Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why don’t you just… ?

Sarah at Kitaiska Sandwich raised some interesting points in this post, but a couple of paragraphs really jumped out at me:

Special-needs parents get a lot of advice from therapists, teachers, and other professionals. There is a difference between advice about how to address a particular, narrowly defined problem (which is part of your job), and general parenting advice (which is not). And the difference matters. You may be an expert in your field. And your field may be child psychology, or speech pathology, or pediatrics, or early childhood education. And I may come to you for advice in the field in which you are qualified. But I’m no more interested in your opinions about being a parent than I am in my veterinarian’s opinion about mutual funds.
I will admit that I feel differently about advice from other parents of kids with disabilities, mental illness, or other special needs. But I have also noticed that few of them are offering unsolicited advice. Probably because they’ve been on the receiving end of so much of it that, like me, they are very aware of how that kind of advice is usually received.

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I just added some blogs to "My Favorite Autism Blogs"


Friday, February 25, 2011

From an autistic boy: A different perspective on autism and function

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Woo-Hoo! I've caught up on my blogs!

I have an addiction. And addiction to reading blogs. An addiction to subscribing to blogs. And when I read a blog, if it links to another blog, I have to follow the link. And if I enjoy it, I'll most likely subscribe to that blog, too. And if I really, really like it, I'll start reading through the archives. And I'll almost certainly check out the blogs that blogger reads, and end up subscribing to some of those. Google Reader makes it so easy to subscribe. When I log in, I don't have to visit all my blogs, looking for new posts. All the new posts are sitting there waiting for me. I enjoy reading my favorite bloggers; they add humor, happiness, and encouragement to my day. It only takes a few seconds to read the average post. Very few take longer than a minute to read. And did I mention it's free?

But my blogs have a dark, insidious side. As much as I like to subscribe, I find it very hard to unsubscribe. After all, I like this blog. I signed up for it, didn't I? And so they accumulate. Then I have a busy day or two, or a week, and I can't read them all. Like The Newspaper That Shall Not Be Named, if I don't read the posts or throw them out, they pile up. And when I return, I have not only the day's new posts, but the backlog, which I may not have time to deal with. But I hate to delete any post unread. What if I miss some vital piece of information, insightful comment, thrilling narrative, or a joke that may put me in danger of inundating my unmentionables?

They not only accumulate, they sit there accusingly, like an unopened bill or report card, like undone homework or tax returns. The longer they sit, the less I want to think about them, so they pile up faster and deeper. By now the guilt of the messages I should have just deleted is added to that of the messages I  could have enjoyed, if I had only taken the time to read them. Some old posts drop off the list if they aren't read. I haven't figured out the rules—they seem to be different for every blog—but I worry about the posts that have disappeared. Somewhere around 500 unread posts, I feel an urgent need to catch up. I clear some time, and start reading as fast as I can. About then, several of my favorite bloggers go on a posting frenzy. Even swimming upstream as fast as I can, the current rushes me down the river. Something has to give. I don't want to abandon my favorite bloggers, but I can't read the entire Internet, or even keep up with the parts I find interesting. I even forget which blogs I love to read, and which I have lost interest in.

I spent nearly all my free time for the past two weeks reading and thinning my blogs. I was far enough behind that a representative sample of posts had accumulated on nearly all of them. If that sample didn't enrich my life, I unsubscribed. If there were fewer posts I liked than didn't, poof! If one post really irked me, bye-bye! As much as I may have enjoyed each and every blog, I had to cut somewhere. When I was finished, I had cut my subscription list nearly in half, to 108. Some of that number were abandoned by their writers months ago. Some writers post rather infrequently. Some have not posted in so long, I'm waiting to see whether they have abandoned their blogs. So I have a relatively manageable number of regular posters whose posts I really enjoy. That means I won't put off reading blogs because I dread the backlog. Over time, I may trim the list further. In the process of all this reading, I found several new blogs that look quite promising. Oh, the temptation!

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GL only checked out 4 DVDs today!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sometimes he surprises me

GL likes to check out DVDs from the library. Stacks and stacks of DVDs. So many that even the most patient and understanding librarians, who accommodate him in every possible way, worry about him leaving enough DVDs for other kids to check out. He tends to check out the same titles over and over. Just going to the library and checking one out makes it new again. The thing is, the next day, everything he checked out the day before is old, and he needs new DVDs. Doesn't matter that he hasn't watched some of them. They're old, and he needs new.

