Category Archives: Autism

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Autism Intervention or Connection?

I wanted to share my experiences with intervention with my sons with autism, and maybe now that I have perspective, see what was useful and what wasn’t as important as I had thought. Language Intervention I have three children diagnosed … Continue reading

Timeframes, Challenges, and Disabilities

We are on Round Three at my Homeschooling Creatively list about the perspective on “disabilities”, particularly as it pertains to the right-brained learner.  This post is my attempt at clarity on my position in viewing differing abilities among people.

•  Right-brained dominant and left-brained dominant learners process information differently; therefore, each has a different timeframe and focus to acquiring skills that optimally captures the individual strengths and gifts of that learning preference.

Our current institutions of school favor left-brained processes.  They are part to whole (versus global thinkers) as they take a whole subject, such as history, and break it down into segments and spread it across many grade levels before achieving the whole.  They are product-driven (versus process concepts) so that they can sort and classify based on right and wrong answers, completed tasks, and defineable measurements.  They are word and symbol focused (versus image generators) with early reading acquisition, math fact drilling, and handwriting practice.   Thus, schools created a scope and sequence that reflects the strengths and gifts of a left-brained dominant learner.

Because of the many generations toward this focus, our society has come to believe that this scope and sequence in favor of left-brained thinkers created for our schools is in actuality the Norm.  It appears that we as a people now believe that this is the Proper Order of Things in learning.  It is no longer a Preference; it is Truth in Learning.  However, this is False!  There is a preferred scope and sequence that favors the gifts of the left-brained learner, but there is another equally valid scope and sequence that favors the gifts of the right-brained learner.    This involves a difference in resources utilized and timeframes toward the development of the various subjects honored.

Unfortunately, because the majority of mankind has been schooled, our society has adopted left-brained thinking as the measuring stick of intelligence.  The current scope and sequence declares that reading, for example, can be accomplished through phonics by age 6-7 years old.  Parents clamber around this timeframe with baited breath in order to discover if their child is declared “smart”.  If you read before the expected age timeframe of 6-7 years old, you are “smart as a whip” or “gifted”.  If you come to reading at the expected time, you are “average”.  However, look out if you read after that timeframe!  You are either “lazy”, “not living up to your potential”, or “stupid”.   But, no one wants to think any of these things about their child, so schools came up with a great reason to excuse this difference in intellectual ability and performance:  learning disabilities.

Why is it that behind every learning disability label (ADD/HD, dyslexia, learning disabled, dysgraphia, twice exceptional, dyscalculia, etc.) is a right-brained learner?  Where are the left-brained learning disabled children?  Why is it that I have never heard that a school has said that the learning environment is not a good match?  Can the learning environment found in school be 100% successful?  Why is it that the child is always declared “broken”, but not the environment or the expected timeframes?

These are serious questions that need legitimate answers.  The good news is that these children are not learning disabled; they learn differently.  Right-brained children learn on a different timeframe that is healthy and advantageous to their gifts and strengths.  There would be little to no “dyslexia” if the path to reading for the right-brained child was honored.  That does not mean following the current left-brained scope and sequence, and just waiting a little longer.  It means it looks totally different.  The resources the right-brained child would learn to read with will be different from what you see in school.  The skill development focus the right-brained child would learn to read from will be different from what you see in school.  And the timeframe the right-brained child would learn to read by will be different from what you see in school.  If all of that is honored, you will have right-brained children coming to reading, and other various subjects (such as writing, spelling, arithmetic, handwriting, and more), in as joyful and painless a manner as their left-brained counterparts.

Currently, we “fix” right-brained learners.  We medicate their behaviors (i.e., ritalin for ADD), we remediate when they do not meet left-brained expectations (i.e. dyslexia programs), and we even “jump start” natural biological occurrences through exercises (i.e., vision tracking).   I find many things happen as a result of this type of treatment:  some self-medicate through alcohol or drugs to ease the pain of not being good enough, some decide they are “stupid” and take that into adulthood, some decide that they “just don’t care” and “do the minimal” so it can appear that they are choosing to not live up to the left-brained expectation, and some will get a “learning disability label” and use that as their “excuse” for avoiding things while believing this means they are deficient in some way.   Though most will become productive members of society, how many wounded spirits still exist?  How many glass ceilings were created within their own minds that limit what they have to offer the world?  Maria Montessori has said, “Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.”  One important way to do this is to honor the path that naturally develops the strengths and gifts of the right-brained child.

•  Every person has strengths and weaknesses.  Strengths are meant to flourish in order to bless the world through us; weaknesses are meant to challenge us for our own personal learning and growing.

I just had an extended epiphany of my thinking on strengths and weaknesses by writing the above statement.  As humans, we like to belong and have value.  It is usually through our strengths that we recognize that we have something worthy to contribute to the human race (the belonging part).  As we share our gifts, we receive feelings of value from others as they appreciate what we have to offer.  Our gifts are also usually the source of pleasure.  We enjoy doing what we are good at.  It feeds our spirit as we discover more of what we are capable of as we explore our strengths to a deeper and more committed level.  Joy emanates from within as we unveil the full measure of our creation through our gifts and talents.  It is easier to allow our strengths to shine for the world to see and enjoy and benefit.

On the other hand, weaknesses and challenges are personal.  It touches our inner questions in understanding who we are, what is our purpose, and why we believe what we do.  It is the other half of experience in living life.  One is not bad and the other good; each provides information, learning, growth and understanding.  Strengths tend to emit outward; weakness gravitates inward.  I find when I have a challenge, I quietly seek out others who may have similar experiences.  This is a safe way for me to sort out what will be required of me in order to “get to the other side”.  Plus, by seeking out like-minded experiences, it “normalizes” the challenge and gives hope for living it.

I wrote a blog post here about how I view weaknesses through unschooling with my children.  I believe every person has weaknesses as it pertains to learning in some area.   I talked in my post that each child either had a subject that “they just weren’t that interested in”; therefore, it often didn’t come easily, OR they had a subject that “just didn’t come easily to them.”   These are weaknesses.  Each child needed to challenge themselves in order to improve in these areas, or learn a skill set enough to be able to do better.  My daughter’s lack of proficiency in math didn’t mean she was “disabled by math”.  She could learn enough to move forward with her gift in writing without it interfering.  She would not be choosing a career in math.  The same is true for my son and writing.  Over time, he was able to become proficient enough to not impede his progress with his talents in math and computers.

The strength/weakness paradigm in our unschooling learning environment supported the idea that these weaknesses would be viewed as such.  If my children had been in school, measured against the left-brained timeframe found there, there would have been labels.  At the time between 8-10 years old, my son, Eli, really could not figure out reading; he couldn’t hear vowels, he couldn’t decode phonetically, and he couldn’t even recognize similarities in symbols yet.  Yet, at 10 years old, everything came together and he became a reader painlessly.

Due to autism, what about Eli’s difficulty with language, thus, his inevitable struggle with spelling, writing, vocabulary, and comprehension?  We recognized the source of the challenge:  autism and language, but we did not then call it a disability.  A weakness in language will translate to a weakness in these areas of language subjects.  While continuing to honor the typical right-brained timeframe for the development of these subjects starting at 11-13 years of age, we simply took on the challenge of applying good skills and strategies in order to become proficient enough to not hinder his strengths.  This had nothing to do with the scope and sequence found at school.  It had to do with what he would actually need to know how to do in the strength-based career he had delineated as his goal.  We could adopt and modify a variety of tools and resources that would be most helpful on his learning journey.

Being blind is a challenge.  But developing other senses and skills minimizes the difficulty and may even create other areas of strength that could promote a new gift or talent unknown to the person originally.  If I had not had children with autism, I would never have known that I had a natural ability with structured behavioral interventions.  In fact, upon developing this gift, I was able to take other aspects of my strengths and experience and combine it to create something new.  For instance, I was implementing “errorless teaching” before it was “discovered” as well as relation-based motivation.

