Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Where Are We?

Part of our plan is to come from where Liam is now - not where he "should" be or where everyone else is at his age, but where he actually is right now.  In trying to bridge the gaps in comprehension, we're working with subjects he already knows.  Here he's creating a storyboard for an episode of a TV show that is his favoite, "Dr. Chris Pet Vet."
While he did manage to finish it, it took more pompting than I wanted.  My take away from it was - try it again but,narrow the focus and simplify the choices so he thinks more for himself, which is the ultimate goal.

Today we had a chance to play in some more puddles. He was actually disappointed that the rain had stopped.  I said it would start again soon.  "What does "soon" mean?" he asked.  Good question!
On a walk with his Dad the other day, they found a dead squirrel.  Liam has known about death since one of our cats died about 2 years ago, but he had never seen a dead body before.  He struggled with this idea.  "The squirrel is an animal toy.  The squirrel is an object," he said, dismayed.  It seems that having more space and time allows his own thoughts and voice to come through more clearly.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Calling Dr. Butler

Today, Liam has had an explosion of imaginary play, probably linked to his new, favorite show, "Dr. Chris: Pet Vet" and his own recent trip to the doctor, where he got a flu shot.

This morning he dragged out several stuffed animals for a clinic, giving them all flu shots.  Later he arranged them on the couch and recreated a classroom scene he found on YouTube where he gives out "behavior" cards.  After lunch, I found a crew settled around the dining room table.

I just walked in on him tucking Widget from "Wow, Wow Wubzy" into bed, giving her a flu shot and an exam and treating her for a tummy ache.

Pretend play has been a long time coming.  Usually it's scripted bits from different shows (as with the behavior cards).  But in playing Doctor Butler, he seems to be pulling lots of ideas together and even having the patients talk back to him.  It's great to watch him learning, growing and having fun.

In the afternoon, Liam and his dad walked to the grocery store, practicing focus at intersections.  He's grown used to relying on the person crossing with him to cue when to cross.  We're working on raising his own awareness - crucial for future indepenent mobility. 

On to week two. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Meaning of Life (or at least the meaning of "doubt")

Liam's memorization skills are solid.  It's something we share.  I can memorize quickly and easily (my favorite being 800 lines as Rosiland for "As You Like It.")  But for me, there are associations with all of the words, passages and images.  For Liam, it is a direct 1-1 thought.  In other words, Liam could memorize the fact that "doubt" is the opposite of "belief" and still have no clue as to the meaning of either word.

We've been working through a 3rd grade workbook with nice, easy to understand pages.  For him, much of this is review, but it reveals the cracks to me.  We were playing with antonyms and he came upon the word "doubt."

"What does it mean?" he asked.  Negative concepts are hard.  I tried to give an example.  "Do you remember when I said I didn't want you to walk on the rug with muddy boots?"  I asked.


"You could say, 'I doubt you want me to walk on that carpet with muddy boots.' It means you don't think I want you to."  Wow.  Liam's way of thinking in the positive has it's advantages - who needs to say it that way?  I know he didn't quite get the concept, so I found an online thesaurus.

Dictionary definitions are great, if you know all of the OTHER words and concepts described, but most often, Liam doesn't know them either.  Since we were working with synonyms and antonyms, a thesarus made perfect sense.  In almost every case, Liam knew at least ONE of the synonyms and/or antonyms.  This may be the launching place for all definitions.

We took a break at Sherman Oaks Park -first chance in days to get outside.  And we got home just in time to attend the tree lighting ceremony for Universal's Merry Grinchmas celebrations.  His dad perched him on his shoulders to get a better view of the tree and fireworks.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Solving for X

Common Core's math focus is to teach kids how to examine a problem in different ways in an attempt to develop critical thinking.  That sounds great - in theory.  Our experience of it, at least as it's being implemented in LAUSD, is a rush to introduce concepts at age-inappropriate levels - using terms of questionable accuracy.   While typical children can learn shades of meaning for misused words or catch up to concepts eventually, Liam is very literal.  He learns words and concepts and commits them to memory, seeing any deviation as WRONG!

So my husband, John, came up with a different way to show several ways to solve the same problem, using a basic algebra concept - solve for "x."

"X" can equal anything and you can use any function you know to solve the problem different ways.  My husband and I can take turns with different ways to solve a problem, letting Liam come up with yet another.  The more functions you know, the more you can use.  The possibilities are endless.

