Thursday, February 25, 2016

Not Necessary

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nine Ideas to Grow Reading Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Battle Fatigue - Special Needs Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

Resisting Homework - What is a mom to do?

(He Doesn’t Want To Work!)

I recently read a blog post on the topic of what to do when the student refuses to work (as in schoolwork). All five of the suggestions were behavioral in nature, working to “get” something out of the child with rewards and consequences. Not one of the suggestions had anything to do with relationships.

My suggestion , “Let’s do it together!”

Allow me to describe an experience from my own family. Early during a school year (a couple of years ago), my son was given two Spanish memorization assignments in a first year Spanish class. One of the assignments is to memorize Romans 8:1-2 in Spanish. The teacher's approach is an immersion approach, and at this point at the beginning of the school year, the students were merely memorizing sounds and syllables without context or meaning, which, in my opinion, is extremely difficult. So rather than lord over him and tell him to get busy, and rather than encourage him with empty "You can do it!" phrases, I decided to join him.

Romans 8 Por lo tanto, ya no hay condenación para los que pertenecen a Cristo Jesús; 2 y porque ustedes pertenecen a él, el poder[a] del Espíritu que da vida los[b] ha libertado del poder del pecado, que lleva a la muerte.

He was resistant and angry about the assignment. Was I irritated with his avoidance of the assignment? Yes. I ignored my own irritation with the fact that he is capable of independent learning and I approached him with a calm “This is not a big deal. We will do this together.”

He is not a learner with special needs, but I pulled out some of my tricks that I use with my homeschooler with special needs for this situation.

1. Put on your detective hat and make some guesses why the child doesn’t want to work. My child didn’t want to invest in the Spanish assignments because he felt overwhelmed and incompetent. He avoided the assignment until the last possible moment, which meant he did not leave himself enough time.

I sat down with my son with the laptop and guided him through the steps that I would go through in order to memorize those verses.

2. The actual homework assignment becomes a background activity. Addressing the issue of feeling overwhelmed and incompetent becomes the primary activity.

3. Stop the action. Stop the resistance and procrastination by starting the assignment in a way that the child may join you with you in the lead.

4. Break down the assignment into manageable pieces. Slow down.

I suggested that he find a web site that would pronounce any phrase in Spanish that he typed. I suggested typing and learning one phrase at a time, listening, repeating, listening, repeating. As he typed in a phrase, I suggested that he make a flash card for himself with the phrase in Spanish in dark marker and the English translation below it in pencil.

He was at a place where he was willing to try anything, although he peppered our interaction with lots of resistance and eye-rolling.

I ignored the resistance and eye-rolling.

5. Do the work alongside your child.

When I took a cake decorating class, the teacher demonstrated for us and worked alongside us. I relied on her demonstration heavily at first. Now, I can work independently. Sometimes, our kids need us to do it with them. They  need us to demonstrate.

Back to the Spanish memorization mission: When the voice on the computer spoke a line of the Bible verse, I repeated it aloud with my son. We looked at the flash card together as we read and spoke.

6. STAY CALM. CONFIDENT. Your attitude is always “We can do this”. I want to pull my kid out of the flight-or-flight part of his brain and into thinking mode, active participation mode. When he became upset with himself because he thought he wasn’t memorizing fast enough, I sent him to walk around the house, stretch, anything except look at those flash cards or think about the assignment. I explained that he would learn nothing while upset. The brain isn’t wired to learn in fight-or-flight.

7. Use movement. Sensory integration activities are not just for individuals with sensory processing issues. My son thought I was crazy when I suggested hugging himself (crossing the midline), walking through the house with flash cards in hand, working through the phrases. I insisted on some breaks for nothing but stretching and movement, as well. He found one of his sister’s squeeze balls and held it in one hand to squeeze while he worked on phrases. I suggested he write the phrases several times (he declined this suggestion-and that’s okay. I wanted him to figure out what works best for him.). Chew gum. Suck on a hard candy. Do what works.

8. Spotlight discoveries. Interestingly, he settled into a rocking chair to work on the phrases. The movement did seem to help. I wanted him to notice that, so I said, “I notice that when you move, you get the material more easily.”

