Summer Sanity Saver System

I have kind of mixed feelings about summer.  Of course I love the slower pace, the extra time with the kids (though now that we’re homeschooling that may not be a big change), the summer only activities, the nostalgia.  Then there’s the boredom and it’s so scorching HOT here I’m not a giant fan of being outside all day.  Also, this may be a giant no-no for a Texan to say, but I’m not a big fan of the swimming pool.  It’s ok, but I always leave with a headache and exhausted. This summer I wanted to really take advantage of summer, so:

  • I made each child an activity book.  I went around inside and outside the house and took pictures of all the different toys, play areas, and activities they could possibly do with their time.  I categorized the pictures into “Things I can do on my own”, “Things I can do with a friend”, and “Things I can do with my family”.  I put 2 on a page sorted into their categories, printed it out, and put it in a report folder.  I remind them of this book to get their ideas flowing on what they could do if they’re bored.
  • I made a screen time checklist for each child.  Screen time is like my nemesis and it’s an easy source of bad feelings between parents and kids in our house.  They have a bit of extra screen time during the summer.  Whenever they use up screen time, it gets checked off.  When it’s used up, it’s up.
  • I decided boredom is ok and healthy.  In the past I have felt as if its my job to be the family’s entertainment planner.  Well, as an adult, being bored is precious to me as it’s such a rare feeling!  Seeing what the kids figure out to do when bored is interesting!  If they ask me what to do, I usually welcome them to dust, vacuum, or clean baseboards.  🙂
  • I started a simple reward system.  They get a marble in a cup when they behave well, a marble taken away when they don’t.  They get and lose marbles liberally.  When their cups are full they get a big prize (this just happened and they selected Chuck-E-Cheese’s trip).  I know reward systems like this have some downfalls, but it seems ok for us.
  • We play!  I enjoy playing a wide variety of games with the kids and we have the time to do it!  Sometimes the games are academically oriented (like Hangman) – shh don’t tell.
  • I set some general goals.  I’m working on some academic things with the kids each day, no more than 20 minutes a day, but it makes a big difference when done daily.  I have a few goals for myself too so I don’t get the “I wasted the day” feeling.
  • We do have a very light “schedule”.  There is some scheduled activity for at least one kid every day except for Friday.  (for ex: science club, piano lessons, gymnastics, swimming lessons, field trip with grandma, visits with friends)
  • My husband absolutely loves going to the pool.  I have let him take the lead on this activity.  If we have time and the opportunity presents itself to go at other times during the day we go!  Otherwise, I’m not going to try real hard to work it into the days.

I think it’s going pretty well!  It’s given me some freedom from guilt for not being the entertainment master AND extra time to do some stuff I need to (like plan homeschool!).  The kids really seem pretty happy with it too.  They know what to expect and enjoy it when we go somewhere and when we’re home since I believe we have a healthy balance. What are your summer sanity savers?

Schedule Keeping

Everybody seems to have a very busy schedule and we are no exception.  Anything that takes up my time is involved in my schedule and this discussion. My friends tell me I am a very organized detailed person.  I hope they truly feel that way!  Actually I am really spacey often, get distracted so easily it’s laughable, forget what I’m saying right in the middle of a sentence and have a terrible time remembering where I put anything.  If anybody asks me what I’m doing tomorrow, I probably have no idea, even though it’s likely planned out.  I’m messy. I procrastinate.  I have no problem with doing something in the short term that I know will cause long term problems (staying up too late, reading a useless book). So how could somebody like me possibly have a reputation for being very organized, detailed and generally reliable?  It’s a requirement in life with an autistic kid.  I use a ton of redundant record keeping to keep up with it.

  • At the heart of my system is my Google calendar that I share with those closest to me so they can see what I’m doing and maybe even remind me of it!  I set it to alert me to appointments, though by that point it’s likely too late if I’ve forgotten.  Just about anything I can attach a date to goes on there.  The obvious things are appointments.  But I put stuff like “Start on project X”, “finish project X”, “NOTE: next week you need to bring cookies to…”.
  • I replicate this calendar one week at a time on a whiteboard on my fridge with colors and stars and whatever else I need. If there is something I need done by Friday, it’ll go on Wednesday and Friday slots.  I keep a running list of things I need to buy in the column on the left.
  • I have another whiteboard prominently by my computer for reminders and other long-term schedule items.  It currently has my general plan for each day of summer, my personal to do list, general planning goals I’d like to complete, and a detailed to do list for one of my projects.
  • I have another whiteboard in my closet upstairs.  Upstairs is the weakness in my system.  If I remember something up there, getting it transported in my brain down the stairs is very difficult!  The whiteboard helps.
  • Email could be in its own post, but in general:
    • I use my email box kind of like a to do list and appointment reminder system.  Emails from myself to myself with reminders are common.
    • I don’t delete an email until I’m “done” with its subject matter.
    • I have many email folders (and filters that send email directly to these folders) that I use and check.
    • I have multiple email addresses (4 currently) for different roles in my life, but I check all of them at the same time in the same email client.
    • If it’s scrolling off of my screen I take care of it!!
  • Keep the clutter down.  The old adage “a place for everything and everything in its place” applies not only to physical things in my house to keep organized but also to my schedule.  I don’t keep tiny slips of paper all over the place with reminders, appointments, “to do’s”, and I definitely don’t keep it just in my brain.  It all goes into one of these redundant systems.
  • Schedule free time.  I majorly need my time to be spacey and free with no organization at all, I always make sure I have it every week.
  • I haven’t even discussed how I manage the household organization and to do lists. It’s important to have good systems for these things as well so they don’t become huge drains on your schedule.  Sounds like a future post!

