Wednesday, January 31, 2007

time for an elephant?

Here's a pic from earlier in the week, kids still in their jammies playing with a lego set.

When Jacob was just a little dude, before we started working with RDI and unlocked his inner communicator, there wasn't much he said that wasn't completely scripted. Mostly lines from Kipper (yes, WITH a British accent, don't think that didn't fool a few people!), Blues Clues, or Finding Nemo. What wasn't scripted was generally held to one or two word demands. Like "want cookie".

So imagine my surprise the day, while riding in the car on our way to the pre-K class we had recently begun with him, he suddenly out of the blue said, thoughtfully, "Mommy, time for an elephant?" I nearly drove off the road. I adjusted my mirror to look in his face, and said "What?! Jacob, what did you say?" Calmly he repeated "Time for an elephant?" I slowly pulled the car off the road so I could turn around completely in my seat. He was absently kicking a foot, playing with a snap on his jacket. "What was that again?" I asked one more time. He met my eyes and said, again, "Time for an elephant?" I'd heard him right, but I had NO idea what it meant, what my expected response was, where this bizarre question had come from. I muttered "I don't know what that means" as I turned around and went back to driving.

The next day, in the same exact location, his voice piped up from the back seat. "Mommy, time for an elephant?" The effect was equally flooring to me. As I sat there silently contemplating this as I drove, he repeated "Time for an elephant?" Realizing he was waiting for a response, I said "I don't know what that means." He seemed satisfied with that answer.

It happened again, the following day, and every day after that, on our way to school, in that same exact spot. It happened when he was with The Map Man at that same spot. We kept responding with "I don't know what that means", said with a bit of an exaggerated voice which had started eliciting giggles from him. He started giggling before he even said it, knowing that it now was a big joke. Sometimes we added another question "Jacob, time for a tiger?" to which he'd giggle and respond "I don't know what that means." He also started varying it -- it always started with the Elephant, but sometimes the 2nd time around he'd say "Mommy, time for a Monkey?" to which I'd respond "Honey, it's ALWAYS time for a monkey." This went on for the better part of a year. Once we started RDI, The Map Man and I dreamed of the day that Jacob's communication skills would be advanced enough to be able to ask what it meant -- and why in that particular location?

The elephant has since been long forgotten, but we drove past the location the other day, jogging my memory about it. I looked in the rear-view mirror and said "Jacob?" "Yeah?" he responded. "Time for an elephant?" I asked, with the same inquisitive tone he'd used. His eyebrows went up, and he laughed and said "WHAT??" like I'd flipped my lid. I repeated the question. He laughed a nervous my-mom-has-completely-lost-it-and-I'm-trapped-in-the-car-with-her kind of laugh and said, sincerely, "I don't know what that means."

Nor will we ever, apparently.

books, week of Jan 28

Tea anyone?

Here's what we've been reading this week:

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. A nice introduction to my favorite poet, just a line or two per page, with lovely pencil drawings full of life and detail, and just a splash of color here and there. I can't think of a nicer book for a winter's night.

The Hat, by Jan Brett. Another hit by my favorite children's Author/Illustrator! A girl's woolens hung to "air out" before winter slowly dissappear as various animals attempt to copy a wayward hedgehog. Absolutely endearing text and pictures, with her usual amazing ability to tell several sides of the same story at once. A real hit around here, our favorite book of the week.

The Eyes of Gray Wolf, by Jonathan London, illustrated by Jon van Zyle. I really like London's books -- realistic without being gruesome, and he always chooses just the right illustrator. But these books are perhaps a little TOO realistic for my crew, books with more whimsy and fantasy seem to hold my kids' interest for longer periods of time. The boys loved this book the first day, but interest began waning after that, while The Hat continues to be a favorite. We'll read it again tonight, but if it meets with an equally luke warm reception tonight, I may replace it with another book for the remainder of the week. With both the full moon and Groundhog's day on Friday, and a potential snowstorm brewing, there are plenty of other good selections available.

Monday, January 29, 2007

animals animals animals

I decided to try out another approach to our day today. Rather than picking out a theme for this week's activities (mostly because I hadn't decided on one -- I've been rolling along with a general winter theme for a couple of weeks), I decided to just "go" with what the kids were doing, and see where that took us (which, in homeschooling terms, would be considered a more child-led, or "organic", approach).

They started their day, as every day, with creative free-play. And here's a photo of what they chose to do during that time. They pulled out a set of African animals and played out various scenes with them for about an hour. Much of their play was around a familiar theme over the past year or so (however long it's been that Jacob's actually willingly participated in pretend play with his brother): the animals interacting in families, babies seeking out their parents, young ones growing up, etc. Today, however, the play shifted a bit after the family themes to be a hunting theme -- instead of the kids playing the parts of the animals and giving them voice, they became hunters on the African plains, and the animals became their prey. Interesting twist, and something new for Jacob (although Zoo Boy has been playing the role of The Great White Hunter since last summer). Usually anything to do with killing or otherwise injuring anything is highly resisted by Jacob. Anyway, by the time breakfast time arrived, they had already experienced quite the adventure whilst on safari.

As I was preparing their breakfasts, Jacob trotted off to him room and retrieved his current issue of My Big Backyard (a magazine put out by The National Wildlife Society for kids his age), which just happened to be about African animals (at least in part). He read selections from it to Zoo Boy while they ate, and both of them sang a song about an Elephant Shrew (set to the music from "Winnie The Pooh"), and pretended to make animal snouts from the directions in the magazine. (If we'd had time for our small-motor activity this afternoon, I would have dug up the materials needed and we could have sat down and made them -- maybe later in the week if we're still working on an animal theme.)

After breakfast, I had to run to the barn to check on the sheep (we're very close to lambing time, we need to make frequent checks to be sure there aren't any wet lambs turning into lambsicles in the frigid temperatures). Zoo Boy dug out a video entitled "A Trip To The San Diego Zoo" from our collection of videos, and asked if they could watch that while I was in the barn. I popped it in for them (happy to know that they'd be occupied if I got hung up with a lambing problem and couldn't come right back in) then ran down to the barn, where there was no action. As I came back in, I could hear the boys engrossed in a play scenario where they were pretending to be IN the video, visiting the zoo in person. I grabbed a shower and took care of some laundry so as not to interupt them.

When the video ended, I produced a handful of animal flashcards and said that for our exercise time today, we were going to take turns drawing a card, and then we'd all move like the animal that was drawn. I had pre-arranged the cards so that we got a variety of movements for a well-rounded workout and plenty of beneficial OT work. First we were hawks, soaring through the living room, down the hall, over the beds, and back into the living room with our arms spread, banking too and fro. Then we were polar bears, lumbering along on all fours along a similar route that the hawks followed, although the smaller polar bears (as in, the boys, not me) wound up slipping into a pool of ice water (the ball pit) and swimming around trying to catch seals. Next we were frogs, jumping on all fours along the same path, winding up jumping into the "pond" (ball pit again). Next were hermit crabs, crab-walking the route, and hoisting large exercise balls onto our backs as our "shells". When we were elephants, we stomped along with our arm-trunks swinging too and fro, and gave ourselves a ball-bath at the "waterhole" (that ball pit sure comes in handy....) at the end. We had a hopping good time as kangaroos. And we climbed over and under and through everything we could find as spiders, spinning webs and catching flies. As jellyfish, we wiggled and jiggled and giggled our way through the house, and finally as knuckle-walking gorillas, we pretended to eat bananas, snuggled in our tree house, and thoroughly made monkeys out of ourselves. This activity even managed to captivate Zoo Boy, which isn't easy to do. He usually immediately rejects anything smacking of organization, and he tends to wear out long before the end of anything resembling exercise (if we can manage to get him engaged with it at all). But he stuck right there with us for this entire activity, even taking the lead on a few of the animal variations.

