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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Training Up Independent Learners: Autistic and Gifted Alike

I have two very different children that always seem to surprise me with how similar they are!

Today I gave my 11 yr old daughter only one assignment for the entire day...Make an iMovie about the North Korean rocket launch.  This event has meaning to her because she has shown an interest in this region and conflict since she was a little girl.  I remember checking out DVDs from the library when she was in 2nd grade about the Korean War and she has followed the Kim regime ever since.  She has similar fascinations with other countries like Peru, Saudi Arabia and Cuba.  I might have the future Secretary of State on my hands...she does love her some Condi Rice too:)

I sent her away at 9:30 with no instructions besides, "Make a 2-4 minute iMovie on the rocket launch." She sprawled out on my bed with the laptop, snacks and the dog, and at 2:30 she emerged with this:

She layed out her process for me afterwards which included:

1.  Internet research from:  Business Insider, Fox News, and CNN (all bookmarks on the laptop).
2.  Cornell note-taking
3.  Photo selection and editing
4.  Music selection and editing
5.  iMovie creation based on notes
6.  Final editing
7.  Laughing at mom because she had no idea how to do any of that herself!!

And while this project could have been a lot more intensive and in-depth from an informational stand-point,  I really wanted to see if she could independently move through this process without my constant direction and/or nagging.  I have been trying to transition her to a more independent learning environment that allows for her establish the time and tempo required to complete big projects.  I know this will be helpful once she hits middle school next year.

As for Jackson, I have tried creating a similar environment for him in regards to his life skills.  Less than 3 months ago, I was still micro-managing most of his daily activities to ensure he checked all the necessary boxes of personal hygiene, academic work, household chores, social activities and behavioral management.  But as he roars full steam into the teenage years, I have had to step back and give him a lot more independence than I am comfortable with, but know how critical it is that he take on these responsibilities himself.

I am completely out-of-the-loop on ALL personal care and hygiene issues and he has done a tremendous job!  He is the least smelly teenage boy I know, and very receptive to any changes or new introduction to his routine in this area.  So thankful for this!!  He also has no need for my assistance with any of his household chores.  He empties the dishwasher, carries in and puts away all the groceries, puts his dirty clothes in the laundry, takes out the trash, and starting this spring, will be mowing the lawn.  He will do any work you ask, as long as he knows what time you expect him to start work and for how long.  He is a human timer and has an expiration buzzer for sure - but will work hard when he understands the expectation and task.

Academically, since he has been watching Caroline, he has been asking me to leave him alone to do his work.  He occasionally asks for my help, especially in math, but does a great deal of work alone.  I usually supervise from afar or pretend to sweep near him so I can keep an eye on things, but he is wanting more freedom, which is terrific!  Socially and behaviorally, he has come so far, but still has a long journey ahead.  He recently tackled the good manners vs. bad manners issue with great success!  He is very proud of himself when he can be polite in public and have good manners when he is frustrated.  It is hard for me to do that, so I commend him for the effort!

Paul and I were joking that Jackson is the odd combination of autistic and extroverted, which makes for some pretty interesting social situations, but he is learning to shake hands, respond to questions and make better eye contact.  He wants to interact with a variety of people, and has varying levels of success, mainly based on how receptive the other person is to his unique communication skills.

In summary, I am being pushed WAY outside of my comfort zone with these 2 kids.  They are each growing and developing by leaps and bounds, and I feel left in the dust most days.  I am exhausted trying to stay ahead of them so I can prepare the way for the next milestone.  But at the end of the day, I just need to:

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mid-Term Progress Report

After my first 6 weeks of homeschooling both Jackson (7th - Autism) and Caroline (5th - Gifted), I can honestly say that it was the best decision we have ever made for our family.  And while I clearly have no time to blog about it, there has been no shortage of monumental breakthroughs and good old-fashioned fun in our house...both of which we rarely experienced while they were in public schools.

As you scroll through the some of the photos I took on my phone, you get a great visual picture of the beginning our of school year - and by the looks of it, you might be concerned that we are having too much fun with too little learning!

All of these were taken during our "school day" which goes from 8:30-3:00ish.  We go on a lot of outings and spend a lot of our time outside doing experiments, reading, hiking, and wrestling apparently:)  When we are working inside, we have a mixed bag of learning styles, Jackson likes to be at the table with minimal sensory distractions, while Caroline prefers to snuggle up on the couch or sprawl out on the front lawn - to each their own as far as I'm concerned!  

