Saturday, May 14, 2016

The LEAGUE and the LANTERN Review
My homeschooler and I received a copy of "The League and the Lantern" to review. I always want to qualify the fact that I am reviewing from a special needs perspective. I am homeschooling a teenager who is on the autism spectrum. She has academic delays and we use materials meant for children who are younger than she is. She has been a reluctant reader in the past and will refuse to read if the book looks too difficult with too small print, too many words on a page. We review books as read alouds. My daughter has an unusual rule that she reads just four pages at a time and she will stop reading in the middle of a good part of the story if her four pages are up, which means we are not even halfway into the story. Part of the issue is that I stop her sometimes to check for meaing. When the character shuffles through a dark tunnel, does she know what "shuffles" means? Can she imagine not being able to see where she's going after an explosion? Does she realize that stumbling upon the "lifeless eyes of the redheaded security guard" means they found a dead body?

I am trying to work on her flexibility and occasionally can get her to read a little bit more, but often she tells me I have to wait to hear what comes next. There has not been a read aloud yet that she has gotten lost in enough to keep reading through the story and that is probably an autism thing. 
From an autism perspective or a special needs perspective, the chapters are relatively short. Visually, a lot of children would be able to finish a chapter of The League and the Lantern in one sitting (as opposed to reading four pages at a time). I do like how author Brian Wells made the chapters short. Now to convince the girl to read a chapter at a time rather than four pages. Easier said than done.

I knew this book was going to teach us a lot of interesting stuff when I read "heterochromia iridum" on page 4 in a description of one of the characters. When Wells mentions a matchbox, I wonder if any of my children have ever seen a box of matches and if they found one in the dark if they would know what it is? These are the kinds of stories I like, because they teach my daughter something as we figure out what new terms or unusual words mean. There are 140 key vocabulary words sprinkled in the text with historic sites offering more learning opportunities.

If you have quick access to the internet while you're reading together, you can look up terms together. What is "commando crawling"? You can show your child a video demonstration. There is much to learn here.

The book web site, btw, is packed with fun stuff. The bonus material is especially fun (I think of it as "value added" to the story).

More added value is the fact that the by buying one book, you participate in a  buy one - give one campaign to get books into the hands of kids who cannot afford their own copies. List price of this 282 page hardbook is $17.99.

Since we haven't finished with the book yet, I'll borrow the synopsis from the publicity materials:
The League and the Lantern is the first book in a new adventure series for middle-school readers. It all starts when a dangerous organization invades Jake Herndon’s seventh-grade sleepover. He escapes along with two new classmates, Lucy and TJ, only to face a 48-hour fight for survival on the streets of Chicago. The kids unravel a mystery dating back to the Civil War, and an incredible secret about Jake’s family. Along the way they learn unexpected lessons about courage, family and friendship.
We live in an area of the country where Civil War battles were fought (and lost) and we keep adding to our knowledge about the war. The League and the Lantern is interesting to us because of the Civil War history. (The bonus features on the book web site take us to more history.) I get a little more nerdy about Civil War history all the time and the tidbits in this adventure add more to my nerd factor.

Caution: The book is a thriller, and some of the story may scare some sensitive children. I would not have liked it as a child. I have children who loved this type of material.

The book is 'clean', no cursing, no dating relationships. Wells's storytelling is inviting, and as I read ahead of where my daughter and I are in our read-aloud, I want to keep going at the end of each chapter. Learning that author Brian Wells is employed in network television comes as no surprise. He knows how weave a tale. Honestly, I am concerned that my girl will miss a lot of the meaning in the story at this point because of her delays (a heads up for those of you whose children w special needs struggle with reading), however, I am enjoying how the story plays out. I wish the series had been available when my kids were little. They would have loved this.

Thank you, Brian Wells, for the autographed and numbered copy of the book!

"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Troubled Child

Today, I read this note from a parent in a group on Facebook. It is such a gem I asked that parent if I could share it here on my blog. The parent graciously said yes. And if you have not yet read "Lost At School" by Ross Greene, PhD, I highly recommend it, as it is about the skills mentioned below.
Last night my child told the therapist "I am a 'troubled' child." And the therapist looked at my child and said "You are not "troubled", you are here to learn skills, there is nothing wrong with you." And my child said "Other kids already have these skills." And she said "some kids need help learning to read, or with math, and everyone learns at a different pace and gets help when and where they need it."
 So much better than the old therapist who told me my child was just being manipulative and needed harsher consequences.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Under The Sea Holy Bible Review & Giveaway

Even though it is marketed to children ages 6-10, my teenage homeschooler with ASD and I are enjoying the Under The Sea Holy Bible from Zondervan (list price $24.99). You never know about Bibles for kids. Will it be cheesy? Silly? Inviting? You never know until you get to open it and use it.

