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When I took my kids to see the 2015 animated film “Home” I was blown away. To me as a person who loves many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it seemed like the entire movie was a parable for what it’s like for kids with ASD as they attempt to navigate life.
The hook of “Home” is that aliens called the Boov invade Earth and relocate all human beings. As a species, Boovians are cowardly, antisocial, and strict rule followers. They avoid confrontation whenever possible. But Oh, the main character, is different from the rest of the Boov. He is eager to make friends and fit in, yet everything he does annoys his neighbors. When Oh tries his hardest to blend in, he sticks out the worst. The customs of his fellow Boov are foreign to Oh. They speak a social language he can barely understand.
Facial expressions also confound Oh. He doesn’t understand when another Boov is angry with him. When Oh attempts to make friendly conversation, he drives Boovians further away.
Despite his lack of social awareness, Oh is quite brilliant. He’s a mechanical genius, even by the advanced technological standards of his fellow aliens. Oh has a gigantic heart and proves himself to be a loyal friend.
Jim Parsons did an exceptional job voicing Oh and made him a loveable character in spite–and because of–his quirks.
As a former teacher, I think “Home” could be a great tool for classroom conversations because it could help neurotypical children empathize with students who have ASD. “Home” can also help children better understand relatives who have ASD which is an ongoing topic in so many households today.
Besides all that “Home” is entertaining too!
This is a hard post to write without sounding like a Tiger Mom. My daughter “Jenna” is 5-and-a-half years-old and reads at Guided Reading level D, which is roughly 1st grade. She is witty, articulate, cheerful and loves to draw. Jenna has been immersed in language since she was a baby and learned her letters and sounds by 20 months.
The thing is, my son “Bruce” was reading Harry Potter when he was five-years-old. With both kids I followed the same reading plan.
These past few months I found myself wide awake at 1 a.m. and wondering: “Am I doing something wrong? What is happening? Is this just a case of two kids being developmentally different?”
I understand about developmental difference. I taught K-4 for six years and saw it every day. Some kids learn at different rates and that’s okay.
But my “mom radar” kept telling me that something was odd and I couldn’t figure out what. Jenna has an abundance of natural intelligence and profound reading comprehension. With Bob Books however, she was hitting a wall. Even so, she was technically reading above grade level. For me to be worried about her progress made me feel like a scary Tiger Mom. I kept pushing my worry down and it stressed me out.
Then in piano Jenna hit another wall too. Her teacher was concerned because she couldn’t tell the difference between line and space notes. She’d keep Jenna on the same boring song for three weeks in a row and not let her move on. I knew that if I wrote the letters in clear handwriting next to each note, Jenna could play the entire primer book on sight. However, her teacher was not onboard with this accommodation.
So I did three things: #1 I canceled piano lessons, #2 I started teaching Jenna piano myself, and #3 I took Jenna for a complete vision examination.
To be clear, we don’t have vision insurance and that appointment cost $250. Basically, I scheduled it on a hunch. Something is wrong … I think.
As the appointment loomed on the calendar I had a lot of self-doubt. So many mothers would be thrilled if their kindergartener was reading slightly ahead of grade level. I on the other hand, was bothered that she wasn’t extremely ahead of grade level. What type of sick person was I?
Yet I had this nagging worry that wouldn’t go away and I was willing to spend $250 to put it to rest.
As it turns out, the eye exam revealed that Jenna is farsighted, both eyes see differently, and she has extreme difficulty tracking. The verdict? She needed prescription reading glasses ASAP.
When we got the glasses the change in piano was immediate. Jenna now loves to play.
Reading has been a bit slower but Jenna’s eyes are growing stronger each day. I purchased reading focus cards to help her track. We also use the cards and glasses when we do read aloud. I want Jenna to be able to focus on the words as I read them to her. She’s probably been missing out on this important learning opportunity for years because she couldn’t properly see the print.
No wonder her auditory reading comprehension is so high!
Another thing we are doing with renewed vigor is All About Spelling. We are on Level one Step 13. (Full disclosure, I am an AAS affiliate.)
