Friday, January 29, 2016


Following the traditional path meant constantly trying to maintain or stay on-par with the group, either the class, in school, or age-appropriate behavior as defined by ABA therapy.  By letting go of maintenance mode, we've been rewarded with unexpected upgrades.

Expressive speech - how someone puts a sentence together to make their thoughts known - is an ongoing challenge for Liam.  Give him a bunch of sentences to correct on paper, and he'll fly through them.  So he understands much about how language is constructed, can read aloud (decode) English at a very high level (last time he was tested, in 3rd grade, he decoded at about a 6th grade level), but he has trouble attaching meaning to what he's read or expressing more complex thoughts. 

Before we broke loose, much effort was spent on teaching him what he "could" say or "should" say in certain situations, which gave him "scripts" to use.  For six hours a day, he would be expected to adhere to the rules of expression in school, with an aide to help him navigate social situations.  After school, for 2-3 hours a day, he'd work with a therapist on other concepts, but always in a systematic way, which left him very prompt-dependent.  Both in school and at home, he would hang back and look to the therapist, teacher or us to prompt him towards a correct response.

It should be noted that Liam has always used scripting to some degree.  He learned to use snippets of books or lines from videos in situations to express himself, early on.  Lately, he's been watching videos of other kids and teens playing games and has been trying on some of their expressions, modifying them to fit his needs.  His latest favorite is "what the hell is happening here?"  He uses it appropriately, every time.  He's found a few more choice words as well, which gives us an opportunity to work on context.  Anyone who knows me knows that I swear, but I also know there are places where it's best to choose other words.  Working away from his natural, binary inclination (right or wrong/good or bad), will be an important step in his language development.

As far as original speech goes, Liam has become adept at making his needs and wishes known ("I want a bagel and veggie chips, please").  He can also give clear responses to direct questions (Question: "What are you making?" Answer: "Goomba Stomp on VideoPad.").  Questions about more subjective things like, "why are you crying?" or "why do you want to go to the mall?"  were usually met with an unknowing stare and a throwback of the question itself, "because I'm crying" or "because we are going to the mall."

In the past couple of months, though, there have been some subtle, but remarkable shifts.  This morning, Liam asked "Can I have my iPad, for a minute?"  "For a minute," may not seem like a big deal, but for Liam, using a conditional phrase was huge.  As was his realization last night that his dad's keyboard might need an upgrade.

"Hey, Dad, come in my room." (Dad went in his room and saw a keyboard demo on Liam's computer), "You should have this keyboard in your studio."  He had researched and found a newer version of the keyboard my husband uses in his music studio.

In the past, Liam was resistant to changing operating systems or hardware on his or anyone else's computers.  Things were what they were and should not be different. He actually freaked out when we upgraded his OS and we had to put it back!  Now, he's starting to explore the idea that, maybe, there's more in life (and computers) than what's in front of him and that change can be good.

I only hope he doesn't figure out how old his iMac is and ask for an upgrade on THAT anytime soon!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth (or keyboard) Is

Today is MLK Jr. Day.  I had planned to do a little math then we all have a family errand to run.  I also thought we'd start out watching a video about MLK to touch base on the meaning of the day. 

The time came to invite Liam to the table to begin and I saw him halfway through animating a funny video, copying things he liked on YouTube and re-creating everything from scratch in VideoPad.  I was so blown away by how good the work was, that I realized I needed to let him finish it.  If I was knee-deep in a creative project, I would resent being yanked away to do math "right now, just because."  We can do it later.  Create now.  Unschooling is letting the kid follow his passions to learn and hone new skills.

So here it is.  The dialogue is odd, in part, because I think he mis-heard the original and didn't seem to feel any need to correct it.  There are dozens of elements here including voice-over and lip sync.  This is "PBS."  This is excellent.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What's New?

Just when I think we've hit a plateau, Liam surprises me with something new.

As he's growing and trying out new ideas, I have to learn to step back and really see what ignites his imagination - then offer more.  I'm finally accepting that unschooling is our primary mode of learning; letting Liam approach areas of interest fully and deeply and letting go of that for which he is not yet ready or in which he is not yet interested.  It requires a level of trust in my son's strengths - and a level of patience in me to wait and watch.
I signed Liam up for a video course on in special effects.  He loves Zack King vines and has been trying to recreate portions of them.  Every day, the DIY instructor posts a new challenge.  One challenge was to create a video incorporating forced perspective.  I asked him for ideas, but he wasn't sure what I meant, so I showed him the instructor's example and set up a large cooking pot in the foreground and shot him emerging and being "pushed back in" with the lid.  Then I let him take over.  He shot a few rounds, then we edited the best take and he started playing with effects, graphics and sounds.  In the end, he created this fun, funky little clip that I think would make a cool "logo" for his own productions.

While we were working, he dove into elements of the program I didn't even know existed and created something far more original than what I had started.  I love how his mind flies through problems, once he gets the idea.  And he's starting to appreciate others' enjoyment of his work.

This week, after Choir at Urban Homeschoolers, Liam had time to play the piano.  He was noodling around and I asked him if he could play the Star Wars theme.  As soon as he did, all of the other kids stopped to listen and appreciate it.  I could see how pleased he was at the little bit of recognition.  It's taken time for him to seek out other people and really actively try to interact. Later, another kid jumped in on the piano too.  In the past, Liam would have tried to dominate and push him off or leave himself. Instead, I watched him listening to the other player and trying to jam.

By letting him follow his passion for music, I see that he's finding a commonality and desire to share.  If I insisted we only play piano at certain times, so that we could fit in some curricular activity, curated by an outside source, that impetus may have been lost.

Now it's up to me, to let go and let him do it.  I admit, I don't always manage to relax, but when I do, there is much more joy in the learning.  For both of us.

I'll leave you with what's new today - Liam's edit of a "whip-pan" shot.  We usually take turns shooting and performing the shot.  This time, he liked seeing himself on screen, so he kept it.  Enjoy!