Sunday, January 28, 2007

Social Stories about the GF/CF Diet

Pamela started a gluten-free, casein-free diet back in October 1995. We did not go out much, and we all ate the same food for the first year. It was pricey, so eventually the rest of us ate typical food while Pamela ate her special food. I made our food look the same: we all ate the same meat, sauce, veggies; the only difference was the pasta. She cooperated with her diet very well.

When we started going to a homeschool cooperative, Pamela’s cooperation fell apart. All of these kids were eating yummy-looking things before her very eyes, and she wanted to be like them. Pamela started sneaking these foods by grabbing them off plates. I even got her eating off a plate from the trash. I realized I had never properly explained her diet. I wrote a series of social stories and compared her food to commercials (she liked ads and jingles). The information helped because she started asking me if something had wheat before trying it. We saw no more rebellion--absolute cooperation and obedience once she understood why avoiding wheat was so important.

Now, over ten years into the diet, she knows to look for gluten-free and casein-free on the labels! She knows what foods in the house are safe and fixes her own snacks. All it was took was three stories (not commands or rules, but explanations). While I do not encourage you to use these stories, they are a model to get you started. We have the greatest success when we incorporate Pamela's interests into it (in this case, commercials).

Story 1: We Need to Figure Out . . . Why Should I Eat Special Cereals?

I am a girl named Pamela.

Sometimes I eat cereal. I watch TV commercials about cereals like Rice Krispies and Cocoa Pebbles. These cereals are at stores like Wal-Mart and Giant Eagle. But, Mommy usually does not buy Rice Krispies and Cocoa Pebbles for me. Some people eat Rice Krispies and Cocoa Pebbles. Daddy eats All Bran. These cereals have lots of wheat. Some people feel good when they eat wheat.

Wheat may make me feel silly. Sometimes it makes me pee in my pants and wet my bed. It even makes me feel itchy on my arms and legs. It's very hard to talk when I eat wheat.

I usually eat Mesa Sunrise, a special cereal from the health food store. It's just like Frosted Flakes. Mommy buys Mesa Sunrise because it has no wheat. Mommy wants me to eat Mesa Sunrise because it has no wheat. When I eat cereal with no wheat, I usually feel good.

I will try to eat cereal that has no wheat. It's a good idea to let other people eat Rice Krispies, Cocoa Pebbles and All Bran.

Story 2: We Need to Figure Out . . . How Are My Foods Just Like TV?

I watch TV commercials about interesting foods, but I should not eat wheat. Wheat makes me feel itchy and silly. Mommy makes special foods with no wheat, just like food on TV.

For breakfast, we eat Puffed Rice, Mesa Sunrise, egg rice cakes and fruit pudding, just like Rice Krispies, Frosted Flakes, Eggo Waffles and Jello Pudding. For lunch, we eat hot dog soup, corn noodles and fried rice, just like Campbell’s soup, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Rice A Roni. For dinner, we eat rice lasagna, tacos and hot dog soup, just like Hot Pockets, Taco Bell and Campbell’s soup. For snack, we eat Knox Blox, Pamela's Cookies and fruity shakes, just like Jello Jigglers, Chip Ahoy and ice cream.

Other people feel good when they eat wheat. That is okay. I should let other people eat foods like the ones on TV.

Mommy wants me to feel good and stay healthy. She spends extra time cooking special foods for me because she loves me. It's a good idea to only eat food Mommy makes for me.

Story 3: We Need to Figure Out . . . How Do I Eat Food with Homeschool Kids?

We do many special things with homeschoolers. On many Tuesdays, we go to the co-op where we do art. On some Tuesday nights, we have meetings with special things for children to do. On some Thursdays, we play together at the park. Sometimes, we have special events like the Spell-A-Thon or Medieval Feast.

We usually eat food with the homeschoolers. The mothers help children get their food. Then the children sit at the table and eat their food. If they are hungry, they usually ask for more food. Their mothers help them get more food from the food table. When they are finished, they try to put their dirty paper plates, cups and napkins in the trash.

