Monday, January 31, 2011


There's an internet discussion happening on the topic of compliance. One parent pulled from an unnamed state's definition of a successful kindergartner, "success is related to being able to follow directions, sit and attend, and raise his hand for teacher help".

Children with developmental delays often aren't able to follow directions, sit and attend, and raise his/her hand for teacher help.

And they're often labeled "non-compliant" or "lazy" or "maladaptive" or a "behavior problem". They considered "unsuccessful".

And teachers push for "compliant" in order to be "successful" without looking at the developmental foundations that are shaky, that need to be practiced and experienced and put into place. (And teachers don't often know that the skills mentioned are not discreet skills; they come from a place of continuous process. Use discreet trial for discreet skills. Use a continuous process, developmental model for functions of continuous process in a developmental fashion.)

Think about the level of joint attention needed for a child to interact with teacher, peers, and self in order to be "compliant". Here's just a little bit of it: He's got to be experienced at non-verbal turn-taking, interaction, and reciprocity. He's got to understand that the teacher's perspective and objective and goals in each moment are different from his own, and those goals and objectives are largely invisible, for example, that he is expected to face forward, keep himself still and quiet. He must simultaneously process the non-verbal communication of his teacher and the peers around him, managing his body in terms of personal space with the peers around him. He's got to be a really experienced attention shifter and attention sharer. He has to understand that the teacher DOES NOT KNOW what is in HIS mind in order for him to remember to raise his hand to ask a question. To follow directions, he must process non-verbal cues and spoken language, pitch, tone, context, remember past experiences, all simultaneously, a lot of it automatic and unconscious.

Skipping the developmental foundations and going straight for behavioral compliance misses the foundations and doesn't help the child. Support the developmental foundations (look at Dr Jim's ARM pr Dr Ross Green's ALSUP) and the"compliance" will come, except that it's not really "compliance", it's the ability to interact at higher levels, to participate with other(s) and self in a higher stage of joint attention. Success and compliance two different animals.

I've been thinking about this internet chat topic all day.

So, I went to the grocery store tonight. We have a big snowstorm coming- gotta go to the grocery, ya know. *wink*And I'm standing in line at the deli counter, waiting to place my order meat and cheese, and BOOM! it hits me. The same foundations of joint attention that I wrote about, that I described earlier today as foundations for "success" in kindergarten are EXACTLY.THE.SAME. that I need to place my order at the deli. I have to know the directions (I need to take a number) and follow them (wait my turn after I take a number); I must attend to listen for when they call my number; I must raise my hand or yell or answer in some way to let them know they called my number and I am ready to be helped, ready to tell them what I want to order.

At the deli tonight, I wasn't "compliant" with a list of rules I'd memorized with the help of discreet trial. I was a successful communicator on many levels, navigating my cart among other shoppers, maintaining self-regulation and self-control while waiting my turn, responding when called upon, etc. Those are the skills that kids are expected to have when they come to kindergarten, and when they arrive without them, teachers don't know how to remediate those skills in a developmental fashion. So, they go for "compliance" and memorization of rules, instead. That's one of the reasons I homeschool.

Teaching and rewarding "compliance" for the sake of "compliance" lasts for one situation. And autism isn't a lack of discreet skills. Giving a child experience with foundations of interaction in a dynamic way carry over to new settings, are flexible and changing in new situations.

We really need to be aware of this, to know it, to want it for our kids w/ developmental delays, to guard against someone who is trying to behaviorally shape "compliance" instead of building and growing the dynamic foundations that add up to success in many situations well beyond kindergarten.

City Creek Press; a TOS Crew Review

Times Alive, Times Tables The Fun Way, from City Creek Press is a creative way to learn multipliation facts with visual stories set to music available in two formats, download ($44.95) or CD ($48.95).

We reviewed the version for instant download on a PC. The download was simple. We have had no problems with the product after downloading it onto our computer.

Take a peek at a sample:

Interestingly, my homeschooler memorized most of her multiplication facts from another rockin' video-based resource from my childhood based on rote memorization. She doesn't understand the concepts behind what she memorized, though, and for some odd reason that I cannot explain, she did not learn what I consider to be the easiest multiplication facts, the zero multiplication facts.

She is very particular to what she accepts in terms of material. She's 11, working around a first grade level for the most part, and is really sensitive to anything she deems (her term), babyish. Finding developmentally appropriate materials that she won't resist and protest is a challenge for me (and for many parents of children with special learning needs).

City Creek Press got a thumbs up, here. *smile* The videos are clever and entertaining, using the menomic device of captioned story telling and songs to illustrate multiplication facts. Times Alive reinforces lessons with problems to complete following each story, with worksheets, with pictures to paint on the computer. The stories reinforce what my daughter has learned and create new associations for her. She enjoys watching the videos. If I did not sit with her while she watched the videos, she would quickly skip the worksheets. (Child needs to be able to enter numerals from a keyboard or keypad or have assistance with that.) There is a back button, a do-again button, and a lesson list button to help with that.

The illustration of how to multiply zero has been helpful. When we work on multiplication facts, I can remind her of the Times Alive illustration to help my girl make the association and get the answer.

I am seriously considering purchasing the City Creek Press product for addition facts for my daughter.

More Crew reviews of Times Alive are available HERE.