Having a memory difference is a challenge.  Maybe a child cannot for the life of him memorize his math facts with flashcards.  His memory will just not accommodate that goal using that strategy.  However, this same child is shown to have a musical inclination, and by creating math fact songs, he is able to reach his goal.  He has a different kind of memory that works for him.  At 10, Eli wanted to memorize some scripture verses at church, but was unable to through standard memorization strategies.  These same scripture verses were available through music and he was able to accomplish this goal.  At 14, Eli had another opportunity to memorize scriptures, and at that stage, he was able to use his strong visualization skills to memorize the verses in a seemingly more typical fashion.  Does he have a disability with his memory?  Apparently not.  But if he had been in school, would there have been labels to justify his lack of ability at the time?

It is only a disability if it is disabling.

When I received the first diagnosis of autism, I was knocked right off my feet.  The world stopped instantly in my mind.  My next reaction was “I’m going to fix this.”  With this resolve, those first couple months were a flurry of frenetic emotion.  I even experienced a week-long paralysis of moving forward due to creating my own debilitation due to guilt I heaped upon myself from everyone and nowhere as only a mother can do.  One day two months in, I received the shocking news that my dear friend and neighbor had tragically died in a car accident.  The world stopped again as I mourned deeply.  A 1-year-old girl was left in the world without a mother!  What was I thinking?  I still had my beautiful children.  The only thing that had changed about them was my perception.  My prayers changed that day from “help me fix this” to “let me help them reach their potential.”

I find it was my own insecurities that had me hanging onto the label “autism”.  I wrote about that time here.  The journey I traveled in releasing my need for that label took me to a deep and mindful place of self-discovery and self-disclosure, and that set me on a new level of confidence, peace, and mindful living.  I could then gift that to my children from the beginning.

Eli lives with autism.  He is not disabled by autism.  He is challenged by autism at times.  However, his view on himself is not through the label “autism”, but instead, he has always viewed his life through the lens of strengths and weaknesses/challenges.  He thrives and flourishes with his strengths.  He has chosen a career path based on these gifts.  He meets challenges head on.  He identifies what he is needing to accomplish and determines how he can best accomplish it.  As challenges arise to the goal, he figures out how to go around it, through it, under it, or simply switch gears.  If there are choices, there is life worth living joyfully.

Adam lives with autism.  He cannot live financially independently.  By all definitions, he is disabled.  However, from his perspective and cognitive understanding, he is not disabled.  He enjoys a full life that maximizes his abilities.  He is independent in determining his quality of life day-to-day.  I have learned enormous amounts of knowledge and growth through him.  His life has value.

Those with bipolar have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see bipolar as a challenge, not a disability.  Those with Asperger’s have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see Asperger’s as a challenge, not a disability.  Those who are deaf have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see deafness as a challenge, not a disability.  Those with muscular dystrophy have made great contributions to our society through their strengths.  I see muscular dystrophy as a challenge, not a disability.  Aimee Mullins would agree with my perspective as she shares her story here.

All of this said, I understand that our society requires the label “disability” in order to obtain services or accommodations.  Adam will need to be declared “disabled” in order for us to get guardianship, or for him to receive some kind of monetary opportunity.  A person who figures out they live with bipolar may need to declare themselves “disabled”  during the worst part as they take the time to figure out a successful treatment plan.  Eli was required to have a “disability plan” in order to have “permission” to take another type of reading placement test at the community college.  I always say that I don’t talk about this topic “in a bubble”.  This means that although I recognize its existence, and accept that some people need “more” in order to function in the world, overall I view differences as just that, through a weakness/strength paradigm, and as people who can contribute to the world just the way they are.  I am careful to remember that in our quest to normalize, we may erase the very distinction that will evolve into greatness.  So, I remain ever mindful of my perspective and perception of different as I live my role of facilitator.

•  I view a child as a whole entity, with a preferred way to process information, with strengths and weaknesses unique to their creation, and a path individually created for their own growth and learning.

In order to support this premise, I:

•  support effective communication in any form (2-4 years);

•  encourage strengths, gifts, and talents as the foundation (5-10 years);

•  build emotional, social, sensorial, and behavioral needs (5-10 years);

•  mentor goal setting strategies (11-16 years);

•  collaborate holistic skill sets to increase weaknesses (11-19 years); and

•  counsel a balanced adult lifestyle (17-19 years).

In conclusion, I feel most school-inspired labels (at least 75%) would not exist at all if not measured against an inappropriate and inaccurate timeframe measuring stick as found in schools.  One cannot be deficient if the expectation is not there.  Because of premature and traumatic birth experiences prevalent in a technologically advanced society, chemically-altered and pollution-based changes in our environment, and traditional sickness-based incidents, there will be some children who have more challenges.   No matter the etiology, I prefer to view these challenges as personal opportunities to grow and learn through weakness.  It’s a personal journey each travels in reaching their own individually unique goals based on one’s strengths and gifts.  Finally, although disability certainly exists, I prefer to believe in the power of our divine natures and individual worth.  As Aimee Mullins stated, “You only need one person to show you the epiphany of your own life.”

Inspiration to Dictating Stories

I was given a link to Patricia’s blog about children dictating stories.  It got me thinking about my 10-year-old, William, who is very imaginative, but has difficulty creating stories, unlike most right-brained children.  This is because he has difficulty with language as a whole.  I also have a child with autism, Alex, who loved to hear his brothers and sister tell him stories, but had trouble telling his own stories.  Both of these children are less capable in writing and drawing.  Here are a couple ways we inspired stories from them:

William wanted to get “real pictures” of knights and fighting, his favorite topic.  So, thanks to my favorite writing resource as a base and the on-line world of google images, we found plenty and I printed them off.  He then meticulously cut them out, glued them in his story, and dictated his creation.  He just loved it.  He has done one about Indians as well.

I hope you can see these alright.   I need to invest in a nice camera!  Anyway, my daughter created a comic book for my son with autism about his favorite item, ceiling fans.  So, she took pictures of his ceiling fans and cut them out.  She then cleverly took pictures of various “Mii’s”, which is part of the Wii system, and used those as the characters.  Though Abbey could draw these characters, she knew it would add another cool element for her brother.  It would also inspire him that he could make his own using this as his “drawing device”.

I thought it might inspire other young creators out there, or not so young, but less artistically inclined, to figure out new ways to tell their stories.

High School – Learning versus Credits

Recently on my Homeschooling Creatively list, there was a discussion about what kind of learning counts for high school credit.  Although I know what is being referred to since I attended high school, this vocabulary doesn’t really show up on my radar based on how we home educate our children.  Frankly, even when I was in high school, I was completely unaware of the whole credit thing, so maybe I’m ahead of the game that way.  It wasn’t for good reasons as apparently my high school counselor didn’t consider me college material enough to mention anything to me, and neither of my parents have a higher education (one only has a tenth grade education) to tap into it through them.

I remember some time when my oldest son was in the 11-13 year timeframe, or maybe it was from Loretta Heuer during a Growing Without Schooling conference, but it was mentioned that I should “keep track of” the things my children do that would be high school transcript noteworthy.  And, when my oldest was 14-15 years old, I did do that for a while.  And then life happened.  And learning.  Besides, I found myself getting tediously involved in defining the nitty gritty trying to get it to line up with what I saw other high school students doing.  But why should I do that?  I am not replicating high school in my home.  We are a strength-based life learning home environment.  When my children decided what they wanted to do, college or something else, we would figure out what to do in order to have them achieve that goal.  And so life continued.

So what did we do for high school if not thinking about credits?  I describe it in my Collaborative Learning Process.  My children continued to strengthen their gifts (60%), and I provided support in helping each person improve any weaknesses from where they were in order to take it to the next level based on how it affects where they want to go (30%).  There were never any conversations about, “okay, so you want to go to college for computer programming, so what are you going to do for high school credit to show that.”  My son loved to computer program, so he did so, because he loved it, and was intrigued by it, and wanted to know as much as he could figure out.  My job was to keep feeding in the resources so that the interest would grow to its fullest capacity.  My daughter spent her last few years writing fantasy novels.  She learned by doing.  A few adult friends shared their favorite writing resources with her that got her looking for additional resources that would help her along her learning curve.  Interestingly, she knew when she was ready for more information and knowledge, and when she just needed time to sweat it out herself.  All of this could be translated into “credits” later; yet, it never entered my mind to think that way either in the moment.