Sometimes I eat the same food as other children: fruits, popcorn, chips and cabbage soup. Sometimes Mommy brings special foods for me because wheat and milk make me sick: cookies, noodles and French fries. It's not a good idea to take food off other children's plate. If I am hungry, Mommy will be happy to give me more healthy food. I will try to tell Mommy, "I want more food."

The trash has dirty food. Sometimes dirty food has bugs in them that will make people sick and throw up. People can be killed when they eat dirty food. It's not a good idea to eat food from the trash. If I am hungry, Mommy will be happy to give me more healthy food. I will try to tell Mommy, "I want more food."

Mommy loves me very much. Mommy wants me to eat healthy food. Healthy food helps me do fun thinks like draw, paint and sing. Healthy food does not make me sick. Mommy can help me find healthy food when I am hungry. If I am hungry, Mommy will be happy to give me more healthy food. I will try to tell Mommy, "I want more food."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Boring Spelling Tests versus Studied Dictation

Does your child sprint around the house and dance with joy after a spelling test? Mine does!

I was chatting with a friend with a second grader enrolled in school. Her son was frustrated and bored in spelling class. Here is a sample of his word list for last week:


Spelling (unless you are in a spelling bee) usually occurs while you write real words in real sentences! That is why I love studied dictation: Pamela's "spelling words" are part of a real sentence. She has daily spelling tests and looks forward to them because they are so interesting to her. I will use the poem she mastered this week as an example, City by Langston Hughes. Here is what we do, and you can learn more by getting a copy of Cheri Hedden's presentation on Spelling vs. Studied Dictation:

Day One

I type a poem picked by Pamela, double-spaced in Word. I do alter punctuation and spelling to conform with standard practices if necessary. The first day of a new poem, she copies one sentence (if not too long) hand onto paper as copywork. After copying the sentence, she studies the typed version of it. She gets out a clean sheet of paper, and I read the sentence to her. She writes what she hears in the dictation, and I check it. She used to check for errors, but she gets so excited about how she did she has to run around the house until she finds out.

In the morning, the city spreads its wings, making a song in stone that sings.

This time she made one error! Every time she makes an error in a dictation, I highlight the correct version on the typed sheet and write the date underneath (it makes wonderful documentation). When she studies it the next day, she looks at the sheet and she sees what parts of the poem needs the most attention based on the highlighting.

Day Two

The next day, I wrote a lesson about her error, which was writing spreds. It may look like a worksheet, but this one has meaning and context because the lesson is focused upon learning a word she needs to spell.

After she finishes the lesson, she studies the typed, highlighted version. When ready, she gets out a clean sheet of paper, and I slowly read the dictation. This time she wrote it perfectly!!!

Day Three
The next day, she copies the entire poem (two sentences). Without realizing it, the spelling lesson from the day before dovetailed nicely with the second verse (bed and head):

In the morning, the city spreads its wings, making a song in stone that sings. In the evening, the city goes to bed, hanging lights about its head.

She studies the typed, highlighted version. She pulls out a clean sheet of paper, and I give her another dictation. And another perfect score! Tomorrow she will be ready for a new poem.

Spelling Tests vs. Studied Dictation
Pamela rarely makes the same mistake twice, but occasionally that happens (most often it is punctuation, not spelling). Some new lines in a poem may take longer than a day or two. But, sentence by sentence, verse by verse, we get through entire poems, some as complex as A Pirate Story by Robert Louis Stevenson: it took her a whole month to master it perfectly, line by line. But, she did! We started with one sentence and worked our way up to all three verses. Her last dictation she wrote all the verses at one time--perfectly:

Three of us afloat in the meadow by the swing, three of us abroad in the basket on the lea, winds are in the air. They are blowing in the spring, and waves are on the meadow like the waves there are at sea. Where shall we adventure today that we're afloat? Shall it be to Africa, a-steering of the boat, to Providence, or Babylon or off to Malabar? Hi! But, here's a squadron a-rowing on the sea—cattle on the meadow a-charging with a roar! Quick! And, we'll escape them; they're as mad as they can be. The wicket is the harbor, and the garden is the shore.

