Wednesday, February 28, 2007

air hockey

This is an activity that I picked up from Jacob's OT. I wanted to share it, as it's both a great sensory integration game, and has a lot of potential for RDI as well. Here, Jacob plays with Zoo Boy, our RDI work is on co-regulation (stage 6), making adjustments based on where the other child sends the ball.

Here's how it works -- each child has a straw. They lie a distance apart from each other and use the straw to blow a ping-pong ball back and forth between them. I set up "lanes" for them as scaffolding so that they don't have to worry about the ball going wildly off-course -- as they get better at this, the "lane" will get wider and wider, so they'll have to work harder at co-regulation.

While Jacob's working on co-regulation, Zoo Boy is working on pursing his lips (an oral-motor exercise) and determining how far in his mouth the straw has to be to get the best blowing power. Both boys are working on the lung capacity needed to blow the ball all the way across to the other child. I guess that works on appraisal too -- they have to decide if the ball is going too fast or too slow (if they've blown too hard or too soft), and whether or not they need to blow again to get it all the way to the other child. And of course it works on self-regulation (being able to change how hard they are blowing). Depending on what stage of RDI you're working at, you could spotlight any number of things: emotion sharing, referencing (to see if the other child is ready), the back-and-forth coordination, variations galore, opposite-world trying not to get the ball to the other person, etc etc etc.

A lot of value in one simple game!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

astronaut board

Our Astronaut Board came this weekend, so we've been able to start implementing the Kawar Vestibular Oculomotor Protocol at home. The goal of this therapy is to enhance the integration of the vestibular and visual systems. (This article is a really good explanation of the importance of this therapy for kids who need it.) Jacob's OT has been doing this protocol with him as part of his Sensory Integration sessions for nearly a year now, and he's made great progress with it, but we've found when he's had a week off from therapy sessions for whatever reason, he again has problems with these activities. We figured that daily work on this activity would help him maintain his progress.

The board rotates (it is build upon a lazy susan), and you rotate the child 10 times in each direction while they are in 3 different positions: sitting up (as Zoo Boy is demonstrating above, although his eyes should be CLOSED, but turning 4 soon, he's not the most cooperative child on the planet), lying on the right side (as Jacob is demonstrating) and lying on the left side. Focused visual activities are done between each change of position. (So the child is rotated in each direction in the position, then the visual activities are done.) Hence, each set of activities is done 3 times. After each set of rotations, the child keeps his eyes closed until he no longer feels dizzy. The purpose of the rotations is to produce nystagmus (the movement the eyes make in response to this vestibular input) in order to "warm up" the eyes for visual activities.

I'm not going to go into the details of the actual visual activities, because this therapy really needs to be done under the supervision of a trained therapist, but there are 4 specific exercises used that involve using penlights for tracking and "jumping" (moving between two focal points).

When Jacob's OT first started using this protocol with him, she was unable to get him dizzy. So he'd rotate around and immediately open his eyes. His vestibular system was underactive. But over time with the therapy, his vestibular system has begun kicking in, and now he's more sensitive to the rotations and actually has to wait for his nystagmus to stop before opening his eyes. Pretty cool! I assume this would likewise be a useful therapy for a child with an overactive vestibular system (um, that would be me, in fact, just rotating Jacob makes me want to vomit!), and I'm starting to use it with Zoo Boy for that very reason.

I'm not sure why I waited so long to get this piece of equiptment, but it's name finally popped up at the top of our priority list. Like so many other things that we've wound up just purchasing, we kept thinking "well, heck, WE could make that!" But of course, we never did. So eventually I felt like we'd dragged our heels long enough and took the plunge. I'm glad we did! It feels good to be working on this important piece of the Sensory puzzle on a daily basis.

Monday, February 26, 2007

this week's snow theme, our daily rhythms, and books

This will be our last week on our "snow" theme, which has sort of lasted the entire month. Next week we'll be focusing on Maple Sugaring, which is a pretty big part of the New England tapestry this time of year, and a great introduction to early spring.

Thanks to the strong sun and warm temperature (well, if you consider 35 warm, we certainly do after the past month of frigid temps!), our snow pack turned just sticky enough yesterday to allow the kids (and The Map Man) to build our first snowman of the year. He looks pretty good all dressed up like that -- trust me, now that he's naked (the dogs pulled all the clothing off fairly soon after this photos was taken), he looks more like a snow blob. A pointy-headed snow blob. But the kids were pretty proud of him, and we'll head on out this afternoon to see if we can't make him some buddies with the fresh 4 inches that fell overnight.

Other than snow play, which no doubt will be on-going all week, this week I'll be focusing on getting back with our daily rythms. I revamped them slightly to allow more "wiggle room" for taking care of new critters -- the pup has added the need for even more flexibility than our schedule already calls for, and the new pony is coming tomorrow afternoon. They aren't all that different than the last time I posted our daily rhythms, but I'll include them here anyway just to keep things current:

8am -- rise and shine, make beds and open curtains (@ 10 min)
sensory brushing, dressing (@ 15 min)
play with puppy while I feed the ponies and get the adult dogs outside (@ 30 min)
9am -- breakfast (@ 30 min)
toothbrushing (@ 10 min)
calendar and weather activity (@ 20 min)
outdoor play (@ 1 hr)
11am -- snack (@ 15 min)
adventure (classes, grocery shopping, library, etc) (@ 90 min)
1pm -- lunch (@ 30 min)
rest time (30 - 60 min)
therapy (OT/SIT/OM) activities (30 - 60 min)
3pm -- snack (@ 15 min)
barn chores/outdoor play (30-60 min)
pony care (brushing, riding, etc) (30-60 min)
RDI focus activity (may incorporate pony time or barn chores) (30-45 min)
5pm -- supper (@ 1hr, including prep time which may also be RDI focus time)
free/creative play (@ 60 min)
7pm -- baths and bed prep (@ 60 min)
8pm -- Family Story Time (30 - 60 min)
9pm -- lights out, sleep, Parent Time

Here's the books we're reading this week: (the first two are purposely quite simple because the third is much longer/more complex than we've used in the past)

Flannel Kisses, by Linda Crotta Brenna, illustrated by Mari Takabayashi. A really cute, extremely simple-texted book with only a few words per page. A simple tale of a family's day of fun in the snow. Jacob really likes this book. Zoo boy really dislikes it. So mixed reviews in our house!

