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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.