Our Homeschooling Approach

When people find out we’ve elected to homeschool our children they either have no opinion or too much of an opinion for someone who’s not their parent. I find people are resistant to it without understanding it, have preconceived notions, or are so old school they don’t realize it’s possible for there to be more than one way to educate a child. I find all of the above frustrating and I don’t speak a whole lot about it to avoid frustration, thus would rather maintain a “we’re gonna keep on trucking” whether people realize it or not kind of approach.

I am not anti-school. I refer to school and recommend it for a lot of children I come into contact with. We have simply decided after extensive thought, consideration, and due diligence, that homeschooling is simply what is best for our family and mainly- what’s best for Caleb’s needs. Yes, we have official home school status granted to us by our county school board.  I have plans and data and explanation for everything we do everyday we do it. Yes, my children can still be properly socialized and yeah maybe they won’t go to prom or play high school football but I believe every parent gets to make choices for the opportunities they want to prioritize their children to have access to. Ours just may be different than traditional high school experiences. But that’s ok with us. And yes, they can get diplomas and into college and have careers despite being home-schooled.

Things that have had to be considered for us to be confident in taking on such a major responsibility include (but certainly aren’t limited to) the following:

  • A system. One that works for us. Not an educational one yet, but rather, an approach. That means defined roles and responsibilities between myself and my husband, a defined “where”, a schedule of when it happens, a plan for making up content when it can’t, and plans for carryover between the both of us.
  • Cost. Homeschooling isn’t necessarily cheap. I buy the same instructional materials schools and teachers provide and office supplies such as a quality printer, personal laminating machine, etc. for making materials. I also pay for online subscriptions to access materials as well.
  • Time. That’s the biggest one but one that has been achievable to date because going back to the first point, we established a system. As my kids get older, content will require more time, and there is a plan for that as well. (Also factor in “future planning” as a point of consideration for home schooling!).
  • Self Awareness. This. Is. Huge. We were at an advantage because before we ever considered having children much less homeschooling them (fun fact: it wasn’t always our intention) I happened to acquire a couple degrees and real world applicable experience making me very well versed in typical/atypical child development across the content spectrum and how to work with children who need my help learning. This was a fluke in the universe that worked out to my advantage. This doesn’t mean that only people with a comparable background can successfully homeschool their child. Not at all. If you’re willing to commit the time and energy into learning and understanding both typical and atypical development, anyone can help educate their child. If though, you aren’t willing to commit the time or energy, aren’t willing to spend time researching and troubleshooting, or don’t find yourself with the patience to take on the role as your child’s educator, the ability to realize that, self monitor it, and make an alternate plan accordingly is invaluable. To everyone.
  • Protection. We were not met with opposition when we sought out to acquire full exemption to homeschool our kids. We were, however, prepared in case we needed it as my husband and I (as well as all current or future children of ours) acquired a lifetime membership to a national homeschool defense league that will advocate for and provide legal representation to us if we ever needed it. If we don’t, it’s still worth the peace of mind knowing we have access to advocates and they are also plentiful in resources for parents as well.

Currently, I do not use an assigned and preset-premade curriculum for our Kindergarten and Preschool pursuits. We will, one day, but right now, I am not satisfied with current systems enough to invest the money into knowing I’m going to have to make extensive accommodations to meet the current needs of my Kindergarten aged child. I am close to purchasing a literacy instructional program I’m a fan of but am using our first semester now to solidify more of Caleb’s pre-literacy and phonological awareness gaps. Teaching a nonverbal/preverbal/limited verbal/verbal but not intelligible (he’s a combination of all of those things at any given moment) child to read is 100% achievable, however, takes considerable time and alternative approaches. That’s a post for another day 🙂 We also bought and utilize Handwriting Without Tears for writing work. Since I generate my own plans here is what they are based on:

  • What is DEVELOPMENTALLY appropriate for my child? I do not target things that norms say he’s supposed to do as a 5 year old if there are still things he’s not doing that is expected for a 3 year old. We will do those, then the 4 year old norms, then the 5 year old ones. If I expected him to target things based on his chronological versus language age I am setting him up to fail. There are quite literal and developmental consequences, for example, for learning to walk without ever crawling.
  • What is FUNCTIONAL? For Caleb and for our family as a functioning unit. Knowing the capitals of all the states but not knowing how to communicate feelings or physical states of pain would mean I’m teaching him arbitrary content that isn’t at all functional. There has to be a happy medium at which knowing “facts” and being a functional human meet which is what I try to do with my planning.

