Wednesday, November 29, 2006
To give parents with struggling writers hope, I thought I would post a snapshot of Pamela's studied dictation of Tennyson's Cradle Song from yesterday. She wrote this on regular filler paper with lines spaced 3/8 of an inch apart. Compare the neatness and legibility of her handwriting today to her shaky capital letters of nine years ago.
One point of studied dictation is to show one's best efforts in penmanship, spelling, grammar, etc. This is a sample of her handwriting at its neatest. Pamela only made three minor errors: she left out a comma, capitalized then, and wrote she rest. I corrected her work in purple ink, and today's grammar lesson covered noun-verb agreement. Today's studied dictation had only one error: she misspelled 'til.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
After the lesson, the high schoolers were going to play a quick game that required two teams. The teacher selected the captains. Usually, Pamela and I— as her aide in social settings—are often picked last for two reasons: she is the new kid on the block and is the only homeschooled teen at our church, except for her brother. One of the team captains has only recently started attending youth. I was shocked that he picked Pamela as his second choice out of about twenty potential candidates. If the teacher put him up to it, it was not obvious for he did not act wishy-washy. He pointed to us and blurted out in his brash way, “I want you two on my team!” While we waited for the other captain to pick, he gave Pamela a high five.
Our team captain named us the purple parrots, had us huddle, and revved us up with a pep talk. We each put a hand in the center and chanted, “Purple parrots,” before heading out to the competition. In the relay race, a teammate must don yellow rub gloves (fingers and thumbs filled), clap once, and hand the gloves to the next person in line.
The purple parrots lost the relay, but we had the most spirit. The way in which the captain welcomed Pamela made me feel like a white dove had hoisted the colors of peace over our team. I will store that treasure in my heart for times when the world slaps us with a spirit of confusion rather than that of kindness.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Homeschoolers have many opinions of what penmanship program is the most effective. Some prefer the traditional ball and stick concept because what the child writes matches the kind of text they seen in print. I believe Handwriting without Tears is one of the best programs in this category (backed by research). Her teacher’s guide includes tips for avoiding letter reversals, which is one of the cons mentioned by those who prefer other methods. Pamela struggled to learn curves and found Jan Olsen’s minimalist style with few curlicues and flourishes easier to master. Other homeschoolers prefer italics like Getty-Dubay or D’Nealian because of an easy transition to cursive, reduced number of pencil lifters, and smaller potential for letter reversal. Programs for language delayed children like the association method start with reading print, but writing with cursive to focus the child upon whole words. One creative friend let her son pick letters he likes the most by comparing them at sites like Educational Fonts: he prefers a blend between Getty-Dubay and D’Nealian.
We spent the first half of Pamela’s second year as a homeschooler practicing the formation of capital letters following Handwriting without Tears’ wet-dry-try method on a slate with a piece of chalk and sponges. My kids, the super-smash siblings, broke the slate before Pamela had mastered her capitals, so I improvised by taping a border with electrical tape onto a dry erase board. One advantage to this innovation was that I could gradually make the box for writing capitals smaller and smaller as Pamela’s control improved. I could also spell words on the dry erase board by taping several boxes. Four months may seem a long time to practice capitals off paper, but Pamela’s first efforts on paper in January of that school year show how difficult she found writing legibly.
Thanks to our sabbatical from writing and Blues Clues, Pamela had made friends with markers. When we reintroduced writing letters on paper, three strategies helped her learn to write legibly. First, because she had a tendency to press too hard with pencils, we started her off with markers in January and transitioned to pens in April. Had gel pens been available, I would have tried those before ballpoint pens. Second, she had difficulty writing with small print, and I later learned macrographia was common for children with autism due to differences in their cerebellums. The blocks in Handwriting without Tears’ gray block paper were too small, so I made copies with enlarged images until I found a block size successful for Pamela. As her control improved, she worked her way down to the regular-sized blocks for letters she had mastered, but still needed enlarged blocks for new letters. Third, Pamela wrote with greater ease in the vertical plane, so we started her off with writing on paper taped to the refrigerator. Then we transitioned to a slant board, which is very expensive. Nancy Kashman told me how to make them out of thick three-ringed notebooks. As her writing improved, I gave her thinner and thinner notebooks until she could write on a horizontal plane.In the second half of that year, we had daily writing lessons of less than fifteen minutes. Like Charlotte Mason, Jan Olsen recommends short lessons. She puts letters in order of strokes, and Pamela practiced those with starting lines that begin in the upper left corner of a block and flow down to the lower left corner. Pamela did well with straight lines and letters with one large curve, so I had her write DEFHLK only once. We practiced her challenging letters first on the dry erase board and followed up with several repetitions of PRB on paper, especially B. She learned M and N next.
