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Tuesday, July 15, 2014



Yesterday, I had one of those days.  I was thankful.  Now I know I should be thankful all the time, but usually I don't think about it as I go about my activities.  Yesterday was an exception.  I had my plan for the day, a strategic use of my time to accomplish several things that I thought needed to be done.  It turned out, they weren't that crucial and didn't really need to be completed according to my timeline.

I was headed out to do a couple errands.  My van started up just fine and I was a few blocks from home, stopped at a red light, when my van just conked out.  I tried restarting it, but it just made noises and refused to start. The light turned green and there were cars behind me waiting to turn right as I had intended to.  I lowered the window to thrust my arm out and waved them around me.  I tried again to start my van, with the same failing response from my vehicle.

 I put on my hazard lights, which I hoped would be bright enough for oncoming drivers to see since it was beginning to rain a little bit.  Then I groped around under the steering wheel until I found the hood release button and gave it a good yank.  I went around to the front of my van, heaved the hood upwards until it stayed fully open, and got up on my tiptoes to look inside.  Sure enough, there were car parts.  Lots of them.  Gooey, dirty, and as mysterious to me as a calculus problem.  The solution to my problem was no doubt in there someplace, and someone would have the knowledge to find and solve it. I was not that someone, but I proceeded to stick my hand down inside and wiggled a few things around enough to get a very filthy hand.  It might have looked like I knew what I was looking for or how to connect a loose wire.  But I didn't.

I was kind of hoping that by sticking my head under the hood of my disabled vehicle, my fellow drivers might take pity on me and not honk at me for blocking traffic.  An employee from the business on the corner came over and said I could call from inside their office and wait in there for help.  She said she had been outside when I pulled up to the light and observed that the van had just suddenly stopped running.  She heard my attempts to restart it and came over to let me know I could come into their building and they would help in any way they could.

Then I heard a man call to me from his truck, asking if I needed help.  I think it was a rhetorical question, because it seemed pretty obvious that I needed assistance and quickly, before I made things even worse by wiggling the wrong wire or something.  This helpful senior citizen pulled in behind me (now he was blocking traffic, too) and had me try to start the van again.  He watched under the hood while the van made its "I can't start" sounds and we repeated that routine a few times.  My good Samaritan asked if I had possibly run out of gas, and when I replied in the negative he apologized and said he didn't know what else to do. He wished me luck and was on his way.   I'd say he was still more advanced in his vehicle knowledge than I was, plus he actually was quite nice and willing to help if he could.

 At that point, I pulled out my cell phone and called AAA for roadside assistance.  I was immediately put on hold.  My van had basically put me on hold already and I wasn't going anywhere.  This was to be a day of waiting for one thing and another.  After a fairly short wait, a woman came on the line and I began explaining that my van broke down and I couldn't get it started.  I described my location, and even though I was at an intersection the representative wanted more details.  I was able to tell her I was on the east side of the intersection, facing west.  If you know me, then you know that I am not good with directions other than up, down, right, and left.  But I squinched my eyes shut and figured out the east/west part.  As the AAA representative was giving me a reference number and telling me that a tow truck should arrive in the next 5-90 minutes, a police cruiser pulled up behind me with lights flashing.

I felt resigned.  If I was going to be cited for blocking traffic, there was nothing I could do.  As I hung up with the AAA call, the police officer was waiting outside my open window.  I preemptively informed him that I had already called AAA and they were sending a tow truck.  (See officer?  I'm a good citizen.  I'm not blocking traffic by choice.  I'm a victim of circumstance!  Owner of an old vehicle circumstance.  You don't have to ticket me.)  The police officer politely informed me that he had some kind of push bumper on his vehicle and would push my van across the street and to a legal parking spot at the side of the road where I could wait safely for the tow truck.  Following his instructions, I guided my van into the parking spot.  The officer said he would check back in a while and waved goodbye.

I called AAA back, just to let them know I was now a half block down from the intersection, on the west side and still facing west.  They promised to deliver this new information to the towing company.  Within minutes, my cell phone rang.  When I answered the tow truck driver informed me that he hadn't seen my vehicle when he drove past.  I gave him the updated information, complete with landmarks, and he assured me he would be there soon.  A few minutes later, I watched as a tow truck drove past me without even looking in my direction.  Sigh.

A few more minutes and he was back, this time noticing my "flagging you down" waving.  The driver had me try to start the van.  Usually I love consistency, and that's just what I got when I tried to start it up.  Same noises.  Same result.  A woman walked by just then with her two dogs, paused to say hello to me and then offered "Sorry about your circumstances" and really seemed to mean it before continuing on her way. Then the driver checked a few other things, even going so far as to look up something in my owner's manual.  He seemed to know what he was doing but the areas he checked did not solve the problem.  So he hooked up all the towing equipment, then hauled me and my van to a repair shop.

