Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Monday, August 30, 2010

School Worries

The supplies are bought.  The uniforms ready.  I've even had a few words with the teacher about preparing for the sensory challenges of an echoing lunch room.  The start of school is two days away.  There are so many things for which one can't prepare.

My son will have the same teacher that he did last year.  There many good sides of this fact.  There is a mostly positive relationship already established.  This man is wonderfully responsive to most concerns and communicates with me regularly.  He is within the warm-to-stern zone that works for my son.  If someone is too strict, my son writes them off and will gleefully push every button he can to get them irritated.  If someone is too wishy washy, he'll gladly step all over them.  I especially like that this teacher will look for ways to prevent my son's sensory and social challenges from interfering with his learning.  On the other hand, there's the issue of punishment vs. natural consequences.  I haven't been successful in gaining understanding of this concern.  As a fellow mom blogger wrote:

"...Punishments do discourage unwanted actions. Rewards (the positive flip-side of punishment) do encourage desirable actions. But both are ways of controlling the child as opposed to helping the child learn to control himself in a rational way. In fact, punishments and rewards encourage ... the child to look to others for an indication of whether he has done right or wrong. He learns to expect consequences (positive or negative) to come from others--not reality. And he doesn't learn why right and wrong actions are right and wrong--only that others say so."

So, that's my first concern.  My son responds to things like his name on the board, losing play time, and other punishments in an angry, tearful manner.  He quickly moves to hating the punishing adult when there isn't a reality based vs. punishment based link between the action and result.  I don't want him to see his teacher as a bad guy.  It was dicey sometimes last year, but we managed to avoid that conclusion.

My second concern is all the new transitions which tend to bring out sensory challenges.  The loud hallways led to overload a lot at the beginning of last year and he would cope (poorly) with hitting.  This isn't a big concern because I've identified it and can give him squeezy toys and other tools for getting positive sensory input.  The biggest issue will likely be recess again where he seems to constantly misinterpret body language and think someone is trying to hurt him (responds with what comes across as aggression).  We're working on it and he's become much better at looking at other options or interpretations.

Finally, the concern of being bored.  There are many social areas where my son needs work and he's only mildly "advanced" in math, but he is vastly beyond grade level in reading and so many things in the classroom revolve around enhancing that function.   From the time allowed for reading directions to the joint classroom activities, reading much easier for my kiddo.  When he's focused on understanding the classroom and how other kids work, it's actually good that he has the extra time.  That doesn't last more than a month though and then it's very tricky to find the right challenge.  HIs usual response is that any option is either too easy or too difficult.  I haven't found any regular math/ writing / reading activity which he doesn't respond to with an "I don't want to" fairly rapidly.  

I didn't expect public school to work for us this long, but I wonder if homeschooling would actually be better.  For example, in math over this summer, he loved: the Montessori materials for a week, doing math problems for a few days, playing Parcheesi with adding for a few days, completing DreamBox lessons for a week, doing a few pages of a workbook for a day, using the abacus for a few days, and so on.  He rarely is interested in returning to a method.  In school, they work through a workbook from beginning to end.  He enjoys the routine, at school, and that he's good at it.  He'll tell me that things are too easy occasionally, but any options of trying something more challenging he doesn't use.  When I ask him about it, he usually comes back to wanting to stay with the class materials.  So... we'll see what the school year holds.  I know they won't take tickle breaks like we do at home, but hopefully there will be enough positives to capture his joy in learning.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thyroid Update: Weaning, Still Looking

I've been weaning myself off thyroid meds because I don't think they've made any appreciable difference.  I may be wrong, but I think I'm not cold and lethargic because it's summer and I got my iron up!  So, we'll see if I have any change.  I felt bad when I followed the naturopath's recommendation to increase my T3. Now I'm back to the starting dose and we'll see if I notice any change when I go lower.  There's always desiccated thyroid that I could try now that my low iron is addressed.  

I've come to the conclusion that temperature is just not a good basis for tweaking thyroid medication for me.  My temperature just varies too much and I wonder if it's related to a different hormonal issue.  My basal temperature did not change with taking T3, in continued to range all over.  (The naturopath recommended increasing T3 based on continued low normal free T3 levels and lack of consistent afternoon temperatures above 98.0.)  Anyway, we'll see how I stabilize on paleo diet and exercise.

