Autism and Teaching Techniques, Part 1

Autism and teaching techniques: I wish I could say I know them all, but to tell you the honest-to-goodness truth, I’m just learning myself.

These techniques that I’ll be sharing were first done with Temple Grandin, the first activist for autism. I’ll be sharing some of my own, too, that I have been learning in my current year of homeschooling.

Many people with autism are visual thinkers. I’m constantly praying for God to give me something to share every day from both Sonlight curriculums that I’m using — SonLight and SonLight Education Ministry (SEM) curriculum. I choose to use both because of the extra reading books that I can get, which help me find where his interests may lie…besides just Thomas the Tank Engine.

Last year, I made a lapbook. A lapbook book is a book that can be made with any folders that can be folded in three sections. You can add pictures and words to get what the lesson is all about. For instance, our character quality for our unit  study was on “love.” In SEM, its structured in a way that each character quality is mentioned in subjects like math, voice, nature, health, Bible, and history; I focused was introduction to math, voice, nature, health, and music. Lapbooks are great teaching tools. Pictures are like the first language for autistic children, and then the words become their second.

In our introduction to health last year, I wanted my son, Adam, to learn the 10 commandments of health with his sister, who is not diagnosed with autism. I created a “God Loves Me” booklet in a heart shape, and cut and printed the laws of health onto it.

I also created a small replica of the biblical Ten Commandments by covering a single, flat, open, double-sided type box with butcher paper, and found and cut out images of the 10 Commandments that would be easy for him and his sister to remember, and also cut out some safety signs to place onto the back of the box. I wanted to compare each creation to get a comparison to God’s love and our obedience towards Him.

The next technique I use is to avoid long strings of verbal instructions. Instead, I talk to him, step by step, about what we will be doing for the day. Math is the only subject where I have to write down for him instructions — for example, what to do in locating the tens and ones.

I’m currently keeping a record of the time I give him morning and afternoon on his computer. Every morning he loves to go onto the computer after worship and exercise, so I give him maybe 20 or 30 minutes for Thomas the Tank Engine stories that he love to hear, and then again when he wakes up after his nap, he gets maybe 20 or 25 minutes more. We use this as part of his math lesson, since we are learning to work with double digits. I write down the number of minutes I give him for both morning and afternoon, and then show him how we can add them by looking at the ones and tens place. I also time him when he’s on his chromebook for his learning apps, which helps get him motivated to learn spelling, math, and the world map.

Another thing that helps him is me writing step-by-step instructions for our morning workout. This makes it easy for him to lead out as a personal trainer.

Investing in a chromecast device adaptor to hook to your TV enables you to share videos from Youtube. I was able to create a playlist for Adam to learn the hymns that went with our theme study on character and nature study.

Many children with autism are good at drawing, art, and computer programming. These talent areas should be encouraged. My son doesn’t like to draw or do art, but he loves going onto the computer.

Another technique is sign language, if a child with autism cannot talk, using sign language and pictures to tell a social story are helpful. Making emotion faces with construction paper and sticks are good starters to language.

If a child has a favorite TV show, record the show with the closed captions and incorporate the show as part of the reading lesson.

There are more strategies that I have discovered, but the last one I’d like to share is using special interests to facilitate the learning process. Many autistic children are more motivated more by their special interests than other things, and this passion can be used as an advantage when teaching.

For example, if a child loves cars, use toy cars to teach geography on a map by “driving the car” to different states. I did this just recently with Adam when I pretended to take his train to South Dakota to discuss Mt. Rushmore, while we were talking about rocks in our study.

These techniques seem to work out for me, and I thank God for his help through this journey. It’s not over, though, so I’ll share more techniques in my next post.

Thy Might

What an exciting new experience to add to my repertoire — blog author! I’m not sure how this adventure will work out or why anyone would be interested in anything I have to write. Nevertheless, a wise man once wrote, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a KJV), and that is what I intend to do. I hope and pray that you are blessed and encouraged in all that you do as we continue to look towards our Savior, “the author and finisher of our faith,” Hebrews 12:2a KJV.

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do” sure encompasses a lot, from planning and preparing our family’s activities for each day or the whole school year, to wiping the running snot off of our toddler’s nose, or perhaps masterminding and successfully pulling off elaborate family functions, or simply planting seeds in the earth with the hope of a future harvest. “Do it with thy might.” The dictionary definition of “might” as a noun is “great and impressive power of strength.” If that wasn’t clear enough, its synonyms give further parameters: strength, force, power, vigor, energy, brawn. In layman terms, do it with your full capacities, intensity, and every fiber of your being.

