Monday, January 31, 2011

Come to the Feast!

We didn't get off to a great start last week. Sunday morning, I woke up with throbbing throat and plugged-up head. I felt bad enough to play hooky from church. I'm sure the choir will thank me later for having spared them from these miserable germs. I was well enough to launch the new term, having slightly adjusted our course after exam week. Lots of people are sick right now. Whether child or teacher is sick, we are soothed by listening to classical music, reading living books with interesting stories, studying art, and sharing poetry. Even sickly mothers like me can nurse a sore throat with a hot cup of tea sweetened with agave nectar and enjoy the feast with our kids.

How did our feast look this week? What captured Pamela's eye? What kind of delights did we sample? What relationships were renewed? What ones began?

We kicked off the week with an impromptu science lesson. We have been studying vapor. Early Monday morning, Pamela was walking on the back porch in temperatures cold enough for her to see her breath. I joined her and we huffed and puffed several times. She smiled and said, "Steam!" I added, "Yes, we're making vapor." Later in the week, we breathed on glass, generated vapor with a tea kettle, and condensed vapor on a plate. Pamela wrote notes in her notebook. While walking through a wet parking lot, Pamela noticed an oil slick and asked, "Is it a rainbow?" Last month, we had read a chapter about rainbows and how sun shining through water drops make them. Seeing a rainbow on pavement caught her attention! Pamela added a cold front to her notebook. She has come a long since she thought clouds were made of cotton!

On the artsy front, Pamela nearly finished her first finger-knitted scarf for her eldest baby Baby Alive. After doing a picture study of her first one by Millet, I asked her which artist Millet reminded her of: Monet, Vermeer, and da Vinci. Without hesitation, Pamela replied, "Monet!" Although she might not be able to fully explain it, Pamela sees the link between impressionist artists. We are reading about Mesopotamian mosaics. To make sure she understood how we use tile today, we walked through the house and spotted tile around our fireplaces and in the kitchen and bathrooms. She drew a lovely version of musicians playing for the king in the Standard of Ur in her history notebook. While delivering meals on wheels, we listened to two fugues by Bach and THE toccata everyone knows which I hope a young man from our church will play for us someday!

We started several new songs: Mary Had a Baby, One Small Child, and "El Coqui." After one line of the new Spanish folk song, Pamela exclaimed, "Just like Dora the Explorer!" Somehow, I had inadvertently stumbled upon a beloved song from her Nickelodeon days of yore. Since Pamela seemed so familiar with it, I asked her what cantar and coqui meant. Pamela told me singing and frog--even her tía Janet didn't know this alternative way of saying frog. We also started a new fairy tale, Caperucita Roja, and two more homemade Spanish stories about Pamela's grandmother and how to make pie. Then, when she turned off the audio, Pamela said, "Hasta luego!"

Language arts was neat. Pamela did the standard fare of copywork, studied dictation, and recitation instead of typical spelling and grammar textbook homework. She took notes on what we are learning about wild canines from In the Valley of Wolves for written narration. We started a new poet Carl Sandburg. An unplanned connection made our introduction sweet. The first poem was the closing lines of Windsong,

"There is only one horse on the earth
and his name is All horses . . ."

which we started reading right after beginning a new book about--horses! And, in the book on horses, the author wrote of a character who spoke "in a hoarse whisper" like Pamela's mother who read the passage in a hoarse voice! Pamela stopped me and asked, "What is hoarse?" So, I explained, "A hoarse voice is how I am talking right now--with a sore, scratchy throat." The next day, with another book, she instructed me to be the "narrator," so she could read the "quotated." To spotlight the idea of voice in writing, I introduced the word dialog to her: "Oh, you are going to do the dialog. I'm going to do the narrative." Several books later, Pamela observed "only narrator" and I added, "That's right! This chapter has no dialog." With yet another book, I read part of one character as if I were yelling across the house because he was talking through the window to a character in the back yard. And, what did Pamela do? She read, "YES," and continued to read her part in a very loud voice. Isn't interesting how the idea of homophones and voice arise naturally in living books without me having to crack open an official language arts textbook? We teach what Pamela needs when she needs it.

