likely to worry about whether members of a group are sharing thoughts and feelings. For Tom, all these elements seem to be plusses.
Up until this year, Tom had never worked with men - mainly because there are so few males in educational or therapeutic roles, and everything he did involved teachers and therapists.
Every one of the men Tom has worked with this year has an agenda - but none of those agendas has anything to do with social skills, behavioral therapy or even making friends. Their agenda is focused on building skills and having fun. And Tom can do both. In fact, he does a terrific job at bowling, swimming, tennis, music and much more: his challenge is not the activity but social communication.
I'm not suggesting that Tom doesn't need help with social communication. And I'm certainly not suggesting that he will never again work with women (in fact, he will be working with a terrific female math tutor and a spectacular female speech therapist in the fall).
But I've got to say that community programs run by men and focused on real, meaningful outcomes have made a huge difference in our lives. And what really delights me is knowing that all of these activities - music, sports, hiking, birding, and more - can be a part of Tom's life for as long as he lives.
Power By Ringsurf
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Power By Ringsurf
After Y camp, we had a few weeks of mellowness (beaching, trying out a tandem bike - great for him, less great for me - and general Cape Cod exploring).
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Here's Tommy, helping to measure an animal track as part of the program:
This is the kind of photo that makes me realize how easy it is to make a child appear "typically developing" (or "recovered") as opposed to "autistic."
You can clearly see how well Tom (at the left) is cooperating with a peer in an age-appropriate activity. He's measuring, discussing tracks and tracking...
But in fact, he's doing it entirely on his own. Even the friendliest overtures from the boys he worked with led to real anxiety... which in turn led to some pretty snippy responses ("no, I DON'T want to trade measuring tapes!").
It made it all come home for me when the boy with the cast (on the right) asked me quietly - "does he ever warm up?"
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
At the first house, we found a terrific tub of stuffed toys; each child picked one out and spent a quarter apiece.
At the second house, though, there were few worthwhile items... Tom decided, though, that he HAD to buy something - and picked out a jigsaw puzzle in a plastic baggie. Now, Tom has never, ever put together a puzzle, nor has he shown any interest in puzzles. What's more, there wasn't even an interesting picture on a box to grab his imagination. He just wanted to spend his money.
I nixed the deal. One second later, he had dissolved in tears. He told me I had done a wrong thing to him, and hurt his feelings, and that he was very very angry. Naturally, I got angry too, and ordered both kids into the car.
Despite all the frustrations, though, we still followed the sign to "just one more" flea market. There, we found several great buys - including a bag of toys that really were just right for Tom, and a $5 bicycle for Sara! I also picked up an almost-new blanket for Tom's bed, since his old blanket was falling apart.
The next day, Tom had earned a dollar for helping around the house and he was desperate to spend it on something... anything. Again we stopped at a Flea Market. Again it was basically a collection of junk. Again I told him "no," and again he dissolved in tears.
It seems to me that money SHOULD offer a wonderful opportunity for homeschooling around math, culture, values, and so forth. But for most kids the idea of saving for one big thing holds a lot of fascination. For Tom, even the tiniest object - a 50 cent plastic toy at Walmart - is just as exciting as, say, a Wii or an X-Box. There's no point in saving if there's nothing to save FOR - and no point in putting your money away if a broken pen is an object of desire.
We've tried allowances and earning, and of course he's glad to get the cash. He's allowed to go on a "shopping spree" with the money at hand for his birthday, and we do a subtraction exercise to keep him on track.
But overall, his sense of the value of money is ... zero. He can count change, but the IDEA of a dollar means very little. He can price a toy, but sees no difference in relative value. Since he prizes things that are valueless to others, he can collect an infinite amount of "valuable" junk for no money at all.
So far, I can't come up with any clever ideas for making money matter to Tom... nor can I envision him becoming savvier about relative values of objects since everything and nothing is all the same to him.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
At one point during the day, I found myself standing at the bottom of the stairs, listening to Tommy who was invisible around a bend at the top of the stairs. He was "talking" two of his plastic pals, and they were chatting about our trip to Washington DC.
"So who did you meet?" asked one plastic pal.
"Oh, we met Kaiser."
"Who is that? Is that a boy or a girl?"
"That's a man. It's Lisa's cousin. He was staying a hotel in Washington DC."
"Did you like him?"
"Yes, he was very nice. We went out to lunch together."
What a very reasonable, civilized conversation! Of course, so far as I can recall Tom has never, ever had anything like that conversation in real life.
But I remember that Dr. Greenspan wrote something like "if a child can do a thing once, in one context, that means he can do it." That is, the fact that he can do it as a roleplay with his plastic pals means that Tommy, in fact, is capable of having just such a conversation with real people.
I'm looking forward to it.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
We worked hard on a series of paragraphs about the Human Body, and supported our reading and writing with some hands-on experiments (not especially well-received, but I gave it a shot); a few videos and websites; and a trip to the Human Body exhibit at the Science Museum in Boston (below). Gotta say that what he REALLY loves at the MOS is the amazing Rube Goldberg device (balls moving through an incredibly complex and beautiful contraption); a few dioramas; and of course the traveling exhibit on ... reptiles! Still, we did get a chance to explore the body a bit.
Once we had three paragraphs on various systems of the body (I used graphical organizing templates from various websites) I realized I had the makings for a proper five paragraph essay. We did produce one, and he does understand the content - but I'm not at all sure that the structure makes a whole lot of sense to him. Still, it's a start - and a legit sample to include in his portfolio...
Did read the Daniel Tammet book you all suggested (Born on a Blue Day). Fascinating guy, but NOTHING like Tom. Tom is so arts-and-music, where true aspies seem to be all structures-and-math... Tom is story-and-sound effects, no interest in systems... that's why I just don't think Asperger syndrome fits him.
Meanwhile, thinking a lot lately about the whole notion of community and friendships... a friend down the road said she wanted to present her aspie son's IEP team with the idea that she wants her son to have "a community." I really had to wonder - can ANYone guarantee a community? And if "anyone" can - should that anyone be a public school? I myself have rarely felt "in community" with more than one or two people at a time... somehow doesn't seem like a basic entitlement like learning to read is...
More on this soon, I hope!