I've been focusing on math with them both these past few weeks b/c they are both very strong in math, but have gaps in their knowledge.  I feel a bit like a painter who has to spackle before I can add a new layer of color.  As we enter late October, I finally feel like they are both ready to plow forward into new math concepts and challenges.  For Caroline, that is Algebra, and for Jackson, that is word problems.  Wish me luck with both of them:)

For those of you who wish I blogged more often, please check out my Twitter and Facebook pages, as I find posting on those takes 30 seconds vs. 30 minutes and I can handle that a lot better.  I post on Twitter daily, and Facebook weekly.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Think Inclusive Guest Blog

I had a wonderful opportunity to write a guest blog for Think Inclusive this week!  I was asked to discuss the reasons why we decided to homeschool Jackson.  I loved the idea since I know most of the readers of this particular site are educators seeking information and support for special education inclusion.  Since I have already wrote about this topic on my blog, I decided to give the subject a twist and use an analogy to explain it!  For those of you who know me best, you'll appreciate my comparison of autism education to BigAgra business vs. local organic family farms.

Check out my post here: My Decision to Homeschool My Son With Autism

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Schedules, Schedules, Schedules

Many people have asked me how I plan to manage the needs of my two very differently-abled children this year.  Jackson needs a tremendous amount of structure and one-on-one teaching to maximize his learning potential, while Caroline needs more freedom and independence to spread her wings and push the boundaries of what she can accomplish.  That puts me in a tough spot...right in the middle!  My way to bridge the gap is to rely on a very unique scheduling system that allows for both the detail J needs, and the flexibility C craves.  Each form that I have shown has a link to a Goggle Document if you want to explore them in-depthly.

And it all starts with...

 Their very own clipboards, which Caroline so thoughtfully, and boldly, decorated for me yesterday:) 

Jackson's clipboard always has 2 pieces of paper on it: a Daily Schedule and a Daily Work sheet. The daily schedule is broken down in 15 min increments from 8am-8pm, with clear labels for each activity or subject.  The daily work sheet is a very detailed list of all the school activities for one day, down to the number of pages in each book. Since his audio-processing is so poor and he gets very anxious with the unknown, I have to make sure all my expectations are written down and that I give him adequate time to process the information.  The pictures below are the exact sheets I have on his board for the first day of school, Tuesday, Sept. 4th.

I plan on managing Caroline's work much differently.  One of the things I really want to teach her this year is how to organize her work and set timelines to complete assignments and projects on her own.  This will begin slowly and hopefully build to a very independent and self-guided approach to not only her school work, but her whole life.  I will sit down with her every Sunday evening to present her with her weekly work expectations. On her clipboard will be 3 pieces of paper: a Daily Schedule, a Weekly Work sheet, and a Weekly Progress Chart.  The daily schedule below is actually for Wednesday of this week, just to show you some variety from day to day.  Caroline's agenda is in the middle column.  You will notice her time is sectioned off much more vaguely with large chunks of time just labeled "work".  You can also look at the weekly work sheet, to see what things she needs to finish by the end of this 4 day week - with one of those days being a field trip to the Udvar-Hazy Museum.  We will have a meeting at 3pm every afternoon to review the work done that day and record it on her progress chart.  I am interested to see how she manages this new type of learning environment.  I have a feeling the first few weeks will be a bit rocky, but I am ready to guide her through the transition with patience and an understanding that this is a new approach for her as well and we both need time to adjust.  

For those of you who have either really good eyesight or clicked on the pdf version of the daily schedule, you'll notice that there is a 3rd column labeled "Mom".  I did this to ensure that both my children know that I also have a few precious minutes carved out for just me:  coffee and working out being the most important!!  This way, I know that no matter what is going on inside these 4 walls on any given day...I will have an hour in the morning to mentally prepare and 30 min to myself to run out all my stress in the afternoon until my amazing husband comes home from work to share a glass of wine with me on the front patio. 

Here's to an awesome 2012-2013 school year for everyone!!  