Then we had to run out to our OT appointment -- the office is an hour away and we had to run a few errands afterwards, so we were gone for a 4 hour chunk in the middle of the day. For my afternoon trip to the barn, on arriving home, Zoo Boy requested Blue's Safari (a Blues Clues episode featuring -- da da dum! -- African animals! Imagine that! We definitely had a strong theme going!). For our focused RDI time, we played a game of Hedge Harvest (suburban animals foraging for food), and currently the kids are involved in a game of go-fish with animal cards. Tonight for Family Story Time, I'll add "The Eyes of Gray Wolf" by Jonathan London to our other selections for the week (I'll give a run-down of all 3 later in the week), and will finish off the bedtime routine with an animal related video.

Not only did it seem neat that everything fit together around our day's theme, but we had one of the most regulated, natural-feeling rhythms going that we'd had in a long time (since some of the stronger themes we worked with in the fall, where our days were based around apples or pumpkins or autumn leaves). I'm thinking that keeping broad themes available and then working child-selected themes into the fabric of our homeschooling is going to produce the best results for us, all interwoven with our Enki rhythms and educational philosophy.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

hedge harvest game

This game was a real find -- Jacob's Aunt found it for him, despite the fact that she has no training in RDI whatsoever. But she couldn't have made a better RDI choice! The game is the Over the Hedge Hedge Harvest game, put out by Sababa Games (yeah, I never heard of them either) and Dreamworks Productions. It is labeled for ages 5 and up, although Zoo Boy seems to have no trouble playing it at nearly 4 years.

Unlike standard board games, where players move along a track towards an end goal (which in and of itself can be good for productive uncertainty -- who knows what that roll of the die or spin of the spinner will bring), this game has several interconnected loops of track, and with each turn the player has several choices as to which way to move his player. The goal is to collect one each of 7 different food tokens, which can be received by landing on a food item space, or as a result of a lucky draw of a "treasure trove" card, which are drawn when landing on numerous "treasure trove" spaces.

Let me tell you all the ways this benefits Jacob's RDI program. You might be surprised!

1. There are many opportunities for Stage 1 (emotion sharing) and Stage 2 (referncing) skills to be practiced via playing with other family members (and, eventually we anticipate, friends). This is true of any game.

2. As with many games, the players take turns -- Jacob has to both wait for his turn before playing and pay enough attention to the game at large to know when it's his turn (good Stage 6 co-regulation work).

3. Productive uncertainty in massive doses -- you roll the die when it's your turn, so you never know which number you're going to roll. And then when you land on a "treasure trove" space and select a card, you don't know what it might say. Some are good, some are bad, some provide more chances for productive uncertainty by making you move a certain number of spaces in a certain direction (where will you land?) or by having to roll the die and try to get a certain number in order to win a food token. This is the part of the game that Jacob likes the best -- the uncertainty of what might be in the "treasure trove". (My gosh, we've come a long way with our remediation program, for me to say that the uncertainty is the best part for him!!)

4. Appraisal work -- this is the best board game I've come across so far for working on Appraisal. When you roll the die, you have to examine (count out) all the possible results from moving in each direction, then make a decision based on all the possibilities as to which is the best move to make. So not only are there choices to be made, but also consequences for making those choices (depending on where you land). Sometimes it's an obvious/easy choice (a lose a turn space in one direction, a food token in the other), but most of the time the choices are more subtle (a blank space in either direction, but getting closer to different food tokens in each direction). Even those treasure trove cards provide a chance for using appraisal to assess the situation -- if you are told you can select any food token, you need to decide which one -- will it be the one furthest from your "home" (sometimes you are sent back to your home, so it's often easy to get the closest token), or the one furthest from where you are now, or the one that isn't on the same path as the rest of the ones you need? Sometimes you're told to give or take a food token from another player, so you have to decide which one will be easier for you to get again, or which one will be hardest for the other player to get.

5. General uncertainty of when the game will end. This game can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours to play, all depending on the luck of the draw of those treasure trove cards. Sometimes it just goes on for so long that you all have to decide on a "good enough" stopping point, and whoever has the most food tokens wins. More great RDI work!

We do a lot of spotlighting of appraisal with this game, and we scaffold it so that Jacob can more easily "see" and understand his choices. Sometimes he chooses poorly (deciding to draw a treasure trove card -- where he winds up losing a token this time -- instead of landing on a token space and assuring himself of a token), and we spotlight the consequence of making that choice. This works on one of our Stage 7 RDI objectives: "Connect decisions with their consequences". We also demonstrate another objective, "Practice self narration and self evaluation of current actions" by talking our way through our own thought processes as we play, and then narrating his choices for him as we walk him through the appraisal process after his roll of the die. We'll know we're having success when he starts saying things like "I'm going to go this way, because then I'll get a treasure trove card". We're not there yet. But we will be someday soon!

Friday, January 26, 2007

small motor and books for this week

The boys worked with a marble and block run set this week during the "small motor skills" part of our daily rhythms. Here's a photo of them in the midst of the creative process. They also did some play with playdoh on another day, and then drawing/coloring with block crayons on another.

In books this week, we've been reading the following during our Family Story Time each evening:

It's Winter, by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Susan Swan. This is part of a series, one for each season, by this author and illustrator team, and it's as good as the It's Fall book we enjoyed during that season. The verse is simple yet engaging, and the cut-paper "sculptured" illustrations draw you right into the scene. The kids love this book, and can relate to it now that we've got snow on the ground. (I've had this book for awhile, but wanted to wait to use it until it actually looked and felt like winter around here!)

Winter Days in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Renee Graef. Another in the My First Little House Books series, this story tells about the Ingalls family (from Laura's perspective) as they prepare for winter, and the indoor activities that fill their winter days, from household chores, to pretend play and paper dolls and stories on Pa's lap. This entire series is a BIG hit with the kids, particularly Jacob, who I think has a crush on Laura....

Trouble with Trolls, by Jan Brett. I LOVE Jan Brett, she's definitely my favorite kids' author and illustrator. Her stories are imagination-inspiring, and her beautiful, detailed illustrations are SO involved, with side-stories always happening beneath and around the main theme. I can't say enough good things about her. In this tale, Treva meets a family of greedy trolls who try to steal her dog, and she repeatedly has to use her wit to save her dog from them. Just enough imagery and peril to inspire my kids' imagination and excitement without losing or scaring them. Great book!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

fishin' for favorites

Here's a photo of an activity I came up with to help us work on a couple of our current RDI objectives we're working on, "Catalog personal preferences in relative degrees" and "Catalog likes and dislikes of family members".

I clipped a paper clip onto each of a set of 20 index cards with categories, such as "movie", "book", "food". Then I distributed the cards, face down, in the ball pit. We each got on our "moon bounce" toys (for a little OT work while we were at it -- I often combine RDI and OT, because they combine so nicely!) and bounced around the outside of the ball pit until we got into a position we wanted to "fish" from (changing position with each turn). We then used a magnetic fishing pole (part of a magnetic fishing puzzle set) to "fish" out the cards, each taking a turn. After retreiving a card, the person who "caught" it reads the category, then tells his/her favorite thing from that category, then passes the pole on to the next person for them to have a turn.

This works on our first objective, because Jacob has to select his FAVORITE item from the category. (This builds on the work we've done previously, just listing items he likes from these types of categories.) It works on our second category as he gets a chance to hear what other family members' preferences are.

Although for the past year and a half I've been focused almost entirely on RDI lifestyle, with this set of objectives I'm working on (the "new" Stage 7) , I've decided to block out a half hour or so of each day to work on our objectives in a focused manner, through games and activities that I set up to target our objectives. This doesn't mean that we don't still practice RDI lifestyle all day long. MUCH of our day is spent giving Jacob the opportunity to practice making choices in real-life situations, and allowing him to listen to OUR reasons for making choices.

For instance, I'll announce that we need to go to the grocery store, and then as we're pulling out of our driveway, I'll say "I think we'll go to the Big Y today, because it's the closest grocery store and we need to get home in time for music class", or "Today we'll shop at the Stop and Shop, because we need the crackers you like, and that's the only store that carries them." What I'm spotlighting here is my system of Appraisal -- the thing that I'm finding important at that moment that I'm basing my decisions on. "I'm getting chocolate icecream, because chocolate is my favorite flavor."