As soon as I opened the package, I find a sensory perk. The front cover and book spine illustrations are textured. I like to run my fingers over them. I suspect sensory kiddos will enjoy that feature.

The New International Reader's Version is attractive to my daughter, who can be a reluctant reader. Too much text on a page and she sometimes shuts down. The NIrV is designed to be very easy to understand. I gave my daughter the Under The Sea Holy Bible and told her we get to review it and the next thing I knew (same evening) she came to me and told me she read the first 12 chapters and she narrated aloud what she'd read. I am impressed.

A lot of stories and concepts about religion and from the Bible are difficult for children and sometimes for individuals on the autism spectrum. I continue to search for resources that are inviting and fun for my daughter with ASD. One feature of the Under the Sea Holy Bible is that it makes some difficult concepts easier to understand. See the Ten Commandments to the left as one example.

I like the page that spotlights children in the Bible in a sort of scavenger hunt style where the clue peaks curiosity and sends the child looking for the answer if she doesn't already know the answer.

The Under The Sea Bible has six of these colorful, illustrated pages that outline a topic or concept. There's even a page that outlines the ABCs of becoming a Christian. (Admit Believe Confess).

The NIrV is easy to understand and I suspect it may become my daughter's preferred version. We have enjoyed having this item to review

The hardback is available at Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and Family Christian Stores.

You can follow Zondervan on Facebook and Twitter.

"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

I have a copy to give away to U.S. and Canadian readers. Just comment for an entry. I will choose a winner, Monday, April 11th, 2016. Please comment to enter!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Icing On The Cake

Last night, at a high school away game, in the baseball park where our boys were playing, we found an empty dugout and settled our teenager with autism in there to play video games. Her brother was playing with his team on a neighboring field.

I saw a young coach approach the field where our child was hiding from the noise in the dugout. I went to talk to him. This coach arrived to lead his team of 11 yr olds in practice on the field where my teen w asd was using the dugout as a retreat from the noise. I asked if he attends the high school whose fields we were using. He told me he is a freshman at the nearby university majoring in business. He said to leave our teen w/ autism in the dugout, that he'd have his kids put their gear just outside the dugout during practice. And he mentioned he has a brother on the autism spectrum, too.

I blinked back tears. Away games are a big challenge because of the unknowns and uncertainty. Will there be a quiet place for her to retreat if the noise is overwhelming? Last night, the answer was a warm and welcoming "yes". And the icing on the cake: our boys won both games, too!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

New Mercies

My teenager with ASD has so much going on inside her head. Sometimes, she gives me a glimpse inside. On a drive to an away baseball game earlier in the week, she began recalling a lot of times when her father or I had been very angry with her. When she spilled a 2 gal jug of milk all over the kitchen floor (and hives popped up every where the milk splashed on her legs).  She removed a dirty diaper and played in poop.  She was between two and three when she dropped the milk. And two or younger playing w poop.

She recounted quite a few memories. I told her that her father and I don't remember those moments any more and we don't hold them against her. I reminded her of the verse where God gives us new chances every morning. Once the event is past, we are done with it. And I explained the Bible tells us that is how God is. He doesn't keep a record of our wrongs. Once we ask for forgiveness and try to do better, He forgets.

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[a]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23 English Standard Version

A good reminder for me, too. Let go of the negative memories of times I messed up. My Heavenly Father lets them go.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Glimmer Girls Review & Giveaway

You may recognize the name Natalie Grant from the world of music. Grant is also a wife, mom, and author.

My homeschooler and I got an opportunity to review two books in Natalie Grant's new book series aimed at girls age 9-12. Yes, my homeschooler is older than 12, and books written for younger children still appeal to her. If you have a child with academic delays, using reading materials developed for younger children can help build success and confidence in comprehension and literacy skills.

We are using the two chapter books as a read aloud. I am a little bit embarrassed to admit that I learned something right off the bat in the first book, "London Art Chase". I thought Big Ben is a clock. Big Ben is the name for the bells in the tower. You are never to old to learn something new.

When Grant mentions Rachmanioff's Piano Concerto No. 3 or Pachelbel's Canon, we can find them on the internet to take a listen. I am thrilled with the amount of homeschooling mileage we are getting from our brief daily read alouds. My girl recognized Pachalbel's Canon. That makes me happy.