 I called my son and asked him to meet me at the garage and give me a ride home.  He came to my rescue, but informed me that his sister needed to use the car to get to her classes and then to work so we didn't have much time to spare.  Once my van was deposited in the parking lot, the tow truck driver escorted us inside the building and introduced me to one of the shop owners.  I handed over my AAA card and my van key, and the owner asked me a few questions about what was wrong with the van.  I guess I could have shown him my greasy black fingers and assured him that we could rule out any obviously disconnected wires as I had seen to those myself, but I just repeated my tale of woe and bafflement.  He jotted a few notes, told me what the diagnostic evaluation would cost and promised to call me once he got things checked out the next day.  My son and I left and made it back home in time for my daughter to use the car.

Throughout this misadventure, I felt oddly thankful.   The vehicle breakdown happened close to home.  I knew where I was.  I had my cell phone with me.  I was pretty safe.  An employee from a nearby business voluntarily came to offer help.  An old man stopped to see if he could be of assistance.  Only one person honked, and then looked apologetic when he saw I was stranded.  The black stuff washed off my hands and didn't get on my clothes.  The police officer did not give me a ticket or hassle me in any way, but instead was polite and helpful in getting my van to a safer spot and out of the flow of traffic.   The rain only lasted a couple minutes and I was barely wet at all.  The tow truck arrived in less than the maximum estimated time.  A kind stranger let me know she cared as she was out walking her dogs. The tow truck had a sturdy handle I could use to help vault myself up into the very high seat.  My son was available to give me a ride home.  No one was in close proximity to watch me clumsily slide out of the tow truck until I could get my feet on the ground.  I didn't have to wait long at the business office to start the repair process. My daughter made it to class on time.  I didn't get anything done on my to-do list, and the world did not come to an end.  My pets got some unplanned cuddle time with me, and I enjoyed it.  So many things to be thankful for even when things don't go according to my plans.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The "Look" You Get When You Are Being Judged as a Parent

I wonder if having your child misbehave and embarrass you in public is a universal experience for parents.  Are there actually people who have no idea what it is like to have your child make a scene and attract attention in negative ways?  If you are such a parent whose child never made you look or feel inadequate throughout his childhood, I will be happy for you and somewhat mystified by your existence.  Until I meet or hear from one of you, though, such a parent will remain a legend or mythical creature to me.  I can even imagine a book titled, “The Parent Who Never Erred” or perhaps “Consistently Compliant Children:  Fact or Fiction?”  I think people would buy the book either to learn everything they could from such success or to disprove and discredit a story that seems too incredible to believe.

            Overall I think I had great kids.  They generally wanted to please and were relatively compliant.  With that said and my motherly bias evident, there were times when my children exposed me to “The Look” as a direct result of their behavior.  And I’m not talking about the look that a parent gives to a misbehaving child.  I’m talking about “The Look” that a parent gets from an overtly critical onlooker.  Allow me to explain “The Look” in case some of you have never experienced it personally, either on the giving or receiving end.  It is not a pleasant thing to have directed your way, because “The Look” is given when people disapprove of your children or the way you are handling them.  Sometimes it seems to communicate revulsion with you and your child, passing judgment and finding you guilty with one sweeping glance.  Givers of “The Look” can communicate entire monologues just using the powers of eye gaze and facial expressions.  “The Look” asks you why you can’t control your child.  “The Look” may convey disgust at your perceived inadequacies or your child’s atrocious behavior.  Givers of “The Look” may want to know what is wrong with your child that he would behave in such unacceptable ways.  

            Two of my three children were diagnosed with AD/HD and Sensory Processing Disorder and inadvertently provided me with plenty of opportunities to receive “The Look”.   Before I was a parent, I didn’t even know such a look existed.  To find myself on the receiving end was highly uncomfortable and I was already overwhelmed and insecure about my ability to parent in such a way that my children’s special needs were met.  I was still learning about their challenges and although I worked very hard to teach my children good manners and appropriate behaviors in various settings sooner or later one of them would do something that resulted in “The Look”. 
            It is an especially devastating feeling to be judged and found wanting when it involves your children.  I invested my life in raising my children and yet complete strangers could zap me with a look and I’d feel crushed and rejected.  It was even harder to respond when “The Look” came from family and people who knew us, because it was often accompanied by unsolicited advice.  When an incident occurs in a public place, the odds are that you will get “The Look” from multiple people at once.  Have you experienced this?  If not, can you imagine how discouraging it would be?

