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Monday, January 2, 2012

Making 2012 as Awesome as 2011

Halloween: J as Harry Potter and C as a USA Soccer Player
Out of the 365 days of 2011, 330 of them were awesome!  Let's be honest, October was terrible. We watched Jackson regress academically and behaviorally in a way that was heartbreaking to everyone who cared about him. But, if we could erase that whole month, except for Paul's amazing Halloween Extravaganza, 2011 was our best year as a family ever!

We are committed to making 2012 as awesome!  Paul and I thought up some cool stuff to do this year as a family and I have also brainstormed some ideas for J's homeschooling that I am excited about.  So in the spirit of sharing, I wanted write down some thoughts that might seem a bit unconventional, but I think the best way to teach Jackson is to throw out the special education rule book and let him lead me into 2012! 

1.  New Understanding:

The first thing I asked myself was, "What does Jackson like?" The answer to that was simple - to make people laugh.  So then I asked myself, "Why does he thrive on that?" Over the break, I read a hilarious book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, by Mindy Kaling, one of the writer's of The Office.  She articulated the answer perfectly for me...it is just who he is and he can't change that, EVER!  Comedy is just a part of some people like athleticism or musicality.  Humor is more than just a way to "cut-up" or amuse other people to get attention (as some teachers like to think), it is a form of expression that is critical to their development as a whole person. 

This realization has helped drive all of my plans for this year.  I want to let in as much of J's humor and personality into our homeschooling as possible.  A quick way to do that is to switch our out-loud reading from standard fictional chapter books, to more fun and quirky books like Shel Silverstein or even Ronald Dahl.  It makes perfect sense now that for the first 10 years of his life, all he wanted to read was Dr. Seuss! He understood and identified with his humorous stories in a way we only saw as mildly entertaining and a bit annoying!

With this new perspective on Jackson always at the forefront of my mind, I plan to make a few other changes to his homeschooling which I hope will help make 2012 as awesome as 2011.

2.  New Schedule

Our current schedule looks similar to the one that I posted back in Novemeber when we began homeschooling.  Since Jackson is quickly coming up on 13yr old (yikes!), I want his daily school schedule to begin to look more like what his life schedule will look like as he becomes an adult.  So I created a few blocks of time and instruction between 8 - 10am that are a stretched out version of what an adult would do before beginning their workday.

8:00-8:30     Watch News and Eat Breakfast
8:30-9:00     Take a Shower, Get Dressed, Take Vitamins, Brush Teeth 
9:00-10:00   Yoga, Devotional, Reading

I want him to get in the habit of doing his devotional and reading time on the couch or in a comfy chair instead of at his "school desk" because I'd love to see him independently incorporate those activities into his adult life someday.  I see all of the above items as life skills not as academic skills, and with autism, these things need to be intentionally taught and practiced over and over. But in the spirit of my new understanding of his personality, they will all be done with much laughter!!

In addition to our new and improved morning routine, I plan to add a whole block of time at the end of our school day that is dedicated to playing board games as well as a dedicated block for the Wii Fit.  Both of these activities incorporate his need for fun and humor but help teach valuable skills such as following specific, and often restrictive directions which can be a challenge for him.  The Wii Fit has some wonderful games that require body control and calm movements which help him slow his mind down and focus for long periods of time. And while board games have always been a favorite of his, he  has never been interested in actually playing by the established rules.  A goal of mine is to get him to read and actually follow the stated rules...I'm not confident this is going to go well, but I am certainly going to try!!


3.  New Apps/iPad Use

Since my last post on The Awesome iPad, I have learned a lot of valuable lessons.  The most important one is to change to placement of his iPad use on the schedule.  I had it at the end of each instructional block - for example:

1:00-2:00  Math

  1. Morning and Homework: 2 worksheets
  2. Review 3 Digit Addition and Subtraction: 2 worksheets
  3. Lesson on Fractions and Decimals: 2 worksheets and Pizza Game
  4. Evaluation on Multiplication 1-6: 50 question speed test
  5. iPad: Baseball Multiplication, iFractions, Sticker Sudoku

What I found was that over time he discovered that if he rushed through all his work he could get the iPad during any extra time left over before our 2:00 block finished.  He would get short tempered if I asked him to redo something or do try another problem, because in his mind it only ate into his iPad time.  I switched up his schedule during the week before break and it made a huge difference. Now we begin each block with 15 min of iPad activities and leave the remaining 45 min for his lessons. Not surprisingly, he is much more amicable to my instruction because he has no ulterior motives to rushing through.  

I also am excited to try a whole new crop of iPad apps in 2012. I have found that there is a weird gap in apps for his age and developmental disability.   There are tons of cool options for younger kids with autism and tons of great options for neurotypical adolescents, but for a 12yr old with his unique strengths and weaknesses, I am having a hard time finding apps that fit his needs.  I have been asked to review a promising app about sentence structure this week, so hopefully I can add that to his list soon! Here is a list of a few I have tried and liked recently:


Language Arts:

Anaolgies 4 Kids
Bluster
Reading Monster 1-4
Frankenstein Matchmaker
Big Nate Comix



Math:

Baseball Multiplication 1-12
Sticker Sudoku
iMazing
Fractions
iGraphs



Social Studies:

Stack the Countries
Presidents vs. Aliens
Spell USA States
TapQuiz Maps


4.  New Behavioral Approach 

I recently tweeted my 2012 Motto: "Behavior is Communication and I Promise to Listen" to much retweeting excitement!  Apparently this is a well-understood mantra by parents of special needs kids, but not very well understood by special needs professionals.  I included this amazing blog post entitled, Quiet Hands, by an adult woman with autism that was eye-opening (and heart breaking) to me and it also struck a Twitter nerve. I took every word of it to heart and have decided to be 100% committed to listening to Jackson's behavior as much as I would my daughter's words as his primary form of communication.  While Jackson is predominately verbal, his words don't always connect into clear thoughts and ideas. He uses chunks of language he has memorized and he does not always use them correctly, so trusting his words to accurately express his feelings is not ideal.  I need to watch and listen to his behavior for clues to his true thoughts and concerns.  


So as we head into 2012, we have a lot to be thankful for from 2011, and a lot to look forward to in the upcoming year.  My hope is that we can all agree that homeschooling autism has been a blessing to our whole family and that God has been good to the Trotters!  

Follow me on Twitter too: https://twitter.com/#!/hometeachautism

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