Learning with Mad Libs

With a ton of education about education, I am able to think of ways of making homework fun. Now, I’m a dork, so I think flashcards are fun as heck – Caleb not so much. Sometimes you have to hide the homework like you do with vegetables: sneak it into something they like. So, instead of making flax seed muffins, we are playing Mad Libs.

Why are Mad Libs genius? Because Caleb loves playing the game, and he doesn’t realize that he is actually learning. We use Mad Libs Junior, which have the added bonus of giving suggestions for each category; the four categories are nouns, verbs, adjectives, and parts of the body.

Noun: person, place, or thing.
Verb: action or state of being
Adjective: describes a noun

I keep it that simple, and I ask him to define these words randomly during the days. It is all about creating strong neural pathways so he doesn’t forget; it is important to reinforce these pathways on a regular basis, but doing it too much can lead to mental overload. When Caleb hits mental overload, he is done for a few minutes and then we reset.

I mostly use the Mad Libs without letting Caleb look at the sample words. First of all, the more random the words, the sillier the story is. Secondly, giving Caleb the time to come up with an answer of his own is teaching him how to problem solve. Patience is key, and it is hard to know when or if I should rescue Caleb when he is clearly struggling. Right now, I’m playing it by ear; if Caleb is getting emotionally upset, I will try to calm him down and point him in the right direction. But, see, then I worry that I am giving him positive reinforcement for melting down. Of course, that is a whole other topic that I am looking forward to writing about: the difference between rewards, positive reinforcement, and incentive systems. (I literally wrote the chapter on this.)

Serious Play is a concept that Lloyd Rieber has researched and has published many articles in peer-reviewed journals on the subject. Serious play is a way to making learning fun, because after all, we want our kids to be life-long learners. Another fun way to learn is through graphic novels, but that is also a whole other post. For more information about Lloyd Rieber, you can visit his website.

Finally, Mad Libs are great because they don’t take long to complete. There is a tiny delay of gratification that is really helping Caleb; autistic kids aren’t really know for their patience.

Happy Mad Libbing!

Secure Your Own Mask Before Helping Others

Having an autistic child can be exhausting and sometimes even a little soul crushing. Caleb doesn’t have the people-pleasing desires that usually fuels children to behave; while he cares about what we think of him, he usually acts before he thinks. Of course Caleb wants me to like him, so he usually recognizes bad behavior and asks for forgiveness after the fact. It isn’t personal; Caleb has problems with impulse control.

Usually when Caleb has a migraine, his impulse control is pretty much nonexistent. That is when I have those really bad days where you look at the clock and it seems to be running almost backwards. The days when you are white-knuckling it until bedtime.

I have found that on those days, I am also not at my best. I probably have a migraine as well, so dealing with a completely unruly child is stressful. In order to stay sane, I have to take care of me. There are a few things Caleb and I do in order to maintain our mental health.

Feelings Therapy: Caleb and I both go to therapy at the same practice at the same time. Once a week, we both take 55 minutes to work on ourselves. This is so good for us; Caleb is usually in a good mood after talking to his doctor and I usually have had a good cry and feel like a weight has been lifted off of me.

Timeout: Timeout can be a very effective tool when used properly. The most challenging part is finding a place for time out. I know a lot of neurotypical kids who are able to sit in a seat for 5+ minutes; this is not a reasonable expectation for Caleb. We tried just having Caleb stay in his bedroom, but we got into a smearing issue. (For those that don’t know, smearing is, well, here, you can read about it.) *gag* So, we ended up using the treehouse in our living room that has a removable ladder. It is high enough off the ground that Caleb will not jump out. And yes, he even once smeared in there and it took hours of scrubbing to get that sucker clean.

Now, we still use the treehouse, but we don’t take away the ladder. The rule for how long timeout should last is the child’s age plus 1; Caleb is 6 so he has a 7 minute timeout. During timeout, we do not engage with Caleb. In fact, this is when you go into another room, set a time, and spend 7 minutes relaxing, doing something for you. I will take the time to make some coffee or ice my neck. The point is, we need timeouts too. I have even given myself a timeout when I am overwhelmed; I will go into the bedroom and close the door. Caleb can live without being supervised for 5 minutes, and those 5 minutes just might keep me sane.

Exercise: Not only do you feel happier and stronger when you exercise, it also helps melt away the stress. A lot of my exercises are to strengthen my core, which is exactly what Caleb needs, so we exercise together. Another benefit to exercise is that Caleb is tired and calmer afterwards. For core strengthening exercises, I use this website as a reference.

Another good incentive for exercise is Pokemon Go. As a family, we have taken long walks downtown or at one of our many local parks in order to catch Pokemon. In fact, as soon as I am done with this post, we are going to downtown Farmington to Pokehunt. It is surprising how far you will walk without realizing it; walking is good exercise, but strengthening Caleb’s core is our priority.