            I know people who have children with autism spectrum disorders.  They have shared with me some of their frustrations and experiences when they got “The Look”.  One mom I know was in the grocery store when her son had an extreme meltdown and was engaged in a full-out tantrum.  This mom understood that when her son was that upset he had little self control and often flailed about in such a way that he could harm himself, others, or property.  As matter-of-factly as she could, this mom restrained her son using techniques that helped him calm down and kept him from hurting himself.  While she was endeavoring to help her son, she had store customers and employees giving her the look and making hurtful remarks loudly enough for her and all who were in close proximity to hear.  This mom knew that people thought her son was just a brat and she was an ineffective parent.  Her son’s autism didn’t show in his physical appearance, and she was faced with the decision of whether to explain that her son was autistic or try to ignore the people surrounding them. What would you do?
            One woman I know was at a store when her daughter with autism became loud and agitated.  This mom knew her daughter was reacting because she was over stimulated by her surroundings. She knew how to deal with her, but there wasn’t an immediate fix to help her daughter wind down from her distraught condition.  The mom didn’t like it, but she was used to getting “The Look”.  This was not unusual behavior for her daughter and during this particular episode she overheard a spectator say that perhaps Child Protective Services should be called since the child was obviously out of control and the mother was clearly incompetent to subdue her into compliance.  After that, she began to carry little cards that said “My child is not just misbehaving.  She has autism” and proceeded to explain some of the challenges faced by many individuals on the autism spectrum.   Handing someone the card was easier than trying to verbally explain all the nuances of autism in the midst of a crisis when her daughter needed her full attention.
            Another friend of mine adopted a child with special needs.  He had some neurological damage due to prenatal drug exposure and he was hyperactive and impulsive.  He did not seem to learn from experience and consequences had little effect on his behavior.  This little boy had no fear and needed constant supervision to keep him out of harm’s way.  In order to keep him safe when they were away from home, his mother quickly realized that a wrist strap would prevent him from darting into the street and would keep him in close proximity to her.  She was horrified and bewildered when people would give her “The Look” and make critical remarks about “people who keep their kids on a leash”.  This loving mother was only trying to keep her son safe yet people made assumptions and jumped to conclusions without truly understanding the situation.
            As far as I can tell “The Look” exists in every community, but it does not seem to help anyone.  Can making a person feel inadequate or condemned ever encourage them to keep trying in spite of the challenges they face?  I hope that this article has encouraged some of you if you have been the recipient of “The Look”.  You are not alone.  For the rest, I hope that you will be aware that your kind words and supportive looks can be as powerful and impactful as “The Look.”

Monday, March 25, 2013

More Astute Than Obtuse

I've been thinking about social skills lately, and how much they impact our children's lives.  Sometimes I feel confident that with enough direct instruction and practice even the most socially awkward child can succeed and have healthy relationships.  At other times, though, it seems like the hard work of teaching, learning, and generalizing social skills just isn't enough.  I can have a child who has mastered basic social skills, but unless someone is willing to get to know her and become friends with her, the skill set seems inadequate and incomplete.

When I see a child who naturally picks up appropriate social skills and relates easily to others, there's a part of me that feels a bit envious.  My child has to work excruciatingly hard to learn skills that develop effortlessly for others.  On top of that, I think children who struggle in this area need a friend even more than those for whom relationships come easily but often find themselves alone in social settings.  I look at the families who just seem to sail through developing new relationships on a regular basis and I wonder what that would be like.  I want to prompt the parents to be thankful and not take their child's social skills for granted, but I know if I didn't have a child with obvious deficits in this area I wouldn't give a second thought to his social skills, either. 

When my son was young, he did not make eye contact.  He didn't feel the need for it, since he could hear everything just fine without looking at the person who was speaking.  Over time he learned that other people expected him to look them in the eyes, so he worked hard to discipline himself to meet that need.  He went from one extreme to the other during the learning phase, changing from no eye contact to staring unblinkingly at his conversation partner's eyes.  This was perhaps more unsettling to others than the original lack of eye contact had been, so once again my son worked to make changes in the way he connected with people.

Despite his determination and ongoing efforts to relate with others, my son struggled with the unspoken rules of interpersonal exchange and many viewed him as simply obtuse.  The dictionary defines obtuse as "not quick or alert in perception, feeling or intellect; not sensitive or observant."   This was his starting point.  Considering how very many discreet skills he needed to learn to improve his overall social skills what he accomplished was truly impressive.  Even so, I continued to observe other children who called my son derogatory names and who avoided his attempts to interact with them.  When his peers did include my son in play, more often than not it was to cast him in the role of monster or bad guy and then they ran from him, screaming.

It is no wonder that some of the children who struggle socially just want to give up or in frustration decide that most other people are not worth relating to anyway.  The rewards are so minimal in comparison to the effort these children exert trying to learn to relate in ways that do not come naturally for them.  With little apparent success they persevere and wish for friends who genuinely like them, and for insight into the baffling hidden curriculum of social exchange.  It seems that everyone else is in on the secrets of how to relate to others while the struggling child works to understand and interpret mysterious and unspoken rules that exclude and elude them.

My son worked with remarkable resiliency to be successful in social interactions.   He became an astute observer as he watched for changes in facial expression and tone of voice the way a scientist studies an experiment.  It seemed as if my son were a stranger in a foreign land, immersed in a language and culture that were unnatural to him.  Gradually and with many bumps along the way, he learned to recognize how others expressed their thoughts and feelings.  My son, who was always caring and sensitive, learned to relate in ways that were more easily recognized by those around him.  He picked up on subtle differences in my facial expressions and would ask if everything was okay.  When I sighed, he would check in with me to see if I was upset about something or perhaps just tired. 