Here are the content areas we cover and the order of important/emphasis I put on them:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math
  • Speech Therapy: Caleb has both ASD and severe apraxia of speech. We do 3 days a week dedicated to speech based therapy to address the motor planning part of his apraxia and 2 days a week formally addressing his mixed expressive-receptive language delay. Language is largely also addressed in other content areas and in normal daily routines. Our pragmatic (or social skills) as well.
  • Occupational Therapy: Caleb does not receive formal OT. In the world of developmental pediatrics, ST and OT go together like peanut butter and jelly. You can not consistently provide quality ST if you are not meeting the sensory integration needs being addressed by OT. In some severe instances, I can’t address communication at all until OT gets in the picture to help little engines get regulated. I currently find myself capable of meeting Caleb’s OT needs. That does not mean I think of myself so highly to think I can call myself an OT, that I know all the things an OT knows, or that I’m too stubborn to ask for help. Quite the contrary, actually because I also know enough to know at what point I can no longer help Caleb myself with those needs and he will need to see someone else for them. Right now, in OT scope of practice, he has sensory and executive functioning needs which I feel I can address. When I can’t, I happen to be spoiled by having OT’s as best friends and they will help him instead.
  • Science/Social Studies
  • Creative Arts
  • Self-Care/Behavior/Social Skills
  • We do Gross Motor work on the weekends.

Before we started our school plans I researched and made a list of typical norms for 3-5 year olds across the following content areas: Self Care/Organization, Fine Motor (this includes Writing), Gross Motor, Creative Arts, Phonological Awareness and Literacy, Articulation, Social Studies, Expressive/Receptive Language, Play and Social Skills, Math, and Science. Then I went through and prioritized which targets from each of those categories met my current criterion for what’s functional and what’s developmentally appropriate. That’s where our weekly plans come from. Now that we’ve gotten back into our flow from our more lax summer schedule (we never fully stop but we do take a hot minute to breathe) we’ll resume weeklyish field trips after Labor Day as well. That’s when we take advantage of museums, festivals, play facilities, etc. If I can get there in under 2 hours, it’s on our list of considerations for places to go. Sometime though, it may just be a life event we plant for. On weekends we have scheduled field trips or an event to attend, I might make the plans follow the same structure but with a “theme” to accommodate vocabulary or social/safety information for what we plan on doing/where we plan on going.

After each lesson, I note take and trouble shoot how we can improve and what accommodations we need. They generally involve the need for visuals either for content or behavior I didn’t predict, a sensory accommodation, or an environmental change to make.

It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. And sometimes I psych myself out a little and feel worried about being “enough” because I know the stakes are high. There’s never been a moment though, that I felt like I wasn’t making the right choice. And whatever educational option leaves parents feeling “I know this is the right thing” is what I feel 100% they should pursue no matter what that setting is. I like teaching Caleb. Caleb likes learning. For now, he’s comfortable learning from me. We make a good team 🙂

 

Love and Autism

Erin

 

I Notice That You’ve Noticed

These days, when I’m out and about , I notice that you notice. You notice that there’s something different about my son. Because he’s 4. He’s not a little kid anymore. Plus he’s also the height of a 1st grader so that makes it extra confusing. Regardless, you notice that he’s quiet or that he needs a lot of redirection or that we step out for a few minutes sometimes to have a sensory break. Because when he was younger it was easy to blame him not looking at you or saying “hi” from the shopping cart on him being tired. But now, he’s too big to sit there. So we take two carts. And daddy and Ari shop from one and Caleb and I use the other to play. Nothing in particular. But we stay in one spot and just simply practice being in stores and doing things typical families do and I understand how we have to go about that looks a little different.

Did you see us at Fenderz and notice that Daddy had to take Caleb outside two times to walk around in the grass while we waited for our food? Thanks for not prying or judging but simply offering him a pack of crackers and extra crayons. But did you also see us this past Saturday at El Parral and notice how we sat nicely from start to finish and didn’t mind waiting or sharing our food with sissy? We have successful days and we have challenging days. But we never stop going places. Because we won’t learn and grow if we’re home bound. And I have developed a strong ability to have blinders to people around us when we’re out so don’t bother shooting your judgy eyes my direction because I won’t see them. I’m too busy helping my kid.