Pamela drew many things. She finished a book on the C.S.S. Hunley and began another set in Charleston at the beginning of the Civil War, so she drew a diagram of the submarine and a map of Charleston Harbor in her drawing notebook and entered another picture of the Hunley in her history notebook. She drew a picture of an Indian chief Lewis and Clark met on their journey. I revamped my approach to our book on American farm life during this era and scaled it back to one major topic a week: this week, Pamela learned about plowing the fields to prepare for sowing corn and added another picture to her notebook.

I am using carefully selected snippets of filmed material to help visualize the settings we are covering. Like many educators, I ordered The Story of Us for free last fall, and we spent less than five minutes a day watching a very specific topic. Since we read through the Declaration of Independence last term, we watched two DVD segments on that topic and Pamela made an entry in her history notebook. Since we won't find opportunities to observe wolves, coyotes, and foxes in the wild here in the Carolinas, we have been observing their behavior from afar by watching In the Valley of the Wolves for seven minutes a day. We are going to be brave and try full-blown Shakespeare by watching a filmed scene before reading it. Pamela got into the spirit watching the movie, chanting "Caesar! Caesar!" with me. Since she loves the story of Julius Caesar, I picked that tragedy for her first venture.

We began our revamped history program and narrations were much better. We do history very differently than most families. In the early years, we present it like a sketch to show the big picture through stories. Then we focus on different pieces of the painting, adding layer upon layer. Only she is the artist, painting the gaps in her mind as she sees them. Pamela has enough of American history sketched in her mind that we can continue as we did last term. For world history, we are making the second pass of ancient history, which Pamela loves, by reading an old favorite from Ambleside Online A Child's History of the World along with the chapters on ancient art from art history books. We are reading selected chapters from AO favorite Fifty Famous Stories Retold--already recorded at Librivox--to sketch European history.

I have learned not to fret over missing details I deem important. As we read through short stories about slaves last term, I realized Pamela did not have a grasp of an archetypal portrait of a slave. This book is grounding her in that picture, and, in future studies, she will be better equipped to focus on individual lives with their unique variations. Rather than viewing narrations as a way of extracting information, I look at them as a way of seeing what she knows.

There are plenty of topics we covered that I only have time to gloss over . . . the birth of Isaac and the travels of Hagar and Ishmael . . . the first public miracle of Jesus . . . political parties today and in Queen Victoria's day . . . the building of the transcontinental railroad and the transatlantic cable . . . the addition of four more states . . . the disappearance of a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition . . . one character arrested and another freed from jail . . . three lost in space--no, wait, FOUR are missing . . .

Even after the banquet is over, Pamela's mind still digests her meal. Last week we began a book about gorillas and a picture of the soles of a gorilla fascinated her, especially the black nails. While I sat here typing, Pamela initiated a short conversation on how dogs and bears have claws and humans and gorillas have nails. Then, she asked, "What about monkeys?" and mentioned an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer cuts his nail.
"Education is a life," the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum. Charlotte Mason
What about math? You'll be sorry you asked. I'm blogging it next.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Finger Knitting . . . Phase I

Pamela is learning a new kind of handwork in her second term of the school year: finger knitting as a stepping stone to knitting with needles next term. She decided to knit scarves for all four of her babies (her family increased by one two weeks ago through adoption). Other possibilities include headbands for girls with longer hair, belts, gift ribbons, and googly-eyed snakes. One get get fancy and knit fashionista scarves with funky, fuzzy yarn. Another nifty thought: make a warmer scarf by braiding three finger-knitted cords. I prefer the chunky yarn (size 6) to give the scarf a fuller look.

