Friday, December 29, 2006

Hyperfocus in Action!

People with autism and/or ADD describe themselves as having the ability to hyperfocus, or an intense form of concentration that blocks out everything else. High-functioning people use it to their advantage to excel in the workplace, which is why they often become computer programmers.

This morning we ate breakfast at a fast-food restaurant on the way home. Steve always buys a newspaper when we eat out and we all read our favorite sections. Pamela enjoys reading the television guide, even though we have no programmed television at home (not even rabbit ears). The beauty and order of a lovely schedule engages her full attention.

David spilled his drink all over the table. Steve, David, and I reacted immediately, jumping up, grabbing napkins, and sopping up the mess. Pamela, enraptured by the television schedule, ignores the whole thing. To avoid having a sticky mess all over her beloved newspapers, we stood her up and she stayed there, glued to the newspaper. Pamela remained in that position long enough for us to wipe the spill and take this photograph!

Hyperfocus can be a good thing when you find a way to nurture it and develop it into a niche skill desired by employers. It can be a bad thing when it totally blocks out other learning or communication with people. The key is moderation, which is the exact opposite of hyperfocus!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

GF/CF Diet on the Road

With just a little planning ahead, Pamela is able to stick to her GF/CF diet wherever we go. She has not had a major diet violation in years because she understands the importance of her diet. However, when she did, symptoms of exposure to gluten/casein included extreme irritability, loss of bladder control, spaciness, rashes on her arms, and difficulty speaking. Staying on her diet enables us all to travel with fewer mishaps.

Before we left home, I shopped for very specific things that are hard to find on the road. For breakfast, I brought two boxes of GF/CF cereal (Amazon Frosted Flakes and Mesa Sunrise) and three packs of single-serving, shelf-stable soymilk in case our room lacked a refrigerator. I packed snacks, wrapped individual to carry in a hip pouch while walking around in the park: Crispy Rice Berry Bar, Apple Breakfast Bars, Soda Crackers, Sesame Pretzel Rings, and Jennie's Chocolate Macaroons.

You can also investigate in advance what foods are safe at the big-chain fast-food restaurants you might visit on the road. You can find some information at the GF/CF diet website, but you can also contact the company directly. We attend a youth prayer breakfast every Tuesday morning, so I emailed Hardees and asked for information about allergens. They sent me a huge PDF file with everything I needed to know! McDonald's has information about food allergens online.

Pamela enjoyed her second day at Universal Studios, this time Universal Studios Florida. Today Pamela explored the movie-related attractions with her brother and three cousins. She rode Shrek 4D Motion Simulator, Jimmy Neutron's Nicktoon Blast which wreaked havoc on my tendency toward motion sickness, TWISTER...Ride It Out which thrilled David (wanna-be storm-chaser), Terminator 2:3-DI thought Arnold broke his leg, MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack, Jaws which was Pamela's favorite ride, and Earthquake. We tried to ride E.T. Adventure, but it broke on and off during the day. Pamela balked at Revenge of the Mummy, and I was glad to skip that one myself! She loved the Jaws ride so much she did not mind riding it again after sunset. The ride is much more eerie in the dark, and we all enjoyed the repeat.

We attended three of the four live shows. Pamela enjoyed the Horror Make-Up Show once she saw that the blood was fake (ketchup) and the people were safe. Some autistic children might be too literal and concrete for this show, and I could have done without the montage of movie clips earning a PG-13 Rating! I am not sure how much Pamela enjoyed the Blues Brothers, but the rest of the family had a blast. In hindsight, I wish we had substituted LucyA Tribute for the Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue, which contained more adult humor than I liked and deserved the PG-13 Rating and, of course, the teens of the male persuasion loved it.

Diet aside, the thing that made this whole trip possible was the Express Plus Pass, which allowed us to bypass long lines. We waited fifteen minutes at most. We saw rides with waits as long as one hundred minutes! For an autistic person, this pass is a must!

If you would like to read our lessons learned from this trip, click here and here!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Trifecta at Islands of Adventure

Pamela plus her dad, brother, and I spent the day at Universal’s Islands of Adventures in Orlando with her cousins and their cousins. Pamela enjoyed a trifecta of heavenly bliss with her interests, sensory integration, and imagination on hyperdrive! We have been so busy moving to a new house and cleaning the old house that I had no time to investigate what the park had to offer. Fortunately, Pamela’s cousins in the Seuss hats knew the park backward, forward, and upside-down. They managed to balance going between rides and shows for all and rides only the daredevils would ride.

Seuss Landing stimulated Pamela’s interests to the maximum. She has adored Dr. Seuss books and cartoons for years. She has four DVDs with her favorite cartoons, The Hoober-Bloob Highway being number one and The Lorax a close second. When we first entered Seuss Landing, Pamela could not look up. Seeing Seussian imagery in 3D living color overwhelmed her with joy, and she could only sneak glances here and there and everywhere. She tends to have a flat affect as pictured here with her brother and youngest cousin, waiting for the wild ones to ride Dueling Dragons. Her face only brightens with extreme emotion. Her expression standing under a cherished truffula tree shows her stunned by bliss. A shot with the Lorax was too much for her to handle, so we skipped it.