By February, she had learned all the starting letters with a vertical line going down from the upper left corner. Pamela showed signs of being able to print small letters. In February, we worked in letters with starting points in the center of the top edge of the gray block. We choose A first so that Pamela could spell her first name! Then we covered other center starters IJ and those that start in the upper left corner, but go in other directions TVWXYZ.
In March, Pamela was ready for curved letters like COQ, but needed the enlarged gray block paper at first. Then she learned GSU.
By April, Pamela could write the entire alphabet in capital letters and her first name on the gray block paper. We introduced two new things: writing with a pen and numbers (on the enlarged gray block paper).
In May and June, I assigned extra copywork on primary tablet paper with a seasonal theme.
Pamela’s final paper at the end of the school year was far from perfect. Although she understood catchy little phrases from Handwriting without Tears like “bump the bottom,” Pamela never really mastered perfect control. Her lines strayed outside of the gray blocks and her straight lines sometimes wavered.
Even today, after years of practice, she does not perfectly execute her letters. I keep in mind three soothing thoughts: Pamela enjoys writing and does it in her free time! Her writing is large, loopy, but legible. Some children in the autism spectrum have dysgraphia and struggle to write anything. We are blessed Pamela can write as well as she does.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
I made two kinds of gf/cf pie: a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie. For the pumpkin pie filling, I follow the directions on the back of a can of Libby's 100% pure pumpkin, substituting coconut milk for evaporated milk. For the pecan pie filling, I follow the directions on the back of the Karo light corn syrup bottle for classic pecan pie, substituting coconut milk for butter. For the shell of each, I made a pecan nut crust. For one shell, grind up about 1 1/2 cups of pecans with 1/4 cup of gf/cf flour (I used sorghum) in a food processor or blender until you have a fine meal. I poured the meal into a bowl. I boiled water, added one tablespoon of hot water to the meal, and mixed it together. Because the meal did not form a ball, I kept adding a tablespoon of hot water and stirred until a ball formed. I oiled a pan and pressed the meal into a pan with a small pizza dough roller to smooth out the shell. I added the filling and baked as prescribed in the recipe.
I made mashed potatoes by boiling four peeled and cubed baking potatoes and a head of peeled garlic. Once they were soft, I mashed the potatoes with a mixer and added salt and olive oil to taste. They were not as fluffy as those made with butter and milk, but very tasty. My mother made a standard gravy out of cornstarch, stock, and salt.
I made both two half loaves of cornbread, one for cornbread and one for stuffing. To make a loaf of cornbread, I mixed the dry ingredients in one bowl (1 1/2 cups cornmeal, a half cup gf/cf flour--sorghum, a teaspoon sea salt, and a tablespoon gf/cf baking powder) and beat the wet ingredients in another bowl (two tablespoons honey, two eggs, 1 1/4 cup coconut milk, and two tablespoons oil). I added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stirred gently. Then I poured the mixture into an oiled 1.5-quart loaf pan and baked in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes.
I baked a typical Southern style of cornbread stuffing. I chopped two stalks of celery, half an onion, and four ounces mushrooms and sautéed it in olive oil. At the last minute I added two tablespoons of minced garlic to the sautéed mixture so it would not burn. I chopped half a cup pecans and two boiled eggs. I cubed a half loaf of cornbread. Then I mixed it all together with three eggs and my favorite stuffing seasonings (thyme, marjoram, and sage). I added several cups gf/cf chicken stock until the mixture was moist. I poured it all in an oiled dish and baked it in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until the top looked crusty.
Pamela's special diet, which brought about tremendous improvement in her quality of life, reminds me of a person for whom I am thankful and whom I never met. That is Dr. Bernard Rimland. His newsletters gave me all kinds of wonderful ideas for helping Pamela, and I still look up information to this day. He died on Tuesday and that is a great loss to the autism community.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
In hopes of helping Pamela catch-up with her peers, her teachers pushed too much writing before she was developmentally ready for it! Pamela had not mastered the fine motor skills expected of a preschooler by the age of six. She did not enjoy scribbling and showed absolutely no interest in drawing, and yet her teacher sent home worksheets for her to practice writing like the one pictured here. Whenever I pulled out paper and something with which to write, Pamela let loose a series of piercing screams to show her dismay!
