We all want to be loved, adults and children a like. And when we are loved, when our needs are met, we feel supported, confident, and empowered and all is right in the world. So how does this help when parenting? It reminds us to parent with love first, and responsibility second. Once we are fluent with the way our children respond to love, once we are in tuned with their needs and motivators, we can gain their trust and in turn guide them with cooperation, respect and love to healthy development.
I’m so excited to share one of my favorite visual tools that I use to remind myself of this focus. A simple chart I came across while feeling frustrated in another relationship of importance, my marriage. I found myself feeling resentful, exhausted, over entitled, and unfulfilled. I was in a rut and I put myself there by holding my most loved ones to expectations unbeknownst to them. My expectations. The expectation that they will love me as I expect them too and if they don’t then I will self destruct and hold them all responsible. That’s crazy, right? But all to common, maybe not so dramatic but common. And we deal with it, we live life banging our heads against a padded wall going maybe someday they’ll get it, if I beat it in their heads enough, maybe they will care about the things I care about at my intensity. Why would I really want that anyway? I love these people for who they are and what makes them unique to my heart.
What if instead we empathized, one of my favorite words when it comes to parenting. What makes my kiddo happy, what puts a smile on his face, what lifts his heart? Not mine, not what makes me feel safe and cozy and cared for but from his perspective.
I am a physical lover, I love hugs and cuddles, and spooning, and nuzzles. And although I may enjoy that and maybe my two year old does also but my teen on the spectrum not so much. Physical contact makes him visibly uncomfortable. That’s not to say he doesn’t return it, but that’s because he knows its my love language, it makes my heart rise when he hugs me on his own, my smile cracks from ear to ear when he kisses me on his own, and he knows it, he’s so smart.
So how do you figure out how your child loves, when they have challenges communicating simple daily needs, or any words at all? Observe and learn. try some different approaches. The chart below is printed out over my computer because that is the place I tend to get most frustrated with my children because I am not trying to focus on them but myself.
This moms site has some great printbles to get you started for free, after a simple email subscription, and I do suggest you print it out and put it somewhere your kids seem to get your goat most, maybe the bathroom, or kitchen. The visual concrete reference will help to create this process of rethinking your approach when parenting and hopefully ease frustration. I did not invent the Five Languages of love, no, just lucky enough to stumble upon Dr. Gary Chapman’s ideas in my research to better my communication and understanding skills in my nuclear family.
True love, unconditional love, is not easy, it does not just happen. You have to do the work and commit to change no matter how uncomfortable it may feel in the beginning. You have to make the effort to see another way of life, of love. As with all new habits, it has to be habitual for results, but when we falter we have to be kind enough to forgive ourselves and start over. Good luck guys, please comment below and share if this chart helped you out or even if it didn’t.
If you’re a parent of a child with Autism you have probably heard the term ABA, an acronym for Applied Behavioral Analysis. If you’ve wondered exactly what therapies are available to help people with Autism, this is one of them. It is a form of therapy that is highly repetitive and firmly structured something most of our kids respond well to, but my wonder is how much comprehension is being communicated through these flash card download sessions? ABA has been considered a very successful form of therapy for children on the spectrum and unlike many forms of therapy for Autism it is scientifically supported.
With the documentation of its success I like most parents, wanted to see my son in a program that offered ABA. When my son was 3 this was not easy to find. I was warned it was very intense and I may not want my child involved in such a severe form of therapy. After hearing that I imagined how intense it could be, was he strapped to a chair and forced to look at images? Was medication involved? What were the adverse reactions if any? I began to imagine ABA as a form of Aversion Therapy similar to the kind Alex from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange receives.
Although ABA is intense and repetitive it is not as torturous as it was depicted to me. I think I was discouraged because of the lack of trained specialist and programs available at that time. Now, ten years later, every special education program claims to use the ABA method. They say it is “built into” the curriculum. As someone who used my own version of this method during our home school sessions, I can’t see how it could be. It is a method done one on one with minimal distraction. The information is delivered at a rapid, repetitive pace. I found the ABA method most useful during math drills as repetition with mathematics seems to work better than a slow research and discovery process, used for other subjects that require more comprehension than memorization like reading.
I noticed that J was memorizing these math equations but very rarely comprehending the results such as the value or quantity, and he couldn’t discuss it outside of the ABA sessions, which made me wonder is ABA the most effective method or is it a way to cram information into our kids brains so they can perform like parakeets? What do you think? Please respond in the comment area with your own experiences with ABA, would love to hear from Board Certified therapist on this as well.
“Applied Behavior Analysis is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior“ -As defined by Baer,Wolf, & Risley.
J had this project over spring break that was clearly to get us parents out of the house and more engaged with our kids. I never mind assignments like this, anymore, because it’s something I kind of assign to myself. It’s not always easy to go out with J but I always feel better after I brave the unknown and conquer. There was a time during my son’s diagnosis when I did not want to leave the house. It was right around the time when his tantrums were becoming out of control, around nine years old. He was no longer small enough for society to disregard and he wasn’t obviously a special needs kid since his physical development was above percentile. Which meant I got a lot of dirty looks and judging eye rolls from strangers who all too quickly summed us up as a young mother and her ill-behaved brat. I felt so much pressure and stress every time we walked out the house. What if something set him off? What if I couldn’t control him? What if he hurt himself or others, or me?
After several very intense, exhausting tantrums in public, I was done. I imagined people thinking “why doesn’t she just keep him home?” So I did. I did all my errands during the day while J was at school so I wouldn’t have to venture out with him. I figured this was just the way my life was going to have to be now. Luckily I was working part-time when all this started happening so I had some weekdays off to take care of everything without having to drag J along with me. Although life was less stressful for me I realized his tantrums were becoming worse. I was now having difficulties at family gatherings and little things like neighborhood walks. He began to show signs of his now infamous sensory trigger, young kids and their loud high pitched yells.
I hated the path we were going down, he was only nine, I couldn’t really keep him inside forever, he wasn’t Bruce Wayne living in a mansion with all he needed and I couldn’t afford an Alfred to look after him. I wasn’t doing him any favors. He had to learn how to function in society. What would he do as a an adult when he needed to eat, or go to work, or visit a friend? I had to give him these skills no matter how terrifying the task seemed.
I went through a long process to get to the place we are currently at and although it is not perfect , we still have some difficulties, I have the tools to handle most situations. It’s what I imagine being on the bomb squad must be like, your still terrified that this explosive device will go off and obliterate you and everything in a 10 mile radius but the knowledge of how to handle it gives the feeling of control that allows for the confidence to finish the job successfully. Once I knew the triggers that set off J, I knew how to strategize for them. My confidence and preparedness not only calmed me but it made J less anxious as well. He could see I was going to work with him, we were going to get through this together as a team. I understood he needed my help and that was a comforting thing for him.
Anytime we go into “uncharted territory” this is how I prepare:
I explain to J simply WHERE we are going, WHAT we will be doing, WHO will be there, and WHEN we are coming home, if necessary and time allows, I will write it out for him on a dry erase board the night before and add it to his calendar ahead of time.
Noise cancelling headphones that attach to his iPad, fully charged and loaded up with all his favorite apps, songs, and videos so he can block out sounds that cause him distress.
A good night sleep so he has the energy to handle his sensory challenges better.
Back up tech like an iPod or cell phone with some songs or games on it and extra batteries for his headphones.
Chewing gum. In the past I would also bring clay dough, or Theraputty to help relax him. Theraputty Link
Keep the sugar intake down and give him lots of water.
Research the place for my own knowledge where it is, what it looks like, what we can expect.
Know and respect his limits, if it wasn’t part of the original plan don’t push it.
Ignore judgmental people, easier said than done but self explanatory
When I can do all these things J usually keeps calm and even enjoys himself most of the time. Planning is a big part of our lives as you may have noticed from previous blogs. A little planning goes a long way for J and for my confidence as well. What are some strategies you have adapted to help with your special needs child’s triggers? If you have any questions or just want to share your success stories on getting outside with Autism please comment below.
Like schedules and routine, organization keeps stress down and my mind clear. Having a special needs child and being organized seems next to impossible, but it makes life much easier. Not just structurally, but mentally. It is said that our homes and spaces reflect our minds, and one look in my downstairs closet would show you there’s much I put away and forget about. That’s why it is so important to set aside time to organize my home and my mind. This became quite clear during home school. Thankfully To-Do-List made life much more Do-Able.
Once dinner was done and J was down for the count, I was so tired that I wouldn’t even want to talk anymore. I spent the day talking slow which is challenging for me as I speak a mile a minute. Much energy was also spent on being extremely patient, repeating words again and again, and exaggerating enunciation that by nine o’ clock I was sick of my own voice. Not to mention all the other things I had to do once home school hours ended, I was spent. I would have headaches and my voice would be so hoarse no amount of tea and honey would soothe it. It seemed like the only down time was bedtime. I would tell my husband, Big J, “just talk, you do the talking, tell me all about your day” which was surprising to him since getting me to shut up is usually the challenge. Midway through his recollection of the day, my exhaustion would conquer me and I’d knock out.
I realized I had to do something to get ahead of this rapid pace I was setting for myself during the day. I worked in midtown Manhattan for years before turning my total attention to J, so I was accustomed to a fast pace, busy life, but the work day ended at some point. I left the office and it’s troubles behind until the next day. I had to come up with some life hacks for home schooling. I had to get organized. So I asked my mom to take J for the day. I spent the day balancing my life by creating realistic goals and limits on work so that I could spend time off from being J’s teacher and more time being mom, wife, and me.
I sat down with a pen, and paper and wrote out two list. One was titled “Things to do for Me”. The second list was ” Things to do for J”. Writing down all the things looming in my mind made it much less daunting. The panicked feeling of “oh! I forgot all about that” was gone, because each task was accounted for on my trusty list. It may sound silly and simple but they help and I always feel such a sense of accomplishment when I can cross something off the list “and sigh of relief, its done”. I could also see options for what could be incorporated into the home school schedule, like my workout during PE, visiting my family as a social activity, dropping off donations to the church, recycling, paying and mailing out bills could all be great living skills opportunities for J. I just had to get creative in my thinking and brave in my planning. Outings were and sometimes still can be a challenge. I’ll talk more about how I handled that in a later post.
So with my mind mentally organized I didn’t feel so overwhelmed, I knew I was going to have time to watch a movie with Big J after little J went to sleep because I didn’t have to run to the post office or workout, or grocery shop. I already did that during the day with J. I even had time put aside to write and do research about Autism after we ate dinner. I asked Big J to give me an hour of alone time while he spent some quality “guy time” with little J. Yes! I even learned how to ask for help and how to delegate. I didn’t need to do it all on my own as I had myself believe.
I typed up about two weeks worth of lesson plans. I got everything ready for them like supplies, worksheets, bookmarked websites, and anything that I would normally find myself scrambling to do with the 15 minute breaks I had between each lesson. Our breaks were short to keep J on task, any longer and he would lose interest, get into mischief, and be much more difficult to refocus. The faster I could move through subjects the better. I could now sit down next to him during a break and have a cook of tea and recover before the next lesson. This planning made me feel empowered and inspired, even if I was only cutting up eggs for the Green Eggs and Ham counting game we were going to play in math.
I imagine this is what most teachers do daily, prepare as much as possible ahead of time. I never studied to be a teacher so my teaching skills stemmed from playing school when I was a child and being a student myself. I always did like being the teacher when we played school, but we were not “playing school” anymore, this was J’s future and this was hard, challenging work. I regard good teachers as great strategist now.
Being organized helped me add more elements of fun to the day. I was more care free and able to be in the moment because I wasn’t worried about preparing for the next moment, it was already prepared for. There is so much in life that can not be anticipated, but with a good amount of organization and planning the unexpected becomes manageable.
Feeling overwhelmed comes with the territory of raising a special needs child and children in general. If you feel like you are drowning or just can’t seem to get it all done try making list to gain mental organization. Start with the time sensitive priorities at the top. Understand that you may not check everything off in one day and allow yourself enough time to properly tend to each. I like to give myself due dates especially for bills or tasks that have deadlines. If this feels like it adds too much pressure don’t write deadlines just what needs to get done. See what you can ask others to help out with. Then execute! Make it your mission to get at least two things or even one done a day. Be realistic about how much time each task will take to do properly and then make that time. Before you know it that list will get smaller and smaller. I hope this helps, please let me know if writing lists helps you out or if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to comment.
It’s J’s first day of spring break vacation, exciting and daunting because it raises the question: what will I do to keep him busy and engaged all day?
Luckily for me I learned during home school that a little planning goes a long way and a lot of planning saves the day. So the first thing we did today after breakfast was make a loose schedule. I could see J relax as soon as I started to write-up the familiar template. Schedules saved us during home school and made me realize how much calmer J was when he knew what was happening, when it would end, and what was expected of him. Sounds simple enough right? Even I like having that knowledge but I don’t need to have it written down nor do I need to refer to it as often. I came to accept that this was one of those things that made J, J.
Once I started using schedules with J I became addicted! The results were undeniable. He was so much calmer and looked forward to writing them up with me. It showed me he cared about having a choice, he enjoyed sharing his opinion, and that he cared about being acknowledged. He was present, he was awake, although no one else seemed to notice, but I was beginning to and he was so happy to see me working with him instead of around him.
This became our morning routine. Every morning we would have breakfast and after we would write-up the schedule for the day. I like to use a dry erase board because it allows us to switch things up in case anything needs to be altered, here is an example of what a schedule during home school would look like: Sample of a Daily Home School Schedule
He was not always in a cooperative mood especially with subjects that challenged him more. It definitely helped him to know there was an end point to the torture known as “math”. This also kept him focused and although he needed to check the schedule every so often it also helped him learn more about telling time.
I started using this format outside of home school since it was working so well. Whenever I knew J might have a hard time with the task at hand be it going to the doctors, a family function, or a trip to the supermarket, I implemented the schedule. It was usually much simpler and looked like this: Quick Schedule using First and Then
Now J is at the point that I can use this format on a verbal level. I can tell him first we are going to the supermarket, then we are visiting grandma, and then we will go home. He usually repeats it to make sure he got it. He even says it on his own sometimes if we are doing something he doesn’t want to, like if he has school, he will say “first school then come home and free time”. It’s a great comfort for him to know he has a say in what his day looks like. If we are going somewhere new or I think an activity maybe challenging I will try to have this ready but if I don’t I will write it up on the fly with a pen and pad I always carry on me.
If you are finding your child is having a hard time cooperating even if they are not on the spectrum I encourage you to give schedules a try. Allow your kids to help construct them with your pre picked options. I hope the routine of schedules brings peace and organization to your house as well. Please comment and let me know how your attempt went or if you have any questions or stories to share about schedules.
Once I had decided to take the plunge and home school J there were lots of things I needed to do logistics wise.
Letter of Intent – First I had to get in touch with my district’s superintendent and notify him of my intentions to home school. This is done with a letter of intent. This will keep you out of any trouble intimidating administrators may say you are about to be in for your decision to home school. I even had one administrator tell me that what I was doing was illegal and I could go to jail for this! Imagine that? Someone telling you that you can go to jail for trying to help your child especially when they have no other options or solutions to recommend. As long as you file this letter with the district before July 1, your good. I filed in October because I was not planning to home school, it just became the most logical option after my son woke up one day and refused to return to school. He physically planted himself in his closet in his room and refused to leave it for fear of being forced to return to school. We tried everything, coaxing, remaining calm, yelling, screaming, physical force, punishment. It got to the point that my son would even refuse to use the bathroom for fear of being forced out the house. My child is not small so it wasn’t like I could pick him up and throw him over my shoulder. Even my husband and father couldn’t physically force him nor did we want to. It was quite a sight. He would go limp so we couldn’t grab him, drop to the floor inside and outside and kick and scream and cry “no school, stay with mommy”. He was very verbally limited so to hear him clearly state no school was concerning. Why no school? What was happening that he couldn’t communicate to me that would make him behave this way? I had to give him words and that was my first goal for his IHIP. Here is a link to what a letter of intent looks like: letter of Intent
Here’s what my letter looked like, names and addresses have been changed for privacy purposes:
27 Home School Lane
Brave Lady, NY
October 22, 2012
Mr. or Dr. (in my case)Superintendent
P.O. Box 000
To Dr. So and So,
I am sending this letter of intent as required of Section 100.10 of the Regulations of the New York State Commissioner of Education.