To scaffold the process of learning, I broke it up into four steps:
  • This week, Pamela learned to pull over the yarn loops.
  • Next week, she will learn to wrap her fingers and then pull over the yarn loops.
  • Every time she finishes a scarf (the baby scarves will go quickly), I will teach her how to bind off loops.
  • Every time she starts a scarf, I will teach her how to start.
How do I know when she is ready for learning a new step? You can see in the video below a couple of tell-tale signs. She carefully adjusts the loops on her fingers until it feels right to her. She patiently pulled off a tight loop and showed a little innovation by holding down the upper loop with her thumb. Near the end of the video, Pamela giggled with satisfaction.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Exams and Assessment

When Pamela was six years old, she could only echo back what you said in the last three seconds. When she was twelve years old, she could process a word or two and cue off that, usually misunderstanding what was said, leading to a meltdown. Her auditory processing has made huge strides since then.

Yesterday, Pamela wanted to go on a health food store run. I wasn't in the mood to sit in the car for an hour, so I made an excuse about not having time for I had to put away the Christmas decorations, which were down, but not stored. Pamela eagerly joined my in wrapping and storing the ornaments and even made three trips upstairs to find the paper towels. We finished after only a half hour of effort, so I lost my excuse.

Steve joined us because I was under the weather with a slightly sore throat. We stopped at McDonald's to pick up two small cappuccinos for the road. He told us about the difficulty of the folks at the Mickey D's in Monck's Corner have with making a cappuccino without flavor. He asked, "And what do you think they added?"and paused expectantly. From the backseat, Pamela chimed in, "Flavor!"

After we made it home, Steve asked me if I was going to church. I told him it depends. David asked why. Since Pamela discourages us from talking about illness, I spelled out my dilemma with the military alphabet, "Charlie Oscar Lima Delta." Even though she was in another room, Pamela bolted into the television room to ask, "Who's Charlie Oscar?" Before long, she's going to have us speaking in pig latin . . .

When I assess what helped Pamela make such wonderful progress, I can boil it down to three things: (1) three hours a day of reading books aloud to Pamela sharpened her auditory processing, (2) three years of the association method helped her with the mechanics of language, and (3) Relationship Development Intervention enabled her to think flexibly and engage socially.

What does this have to do with exams, you ask? For me, exam week has verly little to do with blue books, bubble tests, and sharp pencils. It is about discovering what Pamela knows, how much larger her world has become, and what milestones are in the making. It is about deciding how I am doing as her guide and about changing the curricula to make it work for her. Exams include not only assessing her, but also assessing me and the curricula.

I consider her exams a resounding success:
  • Pamela narrates better when I talk less (a lesson RDI taught me).
  • I need change to our old Ambleside Online standby A Child's History of the World for our history spine. Pamela lacks the background book for the book we were using and her narrations proved that point.
  • Pamela needs to build a background for world history before going to a detailed, chronological retelling. I plan to pull out another old Ambleside Online standby Fifty Famous Stories Retold and read one story about a post-Roman Empire person a week.
  • Next year, she can focus on history past the fall of the Roman Empire and will have the background stories to make her ready for it.
  • Pamela processes absolutely nothing about Greek mythology. I plan to table it until next year and, perhaps, build from a known (Disney's Hercules) by picking stories of gods and goddess from that movie and going from there.
  • Pamela needs two years with RightStart Intermediate Math rather than one.
  • After all these years, Pamela has a newfound sense of story. In her narrations, I see a beginning, middle, and end starting to emerge. Last year, all she could do was three unrelated sentences.
  • When she alternates reading aloud, Pamela needs very little guidance from me. She listens to me read and knows I will stop at the end of a sentence. If her eyes were not tracking, she remembers the last word I said (she repeats it aloud on her own) and finds it. Only occasionally will she ask me, "Where?"
  • Pamela definitely lives in a larger world. She learned about new people, new inventions, new plants, more about familiar animals. She learned new songs and new paintings and drawings. She understood more about the seasons and geography. She added more words to her vocabulary, which now has many Spanish words.
The Case for Narration
Over a hundred years ago, Charlotte Mason chose narration as the most efficient way to assess true understanding and to store new knowledge into long-term memory. Pamela didn't study for her exams. All last term, she took turns reading aloud sentences from her books and narrated what she knew. She drew maps for geography, and added drawings to her drawing notebook and drew pictures and wrote narrations for her timeline notebook. She did some nature study and experiments, recording her observations on paper. Education researchers call this "retrieval practice procedures and reconstructing knowledge."