We left Seuss Landing in search of other rides, and she still had not lost her childlike joy on her second trip to Seuss Landing. Surrounded by her favorite books delighted Pamela so much we had to make five attempts to encourage her to leave before she succeeded. We rode two rides, The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride! and The Cat In The Hat, and an enchanted smile blanketed her face the entire time. She thought she was living inside of her favorite books. One thing that drives an autistic person is their interests, and Pamela felt like she had taken a trip to the moon.

Autistic people have difficulty integrating all their senses. Sometimes, those like Donna Williams can only manage video or audio input, not both at the same time. Others have very sensitive senses, such as hearing and touch. The reason why some auties cover their ears is that the noise is too loud, much like bionic hearing one can never adjust. The reason why some auties avoid being held and touched is that their skin perceives it as pain. Every autistic person has varying degrees of avoiding (hypersensitivity) and craving (hyposensitivity) certain sensations. When an autistic person faces too much sensory input for too long, she might meltdown (throw a massive tantrum) and shutdown (stare blankly into space). The secret to preventing sensory overload in Pamela is pictured to the left!

Let me explain! You may have studied five senses in health and science classes, but two more are sometimes affected in autism: proprioreception (page 8) and vestibular. Proprioreception is sensing movement in your joints: if you close your eyes and move your arms in the air, you are able to know where they are in space without seeing them. Oliver Sacks describes how challenging life would be with impaired proprioreception in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. One woman relearned how to walk after a virus damaged this sensory system by watching what her legs did. One lapse in attention would cause her to topple. Kids who crave proprioreception are ones who bang on things, crash into things, and fling their bodies on top of everything.

Vestibular sensation is the key to keeping Pamela cool. In the inner ear is liquid that tells your body whether things are stable or rocking and rolling. If you ride a merry-go-round and start to feel dizzy, your vestibular system is overwhelmed by all the movement. Some people with autism, like Pamela, have no post-rotary nystagmus (meaning they can spin without getting dizzy). Those who spin or spin objects crave vestibular. When spun, they feel joyful. Stimulating Pamela’s vestibular system has been one of my tools in calming Pamela. When she was young and in a situation that frustrated her, I would watch for signs of distress. We would leave the room to spin! I would grasp her underneath her arms and around her chest, lift her, and spin in circles with her feet off the ground. I did this until her body relaxed (or my nystagmus stopped me). When the tension left her body and her muscles melted, I knew she was ready to meet any challenge. Rides like Doctor Doom's Fear Fall and stimulated her vestibular system and Pamela loved every minute of it. Stimulating her vestibular system allowed her to tolerate a very long day, walking all over the park and waiting for her cousins to ride the daredevil rollercoasters.

The final element stimulated by this park was Pamela’s imagination. Yes, some autistic people do have an imagination, tapping into their ability to associate minute details that are related. While riding a log chute ride that splashed us plenty (Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls), Pamela screamed with delight and announced, “Just like Narnia!” She was recalling the frozen river scene in the movie, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and imagining riding alongside Peter, Susan, and Lucy. During the The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride and the Poseidon’s Fury show, the balls of fire and special effects reminded her of the Gameboy Advanced game, Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga. She compared the setting of The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad to the two Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Her imagination was on hyperdrive during shows and rides.

Universal’s Islands of Adventures theme park had the worst conditions for a person with autism: waves and waves of people and plenty of noise. Purchasing an express pass prevented the frustration of waiting too long. However, the trifecta of interests, sensory integration, and imagination helped keep her happy and calm during our long and busy day.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Seven Steps to New Syntax

I found a monograph that summarizes the Association Method. Apraxia-Kids has less detailed summary of this language therapy originally developed for the deaf. Several schools in the United States feature this program: Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Arkansas, Napa, CA, and San Francisco, CA.

We are covering pronouns (except we) right now, which puts Pamela on the seventh level of instruction out of fourteen (page 343). I do not follow all seven steps (page 17) exactly as described in the manual. I added a Charlotte Mason twist in what we call our steps to make it consistent with what we do in language arts. Every speech therapy lesson, which usually lasts about thirty to forty-five minutes, includes the following:
  • Read aloud – Pamela reads aloud a typed story (cursive, color-coded) in her therapy book with the new syntax for the week (reading).
  • Recitation – I read a sentence from the story. Pamela repeats it while seeing the page (associating) and without seeing the page (recall of spoken language).
  • Copywork – Pamela copies a story I wrote on the dry erase board in cursive (written memory for the language structure).
  • Written Narration – Pamela writes her own story applying the new syntax in print (written memory for the language structure).
  • Dictation – I say a sentence, and Pamela writes it on paper in print (identification of selected language through audition alone).
  • Oral Narration – Pamela practices the new syntax during her daily conversations, usually about perseverative topics (saying).
I try to do speech therapy every school day and generalize the new syntax in our daily conversations. If Pamela does not automatically apply the new syntax, I remind her to use her therapy sentences and questions. If the new syntax kicks in, then I know she is ready to move on to the next language structure. If it does not, that tells me we need to linger another week and practice the new syntax.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Getting in the Christmas Spirit

