Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pamela's Pecan Pancakes

Pamela asked to make pancakes today, so I decided to make it an RDI lifestyle activity. I scaffolded by assembling all the ingredients and tools at the table (tools on one side of the bowl and ingredients on the other). Because I do not have a written recipe for pancakes and eye-ball the amount of water, productive uncertainty was built into the process. The last time we cooked together was a month ago, and Pamela is much better at referencing my face for information and following my eye gaze. She has room for improvement in sharing emotions during a task that requires concentration and communicating her intentions to seek my approval. She tends to focus on the objects and not my face when I give her instructions.

Pamela is not the only one who is working on new habits! Even though I am flying solo as a novice at all this, watching myself on digital recordings helps me improve how I communicate and interact with Pamela. I am finding declarative language much easier and found myself explaining, rather than directing. I need to work on hesitating at exciting moments to build up anticipation, which can lead to an emotional exchange. I tend to be a "get on with it" kind of person, so going slowly and hesitating is not in my nature.

Scrumptious! Here is the final recipe, but I still recommend the eye-ball method for how much water to add. I always add molasses and maple syrup to the mix for taste and color. Pancakes just do not brown properly without these ingredients:

Pamela's Pecan Pancakes:
3 cups of pancake mix
2 eggs
1 can of coconut milk
1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup of pure maple syrup
~ 1 cup of water
1/2 cup of chopped pecans

Pour the mix into a large bowl. Add the eggs, coconut milk, molasses, and syrup. Stir until the mix is wet. Add half a cup of water and stir. Keep adding water until you have a thick, but not doughy batter. Fold in the pecans. Fry and flip until your heart's content. Makes about eight servings, depending upon the appetite of the diner.

I like to be amused and am easily amused. While I was eating, I read something on the carton of Silk that amused me:

Back in 1995, when we started the GF/CF diet, having such explicit labels on food products were impossible to find unless you shopped at a health food store. Parents had to call food manufacturers and question them like a prosecutor, just to find out if a food really was free of gluten and casein. A decade later, I am finding more and more products, even at Wal-Mart and the local grocery store, with "Gluten-Free" stamped on the label. I guess the manufacturers got tired of fielding our questions!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Emotion Sharing

In his RDI material, Dr. Gutstein makes a distinction between instrumental interactions and experience sharing. As I work with Pamela in an RDI fashion, the difference is finally becoming clear to me. I will try to explain what I understand as a novice in RDI.

While emotions may appear similar, the motive behind them is what makes the difference between the two. In instrumental interactions, one person sees the other person as a means to an end: the person is expecting a specific outcome and, as long as the other person accomplishes the task in question, it does not matter who the other person is. With Pamela, her instrumental interactions tend to be verbal scripting: making sure that the schedule she has in mind is still on track, verbal stimming games, etc. When my sister-in-law visited us last month, my sil picked up Pamela's verbal stimming games very quickly and, to Pamela, it mattered not who was in the stim script, as long as the player knew the right answers and the acceptable ways of introducing novelty. Pamela smiles broadly or fusses loudly depending upon how well we are following the plan she has in mind. She shows genuine excitement and beautiful smiles when we stim back and forth.

Experience sharing is different because there is no end in mind. You interact for the sake of interacting. Each experience is different for you have no script. An experience shared with one person is unique and cannot be duplicated. You cannot reference a previous experience with one person and expect another person to spring off of that. One key aspect of experience sharing begins with the letter e, and that is EMOTION. Both kinds of interactions may have emotions, but the point of one (instrumental interaction) is a specific outcome and the point of the other (experience sharing) is emotion.

One technique that the RDI folks recommend most for novice RDI families is to speak in declarative language. The basic idea is that children will be more receptive to sharing emotions unprompted when you stop bossing them around all the time with imperative language (commands) and interrogative language (questions) and start sharing your own observations in an open-ended way. (This is so much like Charlotte Mason's thoughts on masterly inactivity!) In fact, the RDI site emphasizes declarative language and indirect prompts as a key component of this program:
• Predominant use of declarative communication. Minimal use of interrogatives, directives and other forms of imperative communication.
• Creating frequent periods of "productive uncertainty" to provide the child opportunities for referencing.
• Reliance on indirect prompts whenever possible

