Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Quiet Autism

My eldest, DJ, is a special kind of kid. He was officially diagnosed with Aspergers when he was 7, but I've known he was on the spectrum since he was a baby. It's amazing to me how many people still doubt him, me, the diagnosis, etc. He's 15 years old now. He just got a new service dog yesterday. While discussing the dog with a friend of mine. She asked me, 'well he did ok before he ever had a dog, right?' You see we had a service dog for a little over a year. In that time Daniel was helped tremendously. His dog s.doed in a tragic accident several weeks ago. Even though we are trying to move homes, I'm separated from my husband, our car is on the fritz....even though, I gave getting a replacement service dog priority. I've been asked why a lot lately, which confused me at first. Then I tried to think about my understanding of my son vs the worlds understanding of him. He's the quiet, non-demonstrative Aspie. So, he's often left out - not' or al' but not 'special enough' either. People thing of those with special needs as those who absolutely can not do something - can not walk, can. Of hear, cannot talk, etc. But my quirky son who 'looks' normal and can even seem 'normal' falls through a lot of cracks.

My son has Always internalized. He wouldn't have massive melt-downs to express he was overwhelmed. He would Shut Down, what I affectionately refer to as Statue. Literally, he would shut down - unable to move or speak. This is especially true when he was being scolded by my ex. For some reason DJ never knew if my ex was mad or just asking him to do something, so he would freeze up. This always escalated the situation as my ex would believe he was being ignored. Shut-downs are one of the ways an Aspie/Autistic person deals with anxiety or over stimulation. As another way of handling anxiety, DJ would often purge - not sticking his fingers down his throat, but when he was overwhelmed or anxious it was Always expressed as nausea- his lips will turn white. He will run to the bathroom and vomit. Often he felt much relief by purging. By age 4, my son would be starting the day by purging at least 3-4 times a week. He would wake up extra early, purge and not even tell me until lunch time. If he became stressed he would excuse himself and purge again. He stopped purging entirely when we had a service dog. He purged twice during the 3 weeks before we got a new one.

Aside from purging. Dj also suffered from Trichotillomania basically he would rip out handfuls of hair. It sounds a bit like separating Velcro. Riiip. We kept his hair long because he doesn't like air touching his neck, but it also helped to hide the large bald spots. This form of self-harm scared me more than the purging. I worried daily that it would evolve into cutting. For a child that, to this day, cries when his hair is brushed because it "hurts" the feel of ripping hair was a relief. So was digging his fingernails or teeth into his arms or legs.

None of these things were apparent to outsiders. Heck even my ex-husband doubted the diagnosis at times, just because he didn't experience these things day in and day out. 

What types of signs/symptoms would people see from DJ? Often it was more like regression. His voice would raise higher and higher into a whining screeching if he was getting stressed. If he was continually losing a game, for instance, he would either whine or express frustration vocally. Or he might give up and storm away. We had an exchange student from Spain one summer, it was a disaster as he tended to make fun of DJ when he would exhibit these behaviors. 

But those were the only obvious behaviors, and they closely resemble a spoiled brat that just wants to be the best at everything. I get it. While I totally understand that some might think we are babying DJ, rather than disciplining him, they don't reciprocate the understanding that they are glimpsing a very tiny segment of his life. I've even had a few people say, "now a-days they will label everything as a disorder, in my day it was called being a brat." What's amazing to me is they are usually the first to recognize that DJ is excessively kind, loves working with young children, never lies, etc. not bratty behaviors. 

It took me years and intuition to build the trust relationship DJ has with me. I don't get frustrated or ask him questions he can't answer (are you ok? How do you feel? Etc). I try to find techniques for DJ to be self-sufficient - when he was at his self-harm worst, I got him slap bracelets. It helped a bit. So did aromatherapy when he was overwhelmed. I learned to read between the lines - I'm usually the first person aware that he is heading into a shut down. I give him headphones so he can listen to music almost non-stop. This cuts out a lot of outside stimulation. 