There is a benefit to beginning an assignment early to allow time for sleep. The brain needs sleep. I told my boy that. He went to bed that night frustrated that he didn’t quite have all of the selection solidly memorized. I told him we’d get the last little bit in the morning after he’d slept. He was doubtful, but tired, so he went to bed. And yes, we did knock out the last little bit in the morning. He knew the passage better than he thought he did – but he needed that sleep time.

Later, when we memorized a paragraph about a fictional Pedro, I spotlighted that he seemed to be able to memorize a certain amount at one sitting and then he becomes saturated and unable to hold more, and I suggested that he might want to start a day or two earlier, memorizing shorter pieces of the assignment, instead of trying to memorize all of it on the night before it is due, planning not to memorize all of it at once, planning to include sleep time within his studies.

9. Be creative. When my son was stuck memorizing the paragraph about a boy named Pedro in another class assignment, I suggested he sing the phrases. The result was hilarious (I had trouble stifling laughter) yet successful.

10. Look for ways to give your child some of the responsibility for him or her self. At my son’s second memorization assignment, I asked him to listen to the computer pronounce the assignment and make his flash cards before I joined him.

11. Scaffold self-discovery. Ask your child what they think helped the most, what didn’t help.

12. Be available as long as needed. I joined my son for two of the memorization assignments before he was ready to tackle one alone.

When my son was given the next memorization assignment, he began it a night earlier, without me, and he completed the assignment in fewer hours than he’d needed when memorizing text in Spanish in one sitting.

Have a child who is refusing to schoolwork or resisting homework? Don’t lord over them with consequences or dangle rewards and create an us-against-them situation. Instead, join him. The relationship benefits go far beyond learning academic material.

Bill Nason has homework tips in his book and on his Facebook group, Autism Discussion Page:

Saturday, February 20, 2016



My son is playing for a new-to-us baseball team, a younger player on the junior varsity, and today, I went to a varsity preseason scrimmage to scout the venue and activity with my special needs teen in mind.

I hope she can help in the concession stand. She meets the age requirement. But today, during my scouting trip, I learned that there is a french fryer in the middle of the room, hot coffee, and a warmer for hamburgers and hot dogs in the stand. Why a french fryer on a table in the middle of the stand? Give me a break.

Well, maybe I can bring enough activities for my girl to do as she sits in the stands with me. I went to scout that area. Right off the bat (pun intended), a HUGE obstacle. From the scorer's box, someone was playing VERY LOUD music, movie audio clips of dialogue, and sound effects. Every time a baseball popped up and outside the fences, that disc jockey played a painful sound effect of glass breaking, I suppose the sound of a windshield breaking. Why is that necessary? Give me a break.

I love to watch my boy play. Autism and sensory overload and PANDAS have robbed me of too many games. We're in high school now, and I WANT TO BE THERE. I wish we could get a break, one that would allow my girl to be successful at her brother's baseball games, a safe role in the concession stand or enough peace and quiet that she can stay regulated in the stands. Being a special needs mom is hard enough without all the extra obstacles.

Whine over,

Friday, February 19, 2016

Preparing for the Dentist

Before she became a big sister at the ripe ol’ age of 23 months, my firstborn had been to the dentist with me several times. My dentist was a friend from church, and he ordered me to bring my baby with me. I was aghast, especially when she began walking at well before she was a year old. I couldn’t watch her while lying on my back in his chair. My dentist wanted to normalize the dentist for her. He said his staff would chase her down the hall. No problem. I wasn’t so sure. His word was good. Sometimes, she sat on my stomach during my check-up. Sometimes she played with toys in the corner of the exam room. The dentist allowed my daughter to touch instruments, to look in my mouth, or to ignore the whole experience and play in the corner if she chose. I think that dentist is brilliant.

When my twins were born, I switched dentists to one near my home. Taking three little ones to the dentist was a challenge, yet I wanted the kids to see me in the chair. I wanted to normalize the experience. When one child regressed into autism, I chose to leave her at home with her dad for my visits for a while. When we got to the point where my child with autism needed a dental check-up, I began taking her to her brother’s and sister’s appointments. I came armed with toys and video games and I didn’t care if she participated or watched, but I wanted her IN the exam room during the exam.

Our dentist at that time was a mother of young children and she instinctively slowed down and allowed processing time in a way that made my child with autism successful. She even managed to fill a couple of cavities with no nitrous oxide.

