Going Out to Eat

Beth and I go out to eat a lot. True it is important social skills training, but I also hate to cook, so let’s just say kiddo has had a lot of practice. When we go out for a meal now, as Katy Perry so eloquently puts it, “it’s no big deal.” No tantrums, no meltdowns, we can eat a fair number of places, and she is pretty good at waiting. But in truth it is a big deal that we can just go out to eat at a quiet restaurant or a busy one (I still avoid the really loud places). It is a big deal I brought her to breakfast with me and she occupied herself long enough to let me talk to other autism moms. It is a big deal that on a whim I decided to have Chinese food for dinner last night while hubby is traveling for work and that we just walked in, were seated next to an older couple (the only people in the restaurant), and we all enjoyed our meal without huge incident. It is BIG.

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Well, How Did I Get Here?

Yes, that was a total steal from Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime, but I really was thinking of that line while sitting at dinner with her last night. How did we get here? How is it so much easier now? Gone are the days where I am dragging a screaming, overwhelmed, frustrated kid out of a restaurant. Then I thought, what does it look like to the couple sitting next to me?  Answer: I am still working very hard and they can see that. Everything is set up for success, I am constantly anticipating and heading off things before they become issues, and throughout the meal I am talking to her to guide her through and to orient her to what is happening. Is it an accident that we went to restaurant that is dead quiet during the week, we are sitting next to an entertaining fish tank, there are white Christmas lights everywhere, and they have something on the menu I know she will eat? No. Every single accommodation and strategy I use was born out of a hell of a lot of experimentation, failure, and small steps forward. I don’t wait for problems to happen, I head them off. BUT, I don’t think this would be possible at all if we didn’t have these four things going for us:

1. Now she is generally quiet by nature and tends to withdraw instead of freak out when she begins to get overwhelmed. In short, I got lucky here. Although it makes it hard to read her signs when she withdraws as she starts to get overwhelmed, I am getting better at it. I know when she is reaching her limit with some subtle indications she gives before she just yells “go to the car!” But I’ll take “difficult to read” signs any day over what some others have to deal with. During our meals out, I always think of others I know who have great difficulty taking their kids out to restaurants. Yes, I fully appreciate how lucky I am here. Damn lucky.

2. Beth has enough language to tell me what she wants. A little language leads to negotiation, which helps waiting. No we can’t go to the car yet, we are going to get the fortune cookie and pay first. She gets that now. A little language goes a very long way to defusing outbursts and meltdowns.

2. Developmental pica is saving the day! It is not often that I thank her pica (eating non-food items like lip gloss, sand, soaps, and straight chili pepper from the pantry-yikes!), but lately her pica has been calming a bit and changing to a love of different foods and drinks. Also, thanks to the sensory reasons surrounding her pica, any warm, cold, or bubbly drink helps occupy her, as does munching on ice, so I use those all the time to help her wait while we are out to eat. For example, recently she pounded two cups of decaf coffee at a breakfast with autism moms (and they were highly amused!). She ate lots of ice last night at dinner. Diet caffeine free soda or seltzer water is a God send at places. Thank God for pica!

3. I discovered a coat helps in a restaurant. As you can see Beth is sporting a black rain coat in the picture above. Coats calm her flapping and help her sit- a discovery I finally pieced together with all our restaurant outings over various seasons. The rain coat material is the best because it is stiffer and provides some resistance when she raises her hands, so she just prefers not to flap then for competing sensory reasons (I think).

The Work is Worth It

As I was sitting with Beth last night at dinner…occasionally telling her to sit on her bottom, try munching on ice to occupy herself, telling her the food was coming soon, telling her to look at the lights and fish because it will help her wait, I eventually asked her what her favorite fish was and asked her what she was looking at. It is a wonderful thing she is starting to answer those questions and tell me what is going on in her head. I completely appreciate how far we have come.

Then a mom and her daughter come in, and the girl is a year or so younger than Beth. They sit near us and the conversation the mom has with her daughter blows me away. The language is so back and forth and so rapid. Of course I get a tinge of sadness, as always when I observe moms and daughters conversing, but now it sort of passes through. Then I launch into observation mode and take mental notes. She let her child order…my kid can order her friend rice next time. Her kid can’t keep off her knees…okay, so that part was Beth being developmentally appropriate so I will back off on that instruction. They go into more depth talking about the fish and I get some ideas about what else we can talk about. See…the work never ends. But in the end, the work is worth it.