City Creek Press gave me the Times Alive download for review purposes. I received no financial compensation for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free by Karen Morgan from Chronicle Books (review)

I just made the tallest gluten free, (almost) casein-free cornbread I have ever made. From scratch. And it is delicious! The recipe is one I adapted (I made my own "buttermilk" using casein-free milk-substitute and lemon juice; I did use the real butter called for in the recipe) from Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free This recipe for southern-style corn bread (page 31) is among our favorites.

Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free by Karen Morgan is a beautiful 224-page hardback cookbook that gives readers and bakers 75 recipes for desserts and pastries that are gluten free and made from scratch. The photographs inside are so gorgeous, I want to try almost every one of them. (I am not a fan of the savory caramelized alsatian onion tart.) I have blueberries in the refrigerator for the cobbler recipe, and I'll make that cobbler if there are enough blueberries left after my family has been nibbling at them. That shortbread on the cover has me thinking about strawberry shortcake, too. Or a mix of strawberries and blackberries with shortcake. (We have no organic strawberries in the supermarket at the moment; I looked for them all weekend.)

In addition to an intro, notes on ingredients, a resources section, index, and table of equivalents, Morgan gives us seven chapters covering "biscuits, muffins & sweet breads; cookies & bars; tarts, pies & cobblers; cakes, big & small; crepes & pâte à choux; custards, puddings & ice cream; and dinner-party showstoppers".

Blackbird Bakey Gluten-Free is another cookbook that we girls oooh and aaaah over together; it's quite the backdrop for relationship building in our autism intervention. Looking together at the recipes and pictures and dreaming about what we want to make and for what occasion is a wonderful experience. The fact that we can make something that ALL of us can eat makes it even better. ;)

Check out some of the photos here. You'll want to own the cookbook when you see the photos. ;)

Morgan uses a different blend/ratio of flours for each recipe, which sets her recipes apart from the folks who develop a blend that you mix, store, and have ready to use in any recipe. While having that one blend ready to go is convenient, (and I do like convenience!), having recipes that are developed individually is attractive, too, because I trust that they've been tested and tested and that the recipe developer knows the recipes are better for the flour blend having been individualized for each recipe. I think there's room for both kinds of gluten-free cookbooks on my bookshelf.

I seem to be stuck on blogging about the topic of cornbread recipes. I have a one recipe that is good fried on the stove in a little oil, like johnnycakes, yet I keep searching for a baked cornbread recipe that is a little more like what I grew up with. This one's closer to the one my grandmother makes. (We never put a can of whole kernel corn in our cornbread growing up; the corn adds something special.)

No, this is not an allergen free cookbook. If you, like me, are more than gluten-free, you'll need to know how to make your own substitutes. Gluten-free recipes are a great starting point, though, when the flour substitutions have already been made for me. I sense myself becoming braver than I used to be; I am ready to try Morgan's strawberry tartlets with vanilla pastry cream using coconut based milks instead of cream and half-and-half.

My friend Amy made the lemon bars from Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free. Click here to read about the lemon bars.

Check out the Blackbird Bakery web site here; follow on facebook here. Morgan provides readers hints, tips, and recipes, and offers an occasional giveaway.

Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free is a fantastic cookbook for gluten-free baking. I look forward to baking my way through it.

Chronicle Books sent me a copy of Blackbird Bakery Gluten-Free for review purposes. I am not paid for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Perspectives and Perspective Taking

Staying present and in-the-moment is a bit of a challenge for me right now. I'm in my own little world and that world is a place of unknown at the moment. We're moving. I have a gazillion things to think about, to find out, to do. My to-do list seems to exponentially multiply every few days.

I try to balance what I need to do today with this ever-growing to-do list for the move, and I find myself absorbed with researching the things I need to know, want to know, as we choose a suburb, a neighborhood at our destination location. Are there homeschool supports there? Autism supports? Ice skating? Baseball? Access to GFCFSF food shopping? For my school-building schoolers, I have another list. I feel super-focused on the there, and focusing on here is requires a bit of effort.

When Li'l Bit regressed into autism, seemed to shut everything out in order to super-focus on certain items. I always thought she shut out the rest of us, the rest of her world, but now, I have a different perspective. Maybe she had such a focus on her favorite items, she had no way to balance the rest of us, the rest of her world, with those items?

As I overfocus on research for this move for there, I feel more disconnected here. Finding the place for both is more work and takes intention and effort. Is this how the overfocus in autism feels? I wonder if I'm getting a glimpse into my girl's world. And will this experience help me help her? (I hope so!)

Leaving Denial; Entering Memory Lane

We are moving. Not across town. Across the country.

I've known moving was a possibility since last fall; I've known it is real since early October. But it hasn't felt real. We've been waiting for official announcements and such, and while we were waiting, I stayed in a place of emotional denial that the move is actually happening.

Finally, the pieces are falling into place. The move is real. Here we go. Decluttering. Organizing.

Going through the stuff we have collected is exhausting, more emotionally, than physically. Trying to decide what to keep, what not, is a bigger job than I expected.

Clothes I wore when I was pregnant (I gave most of them away), baby items, hundreds of photos taken over the years, keepsakes from school that include artwork and handwriting samples, clothing I'm too fat to wear but hope to get into again (after the diet that I can't seem to start or stay on) - going through it all wears me out. Confronting the ghosts of the past when I expected to have completely recovered a child from autism by now is a chore I didn't expect or want.