Initially we just provided lots and lots of choices without consequenses for Jacob "which color shirt to wear?", "blue cup or yellow cup for your orange juice?", "shall we turn left or stay on the trail we're on?". Now we're upping the ante, so to speak -- we're giving him choices to make that require some thinking and have consequences. "Do you want to go to the sometown playground, which is closer so we can play longer, or the othertown playground, which is further away but has that slide you like?"

Self Awareness and Appraisal are our big goals for the coming year. Along with that, I think his Theory of Mind will begin developing, and the ability to think conceptually. Like I've said before, it's going to be a big year for us!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

stop junk mail, save the planet

I encourage you all to go here: and take 5 minutes out of your life to follow their simple steps to reducing your volume of junk mail. This will save trees, reduce waste, and help ensure more tomorrows for our children and our planet.

If that's too much to ask, then please at least remember that all junk mail can be recycled -- please don't throw it in the trash.

tooth ordeal, volume 3

Jacob had the first of his two cavities filled today. We of course had already decided to go with the composite, although it DEFINITELY made it much more of an ordeal for him than it would have with the amalgam. (Still and all, I'd rather preserve his overall health than save him a bit of short-term trauma, so I'm still very happy with our decision on this.) He had to have 3 rounds of grinding/polishing that he wouldn't have had to have with amalgam (the dentist would have just drilled, and stuffed the amalgam in there).

As I've mentioned previously, this is a pediatric practice, with a dentist that has an actual Autism protocol for dealing with Autistic patients. They've build up his trust over a series of visits, as well as introducing him to all the equiptment they might possibly have to use on him. He LOVES these people, and we're always sure to arrange appointments so that the same Hygienist is working on him as well as his "friend" the dentist. This dentist happens to have an adult son who is Autistic, so his mannerism with Jacob is the sort he only gets from parents of other Spectrum kids -- pretty much 100% appropriate, and never taking Jacob's good mood at the moment as an indication of him being able to handle things in the same way a neuro-typical kid would. He always assumes that the least little thing might set Jacob off, so he does a lot of pro-active work to prepare him for each thing, and has back-up plans on what to do if things go awry.

That might make it easier for folks to understand why I trust these folks completely, and willingly go along with their request that I do NOT accompany Jacob back into their work area. (Of course, I did, at their request, the first couple of visits until Jacob learned to trust them.) I can hear everything going on, and can peek around the corner when I feel I need to, but I'm out of Jacob's vision for the entire thing. I know that they are experts with this sort of thing, so I happily leave it in their capable hands. It's always worked well for Jacob before, and it seemed to work well this time too. I really think if I was there, he'd be trying to crawl out of that chair for me to "rescue" him.

This dentist is also a big believer in NOT using anesthesia in the office. He doesn't take chances with kids' lives, and I 100% support that. So many people have reccommended that I find a dentist that uses laughing gas, but for the same reason I don't want mercury in his teeth, I don't want drugs in his lungs/brain. Of course I agreed to novacaine, but I was very happy that he was insistant on do this without giving Jacob anything stronger. (This is also the reason I so seriously considered his offer to put in amalgam fillings -- he wouldn't have reccommended this if he wasn't so sure that it was a viable option for reducing Jacob's trauma.)

Here's the details on how the visit went:

We walked in at our appointment time (actually, Jacob SKIPPED in), and Jacob sat in a chair waiting to go see his friends, more interested in interacting with them than in playing with the toys. (WOW, how far we've come with EVERYTHING!) When his Hygienist appeared, he squealed with glee and dashed over to take her hand and have her lead him into the back. (That made my heart skip a beat, actually, knowing what was to come....I'm guessing he won't be that happy to see her next time.) I could hear them making chit chat with him as they got him situated at the work station. Before they got started, the dentist paid me a quick visit to confirm what was going to happen with me, and commented on Jacob's great mood today.

The first thing I heard from the back was the dentist explaining some of the equiptment they were putting on Jacob, and then I heard him say "Jacob, this is going to be a little pinch" as he apparently shot in the novacaine. When I didn't hear any screaming or crying, I sank back in relief in my seat. They chatted quite awhile about various kid type stuff while the novacaine was taking effect. I actually picked up a magazine and started glancing through it.

Then he turned the drill on.

Immediately I could hear sounds of distress coming from Jacob. There was groaning, crying, a little screaming, and a very clear declaration of "that's SCARY!" I could hear the staff reassuring Jacob that all was well and praising him for holding still. I could hear him begging for it to be done. I was half aware of the magazine slipping off my lap onto the floor as I perched on the edge of my seat, waiting to run to my boy's rescue. But in a few minutes, the drilling was done. I could hear lots of praise, Jacob's crying and noises stopped, and in a few minutes his voice returned to normal and resumed chatting with everyone while they prepared the composite material. I released my death-grip on the arms of my chair and sagged back in the seat, heart still pounding. I listened while the dentist explained the stuff he was doing while filling the teeth, the special light used to make it hard, etc. And then he explained that he was going to file it and make it shiny.

Jacob must have seen him pick up the tool again, because I heard the shout "OH NO! NOT THAT AGAIN!" in a panicked tone. The dentist talked him through it, Jacob continued to beg for it all to end. No screaming this time, more of a resigned-to-this-torture type of thing. This was the procedure that we could have avoided with the amalgam. But like I said, even though it pretty much tripled his torture time, I couldn't have lived with myself if I'd let him put mercury in my kid's head. So I just bit my lip and choked back my tears, and busied myself tidying up the magazine rack.

The dentist came out while the staff was cleaning him up, and sang Jacob's praises -- he said that despite his protests and unhappiness with the procedure, Jacob kept his mouth open the entire time, and they didn't need to use the bite block at all. He never tried to climb out of the chair, and the few times he tried moving, he settled back down when they asked him to hold still. He rated it as a completely successful visit. At about that time, Jacob came down the hall and into my arms, then directly to the coat rack where he hurriedly put on his outerwear, blinking back tears, avoiding looking at anyone. I set up another appointment in a few weeks, and they warned me about his cheek being numb for the next hour or so (next time will be worse, as it's a bottom tooth and they'll have to numb his entire jaw on that side). We'll see how successful I am at getting him through those doors again....

Fortunately, while I was making the appointment and Jacob was trying to leave, another little boy and his mom came in. Jacob immediately turned into host, and showed the little boy all the toys in the waiting room. Then he got caught up in playing along with him, so I sank into a chair and let him have some relaxed time, reminding him gently about not chewing on his cheek when it looked like he might be. When the hygienist showed up for the little boy, Jacob introduced her "I'd like you to meet my friend, D.". She thanked Jacob and took the little boy down the hall, and Jacob said he was ready to go home. (Well, back to his grandparent's house, where Zoo Boy was waiting and playing -- they had a great time tossing Jacob's new foam airplane -- his "prize" from the dentist for being so good -- with their Grandpa.)

So, we survived! I'm actually very pleased with how it all went, really best case scenario. I'm pretty worried about getting him in for the next appointment, and I'm REALLY interested to see what he has to say about it to The Map Man when he gets home from work. But I'm less scared about the actual procedure being done again. I think we're both going to live through it.

Monday, January 22, 2007


This evening our dear old feline friend, Clara, passed away. She was a ripe old 24 years old, and had never been sick in all the time she lived with us. I adopted Clara at the age of 16 from a vet I worked for, when her owner brought her in saying that she didn't get along with the family's two new kittens, so they felt that it was "her time" and that she needed to be "put to sleep".

It was true that Clara didn't like other cats, but she adored her private "presidential suite" in our laundry room and brought us much joy in her golden years, always greeting us with a special 'prrow!' and a battery of head rubs and love nibbles.

