Monday, September 1, 2014

This Week in Homeschool

So last weekend while all of my kids were out of the house, I rearranged and reorganized the kids room, part of our room, and the living room. So school work itself was pretty light this week since I was still doing a number of touch ups on things.

In an effort to maximize storage and access to frequently used items, minimize clutter, and keep Kit from demolishing all of the big kids treasured possessions, we made some changes to the bedrooms. 


After swapping the girls' dressers, we then had room for lockers. Yup, I found lockers on sale at Home Depot online, and it was a very helpful solution to fix several problems. 

1.) They gave me a place to put Kit's school supplies, without it being open shelving, which is irresistible to Kit. Out of sight, almost out of mind, is a very important rule with her. 

2.) It gave me a place to put away, but still have within the big kids reach items that Kit is not allowed access to either at all, or without strict supervision. And again it is neatly tucked away.

3. The big kids finally have a specific place for their treasures, and for school stuff that we don't need every day, but often enough to need quick and easy access. The kids have the option of putting locks on theirs if they need them, and we can on Kit's also if need be, but so far she has mostly left them alone.

In the living room we've made some big changes as well. And hopefully they will make it easier for everyone to better keep things organized.

Our library books now have a permanent basket in which to stay when they are not being read. This already has made it easier to round up library items on their due date!

A second basket provides a home for a couple dozen of Kit's books. Not only does it give her easy access, she can also easily put them away herself. Not that she does, but hopefully, in time, she might!

One of Kit's new school items is called Goki. I don't know what that means or where it is from originally, because I forgot to look before I threw away the box. Oops! The little wooden cards show the beads in an arrangement, and the goal is to move the pegs in the puzzle to make them match the card. Kit and I have done this a couple times this week. I encourage, and guide, her to match the pattern. But I don't push it. Cooperating with directions is a long and winding process, and we have time. I'm fine if she spends most of her time just playing and exploring moving the pieces.

The adorable little puzzle below has been the most used "school" activity in the house since I opened it Saturday night. Since I was kid-less that evening, I had the luxury of being the first to explore it's adorable, chunky, little pieces. Kit spotted it immediately upon coming home from her weekend at Auntie's, and made multiple rearrangements. Grace literally spent hours playing with it on Monday. And Zak creates tiny sculptures every time he sits down on the couch next to it. In fact, it has become a great way to hold a good conversation with him, as when he's playing with it, his body is calm, hands are busy, and his mind seems to slow down a bit. So this little preschool puzzle called Day and Night, by Smart Games, has turned out to be a family favorite!

In fact, the big kids, like and have played with every item from Kit's supplies that we have opened so far! These wooden threading toys, again captivated Zak, and he happily sat completely focused on threading the lions mane and made calm conversation the whole time. 

Math this week went well. Zak decided he wanted to move on to his 7th grade Teaching Textbook, so we did. Grace took a couple of days and worked with her MiniLuk. This set came with her 1st grade curriculum, and we got a replacement set last year after too many pieces disappeared very shortly after Grandpa moved in. (Pretty sure from the number of pieces I saved from being thrown away by Grandpa that the missing ones were ones he tossed when one of us wasn't around to rescue them.) So the incomplete set keeps Kit quite happy, working next to Big Sister with her restored full set! These puzzles help stretch thinking skills, memory, patterns, and much more, and Grace really, really likes them! Probably going to need to get another expansion pack soon!

We had some fellow homeschoolers here again this Thursday, so I split them into teams for their Geography assignment. Our GeoSearch pages have worked out really well. The kids have gotten quite skilled at searching out the answers using the tablet. The girls got so distracted looking at pictures of native Louisiana wildlife, they forgot to write anymore down. And in the flurry of trying to finish quickly, we laughed at Zak's creation of two new states: North and South California! I knew he meant Carolina, but it was fun to point it out and hear him laugh when he realized his typo. :) He, however, gets irritated every time he does these and he gets to my typo: state logo. I really did mean to write 'state motto', but didn't catch it until after I had made about 30 copies. I assured him I would correct it on the next draft.  

One of the best parts of preschool is learning to use scissors! And not only did Kit get an adorable pair of toddler scissors, the kind you squeeze with your whole hand instead of trying to fiddle with finger holes, but she also got three progressive skills booklets! She gave a puppy and a kitty whiskers before moving on to chopping them up into tiny pieces! She thoroughly enjoyed the activity, and even happily helped clean it all up, thanks to the "clean up" card on her visual schedule!