Moving means leaving Denial and entering Memory Lane. What a trip.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lifeway Stores: Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids, a TOS Crew Review

My kids love fact books, world records books, picture dictionaries and encyclopedias. We have quite a collection, mostly gathered from garage sales and book fairs. When the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids arrived, I knew it would be a hit at my house, because it is so similar to those kinds of books. And I was right. Especially for my homeschooler.

This book has everything my homeschooler needs to be an engaged learner with it. It's inviting and attractive. The pages are laid out in a fun way. There is a good mix on the pages of big boxes and small boxes with little bits of information presented in a way that does not overwhelm her. She can look at pictures or read text or both. I am amazed at the length of time she'll spend looking through it, browsing, reading. She gives it quality time. Every time she picks it up, she sees something she didn't see before, she learns a new fact, and she asks new, curious questions. She and I have had some interesting conversations from the topics in this dictionary. (She's fascinated with Samson.) I am finding that books like these are helpful because they allow me to see my girl's interests; I can look for unit studies and chase interests when I know what they are.

One interesting thing that I noticed is that my homeschooler, who often resists reading with me, will welcome me beside her when she looks through this book. I think it is because we are experience sharing together, pointing out this picture or that paragraph, and I am not asking her to read aloud for me. I'm not trying to "get" something from her. We simply share. She learns much this way.

Peek inside the book HERE. We really like it. I have trouble keeping up with it; it's another item my girl keeps sneaking off with to read alone. ;)

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids is a sturdy hardback retail priced at $14.99.

See what my Crewmates have to say about this dictionary HERE.

Lifeway Christian Stores sent the the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary for Kids in exchange for an honest review. I am not paid for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Banana-Grams! For Kids Review

I see why Banana-Grams! For Kids, a book of word games for kids, won a Parents' Choice Award. This brilliant book of fun challenges, stretches, and grows thinking skills and uses memory and recall in a fun way.

I knew the game with little letter squares exists, but I didn't know the idea had been turned into a Banana-Grams! puzzle book. I thought the book would be like a book of crossword puzzles; all crossword puzzles with different questions and answers. Boy, I was wrong!

Each page is a new game. Each page uses thinking skills in a fresh way. Reading and following directions. Vocab. Spelling. Creative problem solving. Visual processing. Word associations. Definitions. Using clues combined with letters and blanks to solve a puzzle. There are no picture clues; she has to create the pictures and make associations in her mind. This is really excellent practice. I am so tickled to have been given this book to use and review. We needed it. I want more.

My NT kids would have no problems with the games in this book. It would make a great travel book for them.

My homeschooler with autism needs assistance with a lot of the pages in the book. She snuck off with it (something she likes to do that I don't like for her to do) and tried to do a couple of items, and actually did them correctly, and then, used her pencil to write random letters into blank squares. *sigh* I spent a good deal of time erasing her "work" and sat her down with me to re-do those pages.

The banana-grams vary in difficulty. I found myself scaffolding, supporting, different aspects of the task on different pages, according to difficulty, and, from a Relationship Development Intervention perspective, marvelled at how far my daughter and I have come, together.

I like to describe how I use a resource like this with a learner w/ special needs:

We are able to work on quite a few skills and functions together with just one fun book. For the most part, I do the writing. Expecting her to hold the book open, hold the pencil, pencil, form letters, and spell words were too many "extras" that created anxiety. When I played "secretary", and had the job of filling in the blanks, she had more room for the thinking and creative problem solving for each page. Sometimes I let her read the clue and look at the puzzle; sometimes I read the clue aloud to her, showed her the puzzle, and read aloud the letters and blanks in the puzzle. When she showed proficiency with the thinking part of a puzzle, I handed her the pencil to let her do her own writing. When she became anxious, I did the writing.

I got the chance to see things I haven't seen before. My girl can unscramble a row of mixed-up letters into words. She had a much bigger vocabulary than I thought, coming up with words I did not realize that she knows. She surprised me quite a few times. She knows more than either of us realize, I think.

Because the puzzle types are repeated, I anticipate seeing her anxiety decrease when she recognizes a familiar puzzle type as we continue to work through the book.

Being there with her to read directions, to work the first line of a puzzle for her, to answer for her when I thought she didn't know that particular vocabulary word is a good thing for both of us. She and I get to make some discoveries about what she knows. She knows more than SHE thinks she knows. She needs to slow down and understand directions before beginning, and Banana-Grams! For Kids gives us the background activity to practice that.

Banana-Grams! For Kids provides 18 different puzzle types totaling 130 all-new puzzles with four levels of difficulty. Workman Publishing's price for this 158 page paperback is $9.95.
Workman Publishing sent me a copy of Banana-Grams! For Kids for review purposes. I am not paid for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tween Bling by Smart Mom Jewelry

Chewing on clothing. Chewing on hair. Chewing on pencils and erasers. What's a mom to do with a tween or teen who chews on her stuff?

