Tag Archives: Asperger’s

Why Atticus Finch could have raised a child on the autism spectrum

DSC_0002Lately I have been spending time within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s not my first time to read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.  This might be my fourth or fifth.  Between reading the novel for a book club and reading it in preparation to make use of it as a read aloud with A and S early next school year, I am reading for curriculum – for historical setting, thematic elements, symbolism and life lessons- just as much as for narrative enjoyment.  From spending time in quiet reflection adjacent to Atticus and the Mobile Register to racing past the Radley place behind Scout with my jeans rolled up, I have been reflecting on the significance of Harper Lee’s story for myself.

Jem.  Calpurnia.  Mr. Heck Tate.  Maudie Atkins.  Tom Robinson.  Reverend Sykes.  Mrs. Dubose.  Lively characters with much to say to us even today.  While it is widely recognized that Atticus Finch was a good father doing his reticent best in solitary and difficult times, I have also come to a more personal conclusion: Atticus Finch could have successfully raised a child with Asperger’s.

Aunt Alexandra’s vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-a-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life.  I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year.  She hurt my feelings and set my teeth permanently on edge, but when I asked Atticus about it, he said there were already enough sunbeams in the family and to go on about my business, he didn’t mind me much the way I was.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 9, p. 89

The beauty of Atticus’ statement to Scout is in his acceptance of her.  No only does this make me smile for its understating qualities but also for Aunt Alexandra’s usage of the word “sunbeam.”  Atticus’ connotation of the word seems substantively different.  Not only did Atticus “not mind” her differences, but he did the hard work as a parent to help her stand out against her society insomuch as she was standing on her own two feet.  He didn’t mind her wearing overalls.  He didn’t mind her being addressed as Scout, instead of her given name Jean Louise.  He didn’t mind her running around half wild with an awkward neighbor boy and no girls for friends.  He didn’t mind her swearing, not really, because he understood it was for attention and want of expression (and incidentally a last-ditch ploy to avoid school).  These were unequivocal traits which made Scout stand out as an oddity in polite, accepted Maycomb society.

How is all this important to me?  Because he wears the baseball cap 24/7.  Giggles uncontrollably at things no one else finds even slightly amusing.  Uses archaic phrases.  Recites stories from memory that at times have little to do with the flow of conversation.  Interjects tidbits of trivia on baseball, presidents, car models, world countries, etc. apropos to goodness knows what.  Why should I find this difficult or offensive?  Like Atticus I am learning to accept.  Whereas he fought the battle of Aunt Alexandra and Maycomb County, I fight my own internal battle.  Hard pressed between how I feel others may perceive him and how I should just let him be.  My own quirky sunbeam.

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – ”

“Sir?”

“-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

chapter 3, p. 36

Atticus teaches Scout and Jem to take stock of another’s perspective multiple times in the novel.  He offers this advice concerning those he genuinely cares for like Miss Caroline or Mr. Cunningham, and for those he does not, such as Bob Ewell.  We need more empathy, more walking around in each other’s skin, more children who can say, “I don’t agree with you, but I understand why you think that way.”  More people who are strong enough to wield grace and patience.  Not condoning immoral behavior but a loving spirit and empathy for someone else’s struggle.

Atticus had said it was the polite thing to talk to people about what they were interested in, not about what you were interested in.

chapter 15, p. 164

Empathy and theory of mind can be difficult for people on the spectrum.  Difficult, but not impossible.

Atticus pushed my head under his chin.  “It’s not time to worry yet,” he said.  “I never thought Jem’d be the one to lose his head over this – thought I’d have more trouble with you.”

chapter 11, p. 113

As a member of our bookclub noted, Atticus never blatantly tells the children when it is time to worry.  He teaches by example through a forbearance that supersedes worry and despair.  Through these words he gives credence to the seriousness of the situation, but allows them to know that someone is sharing their concern.  He is listening.

