Friday, July 29, 2011

GFCF update

We are now at 2 months of gluten-free, casein-free eating for Little Bean, so I wanted to give a bit of an update.

Just after I wrote my last post about our diet, Little Bean took a turn for the worse. Many of the new skills he had gained regressed, and his aggression increased. It got to the point where we were basically worse off than before we started. I was so crushed and disappointed that week. But it was only a week.

We discovered that he may have some sensitivity to berries, almonds and apples as well. So we them out for a bit, and that did seem to help. Also, through my research I found that some children will go through "withdrawals" as the left over gluten leaves the system. It can make behavior worse for a while, so that may have been where that was coming from as well. We were also concerned it may have been a cross-contamination issue with Miss O, since she was not following the diet. We decided to put her on it as well, and that has made things much more simple when it comes to food preparation (btw, we also saw the withdrawal symptoms in her around the same time frame as we saw them with Little Bean, however we have not seen extreme positive changes in her so far). We really still don't know what of these things was the contributing factor, or if all of them are, but I am grateful it was only a week and now we seem to be making progress.

Each day we are seeing new skills emerge, it's really quite mind-boggling to me. Besides those I talked about in my last post, the most recent one is a bit of imaginative play.

When Little Bean plays with toy figures, he dictates the story. He'll say, "And then, Buzz climbed up the tree and said, 'Get over here!' Woody replied, 'No!', so Buzz stated, 'Alright, I'm coming to get you'. It literally sounds like he is reading off a page, including descriptive words and saying, 'replied' and 'said'. For all I know, he may be reading off a page that he has memorized from his books. He never becomes a character. Usually when you hear a kid play, you hear, "I'm going to get you!" as they move a character across the floor. Etc, etc. Not so with Little Bean...

until this week that it is! This week I have seen little snippets of him pretending (in the first person!), a skill that usually emerges closer to age 3. It's kind of exciting!

We are also noticing more empathy and ability to understand cause and effect. Example: if I don't clean up my room when mom asks, it's possible she may not see a toy and it will get sucked up by the vacuum, AND that is not anyone's fault but my own (real story here!).

We are still dealing with some anxiety and anger, but it's toned down significantly since we started this diet. My husband asked me the other day, "Do you think he is just growing up and getting more mature and that's why the changes?" No way, do I think that. Why would it coincide so well with the dietary changes, and why would it happen so quickly in so many areas? I really believe the dietary changes are the reason why we are seeing progress like this. I guess the only way to truly test that would be to let him cheat on his diet and see what happens. At this point, I'm nowhere near allowing that to happen though!

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Homeschool a Child on the Spectrum...Part 3

So we've talked about how homeschooling allows autistic children to learn to socialize in a 1:1 setting, and we've talked about how it may be easier to meet the individualized educational needs of autistic children at home. Now I want to discuss a third reason why homeschooling is a great option for children with autism.

3. Children with autism very often deal with sensory issues which can impair their ability to function in every day situations. That is to say, many times these kids can't function normally at school or in public because a of a sensory problem--something related to touching, tasting, hearing, seeing or smelling is bothering them in such a way that they cannot relax and be "normal". When we talk about sensory issues, we are not talking about preferences, such as "I prefer not to sit by the trash can at lunch because it smells." We are talking about real problems in which their senses are working either in overdrive or not at all (under reactivity).

A for instance would be like with my son. He has vestibular issues (issues with feeling off balance), and he can't bear to sit at a table where his feet are dangling. If he does, he tends to fall out of the chair or feel off balance. For the longest time he chose to stand (and sometimes still does) for his seat work because of this issue. And all that time I had no clue he was getting something from standing during school time.

There is a fairly simple resolution to sensory issues. It goes something like this: A: find out what is bothering them, which admittedly is not an easy task many times and B: change the situation so that this is no longer an issue. This process cannot be done everywhere. But at home, in many cases, sensory problems can be overcome with accomodations.

