Monday, May 30, 2011


Yes, my daughter is just finishing first grade and we have homework. I admit I have mixed feelings about this. I don't remember doing much homework when I was in first grade, but then I don't remember much about first grade. It seems like certain academic skills are getting pushed down to earlier grades. For instance fractions and some simple multiplication concepts were introduced in my daughter's class this year. I don't remember learning about multiplication until 4th grade, but then no one's expecting her to memorize times tables (which is what we did when I was in 4th grade)...and they explained fractions by making pizzas out of paper and cutting them into equal portions. I'm worried about all of this acceleration of the academic world. I've written about it before, and encourage you to consider watching "The Race to Nowhere" - a documentary that discusses this topic on the high school level (before release it was called "Slipping Behind"). So I'm a bit sad that my daughter even has homework at her age, and particularly since it is hard for her to manage on her own. It is really more work for me - to get her started on it, to help her understand the directions, to make sure she follows through, to check it, to correct without leading her to the answer or making her feel like she failed, to make sure she turns it in...Then again it is one of very few chances I have to assess for myself exactly where she's at academically. To see that she still mixes up plus and minus, to see that translating words into math problems is almost impossible for her, to see that her phonetic spelling is still a bit off.

So here are a few things I learned this year:
  • Homework is tough for everyone. My volunteer position at school this year involved collecting the homework sheets at the end of the week. I was reassured to note that we aren't the only family that had trouble getting it done. We did more than some families, and less than others, but each family at one point or another needed a break and took it. It never resulted in the world ceasing to spin.
  • Be flexible if possible. Our first grade teachers asked us to read each day with our child and then they listed several suggested activities to do during the week. They generally asked us to pick three to do. This was wonderful for us because having a choice is always empowering for my daughter. It fit right in with our general strategy of approaching hard things. "Would you like to do x or y?" Where x and y are both things we can live with that get us to our goal, in this case getting homework done. You may not have a choice about what you do, but you can choose the order, or how much to do now versus later, or if you want to use a pen or a pencil, etc.
  • Stay organized. This is the hardest one for me. Monday we would get our homework sheet. Friday we were supposed to turn it in. Sometimes I would find it buried on the kitchen island on Thursday night with nary a thing written on it. On my best weeks we would clip it to a clipboard and keep it in a place where I would see it every evening after dinner. We would pick one activity and catch up the reading log, then Thursday it was ready to put in the backpack all set to go to school. I liked those weeks best.
  • Take a break if you need it. When we hit rough patches over the year homework was the last thing on my mind. Busy work times, mild regressions for my daughter, major challenges with my mother-in-law...we would still do our reading, but if we didn't get the rest done I didn't sweat it. Like I said, the world kept on spinning.
  • Talk to the teacher. Whenever I felt like we needed a break I would check in with the teacher. She was always understanding. She assured me that reading was the most important thing. She understood when we were working on big projects (like Science Fair) and often had good ideas of things to try to make it easier. You may be stressing out about it more than the teacher intends, so it's always a good idea to check signals.
  • Get it in writing. I'm told that it is possible to get homework accommodations and revisions written into your child's IEP. We have not found this step to be necessary yet, but if we do it's nice to know. This way there is no confusion about what is expected of you and your child, and that's always a good thing.

Since we're pretty new to this homework journey I'd love to hear your ideas as well. What works for your family? What challenges have you had and how do you address them? Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Just click on "comments" below to leave a comment or read what others have to say.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Auditory Processing Disorder

Maybe your child's teacher has told you that she is struggling with reading and that she doesn't seem to pay attention to the directions given for assignments. You've noticed that if you ask her a question when the radio is on that her answer may not relate to the question you asked. Maybe she can't remember her home phone number or writes numbers out of sequence. Perhaps you've had her hearing checked and she passed with flying colors, but she is becoming discouraged by school and you're wondering what's going on. One possible explanation could be an Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), which is sometimes called Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD.)

In APD the physical function of the inner ear is in tact, but somewhere along the line as the sound is transmitted to the brain and processed for information to act on, the signal is scrambled or misinterpreted and is acted on incorrectly. This can lead to big challenges with learning and behavior.
Because it can have similar symptoms, APD can be confused with Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD) or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). APD can also occur in addition to these or other disorders, so it is important to get a full evaluation from a qualified professional to best understand exactly what is happening with your child.