Isn’t this what we all desire, for someone to say, “Yes, I hear you are scared.  Yes, those are legitimate worries.  Let’s deal with this together.”?  Unfortunately, fear and anxiety can be the primary emotion for people on the spectrum.  Atticus might have been able to successfully parent his way through these daily struggles with an Aspie son or daughter.

Certainly I am not proposing that Jem or Scout were intended to have Asperger’s.  They were precocious, yet neuro-typical.  Nor am I proposing that acceptanceempathy and anxiety are things exclusively children with Asperger’s need to learn, but as I have often heard expressed: People with Asperger’s struggle with the same issues everyone else does, only more so.

Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break.  Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him.

Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

chapter 31, p. 294

Who wants pi?: Book suggestions

Days away from celebrating a well-known mathematical constant, our family is eagerly planning how we will spend it.  Eagerly? Well, maybe not eagerly.   We did mention a couple of times how cool this year is.  Not only is March 14th National Pi Day, but this year is now being tauted as EPIC.  Why?  It will be 3-14-15.  Get it?  3.1415…?  And if you really want to geek out about it give a big shout out to pi at exactly 9:26:53am. epic pie day Being mathematically challenged most of my life, I am certainly not a numbers or formula kind of person.  Sitting in Mrs. Lombardo’s algebra and geometry classes, I remember the unblinking digits of pi circling the room close to the ceiling, inspiring me to absolutely nothing but a slight fear of too many numbers. And why were they about to topple over onto our desks? Language, literature and history were rife with creativity and imagination.   Mathematics, however, bored me to tears of frustration.  Years later, not feeling the stress of grades and textbook problems, I can distance myself from my mathematical distaste.  Why not have fun with something anyway?  The following books certainly help.

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Sir Cumference series  These clever picture books by Cindy Neuschwander and Wayne Geehan do justice to the practicality of geometry.  Set in medieval times each character’s name is a play on words, such as Sir Cumference, his wife Lady Di of Ameter, their son Radius, and a niece Per of Ameter.  Geo and Sym of Immetry, as well as Vertex are also important characters.  The stories and illustrations seem to suit the 5-7 year-old age range, however the math concepts are really geared for an older child, possibly 9-12, depending on their exposure and mastery of math.  This week we plan on calculating the areas of circles making use of pi.  There are several books in this series.

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table

Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi

Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter

Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland

Sir Cumference and all the King’s Tens

513wGK37C9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Navigating Early Written exquisitely by the 2010 Newberry Award winner for Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool has also penned this 2013 adventure of a boy named Jack Baker.  Navigating Early is set just after WWII and focuses on 12-year-old Jack, who is still mourning his mother’s death as his taciturn father drops him off at a Maine boarding school for boys.  While there, Jack is befriended by Early Auden, “the strangest of all boys,” who is also dealing with his great loss, the presumed death and disappearance of his brother Fisher.  With no other plans during their spring break, the two sail off down the river in search of adventure, answers and healing,  Early, although not stated as such, likely has Asperger’s, and a savant gift for memorizing numbers.  He not only knows pi to the thousands of digits and does not believe it to have an ending, but also sees the digits of pi as a distinct story, a narrative which eerily unfolds in real life as the boys continue further on into their journey.  Early’s tale of pi and the boys’ acknowledgement of what is happening to them unfolds simultaneously.  Without revealing anything further, Navigating Early is a novel of friendship, loyalty, family and endurance. Not only is this a beautiful story, but a surprisingly imaginative and heart-warming way to celebrate Pi Day.

Or any day, really.

A Few Alterations

Wow.  This has been a tough academic year.  I admit it.  I recall a few years ago how I suspected home schooling would be difficult.  But it has been difficult in ways I did not particularly expect.  Fundamentally, the most difficult aspect of it all has been sheer parenting.  It’s just that I am parenting more hours in my day now.