I used to fight him on this, figuring that, since he was being unreasonable, nothing would satisfy him anyway. But I found that, once he's been to the library, he's content with his DVDs the rest of the day. It doesn't matter if we go first thing in the morning, those DVDs are still new until tomorrow. It doesn't matter if we go right before bedtime, those DVDs will be old as soon as he gets up in the morning. Like manna. Once I caught on, I decided, "Why not take him to the library every day? He'll be content (with his DVDs, at any rate) for the rest of the day, it's only two blocks away, and walking to the library is the only thing resembling exercise I can get him to do."

It was frustrating that he still insisted on checking out so many DVDs at a time, but at least he doesn't keep them out long. Our routine goes like this: We walk into the library, he throws his bag of DVDs on the return desk, yells, "Do we have anything in? Go check, and I'll look for new DVDs!" and runs, despite repeated reminders to walk, back to the children's DVDs. He snatches three or four of them, runs to the checkout desk, and yells, "Do we have anything in?" If we do, well and good. He might even wait in line until it is our turn to check out. If not, he yells, "Oh, man! That's terrible!" and runs back to the children's DVDs to select more titles. He usually comes back with as many as he can carry, and on more than one occasion, made multiple trips with as many as he could carry. I had to talk him down. And try to avoid a meltdown in the library.

Even if we have items waiting for us at the front desk, when it's our turn to check out, he keeps trying to snatch things from the librarian's hands before she can scan them. Once everything is scanned, he usually decides he needs more DVDs, or maybe some books, and runs back to get them. The long and short of it is that we never leave the library with fewer than 10 items, most of them DVDs, even though we visit every day.

Today, he followed his usual routine up to the point where we were checking out and he asked if we had anything in. There was a book for me. We checked out three DVDs and the book, he put them in a bag, and headed for the door! With only 3 DVDs! On the way home, I realized that he'd only checked out 3 DVDs the day before, too. (And about 12 books, but that's beside the point. Today he checked out 3 DVDs and nothing else!) I seem to remember a reasonable number of DVDs on Monday as well. (I forget how many other items.) So after several months of going to the library every day it's open, is he finally getting the idea that he doesn't have to stock up for an entire month? We'll see what happens tomorrow.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pinky, We're Going to Take Over the World!

Today's post is reprinted with permission from Boarding in Bedlam. I tried to find the original comment Arby quoted, but decided I had better things to do. I assume it's buried somewhere in the 777 (and counting) comments.

Arby is a stay-at-home, homeschooling, father of General Mayhem, Major Havoc, and Captain Chaos. He is happily married to The Boss. They live in Apathy, Kansas, with The Big Fuzzy Dog, several chickens, a few fish, and Reggie the Rent-a-Dog.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Pinky, We're Going to Take Over the World!
Well, it’s almost time to begin the new day. In a few minutes I will gather my hand-picked students, chosen for their unique gifts and abilities, and start them on their daily lessons. That is the position of Tracy, a teacher writing on a Wall Street Journal community forum. In her post, Tracy wrote:

Homeschooling - I have no problem with homeschooling, but please don't compare that with my job. There are VERY FEW similarities. If I had only 3-4 self-selected students to educate in the comfort of my own home with any bathroom/food/physical activity/food break and could set my own hours and discipline appropriately, etc. etc. etc ------ I could get even better results than those parents. If you don't believe me, then please fund that study and I will be happy to participate. I will even take 10 students.

She discovered our secret. Homeschoolers self-select only the best students. This self-selection process skews the results of home education unnaturally higher than those of our public school counter-parts. Tracy is such an incredibly talented teacher that if she would do the same, her homeschooling performance would be better than the rest of us teacher-wannabes. I’m stepping up today to raise my hand and admit, “Guilty as charged!”

I self-selected only the best students for my homeschool. I did not simply accept the children that God gave me. I self-selected a girl with a congenital heart defect. She’s a stroke victim with learning delays that caused us to hold her back one year in school to better prepare her to complete the first grade. It gave us time to help her gain the ability to hold and manipulate a pencil. Nothing screams “academic success” like repeating kindergarten! I self-selected OCD Boy. He’s the child that must ask the same question three times in a row before hesitantly accepting the same answer given three times in a row and gingerly moving forward through his exercises. If he had his way, I would be holding his hand through every question on every task that he completes. His ability is high. His self-confidence is low. I even self-selected Walter Mitty, my teenager whose hold on reality is tenuous on his best days. I wanted him to possess a genuine talent for mathematics coupled with a genuine loathing for the subject that allows him to stretch even the simplest math assignment into a five hour marathon.

