Sunday, September 30, 2007

"New Way of Approaching Autism"--DUH!

I just read an article called Scientists Make Gut-Brain Connection to Autism. In a nutshell, scientists at the University of Western Ontario have found that some bacteria produce propionic acid in the gut, a compound which just happens to be found in bread and dairy products. Rats begin to exhibit autistic-like behavior when given doses of propionic acid and develop inflammation of the brain. They go on to say that addressing health ought to be the first step in addressing autism and that behavior therapy alone is insufficient.


I really have to giggle at reading the subtitle "New Way of Approaching Autism" . . .


Let me think. I started tinkering with Pamela's diet in April 1994--well over thirteen years ago when I uncovered a connection between apples and insomnia. The reason why I became interested in diet was because of the Autism Research Institute. Dear old Dr. Bernard Rimland, may he rest in peace, had been beating that drum from the very beginning of his newsletter, Autism Research Review International. His editorial on autism and food allergies written in 1989 is what got me started on Pamela's first elimination diet in 1994. His cutting-edge recommendations for a gluten-free casein-free diet began as early as 1992. His informative newsletter was what jump-started parents like me in the days before the Internet. Dr. William Shaw begin reporting on a variety of compounds produced by bacteria and yeast in the gut as early as the 1994 ASA Conference in Las Vegas (I was there!), and you can read his thoughts on propionic acid presented at the 1996 conference.


I just hope this validates Dr. Andrew Wakefield who has been persecuted by the medical junta in England because he dared to go beyond the gut-brain connection to vaccinations. All I can say is Britain's loss is our gain!

P. S. I have spent the month updating my web pages. I just finished updating my autism-homeschooling page and added a section with inspirational books both about autism and off the beaten path. Pamela's page and my Charlotte Mason page are current, too!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Borrowed Perspective and Puzzles

Pamela had a great week, that is, if you ignore a nasty cold and several interruptions from three different service technicians for our home. She finished the tenth and final primer of the Reading Milestones Red Book series and recited three poems for me: At the Zoo, There Was a Little Girl, and At the Seaside. She finished her first 300-piece puzzle, plus she found a cure for the common cold.

I am finally starting to understand what RDI parents mean about borrowed perspective. I do not know why, but I once thought it was so important that Pamela do things without any help or hints to prove to me she could do it all by herself and work on that important concept of independence. I kept a flat face, betraying no hints to avoid tossing out hints. I think residual habits from The Me Book days clouded my judgment. When it came to tasks that were too hard and not worth the effort (jigsaw puzzles), I let them go by the wayside because she was so inept.

When I was Pamela's age, I enjoyed puzzles and could always count on my oma in Germany sending me a big, beautiful one every Christmas. Until now, I have not done much to share that joy with Pamela. I am seeing for the first time that Pamela can borrow from my perspective and improve her puzzle building skills. Being able to build a puzzle is not as important as working together as a team, enjoying each other's company, and sharing little triumphs.

During the week, we were puzzle partners with different roles. I retrieved puzzle pieces from the box and gazed at the spot on the box matching the piece. She referenced me until she found the right spot and then placed the piece on the mat. Before RDI, she blindly put puzzle pieces together without any thought. Now, between referencing my face for information and hearing declarative comments, she understands about the edges, matching by shape or by colors, and using the box. And occasionally, she finds the spot first or knows exactly where to place it on the mat!

We ended the week with a sweet moment while baking cookies. Pamela helped me clean the kitchen, and it was time to lick the bowl. She does not have a problem with sharing and does not mind if I snatch a lick or two. I always pretend like I am going to keep it for myself to see how she reacts. Normally, she gives me a pretty bland smile when I take my licks. Last night, she very dramatically scrunched up her face and stuck out her tongue as if to tell me I was hogging the bowl. Then, when I nonverbally gestured to give her the bowl, she flashed me a great, big smile, even lifting her shoulders up to make it more dramatic. Before RDI, only strong emotions brought about strong facial expressions. I find it so delightful to see such animated features blossom with even emotions.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Reinventing the Wheel in Reading

