Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rhetorical Question of the Season

If you could plan the ideal school for your special needs child, how would it look? What would the setting be like? What must the school teachers do or the school have for it to be a lovely day for your child? How would the day flow? What extra needs must be addressed and how it they be addressed?

The Map Game and Inklings of Negative Numbers

We started a new game yesterday to work on the concept of negative. Sometimes, people express South latitude and West longitude with a negative sign. I want to Pamela to see negative numbers in a "same, but different" framework. I found a map with straight lines marking latitude and longitude, so that the intersection of two lines on the map is a spot upon which a player can land. Crossing the equator is the same conceptually as crossing zero on a number line. It is different because you are working with maps, instead of money.

I chose a region of Africa where you can travel along the equator and still be on land for many moves. The area is covers a rectangle from (10 N, 0 E) to (10 S, 0 E) to (10 N, 45 E) to (10 S, 45 E). Crossing the equator is the same conceptually as crossing zero on a number line. It is different because you are working with maps, instead of money. After much finagling in Excel, I managed to create a document with grids that marked every degree of latitude and every five degrees of longitude. I made the equator red. I copied it into Word and uploaded it here in Google Docs if you want to give it a try.

The game uses two die: one regular dice with one to six dots on each side and the other with two N's for north, two S's for south, and two E's for east. That way players bounce around the equator more than they head east, but eventually they head east. The game ends when the first player arrives in Kenya.

Suppose a player is at (4 S, 5 E) like the blue peg. If the player rolls S 3, then he moves three jumps to the south and ends up at (4 S, 20 E). Click each picture for an enlarged view.

Suppose the next player at (2 N, 10 E) like the yellow peg. If she rolls S 5, then she moves five jumps to the south and ends up at (3 S, 10 E). Conceptually, this player started in positive territory and landed in negative territory.

Sometimes, a player reaches an edge. If he rolls something that would take him off the map, the player stays put and hopes for a better roll next time. We found this heightened the anxiety and anticipation during the game.

This game works on many levels. First, Pamela is exploring the concept of negative. Once she is experienced, we will start keeping track of all movements south and north by writing it down like the money game. While playing the game, we sometimes talked about where we were on the map, which is geography, of course, not to mention exposure to the ideas of latitude and longitude. We worked on likes and dislikes because Pamela was trying to guess which peg I wanted by reading my facial expression. She is not much of a game player, but, as I pretended to grow frustrated about being stuck in the Indian Ocean, she started to reference my reactions. Pamela saw what I needed to roll and, before I rolled, she began to anticipate what might happen and laughed when I got a bad roll. When the same thing happened to her, she found it funny, too.

The other exciting moment occurred when Pamela played the money game. Since Pamela understands the play of the game, I reduced my verbals greatly and let her take responsibility for keeping the game going. She had five cents (a nickel) and wanted to buy a fish for nine cents. She knew she did not have enough money, so she found an IOU for four cents and paid for the fish that way. In essence, she just applied the following equation in her mind:

5 - 9 = -4

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Did Chores (Introduction to the Concept of Negative)

Since June, I have had math on the brain, partially because Pamela will start pre-algebra this year. At the ChildLight USA conference, my presentation covered Charlotte Mason's ideas about teaching math. I had never examined her views closely until then because I have very strong views of my own since I have a degree in mathematics. My goal this year is to test her ideas through pre-algebra with Pamela. What makes it difficult is that Charlotte Mason did not go into great detail about teaching post-elementary school math in any of her books. However, Parent's Review articles do shed some light, especially the ones published during her lifetime as she edited the magazine!

Charlotte Mason definitely believed in the zone of proximal development: "Care must be taken to give the child such problems as he can work, but yet which are difficult enough to cause him some little mental effort" (Volume 1, page 255). She understood that assigning tedious drawn-out problems kept children occupied for too long, ending up with nearly right answers, burnt out minds, and discouraged hearts. She worried about children who knew their tables backwards and forwards but did not understand their purpose nor rationale.

She found that children could uncover mathematical truths by exploring and explaining concrete objects and real-life applications to pictures of these ideas to mental images to abstract written numbers and symbols. Mill’s Logic summarized what she learned during her years teaching the children of English coal miners, "All who wish to carry the child's mind along with them in learning arithmetic, all who wish to teach numbers and not mere ciphers, now teach it through the evidence of the senses in the manner we have described" (Volume 1, page 262). The typical process for the mind to visualize a new concept would be to go from concrete manipulation to explaining pictures to describing mental pictures to written equations.