Cat and Mouse in the Snow, by Tomek Bogacki. I'm not thrilled with this book, but the kids are over the moon about it. Young cats and mice play in a snow-covered meadown. Not much to it. But the text (and artwork) is simple and bouncy and the tale is uncomplicated but fun, and there's snow aplenty in the illustrations. They love pretending they are the cats and mice climbing and sliding up and down the hillside.

Winter White, by Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Carol Lacey. This is the REAL book of this week's story time. A wonderfully woven fable about the change of the arctic seasons. I had originally taken this book out of the library back when we were reading about the arctic a month or two ago, but my kids weren't ready to sit still for this long of a story back then. Not only are they able to listen to this now, but they became absolutely absorbed in it, and acted it out immediately after we finished reading it for the first time, and have been incorporating the characters (especially the bear, Winter) into their play ever since. The beautifully detailed illustrations (acrylic paintings) help bring this magical tale to life. A definite must-read!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

my life outside of Autism

Pictured at left is the new pup I mentioned, taken at 8 1/2 weeks. He's a Smooth (short-haired) Collie from a very dear friend who lives and trains Collies in Kentucky. He's very closely related to our other two Smooth Collies.

I have been thinking for a little while now that maybe it was time that I started to share a little more about me on this blog. I mean, things other than being my kids' Mom and educator and personal therapist. Bev C requested that I talk more about our new puppy, so I'm taking that as the springboard to talking more about me, who I am, what it is that I actually do outside of Autism remediation.

Well, to start with, I'm a dog trainer. That's both what I do, and who I am. I can't really say I do it "to make a living", because nobody could live on what I'm making (!), but I do get paid, so that officially makes me a Professional. (Incidently, it IS possible to do just fine on a dog trainer's salary, if you're working enough hours. It's just not possible for ME to work enough hours to make a living on it at the moment.) Technically I work part-time (about 20 hours a week on a good week), but I am a full-time dog trainer, as I don't just train dogs, I live with them too. Same way there's no such thing as a part-time mother (something that has always cracked me up when someone refers to themselves as a "full-time mom", as if there is any other type of Mom!). I teach herding lessons to owner/dog teams on my farm, I train other people's dogs for stockwork on occassion, and I teach dog obedience classes and lessons at a local dog training facility a couple nights a week. I also work for a dog agility trial secretary, running agility (athletic doggy obstacle courses) trials on a much more part-time basis, but that's just for a little additional income, it doesn't have much to do with what I see myself as "doing".

I have a sheep farm. Well, WE have a sheep farm. The Map Man (who's other nickname is "The Accidental Farmer") wasn't raised in a family with a history of farming the way I was, but he would have made a fine dairy farmer if he were more interested in cattle and less interested in bridge design -- talk about a work ethic! He certainly pulls his weight around here, especially this time of year with so much water-hauling and ice-chopping to be done. So the fact that I'm the driving force behind living the way we do doesn't make it my farm. It's definitely ours.

I used to have a wool business -- I raised Angora rabbits, and sold their fiber along with my sheep's fiber to other hand-spinners (using a spinning wheel to make yarn, which I also do -- er, well, I CAN do, I haven't exactly found much time for that sort of thing lately). But when Autism made an appearance here, and my time started getting eaten up with the accompanying therapies, etc, I disbanded my business, sold all my rabbits, and switched from a wool breed of sheep to a hair breed (which doesn't need as much care). As much as I loved being involved with fiber animals, training dogs has a better pay check. So our farm has since converted primarily to a stockdog training facility. I'll slowly be converting it back to a fiber farm (at laest partially) once my time is not so occupied elsewhere.

When I first started in sheep, I needed a dog to help. So I got a Collie, a big black hairy Rough-coated (think Lassie) male. Prior to that, I'd been in sporting dogs (and was an avid hunter for years, another hobby that's fallen by the wayside, and another story entirely), and had trained my dogs as gundogs. My first Collie made such an impression on me, and I enjoyed training him to herd so much, that another Collie followed. Then a Border Collie. Then a whole litter of Collies. Then some more Collies. You get the picture. I currently live with 7 dogs -- at times I've had twice that many, but as I finish up a dog's training and working career and retire them, I start keeping my ears open for a family with a wonderful home to give a well-trained dog, and I give the dog away. At first that was hard for me, as I'm quite attached to all of my dogs, but it would be selfish for me to hang onto a dog that wasn't going to get the benefit of a lot of attention from me (which the dogs I'm working do). I do have a couple of old retired dogs -- one ancient hunting companion from long ago, and that first Collie I mentioned above -- who are perfectly happy with retirement and will be here for the rest of their lives, but in general if the dog will benefit from being a family's only beloved pet, I will let them go on to fulfill another destiny after I'm done working them.