I've found that decreasing the thyroid medication has led to some weight gain, but I'm hoping that's transient.  I saw some success with completing meals before 5pm, but then my weight plateaued again.  It definitely seems to be a trial to get past a certain point with just paleo eating and exercise.  The naturopath also recommended a trial of Low Dose Naltrexone which is supposed to help with autoimmune issues.  I haven't researched it yet, but they have a website and this book was published in 2009 The Promise Of Low Dose Naltrexone Therapy: Potential Benefits in Cancer, Autoimmune, Neurological and Infectious Disorders

My plan for now is to finish this weaning process and just see how I'm feeling before considering other actions.  I have already weaned off the stomach acid, amino acids, and iron.  I've decreased the iodine to 1/3 tab of Iodoral.  I haven't been able to remove the Melatonin yet without sleep disturbances, but I wonder how much of that is thyroid related.  I'd like to get back to just taking a multivitamin with some fish oil and perhaps a week of iron/iodine each month.  We'll see how it goes... I'm still looking and figuring out but it's grand to not be getting sick every week!


I've got a new Italian term to share!  Squillo (which is pronounced squeelo).  It means ring or ringing and it's the place where the voice rings and is forward in the head with the soft palate up.  Doesn't that just sound like an eager, happy, squeeeee kind of word!  I can't even write it without smiling :) 

Things to share:
Awesome compact condo.
This Week's Objectivist Round Up.

Cute antics:
• noting that I was having a hard time finding a tune that he couldn't identify, he said "You keep un-stumping me."
• commenting out of the blue, "It would be a bad idea to jump rope gun shots."
• describing something he forgot as "giving me chances to remember".
• stating that remembering his vitamin (white pill) in the morning, "Oh, It makes me forget the red pill."  [allergy med in the evenings]
• telling me, "My brain isn't always right, but it's right right now!"
• evaluating dessert, "It's better than good, it's greato!"

Naturally, when picking up apples, one must have mom's halloween hat.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Feeling Competent

I'm again spurred to comment by an article in a particularly intriguing autism e-zine.  I've found the parenting ideas consistently useful and generalize-able.  (Their book was the third in my top parenting books post when the blog was brand new.)

So, the topic of the article in this week's e-zine was "Building Competence" and here is the passage that has me thinking.  
"The funny thing about competence/incompetence is that you can see it manifested in people’s behavior. When people are feeling competent about their skills or abilities in a given activity, they are relaxed, happy, and more willing to participate. Things seem to go smoother, and the result is usually positive. When moments of competence are spotlighted, those memories are stored and can be used later to build new areas of competence.
When a person is feeling incompetent about their abilities in a given area, they may appear tense, sad, angry, or defiant. They may also have a more difficult time performing, or even refuse to participate. Many times when we see a negative behavior in a child, we think that s/he is just being defiant or naughty. In reality, what the child might be trying to communicate are feelings of incompetence. The child who complains about a task or says things like “This is so dumb” or “I hate this” may really be saying, “I feel incompetent. I need help.” It is much harder to engage a person who is feeling incompetent, and this can lead to negative outcomes. Unfortunately, a negative outcome creates negative memories that lead to even more feelings of incompetence, perpetuating the cycle."
So, it's basically the same idea as addressing anxiety, but it's more of a positive focus on what a kid can do and pointing out those accomplishments, adding to their self esteem bank.  I hadn't put it quite in those terms, but when I notice a success, I do point it out and my son loves to talk about how he accomplished it.  One recent example that has been hugely powerful is the playing of Rush Hour.  He used to find it difficult, but he practiced and practiced and reached "grand master" level.  The especially cool thing was that he identified that as he practiced, the skill got easier and easier.  In the last month, I've been able to use that experience at least a dozen times and he's willing to do more practicing, to gain a skill, realizing it will get easier!
I've also found the autobiographical memory boards serve this same function.  They highlight an area of accomplishment and thus build a feeling of competence.  The pictures are there and my son can evaluate for himself what progress he has made.  The key aspect I see as distinguishing these from some form of praise is that it is all based on observation and reference back to reality.  It's not stating something like, "You're such a great reader."  My son only gets my evaluation in that statement and it doesn't help him decide if he believes it or if it's true.  But, when I do an autobiographical memory board on reading or note that the books he's reading are much more complicated than they used to be, he can take the facts for himself and decide what his conclusions are.  For reading, he came up with: 
I am a person who: 
• has a jiffy brain
• can read hard books even to late-in-the-year fourth graders [The grade level of books he was picking out of the library at the time.]
• works hard
• wants to learn new things all the time
• is able to do things by myself

These are profound, self affirming conclusions and they build that competence bank from which he can draw.