Then there is the category of either “not that interested in it” or “difficulties learning or understanding it” subjects.  Each child had subjects they never gravitated to in some way by the 11-13 year old stage.  It was during this first stage of formality that I would introduce these topics to them in a way that could work for them, just so that they had some kind of positive interaction with it at least once.  For my oldest, it was math, and some formal grammar.  For my daughter, it was history and math.  For my third child, it was science and grammar.  These fell into the category of “just not that interested in it”.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t do it; it just didn’t have much meaning for them to pursue.  Yet, each I thought would benefit from a short-term exposure.  So, I found a resource that would match how they like to learn, and each felt positive about learning it to the level they took it.  Again, I didn’t think, “alright, you need a well-rounded education and in order to get credit for high school, you have to do x, y, and z.”  Now, take my daughter’s math as an example; she decided to learn up to algebra, and then decided it was sufficient.  In her transcript for college, I gave her “high school credit” for pre-algebra, geometry (since what we used incorporated it throughout), and algebra I (since she had to do a serious study of it for her ACT test, which she scored solid on).  She is an English/writing focus, so math was not relevant to her getting accepted into the university for which she applied.  Her ACT score “proved” that she had the “competency” for which I recorded.  But again, the reason we did what we did had nothing to do with high school credit or a transcript to get into college.  It was able to be worked out as we needed it.

I think there are two types as it pertains to the “difficulties learning or understanding it” arena.  There is the difficulty with a subject that is important to the child’s strength goals.  My daughter is a writer, and spelling and vocabulary didn’t come naturally to her.  This would be important to her, so we came up with resources and strategies that would help her improve these areas.  We didn’t create a “course” for her to receive high school credit for if she “passed”.  We took her from where she was, found resources that matched how she learns, and helped her improve step by step over a period of a few years.  We collaborated to identify these areas for each child so that their strengths could continue to flourish.

I have children who have a hard time learning certain subjects because of a biological difference.  This is different from not learning it well because there just isn’t an interest or natural inclination toward it.  The two that I asked to do math later don’t take to it easily.  But I don’t think everyone is meant to be good at everything.  I think a person has strengths and weaknesses.  And the weaknesses don’t have to mean “difficulty learning based on a deficiency”.  I’m not that keen on history and would have to work hard to do well in it in a school setting.  I don’t have a natural inclination toward it.  I’m not talking about “school created labels”, either.  Those typically are all about a different learning timeframe and learning resources, and if those are valued, it can either eventually be learned easily or if not, usually be put in the previous category of “difficulty with subject because of lack of natural inclination”.

My sons with autism are who fall into this category to which I am referring to as “biological differences to learning”.  My third child struggled with learning language as a child.  So, it would make sense that reading comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and writing not only didn’t come naturally to him, he had to learn it in a way that takes a different way of focusing and learning.  Strategies may need to be employed based on their particular biological difference.  Or, he’s simply just going to have to think about it a lot more, and put a lot more time into it, because of it’s “unnaturalness” to his nature.  So, again, he and I would sit down and I would come up with some resources that I thought might help him, or some strategies that I thought might be useful, and let him know that if he wanted to improve in this area, he would need to put the work into it.  We discussed the ways not having these skills could interfere with his life plans, and to what level he might need to take it to circumvent that.  We used hands-on supports, resource supports, mentor support, and modeling supports in order to help him achieve his goals.  You notice we didn’t “remediate”.  He had a positive view on these areas because he was never labeled negatively as it pertains to them.  And, as has been said throughout this post, high school credit had nothing to do with what we were doing.  We were collaborating on goals and learning.  That was the focus.  It still is the focus as we navigate the high school years with each of our children.

For us, there is no “high school”.  There is simply a continuing learning process, based on stages of growth.

Passions, Obsessions, and Self-Stimulatory Behaviors

I believe there is a lot of confusion about these terms used in home/unschooling, in regard to the right-brained learner, and in the autism community.  I thought I might be able to shed some light on the differences based on my experiences with my various children.

I think Alex, age 14, can serve to illustrate the difference between all three to start us off.  Alex was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when he was 2 years old.  He has two older brothers diagnosed as well.  One of his “special interests” around that age was ceiling fans.  However, as a 2-3 year old with limited cognition, his interest in them was purely for self-stimulatory satisfaction.  He enjoyed watching the blades spin around and around and gets a kick out of the sensation he gets from watching it from certain angles.  Around 3-4 years old, his interest shifted into obsession, even almost addiction.  Suddenly, it’s almost like the joy of watching it no longer existed, but was replaced with a need to turn them on and off, with a frantic-like quality.  I found that he didn’t want to do anything else, in any way, shape or form.  The most important difference, though, that made it an obsession/addiction was the idea that he was taking no pleasure in it, and he couldn’t seem to stop his need to do it all day long.  (We “broke” all the fans in the house, and that helped him “snap out of it” after a few months, so that we could “fix them”, and he could go back to enjoying the experience of watching them again.)  I don’t know when it went from self-stimulatory behavior to passion.  I think it was around 8 years old when he realized that there were more components to ceiling fans than just the thrill of the viewing of it.  He started to assemble fans, collect fans, create his own fans, understand how all the parts create the whole, and to appreciate vintage fans.  Alex has a full life with several focuses or passions as well as meaningful relationships and interactions, with future plans and hopes and dreams.  One of his passions is ceiling fans, which may lead to his future career path.  He is a part of on-line forums for fan lovers and they have interesting conversations among each other.  He has even found an IRL friend through his passion who shares it in a meaningful way (he restores ceiling fans at s Habitat for Humanity Restore).

So, my definition in practice of these three words are this:

•  Self-stimulatory behaviors create enjoyable sensations, particularly sensory input sensations, that a person does for pleasure.

Some examples of this are when Adam, age 16, diagnosed with autism (moderately-severely affected) flips coins into a bucket over and over again.  He loves how it feels on his fingers, how it sounds as it rhythmically clinks, and how it visually looks as it floats into an arc into the pile created.  Or when Alex enjoys something for whatever reason, he makes a particular noise while tensing up his body and rubbing his fingers together as a way to express sensorially his satisfaction.  When he was younger, around 1 year old, Alex would crawl into a tight space under my night stand and play with a cord.  His enjoyment of this practice was a positive sensory experience.

I think the categorization of “self-stimulatory behavior” is overused in the autism community.  I believe it is most true from those who view autism as a negative attribute (that’s a whole other post, because I feel there are two sides to that thought) and one to be expunged.  For instance, I believe many would consider Alex’s ceiling fan passion a self-stimulatory behavior.  He can do actions that express that side, but it is overall a passion.  A good example of the misconception is playing the piano.   There is certainly a sensorial appreciation to playing with the listening of the music to the touching of the keys to the patterning of the action, but for most people, it is either a pleasant skill to enjoy or a passion.  Another personal example is Eli, age 18, diagnosed with high functioning autism, starting at the age of 1.5 years old, spent hours with trains.  He would lie down as he meticulously linked the metal cast die trains together, close one eye, and pull the train toward him and past as he watched his creation from various angles.  The experts would call that “looking at the parts”, but in actuality, he was enjoying his three-dimensionality aspect of being right-brained.  There is one type of conclusion in the autism community about “enjoying parts”, but there may be another explanation as so many individuals with autism are right-brained learners, with three-dimensionality gifts, that may be exploring what that means by bringing parts up close and personal for a season while younger.

•  Obsession is when an interest has taken over a life devoid of other enjoyable features and there is no longer joy associated with the action.

