Homeschooling on the Spectrum, Post #5: Ladybugs and Bees

“1, 2, 3…4, 5, 6…7, 8, 9….10, 11, 12 Ladybugs came, to the ladybug picnic!” I introduced Beth to Ladybugs’ Picnic one day while reliving my 70s TV childhood via classic Sesame Street videos on YouTube. It was love at first viewing for Beth.

Since Beth has trouble slowing down to count while pointing or placing items, I thought an activity based on the Ladybugs’ Picnic video would be a fun way to work on counting. One idea lead to another and eventually we had a whole ladybugs and bees (with some other bugs thrown in) lesson.

Ladybug (and Bee) Math

Ladybugs’ Picnic Activities

I turned the 12 ladybugs in Ladybugs’ Picnic into a hands-on math activity. We made egg carton ladybugs, which was a fun and easy craft project ( and Then we used our bugs for sequencing and counting. If she lost interest during the math activity, I just sang the Ladybugs’ Picnic song and she regained her focus immediately.

Egg Carton Painted Red for 12 Ladybugs

Egg Carton Painted Red for 12 Ladybugs


Self-Stick Foam Spots and Self-Stick Wiggle Eyes (This one had an eye issue)

12 Ladybugs Made From an Egg Carton

12 Ladybugs Made From an Egg Carton

Ladybug Sequencing Activity

Ladybug Sequencing Activity

Ladybug Symmetry and Counting Activities

Google “ladybug math” and prepare to find tons of activities.  I chose the symmetry and leaf counting ideas from I found the black stones for the symmetry activity and painted wooden ladybugs for the counting activity at A.C. Moore craft store (you can check Etsy and Amazon for similar items). Note that putting wooden ladybugs in a bowl as shown in the picture below didn’t work out.  I had to hand Beth individual wooden ladybugs during the counting process (otherwise she just threw a bunch on the leaves and counted fast to a favorite number, which is usually 5 or 10).

Lady Bug Symmetry

Ladybug Symmetry Activity

Wooden Ladybug Counting

Wooden Ladybug Counting Activity

Bee Counting Activity

At this point, I decided to that we should study bees with our ladybugs.  Beth sometimes confuses where they live (hive), what they eat (flowers), and what they make (honey). Also, it is important to vary activities as much as possible, because Beth tends to get stuck on doing things one way.  So, I printed some hives off of Google Image (type in “bee hive printable” in Google Images) and bought some wooden bees at a local A.C. Moore craft store (you can check Etsy and Amazon for similar bees), and we did bee counting.

Bee and Hive Counting

Bee Counting Activity

An Introduction to Bees with Videos and a Collage

I backed up a bit after the bee counting and gave her a bee overview, starting with videos of bees. There are many videos about bees on Youtube. For example, this is a wonderful video showing bees making a hive:

Next I printed off several bee-related images from Google Images and we cut/paste a collage as an overall introduction to bees.


Bee Collage

Side-by-Side Ladybug and Bee Drawings

The Oak Meadow program showed me the value of drawing with Beth. We did simple ladybug and bee drawings together, where I drew on the right-hand side of a spiral sketch book and she drew on the left-hand side. Despite Beth’s attention and fine motor challenges, she was able to pay attention to this task because she is attracted to the movement of my hand as I draw. We first practiced on a roll of paper on our work table, and you can see the practice drawings in our ladybug sequence picture above (  I used no hand-over-hand, just demonstration, simple instructions, and pointing (draw a big circle, draw little circles inside, color in circles, draw a head, draw legs, draw wings like this (I demonstrate, then point on her drawing), draw an oval, etc).  The results are astonishing.  And it makes me think, why do we skip the step of drawing before writing with many special needs kids? Kids normally draw before writing, so in my mind it makes sense to do guided drawing before writing. Therefore, we will be doing mostly drawing, and some beginning letter writing, as we start this Kindergarten year.

Side-by-Side Ladybug Drawing

Side-by-Side Ladybug Drawing

Side-by-Side Bee Drawing

Side-by-Side Bee Drawing

Ladybug and Bee River Rock Painting

Beth is obsessed with walking on river rocks lately. It may be the sound the rocks make as she walks on them and they move against each other. It may also be an emotional connection to a past experience with river rocks, although I am unable to figure out the connection. Whatever the reason, they are a passion of hers and I decided that a popular kids craft, river rock painting, would be a nice addition to our ladybugs and bees lesson.