Even though Pamela is considered disabled in the eyes of the world, her diffability—a term coined several years ago by a nine-year-old homeschooler with Asperger Syndrome on my email list Aut-2B-Home—does not prevent her from serving others in need. Yesterday, we participated in two mission projects sponsored by our church’s youth group. First, the youth purchased toys and clothing for two needy families who would otherwise go without any presents this year. They raised the money for their mission and ski trip fund last month with donations from a Rock-a-Thon in which people sponsored them to rock in rocking chairs all night. Second, they wrapped the gifts and decorated them with ribbons. As gift-wrapping is not Pamela’s forte, she filled out gift tags for fifteen presents. Then we all delivered the gifts to the families who live not far from the church.

The second project involved visiting a local retirement home for the disabled and elderly who would otherwise be homeless. The youth sang Christmas carols and handed out bags full of cookies baked by some boys in this year’s confirmation class. Pamela enjoyed singing carols as we strolled down the halls. Because her great-grandparents lived in nursing homes before they died, she envisioned it as helping people like them.

If you peeked into our house, you would not believe we have one drop of the Christmas spirit by commercial standards. Right now the only hints of Christmas are Pamela's advent calendar and a flower arrangement. Our less than perfectly decorated house would please the small-hearted Grinch! Why is our house so bleak? Our lease expires on December 31, and we are planning to visit family out of town between the 26th and 30th. Translation—we must vacate the premises by by Christmas Day. All the rooms are packed up, except for essentials and Pamela's room. I will box up her books and treasures today! Our dressers are already gone, and we are living out of suitcases. Martha Stewart would have a meltdown in our house right now, and Ebenezer Scrooge would marvel at our thrift!

Pamela has adored How the Grinch Stole Christmas (book and DVD) ever since she was a little girl. She grew to love A Christmas Carol through the Disney video which has her favorite voice actor Will Ryan. When we lived in St. Cloud, Minnesota, a church production of the musical The Gospel According to Scrooge thrilled her to no end! As each angel arrived on the scene, her excitement increased. She loved it so much we purchased a videotape of the production for Christmas. Last year, we read Dickens' A Christmas Carol and gave Pamela Focus on the Family's Radio Theater production of A Christmas Carol, available at a rock-bottom price at CBD. I think these two stories are her all-time Christmas favorites because she understands the real meaning of Christmas. She knows that what keeps our hearts growing like the Grinch's and helps us share like Scrooge is Jesus.

We keep Christmas by keeping Christ is in our heart, not by hustle and bustle of making wish lists, decorations, and festivities. Helping the needy, reminding people of the birth of Christ in music, etc. reflect the Christmas spirit much more than shopping for ourselves, decorating, and going through the motions of looking Christmasy on the outside with nothing on the inside.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I/My Stories

This week we started the next phase of personal description stories from the Association Method. We followed up stories with they/their sentences and questions from last week with stories about Pamela with I/my. She is already familiar with combining I with can/have/see/saw/want. This week we introduced I with do/am and my in the subject of a sentence. I copied five digitized photos of Pamela at different ages into Word and wrote stories from her perspective at each age. Pamela is well versed with calendars, and she often picks topics about what she was doing on different dates in her life. We have been doing stories like these for years.

Pamela has sufficiently mastered the new syntax to move onto you/your questions. Usually, I write questions to go with each story, which we cover the following week. At that point, Pamela will read the questions, and I will answer them. In the Association Method, children learn new syntax in sentences first and then learn how to apply the syntax in questions. Thus, when asked a newly mastered question, children can answer it with confidence. They can also grow more sophisticated in asking questions.

Because of the different between first and second person perspective, I have altered this process slightly. Normally, I do not introduce questions until Pamela masters the new syntax in sentences. This week, I have read the questions, and Pamela has read the answers. Next week, I will have to write completely new questions that she will read and completely new answers that another person will read. To make the difference in perspective even more obvious, I plan to write each of the five stories about a different person in the family and have that person read to Pamela: Monday (me), Tuesday (Steve), Wednesday (David), Thursday (Oma), and Friday (Opa).

Here is one story we covered this week:

Who are you?

I am Pamela.

What are you?

I am a girl.

How many years old are you?

I am nine-years old.

What kind of sweater do you have?

I have a striped sweater.

What color is your turtleneck shirt?

My turtleneck shirt is pink.

What is your town?

My town is West Newton.

What color is your house?

My house is blue.

What do you have?

I have a pool and swingset.

What can you do?

I can swim and swing.

What is your school?

I do not have any school.

What kind of school do you have?

I have a home school.

Where can you go?

I can go to co-op classes.

Do you have friends? Yes,

I have friends.

Who are they?

They are Kevin, Shannon, Logan, and Gregory.