In any case, our new pup is my next up-and-coming working star, as well as a fun diversion for us and the kids. And other than being a Mom, that's the biggest part of who I am right now. Of course, I've not always been this same person. But that's probably enough about me for now.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


I have so many memories of winter from my childhood. Sledding, skating, building snowmen (and, more often, snow animals), making snow forts, having snowball fights, shoveling the driveway (which at the time I thought I hated, but is actually one of my pleasant childhood memories), making snow angels. Dressing up in ridiculously weatherproof outfits we could hardly move in. Putting my father's way-too-big wool socks on over my tiny socks, the whole thing getting strapped into a plastic baggie then stuffed into an oversized boot. Tramping out the garage door with sled, shovel, skates, everything needed for a fun few hours in the snow. My dad wiping my nose with his handkercheif. The neighbors dog biting our feet while we sledded across 3 backyards, and if we were lucky, into the woods, and if we were VERY lucky, not into a tree.

Jacob's first winter, he was only a few months old, and I bundled him up in adorable fleece buntings and mittens with no thumbs and lovingly tatted lace mohair hats. I strolled around with snowflakes gently landing on my hair and his cheek and dreamed of the fun in the years to come.

His second winter, he sat in a sled while we pulled him about, swallowed up by a slightly-too-large snowsuit over a slightly-too-small fleece one-piece. He screamed. He refused to walk in the snow. He's still too young, we thought. Next year.

His third winter I was quite sick, pregnant with Zoo Boy and not handling it well. I spent the winter indoors. I watched as The Map Map bundled Jacob up and tried pulling him on the sled, tried getting him to take a step in the snow, built a snowman for him while Jacob repeatedly asked to come inside. I shrugged my shoulders and said oh well, next year. I was too sick to let it bother me.

His fourth winter I understood the problem. By then I was well aware of his intollerance of water, of droplets of moisture touching him anywhere on his body. It was a given that he was going to hate snow, wouldn't want to be out walking in it. Our whole parenting/handling autism approach was avoidance of things that upset him. So we spent another winter indoors, me commenting on the snow while watching out the window, Jacob doing his best to ignore me, refusing to even look. I watched The Map Man make snowmen in the yard from the window, as that was the only thing Jacob showed at least a spark of interest in in regards to the wintry weather. Even then, he wouldn't cross the yard to see them up close, would just say "no man" when we pulled out of the driveway. The Map Man made a few unsuccessful attempts to pull him in a sled, but since he wouldn't put any winter clothing on, it made having him out in the snow pretty much impossible.

His fifth winter I had great hope for. We'd started RDI in the fall, and on the various internet lists and message boards and chats I read accounts of all the cool RDI activities people were doing out in the snow with their kids. Donning the role of the optimist, I bought snow pants and boots and mittens and hats. He had a great time playing dress up with them in the house, but when it came to putting them on to go outdoors, it was a no go. He refused to wear the boots, even though it meant he couldn't go out onto the playground with the other kids at school. Half way through the winter he finally submitted to wearing the boots for that, but even then, he'd just stand on the shoveled part of the blacktop, watching the other kids in his class running around and having a great time. At home, if we managed to get the boots on him, he froze in place, unable to move his encumbered feet. Being out during an actual snowstorm was out of the question. He didn't even want to look at the snow as it was falling, as if just the thought of one of those snowflakes touching his cheek was too much to bear.

His sixth winter we made a bit of progress. He actually followed the other kids out onto the playground, picking his way gingerly through the snow with his prized Elmo boots on. I found him an oversized knit hat that was acceptable to him, and a pair of knit mittens that he absolutely fell in love with. At home, he agreed to come out into the snow with us, carefully placing one foot after another in footprints already made by me or The Map Man while Zoo Boy ran gleefully around making trails and begging to be pulled on the sled. Jacob perched anxiously behind his brother on the sled as we pulled. The Map Man tried taking him sledding down the hill in our sheep pasture on several occassions, but each time a bit of snow managed to make contact with his skin and that ended the sessions pretty quickly and with lots of anxiety. My sister invited us on sledding and skating parties with her kids, we politely turned them down. I viewed the photos my dad took of her kids on these ventures, wide smiles and joyful laughter in a whirl of snow and brightly colored woolens. I wondered if Jacob would even learn to enjoy the winter, the season that I as a child had most looked forward to.

And now this winter, Jacob's seventh winter. We started talking about getting ready for winter in November, how the animals all prepared, we pretended to be bears and chipmunks and skunks getting ready to hibernate. We agreed that it would be more fun for us to stay up for the winter, go outside and enjoy the snow rather than sleep through it. Jacob enthusiastically shopped for snow pants, boots, mittens, hats. Hopeful, I came home with a pair of iceskates for him, and he was over the moon at the thought of skating. He talked about building snowmen, and making snow angels, and having snowball fights. I crossed my fingers and held my breath and waited for snow.

During our first breif snowfall in early December, he enthusiastically dressed himself in all his snow gear and ran outside, teaching Zoo Boy how to catch snowflakes on his tongue (something that he'd only seen on a video, never having tried it himself). He laughed at how the snowflakes tickled his cheek as they landed on it. He tasted a handful of snow, and ran madly around the yard leaving tracks all over the place, then following his own tracks to see where they led. We didn't get enough for sledding or snowballs, but I promised him those things would come soon enough.

And then the weather made us wait. Other than that inch or so of snow early on, we saw nary a snowflake for months. In fact, the temperatures warmed up and it was more like spring here than winter for weeks on end. I fretted that his new-found enthusiasm for snow would peter out before he even had a chance to explore it.

But once the snow finally arrived in force, he attacked it like he'd been playing in the snow for years with grand abandon. He took to sledding like an otter, and we've had to get very firm about the amount of time he iss allowed to be out in the bitter cold, as he never wants to come inside, despite frost-kissed cheeks and ice cold fingers. When out and about in town, he purposely goes out of his way to trudge through snow banks rather than walk on the shoveled surfaces. He happily drops into snowy surfaces to make snow angels, and has been making his best attempt at snowballs. (Although, despite our early warm start for the winter, we've yet to have a good snowball or snowman type sticky snow, it's just been too cold for the past month.) When given the chance to go for a walk or a pony ride in a snowstorm, his answer is a resounding yes.