We’ve taken up residence at the skating rink recently. Caleb and his sister like it there. I like it there. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t feel like we stick out like a sore thumb when we’re there. The music from the DJ booth is loud and you can’t talk over it so no one notices that he’s quiet. He laughs and plays games in the arcade like other typical kids. But mostly, I love that he’s the youngest one out there skating without help because it’s hard to find things when we’re around typically developing kids that he’s the best one at. And it’s not a contest. It’s never a contest. It’s a marathon, not a sprint- I know and believe all of those cliches. But I’ve gone 4 years watching everyone else’s kid lap mine developmentally and it’s nice to see mine rocking it. That’s fair. Yesterday we skated for an hour and a half and for that time we were out on the rink, it felt like Autism was locked up in the rental locker with our tennis shoes. Sometimes, it’s nice to just have a minute to breathe.

So, ironically, the skating rink, with it’s loud music and flashing disco lights, is where we find our peace. I don’t notice people noticing anything because there’s not much to notice. And it’s ok that eventually we turn in our skates and walk to the car and sometimes have a tantrum because all of a sudden we stop and realize that we’re tired and thirsty and that’s a lot to have to process and communicate for a kiddo like mine. And we go back to being noticed (especially by the cashier in the Wendy’s drive thru as we try to order Frosties while Caleb screams from the back seat). But it’s easier to turn everything back “on” when we got 90 minutes to skate away our worries while Katy Perry serenaded us at the roller rink.

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I hope your family has its own happy place too 🙂

Love, Autism, and roller skates,

Erin

Peer Interactions and Autism

While it may not be terribly evident in how he interacts with his sister sometimes, Caleb does in fact LOVE other children. I found that this is typically true out and about in the community though and not so much on his home turf. When someone has come over to play here he tends to continue to want to do his own thing but will tolerate another child doing their thing too. But he seems to know that when we go out and about, that that is EVERYONE’S turf and he is consistently so much more social. Add that to the list of why it’s imperative to get Out and About with your child.

Here are some tips for helping children interact and communicate with children with Autism in inclusive settings. Be it school, home, a pumpkin patch, the grocery store- it all applies!

1.) Teach them about non-verbal communication.

Saying words is not the only way people communicate. Children with Autism may use gestures, point, or even want to lead another child somewhere to show them something they would like to do. Let your child know that this is the same as when they use their words to tell you something. Using pictures or a speech generating communication device is also the same as your child using their voice to some children with Autism. Caleb is going to start using AAC and I’m excited to help encourage him to use it with other kids when we go out!

2) Help them try to be patient.

The mixed language delays and auditory processing difficulties so frequently found in children with Autism can make it difficult for them to process verbal information without visual support. Help your child be patient in saying something another way, demonstrating an example, showing a visual, or simply allowing more processing time for a response.

3) Pre-teach. 

Children with Autism may have sensory processing deficits that make them sensitive to certain sounds, textures, smells, etc. Or these sensory needs may manifest themselves in sensory seeking tendencies such as excessive movement, heavy work seeking, etc. Explain to your child that another child may have trouble with loud noises or need to have opportunities for lots of movement and relate it back to them having something they don’t like or a way they prefer to do things. Kids are smart and pretty empathetic little creatures if you give them the information and an opportunity.

4) Let them know they’re acknowledged…even when they think they’re not.

Let your child know that kids with Autism sometimes have difficulty with eye contact. It may be hard for them to understand that if someone isn’t looking at them, that they’re still listening and still want to engage with them. Children with Autism will also sometimes look towards a communication partner’s face but maybe not directly in their eyes. Often, they are looking at a speaker’s mouth as it helps them by providing a visual cue to what’s being said to help them process information.

 

Now I want to share some “Did You Knows?” with you about interactions between children with Autism and typically developing peers:

– Peer Mediated Instruction and Intervention (PMII) is an evidence-based practice for children with Autism.

– PMII programs benefit children with Autism in generalizing social skills they learn in school and therapy to real world settings.

– They also benefit typically developing children by increasing tolerance of peers which can lead to a reduction in bullying.

(Source: Indiana Resource Center for Autism)

 

If you have the opportunity to let your child play and interact with a child with Autism, take it. If you live near me and are looking for an opportunity….it’s coming your way 😉 As always, lead your child by example. If you demonstrate patience, tolerance, and acceptance, your child won’t be far behind.

Love and Autism,

Erin

 

Tooth Brushing Tips

Sometimes, having Autism can make it more challenging than not to stay so fresh and so clean clean (I hope you sang that along to the tune of the pop hit of 2000 by Outkast as it was my intention for you to). There was a period of time when Caleb hated baths. Hated them. It was a sensory thing. I hadn’t put everything together about him and Autism yet and at that point that was really the only thing sensory-wise that stuck out about him and since he liked playing in the pool, I decided it was behavioral. As hindsight tends to be 20/20, I think that was Autism trying to tell me something then, not him being non-compliant about having hygiene forced on him. I don’t have good advice on that one because I’m not ashamed to admit that I probably didn’t help him with the most appropriate approach then because I didn’t realize what was going on. These days, bath time is his favorite time of day and he has no qualms about having water poured over his head to rinse shampoo, washrags exfoliating his behind the ear crust, etc. Tooth brushing though- now THAT was a different story.