A recent study compared the test preparation techniques of four groups. The first read a science text for five minutes. The second read the material in four consecutive five-minute study sessions (more is better, right?). The third made concept maps by filling in hand-drawn bubbles to connect ideas and concepts, the golden standard of modern study techniques. The fourth read the material, put the text away, spent ten minutes writing what they recalled in a free-form essay (what Mason called written narration), reread it, and wrote some more.

Note: Too many headlines are calling this taking a practice test. We all know that typical tests involve multiple guess and lots of WH questions. These researchers tested through essay, which is another way to say written narration, and, at least, Science Daily got it right!

The scientists found several advantages to retrieval practice procedures for storing new knowledge in long term memory:

  • Students show greater gains in meaningful learning.
  • Performance generalized across texts identical to those commonly found in science education.
  • Essays were effective for comprehension questions and inferences and for creating concept maps.
These surprising results have lead to speculation about why narrating what you read works. Education professor, Marcia Linn said students in the fourth group may "recognize some gaps in their knowledge and they might revisit the ideas in the back of their mind or the front of their mind." They can "retrieve it and organize the knowledge that they have in a way that makes sense to them." Psychologist Nate Kornell stated, "Even though in the short term it may seem like a waste of time, [retrieval practice appears to] make things stick in a way that may not be used in the classroom." More importantly, "It’s going to last for the rest of their schooling, and potentially for the rest of their lives."

My favorite education psychologist Daniel Willingham concluded with the howler of the day, "It's not totally obvious that this is shovel-read--put it in the classroom and it's good to go--for educators this ought to be a big deal."

Has he not been reading my blog? Written narration has been shovel-ready for over a hundred years! I can forgive him for he wrote an important article about why stories are so effective in the classroom.

I have a very simple lesson plan for almost everything. "Tell me what we read yesterday." If she has a blank, I might give her an anchor like "Yesterday, we read about poor King Alfred. What happened to him?" If it is a completely new topic, I might tie it into something she already knows. "Do you remember the book we read about Francis Marion? Well, today, we are going to start a new one about another patriot named Thomas Sumter. Sometimes, we consult a map before a reading or copy a picture.

Then, we read. Pamela and I alternate reading sentences aloud because it improves her oral expression. When we get a reasonable chunk of reading done, she stops and narrates. Then we read more and she stops and narrates. When finished, I look for connections to my life or other books. In one book, a ship was setting sail from Port-aux-Basque, Newfoundland. I told her that I had taken a ferry from that same city to Nova Scotia when we moved back to the United States. Sometimes, Pamela will tell me her connections: John the Baptist dressed like a caveman, the Swamp Fox reminded her of the movie The Patriot, and Lot's wife turned into a sculpture.

During exam week, I tried very hard to limit questions to generic things. "What happened next?" If she is having trouble with that, I tell her the name of the chapter and usually that is enough to job her memory. Sometimes, Pamela forgets to include the name of the person, the time, or the place. If I'm not sure she knows, I might say, "I wonder where he is from" or "I don't know who you are talking about." If I am absolutely sure she knows, I ask her a more direct question.

Julius Caesar Transcript and Video

    He [Julius Caesar] was a little boy. He wasn’t strong. He was growing up so fast. He has a sword. They went to France, Spain, and England. No London bell. They want to fight the soldiers. He was strong. He was strong enough. He was fight with the enemies. They fought. They won. Caesar had an election. They had parties [she means parties Caesar held to win supporters, not political parties]. [He grew up] in Rome. [He] lived in one B.C. century.
    The new thing this year was a drawing notebook. Some of our books have diagrams and illustrations. The process of copying them into her notebook is one more way to learn. During our exam, we talked about things she had learned about the weather. I was curious to see if she understood a new vocabularly word that we had only read about, discussed incidentally, and drawn in her notebook. We never drilled it. When asked "What is precipitation?" Pamela replied, "Rain, snow, flakes, and hail."