My son, and many like him, learn to improve their social skills and overcome their social struggles. There are occasional setbacks and disappointments but they manage to at least get by and develop genuine relationships.  Some who struggle socially will only achieve a modicum of success, while others will become fluent in the language of social skills.  Even for those who appear to be fluent, though, they are like second-language learners who have remarkably mastered the skills necessary to be successful in a foreign culture.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

5 Ways to Teach Your Child to Pay Attention

When a child has a short attention span, it affects many areas of learning.  Children are often easily distracted and inattentive, so as teachers we find ourselves having to repeat instructions and redirect our student’s attention to the task at hand.  At times, pursuing those tangents our kids lead us on can actually be both fun and educational.  For those times when you really need to get something specific accomplished, those “rabbit trails” can be a source of frustration.
My dog, Daisy, has demonstrated to me in a very visual way just how many twists and turns a rabbit trail can take.  With her nose to the ground, she tracks the path the neighborhood cottontail has taken through our backyard.  Every little bit Daisy suddenly changes direction in seemingly random moves, sniffing away, moving rapidly but ultimately going nowhere.  This paints a mental picture of how it has been on those days when I’m trying to teach my distractible kids.  I exert a lot of energy, but getting pulled off course in so many directions leaves me feeling like I’m getting nowhere just like Daisy as she dashes around my back yard following the rabbit’s scent but never catching up to it.
I’d like to share with you some practical ways to stretch your child’s attention span using materials and daily activities that are already part of your routine.  Remember, children with attention challenges like novelty, interaction, and brevity.  It is counter-productive to plan a lengthy activity to work on attention span development.  Instead, try activities like these:

1.                              Do the unexpected.  When a child’s mind starts to wander, pull their attention back by introducing something unanticipated.  Try changing up a familiar story to catch your child off guard.  For example, when telling the story of the three bears discovering Goldilocks in Baby Bear’s bed, instead of having her run off, have Goldilocks say, “I’m going to turn you all into bear rugs!”  When your startled child reacts and tells you that’s not how the story goes, have him tell you the proper version.  Now you’ve got your child’s attention, he is engaging in on-task behavior, and developing his language skills and attention to details.
2.                              Take “one more turn”.  When a child tires of playing a game or reading a book have her remain with the activity for one more turn or one more page than she would choose.  In this way, you are gradually stretching her attention span with a little bit of a challenge but not to the point of absolute frustration. 
3.                              Use humor.  Humor is memorable, and can help a child maintain interest when he begins to feel restless.  Break up those longer sessions by sharing a good joke or telling an amusing anecdote related to the lesson.   Just make sure the joke is not at anyone’s expense, or the attention span may last longer but shift to the subject of the joke instead of your teaching topic. 
4.                              Tap in to your child’s imagination.  Many of our children who struggle to pay attention have an amazing capacity for creative endeavors.  My highly inattentive son could recall minute details about inventions he wanted to create or stories he planned to write.  Ask your child to picture what you are talking about.  The more details they can envision, the better they will be able to recall the information later.  Giving a child the task of imagining what something looks, sounds, smells, feels, or tastes like keeps him actively engaged in the learning process and helps him attend for longer periods of time.  I would prompt my son to “make a movie in your head” when giving him a multi-step direction.  If he got upstairs and forgot all or part of what I had asked him to do, he knew to watch that movie in his head to help him remember the tasks.  This is also a helpful strategy to increase reading comprehension and recall of auditory information.  Picture it!
5.                              Stay active and interactive.  If you have a child with a short attention span, be aware that this child needs time to mature and will not do well when required to sit passively for long periods of time.  Incorporate movement when you can, because a child in motion is more alert and some kids need an outlet for excess energy.  Involve your child in the lesson as frequently as you can, making it interactive even if you are just having her answer a question or retell something in her own words.  My children could pay attention for longer periods of time when I had them write or draw on a white board with dry erase markers.  When the lesson itself is not really conducive to physical activity or interaction, you may be surprised at how much longer your child can attend if you provide small and quiet fidget toys. 

With maturity, attention spans lengthen.  Some children take longer than others to develop but most improve their ability to pay attention dramatically over time.  If your child is not there yet, try the ideas above.  You cannot force physical maturity, but you can incorporate these strategies to nudge and stretch the attention span to lengthen it just a little bit more.  Gradually, you will see your child attending for longer and longer periods of time.  As with so many things, you will have helped them on their way to growing up.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Motivation, Reluctance, and the Circus

