Monday, November 30, 2009

Star Charts

I've waffled a bit about whether or not to post this tip...we tried it for a while and really liked the results, then it sort of fizzled. Sort of like one of those really fancy fireworks that really make you ooh and ah and then they're over before you can catch your breath. Still I decided it might work better for others and should pass along some of the unique pieces that (briefly) made it work really well for us.
Sometime over the Summer my daughter decided that she wanted to be in charge of putting away her own clean laundry. Needless to say I was thrilled...this was the first sign of her being ready to take on any "chores" or as I like to call them family contributions. Then she got intrigued with my trips to the compost pile and started volunteering eagerly to take out the vegetable peels, etc. We were so happy with these developments and praised her profusely each time she did a little job. I even bragged about her to another grown up which always makes her day.

Somehow (who knows how except that maybe she got bored with the deal) it gradually became harder and harder to convince her to keep doing these things. Soon she was resisting these tasks which previously she had been so excited to do. Following some discussions with school staff about trying a positive behavioral support (star chart) system with her at school, we decided to try out something like this at home. I made a chart with pictures of each of the tasks she had previously enjoyed doing: putting away clothes, cleaning up toys (actually this was a mommy dream task) , making her bed, taking out compost, clearing her dishes after meals. I explained to her that each time she completed one of these tasks we would put a star on her chart and then after she had earned so many stars she could choose a reward. We developed a reward system that we were willing to live with where she could either turn in a small number of stars for a small reward or save up stars for larger rewards. I fully expected her to turn in her first four stars for four M&M's (her favorite treat) but she surprised me. She saved up 16 stars for a trip to the neighborhood school yard with Mommy. Later she saved up even more stars for a balloon from the grocery store and later a trip to a frozen yogurt place. We were excited to see her ability to delay gratification, and we were also happy to have a relatively neutral way to encourage her to do her "jobs". When she said she didn't want to do something we'd say, "Oh, you don't want a star?" Generally she would change her tune and either do her job right away or ask to do it when she finished what she was already doing.

So why my ambivalence about this seemingly successful program? It seems to have stopped working. After her third reward and a smattering of stars earned toward a fourth she just doesn't care anymore. What happened? I have a couple of theories. First, the staff at school implemented her star charts there. I think the effect was somewhat diluted. Stars, stars, everywhere, so who cares? Frankly I'd rather have it keep working as well as it does at school, so I haven't pushed the issue at home. Second, it takes a lot of effort (at least with this child) to keep the program going. For the most part I was the one reminding her that she had earned a star and putting it on her chart and asking her if she wanted this reward or to keep saving stars. Somewhere in there Halloween and a few other chaotic events happened and I couldn't quite maintain the level of focus needed to keep it going. I do hope I'll remember to try this again if it seems like we need the extra motivation factor. Maybe it would be good for Summer months when school is not dividing the spoils and I (supposedly) have less on my to do list.

The key factors to success seemed to be:
  • the tasks were things that she had already shown a great deal of interest in

  • the rewards were things that we knew she would enjoy and look forward to earning

  • the choice was hers - to do the task or not, to save the stars or not, she had a great deal of control over the program.
I should also note that all is not lost. In general her resistance to doing the tasks now seems diminished, and though she still sometimes says no and offering her a star does not change the answer, it is easier for me to shrug and say, "Oh, well!" and perhaps that in itself is a good outcome.
I would love to hear your thoughts on such programs...have they worked for you? If so, what are the keys to success? If not, why not? What are the pitfalls? Feel free to leave a comment!

Friday, November 27, 2009

For Some Personal News...

I'm pleased to report that my guest post at SteadyMom was published earlier this week. I've really enjoyed Jamie Martin's "take" on motherhood as a professional adventure. When I started following her blog shortly after re-starting my own it really helped me keep things in perspective. I was excited when she recently solicited guest posts and even more excited when she told me she wanted to publish "The Power of Uh-Oh" over at SteadyMom. I hope you'll take a look at her site and be just as inspired as I have been. Or if you found The Simple Life through Steady Mom I hope you'll take time to browse around here and here as well. Cheers all around!

Health Care Reform? Really?