What is their town?

Their town is Mt. Pleasant.

Do they have a dog? Yes,

They have a dog.

What is her name?

Her name is Hershey.

Do you have a dog? Yes,

I have a dog.

What color fur does your dog have?

My dog has black fur.

Who is your dog?

My dog is Pepper.

What can your dog do?

My dog can chase his tail.

Is your dog friendly or mean?

My dog is friendly.

Do you have any cats? No,

I do not have any cats.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Glories of a Random Number Generator

I have created four extra sheets about decimals to supplement Pamela’s math book so far. She seems to have a weak grasp of various complexities, but I hope to solidify her understanding through extra practice. Because she is a concrete-sequential learner, she does not mind rows of problems that look similar (unlike my concrete-random son). Yesterday’s spreadsheet in Excel reminded me of a high-tech tip that can make life easier when trying to think of random problems with the same structure on a sheet. When forced to do so, I fall into a rut. Pamela has an eagle eye for patterns, and I have to vary them enough for her not to guess a pattern and miss the actual concept presented. This is why I adore the concept of a random number generator, which I learned about while getting my master’s degree in operations research!

In this case, I needed to select between 1 and 99 coins. Excel has a random number generator that picks numbers between 0 and 1. If you multiply the random number by 99 and round up, you will get a random selection of numbers between 1 and 99. Once I get the formula right, I simply copy it down the column and it will generate different numbers in every cell! Here is the statement in Excel that worked:


Because I wanted to make sure she had multiple chances to work with 1 to 9 coins, I copied the following formula into several of the cells to force randomly generated, single- digit numbers:


In the next column, I needed to alternate between pennies and dimes from one problem to another. I set up a logical statement that puts in the word dimes when the random number is less than .5 and pennies for all other numbers. Here is what worked:


Here is what these three formulas produced in ten rows of problems:

12 pennies
6 dimes
97 pennies
66 pennies
5 dimes
51 dimes
1 dimes
4 pennies
9 dimes
26 dimes

I just LOVE technology!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Concert

The City on a Hill concert turned out GREAT yesterday! We have been practicing this collection of contemporary Christmas music since Thanksgiving. The youth/"young" adult choir consisted of mainly teenaged girls including Pamela plus David (the only teenaged boy) and two men and three women to even out the parts and take on some of the solos. (Personally, I question the use of "young"--all but one of the adult singers were parents of the teenagers). The girls at center stage performed simple choreography during most of the songs, and one, a trained dancer, added an elegant touch to two of the songs by improvising her solo dances. The PowerPoint slide show on the DVD track gave our concert an extra visual boost.

We performed two songs at the two morning services to give the congregation a teaser. We attended our final dressed rehearsal at 330 in which we ran the thirty-minute program twice before our performance at 530. Such a schedule can easily overwhelm Pamela, so she sang with the choir at one service and skipped the rehearsals. That accommodation kept her fresh for the performance, and she did a wonderful job!

The last song had a little bit of choreography for the entire cast. I worried because we had only ten days notice for Pamela to learn these simple moves: step right and left while snapping during parts of the song and arm raises during other parts (first right, then left, and both down in front). Because she cannot snap, Pamela flicked her fingers and had no problems with the arm raises. Occasionally she danced ahead of the tempo, but I danced next to her and nudged her to slow her pace.

I had a solo and had been fighting laryngitis last week. My voice was not completely back on the low notes. Fortunately, it worked because the first verse of Great Light of the World about being afraid and alone--my slightly crackly lower range fit the mood. My upper range was back to normal, and I was able to soar during the chorus with its hopeful lyrics. By the time the second verse, which had a more confident message, the mucus had cleared out of my throat and I could belt it more.

Great Light of the World required one more accomodation for Pamela. Our side of the stage had three stools for another singer, me, and Pamela, who sat closest to the audience. After I moved up front to sing my solo, everyone in the cast held a candle and lit it. We discovered during rehearsal on Thursday that Pamela panicked if anyone on the three stools lights a candle. Because of my position up front, I was not able to talk her through this and soothe her. We came up with an easy solution: the singer on the stools near us moved to center stage with the choreography teenagers and walked with them bearing lit candles to form a semicircle behind me. Pamela stayed calm with this minor adjustment. The night of the show Pamela showed no anxiety because we found another way to accommodate to her needs that did not detract from the performance. In fact, this alternation made the production run more smoothly because the singer on our side of the stage sang the next solo and reached her mark more quickly!

We all agreed that we peaked during the performance. It turned out better than expected—short, sweet, fun to sing (and hear--I hope). Our audience had more people than chairs, and so many people congratulated Pamela on how well she did! Steve had tears in his eyes because he remembers the little girl who once shrieked her way through circle time and flopped on the floor in large crowds. As always, her bright smile made up for any awkward moves!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

It is easy to fall into the trap of chasing the cure for autism. When I read The Sound of a Miracle years ago, I set up Pamela for auditory integration training the following summer. While Pamela benefited from AIT in observable and quantifiable ways, it was no miracle for her! Over the years I have read many books that offer the magic bullet and, when tried, the pie-in-the-sky miracle vanishes like a mirage: Let Me Hear Your Voice and ABA, Son Rise and Options, Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder and Special Diets, etc. What is left are several steps forward in Pamela's development. Nothing we have ever tried inspired a Helen Keller at the water pump moment, but many things did yield slow and steady progress.