Some examples of this is when Alex, 1-2 years old at the time, would line up his Duplo blocks into a line over and over.  He would often get agitated as he did it, thus, not taking any enjoyment from it.  However, he would get upset if it didn’t line up as he wanted, or if it got messed up.  He was not receiving sensorial benefit from it, nor was he enjoying the experience.  Sometimes, Adam accidentally lets one of his self-stimulatory behaviors turn into an obsession related to obsessive-compulsive disorder.  For instance, if he has no other cognitive stimulation going on in his life, instead of using his coin flipping as a sensory outlet and calming enjoyment action, he can begin to create patterns within his mind as he does the flipping that begins to cycle.  He noticeably becomes agitated while flipping, his actions become spasmodic, and the sounds he makes become intense.  He is no longer enjoying the experience and often has a difficult time completing whatever cycle he has created that has taken over the process.

What it is not is often confused with the beginning stages of a passion, particularly with people with autism who may seem “out of balance” at this stage.  For instance, when Eli was 1.5-4 years old, he spent hours creating train tracks and playing his trains.  Then, from 4-12, he spent an equal amount of time with Legos.  During this timeframe, Eli had no interest in friends, though he had consistent interactions in formal settings I brought him to, and had many “odd” ways of interacting and difficulty communicating effectively.  However, Eli was gaining much pleasure from his interest, he was competent in diverse ways, he continued to learn and grow from its practice, and he was in balance for the stage of autism he was at during that time.

Alex’s interest in John Denver songs and the Beatles may be misinterpreted by experts/people of a different perspective as either a self-stimulatory behavior or an obsession, but I see it has a developing passion.  Alex will listen to a particular song over and over again, taking great pleasure out of hearing it, so it could be seen as a pleasant sensorial experience as his reasons for doing this.  Or, because of this repetition, it may be seen as an obsession.  However, though I believe he is having a pleasant sensory experience, he is always learning and growing in more information about these two artists.  It has also expanded into other music.  He has also developed other skills through the interest such as creating his own montages.  I see it as a passion.

Because of the nature of autism, particularly in the early stages of development when a young person with autism is still trying to figure out our “culture” of cognitive understanding, the things that interest them may be more sensory in nature because of how attuned their sensory system is to their surroundings.  Further, as they get older, and if they have not been helped in knowing how to interact with the world in which they live, the interest may become obsessive because they don’t know where else to take it. However, I find that as we expand their understanding of their interest to the world, it becomes a healthy passion like anyone else enjoys.  I wrote a post about that idea here.

•  Passion is when an interest engulfs your being and it brings great pleasure and satisfaction, with consistent growth and/or learning associated with it, insomuch as a person wants to spend many hours a day engaged in its pursuit.

A right-brained learner often is engaged in a passion, particularly one of the creative outlets (music/dance, art/drawing, theater’/showmanship, math/numbers, video games/computers, mazes/puzzles, fashion/sewing, cooking/gardening, building/electronics).  They will spend hours and hours, days and days, years and years in its pursuit in their ability to reach excellence (it is said that 10,000 hours of dedicated pursuit is needed to excel in something).  I wonder if because our schooling system is focused on a generalist education, that we think anything that someone spends hours pursuing must be bad, thus, placing the negative word “obsession” on it.

Some examples of passion pursuits in our house is the hours upon hours of Lego building Eli engaged in, or the hours upon hours of drawing Eric, age 22, engaged in.  Interestingly, Eli’s Lego building led him to computer programming.  At 14 years old, he started spending hours and hours dedicated to learning how to program.  He carried around his programming book as his “bible”.  We give value to this as a passion because it is recognizable as a “career path”, but his surrounding himself with his Legos was no different than his programming.  It was the predecessor to his finding his career path passion.  I always tell people to look beyond the exterior act.  What do you see happening as they pursue this interest?  I saw this one time when Eli had learned about pyramids:

pyramiddrawcut1

legopyramid

This Lego pyramid had as much intricacy inside as it is outside, as depicted in his drawing beforehand.

Everyone has their own balance in life.  In order to develop a passion to excellence, many hours need to be dedicated to it.  This is what a strengths-based, gift-centered learning environment can look like.  Some are introverts and need less interaction time than those who are extraverts.  Some cerebral types of children need less physical activity than those who are active and high energy.  I remember learning an interesting lesson from Eli when he was 9 years old.  I was actively looking for a good match for him in a playmate in order to develop some of his social skills.  I noticed another homeschooled girl who seemed to be “odd” like Eli, so thought it might be interesting to see how they might get along.  In order to facilitate the initiation of diverse activities, I created an idea board of things in the house they could play with, and each could take turns making a choice.  This is what they chose as their first three activities as I observed one day:

First, they chose a puzzle with many pieces, I think it was 100 or something, and they both bent over the activity, deep in concentration as they constructed this puzzle.  Then, they chose a board game that was fun, like Cootie Bug or something that took luck and playful interaction.  Then, last they created their own interest by cutting a long piece of yarn from a skein, attaching it to the back ends of themselves, and finding a circular path in our home and following that path, letting the yarn drag behind, and trying to leap toward the end of their yarn as they circled around, to see if they could grab it . . . a strange, yet delightful to them, escapade.  Suddenly, it occurred to me.  Now I see why Eli had a difficult time finding friends:  he went from a highly cerebral activity, to a traditional (normal) activity, to an odd activity.  Uusually, he would lose someone in the transition, as so many children are either one, the other, or the last, but not all three in one.  His diversity of interest created a division in peer match-ups!

Thus, what it is not is when a child is engaged in a pursuit of potential passion, and they get “out of balance” during a stage that they don’t have the skill set to know how to manage their interest.  Video game playing is a perfect example of this.  My oldest son loved playing video games starting at 5 years old.  Around 8-9 years old, he went through a stage that appeared to be “obsessive/addictive.”  And, in actuality, it had shifted into that realm (just like self-stimulatory can warp to passion, so can passion deteriorate into obsession) because he didn’t have the skills of self-management.  So, suddenly video games were not fun anymore, and he was acting out in frustration, yet refused to stop playing because he had to make it to the next level.  His actions became spastic and his attitude became ugly.  So, just like with my 3-4 year old who needed to take a break from ceiling fans in order to break from the obsessive nature he had found himself, for my 9-year-old, I could pull him aside and give him good information about what he was experiencing, how to manage it effectively, and what had happened to something that was of high interest to him.  Over a year’s time of discussion and collaboration and knowledge sharing, his self-management and “in balance” needs were consistently integrated from himself in order to place his video game interest back into passion mode.  (He used his interest in video games as inspiration for his art and history projects throughout his childhood and into his life’s pursuit.)

In conclusion, spending longs hours in the pursuit of something does not make it an obsession.  We are so focused on being a little good at everything that we forget what it looks like to specialize in something and how much time it takes to excel at it.  Further, being in “balance” looks different for various children based on temperament and learning traits, but also looks different at the various stages of development, including factoring in extenuating circumstances, like being diagnosed with autism.  I have developed my observation skills in order to see beyond what is front of me, but more importantly, I have questioned the generalist attitude of our learning environments for our young children.   We need more passion in our lives; we can give that to our children in our perspective and our learning lives!

Update in our Household

As a blogger, I find that I go through life after an experience saying, “That would make a good blog post”.  And then it passes me by and I’m sad that I’m not capturing the moments or the perspective on paper.  (As a side note, I’m using my blog as my journal.  Every year or two, depending on how much I wrote during that period, I print everything off into a large binder, putting everything in protective sheets, and labeling the front.)  So, to try to get going again on a consistent basis, I’m going to update everything happening around here in synopsis format, or better yet, in hopeful blog post options, and hopefully I will blog about each individual thereafter over the next couple weeks.

Cindy (that’s me!).  I’ve been continuing to work on my right-brained book.  I carved out time this summer to finish it, but worry it won’t happen.  I also worry that I’m my biggest enemy to completing it.  How do authors do it?!  I’ve been a support person to my oldest son, who seems to suffer from bipolar as we now see it.  At times, this has brought me to the edge of cracking under the pressure of doing all that I’m supposed to do as the center of this family.  We’re currently in a good place.  I am in the middle of organizing this coming year’s family focus for everyone.  My plate definitely runneth over in that category, but it should be an exciting year of growth for many!  So, at least three posts there.