I have been staying away from the whole health care reform debate. As much as it is a hot button topic these days, I do not intend this space to become too politically charged. I know there are good people who firmly believe they're right on both sides of the issue. I did encourage you (as some of those good people) to get involved in the process and make your voice heard. However, I have been seeing this headline in numerous venues, so I think it must be a real problem regardless of your political stance. "Plan to Restric Health Accounts Will Hurt Disabled." In case you are worried about bias, you can read another version of the story on The Basically it reads the same. Parents of special needs children who use their Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA)to cover education and other treatments that are not covered by medical insurance are going to have this tax shelter stripped away for all but $2500 per year of their expenses. This is only one small aspect of the Health Care Reform that our leaders are now considering. Given that they're supposedly "fixing things for those who are currently burned by the system" one can only hope that they'll take one look at this specific "reform" and drop it like the bad idea it appears to be. Evidently the reformers worried that people racing to use up their FSA funds by the end of the year (a requirement of such funds) contribute to "over-consumption" of medical treatments that health care reform is supposed to be addressing. They decided to cap the funds at $2500 so that people will only over-consume $2500 worth of medical care by the end of the year. Since most people already self-limit their FSA to $1500 it seems like kind of a moot point, unless you happen to be the parent of a special needs child who maxes out their FSA every year to help pay for out of pocket treatments (which I hear can be not just elective therapies but also medically necessary procedures). Suddenly $2500 is just a drop in the bucket. Special needs families have enough hurdles to get over in an ordinary year without having the government make poor choices like this one. If you're not already involved, it's time to get involved. There are other aspects of the reform being considered that might be more compelling...this one just seems the most obvious reason to put the brakes on the whole process and really think about what we're doing. Really!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

God's Faithfulness - Fruit of the Spirit Part 7 cont.

We must remember that the fruit of the Spirit is not something we conjure up on our own. It is not by a gut-wrenching, adrenaline forcing, caffeine-fueling drive to meet up to God's standard on our own steam. Time and time again I must remind myself that I will never meet that standard on my own. I must allow Him to supply the power and character to demonstrate His spirit moving in my life. I begin with this thought because as I mused on the idea of faithfulness and what God teaches us about it in His word, I realized that it is His own character, demonstrated in the stories and teachings of the Bible, as well as in our own lives that shows us most what exactly the fruit that He wants to make evident in our own hearts should look like.

You could pick any story from the Bible, and find at the root that it teaches God is faithful. He is always true to His plan to bring us into fellowship with Him. First by creating us, then by withholding judgement until He could make a way to redeem, sanctify, and ultimately glorify us. Every moment of history points to His unending desire to know us and to have us know Him.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV) says, "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." This verse inspired the great hymn, "Great is thy Faithfulness" which I always find to be so encouraging.

Great is thy Faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with thee.
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not
As thou has been, thou forever wilt be.

Summer and Winter and Springtime and Harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars, in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To thy great faithfulness mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide.
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand besides.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness
Lord, unto me!

And what better time of year to consider just how faithful God has been to us. Considering how faithless we sometimes are, and yet he continues to pour out on us His great love, His ever new compassions, His own hand providing what we truly need. I hope each of us will be able to reflect on His faithfulness and at the same time understand that He wants to impart that character onto us, His children.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Warm Coat Drive

Here is a twist on advocating for special needs children. How about helping them learn that they can help others? This article highlights an after school program for special needs students that is near us. Last year the students started a service project to collect 100 coats for the One Warm Coat project. They were able to collect 273 coats and donate them to the Bay Area Rescue Mission. Some of the students went on to volunteer with other non-profit groups. This year the students are planning another coat drive and hope to exceed their collection from last year.

Some action steps to consider:
  • If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area consider donating a coat to these students. Gently used or new coats are welcome. Donations can be delivered to George Miller Center, 2801 Robert Miller Drive, Richmond, CA by December 19. For more information call 510-374-3981 or send an e-mail to clam at arcofcc dot org.

  • If you don't live nearby, look around for other programs that work with Special Needs students and want to encourage them to serve their community. Support a program that is already in place or help get one going.