Motivation is such a wonderful thing.  It gives us energy to pursue our goals.  Motivation can urge us onward toward of a myriad of accomplishments.  It makes us excited to achieve and keeps us on track and purposeful in our actions.  When one is motivated, there is less need for external prompting because there is an inward drive and desire that needs no supplementation.  If only we could bottle it up and pull out motivation to dole out as needed!
 Homeschooling a motivated student is exciting and rewarding, providing a sense of the joy of teaching and affirming our efforts to help our children learn. If homeschooling is supposed to be a wonderful experience, why are so many of us lamenting the fact that our students not only do not eagerly pursue learning opportunities but appear downright unmotivated and reluctant to learn?
 If a motivated student reassures us that we are successful teachers, then the converse is also true.  A reluctant, unmotivated student can cause us to question our ability to teach our children well.  This doubt can lead our thoughts down other paths, where we wonder if we are up to the calling of homeschooling and if we will somehow be holding our children back if we continue.  Before you go too far in questioning your ability to homeschool, please allow me to share some of my experiences as a homeschooling mother of a very reluctant, unmotivated student.
I am not a high-energy, easily-excited mom.  Nevertheless I worked hard to be enthusiastic when I presented lessons and I tried to make the work engaging and interesting for my children.  Imagine my dismay when day after day I called my children to the table to begin our school work and without fail the first words out of my son’s mouth were, “How long is this going to take?”
He asked me that question no matter what the subject matter was, and in fact without even knowing which subject I was about to introduce.  In response, I would plaster a smile on my face and try to exude exhilaration for the lesson.  I tried to be funny.  I worked at being more animated in my presentations.  I used up a lot of energy, as if I were auditioning for the role of inspiring homeschool mom.  Inwardly, I berated myself for my inability to stimulate a love of learning in my children.
 I have always loved learning new things, and I had carefully selected my curriculum.  Night after night I strained my brain to come up with something I could do or change that would eliminate the reluctance my son felt toward schoolwork.  I was beginning to despair.  I had a heart to homeschool my children, but I questioned whether I had the energy and ability to do the job for the long haul.
 Then, one day, the circus came to town.  Yes, I thought about running off to join it, but once again I didn’t seem to have the right skill set!  I was already abysmal as a performer, judging by my child’s desire to get schoolwork over with as quickly and painlessly as possible despite my antics.  So I took the children to see the circus, hoping that at last my son would be adequately engaged and intrigued by the novelty of the acts.
My son watched the tigers with great interest.  He was so intent while watching the trapeze artists that I’m not sure he even blinked during their entire act.  Just as clowns appeared in one circus ring and horses began trotting around a second ring, my son turned to me and said something that changed me forever.
Mom,” he asked, “When can we go home?  I’m bored.”
Of course he had told me on many prior occasions that he was bored.  All this time I thought it was my fault for being inadequate as his teacher.  Hearing him say he was bored at the circus astonished me and gave me a valuable insight that helped me realize more than ever that homeschooling was the best option for my family.  When my child informed me that he was bored at a three-ring circus, at first I was just plain shocked.  Once the shock wore off, a sense of great relief came over me because I realized that even if I chose to wear feathers and swing from a trapeze while teaching, this child would become bored within about 15 minutes!
The difficulty my son had with school was not because of any lack on my part as a homeschooler.  Rather, it was the way he was wired that led him to be easily bored and inattentive.  Once I realized that the attention and motivation challenges were essentially stemming from inside my son and were not due to my ineptness as his teacher, I was freed up to concentrate on ways to help him learn to motivate himself and deal with his frequent feelings of boredom.  I began to focus less on critiquing myself and instead became more observant of my son. 
I noticed that there were certain times of the day when my son was more alert, and that it did not always coincide with my own states of alertness.  I observed that when he was physically active for a short burst of time he was then able to attend to his lessons for longer periods.  My son showed me that when he was emotionally upset or over-excited about something that we tended to have less productive days and my attempts to push him usually backfired.  As my self-doubt regarding my ability to teach my child receded, I was able to direct that mental energy into finding out what my son truly needed.
In addition to my great revelation at the circus, over time I became more and more convinced that homeschooling was ideal for a learner like my son.  I could accommodate his needs and give him the attention he needed to stay on track and learn.  Each year of homeschooling I was better equipped because of the previous year’s experiences.  My son came to understand that even when I didn’t understand some of his challenges I would steadfastly believe he was capable of learning, and I would never give up. 
There will always be people with more impressive credentials, but we do not need to compete with them.  As homeschooling parents, we are more invested in our children than anyone else.  We have the motivation to help our kids, year after year, to teach them and show them love.  Homeschooling can be challenging, but it can instruct the teacher as well as the students as situations arise.  In my case, I always tell people that with all the learning and motivation challenges I faced, my children made me be a better teacher than I wanted to have to be.  In the end, though, I am a better teacher and mom because of the things I learned while homeschooling my children.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Joshua Fought the Battle of...the Flannelboard!

