Help for Haiti

Help for Haiti
This organization has been in Haiti for many years. They are trustworthy.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Homeschool Flashback #2

The assignment was to write a story, using the words listed in the box. My children always preferred to come up with their own topics to write about, and being given a list of words was too limiting for them. My daughter clearly was not excited about this particular writing task. As do many students with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), she wanted to complete the assignment quickly so she could move on to more engaging tasks. She fit as many of the words as she could into the fewest sentences possible. She didn't find a spot for one of the words in the box, but that didn't bother her since she wasn't interested in writing about those words in the first place. For the record, I am not the woman who was "scared of mice." In fact, over the years we have had a number of rodent pets including hamsters and mice. I have presided over a number of shoebox burials befitting a rodent. One time I couldn't come up with anything nice to say about Tommy, the misanthropic finger biter, who latched on to any hand with an evil mousy grimace. We had to wear thick gloves just to feed him and then we had to shake him off our hands when we were done. He leered menacingly all the time until I finally told the children to try to avoid looking him in the eye so he wouldn't give them nightmares. The other mice and hamsters were decent pets, and were eulogized appropriately. As for the rest of the story above, I do live with my husband and children. At the time of this brief essay, my children were still young enough to be losing baby teeth and it was an event to be celebrated when another tooth became loose and fell out. Last week, I had part of a lower molar break off. Loosing a tooth at this age is no longer exciting. In fact, it's downright disconcerting. I called my dentist at 8:00 a.m. the morning of Christmas Eve., since I was trying to be thoughtful and not disturb him when it happened the night before. I think I woke him up. I told him what had happened, and he didn't seem to think it was an emergency. I wasn't convinced, since it has been many years since I last lost a tooth and I didn't anticipate losing any more as an adult. I've had what's left of the tooth repaired, and was reassured that "sometimes with age these things happen." Sigh. This homeschool flashback could have an interesting twist if it were written today - the children and the Mom could each lose a tooth!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

10 Ideas for Teaching with Gift Wrap

Need some fresh ideas to use with your students? Don't throw those wrapping paper scraps away, and hold on to that used gift wrap for a little while longer. Here are some ideas for using wrapping paper as a teaching tool, and it won't hurt your budget a bit.
1. Use leftover pieces of gift wrap to practice scissor skills. Include some narrow strips of paper so that beginners can feel the success of cutting through the strip. Snip, snip!
2. Cut out images from the wrapping paper to play a matching game. Want something that will last? Glue one set of pictures on the inside of a file folder, and glue the matching pictures onto index cards or card stock paper. A little packing tape will work about as well as lamination to keep the pictures preserved for multiple uses.
3. Work on handwriting skills by having your child circle images on the gift wrap. If that's a bit too challenging for your student, help them just draw lines connecting the pictures on the wrapping paper. Washable markers may show up better than pencil, especially if the paper has an intricate design.
4. Use both hands together as you tear wrapping paper into pieces. Glue the pieces onto the back (blank) side of another piece of gift wrap. For a greater challenge, try shaping the pieces into seasonal shapes such as a snowman or Christmas tree.
5. Develop hand strength by balling up the paper and squeezing it.
6. Practice following directions and visual discrimination by pointing to named pictures on the wrapping paper.
7. Work on listening skills by covering your eyes and trying to identify the location of a crinkling paper.
8. Teach about recycling by crumpling up old wrapping paper to use for packing material when preparing packages to be mailed. For added fun try throwing the wadded up paper into the box from various locations near the "target".
9. Work on expressive language skills by naming or describing pictures on the paper.
10. Provide sensory input by putting scotch tape on paper. Try to offer a variety of thin, heavy, slippery and shiny paper to experience the different qualities of each.
Don't you just love inexpensive materials that you can make yourself? I sure do, and I feel so frugal and creative when the activities are also fun for my kids.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

That's a Wrap!

This is a busy time of year and there are many activities I greatly enjoy. Some of my holiday preparations are harder to fit into my schedule. Wrapping gifts is the one thing that I tend to put off. There are a couple of reasons for my gift wrapping procrastination. First of all, I need a cleared surface to work on in order to adequately wrap presents. I need to be able to spread out a bit so I can access and measure the paper, get to the scissors, and use the tape. Individuals with ADHD tend to see all flat, empty surface space as a good spot to dump their possessions. Finding an unoccupied area to use for wrapping is not likely to happen on the first perusal of my home. Then, once I manage to get a nice area cleared off it's a race to see if I can use it before my husband, son, or daughter spot the flat, empty surface and cover it again. Another reason I put off wrapping gifts until I can't avoid it any longer is the tendency of my inattentive family members to somehow notice what I don't want them to see. How is it that they can step over a laundry basket that needs taken upstairs and not even notice it, but if I inadvertently leave something unhidden they spot it immediately? It's one of those mysteries of life. I've made a great discovery, though, and it will work for birthdays and any other gift wrapping occasion. If I put a movie on for them to watch, I can wrap all the gifts while my family members are mere feet away! Amazing. Those who cannot sit still and pay attention during our homeschool day can actually hyper-focus on a movie. They become so engrossed in what they are watching that I think I could wear a tutu and stand on my head and they wouldn't notice. As long as I am the least bit surreptitious I can position myself behind my kids and get all my gifts wrapped while we watch a movie together. This strategy would probably work with a good t.v. show, too. I've found that many individuals with ADHD become as engrossed in the commercials as the show itself, so you can continue wrapping away until you are finished. I tend to wrap a lot of gifts at one sitting, because once I have a work space and my children are occupied I take advantage of it. Now if only they needed as much sleep as I do, I'd be all set to tackle whatever comes my way!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Homeschool Flashback #1

This was an assignment Josh did for a homeschool writing class. In addition to the ADHD, auditory processing, and sensory processing issues, Josh struggled with social nuances. Some of Josh's struggles he understood and could identify. Other symptoms left all of us baffled, even Josh. I'm glad that even at this young age Josh knew he was smart and strong, so some of my truth messages were getting through to him in the midst of his challenges. It's interesting to me that "I know karate" made the positives and the negatives list. Knowing karate was good for Josh, in that it provided an outlet for his excess energy and helped him develop coordination and self defense skills. It also allowed him to be part of a group sport, but one that was individualized so he could progress at his own pace. Knowing karate was a negative for Josh, because as soon as other kids found out he was training in martial arts they asked if he was a black belt and then wanted to take him on. Josh was never aggressive, so demonstrating his karate skills outside of class was not appealing to him. One of the first things most boys do in social settings is talk about their favorite sports teams and the sports they participate in. Josh was more interested in drawing and creating things than in sports, so he didn't have much to talk about other than that he knew karate. This led to the inevitable challenges to prove his skills, which Josh did only when he absolutely had to for self defense. Even then, he ended the confrontation as soon as he could. This homeschool flashback provides a snapshot of a young boy's emerging self perception. Teaching him at home gave me the opportunity to help him develop a balanced view of himself, which is revealed by this writing assignment as he recognizes some of his strengths despite huge challenges. By the time Josh reached adulthood, he had a mental list of positive and negative things about himself that was accurate and realistic.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Contacts in a Spoon

I consider myself to be a pretty good problem solver. I think things through, consider various angles, and make my decision based on the known facts at the time. I no longer wear contact lenses, but when I did I had a case to store them in. If I was on a trip and forgot my contact case, I would buy another case and probably pick up some contact solution since if I forgot one I'd likely have forgotten the other. When arriving at a hotel late at night when most stores are closed, upon realizing my omission, I would have been stumped as to how to store my contacts. Then I probably would have wasted a few minutes mentally berating myself for forgetting such an important item. Finally, I would conclude that I needed to head out again in search of a Wal-Mart that was open 24 hours in order to buy my needed supplies. Eventually I would come up with a solution, but not without feeling stressed and frustrated. This type of experience is very different for my outside-the-box thinking family members. In fact, they so often forget things that they take the forgetting in stride. They look for the simplest solution, and don't sweat the fact that they don't have exactly what is called for in the situation. With contacts, this has led to some interesting situations. Once my daughter and my husband both remembered their contact cases, but not exactly where they had set them down. In the morning, both complained that they couldn't see very well once they put their contacts in, and suddenly realized they had inadvertently switched lenses with each other. Another time, after a late arrival at the hotel and a carry-out dinner consumed in the room, I was cleaning up and throwing out trash. Just as I was about to toss out a pair of plastic spoons, I noticed they were aligned in a way my family doesn't typically take time to do. A closer look revealed that the spoon bowls had a liquid in them, and each contained a contact lens. My husband (who has ADHD) had forgotten his contact case, but when he discovered he had left it behind he just looked around for something handy and usable. Recruiting the two plastic spoons into a duty they were not designed for but suited his purpose, he popped his lenses and contact solution into the spoons and carefully set them aside. I guess his problem solving worked great, with the only real issue being the danger of his uninformed wife on a cleaning fit tossing them into the trash. In the end his creative thinking solved his dilemma, took little time, and caused him no stress. Makes it kind of hard to claim that my more traditional methods are better than the atypical ways of my family.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nature Books and The Leaf Blower Noise