Since starting the new schedule with Pamela, we have been working hard on what I have called "guided reading." To my dismay (or perhaps, delight), several people have already written several books by that name! I try to avoid buying books for the sake of buying them, especially brand-spanking new ones. Whenever I hear of a must-buy read, I always search eBay and Best Web Buys for a used copy for about six months before splurging on a new one. Last night, I Snoopy danced because I won an ebay auction for the RDI DVD for only $41 including shipping. I hope it is not scratched, and I do not know if it is the latest and greatest in the RDI world, but I do not plan to burst my bubble until the very last moment possible. Because I am a ditz who loves coffee and manages to make every book I touch look trashed, I try to avoid borrowing copies of anything from a friend.

My plan today is to share what Pamela and I are doing in my version of guided reading (or should I say connected reading or modeled reading). I hope that some helpful soul who has already read either Guided Reading (for K-3) or Guided Reading (Grades 3-6) can tell me if it is something worth putting on my must-buy list.

Here is what we do when reading a book:

Preview the Chapter - We preview the chapter in many ways:

* We look at the title and pictures to guess what might be happening. I try to use declarative language like "I wonder what this means" or "I wonder what happened to so-and-so."

* We also recall what we read previously to get our minds into the book. I try to use declarative language like "Yesterday's chapter was exciting because . . ." I also try to be less competent (as recommended by my friend Mary) and start recalling bits of the chapter, hoping Pamela will rescue me!

* If the book has a map and location is important, we study the map to refresh our minds. We sometimes consult our well-worn atlas that I bought for two bucks at a used book sale. For a new book, we might even talk about other characters (real or imaginary) who lived in that place and time.

* If I know in advance we are covering completely unfamiliar territory, I try to think of a mental bridge. For example, in The Winged Watchman, I thought connecting the landwatcher Leendert (a traitor who spied on his neighbors for the Nazis) to Rolf in The Sound of Music, a movie which Pamela loves. When we started The Brendan Voyage, I compared the book to Kon-Tiki because it is a story about five men on a very small boat crossing an ocean to make a point.

Reading Style - If Pamela reads a chapter by herself, she will probably recall about two sentences. Here is what we do to keep her mind focused:

* I select a short passage, half a page or a paragraph or two, depending upon the material.

* We skim the beginning, middle, and end of the passage for a keyword in each that might be important. She tells me what they are and I might have her choose a different word if the one chosen will derail her understanding by saying, "I think there is a better word."

* Usually, she reads silently, using her finger to help her eyes track the words.

* If the passage is primarily dialogue, we assign parts and read it aloud together with as much dramatic flair as we can muster.

* Sometimes, her mind is not on the material. How do I know? She tries to have a conversation with me while reading! I redirect her by saying, "It sure is hard to talk and read at the same time. How about starting over?"

Oral Narration - Oral narration is the backbone of a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education and I find it a great way to avoid getting too imperative. Instead of asking Pamela a ton of questions, I let her tell me what she knows:

* I let Pamela have one last glance of the passage and ask her if she is ready. I give her the sympathetic, expectant look Charlotte Mason recommended. During the narration, I do things to keep her alert to my facial expression.

* I close the book, and Pamela retells me what she remembers. I try not to interrupt her, except to correct the pronunciation of a word if it is word she will use often like the name of a character.

* If she forgot something, I remind her in a declarative way by saying, "I seem to remember something about a dog." If a few hints is not enough, I do not worry about it because often important information is repeated or can be inferred.

* If she starts to make a howler (something senseless that is often very funny), I change my facial expression to alert her to the fact that the train is heading off the tracks.

* If her narration is threadbare, then I might share what I remember. Or, I open the book and ask her questions ala the association method. Rather than focusing on the fact that she omitted information, I focus on it as an opportunity to practice syntax.

* If her narration is meaty, we move onto the next passage!

