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:

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(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.

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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:

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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

The Advice I Wish I Received

“What we have here is a spectrum disorder.” That is how the news was delivered to me as my highly anxious almost 3 year old was itching to get the hell out of the evaluation center. The next bit of insight was, “I think whether you do behavioral therapy or Floortime doesn’t matter, but you just need to do something intensive with a lot of hours. It is a good sign she has language. She will need to have therapy in a very calm and quiet environment.” That bit of advice was followed by, “Remember, you know her best.”

With that, we were out the door and I was looking dazed and confused, because of course at the time I did not feel like I knew my kid at all and had no idea what to do with her. Their advice was minimal and so superficial it was basically worthless. But then again, we were at a center where they were behind schedule. Many more kids to diagnose were sitting in the waiting room. At least they were sitting, mine was screaming her head off, so much my mother had to push her in her stroller in the hall to try to calm her down.

Did they know she was different from most they diagnose from the start? Were they hinting at that in their “advice” … that piece about the “calm and quiet environment” haunts me to this day. Yes, she has more anxiety and sensory issues than many kids I have met on the spectrum. Did I just miss the hint? Then I tell myself, there was no way I could have known that her anxiety and sensory issues at the time would predict she would be a slow progressor. And there was no way to know that her personality makes really pushing and forcing her to do things a total backfire….that meeting her where she is and slowly expanding her was the answer.

What advice do I wish the evaluators would have given me?  What could have made a difference? Well, this, for a start:

1. Your child is on the spectrum, which is very wide. Some kids progress fast and others progress more slowly. There is no way to really tell what your child will do, so it is important to meet her where she is and help her make small steps forward. Try to remain in the present, because freaking out over an unknown outcome is not going to help her.

2. Co-morid issues are possible. Make sure all underlying medical issues are understood and consider how they can factor into behavior. (Note: In our case, dyspraxia and oculomotor apraxia ended up playing a huge role in her development.)

3. Because of her anxiety and sensory issues, pushing her too hard can backfire. You must learn to read her and understand her way of thinking and talking, and you will become her interpreter to help others understand her. Continue to listen to your instincts and use careful observation to hone in on her subtle cues. Floortime is helpful, because it teaches you to meet her where she is and slowly expand her to get her ready for interacting with other people. Most Floortime therapy is private and not covered by insurance, unless it is integrated into occupational therapy, speech therapy, and behavioral therapy. Be aware that many therapists say they are proficient in Floortime techniques, but they are not.

4. There will be many therapists involved in your child’s care, so insist on team meetings to keep everyone on the same page. On your child’s early intervention (3 and under) and school-based (preschool to school years) teams, she will have an occupational therapist (to help with fine motor skills, activities of daily living, and sensory issues), physical therapist (gross motor skills), speech therapist (articulation and general speech work), and behavioral therapists (help with coping and a variety skills which often overlap with the other team member’s goals). It is very easy for confusion and inconsistency to happen with so many team members, so insist on frequent communication between team members.

5. The bulk of early therapy will be performed by behavioral therapists and their aids (verbal work and academic readiness), because applied behavior analysis (ABA) has the most data in the literature and therefore is funded by school districts and insurance companies. Behavioral therapists can help with strategies to control anxiety (for example, use first we do this, then that language to manage expectations) and use developmental maps to form goals. You must decide what types of behavioral therapists you want…those who do more natural therapy (look up pivotal response, Denver Model) or those who do more rote drilling. In current literature, the field is tending towards more natural, play based and relationship based therapies integrated with the behavioral therapies (look up Floortime and RDI for relationship based therapies). In reality, behavioral therapists who are proficient in relationship based therapies and natural ABA are hard to find. Ask tough questions and don’t back down.

6. When something isn’t working, move on. Don’t be afraid to fire people. You are the parent and you make the decisions.

 

 

Our Best Christmas

Despite the drama surrounding our hasty exit from public school and re-entry into homeschooling, this Christmas season has been wonderful for us.

First there was the awesome Santa, who just rolled with whatever Beth was doing as the camera was clicking. We missed the “Caring Santa” for special needs kids due to my poor planning, but I am glad we did. I simply walked up and put my kid next to this Santa on a week day when no one was around, and what transpired was magical. She loved him!

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Next, she really loved all the Christmas lights and was totally tuned-in. We could drive around and she would tell me what she liked and what she was looking at if I asked. I could facilitate a mini-conversation and it was priceless.