This year, however, has been especially trying.  We have changed some things up, namely adding in an afternoon of co-op classes once a week.  Whereas I originally thought a few extra hours of Mommy-G time would be great, instead it has become one more reason to get in the car, and that much more of a work load to keep up with their classes.  Increasingly, I have been bothered by the difficulty in creating a free-flowing feel to our week.  We struggle to focus on what is important.

Which leads me to the second , and weightier, reason this has been such a trying school year.  Daily we are confronted with my oldest’s bouts with tantrums, defeatist attitudes and generally poor behavior.  Daily we all feel battered by complaints and his lack of motivation.  It pervades our household and drags both the smallest and sturdiest of us down.  In all of this I am confessing as a parent that I am concentrating too much on my own suffering, and not as much on the root of it all.  I need to look with a kinder eye in the midst of all the noise toward the frustration of my inflexible Aspie.  The turmoil that has often taken over our house, primarily during math time, is significantly due to an Asperger’s diagnosis, but possibly, who knows to what extent, also due to raging preteen hormones.

Enter the Christmas holidays which began with a great deal of whining and sibling bickering, but ended with a lovely mixture of construction play, board games and movie viewing.  The transition back to the school routine would be a hard one if we didn’t make some changes.  While I recognize we still have  concentrated and purposeful work to do to help A, I remain hopeful that the 2014-2015 academic year is yet salvageable.

So, what are we changing in 2015?

1.  Namely, we are quitting our co-op.  As harsh as it sounds, the amount of work and effort it demanded from our week was not worth the  time spent there.  Our days felt choppy, unfocused and stressful.  It just wasn’t a good fit.  Not everything is holy.  Although not an easy decision, it was the first thing to go.  Apparently, our decision to quit has not been a popular one with others, however, but it is truly going to be the best for our family.  My guys are already breathing easier.  We have retained our gym and art classes in the community, and will likewise not be abandoning the subjects previously covered in the co-op.  Writing will be incorporated through the good, quality books we read, or through history or letter writing.  Spanish will be continued largely through duolingo.  I have come to adore this free tutorial website.  It is positively addictive.

2.  More specific schedules.  This may fly in the face of my earlier educational philosophy that my children deserve the freedom to explore their own interests and studies, but you know what else flies in that face?  An ineffectual system.  Instead of writing a loose daily schedule on our whiteboard, we now have slots of time allocated for specific subjects.  Now, A and S know when I expect them to read history or get on the computer for math.  I know each of my children well, and I know when my own energy levels tend to lag.  So, for instance, I schedule A’s math time first thing in the morning, but S’s reading later in the afternoon when he is more relaxed.

3.  Grades.  This one I never expected.  Truth be told, even when my children were in public school, I never looked at their report cards.  I never wanted them stressing out because of a “bad” grade.  I wanted them to love learning for its own sake.  And yet, there comes a time when we, as parents,  need some collateral. We need to hold A in particular to a higher standard.  He needs slapped upside the head… a kick in the pants.  Perhaps literally.  But for now A and S will receive daily or weekly grades based on the following:

a.  Attitude (willingness to work, giving it their all; no complaining)

b.  Organization/study skills (time management, tidiness, etc.)

c.  Academic /quality of work

Attitude is to comprise 50% of the grade.

Perhaps these are not exactly new year’s resolutions, but we are constantly grappling with what will provide our family (especially A) a stronger foundation, and a greater likelihood for success.  It’s been a tough year, but we are hoping in a complete renewal with just a few alterations.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  

Ezekiel 36:26

 

Blessings to you all in the new year.

 

 

Grace, Theology and Autism

Inaccurate theology.  Sometimes it is a conscious choice.  There were times when intellectually I knew my feelings didn’t make sense nor were they based on my understanding of God through Scripture, but something in me felt I had been jinxed with a child on the autism spectrum as a direct result of my past experience with it.  If someone had asked me if this were true, or even if I had asked myself, I might have laughed and said, “Of course not.”   And intellectually I never really believed this, but some latent fear lay brooding, feigning a dormant state, some primordial superstition hid behind a stronger faith that perhaps it was true.  Perhaps if my mother-in-law had never been a special needs preschool teacher with the Department of Defense….Perhaps if I had not known so many people with autism…Perhaps if I had not read so many articles….