  • If you are a special needs parent, consider how you can encourage your own child to serve his or her community. A couple of years ago we went to an event where we helped make care packages for needy children. At that time the simple act of putting the package together and drawing a little picture for the recipient was about all my daughter could understand, but it was a start. She still tells me sometimes that she wants to give things to someone who doesn't have one of those (sometimes it's a sibling, though, so I'm not sure she understands the idea of charity :-). I'm sure this is an area we'll continue to work on, and the upcoming holiday season offers a great opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Book Review - Playing, Laughing and Learning with Children on the Austism Spectrum

This is a book I bought shortly after we learned our daughter's official diagnosis. I will make a disclaimer before I continue that I have not read all of it. In all the time that I've owned this book as a resource I haven't really plumbed its depths, and I think that is because of two factors. First, it really is deep in terms of the amount of information that is contained in this relatively slim volume. There are hundreds of well-explained, well-organized, researched and documented effective ideas for entering into an ASD child's play life, and that's just in the part that I have read. Second, it is not exactly the type of book that one sits down and reads cover to cover. It is more of an encyclopedia of play. Trying to figure out how to use music? There's a chapter for that. Interested in board games and puzzles? There's a chapter for that. Computers, toys, books, and even the dreaded television are addressed. It is not a page turner, but it is something that one could turn to for good solid ideas of how to address a certain area of play.

The reason I bought the book is because I have always found it challenging to play with my daughter. That may sound kind of shocking to some people. She has always been very content to play on her own, so if I have projects to keep my busy (and usually I do) a lot of time can go by before I remember to check on her. It is an intentional act on my part to invade her space and enter into play with her. I had hoped that reading this book might make it easier to break down the walls. What reading the book (or part of it) did is confirm that the walls need to be broken down and it does take effort and it may not ever be "easy". My experience has taught me that consistently making that effort makes is easier to continue the effort and, gradually has meant that my daughter will make more of the effort from her side of the wall.

The other day she was so eager to "play" with me. She just wanted me to accompany her in picking some berries from a bush in our back yard and crushing them with one of her sandbox toys to make "applesauce". Recognizing this as a major step in our relationship - to have her invite me to join a pretend play activity with her - I knew I had to respond to that effort. The other projects were set aside...this was important!

So if you need some tools to start chipping down the walls, this book is for you!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Digest 10

I am trying to stay in denial that "the holidays" are just around the corner. My holiday season actually begins back in September when my husband's birthday kicks off a monthly cascade of big events that I never feel quite prepared for...Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmast, all three kids birthdays, Valentine's Day...then I can breathe. I guess we've made it through the first two events, but those are just the lead up to the big hitters. I'm not completely following a holiday theme with this post, but I guess in some attempt to get myself in the spirit (read panic) of the season, I'll point you to the following links:

Holidays/Family or Social gatherings in general:

1) It seems like the holidays often make a perfect storm for hurtful comments and the ensuing havoc on personal relationships. This article helped me think about some ways to respond and offers advice on what to say "instead" of hurtful (even if well-intentioned) comments.

Thanksgiving "related":

2) One thing I'm thankful is around for my child today: Matteo's Dream playground, right here in our area. A while ago I blogged about a park like this up in Seattle. A friend of mine who helps organize Buddy Play invited us to attend an event at Matteo's Dream to make me aware of this special park just 20 minutes up the road for us. We went and of course my daughter loved it. She would live at a park if we'd let her, and one of her best buddies was there to boss around. One point that I hadn't considered before about a completely accessible playground is that parents or grandparents with physical challenges can more easily interact with their children, too. I saw a grandmother there with her motorized scooter and she was able to keep tabs on the child she was supervising.

3) One thing I'm thankful will be around for my child in the future: Capernaum, a ministry of Young Life that reaches out to special needs students. A friend of mine told me about this ministry some time ago, and this article jogged my memory. This story is specifically about a Capernaum group starting in Tempe, AZ. You can find out more about Capernaum at large here.

4) Some quotes and ideas about keeping the focus of Thanksgiving on gratitude, not turkey. I do not theologically agree with all of the sources of these quotes, or even with all of the quotes, but the goal of remembering that Thanksgiving should be about giving thanks is key.

Preparing for Christmas:

5) This year Advent begins on November 29 - the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I think Advent can be an excellent way to keep the focus of Christmas on Christ rather than the presents under the tree. This article gives some suggestions of ways to celebrate Advent with your child. I think they could be easily adapted to special needs children. I'm hoping to try one of the calendar ideas with my daughter. I'll let you know how it goes...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Childlike Faithfulness - Fruit of the Spirit Part 7

We are nearing the end of our journey through the Fruit of the Spirit. It's been an amazing exercise to consider how God is using our children to teach us the character qualities that He wants to supply in our lives. Faithfulness as used by Paul in Galatians 5:22 is the Greek word pistis, which means conviction of truth, reliance upon Christ for salvation, and constancy in such profession. Faithfulness is a challenging proposition these days. At the risk of being considered dogmatic, we hold to the central root of our faith that one comes to salvation through Christ alone.