Weston (my hubby).  I’m blessed to have the husband that I do, who learns and grows with our family, and supports me as best he knows how.  We both know in our particular family that we had to divide and conquer.  I take the emotional, educational, and therapeutic roles; and he takes the financial role with key support positions in the home, with particular children for certain areas, as parenting relief for me for high time consumption children, and overall involved father, particularly with community activity involvement the children are in (like coaching soccer and leading the youth group at church, etc.)  He is also the one in charge of beautifying our home front and keeping track of our overall vision for it.  He’s also a great father who shows our boys how to be men of substance, and show our daughter what a husband can be for a woman.  Staying on top of things with his job in this economy takes a lot of stress, and we have had our adjustments in that arena over the past  year.  Also, this is a creative man who has always needed to be challenged intellectually, so he has discovered an excellent match for him to continue some education.  This looks like another three posts!

Eric, Age 22.  We have partnered together to continue to understand his anxious and depressive state from the time he was 16.  Since my last post, I have come to realize he is battling bipolar.  So, that is definitely several posts right there.  Anyone who lives with bipolar can attest to my statement that it is the center of his life right now as he figures out how to effectively manage it.  When he can be plugged into his life that he desires as well as consistently engaged in his creative outlets and life’s passion, I will know we are on the right track.  Baby steps at this point; hopeful progress with our current knowledge.

Abbey, Age 20.  Big changes for Abbey as she has left to live out in Utah at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo starting this summer.  The first weekend of orientation was evidence to her that she would learn and grow tremendously in this new venue she has chosen for her next stage in her life.  She has already had many ups and downs that has provided growth opportunities for her.  It has been fun to discuss how her unschooled life impacts her life at college, both academically and socially.  That should be several posts and more.

Eli, Age 18.  Has this young man ever wowed his mother this past year!  In his “senior year” of homeschooling, he wanted to start attending community college in order to grow more in his passion of math and computers.  He also wanted to face his weak areas and discover what he may still need to do in order to succeed at his life’s plans.  Eli is diagnosed with high functioning autism and could have had many other “learning disabilities” attached, such as ADD (big time), CAPD (big time) (central auditory processing disorder), as well as how his ASD (autism spectrum disorder) affects his ability to speak, read/comprehend, and write English well.  Eli is also a strong right-brained learner, a builder with a specialty in spatial awareness.  Many of you know my passion about the right-brained learner and that there is another legitimate, valid path to how they learn.  It is not uncommon for a right-brained person to not prefer auditory input as well as have a difference in attention factors.  Many also know I have a particular perspective on how these learners should be valued for how and WHEN they approach learning.  I believe in a strengths based foundation and coming to formal academics and learning starting at 11 in order that they can understand the need to build weaknesses as it effects strengths, as well as being able to be truer collaborators at that stage.  Well, Eli has shown how well all of this has worked out for him!  He is truly coming into his own and flourishing.  I have also had an opportunity to work with someone who attended public school who is “ADD” and how that impacts him.  I want to do a whole set of posts sharing Eli’s journey to give hope and insight to all the people who have young people with “learning differences”.

Adam, Age 16.  Adam is now my TALL young man, as he has reached about 6’1″ on his tiptoes.  He lives with moderate to severe autism (moderate because he is partially verbal and can learn to a certain level, and severe because he battles extreme sensory bombardments on a minutely basis and it’s hard not to be consistently agitated and on guard) and he has always toe-walked to some level.  Well, it caught up to me and now we are scheduled for foot surgery this September.  I’m committed to making sure it doesn’t happen again because I expect this recovery to not be easy based on his limited cognition.  However, Adam also had his first emergency room trip this summer after putting his hand through our front window which required 40 stitches.  He was amazingly calm and cooperative, so backward blessing as it was, it gives me hope for his recovery from surgery.  In NC, the compulsory age for school is 7-16, and because Adam will not ever drive, he is no longer legally required to school.  Of course, he enjoys being mentally engaged and loves math and spelling and books, so we do as we want in that arena.  With Abbey going off to college, he has lost his therapeutic tutor from the past 1.5 years and transitioned quite well to Ashley this summer.  I knew this was temporary as she is a school teacher, so Adam will once again transition to someone else soon, probably a man named Russell.  Adam enjoys working with his tutors!  So, there are definitely some posts here on behalf of Adam.

Alex, Age 14.  Alex has really matured this past year.  He has successfully navigated the stage of my Collaborative Learning Process by the same name; the collaborative learning stage.  He is fully independent with his formal academic work, and actually reminds me to get it for him!   He has a system that works for him, and me, and this year I want to start challenging him subject by subject past his comfort zone, but still embracing his learning style.  He also has incorporated daily chores into his life that he, once again, ASKS every day which part of it he should do.  I definitely want to use my recent foray into this stage with Alex to share with readers how this stage looks and what and why I do what I do.  There is often MUCH resistance in this stage, but it has to do with being gently, but firmly, guided into the arena of  self-awareness, self-determination, and a solid work ethic in order to translate toward the ability to set one’s own goals to achieve purpose with one’s passion.  Once they get through this first stage of shifting by collaborating with me in what works for them and what doesn’t, it always amazes me what awaits on the other end of this stage:  the Gift Focus Stage.  And the independence and self-initiation that occurs is phenomenal!

William, Age 10.  I forsee big changes for William this year.  Since turning 10, I saw the beginnings of the 11 year old shift in that, for him, it is more that he may be able to cognitively make strides.  This is another son with many, many labels attached, and would create much worry if I didn’t know better.  We have dabbled here and there, but he is now ready to make some leaps.  I am fortunate to have helped him qualify to receive CAP services here in NC (a Medicaid disability waiver program), so I will be training a therapeutic tutor for him soon.  Up to now, William has been learning where his strengths are, and for most people, looking at someone like him would be hard pressed to feel he has any.  But, if you ask him who he is, he’ll let you know that he is the best pretender there is, he loves to cook and to garden, and he generally wants to learn how to be in control of himself.  In fact, last night, Weston, William and Joseph watched Merlin on recorded TV (William LOVING soldiers and knights and swords and weapons), and my husband actually thought he could then put him to bed.  But, as I know SO well about William, right after watching the show, he was in costume within seconds and prepared to go into his imaginative place.  I corrected my husband as it pertains to this child and William was given space to expend his need to process what he saw through role-playing, and ending with some drawing at the table (which he would be considered to be “dysgraphic”).  I suspect William will be reading in his 11s somewhere, maybe 12.  Same with math.  It’s all good.  It all works out.  William is much more capable of putting in effort and understanding at his stage now, and he has a solid foundation of his strengths, which we will continue to grow and nurture 60% of his time.  Lots of posts with this child pending!

Joseph, Age 8.  He is one of my most naturally social children of all my children.  Interestingly, he also cares deeply about what others think of him, and he is my first child who cares what he is wearing and looking like.  It’s really interesting and fascinating to me.  The YMCA in which we attend holds a summer day camp each year, and William and Joseph both wanted to attend last year (I had them go half of the time), and this year (they went almost the entire summer).  For Joseph, it starts off fairly well, but by mid-way, trouble starts a-brewing.  He is easily offended and hurt by typical child playground tactics as well as typical adult punitive, rule-based consequences and interactions.  When Joseph gets hurt, he gets physical.  We’ve been working on that a lot.  I definitely want to write a post about how the way I parent affects their ability to interact with “schoolish” types of interactions successfully.  It’s tricky when my child wants to be part of this type of thing for a season.  Usually when we hit this point, though, he’s ready to be done.  We both recognize the limitations of his expectations and understandings with the environment and how people behave from those settings.  Joseph is also showing that he is more than ready to tackle reading and math things, so we have already somewhat started, and he should be able to finish the process of starting and going by the end of the year.  At the beginning of this year, I started William and Joseph in group activities, especially because Joseph is so social.  They have done swim team two times a week, karate one time a week, and YMCA sports year round.  Joseph is a natural at most things he does, though being small, he probably should concentrate on areas he could continue to progress in to the level he would probably want to later on.  Karate is a good fit for him, as is soccer.  We think wrestling would be a great fit as well, so we’re working on that.  We still encourage all things, naturally, like swim and even football, which is what he is wanting to do as of late.

