Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Skating Lesson #6 this morning


I wish I had taken my video camera and taped today's entire lesson, so that I could have edited the footage in order to show you the SMILES on my girl's face when she CONQUERED a new skill. The expression on her face was priceless. She beamed!!! And I noticed that she was watching Coach to see if Coach caught it, too.

Blogging is one way for us to review each lesson, and sometimes to preview a concept or skill for the future. Sometimes, my princess does not like to watch herself on video. (Sometimes I don't like to watch MYself on video, either!) Blogging allows us to share moments with family and friends who live far away, too.

I'm including lots of video clips from today's session-- they are all really SHORT clips.

Working on maintaining control and balance is tough work:

Putting a lot of skills together. Coach says, first, watch me, then you do it:

Skating backwards. This one is especially for our RDI(r) PROGRAM CERTIFIED CONSULTANT (this clip captures one of our current objectives):

Watch her make a discovery or two as she skates backwards today (you may need a Kleenex for this one):

Learning to make Snowplow Stops

Coach is demonstrating the next skill to work on:


Lesson One, HERE; Lesson Two, HERE; Lesson Three, HERE; Lesson FOUR, HERE; and Lesson FIVE, HERE.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Thou shalt not...

This sign outside a church across town always cracks me up (I didn't have my still camera with me, so yes, this is a doofus VIDEO of a sign that is not moving *giggle*):

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Power of Words

Please watch this video.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Skating lesson #5

Episodic Memory and Resilience
Skating backwards, foundations of stopping, swizzles

"Our" last lesson, three days ago, was the first time my princess was frustrated on the ice. In "our" last lesson (lesson #4) the tasks became more physically challenging, and they weren't as much fun as previous tasks. The lessons focused on foundations of much bigger skills, foundations that need to be experienced and mastered to a certain extent before moving forward.

Combine those challenges with knowing where your body parts are without looking at them (for example, the tushie shaking that has to happen for moving backwards right now) and listening for the right kind of noise when you are scraping your blade across the ice, holding your balance, etc etc etc, when you REALLY just want to do it all NOW...

and you get a frustrated little girl.

These lessons are a journey for her. She's got some discoveries to make about herself and about skating.

She's doing quite well. Learning to recognize that in herself is a lesson she's beginning to learn. She protests, sometimes very loudly, before she realizes a) she's doing exactly what she was asked to do and b) it wasn't that difficult for her. But, her episodic memory, her personal meaning memory has lots of negatives for her to shut off in order to SEE the POSITIVES of NOW and apply that success toward resilience in the face of a new challenge and rewriting positive episodic memories over the negative ones.

I saw a glimpse of resilence today! :)

And, just in case you're wondering, YES, I took pictures and video today:

Waiting to go on the ice this afternoon.
She has pretty pink guards on her blades. :)
There were other skaters there to watch.
This rink is performing "Little Mermaid on Ice" in April.
Some of the performers were rehearsing.
In the beginning, she was coached to "march"in order to move forward on the ice. Now, Coach says she is pushing on her own:

This particular part of the lesson is the part that left her frustrated and protesting, Tuesday. Look at her today:

She worked incredibly hard today!

Working on the foundations of stopping
while at the boards
the skates make a "SHHHH!" sound

And there are TWO stars past the snowmen. My princess skated backwards all the way to the second star TWICE, and practiced swizzles (V's and A's) on the snowmen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lemon Chicken (looks like fish, but it's not)

Lemon Chicken
I saw this recipe in the newspaper, and I thought it would be simple to convert to gluten free. (Printer friendly version here.) And a similar, but different version, here. This particular recipe was Adapted from "Classic Chinese Recipes" by Carol Bowen (Parragon, $14.99).

No gluten, no casein, no soy.

I think I might need a deep fryer.

Lesson 4, this morning, beginning to skate backwards

This morning's lesson seemed like more of a challenge to my princess, and she was frustrated with it. She was very capable of accomplishing everything that was asked of her during the lesson, but she seemed tired, frustrated. Of course, I'm trying to figure out the source of her frustration, and I can think of a few reasons.

Maybe lessons two days in a row is too much too soon?

Sometimes frustration is an early sign of a virus, and with the runny nose she has today, I suspect she may be coming down with something. Maybe she has an ear ache that she can't identify, or a sore throat. Sometimes, she doesn't recognize an ear ache or sore throat until the pain is really strong.

Learning how to skate backwards:

A part of today's lesson involved working on the fundamentals that are necessary to skate backwards. (My princess was frustated w/ more than just this particular part of today's lesson, though.) Moving backwards has always been frustrating for my princess. Occupational therapists have worked with her on walking backwards on the ground or walking backwards on a balance beam, and that particular task has always been frustrating. A friend of mine who is an occupational therapist told me that one step backwards for some children feels like they're backing into the Grand Canyon. That feels scary to them.

Here's something I learned from the late Judith Bluestone, founder of the HANDLE Program:

Children with a poor sense of where they are in space, a poor sense of propriception, often use their vision to compensate. They let their eyes tell them where they are in space. The majority of us use several systems in combination with one another to tell us where we are in space, but individuals with autism often over-rely on their EYES to give them information that should also becoming from propriception, vestibular and hearing. Thinking about that makes me understand why my daughter may be frustrated with learning to skate backwards, when she can't use her eyes to tell her where she's going.

I want her to recognize the super job she did today, despite the source of her frustration.

Another sign of spring

There are tiny leaf buds on the tree outside my bedroom window this morning.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Skating Lesson #3, "A's" and "V's" and more

Making "A"s with her toes kissing

Making "V's" with heels together
"A's", toes kissing

Snowmen help with practicing "A's" and "V's"

And some video, for your viewing pleasure *wink*

a lesson for beginning skating backwards

President Obama and Special Olympics

President Obama went on "Leno" last week, and compared his own poor bowling score to individuals who participate in Special Olympics. Media reports indicate that the president made a quick apology soon after the taping of the show to Tim Shriver, Chairman of the Special Olympics. Shriver graciously accepted the apology, but added, "words do hurt". I would like to add, words like that provide evidence of attitudes that need adjusting.

The chitchat on the internet is interesting. One "camp" is outraged. Another says forgive him and move on. Folks spoke up as being offended are being told to get over it by Obama supporters. I've seen it referred to as "un-PC". I've seen fingers pointed across party lines, folks with liberal leanings pointing fingers at more conservative folks, implying that politics are getting in the way of the conservative folks' ability to be fair in this situation.

A lot of people are missing the point. There's an insidious and real message behind WHY he chose to compare himself with individuals who represent Special Olympics, and the time is NOW for every single one of us to examine our own beliefs and perceptions and make changes if we need to. This is an attitude that should not be excused, period.