Walking on River Rocks

Beth Walking on River Rocks

To paint river rocks, I used river rocks form a craft store (I didn’t have ready access to some when I needed them), acrylic paint, and a clear acrylic sealer. Note that the craft store rocks seemed shined and we had problems with pealing after we were done.  Therefore I suggest using natural clean, dry, and rough river rocks, or you will need to do a surface priming on the craft store river rocks.

The trick was to help Beth slow down and create the likeness of the ladybugs and bees, since her tendency is to paint the entire surface. I used a few masking techniques  (with my hand or painter’s tape) and for the spots and wings a trimmed sponge brush and sponge worked best.  We practiced dabbing spots, making stripes, and sponging wings on paper before we dabbed on the rocks, and during the paper practice I taught her the language (dab, go down, one time, make spots, etc.).


Ladybug Rocks (first coat red already dry, ready to paint black head and dots)

Beth Paints Ladybug Heads (my hand is used as a mask for the rest of the rock)

Beth Paints Ladybug Heads (my hand is used as a mask for the rest of the rock)


Sponge Brushes (trim to a nub to use for ladybug spots and eyes)

Bee Rocks (painters tape used to mask when black is painted...let dry and pull off tape before making yellow stripes)

Bee Rocks (painters tape used to mask when black is painted…let dry and pull off tape before making yellow stripes)

Sponging Wings on Bee Rocks

Sponging Wings on Bee Rocks

Final Painted Ladybug and Bee River Rocks

Final Painted Ladybug and Bee River Rocks

Adventures with Ladybug Land

There were plenty of bees on flowers that I could show Beth this summer, but I tried in vain to find ladybugs. My solution was Ladybug Land. I dumped the larvae into their new home when they arrived.  As soon as I walked away, Beth had disassembled Ladybug Land and was washing it out in the sink. Most of them drowned, but I was able to rescue 4 from the bathroom floor and they made it from larvae, to yellow bugs, to mature red ladybugs. She was mildly amused as I let them crawl on her.  We will try it again next Spring, in addition to painting non-peeling river rocks for our garden!


Big Bugs at Morris Arboretum

As luck would have it, our local arboretum was having a giant bug sculpture display throughout their gardens.  One of the bugs was a ladybug, and the other sculptures were a great way to teach Beth about the overall bug category. The bug exhibit made me realize the value of incorporating the temporary exhibits at local gardens and museums into our lessons. She learns best by total immersion in a topic, and by syncing the exhibit content with our lessons it would prepare her for coping and understanding her environment better during the outing.

Ladybug Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Ladybug Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Grasshopper Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Grasshopper Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Spider Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Spider Sculpture, Morris Arboretum

Other Ladybug and Bee Activities

Throughout the 1.5 weeks we studied ladybugs and bees (and other bugs), I wove in other books and activities, such as these.

Favorite Books:

Ten Little Ladybugs (

Ladybug, First Discovery (

Ladybug Girl (

The Honey Makers (

Bee and Me (

Itsy Bitsy Spider (

Honey Bee Tree Game:

Honey Bee Tree Game

Honey Bee Tree Game

Bug Magnet Scene and Puzzle:




Homeschooling on the Spectrum, Post #4: The Sunflower Lesson

Beth hates libraries. It could be the lighting, the rows of books that aren’t perfectly placed, the large windows that show her the outside world she would rather be in, past negative experiences with story times, or many other things.  Unfortunately, her hatred of libraries is a bit of an issue since we homeschool and need a lot of books. To combat her library opposition, I launched “Operation Library.” Our mission was to get in, look at books very quickly, pick up a book or two, get out, and, over repeated visits, figure out strategies to help Beth tolerate library visits. During one library tolerance mission, Beth was not doing well, so I grabbed a couple of random books off shelves and escaped the situation as quickly as possible. And in a wonderful stroke of luck, one book I grabbed led to this lesson on sunflowers.