All in all, he's having snowy fun the way I remember it from my childhood. He's rolling down snow hills, nibbling icicles, and trying not to crash into the fence at the bottom of the pasture on his sled (we're thinking a nice sand bank right there might be a good investment in the coming year....). He's enjoying being a 6 year old boy in New England. And that's what winter is all about for me.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

winter break, and books

In case anyone is wondering where I've been for the past week or so, I was traveling across the country to pick up the pup pictured in this photo. Kids are having a blast, as you can well imagine!

Well, our daily rhythms have completely fallen apart. As has just about any other semblence of regulation in our household. The fact that I was away for 4 days is partly to blame. The fact that Zoo Boy had an oral-motor and speech evaluation most of the day before I left is another part. The fact that our little foundered pony needs somewhat frequent attention is another piece, as is the fact that I have to keep running to the barn to check for new lambs. And then you throw a new puppy into the mix, and it's pretty close to utter chaos around here.

So I've declared this week as our "winter break" -- break from classes, therapy, and anything that has to do with travel or organized thought. I DO need to sit down and hammer out a new daily rhythm schedule for us, that takes our added responsibilities into account. For instance, with the new pony arriving any day, we will have one more major animal to care for -- she'll need to be brushed and ridden in addition to adding another feed bucket to mix up and 33% more poop to scoop. Riding can take the place of our morning exercise time, but is more time-involved than just going for a walk or turning on some songs to dance to. Brushing, feeding, and clean-up can be incorporated into our RDI time, but that means moving our "scheduled" RDI time to the morning instead of the late afternoon where it was. And then there's the new pup, who needs regular attention as well (more concentrated attention than our older, trained dogs) in several blocks throughout the day.

So while the kids enjoy a "holiday" from "work", I'll be concentrating my efforts on working out a new daily rythym schedule, while also trying to organize my increase in work load into manageable chunks. I'm not thinking about RDI this week at all -- it'll still happen, it's become such a way of life for us, there's no avoiding it. But I won't be looking at the objectives and figuring out where our activities for the day might fit into the mix. It'll be all go-with-the-flow, no planned organized time.

The only thing we're adamently sticking to this week is our evening Family Story Time. This is the anchor that will keep us from completely floating off the planet. We are being uncreative about it, however, and are using the same books we did last week (which I never did have a chance to post about), continuing our Snow theme. Here they are:

Fox's Dream, by Tejima. A simple story of a lonely fox's night-time walk through a winter woodland and what he sees and meets on the way. Beautiful woodcut illustrations tell the tale as much as the text does, leaving much to the imagination, making the book very RDI-friendly as well. Thumbs up around here!

Snowballs, by Lois Ehlert. Ehlert's paper-sculpture illustrations always catch my kids' attention, and her text is always expressly simple so as not to take away from the artwork, which is really what tells the story. Winter birds, creative snowmen, and the inevitable melt-down when the sun comes out is about all there is to this book. But the kids just adore it, and have been swiping it from my Story Time stash to read on their own.

Snow Ponies, by Cynthia Cotten, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft. FABULOUS book, telling the tale of Old Man Winter's string of Snow Ponies, who he lets loose upon the land, spreading a blanket of snow as they tear across the countryside on a romp, coming home for a rub down and a rest when they are done turning the world a winter white. Much is said between the lines rather than in the rich text, and gorgeous illustrations add to the wonder and mystique. An absolute must-read that we just had to add to our home library.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

'good job'

I had a request a week or so ago to write about my thoughts on the topic of praising kids ("good job"). I've been holding off, looking for the right inspiration. There have literally been volumes written on this, by actual experts in the field of child rearing, what could I possibly add to their advice?

My inspiration came in the wee hours of the morning today, and is pictured above. That's my best ewe, Freckles, and her new twins, sporting home-made (at 3 am, yawn!) lamb coats because it was about -3 degrees F when then were born. (They'll wear the coats for a couple of days until they're better able to maintain their own body temperature, or until the temps rise above freezing, whichever comes first -- I'm betting on the lambs.)

So, when I trudged down to the barn at 2am to find these adorable little babies, do you think I said "Good job!" to Freckles? No, of course not. Not because I'm not impressed by her natural birthing abilities (quite to the contrary, I am CONTINOUSLY amazed at what animals are capable of!). But because she doesn't care if I'm impressed or not. She gets her own intrinsic satisfaction out of raising her lambs well, she doesn't need to be told that she's doing a good job.

How does this relate to praising kids, you ask? People are all born with the same innate capacity to recognize when they've done well, and the ability to feel proud of their accomplishments. And if left alone with it, they continue to strive for accomplishment (whatever they consider that to be), and continue to feel pride in their efforts, all of their own motivation and appraisal system. THEY determine what is success and what is not. And the self-found pride in accomplishment is their driving force to strive for more. This makes for an integrated person, full of self esteem and inner motivation.

Let's say we take the above child, and rather than letting them define their own measure of accomplishment, we start praising them for what WE deem to be a "good job". What does this tell them? First, it tells them that what WE think is more important than what THEY feel. That working towards a "good job" is more important than working towards feelings of self-accomplishment. (Add "prizes" onto that, and it compounds the issue even further.) Beyond that, it takes them out of the integration of an internal experience and applies external criteria for success, actually drawing them out of the experience itself and making them an outside observer of their own work. (Talk about stifling the creative proccess!) And even more damaging is that when they DON'T hear the external praise they are working for, they then deem themselves a failure, eroding their blossoming self-esteem, when in fact, the usual "person of power" (Mom, Grandma, Teacher) doing the praising probably just didn't think to say "good job" at that moment. Allowing children to develop their own internal measure of accomplishement is the most improtant step you can take to ensure the development of a healthy self-esteem.