Fortunately, I “met” another homeschooler with an autistic child online—this was in 1994 and such a creature was rare in cyber space. She encouraged me to take a sabbatical from writing and focus upon pre-writing skills to reduce Pamela’s frustrations. My cyber mentor gave me tips from the National Academy of Child Development for assessing her dominance, lateral abilities, and writing readiness. Another homeschooler with an autism child has recorded her experience with NACD in Too Wise To Be Mistaken, Too Good To Be Unkind.The first problem I identified with my cyber mentor’s help was dominance, or lack thereof. Pamela appeared to be ambidextrous, never having developed hand preference. My friend suggested I check Pamela’s eye, ear, and leg for dominance by observing her preferences in different situations. The ideal is for all three plus the hand to share dominance on the same side. Pamela showed preferred her left side in every part. They all matched, which emboldened me to promote her left hand. As both of her grandfathers are southpaws and people with autism have a higher rate of left-handedness, I was not surprised. Within six months, Pamela became a strong leftie, confirming my suspicions that her Special Education teachers had been forcing her to be right handed. Apparently, many southpaws have experienced problems from inconsiderate teachers!
The second issue I addressed was hand and finger strength. While today many wonderful products are on the market for developing this skill, they were hard to find back in 1995. Back then, stress balls were rare, and the Koosh ball fad had bypassed the Glaser house. The Internet, in its infancy, was devoid of articles with tips on strengthening the fingers and hands of preschoolers or winter fun! I had Pamela play with clay, squeeze sponges and pick up little toys with tongs and with clothespins. We spent time at a playground near our home because climbing equipment develops finger strength among other things.
Pamela’s third challenge involved crossing the midline and alternating feet going up and down the stairs. We did numerous exercises to improve coordination, much like what is available today through Brain Gym. For two years, we got on our hands and knees several times a day, crawling with various patterns. We played handclapping games like Say, Say Oh, Playmate and worked our way up to Miss Mary Mack. Pamela sat at a table, took objects from one side of a mat, and placed them in a bowl on the other side of the mat, one at a time. She did this for each side and eventually learned to do this by alternating hands. She learned to do various knee touching patterns as well and walked the stairs in our apartment complex every day.
We played hooky from any form of writing for an entire year, and Pamela slowly lost her phobia of writing. While I retreated from writing on paper, we worked in letter awareness in other ways. Ironically, Pamela was already reading, so recognition was not an issue. I had to find some way to introduce motor plans for making letters without having the stress of pencil and paper. Sensory Integration resources like The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun did not exist, but my friend and occupational therapist, Nancy Kashman, gave me wonderful ideas for blending sensory integration and pre-writing activities like the following:
- Scribble and draw with crayon stubs as a natural way to encourage pencil grip and strengthen finger muscles.
- For kids not interested in scribbling, buy coloring books with their favorite cartoon character—the key is to scribble with a stub, not to color perfectly within the lines.
- Pick up small objects hidden in dry beans and rice and match with magnetic letters.
- Draw letters with finger, paintbrush, or stick in shaving cream on a tray, fingerpaint, pudding, sand, etc.
- Draw letters in the air.
- Experiment with differently sized crayons and pencils with and without pencil grips.
- Peel the paper off crayons if the texture is bothersome.
- Make available supplies and toys for writing with different media like Magnadoodle, sidewalk chalk, markers, dry erase board and markers, Handy Dandy Notebook, etc.
- Borrow from Maria Montessori and make your own sandpaper letters or buy tactile letters.
- Buy materials focusing on letter formation: wooden letter pieces with letter cards, dough letters, stamp screen, etc.
Homeschoolers often worry about documenting progress and providing paperwork for the state. During our sabbatical from writing, I discovered different ways to document knowledge without loads of writing:
- Allow him to type (some find typing easier).
- For stories, have her dictate to you or into a tape recorder; you or an older child can type or write by hand.
- Develop worksheets in which he marks or points to the answers.
- For math, have her tell you what to write.
- Encourage him to draw.
- For sequencing in math, science, history, etc., place the information on separate index cards and let her sort.
- Let him set up the scene with blocks, toys, Legos, etc.
- Let her dramatize alone, with stuffed animals, or with other children the plot of a story.