 

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Land and Water

When I got to the geography section and saw “land and water” I was pretty sure this lesson would be a hit. Beth loves water. I mean REALLY loves water. I would describe it both as an obsession and a useful interest. It is an obsession when we go to the park (all she wants to do is water play in streams to the exclusion of everything else and it dominates her entire attention) or anywhere we encounter fountains/ponds, etc..  But water is also an interest and a strength. Beth basically taught herself how to swim (a sort of breast stroke, see here…http://wp.me/p2OomI-111) and she is more social with other kids during swimming and some types of water play.

An Overview of Traditional Montessori Land/Water Lessons (My Interpretation)

The book I am following (1) said to just introduce this sand globe in period one and have the child explore the globe independently. Also, high-level geography terminology is introduced in period 1, such as earth (“we live on earth”), land (“land is something that is dry we can stand on”) and water (“water is something fish swim in and boats float on, etc.”).

Sand Globe

Sand Globe

 

And according to the book in period two (1), something called land water trays come after the globe presentation, where the children pour water in trays and learn where the water settles in various land/water presentations.  Many people online also use land/water sand cards to connect the sand globe to a flat surface presentation (a bridge to flat maps).

 

Land/Water Trays

Land/Water Trays

 

Land/Water Sand Cards

Land/Water Sand Cards

Eventually the children go on to name the bodies of water and land formations they explored in the trays and sand cards so they can identify features on a globe (for example, they learn isthmus, straight, gulf, island, peninsula). Also, they eventually do tons of map work, starting from continents, then countries within continents, and finally a map of the states within the U.S. (there is more, but I will stop there for now).

Sample of Land/Water Language Cards (Head over the Montessori Print shop for traditional cards and extensions).

Sample of Land/Water Language Cards (Head over the Montessoriprintshop.com for traditional cards and extensions)

With Beth’s love of water, her direct interest in and experience with certain every day bodies of water (for example, river, stream, ocean, pond, and lake), and because I felt she needed a more concrete approach to relating what she knows to the globe, I customized the lesson. So I am mixing period 1 and period 2 and modifying the land/water forms and terminology in a way that make sense for Beth.  Also, I changed the presentation order, and we explored DIY custom trays and land/water sand cards before exploring the globe (I even changed the globe to be more meaningful to Beth and to tie in better with the custom land/water cards). Why go through all this effort? Because this lesson directly relates to terminology I have been trying to teach Beth for a very long time. I want her to understand all these things she loves….ponds versus lakes versus oceans, rivers versus streams. The sensory approach and the Montessori approach are perfect for teaching her these concepts.

Our Version of Intro to Land/Water with Montessori

1. Sticking with what Beth knows and absolutely needs to know in the real world, what she needs to understand to bridge from direct experience to the globe, and thinking forward to flat map work, I settled on these target terms for land/water:

  • Continent
  • Island
  • Ocean
  • Lake
  • Pond
  • River
  • Stream

2. Custom Land/Water Trays: Many people have done the land/water trays in a DIY way to reduce cost so this was easy, because it is just clay + cheap aluminum or plastic trays + colored water. I used Crayola terra-cotta colored clay and it was messy, but she seemed to get that it was dirt/land. I combined trays to reduce the clay need. For example, we started by making a lake, poured the water off and added more clay, then made a pond. After we were finished, I poured the water off and stored the containers so we could re-use the clay. This was by far the best part of the lesson. Beth absolutely loved it!

Making a Lake

Making a Lake

 

From left to right: Ocean, Island, River

From left to right: Ocean, Island, River

Land/Water Sand Cards: There are many do it yourself options out there, such as gluing sand paper to blue paper. I had some blue paper and adhesive foam board and sand, so I opted for pressing the blue paper onto the sticky foam board for the water and then rubbing the remaining sticky foam board in sand for the land. It worked surprisingly well (sand did not come off much when Beth rubbed it), but I suggest buying a stickier brand of adhesive foam board (Try Just Stick It, because I was not happy with Elmers and there are lots of complaints online about it http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=adhesive%20foam%20board&sprefix=adhesive+foam+boar%2Caps).