I took this photo of her this past fall, still looking vibrant at an age that most cats never see. She left the world in the same dignified and peaceful manner we were accustomed to her displaying -- she simply curled up and went to sleep.

Doing laundry will never be the same. Rest well, sweet kitty.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I didn't just forget to post about what we're reading this week. I actually just shirked my general parenting/educating responsibility for a bit. Between the end of last week and the middle of this week, we didn't have much in the way of Family Story Time. In fact, most nights we were lucky to get in even one book at bedtime, and our bedtime routine fell more into a shove-in-a-movie-for-the-kids-while-we-run-around-getting-stuff-done sort of thing, with us both landing back in bed with them in time for lights out.

So, by the time we donned our good-parent Family Story Time hats again, it was last night, and we decided to just go ahead and finish out this week with the same books we read LAST week. Fortunately, the kids are thrilled with that idea, since they loved last weeks books. We DID make one change, though. We replaced "Welcome To The Ice House" with this book:

"Winter: an Alphabet Acrostic" by Steven Schnur, Illustrated by Leslie Evans. If you've been reading my blog right along, or following Jacob's art blog, you'll recognize that as the same format/author/artist that wrote one of our favorite books of the fall season, "Autumn: an Alphabet Acrostic". Well, guess what, they have books for each of the four seasons. It's an alphabetical collection of beautiful Acrostic Poems (a form of poetry that has captivated Jacob ever since his first introduction to it -- the letters from the title of the poem starts the first word in each line of the poem) with a seasonal theme. The linoleum-cut illustrations add the proper home-made feel to the collection. We of course also have the other titles in this series, so you'll definitely see them mentioned in their appropriate seasons. I HIGHLY reccommend these wonderful books.

We finally got some snow here, and it finally seems like winter! Let the wintery stories begin in earnest!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

an enormous nibble

Well, the nibble itself wasn't enormous -- in fact, it was so tiny, I'm not sure he actually tasted what he nibbled. But the fact of the matter is that Jacob actually took a bite of something new today! And for him, that's just ENORMOUS!

He didn't want to. In fact, you'd think I was asking him to take a nice big mouthful of toxic waste from the look on his face when I asked him if he wanted to taste the Sun Chip I was munching on. But I kept after him. And instead of screaming and running for the other room, he started to look a little curious about it. He finally took a chip from me, eyed is suspiciously, then took a crumb from a corner in his teeth and pulled it off. He immediately gave me a look of great disgust, and I launched his water bottle at him so that he could rinse the offensive taste down, and followed up quickly with a couple of M&Ms (which he was simply delighted to receive). I said "see, you did it!" and told him that I was REALLY proud of him trying that Sun Chip. When The Map Man gets home tonight, I'll bring the topic up again, and hopefully it will be with a sense of pride that he shares his big eating adventure with his father. If not, then I guess we just weren't ready for this sort of thing yet. Either way, it was worth a shot.

Maybe by the time I'm ready to systematically deal with the whole eating thing, it'll have already taken care of itself. That's the nice thing about RDI -- it's made me feel so successful, that I actually dare to dream the big dreams.

Monday, January 15, 2007

theory of mind

Here's my football boys, all ready for the big game (divisional playoffs, where our beloved New England Patriots beat the odds and beat the team with the best record this year). Jacob's ultimate football hero is Tom Brady -- kid's got good taste. Zoo Boy just likes to dress the part, he's not particularly into sports.

ANYWAY, what I really want to talk about today is Theory of Mind (TOM). TOM is the understanding a person has that other people have their own thought proccesses that are not directly connected to that person's own thought proccess. This is a developmental thing that comes along as typical kids' brains are doing all the amazing things that typical kids' brains do while they are toddling around. By 3 years of age, Theory of Mind is in place. For a typical child, that is. TOM is often entirely missing for a child with ASD.

There's a quick and easy way to test for TOM. In the presence of the child you're testing plus one other person, you hide an object, then have the other person leave the room. You then, in view of the child, move the object to a different hiding location. Then you ask the child where he/she thinks the other person will think it is. A child with TOM will point to the original hiding spot, realizing that the other person has no idea that we moved the object. A child without TOM will point to the place the object is actually hiding.

I did this test recently with my kids, spurred on by a discussion about TOM on an internet list, and at the suggestion by others who've met Jacob, seen how "well" he's doing, and thought he must have TOM in place now. I knew he didn't, but I figured I'd test it out anyway, in case I wasn't right. So I set it up to test both my kids. I hid a ball under a pillow with both my kids present, sent one out of the room, then moved the ball to under a box, and asked the child watching me where the other would think the ball was. Zoo Boy immediately giggled (getting the trick) and pointed to the pillow. When I did the same test with Jacob, we had different results.

First, we had a bit of a receptive language problem. When I initially asked him where he thought Zoo Boy would think the ball was, he pointed to a totally different location (misinterpreting what I was asking him -- he was picking a new location to hide the ball). So I narrowed his choices down and explained it a bit more simply. He immediately chose the box the ball was now hiding in. No TOM. No surprise to me. Probably a surprise to a lot of folks that see how "well" Jacob is doing these days.

So, why are we still lacking in TOM when he's doing so well with everything else?

Because we haven't addressed it yet, of course. Jacob's Autism is a pretty simple thing -- he didn't have much from the higher RDI stages before we started the program, so it's truly been a step-by-step process for him. A lot of kids aren't like that -- the Aspergery-type kids often have quite a bit of stuff "going on" up in their heads, and their ASD deficits are more like holes in their development, rather than the "blank slate" my kid is. The stage work we've focused on up to this point in our RDI program has helped Jacob out with his social development and communication ability. But we've only just started to scratch the surface of TOM.

Which is why I think this next year is going to be the most exciting for us so far. We're going to be addressing those things that no only help Jacob to LOOK and ACT more like a typical kid (which have been our focus up to this point, and successfully so, there aren't many folks out there that would guess he's got Autism), but now we're focusing on the things that will help him THINK more like a typical kid. I have no doubt that by this time next year, Jacob will "get" the ball hiding game and will have the TOM to realize that Zoo Boy has no way of knowing that we moved the ball.

It's going to be a GREAT year!

Friday, January 12, 2007

our first Stage 7 objective

So, we began our Stage 7 adventure today. And I'm going to drag you all through the entire thing (lucky you!), so you won't miss a moment of it.

Stage 7: Self-Awareness -- Learning to evaluate your impact on others.

Here's how our first objective reads:

"Catalog personal preferences in relative degrees"

To work on this, this morning I created a game for the kids and I to play together. We started by taking a stack of index cards, and took turns writing down things that we each like to eat. (In the photo, you see Jacob eating his favorite thing, Cheese and Crackers.) This activity served as a review of some previous objectives we worked on -- making choices (Jacob chose which color marker to use each time it was his turn) and generating a list of preferences. Happy to say, Jacob was able to complete this pretty fluidly (and even was able to write down his own answers, a little bonus handwriting work that I wasn't even trying for!). Next, I produced a set of cards with the following categories written on them: "I like it", "I really like it", "It's my favorite", "I don't like it" and "I really don't like it". I also added cartoon faces to depict what we might look like to show the emotion behind liking, really liking, disliking, etc. (Degrees of change in emotion is also a previous objective.)

I set the preference cards out next to each other, then shuffled all of our food cards together. Then we each took turns drawing a card, and placing it under the right category for us. Spotlighting was acheived by making the emotion face at each other after placing the card under that category.

We played the game this way twice, then moved on to other things.

This afternoon, I pulled out a set of blocks, and the kids and I took turns adding blocks onto a building, with an empahsis on each of us having our own ideas. After completing a couple different structures (working also on when it was "done" enough before knocking it down and moving on to the next), the kids played with the blocks (a chance to work on independent creativity) while I got some cleaning done. I posted one of Jacob's block creations this evening.