Providing rewards and reinforcement makes for some pretty great animal training -- it lets the animal know when it's doing something that pleases us, and makes us able to get that response on cue. (Think trained seal.) Is that what we really want for our kids? No -- we want them to be free-thinking, creative people with internal motivation and drive and their own system of appraisal to determine when they are right and when they are wrong. Kids that strive for external gratification are easily influenced by peers into all sorts of dangerous situations -- drugs, alcohol, deviant behaviors, anything to gain them that external praise and acceptance from their peers. Which is the last thing on earth that parents are trying to promote when they pat their toddler on the head and say "good job!". But that's the slippery slope that is praise. It's what ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis, the most "popular" method for "treating" Autism) and other behavioral models of Autism "treatment" is based on, and is why I rejected it as a possibility for Jacob, despite the fact that it was the treatment reccommended by the Developmental Pediatrictian that made Jacob's diagnosis.

In the case of kids with ASD (and really any special need), the negative effects of praise is amplified. As parents and educators, we are desperate to make that connection with our hard-to-connect with kids, and we tend to be even more over the top with the praise than the average parent. Even though I was well aware of the damage of "good job", I found it coming out of my mouth all over the place in the early years of trying to get a handle on Autism. I'm happy to say I've since learned to control myself. But it wasn't easy, it took effort and some major brain-reprogramming on my part. Just recognizing that I was doing it was the first step, and I'd actually say out loud "good job! Oh, I shouldn't have said that." Eventually, the "I shouldn't say that" started coming before the "good job" and that's when I finally had control of it. Now it never occurs to me to utter "good job".

What do you say instead? Because, truly, we want to make note of our kids' accomplishments, right? And of course, the kids themselves want us to see and comment on what they've done. And that's the key right there -- to recognize their work without assigning a value to it. So when Jacob shows me a piece of artwork he's especially proud of, I'll comment "Wow, look at that!" or "That's a really high mountain" or "whoa, that's HUGE!" or "Oh, you colored that flower red". I leave the appraising of that -- the assigning of value -- to Jacob. He is just as proud of me commenting on the color of his drawing as he is if I said "good job!", and there is no unwanted fall-out. His pride is self-motivated and self-assigned.

So what did I say to Freckles when I saw her lambs this morning? "Wow, look at that!" She didn't need me to say anything. She already knew she'd done a good job.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Jacob's new buddy

Here's a couple photos of Jacob's first meeting with his new pal. (She's the one with 4 feet.) Sadly, his little Shetland Pony hasn't recovered from his founder -- in fact, he's going through a horrible flare-up right now -- and it's been months since Jacob's been able to ride. So we finally made the decision that it was time to search for a new pony for Jacob. Today's visit was love at first sight! He was a little nervous when first mounting her -- she's quite a bit taller than his little pony. But he quickly settled in and had a great ride. This pony loves to move, not like his pony who putters along and has to be pursueded to keep moving, and Jacob was all smiles and songs while riding her.

We've still got a few details to iron out, but it looks likely this girl will be joining our crew sometime soon.

Friday, February 09, 2007

tooth ordeal, the final chapter (I HOPE!)

Today was the day! Jacob got his 2nd (and last, at least for the present time) cavity filled.

He was very calm going in -- we'd been discussing the fact that the dentist wanted him to switch to a "big boy "toothpaste (something with fluoride, he's still using the same Gerber baby toothpaste we started him on at 5 months of age), so the first thing we did was talk to the hygeinist about it, and she got him a tube of Colgate kids' toothpaste. He brought it out to me to hold onto for him, and went willingly with his "friend" to the treatment area. I heard him chatting with her and the dentist as he climbed in the chair.

It didn't take long for things to go bad, though. I heard the dentist tell him that he was going to give him a ride (tipping the chair back), and that was followed almost immediately by sounds of distress. I'm not sure if Jacob caught sight of the needle or what exactly happened, but things went from totally calm to screaming and threatening in about 5 seconds flat. The dentist was being firm and telling him what he MUST do, the hygeinist was begging him to hold still, and Jacob was pleading to be let out of the chair. This was followed by general anxiety sounds, then the loud, escalating repetition of "are you done yet, are you done yet, ARE YOU DONE YET??" I heard the dentist, in a soothing voice, say something to try to calm him (obviously the novacaine was already injected at that point), telling him that they needed to rest and give his tooth time to go to sleep. I heard Jacob yell back "I DON'T WANT MY TEETH CLEAN!" His voice returned to a lower volume soon thereafter and I could hear him nervously answering questions. Eventually I heard the dentist inquire if he could feel something (probably a probe to see if he was numb enough), followed shortly by Jacob shrieking "NO NO NO NO NOT THE WHISTLE I DON'T WANT THE WHISTLE I'M AFRAID OF IT!!!" as the dentist turned on the drill. A tussle apparently ensued, I was on my feet in the waiting room, on the verge of dashing in, when I heard the dentist's firm, commanding voice say "Jacob, you HAVE to hold still or else we will have an accident". He then spoke in a softer voice asking Jacob about trains and train whistles (apparently they call the drill/polisher a "whistle" with him) and after that Jacob calmed down tremendously. I'm not sure if it was the firmness in which the dentist dealt with him, or if he just gave in to the inevitableness of the situation, but I didn't hear a cry, a wimper, or another sound from him, though I did hear lots of praise from both the hygeinist and the dentist at how good he was being. I suspect that someone finally thought to tell him that this was the LAST time he had to have this done, so he just needed to hold still and he wouldn't have to come back for this again -- that would have been motivation to "suck it up" and just get through it for him. I settled back into my seat, and nervously flipped through a magazine without ever looking at the pages.