Here are tips that have helped us to have successful visits to the dentist:

1. Ask other families for recommendations – who is your dentist and what do you love about him or her? Ask families who have kids with special needs. Ask families with typically developing kids. Pssssssst: The autism moms know who all the great professional are.

2. Plan appointments right after breakfast or lunch. Hunger and blood sugar affect a lot of our kids in a big way, and timing an appointment around a good lunch may stretch the child’s attention and time in the chair. The first appointment after lunch usually means you won’t have to wait.

3. We have had success with three family dentists. I hesitated on using a pediatric dentist because the pediatric dentist won’t see/treat me. When children rely on familiarity to help reduce anxiety, I’d rather have my child in the same chair at the same office that I use so she can see me in the chair. Additionally, some pediatric dentists have an open exam and treatment room with multiple chairs and the dentist does not allow parents back in that room due to privacy for other patients there at the same time. I want to be with my child. Which leads me to #4.

4. Make sure the dentist allows parents to accompany children back to the exam room. Not all do. Make sure the dentist allows the whole family to go back for one person's appointment.

5. Preview prior to your appointment. Use story books or videos about going to the dentist. There is a YouTube video for just about everything these days. Preview with a toy dentist kit.

6. MODEL. MODEL. MODEL. One form of previewing is modeling. Take the child to mom’s appointment, dad’s appointment, sibling appointments, grandparent appointments. MODEL by opening your own mouth when the dentist asks your child to open hers.

7. Consider the purchase of a children’s camera and allow your child to take pictures of you during your appointment. Make an album at home, talk about the trip to the dentist. Make a social story. (Budget saving hint: watch for cameras to go on sale at holiday time. There are some sturdy children’s cameras out there, now.)

8. Ask the dentist to allow your child with special needs to have a ride in the chair at your appointment or at a sibling’s appointment. Ask the dentist to count your child’s teeth when your own appointment is finished. When my child w/ autism was younger, my dentist always gave her a pair of gloves during my appointments. Sometimes, she came alongside and watched or ‘helped’ for a moment. We allowed her to come and go from chairside to toys in the corner with no pressure to watch.

9. Ask your dentist to use child terms during your appointment if your child is there watching. Calling the suction device, “Mr Thirsty” and looking for “sugar bugs” on my teeth still makes me smile.

10. Slow down. Wait. Use as few words as possible to communicate with the child. Ask the dentist to ask your child one time and give the child processing time to allow the child to be an active participant. “Open wide!” may take 30-45 seconds to process, and repeating directions may cause the child to have to start processing the direction all over again.

11. At the child’s appointment, take a pair of sunglasses to reduce glare and brightness. Sunglasses also help disguise dental instruments that may look scary to the child. I have noticed that dentists often have sunglasses for very young children but none big enough for tweens and teens. Take along headphones or ear plugs or ear buds connected to the child's favorite music.

12. At the child’s appointment, take a squishy toy or silly putty for the child to use as a fidget in the chair. If the child has a lovey (blanket, doll) or favorite toy (little matchbox car), bring it along.

13. Consider bringing a weighted blanket, heavy cotton quilt, or using the lead apron on the child in the chair for proprioceptive input.

14. Ask the dentist or hygienist for a list of what will happen during the appointment. Turn the list into a visual checklist on a clipboard and allow the child to check items off the list as they have happened.

15. Ask the dentist to preview. Our dentist had our daughter close her eyes behind her sunglasses for a shot of Novocaine while explaining gently that she’d feel a little pinch as the dentist put numbing medicine on her mouth and the dentist demonstrated where she would feel the pinch, told her she needed to remain still. The dentist waited until my daughter shut her eyes to bring the syringe close.

Sidebar: We avoid nitrous oxide because I have read that it interferes with B12 pathways and if you have MTHFR issues, nitrous oxide can be detrimental. Please do your own research.

16. Find a dentist with a massage pad in the chair and has a tv in the exam room. (Our dentist in our new state does not have a massage pad in the chair.) Allow the child to choose the tv channel. Schedule your visit during child's favorite show.