My goal is to extrapolate her ideas to pre-algebra. The first lesson is about negative numbers, and I have been inventing games that develop the concept without actually using the term negative. Whenever we go shopping, mail packages, or eat out, we talk about spending money. We also talk about how Dad earns money when he goes to work, while David earns money for taking care of people's lawns. Up until recently, we have not focused on chores and earning money and, with Pamela's growth in dynamic thinking, I thought it a good time to start.

Practicing concepts about money has captured Pamela's imagination. I have little trinkets for sale and spending money is like subtracting. I have chores ready to go and earning money is like adding. IOU slips are on hand so that Pamela can go into debt to buy trinkets, which means she ends up with a negative balance. She can pay back any debt by doing chores. I made a graphic organizer for Pamela to place her coins ("in my purse") and her IOU slips ("in the hole"). I also have a slip to help her keep track of what happened and figure out her balance. The following video is 10 minutes long, but I think it will give you a good idea of how it works.

Even though we focus on math, I try to take advantage of any opportunities for relationship building as shown in the following video.

Pamela has latched onto the idea of chores rather strongly. Yesterday, I told her I would pay her a nickel if she put her clothes in the laundry room after she took her shower. She came up to me a half hour later and told me, "I did chores." Today, I did not mention a thing and she came up to me as soon as she stashed her dirty clothers, "I did chores." So, we figured out how much money she earned all together. This dovetails very nicely with one of our long-term goals for Pamela to monitor things we have requested and let us know when certain events have occurred.

Part I

Part II

Friday, July 17, 2009

Three Steps Backward in the Annuals of Guided Participation

When it comes to guided participation, Steve prefers a benevolent dictatorship with Pamela in charge. He has a very hard time sticking to what he prefers and the moment Pamela senses him waffling, she runs him over with a bulldozer.

We continue to work on her desire to control him, and the lastest thing to address is iTunes. She does not want him listening to iTunes on the computer, for no good reason other than to wield power over Daddy in my opinion. We were listening to music on Steve's computer when the dragon lady emerged from her den. She started to rant, "Turn it off! X! X! X! Turn it off!"

Steve decided to placate her by playing her favorite songs: a good move if your strategy is to scaffold Pamela into accepting us listening to iTunes. I supported him by snapping my fingers and saying declarative things about the wonderful music.

After four song switches, he said, "I am tired of listening to iTunes. I am turning it off because I want to."

AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Marshmallow man strikes again.

I fussed at him for letting Pamela win that round. He acted sheepishly and evasively about her not winning because it was his choice.

Then, he made a fatal mistake. He turned to Pamela and asked her, "Did you win or lose?"

She shot up her arms in the symbol of victory and said, "I win!"

Just now, I recorded Pamela who convincingly shared her testimony of said win (even though she is using the computer, she is cognizant enough of her victory to share this tidbit with me):
Pamela 1, Dad 0 . . .

Okay, I'm over it! Deep cleansing breathes . . . calm and neutral, Tammy . . .

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Monitoring Other People

Pamela surprised us by taking our pictures. She framed them very nicely, I might add!

During the RDA, our consultant noticed that Pamela emotionally engages with us and others much more often now. Two things we did last year really helped Pamela reach a point where she could stay engaged: (1) we addressed her anxieties by teaching her to reference us and use self-talk to calm down and (2) we helped her move out of static, scripted conversation loops into talking about what was going on in the moment. She now seeks out information about us: what we are doing, feeling, and thinking. She is trying to figure out relationships with our neighbors by asking me questions: one neighbor has autistic twins that are David's age while other neighbors are the grandparents of one of David's friends. She saw a woman she did not know in the other neighbor's yard and asked, "Who's that?" I told her it was the young man's mother, and they are visiting from their home a few hours away.

When we walked to the car to leave for the store, we heard a neighbor call, "Hi, Tammy! Hi, Pamela!" Pamela asked me, "Who is it?" I shrugged my shoulders, and she asked, "Is it Will's grandmother?" I turned in looked in the direction of the neighbor and said, "It's Charlotte!" I waved and Pamela ran up to me and waved too. She noticed that Charlotte and her husband were getting out of their car, so she said, "Good! They're back!"

Pamela wants to join us when we chat with our neighbors. The couple next door calls to see if we want fresh corn on the cob. Pamela wants to know who called and if she can go too. She greets them and carries the bag of corn home for me. The grandparents of David's friend invites us over to sit near the garden and chat, and Pamela wants to come too because "I'm an adult." The door rings and Pamela has to know who is at the door, "Is it UPS? Is it Will?" When I offer to take David and the neighbor's grandsons to dinner, Pamela wants to join us. She sees a man in a sling at church and asks, "What happened to arm?" and says to the hairstylist with a different sort of hair color, "Purple hair!"