But again…..not always. Caleb’s sensory difficulties and stims emerge almost randomly, are intense for a hot minute, but resolve fairly quickly. At least that’s how it’s played out so far. Example, he used to visual stim HARD off of tearing paper. So I lost a lot of kid’s books in his room. Now, he’s been carrying around a pack of “first words” flashcards for 3 weeks and they’re all in pristine condition. Brushing his teeth wasn’t always a “thing” for him but about 6 months ago he decided he HATED it. He also took on some oral defensiveness in general. Brushing his teeth, having his face wiped, getting medicine, etc. Now I know some of you may read this and say “Erin, toddlers don’t love these things, in general. What’s the big deal about your kid not liking it?” To which I would reply, “I’m going to assume you’ve never taken on the challenge of brushing the teeth of an orally defensive toddler with Autism who has a limited verbal vocabulary because it’s the equivalent of how you’d feel if Neptune rose from the sea and came at your mouth with his mighty trident.” Bless your heart.

Here are some quick tips on how we said “Take that!” to brushing our teeth!

1. Consistency

No, you don’t get to just not have your teeth brushed because you don’t like it. Honestly, this helps- once he realized that this was in fact going to be happening every day of his life, I think he realized his energy and efforts would be better utilized to take me to task on something else I’d be more likely to give in about.

2. Vocabulary

We talked about it. In single words or 2 word phrases that he could understand. We made sure we knew body part vocabulary- especially vocabulary involving the mouth and the vocabulary involved with brushing your teeth. Here are some body part vocabulary ideas for you. We didn’t do this, but I’ve since discovered some Pinterest play ideas that promotes more positive and fun connotations of tooth brushing to help get kids comfortable for it to happen to them. Check those out, as well as visual schedules for tooth brushing here. Remember how helpful visual aids are for kids with Autism!

3. Control

I think Caleb didn’t appreciate that I was the only one who got an opinion about what was going to happen to his mouth and when it was going to happen. So we started using 2 toothbrushes. They were both child friendly but I used one to actually brush his teeth and he used one to play/explore around in there at the same time. So, instead of me torturing him against his will while he stood there passively, he got to be an active participant. Now that’s he’s comfortable and confident around a toothbrush, I let him brush his teeth independently first and then follow up myself with a good scrub, which he compliantly lets me do without hesitation now.

4. Approach

If I were to simply drag him in there and show him a toothbrush when he was in the midst of his aversion to it, I guarantee it would have gone nothing but TRAGICALLY. I had to prepare him. I told him it was coming during his bath and while we were getting pj’s on. I used a calm, pleasant voice. I didn’t threaten him with the toothbrush. I made it playful. That’s how we got through baths at one point. Daddy used the shower poof to play tickle monster all over him which inevitably would crack him up and give him a little sensory input and he’d end up having a few seconds of fun, which gradually increased to an entire bath time of fun! The same worked for us for tooth brushing. And I never forced his jaw open. What better way to reinforce an aversion?

5. Toothbrush Selection

It really did matter. I tried manual toothbrushes that had ninja turtles, Jake and the Neverland pirates, all of the characters. No go. Then I tried an electric toothbrush to provide extra sensory input to his mouth- YES!!!! NOW we were onto something. He liked how it felt, I liked that it was easier to manipulate because it moved on it’s own better- we were getting closer. Then, while I was grocery shopping at Kroger one day, I found our game changer. Background on Caleb: OBSESSED with stickers. Like….I’ve spent a lot of time scrubbing them off my living room hardwood cause he loves them so. Back to the story: I found a child’s electric toothbrush that came with stickers for you to decorate your toothbrush with! What better way to make the dreaded toothbrush our new best friend!?!?!? It worked. For real, ya’ll. Between that and the calm, consistent approach with instructions given on his developmental level that I made sure to pre-teach him beforehand, we conquered tooth brushing.

While we enjoy brushing our teeth now, we’re by no means masters yet. We’re getting ready to upgrade to a new toothbrush that has the red and green lights on it to tell you to keep brushing versus when to stop so we can spend more time in there. We’ve also never been to the dentist but plan on going for the first time this summer (but I started planning this summer dentist trip back in the winter cause you know…….Autism).