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On left pond/lake/ocean, middle river/stream, right island/continent

On left pond/lake/ocean, middle river/stream, right island/continent

Sand Globe: Beth has grandparents on Lake Michigan and she loves long car rides, where I point out every river we drive across. Unfortunately the sand globe (bought on ebay for a reasonable price) does not have the great lakes or a river in the Unites States, so I did my best to add those features with some blue paint:

Our Sand Globe

Our Sand Globe

Land/Water Language Cards (for later use, have not introduced yet): While I was at it I made the matching language cards. Basically printed out some blue background squares in Word, and got creative with sand-colored construction paper and contact paper:

Three Part Language Cards

Three Part Language Cards

Basically I just let Beth do the sand trays and stated the terminology while she was doing the exercise. I had the sand cards next to the trays and later she rubbed the sand cards. When she becomes independent with the trays and sand cards, I will move to the globe,the language cards, highlighting language in natural environments, and real pictures online to supplement.

_______________

(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: http://thehometeacher.org/2009/03/sequencing-your-activities-more-on-montessori.html. We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting
  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation
  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library
  4. Math – none
  5. Culture – land and water presentation

Period Two

  1. Practical- pouring water from a jug, medium difficulty dressing frames, simple braiding, setting table, polishing surfaces, washing hands, washing cloths, scrubbing a table top, sweeping sawdust, brushing clothes, folding clothes, hanging clothes on a hanger, handling a book, scissors exchange, greeting people, kindness to visitors, being silent
  2. Sensorial- advanced cylinder blocks exercises, brown stair, red rods, boxes 2 and 3 of color tablets, geometric cabinet exercises 1-4, binomial cube, blindfold, tactile tablets, stereognostic bags exercises, sorting grains, sound boxes, preliminary presentation of bells, three stage lessons and the names of Sensorial qualities
  3. Language- classified picture exercises 3 and 4, stage 4 of I Spy, exercise 1 of single letter sandpaper letters, metal insets, frequent speech questioning
  4. Math- none
  5. Culture- Land and water exercises, first maps, places classified pictures, preliminary work for classification by leaf.

montessori book

 

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Shapes and Solids

In the first level of Montessori (1), the children explore shapes and solids (naming and categorization occurs in later levels). The Montessori program has a geometric solids set, a flat shape set (geometric cabinet), and a metal inserts shape set for pre-writing. They all tie together nicely, but Beth doesn’t really needs to know all the geometric shapes at this point. Learning new language receptively is hard, learning new expressively language is even harder, so I am not going to torture her with learning the difference between an ellipsoid and ovoid (a point which confused even me and my husband, both engineers with a fair amount of math under our belt) and the various types of triangles in preparation for geometry. So I cut some things out of the program, and tried to preserve any shape/solids teaching that might be helpful to Beth in real life.

Geometric Solids

I bought the geometric solids set from ebay for a reasonable price. This is a fantastic video on geometric solids that explains the whole process. Remember, at level 1, the children only explore the solids as in the beginning of this video.

As you can see from the video, Montessori takes a sensory approach and later teaches language concepts that are abstract on paper worksheets for kids like Beth. These language terms can be demonstrated with the shapes: roll, stack, flat surface, curved surfaces, pointy, blunt, you get the idea. These are the solids that relate most to the real world and therefore are the ones I am teaching Beth: sphere, cube, egg-shaped (called ovoid in the Montessori system, but I am going with egg-shaped), cylinder, cone (street cones being an obvious direct application), and the pyramid (we are using the square based pyramid, like the ones in Egypt, since I keep running into pyramids with Beth for some odd reason, usually in relation to camels).

Our subset of geometric solids. The circle, square, and triangle are bases used later in the program

Our subset of geometric solids. The circle, square, and triangle are bases used later in the program

 

Beth, me, a camel, and a pyramid, 2014 (Florida)

Beth, me, a camel, and a pyramid, 2014 (Florida)

Geometric Cabinet

What I love about the geometric cabinet: the process of feeling the edge of the shape to get a true sense of the shapes and the sequencing work with cards. What I don’t like about the geometric cabinet: Too many shapes with complex names and with the control cards, cabinet, and demonstration tray it is freaking expensive $$$$$$. I decided it was just best to use the metal insets to explore flat shapes (see below). It is not strict Montessori, but I think it is the best decision for Beth. So, we are skipping the geometric cabinet.