The beauty of All About Spelling is that it is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. If you were to Google how best to help kids with dyslexia, the Orton-Gillingham approach is mentioned over and over again. I don’t think Jenna has dyslexia, but it’s interesting to note that if she did have some sort of processing disorder, we’re already using one of the best methods to help.
I’ve ordered the Level 1 readers that go with All About Spelling so that we can try something different than Bob Books. I love Bob Books, but Jenna is tired of them. I can see how Jenna might have developed an aversion to them since she has struggled to see the print this whole past year.
Which brings me to guilt. I have a lot of guilt that I didn’t recognize Jenna needed glasses earlier. I have guilt that I have been asking her to read each day and her eyes were hurting. When I look through her glasses I get an instant headache. I have guilt that my child was silently struggling and I didn’t understand why.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months. My primary focus is making “mom school” fun and doing a little bit each day in a systematic sequential way. Right now on February 25, 2015 Jenna is reading a Guided Reading Level D. Check back with me in June and let’s see what happens!
Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip, by Jordan Sonnenblick, is one of the funniest, sweetest books I’ve read all year. Yeah, it’s only February, but I bet if you ask me again in December I’ll say the same thing. If you know and love anyone with Alzheimer’s Disease, you’ve got to read this book!
The hook is that fourteen-year-old Peter is reinventing himself after a devastating baseball injury. His freshman year seems to hold promise after he teams up with a pretty girl named Angelika in photography. But at home, Peter watches his grandpa lose his memory bit by bit, and feels powerless to help.
I don’t know anything about photography so I can’t tell if those parts of the book were accurate or not, but the way the author portrayed Alzheimer’s Disease was spot on. It was perfect, absolutely perfect.
Thank you, Jordan, for writing this book, and thank you to Scholastic for publishing it.
Nobody in my family has SPD, but I did have a student with the condition. His mother had me read The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz, which really helped me become a better teacher.
I’ve been thinking about SPD a lot because yesterday my cast came off. Now I have two arms feeling two different things.
Just touching the skin on my left arm hurts.
A gentle breeze is extremely uncomfortable.
Lukewarm water feels hot.
I know that physical therapy will help with all of this. In the meantime, I’m getting a hands-on empathy lesson about SPD.
I only have one arm out of sync. I can’t imagine what it would be like living with your whole body feeling that way–or parenting a child who was dealing with that experience on a permanent basis.
Thankfully, there are resources available to help. Children with SPD usually qualify for Occupational Therapy through their local school districts starting at age three through IEPs.
In the classroom, teachers can help kids with SPD by:
- reading The Out-of-Sync Child
- providing fidget toys
- allowing weighted stuffed animals.
- adjusting the classroom thermostat if possible
- allowing access to quiet reading corners
- and more…
At home, parents can share the Beyond Play catalogue with grandparents. It will have lots of good ideas for Christmas and birthday presents. (I sound like I work for the company but I don’t.)
One final note. Children who are gifted can also sometimes have sensory issues, but usually not extreme enough to qualify for an official diagnosis of SPD. If this sounds like your child, click here for more information
Last October I was starting to freak out that my seven-year-old might have Dysgraphia. That’s how bad his handwriting was. We launched a full-on intervention at home which you can see in my Handwriting Solutions Pinterest board, and poof! Problem solved! Bruce doesn’t have great handwriting, but it is now average for a second grader. He does not have Dysgraphia after all.
The only component to our handwriting campaign that I haven’t blogged about yet is guitar.
I think guitar makes a big difference in handwriting, but I don’t know why.
Is it because of muscle tone? Or is there something going on at a neurological level? I have no idea.
Bruce’s guitar teacher told me of his own experience practicing guitar so much in his teens, that he actually became ambidextrous.
To me as a psychology major, that makes me wonder if the brain can be rewired. Can new synapses be formed? Can handwriting be healed through music instruction?
If I could wave a magic wand and start dolling out grant money I know exactly what I would want to do.