We left the emotional rollercoaster of cure chasing long ago and now seek improvement in quality of life. We have done our best to implement therapies that seem to have the most bangs for the buck, based upon Pamela's unique profile. The last thing we want to do is turn our lives upside down chasing the latest cure, only to be disappointed and embittered. We have learned to be pleased with the slow march of progress Pamela has made over the years, which accumulate to small miracles. From week to week, we appreciate the little wonders revealed whenever Pamela conquers a new skill. We do not crash and burn emotionally when a therapy fails to produce the miracle cure, but we do savor those tiny sparks of joy when we see improvement.

Here is a sample of the small bundles of joy I witnessed this week:

  • Pamela learned all her choreography for the last song of our Christmas program City on a Hill and stays on beat most of the time. This is a miracle for a child who flipped out at circle time as a preschooler.
  • Pamela mastered recitation another poem this week, which has the most complex language and punctuation to date. This is a miracle because, up until this year, all attempts to memorize poetry ended in failure except for Mother Goose rhymes!
  • Pamela took her first baby steps in conquering decimals with the help of dollars, dimes, and pennies. This is a miracle for she took several years to master simple addition and subtraction.
  • Pamela mastered new syntax for questions and sentences with their and they combined with can/have/do/are. This is a miracle because up until three years ago she has never been able to make predictable and measurable gains in grammar. As I prepared next week’s I/my personal description stories (to be followed by you/your questions), the questions in the first story startled me! Eight years ago, I used to drill Pamela to memorize this same list of questions in Teach Me Language through visual cuing and verbal repeating. I did not realize that, because of her syntactic aphasia, I was asking her to do a task that she has only been able to master after three years of applying a truly multi-sensory method of teaching language.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pause, Rewind, or Eject?

One of the benefits of homeschooling is being able to adjust the pace of learning to the child. This is especially true for an autistic child. Today, we came across one of those bumps in the road to mastering decimals. Making Math Meaningful occasionally takes a leap of logic too large for Pamela to navigate, and today she bumped into one. The book went from activities like the one I described last week to comparing two decimals (a greater than, less than, or equal symbol). She did not immediately grasp concepts like 12 being the same as 12.0 or 12 being different from 12.3.

Pamela has taught me three different strategies when this happens:

  • Pause – Stop the activity. Get a fresh sheet of paper and possibly concrete objects and re-teach the concept in a different way. If she seems completely confused, then it is time to rewind.
  • Rewind – Go back to what she knows thoroughly, rerun the ideas covered since until we see where she stops understanding. Get a fresh sheet of paper and possibly concrete objects and re-teach all missing concepts in a different way. If we have covered a concept in a myriad of ways to no avail, it is time to eject. A sure sign of this is when she has developed the habit of frustration and screams every time I pull out the activity!
  • Eject – Pull out other activities and goals for that subject and work on them. Table what is confusing her for some time. Sometimes, she is not developmentally ready and needs more time before she can master a concept. A great example of this is how we took an entire year off writing to develop her pre-writing skills!

Today we paused, and I covered what I could in the spur of the moment. Later, I typed up a sheet in Excel to add a few more steps to the teaching process that were not included in the book. My concrete objects for tomorrow’s sheet will be dollars and coins. I have fake paper dollars and coins for teaching money concepts, and I will drag them out to teach comparison of decimals. Since Pamela understands money, I plan to set up each side of the equation with one-dollar bills and dimes. I think it will be easier for her to fill in the equation properly. Then she follow my example and pull out the proper number of bills and coins for each side. When she shows an understanding, she can work independently.

If she gets it, our normal progression is to fade from objects to drawing them on paper. In time, she will fade to thinking rather than drawing. If she does not get it, I may have to fall back on my strategies and rewind.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Introduction to Decimals

Pamela has delays in many areas, including math. Her abstract thinking skills and ability to reason really did not emerge until she turned thirteen. While her sequential skills are an asset in learning operations and math routines, her literal thinking and aphasia make word problems the most challenging. We have been using Making Math Meaningful since she was twelve, and she has completed Level 1 through Level 4. She is near the end of Level 5, having completed place value, addition/subtraction (to the trillions), multiplication/division of three- and four-digit numbers, and addition/subtraction/multiplication/division with fractions.

Today was her first lesson in the link between decimals and fractions. Pamela has worked with decimals in the past whenever we have worked on money. Last year, she worked her way through one of those cheap workbooks sold at Wal-Mart that covered the concepts of telling time and counting money. She has added and subtracted decimals, but has never seen the connection between decimals and fractions until today.