There are several different auditory skills that may be affected by processing disorders:
  • Auditory Discrimination - ability to distinguish and segment words into individual sounds - key for reading and writing
  • Auditory Figure-Ground Discrimination - ability to focus on important auditory information amid background noise - listening to directions in a noisy environment
  • Auditory Memory - ability to recall information heard in the short term or long term - important for remembering names, and following directions.
  • Auditory Sequencing - ability to understand and remember the order of words - remembering lists or sequences like phone numbers or addresses.
There are several different types of "auditory training" available for treating auditory processing disorders. There are some software packages that can be used even at home (earobics is one I've heard of but haven't tested so consult with your professional for advice.) Speech therapy and environmental modifications (removing background noise, sitting near the teacher, etc.) will also be helpful.

For more basic information start here NIH
For an (adult) personal perspective Andrea's Buzzing About
More information on the different auditory processes from NCLD

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review - Signs of Trouble

Signs of Trouble
The first paragraph of Signs of Trouble puts you into the shoes of the main characters, Amy and Kim. Excited to be on a field trip with their special education classmates, they enter a shopping mall and take in the intense aromas and sounds of the setting. The sounds and some other distracting events, like needing to use the restroom, cause Amy and Kim to get separated from their class. What will they do? They use the skills they came to the mall to practice, and some safety rules they've learned from their teacher to eventually reunite with their class.

What Mom hasn't experienced that heart-stopping feeling of getting separated from our kids? For parents of special needs children it seems even more threatening. Will they remember the rules we've told them? What if they panic and can't remember anything? What if they can't find an adult to help them? We recently had an experience at school that made me even more aware that I need to help my daughter learn good "emergency" skills.

One feature I love about "Signs of Trouble" is the creative exercises at the end of the story that could help support the learning of emergency skills. There are also some activities related to understanding learning differences, another topic that I'm planning to spend some time talking with my daughter about this Summer.

I adore the art work by Jack Foster in this book. It has the right blend of colors and shading to help children focus on the key features of the picture. The characters remind me of the increasingly popular Manga art style. Most importantly, the pictures do not conflict in any way with the text, instead they help us understand - like the picture of the telephone cord dangling feet above the heads of the girls as they wonder which number it is they're supposed to call when they get in trouble.

The story line seems like just the right level of conflict for children - not so scary as to be frightening - but clearly some problems they can relate to, like a stranger approaching them when they are already nervous about being lost. There is a fair amount of text on each page, which might make it challenging for early readers, but the story line is straightforward and well stated. Overall this is a great book to read if these are topics you would like to talk about with your children or students.

Disclosure: Janet Ann Collins, author of "Signs of Trouble," is a writing acquaintance of mine. We've only met once in person, but correspond a bit by e-mail and facebook. She asked me to review her book and was kind enough to send me a pdf copy to that purpose. I received no other compensation for this review, and as always have given my honest appraisal of this lovely piece of work.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Vigorous and Strong

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. (Proverbs 31:10-17, NIV)
We continue to add to our picture of the Proverbs 31 woman. So far we have seen that she is noble, valuable, and eager to work. This time around verse 17 tells us that she works vigorously and that she is strong. We have already seen that her work involves making fabric, both for her family and as a business. We see here that she also provides food for her family and servants, and that from her business profits she buys land and plants a vineyard. She is quite the entrepreneur! The key thing to remember is that this is her work. My work is different, and your work is probably quite another thing altogether...the things we want to emulate are not her work or her skills, but her character. What attitude does she bring to work with her?

We've already seen that she is eager. She looks forward to getting her cloth made, and now we can see at least one reason why - it is profitable! She makes money from her cloth. She makes enough money to buy land, enough land to plant a vineyard. She typifies the diligent hands praised elsewhere as the source of wealth (e.g. Proverbs 10:4.)

Today we also see that she is vigorous - active, robust, energetic, sturdy, healthy. Interestingly, the word vigorous is used to describe the Hebrew women enslaved in Egypt before the time of Moses. The midwives in Egypt were told to kill the male Hebrew babies as a method of population control, but the midwives feared God and told Pharoah that the women were "vigorous" and gave birth before they could arrive and obey his edict. That's a powerful image! The Proverbs 31 woman is also strong - solid, not easily broken or injured. She takes care of herself so that she can take care of her family.