This means that she takes "spelling test" every day. What! A spelling test every day? Think about it! There is no big build up to Friday. We spend a total of 15 to 30 minutes in this daily habit: copy, dictate, check, document, and write a lesson. Some days we have no formal spelling lesson or grammar lesson, a reward for a perfect dictation.

I have been using this system since the summer. I do not waste our precious time drilling what she already knows (thus boring her). I target what she needs to know in my lessons. Studied dictation is simple, efficient, respectful of the child. How can you feel like you accomplished anything by just writing a bunch of random words with no meaning or context? It might as well be writing jibberish. Compare that to mastering sentences from a cherished book, the Bible, or an entire poem. Studied dictation wins in a contest against mindless spelling tests every time!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Happy Birthday . . . Grandpa . . . Surprise

Yesterday was Pamela's grandfather's birthday. We wanted to make his day special, so all of us, even Steve, wrote a story about our favorite memory of him. Pamela is not ready for experience stories (page 10), but she can easily whip up a personal description story. She decided to pen hers in cursive since a birthday is a special occasion.

Then we went high-tech! Since reciting poetry is a new skill never seen by her grandfather, I decided to film Pamela reciting one of her favorites by A. A. Milne, The End. I filmed her recitation on my digital camera, and David edited it with Windows Movie Maker and added Narnian music (track 4) as a birthday gift for their grandfather.

If you would like to see our video birthday card, go to my Aut-2B-Home web page (click here). We loved how it turned out, and Pamela giggles with delight whenever she sees it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Color-Coding and Visual Learners

Because Pamela's syntax is very basic due to her aphasia, we keep her grammar lessons very simple. Whenever she makes a mistake in her studied dictation, I write a lesson on the spot to address the issue. Yesterday, Pamela confused there with they're in the poem A Pirate Story. She recently finished stories with they and their in speech therapy, so I tossed their into the hopper with there and they're. Since it can be confusing talking about they're (or is it there or their?), I color-coded the three homophones, and we referred to them as yellow, pink, and green for clarity. Pamela, like many autistic children, tend to be highly visual and cue into visual patterns. Here is her introduction to homophones that confuse even adults from time to time, especially in emails in which the fingers fly fast. This is only an introduction because, for Pamela to master new syntax, she has to practice it through all three channels (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) both randomly and sequentially.
One reason why the association method is so effective for Pamela is that they encourage color-coding new syntax. This week, I am emphasizing three unrelated things: the possessive its, combining not with is/are, and subject-verb agreement for is/are. I code each concept with its own unique color. She has already had experience with possessive pronouns, negation, and subject-verb agreement, so three at one time is not confusing. When I introduce a completely new syntax, such as present progressive verb tense, it will be on its own. This is Pamela's copywork for today, which I write first on a dry-erase board, color-coded and in cursive.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Perplexing Pronouns

One sign of autism in verbal children is handling pronouns incorrectly. When Pamela was in the stage of repeating everything she heard (immediate echolalia), she would say, “Do you want cookies?” when she wanted cookies. Toddlers have echolalia as a normal part of language development, so it makes sense that autistic children parrot phrases. Because echolalia lasts much longer and occurs at a much older age in spectrum children, people worry about it. In Pamela’s case, I was excited she could say anything because she was non-verbal at age three!

As her grasp of language improved, she found pronouns so confusing she avoided them. She found it easier to speak in the third person, even about herself, much like some of our politicians. At this point in her development (from age seven and beyond), she would say, “Pamela want cookie.”

Pamela slowly started using pronouns and mixed them up in various ways, applying it to humans, reversing you and I, confusing he and she, avoiding we and they, etc. The most perplexing problem to overcome was distinguishing between first person, I, and second person, you. To observe this in action, one must pay close attention during one-on-one interactions with another person (usually, the child and parent) and one-on-one interactions between two other people (the parents or parent and siblings). Research shows that second-born children master I and you pronouns much more quickly than the firstborn does.