Friends and Family: You need friends to talk to, and yes, cry with. Friends and family who understand our family dynamics are often very helpful and compassionate. I have recently decided to be completely honest with my friends about my life, instead of feeling like I have to sugarcoat everything to make people comfortable. Yes, the friends and family I depended upon before Caleb are completely different now. My husband’s parents are the most amazing people and I even use his mother as a guide for myself and my behavior. I have learned to lovingly detach from people who don’t want to understand Caleb and our life. Right now, I have 3 really good friends (not including my husband), and getting out of the house and hanging out with them seriously refreshes me. Sometimes I need to get away so that I miss my family and I really want to be with them. Cause, let’s face it, there are many times when all we want is just a moment of peace. We deserve more than a moment; we need hours. In order to have a social life, my husband and I work together so the other may go play. However, we are always back home by 7:30pm because bedtime rituals are super important.

Don’t Sweat the Little Stuff: I haven’t dusted my house in 2 weeks. Maybe 3. I swept a few days ago. Laundry is piling up, I have dishes drying that need to be put away, my bathroom floor is disgusting, and that is all going to have to wait. Having a super clean house is not even close to the most important thing in Caleb’s life. In fact, my husband and son would be perfectly happy living in filth. What matters is that I don’t kill myself trying to take care of everyone; that only leads to me being overwhelmed and cranky. That doesn’t help anybody. So, not stressing myself out makes me a better person.

My main motivation for my positive attitude is not only my health, but also Caleb’s. Caleb gets very upset when I am unhappy with him. Caleb doesn’t think about his actions until after he has already done them; this distinction is important because he really does want to be a good kid and make me happy. I have to remind myself this all the time. All 3 of us deeply love each other, and in order to excel, we need to remember to be kind to ourselves as well as others.

 

Personal Hygiene

Raising an autistic child who also has Sensory Processing disorder, it can be a challenge to make sure your child is clean and nice looking.Every day at 8:00am and 8:00pm, Caleb does basic grooming, including brushing his teeth, bathing, skin care, and hair care.

Brushing Teeth: Brushing Caleb’s teeth is always difficult; he doesn’t know how to keep the toothpaste and saliva in his mouth, so it just dribbles out. Rinsing out his mouth also requires coordination that doesn’t end very pretty. Caleb sometimes gags with the toothbrush in his mouth; two days ago, I was hosed down with vomit when the toothbrush gagged him.

We have tried vibrating toothbrushes, and in the beginning he loved them. Now that he has been sensitive to gagging, he doesn’t want it. We also make sure that his toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride because he does have a tendency to swallow it.

Bathing: Last summer, I signed Caleb up for private swimming lessons at the local YMCA. At first, it was wonderful, but then he started getting really upset when he had to rinse off in the shower before going in the pool. Eventually, the shower was a deal breaker and he stopped wanting to go swimming. Then he refused to even take a bath. For six months, we had to wet wipe him down everyday. It was frustrating, but my husband and I knew that if we pushed him too hard, he would never bathe again.

Six months after him swearing off water, I was able to persuade him to take a bath with the promise of a lavender bath bomb. I don’t know why this was the turning point for him, but he said yes. Since then, I buy the Whole Foods bath bombs, mostly the lavender scent, and I keep them on hand until I need to get Caleb in the bath.

Skin Care: Caleb has keratosis pilaris (yes, because he needed MORE issues), so it is important that we clean his face and use special face cream. We use Burt’s Bees oily to normal skin face wipes; Caleb loves the grapefruit scent. They are gentle enough for Caleb to use himself, as I’m not concerned about the wipes going near his eyes. After the wipes, we use a cream by KP Elements that really helps with the bumps on his face. Finally, Caleb has some chap sticks that he uses.

Hair Care: Caleb has long hair because a) his daddy has hair down to his waist, and Caleb wants to be like daddy, and b) he hates haircuts. He gets anxious just talking about hair cuts. So, we let him have long hair on the condition that we brush it twice a day. We have to be very careful and slow, but still Caleb will complain through it. He is very sensitive, and just because it wouldn’t hurt us doesn’t mean his pain doesn’t exist. We try very hard to always start at the ends and slowly work our way up. We want Caleb get used to hair brushing, even though it bothers him, because appearance is important.

I also once a day apply Argan oil to his hair. It is important to get oil that is 100% pure organic oil; we like PURA D’OR Organic Moroccan Argan Oil. It is fairly inexpensive and doesn’t have a strong scent. Oil that is not pure or organic can have an off-putting scent, which can be a deal-breaker for Caleb.

We try to explain to Caleb that people judge other people by their looks. It isn’t right or fair, but we all do it. Just because Caleb is autistic doesn’t mean that he gets a pass on how he looks. He needs to conform to some social norms, and it is important for him to start getting the routines down now so that when he is older, he just does it automatically.

Vision Therapy

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When Caleb was 5, he had a vision test as a part of his preschool; he did not pass. I let him wear my old glasses, and suddenly he could see the television. I hadn’t realized that he stopped watching tv because he couldn’t actually SEE the tv. I felt like the worst parent in the world.

I have a lazy eye that was corrected with vision therapy back in 1986 (yes, I’m old); I contacted my old vision therapist and asked him if he knew of any optometrists that specialize in autistic patients. He gave me the name of Dr. Dragoo who works out of the Sears in the Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, MI.