Geometric Cabinet

Geometric Cabinet

 

Demonstration Tray

Demonstration Tray

 

Geometric Cabinet Control Chart

Geometric Cabinet Control Chart

Metal Insets

In lieu of the geometric cabinet we are using a the metal insets for learning flat shapes and I will have Beth touch the outside of the blue inset and work left to right with the insets on the stand for the level 1 sensory flat shape experience (which Beth needs because she keeps confusing square with rectangle and the names of the shapes occasionally trip her up). Officially, the metal insets are for pre-writing (they are similar to a stencil) and in the book I am following it says they are not used until level 2 (1). Still, the metal inset set has more shapes than I feel Beth needs to know at this time, and some of the names are overly complicated for a kid with language delays. So I took about half the shapes and we will do level 1 with them instead of the geometric cabinet (touching the outside of the shapes).

Here is the full metal insert set…refer to control chart in section above for true Montessori names:

Metal Insets

Metal Insets

This is the set I decided Beth should work on for flat shapes in lieu of the geometric cabinet:

IMG_8050

Set we are using for level 1 sensory experience of shapes. We are calling them circle, oval, square, rectangle, and triangle. I am not getting into the whole that is not an oval, it is an ellipse thing-that again confused the engineers of the house. It is an oval to us, so an oval it is!

Again I found these metal insets on ebay for a reasonable price, but they are still one of the more expensive items we have bought thus far. You can go with a cheaper plastic version sold on Amazon if the cost of the metal inserts is too high, but I felt we needed the heavier version for the pre-writing work.

________________

(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: http://thehometeacher.org/2009/03/sequencing-your-activities-more-on-montessori.html. We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting

  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation

  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library

  4. Math – none

  5. Culture – land and water presentation

montessori book

 

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Stereognostic Bag

The stereognostic bag is a fancy name for : A bag, blocks, don’t look and just feel the blocks, group like blocks. It is also called a mystery bag. In my mind, the idea is to refine the sense of touch and show the child how touch can be a benefit when identifying things, and to make them slow down and examine every part of an item. After sorting simple blocks, the book I am following (1) suggests putting coins or other objects in the bag and doing a guessing game.

There are a few ways to go about using the sereognostic bag with blocks. The book (1) said to use a blindfold. Ha ha ha ha ha!  That was a disaster. Beth accepted it one time for a short while and totally hated the blindfold after that. So now what?  I found this video online that said the children can try to find the two matching blocks and palm both, then draw the hand from the bag to reveal the match. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vraftY2taNc That approach was a no go as well. It was just too difficult and even I had trouble doing it, so I shouldn’t expect Beth to do that.

I settled on a partially aided approach. I bought this bag (cheaper on ebay, http://www.amazon.com/FAC-Montessori-Stereognostic-Bag/dp/B00793NVRU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425655388&sr=8-1&keywords=stereognostic+bag) and lined up one set, and had Beth find the other set by feel. I taught her she must keep her eyes on the set on the table, and try to use only feel to identify a pair.

This is an example of the teaching session:

This is Beth doing the activity alone.

I got smiles, I got independence, I got an understanding of how to use touch to identify objects, I got some increased focus. Score! I feel this can be a future fun “identify the object” game for us. But as for identifying coins, it has not worked out thus far. The method taught her to try to feel for the rough and smooth edges of coins and we attempted to use the size/roughness to connect to the coin name, etc, but she simply could not consistently identify the coin matches just by feel. In fact she has a terrible time sorting coins even with vision! So I am currently devising an “errorless” activity for sorting coins and I will write a quick post if that turns out to be of value. Moving on…

_________________

(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: http://thehometeacher.org/2009/03/sequencing-your-activities-more-on-montessori.html. We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting

  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation

  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library

  4. Math – none

  5. Culture – land and water presentation

montessori book

 