Today, John and Liam started with "X=1" and "X=2."  Liam took to the idea right away.  The end result looked like this:

The board can be moved anywhere - in this case, balanced on the bed, so Liam could crawl, kneel, stand or sit in any position to work on the problem.  This has a lot of promise.  

And being another "beautiful rainy day," after math class, some puddle jumping was in order.

For music, Liam figured out the 20th Century Fox theme on the piano and on a tiny keyboard as part of "Drawing Carl" on his iPad.  He recreated the gold 20th Century Fox logo too, but erased it before I got a picture.  It was pretty cool.  

Monday, December 1, 2014


Surprises - they come in all shapes and sizes.  Sorry for the rhyme - Liam is on a Teletubby kick.

Today's surprises began with a faint, sour smell wafting from my son as he joined me for his usual morning cuddle.  Musty washcloth last night?  No.  Pee accident?  No.  I nosed into his room and into the bedding.  Cat pee.  Great.

Liam is infatuated with our cat, Jake.  He can't seem to resist petting or scooping Jake up whenever he sees him.  Jake is 13 and very even tempered, but I noticed that Liam had captured him the other day and "tucked" him into the bed.  Liam doesn't get that Jake has feelings and doesn't always enjoy even the "nice pets."  I began to suspect that our non-biting, non-scratching cat had found another way to show his displeasure.

Whatever the source, today wasn't the best day for this surprise.  Liam was scheduled for a doctor visit to be cleared for Special Olympics in track (and to get a flu shot) and it happens to be our first day back from "vacation" and onto our homeschool adventure.  And yesterday's lovely rain had flooded our back porch creating another nasty surprise - a small pond.  I threw down every available towel and shoved the sodden mess into the washer, stripped Liam's bed and scrubbed the mattress, adding peppermint oil (it really kills the smell).

The bedclothes went in after the towels with a vinegar wash.  Liam was fussing and refusing to take off his night shirt.  He also waited too long to get to his morning pee, and so he too had had a pee incident (not in the bed).  Liam is always a little distressed by any bathroom accident and is also uncomfortable seeing his bed "naked." To top it off,  I twas venting about the cat pee on his sheets, trying to impress the "why" of it on him.  "Jake peed in the bed BECAUSE you trapped him.  Don't do that again."

Liam struggled with mounting emotions and finally shot out, "I am dissapointed!"  It wasn't quite the emotion that was showing on his face - angst at being reprimanded, self-recrimination maybe, but is was as close as he could get in his state.  He was bummed about needing new pants and I had picked a bad time to try to explain "why" I was upset about the cat pee and his over cuddling Jake.  I didn't pick my battles well today.

A few sips of my now-cold coffee and Dad, Liam and I were off to the doctor's appointment.  Liam was calmed by the prospect of going to Rite Aid after the visit to take pictures of the digital displays on the lottery machine.  My husband was braced to handle restraining Liam so that he could get his flu shot.

At the appointment, Liam was happy and mostly cooperative.  He hates having anything put into his ears, so temperature and visual exams with a scope were out.  And then it was time for the shot.  Dad held him from behind, around his chest and I had the legs.  Liam was looking at his iPad then glanced over as the shot went in.  Aaaand - SURPRISE!  He just watched calmly as she pushed the plunger.  No yell.  No struggle.  We all high-fived Liam.  "Did that hurt?" he scripted from some cartoon I haven't seen.  "DID it hurt?" I asked.  He didn't answer and happily took the lollipop from the RN.

As I said before - one breakthrough can make up for a whole lot of crap.  So, in all, today is a good day.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Beautiful, Rainy Day

Today, it finally rained in Southern California.  It's such an unusual treat.  Liam emerged from his room, looked out the front window and announced, "It's a beautiful rainy day.  Let's go play in the rain. I'll use the umbrella to keep us dry."

So Liam and his dad took out umbrellas and headed out into the light, but steady rain.  I watched them dissapear around the corner.

 I wandered into Liam's room and saw this on his computer screen:

 Then Liam tromped through the dirt lawn, turned to mud by the water.  Mud is another rare curiosity.  After a time, they trudged onto the porch and took off their wet shoes and boots.  "Hey Liam - do you want to walk in the mud barefoot?  I'll go with you!"  Liam hesitated a moment, but followed his dad and the two of them chased each other in big circles through the mud.
 They didn't bother to grab the umbrellas and the now intermittant rain slowly soaked their hair and jackets.  It was glorious.