Kit likes to play with her new farm counters when it's her choice of activity. The mat zips up at the corners, becoming a little carrier, and the pond becomes the lid! She cannot zip and unzip the set by herself yet, but again, we're in no hurry. The only thing I wound change with this set, is I would give the pigs an actual mud hole! We have to make her pigs bathe in the pond, an idea that took her some major convincing would work just as well as mud for play purposes. She makes it very clear that we just "pretend that is mud, because that is not mud, that is a pond, and pigs don't live in ponds! Right mama?" 
"Right, Baby." 

For the countless minutes a day that my monkeys can't sit still, which sometimes feels like all the minutes, these help out. Meet Rover (Kit insisted), he was another reason I splurged on the full Preschool Curriculum. The other bouncers I have had in storage for well over a year. I had found them on sale online, but we had our big purple weighted ball then and that was working just fine. But a few months ago, it started shrinking, and after several attempts at re-inflation, and progressively faster deflation, we finally told it thanks, and threw it out! That was a few months after the demise of out treasured Spin Disc, and I wanted to see how the kids might do with out both, as they are large items and take up a lot of space. The verdict has been in for a while, the kids have enormously more difficulty self-regulating without them. So after Kit got her dog with her school stuff, I pulled these out of the drawer, Daddy blew them up, and now the kids are happily bouncing and rolling again.   

They have a little more room to do this now too, since the rearrangement!

It was a slow week in science. But Friday, the super patient, super sweet teen, H, that I hired for the summer as a Mother's Helper one afternoon a week, came. I'm so sad that Friday was her last day, as her schedule has filled up. With her hefty homeschool course load and prior jobs, she is stretching her time pretty thin. We will miss her so much! She has been a huge help, in too many ways to mention! I don't go anywhere when she comes, instead I'm able to really punch out major projects that have been stacking up, sometimes for months! And the kids get to play, do projects, build forts, and so much more! This Friday afternoon was no less fun, H brought sugar cookie mix, and they mixed and smushed and cut out cookies, and frosted and sprinkled and decorated, and licked off the frosting to do it again! And after all they were full, Zak went to play Just Dance, but the girls got to crack open one of the new science kits. This one, called the Primary Science Set by Learning Resources, is designed specifically for little hands and curious minds and has it all. Goggles, test tubes, funnel, a magnifying glass, a beaker, tweezers, a flask, and droppers too! I had to stop in between loads of laundry to take pictures!

Both the girls loved it, but Kit turned full fledged chemist on us and it was the cutest thing to see her carefully pouring her perfectly purple concoction through the funnel into the flask, hold it up, examine it, give it a swirl, pour it back and then hand it to me, and confidently command, "try it!"

She is indeed her Great Granddaddy's great granddaughter! And her Auntie's niece! Her mother's daughter, brother's sister...yeah, it kind of runs in the family. Just a little. :)

And this week we started with spelling again. We had taken about six months off from official spelling work, mainly because we were incorporating it into other areas of writing, and having spelling as well was leading to a lot of grouchiness for all of us. Grace is having a much easier time with writing now though, and Zak has taken to doing most of his "writing" is the form of journaling, sometimes 2-3 pages a night! With comics and illustrations of course, but a whopping amount of writing for my child that I truly thought for a long time was going to have a life long struggle with that subject! He is well on his way to filling his second 5-subject notebook with WRITING!!! 

So we are starting at the beginning of the program that initially really helped Zak in fourth grade. (We started then in book 4, and while book 1 is simpler, he can certainly still benefit from the practice.) I really like the Sequential Spelling method of starting with a very simple base, and building the word list off of that, and throughout consecutive lists expanding on the base working in prefixes, suffixes, plurals, and even some proper names! It is a logic based program, and that helps to make it, in my opinion, more educating than pure memorization.

So that was our busy week. I hope yours was just as fun!

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Busy Bags: Sticker ABCs

Three and a half sheets of construction paper and a lot of stickers!

I folded the sheets in half and drew two letters on each half, book style. I marked a starting point for each letter with a starter sticker.

The idea is for Kit to outline each letter with stickers. Though I don't expect her to do them all in one sitting. Even just one letter requires a good amount of concentration, so these are great to pull out to work on a letter or two, and then put away for later.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rules and Autism

I found these two articles a few months back, and they were really really helpful in validating some of what I already knew about my kiddos, as well as reinforcing the path we were on with them. And they turned some new lights on for me as well. Just like it's important to know our child's best learning style, we should also get to know how they best understand rules.

This may seem straightforward, and in many ways it is. Rules are rules right? 

But when working (and especially, living) with individuals on the Autism Spectrum, rules and rule following can get a little bit more complicated. For example we have some hard and fast rules in areas where many families probably get by with fairly simple reminders. Such as? Here are a few of areas I never envisioned having to "lay down the law" in:

  • You WILL shower at minimum on Tuesdays and Saturdays, no later than 4:30 pm. (Zak still pushes this rule nearly every week! Just this past Tuesday, he ended up owing me twenty minutes cleaning time because he procrastinated past 4:30 and I had to intervene with consequences.)  
  • No library books in the bathroom. (Because of the tendency to just set them down anywhere without noticing if there is a wet spot on the counter, or too close to the bathtub, and then get in the shower without closing the curtain all the way.)
  • No, you cannot set your alarm to ring before 6:30 in the morning (like 4:30 or 5), "just because" (Zak's words, not mine). 

I believe that every child wants to please. But not every child can when they feel overwhelmed or lost and confused. Sometimes a child may seem like they are being defiant, or disobedient, when in fact they simply don't understand the rules. 

Different kids process rules differently. Most of the time they can be divided into two groups:

  • Rationale-Dependent 
  • Structure-Dependent

This article about the rationale-dependent child is a very apt description of Zak, although he is a mix of the two types, this one is dominant by far. We learned to give him explanations and reasons long before we learned about his Asperger's, and most of the time, he manages quite well when armed with explanations. 

I was a bit surprised however at how accurate this article about the structure-dependent child was in describing Grace. 

She has not, and may not ever be diagnosed, but this was so important in helping remind me that, diagnosis or not, she still faces some unique challenges, and she does at times have some pretty powerful "acting out" moments. Especially when something has become a rule in her head, even though we as her parents never actually made something a rule, and then from her perspective, we are breaking the rule, or changing it on her. And I can't even begin to count the number of times she is the 'police officer', ready to report any and all rule-breaking, by anyone! She sees rules as very black and white, and no amount of explanation will make her budge of she has predetermined what the rule is. And those who disagree, are just plain wrong!

Kit seems to be mostly a structure-dependent kiddo too. Although knowing the rules, but not yet being able to follow them is a symptom of being three as much as it is part of autism. Sometimes with her, absolutely no rule is going to restrain our tiny tyrant!

These sub-types are not restrictive to children on the Autism Spectrum. I think most kids fall generally into one or the other. Kids on the spectrum just tend to need or follow these patterns sometimes in excess or to extremes.

Do you see your own kids in either description? How about yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Evaluations and an IEP

Well, we are finally done with all the evaluations and paper work getting ready for Kit's transition out of Early Steps and into the services of the school district.

She will not be going to school, but when a child turns three, the school district takes over responsibility for further intervention. With a catch, of sorts.

Early Intervention's aim is to provide assistance in any area that the child has an assessed need, and in any part of their daily routine from sleeping, to dressing, to bathing, to daycare, to interacting with family members to strangers, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc. in which they have difficulty. Though the amount and intensity differs drastically from child to child.

When the school district takes over, their aim is to assist a child to cope in an educational setting. All of their determinations are based on how the child behaves, interacts, and attends to tasks and people in an educational environment. When a child is too young to attend school, ages three and four usually, their services are based on what will best help prepare them to cope in an educational environmental. The way they do this is to send an Itinerant Teacher or therapists to the child's home or daycare to work with the child, similar to Early Intervention, but not exactly the same.

That is what my questions and much discussion on the matter has lead me to understand. In the most basic sense: Early Intervention tries to help the whole family, understand and help the whole child, to cope in any environment. School services however, focus on teaching only the parts of a child that don't conform to classroom decorum.

I have no doubt that sentence greatly offends those working in that field. But the fact is, like it or not, that is at it's core what it's about.

During a phone conversation the woman coordinating Kit's evaluations, when I was expressing many of my concerns that the team was not truly getting a good understanding of Kit's challenges because of the very limited, and artificial setting that the evaluations were taking place under, I presented her with a potential future situation that went basically like this...

'I think that Kit could potentially learn to manage to hold herself together enough to make it through a school day. For a while. She probably could manage to learn to get through the day without biting someone or something, or throwing things, and generally going with the flow. But I also have no doubt that after working that hard all day, every day, that the fallout after she gets home, and especially at the end of a week, would be nuclear. Everything that she had to fight against, suppress, and feel, that she couldn't let out is going to explode at home. She would have huge mood swings, her sensory seeking would intensify, and she would have such a hard time finding any kind of balance. How is it helping if she can manage at school, but becomes a complete disaster at home?'

'Well, if that were to happen, we would recommend that you look into private therapy to address those issues.'

She was not being rude, dismissive, or negative in any way. Her tone was sympathetic. And later when we talked about it again in person and in greater detail, she did seem to understand better where I was coming from and my reluctance to put her in preschool. This is not a woman who doesn't care about children or is otherwise 'just doing her job' as the saying goes. I could tell, both from those conversation and others, that she and the whole team really do care. But even if they disagree with the way things work, there is little to nothing they can do about it.

Here are the results of Kit's evaluations.

Her combined cognitive, reasoning and memory scores were sky high. She scored a 116 combined, which I was told is pretty incredible for a child her age. When they do testing for giftedness, the minimum score to meet the criteria for gifted is 115, and the coordinator said Kit got 116 without any of the questions used for giftedness even being applied. Of course even that is limited. Many incredibly gifted people may never meet the test criteria, but nevertheless are genius in their talents.

On one of the tests they couldn't score it because she never hit the ceiling of three or five wrong answers, can't remember which. They finally just stopped because she was clearly exhausted. The age level she stopped at was 5 1/2 years.

During the ADOS-2 evaluation, which is used to look for signs of Autism, she didn't fit the stereotype. She makes eye contact, points, and responds to her name. She responded appropriately to certain prompts. She didn't completely zone out and line up the toys or go spin in a corner. Her hand was planted firmly in her mouth for about the first half, but she's not one that flaps her hands much, just chews on them. She wouldn't speak, other than a couple of whispered phrases to me. Nor would she stray more than six inches from my knees. According to their guidelines, she did not meet the educational criteria for an Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Of course, they are observing the results of over a year and a half of us and others working very hard with her to help her body and brain feel organized enough to even stand in a room full of strangers and not insist on nursing or hiding, both of which she still wants to do, but has learned to be okay without for the time being, even though her anxiety comes out through behavior and crying later.

Many of my concerns and observations were noted and included in the report, though not an exhaustive list because I forgot my list of concerns at home, and my memory always seems to turn off right when I need it to be sharpest, which was why I had made the list in the first place. Errrghg! 

She did receive an educational classification of Developmental Delay, in the areas of social and emotional development. This is because of her lack of social comfort, even after becoming comfortable in the environment, reluctance to engage with safe adults, as well as her anxiety and difficulty with emotional regulation. They observed her to be extremely shy, and her unwillingness to cooperate with some of the tests poses an educational challenge. When I met with her new teacher this week to set up the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), she said, 'they can know it all, but they need to be able to answer when called on, or (eventually) take a standardized test, because that's the way the system works'.

I understand that view. Of course my view is, 'then change the system!' Obviously, not her personally, but in general. But that's not happening anytime soon, and obviously, I'm not looking to public education to guide my kids into adulthood. But I kept all that to myself. 

I may not entirely agree with the process, but I appreciated the people that were involved. We were treated with dignity and respect throughout. Everyone just loved Kit! It's impossible not to! And I did feel like our experience, hard work, and concerns were taken seriously, which I deeply appreciate.

Kit starts work with her new teacher September 4. Her teacher will come to the house, once a week, and work with Kit for 30 min. She will work with Kit at sharing, taking turns, overcoming obstacles and frustrations, and verbalizing her thoughts, needs and feelings consistently. Doing all of this with a person who is not related to her being the key.

So that's that. And we move into a new stage of life with Kitty Bitty.

We are still exploring some other options to help in the area of Occupational Therapy, which we still feel she strongly benefits from. So more on all of that later.

Happy Wednesday everyone!