Adventures with Montessori and Autism: Pouring Beans

Beginning Our Montessori Journey

Clearly this will not be the typical jaunt through Montessoriland (See end note below [1] for info on Montessori and the book we are following). Beth has autism with very significant stims, attention issues, motor planning core deficits, language impairment, and she is almost 7 years old (Montessori is usually started at age 2 or 3).  In Montessori, natural motivation is key, as is independence, but I am sure I will be doing more guiding than typical in Montessori. Maybe even some, gasp!, correction of errors. It is simply not possible to just demonstrate something a few times and have kiddo catch on and sometimes I have to directly instruct her to get around stims and other hurdles. Adjustments will be made, but not too much, because I want her to improve her non-verbal observation and processing skills and gain independence. It is a delicate balancing act. The beauty of Montessori as it relates to Beth’s autism is its focus on the senses and working on senses in isolation, visual scanning practice, practical work, and simple distraction-free materials. It is a good fit for Beth, but perhaps something she was not ready for when she was younger. I read somewhere that special needs kids often start the process later and it is “not easy.” Ha! We are all about doing things that are not easy. Bring it on!

Bean Pouring

We tried several Montessori activities over the past month and pouring beans is the most motivating thus far. When we first started I thought…easy peasy…this will be quick. Wrong. The crossing of midline, cocking of the wrist, maintaining eyes on work, scanning and picking up the beans. It is not simple at all for Beth.

But she has made great gains. Yes, I did have to directly tell her to cross midline and turn that jug on her left side (and not just non-verbally model as is typically done in Montessori). Beth has gone through years of not crossing midline very much and is in a firm habit of not using her hands in certain ways. Also, she has grown to rely on verbal cuing, so I used the minimal amount I could and chalked it up to reasonable accommodation. We skipped the typical small tray but we should have used it…it would have made placement more obvious. No this is not as perfect, as smooth, and focused as a typical kid doing Montessori. But she crossed midline 4o times a day for weeks, she moved from insisting on standing to working at the table, she learned to tilt her head to see what she was doing, she learned she must look and use her hands at the same time for the best outcome. I am calling this good enough, and time to move on. But I will leave the bean pouring jugs out as an activity because she loves it so. The klink of the beans on the ceramic and the pouring sound…there is just something about it.

Video I found helpful:

Beth pouring beans:

_________________

(1) This will be a quick and poorly edited series because things are happening fast and I just want to write it all down. My daughter is almost 7 years old and we are starting the Montessori program from the beginning using this book, you tube videos, and common sense alterations. We homeschool and do other standard K activities. Montessori is an attempt to fill in developmental gaps and increase independence. See this fellow blogger’s post on the division of the work into periods as outlined in David Gettman’s book: http://thehometeacher.org/2009/03/sequencing-your-activities-more-on-montessori.html. We are starting with period 1 activities (taken from the book), with adjustments of course:

Period One

  1. Practical Activities – pouring beans between two jugs, opening and closing containers; buttoning; buckling; other simple dressing frames; carrying and laying out floor and table mats; saying please and thank you; carrying a tray; lifting, carrying, and putting down a chair, sitting down and getting up from a chair at a table; climbing up and down stairs; walking on the line; folding, hanging clothes on a hook;  brushing hair; dusting

  2. Sensorial – Cylinder blocks; pink tower; box 1 of the color tablets; presentation tray of the geometric cabinet; sensitizing the fingers; touch boards; presentation of Geometric solids; stereognostic bags presentation

  3. Language – Classified pictures exercises; speech stages – I Spy; book corner and library

  4. Math – none

  5. Culture – land and water presentation

montessori book

 

Our K Curriculum, Part Deux

This has been a roller coaster school year with Beth starting in public K in September and then the pull-out to homeschool again in December, but I think we are finally settling in for the year. It is time to write things down to clear my own mind, to get others up to speed, and to answer some questions from my blog followers and friends.

Are You Repeating K at Home? What Curriculum are You Using?

Beth is now almost 7 and from 5-6 years old I tried Waldorf at home for K (see our Waldorf adventures here: http://wp.me/p2OomI-Tj and http://wp.me/p2OomI-Ue). I immediately altered the Waldorf curriculum due to kiddo’s strength in reading (letter and phonics decoding) and her disinterest in fairy tales. Then, because we decided to put Beth in public K the following year, I felt pressured to do “what was expected” in terms of getting her ready. So I added activities for patterning, number recognition up to 50, etc., and I ended up with a mixed bag with everything from Waldorf to standard K in our curriculum. There is a terrific downside to bending to the expectations of others while homeschooling and I have some regrets, but as it turns out, trying out some of the “common core” ideas and “typical expectations” has led us to a stronger curriculum this time around for Beth. I think it is actually a great idea to repeat K more in-depth, so I would say that by our local “public school” standards, Beth is in a form of typical K and I am fine with that. I will now attempt to describe our curriculum in detail below, which has every thing from Montessori to standard K curriculum elements.