I left a roasing pan of warm water, a washcloth and a towel on the porch.   Tomorrow, we start "learning at home with Mom and Dad."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reconnecting to Happiness

When Liam was little, before he was old enough for preschool, we would spend days wandering around, exploring things.  I'd load him into his stroller and walk for miles through Studio City along Ventura Blvd. and shady streets, throw him into a backpack and hike the mountains or stroll through the zoo for hours.  It was wonderful to be so free.  One day, in the zoo, a man looked at me and remarked, "you look happy!" At that moment, I felt a deep sense of contentment and joy and beamed back, almost discovering the fact for myself, "I AM!"  Liam was in his jogging stroller, kicked back and happy, ready to bounce out and run up a trail to check out the lights or bamboo plants along the edges.  I just loved hanging out and BEING in different spaces without the need to rush back for an appointment, school or work.

This week, I've been rediscovering that feeling.  Dealing with the recent hospital stay of a family member, our family has been unmoored from even our basic routines.  The positive effect of it has been to allow me to "play" more with the time we have in a day.  While John was at the hospital, Liam and I would just leave and go from one thing to the next, with little planning.

On Monday it was a trip to Burbank Mall, where I'd hoped to let him do some indoor bungee jumping.  I was bummed to see that the area for bungee jumping had been turned into Santa's throne area.  I was worried that Liam would be very dissapointed, given the buildup, but he was content to run into Old Navy and pick up some new flip flops for our trip to see Grandma and Grandpa in FL.  He took a moment to pose with the mannequins out front.
We followed up with a trip to Wetzles Pretzels and then Liam found a cotton candy machine that was playing some fun music and he burst into a happy dance.  

Yesterday, with Thanksgiving looming, Liam and I headed out for some supplies, but first we stopped at Castle Park Arcade.  He immediately noticed that they had added some red flags to the turrets.  We spent about an hour and twenty bucks on Liam's favorites, especially the Pacman Air Hocky game.

Then we bounced over to Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys Park where Liam loves to create "digital" numbers on one of the interactive areas of the playset.

Today it was a walk to Ralph's, Rite Aid and Starbucks - all in a nearby shopping center that I've always meant to walk to, but always opted to drive.  Time for a new adventure.  Liam asked, "What are we going?"  He's still working on prepositions and pronouns.  "We're walking to Rite Aid today!" He quickened his step.  He loves Rite Aid, specifically, taking videos of the digital display on the Lottery machine.  His fascination with digital numbers is a challenge in store situations, as he often wants to run up to the front of a line to see what's on the register, or even behind the check stand.  A friendly checkout clerk at Ralph's once let him help scan the groceries and now he wants to do it all the time! 

These are the situations where we have to stop and learn about boundaries.  Hard, when those glowing numbers are RIGHT THERE!!  

We took a break a Starbucks with a latte and a chocolate chip cookie.  Liam and I played a game where he pretended to be Mario shrinking and growing from encounters with enemies and one-up mushrooms. 
Boys communicate best when they're busy doing something.  I'm looking foward to seeing what's going on inside, while we play.  Today was a happy day.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rearrainging Life

This week is vacation week for all of Liam's previous classmates.  For us, it's prep week.  In addition to moving into a whole new rhythm for our family, we've also been dealing with having a family member in the hospital, which has been a reminder of the old saying, "life is what happens while you were making other plans."

We have to find our rhythm, since both my husband and I work at home, but also be flexible for situations (like family emergencies) that take us out of that rhythm.  I still feel like I'm finding my footing in a moving stream. Today still seems more like a weekend than a Monday.  The dry Santa Ana winds brandishing desert dust and pollen outside make me want to curl up with a book and a cup of hot tea and let the kid run as he may, but I know I have to get it together and start to work the plan, at least the life-skills part.

Liam needs to do things independently, which ironically means that for a while he'll need to be supervised.  Yesterday I let him make his own lunch.  On removing the bagel from the toaster, he dropped it out of surprise from the heat, exclaiming, "it's flames!"  He made the bed on just a suggestion this morning and managed to get himself dressed.  Later today, we'll go to the bank and the mall.  I'll give him a budget to buy something and let him calculate it on my iphone.   I'll also let him choose some foods at the grocery store for his lunch and dinner.  Expanding his self-limited food choices is one of the goals - allowing him more potential choices when we're out around town or traveling and he can't have a bagel and chips.  Right now the out-of-the-house go-tos are french fries and pizza (sometimes).