I’m a bit of a sadist that way.

I’m fairly certain that if I asked my homeschooling friend Daniel, he’d admit that he self-selected autism for his oldest boy. Teaching a non-autistic child would be so…mundane. I’m quite certain that most of the thousands of the parents who homeschool their special needs children would agree. And those homeschooling parents who chose “normal” students? Selfish bastards. All of ‘em. They could have self-selected special needs children, but nope, they opted for normal. And we all know that normal homeschooling children never act up, disobey, sass, fail to complete their work, fail subjects, miss deadlines, lose assignments, daydream, lollygag or repeatedly make the same mistake that their parent-teachers have explained to them over and over and over again until they are banging their heads on the refrigerator in frustration. It never happens because those traits have been self-selected out of normal homeschooled children.

It’s time to let the world in on a little secret. Homeschoolers hold all the secrets to manipulating DNA in order to produce only the best possible students.

Pinky, we’re going to take over the world!

Or maybe…just possibly…Tracy has no idea what she is writing about.
Posted by Arby at 10:15 AM

Papa Bear said...

I thought you must have a hidden camera in my house. Did I mention that, along with autism, GL has OCD? And after he asks the same question 20 times, I ask, "What did I say?" He repeats my answer verbatim, then asks the same question again.

And your "Walter Mitty" describes BB to a T!

I must have forgotten to fill out the girl with a heart condition page. Either that, or they're so popular, they're backordered. I seem to remember requesting twelve little blessings who were all candidates for Mensa, Mr. / Miss Congeniality, Most Diligent, Most Likely to Succeed, and sainthood. Ability to run a 4 minute mile while still in high school optional. Instead, I got my kids. I wouldn't trade them.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Harry Potter is Extinct

So it's not just my kid...


A knight and his men returned to their castle after a long hard day of fighting.

"How are we faring?" asks the king.

"Sire," replies the knight, "I have been robbing and pillaging on your behalf all day, burning the towns of your enemies in the west."

"What?!?" shrieks the king. "I don't have any enemies to the west!"

"Oh," says the knight. "Well, you do now."


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Whose Job is it, Anyway?

I love it when blogging turns into a conversation between people with similar goals, but varied experience. I've been discussing curriculum planning both here and in various online forums. I've had a number of helpful answers to various questions, usually about what I expected: I was looking for a way to teach x, and people replied that a, b, or c worked for them. Rebecca Miller surprised me with a blog post of her own in response to one of my more general questions,  What is not working in our homeschooling?

While her post was about her family's experience, it led me to consider some related questions we're dealing with. Every year as I prepare to select the materials we will use, I look over the past year and ask, "What worked? What didn't? and Where do we go from here?" The "What worked?" is obvious; let's build on our successes. The "What didn't?" can mean a variety of things. Maybe a book just didn't live up to its reviews. Maybe it just wasn't a good fit for my child's learning style. Maybe it was just too much to try to cram into our already overstuffed schedule. But there is always the possibility that, much as I'd like to, I can't blame the book. Sometimes my kid didn't put in the effort he should have, or I didn't.

That last one has been a struggle lately. Since my older son has autism, if he isn't putting in the effort, it's up to me to figure out a way to get him to do the work. But my younger son is twelve now, and needs to start learning how to take responsibility for his own work. Yes, it's a gradual process, but he usually doesn't see a need to focus because he has no idea what should be expected of a sixth grader. If it doesn't come naturally, if he has to work at it, he thinks it's too hard, and doesn't see the point of trying.

He has a vague idea that he is ahead in some subjects and behind in others (true), but no clear idea of where he should be in any given subject. We talked about it today, and I asked if he would like a chart of what needs to be done at each grade level between where he is and high school graduation. He said he would. I typed one up this afternoon. It's only a rough outline, listing the subjects he needs to study, and which books we have used / are using / are planning to use, and is subject to revision: As I see his effort and progress, I get a clearer picture of his abilities and what I can reasonably expect of him. I plan to go over it with him tomorrow. We can check off what he's already done, and I hope it will give him a more accurate picture of what he still needs to do. Then we can look at both the knowledge he needs to acquire and the skills he needs to develop, and strategize what to do when.

But I also need to observe him carefully and evaluate when to coax, support, and lead him along and when to let him stand or fall on his own. The ultimate goal is for him to take complete responsibility for his education, labor, and vocation, but what is the best method to foster this independence, and what does it look like at any given moment? How can I best model the ethic I'm trying to teach? As he learns to work more independently, what should I be doing while he's working? Folding laundry?  Reading a worthwhile book? Building model rockets? (educational, but he'd feel I was having all the fun!) Researching curriculum? Randomly browsing the Internet?