Camille and the Sunflowers

Camille and the Sunflowers ( is one of a series of art-inspired children’s books by author Laurence Anholt ( .  In Camille and the Sunflowers, the author weaved together a story based on Van Gogh’s paintings of The Roulin Family (, one of which was a painting of a little boy Camille, and Van Gogh’s paintings of sunflowers ( I had to boil the story down a bit for Beth because the book was meant for a higher grade level, but it kept her attention because she was attracted to the colorful illustrations and beautiful copies of Van Gogh’s paintings. By chance we have one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings near us at the Philadelphia Art Museum.  It was the same museum where I attended a fabulous temporary exhibit in 2001 called Van Gogh: Face to Face (, where I was lucky enough to see all the paintings mentioned in the book first hand. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to teach Beth about about art in a hands on way as preparation for an eventual museum visit? And that thought lead to our first experience in art appreciation (and much more) through a study of sunflowers.

Camille and the Sunflowers

Camille and the Sunflowers

The Hunt for Sunflowers

In an attempt to find sunflowers to study, we visited our local organic farm, Longview Farm and Market (  It is a wonderful organic farm with pick your own flowers, herbs, and fruit.  There is a store full of healthy foods and goods, animals to visit, and a variety of community activities that are offered on the farm throughout the year.

With Beth’s scissors in hand so she could practice her cutting skills on flowers, we made our way to the pick-your-own flower and herb garden.  The sunflowers were mostly dead because we visited so late in the season, but it gave me the opportunity to show Beth the seeds of the sunflower and have her a remove a few. Removing sunflower seeds was a great pincer grasp activity and seeing the seeds triggered another idea for the lesson, growing sunflowers from seeds (more on that later in the post).



Although the sunflowers were dead, there were plenty of other beautiful flowers.  Beth loved to smell and cut the flowers, and liked looking at the bees in the garden.

In the flower and herb garden area, there was a nice sized chicken coup with chickens of all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Beth learned that chickens scratch and peck to find food.  She also learned that their “cluck” or “bok bok” is too loud and sudden for her taste.  Moving on…

Longview Market and Farm has a wonderful natural-looking sand “box” with long-handled rakes, shovels, and hoes. What a fantastic idea! Since Beth hates sitting on the ground to play with sand, this was the perfect set up for her. She liked raking to make lines and pressing lines in the sand with the back of the rake.


We made our way to the market. Beth is enamored with our bathroom scale.  She loves to “look at the O” as she calls it. Which means she hops on our scale repeatedly and watches the dial move and eventually land back on zero. So she was definitely happy to find this large scale outside the farm store.


And inside the store we found sunflowers!  So we picked up a bundle for a gift and for our studies and stood in line to check out, which is generally a challenge for Beth.  But not to worry….


The store has apple cider slushies and cookies (including gluten-free and organic varieties) to help Beth wait in line.


We arranged the flowers in a vase to give to a friend as a housewarming gift, and we kept one sunflower so we could study it.


Sunflower Art

We first made drawings of sunflowers. For some reason, although it is well-known that drawing precedes writing letters (, most milestones charts I have seen for young children with developmental delays only lists drawing circles and lines as goals. Beth has been stuck drawing lines and circles for years and I did not know how to help her move on. The answer for us was to do side-by-side drawings, where I draw my representation of an object (in this case the sunflower) on one side and she draws hers on the other. I do some guiding by demonstrating while I draw my picture, pointing to areas on her page, moving my finger above her page to demonstrate strokes while I use language I know she understands (go around the circle, color the circle, go down, etc.). But Beth’s drawing involved no hand-over-hand and often she was making her own decisions and making purposeful strokes of her own creation. I plan to back off more and more in the guiding over time.


Next we made sunflower paintings like Van Gogh’s in the Camille and the Sunflowers book.  I wanted Beth to control the brush on her own, but without some guidance she would just paint the entire canvas one color.  I decided to use a two-step process, using a template for the circles and then filling in the other details after the circles dried.  We used cans to makes the circles, and I cut both ends of the cans with a can opener (I used this one which does not leave sharp edges  For each circle she made, I asked Beth if she wanted a small, medium, or large can.  When she answered, I gave her the can and she placed the can on the canvas.  I held it in place as she painted the canvas inside the can. This was a great hands-on way to work on the concept of small, medium, and large.




