Teachable Moments

Homeschooling is not necessarily going as planned, but it has some amazing moments that would not have occurred if we just threw Caleb on to the conveyor belt of education.

First of all, Caleb mental health is a priority. He has good days and bad days, but he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to know what is causing him to feel upset; it could be emotional or physical, there is just no way to tell. Part of this disconnect is because Caleb is autistic. It is also because he is only 7 (he will be 8 in December). I think too often we treat our children like little adults, expecting them to be able to use rational thought like us. I am 33 years older than my son. I have to believe that in my 33 years of life, I have grown and learned a lot about myself. I am self-aware enough to be able to recognize if and why I am having a bad day. But then again, there are some days when I just feel punk, and I don’t know the origin.

Second of all, there are some amazing teachable moments going on in  our household that are not just about emotional awareness.

We watch AumSum videos on YouTube and learn about Earth and the solar system in a fun way. It is animated, so there is both verbal and visual information being stored in Caleb’s brain. Caleb learns well from videos, so he remembers what he watches and we talk about it later.

Yesterday, while making dinner, Caleb sat on a stool next to the sink and watched me thaw and then wring dry from frozen spinach. We talked about the tiny bits of ice and why they were there. We talked about plants in general and photosynthesis. We talked about what plants need to survive, and how some plants grow in full sun, part sun, or full shade. We talked about sandy versus clay soil and the importance of a proper pH. We talked about how the plant expands with water and then when we squeeze all the water out, it shrivels up. We compared it to the expansion and constriction of railroad lines that we saw in another video.

Caleb didn’t stay with me the entire time I was cooking, but he had the mental ability to have an educational talk with me at 5:00pm. When he went to school full time, he had no energy for anything else expect dinner and bedtime, and of course, playing on his electronics.

Caleb goes downstairs and codes in either Scratch or in HTML on his own computer. He knows that it is similar to what Dad does for a living (he is a software developer), so he calls it “work.” “I’ll be ready to talk with you when I am done with work,” he will regularly say to me.

Yesterday, the three of us played Monopoly Junior (which I highly suggest. Lots of fun, fast paced, and takes maybe 15-20 minutes to complete) and Caleb had no problem waiting for his turn to play. He was a joy.

This morning, Caleb was not a joy. So, I called the school and told them that he wasn’t coming in for specials today (specials include art, music, and gym). I don’t have to worry about Caleb’s attendance and I can let Caleb grow up a bit before I put neurotypical expectations on him.

I have been thinking a lot about my degree in Instructional Technology and how it has only been a stepping stone for my learning how to teach Caleb. I want to challenge educational departments in college to start thinking about special needs kids in every aspect of schooling. We know so much about how the neurotypical brain works, but when it comes to autism, we throw our hands up in the air and let the Behaviorists take over.

There is room for cognition and constructivisim in the special needs education plan. After all, Caleb is already motivated to learn what he wants to learn and how he wants to learn it. He has proven that using his methods, he can still be ahead of the curve. My job is protect that intrinsic motivation while making sure that he is also learning core curriculum. Other than that, when it comes to Caleb’s education, I need to learn to listen to him and let him be in the driver’s seat.

Why We Have Chosen to Homeschool

I have posted before about how it is difficult to keep on fighting with the schools in order for my child to get the education he needs and deserves. Over the past year, we have all jumped through many very expensive hoops, having him tested by psychiatrists and psychologists to get an idea of how smart Caleb is and if his behavior can be calmed with medication.

Finally, a year later, and we know from the WISC that Caleb is beyond genius. While taking the test last year, Caleb refused to finish the test and he still got an amazing score. We also have him on medications that have helped Caleb even out – that said, by 6pm, he is nutsos again!

My husband, Caleb, and I all thought that with his NWEA and WISC scores that certainly now Caleb would be offered differentiated education. Nope. We got no help whatsoever. They just asked us to take more and more tests, which didn’t make sense since they had enough information from two years of tests to determine Caleb’s ability. I tried to reason with Shellie Cole, and then her boss, Dr. McDougal. Alas, neither of them were willing to teach Caleb math and reading at a 7th grade level. At some point, all three of us were exhausted and our nerves were fried.

Now, I will admit that having the day free sans Caleb is nice, but it isn’t as nice as having a happy child. After having such family drama last year, I learned a lot about myself. It turns out, I don’t really care if Caleb graduates high school by the time he is 14-years-old like I used to. I just want him to be happy. And school makes him unhappy.

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Caleb does go to school for 30-60 minutes a day for specials (art, music, gym) and therapy (speech, OT, social work). Caleb and I also regularly visit the Farmington Library and go to the Hands On Museum in Ann Arbor every Friday. At both places, he is able to have some autonomy and he can be “the leader.” He is able to interact with other kids as he pleases, but even just being around other people, he is learning to live in a world full of other people who expect certain behaviors (such as personal space). These are invaluable life lessons.

While Caleb is in school, I stay in the school office just in case there is a problem, but so far things have been going well. If he continues to behave while at school, that might actually give me enough free time to take the dogs to the dog park! I can smell freedom, and it smells like dogs.

I have a lot of spinning plates that I have had to put down in order to focus on Caleb. I don’t think he full appreciates how much of my freedom I have sacrificed, but I think one day he will. If not, I can always rely on my skills in Jewish guilt to torment him until I die. 🙂

 

Study Time: Reframing Homework

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Because Caleb is insanely smart, my husband and I have worked to develop curriculum  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.