And I, too, had found something I could do a few hours a week that brought in a little money to help stretch the family budget, and even cover the costs of some CAP activities. It was only a few hours a week, but it did cut into school time. That opportunity ended, so I'm looking for a replacement. But how to fit it in without school suffering? I'd like BB to start earning some money to pay for his activities, too, and more than I could pay him, but how best to fit it in?

Most teens like to sleep late. Conventional wisdom says they should go to bed earlier. Our boys go to bed early almost every night, and they still sleep late. I don't think many teens or preteens are getting all the sleep they need, but how much is too much? Our school day runs well into the evening. I could get them up earlier, but would they finish earlier, or just be less productive due to a lack of sleep? What is the ideal amount of sleep for these boys, and at what time? How can we find time for the physical exercise they and I need? And what subjects do I cut back on, and how much, when we need to focus in another area?

Don't be discouraged by my having more questions than answers. We are making good progress in many areas. It's balance that's difficult. And I welcome your stories of what worked well for you in a particular area, or how you keep up in one thing without falling behind somewhere else. Because with so many things that need doing, it's hard to know how much of what to do when.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Where do We Go from Here?

First, I forgot to list one thing that is working very well: FlashMasterir.gif. BB is quick to pick up math concepts, but he struggled with memorizing his math facts. (Kind of like his dad, heh, heh.) We used Addition Songsir.gif, Subtraction Songsir.gif, Multiplication Songsir.gif, and Division Songsir.gif, all from Audio Memory, to teach math facts, and FlashMaster to practice them. Even once he had them all memorized and didn't need to count on his fingers or refer to a table any more, he was still slow on the draw. While doing long division, for example, he would sit staring into space, waiting for a needed division or multiplication fact to magically pop into his head. Naturally, the waiting usually turned to daydreaming, his thoughts never returned to math until I got his attention, and this always made him angry because he insisted he hadn't been daydreaming. He would make thirty review problems, all of which he already knew how to do, take three to four hours.

We have been working on focus and, while his mind still wanders, he is getting better at noticing, and bringing it back. What helped? First, I let him use a multiplication table. He could answer most of the problems on the table quickly without looking, but those he had to think about took longer to remember than to look up. And looking them up seemed to reinforce the right answers in his memory. He hasn't needed the multiplication table in over a year now. Second, we have him set a 1 minute timer for each problem. Some problems take more than one minute and some take less.  If the timer beeps before he is finished, or he finishes the problem before it beeps, he resets it for another minute. If he starts to daydream, it's less than a minute before the timer brings him back to reality. Third, I have him practice every day with FlashMaster. When he gets enough problems right in the time allotted, he moves to the next level. Once he completes all the levels, he starts over, but we reduce the time limit. So we will continue with the per-problem timer and FlashMaster.

MathTacular: The boys both loved MathTacular 1-3, and last year when I ordered curriculum, MathTacular 4 was "Coming Soon". I kept delaying my order, waiting for it to come out, but after several months, it never did, so I gave up on it. It's out now. 

I mentioned that GL will be attending the local high school in the fall. Since he continues to make progress in reading, I will continue working with him in that area. We're still waiting for his placement assessment at the school. After that, we'll see what the school has for him.

For BB, reading, spelling, grammar, writing, and math will remain priorities.  Since what we've been doing in these areas seems to be working, we'll keep at it, with a focus on bringing him up to grade level. The subjects that tend to get crowded out, we will focus on, one at a time, until he is where he needs to be in each. 

For science, I'm still not sure what direction to take. I'm open to suggestions. For History, I'm still looking for a good follow-up to The Story of the World. We'll definitely be reading books about various people, places, and civilizations, but I'd like something to help tie it all together. I think BB is ready for  Rod and Staff Grade 5 Bible Workbook. We enjoyed What's in the Bible Vol. 1: In the Beginning. We'll be adding the other DVDs in the series as a fun supplement. I think we'll follow up Classical Kids: Collectionir.gif with The Music MastersThe Stories Of Vivaldi And CorelliThe Story of BachThe Story Of Handel, etc.

I think the biggest surprise to me as I plan for the coming year has been how few surprises there are. Most things we've been using are working. We'll keep using them. A handful aren't. We've already found replacements for most. I'll let you know what we come up with, and how they work out. We knew which subjects were getting crowded out. It's time to prioritize them. 