Here's what's wrong with what President Obama said: He used a population that society silently yet obviously marginalizes in order to jokingly marginalize himself about his bowling score. He made himself the butt of a joke by comparing himself to a group of people that society considers less-than.

That's no secret just because it is not discussed aloud.

Check out Wikipedia's definition of self depreciating humor: "Self-deprecating humor is humor which relies on the observation of something negative about the person delivering it."

It's the unspoken assumption that that needs to be acknowledged and changed, the assumption that individuals who participate in an organization like Special Olympics are "less than", that something about them is a "negative".

The issue of marginalizing individuals with developmental delays, disabilities, mental challenges is not new. But it is wrong, as wrong as the way African Americans were marginalized in the United States in the past.

There's irony in the fact that the words came from the first African American president. There's irony in the perception that he's our most progressive president.

Letting slide President Obama's slip of the tongue gives us all a free pass to justify thinking of some individuals as "other" or "less than".

His slip of the tongue is an AWARENESS OPPORTUNITY! Now is the time for ADVOCACY!

My daughter, who happens to have autism, and has an opportunity to participate in Special Olympics in the fall, is NOT less than. She's not a negative, and neither is any other human being.

Thank you, Kathie Snow and Disability is Natural, for being the catalyst to begin to change my thinking. I still have some work to do on myself, and I see that there is a lot of work left to do on attitudes, in general.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More reflections on the "radar" of parent of children w/ developmental delays

"Out of rational fear, many of us tell the child (usually nonverbally) I WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU NO MATTER WHAT. And it can be just that unnecessary 'taking care' that keeps the child in a learned helplessness, or as I prefer, a LAZY mode of operating."

"Think of your job now as catching yourself when you are about to do for your child when he needs to do for himself... "

--Dr. James D. MacDonald from Communicating Partners

We spent over three years working with our daughter from a strict behavioral perspective, demanding behavioral compliance from her, and teaching her many words and concepts. After all of that heavy-hitting early intervention, I still needed to use my radar for things that I shouldn't have. None of that early intervention translated to success in an age-appropriate kindergarten classroom or at Sunday School or birthday parties or grocery shopping.

We completely MISSED non-verbal, pre-speech foundations of communication with this behavioral approach. We missed the things infants and babies experience, like reciprocity, emotion sharing, referencing faces for meaning. Interaction begins NON-verbally, and through all of our early intervention efforts, we missed that.

A switch to a developmental approach was quite a shift for us, for me.

Almost five years ago, we chose RDI(r). RDI(r) was the only developmental program out there for a child my age, I THOUGHT. (I was so wrong! Now, I know that there are others. Communicating Partners is one. Floortime is for younger children, and Son Rise, Gentle Teaching, and Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment all come from that developmental perspective.)

Overdeveloped "Mommy Radar" is necessary, but left unchecked, can create learned helplessness and passivity, a "lazy mode of operating" in a child. One of the things that Dr Gutstein from RDI(r) helped me recognize when we began is the fact that many children with delays in communication and interaction are very passive. He taught me that my daughter needs to physically feel herself taking an action, reaching, stretching, gathering her own information. NON-verbally. WITH me. Combining active participation and interdependence.

Here's an example: Before I began learning about a developmental approach, I would dress my daughter without her help. I could put a coat on a limp child in no time, sliding her coat sleeves up her arms, zipping the coat in a flash. I'd be working with her on some behavioral program while I was dressing her, asking her to show me an action or touch a body part. At meal time, I'd place her food in front of her while working on another verbal, stimulus/response-type q & a from our behavioral program.

I gave her the experience, "Getting ready means Mom dresses me. I don't have to do anything. It's all her job. I don't even need to pay attention to events happening around me. Mom will prompt me for anything I need to know, including when it's time to leave, time to eat. Instead, Mommy and other adults will ask me lots of questions and I have to give the right answer."

Dr. MacDonald from Communicating Partners and Play to Talk delivers a similar message using a different word picture. I love Dr. MacDonald's phrase about putting a child in a lazy mode of operating -- that's an accurate description of what we did, accidentally, while we were working on other skills in early intervention, with hearts of gold and good intentions. I've always thought of it as mindlessness (because RDI(r) reminds parents to be "mindful"). I do like that word picture: putting a child in a lazy mode of operating when we do not allow the child to do the things he can do for himself.

We also gave her the really bizarre experience that communication is about our asking her questions and her responding with the one correct answer. (Can you imagine the anxiety you'd have if the only communication you were only allowed is to answer questions with one right answer?)

So, not only was she not feeling herself taking an action, but she was also experiencing communication very differently from the rest of us.

I listened to Dr Gutstein's words (she needs to feel herself taking an action with me) and wondered how I'd begin to create opportunities for active participation with a child who was not interested? The only way I could interact with her was to engage in one of the stimulus/reward situations that we'd both memorized and practiced over and over. If I didn't prompt her verbally in some way, she simply ignored me, shut me out.

After I made the switch away from a behavioral approach, I began using myself differently. Silently, I'd hold her coat open, wait for her to take her own action and notice, and then I'd wait for her to insert her own arm into a sleeve, and wait for her to insert her other arm. I might start the zipper, get it on track, and wait for her to notice that it wasn't zipped all the way, and allow her time to notice and zip it. Slowing down and being quiet were required of me to make these opportunities happen.

And at snack time, I learned to hold a gfcf cookie or banana toward her and wait for her to notice, and reach her own arm out and accept it, and to avoid the temptation to use it as a reward in order to get her to touch her nose or name the fruit or some other verbal, behavioral task. Accepting a treat as a reward for responding to a stimulus had not given her the sense of being an active participant. I had to learn and recognize that non-verbal reciprocity, these silent interactions, were necessary foundations of communication that we had missed and needed to go back and get. (I changed my focus to non-verbal precursors and foundations to communication, giving her experience as --to borrow from Dr MacDonald-- a "communicating partner", and shift from a focus on "verbal behavior".) I needed to recognize ways in which I had been doing both parts of the interaction, hers and mine, and begin to give her responsibility for her part and the time she needed to accomplish it.

I began to learn, as Dr MacDonald says "to catch myself when I am about to do for my child when she needs to do for herself." And that involves allowing her to reach for herself, shift her own head, eyes, attention (without my prompting), which means I must slow down in order to give her the processing time and space she needs to become active with me, not passive or "lazy".

For children with delays in communication, those "catch yourself" times include times when the child needs to shift his own gaze and his own attention, insert his own arm into his own coat, or his foot into his sock and shoe, accept his own plate, fork, spoon, cup as you are setting the table, carry his side of a bag of groceries with us, and more.