At this time of year in Ohio we are seeing the leaves change color and fall to the ground. Our outdoor walks provide us with crunchy leaf textures to trample and there is a different "fall" smell in the air around us. A leisurely stroll down the block will show us fallen acorns, black walnuts, and other tree products eagerly gathered by squirrels as they dart to and fro on the ground and along tree branches. We have a squirrel living in the ornamental pear tree in our front yard, and I like to pick up loose acorns and other such treats when I take the dog for a walk and then place the nuts in the nooks and along branches for "our" squirrel to enjoy. When my children were younger we took lots of nature walks, and I gave each of them a bag for collecting pretty leaves from different trees. We used tree identification books to figure out the names of the trees we saw, and we preserved a leaf from each different tree in a nature notebook. After pressing the leaves in a book, we glued them to a page where we listed all the information about what kind of tree it came from, where we found it, and the date we collected it. It was fun to read the book throughout the year and review if the leaf was simple or compound, when we had collected it, and more. Over the years, our collection increased and it was a challenge to see if we could find a new specimen that wasn't yet represented in our nature book.
Those times spent in nature are some of my favorite homeschooling memories for this time of year. My son, Josh, gave me another fall memory that is equally imprinted in my mind. With his AD/HD, auditory processing, and sensory issues, Josh often said or did unexpected things. His impulsivity gave him a tendency to do whatever came into his head, with the result that I often found myself trying to figure out what was going on with Josh based on what I was seeing and hearing. Our special needs children do what comes naturally to them, and often don't realize that not everyone experiences things the way they do. In this instance, Josh starting making weird vocal sounds as he played. I went into my analysis mode as I observed him. Is he stimming? Has he developed a vocal tic? Is he trying to calm and organize? Alert himself? Keep others at bay? Provide sound effects for what he is playing with? Can he stop making the sound if I ask him to? The speech therapist in me tuned in to see if the sounds Josh was making could be considered vocal abuse and could physically harm his voice. As I observed Josh, he seemed content. He could stop on request, but returned to making the sounds a minute later. It was not vocally abusive and his pitch and volume were within acceptable ranges for his "normal" voice. In the back of my mind, I recognized something vaguely familiar about the sounds Josh was producing. Then it hit me and seemed so obvious that I almost laughed at not recognizing it sooner. Josh was reproducing the noise of a leaf blower! Once I realized it, I became aware that somewhere in the neighborhood a leaf blower was in use. It was faint and distant and I had not even registered it. But Josh had an uncanny ability to imitate noises and he heard things that most people don't notice. He did a pretty accurate leaf blower noise. He also made airplane and vacuum cleaner noises, but I recognized them right off the bat. The leaf blower noise took me awhile, but whenever I hear one in use I still smile and think of little Josh's noise imitation talent.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Child's Description of AD/HD

This is a page out of Josh's journal. It's a concise entry. He was in middle school at the time, and was taking a composition class with our homeschool support group. The assignment was to tell a little about himself. Except for the final four words, his entire description relates to his AD/HD. Even his initial description of himself as a smart kid is immediately followed by "but"... and goes on to describe some of his ongoing struggles. Josh knew he was smart. He also knew that he was easily distracted and had a hard time completing his work. Even this brief journal entry took him a long time to write due to his distractibility and difficulty with paper and pencil tasks. The handwriting and spelling are not great. But look beyond that for a minute and see the hope peeking through. Josh started by acknowledging his awareness that he is smart, despite his many challenges. He mentions the difficulties matter of factly since they are part of his experience, but they do not entirely define him. It encouraged me to see that Josh realized that I was trying to help him, not "fix" him or change him, but truly help him. With that insight Josh could listen to my suggested strategies knowing that I didn't view him as defective but rather as clearly in need of help. Finally, Josh ended with another positive comment. The exclamation point says a lot. It's not just that he is in karate classes, but he is enthusiastic about karate. So although at first glance this journal entry might appear discouraging, a closer look at the content reveals a healthy balance. Josh knew he had struggles just as he knew he had strengths. This promotes a healthy view of himself, acknowledging his AD/HD while refusing to be defined by it.
It is so important to build up our children in truth, recognizing and pointing out their gifts and strengths. Kids with AD/HD get corrected and directed a lot. They may be very aware of their differences. Others seem oblivious but still need to develop an accurate perception of who they are. Until our children have achieved a realistic perspective of themselves, we need to take advantage of opportunities to help those with learning challenges see the contributions they make in our lives. We need to direct their attention to all the things they do well, even as we are teaching them and redirecting them in their areas of struggle. This developing sense of identity is what you can see emerging when you read Josh's journal entry.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Easy Materials You Make Yourself

I like to give my children a lot of different ways to learn. My two kids with AD/HD are strong visual learners, and their sensory processing challenges lead them to seek out hands-on experiences. So, besides offering them fidget items when the lesson doesn't have manipulatives, I try to find ways that they can see and touch objects as they learn. I also know that my children are externally motivated (not unusual for those who have weak executive functions) and they need frequent reinforcement or reminders to stick with a task. In case I haven't mentioned it before (though I think maybe I have either here or during my workshops) I am also reluctant to spend a lot of money on things I can make myself. Of course I always think I will go to craft shows and then make whatever has grabbed my fancy once I get back home, but I never seem to do that. But with school materials, I sometimes manage to get inspiration from my recycling bin. The picture above shows a simple set of materials that are readily available and can be used for a number of things. It took me about 15 minutes from start to finish to make it.
First, get a cardboard egg carton. Make sure it's clean and no eggs have cracked and leaked in it. I spray mine with Clorox Anywhere Spray to kill any germs. (Disclaimer: Melinda cannot be held responsible for any icky things you pick up from your egg carton. I am not a doctor...blah, blah...) My egg carton had a little circle indented on the bottom of each cup, and I cut around them to make the holes in the middle of each cup. If your carton does not include these handy, preformed circles, you can just cut your own. The circles need to be large enough for a clothespin to fit through but small enough to hold the clothespin in place. Leave the lid on the carton so you can store small materials inside and to provide a base for the clothespin to stand on. There are many ways you can use your newly recycled materials, so I'll just get you started with a few ideas. I'm sure you will be able to come up with more ideas, and I'd love to hear about them.
  • Use the clothespins to practice counting.
  • Practice fine motor skills by having the child place and remove the clothespins
  • Use as reinforcement by putting one clothespin in place for each completed task
  • Use as a motivator by placing clothespins in the carton for each task that needs completed. Remove a clothespin as the work gets done, visually depicting for your child that progress is being made.
  • Paint the clothespins (or use colored popsicle sticks or tongue depressors) to match colors
Making this is easy to make, easy on the budget, and easy on the environment. A winner all around!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Picky Eaters and Trusting Tomatoes