    Pamela drew two maps to illustrate two topics. She is one-third of the way through the book on the Lewis and Clark expedition. She started the journey in Pittsburgh because that is where the keelboat was built and mapped their progress so far. She also drew the plans for laying the first transatlantic cable. She hasn't finished the book yet, so the exact locations will become clearer and clearer. Pamela drew the phases of the moon too. For sculpture, she drew the Sphinx. When asked to draw a column for architecture, she pointed out the window to the column on the front porch and said, "Over there." She added the flowery flourishes at the top to be like the Egyptians.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Our First Exam Week: Spotlight on Recitation and Music

    In an effort to be authentic and transparent, I'm going to reveal the shocking truth about exam week in the Glaser homeschool. We never did it. You thought all Charlotte Mason homeschoolers did them. Well, I never got the hang of it. At least, I never lied to you and said I did. That would be hypocrisy.

    Because I always felt like we were behind (behind what, I wonder), I hated to lose even more time doing exams. It didn't kill David who ironically just exempted all of his exams for first semester of his senior year at high school (does God have a sense of humor, or what?). It was extremely difficult to assess Pamela because of her major stumbling block: aphasia! Five years ago, the oral language she is doing today didn't exist. I was still suffering from Enlightenment Thinking, so I would have either felt defeated when my children didn't seem to know what I thought they should know and I would have made the next term miserable for all of us.

    Now that I am a recovering Enlightenment Thinker, I think it is safe to try exam week with Pamela. What is Enlightenment Thinking?
    • Viewing Pamela as a performer.
    • Having a list of things she ought to know.
    • Correcting her mistakes and adding them to the list of things to fix.
    • Viewing her efforts as purely solo.
    • Trying to measure and collect data to prove to the world homeschooling is working.
    • Feeling bad about things that she missed because she did it correctly last week.
    • Measuring her against other people with autism who are her age.
    I am doing several things to inoculate myself from this destructive form of thinking. I am trying to view exams with an eye toward Pamela, the person, and her relationships by considering the following questions:
    • Is Pamela's world larger because of this book or activity?
    • Do I see her recalling or exploring ideas outside of our formal day?
    • Is her known in this area expanding?
    • Is this book or activity worth her time?
    • If not, is she ready for this level of thinking? Could I find a better resource?
    • Is she reaching any new developmental milestones?
    • Were there times when her face filled with joy?
    • Did she share any knew connections she made?
    Pamela's narration of Ricitos de Oro in Spanish stunned me, and Steve couldn't get over it. We have come a long way in Spanish since August. She has this story, the nursery songs, and all the audio stories Steve narrated loaded up on her i-Pod Touch. She loves listening to them in her free time. The other day, I caught her watching I even catch her watching The Fox and the Hound in Spanish. Pamela sometimes speaks Spanish in context such as saying "Tengo mucha hambre" before lunch or "No hay más!" after finishing a bowl of food. Once I sang, "Food, glorious, food" while David was feeding the fish and Pamela said, "La comida" (the food in Spanish). Pamela spoke what Spanish she could on our trip to El Salvador and even communicated with Rosa, who spoke no English, through Spanish and gestures. Starting to acquire a second language spoken by half of her family is a major developmental milestone.

    I plan to keep using all our resources although the songs are in a challenging key for us. Pamela and I keep switching octaves to sing with the singer on our recordings who must be a baritone. We will press on. I might try a free two-week trial of Speekee, an online program recommended by friends Penny and Queen Mum. It is geared for younger children and might suit her well. If she likes it, we might subscribe and have her work through the ten programs instead of the homemade stories when my schedule gets too full.