17. Should you have a situation that requires sedation and you are trying to avoid a trip to the hospital, know that in some cities, there are traveling anesthesiologists who will come to your ‘home’ dentist and sedate a patient in the familiar dental office. ( is one example)

Kids don’t know what they don’t know. And what they don’t know can create anxiety and frustration. Your child may need to watch others’ appointments and take several trips to the dentist before he/she completes a full exam, and that’s okay. Build up to it, slowly, if you need to. Preview trips with parents or sibs bridges the gap between what they don’t know to what they know without demands or pressure. I interviewed my daughter, curious about what she might say to parents and kids with autism about going to the dentist.

My daughter – the one with autism – has this advice to parents and kids about going to the dentist. Her list is a little bit shorter than mine: “The dentist is cool! Stay cool and stay calm and relax!”

Added 11-Oct-16, Bill Nason's post about tooth brushing is related and may be helpful:

Thursday, February 18, 2016

How Much Talking Do You Have To Do For Your Child?

Here's another repost of a blog post I wrote for a web site that closed.

I have lost count of the number of times that someone has approached me, both in real life and in cyber space, to talk to me about a child who is quirky and challenging.

 “I think my child may have some form of autism, but the teacher (doctor, SS teacher, insert some adult here) says his eye contact is too good for autism.” Or, “I am a teacher, and I have a child in class who…” I am usually given a description of the child’s behavior, sometimes a long one. These children appear to be interactive and conversational; most of them read and manage some schoolwork, so they slid by without scrutiny until behavior got in the way. I see a lot of these kids in homeschool settings, and I have heard, “Public school kindergarten was a disaster.” too many times to count.

I have my LayMom way of cutting through the descriptions to ask them about a core issue that a lot of ‘our’ kids exhibit. No, it’s not part of the DSM diagnostic criteria. It’s my personal litmus test. (No, I am not a professional. I am just a mom. This entire post is from my own experience with my child and our developmental consultant.)

I ask, “How much talking do you have to do for him? Is he the child that isn’t paying attention, so you have to keep him on track with your words and ‘talk’ constantly? Does he wear you out because you have to remember that he doesn’t pay attention so you must do that for him to keep him on track? If you lose your voice, is he lost?” The answer has always been “yes”. Every time.

My advice: Perhaps you need not worry about whether he needs an autism diagnosis. Perhaps you need to begin to change how you use yourself with him. Quit talking. Lose your voice. Begin communicating in other ways. Non-verbally. Slowing down and being quiet will be infuriating at first, because the child doesn’t know how to interact non-verbally. People around him have been compensating for his inability to “non-verbal” and he has zero experience at it. “Non-verbaling” is a foreign language to him.

 I ask, “Does he control everything?” The answers, again, “yes”. Children who are unable to join are controllers. The natural compensation for not being competent at joining is to take control. To lead. The other behavior we tend to see is the child will lurk on the sidelines, on the periphery, and watch, never quite able to come alongside the others in a group.

Sidebar to consider: Children who are constantly talked-to, directed verbally, corrected, over-corrected, chastised, etc., may have low self-confidence. From their perspective, they can’t do much right. When you do everything for the child, the message you send them may be, “You can’t.” “I don’t trust you.”

Shifting your communication style to one that is quiet, verbally speaking, yet rich and expressive in all other ways, while slowing down to allow the child time to process this new language and take his own thoughtful, active response, will give him practice, naturally, in being active with his own attention and with coming alongside others.

Slowing down while using few words and little “talk” is what we do with babies and toddlers while they are learning. And, with some of ‘our’ older children who acquired words and “talk” in place of ‘non-verbaling’, we need to shut off words and “talk” in order to go back and give them experience in becoming active in all things non-verbal. Typically developing kids have thousands of hours of practice at non-verbal interaction by the time they are pre-schoolers and kindergarteners. Quirky kids may have very few hours of practice joining, coming alongside, and ‘non-verbaling’, because when a child does not do those things, the natural response of the adults around him is to talk to him more and to do for him that which he should be doing for himself in terms of attention and participation.

Yes, being quiet and slowing down is a challenge. It was for me. It takes the focus OFF if my child and puts the spotlight right in my eyes, on me. My child’s development depends on how many opportunities I can offer her to practice, her development depends on how I make myself “possible” for her to join at non-verbal levels. (Thank you: Dr Steve Gutstein, Dr Rachelle Sheely, Dr James D MacDonald, Dr Nicole Beurkens, Bill Nason, and Tom Brown helped me understand these concepts and I am grateful to them.)