One reason why it helps me to tape a few RDI activities every day is that I can see how I am doing in the habit of declarative language. (All too often I am dismayed by how much room I have for improvement.) Today, I was so excited during one activity in which I had hidden a toy in a dark bathroom. As we walked in the bathroom, instead of commanding, "Pamela, turn on the light", I said, "Ooo, we need some light in here." Without a pause, Pamela flipped on the light and I thanked her. It was still too dark for the camera, so I added, "I need some more light, Pamela! That's not enough light." She walked right over to the other light and flipped that switch, too! Had she opted to ignore my request, I would have turned on the lights myself and made another declarative comment like, "Oh, wow! I can see so much better with those bright lights."

Yesterday, Pamela and I shared several experiences that I think qualify as emotion sharing.

* While playing ball, she giggled and smiled for no obvious reason. She was not stimming verbally, the source of many of her beautiful smiles. I smiled back and laughed too, especially when I realized I was not part of a script.

* Sometimes during our ball games, a ball will bounce down the steps just outside our homeschool room. We sit together and hear it go thump, thump, thump down the steps. We have plenty of other balls and continue playing, but whenever that happens, we smile and make declarative comments about the lost ball.

* While we were reading Pamela's speech therapy script for articulation and syntax practice, I inserted a couple of silly words to make sure she is listening: "The moon is under the bed" or "My closet has ice cream and pickles". Yesterday, she turned the tables on me and said two things wrong and then looked at me to see if I would react! We both smiled when I caught her in the act and realized she was trying to pull a fast one one me!

* Her brother David is playing his first season of baseball. Today, Pamela sat through her second game, so this is a novel experience. At one point, a pop fly zoomed high into the air and flew behind the stands, across the road, and into a grass field near someone's house. Pamela laughed and made a comment about it being magic. Whenever balls land in unexpected places, we exchanged glances and laughed.

We are working on one RDI-like activity during the game. Whenever David's team made a run, Pamela and I high-fived each other. I am open to any and all suggestions. Another great RDI activity for us is the self-checkout line at Wal-Mart. I shift my gaze to items in the shopping cart, and Pamela references my face to figure out which one I want her to scan. She scans the item, and I bag it. On big shopping trips, we are getting many chances to communicate non-verbally.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Education is the Formation of Habits

Charlotte Mason believed that habit is the instrument by which parents work, much like the wheel is to the potter. Not only that, habit is the chief instrument of educators: "The formation of habits is education, and Education is the formation of habits" (page 97). Her six-volume series is peppered with ideas about habit training, with the most details found on the following sections:
Volume 1, Parts III, IV
Volume 3, Chapters 10, 11, 12, 13
Volume 5, Part I

Sometimes, reading through the series is like a treasure hunt. Even though most have an index and I can always perform advanced searches for keywords online, I always wonder if I have overlooked a jewel of a thought. Sonya Schafer at Simply Charlotte Mason has put together a wonderful collection of all of Charlotte's writings on habit in one book, appropriately titled Laying down the Rails! She has compiled every habit mentioned by Charlotte and sorted them by category. She leaves room for notes in the margins, outlines the formation of a habit with the example used by Charlotte Mason of shutting the door behind you, and includes a checklist plus inspiring quotes and thoughtful questions for each habit presented.

I have found other resources to be invaluable in habit training: Hints on Childhood Training (an oldie, but goodie) and, for people blessed with strong-willed children in their lives, You Can't Make Me, But I Can Be Persuaded.

Originally, I had planned to outline the training of a habit, but Pamela's self-directed demonstration the habit of orderliness got me sidetracked. Today, when I walked in her room, she was busy sorting all of her Disney charade cards by movie, something she has never done before today. To the left is a close-up of one batch. This is the kind of thing I started seeing more often after I formed my own habits of habit training and masterly inactivity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Habit is TEN Natures

Back in February, I blogged about Masterly Inactivity, which I plan to cover at the Third Annual Charlotte Mason Conference in June. I am busy drafting my notes and have come across some wonderful quotes about habit training, without which masterly inactivity would yield anarchy. In a nutshell, habits (or law) ensures masterly inactivity (or liberty):

When I first read "perfect obedience" (page 164) back in 1999, my mind slipped into a catatonic state because between a strong-willed, random, wild child and an autistic child, perfect obedience was something I would not see in this lifetime. I completely overlooked those critical words, "they receive a few directions". Initially, I did not grasp the concept of working on ONE habit at a time.