For some this system may sound complicated, obsessive, like I need to get a life, and doomed to failure.  However keep in mind I am a super spacey person, easily distracted, short term thinker, procrastinator, not intrinsically motivated to do these kinds of things, and a daydreamer.  Yet, I doubt many who know me well would think of me like this! My responsibilities require focus, patience, and long term goals.   This is how I do it. Any tips?  I definitely think in the future when I’m not the sole schedule keeper of the family, things will need to change.  I’d love to hear how you keep a schedule!

Occupational Therapy at Home

I recently had my younger son, Bear (5 years old), evaluated for occupational therapy.  He did qualify, as I expected he would, but after I explained all the things I already do with him at home, the therapist told me “You’re like an OT in a Mom.  You can come here if you want, but we’d basically be doing the same things with him.”

My older son, Fuzzy (8 years old), had occupational therapy for several years.  One thing I have learned in our Autism journey is my husband and I are completely responsible for Autism treatment.  For a while I believed the doctors and therapists were there to guide us in providing what Fuzzy would need.  I quickly learned the truth is just the opposite.  It is my job to guide the doctors and therapists in how to use their expert knowledge to help my son specifically.  If you have an Autistic child, please think about this carefully.  I believe this change in my mindset has made a gigantic difference for us.  I am the expert on Fuzzy’s Autism, and I consult with the experts – not the other way around.  Any therapy session is more for me to learn what they are doing so I can do it at home.

Bear has OT at home almost every day.  He knows it as “fine motor time”.  He knows it’s to strengthen his hand muscles and coordination.  I made a laminated chart for him with various OT type activities.  He picks one each time he does OT and checks it off on the chart.  Eventually after a few weeks he will check off all the activities and then we’ll erase it and he’ll start over.  He likes having the choice of what to do. He’s pretty independent with this as well.  He probably gets more out of it when I do it with him so I can monitor him more carefully and he just enjoys it more if it’s with me.  I try to do that when I can, but he’s totally capable of doing any activity by himself as well.

I am the therapist

One of the most important lessons I have learned in our Autism journey so far is that I am Fuzzy’s therapist in addition to his Mom.  I did not think like this in the first few years at all.  I thought I was consulting the experts in what was going on with my son, they were treating him, and I was doing my best to follow their advice and program at home.

Eventually I came to realize that I will always be better at identifying Fuzzy’s therapeutic needs than a therapist ever will be.  This is nothing against them, obviously they cannot know my son as well as I do.  I researched the therapies even more than I already had.  I became my own little expert in speech and occupational therapy, in consultation with the actual experts, to find out how these therapies can help Fuzzy. I began to set the agenda for sessions.  I set the therapy goals.  I explained what we are doing as our home program and asked how THEY can complement or reinforce what we do.

I really don’t know if this bothered them or not, but I do know they believed I was proactive and they were supportive. This change in approach happened with doctors as well.  Doctor appointment used to be like this:  I describe the latest set of behaviors or symptoms, the doctor works with Fuzzy for however long he wants, and then I listen to the doctor’s thoughts.

Now it goes like this:  I present a list of my thoughts regarding the behaviors that I wish to consult him on, he works with Fuzzy for about 5 minutes, I present my ideas for altering his treatment, he tweaks my solution slightly perhaps, and then we leave. This path is what led me to RDI.  RDI is totally about the parents helping the child.  The RDI therapist (or consultant as it’s called in RDI) works almost exclusively with the parents.  It is the parents’ job to implement all of RDI at home.

If you have an Autistic child, please think about this carefully.  I believe this change in my mindset has made a gigantic difference for us.  I am the expert on Fuzzy’s Autism, and I consult with the experts – not the other way around.  Any therapy session is more for me to learn what they are doing so I can do it at home.  I’m the only therapist he has. It is an absolutely giant responsibility, I won’t lie.  However, there is frankly no alternative.  I just can’t leave it up to the “experts” who don’t know Fuzzy at all.

They are absolutely wonderful sources of support and information for ME, but they aren’t who’s going to help him.  It’s up to me.

(Note:  I referred to just myself here for easier reading and writing.  My husband is completely involved, though I do take the lead on it.  He’s very supportive! )

How to decide when to make a change?

One of the hard things about autism is the dealing with the wide variety of coexisting conditions. The experts differ on if these are truly coexisting conditions or symptoms of one condition, the autism (to us, it doesn’t really matter). Some examples include: anxiety disorders, ADHD, OCD, depression, substance abuse, to name a few. The difficulty is that we are often attempting to treat all of the coexisting conditions and the autism at the same time. It gets to be quite difficult to know what is affecting what. For example, speech is obviously affected by autism, but it can be affected by ADHD and anxiety disorders also. So if speech is currently an issue, where do you even start? We approach potential changes to our routines and therapy choices with great care (substitute “pray” with “reflect” if you prefer):

  • Pray about it.  At first when we notice something is unusually off, we do nothing about it.  We pray about it and see how it goes.
  • Get a second opinion. Ask somebody who doesn’t see your child every day how s/he feels about the issue you are seeing.  Encourage this person to be bluntly honest with you.
  • Pray about it, aka don’t move too fast.  It’s so very tempting to immediately start into some kind of “fix it” mode with doctors, medications, therapies, etc.
  • Speak to a medical professional. Our doctors usually seem as baffled as us, but they have surprised me a few times with truly great advice!
  • If you decide to make a change, focus on one thing at a time. As best as you can, only change one thing at a time.  It’s hard to do this, there is no “perfect” time to make a change and evaluate it.  Just do your best.
  • Go slowly.  Don’t worry about trying to fix whatever is going on right now.  Think about how you want the situation to be in a year or two and work back from there.  Always keep an eye to the future goal and set your present goals accordingly.
  • Monitor the change and pray about it. Monitoring the change is always difficult.  Despite your best efforts to only change one thing at a time, you still won’t really know what is affecting what.  There is no black and white answer.  Do you feel you are moving in the right direction?
  • Go back to the beginning of this process. We are always in this process at some point.

I can think of at least three different issues right now that we are putting through this process.  Each time we make some kind of major change to our therapy choices, I’d say it takes about six months until we are really comfortable with it.  We feel pretty good then until it’s time to reevaluate. You are never “finished”.  It’s ok though!  Once you’ve moved from one step to the next, you have time to take a breather and just enjoy your child and your life!  Don’t obsess about the change during one of the steps.  Moving forward in the process is hard, take time to enjoy in the “in between” which is really what life is all about!

Home Therapy Program

I wrote earlier about why I consider myself to be my kids’ therapist.  This post is about what we’re doing currently in our home therapy program.  It’s a snapshot of what’s going on right now, I change it up several times a year. We did manage to do a program like this during Fuzzy’s two years of public school before homeschool.  We didn’t do as much each day, and there would be some days we didn’t do any of it at all.  That’s fine, the program is designed so that I just check off what I accomplish each day, and then once everything is checked off (over a week usually), I just start all over again.  I also worked with Fuzzy’s teachers on the homework levels so we would have more time for home therapy.  I was lucky in that Fuzzy did not have any academic difficulties, so homework wasn’t a big concern for us at that time. However, this is a gigantic portion of the reason we homeschool, so we have time to devote to all of this.  We do this all first thing each day.  We don’t start on anything academic (though these skills are necessary for academics!) until mid-morning. Daily Program – addresses hypotonia, dysgraphia, developmental coordination disorder, and fine motor delays Fine Motor Program – this is part of the daily program, I just have it detailed in this document RDI – this is what we’re doing for the social aspect of Autism treatment. I’m certainly not a general expert, but I’ve come to know what helps my kids.  Hopefully this can help you out when you design your own home therapy program!

Dinner Conversation Game

We tried the dinner conversation game tonight where one person starts a story and then you go in a circle with each person adding on a sentence or two to continue the story.  DH and I demonstrated with each other first and then we started going around in a circle.  Our RDI consultant recommended it as a way to practice dynamic thinking skills. I had no idea what to expect but I assumed Fuzzy would struggle.  He really didn’t!

The story started with DH saying “Papa and Bear were on a camping trip and Fuzzy had hidden in the back seat to go with them to surprise them.”  Fuzzy added on all kinds of twists during his turn like spaceships and falling in a big hole.  He never really seemed at a loss with what to add on to.  AND he never seemed to get upset when I (who went after him) would intentionally somewhat, just a little, mess up his plot line. It’s funny in retrospect to think how often I intentionally messed up the kids’ plot lines.  It wasn’t even really conscience, I just did it.  Maybe it’s related to that parental instinct to constantly push your kids further that I saw in those RDI videos… The one funny thing Fuzzy did do sometimes was explain his statement to us like we may not quite understand what he meant.  Or if he inserted something funny, he would also explain it to us. Bear of course loved it and introduced wild plot lines, often in which Fuzzy would be harmed in some way.  Ah, siblings.  Fuzzy took it well and always got himself out of trouble when it was his turn.  🙂

Inattentive ADD

I want to bring attention to what I think may be a very unknown type of ADHD.  Before I ever heard of ADHD-PI (primarily inattentive) I associated children with ADHD as very hyper, having difficulty sitting still, difficulty focusing on anything, and moving quickly from task to task to task.

This description does not fit Fuzzy at all.  He is just about the opposite of these things.  He is under hyper and low energy, he has no trouble sitting still – he will be the kid during circle time listening to a story even if everybody else is running around.  Trying to get him to move quickly from task to task is likely to lead to great frustration for him. There are other interesting things he does as well though.  He easily gets distracted.  Yes many 6-9 year old do, especially boys.  The level I’m talking about here is above and beyond.  I have seen him spot a piece of dust floating in the air and follow it away from a line he is in.  I have seen him be so fascinated by a dandelion blowing in the wind he doesn’t notice approximately 1000 other children leaving the area he is in.  I could list so many examples, but for the sake of his privacy, please just believe me.

After a while, I did not completely attribute this to Autism anymore.  Of course there is overlap, but this area in particular seemed extreme.  I did my own research and found ADHD-PI.  There is a wonderful blog, Primarily Inattentive ADD, that is full of information about this.  It says the “The characteristic symptoms of the inattentive subtype are inattention, easy distractibility, disorganization, procrastination and forgetfulness.”  There is a great assessment checklist as well.  Interestingly, there are people in the community that believe ADHD-PI doesn’t even belong in the ADHD category.  I agree that it is confusing at least! I presented all of this to our neurologist and he agreed.  (As a side note, this has been our history with Fuzzy the entire time.  I notice something, research it, present it to a medical person and they agree with me.  I would be ok with somebody telling me something for once instead!) 🙂

I do feel that ADHD-PI is a symptom of Fuzzy’s form of Autism, but it’s serious enough that we do look at it as its own issue as well. I also believe ADHD-PI can certainly exist without Autism.  If you have any questions about this lesser known form of ADHD please ask me, I can likely at least point you in the right direction.  I would definitely read Primarily Inattentive ADD as well, it’s the best resource I’ve found.

Curriculum 2011-2012

One of the most fun, confusing, and interesting things about homeschooling to me is choosing curriculum.  There are many general styles of homeschoolsuch as school-at-home, classical, unschooled, relaxed/eclectic, and lots more.  I’m somewhere in between a classical and relaxed/eclectic homeschooler so far.  I’m a relaxed/eclectic personality type but my logical brain likes classical so I have fallen somewhere in between.  The kids seem agreeable. I’m currently using the same curriculum, at different levels, for both of my kids.  That could certainly change, and I expect it will.  I plan to write reviews of each of these curriculums in the future.

General for Fall 2011, Kindergarten (Bear) and 2nd Grade (Fuzzy):
  • 3 hours per day, 4 days per week is spent in structured time doing core subjects (math, language arts, literature, history, Bible).  I hadn’t planned for Bear to spend this long for Kinder, but he wants to so I try to accommodate him.
  • 3 hours per day, 4 days per week is spent loosely pursuing everything else (PE, music, art, science, hobbies, academic-related computer time, and other stuff as it strikes us).
  • 1 day per week is usually dedicated to some type of field trip, park playdate, a large project we’re interested in, staying in our PJs until noon as we move slowly through a lingering breakfast after spending way too long playing games upstairs (oh dear, I’ve admitted it)
Language Arts (penmanship, grammar, writing, spelling):
– This has been a tricky subject for me.  We’re not doing this in the classical school format.
Reading Instruction:
  • Singapore Math (Bear-1, Fuzzy-2/3)
  • Math is also a subject with many teachable moments in everyday life and my kids love to talk about it!
World History:
American History:
  • Tracing Maps as described in “The Core” by Leigh Bortins (Bear, Fuzzy)
  • GeoToys (yep, I’m using a category of toys!) (Bear, Fuzzy)
  • Beginning Geography (Bear, Fuzzy)
Future Plans:
  • Spanish
  • Latin
  • Logic