Trauma, Addiction, and Autism: Watching “THE WISDOM OF TRAUMA” with Dr. Gabor Mate.

World Mental Health day is October 10th! I love that we have a day to think about our most important organ, our minds. Zumba decided to dedicate a whole month to this and in regards to what Zumba and Zumba instructors do for the world’s mental health, a month seems more fitting. As a parent of a child living with the label of Autism, Mental Health is a huge interest of mine.

Yesterday kicked off the first day of the “Wisdom of Trauma” movie release and 7 day event of talks and content discussing the unseen epidemic of Trauma in our society. I often talk about the connection I have seen between trauma and Autism in my own life. The generational impacts of trauma, that can dysregulate the body/mind connection have been my focus of recovery for Jace and myself. As I am watching the movie, I open a page to write, so many emotions and connections, that I just have to put them somewhere. As I type this through tears of relief, knowing that I am not alone, that we are all alone, together, that life is pain and the beauty of healing, I am empowered by the ability to share this bc, we don’t have to be alone. I hope this post brings you relief and comfort from your traumas as well. And when all else fails get to a Zumba class, preferably mine lol, and dance it out! Give your brain a break and give it a beat!

Some of my favorite points Dr. Gabor Mate makes:

  1. 2 basic human needs: Attachment and Authenticity; how the need to attach out of a sense of survival as an infant and child shapes our relationship with our authentic selves.

2. Generational Trauma: It’s not your parents fault! Letting go of blame can seem like an impossible task. It goes back, it happened to them and their parents and so on. Generational trauma dissects us into groups experiencing similar traumas ie; genocide, slavery, economic, societal, and racial expectations. For example, when my ancestors moved to America, they had societal expectations to contend with as well as racial expectations put upon them, not to mention what they experienced in their homelands. This shaped the way my ancestors raised their children, and so on until it came to me and even I was raised believing that I had to prove these stereotypes wrong, focusing far too much energy on past ideals rather than my own natural ideals.

3. Addiction- Gabor sees addiction as a response to trauma, treat the trauma not the addiction. No longer are addictions seen solely as drug or alcohol use, addiction is anything that takes us away from our loved ones, harms our health, or suppresses our authentic self. It is a response to the void left by traumatic experiences and a way to self soothe our trauma. It can be anything from a syringe to an iPhone or a pair of designer shoes or even unnecessary late nights at the office. These are considered escapist behaviors in which we engage in behaviors that allow the conditioned mind to get out of the way for a moment of temporary joy, inevitably leaving us dissatisfied and craving the next fix.

4. Perception of reality: Often times, we don’t respond to what happens we respond to our perception of what happens. We are not responding to the present moment, we are responding to the past, a past trauma, and often we are alone in this perspective which creates anger, confusion, and buries the truth and facts.

If this content interest you please click the link below to learn more about “The Wisdom of Trauma” movie and access talks from the worlds leading experts in this field of mental medicine. I do not have any affiliates with this organization nor am I being paid for this, I am just a huge fan of Dr. Gabor Mate and his work.

Click here to register for this 7 day event

“With our thoughts, we make the world.”- Buddha

Learning to Love My Teen the Way He Needs to Be Loved

By Jessica R. Duggins

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.

5 languages of love- children

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.

-JRED

A Quick Thought on Fear When Parenting Autism

So my last blog I wrote about exuding confidence, but what happens when its just not there? As much as I would love to say that I am always strong and always ready for action, I’m not. There are days when my fear gets the better of me, but on these days I still manage to learn something about myself, I don’t like that feeling. Which means the next time I will be stronger and ready to kick fear’s ass!

Photo Courtesy of Casey Robertson
Photo Courtesy of Casey Robertson

Spreading Awareness of the World of Autism- Applied Behavioral Analysis or ABA

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.

-JRED

Website about ABA

Applied Behavior Analysis

“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.

Thank You Dirt Magazine! Summer’s Dawn

Hi Everyone,

I just wanted to share one of my poems about Summer with you guys. It was published in this month’s May-June issue of Dirt Magazine. I’m really proud of it because it’s my first published work in a magazine! It’s a great magazine that focuses on “healthy living from the ground up”. Check it out if you have a chance. Enjoy!

downloadSummersDawn-Dirt-MayJune2015

Summer’s Dawn- A Poem by JRED

Getting Outside with Autism

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J and Grandma @ Times Square, NYC

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. A good night sleep so he has the energy to handle his sensory challenges better.
  4. Back up tech like an iPod or cell phone with some songs or games on it and extra batteries for his headphones.
  5. Chewing gum. In the past I would also bring clay dough, or Theraputty to help relax him. Theraputty Link
  6. Keep the sugar intake down and give him lots of water.
  7. Research the place for my own knowledge where it is, what it looks like, what we can expect.
  8. Know and respect his limits, if it wasn’t part of the original plan don’t push it.
  9. 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.

-JRED

Things I wish I knew about Autism…

Dymphna's Children 2I had my son early in life and although I had a natural knack for connecting with children, I just did not have the tools to deal with what lie ahead. Autism challenged every approach to parenting I thought I would have as a tool. This became very apparent around the time J turned three.

I couldn’t reason with J when he was having a meltdown nor intimidate him to stop with sternness or the threat of a spanking. It was so frustrating, watching my boy scream and cry until blood vessels broke under his skin, giving the appearance of red freckles. I would try everything, or at least what seemed like everything to me, holding him, soothing him, restraining him with a bear hug in the hopes it would tire him out and keep him from hurting himself, singing to him, bribing him and a ton of other things that were temporary fixes.  I had never dealt with a child I couldn’t calm. It broke my heart, I felt pain that there was no comfort for, I felt helpless and overwhelmed and since I was alone with him most of the time I would dwell on it and crumble. I was not acquainted with feeling this powerless and my sadness quickly turned to frustration, resentment, and anger. How could my little boy want to cause me so much pain, worry and grief? I was only trying to do right by him, care for him, love him, guide him, and he was making my life so difficult. Why did this happen to me, what did I ever do to deserve this? I didn’t want to be a parent that spanked but it seemed he was leaving me no choice. Well, spankings did not work either, in fact they made things drastically worse.

Here’s What I Did Wrong- Beside spanking, yelling and losing my temper, I made it all about me, what I was feeling, how this was all affecting me, how my life wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I was still young minded, selfish and self involved. I had not yet learned the sacrifice and selflessness that unconditional love demands. My son had no one else but me to help him and I was falling apart right before his eyes. I wasted too much time dwelling on  my situation, that I missed opportunities to gain control of things. I let my frustration and anger create hopelessness and distance between us. That’s not to say I didn’t love him, I smothered him with love, but there was no connection, not like there is now. Yes what I was going through was not fair, and it was a lot to process at twenty-two along with being a new parent and all the other things going on in my life, a failing relationship with J’s father, moving back in with my parents, and a blossoming career put on hold.

What I Would Do Different-

  • The first thing I would tell young JRED to do, stop dwelling, at least while she is in front of J. It’s very counter productive at a time when our attention should be on teaching J through play. We should be observing and trying to understand him, what sets him off, how to avoid or limit this. Children believe we are super heroes and at some point in life they may realize we are not, but hopefully that’s at a point in their lives where they are confident and educated enough to understand why. We have to give them the feeling that life is safe and stable and like we can keep them protected even if it is an illusion we are creating for them. That illusion is a gift, almost like taking them to Disney World. You know it’s not realistic but you want them to believe in magic, to be a child. The reality of life will naturally find them, no need to bombard their childhood with adult concerns they do not have the capacity to understand.
  • I would tell her to focus on letter sounds and words with J. Simplify the reading material so that he can mimic sounds and words. Work with flash cards and teach through play, tickling, and games. Don’t yell just correct patiently, simply, without visible frustration. Show pride painted across our face when he does good. Minimize the reaction when he does wrong.
  • I would tell her to deal with her feelings in a healthy manner, away from J. She is in mourning, mourning the loss of an ideal that she created in her mind long before J was even born. Those feelings definitely need to be addressed to make sense of them or at least get them under control.
  • I would tell her to talk to people she trusted after J was asleep or away from the conversation. I would tell her to seek out professionals and other parents who have gone through this that can shed some light and much needed advice.
  • I would tell her to exercise and make time for herself to clear her mind even if it was just an hour a day to blow off some steam so it wouldn’t be taken out on J.
  • I would tell her to write, keep a journal and write anything she felt, poems, diary entries, songs, drawings, anything that helped her process her feelings to the point of some clarity.
  • I would tell her to have faith, and be strong, and to pray. To see this as an opportunity, to find the purpose in the detour life put her on, and if she can’t find the purpose, create one.
  • I would tell her to cherish this time, Autism or not J will never be this small again. Enjoy watching him discover the world even if it’s not at a pace society expects a child his age to be, go with it, follow his lead and be a witness to his life.
  • Lastly I would tell her to let go of what she thinks her life should look like to please others or because of what she was taught. I would tell her to let go of the shame of returning to her parents house for help and appreciate the fact that she even has that option. I would tell her not to worry about being a single mom for fear of what others would think of her or her child, a happy single mother is healthier and stronger than a miserable married one. I would tell her not to worry about her career and money, they are not going anywhere but J’s childhood is. I would tell her not to worry about making everyone happy. I would tell her that she can not control others and how they feel only herself, that she is the only person responsible for her happiness, not a man, nor society.

Then  I would hug her hard and tell her she will get through this, people have gone through worse.

-JRED

Home Schooling with Autism- To Do List- 1.Get Organized!

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.

thingstodo

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.

Here is a link to a helpful article about the many options of To-Do templates you can use with your device if you like to be a little more tech savvy than a pen and paper allow: Finding the best to do list app with a to do list template

TO DO LIST Template provided by Microsoft Office Templates

-JRED

 

Home Schooling Autism- The Process, IHIPs and forming a Curriculum

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:

Ms. JRED
27 Home School Lane
Brave Lady, NY

October 22, 2012

Mr. or Dr. (in my case)Superintendent
P.O. Box 000
NY

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.

Sincerely,
JRED

I am in New York so you should double-check your state laws to make sure your process is similar. The HSLDA is a great source for this:  Home School Legal Defense Association 

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
ADDRESS:  NY
DOB: 00/00/2002
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:

Arithmetic
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.

Social Studies
(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.

Science
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

Health/Safety
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:

Learning Resources

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.

Discount School Supply

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Picture courtesy of DiscountSchoolSupply.com

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.

-JRED

Back with Tons to Share- Autism, Puberty, Education

Hi Anyone out there.

When I started this blog back in 2013 I had no idea how consuming home schooling would be. I definitely had no time to contribute to this blog the way I wanted to. So it’s been forever since my last post and I have so much to share. I can finally sit down and formulate all this great knowledge into something understandable for the world. J is back in a center based program. Home school was amazing but it kicked my butt mentally, spiritually, physically and financially.  I learned so much about him, how he learns, how he communicates, and what the best approaches to his challenging behavior are. I learned even more about myself like what I was doing wrong, how creative I could be, and how strong of a person I really am.

If I had the resources and help, I might have considered homeschooling indefinitely. J learned so much when he was home the results were undeniable. His reading skills improved drastically, his independence soared, and he was beginning to look at the world with an inquisitive eye I had never really seen in him before.  However the lines of mother and educator were blurred and there was never any time off. It was non stop and exhausting. I was losing myself in his world of Autism. I was neglecting my husband, family and friends. I let go of my goals and aspirations. I was neglecting myself on almost every level, I was existing for one sole purpose, J.

Most days this didn’t matter, I knew this was temporary, that I had a limited amount of time to help him and I had the rest of my life to help myself.  Other days home school would consume me so much I would fall behind on everything else I was responsible for and then I would stress. And then the chest pains started. I would get dizzy often and wake up and go to sleep with headaches. I lived a very healthy lifestyle other than all the stress of home schooling, so my mind spiraled out imagining what was wrong with me.  I started home schooling J in October of 2012 and by February 2013 I was diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Attacks. My doctor said I was on the verge of having a stroke or a heart attack at the age of 31 if I continued living at this level of stress.

I wouldn’t be any good to anyone if this happened, so I made it my mission to find a program that would work with me, that would look at all I learned and apply it. In the coming weeks I will share stories from our home school experiment, ideas to help issues we tackled, and strategies tried and true. I will discuss further why returning to a center based program was better for J and myself. J is now 13 and as most parents of teenagers know, the rules have changed! I will discuss how we are managing the new hormones, the debate to medicate, social skills, and everything else that comes with pubescent territory. I look forward to sharing this pivotal part of my life with you and hope that it leaves you inspired and empowered or at least a little more positive.

-JRED

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