I had yet another typed conversation recently (the fifth in a couple of months – this is a very popular topic for me recently). I began cutting and pasting from old conversations to save time. And then I thought, why not write about it? Perhaps other parents would benefit from the very things that have helped us at our house.

If you are exhausted from having to talk too much to keep your child on track, here are some thoughts for you that come from our experience, mom-to-mom (or dad), ideas that have made a world of difference at my house: Stop talking to him. Drastically reduce the number of words you use. Your silence requires a new level of attention for him. Your “talk” robs him of practice paying attention. “I don’t have to watch for cues and clues; Mom tells me everything.”

When kids don’t watch us, don’t reference us for meaning and information, we parents naturally slide into a role of over-compensating, usually by over-talking to keep the kid on track. It grows learned helplessness.

To begin to remediate, slow down and be quiet while communicating richly in other ways. The less you speak, the more he has to reference you using his eyes and his attention. The more you speak to keep him on track, the more passive he is in terms of attention. The less you speak, the more active he is.

Offer him opportunities to join you and be competent with you at non-verbal levels instead. Communicate very richly without using “talk”. Set the table together. Do laundry together. Move furniture together so that you can vacuum underneath. Carry laundry baskets together, you on one side, he on the other, as you go from room to room to gather dirty laundry or as you deliver clean laundry. Hold a trash bag together to go from room to room to gather trash. Carry a heavy watering can together and walk around the yard watering plants together. All of the coordinating your actions with another in terms of table setting (you hand him the plate, he sets it on the table) or some other PHYSICAL activity will begin to give him the experiences and practice he needs to feel himself taking an action, to feel himself an “active participant” – it’s the practice he needs in order to slide in next to the boys in Scouts and join them in a ‘doing’ activity…

You have to BE. QUIET. You have to SLOW YOUR ACTIONS DOWN SO THAT THEY INCLUDE HIM, SO THAT THEY ALLOW HIM TO BE AN ACTIVE PARTICIPANT WITH YOU. “Talk” puts him into a passive position. Attention is PHYSICAL first. He needs to *feel himself taking an action* in “concert” with an action of yours. You hand him a stack of dirty clothes, wait for him to notice, reach out and accept it, and put it into the washing machine. He needs to feel himself turning his own head, shifting his own eyes, his own attention, searching for his own information, and he cannot do that if you TELL him everything he needs to know. Be quiet. Slow down. Look for opportunities for him to be active with you. Think roles. A role for him a role for you. You GIVE the plate to him, he TAKES it and sets it on the table. Roles: giver/taker or sender/receiver. If you can’t sense two roles, then he can’t either. You do have to plan ahead for the extra time chores take. Use as little direct prompting as possible.

Remind him aloud, “Doing dishes is more fun when we do it together.”

Think of what roles you want for the two of you, and begin. Start a pattern. Hand him a clean plate, he puts it away. Hand him another clean plate, have him put it away. After you’ve established a pattern, change something within the pattern (this is how they experience flexibility!!!) Hand him a fork. Or hand him the plate in a funny way, behind your back or something. When you offer a slight difference in the pattern, he has to make an adjustment with his own action and his own attention to accommodate that – it gives him practice with “how people are” but in the most basic, foundational steps.

You can even decide to begin Monday to give yourself the long weekend to observe yourself and see just how much you talk and look for places to slow it down that will work in your day without disrupting too much. There are moments with my children when I feel exasperated. Dysregulated. Where they are moving too far ahead of me (physically or mentally) and I want them to come back so we can think through a challenge together. My instinct is to yell or to criticize because the frustration is talking so loudly. The better (more challenging, for me) response is to be quiet and wait for them to notice my silence, to reference me, and when I have their attention again, we can begin again, together. I’m not always perfect; I’m a work in progress, and you are, too. Don’t expect perfection in yourself. And don’t expect the process to be a short one. Just begin. Begin offering non-verbal opportunities for joining. One will lead to another, and that is what some of our children need to experience and practice.

I'm still a work in progress and I suspect you are, too. Good luck. Non-verbaling can be hard work and very rewarding.