After the circles dried, I had Beth add yellow and orange petals around the circles.  It quickly became clear that dabbing paint or making small brush strokes around the circles was something new and challenging to her, so we practiced dabbing on a separate piece of paper and then returned to finish the paintings. Then I directed her to add the green stems by pointing where to start and instructing her to go “down” with her stroke. The paintings came out remarkably well!



Planting Sunflowers

It was late in the season to plant sunflowers, so I went to a high-end nursery and they had some seeds left (Lowes and many other stores were out of seeds). If you want to plant in a container, make sure to get the smaller sized sunflowers (there are several kinds, we planted the Teddy Bear variety).  My goal was to get something to sprout to show Beth the seed to sprout process.  If we get a sunflower eventually it will be an added bonus!

I had an unused plastic container, so we made holes in the bottom with a drill so that water could drain from the bottom. Beth is usually terrified of drills, so it was a big surprise that she came over to me while I was drilling and wanted to try it.


Next we added the soil and Beth liked ripping the tops off of the bags and scooping the dirt into the container.



But soon she realized it would take a long time to transfer all the dirt, so she started lifting the bag. It was not easy, but she persisted and was able to manipulate the heavy bag and dump its contents, as shown in the picture and video below.


Next we planted the seeds per the directions on the packet. We counted the seeds as we planted.  We covered the seeds, she watered them, then she helped me sweep some. I was shocked at how much she participated and how much she enjoyed it. We had tried gardening the last 2 seasons and we made little progress, but this year it was a success.  Then we watered and waited for a sprout.




From Seed to Sprout Activities

Four days later we saw a sunflower sprout! I remembered a poem from the book Read Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young (, and I read it to her as we looked at her new little sprout.IMG_4982


To reinforce the idea of growing a flower, we read From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons ( and did a sequencing cut-paste-color activity (

Sequencing Activity

A Nice Beginning

The sunflower lesson, which I consider our first lesson plan for Kindergarten, really resonated with Beth and it felt effortless and fun. Somehow it just all fell into place and we were able to incorporate nearly all subjects during the process. The successful lesson gives me confidence that we are heading in the right direction in our approach to homeschooling. And what is that approach? I basically teach Beth like I would any other kid, with some minor tweaks to help guide and hold her attention.

The Gaudi Bird House

Beth loves bird houses.  I have no idea why, but she notices them immediately in various stores and farms we visit, and she even comments “bird house” when she sees one. It is very rare for her to comment on anything, so that is quite remarkable.  I decided we should paint a bird house as a preschool art project since she seems to like them so much. I wasn’t sure if she would end up painting her hands or arms, as she usually does because she likes the sensation of paint and brushing on her skin, instead of the bird house. But I thought it was worth a shot. To my great surprise, she loved painting the bird house.

I let Beth chose the color of the paint (washable tempera), and of course she chose her beloved blue. She carefully covered the entire birdhouse. After we let it dry, I decided she should paint the bird house several times (letting it dry in between coats) since she enjoyed the process so much. I wanted to see if she would paint colors other than blue.  I was surprised again that she has expanded her acceptance of colors to those other than blue. Coat number 2 was orange, coats number 3 and 4 were purple, and coats number 5 and 6 were yellow.

Pictured below is the purple coat of paint. I gave her a bottle cap glued to a sponge to apply the paint, because if she held the bottle cap portion it kept the paint off her hands long enough to apply a coat of paint to the bird house (when she gets paint on her hands, she loves the feeling so much she only focuses on the paint on her hands and forgets about the painting project).