Meanwhile, Liam is in a Klasky Csupo frame of mind today.  He was picking out the theme on the piano this morning.  Here's a crazy picture of how he programmed a piece of John's gear to display the name of the animation studio.  John assured me that it isn't easy to figure out how to do that on this particular piece of gear (which I never use).  While we're out, Liam will make videos of digital displays on my iphone and edit them into imovie to make his own videos later.  Onward.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Star of the Show

So, I mentioned that my son is fun.  The amazing thing is that pretty much every person who has ever worked with him - even the kids in his class, love him.  He's easy to like.  He may be the most natrually chill, content person I've ever met.  And he laughs easily at simple, silly things.  His teachers had a hard time telling him not to laugh in class because his laugh is so infectious.  His sense of humor is mischivious and totally 8 yrs. old.  Notice his answer to question #3 on the quiz about mountain ranges.
And here we have a self-portrait, with a booger and commentary.  For some reason, Liam always draws himself with a dark mohawk.

This is what he actually looks like - and what he can do with a stop-motion program and some clay.

And here's another stop-motion animation countdown drawn on the whiteboard in his room.  Sometimes he picks out tunes by ear on the piano.  

Usually all it takes is pointing him in the right direction and he's autodidactic - well with art, music and computer programs, anyway.  So when we start from a place of competence, this is part of where we start.  There's more - so much more.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Homeschool - an ALS Challenge for the Soul

My son is, hands-down, my favorite person on the planet.  Sometimes I can hardly believe I waited 42 years to have him.  He's that cool.

I've been a DJ, a stand-up comic, voiced a TV show on the Cartoon Network,  had my own improv company, taught Shakespeare to 4th through 6th graders and got to play with puppets at Henson Studios, but nothing has EVER been as fulfilling as being a mom.  OK - Henson came close.

But along with the awesomeness that is my son, came a challenge.  When he was three, Liam was diagnosed with autism.  Autism is a neurological disorder that falls on a spectrum.  Because it affects the brain, it's very complicated and varies widely from person to person.  The best description of autism is, "when you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person."  The past five years have been about getting him what he needs to be a happy, independent person.

Since his diagnosis, Liam has had an aide in typical classrooms and at-home therapy.  Now, at the age of 8, we've decided to home-school him.  His teacher is fantastic and he has exceptional aides supporting him in school, but the Common Core's increasingly heavy emphasis on inference and analyisis isn't working for my son's brain.  Liam is smart.  He has been able to operate at "grade level" until now.   Third grade is when Common Core shifts from the facts or the "what" of each subject to the  "how" and "why" and even "how do you know?" and those questions do not make sense to Liam.

So we're going to teach Liam in ways that do make sense to him.  We're going to stop working from a place of disability and focus on his strengths.  And since each autistic person is unique, there is no blueprint for Liam.  We have to write it ourselves.  I read as many blogs and posts by autistic writers as I can.  These powerful advocates constantly remind me of how much Liam needs to be presumed competent.  That's where we start.

When I tell people what we're doing, the reactions range from verbal "high-fives" from friends to verbal "head-pats" from professionals who say things like "well, if it doesn't work, you can always try something else."  I'm smart, tenacious, resourceful and creative.  If what I do doesn't work, I will try something else.  I've done stand-up.  I've taught middle-school kids Shakesepeare.  I've failed, figured it out and made it work.  I expect some days to suck outright.  Okay, MANY days will suck outright.  But I also know from years of teaching that there will be good days and a few exceptional days - I call them "lightbulb" days.  Surprisingly, one lightbulb day can be all it takes to wipe out a month of crappy ones.

So where does the ice-bucket challenge come in?  While Liam was in school, I became very involved at the school - volunteering many hours to chair the Arts Committee, attend Governance Council meetings and work with parent volunteers and teachers to help create a new violin program at the school.  This year we were going to expand the arts fair we started when Liam was in Kindergarten.

I also grew close to Liam's at-home therapists and school aides who are all very loving professionals.  It is time to say goodbye to all of it and it feels like a bucket of ice-cold water thrown on my head, but like the ALS challenge, I know that the cause is worth it.  So, I'm moving forward, screaming with shock and exhiliration.  Let's do this!  Tomorrow is Liam's last day of school.