I’d love to see MRIs of neurotypical kids playing guitar, kids who have dysgraphia playing guitar, and the before and after effects of several months of intense guitar playing.
My final thoughts on handwriting issues and second graders?
Please don’t make them do more and more and more and more worksheets with letter formations. I don’t care if it’s D’nelian. I don’t care if it’s Handwriting Without Tears. Give them a break!
There are lots of ways to improve handwriting, without practicing handwriting.
That sounds crazy but it isn’t.
The Wild Book by Margarita Engle is a beautiful book for middle grade readers that tells the story of Fefa, who grows up in turn-of-the-century Cuba. Fefa struggles with a multitude of siblings, and also with “word blindness”, aka Dyslexia.
This is an extremely low word-count book, which makes it approachable for struggling readers. Written as a collection of poems, this novel tells a complex and engaging story.
The cover art by Yuyi Morales is absolutely beautiful. The Wild Book looks and feels like a regular middle grade novel. No middle school student would feel ashamed for having this book in her arms, even though it is a book about a tween’s struggle with Dyslexia.
I have never read anything by Newbery Honor winner Mararita Engle before, but she is now on my list of authors to check out. Well done Ms. Engle!
- Is this an issue of effort?
- Is this an issue of strength?
- Is this an issue of skill?
- Is this an issue of brain to hand function?
It’s been about three weeks since I started Afterschooling my son Bruce(7.5) in handwriting. (See here for more info.) The teacher in me was a bit freaked out because I was worried he might have Dysgraphia. That’s how bad things were. I saw this handwriting sample online of an 8 year old with Dysgraphia, and it looked very familiar.
Now, three weeks later, I’m not so worried, and I’ve got the writing samples to prove it!
Raised Lines Paper Narrow
Day 1 of Callirobics is on the left. Day 9 is on the right.
You can already see the difference, right? I can’t wait to see what Bruce’s handwriting looks like on Day 50!
I’m feeling a lot better that this is not a “brain to hand” issue. That would require professional intervention. But since we are just talking about effort, skill and strength, I can totally work with him on that at home.
But that doesn’t mean that some of the tools used to help children who do have Dysgraphia, wouldn’t be beneficial. So two things we are trying out are Mead RediSpace Transitional NoteBook Paper and Raised Lines Paper Narrow.
The Mead RediSpace paper is really frustrating to use.
Here’s what my handwriting looked like when I tried it. My penmanship is usually a lot better than that! Bruce hates this paper.
But I think it still has value.
You know how the stair machine at the gym is not very fun? It really hurts to be on the stair climber because your muscles are working so hard. That’s what this paper is like. It almost made my brain hurt because of all the tick marks. But those little boxes forced me to remember about finger spaces between words, letter size, etc. These are things Bruce needs to work on. So writing a letter to grandma on this paper once a week, is good exercise.
The Raised Lines Paper is a lot easier on the brain.
I wish I had taken a picture of Bruce’s handwriting on this, but that letter has already been mailed to Grandma. It was the best penmanship I’ve seen him produce in a long time. The raised lines gave his brain automatic feedback every time his pencil formed a letter. I’ve sent some to school with him to use on special projects.
It’s too bad this paper is so expensive!
…Which brings me to my moment of whining. I wish I had access to this paper when I was a teacher! I know lots of kids who could have really used it!
We have been doing some major Afterschooling work on Handwriting around here with my son Bruce(7). When I say “major” I mean six minutes a day of Callirobics, and as many fun fine motor activites as I can drum up.
It took me a while, but I finally found a gender neutral pot holder making kit. Bruce loves it! I need to go buy a refil kit of loops now.
In the meantime, he’s learning to latch hook. This is a lot harder!
P.S. If you haven’t already seen this, here are my thoughts on why pencil grips are like running shoes!
My kids and I read a really interesting book from the library today by local author Robin Cruise. It’s called Bartleby Speaks, and includes lively illustrations by Kevin Hawkes. Anyone who has ever read The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late by Thomas Sowell, will immediately recognize the similarities.