The books are small enough to hold easily, to slip into a tote bag for a baseball game or the a waiting room, and the print is good size. There are not too many words on a page for the reluctant reader who balks when the print is small and jammed onto the pages. The visual of the page is important in working with reluctant readers who judge a book's difficulty by how difficult and crowded the pages are. There are a few black and white illustrations in each book. They are paperback, approximately 200 pages, and retail for $8.99 each. They would make a great gift for an Easter basket!

Grant says:
 "Glimmer Girls is a fiction series that I have created with my daughters. The storyline is about three girls who go on tour with their singing mom. I have no idea where I came up with that plot! It’s fun for my little girls to help with the content because they actually live that life. Glimmer is the last name of the family, but it also has a special meaning. It is a light that is never extinguished. Sometimes it may glimmer a little bit brighter, sometimes it may glimmer a little bit dimmer, but it never goes out. I felt like that was such a perfect description for all of us. We all have a light on the inside and depending on the day, sometimes it’s bright and sometimes it’s dim. That is the message I wanted girls to get from this book. You don’t always have to be shining bright, some days are going to be more difficult than others, but Jesus has put a light in you that will never go out.”
 Grant uses word pictures that give my homeschooler and I opportunities to discuss. The very first image in the first book, "A clothes tornado" had me stopping my reader to discuss what that might be. One neat coincidence is that my homeschooler is a twin and there is a set of twins in the stories. My twins have an older sister; the twins in the story have a younger sister.

Author Grant does a really nice job at weaving facts into fiction. We can put the story down and look up Big Ben or Trafalgar Square. We are not too far into the first book (my homeschooler has been battling strep throat since we received the books about a week ago) but the story draws us in and peaks our curiosity about the facts in the book. The reference to clotted cream during tea reminded us of a SpongeBob episode. (silly, but true)

As I peek ahead in the story, I see a chapter that involves the girls knocking over an expensive cello in what was a challenging day. Her mom helps her pray about the situation. I hope that storyline is helpful to my girl. She is so hard on herself sometimes.

We are really enjoying the story and look forward to "A Dolphin Wish", too.

Sidebar: If Natalie Grant reads these reviews, Natalie, I have a teenage daughter on the autism spectrum with an amazing singing voice and a desire to be a voice actress one day and we live near where you live. If you ever animate a series and need a voice for a character, I have someone to recommend. :)

Giveaways are open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Instagram: YouTube:

I have a set of books to giveaway. Comment for an entry. I'll pick a winner, Monday, March 21st.
"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Friday, March 11, 2016

Dear Brenda Chapman

Dear Brenda Chapman,

This is a letter from one mother to another.

One of my daughters is on the autism spectrum. Individuals on the autism spectrum are known for having intense special interests. This child (she would argue that she is not a child; she is a teenager!) is a movie and musical expert and can recite facts that would blow your mind. Watching the Oscars or Golden Globes with her is always interesting because she can tell you odd facts about the nominees and the winners. "He directed _______________ in 19__!" or "He voiced ______________ in the animated movie ______________ in 19__!" Her memory is incredible.

My teen who has an autism spectrum disorder was so frightened by one of the scenes in "Brave" that you wrote and directed that she continues to be upset about it. I wonder if and how we could reach out to you to ask if you'd talk to my kid about it. Sometimes, my girl expresses the desire to tell you exactly how deeply that scene frightened her. The scenes intrude and repeat when she is sick. It is sign of pain and or illness. (PANDAS sucks, btw.) I hate it for her. She hates it.

She wants to tell you, and I quote her directly,

"I wish you'd never made 'Brave' in the first place!!"

(Interestingly, she adores "Prince of Egypt". Thank you for that.)

My girl says she hates Emma Thompson, too, for voicing Elinor, but she hates you more for writing the scary scene. She'd like to talk to Emma Thompson, too, about why she chose to voice the character. My girl with autism thinks that writers and directors and actors and actresses are easy to reach on the phone or internet. I haven't been able to convince her otherwise.

Yes, I've talked about how 'brave' Elinor was to break the tradition for her daughter. Yes, I've talked about how the mother and daughter made up in the end. And about how 'brave' Merida was to stand up to her parents and to tradition. The story is about Elinor's journey as well as Merida's. And it was meant to make money, sell tickets, sell DVDs, not to scare viewers. We destroyed the DVD we owned. I have tried every angle I can think of. Yes, I have. Endlessly. Over-analyzed and over-explained the whole thing. Your writing and directing combined with the animation and voice are too real. Doesn't help that my friends say Elinor resembles an animated version of me. Strep and PANDAS and pain and illness still bring up the scene and the feelings with it, though, and no amount of rationalization has helped. She thinks talking to the author may help. *shrug* I don't know.