- Take pictures of or film any of these if you must have documentation.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
- Beginner writers find writing on a vertical plane much easier. I started my children with a dry erase board mounted on the refrigerators with magnets.
- In Handwriting without Tears, a dry erase board worked better than a handheld slate, which broke! Some kids dislike the feeling of chalk dust, and they avoid fingernails scratching on a slate.
- When we first introduced narration, I wrote keywords and character names to which the children might want to pay attention. As each child narrated a keyword, I recorded a brief summary to give Pamela visual reinforcement.
- We recorded the schedule for the day on the dry erase board. If we were out and about, it was easier to carry and harder to lose than handwritten notes. If our plans changed, we updated it on the board.
- When Pamela did not understand the need for whispering in a group setting, we would "talk" by writing on the dry erase board. She also quietly entertained herself with it.
- Pamela has to copy questions and sentences in cursive for speech therapy (the association method). I write them on a dry erase board to avoid wasting paper.
- You can document any work done on a dry erase by taking photographs as I did in the following picture:
The most recent really cool, life-saving, self-help, low-tech tip came from my email list, Aut-2B-Home. One mother solved the problem of missing spots during tooth brushing by rinsing with Listerine Agent Cool Blue Mouthwash as directed. The rinse reveals the presence of plaque much like those pink, chewable tables did for me in school when I was a little girl. This visual cueing solved Pamela’s spotty tooth brushing habits overnight!
Sunday, November 12, 2006
When Pamela was younger, she had no hints of ever developing savant skills. She did not seem to have a flair in math, music, art, or anything. When she was twelve, she became interested in calendars and began researching them on the Internet. She memorized all fourteen kinds of calendars: seven leap years (starting on Sunday, Monday, etc.) and common years (starting on Sunday, Monday, etc.). Then she learned what years go with each kind of calendar. For several years, Pamela has been writing notes like these:
I have about three reams worth of calendar pages like the ones shown here. Pamela wrote all of the pages in today's blog entry last week. Eventually, Pamela branched into learning the Chinese astrological signs too.
Friday, November 10, 2006
When I was one,One thing I love about living ideas is how they spill into other parts of our life. Today Pamela mastered her first lesson in multiplying fractions (Level 5 of Making Math Meaningful). She struggled with math when she was younger and highly concrete in thinking skills. Now that she is more able to handle abstract ideas and logic, she picks up new concepts more quickly. Pamela caught onto her introduction to mutliplication of fractions quickly. I recognized her efforts by saying she was "clever as clever." That cherished phrase brightened her face.
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But, now I am six,
I'm as clever as clever.
So I think I'll be six now,
Forever and ever.
I have been wondering about why this poem attracts Pamela so much. When she was six-and-a-half years old, we started her gluten-free, casein-free diet. She blossomed that year and taught herself to speak spontaneously, pretend play, and imitate videos. She grew more at ease in social outings too. Pamela has always been "clever as clever," but six was the end of opioid-induced fog for her.
Pamela is not one of those brilliant little professors, and she struggles with every stride. Being clever isn't everything. If you doubt me, I dare you to watch this video.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Every week, the class warms up with an affirmation exercise. A student draws the name of a boy and a girl in the class. Then they must come up with positive adjectives that describe the person to form an acronym of their name. When they drew Pamela's name, a little knot tied up my stomach. Outside of Amy, Pamela does not really interact much with the other kids, even though she faithfully attends Youth Group every Sunday night. We have only lived here for a little over a year, and, to people who were born and raised in this town, Pamela is still the new kid on the block, especially because we homeschool. I knew she had two allies, Amy and a girl who works as a paid ABA therapist for some autistic twins. I worried that silence and awkward pauses would fill the room as kids struggled to find affirming things to say about Pamela.
I was pleased with their efforts for even some of the more reticent boys came up with kind words to describe Pamela:
P - Pretty in pink, positive
A - Awesome
M - Magnificent
E - Excitable, excited
L - Lovable, lovely
A - Adorable
The pastor usually rewrites the affirmations neatly and posts them in the window that week. I promise to snap a picture on Wednesday and post it.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Yesterday, she had her first lesson in personification with the poem, Daffodowndilly. I dictated the entire poem to her yesterday, and she wrote it perfectly. She recited the whole thing with a few, very minor glitches. Since she knew the poem so well, I decided to see if she had figured out the meaning behind the words. Here was our conversation:
Me: "Who is she?" (pointing to "She wore her yellow sun-bonnet")
Pamela: "A girl."Me: "No, who is she?" (pointing to "She wore her greenest gown")
Pamela: "A woman."Me: "No, look at the title. What is she?" (pointing to "Daffodowndilly")
Pamela: "A bird."Me: "No, but you’re close! What does 'Daffodowndilly' sound like?"