Charlotte Mason believed a child with as few as twenty good habits was off to a great start in life (page 136). A mother harping on her kids with "Do this" and "Do not do that" was the last thing she had in mind, nor was children running roughshod over parental authority. Too much law produces overtaxed children, while too much liberty produces overtaxed mothers.

Charlotte suggested that habit training secures a smooth and easy life for parents. Seven years after incorporating her philosophy of education, I have to agree. Charlotte was spot on when she wrote, "Education in habit favours an easy life."

My kids are teenagers, which I forecasted to be a nightmare because of their challenging behaviors in their early years. They are a delight to us, and their grandparents enjoy their company and wish they could spend more time together. They are not perfect children and not always perfectly obedient in everything, but they have certainly come a long way from the bad, old days when I was often shot dirty looks by shoppers at Wal-Mart for not dealing harshly enough with those bratty kids in need of a pop on the hiney.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Curtains in a Pond?

Yesterday, Pamela found a mouse (pink Barbie mouse) in the locked box game, which fit in nicely with her pond theory. Now, she is totally confused because the box contained curtains today! I cannot wait for her anticipation of what will be in the box tomorrow.

Due to my random streak (I prefer that term over ditziness or lack of organization), we stumbled upon a new opportunity to reference me for information. On Saturday, I had packed away her animal toys and had forgotten to retrieve them for the locked box game. After opening it, we normally discuss the latest theory on what kind of collection have these toys. When Pamela saw her toys were missing yesterday, she started referencing me and I led her to the location using eye gaze, facial expressions, and unexpected sounds. Today, I hid the flamingo on purpose and this variation to the game adds more opportunities to reference.

Final Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project
Previous Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project

And Flamingo Makes Six!

Imaginative Pamela decided to dress up like a cowboy while she worked on her math (proportion word problems). They say autistic children lack imagination and have trouble with spontaneity. I beg to differ!

Last Friday, Pamela did a wonderful job referencing my face for information during the locked box game. When I spotlighted anticipating what was in the box, she was so eager to open it she became mildly annoyed with me for stalling her. Her face brightened with a smile after I started the "right or wrong" game in which she had to guess what kind of animal was in the box. I answered with nonverbal communications (head movement, facial expression, and unexpected sounds). After she guessed bird, we worked on the color. I turned my gaze to the pink face, and she also shifted her gaze between the direction of my focus and my face! I had to show her my pink sweatshirt before she guessed "pink."

Next Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project
Previous Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Four Fish, One Fish; Green Fish, Pink Fish

I noticed something very exciting today, and I think it might have something to do with all the referencing we are doing with Pamela. According to Solving the Relationship Puzzle (page 176), social referencing is
a critical process, beginning during the first year of life, where children learn to actively utilize the facial expressions, reactions and actions of their social partners as an essential reference point to determine their own behavior.
Referencing is more than simple eye contact: a person attends to your face, body language, and vocal intonation as well as your actions and reactions. The person learns information from your behavior to determine what their next action will be. Rather than just having a staring contest, you and the person exchange information without words.

While I understand some people with autism have difficulty with eye contact, I also have videos of Pamela referencing us in her infancy. She played "Peek-a-boo" and "Hide and Seek" games before she became autistic. Last month, she generalized referencing so quickly (within a few days) that I suspect she has had this developmental skill for a long time. We did not emphasize it because we assumed eye contact was beyond her grasp, convinced it made her uncomfortable like other autistics. Because Pamela has had to work so hard at verbal communication, I suspect that she finds the opportunity to communicate without words pleasurable. She shows no discomfort at all when we reference each other with our eyes, ears, and actions, and, if I saw any hint of discomfort, I would hesitate in expecting more than what is possible from her.

One new habit in our Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) lifestyle is referencing during speech therapy. One of the steps of the association method is to read from a script to practice articulation and visually see the color-coding of the new syntax of the week. We go back and forth: I ask the written question and she answers or vice versa. Originally, we fell into the habit of reading our script, not bothering to shift attention from the paper to each other's faces. Impatient for her turn, Pamela used to interrupt me if the answer or question was longer than expected. In fact, "Sorry for the interruption" is one of her scripts when she is anxious!