DJ's service dog was a Grounding service dog. This means she helped him remain calm. She acted as a physical barrier between him and the world around him, she helps him focus outside himself during a shut down. She never judged him or made him feel less for things out of his control. And she gave him the ownership of his condition. He felt like he could manage his anxiety/sensory overload without having to have me there to do it for him. 

So, yes, I completely understand where you are coming from. I know it's annoying that DJ always has his music on when you are trying to talk to him, I know it's annoying he doesn't hold a 'normal conversation' with you. I know it's annoying that he won't play games with you just for fun. I know it's annoying that he gets to constantly hold a cute puppy and doesn't seem to want to share her. ("It's not like the service dog helps him do physical things." I've heard before.)

But, guess what. It's annoying to us to hear you say he doesn't really need a service dog. Or he shouldn't get a new service dog until he's "dealt with the grief associated with losing the last" (even though he is INCAPABLE of processing grief). It's annoying to have you get angry when he shuts down as if it's some judgement of you rather than his anxiety saying 'break time.' It's annoying that we are treated as if we are hangers on in the autism community because my son isn't different enough, doesn't use enough services, have an IEP, etc. I'm sure  having a child who is demonstrative can be overwhelming and scary. Having one who completely internalizes is terrifying - I have no idea what he is feeling and the lead-up behaviors can be easily missed. He, even at 15, is completely unable to vocalize what he is feeling aside from 'good' or 'not good'. 

So the next time you are talking to a mom and she says her child has been struggling with this or that. Remember you are not getting the whole picture. While you can say what works for your family, it most likely will be less than useless to whomever you are advising. Just be there for the parent, comisserate that every child has their strengths and challenges. Don't try to 'fix' things, just listen!!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

K Cera-Cera....or however it goes...

Whoa Nellie, it's been a while since I last posted. I'm such a bad blogger lately....WAHHHH! But I've been super busy between my former 2 co-ops and launching my online crafting business. I'm exhausted! Now that it's summer time, it's my time of re-evaluation. I always wonder if public school parents go through this every year, but can't see how they would. See, June is my research month, July is my planning month. Even though we homeschool year round I'm way more lenient in the summer...which I'm sure some of you didn't think it was possible. As child-led learners, how can one be lenient? Well, as I've stated a bunch of times, child-led doesn't equate to non-educational. I still insist on learning between the hours of 10-3. The difference is in the summer, while the tv is off during that time, I'm not telling them they must complete x number of lessons for that day. (The child led part comes in that I allowed them to choose the lesson and the lessons were chosen based on their interests during these summer planning sessions).

But, as I said, every year I seem to re-evaluate. Heck this year I was even tempted to try out k-12...but it's insanely expensive in my area (thank the Gods as I'm sure my kids would hate now that the kids are getting older I'm starting to worry about PSAT's, college entrance exams, etc. I don't want to 'teach to the test' as public schools already proved that's a bomb technique. But with my Aspie not wanting any worksheets and text books give him anxiety...I'm starting to panic on materials for a soon-to-be 13 y/o. Especially one who wants to go to medical school. GULP! Of course this particular roller coaster ride is entitled "Home School Mom's Annual Anxiety Slam" -- am I doing enough, am I challenging them enough, am I truly preparing them for college & the 'real world'...I almost always have to force myself to re-read my older blog posts and remind myself of my goals:

1) Raise boys that are solid in the self-esteem department. They aren't arrogant. They understand their strengths and their weaknesses and know how to work with both. If they have a solid sense of self they will be less tempted to do stupid things due to peer pressure (texting while driving, trying drugs, excessive drinking, etc). But they will also be able to articulate their own position on topics...heck they will be able to HAVE their own opinion/position. And they will be confident enough to defend that opinion.