Little Bean has lots of sensory issues, one of the biggest that would be difficult for him in school is noise. He really can't tolerate lots of background noise. To him, I think it must sound like the teachers in Charlie Brown: muah, muah, muah, muah....when we take him to church, they'll have music playing in his classroom, the kids'll sing along, some of them will laugh or chat with each other, teachers will welcome new kids, the air conditioning will click on and off, shoes will clack on the floor, people will cough, sneeze or clear their throat, and all the while he's supposed to be understanding what the teacher is saying about the day's lesson. He never does. When we check on him during service, he looks like a little zombie sitting there all alone while people rush by him. And we ask him, "what did you learn?" to which he responds, "I don't know, it was too noisy." Now, at our old church, there were just a few kids, and the classes were much more low key, he did better there, not perfect, but better. The more noise, the more unbearable it is for some of these kids.

So at home, you can accommodate. For one thing, it's just naturally quieter at home because there are less people. And what noise you hear is pretty predictable. But you can do more. You can use noise-cancelling headphones, or an ipod and ear buds. You can work while the other kids are out or napping. You can have him work in different parts of the house. There are tons of options that could help that really can only be done in an in-home educational setting.

What about visual problems? Little Bean is much the same way with visual problems. We used to take him to Awanas, and they had a game time in the gym. Imagine the sound of a gym. So the sound issues are already present. Now add in 30 plus kids running around like crazy people in a game of dodgeball. For Bean, it is too much to keep up with. The bright florescent lights, the whistles blowing, kids cheering, squeaky feet, people running this way and that and balls flying everywhere. He ends up standing on the fringe looking into space. We finally ended up asking the leaders there if they had someone to come alongside him in a 1:1 fashion and basically coach him on what exactly he should do and when. That helped a lot! But it can't fully eliminate what he is going through. Why put him in that scenario 6 hours a day, 180 days a year? At home he can enjoy a clutter free (most of the time, haha!) environment and as little or as much visual stimulation as he needs.

Last one I want to talk about is issues of touch. Smell and taste can certainly be issues at school, but touch is a huge one. Little Bean doesn't care for being touched. No, that's not a strong enough word. Let me put it this way, sometimes, when I touch him, by his reaction you would think I had a tazer gun in my hand. He can really flip out over certain touches. Think about your time in elementary school. Think about the circle time rug. Lots of poking, unintentional knee brushing, duck, duck, goose style head tapping, and back pushing you're-in-my-spot touching. Ugh...recipe for disaster for some of these kids. Most likely the autistic child will be the one getting in trouble for their "over the top" response to what seems like normal touching to most. At home, we can avoid this issue because there aren't as many people around, and those who are around know how to politely ask if they can touch him.

Life isn't about avoidance. Maybe people will say it's better for these kids to just suck it up and go to school and get over it. To that I say, think about your most irrational fear or greatest dislike, whether it's elevators or tornadoes or cockroaches that you fear or eating spinach or going to the dentist that you hate. Suck it up! How 'bout I stick you in a room full of cockroaches and say, "learn!" go ahead, "learn!". Will you? How about I sit you at the table every day for 6 hours and say eat this spinach, and by golly, learn while you do it! Not just today, but 180 days out of the year. Could you do it? Somehow I don't think so.

Sensory issues are like that for some of these kids. Home is where you can accommodate. Home is the ideal place for these littles. It really is.

You might think from reading this series that I am against regular school for kids with special needs. That's not the case at all. The fact is, homeschooling a child on the spectrum is hard. So hard. There are very few days that go by that I don't think to myself, "Maybe he'd be better off in school", just because he is so challenging. But every time I think those thoughts, I go back to all the reasons why I feel home is better for him, and I convince myself again. In fact, my next series is going to be on the challenges I face homeschooling Little Bean and how that affects the dynamics of our family.

You might also think from reading this series that I think home is the only place for these special kids. That's not true either. Not every parent or household is able to homeschool their children for a variety of reasons. Not every parent is a good candidate for homeschooling even if they are able to do so. Not every family wants to. We all have different priorities and ways of viewing things, especially when it comes to educating our kids. I can respect that, and I don't think home is the only place for these kids. At this point, I do think it's the best place for my kids though, and I think it's a great place for a whole lot of other kids on the autism spectrum.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Princess Quasi-Lapbook

I saw this Preschool Pack over at 1+1+1 a while back and downloaded it for use with Miss O. She has loads of them on her site, so be sure to check it out. The content is a bit easy for her, but it's fun, and she likes doing it, so I went ahead and printed it out for her. Since many of the pieces are interactive, it worked better to do more of a notebook than a lapbook.

The following pictures don't show everything included, but here's how I put it together:

Sheet protectors for using dry erase markers on:
A little velcro pouch for little pieces that can be used again and again:
She is doing tracing, sight word reading, patterns, shape recognition, number and number word recognition, plus some other good stuff with this packet. Like I said, more suited toward an older preschooler or pre-K student, but still lots of fun for a Kindy like Miss O. :)

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Good Toy for Hot Summer Days

I remember playing with these Perler Beads when I was a kid. It's been 110 plus outside here, so this craft has been a good time spender.

We went from this:
To this:
To this (plus plenty more where this came from! These two are Miss O's creations):
We are thinking about making enough to decorate our Christmas tree this year. :)

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Homeschool a Child on the Spectrum...Part 2

Last time we talked about how homeschooling lends itself to teaching your child with Autism how to interact with others and learn to be social.

Here's another reason why homeschooling can be a great fit for autistic children:

2. Many times, children with autism have a complex range of abilities, being extremely gifted in some areas and significantly delayed in other areas. Generally speaking, typically developing children are vary fairly minimally in their abilities. They may be really gifted in math, and just "normal" or a little behind in all the other subjects, but your not likely to find a typically developing child who is very gifted in math, but extremely delayed in another area, say in expressive language. Schools are really not designed to handle the unique skill sets that many autistic children display. There are the gifted programs, and there are the remedial programs; what does one do with a child who is both gifted and in need of remediation, and who, on top of that presents sensory, fine and gross motor challenges, and who has problems connecting with people in the social realm?

Homeschool is individualized education at it's best, and that is one of the oft quoted reasons people say they chose homeschooling for their kids. An individualized education is critical to a child on the spectrum. Guess what they call it in public schools? And IEP--aka an Individualized Education Plan. But can a school really individualize your child's education when they most likely have other children in the class with IEPs, plus typically developing children? Hmmm....

My background is in teaching, and I will tell you I learned next to nothing in my college classes on special education and NOTHING at all on autism specifically. When I student taught, I had over 90 children come into my class throughout the day due to block scheduling (4th grade). Over half of them had IEPs, for all kinds of reasons from behavioral issues, to developmental issues, to emotional issues, to cognitive issues. I could not give individualized attention to 50 plus special needs students a day, all with different needs, plus keep my regular students on the ball. I could not.

Now as a mom, I have a vested interest in my kid's well being and education. I know a lot about autism, and I learn more every day because I need to know. It's my kid we're talking about. So I have become the self-educated expert in my kid and his particular issues related to autism. I am the best person to teach him because I know his issues best and I am fully capable of accommodating for him because frankly, I am not overloaded with 30 other kids to take care of each day.

Little Bean is extremely intelligent. When we did IQ testing at age 5, he outscored the test in both verbal and non-verbal. The test only gives questions up to what a typical IQ would be for a 7.5 year old and he got them all right until they ran out of material. So he's gifted. But he's also delayed. Emotionally, he is on par with a three year old (he is 6 and a half-ish). He throws tantrums, he cries easily, he gets frustrated and can't tell me what's wrong. His fine motor skills are delayed too, which means he can't write very well or for very long. He is delayed in imaginative thought so he can't write a story that is made up. He has sensory issues that cause him to lose focus easily, which means that he can't do timed testing or be expected to complete things in a reasonable amount of time for his age and cognitive ability level. I could go on, but I digress.

Children on the autism spectrum are often very tactile or visual learners as well. At home, we have plenty of time to do fun hands-on projects that fit his learning style. I can choose to purchase curriculum that works for him and I can choose to abandon curriculum that brings tears to both of our eyes. ;) In short, I tailor the education to him. Not something that can be done in school when the state is mandating certain things be taught in a certain time frame and in a certain way.

The point is, children with autism need an individualized education. Everyone agrees on that point. But the question is this--where can a child with autism best get an individualized education--at home or at school? I vote at home, just because when it's all laid out, that makes the most sense to me.

What do you think?

More to come in Part 3...

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gluten free, Casein free, soy free, dye free playdough

Did you know playdough has gluten in it? Not to mention dyes. So since starting Little Bean on the GFCF. dye free diet, we have kind of discouraged the use of our playdough, both homemade and store bought. Some say the proteins in gluten are too large to go in through skin, others say they aren't. To be on the safe side, I adapted my homemade recipe for those of us with kids on this special diet.

It turned out alright! It's a little fluffier, stretchier, and a bit too sticky but the kids really seem to be enjoying it, and I love that it is completely safe for them. I guess I'll have to keep perfecting it, but for now it works for us. :)

Here's the recipe:
1 cup Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour (this is GF)
1 cup water
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon Xantham Gum

Put all the ingredients in a pan. Stir constantly until it forms a ball, using low to med heat. We used a little cinnamon for interest, and added a bit more oil afterward to help with the stickiness.

That's it!

Update: This recipe was a flop! After it had been refridgerated for a day or so, it was too tough to play with. It was more like therapy putty than playdough. I'll have to try again another time!

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why Homeschool A Child on the Spectrum?... Part 1

You may have already read my 'why homeschool' post. So you know why, as a family, we have chosen homeschooling for our kids. And I'm sure most of my readers have read our autism story here. But now here's a question for you: why homeschool a child with Autism? What are the benefits? What are some of the drawbacks? Are there any drawbacks? These are the questions I want to look at in my next few posts.

I'll start by saying that choosing to homeschool is a deeply personal choice (and btw, I do agree that sending a child with autism to school can absolutely be the right choice as well), but I think when you choose to homeschool a child with any kind of special need, you choose to take on something much bigger, and much more challenging than when you choose to homeschool a typically developing child. But it's worth it, and here's why:

1. Generally speaking, children with Autism don't do well in social situations. Some children have impulse control problems which make interacting with peers difficult because they touch too much or stand too close. Some children on the spectrum have anxiety that goes along with social situations. Some children on the spectrum just don't know how to make friends; either they are too trusting and fall into the wrong crowd, or they are socially awkward and have nothing in common with same age peers.

Therapists will tell you that children with Autism need to be in school because they need to learn to interact with others, and spending 6 to 8 hours with their same-age peers 5 days a week is the best way to do that. Your well-meaning friends may tell you that too. The same therapists who tell you that your child needs to be in school so he can watch and learn how to be social are also the same ones who will tell you that children with Autism don't learn social skills the way typically developing children do--through imitation; they must learn social rules by being explicitly taught.

Even if the school was extraordinary and had a social skills therapy program that explicitly taught social skills to children on the spectrum during school hours, imagine what the child is going through and needing to process during their school day: anxiety over social interactions or sensory overload, confusion over classroom material or an interaction with a peer, multiple unpredictable events occurring throughout the day, interruptions to daily routines, etc. A child with Autism may feel a considerable amount of stress in school, making it hard to function "normally" in that setting and is probably in no frame of mind to be either taught social skills explicitly, or to learn them by imitation while at school.

I guess all that is to say why school isn't the best place for a child on the spectrum, but it doesn't really address why home is a great place for these kids. So here's why: As a homeschooler, your child has chances to interact with others in social settings all the time, with the benefit of having you as a 1:1 social skills therapist. No you're not trained in ABA most likely, but you are a normal person who is basically an expert at socializing. You can train your child on what to say and how to act in a variety of social settings while your at home. Then you can take your child to these places and be a source of support for them as they try out their skills. Not many schools can boast a program in which the child receives both in home, in school, and in the community support all from the same professional. But as a homeschooler, you can boast in just that.

It's up to you to provide your child with rich and frequent opportunities to socialize with people of all ages and backgrounds. It's up to you to teach them appropriate behavior. And that is what makes homeschooling a child on the spectrum a challenge. At least partly. It isn't impossible. But it takes commitment, and it really does take confidence in your own ability to parent your child as you feel is best.

So that's one reason. More to come in Part 2...

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