And, the more I think about it, the more I look at how I am with all of my children. It's not just about kids w/ developmental delays! I think I need to cross stitch Dr. MacDonald's words or print them onto a poster for my wall, because I still recognize that I "do" for all of my children when they need to be "doing" for themselves. And they hate it when I make a new discovery and begin to hand over to them the responsibility that should be theirs. I realized in the last few weeks that I have one child who ASKS me for reminders. That child's experience is, "I don't have to remember because Mom will remember for me."

We are all works in progress, some of us (me) have more work than others. The more I learn about myself, the more work I seem to have to do. :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mommy Radar and Learned Helplessness

We parents of children with developmental delays like autism (not limited to autism, though) realize intuitively, very early, that our kids aren't able to share attention with us, and, as an unintentional result, we parents over-develop a kind of "radar" that has us thinking one step, five steps, ten steps ahead of our children. *grin* You know what I'm talkin' about -- the way we can scan a strange room on a first visit, or a park or playground, the way we look for exits, objects that could be mouthed, articles that could be broken, it's like the stuff we do with typical toddlers, except it's on overdrive (maybe even on steroids!) and it lasts waaaaaaaaaaay past toddlerhood!

Those parents don't get to relax, because anywhere they go with that child, that radar must always be working due to the child's underdeveloped joint attention.

That radar becomes a necessity, because if we're not a few steps ahead of them, POOF, they can be gone out a hole in the fence at the playground in a flash! Or they can pick up a glass "pretty" at someone's house and demolish it faster than we can blink! Or eat something they shouldn't.

So, this radar overdevelops, and we don't turn it off at home -- we quit being aware of it and it becomes our way of being with our kid. We get so good at it, that a GREAT DEAL OF THE TIME, we can intuitively read that child's communication SO WELL, that we reinforce learned helplessness in them.

Sound familiar? The child's experience is this one: I don't have to communicate my needs, because Mom watches me with her radar and does that for me, even when we're at home and in familiar territory.

And then all h-e-double-hockey-sticks breaks loose on the rare occasions when Mom's radar FAILS and the result is that we set off an incredible tantrum or meltdown, (the HANDLE approach calls 'em "flare ups").

The "radar" works because we, the parent, assume responsibility for the child, too. I can remember hanging on to my daughter's wrist to keep her near me, or she would bolt while we were running errands. But, I'd wind up overcompensating in places where I could have chosen differently, like at home. You know what I'm talking about: We do OUR part of the interaction, and the CHILD's part, too.

Holding BOTH sides of the responsibility ALL THE TIME is a heavy weight.

Here's something I learned, and I am still learning: If you want to shift the responsibility to your child of communicating her own needs, you need to change yourself, change what you are reinforcing with your "radar".

Are any of these your child? (they were mine, ironically after more than 3 years of early intervention and ABA)

"I don't have to shift my own attention because someone always does that for me by calling my name or using some other prompt"


"I don't have to show Mom what I want because she always knows what's in my mind. I don't have to know what's in hers."


"I don't have to watch for clues around me that a transition is about to happen, because someone will do that for me with prompts and reminders and compensations."

I posted my realization on a Yahoo group where Dr. James MacDonald of Communicating Partners joins parents as we learn how to use ourselves differently with our children, and his response to my post was helpful to me as I continue to think about how to use my "radar". He generously gave me permission to use his words, here. Here are some brilliant highlights from Dr. MacDonald.:

"The dilemma we all have is that we need to predict and protect our children but at the same time give them time and expect more of them.

It is difficult but critical to know the difference.

Let's try to develop in our selves some kind of wisdom or intuition that tells us DANGER or NO DANGER so we can stop and protect when we need to, but also, so we can let the child be himself and respond when we can.

So let's get in the habit of asking ourselves--DANGER OR NO DANGER?

When it is NO DANGER, let your child be free and then respond and make it interactive.

Out of rational fear, many of us tell the child (usually nonverbally) I WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU NO MATTER WHAT. And it can be just that unnecessary 'taking care' that keeps the child in a learned helplessness,or as I prefer, a LAZY mode of operating. So let's get into a habit of knowing quickly when to PROTECT--and when to MOVE ON. Think of your job now as catching yourself when you are about to do for your child when he needs to do for himself...

Remember our job is to prepare our children for relationships with people who will not CARE as much as we do.

Carolyn was right=== put on a stranger hat and act like a stranger would by not doing for the children what he can do for himself. You will find that most of the time you and your child can move on and only rarely do you really need him to protect."

The highlighted text are the parts that stuck out for me as I continue to figure out how best to use my "radar" to help my child to interact and communicate.

Charlotte Mason wrote extensively about habit formation -- Dr. MacDonald's words about a "lazy mode of operating," remind me of Mason's words about the importance that children develop a "habit of attention", which prompt me to dig up some Charlotte Mason materials in order to study her words more closely. Here's one link, if you are interested, too.

Thanks, Dr. MacDonald, for allowing me to share your words.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ice Skating Lesson #2, this afternoon (help, I'm blogging, and I can't stop!)

When Tuesday's lesson ended, my princess was taking four marching steps in a row. Today, when she and Coach got on the ice, Coach asked her to try TEN marching steps in a row:

Coach is teaching my princess to dip.

And this new move scared me a LOT, but my princess is BRAVE!

Watch her jump a tiny jump:

Communicating Partners

I spotted a book review HERE by a mom of a child with challenges in the area of communication, not unlike what families experience when a child has autism.

Sounds like an incredibly helpful book. I may have to order a copy.

I can hear the french horn!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Another update...a PS on another review

Homeschool in the Woods
Original post is available

PS: Yesterday, my daughter picked up the New Testament Activity I'd printed and assembled at least three weeks ago, called, "The Parables of Jesus" today and showed interest in it for the first time! :) Assembled, it's a book that is sized for the hands of children, with a parable on one side of the page, and a blank page on the other, where we are to illustrate the parable on the blank page. We'll take our time, work through it as my daughter continues to show interest.

My hint for the day for parents of children who are resistant because they've been through too much forced WORK disguised as arts and crafts in early intervention is to print activities and, where applicable, complete the assembly, and just leave them in places that are accessible to your children. Allowing your children to SEE the activity and know you're not going to force them to "work" gives them some space to develop comfort with it, space to develop curiosity and interest. When the child's curiosity is driving the activity, the task is no longer "work", and there's room for learning to happen!

UPDATE: How To Improve Reading Skills With A Non-Verbal Autistic Student

Last week, I reviewed two products from Bonnie Terry. One of them is "Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills". Because I know so many families who have a child on the autism spectrum who is non-speaking (the term often used is "non-verbal"), I wondered how this particular product could be modified for a child who is not able to speak.