Right away, Dr. Dragoo put all of us at ease. She could tell that Caleb needed glasses; his prescription was -2.oo in each eye. At first, Caleb was very rough on his glasses and broke them a lot. We were a little smart and got insurance on one of the pairs of glasses. This last time, we got 2 pairs and both got the insurance. Trust me, it is sooooo worth it. Because, honestly, Caleb can’t always control his impulses and I would rather set him up for success than have unrealistic expectations.

Dr. Dragoo also stated that Caleb needed vision therapy. It seems that at some age, children transition from touch as their main source of sensory input to sight being their main source. Caleb never made that transition. This is why Caleb feels the need to touch everything; he cannot just sit in his seat and take in the information. His brain doesn’t work that way.

Caleb goes to vision therapy once a week at Focus Academy. We also have daily exercises that we do with Caleb. That said, Caleb gets migraines, and we don’t make Caleb do homework or eye therapy when he has a migraine.

We have been going to vision therapy for about 8 months now and we have seen some amazing results. His vision did get a bit worse, but he was able to tell us, and we got him new glasses. We are also making sure that Caleb doesn’t stand too close to the television; it is important for him to pick an object to focus on and interpret.

For our family, the limitations of therapy are financial. We are only able to afford one appointment a week; if you are able to do more, I would. We believe that all kinds of therapy are extremely beneficial.

Study Time: Reframing Homework

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Because Caleb is insanely smart, my husband and I have worked to develop curriculumĀ  that best suits his educational needs. Yes, he has a parapro at school, but what we are working with is a contextual issue. Caleb needs to attend public schools in order to learn how to properly interact with his peers.

However, the school is not an environment that is best suited for Caleb learning information or skills. This is where Amazon and Costco truly shine; they both sell workbooks that allow you to teach your child an array of skills without having to develop your own lesson plans.

The school did provide us with the first grade math workbooks, but we have blazed through those. We are now working on multiplication and division. Some workbooks focus on one subject, like addition or geography; there are also workbooks for each grade which are also incredibly helpful.

I have also found that flash cards are a great way to help reinforce information. With young children, Behaviorism usually works best; performance is the best indicator of success. It is all about practice, doing the same drills over and over again.

We keep a token economy at home, where he can earn (or lose) stars based upon performance. We use the I Can Do It chart at home. We first used a variety of activities, but now we just have one main theme of “No Mean Words,” and all of the stars go into the same pot. Caleb can exchange 10 stars for one book, or he can exchange stars for money which he then uses to pay for excursions to the aquarium or Legoland, etc.

At 3:30pm everyday, we have “study time.” Caleb can choose 2 of the 7 listed possible subjects, which include addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, handwriting, reading, and geography. We also so vision therapy everyday. He controls which subject matter we study first, and I give him the time he needs to answer the questions. Being patient is not a strong suit of mine, but with autistic children, you need to relax and let them answer in their own time. I’m talking like 2-3 minutes, maximum.

The 4 cornerstones of motivation are challenge, curiosity, fantasy, and control. Malone only uses 3, but I have added “control.”

Challenge: Make sure that the subject matter is appropriate for their abilities. It should push them, but not too hard. They should have relative success in the end, even if it is a bit rocky in the beginning.

Curiosity: Be sure to pick a subject matter that is interesting to your child. Maybe they are not crazy about math, but they love Pokemon, so counting Pokemon is a great place in the middle. A lot of autistic children are naturally attracted to electronics; educational games on my son’s Kindle helped him learn how to read at age 2 1/2. Do not discount how helpful electronics can be, as autistic children are not the same as their neurotypical counterparts.

Fantasy: This refers to anything that doesn’t already exist; by taping into a child’s creative side, you allow them to think about the future they want. This may be as simple as thinking up numbers to add together or as complicated as an art project.

Control: Allow your child to have some influence over the subject matter they learn, including how to learn it (workbook, flashcards, problem solving, etc). By giving them ownership, they will be more intrinsically motivated to learn.

The Best Gf/Cf Cookies

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The best chocolate chip cookies, hands down, are the Kinnikinnick cookies. These cookies are a lot like the Chips Ahoy! cookies I grew up with. They are relatively small, which is great for young kids. They are a hard cookie; if you prefer a softer cookie, Live G Free has some snickerdoodles and double chocolate cookies that are also delicious. Glutino cookies typically are not casein-free, so always always always read the labels.

In addition to the chocolate chip cookies, we also love the Kinnikinnick animal crackers and sandwich cookies. Pretty much anything by Kinnikinnick is delicious.

Happy snacking!

Gluten-free Pasta

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When it comes to gluten-free pasta, it has improved a lot over the past couple years. For a while, we depended on Trader Joe’s rice pasta and their rice/quinoa blend. We tried various Whole Foods brands, but the pasta was always gummy and didn’t taste very good.

In walks Barilla. Oh my, what a difference! The pasta tastes almost like normal wheat pasta; it is soft but still al dente. There are various types of gluten-free Barilla pasta, including spaghetti, rotini, penne, elbows, and fettuccine.