Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Deep thoughts for a summer day!

It's a dangerous thing indeed when I begin to discuss autism remediation theory. It's also dangerous when I attempt to discuss theology. Today, I'm going to attempt to do both, which might prove to be highly embarrassing or completely hysterical, or both! But what the heck! Come along for the ride!

On Sunday, our pastor continued his sermon series titled, Armed and Dangerous. This week he was teaching about the Full Armor of God, and specifically the "breastplate of righteousness". One point he made about the righteousness of the believer is that it does not come from ourselves. He referenced Matthew 5:20 "But I warn you - unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can't enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all!" Pastor Bob went on to explain how the members of those two groups had lots of rules for doing all the "right" things. They were extremely focused on outward behaviors. But that is not where our righteousness comes from. It comes from that inner life change, which then produces the behaviors. The behaviors are absolutely meaningless without the inner life change, without Jesus!

At that point, a little light bulb went off in my head, and I heard a DING DING DING DING DING!

Autism. The most popular therapies focus on outward behaviors: eye contact, sitting still in class, good grades, articulation, etc. There are lists of behaviors that are deemed to be crucial for autistic children to learn. And that's all well and good. But it's all meaningless unless you get to the bottom of it all and work on what's inside (in this case, the brain). You can teach eye contact and rote social skills, but unless there is motivation to interact fed by positive episodic memories of interactions with others, and the development of competence in those interactions, it's meaningless.

I've been reflecting on this for a day or two, and it has been wonderful to dwell on the comparisons. The struggles I deal with in faith mirror the struggles I deal with in autism remediation. Being a good Christian? Great! Tell me what I need to do! Pray? OK, how do I do that? Is there a list? What sort of schedule do I keep? Prayer journal! I can do that! Read the Bible? Excellent! I can google all sorts of reading schedules for my Bible reading! Check that box off!! Trust in the Lord? How? Is there a list for that? No? Hmmm...

Remediate autism? I'm all over it! Read this book? Check! Watch that DVD? Sure! Slow down my pace? Hmmm, that's tricky but I think I can do it. Less language? OK! I can do that... painfully! Interact without having a "performance goal" in mind for the kids? Whoa.

What God wants is to have a real relationship with us. He doesn't care about our behaviors unless they are a reflection of our real and genuine desire to have a relationship with Him! And what we want for our children with autism is to have a real relationship with us and with others, and with God as well!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Last week's busy week in pictures

4 All-Star games... 3 trips to the pool... visit from Nana... fishing/camping trip for the guys... girls weekend at home...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What a couple of days!!

I love to blog experiences like we've had the last couple of days! I like to note these developmental milestones, and it's encouraging to read it when the days get hard!

Yesterday we went to the pool with some friends. That's not unusual for this time of year, but this was the pool where Austin had his first seizure last summer. And we haven't been back there since. And we hadn't seen these particular friends since that day, either. Austin was a little apprehensive. He'd also had a big night the day before (back-to-back games in the All Star tournament!) and we hadn't gotten home until 11:30 PM. He did hang out by himself a good bit, but that was OK. Riley kept the other "big kid" sufficiently busy! And Austin did play the "shark" in the game of Shark.

When it was almost time to go, the other family invited us to get Frosty's from Wendy's with them. I had already mentioned to Austin that we could stay for 30 more minutes. But the girls wanted to leave now and get Frosty's. Over a couple of minutes, Riley and Austin worked out a compromise of 15 more minutes of swim and then Frosty's. No meltdowns... lots of flexibility!

Then as we were walking into Wendy's, Austin says, "You know, Mom, I don't actually like Frosty's." I was shocked! For one thing, I get us Frosty's all the time because they are cheap! No wonder Austin never finishes his!! LOL And for another thing... my gosh, he told me that he didn't like something! I told him he could always get something else. "Fries?" he asks. "Sure," I reply, "Want a Dr. Pepper to go with that?" He did!! I was SO proud of him!!

Today, as if all the excitment of yesterday wasn't enough, Austin decided to surprise us again: he asked to go to Youth Group!!! He went, and he had a blast! They played Whiffle Ball, and his first at-bat he hit a homerun over the Youth Pastor's house!!

Not to be outdone, Reece had a great day at the pool yesterday, too. The little sister in the family we met is only a few weeks younger than Reece, but she's incredibly advanced socially/academically. She's always been very kind to Reece, but she's had to do most of the work. Yesterday, Reece really stayed "with" her at this noisy water-park-like pool, for at least 90 minutes. I watched with glee as Reece and F enjoyed a snack together and talked to each other. And then I was positively giddy when the girls were going back into the pool. Reece ran in once, and came back when she realized that F hadn't followed. This happened 2 more times - F was having goggles issues. Then as they were finally going in, Reece wanted to show F the geysers and how fun they are. But F didn't like the geysers and motioned to come on. (It's so loud there that talking doesn't do much good! LOL) Reece was fascinated with the geysers, but left them to go play with F again!! And thankfully F's mom has listened to me talk about RDI enough so she "got" the significance! It wasn't until the last 20 minues or so that the other girl had a harder time getting Reece to respond. But I think that was really good, considering the outside sensory stimuli that was surrounding her!

It's so nice to get a couple of days like these! It also serves as a reminder to me to be actively looking for these moments!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sun and Fun

While I was finishing getting things ready for Sun and Fun for the coming months, I thought I'd take a few pictures and explain with a little more detail what we do!

Here are the kids' folders for Sun and Fun. These list their requirements to earn a Sun, and on what they can spend their Suns:
The big kids each have to read for at least 30 minutes. Reece has to read with me. Austin has to do a page in his Math U See Epsilon book that he didn't finish during the school year. Riley has to do a math drill or math slip (See Below). Reece has to play a math game with one of us.

Here are our Suns:
Aren't they as cute as can be? My mom traced, cut, and drew the faces on them! She made well over 100 of them! If you don't happen to have a "Super Nana", you can do what I did before she made them: I found Sun stickers at the teacher supply store and put them on a calendar page printed from www.donnayoung.org.

Here is an example of Riley's "math slips". It consists of problems printed using the Math U See worksheet generator (cut into lines of 2 or 3) in addition to a word problem taken from the Singapore Math Challenging Word Problem book in the level BELOW the level she just finished.
I staple them together and she pulls one out of the envelope. Austin did this last year and it was very effective:
Or she can choose a drill sheet of 100 multiplication or division problems:
This particular page is from when we used Calvert Math, but there are drill sheet generators all over the internet! This one is my particular favorite.

Here is a sampling of the prizes the kids can earn:
30 min. computer time 2 suns
Bruster's Ice Cream
5 suns
$5 Publix gift card
5 suns
Video Game Rental
7 suns
Gwinnett Braves ticket 15 suns
"Get out of lessons" pass 20 suns
Littlest Pet Shop Pet
3 suns
A new book from Borders 4 suns
Bowling or Skating with mom or dad 15 suns
$5 Hobby Lobby trip
5 suns

Email me if you're interested in the full lists!

So that's basically Sun and Fun! This is our 5th year doing it, and it's changed a little as the kids have gotten older, but basically it's math and reading. One year we also wrote in journals, which was fun, too. If you have any questions, please leave a comment!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

"What is your purpose here?"

That's the question that Davy Jones asked Will Turner when he was found to be "neither dead nor dying" aboard a ship that the Flying Dutchman had overtaken in POTC: Dead Man's Chest. "What is your purpose here?"
And that is a question I have been asking myself repeatedly over the last several months. I'm trying to mindfully plan our home learning for the next 12-month period rather than just following a pre-made plan blindly. It's a challenge for me, because I find myself torn between philosophies that are equally compelling, and honestly... equally effective. Which leaves me to find the answer to that infamous question: What is your purpose here?

It should be simple. It probably is for most people. The problem lies within. And it comes from two distinct deficiencies in my character. The first one has long been a problem, but only fully manifested itself once I became a parent. In fact, my kindergarten teacher warned my mother: "You've got to make Jennifer come to a decision and live with the results! You can't keep letting her have both options." She was ineffective! LOL But I was always a very decisive person, until parenting came along and the ramifications of the decisions took on a new (maybe perceived) importance. The second one stems from the first one, I suppose: feeling inadequate no matter which decision I make (from the perceived ramifications).

We wrapped up this year of academics and I found myself frustrated. I look back and see that we dropped into a very static pattern of learning as the year went on. And things that were critically important (narration, copywork, and dictation), I allowed to slide. Narration I allowed to slide because Austin and Riley were becoming increasingly antagonistic with each other. It was unpleasant to say the least, and cemented my decision that they will be separated in all academic areas. I feel like I've given it my full effort, but for the sake of Austin's self-esteem, it's time to part ways. I was continuing to keep them together this year in an effort to help teach Riley compassion and understanding... but that will have to come in a different venue. Austin shuts down whenever she opens her mouth. Dictation (as a method for spelling and natural writing instruction) is continually frustrating me. So instead of working through it, I just avoided it! LOL Incompetence will do that to even the most typically-developing!

So as I look forward to next year, I decided to go back to spelling workbooks. It is easier. But that beckons the question: What is your purpose here? Is it to get spelling "done" every day? Or is it to learn how to spell so that you can write effectively and not look uneducated?

I also bought a typical grammar curriculum for Riley, even though toward the end of this year she was frustrated with repeating things she already knew. How much grammar does a child her age need? What is your purpose here? I ask myself. She is an eloquent writer already, but does she need more predicate nominatives and diagramming exercises? Will it help her write better?

I could continue but I am certain that I've made my point clearly. I've got to really focus on my purpose. And in likelihood, my purpose will be different from yours... or even from my favorite bloggers! My purpose is to ignite a love for learning in my children, and as much as I can, prepare them to follow the plan that God has for them. Because of the nature of 2 of my children's special needs, I need to be able to keep this process as real and relevant as I possibly can. They are excellent static/instrumental learners, as their mother before them! ;) I can see Riley falling into that same pattern... do the lessons to be done, not really putting your whole heart/attention into it, because you have learned to do the least amount of work necessary. My purpose is to change all of that!! :)

My comfort lies in textbooks, workbooks, doing the next lesson, and planning it all out into neat little boxes. It's a fall sense of control and completeness. It's a longing for sameness, for competence, for the perfect curriculum. I loved the classes in school where we just read the textbook and answered the questions. I was good at that! I remember one class in junior high where we were given packets of worksheets to complete at our own pace. It was heaven for a child like me!!! As an adult (and a homeschool mom) I realized quite quickly that I was great at finding the answers that people wanted, but terrible at really thinking.

What is your purpose here? My purpose is education. Education is an atmosphere, a discpline, a life. I've got to step out of my comfort zone. I've got to trust and stop fretting. I've got to jump in and do it, even when I feel incompetent. I've got to focus on my purpose.