I continue to try. Keep reading:

My teenager, homeschooler, who has autism and a long list of developmental and academic delays and co-occurring conditions, the one who regressed and lost words and interaction, recently came up with the idea that something must have happened in Elinor's childhood. If you know anything about autism, this is a very big deal. Individuals with autism often have difficulty perspective taking. So for her to suggest that Elinor had an experience from her past that affected the way she behaved as a mother - well, that's a huge amount of perspective taking.

I suggested to my girl that she write a prequel to "Brave" that reveals why Elinor behaved the way she did. (I try to sneak in homeschooling wherever I can. *smile*) We've been discussing different possibilities of what might have happened when Elinor was a girl that made her so rigid and out of control in the ugly, frightening moment in "Brave". And today, Miss A wrote her first story line. Today is the first time that she put anything on paper. It doesn't seemed to have stopped the intrusive thoughts. But she is broadening her thinking process. And that is a positive. Brenda Chapman, do you have google alerts set for your name? That's the only way you'd ever see this. And if you see this and if you should ever write and direct a prequel to "Brave", I can connect you with a young lady with some good ideas to get you started. She'd be thrilled to collaborate. That same young lady sometimes thinks she'd like to be a voice actress, so she might be able to help you out in that capacity as well.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Not Necessary

Individuals on the autism spectrum sometimes repeat words and phrases they're heard. Echoing. Echolalia. Lines from movies are often repeated and sometimes as delayed echolalia. And sometimes, the movie lines are inappropriate.

Saturday, at the high school baseball scrimmage, the person running the music and movie clips and sound effects thought a Chris Farley quote is funny. I found it here.

That clip, while humorous to some, is not humorous to me. It is immature. It is inappropriate stuff for my kid with autism to repeat. It is not a necessary element for a high school baseball game.

All I want to do is to be there when my boy plays ball. This new ballpark "atmosphere" makes it difficult.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nine Ideas to Grow Reading Skills

Reviving an old post of mine from a web site that closed:

My homeschooler with autism has always been challenged by reading. Even in public school, she expressed resistance. And the harder I pushed her, the more she hated reading. Her anxiety skyrocketed and our relationship suffered. I want my daughter to enjoy reading. I want it to be fun for her, not a chore. And I don’t want her to hate me for forcing her to read. I researched and tried everything that was recommended. We work together for short sessions; we’ve experimented with colored overlays; I’ve had her vision checked; we use developmentally appropriate reading level material; I’ve attended workshops with teachers to help me help her. Still, the more pressure I put on her to join me in reading, the more resistant she became. At one point, I relaxed, but not as an intentional step in getting her to read more, read better. I waved the white flag in surrender as I gave up my agenda.

In retrospect, relaxing in a way that took forced reading off our daily schedule has been THE thing that has given my child room to grow and improve.

Here are some of the tools and strategies we have used in our regrouping time. If you are homeschooling a child who seems stuck and resistant, maybe some of the things that worked for us will work for you, too.

1. Wordless books. Yes, I said “wordless books”. Words and text were an obstacle to meaning and comprehension, and we still occasionally pull out a wordless story book to “read” and narrate in order to build comprehension and narration skills. The storylines of wordless books range from very simple to quite complex and you can find lists of wordless books with a simple internet search. (I even have a wordless Bible story book.) I wrote about wordless books here and here.

2. Books on audio. My child has auditory processing challenges, too, and she resists books on audio, yet she will sometimes listen to a book on CD if she has the book in her hand. She is able to follow along with the audio. I’ve heard that most tablets have a spoken text feature that allows readers to listen along while reading.

3. Closed captioning. Add the closed captioning layer to TV and DVD.

4. Electronics. Wii singing games. Karaoke. Singing karaoke requires some quick processing of words and interestingly, I’ve seen improvements in reading since my child began using Wii singing games. (Hint: Watch the rating on the singing games. There are a good number rated E for everyone.) Some detective games give game players clues in text on the screen – the child must be able to read and process those clues to know where to move the character.

5. Follow the child’s interests. Spend a lot of time following the child’s interests. Temporarily abandon anything else if necessary. When you are within the child’s interest, you can often push the child to a higher reading level. I’ve seen my kid join me with National Geographic articles about a subject she likes when she would resist anything non-interesting at any (lower) reading level. Animated movies and musicals are special interests of my daughter. She enjoys reading about the stars of the shows. Sometimes, we go to the library and spend time reading entertainment magazines.

6. Relate reading to something we experienced in real life. We live in an area rich in Civil War history. I tend to think of scheduling field trips after learning about a topic; however, with my special needs child, a field trip first sometimes opens the door to a new reading topic. Another example: My daughter likes to ice skate. Ice skating is not one of her reading interests, yet when I buy books about skaters or skating, she will often pick them up.