Pets.  At current count, we have 8 cats (indoor/outdoor):  Socks/17, Belle/12, Sunflash/11, Xena/9, Ellie, Hanabi, Wally, and Sammy (brothers and sisters)/all 1, two dogs: Spencer/9 and Precious/7.  Abbey lost her tree frog she handraised from an egg from the wild, Tasolen/5; and the boys lost their three rats: SugaBuga, Stripe, and Squeeker/all sisters/3.  We still have our large fish tank, but our pets are diminishing all and all as to variety.

We are still living on our 15 acres in the log house and loving every minute of it.  We finally found a renter who contracted to buy our other house, though it will be a 1-3 year contract period.  But, with this economy, they were good renters to find as they repair all things and take care of the house as if it is theirs, which is what we wanted.  It will still be nice to have it sold.  I guess that could be a post.

Now, I need to commit to posting as indicated in his post.  Lots of good stuff happening!  Oh, I’m going to try to get a new family photo when my daughter comes home at summer break!

Acquisition

I originally had this post titled Possessions, but I changed it to Acquisition, because I think Possessions is another category I would like to post about a bit later.  Sara and JoVe set the scene with their thoughts from their blog posts:

Sara shares a quote near the beginning of her post on this subject:

From The Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben:

Since we live with relative abandon year-round, it’s no wonder that the abandon of Christmas doesn’t excite us as much as it did a medieval serf.  We are – in nearly every sense of the word – stuffed.  Saturated.  Trying to cram in a little more on December 25 seems kind of pointless.

JoVe replied in her post Christmas blahs:

Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better myself. It seems pointless. If we need anything, we go and buy it.  And we end up with a pretty loose definition of need.

And if Tigger needs new pyjamas or coloured penciles or sketchbooks, why should she wait another 6 weeks for them just because they would make good presents? The definition of need tightens up considerably at this time of year. Pyjamas she has already because her others were too small.

I’ve mentioned before on-line that I consciously chose in the beginning of my homeschooling journey to try to raise my children “the old-fashioned way”.  This stems a lot from my own childhood (funny how much what we do can often lead back to our early shaping).  We didn’t have much growing up, but what I had I treasured.  I wanted my children to have that same appreciation, and I knew that too much acquisition would hinder that.

It came more easily to do this because we started our family very young (my first was born when I was 21) while we were in university (I supported my hubby through six years to complete his undergraduate degree that included a two-year “live-and-learn” stint).  We had our first three children during his university years while I either provided daycare to children in my home, worked an evening job at a law firm, and/or my hubby did part-time work on campus to make ends meet.  Our goal was to raise our own children giving value to our time to our children as our greatest gift and sacrifice on their behalf.  Being able to afford “things” didn’t come often.  I found that the gifts for birthdays and Christmases were the main source of gift-giving times at that time, so our saturation level, as mentioned in the posts I referenced, wasn’t an issue.

Once we left university and my hubby began his first degree-earned job, I came home and student loans came due, and money was still tight.  Another child was added and simple family togetherness was our center-point.  I remember taking family walks around our neighborhood and walking a couple blocks down to the small town outdoor ice cream shop.  Getting the ice cream cone with the candy faces put on them was the only expense put out to enhance our excursions and build memories.  Friendships were another acquisition sought after during this time period.

For my three oldest, this type of viewpoint was their foundation.  Only my oldest would have consistent figures bought for him (about $3-5) at the time that seemed to be important to him in a “collection” sense.  (I have since found out through the book “A Mind at a Time”, by Mel Levine, that some people have a stronger sense of “insatiability” to objects that can be best supported through collections; my instincts seemed to prove well for him!)  I helped this child know how to hold off on “needing” something through financial self-limitations and the greater understanding of common sensibilities toward balanced acquisition.  For the most part, birthdays and Christmases were the gift giving times.

The exception was the purchases for personal growth items such as the colored pencils and sketchbooks JoVe referred to in her post.  Though finances still kept this in reasonable check, books and paper and craft items were consistently found in our home.  We still were frugal on how these were acquired, however.  My hubby was able to often supply us with paper from the used printer paper from his work that was to be discarded (do you remember the continuous feed paper with hole punched sides?)  Boy, do I remember those boxes of paper my children would go through, and use easily to create books!  We would save everything from cereal boxes to paper tubes to egg cartons to use to build things.  So, imagination and creativity were also a center of our acquisition perspective.

Things shifted when we discovered that three of our children were struggling on the autism spectrum in 1996.  Interestingly, acquisition was not on the radar of these children.  Once I did my research on how to help each of these children develop to their full potential, exposure to all the things they didn’t notice became high on the list in helping them engage in the world around them.  Because objects were the safest things for the younger of the boys to trust, heavy doses of acquisition of things began in order to help them develop the breadth of knowledge of the world of objects.  Instead of creating saturation, for my boys with autism, each purchase was a step on their path of understanding.

So, the first three children were raised with carefully chosen and treasured objects of interest that enhanced the development of their gifts and passions.  The next two children were raised to recognize the value of how objects can be used to develop their gifts and passions.  And then we adopted in two young children into a houseful of prized and respected interest items as well as buckets of various developmental toy objects.  They neither understood how each object was purposefully chosen over time to find their place in the home, nor were they part of the developmental choices of adding each object.  On the other hand, they had their own issues to work through.

As many foster children experience, the older of the two was quite “lost” with the transition of his former home of need into this new home of abundance.  He didn’t have any developmental understanding of playing with toys nor the framework of possessing them.  Destruction of items is common in the early stages of fostering children.  He needed to have all objects removed from his use and recreate the acquisition process in order for him to know how to use and possess each thing.  It was quite an interesting phenomenon.  On the other hand, because he often would receive whole collections of common objects, saturation still often occurred to overwhelm his ability to understand how to possess in a healthy way.  It’s been a process.  All in all, we try to keep acquisition of things to the special occasions in order to help prevent oversaturation as a common theme throughout the year.

In today’s world of abundance, I think it takes a conscious, mindful choice on the part of parents to observe and utilize our instincts to determine what is most useful for each individual child in our care in developing a healthy emotional relationship with the world of objects and acquisition.  Most important is how we help them take ownership by empowering them with their own personal understanding of these things in their own lives as they make their own choices.

Sleep Patterns

A question came up on my Homeschooling Creatively list about sleep pattern differences.  One of the “temperament traits” of a right-brained learner is that they are almost always night owls.  From the responses given to the original question, my yahoo list is full of these right-brained night owls.  Further, in the autism spectrum world, extreme sleep pattern differences is also the “norm”.  The theory by Jeffrey Freed in his book, “Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World”, is that autism spectrum is a form of “extreme right-brainedness”.  For those on the high functioning end of autism (Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism), I often say, “take the traits and learning style of the right-brained learner and add a plus to everything, and that’s what you are dealing with.”  An example:  a right-brained learner often resists trying new things initially.  For a HFA/AS person, they resist new things to a higher degree.

All of this said, this post will resonate with those with children like mine.  For the rest of you, it might seem extraordinary and strange, but in the world of the right-brained learner and autism, it’s perfectly “normal”.  And my take is that if something is “normal” for a third of the population or more, then is it really abnormal, or really normal in its realm?

First, let me break down the two styles of sleepers in my family.  I have three children who are “regular night owls”, and we two parents fall into this category as well.  And I have four children who are “extreme night owls”.  A regular night owl tends to shoot for their bedtime around midnight, and falls asleep fairly easily.  They tend to need between the typical 8-10 hours of sleep each night.  If they don’t get enough sleep one night, they tend to want to go to bed earlier the next evening, or sleep in later, to “catch up” on their sleep.  In other words, you notice when they don’t get enough sleep by an adjustment in their sleep patterns temporarily.