Modeling Thinking while Reading - Charlotte Mason emphasized that, while reading, the mind ought to put questions to itself and answer them while reading. Since we break up a chapter into small chunks, it offers the chance to reflect before plunging into the next passage. I try to work in questions and connections as we go:

* I ask predicting questions or opinion questions. I read somewhere that a question that has no right or wrong answer is more declarative. I will ask things like "What do you think will happen to so-and-so?" or "Who do you think is good/wicked/whatever?" or "Do think whatever will happen?"

* We try to make connections to other books or ourselves. I will say, "That reminds me of" a place or book and see if she fills in the connection. If not, we move on and linger on that thought at the end of the chapter.

Oral Recap of the Chapter - At the end of the reading for the day, we do a recap:

* We focus on the beginning, middle, and end of the entire passage.

* Pamela narrates the entire chapter. She usually narrations about ten or more sentences.

* I tape or film some of the narrations for the next step.

* We talk about connections and predictions for the next chapter.

Sentence Strips - Every day, Pamela does written narrations for two books. Because she is just learning to compose paragraphs, I added sentence strips (an idea suggested by Cheri Hedden). I type up her oral narrations into strips (mistakes and all), and Pamela works with them:

* Pamela organizes her strips, correcting any errors.

* She replaces repetitive nouns with pronouns for variety.

* She thinks of a better word for any word with strikethroughs (a hint to think of a more specific word).

* She fills in the blank. I usually leave blanks for adjectives or a prepositional phrase. If she says "So and so is happy", I tack "because ______________" at the end to prepare her for why questions down the road.

* I check her work and point out anything she overlooked.

* Then, I read her strips aloud very slowly as if I were reading the most wonderful piece of writing I ever saw.

Written Narration - I close up everything and Pamela narrates what she remembers. I make no corrections because it is a record of where she is at this moment in time. You can see some samples of her written narrations at her web page.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pixie Dust

Pamela was sick with a cold Friday and was kind enough to pass hers onto me, which is my excuse for not blogging much this week!

She felt much better on Sunday, so we kept our promise of going shopping to a large city about an hour and a half from home (we live in the boonies). We picked up two pairs of shoes for her and browsed the DVD and toys section at Target. We ate a nice dinner and headed home. She was in rare form with her humor and verbal skills!

Pamela: "Where are we going?"
Us: "We're going home."
Pamela: "I want to go home."
Us: "Yes, Boss!"
Pamela: "I'm not a boss! I'm a worker!"
Us: "If you were a bee, would you be a queen bee or a worker bee?"
Pamela: "I'm a worker bee."

We made a quick stop at the Starbucks closest to home (an hour drive), and Pamela and I sat in the car waiting for Steve to pick up some liquid gold. I complained to Pamela about catching her cold, and suddenly I heard a noise like the sound effect for magic in cartoons. When I turned to locate the source, I saw Pamela flicking her finger at me. She announced, "I have a magic finger. Fix the cold." I smiled because she was so sweet and insistent that she had found the cure for the common cold.

I seized the opportunity to introduce a new activity I had planned to use for RDI. I asked her, "Pamela, how would you like to make a fairy wand tomorrow?" She flashed a brilliant smile and looked as if I had offered her a trip to the moon. She exhaled an excited "Yes!" I am sure the wheels in her head were spinning, trying to figure out how I was going to accomplish that trick.

On Monday, I printed out the pdf files for the fairy wand. Pamela's cutting skills need work, and The Toymaker will provide many opportunities to practice cutting in a fun, imaginative way. I bought a new pair of scissors that works for both lefties and righties. Pamela did fairly well. She handed the paper to me in spots she found too difficult (like the inner corners). She had very little patience for the tips and cut them to be blunt (not pointed). I did a little bit of touch up cutting.

I guided Pamela in the folding and had to correct many of her folds when she was not looking. We rolled up the handle around a pencil as a team. I held the roll while she taped. Then came the dreaded gluing. Like my friend Jennifer, I am a handicraft reject. Anything having to do with glue makes me cry. I do not mind the feel of it, but nothing ever turns out right. As usual, it was a huge mess. Undaunted, I grabbed some clear tape and patched up my botched-up job.