Pamela: "A flower." (smiling)Me: "Yes! Now, what kind of flower is it?"
Pamela: "A daffodil." (smiling brightly)Me: "What season is it?"
Pamela: "Spring!" (without any hesitation)Interpreting the season is a skill we have been practicing. Originally, she would take everything so literally that seeing the word "winter" automatically meant the poem was about the frosty, snowy season. Pamela knew the poem described spring without hesitation, showing how much she has honed her understanding of language.
While I think it important for autistic children to learn functional skills, I want more than a utilitarian education for Pamela. I aspire to balance learning to function in a neurotypical world with appreciating the finer aspects of life. Charlotte Mason, a Victorian/Edwardian era educator, makes a point that applies to children today:
We teach him those things that are proper for a person of wealth to know (as Locke said), OR we teach him enough art, reading, writing and arithmetic to prevent him from being illiterate. In both cases, the focus is on utilitarian education. The child is being indirectly educated to a profession rather than for personal growth. (page 156)
Schools should feed their students knowledge until they've created a healthy appetite in them. Then the students will go on satisfying their hunger for knowledge every day for the rest of their lives. We need to give up the farce of teaching students how to learn. That's just as ridiculous as teaching a child how to lift a fork to his mouth and chew without giving him any real food! They already know how to learn. Lessons given for the sole purpose of improving the mind shouldn't be a priority in the future. (page 348)This begs the question. Does Pamela have a healthy appetite for poetry? When she finished her recitation of Daffodowndilly, she named the next three poems she plans to learn: The End by A.A. Milne, Cradle Song by Alfred Tennyson, and A Pirate Story by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Pamela just started reading aloud The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig, a memoir about a Polish family herded into cattle cars and forced to work at a labor camp in Siberia during World War II. When I circled Esther’s hometown, Vilna, on our Russia page, we noticed she lived close to the hometown of another Jewish girl who fled her home in Berdichev, Ukraine in Letters from Rifka. Her family fled Russian persecution of the Jews after World War I. We had circled several cities to trace Rifka’s journey to Ellis Island: Warsaw and Antwerp.
Pamela enjoys finding geographical connections between books. When we learned that Ralph Moody was moving to Maine, she was thrilled because Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm lived in the Pine Tree State too. Although the towns featured in this book are not in our atlas, we circled what might have been the model for Riverboro (Hollis, the town where the author spent her childhood). Not far from Hollis is a town called Windham, whose name bears a striking resemblance to Wareham from the book. It might be a coincidence, but we circled it anyway. After reading the first chapter of Fields of Home, we added two more circles to our Maine page, namely Bath, where Ralph’s ship arrived, and Lisbon Falls, where his grandfather lived.
Twenty-three pages of terrain maps of the ocean floors are a lifeline as we read The Sea around Us. Rachel Carson described continental shelves, which Pamela found colored light blue on our relief maps, and the deep ocean in dark blue. When the author named the Atlantic Ridge, Pamela traced it with her finger as well as other ridges outlining the continental plates of the world. When she read about various trenches, Pamela located them and traced quite a few. As her fingers traveled across the ocean, we are reminded of other nautical journeys in our present (Carry On, Mr. Bowditch and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea) and from our past (Kon-Tiki), all of which are marked in our atlas, which we are tranforming into a prized momento of our literary travels.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Yesterday was Halloween. My kids, Pamela (17) and David (14), are never too old to dress up and go trick-or-treating. Pamela dressed up as a cute, cuddly white cat, while David was a modern-day hippie, asking folks to sign a petition for "whirled peas" and "peas on earth." Many people got the joke and signed the petition. Others wanted nothing to do with it, and David casually replied, "That's cool, man." We saw many neat costumes and a live tarantula--yes, live!
It counted as P.E. because my "two cool cats" and I walked for an hour in a neighborhood with houses spread far apart. This neighborhood must be a favorite trick-or-treating haunt because cars and golf carts lined the streets. Walking was actually faster! It counted as art for David for he learned how to tie-dye a T-shirt yesterday (as did I).