I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about the plot line of the book. It’s about a little boy named Bartleby who doesn’t speak at all until his third birthday, and then utters a complete phrase. It is implied that Bartleby will turn out to be neuro typical, and that in fact, his brilliant and creative family was just too noisy to really every listen to him. Both the author and the illustrator mention in the dedication and bios that they too were late talkers who turned out just fine.
I know children like Bartleby; late talkers who turned to be neuro typical. I can understand how a book like Bartleby Speaks would be really comforting to their parents. Plus, the book is well written and engaging.
My problem is, that I am also the family member of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. When I read this story to my daughter, I could almost feel the blood leave my stomach and go to my hand and feet. My body was physiologically going into a “fight or flight” response, because the thought of a two and a half year old not talking one single word makes me panic. It was a conditioned, involuntary response on my part, as someone who loves many people with Autism.
But I also sincerely believe that the author and illustrator had 100% pure intentions in writing this story. I don’t think they were trying to say that a real child who may or may not have ASD isn’t talking because their family is too noisy. I would have liked to see some sort of parents note linking up to Autism Speaks at the end of it, but I am still giving this book 4 stars.
I’m not normally an advocate of buying cheap junk from China, but I made a special exception when I saw these rubber balls at the dollar-spot at Target today. To the untrained eye they look like yet another object that’s going to float around the back seat of your car or annoy you when you are trying to vacuum. To a teacher’s eye, they are the perfect “fidget toy”. At a dollar a pop, they are also a steal.
When I taught K/1, our team wrote a special grant to buy toys like this. We kept them in a basket on the rug for circle time. Instead of calling them toys, we referred to them as “learning tools”. Every child was allowed to choose a learning tool when it was time to sit still and pay attention.
There is research to support that fidget toys help children with ADHD focus and attune. But if a teacher only has fidget toys available to the kids who really need them, then that can be stigmatizing. Having a basket of learning tools available to everyone is so much kinder.
You know, now that I think about it, having a few of these hang out in my car isn’t such a bad idea after all. That might be helpful for carschooling.
The CDC has come out with new data today showing that the rate of Autism Spectrum Disorder is now 1 in every 88 American children. For boys, the numbers are even worse. The research that was collected from 14 different data gathering places in 2008, says that 1 in every 54 boys has Autism. That’s a 78% increase in Autism in just five years.
As a family member, former teacher, and friend to people with ASD, I am just crushed. I know I should count my blessings and be grateful that my own children do not have ASD, but I am heartsick for all of the parents who are not so lucky.
My blog is apolitical by nature, and I’m not trying to change that, but what the heck? 1 out of every 88 Americans born today will have to struggle to learn how to do the simplest of things, like ask their mommy for a cup of apple juice, and that doesn’t concern the powers that be? You would think that this huge increase in Autism would be at the forefront of national security.
Who is going to take care of these children in the future? Who is going to pay for these children now? How are families going to manage? How are school districts going to manage? What happens if the problem gets worse? Why isn’t this front page news, every single freaking day?
What if these kids are the proverbial “canary in the coal mines” giving us a clue that something is terribly wrong with our environment, or our DNA, or (my MIL would say) our medical practices? When I think of my own experience of all of a sudden developing severe gluten intolerance in my 30s, I get even more freaked out. Is there something in our food supply? Was there something in our food supply when my mother was pregnant with me, or when my grandmother was pregnant with my mother?
My husband calls Autism “the black hole of conversation” in our family, because we can all talk about it for so long; spinning our wheels and getting more and more upset. So instead of doing that, I’m going to be proactive. I’m hunting down a blue light bulb so I can participate in Autism Speak’s Light It Up Blue day of advocacy on Monday April 2. I’m also going to open my wallet and make a donation in honor of my mom’s birthday. I wish I could do more.
Please note, this post is not about either of my children (at the moment) thank goodness!
I hope no parent reading this post needs this information, but in case you do I’m sending you a big blogosphere hug! Here is some education for you as a parent, about the tools an elementary school teacher has at her disposal to help a child who is having chronic behavioral issues. I’m writing them out in a continuum, from a starting disciplinary measure to the most extreme.