What a marvelous thought at the end of the day to look back and say, ” I did it with all my might.” I accomplished another school day, as well as prepared healthy and delicious meals, enjoyed the time with my little ones, and even helped my husband make an impact on taming our small piece of wilderness. On the other hand, what about those days where, though working with all your might, all you can show for it is that everyone survived and the whole place didn’t literally burn down to the ground. And, there are those where the conflict of battling the selfish will of not only yourself but of those around you seems like a two-occupant canoe paddling in opposite directions and going absolutely nowhere.

Part of our struggle may be that often we look towards other homeschool moms as a standard of what our own lives should be. Like the super-moms, those ladies who work part time jobs at home, school their kids in at least a couple different languages, and post on social media their crafty and drool-worthy projects. We can’t neglect the always-on-the-go-moms who are hard to pin down because they are never at home between the music recitals, library story-times, trips to the park, and volunteering at the local food bank. Then again, maybe not; perhaps we are honest with ourselves and realize that that probably isn’t going to ever be us. Now I believe we are getting to the heart of the issue. We could be using ourselves as the standard. One day goes fabulous and the next is a “pajama wearing, scrounging the fridge for leftovers, let’s watch nature documentaries and read books” day. It’s a nasty habit to compare ourselves to others, and even more insidious to gauge our own troublesome days against other easy going times.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” Matthew 6:34 ESV. The Savior’s own words relay to us that each day has its own difficulties to deal with. With this in mind, the passage of “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” comes into better perspective. Whether you are on-top-of-the-world super-momming one day, or knock-down drag-out battling the giants in your life just to cover the basics the next, we should do it with all our might, relying in faith on our Savior’s merits, and just leave it at that.

Taking Care of Everyone…But you?

As we begin a new homeschool chapter, I have been chewing on what my first blog post of the year should focus on. I have many ideas for the future, but the one thing that keeps coming back to me is this — how is mom holding up?

Some of us are “seasoned” homeschoolers, whatever that means. Some of us are just starting out. I think I am in the “half-baked” stage — not done yet, and so I still need some more seasoning. So much to learn, and at times I feel like I need to unlearn some things so that I can have more flavor in our school. Life would be pretty boring if every family school consisted of the same ingredients. It’s something to chew on.

But, as we begin a new year, I am reminded of mom. Most likely, you are the principal teacher in your homeschool. I realize there are exceptions, and I’m not trying to exclude anyone; if this applies to you as dad, grandma, or whomever, then take it to heart. I know it applies to moms.

As teaching moms, we get excited about new projects, new curriculum, methods of teaching, craft supplies, fun field trips, and the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? We drive our troops to music lessons, practices, clubs, counseling sessions, play dates, Bible studies, birthday parties, service opportunities, jobs, and Grandma’s, not to mention the hours at the table, in the garden, reading on the sofa, or in the woods taking nature walks. And then, there’s often a husband who has needs and expectations too! But, what about you, homeschooling mom? How do you meet your needs? How do you avoid burning the midnight oil to get everything done? How do you avoid burning out because you’re so busy doing good for everyone else that you forget about your own needs?

As I sit here on a Friday afternoon, reminding myself to guzzle more water to battle a nagging UTI, I just want to encourage you — not because I have it all together as a home educator, but because I see a genuine need in all mothers who tend to take on too much. My words to you are these: It is not selfish to take care of your own physical needs. Your family needs you, and you are very much aware of that. But, they need you healthy. They need you cheerful, and that’s very difficult to pull off when you’ve stayed up until midnight again. How do I know this? Well, because I’m living it! We are instructed to teach our children cause-effect relationships. But, we have to be real with ourselves and realize that bedtime is not just for babies; our bodies need water; and a little exercise and fresh air will do wonders for our attitudes as moms, just as much as for our children.

Home educating is no joke! It’s not a tea party, and despite what some will think, we do much more than just sit around and do crafts with our children! We have real stresses. We worry about our children’s attitudes and characters — a LOT! We wonder about their futures, and wonder if we are doing it all right, because we don’t have a second chance. Often as we take on all of those unknowns, we find ourselves running around to grab at any perceived learning opportunity, maybe even to the detriment of our peace of mind.