(Two hundred page Beverly Cleary novel?  No problem for this six year old... when awake!)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Genies, Spirits, Nuns

This incident was just too delightful not to share and this is certainly a good spot for sharing :)  Over the last week, I've been doing a different kind of Mommy School.  My son was starting to balk at the Montessori math materials, poetry, writing, and other activities.  So, we sat down together and chatted about what would be more fun.  We have a new writing workbook and he's doing Dream Box for math and we're reading and... I pulled out videos.

Videos are one of my son's favorite things to do and they offer us awesome opportunities to discuss people's motivations and feelings (see Movie Freeze Game).  This past week we watched Oklahoma, Sound of MusicAladdin, and The King and I.  Of course, my son asks lots of questions about these movies we watch (plus I love that he sings the songs for days)!  He'll often be contemplating the movies for days too and then spontaneously share his conclusions.  So, picture an enthusiastic six year old, delivering his verdicts with kid gusto.  He decided that genies and spirits in the sky were pretend.  He then exclaimed with the most incredulous voice, "But, there are real nuns!"  I had to admit it.  We'll see how the rest of processing The Sound of Music goes!

The conversations where I just listen and reflect and am awed by his honesty are priceless.

Friday, August 20, 2010


If it's 100F and your husband really wants to practice canoe safety... it's time to get dumped in the lake!  We had a family outing to a nearby lake where we tied up to buoy and practiced getting back into the canoe after some dramatic falls into the lake :)

Other things to share:

This week's Objectivist Round Up.

Cute antics:

• when I called downstairs to Andrew with, "Your son is almost through with another 200 page book!"  Cameron corrected me, "NO! I'm just at 159... [flipping sound] 160."
• insisting that he would eat wombats in Australia!  (Um, we were talking about eating fish and sea weed if we lived on a boat.  Then we got to talking about the animals in Australia and Andrew was joking about eating koala bears and somehow we got on wombats and Cameron was adamant, while laughing, that he would partake!)
• conversation while putting together legos:
Cameron: Beef! Beef!
Rachel: What?
Cameron: The lego beef.  No, steak.
[Thoroughly perplexed, I paused in the dishes to understand this mysterious communication.]
Cameron: I almost have the stove made I'm proud of myself.
[Ah, that would be a little lego turkey leg that goes in an oven in the house he was building.  I didn't realize food was involved, so lego beef or steak were equally confusing!]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Isn't that a great word?!?!  I learned this week that that's Italian for: consuming large amounts of a particular local ingredient while it is in season!

Other things to share:

This week's Objectivist Round Up.

A jaw dropping, cool dance video!  

Cute antic: 
• He lost the remote to turn off the light and called down with this statement, "The only idea I can come up with is pulling the lamp in two."  (I was able to suggest unplugging it and he informed me that that was effective.)
• developing a new sweatshirt style... that would be backwards with the hood sticking out under his chin.  He told me he could use it to gather apples.  

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Update #4: Autobiographical (Episodic) Memory

Such a fun activity!  We're continuing on and did this board on "figuring things out".  Looking at the pictures, noting how he used to "figure things out" by putting things in his mouth and last night he read a 200+ page book to himself, we were primed to note changes!

These were his conclusions.  I'm a person who:
• is usually very curious.
• practices to learn things.
• figures things out by reading.
• uses jiffy thinking to understand lego directions, games, and other new things.

I love how this helps him see progress, build a positive self-image and is all reality based!  He doesn't have to take my word for it.  The pictures are right there and he can compare them for himself :)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Anxiety, Angst, that Internal Ahhhh Response

Last year, I started bringing my son to visit Ms. Carrie for "play dates".  My goals was for him to have a safe place to discuss feelings and social challenges outside of the home as he grows.  I wanted the relationship to be established and vibrant when it's needed.  This past week, Ms. Carrie had an insightful comment to share.  She said that she saw my son as anxious in social situations.  She said that his anxiety around not understanding how to get people to do what he wants led to him being controlling / aggressive when flexibility was required.  In other words, because he often doesn't know what to do to work together with someone, he just demands something and they get angry or frustrated.  