Finally it was done. The dentist hollered for me to come on back, and there was Jacob sitting on the edge of the chair, picking through a basket of toy "prizes". His face was flushed, but overall his composure was good, much better than after the first visit. I guess something can be said for understanding what's about to happen -- even though it was something he really hated, at least he knew how the whole thing was going to go and that he WOULD get through it. A big hip hooray for RDI for that one, that most certainly would NOT have mattered to him before. I assured him that the next time he came in, it would NOT be for this, it would just be the cleaning that he likes to do, and he said "Yeah, I know, they told me that". And with that he trotted off to the waiting room to play Pac-man until I convinced him it was time to go.

THE END. I hope. You know I'll be scrubbing and flossing the heck out of his teeth from this point forward.

this week in homeschooling

I decided a broader topic heading for my homeschooling posts would be appropriate, as I know I'm wanting to write about more than just about what books we're reading.

This past week's theme has been snow, specifically focusing on animals (especially birds) and how they survive during storms. As you can see, one of our projects this week was to make pine cone birdfeeders. We collected pine cones from our woods, stuffed peanut butter in the gaps, and rolled them in birdseed. Then we hung our finished birdfeeders on our Christmas Tree on our deck (moved out there after Christmas for this very purpose). We've spent a lot of time the past few days watching the birds come to eat at our feeders (and the other kinds of foods we put out for them -- seeds, nuts, berries, fruit). We've been identifying which type of birds come to our feeders, and which food that particular type of bird seems to like best -- we've discovered that the nuthatch and woodpecker prefer the suet, the titmouse really loves the peanut butter on our pinecone feeders, the chickadees prefer the black oil sunflower seeds, and the goldfinches like the thistle seeds. Mysteriously, the nuts we put out seem to disappear when we're not looking....could it have something to do with the squirrel we watched climb up onto our deck last week? We haven't seen him again since we started putting more than just birdseed out there, but I highly suspect he's sneaking in when we're not looking. I'm sure catching him in the act (bound to happen eventually!) will cause much excitement with the kids.

We did some googling to see photos of all the snowfall in Oswego, NY. Seven feet of snow on the ground -- imagine! My back is glad it's out there and not here, though a part of me would love to see what that depth of snow looks like -- imagine being able to tunnel through snow that is over your head! As for us, we got 4 inches of the white stuff last Friday, allowing me to break out the snow theme FINALLY. The books we've been reading reflect that. And we've spent as much time as the bitterly cold temperatures and windchills have allowed us to outdoors, sledding, making snow angels, having snowball fights (though our powdery snow doesn't ball up well, so a snowman is currently out of the question). The kids have developed a real passion for sledding, and we've had to insist on them coming inside long before they want to, cheeks, noses, and ears bright red, kissed by Jack Frost.

This week we've been reading:

The Big Snow, by Berta and Elmer Hader. This book is an oldie (published in 1948) but a goodie, and a Caldecott Medal winner. It describes all of the preparations that a wide variety of woodland creatures make in the late fall to prepare for winter. Then winter comes, along with a little snowfall. Then a big storm hits, burying and freezing all the available food. It talks about how this effects each creature. Then a little old man and little old woman come to the rescue for those who can't find food, putting out seeds and grain and hay, attracting all the critters who are still stirring to the feast. In the end, the groundhog puts in his Feb 2 appearance. The text is longer than most books that I choose for my kids, but because it's a topic they are exited about, this quickly became a favorite of theirs.

Blizzard, by Carole Gerber, illustrated by Marty Husted. The Map Man and I LOVE this book. My kids are luke-warm on it, and I'm not sure why. Lovely, simple rhymes and beautiful watercolor illustrations contrast a gorgeous New England winter storm with a cozy indoor scene, then blends the two in the end as the storm subsides and the boy ventures outdoors to make a snow angel. It's just SO appropriate for where we live and the season. I don't get why the kids aren't just thrilled to pieces over it. Go figure.

Gingerbread Baby, by Jan Brett. Here we go again, our favorite Author delivers another big hit around this house! This is the classic Gingerbread Man "catch me if you can" story, told as only Jan Brett could, with a Scandenavian flair and absolutely delicious illustrations, and a 100% totally satisfying ending (which certainly can not be said about the traditional version of the story!). The kids are ga-ga about this book, and so are we.

I expect our snow theme will run into next week too. Would be nice if we got another snowstorm in the interim, but it's not looking likely according to the weather forcast. Poor kids want to make a snowman!

Monday, February 05, 2007

a little more on Homeopathy

I've had a request to talk a little more about Homeopathy, and what I'm doing with it for Jacob. I like requests, it prevents me from having to think up a topic to write about!

I originally wrote about Homeopathy during my back-history of Jacob's autism, and I'd encourage anyone not familiar with how Homeopathy works to read there first before continuing here.

I have long been a fan of Classical Homeopathy, using it as our primary health care option for any illness or injury, long before we became aware of Jacob's Autism. In fact, long before I even seriously considered having kids. So we were using Homeopathy with Jacob before we had a diagnosis -- even before we had an inkling of what was "wrong". In fact, I had taken him to a Professional Homeopath before I even suspected a thing, although I didn't employ the Homeopath that eventually helped us until after I knew there was something wrong (see my posts about The Storm).

Every child is going to have a different Constitutional Remedy, even those that may have the same presenting symptoms. A lot of Classical Homeopathy depends on finding exactly the right remedy for the child based on their individual temperment and make-up, in addition to the problems they are experiencing. In Jacob's case, the proper remedy was Argentum nitricum, which we arrived at under the guidance of a Professional Homeopath.