So, what is the answer?

I can only share with you what I am learning myself on this enjoyable, yet, exhausting road. These tips are not in any particular order, except for the first one.

  1. We as home educators absolutely need our time with God! I find that I can get so edgy and driven with my children if I don’t have the softening influence of the Holy Spirit for myself! And, praying for my family particularly helps me to look at them differently. Sometimes I wake up late, in a rush, and find that mid-morning, or sooner, I have to go close myself in my closet with the Lord to regain my perspective, and to just cry out to Him for help. Satan will capitalize on any chink in our armor, so putting on the full armor is so important! This is truly the best gift we can give to our children and husbands — a heart that has met with Jesus and surrendered, so that when we deal with them, we will treat them with grace.
  2. Sleep. I can’t say how much you need, but I know when I need more of it! That’s when I get irritable about little things, feel like weeping over trifles, and start to feel fuzzy in my head the next day. I have gone through times when literally every time I sit down to read with my kiddos, I knock out. A little more sleep is needed! For me, practically, this means putting school away in the evenings; logging off of Facebook, even when I am reading helpful, school-related information; and heading to the bed around a half an hour before I need to be in bed. This is because, inevitably, there will be distractions along the path, such as clothes that I need to put away, something I needed to write down, or catch-up with my husband that needs to happen. This is a real struggle for me, but little by little I am seeing that I gain much more than I lose when I get to bed on time. Even Jesus as our Creator didn’t keep going — He rested after creating our world, and He took time away, even though all of the work was not done while He was on Earth!
  3. Water—don’t forget it! That’s pretty self-explanatory, but overlooked. When our brains get dehydrated, they don’t think well, and irritation also pops out! Consider this article on dehydration and mood swings, and this one too. This is one good reason for us to drink water ourselves, and to strongly encourage our students to drink theirs regularly! We drink water before breakfast, and I have to stop and remind everyone to take drinks throughout the day! One thing that works for us is to fill up a large jar with the minimum ounces that I want them to drink; then they have until bedtime to drink it. This helps them to see how much they’ve had so far, and how much more they need to drink.
  4. Time for You!  I don’t mean time away all of the time, because who really can do that, but just little snatches of time that serve to refresh your tired mind. I have a little shelf in our bathroom that I keep a small Bible and two encouraging books. My refresher often takes place behind that closed door! Even just a few verses or half a page during the midst of a busy day means a lot to me. I try to keep a book there that is specifically for me, such as another homeschooling mom telling her journey. It’s a reminder to me that I am not alone, and that there is help for every emergency!
  5. A walk out in nature can also be a great way to refresh, and this is a great way to break up the school day!  We often just stop mid-morning to jog/walk out to the mailbox or pond, and we come back more energized. Sometimes I or my Type A son resist this intrusion into our “plan” of getting something done, but we both need it and are never sorry that we choose to take a nature break.
  6. Pick and choose! No one can do it all! There is no way we can attend every church function, field trip, play date, birthday party, hobby, or music opportunity — or even, dare I say it, every service opportunity! If we are pursuing that quiet, simple life which will do so much for our children’s characters, we are told me must be much at home! This, frankly, is overwhelming to me, and yet freeing!  Overwhelming, because I want to provide many good things for my children; freeing, because I see that the best thing that they need is my love, attention, and time! A weakness in our family is believing that we can do too many things for others, and forgetting that we need to say no to even good things so that we may do our first task by our own fireside. So, we need to pray that God will show us our first priorities, and then add other things as they do not take away from those.

“The family circle is the school in which the child receives its first and most enduring lessons. Hence parents should be much at home. By precept and example, they should teach their children the love and the fear of God; teach them to be intelligent, social, affectionate, to cultivate habits of industry, economy, and self-denial. By giving their children love, sympathy, and encouragement at home, parents may provide for them a safe and welcome retreat from many of the world’s temptations,” Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 65.2.

We have a high calling. We yearn for much as we think of our children and their futures! And, we have the promise that God will lead us in every endeavor. With this knowledge, let us as mothers step back a bit and let God do what He has promised He would do!

My favorite Bible text is this one:

“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children,” Isaiah 54:13.

Be kind to yourselves, mothers, so that you can keep doing the great work that you are called to do!