It seems that most kids have their favorite foods, and other foods they think are yucky. These food preferences do not present a problem for most children, because they eat a variety of foods and can get their nutritional needs met through different foods they willingly eat. For parents of picky eaters, however, you know the challenges, frustrations, and anxiety that can occur when a child has a limited number of foods they will accept. In addition to restricting the number of food items, some children refuse to eat unless the food is presented on the same plate each time and the drink must always be in the same cup. There are children who can tell the difference between brands of food, so even if you find a food the child will eat they may refuse it if you offer a different brand. For example, a child who eats chicken nuggets might refuse to eat them unless they come from McDonalds. For some picky eaters, the shape of the food is also important. They may eat round waffles, but not even taste waffles that are square. For some picky eaters, the color of the food matters to them. My son, Josh, has come a long way with his sensory processing and has expanded his diet to include most foods. Even as a young adult, though, Josh still has moments of uncertainty when he is presented with an unfamiliar food item. Just last week we were able to harvest some of our heirloom tomatoes. These tomatoes have a great flavor, but can be unusual in their colors and shapes. Josh loves red tomatoes and will eat them the way others eat apples. When Josh saw the yellow tomato I was offering him he was taken aback. I believe his exact words to me were, "Yellow tomatoes? Why are they yellow? I don't trust yellow." Trust can be a huge factor for picky eaters. Sometimes parents try to force the child to taste new foods and their pleas and threats backfire and result in even greater resistance. This is especially true if a child thinks he might be forced to do something that is uncomfortable or aversive despite his protests. Understandably, parents are concerned about their child's diet and the need for balanced nutrition. When a child only eats a few foods day after day, it's anxiety provoking. Worse yet, some children suddenly decide that a food they have eaten regularly is now on their long list of unacceptable foods that they will no longer eat. Mealtimes can become unpleasant and a battle ground for concerned parents who are trying to get their picky eaters to just take a bite of food. If mealtimes are that difficult at home, how can you ever go out to eat or eat at a friend's house? It's frustrating and worrisome. Books such as Just Take a Bite offer suggestions and strategies to expand a child's diet. One suggestion offered is to have your child help you prepare the food. That way he can see exactly what you put in the recipe. Another tip is to work gradually toward accepting new foods. Some children react so strongly that they become distressed just seeing a food item on the table that is not on their list of acceptable foods. A goal would be for the child to tolerate the food near them, then on their plate. Even at that point, professionals don't recommend that you insist that the child eat the food. It is a gradual process, with multiple presentations of the refused food over time. It's progress if a child will allow a new food to touch his lips. I used to tell my children that they didn't have to like a food, but I did want them to at least taste it. This may be a helpful strategy for a child with few or mild food aversions, but for the more extreme picky eater it won't be adequate. This degree of resistance goes beyond what typical children do. Considering that mealtimes happen every day, multiple times, it's no wonder that parents feel desperate to help their picky eaters.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Calling All Homeschoolers! Buy Yourselves Some Flowers!

It's time for an exhortation, my friends! This is a call for all homeschoolers. If you are starting a new school year, on your first day back to school go buy yourself some flowers. I started this tradition for myself years ago, and since then I have been urging my fellow homeschoolers to join me in starting out right each new school year by buying some lovely fresh flowers to commemorate the onset of another year of homeschooling. Please join me in this tradition even if it is your first year of homeschooling or you are an “empty desker” with grown-up homeschooled children. All are welcome!

I began this tradition to help myself get excited and enthused for another school year. Having a son and daughter who struggled with numerous learning challenges, school was never an easy time for us. I have friends whose children basically taught themselves to read. That sure never happened in our home school. As the "Back to School" specials and commercials increased in frequency during August and school supply sales had started as early as July, I found I had to take deep breaths and tell myself, "It's going to be all right, Melinda. You've made it this far. You know this is the right thing to do, and you can do it. One day at a time. One lesson at a time."

While other moms in my neighborhood were counting down the days until school started again and were making plans to meet for coffee the first morning school was back in session, I knew that my work would just be picking up again at that point and I would not be included in the neighborhood back to school social gatherings. In my community, very few people choose to homeschool. In fact, in all the years I have been homeschooling there have only been a handful of other homeschooling families in our area. I made up for this by talking to myself while drinking my coffee as we started our homeschool day. You can call it a parent-teacher conference if it makes you feel better!

I actually homeschool year round, but we have a much lighter schedule during the summer months. The onset of a new school year meant getting back up to a full schedule, and I admit if I thought about it too much it was more overwhelming than exciting to think what the next year would bring. It didn’t seem right to begin the homeschool year feeling a bit sorry for myself, so I made myself coffee and decided to celebrate the new school year with my own homeschool style kickoff.

I started buying myself flowers on our first official day of school for the year. I would select a nice bouquet and a card for my children to sign for me. At this point I have to confess that one year I was especially dreading the onset of school because the previous year had been so rough. If you have a struggling learner or family challenges and you homeschool long enough, you come to realize that not only will you have “on” days and “off” days, you sometimes have “off” years. During one particularly hard year, my son hit a growth spurt and grew two inches in about six months. Unfortunately, it seemed like that was all he did, because the physical changes affected him so greatly that as far as we could tell all we had to show for our time was his big feet and dangly arms but not much had happened in the academic realm.

The coming year held no guarantees that things would be any less challenging, so when I picked out my flowers I selected a "With Deepest Sympathy" card for my children to sign. With their impulsivity issues, it wasn't until after they had scrawled their names on the card that they noticed the "With Deepest Sympathy" part at the top of the card. Then I heard cries of "Mo-om!" and we all had a good laugh together. I think it's o.k. for our kids to know that sometimes homeschooling is hard for us, too. It’s absolutely worth it, but we do make sacrifices and face challenges at times.

One year my daughter who graduated from our homeschool in 2006 bought me the flowers and picked out a card. Perhaps this will lead to an even better tradition where the children mature and decide to buy you flowers! In the meantime, please join me in buying yourself fresh flowers and having your children sign the card for you. Be sure to share this idea with your homeschooling friends as we embark on another school year. I’d love to hear about your “Back to School” flowers.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Greek Mythology - or is it "miss-ology"?

A few years ago I did a unit on mythology as part of our homeschool curriculum. We learned about Greek mythology as well as mythology that originated in various other parts of the world. Although I found some of the stories to be kind of creepy at times, there's no question that it held the interest of my children. Still, when you have struggling learners even interesting materials tend to be remembered more in general terms than with specific details. My daughter, Beckie, who has AD/HD also has working memory challenges. Allowing her to draw some of the mythological characters helped her to keep them all straight in her mind. She's very creative and artistic, so drawing appealed to her and was a good challenge as she attempted to sketch some very unique creatures. Children with learning differences often struggle to generalize information they have learned. Admittedly, there's not a high need for generalizing information gleaned from Greek mythology so I didn't worry about it too much. I just wanted my children to have a basic understanding and a frame of reference when mythological characters were mentioned in literature and other media. I also taught my children about foreshadowing in literature, so one day when I was reading aloud to Beckie from a non-mythology book I paused and asked her a question about what was read. She made a good prediction about what might happen later on in the story, and I asked her how she figured that out in hopes that she would respond that she recognized the foreshadowing that had just occurred. Instead, Beckie proudly announced, "I'm Cyclops!" I was baffled for a minute, and sat there in stunned silence trying to figure out where that answer came from. Since she does not have one eye in the middle of her forehead and is actually quite lovely, to describe her as "Cyclops" clearly didn't fit. I could not recall that Cyclops were known for recognizing foreshadowing, either. As I rolled possibilities around in my head, an idea struck me and I asked Beckie, "Do you maybe mean 'psychic'?" and she laughed and said that was it. She couldn't recall the term "foreshadowing", so pulled up a word that sort of fit. I love my Beckie for not being afraid to give things her best shot. She's confident and can laugh at herself, even as she boldly attempts to answer questions that she does not have a precise answer for. Let's hear it for all the children like Beckie who try and try again, and who don't let mistakes prevent them from offering their answers and making contributions.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Child Discipline

Let me start with a disclaimer. I am not a child expert, nor a parenting expert. The things that I share on this blog are intended to be helpful and the reader has the responsibility to apply what they find useful and ignore the rest. With that said, I want to share with you an experience I had years ago with my AD/HD daughter. Beckie was a very active girl with a lot of energy. With her sensory processing issues, she exhibited low body awareness and regulation was a challenge for her. My exuberant, active, and sensory seeking child had trouble sitting through a meal. She wasn't a picky eater, so food aversions were not to blame. She just had a need to move around. A lot. And it didn't matter if we were doing school during the homeschooling day, or if we were having a meal together. That girl had to move. Having been down this path previously with her older brother, I had learned to be more flexible and accommodating. Even so, it's distracting to have a distractible child and it can be disruptive even when that is not the child's intent. I honestly don't believe that Beckie was trying to cause problems, and in fact I don't think she was even aware of her movements sometimes. I would remind her to sit down, and she would look down at her legs with a surprised expression on her face as if to say, "What? I'm up again? How did that happen?" One night during dinner, my sweet Beckie was having more difficulty than usual sitting still. Her father, Scott, decided it was high time Beckie learn to remain seated during the meal. Beckie would promptly sit down as soon as she was reminded, but Scott was getting tired of having to repeatedly request that she return to her chair. After several reminders, Scott decided to kick it up a notch and be firmer with Beckie. The next time Beckie popped up out of her chair, Scott leaned over the table and pointed an index finger at Beckie. Then he used her full name, which every child knows is a serious warning sign. "Rebecca Michelle, you need to SIT DOWN!" At this point, Beckie became very still as she stared at the finger in front of her face. It was so close to her that she went cross eyed. She then looked up at her Father, eyes still crossed, and with amazement in her voice pronounced "Two Daddies!" Totally missing the point, Beckie happily discovered that crossing her eyes made things look interesting and incredibly she was now seeing double with two Daddies in place of one. I was trying so hard not to laugh that I had to leave the room. My husband wasn't far behind me. We looked at each other and Scott said, "Well THAT didn't work!" We continued to work with Beckie on sitting still when it was called for, with the understanding that she needed to mature and eventually would. I was crazy about Beckie, even when her zest for life couldn't be contained. She grew, and was able to sit still when she needed to. Maturation takes time, and refuses to be rushed. We do what we can to promote and facilitate it, and then we get to practice patience. It's so important to keep your sense of humor when you are a teacher and/or parent. Your kids will give you a plethora of opportunities to see the humor even in challenging circumstances.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Speaking Opportunities