The lady who usually cuts Pamela's hair said to me, "Pamela looks tired." I told the beautician about Pamela's busy June and how VBS and a trip to Raleigh wore her out. The hair cutter, who loves talking to Pamela, asked, "How are you doing without cable?" Pamela said, "Good! We don't need it!" She followed up with, "I heard you did VBS. What did you do?" Pamela said, "Ripped paper," which was not the answer the Brit beautician expected and she looked confused. Pamela added, "It's over." I briefly mentioned that Pamela took down the decorations. "Oh, I see! You liked helping them clean up?" Pamela smiled and said, "Yes!"

Do you see the fundamental shift in Pamela's approach to people and conversations? Not only is she interested in knowing people better, she is more equipped to be competent in brief conversations with them!

Right now, I am juggling two objectives: giving Pamela opportunities to monitor me by being a ditz which comes naturally and spotlighting differences between her and my likes and dislikes. Lately, I have been doing things like forgetting to remove the seal from a new bottle of ketchup, making wrong turns, leaving bags at the check out, forgetting to get a shopping cart, and not going through doors when Pamela is ahead of me. Yesterday at the post office, she went through the glass doors and got in line without me. She was there for about 20 seconds before she realized I was not with her.

You can see that the beginning of the first clip that she is improving in her ability to monitor me at transition points. In the store we sometimes go our own ways and do things. I am hoping she will learn to enjoy finding me and keeping tabs on me. So, I spotlighted the joy of her finding me and that I was hiding. She smiled when I told her about hiding the second time. When Pamela got hyperfocused, she lost track of me. It helped to close the distance when she was absorbed in looking at a video.

I also look for chances to share our likes and dislikes to strengthen Pamela's concept of self versus other. In the clip below, she had an easy time with talking about beans and shopping cards. She was reading me pretty well and sharing her thoughts too. However, Pamela struggled when we were looking at the DVDs. I suspected she was thinking I was going to buy the videos I was liking (Jimmy Neutron or Horton Hears a Who), and she was really interested in Madagascar - Escape 2 Africa. We ended up buying neither because we were really just browsing. Remaining calm and neutral, stopping the action and waiting for her to reference me, and explaining the difference between looking and buying helped calm her down.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

America's Birthday and Rice Chex

Oh NUTS! Peanuts, to be exact! I just read the label more carefully . . . the Cinnamon Chex have both MILK and PEANUT flour--why can't General Mills get it right!

Don't worry, Pamela didn't eat any . . . only the Rice, Corn, and Honey Nut Chex are safe for her . . . except that their product formulation is subject to change . . . read the fine print folks!

During last Monday's RDA, Pamela and our consultant went to Chick-fil-A for lunch, bought T-shirt supplies, and made two shirts to celebrate Independence Day. Our consultant assessed many aspects of Pamela's co-regulation/collaboration and social observation.

Recalling their lunch date last August in which Pamela was the French fry thief, our consultant warned her she might steal fries this time. At the restaurant, Pamela wanted more ketchup at lunch. She looked at our consultant and said, "Don't steal it." Pamela monitored her the whole time, preventing any pilfering. At home, Pamela has observed that, when she leaves the computer to use the bathroom, one of us starts surfing the net. Lately, she has been telling us, "Don't touch it. I'll be right back." Such actions are part of social referencing, which means regulating your own behavior in response to the behavior of others.

Pamela accepts the idea that she has different likes and dislikes from other people. Her way of eating fries grossed out our consultant (ketchup, mustard, AND mayonnaise), but Pamela stuck with the way she likes her fries. Being aware of these differences between people is a sign of separating self from others. It also paves the way for positive collaboration. Earlier in the day, Pamela stated she did not want to shop but agreed to make T-shirts. After learning that they had no supplies on hand, Pamela agreed to hit the craft store. While looking at shirts, our consultant blabbed about red, white, and blue for patriotic T-shirts, but Pamela chose purple. While our consultant chose white and seemed surprised at Pamela's choice, Pamela did not change her own mind nor did she try to control the color of the other shirt. She showed great flexibility.

Our consultant noticed emerging collaboration skills while they made the shirts. She pretended to struggle to unwrap plastic covering the paint bottles and began to act frustrated. Pamela noticed her struggle and reminded her to breathe by breathing loudly herself because she was having word retrieval glitches. Then, she began handing our consultant different tools to see which one was most effective at tearing off the plastic. While painting, our consultant looked over to the paper towels to see if Pamela wanted any. Pamela was monitoring her closely because she said, "Paper towels . . . no."

Cinnamon Chex have both MILK and PEANUT flour . . .