When we started RDI, I started pausing until Pamela referenced me. Only then would I take my turn in the script. If she looked back down at her page, I would pause and wait for her to reference me. To keep her interested in what I was saying, I would occasionally say the wrong thing, preferably something silly and outrageous, to see if she was simply looking or truly referencing. Last week, I said four or five whoppers in a row that she completely missed, even though I struggled to hide giggles and smirks.

This week, I noticed Pamela has stopped interrupting me! Today, I tested her patience by pausing at unexpected places (but not finishing the line until I was good and ready) or slowing down or anything to stretch out the lines. Every time, she waited until I had completely asked the full question or completed the full sentence! Not only that, she smiled and shook her head when I launched a whopper. She really is referencing both my face and words, not just staring into space and waiting for the vocal pause.

I saw an interesting development in the mystery toy today. Pamela found a tiny pink fish, instead of the green fish and rope that go with what she calls the fish trap. I have been spotlighting the meaning of each object as a clue to help her figure out what the toy is. Because she found another fish, albeit of a different color, she modified her theory to a pond or lake theme (although "Go-to-Jail" Barbie is not completely out of her mental picture). This new development piqued her interest to the point in actually staying engaged in our conversation about the meaning of the pink fish far longer than yesterday, when she was ready to bolt and get on with speech therapy.

Tomorrow, I plan to spotlight this during our puzzle time, trying to anticipate what the object will be and its color. I suspect she will think fish and either pink or a new color. I plan to put the pink flamingo in the locked box tomorrow to keep her mind on an aquatic theme.

Next Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project
Previous Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rest in Peace, Gus

Gus, a dog in our extended family, died yesterday (we think he sneaked some chicken bones). Pamela loves animals and still misses her Aunt Pam's cat Simon who died nearly ten years ago. She has a huge collection of Beanie Babies and loves all the pets in our extended family: Elvira (an elegant white standard poodle), Loa (the laziest sweetest dog on the planet), Arwen (the hyperactive beast), Lexxus (the rambunctious white pit bull), Buddy (a friendly little guy), and Oma and Opa's fish. Gus was a brutish-looking pit bull with the heart of a sweet kitten. All you needed to do to make that dog happy was sit and pet him and throw him a bone. When I broke the news to Pamela, I told her that Gus is now playing with Jack (Laura Ingalls Wilder's dog) and chasing Simon in the happy hunting grounds. This is a picture she drew of Gus on his way to his new home.

Today is the last day in which Pamela will find pieces for the Barbie "fish trap/jail". While building a puzzle, I asked Pamela what she might see in the locked box, and she anticipated correctly (more green fish pieces). I am spotlighting this expectation because tomorrow I will put something different in the locked box (a pink fish). I am interested to see her reaction when she opens the locked box tomorrow. I am hoping she will be surprised, which will be an opportunity to spotlight that emotional reaction.

Something exciting happened when we played Guess Who? today. We play it once or twice a week, and usually David is her helper (making sure she responds correctly to my questions or answers). Today, she played her round all by herself. With a couple of lucky guesses, she narrowed her choice down after only five questions and guessed the person's identity correctly! I had about ten possibilities left by the end of the game. She smoked me fair and square.

Next Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project
Previous Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Getting Warmer

Today, Pamela added two more pieces to her mystery toy. She also expanded her theory about the purpose of those pieces: Barbie is going to jail for scaring cats!

I have a sweet memory of Pamela and her improving understanding of non-verbal communication. This morning, we attended the weekly prayer breakfast at Hardees as usual. Pamela had a spot of catsup on her chin, but, instead of telling her, I caught her attention with my eyes and wiped my chin with a napkin. Then I looked at the napkin holder and back at her. She grabbed a napkin and wiped the catsup off her chin!

Next Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project
Previous Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project

Monday, April 16, 2007

Exploring a Novel Object Part 1

Last week, we did not do much on the official homeschool front. David was working hard with other youth in our area on a spring break mission trip. They spent their days cleaning up yards, building steps and railings, and painting for the poor. When he was not at baseball practice, David spent his evenings relaxing at youth group. He came home exhausted.