Unfortunately she ripped the bottle caps off the sponges, because she felt they didn’t belong there (they belong on bottles of course !).  So we used a brush for later coats. Luckily, since she really enjoyed painting the bird house, she applied a coat to the whole house with the brush before she would start brushing the paint on her hands. Here is a picture of a yellow coat on the bird house:


I joked on my Facebook page that with all the layers of paint it looked like a Gaudi bird house (for more on the artist Gaudi, click here I have been lucky enough to travel to the beautiful country of Spain and have seen Gaudi’s works. I love how he combines nature with modern art. My favorite Gaudi work is the Park Guell, with its intricate mosaic benches:

Inspired by Gaudi, we took the project to the next level and added mosaic nature tiles to the bird house (we used Elmer’s glue to adhere tiles from A.C. Moore to the bird house…the tiles were similar to these on Amazon I had Beth brush glue on to the back of the tiles and then press them on as shown here (she had a little help from my mom, who held the tiles a little longer if they started sliding after Beth placed them):



I had to keep her moving quickly through the project, because she loves to taste the glue and stick her hands together with the glue. But Beth really seemed to enjoy the process of putting the tiles on and I discovered her glue preoccupation has calmed a lot compared to a year ago. Also, she held the tiles with three fingers and then used her thumb to press the tiles on to the bird house. This is a fine motor movement I have never seen her do before.

So, here is our finished Gaudi bird house. It is hanging under Beth’s favorite tree and waiting for its new inhabitants!


A Light Box / Light Table for Sensory Play

As I wrote in previous posts ( and, Beth is really doing well with the iPad.  Her attention to the device is amazing, especially since she only fleetingly pays attention to anything and anyone in the real world.  Is it due to the backlighting of the device?  Maybe.  I couldn’t find a lot of research on the topic, but light boxes and light tables are often used to increase attention spans of special needs students in special education classrooms.  Even if playing on a lighted surface does not greatly increase Beth’s attention span, light boxes and light tables are just plain fun.  So, after a lot of research on light box/light table options, my husband and I decide to make a light box for Beth.

In the blog post below and on my Pinterest site (, I summarize commercial light box and light table options, do-it yourself light box and light table options (including our version, a tall light box), and commercial and home-spun ideas for play activities.

Commercial Light Box and Light Table Options

I listed several representative commercial light boxes and light tables on my Pinterest site (

A relatively cheap commercial option is an arts and crafts light tracer box, which is a device used for stenciling and tracing. These devices start at about $35-$40 (U.S. dollars) for a 10 x 12 inch working surface:

Commercial Tracer Light Box (,

Commercial light boxes, light panels, and light tables for children, used in special needs classrooms or for play in typical classrooms, are more expensive ($120 and up):

Commercial Light Box (

Commercial Light Panel (,

Commercial Light Table (

Do-It-Yourself Light Box and Light Table Options

I want a light box or table with a large surface area for play, but I don’t want to spend a lot of money.  Fortunately, some ingenious people have developed cheaper do-it-yourself (DIY) options for light boxes/light tables.  On my Pinterest site, I list several representative pictures of DIY light boxes and light tables (  Click on the pictures and you will be taken to the building instructions.

In general,  the DIY options on my Pinterest site fall into two categories:

1.  A plastic storage container with a clear top:


2.  A wood table or wood box with a top made of an opaque white acrylic sheet:

The advantage of number 1 is it is cheap and easy.  The advantage of number 2 is the opaque white acrylic top provides for more even distribution of the light than most storage containers, although the storage container shown above from IKEA gives a nice distribution of light through the top.  Another advantage of number 2 is that the child can stand and play at the table.

Since we want an easy DIY option, a large play surface, a tall light box for my child to stand and play with (she has trouble sitting for extended periods), and even distribution of light, my husband and I decided to combine number 1 and number 2 above.  We put an opaque white acrylic sheet on a tall storage container.

Our Do-It-Yourself Tall Light Box

1.  Materials

a. A tall, large storage container

We used a grey 30 gallon Sterilite container purchased from Walmart. Its dimensions are 32 x 20 x 17 inches in length, width, and height, respectively.

If you want to make a light box like ours and you can’t find this exact one, you container should ideally have the following:

  • Opaque material, so that light does not escape from the sides
  • Light in color to maximize reflection of light off the walls so that more light goes to the top of the box
  • A lid with a good design for attaching the opaque white acrylic sheet (i.e. flat and sturdy lid, easy to cut a hole into it).

Price: $5-8

b. One-hundred holiday lights

We used LED lights because they are efficient and do not produce much heat.