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why We Decided to Also Homeschool Our Neuro-Typical Daughter

There is one reason and one reason only: 

Because I can

Now, of course, that is a loaded answer, but it is the truth at the core of our whole debate in regards to Caroline's 5th grade year.  After we unexpectedly pulled Jackson out of the public middle school's autism program last fall, we scrambled to put together an academic program to meet all his needs.  Thankfully, it was a tremendously smooth transition considering the circumstances.  Over the course of the following few months, I spent a lot of time continuing my research into middle grade academics and discovered a huge body of work on educational reform for this age group.  What I came across time and time again, as the only solution to our nation's growing educational crisis, was the call for more individualized education.

The concept of individualized education is very familiar to me for obvious reasons - autism education is based around the IEP (Individualized Education Plan), so I have seen first hand the power of this model.  However, I had never considered it to be necessary for Caroline, as she has always done quite well in school, so the need never crossed my mind.  But after stumbling across Sir Ken Robinson's talks on educational reform, "Are Schools Killing Creativity" and his follow-up message, "Bring on the Learning Revolution", I was hooked on the concept of rethinking Caroline's education as well.

At this point, I simply wanted to augment her public school education with some of these concepts.  I came up with projects and lessons that could be taught outside the classroom, with the hopes of stimulating her academic creativity in regards to her natural learning style and interests.  However, as many of you can attest, there are just not enough hours in the day to add that kind of endeavor onto an already super busy tween girl's packed schedule.  So I shelved my ideas for a latter, more convenient time.

Then, in January, Caroline approached us and asked to be home schooled.  We immediately said no and that was that.  She persisted, and even gave us an oral presentation with visual aids, outlining her case.  We told her we'd discuss it, pray about it and let her know.  Months went by and she never relented...and for those of you with negotiators in your family, you can guess that she never gave up hope, and continued her campaign to be home schooled.

Sometime in April, Paul and I began to seriously discuss her options for 5th grade.  She could go back to her current elementary school, which we loved and had absolutely no issues with or she could go to another area public school where she was accepted into the county-wide gifted program, but we are not big supporters of separate gifted education, so that seemed off the table easily.  We considered private schools, but at this age, the financial investment seemed silly because her public educational options we so strong.

So unlike Jackson, the idea of homeschooling came about not so much as an option against the public schools, but as an augmentation to them.  We decided, after much prayer, to pull Caroline out of school, for 1 year, and 1 year only, to invest in her individualized education.  All the necessary pieces to the puzzle aligned since I was already home with Jackson, and I have the time, experience and interest in exploring her learning needs and potential...or simply put, because I can.  God has blessed our lives with the right season for all these moving parts to fall into place, so we felt called to move forward with our decision to homeschool both our children.

On top of that, Caroline is just a really neat kid with so many interests and abilities that every teacher, coach or trainer she has ever had has enjoyed her so much!  She is a veritable sponge who can learn so rapidly and efficiently, that the boundaries to her capability are forever being stretched. And if I'm honest with myself, I simply want to be a part of that too.  I want to foster her intellectual growth just as much as Paul fosters her athletic growth.  I want to watch her brain move swiftly from one concept to the other making connections and discoveries that only strangers got to witness before.  She is God's gift to me and I want to take this small window of opportunity to be a part of her learning journey before she jumps back into the chaos of adolescence.

And I hope and pray that the bond we build over the next year can help keep us close during the tumultuous teenage years that already have me shaking in my boots!!!

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sibling Respite - Even Caroline Needs a Break!

Respite is a popular term in the special needs community. To quote Jill's House, the premiere respite center on the east coast, the term means the provision of "a safe haven to which parents can entrust their children, allowing the parents a time of rest."  I would add that siblings require respite just as much as parents do, and often times more, if they are a heavily relied upon resource or care giver to their special needs brother or sister.  

That is why, even though it broke our hearts, we sent our 10 yr old daughter, Caroline to an 8 day sleep over camp called Summer's Best 2 Weeks. She is an integral part of our family and not having her here has been hard.  We find ourselves a little lonely and bored.  Even Jackson has been out of sorts all week, and while not able to communicate exactly what he is feeling, his behavior is speaking loud and clear that something is amiss.  

Caroline puts a tremendous amount of pressure on herself to be a good sister.  She still cries when recalling the time she pushed J off the bed when she was 2 yrs old and broke his arm. She is his biggest advocate and number one fan.  She has spent the first 10 yrs of her life sticking up for him on the playground, calling out bully after bully, standing up to them in front of the whole school, only to reveal how powerless they are to true that of a sister.  