Grab that Spiderman electric toothbrush, a tube of Tom’s toddler training paste, and prevent those cavities! I’ll let you know how we progress and promise to record all shenanigans that ensue when we’re brave enough to break out floss for the first time……………..

Therapeutic Benefits of Music Exploration

Ari got some fun new musical instruments for her birthday and I have a “Music” category on my home-school preschool plans, so we did a music exploration session this morning with “Yankee Doodle Dandy” because it’s also President’s Day, thus I decided we’d take a patriotic route with it.

There are LOTS of therapeutic, learning, and developmental benefits from incorporating music into a child’s day. Using music and movement is part of my therapeutic plan to help Caleb with his Apraxia of Speech. Today, though, we just explored music and instruments. Just by playing with a super affordable Melissa and Doug music set,  we worked on all of these things PLUS some:

  • studies have shown that exposure to music in childhood can accelerate brain development
  • integration of different areas of development by making the body and mind work together
  • helps children learn new sounds and words
  • builds motor skills
  • strengthens memory abilities

I love it for our intents and purposes because we’re always working on:

  • imitating actions and vocalizations
  • different kinds of auditory sensory input
  • cooperative play

Caleb is really good at imitating actions now. Imitating actions is important because you imitate what you see before you imitate what you hear. Imitating gross motor and fine motor actions is an excellent precursor to imitating vocalizations and verbalizations. The love of music he’s acquired has also helped him be more spontaneous in his language use as he spontaneously comes up to us and does the motions and words to “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” Another benefit of music for Caleb? It’s calming. When he started getting a little wild on me in the Costco checkout the other week, I distracted him with the aforementioned “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and bought myself enough time to get out of the store calmly. When he was itty bitty and had to get shots, hearing tests, etc, YouTube videos of “Puff the Magic Dragon” saw us through.

If you’re interested, here’s some footage of our jam session this morning. We’re just getting ready for Grammy season 2032.

Ari and I have a piano duet of “Yankee Doodle” you can watch on YouTube.

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Caleb used his one-man band skills to provide the musical accompaniment to my own Yankee Doodle as well. Check out how much fun he’s having rocking out.

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 Just look at this chick!

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I know Caleb had a good time because he’s literally carried the box of instruments around the house all day with him and I randomly hear the shake of maracas coming from various rooms of my home.

Besides “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “Puff the Magic Dragon,” here are some of Caleb’s other favorite songs:

“One Little Finger”

“If You’re Happy and You Know it”

“Do You Like Broccoli Ice Cream?”

He also loves Christmas carols and a song from the “Build Me a Building” episode of Bubble Guppies because he likes to pretend to use a hammer and saw while he listens.

I also have made up ridiculous songs to their more popular counterparts to sing to my children throughout their little lives such as “Caleburra sits in the old oak tree” cause who’s ever seen a kookaburra sitting in a gum tree? Also, my personal favorite “AriBody” that is to be sung along to the tune of the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody.” And let’s not forget “Do you want to go to sleep now?” that follows the tune of “Do you want to build a snowman?” which I sing pleadingly when I need them to take it down a notch or seventeen.

Rock out with your kiddos, ya’ll. It’ll be a fun time for EVERYBODY (yeah yeah).

The Puzzle Piece

Ya’ll know about all those “National Day of (insert random thing here)” holidays that they announce for novelty’s sake on the radio and those one-a-day calendars? Well, today happens to be National Puzzle Day.

Do you know about the puzzle piece being the recognized symbol for Autism awareness? Here’s some information about it.

– In 1999 it was adopted as the UNIVERSAL symbol for Autism Awareness.

– The puzzle pieces themselves represent the complexity of the Autism Spectrum.

– The different colors of the puzzle pieces usually seen on ribbons and logos represent the diversity of the individuals that have Autism.

A lot of agencies use the puzzle piece pattern in logos, merchandise, etc. because of all of these reasons. When I was having a graphic designed for the “Take That, Autism!” logo it was a no-brainer for me to have it include multi-colored puzzle pieces.

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In case you weren’t aware, the puzzle piece used to represent Autism isn’t received well by everyone. Some individuals argue the following:

– use of the puzzle piece can imply that individuals with Autism are confused or incomplete

– it implies that there is a missing piece when many individuals with Autism don’t feel that their lives are missing anything.

In fairness, if you go back a few decades from the 1990’s when the first puzzle piece was used to represent Autism for an Autism society in the 1960’s, it was done so with a graphic of a weeping child on top of the puzzle piece because “children with Autism are always suffering.”

I have an opinion on the debate.