7. Comics. I have two comic strip Bibles and an entire history curriculum in comic strip form. Look for information presented in comic strip form. Kid magazines also present information in a fun way. Some homeschool co-ops subscribe to Weekly Reader or Scholastic ‘newspapers’. National Geographic has a kids’ version.

8. Graphic novels. My daughter is currently reading “Dork Diaries” books to me at night. She even reads, “smiley face smiley face two exclamation points” to me in the stories.

9. Co-reading. If your child needs scaffolding for partner reading, Scholastic is one company that has some you-read-to-me-and-I’ll-read-to-you books where text is highlighted for two readers.

10. Cooking and crafting and traveling. I put her in charge of the recipe, reading me the ingredients and materials and the steps. On short drives, I give my girl directions and ask her to help me navigate or look for street names.

Slowly, my reluctant, resistant reader is reading a little more and a little more. When I let go of what I consider ‘typical’ expectations and expectations of mine based on my public school experiences, I was able to look outside those boxes. Giving up “what should be” and working with “what is” helped me to relax. Allowing her time on electronics when reading is involved has also been a help, as much as I hate to admit it.

We continue to look for creative, outside-the-box reasons to read. Next up is a winter theater class. What outside-the-box strategies have helped at your house?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Battle Fatigue - Special Needs Style

In recent days, an article about Special Needs Battle Fatigue went through my facebook feed. Today, an article about obstacles to attending church with a child with special needs went through my feed, and one of the factors listed is fatigue.
Fatigue was a common parental characteristic cited as preventing inclusion of a child at church. Many parents indicated a strong desire for a church community but, as one put it, because of our child’s needs “we have not had the time or energy to seek-out and prepare (educate) a new spiritual home for ourselves. Therefore, we do not attend regular weekly services anywhere, as much as we could really use the support and spiritual community.”
The part of the quote I chose to bold, “... we have not had the time or energy to seek-out and prepare (educate)..." smacked me right in the face.

Everything is a big job, a lot of work, a battle. Not just church. Church is one venue in a list of venues that at my house include the baseball field, the concert hall, school.

She's my kid; she's my responsibility. I get that. But the constant and endless advocating is challenging. I get tired.

I plan minute to minute all day, every day. What if she is overwhelmed at the warehouse club by something new or unexpected and I am not able to complete my shopping list? What items will I try to get now and what items will I leave for later? Can YOU imagine the uncertainty of never knowing if you'll get to the grocery that day or if you'll be able to get everything on your list, depending on how your child's nervous system is working on any given day. Can't imagine it? It's like never knowing if or when someone is going to yank the rug out from under you and that is horrible. I'm always on edge, prepared to abandon plans.

No single grocery store has all of our allergen free needs. I shop endlessly for allergen free foods. See next item:

Food. Is food at so many events necessary? Can't we have some events without food? Or give me an option to an attend without paying for a meal my kid can't eat, although I still have to prepare and bring a meal for her, which is a burden.

The bank closed its drive through option. I have to go inside, now, and that throws a monkey wrench into plans because it means another stop, another get out and go inside errand. There are days when going inside the bank is one errand too many for my girl, so that task doesn't happen.

There are so many things we can't anticipate in first time events, loud music, loud noises, not enough seating, no place to retreat when overwhelmed, gluten-and-dairy laden food and treats. Church is one of the worst offenders for noise, crowds, and food, and inflexibility.

I find that some churches will help a family out on Sunday mornings, but not Sunday night or Wednesday night or during adult choir rehearsal so a parent may sing. That's not helpful.

When I didn't like the content of teenage Sunday School lessons for a teen w/ developmental delays (sex, drugs, cheating, dating) and asked for something else, with a very specific, concrete suggestion (allow her to be a helper in a 1st/2nd grade or 3rd/4th grade class), I was told, "great idea!" and ignored. I tried twice. I gave up. I'm tired. We've been staying home for more than a year, now.

When our firstborn graduated from high school, trying to get the church to work with us so that our entire family could attend the graduation recognition luncheon was a nightmare. The person in charge would not answer my questions, would not work with me, but would work with a family who had been at the church longer. It is hurtful, annoying, and discouraging when you'll make accommodations for the older family while putting off the newer family.

We're tired. Exhausted. We need others to step up and help us out, be our village.

Sometimes, it's easier to stay home than to educate and try to pave pathways which is especially the evil in the lesser of two evils when it means the family does not have a church home or one one parent is  missing a sporting event or performance of one of our other children.
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