Price: $15

c. Opaque white acrylic sheet for the top

Our sheet is 27.5 x 16.5 inches, 1/8 inch thick, and 54% transmission (see suppliers at the end of this post). We bought a piece of acrylic that is the exact size we needed, because acrylic cracks easily if cut with standard tools.

Price: Depends on size and if prefabricated or custom cut (for approximately our size, $25-$30)

d. Other

  • Tape to attach the lights to the bottom of the container (we used electrical tape)
  • A drill and jigsaw to cut a hole in the container top and to cut a hole for the electrical plug.
  • Glue (we used Gorilla Glue) to attach the opaque white acrylic sheet onto the container lid.
  • Optional: Silicone (we used pure silicone used on aquariums) to seal between acrylic sheet and container.

Price: $0 if you use materials on hand and borrow tools you do not have.

Total Price: About $50 if you buy everything new.  But if you take advantage of store sales and garage sales, and use materials you already have, this total can be much less.

2. Procedure


Container, Before Picture

  • Put weights in the bottom of the container for stabilization during play (i.e. books or bricks).

Books in the Bottom to Stabilize

  • Drill holes in a line to make an opening big enough for a jigsaw blade, and use a jigsaw to cut a hole in the box for the electrical plug.

Hole for Plug: Drilling to Make an Opening for the Jigsaw Blade


Hole for Plug: Cutting with Jigsaw

  • Drill holes in a line to make an opening big enough for a jigsaw blade, and use a jigsaw to cut a hole in the top slightly smaller than the opaque white acrylic sheet.

Hole in Lid: Cutting with Jigsaw

  • Put the lights on the bottom and tape them down.

Lights Taped to Bottom of Container.

  • Glue the opaque acrylic sheet to the container lid.  Optional: Seal with pure silicone used in aquariums.


  • Optional: Add a plastic box to the top for finger painting and other messy play.

Here is our finished product, the Tall Light Box:


Playing with Light

There are about 100 ideas I want to try with the light table.  For example, building with commercial magnetic tiles and playing with colored salt:

Clear, Colored, Magnetic Acrylic Tiles for Building,

To help sort through the ideas, I have compiled representative lists of commercial toys and home-spun ideas on my Pinterest site:

Beth is an oral sensory seeker (i.e. she likes to lick and eat things, even non-food items and things that taste horrible to most people), so many of the ideas listed on my Pinterest site may not work out.  Also, getting Beth to engage in play is very difficult.  So, it will be interesting to see where light table exploration leads.  Cross your fingers for us, and we will keep you posted on our light table adventures.

Opaque White Acrylic Suppliers:




Blue Paint

“Want to dooo bluuuue paaaaaint!” I have heard my daughter Beth, who is almost 5 years old, make this request hundreds of times. I grab a role of paper towels from the kitchen, roll up my sleeves, and head to the den where her much-loved and often-used easel sits.

We start the well-established paint process. “Okay, what do we need first?”, I say to Beth. “Your smock!”, she says excitedly. I prompt her to reverse the pronoun and she exclaims, “My smock!” I help her put on the smock and help her to ask for the brush and paint cup. Then I ask, “What color paint do you want? Red, blue, or green?”  “Green,” she says. I stop dead in my tracks. For 2.5 years the answer has been blue, so the answer green comes as a great surprise.

I repeat the paint choices in a different order and, again, she chooses green. Wow, she is finally starting to move on from blue paint. Like every parent, I feel a mixture of excitement, pride, and sadness at a milestone achievement. But unlike many parents, because Beth has autism, some of the milestones I celebrate are a bit different than the norm.

To mark the milestone, I decide we must make a painting that I will call “Homage to Blue Paint” to capture this bit of her childhood before she moves on completely. I have had this painting in my head for about a year. I want it to show Beth being herself, my expectations of parenting Beth, and the merging of my neurotypical world with her autism world. It sounds complicated, but it is simply one part Beth, one part me, with overlap in the middle.

Beth’s Part of the Painting

I decide to let her go at it in a way that I never had before, with the only rule being she cannot ingest the paint. One thing is for sure, there is going to be one hell of a mess to clean up when we are finished.

