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Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Does He Ever Warm Up?"

Today we took a trip to the Cape Cod National Seashore for Junior Ranger program. It was a perfect day, and there was a terrific group of homeschoolers ready to learn. This seemed like a great opportunity for Tom, who loves the beach, loves critters, and loves museums (like the one at the Visitor Center).

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

Money and Autism - How Do You Make the Connection?

This weekend, for the first time, I took the kids Yard Saling. It being Memorial Day weekend on Cape Cod, there were pickings aplenty, and I told the kids they could buy just one thing at each sale.

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.

Any thoughts?!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Practice" Conversations

Today was a slow day: Peter was sick; Sara was a little less sick; Tommy had a runny nose. So we called school off, and I attempted to work while also looking after the brood.

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

This 'n' That

It's been such a long time since I wrote that I'm a bit overwhelmed by the idea of catching up! A few highights:

We took a ten-day trip to visit our old home in Pennsylvania, and friends and family were all very impressed with Tom's progress. We even made it all the way to DC, and visited the Lincoln Memorial and a few other "sights." Sara revisited her old friends and school; Tom adamantly did NOT wish to see kids he'd known - which was just fine with us! Instead, we spent plenty of time with various folks he DID want to see, and avoided worrying our heads about explaining homeschool to Tom's old teachers!

I set up a homeschool visit to the home/studio of a weaver in Cataumet (Bourne, just north of Falmouth). It was a surprisingly good experience, and Tom really enjoyed it. In fact, despite the fact that he said he WOULD NOT try weaving, he DID try weaving on the big loom - three times. Came home with a little blanket for Lizard! I was proud because this was the very first time I'd set up a successful homeschool happening that included a number of families (I think six families came) - and it turned out to be a positive experience for all. Whew!

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!