     Do you have a child who can always pay attention, sit still, and comply with directions and requests?  If so, you may not be able to identify strongly with this post.  On the other hand, you may have other children someday or know of some who are similar to my son, Joshua.  My son has always been an “outside the box” kind of thinker.  He is so far outside the box that he doesn’t know the box exists.  He thinks in terms of what is possible, rather than being limited to pre-existing established patterns.  To say that Josh is a non-conformist would be a gross understatement.  This kid doesn’t just march to the beat of his own drum; he marches to the beat of his own oboe or something.  His creative thinking made his behavior unpredictable at times, which in turn made parenting him very challenging.  Can you relate?
            I am a pretty linear thinker, and although I’d like to think that my box is large I am definitely an “inside the box” kind of thinker.  This was one of the challenges I faced in parenting Josh, because my own responses to situations were logical and predictable to anyone who knew me.  Even though I tried I just could not anticipate how Josh would respond in many situations.  Novel experiences were the most unpredictable, and I’m sure that even Josh did not know what he was going to say or do in advance much of the time.
            For example, our local library had weekly story times for preschoolers, and Josh looked forward to attending each program.  Josh tended to observe rather than take part with most of the activities, though.  He sat on my lap and watched the other children sing songs and do the motions to finger plays.  When the librarian read books, Josh would push forward to get a better view of the pictures, but he usually sat on his knees so he wasn’t blocking others’ views.  For Josh, the true highlight of each week was the flannel board story.
            The librarian would tell a familiar story, using the flannel board and various flannel pieces.  Even though this was his favorite part of the 30 minute program, Josh could barely contain himself and wiggled and hopped around while the story was being told.  With frequent reminders and prompts to sit down so that others could see, Josh waited for what he really liked best about the flannel board. 
            Each story seemed to spark ideas for a hundred others in Josh’s imagination, and our librarian was kind enough to give Josh free reign with the flannel board following the official story time.  With or without participation by others, Josh would tell his original stories or take the existing story and give it multiple alternative plots and conclusions.  Inevitably, Josh’s stories would include a battle of some sort.  He could take the most peaceful setting and turn it into an epic battlefield.

            Since Josh like flannel board stories so much, I bought him a huge set of Bible flannel board pieces.  I thought it would be a great way for Josh to learn some Bible stories. He loved it!  As my oldest child, I thought he might like to teach some of these stories to his younger sisters and it would be good practice for his oral language skills, too.  Josh dutifully repeated the story I taught him, and then devoted his energy to expressing his creativity and imagination.
Another flannel board battle ensued each time the carefully organized Bible set was brought out for a new story.  I am a Mom who likes things to be in their proper place, and the flannel board set had outlines of the pieces on each storage board which greatly appealed to my desire to have things organized.  Josh, however, liked to select pieces for his stories willy-nilly and (gasp) even took pieces from different boards and stories that were not grouped to together.  He even mixed up the Old and New Testament pieces.  It was horrible!  Okay, it is probably not that big a deal to most people, but it was a battle for me to give up my neatly arranged flannel board pieces so that Josh could express his God-given creativity.

      Josh is now a young adult, but he still remembers the flannel board stories with great fondness.  He remembers making up many adventurous tales and having a lot of flannel pieces to work with from our large Bible flannel set.  His favorite, he recalls, was the time he put the kneeling Jesus figure behind a  large clay jar on a table turned on its side to provide cover.  From that position, Jesus proceeded to shoot stars at his disciples across the room.  And so it went in the imagination of a young boy, who believed that Jesus could do anything including spraying stars wherever He wanted them to go.

            Whereas some people lament their lack of creativity, Josh and other outside the box type of thinkers find they have to stifle their creative urges many times throughout the day.  It was always a challenge for me to find good boundaries that allowed Josh to follow his many ideas that led him in a myriad of directions while redirecting him to get his school work completed.  Getting the academic work done did take us longer on some days when Josh pursued some of his imaginative ideas, but I wouldn’t squelch the creativity of my son for anything. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

On The Road Again

This is the time of year when I do the most traveling to conferences and conventions.  This weekend I will be at the CHAP conference with Pennsylvania home educators.  This has always been a busy conference with the opportunity to see some familiar faces and meet new people.  This year I am accompanied by my husband, Scott, and two of our three children.   

Since my son, Josh, has been the inspiration and field tester for many of the ideas and strategies I’ve tried over the years I am always happy when he attends conferences with me so attendees can speak to him and gain access to a struggling student’s perspective.  My daughter, Beckie, has likewise tried out most of the products that Heads Up carries.  I have grown in my understanding and knowledge of learning challenges over the years and I am thrilled when I can help others as they try to make decisions to help their own children.  I have been around the block (on my knees in desperate prayer at times) as a Mom seeking help and answers.  Even so, I think it can be very encouraging for people to talk to Josh and Beckie about their personal challenges with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Auditory Processing Disorders, Sensory Processing Disorders, and homeschooling with a Mom whose learning style is very different from theirs. 

Josh and Beckie are the true experts, because they live with the challenges and understand the struggles and feelings students may face.  They can share firsthand what did and did not help them, and in many cases what they were thinking when they engaged in some quirky behavior or other.  You could ask me for my thoughts on why your child engages in a certain behavior, and I could give you my theories based on years of personal experience and similar situations I’ve encountered as a speech/language pathologist working with children.  You could learn as much or more if you ask Josh the same question and see immediate insight because he remembers what it felt like to be that kid who can’t sit still or pay attention or remember what comes so easily for others.   

You can ask me how I helped my daughter Beckie meet her need for sensory input and I could tell you strategies I used such as suspending a swing in the doorway for her.  Beckie, though, can tell you what swinging does for her and why she seeks it out along with other ways she meets her need for sensory input from a first person perspective.  Scott and I hope and pray to help people we meet in our travels, and Josh and Beckie willingly share their lives to help others who are struggling learners.  If you are attending the CHAP convention this weekend, please take advantage of this opportunity to talk to any of us.