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Facebook: The Project — A Parent’s Friend or Foe

I like bloggers whose posts interesting, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Who impress me with insight rather than overwhelm me with volume. Rebecca Miller at The Sandwiched Homeschooler is one such blogger.

Facebook's policy requires users to be at least 13 years old. Of course, I am well aware that many pre-teens circumvent this policy, often with their parents' conscious assistance. I think that's foolish. For those who choose to abide by the rules, the question remains: Is it wise for a teen to have a Facebook account?

I have mixed feelings about Facebook. On the one hand, it has allowed me to restore and maintain contact with extended family scattered all over the world. On the other hand, there are privacy concerns: Facebook's default settings are always the most social and least private. Even when I select which information I want private, Facebook changes my settings without my knowledge or consent, (I find these changes later, after Facebook has quietly changed them.) and publishes information I had specifically asked them to keep private, for example, my cell phone number. And I have seen Facebook used to bully, especially among the young, and have seen it used fraudulently, usually for revenge.

Some people downplay these concerns, insisting that you have control over who sees your information, since you choose whom to friend or not to friend. Rebecca and her sons conducted an experiment to see just how much privacy teens have on Facebook. I found the results interesting.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Papa Bear's Papa Went Where?

Brother Bear: Here comes [Papa Bear's Papa]!
Goldilocks: PBP is in Africa.
Mama Bear: PBP is in Arkansas.
GL: Close enough!

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Saturday, February 12, 2011


I stole this from What Sweeter Music, where it had been posted by Abbi, who had naturally stolen it from Someplace Else.

”That is really amazing,” he said. ”That really is truly amazing. That is so amazingly amazing I think I'd like to steal it.”

MAN IN BLACK: Let me explain...
VIZZINI: There's nothing to explain. You're trying to kidnap what I've rightfully stolen.

If you like this, you'll love

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Home Schooling: What Hasn't worked over the past year?

You can have almost anything you want. You just can't have everything you want. There are plenty of wonderful resources I'd love to use with my kids, but there simply aren't enough hours in the day to try them all, let alone put in the time and energy to get the maximum benefit from each. Life is a series of choices. Not always between good and evil, but sometimes between good, better and best. Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best—you settle for "good enough" when you could have had the "best". Other times, the best is the enemy of the good—you could have had "good enough", but you hold out for the "best" and get nothing. And what's best for one person isn't always best for another. So as parents, we try to decide what's best or reasonable or attainable for our kids. It's hard enough sometimes to make good choices for ourselves, given the myriad of options, and it's even harder to know another person, especially a child, whose personality and abilities are still unfolding and developing. Is it any wonder we second-guess ourselves?

Years ago, I spent time on a home schooling forum that had frequent flame wars. What was the hottest topic? Creationism vs. evolution? Religion? Politics? Racial bias in history books? No. The longest, hottest flame wars were over math curricula. Math is a challenging subject, and one that many children (and adults) struggle with. So when a child just isn't getting it, despite the expenditure of blood, sweat, and tears (both his and his parents') desperate parents will try anything. When the child makes a breakthrough, it seems like a miracle. The parents are likely to regard the book they were using at the time with a reverence bordering on worship. And some just can't sit idly by when someone disses their Holy Math Book.

Remarkably often, Parent X starts firstborn with book A, which fails miserably, tries book B, meets with weeping and gnashing of teeth and, nearing despair, tries book C. The child has an epiphany, and math becomes a delight (or at least a tolerable burden). Parent X begins preaching the gospel of book C. Meanwhile, Parent Y starts firstborn with book C, which goes swimmingly, until firstborn hits a wall and can go no further. Parent Y tries book B, but to no avail. In desperation, she tries book A, and meets with near-instant success. Parent Z has six children (or more). They all use book B, and none of them ever have the slightest difficulty with math. One of them gets a math scholarship to Harvard. Then along comes child seven or eight, who can't make heads or tails of book B. Parent Z tries book A (or C) because, while both come highly recommended, the arguments for one of them sound more convincing. Child seven (or eight) doesn't do much better with book A (or C), and Parent Z even finds it confusing. In desperation, she tries book D and meets with success at last!

There is a common theory in home schooling circles that the best math book for your child is the third one you try. The disagreement is on whether this is because it generally takes three tries to find your child's learning style or because after having a concept presented three different ways, the child finally gets it through sheer repetition. That said, if your child is doing fine with the math book he is presently using, don't switch just because the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence. I've heard from too many parents whose children were doing well in one book until their parents switched to a "better" book, which the child didn't understand. Often the child was so confused, he continued to struggle even after returning to the original book.