When Pamela mixes up her pronouns in conversation, I physically prompt her to sign them while she says them for an added visual cue: I, me, my, you, and your. I think the association method will offer the final solution in the long run because this form of mastering language introduces structure very slowly. The process of learning pronouns unfolds gradually (see page 10):

Repetitive Questions and Sentences: the only pronoun used in sentences is I and the only pronoun used in questions is you. These two pronouns are always in the nominative case (subject) to avoid confusion. Pamela learned to use proper names without the confusion of third person pronouns. Because she learned both questions and sentences, she practiced describing herself as I and the second person as you and hearing another person describe himself as I and Pamela as you. Because I always goes in sentences and you always goes in questions, her accuracy is much higher, boosting her confidence.

Animal Stories: Pamela continued to practice I and you only, solidifying her grasp of two and only two pronouns.

Inanimate Object Stories: The very next pronoun introduced is it, applied to all inanimate objects, but only in the nominative case (subject). At this point, Pamela showed great confidence in using I and you in the sentences and questions taught.

Personal Description Stories: By the time we made it to third person pronouns, Pamela felt secure in I and you. She spent one week applying he in the nominative case of a sentence and a second week on questions with he and did the same schedule for she. Then we devoted two more weeks using his in sentences and questions and two more with her. I introduced they and their at the same time, first in sentences and then in questions, because she seemed secure in applying possessive pronouns. By the time I added the possessive my into sentences only, Pamela understood the pattern and picked up the possessive form of the first person pronoun I quickly.

This week we are concentrating on the possessive your in questions only and Pamela is flying through the seven steps of her speech therapy. For every day, I have written stories about a different person: Monday (Mom—me), Tuesday (David—her brother), Wednesday (Opa—her grandfather), Thursday (Oma—her grandmother), and Friday (Dad—my husband). To emphasize who is supposed to be speaking, I have asked the person to read the sentences in response to questions asked by Pamela in the story. We follow that up with three rounds of questions in the following pattern: (1) Pamela asks; the second person answers; (2) the second person asks; Pamela answers; (3) Pamela asks; the second person answers; the second person asks; Pamela answers; Pamela asks. . .

To emphasize the concept of two people talking (Pamela and another person) in all of her written work (copywork, written narration, and dictation), she must label two columns to designate who is asking the questions and who is answering them. For this week, above the questions I wrote, “Pamela is talking” and above the sentences, “__________ is talking.”

This is more complicated than it seems because included in the mix is verb agreement between I/you/he/she/they and the verbs do/does, is/are, can, has/have, sees/see, and wants/want. Not to mention verb agreement having nothing to do with a possessive pronoun my/your/his/her/their and having everything to do with the noun in the subject!

I still need to introduce its and, because she is already aware of the contraction it's, I will probably spend the next week or two covering both words. You may notice I am ignoring we and our and other forms of first, second, and third person nouns. One thing I have learned from the association method is Pamela needs to be secure in what she has learned before adding more nuances! She is better off moving onto a fresh, completely unrelated concept like prepositions or present progressive language (is/are __________ing) than plowing into pronouns in greater detail. Constant review and generalization of previously mastered material in daily conversations allows her to solidify new concepts before plunging in further.

Time will tell how well Pamela generalizes keeping her pronouns straight in conversations. Right now, I am full of hope!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Proper Care and Feeding of Sea Lawyers

I graduated from the United States Naval Academy many moons ago, and one of the first lessons I learned the very first summer was never to make excuses about anything, even legitimate excuses. When we messed up and an upperclassman asked why (a hypothetical question, obviously), the only acceptable answer was, “No excuse, Sir (or Ma’m)!” They honestly did not care about the reason and, if we issued an excuse, they yelled at us twice as hard (once for making a mistake and twice for voicing excuses).

Occasionally, a plebe (freshmen) would have the habit of inventing excuses for everything and would earn the privilege of placing a placard on the door to his room with his name followed by “Attorney at Sea”. Such a sign was like cutting yourself in shark-infested waters: any firstie in a foul mood would pop in and “chat” long enough for said sea lawyer to dream up an excuse. The firstie could then flame all over the attorney at sea. In the vernacular, a sea lawyer is someone who attempts to shirk responsibility through trivial technicalities, so it appears this word has migrated into the public sphere.