- Notes home (the teacher is probably saving copies)
- Calls home (the teacher is probably making a record of these in her file)
- Loss of recess (the teacher is probably keeping track of this too)
- Staying after school (not really done any more, in my experience)
- Moving seats
- An isolated seat
- A seat with a cardboard “office” around it
- Being sent to the office (some teachers do this as a starter step)
- A conference with mom and dad to set up a behavioral plan (this is when all of those notes the teacher has been keeping come out)
- Sending a child to a lower-grade classroom to “shame” them (I don’t like this option)
- Sending a child to an upper-grade classroom to “make them afraid” (I don’t like this option either)
- Sending a child outside the classroom door to work (doesn’t work in CA schools because of the open floor plan)
- In-school suspension
And Now For Some Out of the Box Ideas That Can Help…
- Recess –This should be obvious, bud sadly is not. Make sure the child gets to go outside and play!
- Stamp books— Make a little book by the child’s desk and stamp it every time you catch the child being good
- Tactile discs for kids to sit on –Sometimes this helps kids with ADHD focus
- A classroom microphone for the teacher — Research has also shown that this can help children focus
- Sending a child to a lower-grade classroom for a few hours to feel safe, clear his head, and take a breather
- Paying attention to low blood sugar issues.
- Sending a child to walk a labyrinth
- Providing fidget toys for children
- Providing “a cave” in the classroom for children to take a break in
- Figuring out the hot-button times for a child, and then asking the school district to consider providing a Para-educator, adult volunteer, or older student buddy for those time-periods
Finally, one of the symptoms of being a chronic know-it-all is that I love to offer help and advice. 🙂 If you would ever like to email me privately with specific situations or children in mind, I can be reached at teachingmybabytoread at gmail dot com.
My son Bruce has been taking swimming lessons these past couple of months, and while Jenna and I splash around in the “leisure pool”, and I try to get a bona fide workout in three feet of water, I have been people-watching. Two mothers in particular have really stood out to me.
One mother is bald and often wears a pink ribbon track suit. Sometimes her husband comes with her, and they sit together on the bleachers and watch their children swim. I’m sure that every other adult in the pavilion had noticed this mom, and probably sent up a private prayer for her. It is readily apparent that she deserves understanding and empathy because she is fighting for her life.
The other mother I have noticed also deserves compassion, but I think I’m probably the only person there who realizes this. Her fifth grader appears to be a total brat. The swimming teachers are really frustrated with this child, and he doesn’t have any friends. Sometimes he won’t even get in the water. When he does get in the water, he plays with the water in a really odd way. Instead of sitting on the bleachers chatting with the other parents or reading a magazine, this boy’s mom sits by herself, tensed up. At times, she has even come in her swimsuit, in case she needs to get in the water with her son if he causes problems. This mom might be worried that the other parents present think she is unfriendly and a bad parent. Probably a lot of the other moms are in fact thinking this. I however, am not. I’m not a Psychologist, but I’m pretty darn sure her son has some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The thing is, he is high functioning enough to seem “normal” to people who are unfamiliar with the many nuances of what ASD can look like. The other adults probably just think this kid is a jerk.
I wonder if the mom with breast cancer and the mom of the child with ASD have ever noticed each other, and if so, what they think of the other person’s circumstances. The mother who is bald might not ever have the chance to see her children grow up, but at least she knows that her children are neurotypical, and will be able to follow an ordinary path in life. The mother of the child with ASD might be with her son every day for the next forty years. She will have to forge ahead, and clear a path for her child through schools, swimming lessons, and ordinary living. But she will see her son grow up.
I wish there was some way I could help both of these mothers, beyond praying for them. I wish there was a way that I could tell both of them that I am noticing them, and I think they are both really brave. I wish I could give them both a shot in the arm of love.
Just Released from SENG!
This is the first time this video has been released for free on YouTube. I’ve read Dr. Webb’s book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders, and it was absolutely fascinating. Parenting aside, if you have any adult in your family who you believe might be gifted, you should read this book. I kept charting back my family tree and my husband’s family tree, and having “aha moments” at every turn of the page. I really feel like I gained new empathy for the people close to me, after learning about this.