I intend to home school my son, J who will be entering grade 4 for the 2012- 2013 school year. J has a diagnosis of Autism and was previously enrolled in special education classes at Such and Such school. Our curriculum will consist of ; Speech, Occupational Therapy, Social and Developmental Skills, Physical Education, Health, English, Math, Geography, Social Studies, Science, American History, Independent Living Skills, Art and Music.
Then there are the meetings the district calls to try to talk you back to sanity, because honestly no parent of a special needs child has any idea what an undertaking this is until you’re in the deep end of it all. They offered alternatives but none seemed to fit the bill for what my son needed at this point in his education and there was this immutable voice inside me saying he needs this, he needs you, he needs to be home. I would not suggest that anyone with limiting health conditions start this but if you do keep in mind to take care of yourself as best as you can. Organization and schedule/routine go a long way as I will discuss in later post.
IHIP– The unfortunate thing most people don’t know about special education is that it’s all lumped together, regardless of the child’s diagnosis or age. Most public programs run from the age of 5-21 years old which is something I always have a problem with. This would never happen in a typical school so why is it ok in a special needs program when appropriate peer interaction is a social skill most children with an IEP would need? For those of you new to the special needs community an IEP stands for Individualized Educational Plan. Every student in special education has one. So instead of having programs tailored to specific disabilities and the common concerns associated with these disabilities these IEPs are ideally tailor-made to address every educational concern for a special needs student. When I decided to home school my son I had to come up with an IHIP which stands for Individualized Home Instruction Plan. Lucky for me I was always very hands on with J’s IEP construction and reviews so I was familiar with the format. I also found a sample on the web that gave me a great place to start.
Here’s a link to the site in case your thinking of making an IHIP: Home School NYC
This sample really got me inspired and opened my mind to the possibilities of academics, something that was seriously lacking from my 10 year old’s scholastic career. I was so thankful to find it because it was not suggested to me. I did not receive much help from my district in regards to making this an easy or informed decision. I really had to research everything on my own, thank God for the internet! Most districts would not be happy about a parent home schooling their child Special Ed. or General. So it’s not something that’s encouraged or supported more than the requirements by law. It took me about a month of evaluating my son’s skills and learning exactly where he was educationally before I could finalize his IHIP. I’ve changed the names and personal info for privacy reasons but the rest was what I hoped to accomplish. Here’s what our IHIP looked like:
INDIVIDUAL HOME INSTRUCTION PLAN
NAME OF CHILD:J
GRADE LEVEL: 4
TODAY’S DATE: December 20, 2012
SCHOOL YEAR: 2012-2013
EXPECTANT DATES FOR QUARTERLY REPORTS:
1/30/2013, 4/15/2013, 6/30/2013
J will be using various methods/tools for fourth grade instruction in all the subjects specified in Section 100.10 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education. The corresponding subtopics may include and are not limited to:
J will learn, to read and write numbers, sequence, odd and even, geometry via shape identification, measuring ,time telling, chart and timeline making and reading. Addition, subtraction, fractions, quantity and value, grouping, sorting and basic money skills. We will also lay the ground work for multiplication and division by skip counting and fractions.
The English Language
(Reading, Writing, Spelling, phonics, grammar, vocabulary)
J will learn how to write size appropriate, proper use of capital and lower case letters, identifying vowels, increase his comprehension and vocabulary, enunciate and identify sounds by learning phonics, identify verbs and nouns, adjectives and pronouns, possessive nouns, creating short stories, reading different forms of literature, such as poems, short stories, chapter books, fiction and non fiction books.
(U.S. History, Geography) history of the American flag, the star-spangled banner, the pledge of allegiance, native Americans lifestyle, settler lifestyle, the history of bridges and famous New York state bridges. This will also be accompanied with trips to various museums such as the museum of natural history, the metropolitan museum of art, the museum of moving motion, the statue of liberty, the Brooklyn bridge, the Empire state building, and the Dimenna Children’s Museum of History. Geography will be taught via an introduction to map reading in regards to our local, national and international regions. World cultures, Regions of the world, Continents, Earth’s resources, Climatic regions of the world, and Using a globe.