We started out by giving him a 30c dose twice a day for the first day, and a follow up dose the following morning. Then we waited and watched to see what happened. We would give him a follow-up dose of 30c whenever he experienced a meltdown or tantrum of extreme instensity or duration (think 3 hour earth-shattering meltdown), which is something that I've heard would be refered to as a "neurological event", and that's a description I quite agree with. Or when he experienced a string of meltdowns or intense anxiety attacks (several in the same day). The dose would return him almost instantly to a more settled, regulated state.

Once we realized that this was the proper remedy for him, we started fiddling around with the dose so that we could give it less often and have a more lasting effect. We finally settled on 200c pellets, which we gave to him as above. These seemed to help him maintain a more settled emotional state for a week or two at a time -- we'd only see small tantrum and "normal" (HA!) meltdowns, mild anxiety, etc. It would wear off over time, and we'd need to re-dose him, but eventually we got down to about once a month, and there it stabilized for quite some time.

Then we discovered RDI. Via our RDI work, Jacob developed self-regulation, and that is what finally ended the need for his Homeopathic remedy. We haven't given him a dose of that since....oh, gosh I can't remember. Mid-summer 2006, I think. Maybe early summer. Around the time that he mastered Stage 4 he no longer needed it. There were no more meltdowns. He wasn't an anxious child anymore. He could handle change. He could regulate himself, maintain his composure in all but extreme circumstances.

Did Homeopathy work to cure his Autism? Nope. Not even a little. But it did make it possible for him to be able to live with himself while we were doing the work to help him develop his own self-regulation. It prevented him from being self-injurious, and from lashing out at others. It ended seemingly endless "neurological events". And I think it prevented any more emotional damage being caused to him by the developmental route his Autistic brain was taking. It was a really important first step for us to get in control of this thing and give us the time to seek out actual solutions. It took us out of crisis mode and set us onto a path of healing.

Incidentally, and I refer to this in my original post on Homeopathy too, there is a practice called "Sequential Homeopathy", whose proponents claim works to "cure" Autism. It didn't make enough sense to me, in our particular situation, to pursue this -- we were already making strides with RDI before I'd ever heard of Sequential Homeopathy, so I didn't see a need to pursue it. It may be of use to some families to look into it, however, especially if they feel that their child's autism has been caused by or is being exacerbated by physical illness. I think the folks that find help with biomedical interventions may find help in pursuing Homeopathy too.

We still use Homeopathy for Jacob, for illnesses and injuries. Just like we do for any of us in this family, including our pets and farm animals. Other than having given Zoo Boy antibiotics once for an ear infection, and Jacob's continued use of Glycolax to keep him pooping regularly (a topic for another day....), my kids have never had any western medications -- no antibiotics, no fever-reducers (what a bizarre concept anyway -- the fever is there to naturally fight off the disease, why would you want to get rid of it???), no cold medicines. Homeopathy helps their bodies fight off infections naturally. It's worth reading about for anyone's health, but especially that of kids with ASD, whose neurology may be adversely affected by medications (I mean more than the average person would be affected!).

Saturday, February 03, 2007

5 year and 20 year mission previews

Originally I had planned to post our 5 year and 20 year misssion previews along with my post from yesterday, but the post ended up being so long that I decided to just wait and give them their own post. These were written in January 2006.

a scene 5 years from now:

phone rings:
voice: "Hi, this is John, can I talk to Jacob?"
I call Jacob in from the yard where he's playing baseball with his brother and a few friends. He yells "be right back!" as he comes running.
Jacob: "Hello?...Oh, hi John! You should come over, we're playing ball....Hey, Ma!!! Can John come over?"
me: "Ok, but we have to leave for Grandma's in a little while."
Jacob: "Yeah, come over now! We can play ball until I have to go to my Grandmother's birthday party."
Jacob yells "Thanks, Ma!" as he runs back out the door.
Sounds of laughter and fun from the yard.

This mission preview shows my 5-year vision of a "normalized" life, where we all will have moved beyond therapy being the central focus of our daily lives, and a 10 year old Jacob will have moved on to the important work of being a "just a kid" rather than a "kid with Autism".

a scene 20 years from now:

Jacob and his wife come to visit us, bringing pictures from their recent trip to Spain. Jacob helps his Dad barbecue steaks on the grill while I chat with his wife about the house they are about to move into, their first house. We're thinking about color themes for the nursery when Jacob come in from the deck with the food and teases me about becoming a grandmother and being old. We all sit down to dinner and discuss our plans to rent a weekend house on the Cape later that summer.

I chose to use a 20 year scene rather than a 10 year scene (the suggestion was long-term results, 10-20 years from now) because I figured that 10 years out would only get Jacob to age 15, and I figured we'd want to look at longer term results than that. I know that the scene shows some pretty specific things. However, it was not my intent to choose the sorts of thing that Jacob will be interested in (travel, marriage, parenthood), but rather to show that he'll have as likely a chance to have those things if they are things that he desires. That he, in fact, will have the choice of becoming anything he chooses, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Friday, February 02, 2007

mission previews

One of the parent exercises that the RDI program has started having families do is to create "mission previews" about how we anticipate RDI changing our lives in the short term (1-2 years from now), in the mid-term (5-7 years from now) and in the long-term (10-20 years from now). The idea is to realistically imagine a scene from our lives during those time frames and write down how our lives will have changed. We're talking minor things here, how our everyday life is going to be altered by RDI, not grandiose goals or technical statements.

I first participated in this exercise when I attended the 4-day Parent Training in January 2006. It was recently pointed out to me that a year has passed, and that I should look at my 1-year mission preview and see how it compares to real life for me. Here's what it looked like when I originally wrote it:

A scene from next year at this time:

driving home from the supermarket
Jacob: "Mom, can we stop at the playground on the way home?"
me: "no, I'm sorry, we've got to get home, we have icecream in the trunk"
Jacob: "Why does the icecream need to get home?"
me: "Because otherwise it will melt."
Jacob: "Oh. I really wanted to go to the playground."
me: "Tell you what, maybe we can go tomorrow."
Jacob: "Ok! Maybe John can come too."