I have been speaking at conferences for over 10 years. I've had the opportunity to speak in multiple states to groups consisting of a couple dozen people up to a couple hundred people, and I love doing it. I've talked to many people who say public speaking, even just the thought of being up in front of a crowd, intimidates them and they will avoid it if at all possible. When I walk into a room to give a presentation and see the podium, microphone, and usually a white tablecloth on a nearby table with a pitcher of water, I slide into the zone. I feel relaxed and at home. I think it helps that I know people aren't really coming to see me personally, but to hear the information I have to offer. I feel honored that God has chosen to use me to share what I have learned to help other people. It's not my great successes that draw people, either. Folks can relate to my struggles, failures, mistakes, and determination to keep trying until I find something that works. I've been at this long enough now that I meet people who heard me speak years ago and they seek me out to tell me that they've applied what they learned from me and it changed the way they related with their child. As they approached homeschooling in a different way the changes improved not just their school experience but their relationship with their child as well. When people hear my workshops and see me with my grown son, they realize that despite extreme challenges we have survived. Not only that, we are extremely close and enjoy spending time together. That gives people hope. I recently had one mom watch my family for a few minutes and then in an awed voice she said, "You seem happy. After everything you've been through, too." I could tell she was in the trenches of homeschooling a challenging child, and seeing a "veteran" homeschooler gave her hope that she could make it, too. I want to let you in on a secret. I am not a natural optimist, nor am I naturally encouraging. No one has ever described me as "perky". I have natural gifts, but I have prayed to have the gift of encouragement. God allows me to encourage, but I have to work at keeping my thoughts right. I'm actually pretty pessimistic when left on my own, and I can see the cloud for every silver lining. Big sigh. Can you imagine Eeyore giving workshops? Anyway, I have trained myself and disciplined myself to work at being encouraging. I have had a measure of success in doing so. When I speak to others, I can see when something makes sense to them. I love to see people looking around when I describe a challenge I've faced, because so many of us with struggling learners feel isolated and our friends can't relate to the challenges we face. Then we meet each other and with great relief realize we are not alone and many others are dealing with issues similar to our own. It's nice to be with people who understand and can relate to our feelings and experiences. Tonight I will be speaking to a home school group for their kick off meeting. As far as I know, I will not know anyone there. There will be a mix of new homeschoolers and those who have been at it for several years. I'm looking forward to this opportunity to encourage and inspire those who, like me, have decided that homeschooling is the best fit for meeting their child's educational needs. Next Monday, I will be doing a workshop on Adapting Curriculum for Struggling Learners with Heart of the Matter (HOTM) during their online conference. I was thrilled when they asked me to do this. I have presented the workshop many times before, but never just online. I am actually feeling nervous, because I am not strong with the technical aspects of presenting. It didn't help that during our first practice run my microphone didn't work, which is the stuff of nightmares for me. The second practice run went o.k. after about five minutes of me freaking out because the microphone was not functioning properly. A substitute microphone seemed to work, but I still feel nervous. It's weird I know, but I would be completely relaxed speaking to a stadium full of people yet speaking online throws me for a loop. Once I learn how to do this and have some experience, I'll be thrilled to know how and expand my skill set. My husband, who is naturally optimistic, assures me that "It will be all right." I'm almost finished putting together a new workshop titled, "So You Think You Can Homeschool?" I can't wait to share it somewhere, anywhere!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dressing Up A Sensory Guy

People with sensory issues often have strong clothing preferences. I don't know if this is generally true, but in my experience most men do not enjoy dressing up. The men I know prefer comfortable clothing. They call their attractive dressier outfits "monkey suits" and yank their ties loose at the first opportunity as if their oxygen has been reduced and they need to gasp for air. Now add together "man who prefers comfortable clothes" with "sensory guy" and you'll see the issues faced by my son. A few weeks ago we were getting ready to attend a wedding reception. I informed Josh that he would need to dress up for the event. To Josh, "dress nicely" means wearing jeans without holes. Josh doesn't own a lot of dress clothes for the obvious reasons that he doesn't typically need them and he doesn't like to wear them. I asked my husband, Scott, to help Josh find something nice to wear. They are close to the same size, so sometimes they can share clothing in a pinch. This was a pinch, all right. Scott, who like Josh has AD/HD, didn't spend a lot of time selecting an outfit. He found something that matched and tossed it to Josh to put on. Then Scott was off to do something else. A few minutes later, I found a distressed Josh in my room. He looked truly miserable, although quite handsome. When asked what the problem was, he started describing how uncomfortable his clothes were. The shirt needed to be tucked in, but then wasn't comfortable. The cuffs around the wrist felt odd, but were tolerable. The shirt material was a little scratchy. I tried to tell Josh that it was necessary to dress up for special occasions and he quickly explained that it wasn't dressing up that bothered him. It was being dressed up by someone else. His Dad has made the choices for him, and because Dad doesn't have sensory issues he selected what would work for most men. Josh is the only one who knows how his body feels and responds to clothing, though, so we needed to make some adjustments. A change of pants for a looser fit made tucking in the shirt more comfortable. A belt held things comfortably in place - not too tight, not too loose, but just right. A plain cotton, tagless t-shirt under the dress shirt made Josh much more comfortable. Having the tie a wee bit looser but barely noticeable rounded out the outfit. Josh didn't own any dress shoes and his feet are bigger than Scott's, so he wore his nicest boots and it didn't look too bad. Tomorrow we are going to a wedding, and sensory guy Josh will be dressing himself up again. We bought a pair of dressier shoes (Rockports) that are slip-ons, with a little elastic around the tongue of the shoe for flexibility and comfort. Josh tried on several slip-on style shoes and found that some of the styles bothered him because they did not come up high enough on the back of his heel and he could feel them slipping around. The shoes Josh picked were high enough on his heel and comfortable, so hopefully the sensory guy will be able to relax and enjoy his time at the wedding and reception even though he is in a "monkey suit".

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pink Teeth / Winners of HOTM Online Conference Tickets