As a result of 10 years of constant confrontation with people who have shunned Jackson or given him a judgmental glance, she has developed a bit of a chip on her shoulder.  She lives as if she constantly has something to prove.  And while this attitude has served her well on the basketball court, it has exhausted her emotionally as well.  She seeks to protect and care for not just Jackson, but me as well, as she knows how upset I get when people discriminate against him and all special needs individuals...which happens more often than our society cares to admit.  

And while she has been involved with a few sibling support groups, those do not provide her with what true respite should, A BREAK!  She does not want to talk about her feeling and the pressures of having an autistic brother, she wants to escape and play so hard that she crashes on her bed without thinking about Jackson all day! She needs a solid week to be Caroline and not a sister.  She needs time to explore her interests and beliefs outside how they effect Jackson and our family dynamic.  If she wants to sing at the top of her lungs, she does not have to worry about him shushing her.  If she wants to play soccer in the dark with fireflies, she does not have to worry about waking him up because he goes to bed so early.  

Respite is essential for parents with special needs children.  It must also be considered essential for siblings.  I know a lot of families who have children with all sorts of disabilities and in each one is an incredible brother or sister who selflessly helps to raise and care for these children.  Many of the most remarkable adults I know grew up with special needs siblings.  There is no circumstance so profound in a developing child's life than that of caregiver to a differently-abled loved one, but there is also none so taxing.  I hope and pray that we can continue to provide Caroline with more true respite opportunities as she grows up so that she is able to maintain that fierce attitude of protection and love that she has for Jackson.  

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Quiet Voice Victory!

It has taken us 10 years to figure out how to help Jackson manage his volume and tone of voice.  We were just joking the other day that an autism diagnosis is not an accurate representation of him (for many reasons I'll go into on a later date), so we made up a more humorous, but fitting term: LASS...Loud, Angry, Silly Syndrome. 

But in all seriousness, this spring, we have made a few breakthroughs in regards to helping him understand how and when to use a quiet and calm voice.  Sadly, it is a fairly simple formula that has proven extremely challenging, on our part, to implement. But, as they say, knowing is half the battle, so now that we know, we can continue the battle! The 3 key parts to this formula are:

1.  Creating an anxiety free environment
2.  Leveraging his newly developed interest in a social life
3.  Consistency!!!!!

Step 1 is by far the most important part of this grand plan, and the reason he was so unsuccessful in a public middle-school environment - which I now understand is one of the most stressful environments on the planet for all kids, not just for special needs ones.

Jackson has a tremendous amount of anxiety.  His adrenal glands do not work properly, so his "fight or flight" response is terribly out of whack.  His pupils dilate very quickly when any stressor is encountered and remain that way for a prolonged period of time, indicating a highly anxious biochemical state far past what we would consider appropriate.  Simply put, he freaks out early and often!

Creating an anxiety free environment is not as hard as you'd think.  We do not feel comfortable medicating Jackson, so anti-anxiety meds are out of the question.  So we do other things that seem to have a similar effect, such as:

*  daily morning yoga
*  daily morning devotions and prayer
*  high doses of B vitamins including lots of B-12
*  green tea
*  melatonin at nighttime
*  gluten and casein free diet
*  sugar free diet
*  toxic chemical free home
*  no yelling in our home
*  clear, written daily schedule
*  careful transition management

Some people might think it would just be easier to give him a Xanax and drop him back into stressful situations, but we are just not comfortable introducing a synthetic substance into his already neuro-chemically compromised brain.  Maybe someday, but not today. We also feel strongly that the above practices are going to help teach him, and Caroline, life-long stress management and not to rely on quick fixes.  Being able to manage his anxiety helps set the stage for us to tell him to "quiet down" without him lashing out at us verbally or physically.

Step 2 is the most recent puzzle piece to fall into place and has been the most eye-opening!  For more than a decade, Jackson has been totally uninterested in socializing with anyone outside our family.  He had only tolerated his peers and other adults, but in the last 12 months, he has blossomed into a social butterfly.  I noticed it last summer, and have spent the last year trying to figure out how to help him embrace this new side to his personality in an appropriate manner (i.e. no hugging everyone at Trader Joes, talking only to people who are not talking to others, etc...)

But in the last 6 weeks or so, I have discovered another benefit to this huge developmental milestone...leveraging his social life to get him to control himself.  At the end of the day, Jackson is a 13 year old boy.  He has finally realized that he likes other people and they are fun to hang out with...a lot more fun than school work or boring time at home. Using positive reinforcement or incentives had stopped working with him. Giving him access to the computer or iPad just wasn't cutting it anymore.  A giant light bulb went off in my head that what we have been using for his 10 yr old sister, would now work for him..."If you don't clean your room, Savannah can't come over."

Five minutes ago, I noticed Jackson's voice was getting really loud and angry sounding as he was watching a SpongeBob cartoon, so I went downstairs and told him in a calm voice, "You need to quiet down, or there will be no pool today."  And there has not a peep out of him since!  It has been such a big breakthrough because it is a developmentally appropriate consequence for a 13 yr old boy.  The addition of the social component has opened up so many new doors for him as well as for us as his parents.  Now we can leverage his interest in all kinds of social situations such as church, shopping, yoga class, adaptive PE, pool, basketball games, friend visits, swim meets, etc... Just like his sister, he can now find the ability to control himself if the possibility of losing social time is an option.

Step 3 is the most difficult component because it is 100% our responsibility, not Jackson's.  We need to be super consistent with the first 2 steps in order to pull this whole caper off! If I revert back to yelling because I am frustrated, he will get more anxious and his tone will get more angry and take twice as long to calm down.  If I fail to follow through on taking away a morning at Caroline's basketball game (even though every fiber in my body wants to go), I have to stay home with him.  Over the years, we have ebbed and flowed in our consistency with him because nothing seemed to really work, so we'd give up quickly on the newest technique or behavioral fad.  Now it seems obvious that the failure was ours, not Jackson's and that consistency is more important, more difficult and more humbling because it is our burden to bear, not his.

Real Life Update - Thursday, May 31st:

This morning at Target, Jackson had a colossal freak out over a bottle of water that we could not reach on the top shelf.  He threw himself on the floor (all 5'4" 100lbs of him) and began shouting and kicking the wall.

I took a deep breath, drawing on all of my patience and understanding of the need for consistency and held out my hand to him and said, "Can you stand up please?"  He took my hand and as he stood up, he spit in my face and put his hands around my neck.  I took another deep breath and gently moved his hands from my neck to around my waist and pulled him close saying, "You're Ok, Buddy."  He put his head on my shoulder and squeezed me pretty hard.  I whispered in his ear, "Do you want to go to gym class today with Mr. Ricardo?".  He whimpered, "Yes, please."  I asked, "Do you want to check out now?", and I got another "Yes, please."  So I handed him my debit card, which is a good concrete transition object that helps him know when shopping is done.  After a few moments to collect himself, we quietly and calmly proceeded to checkout and head back to the car without any issues. Once we got in the car, I turned to him and we talked about what had happened and why it was wrong.

I share this now because I think it is a good way to illustrate the points I made in the post earlier about the importance of all 3 steps.  Although everything in me wanted to yell at him to "get the hell up off the floor and stop acting like a baby", I knew that would generate 100 times more anxiety in him and the whole situation would blow up even further...and really, yelling something like that at a kid in public is more for the parent to let off steam or to try and look in control to the myriad of smug observers who've gathered to watch your parenting failures.  So I stayed calm and that peaceful spirit helped to defuse him as well.

I also did not give into my urge to threaten to take away all his activities for the rest of the day - "you get up now or there will be no computer, library, pool, etc"... I quickly picked the social engagement I knew meant to most to him and placed the choice in his hands.  He responded like I had hoped and chose gym class over anger.

Situations like this always remind me that Jackson's flash temper is a lot like an addiction.  You can see how the instant a high anxiety situation presents itself, he reaches right for the aggresssion fix much like someone would reach for a cigarette or a drink to calm their nerves.  It makes sense biochemically because Jackson has the same elevated levels of dopamine found in addicts.  My goal is to help him master the tools to resist this self-destructive habit as he grows into adulthood before my very eyes.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

6 Month Anniversary!!

Today marks the 6 month anniversary of Jackson's homeschooling adventure!  We began on Friday, October 27th, 2011.  It didn't hit me until I was reviewing his math work from this morning, saw the date, and then realized how advanced his work has become in such a short period of time.  When we first began homeschooling, he could not add or subtract double digits, did not know all his multiplication facts and forget about division or fractions.  He was just telling time, counting money and doing basic computation. But this morning, he was doing all kinds of complicated math, with zero help.  I wasn't even in the room!  Not only has his skill level increased, but his independence and confidence has skyrocketed as well.