Self-care is so essential, and so hard to remember. In the press of school drop offs, healthy cooking,
laundry, after school (fitness!) activities, and social opportunities that we seek for our children there has to be time to take care of us, too. I know I have really struggled in this area over the last couple of years. After the twins were born I put off dental visits for myself for a while - I was busy driving the child around to various evaluations, social skill therapies, speech therapy, etc. and seeing to the basic care of the twins. There just didn't seem to be time for taking care of that filling that needed to be replaced. By the time I took care of it I needed a root canal. Lesson learned...sort of. I'm caught up on my dental work now. I have been trying to take better care of myself by walking a lot, eating better, and sleeping as much as I can. I can still tell I'm not in very good shape muscle strength-wise, but at least I am trying whereas before I was just running myself into the ground, literally.

So, note to self and to you as well. The Proverbs 31 lady was certainly busy, but amid all of her work she made sure that she was in good shape, too. Permission granted - take care of yourself!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Digest 31

Here is the latest and greatest...the posts that I found particularly helpful, inspiring, moving, or funny in the last few weeks. Click on the links from my on-line friends and if you leave a comment make sure to tell them you found them via Simple Life. Thanks!

1) I loved this post by Autism & Oughtisms exploring speech development and how much more one can notice each stage when there are delays. Little things like learning to say "um" when you're having trouble thinking of the right words...I remember being so excited when my daughter learned to say yes when she meant yes. So important.

2) My fellow 5 Minutes for Special Needs contributor, Lee, shared about their annual "prom night" sponsored by a local high school for teens and adults with special needs. It sounds like a wonderful evening for everyone who is involved.

3) Bird on the Street hit a home run with this post about raising a special needs child. Yes, there are challenges but  maybe not the challenges you would expect a parent to be bothered by.

4) Having a sibling with special needs can be...challenging. This brother seems to have it figured out. Thanks for sharing, Mary Hill at Hopeful Parents.

5) And this post, from Specialgathering is just plain funny. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011


I snapped this photo about a month ago. Looks innocent enough, but it was quite jarring to me when I saw it. I had just dropped my daughter off at school and was rushing home to get her siblings to take them to preschool. I was hoping against hope that Daddy would have them ready to walk out the door because I had a long list of things that needed to be accomplished that day. Then I spotted this formerly iced caffeinated beverage abandoned outside the community theater near my daughter’s school, and it gave me pause.

Someone had woken up that morning, or maybe the day before, craving their favorite iced coffee. You know the large half-caff, frap with extra cream, no sugar, and a dash of whatever. OK – I made that up. Can you tell I don’t drink these kinds of things? Anyway…they had a full day planned, but couldn’t live without their coffee fix, so they went out of their way to get to the coffee shop, stand in line and pay an outrageous amount of money (probably $5 – enough to pay for a gallon of gas anyway) for their coffee. Somehow they ended up at the theater. Maybe part of the day’s agenda was to see a show there. Maybe they walked their dog to the coffee shop to justify the trip. For whatever reason they stopped near this bench put down their drink and then something…whatever it was…distracted them and they moved on with their day completely forgetting the craving, the effort, the time, and the money they had spent to get that coffee. It was not, by the way, abandoned for just a few moments. It sat there for a few days before some kind soul finally disposed of it.

The abandoned coffee is an emblem of something I feel is perhaps horribly wrong in our culture right now – Distraction. There’s nothing wrong with craving and getting a special treat, but there’s something sad about losing that treat to an external force that prevents us from truly doing what we want to do.

I think what scares me about this, and I don’t think scares is too strong a word, is the effect that Distraction has on our ability to recognize and do what is most important. We are increasingly pulled in so many directions that it is easy to lose track of what is most vital. We make mistakes. We cut people off with thoughtless words. We get wrapped up in emotional debates. We forget. We lose. We walk away.

Two people I love currently struggle mightily to overcome Distraction. My daughter is striving to learn all she can, though affected by autism, and my dear mother-in-law, is working hard to remain independent though increasingly impacted by dementia. Both of them battle the Distraction demon from different ends of the age spectrum. Meanwhile I fill my life so full that I am just barely functional. I must begin to reclaim the margins of my time, thought, and energy if I am going to make it for the long haul. I am not sure how to go about this, but I don’t want my life to look like this picture. I want to truly enjoy every drop of what life has to offer. I don't want to walk away half finished.