RDI is different from most therapies in that we all have goals. Steve is going to practice giving Pamela more thinkspace, while I am going to avoid overcompensating by being a bit unreliable, less intuitive, more silly, and ditzy. Our overarching goal for Pamela will be for to separate herself from others through a same, but different framework and to monitor situations and people more carefully. Because RDI focuses on dynamic thinking, we end up taking advantage of situations that happen on the fly. Today, one popped up when I noticed that Rice Chex is now gluten free!

The very specific objective for this week is to give Pamela an opportunity to read my visual reaction before I tell her what I am thinking. She needs to take responsibility for monitoring my reactions without any guiding from me. One the way home from the store, I worked out the scenario in my head: leave the hatch up with the cereal in the car. With her Monk-like attention to detail, I knew she would notice the hatch and everything would unfold beautifully. Or so I thought!

Everything went according to plan until Steve walked in ahead of Pamela. He did not know my plan, so he inadvertently distracted her. I decided to gasp to see if she would shift attention to me, and she did! At first, Pamela reacted negatively to the cereal because she thought she could not have it. She saw my positive reaction and realized the cereal was gluten-free and that she could not have it. I did not give her my verbal opinion until after we celebrated.

Cinnamon Chex have both MILK and PEANUT flour . . .

Cinnamon Chex have both MILK and PEANUT flour . . .

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Major Shift in Communication and Vast Increase in Spoken Language

Last May, we met our consultant for the first time and we went through our first RDA. I blogged the entire thing: RDA 1 and 2, RDA 3, Why RDI?, Why/What/How, RDA 4, RDA 5, and RDA 6. While the process is much more streamlined, I still agree with the sentiments shared last year.

Our consultant assessed that Pamela now meets the criteria for Stage 3.

While we may dip into earlier stages if we run across any road blocks, Pamela functions like a two-year-old, hence Stage 3. Besides working through Stage 2 objectives, our overarching goal last year was to help Pamela find her way out of static, scripted ways of interacting and guide her into experience sharing. What do I mean? In last year's RDA, Pamela filled dead air space with scripts about calendars and highways, and we indulged! All last year, we tried to help her go beyond that to comment on what we are doing, remembering what it reminds us of, thinking about how it relates to the future.

When Pamela watched a movie last year, she would memorize the dialog and repeated it later in cycles of scripting. Occasionally, she could twist it into something to share, plugging in her own words when her syntax failed. Now, when Pamela watches a movie, she makes unique comments that do not morph into endless scripts. Right now, she is watching The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Pamela is saying things like "Oh, no!" when the Pevensies first enter the wardrobe and only find wood. She says, "He flushed," after Edmond left the bathroom. Then, when she sees Lucy wake up, she says, "Candle . . . going back to the wardrobe" and "Hot chocolate" and "What's that?" when she saw the Turkish delight. When the children go to Mr. Tumnus' home, Pamela says, "Poor Tumnus." When the wolf growls at Edmund, Pamela says, "Wolf howling."

Scripting is not a problem in itself. The issue boils down to intent. If Pamela uses a script to communicate declaratively, then she is moving forward. For example, she says, "It's not the end of the world" when David is upset because the computer crashed. So every time Pamela uses a script, we need to analyze it for intent and function and give her other ways to say the same thing. If Pamela says, "It's not the end of the world," we can rephrase, "Everything will be okay. That's not bad. We can fix it. We'll live."

Scripting was also a sign of Pamela's feeling of incompetence. We see now that she wants to communicate with us because she enjoys sharing with us. She did not understand how to speak in a way that was mutually enjoyable, so she fell back on what she enjoyed: scripting. She sought to control our conversation through her scripts because she did not know how to respond to declarative language.

In our current RDI, our consultant noticed that Pamela's thoughtfulness and reciprocity in expressing herself has shifted in major way. Not only does she use verbal language to share experiences and seek information, she also uses multiple channels (i.e., nonverbal communication). Since she feels more confident in her spoken language, the quality and quantitiy have increased vastly! When Pamela is unsure of herself, she uses self-talk to create meaning (the book Awakening Children's Minds gives insight on the value of private speech).

Our consultant was genuinely excited about Pamela's progress. She explained that autistic people undergoing RDI at Pamela's age do not cover as much ground as she has in the past year. Monday morning our consultant put on her FB "looking forward to a great assessment today" and later she wrote "has a great job". She teared up when she tried to help Steve understand how monumental Pamela's progress is. I get it, but he does not know enough about development to understand how hard it is to see the kind of change we are seeing. She said she felt privileged to be working with Pamela.

In my next couple of posts, I plan to review four other areas of dynamic thinking (emotional engagement, co-regulation/ collaboration, social observation, and personal memory) plus the overarching goal of next year if I don't jump over to living books, narrating, or mother culture . . .