    Pamela loves recitation. She enjoys reciting what she learned last term. Sometimes, she will recite "The Lord's Prayer" and Tennyson's "The Eagle" for fun. She smiles during "The Lord's Prayer" at church. On two different occasions, Pamela spoke Tennyson's lines: while looking at live eagles in Awendaw and at a stuffed eagle at a wildlife refuge visitor's center. It reminded me of a Jane Austen novel when a character quotes a beloved poet. I can tell by her unusually crisp annunciations of the hard c sounds in the first two lines of the poem that Pamela can hear the alliteration and finds it pleasant. I can tell in the pace of her delivery that she feels the poem's rhythm.

    Were her recitations absolutely perfect? No! But I loved how Pamela put her own twist on "The Lord's Prayer" by blending the two different versions:
    And - our - forgive our debts.
    And we forgive our debtors.
    And we forgive those who trespass against us.
    She got stuck on the fifth line of "The Eagle" and turned to me, "What? What?" She knew it was on the tip of her tongue. She even tried to give me her only clue, "Thunder," because she knew it was in the closing line. Rather than look at it as a failure, I took the opportunity to show her two strategies. First, I repeated the fourth line. I was stuck, too! Then, I started the whole thing over and, as soon as I said, "He watches from," Pamela echoed from and flew solo until the end. It reminded me of what happened to Elizabeth Hughes at the Norfolk Admirals Game--how forgotten lyrics can quickly blossom into a beautiful moment when surrounded by people filled with heart.

    Music is going well. Pamela loved our folk song selections. I picked two songs from South Carolina ("I Got a Letter This Morning" and "When the Train Comes Along") and one familiar one ("Skip to My Lou").

    While Pamela may not be a candidate for American Idol, she captured that slightly off-key twang of the songs, which melted my heart. She nailed the lyrics of the first verse perfectly in only one song. In another, she artfully wove lines from several verses to make her own version, which is how these songs were created in the first place. In the final song, she used her own unique words. Her inventiveness captured the essence of what folk music really is when you think about it.

    Pamela loved the hymns I chose. She needed help finding a good key with Rejoice the Lord Is King and stayed right with me once she got going. Her version of Open Our Eyes, Lord is absolutely precious because she sings with her heart in that one.

    Pamela loves classical music. She has it on her i-Pod Touch and alternates between listening to Bach and Beethoven CDs in the car. She can accurately name composers of familiar music if we hear it piped in the store or on the soundtrack of a movie. Last term, we enjoyed exploring Vivaldi. She was already familiar with The Four Seasons and his mandolin concertos. We added the Magnificat and Gloria to her repertoire. Her favorite piece was Spring from "Four Seasons" and Pamela even hummed a few bars for me!

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    An Ear for Spanish

    Earlier in the year, I blogged our plan for building an ear for Spanish. A week-long trip to El Salvador provided timely reinforcement. Before Christmas, Pamela finished her first audio book in Spanish, Ricitos de Oro. I cannot stress hear enough that we are taking great pains to avoid the written word so we can get Spanish into her ear. Most of us learned our first language in that mode, so it makes sense to do the same for a second language. Try reading the following sentence, "No hay más," and then compare you pronunciation to how a native speaker would do it.

    When we listened to this story and homemade stories narrated by Steve, we looked at pictures to go with the words, phrases, and sentences. I built in a short review of new vocabulary and, once Pamela seemed to know it, I rotated it out. It did take up a bit of time editing audio files and finding appropriate pictures. The effort was worth it!

    Last week, I assessed how Spanish is going. First, Pamela narrated Goldilocks in Spanish with voices and all! She narrated each picture from the book without seeing any words. Second, I asked her the meaning of words from the book. Third, I asked her to tell me some words she learned from our homemade stories. Finally, she sang songs we learned from De Colores. The one struggle Pamela has with the music is that she ends up having to jump octaves (as I do) for they are not in the best range for us. Oh, well, nothing is perfect!