Trying to get a good family picture is challenging. Children aren't big on sitting still and posing in one position. Getting everybody to look in the same direction at the same time seems to be hard enough, let alone have the clothes and hair looking the way you want to remember it. I took my kids to a store where I had a "portrait package" coupon and hoped to get some good shots to frame and share with the grandparents. Since two of my children have AD/HD and sensory processing issues, we went on a weekend so my husband and I could team up to make this memorable photo a reality. Although we usually let our children select their own attire, that day we picked out their clothes so all the items would match and coordinate. Already, we should have realized that the end result wouldn't resemble what we saw on a daily basis, but we had a dream. The children were scrubbed and dressed and we were on our way. Unfortunately, the dressier clothes weren't as comfortable so my children were a bit fidgety right out of the starting gate. We assured them that it was only for a little while, and when we got back home after the photo session they could change clothes. We arrived and headed straight back to the studio in the store. We had failed to factor in the likelihood that going on a weekend seemed like a good strategy to other families as well, and we learned that we were in for a wait. Having to wait 50 minutes might not be a problem for some families, but the dream was seeming more like an impossible dream when my husband and I tried to figure out how we could keep the kids relatively content and clean while we waited for our turn. We thought about buying each child a toy, but that would have pretty much defeated the purpose of going there for the great coupon value deal. We decided to walk through the store at as slow a pace as the kids could tolerate, dragging our feet and hoping to make our store tour last about 50 minutes until it ended back with the photographer. At that point, we hoped our kids would be calm and bored enough that even posing for a picture would sound inviting. At first, Plan B seemed like it just might work. Then we hit a snag. There, directly ahead of us, was a little in-store pizza shop that served flavored icy drinks. Suddenly the children realized they were extremely hungry and thirsty, and I had to admit that the delay in picture taking did push us close to their usual lunch time. I couldn't see making it through pizza without getting some on the clothes, and I wasn't willing to take the chance. Instead, we offered them small cherry icy drinks with napkins tucked into shirt and dress fronts along with close supervision. My husband and I felt relieved, because the drinks would curb the appetites until we could return home for lunch and it was helping to pass the time. As an added bonus, those drinks can't be gulped or the kids knew they would get "freeze brain" so it helped pass the wait time. We were confident once again, that our portrait dream could come true. Having carefully monitored the time, I announced that it was time to make our way back to the photography studio. We should arrive just a couple minutes before our turn with the photographer. The children were happy and ready to go, having consumed their cherry icy drinks with great enjoyment. They turned to me, grinning with pleasure, and that's when I saw not only cherry red lips, but pink teeth! Getting a professional portrait done had seemed like such a good idea, but it just goes to show that plans need to be flexible and you need to have or develop a sense of humor to get you past those "pink teeth" moments.

We had a random drawing from our subscribers for five tickets to the Heart of the Matter Online Conference.

The winners are:

  1. awakenyourspirit
  2. missmichelle6
  4. D
  5. Amy Mason

Please email me with your Name and email address so HOTM can get you the tickets. If we do not hear from you in the next day or two, we will open it up to the first readers to respond.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

North Carolina HINTS Here We Come!

I thought about using the title "North Carolina or Bust" for this post, but with a sick child, a car in for repairs, having to replace the washer and dryer two weeks ago, and the dishwasher barely sloshing along, I decided that "bust" does not have a good connotation for my family lately. Not to mention the used dryer we bought doesn't dry the clothes any faster than if we held up the articles of clothing and blew on them for several hours. And I have asthma. Ahem. Enough whining about busted things. We are heading down to North Carolina to the HINTS (Home Instructors Need Team Support) book fair. I will be speaking on "Adapting Curriculum for Struggling Learners", "Helping the Distractible Child", and "Sensory Integration". I know at least one of my friends will be there, but since I'm from Ohio I'm hoping to make some new friends while I'm in North Carolina. If you are going to HINTS be sure and stop by the Heads Up booth and say "hi". The Heads Up crew is a fun bunch and would love to meet you! Plus, if you don't stop by they will be bored, and being bored is one of the things they fear the most.
Hope to see you soon!
Melinda L. Boring

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More Tootsie Roll Magic for Executive Functions

When a child is disorganized and distractible, he needs more direct instruction in learning executive function skills. So how do you teach what seems to come naturally to some people? How do you teach a child if you share these struggles with them? Just how many Tootsie Rolls must be doled out before a child learns and generalizes a skill?!?

I recommend the book "Smart But Scattered" by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. Billed as "The revolutionary Executive Skills approach way to helping kids reach their potential", it is packed with practical ways to identify and address issues related to executive functioning. I found a copy at my library and it is available on as well. As for concerns about too many Tootsie Rolls, I feel your dental pain. Here's the upside with our distractible kids...they love/crave/need variety so the rewards not only can be changed, they should be changed now and then. And if your family is like mine, you do not need more trinkets cluttering up your house. For example, you could use a reward to work toward a larger prize by having two zip-loc bags side by side marked in some way to make them distinctly different. A small set of Legos goes in one bag, with one piece being transferred into the "I did it!" bag with each completed task. You could tape the picture of the completed object on this bag for added motivation. When all the pieces have been transferred the child can make whatever the set was designed to make, or if your child is like my son he can make something completely different! This is also a great way for your child to earn back toys that have not been put away or have been forgotten under the bed or in the bottom of a toy box. In any case, the child is getting rewarded for completing tasks and learning patience while working toward a larger goal or prize. The rewards don't have to be big or expensive, just rewarding. I used to sing the song "I'm proud of you" (from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood) to my kids when they did something well. It cost me nothing and took only a minute, but the children got the acknowledgment they needed. The entire song went like this: “Proud of you, I’m proud of you! I hope that you are proud of you, too.” The song repeats one time and it’s over. To this day, my children remember this song. Since you may not always be physically with your child when she completes a task, try recording a celebratory song on an inexpensive recording device and have her play it for herself when she completes a task. She can keep it in her pocket or you can leave it at the task completion spot. Again, if things tend to get buried or misplaced at your house try using industrial Velcro to keep it in one place. And now...(drum roll)...for the distractible adult here are a couple tips we've tried over the years. First, and only moderately successful but better than nothing, when my easily-distracted husband sets out to do a task I remind him of his goal and loudly hum the theme from Mission Impossible. "You're in, you're out!" I helpfully remind him as he heads out the door. The other tip I've used on those especially scattered, brain fog days is to wear a recording device and tell myself what I need to remember. I record a message, then when I get to the top of the stairs or in another room (yep, it could have evaporated from my brain already) I listen to the message. Usually it's something simple like "I'm going upstairs to get my sewing scissors." Sometimes I throw in an encouraging message like "You're the woman!" just to keep my motivation strong. Check your cell phone for an application that allows you to do voice recordings. That might be a good technology tool for distractible teenagers to use. It's faster than writing things down and we almost always have our cell phones nearby. Plus, cell phones are less likely to be lost than scraps of paper with hastily scrawled notes on them.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Adults with Down Syndrome

My friend Penny brought this to my attention. I don't know if I can get HBO, but I hope to find a way to watch this when it airs. Here is the trailer:

Friday, July 02, 2010

Sniffing Tennis Balls?

My son, Josh, has a well developed sense of smell. His sensory processing issues are sometimes a strength but more often than not when he was younger they interfered with his ability to function and participate fully in activities. When I homeschooled Josh and his sisters, two out of three of my students had AD/HD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) along with sensory and auditory processing difficulties. Not only did they have more energy than I did, I had to repeat myself a lot and keep their sensory challenges in mind. Leaning over to help Josh with an assignment, I can remember Josh informing me that I had coffee breath. Unwilling to forgo coffee, I instead tried to angle my head so that when I spoke the air flow would be directed away from Josh's nose. Picture the way a bird cocks its head, and that's probably about what I looked like as I taught my little fledglings. Although I wasn't right in his face, his overly sensitive nose could pick up the smell of a peanut butter sandwich from several feet away. As with many of his sensory integration challenges, Josh was both sensory seeking and sensory avoiding at times. When I prepared his meals, Josh always had to sniff the food before eating it. Always. Even if it was his favorite meal, very familiar to him, he smelled it prior to eating as if this time I might have slipped something nasty in his food for unknown reasons. Josh wasn't a picky eater, but he sure appeared to be a suspicious one. Over time, I was able to get him to sniff more surreptitiously at least when he was a guest in someone's home or out in public. Josh still occasionally gives an unfamiliar food item a sniff prior to tasting it, but I think that's o.k. because we all tend to notice the smells of new and previously untried foods. Josh's tendency to sniff things wasn't limited to food or drink items. One time Josh was playing with our dog, having him fetch a tennis ball. This is when impulsivity collided with sensory processing and Josh took the tennis ball from the dog's mouth and gave it a sniff. "Ewww! This smells terrible!" he proclaimed, practically gagging before lifting it to his nose for another whiff. "Ugh! That's awful! Plus, it's slimy!" Now his whole system was on red alert since he experienced an aversive smell and an aversive tactile feeling together. I could practically see him shudder. We had to laugh, though, because even after he knew the tennis ball had a bad odor, he went ahead and smelled it again before he could stop himself. When I asked him why, he said something in his brain told him to check again to see if it was as bad as he thought it was. His own second opinion was confirmation enough. Josh still has an acute sense of smell, but over the years has learned to control both his impulsivity and his reactions to smells - even though as his mom I can still tell when he is cringing inside.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Homeschoolers Meeting People