I am linking this post with Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday. We are up to the letter D, if you didn't catch that. Click here to check out the other creative entries, and thanks as always to Jenny for hosting!

Jenny Matlock

Monday, May 9, 2011

Clean Up Time

Our house had reached near disaster status. I freely admit that I am not a good housekeeper. Truth be told it is my wonderful husband who cares about how clean the floors are and whether or not we can see through the windows. I figure I'm doing good if we have clean plates to eat off of and clean clothes to wear. Dusting - ha - will just have to wait. My husband has been way too busy lately, too, so we were in a bit of a state.

In particular I seem to be the main person who tries to put things away at our house, and I'm not even that good at it. Usually I'm dashing in the door with arms full of stuff, dropping that here and there while gathering a new arm full to dash back out the door again, leaving the detritus of busyness behind me. But eventually when I have a quiet moment I endeavor to put away my stuff, and my kids' stuff, and even some of my husband's stuff, but I can't keep up. I was spending what little time I was willing to devote to housekeeping (beyond the dishes and laundry) just putting things away, and falling ever more behind.

Want more motivation? Someone was coming to our house, and the house needed to look good for this person. This wasn't my best friend who would understand the topsy turvy nature of our lifestyle. This was someone who needed to see the house at its best. Three days notice, too - just to up the ante. Ha - I say it again.

Well, I decided to take a lesson from my twins' preschool. Twice during the class session there is "clean up time" and everyone participates. The children are given specific jobs to do, and the adults model, supervise, and encourage. So on day one, in between cleaning things myself I talked often to my children about having a clean up time that evening. After dinner, and before jammie time, we set the timer for 15 minutes, and we all worked together to clean up their bedrooms and the toy room. The next night we did it again. There was some complaining and some stalling, and some whining, but because we were right there with them, eventually everything got picked up and put away. On the third night my oldest daughter said to me, "Mom, if I keep my room clean during the day I don't have to do as much during clean up time."

AAAAH!!! I could almost hear the angels singing!

So now the kids seem to understand that if they make a big mess they will be the ones who clean it up later. Guess what?? There are fewer big messes. My oldest is particularly doing a great job maintaining her room in a nicely organized state. When I get time to do housework (still a rarity) I can spend it actually cleaning instead of just putting things away. And it's not a big deal now when people come over...the house is staying tidy enough to be presentable, at least to my best friend. I hope I never forget about clean up time. It is such a handy tool.

Now, about those windows...

Saturday, May 7, 2011


This post may be a little controversial. There are some who would claim that Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) is not a real disorder. Their argument runs something along the lines of, "ADD is over-diagnosed. Kids are just being kids, their parents don't know how to control them and the doctor slaps on a label and gives them drugs to make them all feel better."

First of all, even if ADD is over-diagnosed (which it may be), that does not mean that there are no real cases of ADD. Second, ADD is not just a childhood disorder, adults can struggle with ADD, too. Third, ADD is not caused by poor parenting, though parents of ADD children may need to learn modified parenting techniques in order to most effectively support their child. Fourth, since when does slapping a label on your child and/or needing to give them medication make a parent feel better?

Some people seem to think that even if ADD is a real disorder, it isn't a real disability, but ADD is recognized as a disability under federal law. Accommodations must be provided by employers and schools to individuals diagnosed with ADD.

Here are some facts about ADD:
  • There are three different kinds of ADD: combined type, predominantly inattentive type, and predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type (sometimes called ADHD).
  • It is estimated that up to 6% of people in the United States have some form of ADD.
  • Half of children diagnosed with ADD will struggle with related issues into adulthood.
  • A person with ADD is distractible, impulsive, and hyperactive to a degree that impacts their schooling, work, and/or social life. 
  • These challenges must appear before the age of seven, must last longer than six months, and must be excessive - over reaching the usual distractions of childhood and our hectic lifestyles.
  • Other medical conditions may mimic ADD symptoms, so careful screening and diagnosis should be performed by a medical professional.
According to scientific studies, ADD is not caused by television, too much sugar, or food allergies. Functional brain images show that in people with ADD the areas of the brain responsible for maintaining attention use less glucose (are less active) than the same areas in a normative peer. There is some indication of a genetic link since families with one person with ADD have a higher rate of another family member also having ADD than the general population.