And finally, we had the best “Christmas morning” ever (we opened presents early because we are traveling on Christmas eve to spend time with family in Florida). Although last year things started to get better, this Christmas morning was awesome. Part of it was kiddo is changing and more engaged with us, and her sensory and hand use is much better (so she can actually handle taking tissue out of bags, unwrap presents, and plunge her hand in the stocking without shrinking back in fear and frustration). The other part is I finally got it right! This is what I did to set us up for success:

  • All toys were tested and had batteries put in place BEFORE I WRAPPED THE GIFTS. No waiting around to find and insert batteries or read instructions.
  • We started with something we were certain would engage her. We started with the stocking, which a contained handful of her favorite candy (tootsie rolls). Beth was thrilled that Santa brought her tootsie rolls! She is an oral sensory seeker, what better way to start?
  • We scaled it back. We had a limited number of presents so it would not be overwhelming.
  • Even with a limited number of presents, we took breaks. Beth took a decaf coffee break, we took a caf coffee break during the unwrapping. We took it very SLOOOOW.
  • I chose the toys very, very carefully. I even took her to the toy store to gauge interest and test the toys (mostly to get the hand-use level right) before I bought her presents.
  • The toys were at the appropriate developmental level. Some were considered toddler toys, some were not. I simply paid no attention to the age on the package whatsoever.
  • I limited super-stim toys to 1 toy and left it for last. No sense in hastening a tune-out with super-stim toys!
  • I only included one “boring developmental toy” and I sweetened the deal by hiding her favorite candy in it. This is a great toy, where we can work on greetings and keys, but it took a tootsie roll hiding behind each door to make it special and engaging to Beth on Christmas morning. 

All and all I think it was about as perfect as we could have hoped for. And man, we were due for a really good Christmas morning!

What We Have Here is a Charlie Foxtrot

I have been sitting here staring at my computer screen, trying to think of what to say about our public school experience and why we are returning to homeschooling. Do I go off on how, as in my child’s early and intermediate intervention experiences, we once again had the problem of various team members thinking in silos when managing my daughter’s case? Maybe I should be kinder and say, she does have many co-morbid conditions and it is complex, so she is a challenging case and it is just easier for her to learn at home from one person who knows her whole history? But every time I sit down at the computer, one word pops into my head and will not leave, so I just looked up the exact definition for creative inspiration:

Clusterfuck (urban dictionary definition): Military term for an operation in which multiple things have gone wrong. Related to “SNAFU” (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up”) and “FUBAR” (Fucked Up Beyond All Repair).

In radio communication or polite conversation (i.e. with a very senior officer with whom you have no prior experience) the term “clusterfuck” will often be replaced by the NATO phonetic acronym “Charlie Foxtrot.”
Example: By the time the artillery came in the enemy was already on top of us. It was a total clusterfuck.
Okay, to be polite, I will say we had a Charlie Foxtrot. I tried my best to help guide them, but there was no leadership for my daughter’s case – no one person at the school that could understand all my kid’s challenges, problem solve to work around her issues, and simultaneously figure out her strengths. Thinking and working in silos led to an unsolvable mess, or at least a mess that could not be solved for a very long time (and not without expensive advocates and/or lawyers, with uncertain outcomes and a lot of unnecessary stress). Meanwhile my daughter’s development kept sliding downward and the clock was ticking.
In short, these are the negatives of the experience:
  1. I learned that our team thought they knew how to engage autism, but they are totally untrained for the “difficult to engage” child. I know they are not qualified because we have hired high-priced consultants and therapists who are masters at Floortime (no dear person at our first IEP meeting who thought she was a Floortime expert, it is not working on the floor, it is a method for engaging a child that requires you put your adult agenda aside [sort of, because you still have to have a firm grasp of development and keep goals in the back of your mind to gently expand the child] and it does require formal training). Orienting my child and helping her tune into her surroundings and other children was missing when I observed. There seemed to be the underlying assumption that she was very difficult to engage and there was nothing to be done about it. During 4 hours of observation during education week, I saw many missed “communication bids” from staff that could have led to an engagement. My offers to make custom visuals of favorite stories and send in motivating materials were brushed aside.
  2. My kid was getting less socialization in school than out of school. When I observed Beth at school she seemed disconnected. She was not being helped to tune into others and engage and “social group” is once a week. Need I say more? She got more out of going on play dates, to play centers, and going on community outings when we homeschooled.
  3. I now get why the “presume competence” crowd is totally pissed off. It is because the assumption in our school is that the goal is to catch up to peers in totality, and when you have a child with extreme uneven development in motor planning, fine motor, expressive language, play, physical capabilities and academics, he/she is basically written off as incapable. For example, staff simply cannot wrap their head around a child who can do academics, but only if given the right motor planning and expressive language supports. I am aware that my child cannot motor plan for shit, but we are working on it and she is making slow progress. So I begged the school in the beginning, please don’t let her die of boredom working on the same concepts over and over…fix the motor plan and expressive language used for academics so she can progress and work on different motor plans in occupational therapy and language issues in speech therapy. It seems simple, but I couldn’t get anyone to consistently fix the motor plans and language constructs due to the number of people involved.
  4. If you have a child with co-morbid issues like dyspraxia, visuomotor problems, low tone, and anxiety, it is hard for staff to remember how to support him/her. I would look up after trying to explain my child for the 50th time and see the familiar stare of deer in headlights. So the need for accommodations like elevating work, right table height, simplified layout, using her finger to guide her reading, working on the lower part of an easel, special prompting to help her move her body, etc. was lost on most staff.  Also, My child could not sit at school, but she can sit at home, so how can she reach her academic potential? Part of it was the totally unsupported seating at school, which was only resolved when I brought in our own chair from home because the mammoth system moved so slow. But also I think she was overstimulated and stressed. So while Beth was not totally flipping out in school now (yeah! progress from the old days!) she was still anxious. Which brings me to my next point.
  5. The final nail in the coffin was the behavioral report. I love that these reports like to “note” possible sources of “behavior” from parents, suggest OT assessments, admit history of anxiety, but in the end, our children are treated not as human beings with feelings, but children to be controlled by static “if child does this, then do that” formulas that a behaviorist can hand over to staff. I cannot live with that. I agree that Beth’s stimming can get in the way of learning and engagement is a problem, but I want to work with Beth to help her help herself. I want staff to own up to their end of the engagement problem and be trained to better engage her. I want staff to try to understand what she is thinking and why she is doing what she is doing when she is stimming. Otherwise, stopping “stimming behaviors” in a blind fashion will lead to worse behaviors and a child who feels powerless and misunderstood. When “behaviors” occur, I want all staff trained to see my child as a whole, and combine child psychology, behavioral strategies, OT techniques, and sensory strategies to help her. But that is just not the way the system works and I am not sure if it is a training issue as much as it is a mindset.

