Saturday, February 23, 2013

On the Inevitability of Change

Someone posted a link to an article about education at the Ambleside Online forum, and this quote resonated with me: Change is in the nature of things; it is inevitable. Human societies either adapt to change or die. Marion Brady elaborated on each sentence from a much longer quote in relation to the usual content of core curriculum. I intend to ponder the relationship between autism and change in the little things in life.
Change is in the nature of things; it is inevitable. The earth heats and cools. Seasons come and go. Water tables rise and fall. Human populations increase, decrease, migrate. New tools change the ways societies function. People multiply, resources diminish, and waste builds. Civilizations appear and disappear. ~ Marion Brady
  • Hardees stops giving out toys.
  • Parents may not tell you where you are going to eat lunch.
  • Moms grow tired of their children nagging them about doing Wii Fit.
  • Wii Fit trainers change.
  • Bricks fall off the sidewalk.
  • Some seeds never sprout.
  • Sometimes it rains when you want to walk.

The hardest thing about autism is not language delays or poor social skills. It is rigid thinking. Ten years ago, Pamela would have a meltdown if we left the drive-thru without a toy. She would have cried at not being told what we were having for the next three meals. Many parents feel trapped between the Scylla of giving in and the Charybdis of dealing with a meltdown. Children in the autism spectrum have a hard time with change, so they try to instill sameness by having control. However, if we deal with language without addressing static thinking, we have someone who seeks control through longer words and better reasoned arguments. If we deal with social skills without seeking dynamic thinking, we have someone who is better at manipulating our behavior as we have modeled manipulating theirs.

The other day, the lady at Hardees told us they were no longer offering toys with their kids' meals. At first, Pamela cried—only for about a minute. I told Pamela that I was just as surprised as she was. Then, she asked about other fast food places in our town. I replied that they were still offering toys as far I as knew. Drawing upon the vocabulary she has gleaned from her personal study of the history of television—debut, episode, finale, etc.—Pamela stopped crying and announced, "Hardees is rebranding." Her reflection helped her put the situation into perspective.

Encouraging dynamic thinking (which we learned to do through Relationship Development Intervention) goes beyond avoiding unpleasant scenes. Because the weather for our walk was so gloomy, my friend and I decided to head to Cracker Barrel for lunch instead of having our usual picnic. Since Pamela has been thinking so flexibly lately, I did not alert her in advance. On the drive to the wildlife refuge, Pamela asked, "What's for lunch?" I playfully told her, "It's a surprise," and glanced at her from the corner of my eye. She smiled and said, "Is it a hamburger?" I replied, "Probably." Then, she asked, "Is it McDonald's?" "Nope!" Then, she asked, "What's Tammy eating?" I answered, "I'm thinking about soup." She giggled and added, "It's a mystery!" Pamela knew enough that she did not press me for more information. She was content to learn the location of our meal later.

Pamela still tries to control me. I had intended to work out on Wii Fit Thursday night. Pamela knew about my plans and came close to stalking me. She watches my every move and gets angry when I fail to take steps toward getting ready to exercise. I gave her a couple of warnings about her nagging me, and then I told her that I did not like to be controlled and I was not going to work out. She was not happy but the tears eventually subsided. The next day, she left me alone. Even though I did not exercise until nine in the evening, she let go of her need to control me.

More dynamic thinking is emerging during her Wii Fit routine. To begin with, it is not a routine. While she likes getting her program done early in the day, she sets up a routine that randomly picks exercises. She turns away from the television and wonders aloud, "Is it trainer [yoga or strength] or Mii character [aerobic or mind and body]?" and giggles when she sees the result. She usually sticks with the female trainer. Occasionally, Wii Fit has the male trainer show up and Pamela finds the switch absolutely hilarious. She is clearly learning to appreciate surprises.

How do you foster embracing change? One critical step is to slow down and let your child think at their own pace. The other day Pamela came bounding into the house with excitement. She announced with glee, "I fixed the brick!" She probably chose electrical tape because we have it sitting on the kitchen table next to materials we are using to explore batteries. [Don't let the white stuff fool you: it's not glue! We've had a lot of birds visiting lately.] Right now, giving Pamela time means that I am not going to point out any potential issues with her solution. I will let nature take its course and give her time to observe what happens, refine her theory about fixing the brick, and, if necessary, come up with another solution.

Another example is from our work in botany. We finally finished repotting all of our plants. Again, we checked the sunflower seed and saw no progress. On her own, Pamela concluded that it had failed and decided to try a new seed. I could have offered her that solution two weeks ago. I'm glad I showed restraint because she figured it out on her own.