Pamela loved it, except for one minor detail. She told me, "Something is missing!" When I asked what, she replied, "Sprinkles." We searched for some glitter glue and she decorated her fairy wand. The final product turned out beautiful, even with the tape.

On Tuesday, when the wand was dry and I had a horrid sinus headache and nausea caused by congestion, I asked Pamela to help me feel better. She grabbed her wand and made her magic sound effect. Physically, nothing changed, but she made me smile.

Today, I spotlighted it further. When my dad visited, she greeted him. Then, I said, "I wonder what you could do if Opa feels bad." At first, she tried the magic finger. Then, I said, "But, what about your fairy wand?" She ran off to find it and cured her Opa properly. He thought she was precious.

In case, you no longer believe in fairies, keep in mind what C.S. Lewis wrote: "Some say you will be old enough to start reading fairy stories again."

Thanks to AmblesideOnline, I reached that age earlier than most adults! If you think you are ready, here are some books for the fairy-minded.

Blue Fairy Book
Red Fairy Book
Yellow Fairy Book
Green Fairy Book
English Fairy Tales
Peter Pan
Mary Poppins
Five Children and It
Chronicles of Narnia
Little White Horse
At the Back of the North Wind
Princess and the Goblin
Princess and Curdie
The Light Princess
Secret Garden
Little Princess
Puck of Pook's Hill
Midsummer Night's Dream

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Never Give Up . . .

. . . Never Surrender!

If you filled in the blank, you have watched Galaxy Quest one too many times. When this movie was still somewhat recognizable, the kids, Steve, and I attended an astronomy talk at Florissant Fossil National Monument, which was about a mile from our home. The astronomer began talking about galaxies and Pamela got everyone laughing by saying loudly, "Never give up! Never surrender!"

That is how I feel about Pamela's acquisition of language. When she was two, she had no language, no signs, and no attempts at communication. We started teaching her sign language and she mastered a few signs, but did not get the idea of using a signed word to get something for it. Unlike Helen Keller's moment at the water pump, Pamela could only manage to learn one verbal word a month once she figured out that everything had a name. She was four she had a vocabulary of nouns and echolalic phrases. Through some Mommy ABA ala The ME Book, we added some adjectives, shapes, and colors. When she taught herself to sight-read by connecting video tapes to video boxes, she learned that her echolalic phrases were made up of individual words. By the time she turned seven, we were excited about her growing lexicon of language, and then she stalled.

We tried a variety of ways to teach Pamela how to put words together in order to make sense. Nothing worked. Pamela's kindergarten teacher gave me a discarded copy of the Vocabulary, Articulation, Syntax Training (VAST) Program. The program had cards color-coded by parts of speech (146 composite cards, 157 component cards, and a sentence tray). I tried teaching her to put together words with this system for about two years before I transitioned to something new. I figured out later that the VAST program lacked the written component and the very slow introduction of new syntax Pamela needed. Then, I tried Teach Me Language because it was ABA, and ABA was the scientific way to teach anything. I spent another two years on that and realized this was not the ticket for Pamela, either. I figured out later that it also did not have the element of writing and slow pace of syntax.

At that point, I transitioned to a Charlotte Mason approach to language: reading aloud, copywork, oral narration, studied dictation, and recitation. I had all the elements I needed except the slow teaching of syntax. Someone had to connect those dots for me, and that was Mildred McGinnis in her program, the association method. Pamela is near the end of the second unit of language and can finally write simple narrations. She can finally answer questions and use sentences like the ones I tried to teach with the VAST program and Teach Me Language.