Morning Math Work from 10-27 and 4-27... 2 grade levels difference

Here are some other updates on how far he has come in just 6 months:

Getting Ready

Then:  I would have to help him shower, get dressed, brush his teeth, put on his deodorant.  We had a list and followed it faithfully so he understood good personal grooming habits.

Now:  At 8:45 on the dot, he disappears down the hall, does all of the above by himself, reappears at 9:00 totally clean and ready for yoga!  Unbelievable change from 6 months ago - life changing for the both of us.


Then:  Very slow and deliberate movements that he could follow easily so he would not lose focus or get too silly.

Now:  He leads our practice every morning for 20 full minutes and we add new things weekly - this week was a headstand! We also go to an hour long class at a studio in Alexandria with other homeschooled teenagers with special needs.

Morning Work

Then:  Handwriting sheet, simple math and language arts sheet, outloud reading of Lyle or Big Nate (picture book and comic book level) at the dining room table

Now:  10 minute Bible reading & devotional time with prayer followed by 20 minutes of outloud chapter book reading (Fantastic Mr. Fox and Frindle recently) - all on the comfy couch instead of at the table.

Shopping / CBI

Then:  We ran errands or visited local attractions every morning, but he needed his iPod to help him stay focused and calm while we were out and about.

Now:  At 10:00, he jumps in the car, iPod free and raring to go out and see his friends around town...Yasouke and Marcus at Trader Joes, Saba at Harris Teeter and the gang at Starbucks are always psyched to see him!

Language Arts

Then:  Basic, basic, basic reading and writing.  He was relatively combative regarding his work and struggled in so many areas.  It was clear that he hated all things language arts and we muddled through most of our lessons.  There were some big breakthrough along the way, which helped keeps us both encouraged.

Now:  We begin each language arts block working on reading stamina in the form of audio books...this has been a great way to help him transition into harder work.  He is currently reading Harry Potter and the Socerer's Stone.  Once he is in the reading zone, we move to 3rd grade level comprehension level work which he can now do without much trouble.  His spelling continues to be amazing and he even enjoys his daily handwriting practice.

I am so proud of how far he has come in the last 6 months!  He has overcome a lot of obstacles and challenges that many thought were insurmountable! He exudes self-confidence and genuine happiness that is contagious to all those around him.

I am excited to see what the next 6 months bring and can't wait to watch him grow into the man that God has planned!

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Video: Introducing New Math Concepts

The following is a 11 minute video of a math lesson from Wednesday, April 18th.  I decided to record our lesson, so I cold go back and learn how Jackson responded to the way I introduced a new and challenging math concept to him - double digit multiplication. This is unedited, and comprises our entire lesson for this material.  If you scroll below the video, you will see I've made a few notes that correspond with the time stamp on the screen, as well as my big take-away from teaching him this lesson.

0:10   When introducing new concepts, I try to make the lesson short.  Here I clearly state that he only has to do 3 pages.  That helps him to not be anxious if the work is too hard at first.

0:24   After fumbling over how to explain step #1, he sees how I am writing the problem and offers his own term, "multiply down"...I quickly jump on that phrase because he came up with it and that seems to help him absorb new information better - ownership is important.

1:50   After he incorrectly says 7x7=14, I do not say, "No" or "That's wrong." He hates to get anything incorrect and often gets angry if he does. So, I simply remain silent or repeat the question which is his cue that there is a different answer.  An obvious way to avoid a meltdown that takes nothing away from the work.

2:06   He chits chats a lot during the lesson, which is his way of telling me that he is concentrating on something difficult.  He is like a tea kettle that needs to let off a lit steam so it doesn't blow.  Jibber jabber is his steam and it helps him focus - no shushing from me!!

2:31-3:10   Just like his language, he learns a lot of academic skills through mimicking. So here, I offer him the same white board, marker and racer I am using.  This helps him transfer the skill from me to him.

4:00   Excuse the nose picking:)

4:14 - 4:41   Took me 30 sec. to realize that he wanted to order that work differently than I was asking - he wanted to round all the problems first, then go back and solve.  It is important for me to give him the time and ability to tell me how he wants to approach a problem, not let my preconceived notions dictate his mind's eye.