When we first started walking our beloved trail, I had wondered if I could stick to our plan of going, even on the most dreary days. We love being out with the sun basking on our face. We have noticed new things in fog, mist, and wind. We have tolerated even cold days. Yesterday, I wondered about walking it in the rain—wondered if we would be chilled to the bone because of our soggy sneakers. As always, we enjoyed another lovely day, albeit wet.

I noticed something intriguing about Pamela yesterday. Sometimes, she gets ahead of us and walks to her "sit spots" along the way. She waits patiently for us to catch up to her. Yesterday, I often saw her turn around and watch what we were doing. I caught her observing us in several pictures. Just as I have learned to adjust my pace to her, she is adjusting her pace to me. Part of learning the dynamics of change is adjusting one's pace to match that of another.

Human societies either adapt to change or die... If we value our way of life, we need to understand the dynamics of change. ~ Marion Brady

Monday, February 18, 2013

Old Friends and a New Friend

Except for last year, I have spent every President's Day weekend since 2009 at my kitchen door counting birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count—open worldwide for the first time ever. Don't let the bright sunny pictures and winter-blooming camellias in the pictures fool you. Every morning that I counted (Saturday through Monday), water in the bird bath iced over in the wee hours of the night. While the birds might have shivered on the chilly, windy days of the count (relatively speaking, my friends up North), I stayed warm. I set up my station so that I watch from inside and get some chores done when my eyes tire. Since we are doing so much science this year, I opted to do this count solo.

During the count, I sighted many old friends. The most exciting moment was today when I spotted a red-breasted nuthatch—a winter visitor to the Carolinas. I have not seen one since we moved from Colorado in 2001. Imagine my delight!

Another delightful moment was making a new friend. Today, I identified a ruby-crowned kinglet for the first time in my life. This teeny, tiny bird is another winter visitor to the Carolinas. Discovering unfamiliar birds makes bird-watching addictive. Talk about awe and wonder!

While some homeschools have children memorize the state this and the state that, I prefer to know these things by getting to know them in real life. Meet the South Carolina state bird, the Carolina wren. Its favorite food at our feeding station is suet, and I enjoy watching it hang upside-down on the suet cage. Relationships are vital and nourishing.

Two birds I find difficult to shoot with my camera are friendly Carolina chickadees and the tufted titmouse pictured below. These related species behave in the same way at the feeder. They hide in the safety of the camellia and do a hit and run on birds, fleeing back to their camouflaged position. What I love the most about the titmouse is its round face with a black button-eye. Relationships allow you to make connections.

The Baltimore oriole first caught my attention a few years back. First, I caught it taking a bath. Late, I figure out that, when an isolated spot in a camellia waved wildly back and forth, an oriole was feasting on camellia flowers. I never knew the bird enjoyed dining at our feeders until today! Relationships allow you to refine your observations.

SQUIRREL! When attention wanes, it helps to change your thoughts to something completely different!

Some things require closer attention. These birds—a mourning dove, Northern cardinal, and chipping sparrow—may appear friendly to you. They are not! In the past three days, I have seen them shove each other off feeders and defend their turf with fancy aerial acrobatics.

Forget about that cute little mockingbird song. The northern mockingbird is one of the biggest bullies on the block. I once watched one aggressively defends its crepe myrtle tree against a flock of migrating American robins. They think nothing of thunking a squirrel on the head. The mockingbird belongs behind bars!

Bird-watching invites curiosity! I catch myself tilting my head like this American goldfinch all the time!

Speaking of finches, I just love this shot of a house finch surrounded by camellias!

Only a few species of female songbirds in North America sing. The female Northern Cardinal is one of them. I did not know that! My next line of investigation will be to catch one in action.

As Valentine's Day was the day before the backyard count started, here are a few shots of my favorite couples!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What Happens When You Kiss a Frog?

Yesterday morning my friend was running late—she slept very little the night before due to a cranky wee one. So, Pamela, another friend and her son, and I amused ourselves. This comfortable mossy spot intrigued me. I listened to birds and hoped to see one to photograph. When that failed, I stalked this eastern comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) and added another entry to my BAMONA account.

Pamela basked in the sun with her buddy. The focal point of this picture suggests the color red, and I found it intriguing that, on the walk, vermillion things popped out at us. My friend Jennifer Gagnon blogs about how attention to red can be one way to spot things with new eyes...