    Narration of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears in Spanish"--She Is NOT Reading

    Receptive Understanding of Goldilocks"

    Expression of Words and Phrases from Homemade Stories

    Spanish Songs

    Tuesday, January 04, 2011

    New Year Reflections

    Here is the only math I will put in this post. My next post is another matter. To celebrate the New Year Pamela style, I printed out a dodecahedron calendar from RightStart on cardstock for her to cut out and put together. Pamela loves calendars and she can tell you the day of the week you were born given your birthday and year. A cyber friend emailed me to ask Pamela if when she could "recycle" her 2003 calendar because of the repetition of the fourteen different kinds of calendar. In five seconds, Pamela told me 2014. She loved kicking off the first school day of 2011 making her own calendar.

    Cutting out this calendar appeared quite complicated and, at first, Pamela looked overwhelmed. Then, I guided her into breaking down the job into smaller steps:
    • I picked up my scissors and snipped off one edge. I handed it back to her and she realized that the job becomes less intimidating when you focus on one corner.
    • At first, she focused on edges while I snipped out the corners. Once she was comfortable, she cut both edges and corners too. When she felt stuck, she passed it back to me and until we cut out the entire outline.
    • The next phase was cutting the solid lines joining two calendar pages. Pamela caught on right away. She cut and I "cleaned up" any sloppy cutting--her fine motor skills still need sharpening.
    • Then we took turns folding along the dashed lines.
    • Because glue is just not her thing, I glued and taped the insides until the calendar was finished.

    This process reminds me of how we have taught Pamela many things that seemed impossible at first. At first, I feel overwhelmed and then I think about what small things can she do to get the ball rolling like I did with having her work on the outer edges of the calendar first. Sometimes, seeing her do some thing small helps me see that she can do more than I expected. Then, I slowly work in something more difficult (like snipping off the corners). Sometimes, she figures out what to do by watching and imitating my actions. Pamela also knows she can turn to me for help when she is stuck, making her more willing to try something new. When an expectation is beyond her reach, I quietly step in and take care of those things (cleaning up sloppy cutting and gluing and taping) without making her feel incompetent for not being able to yet. YET!

    Knowing that today's "yet" is tomorrow's milestone keeps me positive as we slowly plod along.

    Speaking of milestones, the other day, we had the most delightful little conversation. To give you some perspective, at 10, Pamela had LOTS of words, mainly nouns and phrases, but could not put them together in a sentence because of her aphasia. We had tried autism programs like Teach Me Language off and on, but they were not effective. By 14, not much had changed in being able to put words together so as to make sense! Then, we found the association method, which is for kids with aphasia and other severe language disorders. By 18, she could speak in very short, limited sentences. That's when we stumbled on RDI, which gave her a newfound ability to communicate without words (reading facial expressions and body language, having the desire to communicate, sharing experiences, etc.). Being able to fall back on nonverbals smooths her path to communication when she is having glitches with her verbalization.

    Last year, Pamela turned 21 years old. We continue to work on her nonverbal and verbal communication in context, focused on full meaning, without direct prompting, and without constant corrections. Yes, you read that right--WITHOUT. She can relax and trust me that sharing what she thinks is not going to bring out the drill instructor. If she makes herself clear enough for me to understand, then we continue the flow of conversation. I don't worry if she has a grammar glitch or a wrong word or even an invented word. While she is not having a back and forth exchange of ten perfect sentences, she is up to two or three turns when the moment is right. Here is a recent short conversation:

    Me: "Pamela, you were right!" (I intentionally left out information to see what she would do with it. It is a way of encouraging her to communicate without prompting.)

    Pamela: "Right about what?" (Don't you love that question? She cared enough to ask!)

    Me: "Burger King" (She noticed the Burger King sign coming down the other day; I thought they were fixing it.)

    Pamela: "Is it closed?"

    Me: "Yes!"

    Pamela: "Is it moved?" (Earlier in the year, the McDonald's closed for two weeks while they were moving into a new building.)

    Me: "No. Burger King didn't build a new building."

