A Neurodiverse Universe: Parenting a child with autism

As a mother of a child with autism, I have realized how broad the spectrum is. I was in elementary school the first time I heard of autism. I was reading The Baby-Sitter’s Club series (back in the eighties), where one of the girls babysat an autistic girl—a piano prodigy. Though some autistic children have special abilities, keeping in mind that not all do (nor should they have to, as if they need to justify their autism) is vital to not only accept them but appreciate them.


Ultimately, autistic children are just children who want to be loved, have fun, and may know more than they can communicate.


As a homeschooling mom, I’ve learned that part of teaching is not to make my daughter learn how I learned or teach how I was taught but to learn how she learns and then teach accordingly. I’ve learned that autistic children often express themselves differently, even from other autistic children. My daughter may not always tell me she loves me (at least without prompting), but I have recognized that when she asks for a hug, that, to me, is her way of telling me she loves me. I’ve learned to be more precise when asking questions. For example, when we were studying Galileo, and I asked her what Jupiter had four of, instead of moons, she said, “Consonants.” (She might have outsmarted me there!) I’ve learned that I need to understand that she sometimes has reasons for doing what she does. For example, as soon as we entered the accessible stall in a library bathroom, she tried to elope by crawling under the door; it took some strength to keep her with me. At the time, I just thought she was being disobedient. It wasn’t until weeks later, when we visited another public bathroom, that I figured out the hand dryer terrified her due to her sensory issues.


When you have a child with autism, you learn to be more intuitive and know when to extend that extra grace. We learn from them as much as they learn from us.


Learning about autism (and the terminology surrounding it) is ongoing. Some children don’t want to be labeled autistic, while others see their autism as making them unique, but one thing is for certain: We don’t need to fix autistic children because they are not broken.

Emoji Bingo!

I created these BINGO cards to teach my daughter coordinates (in the context of columns and rows rather than x and y axes). Unlike Geography BINGO, where we use coins to combine money math with state “geometry,” for Coordinates BINGO, we use Bananagrams. Whenever I call a “coordinate” (C#, R#), she places a Bananagram tile facedown. Once she gets a BINGO, we flip all the tiles over, which she uses to create as many words as possible. (I usually let her get BINGO at the 11th or 12th tile). Canva is an excellent homeschooling graphic design program for those who prefer (and need) to create their child’s curriculum. My daughter loves emojis, so she enjoyed helping me create these cards.

Wording our way through homeschooling

I refer to Bananagrams as “Freestyle Scrabble.” The object of most games is to win, but this one is to learn. I love Bananagrams because we’re not spending time calculating scores (not that that wouldn’t be a totally righteous mathy thing to do) but learning words—not just how to spell them but their meanings, definitions, and, if needed, what they look like. We flip an old gameboard (we have a Life gameboard that split), draw seven tiles apiece, and play Bananagrams just like Scrabble, with my tablet on standby if we need to look up a word. If we need to look something up, we go to Dictionary.com (yeah, it’s the Wikipedia of dictionaries, but I like the fun format) and use the speaker to listen to the word. The other evening, I spelled “harp,” so I not only googled an image of one but found a YouTube video to watch and listen to one being played.

Though we only do 16 words, it’s pretty involved. Bananagrams has been a great way to teach prefixes and suffixes and how just adding an e to the end of a word changes its meaning. I also just added a sign language component.

Years ago, when I still lived at home, my dad and I played Scrabble on a CD-ROM. We didn’t like keeping score or looking things up in a paper dictionary (we just wanted to play!). He hardly ever won, took forever (I once read a whole novel during his turns), was totally obsessed over landing on the triple word score squares, and always accused me of “piggybacking” off his words (i.e., scoring more off his words than he did). I’d get annoyed that he never cared what a word meant (so long it was a word) and forced him to listen to me read the definition. Mom used to play with us, but she didn’t have the patience to sit through his turns. I mean, it wasn’t chess!

Winning (for me) was harder when my mom played because she never played defensively (which was also annoying). But, I enjoyed these times with my parents immensely, and that is what I will have with my daughters. How ironic it is that what I used to play on a screen, I am playing the old school way 20 years later.

The Homeschooling Mama’s Dilemma

Pledge

The frazzled, second-time mama,
whose nerve endings were frayed,
grieved for the time she robbed from Penny to spend on Polly,
for the times she snapped at Penny because of Polly,
& for the times she did not even hear Penny because of Polly,
whose color of hangry ranged from tomato red to beet purple.
As the principal of Sally Jane Richards’ Homeschool for the Housebound
(& wife of the dean)
cradled her colicky cuddlebug,
her other hand reached out to reassure her doodlebug—
this shiny new piece of change who had come into her life
without a heads-up & put her into a temporary tailspin—
that Book Club & Reading Club,
Math with Monopoly Money,
A.M. & P.M. Bingo,
Wheel of Fortune-inspired Hangman,
& Alphabet Soup & Word Salad with Bananagrams,
had to wait for the not-so-secret formula
to do its disappearing noise magic trick.

Book Review: Blue

Blue

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019

The more I read this book, the more I liked it. The keyhole cutouts in the delightful thickness of these pages seemed unnecessary, but my daughter enjoyed locating them; the book’s square shape and the large, simple, bold font is perfection. The lush, sumptuous color—bright but not unnaturally so—so beautifully textured, is stunning. Most of these pages, given the panoramic treatment in double-page spreads that bleed into the spine, would make perfect nursery art: the deep, twilight blue butterflies were like something out of a Technicolor fairy tale, the water shooting out of the garden hose captured the summertime magic of childhood, the granular texture of the snow against the smooth, sable brown of the tree was striking, and the brushstrokes depicting the frothy whitecaps looked so real, I almost expected to feel seafoam.