As homeschoolers, it’s important to make a good impression so people can see how wonderful we homeschoolers are. Homeschoolers have long been the subject of speculation about their social skills, a concern that I personally believe is unwarranted. After all, we meet people all the time. Sometimes we even make a very positive impression.
I’m one of those moms who believes in teaching children how to think and make choices for themselves from a young age. My goal is to train them up into independent adults, capable of critical thinking and able to explain their convictions and not just parrot my beliefs. To work toward this goal you have to start small, by allowing children to make decisions in non-essential areas while the stakes are low. One such area for me was to allow my children to choose their own outfits for the day. My daughters carefully made their selections and chose outfits that generally matched. My son, who is both extremely artistic and colorblind, chose outfits that would look right at home if he were a very young circus clown performing in the center ring. When we ventured out into the community, we appeared, if not fun, at least interesting enough to chat with and get to know a little. When some people found out we were homeschoolers I could see the “Aha!” moment as if that explained the wild outfits. For others, the fact that my children didn’t feel pressured to conform to others’ ideas about what to wear seemed cool and made them a little envious of our freedom. Either way, it was a good conversation starter.
Here is another guaranteed way for you homeschool moms to either meet new people or run into people you haven’t seen for awhile. Trust me, this works for me every time. First of all, tell yourself that you will get up extra early and run to the store to get a few items before the store is crowded. Assure yourself that since no one else will be there, and you are only ducking in and out quickly, you really don’t need to take your shower before you go. In fact, since you will be showering after you get back from the store, it doesn’t make sense to put on makeup because you will just have to reapply it later and that wouldn’t be using your time effectively. After all, you are going early to be strategic like the efficiency machine that you are. So just run a hairbrush through your hair and throw on your sweatpants and an old shirt, and go conquer the first task on your list for the day. Isn’t it great to be getting a head start on your day? Avoid looking in the rear view mirror as you remind yourself that there is NO WAY you will be seeing anyone you know this early. It helps to repeat this to yourself several times. Who else would be crazy enough to go to the store at this hour? No doubt the store will be practically deserted. Whenever you try this strategy, you will either meet someone who sees in you a kind person willing to help them, someone who assumes you are a morning person looking for someone like-minded to chat with, or (best of all?) someone you have not seen for months. This last person is usually someone who seems a bit skeptical of the whole homeschooling thing, and no matter if you see him or her first and try to hide behind a display, you will be spotted. It’s like a law or something. When you have run out of excuses to babble in a vain attempt to explain away your unusual appearance, you can catch up with your acquaintance. Just remember to emphasize that this is your unusual appearance and not at all what your typical daily self looks like. Use words like “exception”, and “atypical”.
Another option is to adopt my other strategy and just relax. In my case, I am now middle-aged and peoples’ expectations for my appearance no longer pressure me. I wasn’t a beauty when I was younger and I’m certainly not getting better with age. When I have these unexpected meetings I try to relax and enjoy the moment. God forbid that I should miss the opportunity to talk to another person because I am worried about being perceived as a weird homeschooler. Someone may still draw that conclusion after talking with me, but it won’t be because I held back.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why Read To Readers?

Do you still read to your children once they are proficient readers themselves? It's true that they may read just fine independently and that should be encouraged, but let's consider some of the benefits of listening to someone else read. When you listen to a good narrator, you learn how to pronounce words you may have only read silently and mispronounced in your mind. This is one of the ways I knew my children had been exposed to a new vocabulary word, when they said something that was phonetically correct but not the accurate way to produce the word. Listening to me as I read aloud also exposed them to variations in inflection, volume, and timing which are important components for developing language skills. When I read to my children, even after they were good readers, I could explain vocabulary and themes in the context of what we were reading together. I could pause for discussion, something that typically does not happen during independent reading. Hearing my children's perspectives helped me to see how they express and process information. It gave me insight into some of their personality traits as they learned to think critically about our reading selections. Sharing a book together gave us common experiences which generalized to other activities. We sometimes quote favorite lines to each other or make a reference to a literary character with shared understanding. Another benefit of reading to younger children is that you can tackle more advanced material and facilitate a love for good literature from a young age. Listening to someone else read is good practice for comprehension, as the children are taught to visualize what they are hearing. Good readers can picture what they are reading about, which is why seeing a movie based on a book can be disappointing when it doesn't match what we had imagined while reading. When someone reads aloud it also provides the listeners with good practice for auditory skills. Learning to tune in to the auditory channel is an important skill that impacts many other academic and life skills. I recommend listening to stories performed by a good narrator even for young children who are not yet readers themselves. Learning to listen and visualize will serve them well in their own independent reading endeavors. Memory is enhanced when a visual image is recalled, so encourage your children to picture the story along with you as you read to them. I read to my children even when they were in high school and quite capable of reading without me, because the shared experience meant not only reading together but time together and connections made despite busy schedules. How many of us love to read but are hard pressed to find the time to actually sit down with a book that's not related to work or school with our children? Several years into homeschooling I discovered audio books for me. Again, a good narrator makes all the difference when listening to a story, but having access to audio books allowed me to "read" that way while doing dishes, laundry, crocheting, and other tasks. I still find that I have little time to just sit and read, but I no longer have a sense of reading deprivation as I go about my day with my little MP3 player loaded with audio books. Reading and being read to can be enjoyable for all ages and levels of readers.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Answer is Yes!

Yesterday was a big day for my daughter. She graduated with honors with a B.S. in Education from The Ohio State University. She hand embroidered Jeremiah 29:11 on the top of her cap, and I am very proud of her accomplishments and her perspective about her future. Since I homeschooled Beth all the way through high school, I have been asked by many people through the years if homeschooled students can go to college. Fortunately, with the growth in homeschooling we are not considered to be such a fringe element of society anymore. Many homeschool students have found success in a variety of venues. Beth's graduation from college answers that question with a definitive "yes". College is not for everyone, homeschooled or otherwise schooled. But for those who wish to seek that additional education, homeschoolers can hold their own in any setting. What a joy to celebrate Beth's success!

Of course, it seems nothing goes without a hitch when there's a big event and multiple people involved. Beth's graduation was held outside in the stadium at OSU, and the heat and humidity were both high. Both of Beth's grandparents came to see Beth graduate, but grandma doesn't do so well in the heat. Just after I got a text from Beth saying that she wasn't feeling well and felt dehydrated, grandma passed out in the bleachers. We were able to eventually find the first aid station and she is fine, but we were shook up and spent time in the first aid station while waiting for Beth's turn to get her diploma. With a graduating class of over 8,600 students, it took a long time. We did leave grandma with the medics, at her insistence, and popped back into the stadium to see Beth officially graduate. Because there were so many students, instead of calling their names they tolled a bell that sounded like a funeral dirge the entire time students were receiving the diplomas. My two sensory/auditory processing children were beginning to twitch from the relentless ringing.
Next we drove to a restaurant of Beth's choice, The Cheesecake Factory, but they didn't take reservations and there was a 2 1/2 hour wait. We hunted around for other restaurants in the area, but all had long waits so we headed back home. I had potato salad, a fruit and yogurt parfait, and graduation cap cookies on hand, but that hardly made a meal for eight. So we got carryout to go along with it.

My son, Josh, is an author and he broke out of his usual sci-fi writing mode to pen this "Ode to Beth's Graduation":

Rush so we will be on time.
Walk a mile and then we climb.

Hungry since we walked so far.
Left the food back in the car?

Seated up so very high.
Great view of that cloudy sky.

Now the band begins to play.
Half an hour til the parade.

8,600 tassels tall.
Did you have to name them all?

Graduates who have done your best!
Survive this day and pass the test!

Moving speeches, people sing.
Can anybody hear a thing?

Think it's time to go inside
Before this turns to suicide.

People get their PHD's.
Hangin' out with EMT's.

Additional speeches get carried away.
What? You mean we're just halfway?

More interesting show to watch:
Grandma versus the Red Cross!

Sunburn in the first degree.
People leaving. Wait for me!

Diploma time's a living hell.
Someone kill that funeral bell!

Over? Really? Now we're free!
To the Cheesecake Factory!

Two and a half hour's wait?
Fifty bucks for a piece of cake?

Everything else is crazy as well.
Ten miles around the Hilton Hotel.

Home at last. What a day.
Now we get to eat parfait.

All is over, and I'm glad.
...just what year is Beckie's grad?


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sea Monkeys

When my daughter Beckie was younger she decided she wanted to raise sea monkeys. Since sea monkey eggs can remain dormant for years, they are available in kits for you to raise. The packaging is attractive for children, and I've even seen necklaces that allow you to wear a sea monkey in a little water globe around your neck. Doesn't that sound cute? It certainly appealed to Beckie, and the sea monkeys on the packaging looked animated and eager. Although she followed the directions on how to activate the sea monkeys eggs so they would hatch, the first attempt failed and Beckie had no sea monkeys. Undeterred, she went for it again and the second attempt resulted in several live sea monkeys. Guess what? They weren't nearly as cute as the cartoon sea monkeys on the box. In fact, Beckie's older sister Beth started calling them "Sea Scaries". Sea monkeys are basically a type of shrimp. Shrimp are not that cute. Beckie, however, was proud of her sea monkey family and was determined to see them grow and reproduce to a zillion generations. Since Beckie has AD/HD, it is hard for her to remember to do tasks on a consistent basis. She wanted to check on her sea monkeys daily, and her solution was to keep them in the kitchen. She knew she would be in the kitchen every day, and would see them and have that visual reminder to check on them. This worked great for her. For my part, it was extremely unappetizing to me to see the sea monkeys skulking around their little habitat while I prepared meals. I just trained myself not to look at them after awhile. Beckie's sea monkeys grew, and even had sea monkey babies once. Unfortunately for Beckie, she is only one of three family members with AD/HD and clutter is a big problem in every room in our house. I can't clean as fast as they can unclean, so piles of stuff end up in the kitchen. One fateful day, Beckie's Dad knocked the sea monkeys over and they flooded the kitchen counter. Rather than trying to scoop them back into their little habitat, Dad just dragged a trash can over and swept them all into the trash can. RIP little sea monkeys. Thinking his work there was done, Dad moved on to something else and didn't think to mention the "terrible accident" to Beckie. When Beckie discovered the empty sea monkey container she was understandably distressed. Her strategy to keep them in the kitchen worked for her, but they were not safe from other family members who dump things in the kitchen. Her Dad's strategy was to clean up the mess in the quickest and easiest way possible. The sea monkeys were the casualty. Beckie decided it was safer to have fish in a bowl that mounts onto her bedroom wall, and she has happily lived with her fish pets without having to worry about the bowl getting knocked over.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Magic of Tootsie Rolls

My daughter, Beckie, has AD/HD. Now that she's a teenager, her primary challenges are with the executive functions (EF) like planning, organization, and working memory. She also continues to need more prompts and external rewards than her peers without EF challenges.

Beckie and her sister have been sharing a hair dryer for years. It is important to Beth, the older sister, to have the hair dryer put away after use. Beckie couldn't care less if the hair dryer gets put away, so there is little internal motivation on her part to do so. Remember, anything that requires extra steps is not popular with our kids or adults with AD/HD. Additionally, they need more frequent rewards than their "neurotypical" peers. This need often extends into adulthood.

The hair dryer wars went on for a while, with hard feelings on both sides. Since the girls were not able to work out their differences and the hostility was escalating, we met as a family to problem solve together. If something didn't change, the hair dryer wouldn't be the only thing to blow at our house. At one point in the discussion, Beth told Beckie she just needed to remember to put the hair dryer away. "After all, you are a teenager. It's not like I'm going to give you a Skittle every time you remember to put it away. You just have to make yourself do it."

When I heard Beth say that, it was a light bulb moment for me. Having recently attended a conference on Executive Functions, it was fresh in my mind how the presenters shared that many with EF struggles will continue to be externally motivated throughout their lives. Since the EF challenges continue throughout the lifespan, affected individuals also continue to need more encouragement, praise, recognition, and rewards than those without EF struggles. This explains why my husband, who regularly makes the coffee, asks me how it is sometimes before I've even taken a sip. My first thought is, "Um, it's fine. It's always fine?"

I've come to realize that my husband needs that frequent positive reinforcement because making coffee and doing other chores is not intrinsically satisfying to him. He needs to know that his efforts are appreciated. Once I understood that, and realized that my son with AD/HD is the same way, I trained myself to make a point to express thanks for even mundane, everyday things. They need that. I can easily give them that. So when Beth made the comment about Skittles, I realized that Beckie was getting no reward when she remembered to put the hair dryer away. She honestly tried to remember, but since having the hair dryer put away was meaningless to her and she is highly distractible she often forgot. Since it wasn't important to her in the first place, she experienced no internal satisfaction when she completed the task.

I devised a simple plan to help Beckie be more successful, and hopefully end the hairdryer war or at least reach a truce. Knowing that she loves Tootsie Rolls, I bought a bag of miniature Tootsie Rolls and put them in a small bowl in the bathroom. I told Beckie that every time she remembered to put the hair dryer away, she could have one Tootsie Roll. Beckie thought it was a great idea.

Now some of you are thinking, "Why should a teenager need a treat to do what she is supposed to do? Won't that just keep her dependent on external rewards?" Good questions. Here's what I think. By showing Beckie a simple way to motivate and reward herself, she is learning a strategy that she can eventually use on her own. Because her EF difficulties are likely to continue into adulthood, she absolutely needs to figure out ways to reward herself. Would it bother you as much if she were buying the Tootsie Rolls herself and using them as rewards for completing tasks? Probably not, because most of us do this in one form or another. I'm just showing Beckie an example of what she can do to keep herself motivated and on task. In the future, she will know how to do this for herself.

Asking Beckie to try to remember to do a task that was not important to her just didn't work. She meant to, intended to, sometimes did remember to, but not with adequate consistency. Now, every time she goes into the bathroom, she sees the little bowl of Tootsie Rolls. It is a visual reminder and incentive several times a day, even though she only dries her hair once a day. She is aware that one of those treats will be hers if she remembers to put the hair dryer away. Guess how many times she has forgotten to put it away since the Tootsie Roll plan has been in place? Zero! She has not forgotten to put that hair dryer away a single time, and it has been several weeks since we implemented the plan. Did this teenager benefit by an external reward system? The results would indicate an absolute YES!

The hair dryer war seems to have ended peacefully, and Beckie has had great success while learning a strategy that will serve her throughout her life. She reports that she feels she has met the challenge, although she adds with a grin that once in a while she has forgotten to take a Tootsie Roll reward.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Facial Recognition and Social Implications

Most of us have times when it's hard to recall someone's name, although we recognize the face. We readily admit, "I'm terrible with names" as a disclaimer when we first meet someone so he won't be offended in the future if his name slips out of our grasp. This difficulty with name recall is both common and understandable. Unless an individual's name makes it from our working memory into our long term memory, and pretty quickly, we are not likely to remember it in the future. For most of us, it is easier to recall the visual information and appearance of another person's face than the auditory information of a name. Sometimes we recognize someone but can't remember the context in which we met them. Church? Community activity? Friend of a friend? Because this is such a common experience, most people are pretty forgiving if we've forgotten the name but at least show recognition that we have met before. Often, there is mutual forgetfulness and the other person does not remember our names, either. No harm done.
My son, Josh, has significant working memory challenges. I realized over time that my son not only was unable to recall names, neither could he readily recall faces. He had no difficulty recognizing those of us he interacted with on a regular basis, but for those he saw infrequently he honestly had no memory or context for knowing them. It would be unsettling for him when virtual strangers (to his mind) would call him by name and initiate a conversation. Josh has never been good at faking anything, so he would genuinely ask, "Do I know you?" or "I'm sorry, but have we met?" Unfortunately, this attempt to be polite and seek clarification had negative social implications. People naturally feel hurt when others don't remember them, especially people whom they remember quite clearly and have shared past experiences. I remember a mother of one of my daughter's friends coming up to me and telling me that Josh asked who she was and she told him "I've only known you for YEARS." It was true, but months would go by in between each brief contact and Josh never transferred the information to his long-term memory so each contact was starting fresh - for him. If I told Josh who people were and when he had seen them before, it sometimes jogged a vague memory for him.
There is a name for this "face blindness", and the term is "prosopagnosia". In severe cases, individuals have difficulty recognizing their own family members, friends, and even themselves. Many people with autism, PDD, and Asperger Syndrome experience prosopagnosia. I guess Josh had a fairly mild version, and I wondered if what registered in his mind's eye was like a snapshot of faces, rather than the more dynamic version of faces changing to reflect a variety of emotions. Since Josh used to have difficulty recognizing different emotions expressed on faces, I thought maybe he only had one still picture in his mind and if it didn't match what he saw there was no recall. I don't know for sure, and Josh has improved over the years. It's too bad that there's not facial recognition software we could install in our brains to help us make the connections. I have worked with many children with autism who focus on part of something rather than seeing the whole. If this happens when a child looks at a face, he may see just the nose, or only the mouth, and not how those parts comprise a face. I have had children stare at an object I've held in front of my face, without recognizing that there was a person holding the object. If a face is viewed as individual component parts without seeing the whole, that face is not likely to be recognized in the future.
For our verbal children with the language skills to express themselves, we can teach them strategies to ease the social tension. Having someone admit "I know lots of people have trouble remembering names, but I even have trouble remembering faces sometimes" may prepare others in advance so they won't be offended or surprised when they have to reintroduce themselves. For our nonverbal or less verbal children, we can advocate for them by explaining the challenges of prosopagnosia and reassure others that it is not a personal slight when our children don't acknowledge them with recognition. My hope is that when we explain that there is a neurological glitch, others will be more flexible and accepting and won't misinterpret our struggling learner's behaviors in a negative way.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Please Try Again

Sometimes companies use the marketing strategy of offering the possibility, in addition to enjoying their fine products, of actually winning additional prizes. The prize offerings are often in the form of financial winnings, but may include the lure of exotic vacations or new cars. I don't buy products just because they offer the potential for prizes, but if it's something I would buy anyway I certainly take the time to read the bottle top, box flap, or inside the bag to see if I've won anything. (So far, nothing, but I'm only middle-aged so I guess it could still happen!) Usually, my message reads something like, "Please try again" or "There are many chances to win" (insert here, but you probably won't) so...please try again. It doesn't surprise me when I don't win, since the odds are against it and it's not like I'm trying day after day to strive for a prize. One day, though, I was feeling a little discouraged and opened a wrapper without realizing it was one of those "might win a prize" wrappers. When I read, "SORRY YOU DIDN'T WIN!" it was like an unexpected dig. "Wait a minute!" I cried out in my mind. "I wasn't even trying to win that time!" In my discouragement the message translated into "SORRY YOU ARE A LOSER! AGAIN! AND PROBABLY ALWAYS WILL BE!" Gee, and I just wanted a little treat.

I started thinking about the messages we communicate, and how our struggling learners might be translating them. I might say, "That was a good try" and my child might mentally translate that into, "I did it wrong again". I can see how easily my own perfectionist tendencies might be perceived by my children as "Nothing is ever quite good enough." I can say, "Let's keep working on this" and "Work hard and do your best", but depending on the child's temperament and interpretation of my tone of voice it might be perceived as criticism rather than encouragement. For most of us, we can shrug off those "You are a loser" messages and get on with life. For those with learning disabilities who struggle, day after day, with tasks that are unavoidable and reoccurring, it is harder to ignore and resist that message. Day after day, they struggle to complete work. A math fact or phonics rule they "knew" yesterday eludes them today. They do not know why, they cannot explain it, yet they experience the frustration of having material seemingly evaporate before they can nail it down. So they start the learning process over, or repeat work that in their minds they believe they should already know. They notice that other people seem to have it much easier, and even when no one else says it they draw the conclusion "I am not a winner". Every day, it's like they are opening the wrapper or bottle to see if today they will be a winner. Over time, resignation sets in along with the belief that winning is for someone else.

There are no easy answers here. I have no quick fix to offer, or sure-fire rapid remedy to make your child feel like a winner. Every child is different, as are teachers, parents and families. What I can offer is more of a life strategy, a paradigm shift that views struggles as a part of life. I shared my own struggles with my children (at age-appropriate levels) and taught them that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some are more visible than others, but the fact is that we all need others who are strong where we are weak. Likewise, we all have something to offer. I believe that beyond a shadow of a doubt, and I shared that belief over and over with my children. I made it a point to focus on the whole child, not just the academic areas and disabilities and differences. Despite the diagnosis, I would not allow my children to use it as an excuse for not developing good character traits or not doing as much as they were able to. Are some things harder for you than others? Do you sometimes feel like you are a loser? Sure. Does that feeling make it true? Absolutely not. Speak the truth to your children, boldly and repeatedly. Say it out loud so they can hear your own mental battle resolve. It might sound something like this: "I sure have a hard time doing this, and other people make it look easy. Sometimes I feel like a loser. But you know what? I'm not! Even though I might feel like a loser, I know I have a lot to offer. Nobody is good at everything and I'm not, either. But that doesn't make me a loser." By talking it through, your children are learning from you. They will see how you acknowledge an emotion and tackle a thought that is not healthy or true. Over time, they will learn how to battle the "I am a loser" notion with the truth that they are individuals with great worth and value in many ways. Next time you get the message "SORRY YOU DIDN'T WIN!" think about translating that into a message that reflects gratitude and appreciation for all you have to offer. Be resilient and teach your children to be resilient. Don't fall for the "You are a loser" message. The next time you are faced with a challenge, "Please Try Again", because there truly are many chances to win.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Special Needs Expenses and Help

Having a child with special needs and learning struggles can put a strain on your budget. There are so many expenses with doctor's visits, therapy, tutoring, specialists, and medications that the overall cost is overwhelming. As a speech/language pathologist and homeschooler, I could address some of my children's needs on my own. I was a speech therapist before I became a mother, and felt blessed that I had an education background as I navigated the paths to finding help for my children's struggles. It helped that I could do the speech therapy myself, but I still needed resources to help with the other diagnosis and treatment for identified areas of need. I relied heavily on input from my occupational therapy friends (thank you, Amy!) and had weekly visits to a psychologist for over three years. Actually, my child had the visits but there were times when I could have used more help for my own struggles as his mother! I took my two AD/HD children to social groups, parent-child programs, group activities, and more. There was a significant financial expense as well as a personal cost since I almost always had to be in fairly close proximity to help them be successful and to train and advocate with others who worked with them. My husband has always been supportive, but does not have the special needs background that I do and I was the one doing the homeschooling. As such, my husband just saw all the bills come in for all the interventions and programs we tried. We've never had money just to throw around and I wanted to be responsible with our family resources and have something to show for my efforts. Yet I'll admit, even when I heard about treatments that sounded too good to be true, my heart still had a burst of hope wondering if it might actually be THE thing that changed our lives for the better. What kind of mom would I be if I didn't at least give some consideration to something that might make a huge difference in my children's lives and ease their struggles a bit? Some of the more outrageous proposals I was able to talk myself out of attempting, but there were others I explored more thoroughly. Some were rather expensive explorations with minimal or no returns, and I try not to think of what I could have done with that money had I not fallen for the marketing strategies and testimonials that sucked me in. Still, I have to say that as a parent desperate to find and do anything to help my children, I would have had more regrets had I not at least given some things a try.
Even if you have insurance, it may not cover all the therapy sessions your child needs or the other medical expenses you incur. Here's what I have learned over the years:
1. Most medical professionals will work with you on financing. If you are self-employed or uninsured, sometimes they will agree to charge a lower rate than what the insurance companies are charged. Talk to the billing department and tell them how much you can afford to pay each month. If you are at least making monthly payments, you are much less likely to have your bill turned over to a collection agency.
2. Some agencies (like those with United Way) have sliding fee scales based on ability to pay. You have to share what your income is and how many are in your family and so on, but you may be able to afford therapy that otherwise would not be available to your child.
3. Check with your local school district, even if you are homeschooling, if you feel comfortable in doing so. Some schools will provide therapy and other supports even to homeschooled students. It varies from district to district, and I always recommend checking with Home School Legal Defense Association ( prior to contacting your local school district. HSLDA members can speak with their region's special needs coordinator for additional suggestions, including homeschool-friendly specialists and consultants in their area.
4. If you personally know someone who is trained in an area that your child needs help, think about an exchange of services. What do you have to barter with? I saw a friend's child for speech therapy in exchange for her watching my children for a few hours now and then. It was worth it for both of us! More recently, I had two friends with sons in need of some speech therapy. I tried to persuade them to drive with my daughter (who has her permit and needs more hours of practice before getting her license) in exchange for speech therapy. They didn't go for the idea, but because they were friends I saw their sons anyway. Try not to take advantage of your friend with professional training, but instead think of something that won't bust your budget that you could offer in exchange for their professional expertise. They should be able to give you ideas and show you how to implement strategies at home.
5. I don't have personal experience with this organization, but I came across this website some time back and thought it might be helpful for a family feeling buried under medical bills with ongoing expenses and no end in sight. It's called "NeedyMeds" and has information on medicine and healthcare assistance programs. There is more information on the website and if you are a low income family or are uninsured or under-insured this organization may be of help.