And these are the positives of the experience:

  1. I had an awesome home behaviorist and she had some good ideas. I will miss her. She encouraged me to weave intraverbal goals into play and throughout the day and that will be a big effort going forward.
  2. I learned we need to work harder on engagement and we need to work through some of the stim issues.
  3. Let’s just say my confidence in my homeschooling abilities is up. Way up.

Beginning Math Adventures on the Spectrum

I remember a little over 2 years ago when I started homeschooling Beth, I couldn’t wait to jump in and start working on math. She liked numbers. She even liked counting. I loved math. I even had experience in my college days, where I worked as a math tutor for adults who had learning disabilities. How hard could it be?

Boy was I in for a surprise. Teaching Beth math was harder than teaching Beth to read (see my previous post on reading here: http://wp.me/p2OomI-1jf) due to motor planning and visual scanning challenges and a puzzling prosody issue that sabotaged counting.

Rather than rehash the millions of things that failed, I am going to focus on what I finally figured out after endless hours of trial and error. This is not all-inclusive or it would be a very long post, but shown below are some of the methods and materials I used to help Beth achieve early math goals.

Counting and Number Recognition

I used a pocket chart for beginning counting because the numbers are bigger and easier to point to and are organized neatly in rows and the information is presented near eye level and vertically, which reduces the motor planning and visual scanning demand. After hours and hours of lightly touching her hand so that she would move over to the next number and coordinate counting with pointing and endlessly prompting her to find the beginning of the next row, this is where we are:

I would say the above is an exceptionally good clip. She usually makes the occasional coordination error moving from one number to the next or moving down to the next row, but for the most part she’s got it. So that means she knows her numbers 1-40, right?

Wrong. A few months ago I isolated the numbers using flashcards and realized she had a huge problem. She could not recognize numbers past 10 reliably. She tended to look at part of the number (e.g., would say “2” if she saw “12”) or had trouble visual scanning and reading a number from left to right (e.g., would say “21” if she saw “12”). In addition, we had some expressive language problems (or rigid stuck thinking problems?) with the teens, because she so wanted 11 and 12 to be “one-teen” and “two-teen.” Finally we had the problem if I worked on teens only or 20-29 only, for example, she would get stuck on what we just worked on and make a lot of expressive language errors. It was a mess. So while it looked as if she knew how to read numbers 1-40, she actually memorized the pattern on the pocket chart and was probably just looking at the last digit while she was reading off the numbers.