I think that what the puzzle piece perhaps implied 50 years ago versus what it represents today has evolved. I feel that a puzzle piece is part of a larger unit. Each piece comes together and unites. If I look at a graphic of interlocking puzzle pieces, I feel like I’m look at a picture of unity. And I can’t argue against unity. Ever. I also hope that in 15 years, when my son sees these puzzle pieces that represent something he will have to work harder because of everyday for the rest of his life, that if I have raised him well, he will simply think, “How great that my mom worked so hard to find a group of people that could put all the pieces together for me to get me where I am today.”

Also, there are a lot of other things going on that bother me more than what a puzzle piece could or could not be interpreted as. I really feel a push for everyone to use people-first language. I had someone comment on my Facebook months and months ago, “I didn’t know you had an autistic son.” Honest reaction? I prickled. I rolled my eyes, let out a breath, and simply replied “Yes, I have a son who happens to have Autism.” I also have trouble with the emphasis of and the need to assign low, mod, high functioning levels that have inconsistent and fairly arbitrary criteria that vary from one association or governing body to the next. Lastly, I’d love for the push of using the term “pre-verbal” versus “non-verbal” in more conversations with parents of little ones. Prognosis is almost impossible to predict at the preschool age- using such definitive and severe terminology is- in all honesty- just something else for us to obsess and worry about and then we’re more likely to simply not do ANYTHING because when you have a child with special needs, you have to fight hard not to feel defeated. Let’s not feel defeated by lexicon before we ever get a chance to get off the ground. There’s a quote that I read years ago that likely is my favorite quote of all time that I think works well here:

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

– Albert Einstein

In summary, the puzzle piece for Autism has a rich history. And as with anything, it will never satisfy everyone. This mama supports the use of the puzzle piece and the ideology is currently represents, but I also respect the opinion of those that might not.

Regardless, I think we’re all really just looking forward to the day when the only puzzle pieces we really need to care about are the ones that get lost under the couch, because that will signify that we have been successful in uniting our children.

Have a good day, everybody. Do a jigsaw puzzle or two!

Chinese New Year Craft

There’s two things I love: 1) when things are festive 2) a theme. So, I love holidays with holiday themed decorations, activities, and outfits.

Today is the Chinese New Year! So, I thought we’d do an activity.

Now let’s be real- my kids didn’t know our January 1 New Year so they definitely don’t know that it’s the Chinese (or Lunar) New Year. However, daddy’s been gone all day and NO ONE HAS NAPPED, so we needed something to entertain us. I decided on a craft!

2017 is the Year of the Rooster. We may not know what New Year’s is yet but since we live on a farm- we DEFINITELY know what roosters are 😉

I decided we were going to do a simple painting activity. (Silly mama- there’s no such thing as “simple painting” by yourself with a 3 and 2 year old simultaneously!). I’m into using untraditional items to paint with to provide different sensory experiences and found an activity online where we could paint with forks to make it look like feathers, so we gave it a try.

Here’s what you need:

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– printer/painting paper

– construction paper (we painted onto the printer paper and then cut it out and attached it to construction paper for a background because printer and painting paper gets flimsy).

– googly eyes

– glue (I forgot the glue. Don’t be like me).

– washable paints (I also suggest non-toxic because as I found out, when you give a 2 year old a fork she’s used to eating with to use as a paintbrush, it’s gonna end up in her mouth at least once).

– disposable forks

I started with Caleb and showed him how to dip the fork into paint and then make strokes on the paper with it. He required a lot of hand-over-hand to complete our picture because guess why? He simply didn’t like it. He likes art, he likes crafts, but apparently he likes to eat with his forks, not paint with them. Fair enough, man.

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He hung in there and gave me a little on the paper for each color and then I released him to do what he’d been trying to do since we sat down to start painting……

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………steal all the silverware.

Now you know I don’t want to waste all that so Mr. Man just set himself up to do a functional silverware sorting task tomorrow.

And no worries because whenever Caleb doesn’t want to do something, there’s always a little sister who’s ready and willing to take his place! So, Ari and I finished it for him.

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After it dried I drew (I use that verb generously) a rooster onto the paper and cut it out. Caleb did return to help me glue the eye on and glue it to the construction paper.

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It wasn’t our most successful artistic endeavor but we did practice fine motor control, got some sensory input, and were exposed to new language and new directions to follow so I’ll take it!

Next year is the Year of the Dog. We have 4 of those. I think we can find a way to be more successful with Lunar New Year 2018 🙂

 Check out my Pinterest board for more Sensory Painting Ideas!

Getting Out and About

I feel strongly about the need that all children- and especially children with special needs- need to be a part of normal things that families do together. In this instance, something as simple as running errands.