Sometimes autistic children, who face so many challenges caused by their sensory system and highly attune radar for detail, can fall into the habit of making excuses. Pamela is like the little engine that could: she has such courage to try and try until she masters something. When a listmate on Aut-2B-Home asked about handling kids who come up with excuses for everything, my sea lawyer in training (my neurotypical son) has given me plenty of experience. Here are my guidelines for the proper care and feeding of sea lawyers:

Address each excuse seriously at first. If a child complains about having too much light, that may be legitimate because autistic people have highly sensitive sensory systems. Turn off the overhead lights, pull down the blinds or close the curtains, or replace the 100-watt bulb with a 40-watt one. If a child is cold, get some socks or a jacket or move to the couch and cuddle up with a blanket. Seriously handle excuses involving sensory issues.

Address each excuse seriously with unpopular answers. When a child runs out of real reasons and starts making excuses, think of true solutions guaranteed to be unpopular with your child. Here are some of my all-time favorite conversations with my little attorney at sea:

  • Sea Lawyer: "I'm too tired to do math."
  • Mom: "Gee, I'm sorry about that! I guess from now on I'll have to set an earlier bedtime for you because your body needs the rest."
  • SL: "Uh. . . never mind. . . My head hurts."
  • Mom: "Gee, I'm sorry. Why don't you lie down. You've probably had too much screen time, so no more electronics other than radio for today."
  • SL: "Oh, I was just kidding. . . I'm just too stupid to learn math."
  • Mom: "I'm not giving up on you. I was stupid too. Let me see if I can explain it another way. Please be patient with me while I think this through." Then we do the math, using another tactic.

Toss in some humor to cut through the tension. When your sea lawyer comes up with far-fetched dillies, give him a dose of humor. Some autistic children do understand humor. However, this will not work with highly literal and highly sensitive children.

  • SL: "I can't find any pencil lead."
  • Mom, who knows there IS pencil lead and attorney at sea has not bothered to look for it. "Get the knife. You'll have to write this sheet in blood."

Make the sea lawyer turn around an excuse and write it as a positive comment five times. At some point, it is obvious the sea lawyer is pushing my buttons to get out of his work. He hates writing, so having to write anything five times causes him to think before he speaks.

  • SL in a whiny voice: “I can’t learn this stuff.”
  • Mom: “That’s enough. Turn over your sheet and write this five times: ‘I can learn this stuff with enough practice.’”
Use excuse making to sharpen wits. Some sea lawyers may really be attorneys in the making and enjoy a rigorous debate. When my sea lawyer is in a good mood and working steadily, I humor him by seeing how far the one-upmanship goes before someone “wins”:
  • SL after only two problems: “If you don’t let me stop now, I’m going to crumple up my paper.”
  • Mom: “Well, I’m going to throw it in the trash and make you start over.”
  • SL: “Well, I’m going to tell everyone that you make me work too hard.”
  • Mom: “Then, I’m going to show everyone your crumpled up paper and see if they agree.”
This verbal exchange goes on until someone runs out of ideas, and, as long as the lively banter stays warm and affectionate and the sea lawyer keeps working, then the mother of the sea lawyer does not mind a test of wits.

Be reasonable and give the sea lawyer a break.
Sometimes the attorney at sea has been working diligently, putting forth a good effort. If the work is not finished, give him a break after he reaches a designated problem and have him finish it later.

Show why doing the work is important to his personal goals.
My son plans to attend college and major in history (the farthest thing removed from math). To enter the college of his choice, he must excel in algebra so that he can score high on the SAT or other entrance exams. Whether he likes it or not, he must master high-level math to reach his personal goals.

Show why doing the work prevents negative consequences.
My son hates when people treat him shabbily. I tell him that if he cannot handle basic math in life, crooks might take advantage of him and swindle him. He might bounce checks and develop a bad credit history.