Yesterday, I published an updated version of Pamela's web page. In years past, I took her ideas and filled in the correct syntax. With this update, I realized that I could make a list of questions and have her answer them for her web page. For the first time ever, Pamela wrote all the material describing herself with her own syntax. The page pictured above may not seem like much to you, but it has taken over a decade of never giving up and never surrendering to produce it!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Puzzled No More

Examples of autistic wunderkinds who put together complicated jigsaw puzzles practically blindfolded without their backs turned abound. Pamela is not one of them. She still does not completely get standard notions about puzzlemaking like the edges lining up, spotting potential locations on the box, and studying the shapes. We have been working on simple 100-piece puzzles since March in an RDI-like way. One thing I do is to build joint attention and then tell her indirect comments like "This is an edge. All the edges line up." "I wonder where this might be on the box." "Oh, I think I see a match with this piece."

Today, we ran out of time puzzle-building. Pamela stayed behind to finish it while I cooked lunch. Not only did she finish the puzzle, she skipped into the kitchen and announced proudly, "I did it! I finished the puzzle." You can bet I spotlighted that moment with an enthusiastic response.

She had a similar moment yesterday when she was trying to break off the remnants of a branch. She found garden clippers useless, so I suggested we visit my Dad to borrow a saw after dinner. She had other ideas. Pamela grabbed a huge, heavy stone and dropped it on the branch repeatedly until it snapped. She ran it to the house, skipping and telling me, "I broke the branch!" And, of course, I celebrated--Steve did not know the backstory and could not fathom why we were Snoopy Dancing over a stick.

Pamela is becoming much more interested in SHARING exciting moments in her day with me! Before RDI, she only shared the tragedies, not the triumphs.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

More Sweet Moments

I am finding that a great way to practice episodic memory is right after narrating a book. Pamela and I tell each other when a story reminds us of something. Today, we read a story about a skunk, so I told it how it reminded me of our dog Pepper who used to come home stinking after a meeting with a skunk when we lived in Pennsylvania. That alone brought a smile to her face, but she lit up when I quoted a poem she is memorizing for recitation (At the Zoo by William Thackeray), "Mercy! How unpleasantly he smelled!"

Then, I hinted at another animal story that happened in Colorado. Intrigued, she guessed, "A bear?" (There was a bear story, but that was not the one I had in mind). She ventured a few more guesses before I told her about the time our other dog Loa came home with a quill beard after meeting a porcupine. Then, Pamela told me about the eagles with sharp claws in Alaska and the rabbits in Minnesota. We tried to think about an animal encounter in South Carolina, and she remembered the hummingbird that zoomed up to Pamela while she was eating an orange popsicle on the porch. She laughed and giggled at that very recent memory.

Another exciting development is that Pamela is finally able to put together a puzzle in one sitting with much less help. She is better able to match parts, which was a challenge for her six months ago. Okay, we have been doing the same three puzzles since March . . .

Finally, she is getting better at referencing her brother. David hides the locked box item and Pamela has to reference him to find it. On Monday, I had him hide two objects. He was able to communicate to her wordlessly to find another object (he snapped his fingers to catch her attention and turned his gaze to the spot where the other toy hid). Yesterday was a bust because he did not realize I had given him two objects. Today was great! He hid six small objects, and Pamela responded well to him, finding all six fairly quickly.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Great Day for Autism!

Pamela had a great day when it comes to personal relationships.

First, we drove to the office that processes our homeschooling paperwork, and it just so happens that the lady who runs it homeschools her autistic 18yo son, too. So, when Pamela asked to play with the "time machine" (hourglass), spun the globe, and rocked in the rocking chair, she smiled and remarked, "She reminds me of my son!" Pamela was comfortable enough to comment how the “time machine” reminded her of The Wizard of Oz. She pointed to South America and, when asked, said it reminded her of Kon-Tiki.

Then, we went to Wal-Mart. Earlier in the week, Pamela asked me what RDI was because she saw it on her schedule. I told her it was the game therapy we do. While scanning at the self-check out, Pamela looked at me, smiled, and announced, "I'm doing RDI!"

Then, I took my two teens to get haircuts. The hair stylist completely "got" Pamela, and, by the end of the hair cutting session, this kindred spirit was playing along with Pamela's word games as if they were bosom buddies. Most people are puzzled or back off, but this stylist was wonderful. Pamela was thrilled that a stranger knew how to play.