It is far too easy for Autism (and other needs) to make us hermits. Heck- toddlers in general make us want to stay home. But the “big picture” question that it ultimately boils down to is this:

How do you learn how to master a skill if you don’t ever practice that skill in the target setting?

Social story scenarios about going to the grocery store don’t mean anything if you don’t ever go to the grocery store.

Sometimes when we go out with Autism, Autism might bring friends along. Sensory meltdowns, over stimulation, impulse control, communication barriers, etc. These things can make doing typical things with typical communication partners in typical environments challenging, much less when you do new things in novel environments with dozens of unfamiliar people and sounds all around.

I used to be the mom who would scope out local stores after walking in to see if there was anyone I knew there because I knew that despite Caleb’s ability to typically handle being out and about well, there was always the possibility of a meltdown. I used to care what people thought. I used to cringe when strangers would come up to him in the checkout line and speak to him, knowing that there was no way he would respond. I used to say “he’s ready for a nap” or another comparable excuse. What I realized with time though, was that my child wasn’t the only one who needed to learn how to act appropriately when we went out.

Now I throw Caleb in the car seat every week and we go somewhere just for the sake of going somewhere sometimes- just to be with different people, doing different things. I had to put it beyond myself and rationalize that I would never want my child to be embarrassed when he was out because he had a special set of circumstances, so there’s no possible way I can go somewhere and be embarrassed myself. He can say “hi” now but I don’t force it if he doesn’t want to. There was one time at Aldi where a man said “Hi Buddy” to him while we were both picking out seasonal squashes and Caleb looked him directly in the eye and said “Hi” back without skipping a beat and I literally had to contain an excitement level that would have distraught this man deeply and play it cool, picking out decorative gourds for my mantle like it ain’t no thang.

Don’t think I attained my present comfort level because my child has always been eazy peazy to take somewhere. For the most part, yes, I’m fortunate. We don’t have hypersensitivities to loud noises, our sensory seeking tendencies are pretty manageable, etc. But it has NOT always been a cakewalk. It still isn’t. Last weekend Brian and Caleb went into Lowe’s while Ari and I waited in the car (I hadn’t felt like putting on real pants that day, not gonna lie) and Brian had to bring Caleb out to the car with me, go back in, checkout, then come back. The last time we all went to Costco, Caleb and I had to walk out early to the car. I’m not always successful either. I try really hard to make leaving the last resort, but I understand that sometimes it really is that hard.  But you just keep trying. I’ve cleaned up an entire box of Honey Bunches of Oats thrown onto a checkout conveyor belt in the middle of a meltdown. My child has fallen cartwheel style out of a cart trying to get some sensory input moving around. And I’m sorry Kroger, but I have taken an entire stack of the twist ties you close produce bags with and walked around with them in my back pocket to present my child at random times as a fidget toy. Disclaimer- with everything above said, as a mom, I understand also that sometimes you just need to go out without a child. For sanity’s sake. The bliss of having one hand on your shopping cart and one hand on a seasonally spiced latte while you browse the housewares clearance end aisles at Target is MAGICAL.

These days, we use standard behavior modification and quiet book activities (sticker books) when we really need to have something else to do while we wait nicely in the cart and it typically works for us. Some other things you may be able to use and try are:

– snacks

– busy bags/quiet books

– on the go toys/travel games

– sticker books (that’s our go to….it’s the entire reason I shop at the Dollar Tree).

– visual schedule of where you’ll be going

– portable sensory input tools: chewy tubes, fidgets, squeeze balls, etc.

– social stories

– noise cancelling headphones

Check out our Pinterest Board for Going Out and About for more ideas.

I once had a family tell me that they hadn’t been all out to eat as a family in over a year because their toddler, who happened to have Autism, had such a difficult time being out in public. So do you know what we did? We met the next week for speech therapy at El Parral Mexican Restaurant. I showed up with a loaner AAC device in one hand and a sticker book in the other and there, for the first time in a year, that child got to go out to eat. I tell you this because 1) if you want me to meet you somewhere and help you and your child go somewhere that is usually difficult, tell me when and where and Caleb and I are there. I’m not an expert but I do get it and things are easier with support at first. And 2) I think it’s a testament to remind people not to judge the parents of crying children, tantruming children, silent children when you’re out. And to certainly not say anything demeaning to them. What I didn’t put on the suggestion list above was “patience” but I promise, we don’t have any of that to spare for sanctimonious jerks. PROMISE. If anything, please tell us we’re doing a good job. At any given moment, we’re giving it all we’ve got.