I was recently introduced to one really neat solution:
My girl goes through periods of time where she seems to crave the sensory input of chewing. I had to wonder, are these cool Tween Blings appropriate for young ladies on the autism spectrum? I e-mailed the company to ask; they say "Yes!" and sent me samples to try. This one is my favorite:

Made for mothers of teething babies, these necklaces are designed from food-safe silicone to be sanitary and safe teething jewelry for moms to wear for babies to chew. Smart Mom Jewelry took the idea a step further with designs that appeal to tweens and teens for the chewers out there.

The necklaces come in a couple of shapes, and quite a few colors and patterns.

The solid patterns pictured below are lightly scented. Now, let me tell you, I am sensitive to scents and avoid most anything scented. So, I was skeptical that I'd like a scented necklace. I was suprised (pleasantly) when they arrived. They are so lightly scented that when I removed them from their packages, I thought, "that scent will never last". We've had them over a month, and the scent is still as gentle today as the day we opened them. When I wear one of them, I find myself thinking of Pixie Stix a lot. They are so lightly scented that sometimes I don't smell them at all, and then I get a whiff of fruity-something that smells exactly like the Pixie Stix that I remember from childhood. And then I realize it is coming from my necklace. (I want to try the vanilla bean scented pendant.) Almost without fail, someone comments on one of the necklaces when I wear one. I have taken them off for someone to hold, feel, squeeze. (Yes, I need to throw them in the dishwasher! Good thing they're dishwasher safe.)

When I was wearing the pink swirly doughnut shaped pendant, one woman gushed over it and asked what kind of stone it is. She was surprised to feel it and see for herself what it is made from. She was also surprised to see how lightweight it is; the pendants look much heavier than they are.

The cord is soft with almost a silky feel, and I can tell you from experience that I have had to undo some knots that Li'l Bit put in them, and I was able to untangle the knots easily. That's a plus.

The cords snap together simply and have the safety feature of a breakaway clasp:

We have really enjoyed wearing these necklaces. We haven't chewed on them much, but I see how they would be attractive to a chewer. (If Li'l Bit goes through another chewing period, I'm ready for her.) For me, the fidgeter, they give my hands something to do when I'm in a meeting or waiting. The heart shaped pendant is easier for me to bend and squeeze than the doughnut shaped pendants.

I wondered if the silicone would feel fuzzy or sticky after some use. So far, so good. They still feel as smooth and clean as the day we got them (a little over a month ago). I'm impressed.

For the sensory kid, I really like the fact that they are an attractive accessory as opposed to necklaces I've seen made from sterilized aquarium tubing that scream "special needs" in a school or clinical setting. They're easier to keep up with and cleaner/neater than therapy putty, too, for squeezing, pinching, bending.

This is another item thatLi'l Bit likes to take off with and play with alone; I have had to keep an eye on them and her, and keep them out of her possession until we are going somewhere that she needs her fidget pendant. (In addition to squeezing and bending them and an rare nibble, she likes to remove hers from her neck and twirl it around her finger. When I try to do that, I usually wind up accidentally flinging mine across the room. They bounce when that happens. Not sure how my kid is able to twirl hers without sending it into orbit, but she's quite good at it.)

I showed the necklaces to an OT friend of mine who works with kids on the autism spectrum. She loved them and asked me for the web site; I wore one to a group of moms of special needs kids and they oooed and ahhed over my necklace. And I suspect that my sister will get one of mine when she sees them; she has a newborn (named after yours truly).

One of my friends said that she'd like to order some necklaces for church nursery staff. Babies always try to chew on the workers' necklaces. I would have loved a pendant with my firstborn. I held her all the time. (Twins the second time around were a bit more challenging for me; I couldn't hold them or wear them all the time, especially with a toddler, too.)

Teething Bling and Tween Bling range in price from $10 to just over $20; pendant and bangle sets are available for $34 and under.

Safety risks: Bottom line - use at your own risk. Ya know, I am not concerned about my middle schooler (who is NT) wearing one without my direct supervision. My daughter w/ asd is a different story. She doesn't get one of them unless we're together. I don't recommend that you leave your child unattended with a necklace, even with the safety precautions of the safe materials and breakaway clasps. If you have a heavy chewer (like mine used to be), your child might be able to bit through them (mine bit through other types of chewies when she was little), so you'd want to be right with the child and directly supervise them with a pendant. Use your own judgement about what you know about your own child. You are responsible for doing your homework and assessing and assuming risks for your situation.

Smart Mom Jewelry sent me four necklaces for review purposes. I am not paid for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

From Timberdoodle: Critical Thinking Co's Visual Perceptual Skill Building

Timberdoodle carries a variety of toys, games, and educational materials. Timberdoodle offered some options for reviewers and I chose a skill building book from Critical Thinking Press that focuses on an area where Li'l Bit needs practice: visual perception. I am familiar with Critical Thinking Press; I've purchased several products from them.

Note: The cover pictured here differs from the cover of the book I received.

After I chose the visual perception book, we went to see our "autism" consultant, who, without my input, screened Li'l Bit for some visual tracking issues. The consultant and I had the same instinct - we need to devote some time to this area.

I really like this book. I am certified in Basic Level 1 of Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment, and, while Visual Perceptual Skill Building is not FIE, there are similarities, and I can use my training along with this book. For $24.99, a parent can have a worktext that he/she can use at home with a child (without signing up for an expensive, out-of-pocket expense class, travel time etc). The activities are child-friendly; the pages are laid out well and are not over-crowded (in my opinion), which reduces performance and completion anxiety.