My husband and I saw the signs.  We knew what to look for, and we had diagnosed our son ourselves years before we felt the necessity to seek a formal, medical diagnosis.  It was as if all these people and situations were highly contagious and I had now become infected.  If I had not been so well informed on autism, then I never would have given birth to someone on the spectrum.  There.  Fleshed out in a sentence – cause and effect –  in all its explicitness, it looks utterly ridiculous.  And yet…there are times when we operate this way, aren’t there?  If I pray a certain prayer, use special words, God will answer me….If I fall asleep praying, tomorrow will be ok… If I ignore a pain in my chest, it will go away… If I stop thinking about something bad, it will just disappear…. If I think about happy things, I won’t have problems… Have you ever felt yourself reverting back to humanity’s ancient cultural myths?  Out of desperation, helplessness?  The visceral takes over not because we are not intelligent enough, or faithful enough, but simply out of fear.  It is the knee-jerk reaction of humanity to hedge our bets.

Praise be to God for his grace and understanding.  I thank God that he does not always take my every random thought and fear too seriously.  I am thankful that he allows me from time to time to try something on for size, even at my most ridiculous, and gently helps me disrobe and discard the illogical and theologically unsound thoughts.  He provides grace to dress my thinking with something finer, something more beautiful and clearly from him.  An accurate vision, a heavenly help.  Grace in the providential stream of our lives.

Because, of course, the fact is that God did not bless me with a son with Asperger’s because I had accumulated enough autism run-ins, but rather he blessed me with the gift of preparation.  Slowly, over time I was afforded opportunities to learn about people with differences.  My mother-in-law was a huge asset particularly when my son was smaller and guided me through tips on occupational therapy and sensory sensitivities.  As an undergraduate, years before children, my husband and I were employed by Group Living in the tiny college town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  (Laugh if you want; the towns exists.)  It is an amazing organization which allows developmentally or physically diabled people to be a vital part of their community.  Group homes are offered for those needing more attentive care.  Regular visits and life-skills training are provided for  those who are able to live independently.  Group Living also runs and operates a very popular breakfast and lunch place called The Honeycomb, serving quiches, sandwiches, salads and American fare.  The Beehive also employs Group Living clients in the second-hand shop similar to  the nation-wide Goodwill stores.  Many of the clients we worked with had autism.  I remember attending as an undergrad a training session on autism.  There, in the mid-90s, I first heard of Temple Grandin and her squeeze box.  I am so thankful for these moments.  And for the wonderful people I worked with there.

One of these people was also my neighbor.  Sammy Landers and his caretaker lived in the apartment below my husband and me.  He was moody, enjoyed being alone, and spoke very little.  Yet he was one of my first encounters with autism.  Sammy is an artist and is featured in this wonderful blog post from last year.  I have one of his pieces which was presented to us as we left Arkadelphia.  It currently hangs above my four-year-old son’s bookcase in his bedroom closet.  Another touch of grace- this one in purple marker.

DSC_0017_2660

Honestly, the issues my son struggles with are not severe, just daily.  He is easily frustrated, gets caught up in rigid thinking, becomes easily obsessed with a topic, but also has phenomenal memory, is exceptionally perceptive about others’ feelings, and has a deep longing to be helpful.  Grace has not only given me a greater appreciation for the preparation I have received over the years, but also for my son himself.  What would I change about him if I could?  What would you change about anyone whom you love?  And here is another theological inaccuracy – by God’s grace, my son will be fine.  Perhaps all these careful lessons are not to help shape him, but me.

Tiny, cold droplets of joy

Like the tiny, cold droplets of Chinese water torture,

so is yet another negative word from a child’s lips.