6:05   He speaks so literally that his answers come out backwards sounding, "zero-twelve", because he is saying the numbers in the order that he solves them...ones place then tens, hundreds and so on...So i need to keep an eye on what he is writing to make sure he is getting the correct answer.

7:47   This is the beginning of the transition between me leading him through the process to him taking control over his own work.  I start by asking him if he still wants me to write the problems.  He is capable of telling me how much assistance he needs and when he is comfortable enough to do the work independently.

8:30   After only 8 minutes, he is ready to do the problems by himself.

9:38   Even though he is doing the work independently, he still needs a lot of positive feedback and reinforcement of correct answers.

10:15   And he even claps for himself after a hard problem because, at the end of the day, isn't that what we all want to do when we've done something hard and we've done it well!!

So my big lesson-learned from re-watching this video a few times is that J learns academic skills exactly like he learns social, linguistic, emotional, physical or behavior modeling and repetition, with a careful and deliberate transition to ownership and independence.  He's not complicated, just a bit more labor intensive than some kids...but I think a heck of a lot more fun!!!

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Friday, April 13, 2012

My Biggest Fear

Every Friday, Jackson asks to drive through a quiet little neighborhood near our house. So on the way home from our daily errands, I indulge this inexplicable whim of his, and turn into Sleepy Hollow Woods and slowly drive around the hilly streets that make a nice loop back to the main road.  It takes all of 5 minutes, but it gives him so much pleasure, that I never mind our weekly detour.

This morning, however, my heart was heavy with worry.  I have not been feeling well lately and have become consumed with fear that it is more than just a seasonal bug or a passing inconvenience.  As the mother of an autistic child, my biggest fear is dying young and leaving him alone in this often cruel and harsh world that does not seem to be getting any better in terms of special needs care and acceptance.  Paul and I both struggle with this issue, as all parents of autism do.  It is rarely talked about, since the day to day issues can be so we push this fear deep, deep down, where is will never come back again...or so we hope.

As a generally healthy person, I am not used to feeling prolonged periods of pain or discomfort.  At the risk of over-sharing (which I'm pretty sure I blew by months ago on this blog), I have not taken anything stronger than an Advil in 15 years when I was on birth control for all of 6 months.  I eat well, take tons of vitamins, exercise and manage my stress well.  So, now as I creep closer and closer to 40, and my body no longer snaps back like it used to, I am finding my self worrying about my health like I never have in the past.  Does every lump, bump, creek and crack mean I have cancer? And while I know these thoughts are ridiculous, having a special needs child seems to magnify my worry beyond rational bounds.

So on our leisurely car ride this morning, as I was lamenting what I know are just the natural and normal ailments that come with getting older, a song came on the radio that I had never heard before and it was as if God was speaking directly to me.  I even pulled over to Shazam it so I could download it and look up the lyrics later.  It is called "Wait and See" by Brandon Heath. Here is the part of the song that provided me the exact encouragement I needed at the exact moment that I needed it:

There is hope for me yet,
Because God won't forget,
All the plans He has for me.
I'll have to wait and see.
He's not finished with me yet. 

So whether I have 5 years or 50 years left on this planet, I know God has plans for me and I know that I can not change those plans, nor do I want to.  I trust that my life has been predestined and preordained to follow a unique and special path that is just for me and I am choosing to have a grateful and thankful attitude.  I also know that Jackson can claim this promise to and I can rest easy knowing that his life is being guided by God and not dependent on me or my ability to take care of him.  

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Impact of Nutrition and Healthy Living

Three months after Jackson was diagnosed with autism in October of 2001, I took him to a pediatric developmental specialist who recommended a biomedical treatment program that included dietary changes and nutritional supplementation.  It has been exactly 10 years since we started these treatments, and they have had a profound effect on his health and development.  I strongly recommend biomedical interventions for any and all health issues and have personally seen dramatic improvements in people of all ages.  Each member of my family has their own personalized dietary and nutritional programs based on our unique health needs and it has been transformational in all areas of our life. 

I have asked a longtime friend of mine to write this weeks blog on her personal experiences with the impact of these programs in her life.  As a disclaimer, I do not use any of the products she is discussing nor am I endorsing any particular program.  But I do love and admire her passion and ability to communicate her story!

Written by Shauna Sheets, mother of three and Ariix independent representative. Shauna works with Ray Strand, MD in Rapid City, SD promoting his Healthy for Life program and Health Concepts International website. 