Our Current Curriculum (Subject to Change at Any Minute!)

1. Independent Work and Hand Use with Montessori. 

Why can’t she work independently and why is her hand use so slow to develop? After careful observation and opening my mind to possibilities, I believe it comes down to old issues: an inability to work on the floor causing negative associations with getting her to play/work when she was really young (low tone? sensory issues? difficulty navigating the floor in general? no therapist seems to be able to tell me), lack of focus due to the autism diverting her attention, sound sensitivities with certain toys and manipulatives (she hates crashing towers, the ball pounding toys, the sound of plastic hitting plastic, certain textures, etc.), her inability to process noisy play (which most of us think is “fun”), all of which led to frustration and confidence issues. What program focuses on independence, hand use, uses low-distraction toys, natural products like wood and cloth, and is very quiet? — Montessori.

After doing some research, I ran across an article on special needs kids, which said they may have to start the Montessori process much later than the typical infant-6. I bought a few products and I had some other Montessori-like “errorless” toys, and I tried the Montessori approach of not correcting and just demonstrating (all the demos are on you tube). Beth did well if I really lowered the developmental level and provided encouragement to keep trying. I am currently on a Montessori kick and we spend our mornings with me setting up hand-use tasks and biting my tongue, and kiddo working hard on her hand use and independence. Beth mostly works on Montessori while standing at the kitchen table, but I bought a foam gym mat and we are transferring some work to the floor (she has a history of hating to work on the floor, but I tried yesterday and she seems willing to do tasks she masters at the kitchen table on the foam mat).

Beth, All Smiles Doing Puzzles (!)

Beth, All Smiles Doing Puzzles (!)

Floorwork

Floor Work

2. Independent Work and Hand Use via Chores and Cooking. We do chores and cooking every day as part of Beth’s curriculum. I give her tasks or parts of chores to complete by herself and I help her by modeling and encouraging her to keep going.

IMG_3266[1]

Cutting open the toilet paper to put it away (scissor skills!)

Helping unload the dishwasher

Helping unload the dishwasher

Doing Laudry

Doing Laundry

Folding Washcloths

Folding Washcloths

Making soup

Making soup

3. Math: Go Math for Now…

The local school district uses Go Math, so I tried that curriculum after buying the workbooks on ebay. After just a few weeks homeschooling, we are almost up to typical K with minor alterations and accommodations. What I learned by working with Go Math is: a. Ten frames are good for Beth-she loves putting things in distinct boxes while counting and it is an easy visual way to understand amounts, b. She loves to circle items while counting on worksheets and then noting the number, she is a natural at identifying “greater than” or “less than” number, and c. we just started addition and she was all smiles (and is showing some innate ability). Who knew? Not the public school she attended. They were still working on identifying and counting to 1 and 2 when I pulled her out. Eventually we may need a new program (it gets very verbal later from what I understand), but for now the K level of Go Math is going fine. Samples of Beth’s work and accommodations:

Go Math Workseet (slant board to help her visually attend, regular blocks instead of Unifix click blocks to reduce fine motor demand, sticky  Wikistix used to keep blocks from sliding).

Go Math Workseet (erasable pen to help with her light writing, slant board to help her visually attend, regular blocks instead of Unifix click blocks to reduce fine motor demand, sticky Wikki Stix used to keep blocks from sliding).

She circles items on a page to count them

She circles items on a page to count them

Greater than less than page (I read the instructions and choices, first three were find the greater number, last three were find the least number)

Greater than less than page (I read the instructions and choices, first three were find the greater number, last three were find the lesser number)

4. Language Arts: Harcourt Trophies (http://www.amazon.com/Harcourt-Trophies-Kindergarten-Teachers-Edition/dp/0153397322)

Harcourt Trophies is the program used for the typical kids in K at Beth’s previous public school. Her reading (decoding) is above the “at level” readers in the system, so we supplement with Lakeshore readers (see footnotes below-already done with level one sight readers). The Lakeshore non-fiction sight word books are excellent because they include basic geography, social studies, and science ideas. She reads best if I hold the book in front of her her in bed or she uses her book holder on the table (she needs everything elevated and she uses her finger to guide her eyes while reading due to oculomotor coordination issues and an occasional difficultly finding left to start reading).