... a shy cardinal

... budding red maples against a cerulean sky

Jennifer also recommends focusing on one theme, such as blooms. This week, we saw even more of our state flower (Carolina jessamine) dotting the landscape with their lively yellow trumpets.

Another focal point is your own interests. Spiders intrigue Jennifer, while birds catch my eye. Do you see the flock of wild turkeys? We often find them foraging far off in the distance. One seasonal interest that has caught our attention in this wetland is water. The past couple of weeks have poured down rain. Last week, one of the kids noted, "Now we have a real castle (a 'tree' with numerous skinny trunks). It is surrounded by a moat." Spots that were once dry are now flooded!

We were nearing the end of our weekly walk when the magic began! Jennifer encourages students of nature to listen. When you have a bunch of littles running around, that is hard to do. We heard this noise that sounded like cars on a highway rushing by—only we know there is no nearby highway. We listened hard for some distinctive call in between the child sounds and our own shushes. Our first theory was birds. Grackles travel in flocks and can be quite noisy. The characteristic squeaky-gate sound never popped out. One of the kids suggested a waterfall, and then my friend's husband suggested frogs. We decided to go off trail and follow the sound to its source.

As we drew closer, the noise grew louder and louder; and we confirmed the frog theory. We found a spot of wetlands filled with frogs. The water burbled with the motion of these amphibians. As we explored, we stopped caring about getting our feet wet. Keeping the children clean was not on our minds. The excitement of making our own discovery enchanted us.

We spotted hundreds and thousands of frog eggs.

And, then, one of our party caught a frog! How do we know these are frogs? Bulgy eyes, narrow body, smooth, moist skin. The question I have is what kind of frog? As I cannot make up my mind yet because Carolina offers many possibilities, I will leave it unanswered until our next visit. You know there will be another visit.

Everyone had to see the little frog, of course!

Then, Pamela surprised us! She softly murmured, "Frog turn into a prince." She suddenly leaned over and pretended to kiss the little guy (we assume)! Alas! I was not filming. I turned on the recorder and asked her to try again, and she did! She is now called the frog whisperer.

I put together this short video to give you an idea of our adventure!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemon Batteries!

Right now, I am trying to develop the habit of writing for the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, led by mi amiga Amy Tuttle who is a missionary mom in Peru. My first submission for the year focused on topic of awe, an important ingredient in developing a love of learning in our children and ourselves. A quote from the chapter on personhood in Mason's last book inspired that post to the February 5 carnival. In this round, we consider the tension between authority and docility.

The overemphasis of compliance in teaching autistic children spotlights the challenge of putting authority and docility in its proper place. This post should resonate with any person raising or teaching children because an exuberant effort to teach the habit of obedience diminishes the habit of thinking. Mi amiga Di Maitland, a mindful mom who lives in South Africa, recently blogged an enlightening test of how well a child consciously reflects during the day. This clip from a webinar by Dr. Stephen Gutstein defines operating on a conscious level as stopping to analyze a situation when something unexpected happens. What are the parts and how do they fit together into a whole? What is the same and what is different? How does the situation relate, or not relate, to other situations?

For two days, Di decided to hang out and observe her son. She deliberately avoided making any demands upon her preverbal autistic teen. She watched him carefully to see if he was operating on a conscious level. She found that most of the time he followed through his typical routines and rituals with very little variation. Another mindful professional, Dr. James MacDonald , author of Communicating Partners, calls this a "lazy mode of operating" as mi amiga Penny in Tennessee blogged. MacDonald observed,
Out of rational fear, many of us tell the child (usually non-verbally) I WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU NO MATTER WHAT. And it can be just that unnecessary "taking care" that keeps the child in a learned helplessness, or as I prefer, a LAZY mode of operating.

Think of your job now as catching yourself when you are about to do for your child when he needs to do for himself...
So, how does conscious reflecting look? A few weeks ago Steve was getting ready to leave Kansas and come to Carolina for a visit. That morning I slept in because I was able to make it through the night without waking from a coughing fit. Kansas got socked with snowy weather, so Steve skyped the following message to me: "There is a blizzard out there this morning." After I woke up and before I got on the computer, Pamela said to me, "Dad's not coming. There's too much snow."

This is operating on a conscious level for several reasons: (1) Pamela inferred something and did not simple repeat exactly what Steve wrote, (2) she knew I had not seen his message yet, and (3) she decided to tell me because she knew I did not know.

Awareness is the beginning of consciously reflecting. Acting as a result of that awareness is another.