2) They will understand how to find, process and retain information. While I'm certainly NOT a proponent of wrote memorization (maybe because I always sucked at it?) I fully believe students will be able to retain & regurgitate information (which looks suspiciously like memorization). So, while I don't care if they can list all the presidents in order, (though I'd like them to have a clear understanding of the time period in which each was in office) I DO want them to know where to go for that information. More than that however, I'd like my kids to have a total understanding of how their brains work. It took me until I had an associates degree to understand how to efficiently LEARN. If my kids understand how to do so before college? I'll give myself a huge pat on the back, or an intoxicating beverage, whatever.

3) I want them to understand how to make goals and how to follow through on said goals. I think so many kids these days see college as a goal, but don't really have a clear-cut plan of how to get there, what the purpose of it all is, and what they hope to achieve after it. I want my kids to understand how to set short & long term goals and how to make precise plans to achieve those goals.

4) Yeah, yeah I want them happy and healthy and all that garbage too. :)

Once I finish beating these points into my head every year, I can relax. It makes choosing "Just the right curriculum" seem silly. Instead I focus on subjects. Since my eldest wants medical school, I will be really focusing on math & sciences as well as technical writing this year. My youngest now says he wants to be an architect, so we will be starting to delve deeper into geometry, computer programming, well as math. :) Now I just have to find the tools we'll be using to achieve these points.....hmmmmm.....

Thursday, August 15, 2013

UPDATE: Defining Our Homeschool - 2013

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post called 'Defining Our Homeschool'. It was a generalization of what we were doing as Child-Led learners. Now that some time has passed we are even more secure in our style of education, so I thought I should update exactly what that means for everyone. I, personally, dislike the term unschooled. This is primarily because so many have used this term to mean Non-School, or Anti-Schooling. This conjures the idea of kids sitting around watching tv or playing video games all day every day. These kids often never learn to read or do arithmetic. This is by FAR the exact opposite of what goes on in our house. We treat school like college. I make lists of subjects the kids get to choose from - creative writing, chemistry, French, Latin, German, etc. The kids get to choose subjects - just like college kids choose from the course catalog. They must choose at least one from each subject type - writing, reading, foreign languages, science, etc. Furthermore, we do co-operative schools twice per week. I will usually teach 2 classes, from the subject list the kids chose. For instance, my eldest is interested in learning German and a much more in depth study of Ancient Egyptian mythology (this is an ongoing quest as, over the last few years we've done Greek and Roman, as well as Chinese myths.). My youngest is interested in Chemistry and computer programming. So I'll be offering all these classes at our co-ops (each co-op has 4-5 class periods).

Furthermore, my kids are not allowed to watch tv or play video games between the hours of 10 and 3. They also have to earn enough Behavior Bucks to rent each item from us. You can read more about our Behavior Bucks System as well.

Step 1: Subject Options: How do I make my subject lists? 

 I've made a 3 ring binder that has all the scope & sequences for every grade k-12. I separate it by subject instead of grade. So Language Arts, Foreign Language, Math, Science, etc. I use these as my bible, so to speak. I make subject lists based on what we haven't yet covered. When we cover something unexpected, then I'll go back and highlight it so I know we've covered it. For instance, last year the kids found an unhatched goose egg, and they spent a week researching goose reproduction and farming. One of the joys of child-led learning is that the kids can choose to follow those educational rabbit holes! But for the bulk of our education I will make up reading lists, and subject lists. So, it might be that they've done all the subjects for science for several grades (solar system, basic machines, etc), so I can easily sip ahead to whatever grades they haven't yer done. When doing this first foray into determining the kids interests I usually pick 2-3 grades of topics. Then I write out the subjects - DNA, Reproduction, Environmentalism, etc. Just keeping it general. So even though the scope & sequences get pretty specific, I keep things general at this stage.

Step 2: Materials: How do I find them?