Now, lest you think we have our collective act all together and will be telling you why we are so amazingly successful, let me see if I can readjust your expectations so you will be neither surprised nor disappointed.  We have been traveling to conferences for the past 15 years or so and have NEVER made it to a single destination and back without at least one of us either forgetting or losing something.  Our pre-conference hours are spent like a clutch of chickens running around with their heads cut off.  Seriously, you’d think we’d never prepared for a conference before.  

 Just this morning I asked Beckie if she was packed for our trip, since I had prompted her last night to pack as much as she could in advance. She smiled sweetly and said “Yep!  I’m pretty much all packed except for my clothes.”  

Then she gestured toward the washing machine to let me know where her clothes currently resided, and happily turned and walked away.  Now picture me standing in the middle of my kitchen with my mouth hanging open trying to process how one could be “pretty much packed” without including clothes.  

 There!  Now I think you are ready to meet the real Boring family, unplugged!

-Melinda (AKA Heads Up Mom) 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

What's in Your Wallet?

     There is a commercial advertising a credit card company that ends with the question, “What’s in your wallet?”  While this is an interesting question, at my house I am more likely to hear, “Where is my wallet?”
            Life with the distractible and disorganized can be discombobulating.  I live with three family members who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and due to challenges with inattention and forgetfulness often items get lost or misplaced.  Sometimes my kids will ask me if I’ve seen something that’s gone missing.  Since I like things to be organized and put away in a logical place, there are times when I can locate the missing object because I put it away instead of leaving it out where it was dropped. 
            I have systems for cleaning and organizing.  The problem is with implementation and cooperation from the rest of my family.  I have a strong need for things to be put away where they belong so I can find them when I go looking for them.  Just last night I pulled out all the ingredients to make a delicious smoothie, but when I went to get my smoothie maker only part of it was in the cupboard where I keep it.  I had a blender base with the pitcher and a lid, but the ball on a stick part used to help move the mixture around in the pitcher was missing.  I looked in all the places I could think of putting it, but only one place really made sense to me and that was to store all the smoothie maker parts in the same location.  My husband came into the kitchen and joined me in the search for the missing part.
            After looking in the same places I had looked, and striking out just as I had, my husband began looking in places that made no sense to me but just might contain the lost tool so they warranted a look.  Even then we could not locate our smoothie tool, so we…looked in all the same places again!  I’m not sure why we do this, as if the missing item that wasn’t there previously will somehow show up if we look again in the exact same place.  This strategy was also unsuccessful, so we moved on to asking our children if they knew where the missing piece was hiding.
            This is not generally a good strategy, either, because we are talking about distractible people who misplace things all the time and absentmindedly leave things in odd places.  But it was worth a shot, since we had nothing else to go on at that point.  Both children stated where they might have placed it, but neither actually remembered doing so and the item wasn’t where they suggested.  This time, my husband decided to try substituting a silicon spatula in place of the missing tool, with the result that we had delicious smoothies with bits of a chopped spatula mixed in.  I think I swallowed a piece.
            Those types of lost items are frustrating and inconvenient, but not nearly as alarming as missing driver’s licenses, phones, or my personal nemesis the missing wallet.  Not my wallet.  Remember, I have a “wallet place” where my wallet lives and is predictably located when I need it.  My daughter and husband have misplaced their wallets multiple times, though, and it sends me into a far greater panic than they experience.  While my mind is racing with all the possibilities and security risks, they are unsystematically roaming the house looking in odd places for their wallets.  Sometimes they leave the house for a minute and I realize they are checking the car to see if it’s there.  Or maybe on the sidewalk, or in the grass, or…well, you get the idea.
            My daughter will, at times like these, casually ask me if I’ve seen her wallet.  She acts like it’s not really a big deal because it’s bound to turn up sooner or later, and she really believes that! Hunting for her wallet is like a treasure hunt and is only mildly irritating if she doesn’t find the wallet.  I, on the hand, begin mentally listing all the items that will need to be replaced or cancelled.
            My husband is more subtle about searching for his missing wallet or other items, and rarely asks me to help him look anymore.  The reason he doesn’t bother seeking my assistance is because I’m not much help at finding whatever he has lost.  I look in logical (to me) places where I would leave my wallet, for instance, and since I have a “wallet spot” I don’t have too many places to look. 
            Even when my husband doesn’t come out and say that he’s misplaced something of importance, I can recognize the signs.  He enters a room scanning it like a secret service agent taking everything in at a glance.  Then he moves around the room, picking up papers and small portable items while surreptitiously looking under and around them.  He never panics, and never tells himself not to bother looking in strange places because he knows the missing item could be anywhere.  While I fret about possible identity theft, my husband remains unruffled as he continues his quest for the missing wallet.
            I no longer reach the panic stage as quickly as I used to, because more often than not my husband and daughter do find their missing wallets.  Rather than berate themselves for having lost them, they congratulate themselves on another successful recovery.  I would like to avoid the stress of “Where is my wallet?” but I do admire the resiliency of my family members who just don’t sweat it when these events happen.  They take it in stride as casually as a driver stopping for a red light, doing what the situation calls for and moving on.
Speaking of moving on, I just heard my husband in the next room quietly asking himself, “Now where did I put my keys?” 
             I am quite confident that he will find his keys, no matter how strange a hiding spot they are in, because his experience and resiliency will win out.  Keys, your time on the loose is limited.  Give yourselves up!  You will be found.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Real Social Security

It’s hard to avoid, especially when you are a child. You read about it, hear others talk about theirs, and are prompted to write, talk and answer questions about it. What is the subject of this insidious obsession? A best friend. Doesn’t everyone have one?