I saved the comments from the original blog post on the web site where this was originally posted:

Comments KML says: May 12, 2012 at 8:35 am This is such a great post, with fabulous tips. I tend to think in a lot of cases autism diagnosis’ are taken too far. I have a friend who recently graduated with a double major and a near 4.0 who technically has autism. My father who also technically has autism graduated college valedictorian, has two masters and is currently working on his doctoral disertaion. To me this says the definition of autism is too broad, and needs to be redefined better (I hate slapping someone who’s just dyslexic with a label) or mild “technical” autism is something that can be overcome. Either way, these are tips all parents and educators need to learn. A friend shared this article on facebook, so glad I stopped by. Reply Penny Ray says: May 12, 2012 at 9:31 am Dear KML, Thank you for the kind words about my post. It comes from my experience with a child who is very much on the autism spectrum, who was too globally delayed to slide through the cracks as “quirky” even as a toddler. We have been intervening intensely since she was a toddler and a lot of families are in our shoes. I will agree to gently disagree with you on the broadness of the definition; I know too many adults on the spectrum who have what society might call “mild” autism who still need our understanding and supports in the workplace. (A large percentage of adults on the spectrum struggle to find employment.) I hope the workplace is friendlier when my child gets there. Penny Reply

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Over The River and Through the Woods - Planning WAY Ahead of Time Pays Off!

I wrote this several years ago for a site that closed. Resharing here on my own blog.

The challenges of autism and a list of co-occurring conditions have limited opportunities for our daughter. She is a young teenager and had never spent the night at her grandparents’ house without Mom or Dad. and only one night away from both Mom and Dad. This spring, I began to plan for a late June trip to stay with her grandparents.

My husband and I would be dividing and conquering in two directions with siblings in different activities on the same weekend. Either sibling event would be too much, too long, too hot, too loud for a kid with autism. There was no way to do just part of either of those events. One of us would have to take her along for the entire event or we needed to find an alternative for her. I could bring someone here to stay with her at the house or I could try to find someone for my girl to stay with. I called on my parents and my sister (they live in the same town) to ask if they thought they could handle our kid with an autism spectrum disorder long enough for me to drive to another state to pick up a sibling from camp and attend two days of end-of-camp performances.

My parents and my sister said they were up for the challenge. My girl was ready. She informed me that she is old enough to stay at Nana and Poppa’s house without me there. She was so excited!

I had a couple of months to prepare my girl. She has never been away from us for three days. She has never packed her own suitcase or planned what she might need while away from us. I decided to use the experience as a learning opportunity. This is unschooling at its finest.

I broke the planning down into parts for her.
1. Clothing. Look at the calendar and visually count the number of days. When we began planning, we thought she would be gone Friday, Saturday and Sunday. She would need clothing for three days and nights. I started the thinking aloud process for her and allowed her time to finish for me. Three shirts. Three bottoms (pants, shorts, skirts). Three sets of underclothes. Pajamas. Socks. Sandals. (She would wear sneakers.) We talked about the weather and how hot temperatures would be during her visit.

2. Food. She has a long list of food allergies. We take lots of food for her when we travel. Hot dogs, GFCF buns. Pizza crusts, spaghetti sauce, pepperoni. Lunch meat and sandwich bread. Cookies. Chips. Again, I got her started and let her come up with ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

3. Extras. Extras are less straightforward and require more hindsight and forethought, and I wanted to scaffold the thinking process for her. A hat and sunglasses were important to her. A bathing suit. A dress. One or two extra sets of clothing. Sanitary napkins and extra underwear. Is there a stuffed animal she likes to sleep with that she would like to take along?

4. Games and activities. My father has a degenerative muscle disease and my mother is his only caretaker. They don’t get out much; getting out requires a lot of work and sometimes a lot of equipment. My girl would have to pack items to keep her busy for three-and-a-half days and she would need some activities to share with her little cousins. I gave her lots of ideas beyond the items she chose. Some ideas she adopted; some, she rejected. I allowed her to decide what to take.

5. Behavior. This was (and still is) my most challenging part. The biggie. My daughter’s ability to cope under stress and to suppress impulse control while using self-control is still quite young. I previewed some manners for my girl. I previewed some situations that could arise that could upset her. We talked about how she would handle this situation or that one.