Simply titled, Blue has a very organic feel—a certain spirituality and harmony with nature (including human nature). It is a childlike, coming-of-age tale.

The concept is rather interesting, for how many unexpected ways can we describe blue using the word blue (i.e. besides light, dark, powder, navy, etc.)? It’s almost like a series of paintings turned into a poem. Everything that was described as blue was connected with an emotion, a state of being, or something gifted to us by the Creator; Laura Vaccaro Seeger totally nailed midnight blue.

Though few words, it tells a story. Each two-word set “maybe blue,” “true blue,” etc., I treated as the title of the story that the pictures painted. Blue is open-ended enough where you can add to the story, but not so open-ended that there is no story. I’m not a fan of wordless picture books (and this was close to it), but the way I felt while “reading” this timeless tale of friendship—the boy growing up while his dog grew old—resonated with me. No preaching, no message—just life—distilled into the most poignant parts.

It was sweet that the boy (now a young man who had yet to befriend another dog) met his true love through their love of dogs—her dog actually seems to choose him first, as if it sensed another dog lover, leading (or rather, dragging) her to her destiny.

My daughter liked this one, and I enjoyed reading it to her. Blue is the kind of book I read when I want not just to make a memory but a connection. If there was a complete set on all the colors, I would buy everyone one of these books.

Suggested activity: Numbers, letters, shapes, and colors are some of the earliest building blocks of learning. When I was a child, getting Crayola’s 64-count with the built-in sharpener was something quite magical. Try having your child come up with naming their own colors (they don’t have to be blue; I was always intrigued by names like periwinkle and lavender; if your child is older, you can come up with double adjectives, like mascarpone-white or tiramisu-tan. Someone has to come up with all of those names, after all. For a field trip, go to a paint store and get a handful of paint sample cards (which I’ve used to make Christmas cards: https://onelittleproject.com/paint-chip-christmas-cards/). And take time out to visit the author’s website. It’s gorgeous! https://studiolvs.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37534395-blue

Book Review: See Pip Flap

Pip

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

The purpose of See Pip Flap is to introduce reading to children just learning how.  In that respect, it works beautifully. What’s more, there is actually a story here where the words and pictures are equally important.  That said, a little repetition is fine, but we don’t need the word flap fifteen times in a row. At least reduce the flaps to three, following it with something else between flaps.

Basically, a mouse named Pip wants to fly with his bird friend, Tweet.  So, Otto the Robot seeks to equalize things for his friend by building a remote-controlled drone for Pip to be able to see what Tweet sees.  (Just remind your child that mice can do things birds can’t do, like burrow under tiny spaces.) Pip’s persistence, combined with Otto’s know-how, made Pip’s dream flight happen.

See Pip Flap was awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor, and it does remind me of Dr. Seuss’s early learning books.  It takes some talent to make a simple book like this enjoyable for the parent. The illustrations aren’t as good as Seuss’s, but they’re just as cute.  Page numbers would’ve been a nice addition, as I’ve taught my child her double digits that way; when children see numbers used in practical applications (e.g. digital clocks) rather than just flash cards which are only used for the purpose of memorization, they see the why, not just the what.   

Of course, my daughter being a lover of robots was a sell for me.  Anything that introduces children to technology (and how it can help overcome challenges) is a plus.  

Suggested activity:  Just as animals have their ways of communication, they also have their ways of moving.  Fish swim, snakes slither, turtles crawl, etc. Teach your child about these modes of transportation–even how humans get from one place to another (e.g. horse and buggy, bicycles, cars, trains, planes, etc).  Such is a good way to teach your child about the sixth sense: kinesthetics (the sense of movement): https://www.painscience.com/articles/sixth-sense.php.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38533032-see-pip-flap

Seven Ways I’ve Made Reading to My Baby Even More Fun for the Both of Us

I am not an early childhood education expert, but these are some things I’ve done:

  1. Whenever a word comes up like nose or foot, touch that part of your anatomy of hers.
  2. For shorter books, have a basket of objects close by that are mentioned in the book.  I do believe my daughter has associated the 2-D Minnie Mouse with the 3-D, as Minnie is one of her favorite toys and she gets excited whenever I break out, “5-Minute Minnie Tales”.
  3. If a word comes up that reminds you of a song, sing it.  Incorporating a song within a story breaks up the cadence of your voice and helps keep their attention.
  4. To keep it interesting for you, you can make up little stories about the pictures.  She will enjoy it, too.  You can be as serious or as silly as you like.  Pointing to certain animals and making animal noises is great fun.
  5. Use different accents.  For instance, I always take on an English accent whenever I read a nursery rhyme set there; whenever I sing, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, I do my best Irish brogue.  Also, when coming across words like fast or slow, I say the words in fast or slow motion, respectively.
  6. Use objects or hand gestures to help tell the story.  I’ve been teaching myself baby sign language and it really holds my daughter’s attention when I incorporate signs into a song.  I never realized how dexterous a hearing-impaired person has to be.
  7. Let her turn the page.  It’s okay to abbreviate, or improvise a story.  I’ve always been a creative person, but a new side of my creativity has been tapped while doing this activity with my daughter.  Encourage interaction, and take her hand to point to things, to help build those associations.

Reading...