Some things have worked, but we haven't had the time to pursue them as far as we'd like. Other things came highly recommended, perhaps because of the theory or research behind them, but preferably because they worked really well for someone else's child. Some of these worked wonderfully for one or the other or both of my kids, while others fell flat. That doesn't mean they're useless; that just means they didn't work for us. So if I list something here as not working for us that worked wonders for your child, please don't take offense. I'm not doubting it worked for you; it just wasn't a good fit for us. And some books are good at the right time, but a particular child might not be ready at the same age as others.

Now hold on to your hats. I recently contacted our local public school about enrolling GL. It's not that home schooling hasn't worked well for him. I'm convinced he would not have come this far without it. And I intend to continue working with him at home. But one of the difficulties we've encountered due to home schooling is getting him the services, especially therapies, he needs. When you home school, it's amazing how many service providers don't even want to talk to  you. If a service is even theoretically available through the public school, any other provider expected us to get it there. When we asked how non-PS children were supposed to get these services, they had no answer, other than that we should enroll him. Now I have heard of a few special-needs kids getting services through the PS in some districts without enrolling, but that's rare. What's far more common (I mean nation-wide, not necessarily in our district) is for kids to be promised services through the schools and not get them. We felt home schooling was the best choice for him, but we knew he needed certain services. So we did the legwork. Sometimes we had to pay out of pocket for services that he should have been entitled to for free. Often, we had to buy the books and materials and learn how to do various therapies ourselves. It hasn't been easy, but it's been worth it.

So why change now? We're looking at what we want for him after high school: a job where he can feel useful, and the most independence he is capable of. At this point, that looks like a vocational program and living with some kind of supports. Whether that means a sheltered workshop or a job in the community with a job coach, a group home, or independent living with someone to check up on him to some extent, it's too early to say. But with any program, it's easier to make contact through the schools. He's fourteen, and will be starting high school in the fall. We want him to have the maximum time available to make the transition to adulthood. Socially, elementary and middle school would have been a disaster for him. We think he's finally developed to the point where is is capable of learning to function in a classroom, but he'll still need a lot of help.

Academically, in math, I think he's gone about as far as he will go. I'll be thankful if I'm wrong, but I've taught him as much as I can. His handwriting is by no means beautiful, but it is usually readable. He can write his name. He can copy words, phrases, and even short sentences. But about age thirteen, he decided he didn't need my help any more, and absolutely refuses to take any instruction. Sometimes he'll listen to his OT, but no one else. Maybe his teachers will have more luck. After being stalled at the same reading level for several years, he's made phenomenal progress in reading this year. He's gotten to the point where he'll sometimes pick up a book out of interest or curiosity and start reading it without prompting. He still needs help with the occasional word, but that's all. All I have to do is continue providing him with books of the appropriate reading level.

Where do we go from here? We've requested his records. The next step will be setting up testing and evaluation for placement. We should have all our ducks in a row by the end of this school year to enroll him in the fall. He's excited about going to high school. He has absolutely no idea what high school is like. Some people have expressed surprise that we would send GL to PS and not BB. They seem to feel that home schooling is okay for a kid who doesn't have much potential anyway, but not for average-to-bright kids. Actually, I understand their concern. I've seen home schoolers who only do the minimum they can get by with, and graduate barely-literate kids. I've also seen brilliant kids frustrated by schools that hold them back to the pace of the class. Most of them have dropped out of school mentally by seventh or eighth grade. He's also behind in several subjects, not because of a lack of ability, but a lack of focus. I've seen too many kids who were smart enough, but worked slowly or daydreamed too much to keep up with the class. They were put with the kids who were slow because they couldn't handle the material. After drifting with that group long enough, they lost whatever spark they had.

I mentioned several books that worked well, but got crowded out. Scheduling has been a problem. I start GL's lessons first. If he starts school first thing, he's motivated to finish, so he can watch his DVDs. If school is delayed, he accomplishes nothing. BB needs ten, preferably twelve hours of sleep to be at his best. No way he'd get that on a PS schedule! He goes to bed at eight, but it usually takes him until nine to get to sleep. That means he gets up about nine most mornings. If I wake him earlier, he is a grouch, and school is a battle. When he's been up later the night before, for Civil Air Patrol, for example, he sleeps even later. So while we try to start school by 9:30, it's not uncommon for him to sleep until ten or later, and start school at eleven or twelve. The problem is, he works very slowly, with frequent daydreaming. We're working on it, but sometimes he works from the time he gets up until time to go to bed, and does nothing but one lesson each in math and grammar!