On the way home, Pamela was very communicative and told me something new. She has been reviewing her life often lately because she has been writing her autobiography in her journal. She told me today that the reason why she broke her arm in the bathroom in 1997 was that she was pretending to skate. Apparently, the floor was wet, so she was trying to take advantage of the slick surface.

Steve beat us to the house. Pamela walked into the house and yelled happily, "Daddy!" She walked up to him and gave him the biggest bear hug ever. He could not get over her delighted reaction to seeing him at home!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Experts

One reason why I love a Charlotte Mason philsophy is that I enjoy reading books with my teens. Right now, David and I are reading What Ever Happened to Justice? published by Bluestocking Press. I have fallen in love with the common sense approach of this book after only two chapters. Today, I read a passage on page 20 that sums up what I have learned about autism:

In other words, always beware of anyone who tells you a topic is above you or better left to experts. This person may, for some reason, be trying to shut you out. You can understand almost anything. If you know you are giving it your best effort and you are still finding an explanation difficult to grasp, it may be because the expert has poor communication skills. It could also be that the expert doesn't want you to grasp it. Many people are twice as smart as they think they are, but they've been intimidated into believing some topics are above them.

I think every person sitting around the table at an IEP meeting ought to be required to read that statement!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Avoid this Photoblogpost around Mealtimes!

In honor of Pamela beginning the photobiography Always Inventing, I wrote this photoblogpost about lessons learned from dissection. We have been dragging our feet on the four dissections included in the Apologia biology book for months. David and I finally mustered up the courage and just did it!

Here are my lessons learned:
1. Dissecting is not as disgusting to me as it was in high school.
2. Lighting vanilla scented candles might be the reason why.
3. Imagining you are viewing really good graphics or that the specimen is made of plastic squelches any waves of nausea.
4. The usefulness of hot, stuffy masks is inversely proportional to the time spent dissecting (see pictures four and six).
5. Sloppy cutting makes a huge mess (yes, I helped and it still was a mess).
6. Earthworm poop looks like dirt. Oh, wait, it IS dirt!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Welcome to the House of Education!

Pamela's answer to the outdoor life is to sit on the back porch and work on a rocking chair. She soaks up the fresh air, undeterred by heat or mosquitoes. We do nearly all of her schoolwork here, and she loves learning in the company of blue jays, cardinals, and squirrels. One morning about a month ago, I sat there with her reading while she licked a popsicle she made out of orange juice. Suddenly, a hummingbird flitted about six inches from her icy treat and decided to forgo the frozen treat!

David just started his first year of AmblesideOnline's House of Education. We are doing a blend of the less intense versions of Year 7 and Year 8. We school year round and should be able to fit both years into one. Today things ran quite smoothly, but every school year starts out with zest and energy. Once I see whether or not the new schedule is working, I will share it. David is looking up his current events articles for the day. Unlike Pamela, David has no favorite spot to learn. He reads in the office, in his bedroom, and in the living room. He does his table and computer work here, there, and everywhere. Occasionally, Mr. Random actually studies in the homeschool room or at the desk in his bedroom. Which causes me to ask . . . why is my homeschool room nothing more than a place to store books, files, and the exercise machine?

I am excited for many reasons. I have a shiny new laptop. I am not in the process of moving or unpacking, nor do I see it in the near future. I live in a house that no longer needs major renovation (and attention from me). Steve gave me a sweet espresso machine. What more could a homeschooling mom want?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Debut in the Adult Choir

Today, Pamela and David sang with the adult choir here at our little church in South Carolina. At first, Pamela did not want to go to church and sing in the choir. Rather than direct her and demand it of her, I applied an RDI way of doing things and focused on the relationship. I pouted dramatically and said, "Oh, Pamela. Poor Cindy the director will be so sad. I know she's going to ask me, 'Where's Pamela? I miss Pamela. She has such a pretty voice.'" She smiled and decided not to let down poor Cindy.