Once they've chosen - poetry, let's say - I'll then delve into finding multiple sources of materials - books, websites, pod casts, videos, games, etc. The children then get to choose which material they would like to try. Again I refer back to the scope & sequences. Not that I care so much if the kids are doing every step for a certain grade, but just as a reference or guide for the type of materials I need to look for. Google Search is one of my favorite resources, as is Pintrest. I can find tons of materials ideas from there. I usually search for free materials. We can't afford to pay for much in the way of paid curriculum. And I've rarely found the need for it. This semester we will be trying something a little different. Since I will be teaching once per week at a high-school level co-op the kids will need to have easily carried curriculum they can bring to keep them busy. So the kids will be doing time4learning as well as StudiesWeekly. Studies Weekly is a weekly newspaper - we got it for social studies and science - 2 subjects a little weak in T4L in my opinion. So the children will have actual curriculum. This means they won't be choosing as much material based curriculum as usual.

Once I gather the various materials, the kids choose which ones to use. Sometimes, they end up hating the type of material. This just means they go back to the list of materials and choose something else. Since it's all their own choice there is a lot less arguments or dragging of feet.

Step 3: Scheduling: Does it really exist???

Yeah, this is the age old question for the homeschooler. Scheduling can be a serious source of anxiety for us teachers. The thing is, schedules are for my own piece of mind. The kids usually do everything possible to ruin and carefully outlined schedule I put together. But with an eldest on the Autism Spectrum, we need some kind of schedule we can stick to. So, while I'd love to have a schedule broken down minute by minute - like a college schedule, that doesn't seem to work. Ack! Instead, I have a general schedule.

Monday & Friday - Learning Time 10am-3pm (no electronics unless it's for learning) Time4Learning 1 hour, Reading 1 hour, the rest of the time they focus on whatever subjects chosen in steps 1 & 2.

Tuesday - Co-op

Wednesday - mom teaches, so they do time4learning, Brain Pop, & studies weekly

Thursday - we do grocery shopping w/ my father so we don't do a lot of school work, just time4learning & Brain Pop & light reading.

Weekends - they usually do about 1 hour of learning per day, usually their favorite subjects. (like the computer programming)

Step 4: Progression, Testing? Judgement??

The only tests my kids have ever done are the quizzes on time4learning and brain pop. Otherwise we don't finish a subject until the kids are able to grasp it. This is called 'mastery' - once they can converse intelligently about a subject then we can choose to move on. There's no need for a test since, essentially, they'd get all A's. If they would have failed a test then that would mean they hadn't yet mastered the subject, so we'd still be working on it...understand? Tests are more for the teachers to judge if all the kids in the room are on the same page. Since we work one-on-one it's redundant. Conversely, my kids look on in confusion when asked what grade they are in. We don't fit into those kind of pre-conceived boxes. For instance, my 12 & 9 y/o's have already finished high school Latin. My 12 y/o is doing high school level algebra & geometry this year (he loves math & science). Both kids are doing chemistry...which isn't an elementary school level subject. But they are both on par with their public school peers for reading, writing, language arts, and social studies. I don't plan on them ever having to go to public school, so this haphazard style is ok. If I ever planned on public school, then I might want a curriculum style that fit more like theirs.

When my kids master a subject, they go back to the list and choose another. Sometimes this means going through up to 3 grade levels a year in one subject. As long as the kids are mastering the subject and loving it, then I don't slow them down with tons of review or repetition. I will have a lot of conversations though where we discuss how we learned such-n-such and how that might help us on this next endeavor.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Starting back...

Ok I'm starting back to blogging after taking some months off. We've been busy, but sometimes it seems like I shouldn't blog, since in our house LIFE is a learning experience!

Today: we had grocery shopping this morning. The boys had been saving up $$ to purchase the new Luigi 3DS game and finally had enough, so we stopped by Walmart and the kid got to purchase the game.

For school just now, the kids are doing time4learning, brainpop, apps and our usually Unschooling stuff. I meet with my vascular surgeon tomorrow to find the status of my vascular condition.