What's been frequently crowded out this year? Logic, science, art (both drawing and appreciation), map skills, and music. I divide subjects into content, where there are facts and ideas to be learned, and skills, like reading, writing, and math. Yes, there is some overlap, for example, in reading a book about history, you practice reading (a skill) while learning facts about history (content). While both need to be learned, and I would not postpone all content until every skill was mastered, I tend to emphasize skills. Once you can read fluently and with understanding, you can fill in missing content. So science has been temporarily set aside.

I've yet to find an elementary or middle school science text I like. They seem to contain a random assortment of topical chapters, with little or no emphasis on underlying principles. The Well-Trained Mind recommends using a book like The Usborne Illustrated Encyclopedia the Natural World as a "spine" for studying biology at the elementary level, for example, and reading books about various types of plants and animals as you come to them in the "spine".  I think that's an improvement, and works well at that level if your kids are fluent, voracious, and independent readers (like I was at that age) or will sit for long periods while you read to them. GL would sit and listen to me read for hours from birth to age 7, and then abruptly lost interest. After that, getting him to listen was a battle. BB never had GL's appetite for read-alouds, but he would listen for shorter stretches throughout the day. He still enjoys the occasional read-aloud, but only if it's an exciting story, and taken in short sessions.

I'm also undecided on how to do science at the high school level. High school texts tend to be better-organized, and take one branch of science (biology, chemistry, physics) per year. They read like junior versions of college texts. The problem is, except for biology and geology, most high school students don't have the math background to do much science yet. The Well-Trained Mind takes a different approach. Since the whole book heavily emphasizes the humanities, especially history, at the expense of the sciences, high school science becomes a history of science. Not a bad approach if your student is set on a degree in one of the humanities, but a major setback if he decides (now or later) to pursue a career in the sciences.

What hasn't worked?

We tried Spelling Power because it claims to be based on actual research and is designed for people who struggle with spelling. I do like the idea of only studying the words you misspell, testing on them until you get them right, and periodically reviewing them to make sure you can still spell them. The exercises did seem to help him learn the words he was misspelling, and after a few days, he would get them right on the test and move on. But the correct spellings he learned never transfered to his other written work, and there was absolutely no long-term recall. When a word came back for review, he would misspell it. Every. single. time. And it would take just as many days of study to re-learn it as it had taken to learn it the first time. Next time it came up, he would misspell it again.

What weren't the boys ready for? With GL, there weren't many surprises. He mostly continued at his usual pace. He became more stubborn about handwriting, but reading finally seemed to click. Except on the days when it doesn't. BB started the year with Rod and Staff Grade 5 Bible Workbook, but his reading and writing skills weren't up to it yet. I think he's ready for it now. I had hoped to start Latin with him during the past year, but again, he needed more practice reading English. Maybe some time this year. 

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Home Schooling: What's working?

As I've said before, this is not an Autism Blog. It is a blog about our family's life together. Autism is a big part of our life, but it is not our whole life. Another big part of our life is home schooling. And that is one reason I haven't posted much lately. This is the time of year when I do our taxes and plan the curriculum for the coming year. If that doesn't interest you, skip this post. I'll return to autism and my other favorite topics shortly. The planning usually consists of three parts: What's working? What's not working? and Where do we go from here? So I'll start by listing what's working.

Since we school year-round, and they start a new book in each subject whenever they finish the old book, and since neither boy is necessarily in the same grade level in all subjects, there's no sharp and arbitrary division between school years.

For GL:
Reading: We continue with reading real books, mostly from the lists in the Sonlight catalog. He's made great strides in reading over the last few months. He's working through the Readers 2 Intermediate list, which means basically done with second grade, but not quite ready for third grade.

Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears. Because of his fine motor delays, handwriting has always been a huge struggle for him. He's about halfway through My Printing Book. He needs more practice than the book provides, so I scan a few pages, print them, and have him practice them every day for a week before completing them in the workbook.

Math: After trying several different books, none of which worked for him, I ended up designing my own program. I had him listen to Addition Songs-CD (Audio Memory) every day. I would quiz him with flash cards, not holding them up, but laying them on the table a few at a time and having him match them with answer cards, since handwriting is such a struggle for him. If he didn't know the answer, he would work it out with Numicons. On the Numicons page, I went to Home > Free Resources > Display Resources > Numicon Shapes, printed out the largest size on card stock, cut them out, and laminated them.