On the other hand, extreme night owls tend to have a difficult time falling asleep, taking anywhere from 1-3 hours to do so, especially if they go to sleep before their natural circadian rhythm indicates.  It is tougher to find their natural sleep rhythms naturally; I find that we had to experiment with what works best, and for how long, until it worked well for them; the test being that falling asleep came more easily (even if with help through something like melatonin), and that awaking came more easily, and they weren’t tired throughout the day.  I found that when left to their own haphazard sleep schedule, bedtime routines were all over the place (one night at 2:00 a.m., the next at 4:00 a.m., the next at 1:00 a.m.), or sleep/wake cycles became flipped (having to stay awake all night and day to flip back or sleeping night and day to flip back to sleeping at night and being awake during the day), and that it affected their behaviors (feeling tired throughout the day or aggravating temperament differences like depression, anxiety or mood swings).  To take further note, getting them up earlier, or at a consistent time (outside of their optimal), when they went to sleep late to help them get a better sleep pattern did not work.  They would still stay up late, but their behaviors would skyrocket as their bodies reacted.

So, what do I do?  I do what works for the individual and family collaboratively.  First, there are some societal conditionings that I came to terms with in order for it to work best for each.  The shoulds are:  early to bed; early to rise; this adage came about during the pre-electricity era.  Our natural circadian rhythms reflected the rising and falling of the sun and so there was nothing to interfere with that working well for most people.  However, with the advent of man-made light, it has changed our circadian rhythms indefinitely.  This is why when there are severe sleep differences, the understanding of the way our body responds to its environment is important to understand.  For instance, my son who is battling depression and has severe sleep differences needed to change his sleeping quarters from the basement where there was no natural light into an upstairs bedroom with four windows and plenty of natural light to assist in many areas of need.

The next should tends to revolve around the same type of thing, but has more connection to our workforce and schooling practices:  Getting to bed in order to get the “proper amount of sleep” of 8 hours backward from when you need to awaken for our cultural practices of the former, usually needing to awaken at 6:00-7:00 a.m. in order to arrive to our designated places.  For instance, in our church, we have a program called “early morning seminary” for our high school students.  Each high school student will gather together either at our church or someone’s house in a central location to study the scriptures together before going to school in order to start their day off right.  In order to accomplish this, it often begins at 6:00 a.m.  Those of my children who are your “regular night owls”, could adjust to this request, certainly still with sacrifice like everyone else, but doable.  Those of my children who are “extreme night owls”, this was a nearly impossible request that physically negatively impacted them.  Another program in our church is for our young men to serve 2 year missions from ages 19-21 years.  There is a strict sleep pattern schedule of bedtime at 10:30 p.m. and wake up at 6:30 a.m.  As much as my oldest son desired to adhere to this structure, his body would not allow it.  It is with the extreme night owls that “willpower” is often not enough.  So, basically, an extreme night owl will lie awake in bed for hours (as will even a regular night owl) when placed in bed at 8:00 p.m. in order to “get enough sleep” as a child, and it just messes with their self-image and adds to the behaviors and tiredness because of it not aligning with their particular sleep rhythms, not the actual quantity of sleep.  In other words, quantity of sleep only benefits when coupled with optimal sleep timing.

Last, the other should I can think of that I had to analyze is the idea of parents creating authority over their children.  My understanding and experience as a child with this is that parents create the structure of the children throughout the day, and decide when bedtime is to be for “their own good”, as well as making sure the parents get a “break” from their parenting job during the day in order to get their “alone time” during the evening hours.  The problem I saw in this as I had originally tried to adhere to this “normal” expectation of a parent with their children as it pertains to bedtimes is that it would negatively impact my relationship with them.  For instance, in order to get a night owl child, and especially an extreme night owl child, to go to bed when they weren’t naturally ready was to either yell at them, punish them, get aggravated with them for constantly goofing off or coming out, and overall just become more tired with the struggle of getting them to bed to get “my time”.  By the time “my time” came, I was exhausted from the battle.  I quickly realized it wasn’t worth it.  It also helped for me to think about my own childhood and the times I just couldn’t fall asleep.  When I was “goofing off”, etc., I wasn’t doing it to be “defiant”, but because I just wasn’t tired.  I gave that same respect to my children and decided to view it differently; well, view it from what it really was:  a child that wasn’t tired.

Alright, so the scene is set to share what works for us this day, with the children I have.  All of the knowledge I have gained above has come through experience, experimentation, contemplation, and collaboration to get where we are today.  What that means is that what I learned from the first few children have benefited the subsequent children, who have had to experience less difficulty from not knowing how to establish their preferred sleeping patterns.  I know better now how to recognize the nonverbal sleep needs of my younger children and the pre-“know-how-to-verbalize” adolescent sleep shifts of my early teenagers.  I hope something can help those of you with similar children.

My 17 year old son and my 19 year old daughter are two of my “regular night owl” children.  My 19 year old puts herself to bed by midnight and wakes herself up at 8:30 a.m. in order to be ready for work at 9:30 a.m.  My 17 year old puts himself to bed around 10:00 p.m. because he is still in the seminary program and has to wake up, which he does on his own, at 6:00 a.m. to be to his class at 6:30 a.m.  My other “regular night owl” is my just-turned-8-year-old son.  We try to have him going to bed around 10:00 p.m., which works for him for the most part.  He wakes up anywhere between 8:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.

As for my four “extreme night owls”, I’ll begin with my youngest two first, because they benefited from what I learned from the others, so it is fairly straight forward for them.  My 9 year old takes 1-2 hours to fall asleep, but usually it is only about the 1 hour if put to bed at his optimal time.  We put his 8-year-old brother to bed first because he falls asleep more quickly (thus, more of a “regular night owl”), and have the 9-year-old play in our large walk in closet for about a half hour.  Then, he goes into bed when the other is asleep and it usually takes him anywhere from the 30 minutes to the hour to fall asleep himself.  I allow this timeframe to fall asleep at this age because I don’t want to do the chemical help until it gets further along, which usually happens around puberty.

So, that leads to my just-about-to-turn-14-year-old pubiescent son.  He used to do a similar sleep pattern as the 9-year-old before puberty, but around 11-12 years old, it was time for his shift.  First, I take into account how his sleep pattern affects others.  With nine people in our house, people share bedroom space typically.  He is one of those in the basement with two others, without walls for the most part.  At the time of his shift, one person who slept down with him had to get up for seminary, and the other wanted to tackle his sleep pattern differences, and needed everyone to be asleep before he could accomplish his needs.  That, factoring in that the 14 year old (then 12 year old) was having a more difficult time falling asleep (now creeping into the 1-3 hour timeframe), it was time to figure out what he needed to have a more easy sleep transition, both in figuring out his optimal time, and what he may need to help him do so.  Midnight seems to be a good time to work toward, and with the addition of melatonin a year later, he is easily able to accomplish this and fall asleep within about 30 minutes.  He wakes up at 9:30 a.m. in order to receive “therapy” for his autism needs, which works for him well right now, though when this need shifts, maybe 10:00 a.m. to noon until puberty passes and then 10:00 a.m. thereafter will probably be a good fit for him.

My oldest 21-year-old son has been the one who has taught me the most, and naturally, being the first and oldest, has had to go through the difficult learning curve of figuring this all out (his younger siblings have a lot to thank him for someday).  He has done all that I outlined above to help us know what doesn’t work.  He started off like his younger siblings:  at around 5 years old or so, he would go to his room to do quiet activities at the same time hubby and I did . . . around 8:00 p.m., and then it was “to bed, to bed time” at around 10:00 p.m. (again, when hubby and I went to bed).  Then, around 8-9 years old, he would be up until around 11:00 p.m.  And then it crept to midnight, etc. until puberty.  This is the timeframe I didn’t understand about the rhythms of my children/extreme night owls, so he went through a lot of rhythms, my expecting them to even out over time, but they didn’t.  He did the early/mid/late sleep pattern shifts, he did the go-all-the-way-around-the-clock even-it-back-up corrections, he tried to go to bed earlier in order to be able to wake up easier for the early morning activities he desired to attend, he tried different alarms in order to awaken more easily, etc.  Depression began around 16 years old, and anxiety hit as he tried to navigate the mission structure at 20 years old.