Lonely Only

Today was a wonderful beach day for our family to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We found a giant rock to camp out on that was perfect for our picnic lunch. After we ate, I read a book, took a little nap and chatted with my husband. I watched my son, who was busy engaging in the fine art of “people watching.” It suddenly struck me that maybe he leads a bit of a lonely life with no siblings to hang out with.

This year he hit the magical age of 13 and became a teenager. (Sigh.) We have started letting him go hang out with friends without our supervision — just baseball at the park, but still a big step for us. I have four wonderful sisters who are, and have always been, my best friends. My husband has two sisters, but he tended to hang out more with the male cousins.

My son? He has lots of friends, but we have always been his best friends! He has cousins, but they are all lots older than him. Is he a “lonely only”? Sometimes I think the answer must be “Yes.” Unfortunately it wasn’t by choice, as we tried to give him lots of siblings. By God’s grace, we will be meeting the four of them in the air on that great day when Jesus comes! As for now, though, we are a happy family of three, and a homeschool with just one student.

The beach isn’t the only place that causes me to reflect on life’s journey. Last Sunday it was a 30-mile bike ride! All of the sudden it hit me: the star student of our homeschool is going to be in seventh grade! Seventh grade…how did he get there? And just as suddenly, I was filled with such a sense of accomplishment. I did it! I somehow taught him things he needs to know, like how to read and the multiplication facts and hopefully a few other things. Even when it felt like I was failing or overwhelmed, the learning still happened. We have survived seven years of “school,” and even though it went by way too fast, I’m so proud of him, so proud of us! And, I’m thankful that God has blessed us so.

We think that he will probably attend academy starting in ninth grade. I’m not sure what my life will be like when I am no longer the official teacher. Lonely, I guess.

Sometimes I hear of those homeschool families that have a multitude of children. I have to admit I’m jealous. They get extra years of child raising and, oh, the fun of a crazy, full house. Sometimes, though, I just look at my one special blessing of my son and I think, “I’m so lucky, I’ve been able to just concentrate on him, to enjoy every minute.”

I hope that you, dear reader, have enjoyed God’s blessing to “be fruitful and multiply.” I hope you are enjoying every child in your homeschool. As for me and my house, we only have one, but our quiver is full!

Maturing the Parent, Teaching the Child

Here we are at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. Our oldest is starting kindergarten. We have a lot of ideas about homeschooling, what we want our children to experience during this journey, and how we will get there. However, to borrow from Stephen Covey, we are going to “begin with the end in mind.”

Our curriculum for this year is Destinations. My husband and I went through the process of identifying our goals for educating our children. We identified 28 goals that are important to us, and seven overall goals that will be the focus of the work we do. The other 21 goals will secondary, or tertiary, and we will document on them when we notice them, but they aren’t the priority goals. I look at our goals, and think this will be harder than I thought. We aren’t simply focusing on the tasks of learning, like reading, mathematics, and writing. We want our children to live these goals, with our ultimate success knowing that our children have a personal walk with God.  As parents we also have to learn how to model the actions we want our children to imitate, because they do imitate us already.

When it comes to being parent-teachers, we get to work together on the expectations we have, our parents have, and others in our support system might have for the education experience of our children. The education process has reinforced the notion of teamwork. At the same time, my husband taking a primary role in educating our children challenges societal norms. Sometimes these challenges are easily overcome. Other times the challenges take some time to work through. Educating a child becomes as much about the maturing of the parent, refining routines, learning or relearning skills, and being or becoming the type of person we want our children to imitate…as it is about teaching a child. Having education goals keeps us from being pulled in too many directions, and allows us as parents to intentionally model what we want our children to imitate — even as they imitate many other actions that we aren’t intending to model.

For educational learning specifically, we follow a Montessori approach right now, a hands-on method where the children are able to interact with their environment without specific direction. We provide different opportunities for learning. We know which learning tasks that are necessary such as reading, writing, and mathematics. How a child accomplishes the learning tasks will likely vary. A Montessori approach gives us the opportunity to observe our children, notice learning preferences, and let our children teach us about their own interests. The children create, problem solve, and share with us their experiences and successes. We are able to develop a relationship with our children, without focusing specifically on behavior management like sitting still, focusing, and staying on a task for a predetermined amount of time. While important skills, we can get to them at a later time. For now, it’s about modeling, observing and enjoying each other.

References:

Covey, S. R. (2013). The 7 habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change. London: Simon & Schuster.

Dickerson, E. (n.d.). Check These Out:. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://showcase.netins.net/web/nurture/