So, today the kids did one of each subject on t4l, 1 brain pop video, and we watched Conspirator and discussed all the wrong done to Mrs. Surratt.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I hate AT&T

So, I've had the same email addy for about 10 years. Over that time I've signed up for numerous newsletter, info rings, not to mention my extensive contact list. Nor all the Homeschool Back-ups, c-drive back-ups, etc i had on there. Well, totally w/o my concent, (a free acct through AT&T) DELETED MY ACCT! O. M. G. I'm having heart palpitations! Grrr.....going to switch to google now....

Monday, March 18, 2013

March Gifts

My baby has turned 9, how depressing! I can't believe he has grown so fast! I'm so proud of the little man he has become. He is strong willed which can lead him into a little bit of trouble, but I think it will help him later in life.

I've been complaining to my father for a few months that the boys computer no longer worked for their school work. It was really, REALLY, old and outdated. So it would just cycle and buffer and never let them log into anything. So it was really frustrating when trying to have 2 boys do computer based learning. We have the laptop and the ipad - but the ipad wouldn't do any of their school websites (time4learning, reading eggs, etc) because they are Adobe Flash based. Which was sooooo irritating. So last fall, I had gotten the boys a Kindle Fire - boy was I ticked when I turned it on and it updated....and no longer supported Adobe Flash!! Grrrr. Any Android based tablet no longer supports AF either. So we were stuck with 2 kids using 1 laptop. Which meant having one child doing school work and the other putzing around for a couple of hours, then they'd switch. Which meant distractions for the one trying to do school work, and it meant schooling lasted all day. This lead to many arguments. Anywho, I've been complaining about it to my dad for a while - that we needed a 2nd computer. He shows up on X-man's birthday with a gift, saying ti was a gift for the whole family since it was too expensive to be for only one child.

My kids were stoked when they opened a Galaxy Tab 2. I was bummed. The last thing we needed was another tablet! LOL. But my father said he had asked Best Buy to be sure the kids could do their school websites and he was told they could. So I spent HOURS setting up the tablet. It simply wouldn't recognize our WiFi, I had to use my hotspot (which I have limited data each month). And when I finally got it set-up  I realized it wouldn't work for their websites as it too was an android based OS. So I got the receipt from my dad and we all headed for Best Buy. I was ecstatic to realize they had a huge clearance sale going on notebook computers (as they are making ready for all the Windows 8 systems). I was able to get the boys an Acer ChromeBook. Essentially it's a mini-laptop, that runs on a Google Chrome operating system - so it doesn't have programs, per se. Instead it's like a computer that runs simply as an internet interface. Using Google Chrome. But Chrome has tons of apps (much like the Kindle or Ipad) so we have writing programs, spread sheets, etc. AND we have Adobe Flash! YAY!!

We got through all the kids school work in only 2.5 hours today! Nary an argument in sight!
Man, I love technology!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Making life interesting!

I can never seem to stop complicating my life! Lol. Since I am limited in my physical movements - with my vascular disease, I'm always looking for things I can do while remaining in a reclined position. When I was a little girl, I learned needlepoint from my great-grandmother. I will never forget my first craft - a French knot outline of a kitten. I'm sure it wasn't perfect, but my great-grandmother kept it until she passed away. This past Christmas I was playing around with ideas for gifts. We've always made our gifts. I came upon the idea of making doilies. I had never done such small crochet knot work. In fact, I had always preferred knit because when working crochet I always seemed to twist the string of knots. But I learned that with doilies you're almost always working in the round, which prevents twisting. So I gave it a try. My first doily was a nightmare, it took hours and hours to make the smallest round. But I quickly caught on after a couple of days. Now I'm hooked! (Get it? Crochet, hooked? Lol!)

My doilies were such a hit, that I received several commissions. I guess everyone loved that I would make doilies in whatever color the client wanted. So I'm busy crocheting my little fingers off making doilies. Since Christmas I've made about 6. The one I'm working on now is so cute. It has 13 butterflies around the border. I'm so excited, and exhausted! Lol