After dinner, I pulled the card game out again, only this time I had another set of cards already prepared. I set out the preference cards as before, and we each took turns drawing our new cards. This time there were locations written on them -- some that I know the kids love, like the playground, their grandparents' house, McDonalds, and some that I know they really don't like, like the Doctor, the Dentist, as well as others that fall somewhere in-between. We played the same way as before, with us putting our cards under the right categories based on our preferences. We played the game twice this way, then added a twist.

In a first peek at our 2nd objective, "Catalog likes and dislikes of family members", I had Jacob and Zoo Boy draw cards for EACH OTHER and place them where they thought they should go based on the other's preferences. That was decidedly more difficult for both boys, but especially for Jacob. (Zoo Boy caught on pretty quickly.) Jacob got pretty upset when Zoo Boy guessed wrong about something (although I suspect that Zoo Boy did it on purpose to get a rise out of his brother -- ah, the joys of a non-autistic sibling!). I provided each boy with the opportunity to correct what the other guessed so that nobody was stuck feeling like they had to "really like" something they didn't like. However, when Jacob insisted that having his hair cut (traditionally one of our bigger challenges with him) was his "favorite thing", and that having his hair washed (most assuredly one of the things he hates the most in this world, somewhere on the scale of hatred between having blood drawn and entering a crowded noisy room) was something he liked, I became pretty uncertain that this was working the way I'd hoped it would. As with all activities I set up to work on RDI, I made a video tape of it, so I can send that segment off to my consultant to see what she thinks is going on and what I should do about it.

The good news is that Jacob isn't having much problem coming up with answers in these types of situations. The problem is, I'm not sure they are really HIS answers, and not just what he thinks I want him to say. Which raises the question, does he even understand that he has preferences? (I certainly know what they are based on his reaction to things!) And if not, how do we go about flipping that switch to the "on" position? Because, truly, without that, we're going to be spinning our wheels with this stage.

refocusing on RDI

Over the course of the last several weeks I've decided that I need to start focusing my time and efforts back on RDI again. Not that I've NOT been doing RDI -- it pretty much permeates everything we do and every aspect of our lives -- but I've been taking a real go-with-the-flow approach to it for the past 6 months or so. Part of the reason is because, after about 8 months of really focusing on Stage 4, I needed to take things at a little slower pace, just for my own sanity. Part of it was because we needed to focus on other things. And part was because time itself was taking care of the next couple of stages for me.

Stage 4 was a REALLY huge one for us, turning The World's Most Rigid Boy into Mr. Flexible. It was a major effort, it took a lot of work and committment. You definitely need a mental vacation after something that enormous.

One of the obstacles we met with during the course of struggling with Stage 4 was Sensory problems due to Jacob's significant Sensory Processing Disorder. So thing had to come to screeching halt while we addressed these problems via Sensory Integration Therapy with a wonderful Occupational Therapist trained in that specialization. Once we started removing some of those roadblocks, we made some pretty rapid progress with the areas of RDI we'd been stuck in. And because Jacob was making such fabulous progress with SIT, we kept that as a priorty for the entire summer and early fall. Once that seemed pretty much under control (we're still working on it, but it's a solid, established part of our lives now, not something we have to put a lot of conscious thought into anymore), we jumped into the homeschooling thing to lay out our plan for the next year or so in that area. We ordered the Enki Education Kindergarten Curriculum, and my focus for the last several months has been reading through the Foundation Guides and getting a good understanding of the Enki methodology and philosophy, and incorporating those components that I wanted to use right now.

And the most amazing thing was happening -- even though I wasn't doing any focused RDI work, we were mastering stages anyway. Stage 5 was sort of a "gimme" because we had already done most of the work during Stage 4, we just needed to make sure the pieces were all in place. And Stage 6 just developed on the playground, during playdates, and during our daily interactions at home, without much specific attention being paid to it. In fact, if someone asked me how to set up a Stage 6 activity, I'm not sure I could be of much help.

Which has landed us squarely at the start of Stage 7. And as I look over the "new" objectives that our Consultant sent us (the part of Stage 7 that now addresses Self Awareness), I realize that this is going to be a lot of work again. The sort of work that requires me to concentrate and pick activities to target the objectives. Because, really, Jacob doesn't have much in the way of Self Awareness. Even simple things, like knowing his preferences, are difficult (if even possible) for him, never mind understanding how his actions impact others. We've got our work cut out for us on this stage.

So it's time to let our Enki rhythms sustain us, let our SIT work flow along as it has been, and put our heads down and slog back into RDI. By the time I'm ready to shift my focus back onto something else, we should be much further along the road to true Autism Remediation.

creativity and education -- Sir Ken Robinson

You have just simply GOT to go to this link and watch this 15-or-so minute, highly entertaining and eloquent clip about creativity and how the current educational system is killing it in this generation of children:

rest time

I'm not sure if you can read the Jacob-designed sign in the picture, propped outside his door. It was one he made today during our rest time, and cracked his door open to place it outside. It reads "Naptime Do Not Disterb" (the spelling error is his, not mine).

One of the elements that we'd been having trouble incorporating from the suggested Enki Education daily rhythms was the idea of a rest/quiet time. I LIKED the idea well enough -- heck, time to lie down and relax and even, dare I say it, NAP, every day sure sounded heavenly to me! But despite the fact that I'm constantly tweaking and messing around with our daily rhythms, I was having trouble being HOME to have a rest time at some reasonable point after lunch. And both of my boys had dropped napping on any sort of a regular basis a full year ago.

I finally decided to just give it a try and see what happened. So at the beginning of last week, I took the kids right home after lunch and told them that we were going to have a rest time. They both pounced on the idea like I was offering them a bag of candy. Jacob immediately scurried off to his room, shut the door, and lept into bed. Zoo Boy led me by the hand to our bed (he still sleeps with us at night) and snuggled in with me beneath the duvet. 20 minutes later, he sprung back up to announce that he was done resting -- Jacob heard him and called from the other room that he, too, was done resting. Well, I WASN'T done resting, but didn't want to throw a monkey wrench into the postive, restful experience we'd just had, so I told them we'd stay under the covers (Jacob would join us in our bed) and they could watch a short video. I popped in a Between The Lions episode and went back to sleep for another blissful 20 minutes.

I immediately noticed a difference in our afternoon. Instead of a steady ramping-up of energy and the inevitable flaring-up of tempers, everything stayed on a more even keel. There was more cooporation, less bickering (not that they bicker all that much anyway, but still....), and when bedtime rolled around, everyone settled in quickly instead of having to toss a lasso around them and drag them to bed, hogtie them to the pillows, and sit on them to get them to hold still for the reading of the first book.

It worked so nicely, I tried it again the next day, coming directly home from our morning activity and lunch to jump into bed for rest time. We had pretty much the exact duplicate of the day before. Hot dang, I thought, this was a GOOD THING.

Of course, then I was unable to be home anywhere near mid-day for the next two days. I was tired. I wanted my nap! The afternoon and evening returned to escalating chaos. I started chatting with a couple other Enki families, and lo and behold, discovered that they too were unable to get in their rest period at mid-day. Instead -- and here's that innovative thinking out of the box that I seem to be missing a gene for -- they did their rest time in the mid to late afternoon. Well, heck, I get home at SOME point during the afternoon, even on days when we've got a bunch of stuff going on. I could DO that!

So I started tacking that rest time on whenever we got home from our morning ventures, even if it wasn't 'til late afternoon. And you know what? It's working for us! The kids are not only cooperative, but actually seem to enjoy that break, that time to refresh. Jacob usually climbs into his bed and reads or draws on his magnadoodle. Zoo Boy usually grabs a small toy to bring to bed with us, and either closes his eyes and truly rests, or plays quietly under the covers while I grab a quick nap. Like clockwork, about 20 minutes later (sometimes longer), Zoo Boy announces the end of naptime. Sometimes Jacob joins us, sometimes he continues to "rest" in his own room while Zoo Boy watches his video (either Between the Lions or Magic Schoolbus)and I....ahhhh....grab yet another quick nap. It's certainly leading to a less exhausted evening for me!!