With David gone all week, Pamela did not feel the urge to renew the contract about the sacred hour. But, today, I find this waiting for me in the kitchen when I fixed my first cup of coffee. While she did not nag me, she did read the contract aloud to me in my presence five times during the morning!

On the RDI front, I filmed Pamela exploring a novel object found in her locked box at the end of the treasure hunt activity. I stored three pieces from a Barbie Dream Kitty Condo I secretly bought at Wal-Mart last night. Pamela unlocked the box and handled two plastic green fish and a plastic green rope that form a stand as you can see in the picture. She figured out how to assemble the pieces without any clues and hints from me. She has not studied the toy on previous shopping trips because she had no idea of its connection to Barbie's kitten. She guessed correctly that the pieces are part of a Barbie toy. She missed the mark in that she thought the parts are part of a trap or jail, but all things considered Pamela did well!

Next Episode of Barbie Kitty Condo Project

Saturday, April 14, 2007

More Mathematical Musings

Issue 4, Revision 1:
I spotted a minor flaw in yesterday's musings on Issue 4 (how many blocks will be in the longest row of this blanket) because I assumed the afghan was square (and you know what happens when you assume. . .).

I can write two simultaneous equations about this blanket. First, the ratio of length to width is 90 inches to 75 inches and the number of rows in the length (L) versus the number of rows in the width (W) will have the same ratio!

L/W = 90/75
= 6/5

Multliplying both sides by W, I get
L = 6W/5

The second equation has to do with the number of blocks in total, which is the number of rows in the width (W) times the number of rows in the length (L).

Total number of blocks = 19,360 blocks
LW = 19,360

I can substitute L = 6W/5 into the formula and get,
(6W/5)W = 19,360
6W*W/5 = 19,360
6W*W = (19,360)5 = 96,800
W*W = 96,800/6 = 16,133 1/3
W ~ 127

Then I can solve for L:
L = 6W/5
= 6(127)/5
= 762/5
~ 152

Issue 5:
I started to wonder on what skein (Y) will I turn the corner for the width (N = 127). Each skein has 605 blocks, so the number of blocks used will be 605Y. The total number of blocks can be calculated from Issue 2 from yesterday's musings for the 127th row.

Total number of blocks = N(N+1)/2
= 127(128)/2
= 127(64)
= 8,128

605Y = 8,128
Y = 8,128/605
~ 13

I should be in middle of the 14th skein when I make the first turn.

Issue 6:
One way to check how accurate my calculations are I wanted to forecast on what row I expect to switch skeins. If I miss the mark by a wide margin, it could either be due to poor quality control on the length of yarn or faulty assumptions on my part. For example, I expect to switch to the third skein on row 48. Solving this problem involves the quadratic equation formula!

1 skein = 605 blocks
2 skeins = 1210 blocks

Total number of blocks = N(N + 1)/2
1210 = (N*N + N)/2
(1210)2 = N*N + N
2420 = N*N + N
0 = N*N + N + (-2420)

Compare that to the quadratic equation:

0 = a(N*N) + b(N) + c

For purposes of the quadratic equation formula,
a = 1
b = 1
c = -2420

So, I have two possible solutions:

N = 0.5a(-b - SQRT(b*b - 4ac)
N = 0.5a(-b + SQRT(b*b - 4ac)

The first will not work because I get a negative answer, and the number of rows must be positive:
N = 0.5*1*(-1 - SQRT(1*1 - 4*1*(-2420))

Here is the second possibility:

N = 0.5*1*(-1 + SQRT(1*1 - 4*1*(-2420))
= 0.5(-1 + SQRT(1 + 9680))
= 0.5(-1 + SQRT(9681))
= 0.5(-1 + 98.39)
= 0.5(97.39)
~ 48

If I miss my predictions by a wide margin, then I will need to retrench and rethink my plans before it is too late and I am forced to do a massive yank-fest.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see if this way of calculation would predict turning the first corner on the 14th skein, and it did!

Okay, okay, I promise . . . no more links between algebra and crocheting for awhile!