Here's the link to my original review.

And Bonnie Terry's quick reply to my question is HERE in a blog entry of her own called "How to Improve Reading Skills with a Non-verbal Autistic Student".

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SAUSAGE: Gluten free, Casein Free, Soy Free, Egg Free

Here's a recipe that I made yesterday that fits a lot of different diets, thought I'd snap a photo and share the recipe, so here goes:

Home Style Country Sausage
Collector's Issue, "Light and Tasty" magazine, page 7

1 medium tart apple, peeled and shredded
½ cup cooked brown rice
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ teaspoons rubbed sage
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 pound lean ground turkey

In a bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients; mix well. Crumble turkey over mixture and mix well. Shape into eight ½ inch thick patties. In a large nonstick skillet coated w/ nonstick cooking spray, cook patties for 4-6 minutes on each side or until juices run clear.

One patty equals 111 calories, 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 45 mg cholesterol, 348 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 10 g protein.


A similar recipe (but different) is located here

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

First Ice Skating Lesson

Coach S helped A get into her skates.

Standing for the first time

They are NOT praying.
Learning to stand up is the first lesson.
She learned in the dressing room, not on the ice.

First, put one knee up...

Coach S sat A on the edge of the ice to begin.

And they practiced how to stand up, first.

Standing for the first time on the ice!!!

Learning to MARCH on ice in skates.

Holding on while MARCHING.
A marched on the ice by herself!

More marching

My favorite picture--this one captures the lesson! :) SHE ASKED IF SHE COULD LEARN A FIGURE 8 TODAY!

The "walker" came out to help A march for more steps in a row

Now, without the walker and the lesson is almost over

27 seconds of video from the first lesson

A first

Ever since Disney on Ice a few weeks ago, my homeschooled daughter has been begging for ice skating lessons. First ice skating lesson is later this morning! A friend gave us (GAVE us!) skates. We had the blades sharpened, bought new blade covers and new shoe strings, we found her bicycle helmet, and we're good to go! :)


Monday, March 16, 2009

Homeschool In The Woods New Testament Activity Pak: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Okay, I'll just say it: I did not know what a "lapbook" is. I quickly learned that a lapbook is a way to display a collection of related and creative activities (a unit study, perhaps) in one place, on a poster board or folder. There's a scrapbook feeling about them, although they're not really scrapbooks. And I learned that lapbooks can be dreamed up as you go along, a kind of "winging it", or you can find them already designed and developed for you. Homeschool in the Woods products "ready made" activity-paks for families to use at home. We reviewed the brand new New Testament Activity Pak, as a download ($18.95) from the "Hands on History" selection of unit studies. This product is also available for purchase on CD ($19.95).

Homeschool In The Woods explains in the introduction of the downloadable lapbooking project, the New Testament Activity Pak that, "We believe that the best way for a child to cement the lessons he or she has learned is through hands-on activities and projects! The more that a child has contact with the subject, whether visually, orally, audibly, or kinesthetically, the more of a chance the material has of staying put where it belongs... in the child’s mind!"

THERE'S SO MUCH GREAT STUFF IN HERE!!!!! I was so excited as I began going through the activities!

The New Testament Activity Pak includes projects that illustrate

1. The Lineage from David to Jesus
2. Triptych of the Birth of Jesus Christ
3. Miracles of Jesus
4. The Beatitudes Pie Book
5. Fruit of the Spirit
6. The Parables of Jesus
7. The Last Supper
8. The Crucifixion
9. The Ascension
10. Pentecost
11. The Resurrection
12. Prophesies Fulfilled
13. The Twelve Disciples
14. Paul’s Missionary Journeys
15. Postcards from Paul
16. “The New Testament News”
17. The Armor of God

There is a supply list provided at the beginning of each activity, so Mom or Dad knows what to gather before you begin. You'll need items you probably already have around the house: plain paper, colored paper (if you choose), card stock (optional, but preferred, in my opinion, for some activities), markers, crayons, glue sticks, pens or pencils, tape, ribbon, scissors (an adult needs to cut out some of the activities) and some you may have to buy, for example, the wooden dowels for the scroll in "The New Testament News" activity. I like the fact that Homeschool in the Woods includes a file that shows you what the finished product looks like.

The content is fabulous--there's a lot of "meat" that children (and parents) can bite into here! The attention to detail is impressive! This activity-pak is really beautiful!

Every time I print a section for us to try at home, my daughter balks. :( The balking has nothing to do with the activity-pak. Let me explain: My daughter began early intervention at the age of 19 months, and quite honestly, she's done more arts and crafts than most children her age, because occupational therapists and speech therapists and teachers and tutors have used arts and crafts to give her work on fine motor skills like holding a pencil and cutting. From a very early age, she didn't get to ENJOY arts and crafts -- they were her "work".

As we work to undo some of that perspective for her, I don't *make* her do an activity like this one if she reacts with great resistance. I want her to see the activity and imagine the fun she'll have with it, and join me enthusiastically, not, in her mind as a "chore" or "have to". I have to admit, I want her to want to be interested in a big project like this one, but for *now*, she's not. She sees too many words. She sees "work" in the pages to be colored, and in the drawings she must do, and the words she must write. She has some new discoveries to make about herself and about learning before we tackle together a project as thorough as this one. I soooooooo look forward to the day when I bring out the materials and she jumps into it with anticipation and excitement! One of these days, she WILL, and when that day comes, I will rejoice! :) (In the meantime, I am still trying to let go of the regret of a lot of the "therapy" we did in the name of "early intervention".)

In the meantime, I have the files containing the New Testament Activity Pak on a memory stick, not taking up any space on my bookshelves, waiting for the time when we WILL use it.

Be sure to check out the Homeschool in the Woods web site to see all the wonderful products (including some FREE UNIT STUDIES) that they offer, and be sure to sign up for the monthly newsletter that contains free teaching tips.

Please check out the reviews of my Crewmates, here.

A March 18, 2009 PS: My daughter picked up the New Testament Activity I'd assembled called, "The Parables of Jesus" today and showed interest in it for the first time! :) Assembled, it's a book that is sized for the hands of children, with a parable on one side of the page, and a blank page on the other, where we are to illustrate the parable on the blank page. We'll take our time, work through it as my daughter continues to show interest. My hint for the day for parents of children who are resistant because they've been through too much early intervention is to print activities and, where applicable, complete the assembly, and just leave them in places that are accessible to your children. Allowing your children to SEE the activity and know you're not going to force them to "work" gives them some space to develop comfort with it, space to develop curiosity and interest. When the child's curiosity is driving the activity, the task is no longer "work".

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Kirsten's Journey

Kirsten Haglund, Miss America 2008
with my eldest
I got a reminder today that there are challenges in the world that are not related to autism.

When we returned to this state in the midwest from southern California almost thirteen years ago, we found a new church home. Little did we know that we were watching a future Miss America grow up. We don't really know her family well (we tend to know better the families who have children close in age to ours), but we watched Kirsten and her equally talented brother Lars, and their parents, lead us in worship at many services, either in choir, at the piano, with the guitar, in a solo, and I remember Kirsten, once, dancing. They're all amazingly talented and they all love the Lord!

To say our congregation was thrilled when Kirsten was crowned Miss America in January of 2008 would be putting it mildly. She is the youngest Miss America in history.

She chose an intensely personal platform: eating disorders. I have a sweet friend who lost a daughter to an eating disorder in 2008. I know that they can be deadly. The subject is serious. It is real. It needs to be talked about.

Many of us followed her journey via regular e-mails from the Miss America organization, and many of us committed to pray her through her reign. She traveled 20,000 miles a month, and she worked hard! Her face and smile beamed today when she talked about being able to serve so many people during that year, meeting folks around the country, offering encouragement and reaching out, touching people in ways she'd have not been able to do had she not been Miss America.

Now, Kirsten has crowned a new Miss America, and she's resuming her life. She's getting prepared to use some of that scholarship money she won in the only three pageants she ever entered (obviously, she won every one of them), she's pursuing her dream near Hollywood, and she's kicked off the The Kirsten Haglund Foundation, with a message to young girls: "Love Your Body, Rock the World".

This weekend, Kirsten shared her journey with folks in our community, with two events open to the public and one, today, for our church family. She is real and authentic, and her message needs to be heard. Giving our girls the message that they don't have to be thin, or fit someone else's definition of "beauty" is an incredibly important one. And her journey to making that discovery for herself is one she's happy to share as she encourages young women though her story.

One fact that was brought up during the Q &A is the fact that Michigan is one of only EIGHT states that does NOT have mental health parity provisions that require insurance coverage services and treatments for individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder. (An aside: individuals diagnosed with autism are treated similarly) Haglund mentioned that a bill requiring mental health parity dropped this past week and she encouraged us to call our state legistlators to encourage them to support it.

She recommended a book that helped as she was developing a new self image: "Captivating, Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul" by John and Staci Eldridge.

The story of Kirsten's journey is fascinating, and her servant's heart is humbling. We'll be watching and anticipating more exciting events to unfold for her as she seeks God's will for her life and His direction for her next steps.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Incredible Edible Cell

This blog entry comes from a GUEST from my famiy! :) My cousin posted this on our family blog, and the idea is SO fabulous, I asked for her permission to share it here with you, and she graciously said "yes".

We may try a GFCFSF++ version of the "incredible edible cell". I thought you might want to try it, too--it's a GREAT project:

Two nights ago, H. and I spent the evening completing a project for his science class called "The Incredible Edible Cell". He had to bring in a baked good created to look like a cell (in his case, an animal cell) complete with little "flag" labels made out of toothpicks. We decided to make a big sugar cookie, and add icing, candy pieces, and sprinkles. He had to include things like mitochondria, the nucleus, ribosomes, endoplasmic recticulum, and lysosomes. Here is a photo of the finished project! (They ate their projects at lunch that day after being graded.)

Here's H. with the cell cookie before putting in the toothpick signs

H. decorating the cookie

Bonnie Terry Learning: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

After attending a workshop last year on the topic of guided reading for lower elementary school levels, I am aware that there are approaches to work on reading, comprehension, fluency. The workshop I attended was aimed at public school teachers. I am a homeschooling parent, and did not have access to the resources the schools have. What was I going to use at home? I had nooooooooooooooooooo idea.

Enter Bonnie Terry, M.Ed., a special education teacher and a Board Certified Educational Therapist in private practice. To use and review at home, our family received products that address reading skills and study skills.

"Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills, A Fast, Fun Approach to Improve Writing and Study Skills," ($37.00) is packed with information and tools for students working in the 3rd-12th grades. It reminds me of the journalism stylebook I learned to use in college. We are not working at a 3rd grade level in some areas, so we have not been able to use the entire book, and I am looking forward to utilizing it. Terry "gets" the fact that adding the visual component between teachers and students is important, and she's created an incredibly useful tool in adding the visual component to studying and writing.

Terry includes a "read this first" information sheet to help the teacher begin, spotlighting which pages to photocopy, offering some tips that I'd define as "quick-start". The book is divided into four parts. In Part I, Terry dedicates a few pages to helping a student get started by discussing how to choose a place, what supplies to have on hand for 3rd-6th graders and for 7th-12th graders, and by providing calendar templates for scheduling your study times. Purchasers have a limited reproduction permission, up to 50 copies per year of any part of the book for use with his or her students only.

In Part II, Terry provides visual "organizational forms that can be used from third grade through high school level. The forms start with basic story organizers and end with essay organizers and business letter writing."

Part III gives readers study and writing tips and Part IV is an easy reference section that students will reach for again and again. The easy reference section includes common spelling patterns in the English language, rules for capitalization and punctuation, parts of speech, helping verbs, how to sections on bibliographies and works cited.

In "Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills, A Fast, Fun, Phonic Approach to Improve Reading Skills," Terry provides a student book ($32.00) and a teachers manual ($37.00) that can be purchased individually or together as a package for $60.00. She also included a write and wipe plastic sheet protector and a marking pen to go with the teacher's book. The drills are intended for students 1st grade and up. And again, Terry provides "READ THIS FIRST" set of "quick start" tips that were very useful to me.

I know that shorter lessons are better for my daughter, and still, I have trouble knowing how much is enough, how much is too much, how much is too little. I LOVE resources that are already divided into SHORT lessons that have "enough" defined for me. THIS IS ONE OF THOSE! :)

Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills contains 45 drills. Terry recommends a minimum of two lessons a week, although you may use them daily.

The teacher's book contains all of the "how-to" information, the progress charts, and the drills are numbered here. The student book contains just the drills, and the drills have no numbers along the sides of the pages, and Terry explains in the teacher's book that the "numbering tends to stress" students out.

The program is simple: start at the beginning with the first drill, work for mastery, and move on to the next lesson. The book is arranged so that there is one drill per page, one page per day, and the student reads aloud the words in rows from left to right, with an oral pre-read followed by an oral timed read. (I am not sure how to modify this for non-speaking children.)
3/18/09 UPDATE: I know many families who have non-speaking children on the autism spectrum, and some read my blog, so I contacted Bonnie Terry via e-mail and asked her how to use this product w/ a non-speaking child. She devoted a blog entry to the answer: http://www.bonnieterry.com/blog/?p=284

As I use this with my daughter (she has an autism diagnosis), I realize what issues challenge her. The drills have been good practice for us as I look for ways to give her experience and practice watching ending consonants. I like the developmental progression that Terry utilizes, working on a single middle vowel sound (same), but changing the consonants around them (different); then she introduces a new middle vowel sound; and the next lesson, she reviews both of those vowel sounds. The student must pay attention to work through the rows of words with accuracy and increasing speed.

We use a piece of paper or a plastic "reader" to block out all but the one line of words that we are reading.

When we get to the end of the page, we are done for the day! "Enough" is very clear for both of us! :)

Extra expenses are minimal, including the legal photocopies you make from either book (calendars, charts, forms) and the cost of a timer if you don't have a stopwatch or timer.

If you're looking for a study tool and reference guide all-in-one, I recommend this one. And for those of you working with struggling readers, consider Terry's products.

A great resource is the Bonnie Terry blog.

My Crewmates' reviews of these and other Bonnie Terry products (including the areas of math, spelling, and a sentence game) are located here.

UPDATE: VIDEO OF A FIVE MINUTE TO BETTER READING SESSION HERE: http://www.bonnieterry.com/blog/?p=461

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Noah's Ark from One2Believe: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

I was introduced to One2Believe in the fall of last year, when I reviewed their Tales of Glory nativity set.

We were given a second opportunity to see this Tales of Glory line from One2Believe when we received the Noah's Ark ($29.99) set. This set is just as adorable as the nativity set, and my children oooo'd and ahhhhh'd over it as we unwrapped the box!

The set comes with an ark (top, bottom, ramp), Noah, and several pairs of cute animals:

The ark is the storage container for the animals.

This play set, like the others, is recommended for children at least 3 years old, as there are several small parts, and, according to the description on the One2Believe web site, the parts are made from PVC, which may be dangerous to chewers, mouthers, people who need a lot of oral motor sensory input. Please do your research and make your own decision in this regard. (A google search yields quite a bit of information about PVC in toys.)

Children with autism tend to like to line things up, and mine is no exception. I frequently see the animals lined up to climb onto the ark, or lined up around it in a decorative fashion. :)

Kids love these--you can't go wrong with 'em. They're tough and sturdy, they don't shatter when they're dropped or thrown. They'd be great for a Sunday School class or to have at grandma and grandpa's house, too, or to have around when little cousins come to play.

Other crew reviews are available here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Schleich: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Today, one of those big delivery trucks brought us a fun surprise: six Schleich toys! :) We received a gnu, a Charolais cow, a Falabella pony, a goose, a female cheeta, and a jaguar.

Schleich included a 2009 catalog in our box. Now we know what "old" animals we're missing from our collection, what new animals are available for purchase RIGHTNOW, and what animals are coming out in the next few months (and when).

Our family is sold on Schleich. My daughter asked for their animal nursery a couple of years ago for Christmas, and her grandparents made it happen for her. We have been fortunate to find the animals at a lot of "t" stores (Tractor Supply, Target, Toys R Us) and a few months ago, before winter's cold turned our neighborhood into frozen tundra, we purchased quite a large selection of the animals at a neighbor's garage sale.

My daughter likes to play with the animal nursery MINUS it's roof, so that she can more easily move the animals around inside. Sometimes we put the roof on, but not often!

We like the Schleich toys for lots of reasons--They're great for imaginative play, they're great with a "lesson" or to accompany a story or field trip, they're beautiful, and very true to life. We've returned home to look at one more closely after a trip to the farm or the zoo. We find the appropriate Schleich figure when we are reading about an animal in a book. The detail is amazing! They're quite sturdy, too, and I'll tell you that not one of them has broken or fallen apart here. The ones we purchased at the gargage sale were quickly mixed in with the animals that were purchased new, and we cannot tell the secondhand toys from the new toys. They don't fade.

Schleich assures me the toys are safe, "All materials used in production are carefully selected and tested by independent laboratories. Our products are subject to constant quality controls and fulfil all strict national and international safety requirements."

The one "negative", for me, today, *grin* is that my daughter already knows what new releases are coming out and when. She didn't have to spend much time with the catalog to memorize that information, and I predict that on May 1st, she will begin reminding me what new Schleich animals are available for May, 2009.

I did not know that Schleich makes trees, plants and a lot of other accessories. They make dinosaurs and human figurines, too.

I really want the gray whale mother and calf. I was a docent on whale watch boats when we lived on the left coast, and had many opportunties to see these beautiful creatures in person. I'd love to have the Schleich versions in miniature. (And yes, I'd hide mine!)

I had no idea we could order Schleich toys on-line. Prices start under $2, larger animals cost more than the smaller ones.

We love Schleich at our house! :)

I invite you to read the Schleich reviews of my Crewmates here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Slowing down

Those of us who are working with an RDI(r) Program Certified Consultant are learning to be mindful to SLOW DOWN with a child on the autism spectrum, in order to give our children opportunities to process more information with fewer repeats and reminders and prompts, to give our children experience in gathering their own information, taking their own actions in response.

I heard Dr. Becky Bailey speak today about her program, "Conscious Discipline", and during her presentation, she said something that I have never heard, and something that re-emphasizes for me the need to SLOW DOWN. She said that young children process information 12 times slower than adults, and that 11 and 12 year old children process information five times slower than adults. She was referring to "nt" children (nt = neurotypically development, which in the autism world, usually means "not autistic").

She asked us how many of us as parents and teachers have repeated and repeated information and instructions, growing more and more frustrated with every spoken word, because our children (students) weren't responding quickly enough? (Everyone in the audience raised a hand.)

She told us that the message we are sending to our children when we do that is quite negative, and she encouraged us to slow down and to remember that our children do not process information at the same speed as an adult.

Food for thought.

Friday, March 6, 2009

SpellQuizzer Software: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

I'm always on the lookout for something that combines fun and learning, and SpellQuizzer spelling software fits my criteria! SpellQuizzer is a spelling program that helps us practice spelling words and vocabulary words. Priced at $29.95, the program offers purchasers the option to use pre-programmed lists of spelling words or to enter your own lists of words. We like the way we can customize it to a particular unit study or lesson in terms of vocabulary. I can imagine the software would be great for working on foreign language spelling and vocab, as well.

SpellQuizzer works with or without a microphone. I purchased the least expensive microphone at a nearby electronics store for about $12, and we have used the program with it and without it. We like using the microphone -- it's just FUN that way (*grin*), but the program is equally effective without the microphone.

The download was quite simple; I was able to put it on our two family computers with no problems, and we began entering lists of words pretty quickly. The software is very user friendly! The concept is simple: You use a pre-programmed word list or you enter your own list,--if you use your own list, then you enter the voiced recording of that word and save it, --enter an optional hint (a hint is required if you're not using the microphone), and begin! Students type the words after a spoken prompt or pre-programmed (by you) hint on the screen. The SpellQuizzer web site is quite descriptive in terms of showing potential buyers an inside look at the product, and the company offers a free trial download as well. Please check it out!

The ability to add your own voice recording makes the software very customizable. For example, with a child who needs experience on auditory discrimination of vowel sounds within one-syllable words, I can record exactly what I want to emphasize on the spelling lists for that child. Instead of saying "pet", I can customize that list and record "pet. puh - eh - tuh. pet."

Ya know, sometimes, you look at a product and you know if you buy it, it's not going to be useful to all of the students in the family, because some products are geared for older students or younger ones. SpellQuizzer spans the age and grade ranges -- because you have the option to enter your own word lists, this software isn't limited to a certain demographic in terms of users.
And because users type answers back to the program, our children gain keyboarding experience as well.

If you have a laptop, you can take your spelling on the road when you travel, without having to keep up with paper lists.

My kids crack up at my voice on the recordings (I still carry a southern dialect that my children have not grown in the midwest, much to my dismay, y'all) and they are able to practice "with" me (my voice, anyway) during times when I might need to be doing something else. I'm going to say "fun" again -- THIS SOFTWARE IS REALLY FUN!

For other Crewmate reviews of this product, check out the TOS Homeschool Crew blog here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

ARTistic Pursuits: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

An art instruction curriculum was not on my list of homeschooling considerations when I began. I was concerned with how I'd teach the three R's. I don't feel competent when I think about teaching art (I need an art class, myself!). I even read a lot about what Charlotte Mason calls, "picture studies", and still, I didn't make the connection between "picture studies" and an art curriculum.

I am learning to think about ART in new ways. Art is all around us. Art is more than a craft at a table, making a drawing or painting. Art is perspective taking, sharing something from me to you, connecting with others. ARTistic Pursuits captures what art is, how to recognize it and appreciate it all around us, and helps us to create our own.

ARTistic Pursuits
produces curricula for teaching art to students from the pre-school level through high school.
We were allowed to choose the book we'd like to review, based upon the needs of our student(s), and after reviewing the descriptions at the ARTistic Pursuits web site, I was torn between the pre-school book and the K-3 book for my 9 year old with autism. I sense that we missed some pre-school skills in a developmental fashion, and going back to experience those is important. Even if your child is well beyond the pre-school years, you may want to consider beginning here. (See the web site for examples from each book.)

We are using the K-3 BOOK ONE, An Introduction to the Visual Arts ($42.95) , at home.

Right away, I was impressed with the book. Brenda Ellis has produced an absolutely BEAUTIFUL book!

As I began to read the lessons, I was more impressed, as Ellis's program is aimed to hit the areas in which individuals on the autism spectrum are often delayed. Right off the bat, Lesson 1, Ellis begins a journey of perspective taking, seeing what artists see, hearing what they hear. Ellis walks us through what art is, where to look for it, and how to be an artist, too!

This is another resource that scaffolds the process for ME, to show me what to show my children, as we look for art when we're out and about, going through our day, (very "guided participation" and RDI-able) and this resource gives me do-able projects for us to experience together at home, as well! I learned that I don't have to be an accomplished art teacher to teach art at home--I can learn alongside my child.

The full color reproductions of works of art are spectacular (gorgeous!), and according to the ARTistic Pursuits web sites, are new for 2008:

"NEW in 2008!
You'll love our new SECOND EDITIONS. All books now include art works by Master artists printed in each book in full color. There are no more separate print packets to handle. Because of this new format, we've been able to include more artwork and more historical information. Now, with an extra page in each unit, students in 4-12 grades get a better look at American art, World art, and European art. Biographies of the artists have been expanded and students still get to look at a work of art in each unit to see how an artist used the idea presented in that unit - the feature that makes ARTistic Pursuits unique and loved by so many students. These are the books you love, plus more! "

One other aspect that I like (but haven't used, yet), is the option to purchase all of your materials from ARTistic Pursuits in one package. Yes, the book includes a materials list, and yes, you can go to the craft store and purchase all the items (we have a lot of the items already because we use crafts a lot at home), but I love the option of the short cut they offer in their packages!

I love this one!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Math Mammoth: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Math Mammoth is another gem that I didn't know about until Crew members were given the opportunity to review some of Maria Miller's products. Math Mammoth produces affordable math worktexts students from early elementary school through high school.

Each Crew member was offered products for individual children, so if you are considering a math program that doesn't include the products we chose, be sure to check out the main Crew blog for more reviews.

Because my daughter still struggles to add and subract, but she has memorized her multiplication tables, I wanted to use both addition and multiplication, and that's exactly what I got, from the Light Blue Series. The Light Blue Series is a complete curriculum for grades 1-5.

In e-book format, we are using Math Mammoth Grade 1A (116 pages) and Math Mammoth Grade 1B (113 pages), a first grade curriculum that includes addition and subtraction, place value, telling time, and counting coins. We are also using Math Mammoth Multiplication 1 (100 pages).

Math worksheets in an e-book format have been quite useful. I can make multiples of some pages and skip others altogether. Printing a few selected pages for completion during the travel part of a trip is easy, and I don't have to lug entire workbooks on vacation.

When I began to study the worksheets, I was excited to see how Maria Miller takes the student from developmental foundations to more complex concepts. In the workbooks that we used, I can tell you that she starts with very visual, concrete activities, and gently moves the student into more abstract versions of the same concepts. Several of the worksheets are very similar to pages in instruments used in FIE (Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment), which is a developmental approach to growing cognitive skills. Coming from a developmental perspective, the developmental progression that Maria Miller has created in these workbooks is impressive to me.

As I am working with my daughter, I am able to use one worksheet with my daughter, in a way that shows ME what to do, and then I am able to "freehand" ("wing it! *grin*) similar activities that provice experience with the same concepts in other ways thoughout the day, with pen and paper, or with real objects as we are cooking or playing. I like a worksheet that teaches me how to teach her, that scaffolds that teaching part for me, so that I grow as a teacher, too.

This is another resource where I encourage you to spend some time on the company web site. You'll find links to free worksheets, to samples from the workbooks, FAQs and product comparisons, and links to Maria Miller's blog.

The package containing Grades 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the Light Blue series in a download is priced at $94. Individual units are available for purchase as well, but the entire series package is a better value. Be sure to check out this page if you have a student who needs supplemental work on one particular area (the individual areas of study are $5 or less).

I like this product! I like the versatility of the e-format, and I like the ideas the pages generate for me as we work on mathematics throughout the day.

For more Crewmate reviews, click here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Wordless Books, Part 2

When I began to look at wordless books to use with my child, I quickly realized that some of them were developmentally appropriate for my child, and some were not. (Interestingly, the author the autism classroom staff recommended to me wrote several books that were NOT developmentally appropriate. Please note that wordless does not = developmentally appropriate!)

I had assumed "wordless" meant "simple" in terms of plot and story line. In terms of the level of the reader's joint attention, some of the books I scanned required a higher level of joint attention than my child had experienced in real life, between-you-and-me, moments. I wanted her to be able to understand and relate to the stories and draw upon her growing bank of experiences. (I discussed levels of joint attention HERE.)

Last year, I took a workshop for teachers on the topic of guided reading, aimed at those teaching K-2. (I was the only parent/NON-teacher-by-training there.)

We spent a little bit of time on the "why bother" of guided reading, and I recognized some of Vygotsky's work and terms during that portion of the workshop (although Vygotsky was not named). Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who theorized that developmental skills/functions appear twice in development, first together, between people, and second, alone. Development of self starts as a "we" and moves to an "I" with a "you". He also gave us the term, "zone of proximal development," and in terms of guided reading, that means we choose text that is not too easy, but is not too difficult, for the growing reader. We pick material that has a challenge that is within that child's grasp.

I learned in that workshop a term that I had not heard before: "shared reading". And I learned that "shared reading" comes in development before "guided reading". Why didn't I think of that before? I realized during that workshop that my daughter and I needed to experience more "shared reading". She'd been in public school since she was 19 months old, and I don't remember anyone from school ever asking me if we read to her. [We did NOT read to her because she wouldn't join us. Joining comes first in development -- it's an important part of shared attention, joint attention, and we were beginning to experience that much later in development than is the norm, with the help of RDI(r) .].

When the instructor of the guided reading workshop began to show us examples of leveled readers and leveled text, I had a huge "a-ha" moment. I realized that a lower-level reader could have a plot that required the reader to have a higher level of joint (shared) attention (what professionals in the autism world sometimes refer to as "theory of mind", although I hate that term), than a lot of children with autism HAVE. (I wrote about joint attention here, and my Part 1 post about using wordless books to address reading comprehension is here.)

So, we have a lot of children on the autism spectrum who are quite competent in READING the TEXT, who might even be labeled hyperlexic, but are not comprehending meaning because they don't comprehend that level of "between you and me". A lot of our children need more experiences "between you and me". Leveled readers are NOT leveled on the criteria of "joint attention" or "theory of mind", because there is an assumption that most early/emergent readers have aquired an age appropriate level of J/A or ToM.

And, for several years, the school staff had been pushing my daughter to read text and comprehend it, when she needed more experience in being read TO, in shared reading! ARG!!! (Yes, this played into my decision to homeschool her.)

No wonder reading comprehension is such a popular subject on internet chat groups for parents of children on the autism spectrum!

A friend in college who knew I'd been using wordless books sent me this The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy article, "Young children’s readings of wordless picture books: What’s ‘self’ got to do with it?" by JUDITH T. LYSAKER Butler University, USA.


"What is most interesting is that the presence of multiple self-positions – the capacity for dialogism in the children – seems to define their narration. In other words, children’s dialogic capacities may be what enables or affords the comprehension abilities described in other work (Paris and Paris, 2003; Sulzby, 1991). That is, the understanding of stories is predicated upon one’s ability to participate in them; a child ‘understands’ stories by first experiencing them as an event of the self, a merger of their personal narrative and the narrative of the book. This seems consistent with Halliday’s (1975) assertion that children learn about language through the use of language, as well as with Rosenblatt’s assertion that the act of reading is an event in which aspects of the reader and aspects of the text come together in unique personal ways (the poem) which represents ‘understanding’."

Children develop a "self that reads" by first experiencing a "we that read". Shared reading comes in development prior to guided reading. And, real life, between-you-and-me EXPERIENCES are important pieces that support all of that literacy development.

In the analysis of this research study, Lysaker observed five "self-positions" as the children participating "read" a series of wordless books to the researchers:

1) Reactor
2) Observer
3) Emerging Narrator
4) Developing Narrator
5) Established Narrator

The "self-positions" grow in terms of what we (as I understand it) refer to in RDI(r) as shared attention and perspective taking. The Reactor, Dr Lysaker descibes, is the child who simply named objects. The Observer commented from the outside. An emerging narrator used first person tense. A Developing Narrator narrated using multiple characters, and an Established Narrator used multiple voice characters: "These children also had a clear awareness of audience and frequently used performance markers to begin and end their readings." Dr. Lysaker points out that the child "readers" must know and understand their audience, which happens to be an area of challenge for children on the autism spectrum.

Lysaker's conclusion includes this statement that talks about the importance of experiences as a player in literacy development:

"Acknowledging the importance of development of the ‘self that reads’ and the self-capacities that are shaped during early childhood may be an important addition to how we define emergent literacy and how we approach young readers and writers instructionally. It seems that if we are committed to helping children emerge into literacy we must find ways to help our young children continue to nourish and develop themselves as complex, dialogic human beings."

Experiences are necessary! And going back and working on books with simple (in terms of shared attention) plots and with little or no text may be necessary for some children. It could be a way to begin to move forward.

Giving a too-complicated book (plot) to a student with an underdeveloped sense of self and a developmental delay in perspective taking is not setting that student up to be a reader!

Do all students in a remediation program/"do-over" need to return to wordless books? I don't know. But I do believe that success in growing comprehension depends on small successes in building developmental foundations and growing them.

So what kinds of wordless books should you choose for your child? And which ones should you avoid, for now? I'll give you a few examples from *our* experience: "The Red Book," Barbara Lehman and "Flotsam," by David Weisner, both had more complex plots, levels of shared attention, than we were ready for when we began using wordless books. We were able to use Mercer Mayer's series about the boy and the dog and the frog, and Jan Omerod's books, "Moonlight" and "Sunshine" were perfect for us. We like Tomie dePaola's, "Pancakes for Breakfast," too.

I'm not an expert on reading, not an expert on wordless books or leveled text, but I can share with you what is helping us at home, and wordless story books are one piece of what we do. Understanding joint attention has been helpful for me, too, as I choose books that support our success together.


Special thanks to Dr. Judith Lysaker, for permission to share from her work here in this blog entry.
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