I crawl to bed, feeling not so much the physical weariness of a mother with toddlers, but  the emotional paucity of one who has battled with discouragement, and lost…yet again.  I am not sure whether our daily struggles are more related to emerging adolescent grumpiness, or a more serious condition related to A’s Asperger’s, but I am often utterly exhausted.  One can smile through an occasional grouchy day, or lightly sigh through temporary bouts of bad attitude.  Yet the ever present negativity?  It affects me…deeply.  It is wearing me down.  Like tiny, cold droplets.

Nehemiah said,….”This day is holy to our Lord.  Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.

Nehemiah 8:13b

Do not grieve?  There is joy even after every sigh?  In the midst of the constant complaining?  During the meltdowns induced by rigid thinking?  I ache at the evidence that my child seems so unhappy.  So ungrateful.  My anxiety swells as I contemplate his future, and blame myself for his lack of thankfulness and confidence.  How will he rely on God for his strength?  Does he see the beauty around him?  Within him?

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 94:18-19

Hold me, LORD.  I cannot sleep reflecting on how many times my foot has slipped.  I have spoken the wrong word.  I have yelled the wrong phrase.  I have used the wrong tone.  A rough hand.  An impatient gesture.  A harsh look.

Anxiousness.  Negativity.  They are creating something ugly in our home.  And my foot is slipping.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me…He has sent me to…bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:1-3

I have read these verses over and over, praying that I will receive an epiphany…or a glimmer of understanding to their significance.  Because, honestly, there are many days like today when I truly have no strength, much less joy.  These are the days when the force of gravity no longer feels like it is pulling me down, but is the only thing holding me up.  There may be a thin line that I cling to in desperation, maintaining my focus.  And I know it is not joy.  It is not even strength, but perhaps the hope of joy, the hope of strength.  I trust it will eventually be mine.  I trust that the joy may one day belong to A.  May I, then, grow and stretch through my sorrow, anxiety, and weariness.  May A one day be an oak.  And may the LORD love his every leaf.

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Finding the Motivation for Math

That is key in a variety of areas for our kids, isn’t it?  Finding the motivation.  This is particularly true with the types I am mothering.  You know, those insanely frustrating, internally driven individuals, the kind who are not to be threatened nor bribed to perform? Whatever they do, it is because they want to, not because I say it is part of the curriculum, or because they get extra time on the iPad.

It seemed easier to find ways of incorporating their interests when they were little, when so much learning was facilitated through active play, games and a good book.  It was all so natural.  Now, as they have grown a bit older, I have had to go out of my way to create meaningful methods to hold their interests on certain subjects.  Currently, that subject is math.  Several months ago I wrote here on how I tried to keep up with S’s energy level during math lessons.

Subtracting the Presidents

When A was in kindergarten he was completely focused on the U.S. Presidents. He had flashcards with their photos and would line them up in chronological order.  He knew all their pets, which political party they belonged to, and could retell at least one humorous story about each of them.  This interest in world leaders kept him going for a long while, and eventually inspired me to teach him borrowing in subtraction.  He was always asking how old Millard Filmore was when he died, or Taft, or JFK.  So, we taught him how to borrow.  He learned quickly. He needed the information.  For months afterward, we would find scrap paper, doodle pads and white boards full of subtraction problems marking the deaths and births of many of our great leaders.

Then I grew lazy.  Math simply became math.  It is definitely not A’s strongest subject, but he is certainly at grade level.  We allowed him to plod along with his worksheets and assignments.  His only frustrations have to do with some obsessive tendencies to be correct the first time.  (aaaaagh!  One of the joys of the inflexible thinking of an aspie?)

Considering Baseball Math and Statistics

However, the other night, my husband unexpectedly reminded me  yet again of the power of motivation.  I had been out for part of the evening, and as he chatted baseball with A, he brought up statistics and RBIs.  Suddenly, decimals and probability seemed of utmost interest to my sixth grader.   He wasn’t complaining that math was boring, or that he didn’t care what the answer was.  He needed this information.

Next school year we may be creating word problems which include pitchers and first basemen.  Algebra equations and geometry proofs. Or he might have moved on to something totally different.  It’s hard to foresee.  Regardless, I don’t want to forget the power of motivation.  I always want to know my guys so well that I can readily pull a math lesson out of a hat – or batting helmet.

 

Curriculum: an Asperger’s Reading List

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could purchase a full curriculum to teach us what it is like to be on the Autism spectrum, and to have  reference material to help us troubleshoot those sticky, daily problems?  As a mom with a twelve-year-old son (EEK!  He just had a birthday and is now so proud to sit in the front seat.) who was diagnosed with Asperger’s, I would love if this were a reality.  The truth is, however, one does not exist.  Just like there does not seem to be a book to teach me to stop being so impatient.  And yet, there are several helpful books to help ease the burden, make things a little clearer, and to provide inspiration.  The following list is hardly comprehensive.  In fact, it is only just the beginning.  I have listed, however, the books or materials we currently possess or have used.  Here I am primarily including books for younger readers.  Most of these are geared toward individuals  6-16 years of age.   These are the ones which have made a difference TO US.  I hope you find something useful, hopeful, inspiring in at least one of these tools.

blogphotos 001 All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopman – If you know a parent of a child on the spectrum, it is very likely they have a particular fondness for this book.  In fact, I know many parents who have used this exact book to help guide their first conversation with their child about what it means to have Asperger’s.  It was the perfect choice for us as A has always loved cats.  He finally got his own two Christmases ago.  And I strongly suspect that Mittens is indeed on the spectrum!

The first signs of Asperger Syndrome are usually picked up very young.  An Asperger Child looks at the world in his own unique way.  He likes to be near those he loves, but doesn’t want them to hold him, preferring squishy places to a hug.

Each page is sweetly accompanied by a photo of an adorable kitten.  The words are poignant enough, yet stated simply to enable it to be used with a wide variety of ages.  While not every statement may be true for your special one, it provides wonderful openings for constant dialogue about what makes us all unique.  You may also be interested in the author’s title All Dogs Have ADHD.

blogphotos 004Different Like Me: My  book of autism heroes by Jennifer Elder, illustrated by Marc Thomas and Jennifer Elder – A loves biographies, so this seemed a natural choice for him.  I do not remember how I first discovered this title, but it has been interesting beyond the topic of autism.  It is comprised of twenty one-page biographies of famous people who have excelled in various fields, such as science, mathematics, music, art and computers.  Some of the choices are speculative as they predate the 1940s knowledge of autism and Asperger’s.  For example, Isaac Newton and Lewis Carroll share space with Andy Warhol and Dian Fosey.  Autism spectrum disorders are not mentioned, perse, within the bios, but they do provide an understanding of their unique challenges and victories.  A good read for 8-12 years old.

blogphotos 002Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery- Full of personal photos of unarguably the best-known person with autism, this biography covers Temple Grandin’s early years, school and college life, as well as her current work with the cattle industry, and autism awareness.  This fabulous read, probably geared for a pre-teen or teenage audience, ends with the appendix “Temple’s Advice for Kids on the Spectrum.”

There is a tremendous wealth of insight through any of her books.

 

blogphotos 003Can I Tell You About Asperger Sydrome? by Jude Welton, illustrated by Jane Telford – This brief book was specifically written to help other children grow in their understanding of what it means for their friend to have Asperger’s.  Each section is introduced as a running dialogue between “Adam” and a friend.  It covers topics like sensory issues, confusion over social cues, and problems dealing with change.

 

 

 

iPad Screenshot 5

The Social Express by The Language Express,Inc. Initially intended as a curriculum for classroom or home usage, The Social Express is now available as a convenient app for your 7-15 year old.  Join Zack, Emma and her dog Sunny as they navigate their way through town, across friendships  and social situations.  This social skills learning program introduces “hidden social keys” like body language and emotional vocabulary.  Emma and Zack frequently consult their DPS (digital problem solver) to decide how to respond in difficult social situations.  In this way, your child is constantly interacting with the characters, helping them to make good choices.  While this program is already fairly basic for A, he still occasionally enjoys revisiting it.  They are always good reminders.

THE BIBLE– Ok, of course the Holy Writ does not specifically mention any type of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  However, there are so many verses on love and tolerance within its pages, that I think it should apply, whether talking about someone on the spectrum learning the world about them, or the “neuro-typical” in understanding and appreciating the spectrummy brain.  Just listen:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:13-14

 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Ephesians 4:2

 

 

 

 

South Sudan: a unit study

A Long Walk to Water written by Linda Sue Park takes place in what we now know as South Sudan, two separate stories, converging in a satisfying way by the end of the book.  It is based on a collection of true stories from children who walked miles daily for the day’s water, for water which was contaminated.  It is the true story of twelve-year-old Salva Dut Arik who fled his village, his home, his family, his country to find freedom from war…and eventually discovered his purpose in returning.

A couple of Christmases ago A Long Walk to Water was on A’s wish list.  I had not yet read the book about war-torn Sudan and debated whether or not to get it for him.  I was unsure how graphic the book was.  Whether due exclusively to his Asperger’s, or just his personal sensitivity, A is somewhat emotionally immature for his age, and has a difficult time knowing how to interpret grim information.  So, when earlier this year a friend handed me the book to pre-read, I took it with A specifically in mind.  Finding it completely appropriate for 9-14 years old, it passed the test.  Initially, I was just going to hand it to him to read on his own, but because we were in between our projects in literature and grammar, I decided we could create an excellent unit study.  A, S and I all read the book together.  It provided us with extra time together in the day, and allowed for periodic discussions over historical events and particularly emotionally difficult sections.  Here is what we did with the book:

GEOGRAPHY-

Spring-March2014 002

We brought out the maps.  Our home is filled with maps and globes.  We located the country of Sudan on the globe, wall maps and the markable map, which we purchased last year from Sonlight.  We put together the GeoPuzzle of Africa.

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Spring-March2014 039

The boys drew their own map of Sudan and South Sudan with neighboring countries.  We reviewed the countries’ capitals.

VOCABULARY-

We defined concepts such as

  • culture
  • cultural assimilation (and discussed its implications, e.g. is this a purely positive or negative phenomenon?)
  • culture shock
  • immigration
  • emigration

We tried to give as many examples of each concept in the course of our conversation.

MUSIC-

Like most parents, I harbor a love-hate relationship with Youtube.  In these instances, however, love is stronger.  We found some fantastic music videos from both the Nuer and Dinka tribes.  Click here and here to listen to both folk and religious music.  G loved joining us on this day.

SOCIAL STUDIES-

National Geographic education  has discussion questions depending on the age of the students.

I wanted A and S to have an understanding of the continuing story, but did not want them subjected to some of the serious (and extremely violent) films recently issued.  As an adult, you might find these informative.  The films are entitled God Grew Tired of Us and Lost Boys of Sudan.  Fortunately, 60 minutes featured these “lost boys”and their emigration from Sudan.  Detailing their journey from refugee camps to their settling into life in the United States, it provided enough material for reflective discussion, but also some humorous bits.  For example, we saw one of  the young men as he learned to drive a car for the first time.  We also found a clip of Salva Dut Arik , which you will find here, explaining his organization.  A and S were enthused to learn he was indeed a real person, alive….and that he looked younger than their mother.

www.waterforsouthsudan.org is a fantastically inspiring website.  Coupled with Park’s book, it shows what can happen when one person steps out to invite others to join him in humanitarian efforts.

Take a look at Water for South Sudan’s website.  It introduces an H2O challenge my guys and I are considering.  Give up all beverages, with the exception of water, for two weeks, or a month, etc. then donate your savings to the fund.

This was an eye-opening study for all of us, which I hope will encourage A and S to think more globally, openly and compassionately.

Other books to consider by Linda Sue Park are A Single Shard and The Kite Fighters.

Autism AMA: Headphones

Several years ago when my husband and I decided to move to the Indianapolis area we began to pray for God to prepare us to meet the people here, and, in kind, to prepare people here for us to meet. I have felt for many years that Robert and his family are one such answer to our prayers. We have relied heavily on him as a first-hand source of information on autism. He has provided us with an unspeakable amount of comfort and hope as we parent A. Until recently he has taught music education at a local elementary school. The following is a post on the subject of sensory sensitivities that many on the spectrum deal with.

Simply Robert

Back in April, I offered to participate in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) for my fellow teachers, and I responded to their questions as time allowed. Over the next few days, I’d like to share some of those questions and answers with you.

Meghan asks:

I have had many autistic students who wear headphones because loud sounds bother them. Is this an issue for you? If so, how do you deal with it since you are around musical instruments all day? How does that affect you?

Oh, headphones. Have you seen much success with headphones? See here’s my beef with headphones – They’re touching my head. Geththemoff geththemoff geththemoff geththemoff geththemoff geththemoff! And then, they don’t actually eliminate any of the noise in the classroom; they just make things sound muddled. Softer sure, but harder to process. To recap: touching my head AND making the world even harder to understand…

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Point

There are times when I gaze upon my oldest son, A, and just feel profoundly blessed. In these moments I feel both thankful and competent in parenting him. When I truly look and see him for who he is in all his astounding intelligence, quirky behavior, and compassionate, tender heart, I am humbled and proud that he belongs to this family. I am happy that God placed him here in our care. Then there are those other times. No, I am not a horrible parent, nor does my love waver. And yet there are other times, other times when I am quick to lose patience. Quick to think that Asperger’s is just an excuse today for disobedience and callousness (Did I just say that out loud?). Quick to actually tell him that I have already answered that same question four times in a row. During these times I begin to feel disatisfied and overwhelmed. How in the world will I parent today, much less through the weighty days ahead of me?! How could God find him a home here? Why has he entrusted me with so much?

Motherhood can be overwhelming.

Then, I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a young girl. How did she get through it?

“May it be as you have said.” Luke 1:38

A is a precious soul whom God has entrusted to me and my husband to raise, nurture, and point in the right direction. Mary, however, was given the Creator. How is it even possible to train God? How is it possible to teach God to fold laundry? to breathe deeply before he gets upset? to pray?

“With God all things are possible.” Luke 1:37

Did Mary feel overwhelmed, impatient, unworthy? How did she cope when she just didn’t feel capable? When she didn’t have an education? creativity? energy?

“for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.” Luke 1:49

There are times when my grandiose plans for the day, or the year, seem to overshadow the simple fact that A, S and G need me to point them to Jesus. There are a myriad of things they need to learn before they reach eighteen, but no task is greater than pointing them to Jesus.

“[Mary] treasured all these things in her heart.Luke 2:51b

As a mother, Mary knew that in order to teach the Son, she had to spend time with the Father. As a mother, I struggle with teaching my son, because I so often fail to spend time with the loving Father. He pointed the wise men toward Bethlehem by a unique star. The shepherds ran, dazed and excited, pointing others to a lowly stable in Bethlehem. Life skills and social skills are important, but what is vital is that A know Jesus. Someone needs to point the way.

I recently sang the old Christmas carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Part of the third stanza prompted me to think of Mary and Joseph as vulnerable, as vulnerable as I am.

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise,
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

They struggled. They were small, as small as a stable. All Mary had was her willing heart. She knew how to point.

Motherhood is overwhelming. Although I may not be as competent as A deserves, I am always able to point, to point to the One who inspired a unique star.

Holy is his name.