Illustrate how annoying excuses are when his interests are at stake.
I talk about how no one is going to want to help a person who makes a bunch of excuses. People find it frustrating and depressing to be around someone moaning and groaning all the time. From time to time, I might act like him so he can see how silly it appears.
  • Mom (in whiny voice): "David, I can't wash your clothes. My feet hurt. You can get by with dirty underwear, right? I'm sure nobody will notice the smell. I’m tired!"
Show why doing things right benefits the sea lawyer. A perfect example happened last night. He took an algebra test and just wrote answers, showing hardly any work, because he “knew” the answers. He earned a D, but I promised to write a make-up test if he promised to show his work. He took the second test and circled the wrong answer on four out of fifteen questions! I studied his work, and he had calculated his answers correctly but carelessly circled the wrong answer! I used this opportunity to demonstrate how, as teacher I could in good conscious mark these correct after he circled the right answers because he had shown his work completely and, without a doubt, how he had done the math correctly. I showed him his scratch paper and compared it to the answers he circled. I kept my tone very light, and we chuckled about how ditzy he was. He saw clearly how showing his work earned him an A, instead of another D. Then I reminded him that SAT is multiple-choice for math, and the computer has no sympathy for students with teenheimers.

Write social stories if talking does not help. You can illustrate most of these ideas in social stories, which are worth writing when conversations do not help.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Low-Tech Happy New Year Tip!

This low-tech tip is great for working on narration skills or speech therapy. Like typical children, Pamela falls in a rut with word choices. If asked how she feels, she usually answers, “Happy” or “Sad.” When describing the emotions of a character in a book, she picks the same words: happy, sad, angry, or afraid. To build up her vocabulary and help determine how new emotion words match with ones she already understands, I put new words on paper plates. Whenever we discover them in the books we read, I write them on the edges of the plate in the proper quarter. If Pamela falls back on the same old words during a narration, I pull out the plate to suggest alternatives. The picture is a bit blurry, but you get the idea. Words for happy include cheerful, giddy, and joyful; sad: gloomy, depressed, mournful; angry: irate, wrathful, furious; and afraid: frightened, terrified, scared.She has the same issue with people words and verbs. If asked, “Who does __________ see?” her response was almost always, “________ sees people.” Whenever we run into new kinds of people in books, I write them on our people plate. The people plate helps her pick words that are more appropriate if all that pops in her head is people. The image is a tad blurry, but along the rim are words like parents, children, farmers, sailors, knights, teachers, doctors, etc.

We are broadening her use of verbs too. If asked, “What can __________ do?” she usually says, “_________ can go.” I recently started a new subject-verb plate where I document what verbs are often associated with what nouns. She already knows these associations, but needs hints about more specific words than go.

Monday, January 01, 2007

High-Tech Happy New Year Tip!

Happy New Year! Click here for a cute card to ring in another year!

Yesterday on my email list Aut-2B-Home, people discussed how affected they and/or their children are by graphic images on the Internet. Still photos of Saddam Hussein with a noose around his neck part of their webmail sign-in page disturb them. Ads with scantily clad women often plague online sites for checking email (*ahem* Hotmail and Earthlink). I shared a high-tech tip for avoiding visual images that helps enough people to make it worthwhile to post here.

About ten years ago, I was struggling to keep a very old computer alive. It contained such a small amount of space that accessing a web page full of graphics would crash the computer. Frames, which were the latest Internet phenomenon at the time, gave the poor thing the blue screen of death! I solved my problem by turning off the graphics! I was able to surf the Internet and see only the images I absolutely needed by turning them on individually.

H is how to turn off Internet images in Firefox:

Click Tools, then Options, then Content.
There is a box to check off "Load images automatically". Click until you see no checkmark.
Click Ok.
If you want to see an image, right click the box for the broken image and click "View image".

Here is how to turn off Internet images in Explorer:

Click Tools, then Internet Options, then Advanced.
In the box that pops open, scroll down until you see the section called Multimedia and click until you see no checkmarks in two boxes:
"Play videos in web pages"
"Show pictures"
Click Apply.
If you want to see an image, right click the box for the broken image and click "Show image".

Keep these instructions and do the same to restore automatic loading of images, except make sure you see checkmarks in the boxes indicated.