P.S. By tomorrow, I should be on my third skein. That will be "only" thirty to go!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Mathematical Musings on a Crochet Project

Today, we had a thread about slide rules, calculators, graphing calculators, and Excel on my email list, Aut-2B-Home. Pictured here are my dear husband's slide rule (Acumath 400) from high school and my trusty HP11C from college. Both are old enough to be antiques! (Stop it right now! I know what you are thinking . . . is it any wonder one of our children has autism?)
One listmate asked me about how I keep my brain from falling asleep after having gotten a master's degree in Operations Research (statistics) and done nothing with it. For the past two weeks, making math calculations for my new crochet project has kept my mind occupied. Believe it or not, I found the need to manipulate and factor a polynomial in making calculations for a crocheting project! Algebra and crocheting????

Yes, read on . . .

If you dare . . .

(Maniacal laughter in the background) . . .

Issue 1:
I am crocheting a 75" by 90" afghan to cover (and protect) my dear husband's leather couch with the same diagonal stitch used in my recent baby blanket project. The yarn I plan to use is colored by dye lot. If I fail to buy the right number of skeins, I will waste money by having too many skeins or fall short of my intended size or buy yarn from a different dye lot and end up with slightly different tints from one skein to the next. I bought one skein of the yarn I planned to buy in bulk, crocheted the diagonal stitch until I run out of yarn, and calculated the area in square inches. With the number, I guestimated how many skeins are needed to make 6,750 square inches (75" x 90").

To have a double check, I calculated the area of the triangle pictured above made from one skein in two ways:

* I measured the sides that would form a square made of this diagonal. I found the area of the square and divided by two: 21x21/2 = 220.5 square inches/skein.

* I measured the hypotenuse (the diagonal) and the base (which cuts the triangle in symmetrical halves) and divided by two: 30x14.5/2 = 217.5 square inches/skein.

To reach 6,750 square inches, I would need 31 skeins, so I bought 32 to make it even:

Total number of skeins = 6,750 square inches/220.5 square inches/skein
= 30.6 skeins


Total number of skeins = 6,750 square inches/217.5 square inches/skein
= 31.0 skeins

Issue 2:
I find it fun to measure my progress by calculating the number of blocks I have completed (one block = ch 2, 3 dc) at the end of each row. The first row begins with one block; the second row, two blocks; the third row, three blocks; etc.

Row 1: 1 = 1
Row 2: 1 + 2 = 3
Row 3: 1 + 2 + 3 = 6

I could have figured it out in Excel by making a spreadsheet and printing it out a chart through 150 rows. But then, I remembered there were formulas for things like this. I played around with the numbers and spotted the following pattern:

Row N: 1 + 2 + . . . + N = N(N+1)/2

I even proved it to myself to make sure it was right, but such a proof goes beyond the scope of this blog (tee, hee, hee).

Issue 3:
This formula came in handy when I was trying to figure out what to do with my lone skein with its lone dye lot. I decided to make a mat for an Rock Garden Steve bought for his office. In Issue 1, I had made a triangle with 34 rows plus 10 surplus blocks and ended up with 605 blocks for the entire skein:

Total number of blocks = 34(35)/2 + 10
= 17(35) + 10
= 595 + 10
= 605

I wanted to make the mat as large as possible, but only wanted to rip back to the half way point. To calculate the number of blocks in the middle row of my mat of unknown size, I drew the illustration pictured left. If that middle row has N blocks (white blocks), the row before it (the yellow half) has N-1 blocks as does the row after it (the blue half). To calculate the total number of blocks in a square mat with N blocks along the diagonal, I add the number of blocks in the white row plus the number blocks in the yellow half to the number of blocks in the blue half:

Total Number of Blocks = White + Yellow + Blue

Using the formula from issue, I get:

Total Number of Blocks = N + (N-1)(N-1 + 1)/2 + (N-1)(N-1 + 1)/2
= N + (N-1)N/2 + (N-1)N/2
= N + (N-1)N(1/2 + 1/2)
= N + (N-1)N
= N + N*N - N
= N*N

I must have my total number of blocks less than 605, and it must be a whole number!

N*N < 605 N*N - 605 = 0 (N + 24.6)(N - 24.6) = 0 Since N must be a whole, I round it down to 24, which means I must rip back to the row with 24 blocks. Was I right? Yes! When I finished the mat, only a tiny ball of yarn remained. Issue 4:
I wondered how many blocks will be in the longest row of this blanket. If I get 605 blocks per skein, I should end up with 19,360 blocks in all:

Total number of blocks = 32 skeins x 605 blocks/skein
= 19,360 blocks.