Don’t get me wrong, I think best friends are wonderful. What I have difficulty with is the emphasis expressed to children about the need for one. The question, “Who is your best friend?” assumes that the child has one very special friend. Writing about what you like to do with your best friend is easy - if you actually have one. If you don’t, then the perception can be that something is lacking and you should try to obtain a best friend as soon as possible.

There are many wonderful children’s books describing the shared adventures of best friends. As a child I had the impression that everyone was supposed to have a best friend and if you didn’t, something was wrong with you. I felt the pressure to latch on to somebody so that I could have a ready answer when asked who my best friend was. Having a “best friend” was my goal, and I wasn’t particularly discerning in my selections.

In kindergarten, my best friend was Mike because he and I shared the same birthday and he gave me some pennies one time. In first grade, my best friend was Darryl, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy who held my hand under the table during music class and showed me how his eyes crossed when he took his glasses off. I thought that was so cool! After first grade Darryl’s family moved away so I had to find a new best friend and some other lucky person got to see Darryl’s crossed eyes.

There was an unspoken pressure to find a best friend replacement whenever the previous relationship cooled for any reason. By late elementary school, everyone understood that if you had a best friend you would have a seat saved for you even if you and your best buddy weren’t next to each other in line. There would be a spot reserved for you as your best friend placed a hand on the chair beside her and informed any would-be interlopers that the seat was saved. Before the teacher finished saying “Find a partner” for an activity, you and your best friend already knew you would pair up together. No one else even bothered asking you to be a partner since everyone understood that you would be with your best friend. You and your number one pal never had to wonder who you would eat lunch with or talk to at recess. Having a best friend was a relational social security that offered the assurance you would always have someone around.

For a child who struggles socially, making any friends let alone a best friend can be difficult. It’s complicated, because most of us have no idea how to teach our kids social skills that come naturally for most people. When you see your child try unsuccessfully to join a group or make a new friend, it is heartbreaking. How much should you try and intervene? You can’t make friends for your child, but sometimes your child doesn’t seem to be able to make a new friend by herself. Unless you’ve held a lonely child in your arms, knowing how badly he wants to have a friend but isn’t experiencing successful relationships it is hard to understand just how devastating it can be for that child and his parent.

I’m afraid that some of that need for social security through having a best friend can follow us into adulthood. For example, my daughter got to know a girl in our homeschool support group and the two of them really hit it off. They had a lot in common and enjoyed being with each other. The new friend’s mother had been college roommates with another homeschool mom in the group, and those two mothers had already decided that their daughters would be best friends. My daughter watched as the other two girls were shuttled to each other’s houses for play dates and signed up for classes together at the local parks and recreation programs without a backward glance.

These moms were not being deliberately unkind or exclusive. They were trying to give their daughters the kind of social security they had valued when they were growing up. There were quite a few moms in my homeschool support group who would not sign their children up for sports or other group activities unless their child’s best friend would be in the same group. The child with a best friend does not have to make an effort to include another child, because socially they are set. The child without a buddy in the group is more motivated to find another child who is at loose ends socially.

I tried to teach my children to look around and notice who might need a friend, and make an effort to include them. I was no doubt more sensitive to this than most, because I was a mother of one of the socially isolated children. Can you imagine the depth of sadness a parent feels when they are the only friend their child has? Truly, a good friend is an incredible blessing.

I get to know quite a few moms during my speaking engagements and my speech therapy practice. I’ve met some incredible women who agonize over their children’s lack of good relationships. Some children act in atypical ways because of their challenges such as autism or attention deficit disorder. Their moms work hard to teach them social skills, but their children continue to struggle and after awhile they are no longer invited to group social events because they are “different” and their behaviors make others uncomfortable. Now, in addition to isolated children there are increasingly isolated mothers.

As much as I’d like to believe it is the rare exception when an adult loses friendships because of her child, I know from personal experience that it happens frequently. Moms of special needs children need extra support, but often end up with less support because of their child’s differences that set him apart in a negative way. It’s a cycle that deserves to be interrupted.

This whole “best friend” situation can perpetuate the exclusion of those without one particular best friend. Maybe we could teach our children that even if they have a best friend they can still be friends with others and include them. Adults, even if your social needs are adequately met, I can guarantee you that there is someone in your life who longs to experience even a little of the camaraderie you share with your best friends. You and your child may not feel the need to add another friend to your life, but please look around anyway because someone undoubtedly needs your friendship. Can you share your social security with someone in need? If so, you just might change their lives – and teach your child how to love like Christ does along the way.