The recommended age range is 7-9; I would add that parents of older children who are developmental delayed may benefit from the activities in this book.

Visual Perceptual Skill Building Book 2


Visual Motor Integration

Visual Discrimination

Visual Closure

Visual Figure Ground

VisualForm Constancy

Visual Memory

Visual Sequential Memory

Visual Spatial Relationships

The "problem" with this book at my house is that Li'l Bit needs help with it (a guided participation and/or FIE/mediated learning experience type help) yet she prefers to try the pages without my help, so she takes the book and sneaks off with it to try on her own. She got quite a few pages correct; but I found some errors in the work she did on her own. The fact that she enjoys trying to do the pages on her own is a positive thing. The negative is that I keep having to track it down! I was able to sit down with her and scaffold the process of what she missed and how to get to the correct answer. I want to give her the tools to get to the correct answer, the process, instead of giving her the answer. There's quite a bit of thinking involved, step-by-step strategies, within the different skills, despite the fact that this is a workbook about visual perception. Visual Perceptual Skill Building is a solid resource for the younger (or developmentally delayed) child who needs to join a guide/teacher. Having my daughter show me how she obtained her answer is one strategy we use. Walking my daughter through the process is another.

Here's another one she did without me.
We have an opportunity for another learning experience, because this one is incorrect. I'm not concerned that she got it wrong, because the error gives me a new opportunity.

I continue to be impressed with both Timberdoodle and Critical Thinking Company. This workbook is a big help for our needs and I recommend it to others who desire to work on strengthening areas of visual perception.

As a member of Timberdoodle's Blogger Review Team I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pick and Draw game winner

I finally chose a Pick and Draw giveaway winner! Long weekends and working on details for move put me off track and I'm behind on this one.

Using, I entered 1-47 and had the widget pick a number for me.

The winner: #21, marnie said...
I love how simple this game is and that the creativity and variety it draws out of my kids! Doing the online sample over and over produced a different face each time.

Congratulations, Marnie!

Speekee; a TOS Crew Review

Sometimes, we are assigned review items randomly, and sometimes, we get an opportunity to sign up for a chance to review a particular item.

When Crewmates were given the opportunity to show interest in this item, I asked Li'l Bit if she is interested in learning Spanish. She gave me an excited, "YES!" in return. Fortunately, for us, we were chosen to review Speekee, an online program that teaches Spanish to young learners in fun video song segments that feature children, puppets, and a few adults (mostly children and puppets). The music is upbeat; there is a lot of repetition (variations on a theme - love it!), and the 10 song/video lessons are 10-15 minutes long. The videos are captioned with the option to turn off the captioning.

Along the right-hand "sidebar" of each video, Speekee offers suggestions and links to worksheets that accompany and support concepts taught in each lesson.

Using Speekee with my homeschooler with special learning needs taught me a lot about her. The captioning can be an obstacle to comprehension for her; I am glad we have the option to turn it off. She tries to memorize the Spanish words as sight words instead of relating them to something she already knows, and this is an area where she and I need some practice. Right off the bat, understanding "Mira!" ("look!") and "El parque" ("the park"), relating them to familiar English words, gave her problems, I think, because she was reading the text (the captioning is in both Spanish and English; the actors and puppets in the DVDs speak only Spanish) and not hearing the sounds, and she needs to be able to do both, simultaneously. Ah. Multiple channel processing - here's an opportunity to work on that.

We did figure out how to watch Speekee through the Wii with no captioning; I never figured out how to turn on the captions using the Wii.

Some visuals (and an occasional song or sound) are aversive to my daughter. Some are easy to figure out; some, I have no idea why she doesn't like them. Something on Speekee gave my girl the need to be cautious - maybe when the fruit came out to name colors and fruit (she hates bananas and doesn't like to look at them or smell them), and watching the videos made her extremely anxious. Those of you with kids who have these odd-to-the-rest-of-us rules will understand.

So, we spent our Speekee time two different ways. Sometimes we watched the videos together (she would not watch them without me); sometimes she sat across the room and drew while I watched the video and she simply listened. Quite honestly, I preferred her drawing and listening; she learned more in that setting, than trying to process the visual and auditory simultaneously. I stopped the video quite a few times, repeated the word being demonstrated, and asked my girl to guess what it meant. "Hir-ah-fay" - yep, she knew it was a giraffe. Watching the video after listening to it facilitated the learning experience at my house. If you have a child with special learning needs, know that you can use Speekee as an auditory program, too, even though it is in video format.

Here's a sample:

One late afternoon, I was grabbing my coat to leave for the grocery, and was absentmindedly singing a line from Speekee's videos, "Donde vamos..." (warning: the songs are catchy and you'll probably get them stuck in your head! *smile*), and I heard my girl translate, "Where are we going?" I didn't realize that she was listening (I didn't realize I was singing, either).

I like the Speekee approach, especially the option to listen or the option to watch without captions. This is the way we learn our native language; listening, using it, speaking it, interacting with it. Symbols (letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, etc) are added to what we know after we have a lot of experience using the language to communcate. (In contrast, here's a blog post about how I was taught Spanish in college.) Speekee is a really fun introduction to Spanish via full immersion with simple, common words, phrases, sentences, concepts, presented in context. I like that.

Speekee is designed to be attractive to small children; it's simplicity makes learning easy, even for a mom. The 10 different videos are settings that are common to our routines and include the park, the home, a party, the cafe, the zoo, the market, the garden, the bus staton.

Speekee offers you the opportunity to use the online product for two weeks in a free trial. Click here for details. The cost to subscribe is $7.50 per month.

Read about my Crewmates' experiences with Speekee here.

I was given two months of Speekee at no charge for review purposes. I am not paid for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What will they think of next?

Concept cars;

one regular sized


one more like a limo.

Both with (are you sitting down?)

wood floors!

The concept cars we saw at the fancy, black tie event, Friday night, has me thinking about how much easier wood floors (or even fake wood) would clean up. I figure a woman thought of the idea. Me likey.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peter and the Wolf from Maestro Classics; a TOS Crew Review

When I saw Maestro Classics on the list of vendors for this Crew voyage, I hoped I'd be chosen to review another audio CD from the Simons.

When I was chosen for this review and saw that the selection is Peter and the Wolf, I was thrilled. It brought back a fun memory. I saw Timothy Dalton perform the part of the narrator in Peter and the Wolf in the '90's at the Hollywood Bowl.

The CD's provide more than a story set to music; the CD's offer music education, information about musical instrumenents; the Simons also give us auditory/listening skill-building experience, and the history of the story, music, and composer within a fun, entertaining format.

Each of the seven tracks on the CD adds layers of learning to the listening experience.

1. Peter and the Wolf

2. The Life of the Composer: Prokofiev

3. A Russian Peter

4. The Magic Maestro Talks About Peter & the Wolf

5. Peter and the Wolf without Narration

6. Invitation to Grandfather's Party

7. Kalinka - Dance Along

I can't decide which 'educational' track I like better; they tie, in my opinion. Bonnie Simon's background about the composer in track two teaches me. I am unfamiliar with Prokofiev no longer. After I hear Stephen Simon's presentation about the music in the fourth track, where he spotlights different aspects to listen for, I hear the music in a new way. The listening experience becomes richer, more special. He spotlights for listeners pieces of the musical part of the story that use a kind of auditory attention that so many individuals with developmental delays need to use and practice and experience.

The layout of the CD's is impressive to me - they follow a developmental progession that grow the listener's experience and knowledge - I really, really like the very deliberate order of the tracks. If the Stephen Simon track spotlighting the musical aspects came first, the CD would lose some value in my opinion. Being able to hear the whole story set to music once, first, and then learning new things to listen for sets the stage for (scaffolds) some neat discoveries about "what I thought I knew but didn't" and "what I hear now that I didn't hear before". Listeners make a discovery that a second look or listen can reveal new, exciting things.

The one negative for our situation is that the story is so long (almost a half hour). We have to listen to one track at a sitting; we can't do the entire hour-long CD in one session. I really enjoy this CD and this story - however, while Peter and the Wolf is just nine minutes longer than The Tortoise and the Hare, those nine minutes make a big difference for a child with attention challenges. Even listening while coloring and cutting, this almost half-hour long story pushes past way my daughter's limits. If you have a child with attention challenges, you might choose to order one of the CD's with a shorter story.

Maestro Classics CD's would be great for trips; for child care settings (MOPS, anyone?); for birthday gifts.

Priced at $16.98 (or three titles for $45), the Maestro Classics CD's provide an entertaining and quality learning experience.

Please go HERE to read my Crewmates' reviews of this product.

Maestro Music sent me a copy of the CD, Peter and the Wolf, for review purposes. I am not paid for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sensory Overload

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure to attend a fancy charity event that supports a list of childrens charities (two serve children on the autism spectrum) followed by a fancy dinner. This was our third time to enjoy dinner at this particular venue following the black-tie event.

We were assigned to the main dining room at dinner; probably some sort of honor to be there. The main dining room features a live band. The band is always loud and intrusive on our table conversations, but this year, the band was much louder than past years, so loud, in fact, that we were not able to talk to the person beside us unless we were well within the other's personal space and were yelling.

The music from the band turned to noise for me. I could not get away from the loudness of it. I sensed myself trying to withdraw, to disconnect, to somehow pull my mind out of the noise, while my body remained in the chair at the table, as the wait staff brought course after course. I couldn't wait for dessert so that we could finish and escape. The fancy dinner and all the courses should have been special, delightful, and instead, were miserable. (What if I'd been expected to learn something in that atmosphere?)

The loudness of the band and my reaction to it, to want to withdraw, reminds me of my daughter, when she was not quite two years old. She - how do I even describe this? - she had sort of a "force field" around her, where she kept everyone, everything at arm's length. She created a protective space about her; she noticed, she gave attention to only things that were right in front of her, and only things she chose (like her own fingers or a stray strand of my long hair that she found, that she would string between her fingers for long periods of time).

The everyday world that most of us navigate with ease was as overbearing to her as Friday night's band was to me. Interactions with others, relationships, should have been special, delightful, for her, and instead she was miserable and withdrew.

Taking those sensory sensitivities into consideration is so important when interacting with children on the autism spectrum. I have a refreshed perspective this morning.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I have always spent a lot of effort researching. I like to look ahead. I realized very early in our journey with autism that information, intervention, treatment, and resources are varied and abundant, and that I never wanted to wait until I needed a new intervention, approach, or resource before I began researching. I wanted to know enough about what is available that I would be able to change directions when I sensed the need to do so for my daughter.

Because I've looked at so many options, I have a good sized "bank" of possibilities in my mind, and, often, a parent will contact me to ask if I've seen any intervention or resource to work on a challenge or symptom they're seeing in their child. Most times, I can give them a direction to research; give them a short cut. I love doing that, saving a parent time, or giving them a direction to research. I love it when someone does the same for me.

That, my friend, is one of the reasons that I blog. To connect people with resources and resources with people.

I have been busy playing with products. I use the term "playing with" because using new educational resources, cookbooks, toys, jewelry is fun for me. And I try to keep what we do in our homeschool at a playful level. (Anything more than playful, moving toward "academic", shuts down my homeschooler in a snap.)

I have some really, really neat items to tell you about in the coming days and weeks.

Take a peek:

Teething Bling
Maestro Classics
Visual Perceptual Skill Building (Book 2)
The Kitchen Classroom
Blackbird Bakery Gluten Free
Kid Scoop
Potato Chip Science from Workman
Banana-Grams for Kids
City Creek Times Tables and Addition.
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary For Kids
Dig It Games
Dung Beetle from the Curiosity Files

I am waiting for Who is God? from Apologia and Reading Kingdom. And a review copy of More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: 200 Brand-New, Budget-Friendly, Slow-Cooker Recipes, too.

I am busy (can you tell by that list?). I am always amazed at what is available that I did not know about. There's always something new; something to use in our homeschool, in our play time, in the kitchen.

Stay tuned; maybe I can help you meet a "just-right" resource for your situation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cake Pops

I am not the most creative person on the planet. Before one of my children needed a special diet because of food allergies and intolerances, I'd have just purchased food pretties for special occasions from a bakery.

I would still purchase food pretties from a bakery for the sibs on their birthdays, except that I have an added complication. My GFCFSF+++ girl is a twin. And if I buy her twin's cake and make and decorate her cake myself, the purchased cake is beautiful and the one I made stinks by comparison.

Buying one cake and making and decorating the other is nothing but a glaring advertisement for how much help I need in the decorating department.

So, I took a cake decorating class. That helped. But still, I need ideas.

This cake pop craze is too cute, and I need ideas that I can use as I play with homemade coatings (is there a gluten free, milk free, soy free candy coating? I haven't found one yet) so that I can make some cake pops that all of us can make and enjoy together.

Angie Dudley's Cake Pops ($19.95 list price) is a *wonderful* mix of recipes, how-to, beautiful photos, hints and tips to all things cake pops, cupcake bites, and cake balls. Our book arrived in the middle of a busy CHRISTmas season, and we haven't had time to try to make every bit of them from scratch, yet (I can't use canned frosting in the balls/pops because they all contain milk or soy or sunflower oil and I can't use candy coating discs, either). The girls and I have browsed the book, studied it, ooo'ed and ahh'ed over the pictures, and dreamed of what we'll try first.

Angie Dudley blogs at Check out the Mrs. Pots cake pops here.

No, the recipes are not allergen-free. If you're baking for an individual with allergies, you'll need to know how to create the cake and other ingredients that are safe for the person you're baking for. (Sidebar FYI: There is a GFCFSFEF recipe here.)

The best part, I think, about Cake Pops is the way Angie Dudley makes my girls and me feel like we can do this, too. She got the creative gene; hopefully, I can try to channel that from her ideas, combined with my (very) little bit of experience with some icing tips, I can come up with a homemade icing that will cover and harden on my cake balls, and we can decorate with another homemade icing. Melted chocolate chips will work. (I wonder if fondant would work in place of candy coating?) She certainly encourages my desire to be creative. (I almost drooled over the photos in the book - they're gorgeous.)

We've gotten quite a bit of time to experience share over the photos in this book, dreaming about what we want to make, ooooing and ahhhhing over the cute treats.

The book is spiral bound under a hard cover, which means it is quite sturdy and lies flat. I don't have to weight it down on the kitchen counter to hold it open to the right page.

Cake Pops is a must have, especially for a mom who has the allergen-free recipes and needs ideas for creating allergen free treats at home.

Chronicle Books sent me a copy of Cake Pops so that I may review it on my blog. I received no financial compensation and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Falling Off The Bone

Author Jean Anderson, via Wiley, brings us a beautiful cookbook for all things meat: Falling Off The Bone.

I'm the one who finds a new recipe to try only to have it flop because the meat is tough and the kids won't eat it. Falling Off The Bone ($29.99) promises to teach me how to turn out tender, delicious meats every time.

The pictures in this sturdy hardback cookbook are gorgeous. I can't decide what to try first. I page through the book looking at recipe titles, ingredients, and photos, and think, "I want to try that one and that one and that one and that one..." There are a few recipes from the cookbook here.

Falling Off The Bone covers (in chapters) beef, veal, lamb, and pork. I find one recipe (puchero, page 70) in the beef section that uses poultry (chicken drumsticks are an ingredient).