This is a lot less time than Enki suggests rest time lasting (and they certainly don't mention the use of a video!), but for us this is what seems to be working, so I'm just riding the wave of success.

I LOVE the homeschooling!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

this week in books

Here's a quick run-down of the books we're reading this week:

"Welcome to the Icehouse", by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Laura Regan. Jane Yolen is one of my favorite kid's authors, and the arctic is of interest to my guys right now, so this was bound to be a big hit with us. A year's glimpse at the Arctic, with an empahsis on the long winter. Just perfect for January nights which FINALLY seem to be cold enough to call winter! The verse is rich and poetic, and the illustrations are beautifully realistic.

"Sky Castle", by Sandra Hanken, iullstrations by Jody Bergsma. This is a whimsical book about Fairy children who, together with their imaginations, build a castle in the sky to house all the hopes and dreams of our planet, then bring it down to earth to create a nirvana. The bouncy verse and detailed illustrations immediately captivated my children, and the overall message of peace, harmony, and love sold us parent-types on it instantly. This one goes on our favorite books list!

"Dance at Grandpa's", adapted from The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Renee Graef. If you haven't checked out the "My First Little House Books" series, you simply must! My kids LOVE these books, this is the third that we've read -- the first was "Wintertime on the Farm" and the second was "Christmas in the Big Woods". These books are little snippets of the lives of all of our favorite "Little House" characters, and a wonderful introduction to the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Jacob immediately identified himself with young Almanzo as a "farmer boy", and was absolutely thrilled when I told him that when they are older, Almanzo and Laura meet, fall in love, and get married. (I think he's got a crush on Laura!) I purchased several more titles from this series as well, I'm looking forward to the chance to work them into our rotation.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

my amazing artist

I'm not sure how many of you check out Jacob's art blog, but you really MUST go see this one. It's worth the trip!

Monday, January 08, 2007

resolutions for 2007

Ok, so I'm a little bit behind with this sort of thing. But I have excuses! I mean, reasons.

First of all, I'm feeling generally dysregulated with this non-winter weather we're experiencing -- it was nearly 70 degrees on Saturday! And yesterday was the 30th straight day in a row with above-normal temperatures, many of them record-breakers. It's making reading stories and doing activities about snow, ice, and cold a little, well, stupid. And yet, focusing on a different season makes no sense either. So that's left me with a feeling of sort of floating, supsended in space and time, waiting for winter to really happen so I can break out all those cool books about the snow, etc. My supply of books about the arctic (and other regiouns where it really IS snowy) are running thin....

Secondly, due to various things, we had to wait until this past Saturday to celebrate Christmas with my family. Now, while technically it WAS the "12th day of Christmas", we've never postponed Christmas for quite so long before, so that in itself was enough to make me feel a bit topsy-turvy. Add to that the fact that it was near 70 degrees that day (on a day that it should be about 30), and we were all sitting there roasting even though the windows were open, the whole experience didn't exactly lend itself to integration. As if opening a zillion and one presents wasn't dys-integrating enough!

I have to say, my kids have handled it better than I have. I still have that "what just happened?" head spinning sort of feeling. I'm hoping settling back into our regular "post-holiday" rhythms will help me feel a bit more grounded. Though with Jacob still running around singing Christmas carols at the top of his voice and doing impromptu recitations of "the night before Christmas", it's a little hard. That and the fact that we've still got Christmas decorations scattered throughout the house....gotta do something about that....

But instead, today I've been thinking about my yearly resolutions, although I've always viewed this as more a time to prioritize my life rather than setting goals to reach. There are several times a year that I like to sit down and do this -- at the end of summer, the end of the holidays, and the start of spring. And since the end of the holidays coincides nicely with New Years, these are what I use when people ask me my resolutions for the new year. For the past couple of years they've looked pretty similar.

1. Simplify. This is an ongoing, ever-changing goal of mine. And probably the most challenging for me, the over-scheduler who has trouble saying no to anything. One reason is because I want to do EVERYTHING. There's very few things in this world that hold no interest to me. And I just love to do stuff. Doesn't even really matter what the stuff is, if it's something to do, I generally want to do it. Or learn about it at least. And, if you haven't happened to notice, I'm a bit hyperactive.

There are several reasons I feel the need to simplify: first of all, for a child with ASD, running around with a chaotic schedule is a pretty good way to assure yourself of dysregulation and meltdowns. It's not so good for non-ASD kids either. So I'm constantly revamping how our week looks, to try to keep things as simple as possible. Secondly, let's face it, it's just not possible to DO everything! And the more things you "do", the less time you have to focus on any one thing and get really good at it. I haven't quite decided if that's a problem -- I mean, does it matter if you're really good at one thing as opposed to just OK at a lot of things? Probably not, if that's what makes you happy. And thirdly (is that even a word?), I truly believe that slowing down your pace in life helps you appreciate all the little things more. It gives you the time you need to truly absorb experiences, and have them grow within you.

My ultimate goal with all the simplifying is to be able, someday, to just sit on my front steps and enjoy the sunset, with no other agenda running through my mind, no other place I feel I need to get to, no list of needs-too-be-done urging me to hurry up with that cup of tea and get back to work. I'm still a long ways from that place, but my hope is to get a little closer with each passing year.

2. Live Greener. This is always on the list of resolutions, but I've backslid a bit the last several years. I could blame it on preoccupation with other things (oh, like Autism, Remediation, Sensory Integration, Homeschooling....), or on our tight budget (Ha! Budget! Is it still a budget when you're shoveling yourself deeper into a hole?). But really, I think I've just been lazy. Right now there is 3 tall kitchen trash bags full of my recent cabinet-cleaning fest sitting in my kitchen. Most of the stuff in those bags are outdated foodstuffs that can be fed to the animals or composted, and most are in packaging that can be recycled. I'm having my usual internal struggle with whether to just haul it to the dump as-is, or to meticulously pick through and recycle every bit that can be recycled. I think the greener side of the argument is going to win this time, not the lazy side. I hope so, anyway.

I want to live greener for several reasons, too. First, I want to do what's right for this world we're living in. Sometimes the feeling that I'm just an insignificant speck, whose recycling tendencies and product selection can't possibly really affect anything, is overwhelming. Yet, if everyone felt that way, or more importantly, pushed those feelings aside and strived to live greener, it would have a MAJOR impact. So there's that. More important is my second reason, which is to set an example for my children. Because then we're not talking about just me -- we're talking about two other humans, and potentially their future families and children and grandchildren. And last, but by no means least, is the overwhelming feeling of guilt if I DON'T try to live greener. How can I expect anyone else to care if I, I the lover of all things natural and pure and clean in this world, don't?

I need to embrace my inner hippie and get with the program. Not just as good as I can, but as good as I want to. If the world's going to come to an end, by gosh, it's not going to be MY fault!

3. Mindfulness. You know, living in the moment, recognizing and appreciating the powers around me, sitting in awe of the tiny miracles. Recognizing my "falls" but not laying blame on myself. I think I'm getting better and better at this all the time. Yet, there's still plenty of work left for me on truly focusing on the moment, letting go of guilts of the past, and (an area that especially needs attention from me) letting the future take care of itself.

4. Being nicer. My grandmother (and I wish you all could have met her, she was absolutely the best person ever!) was the nicest person I've ever met, without being the sort of person anyone could take advantage of. She had a quiet confidence, an innate perception, and a strength of character that allowed her to live her life to it's fullest without ever having the need to place blame on anyone else. I never heard her say an unkind word about another person, she never felt the need to whine or complain about anything, and she always thought the best of everyone she met. She was also downright hilarious, brilliantly smart, and moved through this world in perfect harmony with it. Her life was not all primroses and daisies (tho her gardens were!), yet she treated each day as a beautiful gift full of the richest of treasures.

I'm not like that. Oh, I'd LOVE to be!!! I want nothing more than to have just a fraction of the generosity of heart that my grandmother did. But I'm not her, I'm me. I'd just like to be a kinder, gentler version of me. I'm a work in progress. Aren't we all?