The women in my family have always struggled with carb addictions. Of course I didn’t call it that, or even know that’s what it was, but recently I learned otherwise. Like so many people today, I have settled on the fact that I will always be the size of the average woman – better stated, the size of Marilyn Monroe. After having three kids, my best dieting efforts have ended with 10-15 pounds lost, pounds that slowly creep back over a year. So, when I had the chance to meet author and international speaker, Dr. Ray Strand, at a recent “Healthy For Life” seminar, I was the first to sign up!

I became a fan of Dr. Strands after reading his book, What Your Doctor doesn’t Know About Nutritional Medicine May Be Killing You. That book changed how my husband and I looked at health and nutrition, and I believe has set our family on a nutritionally strong path. However, I had not yet read his book, Healthy For Life, which focuses on the obesity epidemic and type-2 diabetes.

In the 1990s, Dr. Strand began to notice that his patients were struggling with unavoidable weight gain. He also noticed some patients who were not overweight, but had high triglycerides and low HDL (good) cholesterol. What he learned and ultimately published in his book deals with the Glycemic Index. The concept is simple really, but understanding the impact on our health and more importantly our children’s health is critical! This is what Dr. Strand taught at his recent Healthy For Life Seminar and what Allison Trotter has asked me to share with you.

My first “take-away” from the seminar was no more instant oatmeal for breakfast! The second, and probably more important point is: I can no longer blame the metabolism I "inherited” for my Marilyn Monroe figure!

Why no more oatmeal? I always thought I was choosing something better than cereal by choosing this in the morning; but the truth is that both foods are high glycemic! Maybe this isn’t new information for many of you, but to me it caused me to question every “healthy” food I eat and wonder where it lies on this infamous index. For me, my carb addiction just looked like hunger. I would eat oatmeal for breakfast and by 10 or 11am be starved! Stomach growling-low blood sugar-headache-starved. Therefore, I would eat a sandwich (with high glycemic bread) and once again, 4pm: starved! I learned that the glycemic index is far more inportant than simple and complex carbs or the FDA’s food pyramid.

The glycemic index and glycemic load measures how fast and how high a food spikes our blood sugar: the higher it goes, the lower it will crash a few minutes later. This occurs over and over until one becomes resistant to insulin (the hormone that regulates carbohydrates and fat in the body by pulling the glucose from the blood.) Once a person becomes resistant, and this is the key to Dr. Strand’s study, a calorie is no longer just a calorie. The simple math of working off more calories than you eat to lose weight doesn’t add up any more. And that is how “suddenly” we get a belly! AKA: a muffin top. What’s worse (and maybe of more interest to the mom’s reading this article) is that statistically 1/3 of all children born after 2000 will develop type-2 diabetes due to this insulin resistance epidemic.

Dr. Strand’s Healthy For Life Program is a triad approach, which includes a low glycemic diet, moderate exercise, and nutritional supplementation at optimal levels. I won’t go into great detail of his program, but here is an overview:

Low Glycemic Diet: This isn’t overwhelming, unrealistic or really all that difficult. He breaks it up into 2 phases and it includes the use of meal replacements, low glycemic meals and snacks, and journaling.

Moderate Exercise: Not a marathon. Simply walk briskly for 30 minutes, 3-5 days per week. What better time to start than in the Spring!

Nutritional Supplementation: The FDAs recommended values for vitamins and minerals were not meant for preventing or reversing major health issues. Rather, they were created to be the minimum necessary to avoid scurvy (and the like)! To see actual health benefits you must supplement at what Dr. Strand calls optimal levels. Dr. Strand has strong requirements from nutritional health companies to recommend their supplements to his patients. You can read his article on “Choosing High Quality Nutritional Supplements” here.

Combined, this triad approach to healthy living has been clinically proven to reverse diabetes, reduce triglycerides, increase good cholesterol (HDL), and as a side effect, release fat resulting in weight loss! But as I mentioned above, you don’t have to be overweight to have insulin resistance. Even thin people can have insulin resistance (also known as a silent killer.) To find out if you might have insulin resistance or for more information on nutritional and preventative medicine, email me, and I will send you additional information.

I want to thank @homeschoolingautism mom, Allison Trotter, for inviting me to write for her this week. To learn more about Dr. Strand, his Health Concepts, and Healthy for Life Program, go to For a free 30 day FREE trial of his program, use coupon code SS2012HCI.