The introduction to decimals played right into the money work we did last year. The author usually starts on a concrete level for new concepts and introduced tenths with dimes. The book has her make a table comparing ways to express the value of seven dimes. Pamela has an eagle eye for patterns and caught onto this activity right away:

7 dimes = 70 cents or 70¢ = 7 (1/10) = 7/10 = .7 = seven tenths or point seven

She found the next page equally easy. The author showed icons for three whole apples and four slices. A key indicated that one whole apple equaled one and a slice equaled one tenth. Pamela filled out another chart that showed and sailed through it because the chart played up to her ability to recognize patterns:

3(1) + 4(1/10) = 3 + 4/10 = 3 4/10 = 3.4 plus a column heading for the ones place and tenths place.

By the end of this school year, Pamela should get three quarters of the way through Level 6 (we school year round). Then I plan to start her on Math-U-See Zeta and then Pre-Algebra. I am not sure if she can make it through high school math, but I am willing to teach as long as she continues to be willing to learn. She enjoys math now. I have a master's degree in operations research (fancy-smancy word for statistics), so I can create extra material when she needs more practice in higher-level mathematics.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Slowest Miracle Ever

I have kept Pamela's social stories (I write a couple a year) in her big speech therapy book. The Association Method encourages teachers to keep a "child's book" which contains the stories the child has been reading to learn syntax. Pamela's book, which she calls the black book, has every story I have made since the beginning of school last year. When we thumb through it, I can see the progress she has made:

Repetitive sentences/questions (page 13) with the most basic syntax (a/an/some, want(s), see(s), have/has, I/name/noun as a subject, name/noun as an object, who/what)

Animal stories (page 13) that focus on animals (names, numbers, body parts, adjectives, can paired with verbs, not, is covered with, how many/what kind of/does/can questions)

Inanimate object stories (page 14) that cover things (it, objects and their parts, clothing, more adjectives)

Personal description stories (page 14) that describe people (pronouns he/she/they, his/her/their, I/my, you/your, is/are/am, does/do not have any).

This week Pamela is learning to use they/their in sentences and next week will be in questions. The method alternates between teaching syntax in a sentence and then in appropriate questions for that sentence. So after they/their, Pamela will learn to use I am/my in sentences and you/your in questions. Then we will finally move onto prepositions, round-up stories for prepositions, and present progressive language to finish the second unit of language. Pamela has struggled with present progress for years: she tends to say, "A dog is bark" or "A dog barking." If the association method clears up this issue, which has confused Pamela for years, it will be a true miracle.

I want to mention one thing about the notebook. Pamela loves going through old homeschool files but has a tendency to rip through the pages. Rather than apply three hole reinforcements per page, I usually file papers into two-pocket fastener folders. Plastic folders are more durable and have passed the test of time and use. Since Pamela's therapy book gets the most use of all, I splurged on sheet protectors and sturdy three-ringed notebook, and it too has passed the "Pamela" test.

Here is a sample of one of five stories from this week. Notice that I color-coded the new patterns to catch her eye as suggested in the Association Method Manual:

Today is October 31, 2006.
It is Halloween.
Children can dress up.
They are
Pamela and David.
They are
They want
They have
costumes are funny.
costumes are homemade.
bags are empty.
They do
not have any candy.
They are
can walk.
Pamela is a cat.
She has white fur and a pink nose.
Her whiskers are long.
She has an orange pumpkin bag.
David is a hippie.
His hair is long and black.
His T-shirt is colorful.
He can carry a clipboard and paper.
He does not have any pumpkin bag.
People can sign his paper.
can supply candy.
Pamela and David have candy.
They do
not have any vegetables.
can eat.
candy is delicious.

Are you asleep yet? I agree--this is very tedious. Unfortunately, Pamela must read, hear, repeat, say without prompting, copy, write without prompting, and write from dictation syntax, one structure at a time. Occasionally, I can cover two structures a week when related to a previous structure. Since Pamela already knows he/his and she/her, she had no problem distinguishing they/their. However, if we add too much new syntax at one time, she gets it all muddled up because syntax does not come naturally to her. It only comes by rote through multi-sensory channels!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Choreography Crisis

We attended another rehearsal for City on a Hill--this time 1.5 hours. The director decided to have us all do the choreography for the last song. Considering that Pamela could not imitate to save her life when she was at the age for The Itsy Bitsy Spider, she did very well! The neatest thing about Pamela is her smile. She has been in several small productions and something about being on stage, with the music, audience, and lights, doing the routines she has practiced for so long brings a gorgeous smile to her face. As soon as the music started and we were doing the choreography, Pamela's face lit up like a candle!

Our choreographer is keeping it simple since we have so little time to learn. During some spots, we step right and bring the feet together, while we snap our fingers. Pamela's version is to rock right and left and flick her fingers. For right now, I have my left hand on her right arm to keep her at the right pace for she tends to speed up. The other movement is to raise the right arm slowly up from the side, then the left, and bring them down slowly in front with palms up. We can work on this movement at home, facing each other.