ADD is generally treated with a combination of medication and counseling. Stimulants such as ritalin, adderall, and concerta are used to help people with ADD focus. Counseling can help people with ADD learn better organization skills and other coping mechanisms.

To learn more about ADD, start here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Book Review - Thinking in Pictures

Thinking In Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with AutismI recently finished reading Temple Grandin's book, Thinking in Pictures. I had already read her earlier work, Emergence, Labeled Autistic and reviewed it here. I have to admit I am fascinated by her life and soak up everything I can learn about her and from her. To date this is the closest thing I can find to getting inside my daughter's head to understand more about how she experiences the world around her. That may sound strange if you aren't familiar with the language barrier that we still struggle with just to relate events of the day. Yesterday my daughter told me she had said a "bad word" at school and had to promise the principal she wouldn't say it again. After several minutes of asking questions and deciphering I learned that she had said, "stupid clock" and evidently somehow the principal found out (maybe just the "stupid" part) and sat down to talk with her about it during lunch. I still don't know if she was in trouble over it, or how the principal found out or a lot of the other details. Talking about these things too much (giving them too much attention) can sometimes backfire into repeat performances, which obviously I want to avoid since she promised the principal she wouldn't say it anymore. So after learning enough to get the general idea I changed topics (knowing in the back of my mind that I may need to follow up with the principal at some point). This is just one daily incident that a neuro-typical kid either wouldn't tell their parent at all (for fear of getting in trouble) or would be able to explain fully without being lead along by questions and clarifications. Imagine trying to really probe her emotions (which she doesn't really get anyway) or asking her to explain how she perceives light, sound, temperature, surprises or facial expressions...all topics that I'd really like to understand better.

Temple Grandin has been there and has enough written clarity to explain her experiences in terms that I can understand and relate to. I have no illusions that her experiences are identical to my daughter's, but particularly in Thinking in Pictures she has also interviewed other adults with autism to supplement her own experiences and give a more well-rounded description of how autism affects the way people think.

I found the idea of thinking in pictures to be a little hard to grasp. I am a very weak visual learner (maybe because I have had poor eyesight since age 6?). I am more auditory and kinesthetic. Still when Temple talked about running a video in her mind to visualize a new piece of equipment or a new design project, I could relate it to my own tendency to replay conversations in my head -- usually coming up with the perfect comeback hours after it is needed. I am not sure if my daughter is visually oriented or not. I know that visual aids (schedules, signs, rewards, etc.) are helpful to her and that she has an amazing sense of color, but I don't know if she remembers things visually or not. I'll be looking for signs of this skill.

The other key analogy Dr. Grandin makes in Thinking in Pictures is the similarity of fear-based responses in animals (particularly cattle) and individuals with autism. She talks about the loud whooshing sound of air-brakes on buses and semi-trucks and how they can cause cattle to balk. Although my daughter has overcome a lot of her anxiety triggers, this is one thing that she still struggles with. As we walk to school she often walks with her hands over her ears when buses are nearby and sometimes freezes and refuses to walk past them. I can't understand the root of this fear, but knowing it is a common trigger I try to remember to just support her as we walk by instead of getting frustrated when she freezes. There are other anxiety triggers that we continue to work around and take baby steps toward eliminating. Many of them have to do with restrooms - another place where that whooshing sound occurs and in this case has added other associations that trigger anxiety - doors that don't latch, automatic flushing mechanisms, stainless steel fixtures, multiple stalls, and on it goes. One trigger begets many triggers and any one of them may peg the anxiety meter and make an everyday event become an obstacle to surpass.

There is also a chapter on Dr. Grandin's religious views, which was interesting to read. I think my daughter is beginning to understand on a thought level the tenets of our Christian faith, and I am hopeful that soon she will make that faith her own in her heart. It was interesting to see how Dr. Grandin thinks about these things. There is also a chapter about dating and romantic relationships which may be important a little later on here...

Although I don't think I learned a lot about the main points of autism, Thinking in Pictures sort of filled in the details and made some of the finer points come into focus. I recommend reading it if you have a similar passion of wanting to understand this challenging disorder.


Related Posts with Thumbnails