5. Get fit. Such a cliche, huh? Eat better, lose weight, exercise more, blah blah blah blah blah. But I'm serious about it this time. Really I am. Really. Sort of. Not.

I really SHOULD care more about this shouldn't I? That whole thing about you can't nourish others unless you are nourished yourself? Somehow I can't seem to get the leg up I need to climb aboard that bandwagon. So I guess it'll keep sitting at the bottom of my priority list until such time that something scares me into caring more about it. Candy, anyone?

Friday, January 05, 2007

mercury fillings, global warming, and autism remediation

What do those three things have in common you ask? The world's seeming unwillingness to accept it. Or at least THIS part of the world.

In the past week I've read enough scientific proof about the amount of mercury leaching from amalgam fillings to make me wonder why these things are even in existance anymore. Ok, sure, 10 or 20 years ago, there was no other options (other than gold, and who can afford that?). But in today's world, where there are modern, safe alternatives, some dentists still choose to put a material that is considered illegal to even dump as a waste product INTO PEOPLE'S MOUTHS. How does that make sense? How is it even legal to do so?? I'm simply astounded that despite the fact that all the research says that it's harmful, there is still some debate about it. WHAT debate? Hasn't anybody seen the research?? It's pretty clear cut -- amalgam fillings release mercury gas. Period. Would be bad enough if they just sat there. But then people have to go and brush their teeth. And eat. Which makes the darn things give off even more mercury. What a great idea, let's all get a half dozen tomorrow.

Which reminds me a WHOLE lot of the whole Global Warming "controversy". Why is "controversy" in quotes, you ask? Because 100% (ONE HUNDRED PERCENT) of all of the scientific studies (almost if not more than 1000 of them) published on global warming say it's real, it's happening, and it's being caused by CO2 emmissions. You'd think that wouldn't leave much to question, would you?? Yet, more than half of all Americans (that would be 50%), and their corresponding congress-people, seem to think it's a myth, a coincidence, a natural occurance, a fluke -- whatever, they DON'T BELIEVE IT. Excuse me? Could someone please explain to me why the heck we even bother DOING scientific research? Maybe we should just make up results that everyone wants to hear and leave it at that.

Which brings me to the next item proven to be real yet somehow being almost entirely ignored -- Autism Remediation. Specifically, Autism Remediation via RDI. IT WORKS. It FIXES Autism. It allows kids to grow up to be, well, kids, and then go on to be productive, happy adults. Ok, so there's not a plethera of published scientific studies proving it yet. In fact, there are none. Why is that I wonder? There are two studies that have been submitted, both showing REMARKABLE results. Yet nobody seems to want to publish them. And still, I wonder, even if they were published, even if 1000 studies were published proving how effective RDI is at remediating Autism, would people believe it??? I'm guessing no. Why should they -- they don't believe that amalgam fillings are dangerous or that Global Warming is real, why should Autism Remediation be any different.

Watch the video clip ( I mentioned a couple days ago. Watch Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" and/or go to . Write to organizations that fund Autism research and request funding for research on the results of RDI, and write to the Autism research publications and demand that RDI result studies be published. Open your eyes, and open your mind to the proof. And vote for politicians who care more about our world's health than about their popularity in Washington.

what we're reading this week

Here's my kids (the two in the middle) hanging out with some good buddies of theirs that we see regularly.

Here we are at the end of the week, and I realized I haven't posted about our reading selections for this week yet. Would seem a little silly to miss a week the 2nd week I started doing it!

This week we're on a general "new year" theme (though we haven't really introduced the concept of the year changing with our kids, we're approaching it more on a seasonal shift type of thing). I'm having a little difficulty reading all these books about the dead of winter when it's 60 degrees outside. What happened to January? But reading books that cover more of a general flow of the year seem to be fitting the need a little better for us right now thanks to our new weather pattern.

"Antler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet Year", by Betsy Bowen. Very cool book about the change of seasons per month in the author's native Minnesota, with a little alphabet and calendar work tossed in. The illustrations are gorgeous wood block prints -- I hear she has a "northwoods counting book" too, which I'll have to see if our Library has.

"Ice Bear and Little Fox", by Jonathan London, paintings by Daniel San Souci. With this author and illustrator, this book was bound to be a big hit around here! A year in the life of an adolescent Polar Bear and an Arctic Fox. London does a great job of telling the story of the relationship of the animals to each other as well as to their environment, without anthropomorphizing it at all, it's quite true to life, including how predatory animals eat, yet not in a gruesome or scary way. Wonderful book! And beautiful, true-to-life illustrations.

"Bear Snores On" by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. Ok, so it's a little cutesy. But we like it anyway. A whimsical story about animal friends dropping in to hold a party in an unsuspecting bear's hibernation cave -- while the bear is sleeping. Bear wakes up to join the party eventually, but the anticipation of that moment builds nicely throughout the book. The verses are bouncy and fun, and the illustrations are just realistic enough to make it seem not overly corny. I wouldn't put it on a "must read" list like I might the other two, but we liked it enough to buy it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

the smoking tooth

First, thank you so much to everyone who provided input for me on the dentist thing. We've decided we'll go with our gut and do the composite.

In case anyone else out there is wondering about just how much mercury there is in amalgam fillings, you have GOT to see this horrifyingly informative video on the topic (which was the cement that concreted my decision to go with composite):


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

advice wanted -- teeth

Well, I told you I'd tell you when I wanted advice!!

As I posted recently, Jacob needs to have a couple of cavities filled. We went back to the dentist today to have his 6 year molars sealed, and for the dentist to experiment around a little with what he can and can't get away with. It was a good visit -- I heard a slew of "good boy, Jacob"s coming from the back (which always makes me cringe a little -- I really should do a post about praise and how detrimental it is to a kid's development -- but my attitude at the dentist's office is WHATEVER WORKS, DO IT!), and both the dentist and hygeinist gave him a glowing report, and Jacob himself told me he had fun. (FUN?! How the heck is getting your mouth propped open and a gooey substance painted on your teeth fun?) The dentist said that he's fairly confident that he can get the cavities filled in the office, and wanted me to set up the first of the two appointments (he can't do them both at once, as they are in two different parts of his mouth, requiring numbing him in two locations). So I swallowed hard and set it up for later this month.

Then he presented me with the choice that has me stymied. Shall he fill them with amalgam (the old standard "silver" fillings), or composite? I hadn't even thought ahead to having to make this choice, I had just assumed we'd do composite. He strongly reccommends amalgam -- it means less time in the chair for Jacob, less drilling and grinding needed, he just sticks it in there, grinds it off, and he's done. With composite, there's layering, drying, lots of additional grinding and polishing -- up to 10 extra minutes of torture (it's a 1/2 hour appointment, so we're talking either 20 minutes or 30 minutes). He pointed out that these are teeth that will be falling out when he's 10-12 years old anyway.

In case any of you have been living under a rock for the past 15 years and wonder why I'm so concerned about this, amalgam has mercury in it, and mercury is implicated (strongly) in the development of Autism. Does it make any sense whatsoever to purposely put mercury into an Autistic kid's head??

Well, as it turns out, there's a pretty good argument in it's favor. First, the danger with the amalgam fillings comes when they get old and start to deteriorate, leaching the mercury from them. (Until that point, the mercury is locked within a solid.) These fillings won't get a chance to get old, they'll be out of his head when he loses those teeth, at most 6 years from now. (The silver fillings I had removed recently were in excess of 25 years old!) Second, it means increasing the likelihood that the fillings will actually get done. Third, it means potentially decreasing the amount of trauma Jacob has to endure in that chair. Fourth, it's less expensive (but that's a far distant fourth -- the cost isn't THAT much more for the composite, and even if it were, I wouldn't hesitate to use that instead if it were the right choice).