Pamela did beautifully, but I did have my secret weapon (I allowed her to write in her journal, which has now grown to twenty-seven pages, to help her keep quiet). She stood up for almost everything, except at one part when I did not give her enough notice. Fortunately, many members of the choir warmly welcomed Pamela and Cindy made a special effort to thank Pamela for coming.

David is no stranger to adult choirs. He joined the adult choir in Minnesota as a soprano before his voice changed (he was thirteen at the time). In fact, he was the only boy to sing Stabat Mater during Lent that year. When we moved here, they had an age limit for the adult choir: eleventh grade and above. However, they grudgingly accepted him in the men's choir until it disbanded. Then, we were so desperate for voices that they lowered the bar to fifteen years of age, and David just turned fifteen.

I despise age segregation! Personally, I agree with my choir director in Minnesota, a fabulous singer, former member of the Robert Shaw Festival Singers (Eileen Farrell). She accepted younger voices into the choir based upon maturity and ability. If a young person could not cause distractions and could learn the music, age was not a barrier.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pamela's Typical Day

I plan to blog typical homeschool days and, later, detailed information about what I am calling "Guided Reading" and "Guided Written Narration". Last week, Pamela and I followed this outline fairly well considering I had major time eaters unexpectedly dumped upon me. Pamela is an early riser, so she usually starts her math on her own BEFORE eight o'clock. The activities in green are the ones she does independently.

08:00 AM Math: Making Math Meaningful Level 6

09:00 AM Guided Reading (one chapter, two books):
Tom Sawyer, Good-Bye, Mr. Chips

10:00 AM Language Arts: Copywork/Studied Dictation/Recitation/Grammar or Spelling Lesson

10:15 AM Guided Written Narration (two books from yesterday):
The Winged Watchman, The Brendan Voyage

10:45 AM Art: Candlewicking/Picture Study

11:00 AM RDI games and lifestyle activities

12:00 AM Break
01:00 PM Lunch

01:30 PM Association Method:
Oral Work and Written Work

03:00 PM Guided Reading (two books):
The Winged Watchman (one chapter)
The Brendan Voyage (a few pages)
Language Arts related to the books

04:45 PM Rehearse choir piece for Sunday

04:55 PM Exercise for five minutes on the elliptical

I put the schedule in Excel and check it off as we go. I circle tasks we failed to accomplished to remind me to make them up. Pamela with her sequential orderly mind wants to finish the list and cooperates with me to get finish off the list.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Two RDI Incidents to Share

Jennifer's most righteous and spot-on rant would have made me spew on my beautiful new laptop screen had coffee been in my mouth. If you have a child with autism and had never had a close encounter of the worst kind with a complete stranger who supposedly knows more than you, consider yourself blessed. When Pamela was younger, I had my share of embarassing meltdown moments (like the time Pamela did the Indy 500 around the altar at church ten minutes before the service was to start). Today, we get odd looks and occasional knowing smiles because Pamela is much more comfortable in her skin and I am better at not placing her in extremis.

Jennifer reminded me of a recent incident at Wal-Mart. We were at the self-checkout again where we practice our RDI objectives and the clerk told me, "Wow! Your daughter has really made progress. I remember when you first started teaching her how to scan at the self-checkout." Can you believe a positive experience with a complete stranger?

Also, a few weeks ago our neighbors joyfully shared another incident. They are wonderful people and very encouraging of our efforts to homeschool our teens. The neighbor told me that Pamela was sitting on the back porch rocking. Pamela waved, greeted him, and said, "I'm waiting for my mom to go to Wal-Mart." Can you believe it? She *wanted* to engage in a brief conversation without any prompting. She just had to share that tidbit with the neighbor. Pamela is not one of those chatty kids who opens up to anyone. Six months ago, I would have had to pry that out of her in front of a neighbor.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

What To Do on Messy Days

I started Pamela on her new schedule this week and have struggled to stay on track because of things like unexpected, unplanned disruptions. Today, for example, I ran out of fish food and had to go to Wal-Mart, had to mail a package for my husband, and had to make a two-and-a-half-hour trip to pick him up from work because his logistical plan left that as his only option. With a little bit of thought and flexibility, I managed to stick with the plan of the day. How, you ask? Read on!