Author Stevenson gives us recipes for soups, stews, one-dish meals, and entrees. Recipes range from traditional U.S. comfort foods to dishes from different cultures from around the world. Anderson shares favorite family recipes with readers, too.

The most important parts of the book for me are the "how-to" and "why bother". Anderson gives the reader instruction and education about different pieces of meat, about how to tenderize, about kitchen tools, gadgets and pots & pans, about ingredients to enhance flavors, about short cuts, about anything you need to know when cooking beef, veal, lamb, and pork.

Allergen-free cooks: This is not an allergen free or even gluten free cookbook. If you're comfortable making substitutions, you'll be able to use this cookbook with ease.

With the wake-up temp at 8 degrees above zero this morning, a soup or stew would be good; another choice would be a recipe to use the chuck roast that I have in the freezer. Decisions, decisions. Armstrong has recipes for them all.

Wiley sent me a copy of Falling Off The Bone for review purposes. I am not paid for reviews and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pardon Me Sir, Did You See What Happened?

The media hype and buzz generated by allegations of fraud in this paper of 12 case studies by, of all people, a journalist are creating a smoke screen for the real issue. There are hundreds of thousands of families reporting this same story. Child was healthy and interactive. Child was vaccinated. Child became very medically sick and regressed, developmentally.

Reminds me of that line from the Ray Stevens song, "The Streak": "Pardon Me Sir, Did You See What Happened?" Thousands and thousands of families saw what happened. In all of this media hype that is missing the point, I see no reporters and news outlets asking the families this important question. I see no medical research dollars being poured into answering the question, "What happened? What made thise healthy children so medically ill? Why did their development deteriorate at the same time? Is bowel disease related to regression? Is either related to a vaccine?" Biopsies show a live measles virus (the measles from the vaccine, not a wild measles virus) in the bowels of these children. Does that play a role in what happened to the children?

Media stories ask if the allegations of fraud are enough to convince parents that vaccines are safe. What a stupid question.

Fact is, those families, those children are still here. Parents all over the world report that a healthy, interactive child developed severe, sudden onset bowel disease (constant, explosive, messy burning diarrhea, chunks of undigested food, etc) and simultenously withdrew, regressed, lost developmental milestones, after a vaccination.

Let's begin to listen to the children and their families.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sweetest words (who needs drugs?)!!!!!!

The SWEETEST words:

"She is SO thrilled to have your daughter!"

from the director of the Learn-to-Skate program at a new-to-us arena this morning, as she told me which instructor Li'l Bit would have. You see, I called and spoke to two women there before I enrolled my girls. I wanted to be sure they are comfortable working with children with special needs. They are. They didn't hesitate.

I still blink back tears hours later to recall the director's face, her reassuring and genuine smile as she was talking to me this morning.

Who needs drugs? - all ya need is an experience like this one for an amazing high...

Friday, January 7, 2011

See-N-Read; a TOS Crew Review

See-N-Read® is a gadget in two forms that assists in reading, both books that you hold in your hands, and digital products, e-books and other materials on the computer.

The slogan within the logo says it all: "Lay it on the page and Simply Read!"

The hold-in-your-hand See-N-Read and Memorymark (either are $2.99) tools are flat, lightly tinted, gray pieces of plastic that you place over the page. There is a horizontal window in the gray piece of plastic that allows a reader to spotlight one line at a time. There are actually two versions; in one, the See-N-Read, the window is solid, but clear; in the other, the Memorymark, the window is actually cut out, to allow for underlining passages and writing notes in your text.

This is a tool for the reader who loses his place easily; for the reader whose eyes don't track smoothly across the page; for the reader who struggles with glare from light bouncing from the page of a book.

They are flat and sturdy and make great bookmarks that are ready to use when you are ready to read.

The digital product, the eSee-N-Read, is a digital version ($29.99) of the plastic piece. I installed it on my computer and I can turn it on and off when I want to. It gives me options so that I customize the tool to what I'm reading (blogs are different from web sites which are different from e-books, etc). Look at this page to see what I'm trying to describe.

I was thrilled to get this product; I thought it would help our situation a lot. I think it would help a lot of people. I know, first hand, many children who don't naturally track, visually, from left to right, and when expected to do that across a page of text, their eyes are all over the place. No wonder they struggle with comprehension if their mechanics are not working for them.

I like the idea of this product so much, I see the benefits for so many readers, that I am reluctant to write anything negative about it. I will suggest that it is something you need to try if you have a struggling reader to rule it in or rule it out as an accommodation for that reader. And please go to our main Crew blog (here) and read the experiences of other families and get a better picture of how this might help your reader.

For us, though, it created some challenges. I thought we'd love it. I wanted to love it. Turns out, we do better with a product that is tinted from top to bottom (with no window) and tinted another color. Moving the plastic piece down every line (to keep the window open on the line being read) when reading a book is an added fine motor activity, another action to take, that added "too much" to reading time for us. It added unneeded frustration.

The digital version eSee-N-Read drove me nuts. I realized that I don't read a computer page from top to bottom and left to right. I scan chunks of a page for information, and I scroll a lot, and the digital See-N-Read slowed my efforts.

Check it out; it is a solid tool that works in a big way for some readers. It could be a fit for your situation.

I was given See-N-Read® tools to use and review. I am not paid for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.

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