BUT, when he is completely comfortable in a situation, he is highly flexible and responsive.  This has me thinking about some of the ways I can help him as the school year starts.  There will be new, uncomfortable social situations for him.  I'm thinking that I'll pull out social stories  (one of my first posts) from my tool box and start talking about all those constructive choices he can make (verbal requests for time, physically moving himself away, etc.).  I've seen that worried look on his face, but I hadn't identified anxiety as a potentially key issue confounding his learning.

This is an article on anxiety and Autism that I was reading recently.  In this case, the issue is the teacher / parent's response.  I think one of the most powerful ideas is to slow down.  Whenever the concern starts to mount, giving time to cope can make all the difference in preventing a break down.  My kiddo is still so emotionally young, but he is progressing with every skill and experience.  I'm curious if anyone else has experience with anxiety in kids and what techniques have worked for you.

(If he's doing well building a lego masterpiece, he's glad to change position for vacuuming or have whatever is "handy" for lunch.  If he's not feeling successful, the flexibility goes out the door and everything is a tragedy.  This topic definitely deserves more Mommy thinking :)  .)

Friday, August 6, 2010

iMac Love

After months of joint musing about my computer challenges, my husband surprised me by bringing home a new iMac!!!!!!!  It's so pretty :)

Other things to share:
This week's Objectivist Round Up.
Cute Antics:
• "That's a prohibitty mail." (Reading the "Priority Mail" box.)
• explaining why he was choking, "On purpose, I put jerky into my trachea. I wanted to make sure it was the wrong pipe."
• adding two bear cubs to one of the creepiest places in Lord of the Rings. (We were doing a visualizing exercise on the tunnel entrance to Shelob's lair.)
• requesting game time with Andrew, "We have time before you extremely, extremely, extremely have to go to work."  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Teaching by Essentials

As I've been doing my homework for Scott Powell's history teacher apprenticeship, I have been asked again and again to communicate the essentials of a given historical period.  My teacher asked me to introspect on why I had been particularly successful in this process and my primary hypothesis was that I have had extensive practice communicating within a limited context..  When I communicate with my son, if I start adding in extraneous (in his mind) details, I lose him.  As a maternity nurse, when I would teach a new mom how to care for her infant, adding in the latest dozen theories would only add angst.  I've consistently found that essentials are the gem in communication of new material and most specifics are worth saving for next level requests.

For example, how to communicate the complexity of political systems?!?!  This started with a conversation about pharaohs and dictators prior to viewing the musical Joseph and his Technicolor Dream Coat. Kids tend to be very into making their own choices with all that budding independence :) I said that in a country with a dictator, the dictator got to make all the choices. In a democracy, most of the people or the majority got to make the choices; it didn't matter what each person wanted. In a republic with rights rules, each person got to make their own choices as long as they didn't hurt anyone else. (My husband  did something similar with economic systems regarding decisions on property. )

I left out everything about mixed cases, elections, constitution, congress, courts, military.

Eventually we delved deeper into how many of those other topics work and he has come back to the subject often. He doesn't want to visit anywhere that doesn't "have rights". 

Again, I think the key in communicating a new concept is providing a graspable chunk. If my son can't get that chunk, then he's not going to come back to learn more. The whole opportunity will be lost in a fog of details (sinking concretes) and nothing remains retained.

I think Scott Powell does a superb job of recognizing this challenge for anyone learning new material in his History At Our House curriculum and I'm thoroughly enjoying learning more from him.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gracie Bullyproof

Having so thoroughly enjoyed this friend's recent post and the fascinating comments thread about mistaken goals, I was primed to contemplate the teaching claims of our home based Jiu Jitsu curriculum.

New Video: How to Teach Your Child to be Bullyproof

 Hmmm, I love this method for making a physical skill fun and desirable for a kid.  I wonder how far it generalizes though.  I also wonder about the age.  I think this is a completely reasonable way to correct a toddler, but I think a teenager would see this as dishonest.  It also makes me wonder about making a kid praise focused.  These guys are so winning and the kids have so much fun and they make Jiu Jitsu a completely positive experience.  They claim this form of silent correction with verbal praise made them into teenagers who were positively bonded to their parents and did not rebel destructively.  I need to think more about their methods outside of Jiu Jitsu.  I don't understand how they would respond to a kid swearing at them or trying out stealing in a purely positive manner?  My impression so far is that they've found a highly effective way of teaching a physical skill and encouraging positive bonding time between parent and child.  However, I don't think their methods generalize well beyond that point.