After masking off my portion of the canvas, I duct-taped the canvas to Beth’s easel. She starts by rubbing and kissing the canvas, because the texture is new to her:

Kissing and Rubbing the Canvas

This behavior is no surprise to me. While most kids use their sense of sight primarily, Beth also explores things orally (she mouths and licks things), by touch, and by sound (for example, rubbing the canvas makes a sound). Looking at something is just not enough for her to understand it fully. For her, painting is a whole-body, all-senses experience. When Beth paints, she also likes to repeat words and phrases and sometimes she flaps or rubs her hands, jumps up and down, or rocks back and forth. Never is Beth’s sensory exploration, also referred to as sensory-seeking behavior or self-stimulatory (stimming) behavior or perseverance behavior, more apparent than when she is painting. Some would say that Beth is engaging in self-stimulatory behavior without purpose, and so painting should not be encouraged. But I know from experience that painting makes her happy, relaxes her like nothing else, and it can be used as a teaching tool.

When I give Beth the paint brush and blue paint, she goes right at it:

It may be hard for you to understand her words in the video above, because Beth’s speech is not very clear today.  What she is saying in the clip is: “Paint on the easel” (something I used to say to her over and over so she wouldn’t just paint her hands), “Mommy paint” (I sometimes paint with her, just for fun or to teach her new things), and “there we go” (something I say when she is doing a good thing, like painting on the easel instead of her hands). So, when I let her paint however she wants, she talks about me and what I say her. That is a surprise.

An even bigger surprise is this:

I taught her to make circles with paint in previous painting sessions. Today she decides she wants to do them on her own. In fact, the circles ended up being the primary feature of her part of the painting. I expected random, but I got circles.

Another thing Beth does is sing:

Was the song choice an accident? I don’t think so. She is happy, so she sings “Happy and You Know It.” She does this a lot, seemingly random vocalizations thrown into the ether, which, if you listen carefully and think of things from her point of view, have meaning.

Towards the end of the session (about 45 minutes later), Beth says things I do not understand, paints her arms, squishes paint through her hands (I believe she likes to hear the sound it makes, in addition to feeling and looking at the paint), and feels the stickiness of the paint on the cardboard beneath her feet:

Is she totally in her own world at this point? Or do I just not understand what she is whispering? I’m betting I just don’t understand. But I hope to understand everything she says some day.

Mom’s Part of the Painting

I remove the mask from my portion of the canvas. The plan is to put Beth’s hand prints on my side in primary colors, and have some of the hand prints overlay on her blue paint portion. The only difficult part is getting Beth to spread her fingers apart and keep them apart while I help her make the imprints:

By the end of my portion of the painting, the kitchen was a multi-colored mess, but it was well worth it. Beth seemed to enjoy making the hand prints once she got the hang of it. Her enjoyment is something I should have anticipated, since she is fascinated by the multi-colored hand prints along the wall at music class.  This is one of those rare occasions when I expect that teaching her something will be difficult, and it turns out to be easy and fun.

The Finished Painting

Homage to Blue Paint

Here are my thoughts as I stand back and look at the painting…

On the left is Beth being Beth, painting with only blue paint, using her paint brush, hands, and even her arms to apply paint. Beth’s side turned out to be more connected to me than when I conceived of the painting, because of her use of circles that I taught her to make. I think the circles are definitely a willing and enjoyable choice Beth makes for her painting. But it occurs to me that when I use art as a teaching tool, I must do my best not to spoil her spirit.

On the right is what I thought painting with my young child would be, an expectation I had even before she was born. I imagined a typical preschool art project, with perfect little hand prints in various colors. It makes me smile that Beth actually liked making the hand prints.  I fulfilled a dream after all, even if it is a silly dream in retrospect.

The middle represents where we meet: her child-like free spirit meets my rigid adult conformity, blue paint meets the typical preschool hand prints, her autism meets my neurotypical. The middle is us trying to relate to and understand each other in the best way we know how.

I will hang the painting in our living room. As a reminder of how, even though we are very different, we can learn from each other and share our worlds. The painting will also remind me that the end game is not to have Beth be like my side of the painting. The goal is to somehow teach her about my world, while being mindful that she has the right to hold onto her own spirit and uniqueness.