But still, despite all that, you can't deny the fact that I would be purposely choosing to expose my son, my AUTISTIC son, to mercury. A poison by any definition. Something I purposely choose to avoid (and just spent a small fortune that I don't even have to eliminate from my own mouth). Something that I never in a million years would have imagined myself considering.

But the trauma of all that extra dental work when I could make it simpler for him....

And ultimately, getting the cavities filled is the most important part.

So here it comes -- HELP!!!!!! What should I do? What would YOU do? I'm sure others have been in this boat, what have you done? I welcome any and all perspectives on this, just click on the "comments" link at the bottom of this post, then type your comments in the box, either sign in or click the "anonymous" button, and retype the code it gives you (to prevent spam -- my gosh, the best invention EVER!).

THANK YOU so much!

Monday, January 01, 2007


I figured I may as well blog about the Zoobs since they're pulled out all over my living room and on my mind. Here's a photo of Jacob from a few minutes ago, in the midst of building a "Zoobrex" (the Zoob version of a T-rex).

Jacob's Zoob building talent is something that everyone who sees him in action seems to be amazed by. I don't consider it particularly amazing, given that he has Autism and this is just following written directions -- very static, very up Jacob's alley. So from an overall conceptual level, there's nothing to it at all to get excited about. In fact, it initially caused a bunch of concern for us, as it seemed to be exactly the sort of thing that we did NOT want to target.

However, when I stopped to think about the individual skills that go into being able to do it -- shifting focus from one thing (the directions) to the next (the Zoobs) without losing his place, matching pieces in real life to the pictures in the directions, following steps sequentially, the hand strength needed to snap the pieces together (and take them apart), the modulation in strength needed to get the pieces to sit in the right place once they are together, the patience and persistance needed to assemble an entire creation (some of these things have hundreds of pieces in them), and the appraisal needed to trouble-shoot if the creation doesn't stand correctly, I guess it IS sort of an amazing thing.

When we got our first set of Zoobs (I believe for Jacob's 5th birthday), it had 50 pieces and an instruction booklet to build a handful of items. As he does with anything that comes with instructions, Jacob quickly worked his way through the construction of those items, then started rebuilding the same ones over and over. We worried about it becoming a very static obsession for him, and figured that we had two choices -- either take them away (which didn't feel right, as he really enjoyed building those things, and at that point, he wasn't doing any imaginative play, so seeing him so involved with something was nice), or get him a whole LOT of them. We chose the latter, and Ebayed up a set of 500.

The set came with instructions for dozens of different designs, and we breifly considered just destroying the instructions in hopes that he'd play more creatively with the toys. But the reality was that, at that point in our remediation program (or even now, for that matter), he just wasn't capable of generating original ideas as to what to do with the Zoobs. So in the end we gave him the full set of instructions. It was a good move. Because there were so many different things to build, it prevented him from focusing on just building one or two things over and over. Instead, every time he sits down with the Zoobs (which is at least several times a week, usually in that hour time span between when he gets out of bed and when Zoo Boy and I do), he builds something different. Sure, we've had lots of repeats of the same items, but he doesn't usually build the same thing every morning, he seems to rotate through them in a random fashion.

As far as his OT (Occupational Therapy) work goes, these things have been terrific. He's working on his hand strength, his reading skills (even though there are no words involved, the eye movent and ability to keep his "place" are skills he needs for reading), his small motor skills (the pieces are only a couple inches long), his manual dexterity, and his motor planning. It's also really good heavy work -- it takes a pretty good amount of pressure both to push the Zoobs together, and to get them apart again.

They're plastic, so that's not 100% ideal (see my post from a couple days ago as to why I feel that wooden toys are superior to plastic toys from a sensory integration standpoint). But it's not the only plastic toy in his life at the moment (notice the huge plastic ball pit behind him in the photo!), nor is it bound to be the last. I'll talk more about the plastic vs wood battle in our house in a future post. But really, other than that, I think they are pretty close to the perfect small motor OT toy.

I've used them in some of our RDI work, too. I've built things that Jacob has to copy. We've built stuff at the same time. We've built stuff at different times. We've built stuff that I accidentally break so we have to build it again. Picking them up together is a great regulation activity. I plan to incorporate them as we progress through the higher stages too -- Stage 8 (collaboration) and Stage 9 (co-creation) come to mind as excellent places for them to fit in. And along the way with that work, perhaps we'll open up new paths for Jacob to try some of his own creative variations on what to build with them. In the meantime, it's something he feels very competent at, and he is obviously proud of his ability to create complicated structures on his own.

And an added bonus -- Zoo Boy has just started taking an interest in playing with them. Only, in super-creative Zoo Boy's world, there's no sense in following instructions. So he slaps a few pieces together and then uses whatever he created in his pretend play. Usually it's either a superhero that saves the world, or a villian that lives in the mud and shoots people. Often he switches back-and-forth roles with the same creation, making it all but impossible to keep up with the story line (tho he certainly has it straight in his head!). But anyway, my hope is that he'll suck Jacob into his pretend Zoob world, adding another dimension to the toy set for him.

Yup. I guess I like the Zoobs.

an RDI glimpse for the new year

Happy 2007, everyone! May all your wishes and dreams for the new year come true! We're leaping into 2007 with enthusiasm! (See photo!)

Figured I'd start this morning by giving you a little glimpse into our RDI life from yesterday morning. This wasn't a planned activity, it just sort of happened, which is how all the best RDI opportunities seem to do. That's why they call it "lifestyle".

I woke up to find Jacob playing with a set of wooden blocks. When he was finished messing around with those, he moved on to building with his set of Zoobs. (Zoobs are an interconnective plastic building toy -- I'm going to start posting some of the stuff he builds with them on his art site. I have conflicted feelings about Zoobs, which I'll share in a future post maybe later today -- it's pouring rain and we have no plans to do anything much today.) But anyway, while he was doing that, I sat next to him and built a tall, fairly sturdy tower with the blocks, waiting for Zoo Boy and The Map Man to get up.

At about the time the rest of the household arose, I finished my tower, so I interupted Jacob's Zoob building fest so that we could all take turns chucking small blocks at the big tower, trying to knock it down. The tower was sturdy, so it took a bit of doing, but we all worked as a team, cheering each other on, taking turns, trying to aim our hits to help out the next person. When we finally felled the tower (I can't remember who delivered the final blow), it fell in a dramatic pile of rubble and we all cheered and celebrated our victory over blocks.

How the heck is that RDI, you ask?

Well, this one simple activity incorporated all of our previous RDI work. Regulation (I throw, you throw), Master-Apprentice (I set the rules for the game, Jacob followed them), Stage 1 (emotion sharing -- enjoying the activity together, celebrating our victory), Stage 2 (referencing -- checking in with each other to make sure we know it's that person's turn, and that we're going to take it, and that we're all ready to watch and cheer), Stage 3 (coordinating actions -- taking turns, cheering together), Stage 4 (variations -- we used different shape and color blocks to do our smashing), Stage 5 (reversals and transformation -- we were knocking down blocks rather than building with them), Stage 6 (co-regulation -- turn taking without being reminded, being OK whether or not the blocks fell, reciprical conversation and exchange of ideas as to where to aim the next throw, general social chit-chat throughout the activity, being OK with -- and actually enjoying -- failure so that the next person got a turn).

And this was also a rudimentary collaboration (Stage 8) activity. While we're not actually targeting Stage 8 objectives yet, our Stage 6 (Co-regulation) activities seem to be naturally morphing into more collaboration type stuff. Which is cool, that's the way it's supposed to work, and is why you never truly start from ground zero with the RDI stages -- by the time you hit mastery of one stage, stuff from the higher stages are starting to form naturally without even putting any effort into it. Then when you actually GET to that stage, it's just a matter of fine-tuning the objectives (which then lays the ground work for the natural development of future stages). It's sort of a like a big puzzle, which is why I think that puzzle piece that Autism organizations use is so appropriate -- not only does it signify the many pieces that cause Autism, but it's also a good image about how Remediation takes place, one piece at a time, always building on the rest of the picture.