We just got back from preschool story time at our local library, and it got my mind spinning in many directions. Jenna(27m) can sit through the half-hour story time curriculum for 3-5 year olds and participate like a champ. She pays attention, answers questions, makes meaningful connections when appropriate, and behaves like a come-to-life doll in just about every respect. I’m sure that when other library parents look at me they probably think, “That lady must be a good parent. Her daughter is a little angel!”
Taking Bruce to story time when he was little was a different experience altogether. He would do okay for the first ten minutes, and then get really bored by the level of material being presented. Sitting still, listening to the responses from his three-year-old peers, and not being able to share his obscure literary references were just too much for him. After a few attempts to make story time work, I finally gave up because I was positive the other parents were looking at me and thinking, “That lady must be an awful mother! Her child is sure acting like a brat.”
Parenting Bruce(6) is like trying to harness a racehorse every single day. The years pass and some challenges fade away, only to be replaced by new ones. The good news is that my son is now attending our school district’s gifted program and for the most part thriving. There are still lots of time when people look at how spirited he is and think I am a bad parent. But now people know he is “officially” gifted, and that helps a little bit with the judgment.
Speaking of judgment, I’ve only apologized to my mother-in-law about 100 times for thinking she was a bad parent every time I heard about the wild exploits of my husband’s youth. My husband and Bruce were both the types of two year olds you would have to pick up by the back of their overalls and physically remove from intense toddler situations, with both fists still flying in the air.
Jenna on the other hand, manifests her intelligence in entirely different ways than Bruce. Like me, she is very well behaved and eager to please. My parents claim I only ever threw two or three tantrums in my entire childhood. Growing up in the San Diego School District’s Seminar program, I was surrounded by a lot of gifted students with this same temperament: intensely articulate and curious children who were also well-behaved. But it seems that there was always at least one kid in every class who was the harnessed-racehorse type, like my husband and son.
At the library story time today there was a three year old girl who was this exact type. She was a thoroughbred filly, trying to attend story time with neurotypical children (and Jenna.) 🙂 This little girl kept interjecting, interrupting, offering suggestions, getting up to dance, and when she was allowed to speak, spewing forth long involved sentences that nobody could understand. Even our wonderfully patient and experienced librarian was at her wits end. To me it was like deja vu.
When story time was over I went up to the mother and offered my unsolicited opinion that her daughter should be tested for our district’s gifted program when she was in Kindergarten. The mom looked at me like she was about to cry. She said her daughter was in speech therapy and was being recommended for a developmental preschool. My teacher-ears perked up and I inwardly thought Asperger’s Syndrome? But then I asked her if she meant speech therapy for articulation of language delay. It turns out that the little girl just needed articulation help. It was no wonder, because this child was using high level vocabulary and sentence structure that nobody expects a three year old to have mastered.
So I told this mother, “Many people here might be seeing naughtiness but I’m seeing a child who is highly verbal, inquisitive, energetic, intense, and clearly bored with the material being presented because it is probably too easy for her. Those are all signs of giftedness.” That’s when the mom shared that her husband was gifted, and had been in gifted programs throughout his childhood. She didn’t know what to do about preschool, but was at her wits end. I suggested she look into Montessori, and that she check out Dr. James Webb’s book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders. (There is also a SENG article about this subject.) Then we said goodbye and she thanked me profusely.
Was this little girl gifted or not? I don’t really know. I’m just a non-qualified random stranger making an unsolicited assessment based on a thirty minute observation. But I am also a teacher, parent, and gifted person myself. Sometimes you just see a kid and know. The trouble is, I’m seeing “harnessed racehorse” but everyone else in the room is just seeing “brat”.
P.S. The metaphor between the gifted brain and a harnessed racehorse is something I first heard about at the 2011 SENG conference. Unfortunately, I cannot remember at which presentation, otherwise I would give proper credit where credit is due.