I told her that when I was her age, I would make a check-list of what I wanted to pack. I would make a check-list of what I needed to buy for my trip. And the next thing I knew, she had a check-list on the front of the refrigerator. The list became a framework for packing. We mentally added to it as we thought of items to add. In hindsight, having a couple of months to help her process and plan was a HUGE benefit to both the learning process and to her active participation in the planning, especially as we talked about food/snacks and games/activities to pack. I was able to spotlight activities and ask her about special foods in the next few weeks and she was an active participant in the planning. It was the first time she has been actively involved in planning for a trip, and I gave her opportunities to be active in all parts of it, not just packing a suitcase. She packed her own suitcase. She was really excited about having her own suitcase, too. She got the right number of everything she needed and made some good choices and some not-so-good choices. I went through her suitcase with her and helped her make what I thought were some better selections and we talked about why one outfit was better than another. (I’d rather her take newer clothes and clothes without stains. I want her to look nice.) We went grocery shopping for snacks and she helped choose what we would take. And she packed her activity bag almost without help. I did buy a huge package of colored pencils and prepare some coloring activities that she could share with her little cousins, but she did pack almost all of the activity bag by herself. She included DVDs that she wanted to share with her little cousins, too.

The weekend was a success. I was too busy traveling and attending events to worry about her. When I called Mom and Dad’s at night to check in with her, she didn’t want to get on the phone and she told me she wasn’t ready to come home yet. She did grow tired of too many little cousins too much too long, but for the most part, handled that well. (We do have some things to work on.)She was ready to return home with me when I arrived to get her, Sunday. My little girl grew up a lot in the process of planning and staying at Nana and Poppa’s several nights without me. She was so very proud that she stayed without me. The bonus: I got to see her sibling in two very special Friday night performances and a Saturday afternoon performance.

 If you are looking for opportunities to grow some thinking skills, responsibility and active participation, consider the event of packing for a trip with your child. Start really early to allow for ample processing time. (We had almost eight weeks to plan.) Scaffold the thinking experience but don’t do all the thinking for the child. Step back. Stepping back allows your child an opportunity to step up. Offer choices; allow the child to make as many decisions as possible. Double check what they’ve chosen. You may recognize new learning opportunities. Packing for a trip can be a wonderful learning experience – for both parent and child.

Monday, February 8, 2016

GrubMarket Review

GrubMarket - Organic for the 99%

My family got to review a box from GrubMarket. GrubMarket allows you to simply log on and order what you want. No subscriptions required. Yes, they offer subscriptions, but you are not tied in to a subscription if you choose not to be. They offer free shipping when you order more than $49. (Orders $49 and under have a $7 delivery fee.)

Here's what we got:

A pineapple, a grapefruit, an orange, a pomegranate, a couple of pears, a couple of apples, an avocado, and a package of dates. The fruit was well packed in crinkly shredded paper and the delicate fruits were wrapped in little sheets of paper.

I am experiencing some histamine intolerance issues and cannot eat the pineapple or citrus or the avocado and left them for hubby and the kids. The food is fresh, arrived packed well, and is nice to look at. No rotten pieces or brown fruit. Very appealing and tasty. The organic dates are my favorite! I live in "Podunk" where organic produce can be difficult to find, especially in the winter. I love that I had this delivered right to my front door.

Browsing the web site makes me hungry. The cheddar cauliflower, yellow squash, and organic apples look delicious. GrubMarket has home goods, baby items, pet supplies, a very wide variety. I am happy to know about them.

If you'd like to order, use the code GRUB20 for 20% off your first order.

Yes, I will order. I am eyeing the college box with anticipation. That will be a great box to send for finals week. There are gluten free products

GrubMarket is on Facebook here. Follow GrubMarket on twitter, here.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Penny's Salmon Pattie Recipe

Penny's Salmon Patties 

3 cans (8 ounces each) salmon 
1/4 cup mayonnaise (Hellman's or Safflower for dairy-free) 
1 cup crushed Rice Chex or gluten-free rice crispy cereal 
Generous amount of dried dill 
1 teaspoon dried mustard 
1 teaspoon lemon juice 
Gluten free flour for dusting 

Preheat oven to 375 F. Drain salmon and place in bowl. Add mayo, cereal and spices and mix with hands. Form six patties and dust with flour. Place on cookie sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes and flip. Cook until both sides are crispy and brown. Enjoy on a salad or rolled in a gluten-free wrap.
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