* Usually, I do some RDI-like activity with Pamela at eleven o'clock (games, puzzles, etc.). I realized I could knock out my errands by making them RDI like. I had Pamela address the package on folder labels. Then, I positioned the strip and looked up at her for nonverbal approval. Sometimes, I put them in odd places (like my nose), just for fun. At the post office, she became my hands: she handed the package and a letter to the clerk. She handed the money to the clerk. At Wal-Mart, I made a game of her guessing which way to go by following my gaze. Then, she had to figure out what to select on the shelf by referencing me. As always, we did the self-checkout as a team, and she did a terrific job of correcting a mistake. She scanned the sugar twice, immediately caught her error, and maneuvered her way through the touch screen to rectify it.

* I had another problem that I solved creatively. I needed to make up Pamela's speech therapy sheets, which involved manipulating two pictures to make eight pictures. I have been teaching David different tricks for computer science. I realized I could have him do it since this task was new to him. I taught him how to use a SD card reader (uh, because I lost my camera cord awhile back), send pictures from the card reader to My Documents, and rotate a picture by angles and trim in MGI Photosuite. ALL of these tasks were new to him, and he saved me about fifteen minutes of busywork. He was psyched because as much as he formats pictures, he had not figured out how to rotate by angle and trim.

* I rearranged my schedule so that Pamela did tasks requiring interaction in the morning. I brought work for Pamela to do in the car. She spent much of our time on the road doing paperwork independently (speech therapy, language arts, etc.).

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Paperback Writer

Pamela and I shopped at Wal-Mart on Sunday night. She picked out a spiral notebook and told me she wanted to start another journal. In fact, she planned to make entries dating back to the year of her birth. Three years ago, I required Pamela and David to keep a journal, which they did for two years.

Yesterday, Pamela sat on the rocking chair on the back porch and filled fifteen pages, spanning 1989 through June 2004. I decided to type her journal to help me analyze it better. According the Word's readability statistics, she wrote 2,583 words at a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 4.8 in one day. She is amazing! When I told David about it, he quipped, "Oooo, paperback writer!"

For those of you with young children who despise writing, keep this in mind: Pamela cried and screamed at the sight of a pencil when she was six-and-a-half years old. I put her on a one-year sabbatical from writing to help her recover from this phobia. She started to learn to write at the age of seven-and-a-half, and I enlarged the paper supplied in Handwriting without Tears because the blocks were too small! She spent two years doing the first grade level of that writing program! Fast forward a decade later and she is flying in her ability to write legibly!

We have not covered past tense verbs in the association method, and she clearly struggled with irregular verbs, writing ated, blowed, wented, etc. Her efforts caused me to rethink my strategy for her language development. Now, I plan to do the following:

* Continue pursuing present tense (right now, I am introducing present tense plural) with her primers.

* Work on cleaning up past tense when narrating (both orally and in writing) books she is reading.

However tempting it may be, I do not plan to have her fix her journal entries. I think it would dampen her enthusiasm for keeping a journal. I see it as a record of where her syntax is at present. If Charlotte Mason can comfortably publish the unedited writings of her students, I can surely leave Pamela's journal as is.

Monday, September 03, 2007

We're Back

Last Tuesday, we received our new computer, a Dell Inspiron 1720, and she is a beauty. Since then, I have been busy wrapping up the old school year with required annual reports and planning the new year. We school year round, so my kids had the week off when the neighborhood kids started school. I will post my planned typical schedules later in the week.

I thought I would hate adjusting to Vista, but we have not run into any glitches yet, All of our old software has survived the transition (even a 1995 version of MGI PhotoSuite). The graphics are sweet on this machine, and the screen is wide enough for me to see the entire year in my Excel spreadsheet in one glance!