It was only just before that time, at 19 years old, that I figured out the melatonin connection and worked that into his repertoire.  And, over the past year, I finally put together the tired factor and the behavior factor.  First, he came home from his mission after 11 months because he needed to be treated for sleep apnea as an answer to his extraordinary tiredness he was experiencing his entire mission.  However, upon getting and trying the C-PAP machine, it didn’t change anything for him.  His behaviors continued to escalate as did his anxiety and depression.  Once bottom was hit, I decided to really push the sleep pattern needs.  This is when he came up from the basement dungeon into the lighted room, as well as committing to going to bed at midnight, with the help of melatonin (and my company), and experimenting with when to awaken (10:00 a.m. seemed to be optimal).  His tiredness all but disappeared, but when he slips in his poor sleep pattern, the tiredness returns with a vengeance.  Also, when he sticks to this sleep pattern, his depression and anxiety are more manageable, and thus, less manageable when he slips.

Last but not least is my 16-year-old son with moderate autism.  He gets a class of his own because he is not able to reason his needs with his sleep differences.  So, I have to work with him, and use his autism behaviors to my advantage.  He enjoys routines, so once I am able to ascertain a sleep pattern that works for him, and me, then I can use timeframes to help him be independent with it.  He is one of the few children with his own room (the oldest has his own now, too, because of his depression battle needs) because of his high need for alone time, and his sleep differences.  On the other hand, regardless of what the stereotype of autism is, this son seeks out those who understand him.  True, he ignores most people because he knows they don’t understand his differences of perspective.  But, those of us who get it, he seeks us out constantly.  My hubby, myself, and my daughter are his favorites.  Also, anyone who does “therapy” with him will be someone who “gets” him, so he will seek them out.  So, my bedroom is one of the places he will hang out during the day.  He comes down into the greater area periodically throughout the day, and enjoys being outside from time to time on his own or with the animals.

That said, he comes downstairs at 11:00 p.m. (exactly, you know, because he watches the clock as it gets closer, and he will come to me and declare, “Mom, it’s 11:00!” . . . that’s autism, and it can work in your favor . . . I simply respond, “Yep!”)  This is when he does his computer time.  He loves YouTube, though with his recent added awareness of negative sites, yet lack of awareness of the negative impact, I may need to get him his own playlist (a father of a son with autism created this awesome site that a person can create playlists for your children in order to help keep them from the junk that is available on YouTube, but still enjoy the great stuff there, too).  Anyway, then at 2:00 a.m., he comes to me wherever I am (sometimes I may still be awake with my oldest; mostly not if he is where he needs to be; so usually I am in bed), and he declares to me, “Mom, it’s 2:01” or whatever near 2:00 a.m. time it is, and I respond, “Yep!”  He then goes to his bedroom.  At 4:00 a.m., he comes to me in bed and states, “Mom, it’s 4:00!” and I respond, “Yep!”, and then he says, “Go potty,” and I say, “ah-huh”, and he does so.  He states the time again when he comes out (maybe a half hour or so . . . he’s still a guy, even with autism . . . LOL!), I give him his melatonin, he crawls in bed with my hubby and I in our king-sized bed, and he proceeds to fall asleep within about 30-60 minutes.  (He began to sleep with us when his puberty sleep schedule shifted around 12-13 years old . . . it works for everyone since I know where he is, and he seems to need our connection during sleep . . . patterns have changed over the years since then; this one has worked for the past year.)

So, what does this mean for poor mom’s sleep schedule?  It all depends.  Hubby helps put the younger ones to bed.  Oldest son needs me as he works through his depression, and falling asleep is the hardest time for him emotionally, so I stay with him until around 1:00 a.m. and he is asleep.  I then crawl into bed, get the 2:00 a.m. call, the 4:00 a.m. call, the 4:30 a.m. call, the autism humming and shifting in bed until he falls asleep, and then I awake with the littles around 9:00 a.m.  It is certainly not optimal for my sleep, but the Lord seems to bless me with the capacity to do so as I support the needs of each family member.  I’ve also become accustomed to it all.  Abnormal is normal for me.  And I know it won’t be forever.  And even though I get my “clock calls” throughout the night, he is independent, so I can keep on sleeping.  And I hope depression will recede over time where I can go to bed at my typical 11:00-midnight timeframe.

Most important, though, is that my relationships are strong with each child.  Late nights have been some of the best connecting moments with some of my extreme night owls.  And showing respect for who each child is based on this one aspect of their physical needs impacts their emotional and mental lives more than is realized.  But, above all, it impacts their own self-image and our relationship foundation.  When everyone finds what works for them as individuals, and functions well as a whole in the family, our interactions are strengthened and their lives are in balance.  Frankly, I have found that establishing optimal sleep patterns for each person establishes a smooth overall daily rhythm for the entire home.  It’s definitely worth figuring out.  Thank goodness for the flexibility of homeschooling!

Birthdays

As noted in my previous post, my youngest had his birthday around Christmas Day.  He chose to have a jello cake, that turned out scrumptuous:

And now Alex is celebrating his “birthday week”.  His birthday is officially December 31 and he will be 14.  Alex continues his love of ceiling fans and is currently into “vintage fans”.  With the mentoring of his older sister, he has established his own You Tube channel and has discovered through this venue that there are other “ceiling fan lovers” out there; one right near here in Charlotte even!  They have been his recent inspiration toward vintage, though his Grandpa Draney’s old ceiling fan in his workshop first kickstarted it a few years back.  (The story goes that his Grandpa Draney got the fan from Alex’s great grandpa Bellingar, and once he installed it in his workshop, it has been going non-stop ever since.  These are stories that light up my son’s eyes with interest . . .)

So, first, I had to remind him that Santa doesn’t do “vintage”.   He only does new, so if he gets one, it has to come from his parents (tradition is that there are two Santa presents and one parent present).  So, he was excited to discover that one of his presents under the tree “couldn’t be wrapped” because “they were old”.  I was able to take a stroll at our new downtown that reminds me a lot of the little town I grew up in; at least the architecture being similar.  There were several antique shops, but no vintage CEILING fans, but there were a few vintage TABLE fans.  So, I hoped for the best when I found two at a great price.  Here he is opening his vintage presents:

And here’s what they look like.  The store owner guessed they were 1940s and 1950s, and they both still work:

He was satisifed enough about the idea they were table fans versus ceiling fans, especially when he was told that there are antique stores he could check out with his big sister during their special trips for the work she does with him.  He didn’t waste any time and off they went on the Friday after Christmas.  Lo and behold, there had been a large hardware store downtown that I had originally thought to check out, but didn’t.  And wouldn’t you know, they have some older ceiling fans!  So, guess what he wanted for his birthday present?  He and his dad went on Saturday to make the purchase.  My hubby was pretty impressed with the store (it had a basement as well, wow!).  Here is the great find:

And so Alex’s love of ceiling fans continues to evolve as outlined in a previous post found here.  Who knows what profession Alex will end up in?  Vintage ceiling fan store owner?  Car mechanic?  Time will tell . . .

Happy birthday my two “youngest” boys!

Homemade Books for Gifts By Abbey

Several homeschool bloggers have been talking about what Christmas gifts to get their children, including homemade ones, such as at Magic and Mayhem and at Tricotomania.  So, I decided to share a great idea from my creative daughter for her brothers for Christmas pasts that have been true favorites from each boy who has received it.

Adam is her brother with autism who loves alphabet books and numbers.  So, here are three that have been made and a glimpse inside:

Another brother with autism loves our cats, and even has created personalities for each one:  Socks is the patriarch and wise one, Xena is the tough warrier female cat (yes, her name fits perfectly), Sunflash is the large, fluffy wimp and Momma’s boy, Belle is the prissy female that loves to be beautiful, and Toby is the young rogue thinking he’s all that.  This brother was just into reading short chapter books, so she put her great writing skills to work and created one for each cat with a moral to the story.  Alex still references the lessons learned in these books as he grows within his (literal) outlook on life.

Last, Abbey made books for her younger brothers who love to pretend all sorts of things.  I will make two more posts highlighting in detail two of the more recent books where she really got good at this particular style.  In the meantime, here are a few more in the same genre: