Thursday, December 31, 2009

Non-verbal Communication: Conversations Using *Only* Faces

I like to write about the a-ha moments that stand out for me, the moments where a concept really began to sink in. I hope my anecdotes help you to look at autism intervention in a new way. I wish that someone had told me about some of these developmental concepts much sooner. Here's a story from my journal:

Two years ago, one of our RDI(r) objectives involved the concept of having conversations using just our faces. There are other ways to communicate non-verbally, but we needed to spend time on faces at that particular point in time.

When we are assigned a new objective by our RDI(r) Program Certified Consultant, I have to ponder it for a few days, and I usually begin seeing evidence of the objective all around me, which helps me understand it's importance in a do-over.

Within a day or so of being assigned this particular objective (which is more specific than the version I summarized for you, here), I was driving the sibs to school, slowing down to make a right turn onto the street of the elementary school. That corner is quite busy, and there are children walking to school who cross that street from two different directions.

I've noticed over time (episodic memory) that the crossing guard stays in the warm comfort of her van until she is needed to escort children across the street, and if the crossing guard is standing outside her van, I can follow her gaze (perspective taking, attention shifting) and tell from which direction the students are walking.

One morning, the crossing guard was unusually close to the street, and her position alerted me to the idea that there were probably children approaching the crosswalk, and the silent conversation began.

I slowed down, prepared to make my right turn, and could tell from the direction of her gaze where the children were coming from, and they were pretty close to crossing the street where I was about to make my turn. So I had to shift my attention back to her, intentionally look to her, using my face to ask an unspoken but extremely important question, and receive an answer from her face and gestures. Was she going to let me go first, or was she going to have me stop, and let the children go first? We had to have a conversation using just our faces. She had to know that I saw her, that I would stop, before she would let the children cross the street.

Once I recognized several examples in my day where I relied on faces for conversation, I was ready to tackle the assignment and make some discoveries of my own. When a child doesn't take the initiative to monitor facial expressions, like I had to monitor the face of the crossing guard, the parents and professionals around that child behave differently, and we tend to overcompensate. I had to learn to quit feeding learned helplessness, use myself in new ways, so that my daughter could make some new discoveries.

What a different journey the developmental path has been...

PS: If you own the DVD version of the movie, Cars, check out the bonus feature called, "One Man Band". Count the number of verbal exchanges and the number of non-verbal, faces-only exchanges. It's quite an education for such a short film and worth renting or borrowing from the library if you don't own the DVD.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Apologia's, The Ultimate Guide To Homeschooling, by Debra Bell, A TOS Crew Review

I make no secret about the fact that I feel like a new homeschooler, even though I withdrew my daughter from public school two years ago. We are navigating the waters of homeschooling together, she and I, feeling our way into academics in new ways as we continue a remediation program for the core deficits of autism.

I need a GUIDE. I needed one in January of 2008 when we became official homeschoolers and I need one now.

And now, I have a GUIDE. It's from Apologia, called Debra Bell's, The Ultimate Guide to HOMESCHOOLING.

I open the book. Anxiety rises within me. I'm homeschooling a child on the autism spectrum with a lot of developmental delays. Is this book for me, too? I am quickly put at ease: "But homeschooling is not just a forum for intellectually talented kids to achieve their fullest. I've seen equal success with kids otherwise labeled delaed or learning disabled, as well as with those who are wired to learn differently." Debra Bell, in The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, from the Introduction.

I'm still a little bit anxious. Is it dry, matter-of-fact, and boring, with mostly lists of resources? And is Debra Bell going to add to my own issues about homeschooling just one of my children while the sibs remain in public school? (There's a guilt factor involved.) The answer to both questions is "no". (sigh of relief)

I always like to warn readers when a review product is not a stand-alone product. Sometimes reviewers get a product that requires them to make a purchase in order to use that product. Readers (potential buyers of this book), trust me when I tell you, you're gonna need at least one highlighting marker or a pen or pencil and possibly some sticky-notes. If you don't have them in your homeschool supply closet, you'll need to buy them. *grin*

I don't know how Debra Bell and the editors decided on which chapters to put first. I can't read a book like this one from beginning to end, anyway. Like most magazines, I quickly skim the table of contents and introduction and begin browsing this book from the back and middle. (Some of you are nodding along in agreement with me. You get my approach!) Then, and only then, can I settle in with the book, beginning at the beginning.

Bell writes as if she's talking just to me, I think. She describes a lot of the "why bother" that I need as I think about how to think about aspects of homeschooling. She earns my trust in the early chapters because Bell gives me the blunt honesty I need, pros and cons, to weigh the different aspects that come with a decision to homeschool. She's real with the reader. I like that. Sometimes, Bell has me laughing out loud. She's got a fun sense of humor. ;) (I will make an effort to attend Bell's sessions if she is presenting at a convention that I attend. She's bound to be entertaining and informative in person, too.) In the back of my mind, I think the book title should include the word "girlfriend's" before the word "guide".

She includes a chapter that was somehow written especially for me, called, "But I Don't Want to Homeschool".

Her thoughts are rooted in scripture, too, and there are some sections which inspire an urge to journal, or at the very least, think through a topic more thoroughly; Bell forces me to take a stand or make a decison about something I've been indecisive about as she clarifies the issues that have been blurry for me. I'm guessing that not all readers will feel Bell pushing them into self-discovery and growth -- in my case, it's a "Pennyism". If you are not religious, not homeschooling for religious reasons, don't worry, Bell is not out to preach or evangelize. The focus of the book is what it says it is. Bell is a Christian and she lets that part of her show as she writes.

I need more than the basics of homeschooling, and Bell delivers. Some highlights that are helpful to me, the mom of a learner with an outside-the-norm learning style:

Chapter 5 includes a section about children with special needs.

Chapter 9 is called "Determining Your Child's Learning Style". Even parents and teachers of children in school-building settings will find this chapter interesting and useful. Debra Bell presents learning styles in a way that I've not seen before, and she has me reframing my perspective about not just my homeschooler and her learning style, but the sibs as well. I've got to head over to the library web site to try to get some of the books Bell recommends in this chapter for further research.

Chapter 14, "Maintaining Control of Your Day", begins with long range planning, a short section on how to write objectives and includes samples of an Educational Plan, something that will look familiar to anyone who has ever developed an IEP for a child in a public school setting.

Occasionally, my homeschooler's sibs will muse about what it would be like for them to come home for school, and Bell's Guide gives me plenty of food for thought about that idea. Chapter 30 (another section written especially for me, I haven't yet figured out how Bell did that since she has never met me) is devoted to "Transitioning from School to Home".

Bell covers everything. Topics including but not limited to Time. Money. Budgets. Burnout. Curricula. Computer technology. Internet. Assessment. Report cards. Organization. Dads. College. Elementary School. Middle School. High School. Sports. Music. Art. Subject-by-Subject Guidelines. Yes, there are lists of resources that take me to more information. I'm amazed by what she thought to include.

I have one question -- the answer may be in the pages as I finish every word. If the sibs come home for school from the public school system, how do I make sure they "keep up" with the public school should they want to return? Or is that not something to a) worry about and b) try to keep up with?

Bell's bio on Apologia's web site directs me to Bell's web site, where she blogs and posts articles and information. HERE, readers can get a sense of Bell's down-to-earth, chatty writing style. She maintains a Google group where folks may interact with her.

The Guide is 500+ pages and retails for $20 and comes with a bonus in the form of access to a companion site on the web with additional information. If you are a homeschooler, new or have been at it a while, or are considering homeschooling, or would like to consider considering homeschooling, I think you'll find this book helpful.

Apologia provided at no charge a copy of Debra Bell's, The Ultimate Guide to HOMESCHOOLING to each TOS Crew member to review for you. The folks at Apologia also sent us their newest product catalog, which is available, free, by request, here.

To read reviews of my Crewmates about The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, go HERE.

Jean Welles Worship Guitar, a TOS Crew Review

I received The Jean Welles Worship Guitar Class, Volume One (English & Spanish) DVD and booklet (actually two booklets, one full size and one that fits inside the DVD case) with all the music, free, to review for you as part of TOS Homeschool Crew of reviewers.

Welles is highly qualified; she has a Master's in Guitar Performance from USC. Volume One offers seven lessons that teach seven (one song per lesson) well-known worship songs:

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand
My All in All
More Precious Than Silver
Take My Life
Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
This is the Day
I Love You Lord

Students use these chords in the songs

A & E7
A & E7
A7 D G
A A7 D Em D9/F# G

We have a couple of child-sized First Act guitars (not the best instrument from what I understand) that we've never learned to play. My middle schooler began playing the trumpet a year-and-a-half ago and within a couple of months moved up to the french horn. She's my musical princess. ;) She understands more about music than anyone in our family, with me being the distant second (handbell choir is my big experience with music) and I sat her down with me to try out the video lesson.

My daughter and I are both right-handed. So is Welles. I notice that there are some instructions in the back of the full-size book for lefties.

I sat with her as we began to try to tune the guitar. Our little guitar sounded pitiful. It needed a lot of help. Welles does not show the viewer how to tighten the strings and we needed a few minutes to figure out which gizmo loosens and tightens which string. My daughter was frustrated because Welles didn't demonstrate how to strum the strings. Welles appeared to be using a rigid thumbnail; my daughter's nails are quite short. We paused the video and found a pick.

I don't know how a new student could use the video alone. My daughter needed a "helper" (*me*) to run the DVD for her, stopping it, backing it up, as we tightened the strings to tune the guitar to match the sounds Welles produced for us on the DVD. and again when Welles demonstrated the finger position for the two chords in the first song. I I had not been there to operate the DVD player, my daughter would have had to let go of the carefully found finger positioning and refind it every time she let go of the guitar to back-up the DVD to the right place. We backed up quite a few times. I think that either of us would have quit in frustration had we been trying to learn alone, without someone to re-cue the DVD to the parts we needed to see and hear again. My daughter and I would have liked more examples with slower pacing so that we wouldn't have had to pause, go backwards to find the right spot, and see a demonstation again (and again) (and again). A sample excerpt from the first lesson is available on THIS web page.

Having done that, we (okay, SHE) had quick success with the A and E7 chords, and we turned the DVD off while my daughter practiced shifting between the two chords so that, eventually, she could try to play, "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands". Once she got the guitar pick and had the hang of the chords (just a few minutes), her confidence rose, the frustration dimmed, and she moved forward, and she actually wanted to learn more. The second song uses the same two chords. My musical princess began to use the booklet more (with the DVD in pause) -- she says the booklet is a big help. When she tried to play the song with Welles on the DVD, my daughter wanted to go more slowly.

Perhaps if an individual is familiar with the finger positions for some basic guitar chords, the video moves at a good pace. However, if you are a real beginner, I recommend that you have someone "man" the DVD to back it up and replay the parts you need to see again so that you don't have to lose and refind the finger positions every time you need to re-watch a segment.

I want to stop and spotlight the fact that we like this DVD. I'd want a reviewer to tell me about the frustrations before I ordered a DVD, so that's why I included that experience in the review. HOWever, with two of us working together, we got the guitar tuned and my daughter learned two chords and one song (while stopping the lesson to look for a guitar pick) in less than an hour. And she wanted to keep going (and she did keep going).

This DVD is priced at $24.95. The full-size book is $5.95. You need the full-size book. The book that comes inside the DVD case is quite small. The set of four (Volumes 1, 2, 3, & 4) is priced at $99.80 and you can add the four full-size books, bringing the cost of four DVDs and four books to $119.80.

Music lessons are expensive. Music lessons at one of the nearby music stores are $96 per half-hour for the french horn (that's what lessons cost a year ago when I called to price them, anyway). My opinion is that $25 is a reasonable, even extremely low, price to pay for an introduction to the guitar and seven lessons. I believe that having some musical experience is a plus for a beginner guitar student. The DVD lessons may be one way to work through frustration and build resilience in some students while learning a musical instrument at the same time. There's an element of cooperation, co-ordination, co-regulation involved as one student plays while a helper manages the DVD.

I think, despite our beginning frustrations, this is an inexpensive, no-appointment necessary, no-need-to-leave-the-house, do-it-on-your-own-schedule, way to try out a new instrument and master a recognizable song or two very quickly. Who knows -- if you try this DVD with a so-so guitar, you may, like us, find yourselves considering the purchase of a "real" guitar and more lessons. (Welles offers tips for folks like us who are considering the purchase of a used guitar on the web site. See question 4 near the bottom of this page.)

I would not start my homeschooler on this video. With the fine motor challenges see on the autism spectrum, she'd probably need to begin with the class for younger children, which I understand uses one-finger chords.

If you're interested in music lessons, spend some time on the web site. Worship Guitar Class dot com has a lot to offer, including an e-newsletter, Christian guitar, drums, piano and voice lessons. There are many testimonials and samples on the web site. (I may have to look at the lessons for drums. My homeschooler w/ asd is showing some interest in the drums at music therapy.)

Some of the Crew received a version for younger children. To read the reviews of my Crewmates, go HERE.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sensing Transitions

A popular topic in support groups composed of parents of children with an autism diagnosis is the dreaded "T" word: TRANSITIONS.

As I've learned more about how joint attention develops, I'm learning that I need to be aware and careful not to reinforce,

"I don't have to pay attention to what's going on around me because my mom and dad do that for me and feed me the clues I need."

Parents and professionals need to give children w/ asd lots of opportunities (all the time) to begin to shift their attention and gather information themselves, using yourself in ways that puts the child in the position a) to be responsible for herSELF and b) to make her own discoveries.

On one internet chat group, a mom asked why her child screams at every transition. If he isn't sensing the approach of the end of an activity, HE IS ALWAYS FEELING SURPRISED AND CAUGHT OFF GUARD. You and I might scream, too, if our lives were one huge surprise after another.

Think about it. During Sunday morning worship, when the pastor closes his Bible, we sense that the sermon is about to end and we'll be going home soon. Children on the autism spectrum tend not to sense those non-verbal "hints" that a transition is about to happen. They see the pastor close his Bible and it contains no MEANING. To them, he simply closed his Book.

There are cues and clues happening all the time that a transition is about to happen. For pre-schoolers, we lead them in a clean-up song to spotlight a transition. But for children who don't sense the cues, we're merely singing a song, missing the fact that we're about to end one activity and begin another one.

We parents and professionals tend to work around that lack of understanding MEANING that plays into SENSING (from the inside--it's not really conscious thought a lot of the time) that a transition is about to occur by the heavy use of visual schedules.

Visual schedules are great--but RDI(r) is the first intervention that explained to me that they should be thought of as SHORT TERM compensations as we work during the day on giving our kids competence with non-verbal interaction and reciprocity with others and with self.

Self-awareness, self-control and self-regulation all develop OUT OF a relationship with OTHERS. In other words, co-control, co-awareness, and c0-regulation come FIRST in development, where the adult gradually gives more and more responsibility to the child for him/her SELF. That includes attention sharing (joint attention), attention shifting, referencing for meaning, predicting and anticipation, and all of those things begin BETWEEN PEOPLE in a developmental progression (via relationships).

Shutting up (turning OFF "talk" and "words") will put your child in a position to have to get information visually and non-verbally. The child becomes an active participant, joining, co-regulating. "We-go" is a very different experience from that of passively responding to prompts or following a visual schedule.

If I understand development correctly, putting your child into positions to be an active participant with you, nonverbally, reaching, stretching, inserting his own arms into a coat you hold open, inserting his own foot into a shoe you're holding, reaching for a plate or snack you extend to him, are all ways to begin to give him opportunities to co-regulate and coordinate with you, so he can feel himself taking an action, and are all foundations of anticipating and recognizing transitions.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Allergen Free Baker's Handbook by Cybele Pascal

I encountered many challenges when I learned that one of my children needed a gluten free, casein free diet, and that she has allergies to several other foods as well. I baked a lot before autism, breads, pizza crusts, rolls, cakes, brownies, cookies etc. I took cooking classes in my life BC (before children).

Having to switch to gluten free baking was challenging enough, but I have to avoid dairy, nuts and nut flours, soy, too. Baked goods have tried my patience for the past 8.5 years. Because my child has sensitivity to soy, I can't buy a lot of GFCF mixes that are on the market. And many years I lost count of the absolute flops that went straight to the trash can. GFCF baked goods can be gritty and gummy, especially when you are avoiding eggs, too. (Because we rotate eggs, sometimes I need to bake without them.)

The demands of a child with autism monopolized my time, and I have, over the years, found a cake mix, a brownie mix and a pancake mix that I like and have stuck with them, and that's pretty much it.

Gluten free flours, xanthan gum, and all the "tricks" to GFCFSFEF+++ baking are expensive. They take up a lot of space in kitchen cupboards. Spending the money and time to try a recipe only to have turn out gritty or gummy is frustrating, and I admit, I gave up in a big way. (Gluten was the first big allergen that we removed 8.5 years ago, and I remember it being so very challenging at the time. Little did I know I'd have to remove a lot more and that I would envy folks who are simply gluten free -- I think that would be so easy!)

I simply never understood the science to baking GFCFSFEF+++ breads, cookies, cakes and other baked goods. I didn't have the time or the background to try to figure it out.

Until now. Now, I'm getting an education about the alchemy of baking without traditional baking ingredients like milk, wheat and eggs: The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook, How To Bake without Gluten, Wheat, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Peanuts, Tree nuts, and Sesame by Cybele Pascal.

The press release from Ten Speed Press offers a nice summary: "Featuring delicious recipes that omit the least tolerated foods (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat) as well as dairy, sesame, and gluten, The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook is a baker's basket full of free-to-eat sweets from A to Z. Allergen free, gluten free, vegan, and one-of-a-kind, this is the first comprehensive multi-allergen-free baking book--chock full of 100 recipes from an award-winning cookbook author. Covering all the bases for baked goods, from glazed vanilla scones to chocolate chip cupcakes and from fruit crumbles to pizza crust, it offers allergen-free versions of traditional favorites--muffins, scones, biscuits, quick breads, cakes, cookies, pies, tarts, crumbles, buckles betties, and more--that are every bit as good as their traditional counterparts.... There's even a whole chapter on savories."

Cybele Pascal is a chef who happens to be the mother of a child with severe food allergies. She went to work adapting all of our favorite baked items and put her collection of successes into a beautiful cookbook. And yes, there are color photos of some of the recipes (I like photos!).

I. Adore. This. Cookbook! This book is not just a collection of recipes. Instead, Pascal takes the time to teach me about baking allergen free with almost the same restrictions we have at my house. The section called, "The Dry Goods Pantry" in Chapter 1, Stocking your Allergen-Free Pantry, combined with all of Chapter 2, "How To Bake Allergen-Free" provide a mini-baking school, and I would like these pages + the resource section in the back of the book available in a purse sized tri-fold to take with me to the grocery store. Pascal offers suggestions for replacing eggs, dairy, and wheat flour that have me looking through "regular" cookbooks with a new perspective.

Pascal spotlights something for me that I have not considered before. She lets the reader into her thought process so we can apprentice how she thinks -- she chooses products based on risk of cross-contamination. She's done her homework. She knows which companies are dedicated to gluten free or nut free products and which ones are not. Her basic flour blend, a blend of superfine brown rice flour, potato starch and tapioca flour, carries the "least risk of cross-contamination" (p 20).

My one disappointment is that I do not see a recipe for a basic sandwich bread in the cookbook.

I made Pascal's chocolate chip cookie recipe before Christmas. Because it is egg-free, we could munch on the cookie dough as we were baking! :) The cookies are awesome!

The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook is priced at $16.50 at Amazon dot com. Also at Amazon dot com are links to Pascal's flour blend and a coffee cake recipe.

Check out Cybele Pascal's blog for occasional recipes. A search of YouTube yielded a clip of Pascal with Martha Stewart:

and a clip of Cybele Pascal making Cherry Oat Scones:

Ten Speed Press sent me a copy of The Allergen Free Baker's Handbook to review on this blog.

Why Current Thinking About Autism is Completely Wrong

Here's an article I stumbled across in search of something else.
It's worth sharing.
by Mark Hyman, MD

Experience Sharing Communication - my a-ha moment

As we made a major switch from a behavioral intervention for autism to Relationship Development Intervention over five years ago, one of the changes I was told to make was to use more experience sharing communication and fewer prompts, demands and wh-questions. [RDI(r) used to refer to experience sharing communication as "declaratives".]

I had a lot of trouble making the switch. After three years and 3 months of "aba", I thought my daughter was not able to process and respond to declaratives and experience sharing communication. I thought that our consultant was well meaning, but that he didn't understand how we needed to talk to our daughter in order to interact with her. I was missing a huge concept, and that was the concept of helping her experience the way the world communicates instead of expecting the world to communicate in the bizarre way we'd shaped for her via a behavioral intervention.

Here's a recap of one of my first "lessons":

One Saturday in January a couple of years ago, we had an afternoon appointment w/our RDI(r) consultant. We live 30 minutes away (on a good day) from his office.

The night before the appointment, weather forecasters were predicting approximately a foot of heavy snow, to begin in the wee hours of the morning. I don't like driving in the snow. I was dreading the appointment because of the snow in our forecast. We woke to more than six inches of snow on the ground, with snowflakes the size of half-dollars falling fast.

I called the consultant, and he answered his office phone. I wanted to cancel, but because he'd been able to leave home and make it to the office, I felt obligated to make our appointment. I told him that if he is there, we're still planning to come. We were planning to leave an hour early. He said he'd see us after lunch.

I began to prepare an early lunch, plan snacks for the trip (we could be gone more than three hours in this weather with an hour on the road each way and an hourlong appointment), while my husband was snow-blowing the driveway. We'd be gone a long time in this weather because driving would be slow. Did I mention I don't like to drive in the snow?

As I was getting ready, the consultant called.

Here's what he said to me: "The maintenance man has just informed me that the snow is falling faster than the road crews can handle."

I had absolutely NO IDEA what he wanted me to do with that statement.

Did he want me to cancel and reschedule because he wanted to go home? If I cancelled, would I have to pay the cancellation fee?

Did he have other people coming after our session, and needed us to be on time, and was afriad we'd have a delay because of the weather? Maybe he had plans that afternoon and wanted to get out on time, which means we'd need to get started on time, which means we might have to leave earlier to make sure we were there on time.

Did he want to warn us to leave earlier for his office? After all, he put forth the effort to be there for us in the snow, the least we could do was try to get there on time.

I really wanted a way out--because I didn't want to drag my family out in the snow if I didn't have to, so I wondered, was he trying to say he'd be there if we were set on coming, but he was giving us a way out if that's what we wanted?

What if he had called to say, "The weather's bad, I'm going home, let's reschedule." ? He would have robbed me of all that thinking and perspective taking. He would have put me into a passive position, instead of one of "active thinker".

That day, I began to see how, in autism, we tend to ask questions and make demands instead of provide opportunities for thinking and mindfulness. Today, I began to see clearly how EXPERIENCE SHARING LANGUAGE plays a major role in that. Imperatives require a reaction, often the correct response.

In autism, we overwhelmingly OVERuse imperatives while at the same time, we wonder why our kids can't experience share.

Experience sharing does not require a response, but does allow for a thoughtful (unprompted, unscripted) response.

We're told as we begin RDI(r) that most of the world communicates using 80% experience sharing and 20% imperative communication, both non-verbally and verbally. And 80% of our communication is non-verbal, which means that kids with autism need a lot of practice interacting non-verbally, feeling themselves taking an action with another person.

"The snow is falling faster than the road crews can handle," was an a-ha moment for me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Baby on the Airplane (an oldie, but a goodie)

Several years ago, I boarded an airplane on my way home from a week learning about RDI(r). I was startled by a gasp from a flight attendant who paused at the row directly in front of me. I looked up, just in time to see her face unfreeze from the wide-mouth gasping position into a huge grin as she said in a high-pitched "baby-talk" voice, "Hi-dee!"

The couple sitting in front of me were traveling with a baby.

I watched as people boarded and noticed the baby.

*E V E R Y* adult that noticed that baby sitting in Mom's arms stopped to pause and then "talk" to that baby. First was the inhale/gasp sound to attract the baby's attention, then a hesitation, and then a simple greeting: HI! or HI-dee!

There were probably an equal number of times when I could not see the baby at all; I could ONLY observe the adult stranger passing by. The sequence was exactly the same every single time. I was enthralled. No one MADE these people stop and "speak" to this baby, either. No one taught them what to do, but the sequence was the same, and everyone slowed down and used their faces in really animated ways...a really instinctive, natural reaction to seeing him awake in his mother's arms.

When the baby was turned the right way, I could see his face through the crack between the seats on the row in front of me, and then I could see the entire "dance". His response was BEAUTIFUL. And then I got to see the adults react to baby's response to them! When his mom put him on her shoulder, he could see ME through the crack between the seats, and he'd dance with ME, too. The kid actually FLIRTED with me. That baby was DANCING with strangers! ;)

Made me realize again how hard it is for parents whose children quit responding with neurotypical feedback, and how the dance just fizzles out, and usually needs help that begins in the place where it fizzled, if it's going to get started again. This back-and-forth with a six-month-old is one of the earliest foundations, a prototype, for the conversations he'll have later. Yes, going back to get the foundation is necessary -- skipping the foundations gives the child a different experience and lays different foundations, reinforces and shapes something that is not "typical" and can even extinguish "typical".

Also made me realize that it's not a large collection of discreet skills that gets interrupted in autism. Autism is NOT a deficit of discreet skills. Autism starts when the process of learning the dance between parent and child (the intersubjective relationship) gets knocked off course.

Beginning at the right place, developmentally speaking, slowing down, using a pace that's "possible" for the child ("possible" is a Dr Jim term from Communicating Partners), working on interaction and content -- are all important parts of learning to communicate. Sometimes we miss those important parts in autism intervention.

I got an extra lesson that day as I watched both sides of a really early dance lesson. ;)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Stare, Junior

My children always beg to open a gift on CHRISTmas Eve. They get new, washed-and-ready-to-wear pajamas that night. This year, I let them open a family gift with the condition that everyone sit down with me to play it. It's a board game I found at Target called STARE! Junior.

Product description from Amazon Dot Com: "Product Description
Kids can test and train their visual memory skills and have a blast doing it. In Stare! Junior - the game - players have 30 seconds to stare at an image on a card. Images are varied and fun for kids to look at. It might be a movie poster, funny photo, comic, work of art and more. When time is up, an opponent will flip over the card and ask the player a series of questions about the image to see how much they can recall. What was the clown holding in his left hand? What color was the girl's hat? Guess right and advance on the game board. Kids can play individually or on teams. The revised Second Edition includes larger image cards containing all new images and questions! Includes 960 questions on 160 image cards, game board, sand timer, playing pieces, die, and instruction sheet.

It's is more difficult for the children than I thought it would be. My daughter with asd has little experience scanning a picture for details in preparation for answering questions about it later-- I saw that quickly in the first round. (Her anxiety shot sky high with the first question about the picture she scanned for 30 seconds.) In fact, all of my children could use more practice at it. Much to the upset of my son, we let his sister w/ asd look at the photo not only before but also after we asked her a question about the picture. She needs to be able to do that as a scaffold to understand what to scan for in the 30 seconds she has to look at the picture. STARE, Junior is definitely something she and I will modify and use for attention to detail pre-writing exercises as we school at home.

After a couple of rounds of STARE, Junior, we decided to keep it short and successful, so we put that game away and played UNO.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's a BOY!

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Merry CHRISTmas to all, and to all a good night,

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Skating for a bigger audience

Dad saw his princess skate today for the first time. He is impressed.


Young Minds - Numbers and Counting, a TOS Crew Review

Sometimes, I get to review for a company a second time. Here's one of those times. Math Tutor DVD sent me two DVD's as part of last year's Crew tour. This time around, I was given, at no charge to me, a copy of Young Minds-Numbers and Counting from Math Tutor DVD.

Priced at $19.99 from the Math Tutor DVD web site (a 20% discount from the list price of $24.99), this dvd focus on exactly what it says it does: numbers and counting. From the Math Tutor DVD web site: Each number is presented with photographs, video, and animation. Numbers are animated to fly-in from off screen and show the child how to count by counting objects that they are naturally interested in. Animals such as frogs, horses, jellyfish, sharks, whales, and more are shown to the viewer along with the animal sounds. Colors are also taught by pointing out the color of objects on screen.

My homeschooler and I liked it. I am not able to predict what she might like (or dislike) and she and I were captivated. The classical music, the video clips, and the photographs are beautiful.

The voice over is performed by a child, which I suspect makes the video more appealing to children. Becky Bailey, PhD mentioned at a conference I attended that children process 11 times slower than adults. The voice-over on the video is presented at a really nice pace for young children or children with auditory processing delays.

The DVD presents vocabulary words and concepts that include colors, animal names, object names, and action words in addition to numbers and counting. Animal and object sounds are presented, too.

I figured that my daughter and I would be bored because we know our numbers and counting to 10. I was not bored. The images are captivating and I wanted to see what was next. I wish I'd had something like this when my children were babies! (Some of the videos we owned were so annoying for the parents!) The creators of the DVD have done a nice job mixing up still photos with videos and counting items and actions. The music and pictures are soothing, too. I suspect this would be a great calm-down video at bedtime.

Take a peek at a video sample:

To read what my Crewmates have to say about this and other Math Tutor DVD products, go HERE.

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Cybele Pascal's Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe for Santa

In preparation for a visit from Santa Claus tomorrow night, my gfcfsf princess and I made cookies bright and early this morning. These cookies are gluten free, casein free, egg free, soy free, nut free. Thumbs up! They're from Cybele Pascal's new cookbook.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas candle...

A Christmas candle is a lovely thing;
It makes no noise at all,
But softly gives itself away;
While quite unselfish, it grows small.
Eva Logue

Monday, December 21, 2009

Skating - Productive Uncertainty

We had an "adopted" family member along for the skating lesson today, one of our long-term CLS/respite workers is back after taking a college semester off. She had not seen the princess skate since late August/early September. She was amazed at the progress she saw today.

My skating princess's coach has added some uncertainty to figure skating lessons. Coach is coaching in street shoes from the sidelines because of an injury to her ankle, and she's not able to use guided demonstration as she has in the past.

One of the early terms I heard as I was learning about RDI(r) (Relationship Development Intervention) is "productive uncertainty". Learning and growth depend on tension and uncertainty. Life without a certain amount of tension and uncertainty is boring. Dr. Gutstein explains that individuals with autism don't manage uncertainty with competence, and we see rituals and repetitive behaviors, rigiditity, strict rule-following as an attempt to keep everything the same while avoiding change and uncertainty.

RDI(r) helps parents us themselves in new ways to offer tiny challenges and little bits of uncertainty, small changes, "just noticeable differences" to their children w/ asd. Flexibility grows from these experiences.

When Coach told me she'd have to guide my skating princess from the sidelines in street shoes for a couple of weeks, both of us wondered how the princess would handle it. Had we allowed the princess to become dependent on Coach for demonstration? We could either try it in order to observe the reaction or wait a couple of weeks until Coach could return to the ice in skates.

Coach said that sometimes a student relies too much on the Coach for that demonstration, and having the Coach on the sidelines puts the student in more of a thinking position. But she's not referring to students on the autism spectrum.

Would this be productive uncertainty? Or UNproductive?

I am pleased to see that my skating princess understands every term. She knows the difference between a pump and a stroke and a swizzle. That helps. Coach taught her the proper terms from the beginning.

The princess has been working on crossovers.
I somehow managed to get still shot of one:

Working on two-foot jumps:

I see some resilience growing. She does not like backwards *anything*:

Watching her makes me want to learn to skate!

Free Sibling Resource, "My Brother Has Autism"


for a free download of

"My Brother Has Autism"

by Jackie Igafo-Te'o, Melody Igafo-Te'o, Michael Igafo-Te'o

The Autism Mom Cooks GFCF Traditional Holiday Fare

Autism Mom Stephanie Hemenway has done it again. She created another beautiful GFCF cookbook, this one for holiday cooking and baking. Special holiday pricing at Amazon dot com offers the cookbook for $15. A dollar of every purchase goes to Heros with Handicaps.

The Autism Mom Cooks Gluten-Free Casein-Free Traditional Holiday Fare includes recipes for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, all GFCF with corn free, soy free and nut free substitutions available for each recipe. Click on the photo of the cover at the right to take you to Amazon dot com where you can peek inside.

Thanksgiving covers the traditional turkey and all the fixins, including the challenging-to-make-GFCF stuffing, green bean casserole, rolls and pie.

Hanukkah recipes include Braised Brisket, Lemon Rosemary Roast Chicken, Potato Latkes, Home-made Applesauce, Frited Spinish Salad with Walnuts, Honey Glazed Carrots, Herb Roasted Green Beans, Tzimmes, Apple Kugel, Ginger Pear Upside-Down Dake, Baked Apples with Spiced Fruit and Sufganoit (Jelly Donuts).

Christmas recipes include Roast Goose with Pan Gravy, Citrus Rice Dressing, Roast Beef, Yorkshire Pudding, Herb Crusted Roast Potatoes, Candied Yams, Roast Winter Squash with Maple Glaze, Mince Pie and French Apple Pie.

The "Seasonal Favorites" section is my favorite, and it includes Pumpkin bread, Gingerbread, Fruitcake, Stollen, ten cookie recipes and eight candy recipes. Six recipes in the "Festive Family Drinks" concludes the cookbook. I am surprised to see an egg nog recipe there -- it looks delicious!

I am partial to cookbooks with photographs of completed recipes. "Traditional Holiday Fare" delivers beautiful color photos oppposite each page of recipes. If you like photos in your cookbooks, you'll like this one.

There is at least one error in a recipe, which can happen during the publishing process, and Hemenway has a page on her web site to alert us to them. Be sure to check htere before you make the Gingerbread Men recipe.

Hemenway generously offers a free recipe of the month on her web site (sometimes she offers more than one). Be sure to check HERE to see what's new.

Hemenway sent me The Autism Mom Cooks Gluten-Free Casein-FreeTraditional Holiday Fare at no cost so that I could review it for you on my blog. It arrived late last week. It's a beautiful cookbook and it's filled with recipes our family is likely to make and eat. Stay tuned. I'll update the blog as I cook from it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I've Been Good!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sizzlers and a Holiday Letter From a Child w/ Autism

Carol Barnier's "Sizzlebop" e-newsletter is another one that I appreciate. I learned about Carol Barnier in the past year from Crewmate April, who contributed to my blog in the spring (click on April's name to see that post).

Carol Barnier is the parent of a child who sounds, in many ways, like my child w/ asd. Her presentations at the homeschool convention were among my very favorites.

Barnier does not bombard my inbox with newsletters. They come only occasionally, and they are full of practical ideas, not advertisements. I like that.

This morning I opened my e-mail to see an e-newsletter from Barnier. It contains a holiday letter from a child with autism, written by Viki Gayhardt. I located that letter here, if you would like to read it.

Learn the meaning of the term "sizzle bop" and sign up for the free Sizzle Bop newsletter here.

I blogged about Barnier's most recent book here.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Anger keeps the past, present.
overheard today on the radio
spoken by Dr Henry Cloud
to a caller to the New Life Live show
while I was driving to get a child from school.

Sometimes, keeping the past, present via anger is a negative, keeping me from truly enjoying the present and becoming an obstacle to relationships. With the women from a small group Bible study, I let go of something I was holding onto one sunny fall morning as we each released a colorful balloon into the sky. My "something" is anger-related. I need to guard against that kind of keeping the past, present. Anger has been an unwelcome visitor since one of my children regressed into autism. Some of it is destructive - thank you, Dr Cloud, for speaking that sentence aloud while I was tuning in. I needed to hear that for many reasons.

But sometimes, keeping the past, present in anger is necessary. to facilitate change. I think of my daughter's regression into autism as an example. The CDC announced today a 57% increase in autism between 2002 and 2006. Nine-and-a-half years ago, my daughter's typical development suddenly went off track. Why? What happened? We are no closer to the answer today than we were at the time of the regression. I'm angry that the numbers continue to increase. Numbers should be decreasing. Fewer parents should be waking the path, not more. (Where is the research that matters? This is not a genetic epidemic!) The anger of thousands of parents will eventually take us to an answer, a cause, or causes, and bring a wider range of treatment to individuals who need it and to, some day, keep other children from regressing. It's anger that keeps me repeating, "Hear our cries so that this does not happen to another family" and "Do something now!"

Christmastime - signs of progress

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my homeschooled princess made a calendar (perhaps I should call it a "chart") so that she could count the days until Christmas. She made it by herself, and apparently without looking at an actual calendar, because she included 31 days in November on her chart.

She knew exactly how many days until Christmas. When I noticed the 31 for the month of November, I told her that November has 30 days, and she immediately subtracted a day. She's doing math in her head. Who knew? I asked her on such and such a day, how many days until Christmas? And she was able to tell me without blinking. My girl who is academic pre-schooler has some amazing splinter skills in math -- we've got some support foundations to keep working on -- and I am so tickled to see her creative problem solving, too! Closing developmental gaps takes time, and it works!

Every morning, first thing, she gets up and crosses off another day and tells me how many days are left until Christmas.

A couple of days ago, she began asking to open a gift. And asking. And begging. And pleading. That's something new -- another sign of progress -- excited anticipation every time she sees the gifts under the tree.

Today, my prince,(her brother) is sick and home from school. (She appears to be getting the same head and chest cold that he has.) HE is upset because he is missing his class party. She suggested she dress up as him in disguise and go to his party at school. Too funny!

Learning from John Dewey

Two recent book reviews introduced me to John Dewey. Today, I want to spotlight some John Dewey quotes. These quote remind me why I chose a developmental approach to remediating the core deficits of autism over a behavioral-only approach.

We only think when we are confronted with problems.

The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think -- rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.

The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.

Food for thought.

No way to refer to the vulnerable --

No way to refer to the vulnerable --

Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Living Books Curriculum dot com

an FYI

I came to know Living Books Curriculum (dot com) at a book fair for homeschooling families. I was learning about Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education (am still learning about it) and was getting a better grasp on "developmentally appropriate" in terms of a child with developmental delays.

I purchased Sandi Queen's "Language Lessons for the Very Young" from this vendor at that book fair. It's what I call, "RDI-able, and it offers picture studies, copywork, poetry, and other experience in language arts, including perspective taking.

And I signed up for Sheila Carroll's e-newsletter at that book fair. I never know what I'm getting into with an e-newsletter subscription. Some companies send too many e-mails and I wind up deleting them without reading them. I like this vendor and this newsletter. The company does not bombard me with e-mail messages. They do send notices of sales and discounts. I like that. And sometimes, Sheila Carroll sends me a freebie. If you're not on Sheila Carroll's mailing list, you might want to sign up for it. I just opened a *beautiful* 22-page Christmas Holiday Helper e-book in pdf format. It contains picture studies, copywork and stories.

PS: Crewmate Hillary gave me a tip. The Holiday Helper is a freebie HERE right now.

Corn-free syrup

I spoke to a very helpful employee at a local supermarket before Thanksgiving. She helped me locate an item in the store, marshmallows. She said she's allergic to corn, and avoids fun things like rice crispie treats and marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes because the marshmallows contain corn.

I recommended to her Lisa Lewis's cookbook, "Special Diets for Special Kids" for a corn-free marshmallow recipe. Not having a child with autism, she was unfamiliar with this cookbook. She said she'd look for it at her library. (I found it here via the University of Google.)

Autism Mom Stephanie Hemenway has a recipe for corn-free syrup to replace corn syrup in recipes (in everything except peanut brittle, she reports). That recipe is located online, HERE.

Giveaway at My Red Apron...

...includes a Flip camera!
Click HERE for details.

Parking Aid or Visual Support?

Years ago, when my children were younger, I wanted a stop sign that I could move from place to place to help create a visual boundary (particularly for my child w/ asd), but I never found one.

Having two of them to mark the turnaround spots for the kids while biking on the sidewalk in front of our house would have been a big help.

I was browsing a Kohl's ad this morning and this parking aid caught my attention. It might be a great visual support for a child on the autism spectrum. No, I don't own one, so I can't tell you anything about it other than the details from Kohl's web site. Obviously, purchase at your own risk. It's an inexpensive tool that might be helpful to someone, that's why I posted.

Emerson® Parking Signal
original $12.99
sale $8.99

Park with perfection. This Emerson parking signal is a must-have.

Flashing LEDs signal when the bumper of your car has touched the pole.

Adjustable design lets you customize the height for any sized vehicle.

Weighted base keeps it in position.

Includes: 4 sections & weighted base
Uses 2 button-cell batteries (included)
Some assembly required
Model no. 1624055

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


The staff at the office of my RDI(r) Program Certified Consultant has spoiled me. Actually, spoiled is the wrong word. They've raised my expectations so that I know "less than" when I see it.

We are a long-distance client of our consultant. I wish we were close enough to see the entire staff more often.

When we are there, we are typically with our consultant for three days at a time, interacting with, seeing the entire staff in passing, during our three-day visit. We see client families come in and leave. We see them interact with one another. We've driven the distance to join them for a family activity, and I saw the same standards on a cold Saturday at a pumpkin patch.

Every single member of the staff has changed her way of being with the students. Each one slows down, says things once, and waits for the child to hear, process & respond; they use an incredible amount of experience sharing language (sometimes referred to as declaratives), and they don't pepper children with "wh" questions. EVERY interaction to them is an opportunity for the child to make a discovery, EVEN when the child is the client of another therapist in the building. For example, if we meet another consultant on the narrow stairs, that consultant may pause at the landing and greet us, especially my child, and wait for her to realize that we're going to collide if we don't co-regulate and coordinate, and allow her an opportunity to do some thinking and take some actions on her own.

The fact that every single staff member in the building operates from this perspective absolutely amazes me.

I have not found staff in my own area who are trained this way, who are changed. I'm frustrated. We switched clinics, recently, and we were assigned to a wonderful speech therapist and a wonderful OT. The OT is especially good about slowing down and waiting, speaking once and allowing my daughter the space she needs to hear and process and reply.

Because therapists share the "gym" and the therapy rooms, I see a lot of the staff members working with other children. And the other staff members sometimes interact with my daughter when she's there, if they need to share a swing or if they're walking in her path while she's riding her bike in the "gym" area.

Overwhelmingly, I see other therapists barreling through, not slowing down, not letting children have that processing time that they need to hear, process, and respond.

Yesterday, a precious two year old girl was working on batting a baseball and she left the therapist and her grandmother to get on a swing, and the therapist told her, "Come back, one more!" and when the child did not turn around instantly, the therapist repeated the directions TWO MORE TIMES rapid fire and then reached for the girl and brought her back. That is a recipe for, "I don't have to pay attention; someone will repeat directions several times for me and physically direct me." And when that little girl gets to school, there's a risk that she'll be labeled "noncompliant" when she's simply been trained not to attend. The staff is missing opportunities.

One session, another therapist brought her client into my daughter's therapy room to do some sensory activities, and yet another therapist came in and the two therapists chatted about losing clients in this difficult economy while the client spent time crashing into mats and swinging. There was little interaction with the boy. More missed opportunities. My daughter's super OT was engaged with my child at the same time. The contrast was interesting.

As one of our OT sessions began, I watched one therapist heading to the lobby, late, to get her client, and she had a moment to interact with my daughter as she avoided tripping over her (my daughter was in the gym on a bike), and the therapist had a beautiful opportunity to stop for a moment and allow my daughter to see, process and stop herself, too, to avoid a collision. The therapist MISSED the opportunity. (I thought she might have even been rude.)

I could type many examples. The point, though, is that children with developmental delays need opportunities to experience active participation, both mentally and physically (and at church, add "spiritually" to that list, but I'm off topic, now), and the majority of clinics and school programs I've seen are still operating from something other than developmental remediation programs.

When are more clinics (and schools, but that's a whole nuther problem) going to "get" a developmental perspective? I'm waiting!

Mathletics, a TOS Crew Review

Mathletics is a safe, website and online community, where students play games that cover all aspects of mathematics. A one-year subscription is priced at $59 per student. (According to our Crew blog page, "If you know the Human Calculator’s favorite number (hint: it’s ‘9’!) and you enter that when asked, you can purchase a single child subscription for $49.95 for a year at their website.")

We have a little problem at my house. Certain children don't stay on the web site that they're supposed to unless an adult is sitting right beside them. That's the downside to Mathletics for me right now. The laptop is not here during the day and room for two of us is limited at my PC.

My homeschooler and I have been able to sit down at the laptop a couple of times to try out Mathletics. She's beginning to grasp early concepts of math, and I recognize that she is doing more than rote memorization of math facts without understanding. I wondered how she would do with Mathletics. We started Mathletics at the beginning, with *sigh* screeching in protest. She quickly realized that she understood and was capable of doing the beginning games (pre-addition and subtraction) and whizzed through them. She's playing while working on some foundations she'll need later. It's a sneaky way to get some of that in. *grin* Her attention span fizzles quickly when she interprets something as difficult, and she needs me beside her to help her read and interpret instructions. I think for typically developing children who aren't held back by developmental challenges, this is a web site that they can play without adult supervision, unless you have a child who will sneak over to one of those subscription virtual animal world games because he can't resist.

She likes the "futuristic car" (her term) that drives on the monitor by when she completes a game.

The sections (preK, K) of Mathletics that I saw are solid with the purpose of laying foundations for the next steps. The graphics are attractive and the games are fun. I am planning to subscribe to Mathletics in the next two weeks.

There are instant workbooks in the teacher (parent) section that support online content. I like the convenience of workbooks that are on my computer so that I can print just the page or two that I need. I peeked ahead of where my homeschooler is, developmentally, and like what I see. Some of the spacial orientation workbooks remind me of Dr Feuerstein's instruments.

I think that subscribers get a lot for their money, especially with the access to the workbooks. My girl thinks it's fun and it reinforces what she's learning. Thumbs up from me!

Everyone on the Crew received a 45 day subscription to the Mathletics website so that we could review the site for you. To read the reviews of my Crewmates about this product, go HERE.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Grinch (on ice)

Last night, we attempted to see a local production of the Grinch at the arena where my skating princess takes figure skating lessons. I thought there was a 7 pm show; there was not. I blogged about it last night here.

We were able to see an abbreviated show with a whooooooooole bunch of school kids today. It was delightful!

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