When we first began addition facts, he would give a right answer, then several wildly wrong answers to the same problem. After about four months, he said, "Oh, you mean it's the same answer every time?" He apparently thought that since we kept asking the same questions, we must want different answers. He also had a good deal of difficulty counting objects because he tended to scatter them randomly rather than line them up (unlike his toys) and tended to count them in random order. He kept losing his place, forgetting which items he had counted, and getting different answers. I'm not sure we've entirely convinced him that the same group of objects contains the same number of objects every time you count it. After all, he seems to get a different number every time!

Numicons reduced, but did not eliminate, this difficulty. After a year of working with them, he had memorized 1+0 through 1+9, but could not see the pattern. After another year's work, he had memorized 2+0 through 2+9. He still does not see a pattern.

For BB: He started the year behind in reading, handwriting, spelling, and grammar, so we have focused on those areas this year.

Logic: Building Thinking Skills, Book 2 This worked pretty well when we used it, but this was one subject that tended to get crowded out, so he didn't get very far. I need to decide whether to skip to the next book, continue this book and order the next so we have it when we need it, or wait until we finish this book to order the next.

Math: Finished Saxon Math 7/6. We alternate Singapore and Saxon. BB started Singapore Primary Mathematics 6A in December; I expect he will finish 6B in May or June, and then proceed to Saxon Algebra 1/2.
BB was two years behind in grammar. This series has been working well for him, and he is catching up.

Reading: BB was also behind in reading. We're using the lists from  Sonlight, and he is making good progress. He is currently working through the Readers 4 list.

Handwriting and Spelling: Ever since he heard that Toy Story 3 was coming out, he has been working on a script for it. Once he found out how the movie turned out, he decided to continue writing his version, which eventually evolved into a Toy Story 4. I decided to offer him the choice between copying a paragraph from a book I choose or half a page of his script. He usually chooses to work on his script. When he's done, I correct the spelling, and he copies the misspelled words five times each. When he is not sure of the spelling of a word, he asks me how to spell it, and I spell it in the phonetic alphabet, which he needs to learn anyway for Civil Air Patrol. He has a long way to go in spelling, but is starting to correctly spell the words he uses most often in writing more consistently.

Science: Since we've focused on reading, writing, grammar, and math this year, science has been on the back burner. We read the occasional book and watch the occasional DVD about science, and listen to recordings like Space SongsLyrical Life Science, and Nature Corner. As an aside, I am tired of people who equate scientific literacy with acceptance of the current evolutionary dogma without considering actual knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics. The same people equate religious belief in a Creator with scientific illiteracy, again ignoring actual knowledge of science. Then they accuse religious schools and parents of substituting indoctrination for science. That's hypocritical. Why bring this up here? "Uncle Bob", the host of Nature Corner is a young-earth creationist. Get over it.

Art: Drawing with Children.

Typing: Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing

Map Skills: Map Skills for Today, Grade 6: All around the World Map Skills has often been crowded out this year, too.

Both Boys:
History: Story of the World Audiobook CD The link is to Volume 1. Both boys have listened to all four volumes several times through. They love these CDs, which tell history as a series of interwoven stories. Be sure to get the version read by Jim Weiss. The first two volumes were originally read by another reader who wasn't as good. Jim Weiss read volumes three and four, and his reading was so popular, the publisher had him go back and record volumes one and two.

Music: Home Discipleship Hymnbook.

Music Appreciation:
Classical Kids: Collection For each composer, there are two CDs: one with his most notable works (or excerpts from his longer works) and one with a dramatized story (historical fiction) about a child living in his time, built around actual events in his life. The last track on the music cd is always a teaser for the story. I have them listen to the music cd each day for several days, and by then they are begging for the story.
Masters of Classical Music (Box Set)

Art Appreciation: How to Use Child-size Masterpieces for Art Appreciation The boys enjoy this, but it usually gets crowded out by other subjects.

Grammar: Grammar Rock (Remember Schoolhouse Rock? These are all the grammar songs.) Conjunction Junction, what's your function?

Bible: The Daily Office podcast is a daily Bible reading you can download from iTunes or

Catechism: Westminster Shorter Catechism Songs

Next: What's not working.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Words Fail Me

DeeAnn at Snippets 'N Stuff always gives me a chuckle, but today's post is especially good.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Some Thought-Provoking Questions

Lexiloo asks some thought-provoking questions here. I've got some general thoughts, and I'm working out the specifics, but I'd like to hear your thoughts.


A Must-Read

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Teenage Boys

GL: I can fart the alphabet!

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