    It is never too late to try something new. But, it's important to find things that are small and slow and steady. Sometimes, I think LF children have been bombarded with too much and they shut down and give up. Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed by too many things to do and too many decisions to make. Autism is a very complicated thing, and, sometimes, no matter what parents do, the child struggles. We need very slow, gentle learning situations where we all can process and think before interacting. Speaking without thinking, speaking automatically, speaking without ideas and connections and meaning is just talk. Communication is more than words.

    Yesterday Pamela asked one simple question that revealed a sophisticated train of thought three steps ahead of us. Even though she doesn't always participate, she pays attention to our conversations. The black car is in the shop, so Steve borrowed the van at work to get home the day he dropped it off. The van has been sitting here since then. Steve left it at the office today and got a ride to the airport for a business trip. He asked me to pick up him on his return later in the week. He also mentioned that he was picking up the black car before the weekend. While he and Pamela were running errands last night, she asked, "Where am I going on ___day?" Steve had no idea what she meant. Then, she added, "Get the black car." Suddenly, Steve realized that he would need me to go to Charleston with him to pick up the car. Pamela had reasoned all that out in her mind, and clearly a great deal of thought went behind her simple question. While she probably lacks the ability to explain her logic, her question is evidence of her ability to reason.

    Last Sunday, we saw evidence of more milestones in the making. Her first experience with death was when her great-grandmother died in 2004. It upset her greatly and we weren't allowed to mention the "d" word. Over the years, she started asking questions. Where is her body? Where is her soul? Does her soul have a mouth? Is her body a skeleton? In 2006, my great aunt died and Pamela wasn't ready to face it. We all drove to North Carolina, and Steve dropped David and I off at the funeral and took Pamela somewhere to kill time. In the past year, Pamela has seemed less fearful and asks questions from time to time.

    When we learned of Uncle Jerry's terminal illness, we told Pamela about it. She first said, "It's alright. He'll get better." We told her that wasn't going to happen. His body was too sick. She asked, "Pass away?" We confirmed the truth for her. We visited him a couple of times and she never acted fearful around him and interacted with him like she always did. When we told her he had died on Christmas Day, she said, "He's in heaven with Eugenia. What about the babies?" I had no idea what she meant until she started talking about Baby Alive. Pamela wanted to know if she could bring her three babies to North Carolina. And, she did!

    When she first asked about going to the funeral, we left it up to her. Aunt Edna had the body cremated and planned a memorial service on his birthday next September. So, all that Pamela would need to experience was visitation with family, friends, and friends of friends at the funeral home plus a short ceremony with military honors. We hoped she would try because it would be the least intimidating way to approach this. Pamela joined us at the funeral home and spent most of the time sitting in a comfortable arm chair, watching everything.

    When the Air Force airmen started the flag folding ceremony, I was on the other end of the room. Since Pamela had been fine up to this point, I figured she would be okay. And, she was. I had forgotten this little thing called a gun salute, which happens before the bugler sounds "Taps." I hate to admit it but I jumped at the first shot. Then, I worried about what Pamela would do? Would she notice? It was so loud. How could she not notice? Would she get upset and freak out? I didn't hear a peep until after the second shot. Then, a calm voice asked, "What are they shooting?"

    I quietly moved next to Pamela and explained that they soldiers were honoring Uncle Jerry because he was a soldier too. Her serenity surprised me because clearly she knew those were not fireworks. I think Pamela noticed that everyone in the room was standing still and calm. She didn't panic because nobody else was.

    So, Pamela has reached another milestone: saying those cute things that kids say in public that make people chuckle. Okay, so she's about twenty years late. Who cares! A milestone is a milestone!

    The other new thing is emphasizing her words by spelling it out. "I said 'Now, N-O-W, Now'!" This evening, Pamela and I were at my parents' house. She was tired and wanted to go home. After we ignored her first two requests, she said, "I want to go. G-O, go!" And, as she was saying the letters g and o, she was signing them with her hands using the manual alphabet!

    Pamela definitely made her point!