So today, we have a rematch with Costco. May the odds be ever in our favor 🙂

Here are some other places we like to go!

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Panera. Note those stickers on the table, ya’ll!

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Any restaurant ever that serves chicken and french fries.

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T.J. Maxx. Yes, believe it- I took him to one of my happy places.

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Festivals, fairs, and related activities of festive fun. This is us on a gnarly coaster at a county fair. And by gnarly I mean that we rotated mechanically in a circle at a speed that generated a slight breeze.

Where do you guys like to go and what helps you all when you’re out and about?!?! You can click “leave a comment” at the top of the post!

 

Quick Tips on Dressing Skills

This weekend we had some less-than-fun farm “to-dos” to tend to so we kept it low key…..and the demands minimal. Because everyone just needs a break sometimes.

Here’s a little bit of what we got into, though. Lately we’ve been working towards more independent dressing. We’re solid at taking our shirt and pants on/off excluding the actual pulling up of our pants. Which is a behavioral roadblock- not a lack of ability. And we have to pull up our pants a lot during the day (we’re potty training- pray for us) which means I get “fussed at” a lot because really- what kind of mother expects her son to pull up his own pants?!?!? We’re also working on orienting our shirt and pants appropriately and putting on smaller clothing articles like socks, shoes, cold weather gear, etc. We’re not tackling snaps, zippers, buttons, whatchamacallits, and thingamabobs in this post because honestly……they’re a whole other beast.

Disclaimer- remember I’m a speech therapist, not an OT……but I believe the “mom” title is where the majority of my credibility lies anyways 😉

Also, because I’m NOT an OT, I for real didn’t even realize that there are developmental norms for dressing (what are there not norms for, really?). *Remember they’re a guide not the rule…don’t make yourself crazy with checklists. So we both don’t look foolish, however, here they are:

Developmental Dressing Guidelines

So, every morning, Caleb and I get him dressed (and yes, your child’s participation will make it take 3094230948 times longer than if you just did it but you don’t want to put your 18 year old’s underpants on him if it’s not necessary so you may as well start now). First off, particularly at this age, I’d let your child have input in what they’re going to wear. I personally do not open up the closet door for 100% free choice in this (cause we can’t wear muscle tees when it’s 32 degrees outside) but I do give him a choice of two shirts to wear. Asking a child with Autism who has verbal language that is emerging versus within normal limits “What do you want to wear?” isn’t going to work. Because there are approximately 89430943897492834 different responses to choose from. Open-ended questions at this developmental level are overwhelming. I have walked away from a full grocery cart more than once due to the overwhelming selection at some places so you can imagine how capacities can’t quite meet demands with that approach. But if you ask “Do you want to wear a dump truck or a rocket ship?” you’re much more likely to get an imitation, response, vocalization, or even a point/gesture towards which one is preferred. Because now, instead of 8943094389792834 different choices, there are only 2. To avoid conversations like these…….

“Caleb, what do you want for snack?”

“Black.”

……use this tactic at snack time too!

“Caleb, do you want chips or raisins?”

*production of unintelligible jargon

*points to bag of chips

I consider that a success!

Back to getting dressed. It’s been pretty easy for us because Caleb does not have any sensory sensitivities to getting dressed and learns really well with visual cues. If it’s more of a struggle in your house though, I found some articles that may help!

If your child needs help with the visual perceptual skills necessary for dressing, check this out:

Visual Perceptual Help

If you need to take sensory strategies into consideration when helping your child get dressed, click below.

Sensory Considerations

If your child needs a boost in the Gross Motor Skills department when getting dressed, this may help:

Gross Motor Help

Caleb has clearly enjoyed our getting dressed learning sessions so much that he has begun running around the house finding anything he can to put on all by himself. (And I’m not gonna lie….we maybe need to switch our focus to putting dirty clothes into hampers cause some days there’s a lot laying around he can find to wear. Cause you know- real life).

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Shirt 3 is not really a shirt…..

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Look for a clothing vocabulary activity for me to share with ya’ll coming up as it’s clearly needed.

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Dude- dino pjs over airplane pjs over a Star Wars shirt is an awesome look 🙂

And, in true monkey-see-monkey-do fashion, Lil Sis Ari now is carrying around stray articles of clothing and losing her ever-loving mind when they’re not put on her. (Cause ya know, it’s been a hot minute since I was rockin’ a size 2T).

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And since you appreciate your sanity you’ll give in and let her wear brother’s shirt covered in what appears to be marshmallow explosion.

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Next week maybe we’ll start learning how to do laundry 😉

Check out some more “Getting Dressed” selections on our Pinterest page!