What do authority and docility have to do with consciously reflecting? Because of behaviorism and enlightenment thinking, we in authority have overstepped our bounds by telling children what to do and what to think far more often than we ought. Even though docility is willingness to be taught, we see unthinking obedience as the hallmark of docility. Mason put the habit of obedience and the habit of thinking in their proper spheres through an indirect method. She recommended governing children ("Do as you're bid") without them being aware of their governance ("Go as you please"). But, how does this look in real life?

It is easier than you think as pointed out by a recent blog post at Guiding Families in Hawaii! Spotlight the problem, not the solution! Every time we point out the solution, we steal an opportunity for our children to think. I can understand barking out commands when you are running late, inconveniencing innocent bystanders, or preventing extreme injury, pain, etc. But, whenever possible, I try to point out the problem, not the solution.

Today, Pamela and I were working on math problems at the car dealership. We sat at a table with Pamela on my right. When we transitioned to knitting, I needed to move to her right. I could have told her to stand up and switch chairs with me. Instead, I walked around the table and moved to her right. Without thinking, she scooted her chair to the left and made space for me. Had she thought for a moment, she would have stood up and sat in the chair to her left. I told her, "But, I want to sit down!" Then, she scooted her chair and the one on the left even further left. I added, "I have no chair!" After a few rounds of this, she finally realized that she could move over to the chair on her left.

I even try to spotlight the problem and not the solution in my role as her teacher. To provide background knowledge for the book about Michael Faraday, we explored batteries and built our own lemon battery. First, we tested various size batteries with a volt meter. Then, we made a lemon battery. We tried this the other day but blew a fuse on the volt meter, so Pamela was already familiar with the difference between positive and negative terminals. She recorded what she learned in her science notebook.

As her teacher, I did not tell her exactly what to do. Pamela remembered enough from the last time to set up the circuit with the volt meter independently. However, she made many mistakes and I did not prevent her from doing so. Each time I pointed out the problem. Because she is used to operating on a conscious level, she came up with the solution.

When Pamela tested the AA battery, she reversed the probes. It was the first time she had made this mistake. I spotlighted the problem: a negative reading, which did not seem to concern her. Then I pointed to the red probe and told her that it was supposed to be positive. Immediately, she said, "Turn it around." However, she turned it around twice and got another negative reading. As soon as I pointed out the problem, she turned around her a battery correctly and got a positive reading.

With the triple A battery, she saw her mistake immediately and corrected it without any spotlighting.

In this clip, Pamela gave the lemon two negative terminals. Even though I knew she was making a mistake, I did not stop her. I wanted her to think about what having two terminals might mean. I was even willing to let her test the double negative lemon. She realized right away that it would not work and pulled out the galvanized nail before we tested the lemon for the first time.

In this clip, Pamela reversed the probes of the volt meter. I now realize I should have used alligator clips because she had a hard time keeping them steady. However, you can see that, although the voltage flitted between -0.01 to -0.08, she had no problem reading it as -0.07—a sign of her level of comfort with uncertainty. She realized that she had reversed the probes and corrected it as soon as I reported a negative number.

In this clip, we intentionally tested a lemon without terminals. She was not at all surprised that the volt meter detected no current.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Exploring Botany

On the first day of school, I posted our first steps in a formal botany study and posted her science notebook entries.
First Pamela matched the seeds to the packets. She knew five of them, which left her to guess correctly the sixth (buckwheat). Since she also needs to work on describing what she sees, I guided her through a written narration about the seeds.
For about a week, nothing happened. Pamela added a picture of our seed-sprouting containers to her notebook.

Exactly a week later, Pamela noticed the first signs of life. (I had noticed them a day or two before but I waited. I want her to see it for herself.) The first seed emerged. Then, the second and the third. We had neglected to add markers, so we weren't exactly sure of what seed was sprouting where. That turned out to be a good thing.

As of last Monday, five of six seeds had sprouted. We dug up the lone hold out, which ended up being the sunflower seed. Pamela decided it needed more water and she is going to give it more time. She can be quite patient. Sometimes.

Last Monday, we also searched online for pictures of seeds like ours germinating. We easily figured out the bean, corn, pumpkin, sunflower, and buckwheat. By process of elimination, we figured out the seed. Pamela labeled all of our seedlings. Then, she went back into her science notebook and labeled all her drawings of seedlings, too. You may notice that we prefer writing directly into a notebook. I could make my own worksheets, but then I would be doing too much of the thinking.

Pamela wrote the order in which the seedlings emerged from the soil. Next, she will write a narration about how differently they emerge from the soil. Each kind of seed has its own personality in how it makes its debut. I never thought about that before this study of botany.