Using the formula used in the third issue, I calculate there will be 139 blocks in the longest row:

N*N < 19,360
N*N - 19,360 = 0
(N + 139.14)(N - 139.14) = 0

Whoever said you would never use this stuff in real life?

Class dismissed!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Google Video

About a month ago when I started taking baby steps in RDI, I also began shooting short clips of some of our activities with my digital camera. Since these clips are memory hogs and my dear husband travels often, I uploaded them to Google Video, which I chose over You Tube because I can keep the clips private. I already had a Google account for my blog, so I had no problem uploading videos, which allows me to share videos in Aut-2B-Home in Carolina, too.

In spite of the cons (which I will explain in a moment), I am so thankful I did because about two weeks ago I had to reformat my computer: I lost everything, except the videos I had uploaded. One silver lining in a very dark cloud!

One con of storing clips at Google Video is that they are converted to .gvi or .gvp files. If you download the clips back onto your computer, you will need either Adobe Flash Player 7.0+ or Google Video Player to play the clip offline. Over the weekend, I downloaded the clips to my sister-in-law's Mac and found that selecting "Video iPod/Sony PSP" (located to the right of the download button) worked!

Yesterday, Pamela and I reviewed a series of small pictures extracted from video footage I shot on our digital camera. I retrieved these images by watching the video online at Google Video and clicking the word "Details". This causes still images from the video (taken at interverals) to appear taken. To save these images, I put my cursor on an image, right clicked, and selected "Save Image As".

Today, I stumbled across another con: Windows Media and Real Player do not like the Google format. But, I figured out a way to convert the .gvp files to .avi: first, I downloaded a nifty utility GVideoFix that makes the conversion to a format acceptable to Windows Movie Maker and then DivX so that the images would play. Right now, I am looping together and editing larger video clips to help me better see the big picture in Pamela's progress with RDI.

Okay, your eyes are glazing over--I can see it. Enough geek talk for one day!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Episodic Memory: Take Three!

One of five essential elements of dynamic intelligence defined by Relationship Development Intervention is episodic memory:
The ability to reflect on past experiences and anticipate potential future scenarios in a productive manner. Developing an internal mental "space" to consider, reflect, preview, prepare, regulate, evaluate, hypothesize and dream.

On page 310 of the book My Baby Can Dance, Dr. Gutstein defines episodic memory as
. . . a representation we form of an event in our lives, strongly anchored by an emotional appraisal of that episode, that we use to form a sense of ourselves and to anticipate our future. Episodic Memory is very different than just remembering the details of a past episode.

Definitions like the two above are not very helpful when trying to incorporate lifestyle changes that develop episodic memory. The RDI Protocol states that Memory Journals can strengthen episodic memory, so I decided to make a recipe book that would encourage Pamela to anticipate future cooking experiences. The last section of her cookbook is for material to develop episodic memory. I wrote a very long and detailed experience story describing the exact steps we took and highlighted exciting emotional moments, such as when a pan unexpectedly crashed or when Pamela discovered cocoa without sugar tastes bitter. When I shared it with one of my dear friends who is also doing RDI, she gently hinted that my approach may end up being too static and could end up being another (of many) scripts in Pamela's life. Even my second rewrite was something she kindly suggested we read one or two times and store in a file. I am so thankful for the wisdom she generously shares because I think my third take was a winner!

Since we are flying by the seat of our pants without a consultant, I began to scour the Internet for ideas. On page 11 of a presentation, I found more clues:
This type of memory has three components: the raw pieces of data (the event itself), the emotions we experience and the meaning we extract from the interaction of these two components. Very often people on the spectrum will be able to recount the events that happened and perhaps the emotions they felt at the time, but they will have difficulty tying the two together to form a base of reference for remembering past events and evaluating future experiences.

I definitely had raw data in the form of digital recordings filmed by Pamela's brother David. It faithfully recorded the event itself and the emotions we shared verbally. I found some ideas in a thread at the one of the RDI forums. The key is to spotlight emotions and people! I copied static images from our digital recording, placed them into Excel (because I can line up the images more easily), and wrote a simple title.

Then came the moment of truth about whether or not Pamela has the gaps in episodic memory described by Dr. Gutstein. Pamela and I sat down and talked about baking a cake on her birthday. I filmed it for review later and was amazed at how factual her memory is. I had to draw out emotional highlights of that experience. She began with, "I bake the cake. I can bake. The pans go to oven."