In terms of comprehension, she has far exceeded my expectations. A lot of the activities have the students phonetically write answers and draw pictures. With very little coaching, Beth was able to do the work. Not only that, the suggested activities and library books (where I read to her and ask questions) in the teacher’s manual relate to real life and align with her intraverbal goals we identified in the VB-Mapp. I make some substitutions and simplifications with the books I have to read to her, but I think it is so wonderful she is being exposed to new ideas in the context of literature. So, for now, this program has worked out extremely well for Beth. We are still catching up, because very little of the literature program was covered in public school and I had to start over from the beginning. Here are some samples of Beth’s drawings in answer questions as part of the Trophies Harcourt program (phonetic writing samples are in the handwriting section below):

Me: "What did you do with your friend today? Look around the room and tell me? " Beth: "Played Guitar" Me: "Okay, draw a guitar...do you want to add a neck and strings?"

Me: “What did you do with your friend today? Look around the room and tell me. ” Beth: “Played Guitar” Me: “Okay, draw a guitar…great…now do you want to add a neck and strings?”

Beth, Self-Portrait. I asked if she wanted to add hair and ears. Her ears hang low...ha ha.

Beth, Self-Portrait. I asked if she wanted to add hair and ears. Her ears hang low…ha ha.

Beth in the swimming pool (I added the goggle straps later for fun). I love how she drew herself sideways with both arms and legs off to one side.

Beth in the swimming pool…she is sideways with legs on the left, both arms up, head on the right (I added the goggle straps later for fun).

5. Handwriting

Beth recognizes all letters, understands the strokes, and yet her handwriting is sloppy and she is very frustrated by attempts to improve her handwriting. We did Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) several times, but her handwriting did not improve much and she ended up getting stuck in whatever number/letter set was being practiced in HWTs. My solution was to provide a mixed program of practice and the school’s solution was to try HWT yet again. Of course she got stuck on the letters they were working on to the detriment of other letters and she lost the ability to write whole words. So, with the return to homeschooling I decided to back off on handwriting entirely and see what she did with just encouraging her to write her thoughts, numbers, words, etc in whatever way she wanted. I would only have her “try again” if I could not read it at all. Eventually in Trophies assignments, she started doing a mixture of print and cursive, which is an attempt to reduce the number of strokes and picking up the pencil. In fact, according to my research, a solution often used for kids who have significant dysgraphia is to teach them to write in cursive. Here are some samples of her phonetic writing in Trophies (the teacher’s manual says at this point the child should just be writing phonetically and to not correct the spelling on these assignments, note that I clarified what she wrote in parentheses and quotes):

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The assignment was to name her favorite color and then write things that were blue. Yes, she used to eat blue ice cream at local farm, so I accepted that!

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So, now what? Do I give up on print and go to cursive?  I researched cursive writing with young children and again was led to Montessori. There is a type of print that is pre-cursive and some of the letters look similar to how Beth is trying to write. So, our path forward is to do the Montessori Method using the pre-cursive D’Nealian print, starting from the beginning activities mentioned in this video to improve her control. Note they use two fingers to trace. I am praying that will help her with her control, as she can get her pointer out no problem, but two fingers out is hard. I also love the little tails on letters (will help her know where to stop, a huge problem right now is she keeps going down), the slanted middle part of the lower case “e” instead of horizontal (she naturally slants it), the two-stroke little “k” instead of 3, the curvy lower case “y” and “w” (which Beth naturally prefers). This may be a total fail, but at least it is a new idea based on intrinsic information (the way she is writing naturally). The sand tray, sandpaper cards, and other materials are on their way as I write this post…pray for us!

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6. Social Studies

I picked up this social studies book at the Lakeshore store near me (http://www.amazon.com/Me-My-World-Tracy-Edmunds/dp/1420692690/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422635939&sr=8-1&keywords=me+and+my+world). It covers health, safety, all about me, body parts, five senses, and all the typical K social studies concepts that need reinforcement for Beth.

download

7. Play & Social

We have had many successful play dates with 1 other child at a time in homes or at indoor play places when it is not busy, and we are working at her play level and with her interests (play-doh, painting, ball play, jumping). At the same time, I am going back to basics to expand her interests. I set up the play area shown below that is easy for her to motor plan during play (everything elevated so she doesn’t have to transition from standing to floor a lot, which always seems to turn her off to play). I also have chosen the dollhouse pieces carefully…not too stimmy, sturdy pieces that are easy to use. So, we will try this set up over the next several weeks in a very slow, non-pressured way.