Whenever we face a challenge (this being a challenge because she has ten days to get it close enough to avoid being distracting), I write social stories for her. In this case, I wrote a story to explain to her that she can watch the choreographer to learn the moves. I searched some local websites and found a picture of the choreographer, so Pamela can recognize her easily.

This is Miss Donna. She is a dancer. She can go to my church. She is a choreographer for our musical. A choreographer shows people how to dance. I can watch her to see how to dance. If I forget, I can look at Miss Donna. She can give me a clue!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dear Daddy!

All of Pamela’s work learning poetry paid off last night. We celebrated my husband Steve’s birthday, and he wanted very simple gifts from the children: a song, poem, picture, or anything creative. David played We Wish You a Merry Christmas from his favorite Christmas songbook on the recorder, while Pamela recited a poem with a few simple body motions to make it extra special. I let her choose her favorite one, and she picked Daffodowndilly. She said it perfectly and knocked him off his socks! We all knew that such a feat was not possible for her last year, and Steve told her it was the best birthday gift he had ever received.

Today we attended another rehearsal for City on a Hill and made a sane decision. The youth (teenaged young ladies) will be doing the choreography. The rest of us will sit on tall stools to the side. Pamela is included in the seating arrangements because two weeks is not enough time for her to absorb the dance steps, as simple as they are. She has come a long way, but not that far . . . yet. After dinner, I headed back for another rehearsal for the adult choir Christmas concert. Our trio practiced for Sunday morning worship; we are singing the upper three parts of Lo' How a Rose E'er Blooming. It is my favorite arrangement by Robert Shaw with our second soprano, singing the tenor an octave up.

Like I said before, 'tis the season to be busy . . . and I would not miss it for the world!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'Tis the Season to Be Busy

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest unless it is December and you happen to be in music ministry! For singers, musicians, and directors, Christmas is the season to be busy!

I launched my singing career at the United States Naval Academy. Even though my major was in mathematics, I practically minored in music between the choir, glee club, small groups, and musicals. All throughout my adult life, I have tried to squeeze in singing here and there and just about everywhere. Every move to a new town presented new opportunities to sing, whether it was the church choir, a choral society, or a symphony chorus. Right now, I am a soprano in the church choir and a trio, a supporting voice in the youth/*young* adult, and soloist when asked to sing at various events around town.

Lately, my mother, born in Nazi Germany, has been speaking about her experience as survivor of a Danish refugee camp. After her speech, I always sing America, the Beautiful to back up her two main points: gratitude for God’s grace in protecting her family and thankfulness that she is now a citizen of a country ripe with freedom.

Last night we had a gig in a little Presbyterian church in a tiny town up the road. Mom’s heartfelt speech spent left many in tears. Because we are in the advent season, I followed up the patriotic song with one verse of two different Christmas carols in German: Ihr Kinderlein Kommet and Stille Nacht. We met some wonderful people who truly appreciated our efforts and gave Mom a gorgeous arrangement of roses. My mother adores roses, and her garden boasts of several varieties. They gave me the beautiful flower arrangement pictured here.

Both children have pleasant singing voices, so we find it easy to incorporate music into our curriculum. Pamela has a very light soprano voice, while David’s voice is now in the tenor range. She is not a sight-reader, but catches on quickly (except for lyrics). David both sight-reads and learns new music easily because he taught himself to play the recorder. They are part of the chorus for our youth/*young* adult Christmas program called City on a Hill. The music is a blend of Christian contemporary music and updated traditional carols. The DVD track has a power point presentation with neat graphics.

On Sunday, we had a rehearsal that lasted nearly two and a half hours! Pamela did fine with practicing parts and singing with the track. By the time they got to blocking, she was overdone. Fortunately, she did stick it out. There were moments I had to humor her and give her some deep pressure squeezes and encourage her. She fussed a bit, but never melted down to the point of having to leave the room.On one of the songs, I swayed with her to give her some vestibular input, which calms her. She agreed to wait if she could sit quietly on her own. That was a great compromise because I needed to learn the choreography. She was very patient, all things considered!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Pure Poetry

Every once in awhile, homeschoolers experience shining moments that feel like pure poetry, and today we had one of them. As Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, we read poetry on a regular basis, focusing on one poet at a time to get a picture of an individual poet’s style. Right now, Rudyard Kipling is our subject.

Pamela fell in love with Kipling’s work through her favorite media, videos, ala Disney’s The Jungle Book. One of her first video vocal self-stimulation phrases was Baloo’s mournful, “Mowgli, Mowgli, come back!” When she was five-years old, she would say this to console herself whenever she felt sad. She tapped into Baloo’s emotion, but did not realize at the time the words made sense only to people who knew her.

She adored the first Kipling book I read to the children: Just So Stories. Pamela was eleven-years old and very much language delayed. I read from an older version of the book, beautifully illustrated. We acted out many of the stories with stuffed animals to bring them to life. Her favorite one was How the Camel Got His Hump. She adopted the camel’s phrase almost immediately and, whenever she balked at a task, she cried, “Humph!” like the camel. This was her first vocal stim from a book too.