At that point, I tried to draw out her memory of the pan that crashed, which was an emotional highlight of baking that day. She recalled, "Big sound." To tap into her emotional memory, I said, "I laughed. And you?" She replied, "I'm happy. It got banged. I made the cake." Hoping she would recall that she thought it was magic, I reflected, "I thought it was gravity." Pamela did not remember her comment about it being magic (which was the moment her face showed the greatest emotion during our baking).

Another fun memory of baking was when David said the batter looked like mud. When I recalled that memory, Pamela agreed, but showed flat emotions. She also showed a distasteful look when she felt the slimy egg (noticed by David while filming). I commented, "I don't like the feeling of eggs." Her observation was, "It's sticky", but she did not recall how she felt about touching sticky eggs. Then, I made a face to show my disgust, which she interpreted as anger.

I am starting to see how Pamela anchors very little of her memories with emotional appraisal and going beyond the details is a challenge.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

GF/CF Chocolate Cake and Frosting Recipes

I forgot to share the recipes for Pamela's birthday cake the day I blogged her 18th birthday. We made the cake from a mix, but the frosting is from scratch! These recipes are both gluten-free and casein-free and taste delicious.

Luscious Chocolate Cake
1 bag of Pamela’s Products Luscious Chocolate Cake Mix
2 large eggs
1 14-ounce can of coconut milk

Pre-heat the oven to 350°. Pour all of the cake mix into the bowl. Add the eggs and the coconut milk. Stir the batter until the dry mix is all wet, and the milk has disappeared. Divide the batter into the two oiled, round cake pans. Put the pans in the oven. Set the timer for 25 minutes and bake. Tap the top and, if it springs back, the cake is ready.

Perfectly Chocolate Frosting
2/3 cup of coconut milk
2/3 cup of cocoa powder
3 cups of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Pour 1/3 cup of coconut milk into a bowl. Scoop 2/3 cup of cocoa powder and put it in the bowl. Mix with an electric mixer until all ingredients are wet. Pour 1/3 cup of coconut milk into the bowl. Mix until the milk disappears. Scoop 1 cup of powdered sugar into the bowl. Mix until the powder blends into the mixture. Scoop another cup of powdered sugar into the bowl and mix again. Scoop a final cup of powdered sugar into the bowl and mix again. Pour 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract into the bowl and mix it thoroughly.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Thank Goodness!

Like all autistic people, Pamela goes the cycles of being intensely interested in one thing and constantly asking the status to verify nothing has changed. She tends to ask repetitive questions about schedules and certain topics. Temple Grandin explains in Emergence: Labeled Autistic,
Constantly asking questions was another one of my annoying fixations, and I’d ask the same questions and wait with pleasure for the same answer—over and over again. If a particular topic intrigued me, I zeroed in to that topic and talked it into the ground.
Pamela gets the same pleasure by asking the same question and hearing the same answer. I suspect the predictability of the process provides more security than rabbit-trail conversations much like flicking light switches comforts Donna Williams as described in her book, Nobody Nowhere,
Switching lights on and off . . . the clicking sound is an impersonal and graspable connection with things outside oneself, like bells and music. It gives the pleasure of sensation denied by almost all touch, and provides security. The more patterned and predictable, the more reassuring.
Right now, the "annoying fixation" is what we call the "sacred hour". For some unknown reason, she has claimed the television room (Steve's office) for herself every weekday at noon. Her brother David must leave the room for an entire hour. She will ask me several times every morning to confirm her sacred hour to the point of being a nag.

My parents-in-law and sisters-in-law visited over Easter. One, who specializes in autism because of Pamela, is co-author of the book, The Sensory Connection and usually has neat ideas. She suggested we try writing a contract. I wrote a contract with Pamela's promises and my promises. I dated it, and the moment she saw it Pamela exclaimed, "Thank goodness!" We both signed the contract, and then she added the words, "I watch video." to the contract.

Pamela did not stick to her promise as diligently as I did, but I think she nagged less. I plan to do an experiment and keep track of how many times she nags on days with and without the contract. One benefit is that, instead of repeating myself, I can simply hand it to her and have her read it aloud.