Environment of the local region, Biological organization, Classification systems, The insect world, The reptilian world, Plants and animals of the past, Structure of plants, Seeds, Ecosystems, Balance of nature, Human body, Weather’s influences, Weather instruments, Climate, Cause of seasons, Oceans, Air and water pollution, Magnets and electricity, Light and color, Solar system and the universe, Living in space, Scientific method and scientific inquiry
Personal and mental hygiene, Dental health, The body and its functions, Skeletal and muscular systems, Care and proper use of the body, Principles of digestion, Basic food groups, Good nutrition habits, Safety
Music/Visual Arts/Phys. Ed.
Wide exposure to all forms of music, classification and basic history of music, musical scales, basic Piano keyboard. Arts and crafts, trips to art museums as stated above in Social Studies. Structured dance lessons (latin, modern movement, traditional basics).
Structured play, ( bike riding, running, Calisthenics, seasonal sports, indoor and outdoor play) 3 hours per week.
Related Services/Speech, OT
J will also receive necessary services such as Speech and OT as provided by the school district of (our town).
Instruction methods/tools may include and shall not be limited to: reference materials (atlas, dictionaries, globe, maps, encyclopedias, non-fiction books, videos, the internet), workbooks, worksheets, hands-on activities, experiments, projects, newspapers, magazines, frequent field trips, group activities, classic/contemporary literature, research, journal/narrative/essay/poetry writing, games, creative thinking, predicting/forecasting, gathering facts, written peer correspondence (pen pals), music CDs, CD ROMs, piano keyboard, art supplies (clay, paint, crayons, pencils, sketch pads, felt, chalk, etc.), play, conversations, and real life.
Primary instruction for J will be provided by JRED, his mother. Supplemental instruction will be provided by others, as necessary.
Once you submit one of these your district will take you much more seriously, mine did and I started working closely with the director of pupil services who was so much more helpful and knowledgeable. I still work closely with her in all the planning for my son’s education. I always feel like she has his best interest at heart and really tries to work with us to troubleshoot any problems that may arise. We were really blessed when she came along.
So now that my Letter of Intent is filed with the superintendent’s office and my IHIP is also submitted to the pupil personnel office in my district, its time to form a curriculum. This is the fun part believe it or not, because this is when I actually start to form lesson plans and decide what J would be learning for the next three months. This is where I can get creative and really cultivate a learning experience just for him. You could plan ahead for the whole year but I liked having the freedom to adjust my lessons to how J would respond to the new material. Some things would require more time for comprehension before we could move on like addition and subtraction. That was a tough concept, it really worked best with tangible items like little counters or beads. He really likes when we use food like little goldfish crackers or cereal puffs. It really depends on what works best for your child. The key is to let them go at their pace and not to get frustrated when it differs greatly from your own. Here’s a site I found useful, they have a lot of great resources for home instruction if you have the funds to invest:
For math I liked the UNIFIX blocks because I could write the numbers on the side to reinforce the value. You can buy 100 of these for less than $15 on Discountschoolsupply.com. Here’s the link below if your interested.
One of the things I did when forming my son’s curriculum was writing up a list of goals I had for him. This gave me direction and a base to come back to when I felt as though we took a wrong turn some where. This is no small task. It took me a good couple of hours to sit down and really think about what I could do and what J could do. I had to be realistic but I also didn’t want to limit him, I wanted to challenge him and see what he was capable of. I laughed as I wrote that last sentence because of what did happen on several occasions when I was “pushing the limits” as you will read about in later post. I also kept my daily curriculum in tuned with the school and national calendar. I always tried to have our lessons coincide with what season we were in as well as corresponding holidays. I will go more into this in later post.
Well I hope that helps you get off to a good start if you are debating home instruction. Keep in mind home instruction is not just limited to a child not enrolled in a center based program. I still carry on some home school subjects at home to keep J busy, but we’ll talk more about that later. Any questions on home school, IHIPs, or curriculum please don’t hesitate to comment.