At the time, I wondered if I was being a little overly optomistic. At that point, Jacob had never thought about a place to go without us prompting him to come up with one. In fact, he had never independently asked to do ANYTHING. He'd never asked a "why" question, nor do I think he ever actually wondered about anything (he certainly had the ABILITY to ask "why" about things, he just lacked the motivation -- curiosity -- to do it). And the thought about delaying gratification like that at the time seemed monumental -- the mere suggestion would have caused a whole lot of stress and tears (for both him and me!). So suggesting that he'd be "OK" about me saying we'd come back another day seemed to be a pretty lofty goal. And then the final thought, that he would actually think to include a friend, was more a pipe dream than anything.

In looking at our mission preview now, a year later, I was shocked (and thrilled!) to see that every gain I hoped to see in a year's time has come true! About a month after we pulled him out of the pre-K school program to homeschool him full time, he not only mastered RDI Stage 4 (variations), which allowed him the flexibility to be OK with delaying gratification, but he also started asking "why" questions and showing the first signs of true curiosity. He now is coming up with ideas of things to do and is asking if he can do them. And he's even, on occassion, asked if his brother can join in the fun, too.

It all came true! I was floored. And excited. And jumping up in down in my seat. And when, in sharing my thoughts on this with a friend, she suggested writing another mission preview for the coming year, I gladly obliged. Here it is:

A scene from 1 year from now:

Jacob is sitting at the table working on a crayon drawing.
J: "I need a black piece of paper"
Me: "You do?"
J: "Yeah, white crayons won't show up on white paper. I'm drawing the snowstorm that's coming tomorrow."
Me: (searching through our paper supply) "I don't see any black, best I can do is pink."
J: (considering that) "Never mind, I'll just use the white paper as the snow and I'll draw in the other stuff around it."
He gets up from his drawing and goes to the window, looking outside.
J: "Do you think we'll get a lot of snow?"
Me: "Well, they're predicting almost a foot."
J: "Yeah, but sometimes they're wrong."
Me: "That's true."
J: "Maybe we'll get more than that!"
Me: "Maybe we'll get less"
J: "Maybe we'll get rain"
We both laugh, and Jacob returns to his drawing.

The changes that would need to happen to make this come true? Creative, flexible problem-solving. More complex curiosity. Theory of mind. A sophisticated sense of humor.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- it's going to be a big, exciting year!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

the six birds

Following the lead of our succesful day on Monday, I decided to try again yesterday to take one of the kids' idea and run with it for our day's activities. Wednesdays are fairly relaxed days for us anyway -- we have a community exercise/movement class in the morning, then we spend a quiet afternoon at home, both because the kids (especially Zoo Boy) are pretty beat after 45 minutes of solid movement, and also because I don't do enough of that in general -- just being at home -- so I've actually written time for that in our weekly schedule.

After our rest time, I set up an OT activity for them (a short obstacle course with a lot of bouncing and jumping), then played a round of "fishin' for favorites" to get in some more bouncing and some focused RDI time. At the end, the kids jumped into the "fishing hole" (the ball pit) and pretended they were catching fish. That got us talking about animals that eat fish, and then more specifically about birds that eat fish. Which gave me an idea.

In watching a Blues Clues episode the other day, Zoo Boy asked if we could play a game they did on the show -- there were cards on the floor with pictures of various colored objects on them, and a leader called out the colors and the kids had to jump onto the right colored object. I have a deck of bird flashcards, so I sorted through the deck and extracted the colorful birds from it. I scattered the cards on the ground, then explained the rules to the boys. Then I called out a color and the boys had to jump onto a bird that was that color. (The photo is of the kids playing this game, listening for the next color.) Then we picked up that bird card and flipped it over to find out the name of the bird. This game was a BIG hit with the kids (especially Zoo Boy, our budding Ornithologist), and they insisted on playing it twice.

One of the birds in the deck was a Kookabura, so after the game was over, I left out the Kookabura card and we all danced around it singing the "Kookabura" song with assorted variations in words and movements (sometimes he sat in the old gum tree, sometimes he climbed up the old gum tree, sometimes he flew around the old gum tree, sometimes he ate gumdrops).

After several rounds of the song, I fished out a book I had recently purchased at a local thrift shop for $1. It's entitled The Song of Six Birds by Rene Deetlefs, illustrated by Lyn Gilbert, both from South Africa. The story tells the tale of a village girl who is given a songless flute as a gift. There are wonderful snippets of village life displayed as she wanders about filling her flute with the song of 6 native African birds. In the end, the beautiful music she plays inspires a village-wide festival and celebration. WONDERFUL story!

After reading it, the kids wanted to flip back through the book to find the names of the birds and the songs they sang, and we all practiced singing the songs of the six birds. They then started flipping through the flashcards to see if they could find any of the six birds in there, and I faded into the background to leave them to their quest. Eventually they started playing pretend games about the six birds, having birds from the deck of cards talk to the six birds, etc. By the time The Map Man got home, Zoo Boy had an entire birthday party set up for the six birds and we each had a role as a party guest.

I officially declared the day another raging success. Which has me thinking that my best plan for using the Enki curriculum is going to be to arrange my materials in thematic folders so that I have easy access to materials to use based on the natural inclination of the kids as to what is interesting them that particular day/week. They certainly seem more integrated with the experience when it comes from an inner place, and they have a more open intake of the "lesson". The day just seems to flow easier, more naturally. And the flexibility of that sort of set-up appeals to me, strong believer in unschooling that I am.