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In addition to individual play dates, Beth loves the group classes she attends and asks to “see the other kids” at “music” or “gym” classes. We also hang out with other groups of homeschoolers at houses, gyms and libraries for various meet-ups/playgroups. We have no shortage of social opportunities!

8. Music, Gym, Art, Science, and Geography

Music: We do a weekly group music class for older special needs kids and incorporate music into assignments because it is engaging for her.

Gym: We have 3 group gym classes a week: 2 special needs and one typical class (typical 3-5 year olds, Beth has dyspraxia, so she is still working at a younger level in gym classes). She also swims at least once a week at the YMCA.

Art: Beth does art with other children at play dates. As I just finally got Beth to stop sampling art supplies by chewing gum (she has developmental pica), being able to actually work with art materials and not just try to eat them is a huge step forward!

Science: Science terminology is incorporated into the literature curriculum, and we plan to do butterfly cycles and planting flowers in the spring.

Geography: I am currently researching the Montessori geography lessons and materials.

Stay Tuned…

If you are reading this, thank you for making it through such a long post! I will try to write some shorter posts on specific topics within our curriculum as time allows. If there are major changes to the curriculum I will do another update post. Please comment with any thoughts on Montessori and our new handwriting strategy.

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Lakeshore readers:

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C923%2C789&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1422273887705

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C928%2C364&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1422273907642

http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C898%2C194&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1422273947640

 

 

 

 

 

SHHHH-Don’t Tell Anyone. I Have a Child with Autism and I Have it Easy.

A story or status post pops up on my Facebook feed from one of the many autism parent bloggers I follow, and it usually falls into one of these common autism parent themes:

  1. Sleep Issues: The kid won’t sleep! or The kid woke up in the wee hours…again! or Thank God for Melatonin.
  2. Meltdowns & Aggression: Wow, that meltdown was epic and over nothing! or Strangers were asses today when my kid was melting down. or I am tired of being hit, bit, kicked, etc.
  3. Potty Misery: I can’t toilet train this kid. or Why does this kid hold it for days?
  4. School Issues: IEP meetings suck. or The school sucks. or Oh-oh…the school number just popped up on my screen-what did he/she do this time?
  5. Co-morbid medical issues: Nightmare at the doctor today. or Horrible ordeal with lab testing today. or Trying to get medicine in my kid is the worst.
  6. Food issues: My kid won’t eat and we are off to the feeding clinic. or OMG, all the time I am spending on this special diet is exhausting!
  7. I am Going Nuts: Can’t wait for the kid to go back to school. or I am hiding in the bathroom because I can’t take it anymore. or Why won’t this kid stop doing [insert massively annoying obsessive activity/vocalization]?

Honestly, it is getting harder and harder for me to relate to many of the posts I see come across the feed, because many of the problems we used to have are not problems anymore. Beth is still very delayed across the board (physical, fine motor, speech, social, and play), is a “slow progressor,” she is a wanderer, and she can have high anxiety in certain situations. BUT, on the very positive side, she is a great sleeper now, meltdowns and aggression are a distant memory, she is potty trained, we are happy with our school situation (homeschooling), she is healthy, she is a good eater, she lets me guide her, I enjoy being with her, and I see signs of progress every day. I am grateful. I am at peace. I feel lucky. And…I feel a bit guilty.

Beth Making Christmas Ornament Gifts, 2014

Beth Making Christmas Ornament Gifts, December 2014

Beth, Florida Christmas Trip, 2014

Beth, Florida Christmas Trip, December 2014

Beth, Sanibel Island, Christmas 2014

Beth, Sanibel Island, Christmas 2014

Beth, Making Soup, January 2015

Beth Making Soup, Part of Homeschooling Literature Assignment, January 2015

Beth, Homeschooling Independent Hand-Use Activities - January 2015

Beth, Homeschooling, Independent Hand-Use Activities – January 2015