The next book we read was, of course, The Jungle Book; the differences between the book and the movie were startling. We read both books about life in the jungle and were surprised to find so many stories that were not about Mowgli. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is neatly tucked away into this book! The story we related to the most was The White Seal because we were living in the Shumagin Islands of Alaska, not far from the story’s setting, the Island of St. Paul. David, Pamela's younger brother, appreciated The Spring Running from The Second Jungle Book the most because it opened a door for us to discuss puberty and the angst, mood swings, and depression that can come with it. Right now, we are working our way through Kim and Kipling’s poetry.

The first moment of joy came when we read The Cat That Walked by Himself. We all identified our two dogs with the characters in the poem. Our obnoxious hyper-dog has the personality of pussy, while our pliable, laid-back, elderly dog seems much like Binkie. So, we substituted our dogs' names and reread the poem, which tickled her.

The Beginning of the Armadillos was exciting for it was an opportunity for Pamela to show she has gone beyond literal thinking. She knew right away that the poem was set in South America, even though Kipling does not mention the continent by name. With only a little bit of hinting, she gleaned that the Don and Magdalena were ships.

Pamela had a chance to stretch in our final poem for the day, A Nativity (1914-1918). To help her get into the spirit of the piece, I highlighted the poem’s two voices in two different colors. Pamela read parts of the poem reflecting the Nativity, recognizing the story of the birth of Jesus almost immediately. I read the part of the mother of a fallen soldier in a very tragic, sad voice. At first, Pamela thought it was a story about a lost child. Then I reminded her that World War I started in 1914 and ended in 1918. We spent the rest of the time analyzing what had happened to the soldier, whose mother mourns his death.

The Babe was laid in the Manger
Between the gentle kine --
All safe from cold and danger --
“But it was not so with mine,
(With mine! With mine!)
Is it well with the child, is it well?”
The waiting mother prayed.
“For I know not how he fell,
And I know not where he is laid.”

A Star stood forth in Heaven;
The Watchers ran to see
The Sign of the Promise given --
“But there comes no sign to me.
(To me! To me!)
“My child died in the dark.
Is it well with the child, is it well?
There was none to tend him or mark,
And I know not how he fell.”

The Cross was raised on high;
The Mother grieved beside --
“But the Mother saw Him die
And took Him when He died.
(He died! He died!)
“Seemly and undefiled
His burial-place was made --
Is it well, is it well with the child?
For I know not where he is laid.”

On the dawning of Easter Day
Comes Mary Magdalene;
But the Stone was rolled away,
And the Body was not within --
(Within! Within!)
“Ah, who will answer my word?
The broken mother prayed.
“They have taken away my Lord,
And I know not where He is laid.”

The Star stands forth in Heaven.
The watchers watch in vain
For Sign of the Promise given
Of peace on Earth again --
(Again! Again!)
“But I know for Whom he fell” --
The steadfast mother smiled,
“Is it well with the child -- is it well?
It is well -- it is well with the child!”

At first, David thought the poem was about a child who died young. I pointed out the title to him, and he made the connection immediately. He thought this poem was one of the best he had ever read. It reminded him of his great-grandfather, who died in World War II. His great-grandfather fell fighting the Russians, and his fellow soldiers buried him in a mass grave near St. Petersburg. David’s great-grandmother was thankful they returned his wedding band to her. The poem helped us tap into the feelings of the family left behind, wondering where their loved one was laid. I asked David what he thought Kipling by meant the last line of the poem, and he interpreted it as an allusion to heaven.

Friday, December 01, 2006

'Tis the Season for Calendar Lovers!

As mentioned in an earlier post, Pamela loves calendars, but that is fodder for another day. Her favorite kind of calendar is an advent calendar, a custom her Oma (German for grandmother) brought to the United States.

When I was a girl, these calendars were rarities in America, so my Oma mailed an advent calendar from Germany to us. It had little windows, randomly placed in a Christmas scene, numbered 1 through 24. Starting on December 1, one of us seven children opened a window and discovered a treat, usually a candy, ornament, or trinket. Each calendar had 24 windows because Germans opened their presents on Christmas Eve! My mother always timed it so that I opened the window on my birthday, December 17.

My mother is a quilter, the president of the Heart-in-Hand Quilting Club, which donates handmade quilts raffled by various charities. At last year’s meeting, they drew lots in a gift exchange, and my mother was thrilled to receive a handmade quilted advent calendar. She gave it to Pamela for Christmas!

I filled most pockets with candy and a few with trinkets. Since some calendars we kept in the past had quotes from the Nativity story, I created a file in Word with the entire childhood of Jesus, illustrated and quoted from the NIV version of the Gospel (except the genealogy).

I highly recommend an advent calendar for any child who adores calendars and routines! If you have not bought one yet, try making your own: Crafty Folks and Quick and Easy. If you are craft-impaired like me, here are some fun online, interactive calendars: A to Z’s Home’s Cool, Christian Devotional, Christian Musical, Secular/Educational, and Boola and Kwala.