To address these issues, we used tactile cards (like sand paper cards, but softer texture http://www.amazon.com/Carson-Dellosa-Education-Textured-Touch/dp/B00D5T3EFQ/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1412284331&sr=8-5&keywords=1+to+30+tactile+cards) and I had her trace the numbers and say the names out loud. Also we practiced with flash cards or by reading random numbers from the pocket chart, and I had her drag her finger from left to right, much as we do with reading, to help her visually scan the numbers from left to right. For Beth, it is best to work on many numbers at once (at the very least 1-30) to prevent stuck expressive language and to review often (we do at least a weekly review). We have made a lot of progress, but as you can see from this video she still gets tripped up sometimes:

 

Counting to a Specified Number

The kid just would not stop counting! I would say, “count to 4″ and she would blow by 4 and continue on. I tried everything…holding stop signs, hand signals to stop, putting my finger on her lips, having her say “stop” or “shhhhh” after she reached the last number. Nothing worked…for YEARS. Then one day about a month ago I was so frustrated I started jumping up and down like a mad woman and being obnoxious about the way I counted. And…she stopped on the right number. It was miraculous. But why?

It turns out my kid has a prosody problem…she says all her numbers with the same tone and emphasis usually. Now try doing that yourself right now (no really reader, do this)…count to any number and try to keep your voice exactly the same even on the number you are supposed to stop at. It is hard to stop, isn’t it?  I think it is simply Beth cannot do naturally what most of us can do…inflect her voice on the number where she is supposed to stop counting. Here is a good example where I am holding up cards with numbers on it:

Now we are moving towards counting with counters and stopping. For years I thought she just wanted to fill out ten frames due to some sort of compulsion, but now we are making progress if we work on emphasizing the last number. Here is a video with a magnetic ten frame set  (http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Resources-Giant-Magnetic-Ten-Frame/dp/B00AQURHDW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412289533&sr=8-1&keywords=magnetic+ten+frame) and although you cannot see it in the video, there were 10 counters on the table and she stopped counting on her own:

 

Number Ordering

We tried number ordering exercises with the pocket chart, but even that was too much visual scanning and motor planning for Beth. My friend introduced me to these Lakeshore Learning puzzles for sequencing numbers and letters (http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C917%2C742&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1412289161487 , http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C928%2C517&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1412290502035,  http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C920%2C724&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1412289197133 , http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C920%2C723&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1412289211002). I was skeptical Beth would be able to do it, but because the motor plan is so easy (all work is 2D, just slide the pieces into place), it was a success. It was nice to know that she can order numbers after all with the right accommodation. In case you are wondering if she is just making the picture…no she isn’t. She doesn’t even look at the picture until the end so it is more like a reward. Referring to a picture while putting pieces of a puzzle together is still very hard for her, even after doing puzzles with her for endless hours.

 

Patterning

I am not familiar with the research supporting the need for it, but completing patterns is a common goal on IEPs. I guess it is some indicator of logic ability. Beth failed the patterning portion of the IQ testing for K, because the tester wanted Beth to pattern on a blank piece of paper (she needs at least boxes drawn in for placement), Beth wasn’t interested in the materials, and expressive language issues got in the way.

I have found that she absolutely must have boxes on paper or containers for placement and using very familiar favorite items that she has heard receptively in videos many times is helpful. It is crucial for her to say the items out load and to point to keep her focus and to keep track of where she is. It also helps Beth focus if she is guided to build the initial pattern. It is still hard for her, but it is possible with these accommodations. With more effort, I have been able to get her to pattern non-preferred things like colors and shapes, but getting that expressive language out is a lot harder for her. This Lakeshore Learning Patterning Tray works great (http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/product/productDet.jsp?productItemID=1%2C689%2C949%2C371%2C897%2C952&ASSORTMENT%3C%3East_id=1408474395181113&bmUID=1412287383169) for patterning manipulatives. I put her patterning tray on her slant board, which helps ease the visual scanning demand and helps with visual attention. In the videos below I used party confetti with her favorite Sesame Street characters and Halloween erasers from the dollar stores (she has a favorite Halloween video with ghost, bat, witch, pumpkin, etc so those words are easy for her). The erasers are great because they are thick and easier to pick up.  These videos show us working through AB patterning, ABC patterning, and missing items within a pattern:

 

Worksheets (Finally!)

This past summer we moved away from manipulatives and tried the first chapter of Go Math. Go Math is an example of curriculum that has a very nice layout for kids like Beth…not a lot on a page, clear boundaries between sections, and ten frame boxes for counting.  Accommodations would still need to be made if this program was used due to Beth’s language and motor planning/visual scanning challenges. For example, the word problems are too hard for her due to language issues, she would need magnetic counters because she uses a slant board and the counters were sliding everywhere, she would need to circle things rather than fill in or draw squares, she would need to use plain counter blocks instead of snap together blocks, sometimes I have to block off certain sections of the worksheets to help her focus, and I often use a sweeping motion over choices to help her visually scan. Counting with her finger by pointing and then picking up the pencil to write in numbers was a motor planning nightmare. So I prompted her to not put down the pencil and circle items to count them instead. When she writes numbers I try to give her a pass on writing…if it is legible at all I accept it because she tends to get frustrated with handwriting corrections. Here is a clip of a Go Math page: