* Another farewell

Yesterday was our last full day with the kiddos for the summer.  Again.  It was a fun day, with lots of laser tag, enjoying the Beatles’ Help movie, endless SpongeBob episodes, and many ventures with Roblox and Minecraft.  Poor Christopher had the toughest time with goodbyes, but we were all very sad.  Their friends who joined us and became part of the gang also mourned the end of movie nights.  We hope they will all be able to return next year!

SpongeBob

The folks at Walmart always breathe a sigh of relief when we leave!

* Read to Teddy

Color Your World: Piggy Pink

Having students read to piggies or teddies or Pikachu can be a valuable way to provide an audience for hesitant readers.  Make sure they whisper read, so just their own critter can hear (and the room is not full of booming voices).  Many struggling readers find this a powerful way to read books at their level without a sense of shame (“I should be reading chapter books!”).  It also starts a habit which they can use at home, if no adults or sibs are available or willing.  Hearing themselves read out loud is a confidence booster, perhaps jump-starting opportunities to read to younger kids.  For some of my groups, I had their books placed inside folders so only their special listener knew what book was being read.  This helped ease them through those early days of reading well below grade level.  Some kids need that boost, others don’t.

I noticed that for many of my kids on the autism spectrum, this activity provided a chilling out experience.  They usually read silently, clutching a dinosaur or Pokemon character.  After the stress of the larger classroom, these kids needed comfort in a socially acceptable form.  Before bean bags were banned due to fire regulations, they could also get a lot of form-fitting sensory input while reading to Kirby.

Personally, I read to Teddy.  Piggy pink.

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* Christopher and me: long distance

My nephew, Christopher, now lives in Texas.  (If you are new to this blog, I tutored Christopher for the past 2 years.  He’s a moderate functioning kiddo on the autism spectrum.)  His new teacher seems really nice but has limited control over the classroom.  For kids on the spectrum, weak classroom management can be devastating.  In Christopher’s case, he relies heavily upon a well-structured class with clear boundaries.  Despite acting up significantly at home, Christopher is adamant that he will not tantrum at school.  My fear is that he will start to copy his classmates.  They may easily recover with a structured classroom, but my nephew can get stuck in a cycle of misbehavior.  At first, he thought it was slightly amusing that the teacher had numerous “talks” with kiddos, mostly because it wasn’t him.  Now he is struggling with the stress of misbehaving kids and probably the temptation to act up himself.

My contact with Christopher has been sporadic since school started.  We use Google hangouts but the time difference is challenging.  Most likely he needs a different classroom, but I’m trying to address the issues for him the best I can.  I’ve decided to write a series about “Bryan,” a composite identity with plenty of similarities to my nephew.  It’s in a Google doc so he can listen to it being read to him.  (I noted in an earlier post that Christopher’s comprehension is improved when he can both listen and see the words.)  I think the content will grab his attention and I have added some questions to which I can refer when we tutor online.

Brayn's story 1

Eventually I will use social stories to support Christopher, but given the stress of his move, I prefer to approach this laterally for now.  In my email with the story attached, I will tell Christopher that I know about a kiddo who dealt with ta similar problematic classroom.  (That is true, sadly.)  The “Bryan” stories will allow my nephew to evaluate the problem from a safe distance but close enough to make personal connections.  Christopher is sensitive to correction but wants to follow school rules, so I am hopeful this approach will help.

If you’d like to access the entire story, here’s a link.

* Saying goodbye

Our adventures, tutoring, and movie nights with the kiddos have come to an end.  After a couple of years here in North Carolina, my nephews and niece have returned to Texas.  It was tough to say goodbye.  They arrived quite traumatized, but were nurtured by a most precious couple who sacrificed greatly in restoring these dear ones.  It was a joint effort to socialize them, to love them through their sometimes unlovable moments.  That is when we all most need to be loved, right?  When we are at our most unlovable?

We had many many delightful movie nights, digital events where they played hard and mostly cooperatively.

movie night

There were some days that I failed miserably, when my patience evaporated, but overall, we learned and loved together.

Speaking of learning (so get ready for the teacher in me), there was absolutely no learning curve for this Action Movie FX app (below).  Created by Bad Robot Interactive, it features every kind of Star Wars menace (and more) that you can imagine.  Fortunately, this is not our car!  Once I contained them inside, they became quite adept at blowing up every person and every piece of furniture as well.

Our goodbyes today at the airport were difficult.  Plus I thought I might get stopped by security with that guitar case, which seemed like a perfect cover for an automatic weapon.  Yes, I’ve seen too many movies.

airport

As the departure time neared, Christopher hid his tearful face while Isaac gave me hugs every few minutes.  We waved faithfully every time they looked back at us on the other side of the security check.  Christopher yelled a reminder that I will tutor him via Google Hangouts.  Or else.

One consolation for us all is that they will spend summers here in NC.  I imagine my patience will be tested again, but I smile at the thought of greeting them next June.  I love you, dearest kiddos.

 

* Christopher and me: defining success

Christopher failed the reading portion of the End of Grade (EOG) tests.

Christopher 1

I tutor my precious nephew, Christopher, a 4th grader on the AU spectrum.  He’s made terrific progress in the past year, with gains in vocabulary and reading comprehension.  But was it enough?  During a benchmark trial for the EOGs at school, Christopher melted down with tears and distress.  After 3 hours of testing, he had answered 7 out of 45 questions.

In our follow-up tutoring sessions, Christopher spoke angrily about the injustice of test questions that were meant to “trick” him.  He stated accurately that he could not read the test passages.  What to do?  If the EOGs were an accurate measure of his growth, I would have been very concerned.  In reality, Christopher’s gains are best measured against specific objectives on an IEP, not against grade level norms.  His reading performance remains well below that of his peers, but remarkably above where he was a year ago.  And we have long abandoned efforts for him to read orally; he cannot maintain focus, he benefits from seeing what he hears, and natural phrasing helps him use context for unfamiliar words.

Knowing that he would likely produce a test misadministration for himself and the other kids in his small testing group, I suggested- gulp- that he not attempt to read the passages but instead read the questions and scan for answers.  Using this strategy on grade level passages in our sessions, he scored about 50% accuracy.  That would have to do.  The alternatives were unacceptable.

Christopher called me every night in the week-long EOG countdown.  His determination to succeed in this rather hopeless endeavor was both encouraging and heartrending.  “What does ‘most likely’ mean, Aunt Katharine?”  “What are key words?”  I reaffirmed my conviction that he would do his best and that I was proud of him.  Christopher survived.  He did not lose the gains we had made, he does not know he “failed,” and he will continue to grow.  Going forward, audio books with a visual component will be the key for Christopher’s ongoing instruction in all academic areas.

I understand the need for standardized testing, but I value the effort Christopher has made, his desire to keep learning, and the confidence he has gained this year from measurable growth in his skills.  The 4th grade EOG does not define Christopher’s future.

* The London Eye Mystery

The London Eye Mystery

What intrigue, fun, and amazing depth in The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd!  What’s this gripping mystery about?  Aunt Gloria and her son, Salim, come to London to say goodbye to Ted and Kat’s family before heading for a new life in New York.  The sisters and kids decide to take in a final day of sightseeing.  Salim ends up on the Eye by himself but he never gets off!  What happened to Salim?

Told in first person point-of-view by Ted, a 12 year old on the autism spectrum, this book is a gem for many reasons.  As a read-aloud or for kids in upper elementary and older, this book is loaded with enough material to satisfy readers and teachers alike.  All the characters in the book are well-developed.  Themes abound.  The clues are intriguing, the mystery is a real page turner, and the shattering reality of a missing kid is not glossed over.

The portrayal of the thoughts and actions of a kiddo on the autism spectrum is a primary accomplishment of this book.  Seriously, that is no mean feat.  Ted talks to us about his brain with its different operating system, relates his never-ending and complex thoughts on weather systems, and lets us know when he’s stressed, including habitual hand shaking and occasional banging and kicking walls.  Poor Ted.  I’d bang walls in his position, too.  If ONLY his family would listen to Ted!

Ted’s sister, Kat, is a tweener in rebellion against her mum, secretly smoking and often lying, and cursing several times in the book.  While reading this aloud, I left out most of those words.  On the other hand, I appreciate the author’s authentic description of Kat’s struggle to find her way while grappling with agonizing guilt over Salim’s disappearance.

As a special ed teacher, I’d use this book to develop empathy among neurotypical learners for those whose brain are on IOS-Autism.  Kids on the spectrum are at risk for bullying and this book would be a terrific tool for countering those prejudices.  The London Eye Mystery could also validate kids who have been made aware of their diagnosis of ASD.

I was grieved to discover that Siobhan Dowd passed away in 2007 at the age of 47.  She had devoted much of her life’s energy to “tak[ing] stories to children and young people without stories.”  In the days before her death, she established The Siobhan Dowd Trust, a worthwhile project to supply books to those who otherwise couldn’t access them.  Siobhan Dowd definitely achieved her goal of giving a voice to kiddos like Ted.  I encourage you to read the book and check out her foundation, where all royalties and funds from overseas sales provide hope for the voiceless.

* Catching up

I’m sorry that I’ve been hit or miss with my blog for awhile now.  Medical issues and work have derailed my best-laid plans.  Here are a few updates on my life.

This week, I spent quite a few hours programming Communicator 5 on a Tobii Dynavox I-12+ device.  The I-12 is a terrific stand-alone eye gaze device with a sturdy case (gorilla glass), amazing technology, and a Windows 10 operating system.  tobiidynavox-iseries-i12-1920x1080.jpg

Communicator 5 is Tobii’s intuitive program for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).  With the handy, downloadable manual, it’s a snap to set up a cool homepage with lots of links.  Granted, I still have to fix a few flaws, but I’m pleased with how user-friendly this system is.  For kids who need a voice, Communicator 5 can be a game changer.

Speaking of games, my nephew Christopher has a new game plan: “Never let Aunt Katharine catch me for a hug after church.”  He loves the idea of hugs but he adores the chase even more!  I couldn’t wait to see his latest scheme today.  I was not disappointed.  The gang came piling out of Sunday School, asking me if I knew where to find Christopher.  None of us mentioned that there was a ghost lingering behind the chairs, eyes glistening with excitement.  After I caught him, his sister got into the act.  Sister Act?  Groan….

sister-act

My dearest widower took me on a date last night!  Woohoo!  We watched John Wick, Chapter 2.  Not for the faint of heart.  We had an interesting discussion at lunch with our son and his wife (happy birthday to her!) about whether John Wick portrays a parallel universe.  If so, I’m glad to be in ours!  Keanu Reeves brings gun-fu to a new level.

 

john-wick

Image from Film Music Reporter, where you can purchase the soundtrack.

I hope you have a great week!  I’m eager to catch up on the Color Your World blogging challenge, share some math ideas, and post a review of the second book in the Nick Hall series.

* Building a future

In the news:  Parents with autistic children are planning a $12 million community to provide future homes and care for their adult children.  Headed by a Dallas couple with an adult, low-functioning son, this community will provide 15 homes, a community center, and an academic academy.  Read more about the details in this article by the Dallas News.  Although we see many moderate and high functioning kids in an inclusive setting, the low- to-moderate group faces unique challenges as they age related to behavior, social skills, and ability to earn a living.

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Autism Speaks addresses the challenges of providing long term care.  They report that only 24% of caregivers reported that they were on a waiting list for community services and only a quarter of families are saving for future housing needs.  If families cannot secure alternatives, this population is likely to be housed in group homes; as Autism Speaks points out, group homes are confronted by the “not in my neighborhood” mentality.  I did a search of resources in North Carolina and the list looks slim.

As an elementary teacher, I don’t always see where my kiddos end up, but I’ve known a couple of families struggling to care for low-functioning adults in their 60s.  Distant cousins, already in their 60s as well, were strapped as they tried to support their needy relatives.  Thankfully, organizations like Autism Speaks are drawing attention to alternatives and options.

 

* Christopher and me: update

It’s been ages since I updated you all on my tutoring sessions with Christopher, my nephew on the autism spectrum.  Christopher continues to work hard, flying in the house eagerly after a long day at school.  He has enough energy for both of us!

Great progress on vocabulary:  The number of unfamiliar words we encounter per session can be daunting, but with continual chipping away, using Quizlet and “natural” conversations, Christopher is steadily moving forward.  By “natural” conversations, I mean anything related to his fascination with all things Bowser and Donkey Kong.  Did you know these video characters can be sinister, peer at others, have jagged claws, and bolt away from enemies?  Christopher enjoys thinking of ways to include the vocabulary words so that he can safely talk about Bowser without straying “off task.”  Clever young man.

Improved word recognition has led to improved reading and listening comprehension, but we have miles to go before he is on grade level.  On the other hand, his improving language skills will eventually bring him close to that goal.  We are still progressing through the language-based Tasks of Problem-Solving, after which I’ll need to decide on next steps.  Christopher has come a LONG way since this past summer; he now answers 10 complex questions on problem scenarios with about 80% accuracy, depending upon his focus and familiarity with the topic.

A one-track mind:  Christopher asked me today, “Why is it bad to talk about one thing?”  We had a delightful discussion of conversational skills and his preference for lots of Mario and little “active.”  Did you know that “active” makes you hot and cold and that everyone doesn’t like active?  I certainly agreed with him there.  Christopher is at a stage where he recognizes how his narrow interests affect his social standing.  Fortunately, he has found a couple of kiddos who share his interests and dislike of “active.”  He is searching for ways to connect with others, so I asked what he might talk about at school tomorrow.  (Hint: We have winter storm Helena barreling in our direction.)  I can guarantee that Christopher is not going to mention the possibility of 5″ of snow.  When we got to that part of my suggestions, all he could imagine was “no school on Monday,” which led to quiet fascination of a day devoted to all things Bowser and no “active.”

c-and-friend

 

* Electronics as contact sports

There’s a time and place for electronics.  At our house, it’s every Saturday.  We call it movie night, but it’s currently morphed into digital dynamite.  Somehow, the kids manage to transform every  activity into a contact sport.  As the social event coordinator, my usual comment is “That’s horseplay.  Outside only, please.”  I can (privately) encourage Christopher to stop repeatedly saying, “You’re my best friend, right?”  Human nature being what it is, kids don’t value desperate friends.  Christopher hasn’t said that once tonight, BTW!

I managed to catch the kiddos looking like angels…

but I watch them like a hawk, alert them to decibel levels over 90, and scan for those furtive glances that mean someone has stepped over a boundary.  These Saturday nights have been a terrific learning experience for me.  I refine my behavior strategies, watch multiple game plays of Mario Bros., learn how to use nunchucks, and record videos for a nephew’s YouTube channel.  Mostly, I love spending time with a motley crew of adorable kiddos.  And their guardians breathe a sigh of relief!