My daughter has not yet accepted this truth as her own. This is one of the primary reasons that I started this blog. I have big questions about how to impart faith to her in view of her learning differences. She is immersed in a community of faith. We attend church each week. We are working on making Sunday School a place that will meaningfully communicate God's truth to her. At home we pray before meals and before bed. I have recently asked her to pray for specific friends or problems, and I try to point out miraculous things we encounter along the way (like the day we found important confidential papers that had fallen out of our stroller about six hours earlier). I hope for the day that she will ask more questions about who God is, why Jesus came, and what it can mean for her. Since she just recently started asking even concrete questions I sometimes wonder if I should just be initiating the conversation more, but if she isn't asking is she really ready? The debate just rages in my mind until I entrust even this significant piece of her future to the only One who already knows.

Still this child can teach me some important things about faithfulness. Regarding the conviction of the truth I can learn a lot. My daughter is among every other quality very truthful. I don't think the idea of falsehood has even entered the edges of her understanding yet. Even when it would serve her own interests (of which she is keenly aware) she tells the truth. When I hear one of her siblings crying and I suspect she has had something to do with that I can ask her, "Did you hit him?" and she will say "Yes, I hit him." and off to the time-out area we go. She is also pretty firmly fixed in what she thinks is right. There is very little gray in her universe. Items are liked or not liked, rules (though challenging to obey) are powerful, and friends are forever. While this steadfastness can lead to problems - e.g. in a sea of children insisting on playing with only one because "she's my friend' - it can also be inspirational to watch. Do I speak truth with so little self-consciousness? Do I hold fast to what I believe is right? With God's graceful provision I can!

Monday, November 9, 2009

School Parent Communication

Since some readers are probably visiting from the Moms' 30-Minute Blog Challenge, I should probably start by explaining a bit. Those of you with children old enough to be in school may have a pretty good idea of how your child's day at school goes because they will tell you about it. Some may not tell you when you ask, "How was your day?" but if you listen long enough they will tell you that they played with so-and-so at recess, they didn't like the spelling test, and their friend got in trouble for passing notes, or whatever. This is typical child-parent sharing of information. For moms of atypical (special needs) children, this would be a dream come true. Many special needs children are non-verbal. For others the effort to carry on a conversation is so great that they may share only a few broad strokes of their day and the details are left to the imagination (of the parent...).

My daughter just started Kindergarten, and although she is very verbal (non-stop sometimes) her conversation skills are not typical. Between pragmatic speech delays and social skill delays my idea of how her days at school were going was very vague. So talk to the teacher, you might suggest. Our Kindergarten classes have 20 students, which means 20 sets of parents who jockey for the teacher's attention. Because of my daughter's support programs at school, we only see the regular classroom teacher at drop-off, which halves our opportunity to ask questions. There's also a resource room teacher that we need to talk to. To complicate things even more, some of the information we need to know is whether or not there were any negative behaviors during the school day and how they were handled. We have learned (the hard way) that such issues should not be discussed when my daughter is present, even over the phone. In short it was very hard to know what was going on at school and how we could work with the teachers and other school staff to support our daughter.

One of our friends suggested using a "communication book" where we could write information for the teachers and they could write information for us. I spent a little bit of time researching things on the Internet and also picked up some ideas from an IEP (Individual Education Plan) workshop that I attended. None of them seemed to fit our exact situation. I wanted to meet the following criteria:

  • Something that would be quick and easy for the school staff to do every day.
  • Something that would give us information on both positive and negative behaviors.
  • Some flexibility in case school staff needed to add important information.
  • Something with a hint of how she was doing in terms of academic work.

Here's what I came up with:
I bought a cheap photo album with a cute girly cover. ($2) - the kind with plastic pages and clear pockets.
I made some slips of paper (some labeled with general classroom and some with resource room) that fit into the photo pockets. These say:
She earned __________ stars today.
She was put on timeout ___________ times because ____________.
She finished all most some of her work today.
Other comments"

To clarify - the stars and timeouts are defined pieces of her behavior support plan. The key is that I'm learning information on how well she did and if any problems came up.

I put in dividers for each day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday. On weekend days I write a brief note about things we did and any behavior issues that occurred at home and how we handled them. Each weekday I make sure the book gets into her backpack and at drop off I try to make sure I see her hand it to a teacher or aide. Each day the teacher or aide fills in the blanks or circles the choices as appropriate. If they choose to do so they can add their own thoughts at the bottom. When I pick my daughter up quite often she hands it directly to me and I flip to that day to see how many stars she earned. I beam at her and say, "WOW, X stars!, that's great sweetie!!". I also silently read about timeouts and can judge from her attitude at the moment about how I might need to proceed with the rest of our day, but I do NOT comment aloud on this piece. It is enough that I am aware of it. If I see any trends developing I will be able to contact the teachers for more information or to address my concerns.

This simple tool has made a huge difference in my confidence. I believe it has been key to keeping my daughter on track behaviorally. I appreciate the school staff's willingness to do this each day.

How do you find out about your child's day at school?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Inclusion on the Football Field

There is all sorts of bad news out there today. You can find it just by flipping on your TV, your radio, or your computer. It's too easy to get run over by all of that and start to think there is nothing right in the world anymore. While pondering what "news" story I should blog about today I wondered if I would find some special needs connection to some of the headline stories out there, but even if I did I wasn't sure I wanted to highlight any of them. As I scrolled through my google reader alerts I bypassed several sad stories. I needed to find some good news for myself and also for you.

I found it.

This story is one that many of us can only hope will be played out in our children's future. You can find text, comments, and video that honors a boy with special needs for his faithful work as the manager of his middle school football team. I don't know how you remember middle school, but I recall it as a place where differences are unwelcome and ostracized. This school, this team does not fit that mold. Perhaps it is due to the strength and mentoring of the coach. Maybe it's the supportive mother. Maybe they are just good kids. No matter what it is you can see in the video how the boys of this team truly accept Matthew and enjoy being with him. I don't think it's magic...I think it is good character on the part of each person in the scenario.

It reminds me of another story I've seen on facebook several times now about a high school basketball team with a similar attitude. You can see that video here. Prepare to cry tears of joy...even if you've seen it before.

These kids, overcoming all obstacles to find a place of acceptance and happiness, are a reminder to all of us that the good is still out there and we need to find it and help it multiply.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Good, good, good...The Fruit of the Spirit Part 6, cont.

To review: Our children taught us a couple of weeks ago that goodness can be not so much in the behavior of the object as in the value placed by the observer. For reference consider Genesis 1:31 (NIV) "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good..." God's initial estimation of His creation was that it was very good. I don't know about the rest of you, but as a mom sometimes I struggle with my self-image in terms of whether or not I am good enough, mostly because in my heart of hearts I don't want to be "just" good enough...I want to exceed expectations: my own (which are high), other people's (often unknown), and to be honest maybe even God's.

The futility of that last point is obvious. Throughout the Bible we are told that God has an accurate view of who we are. Just two examples that come quickly to mind:

  • Psalm 103:14 (NIV) - "...for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust."

  • Isaiah 64:6 (NIV) - "...all our righteous acts are like filthy rags..."

I cannot win God's favor by any act of my own. Even my good stuff is like a well-used dust mop in His view, and because of my human frailty I will not always be able to do the good stuff. However, He still views me a a precious daughter not because of what I have done, but because He has made me good through the work of Jesus on the cross, and through the continuing work of His Holy Spirit in my life.

In John 16 Jesus tells His disciples that it is for their good that He is going away so that the Counselor (the Holy Spirit) will come (verse 7). He goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit will teach us the standards of sin and righteousness, by telling us what God wants us to hear.

I am convinced that I cannot meet any measure of goodness on my own. I must learn to rely more on God's Spirit to show me the way to go, and rest in His assurance that He sees me as very good.


This post is part of the Moms' 30-minute Blog Challenge at Steady Mom. It is also the latest installment in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23, see left) learned from our children and from the Bible. You can see previous posts in the series by going to my "blog schedule" page and looking through the Tuesday and Thursday posts.


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