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Check out The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism!

9 Jul

I was hoping that the next post I was writing would be all about the new job I found and the excitement involved in looking forward to a fresh new start in a fresh new place.

I hasn’t happened….yet.  I have had several good interviews and I walked out of each of them feeling like I had hit it out of the ballpark.  These were positions that screamed my name as far as the skills required and my background, experience and desires.  I was wondering “How am I going to choose between them…they all seem great!”  But then days turn into weeks and no follow-up call comes.  One did send an email stating they had hired someone else, and that is totally fine.  It is possible there are some other highly qualified, experienced people who are also looking might be better suited to some spots.  But Some of these seemed SO tailor-made for me.  I’m scratching my head, but continuing to pursue what pening there are and trying not to get discouraged.

You can only imagine Jane’s anxiety.  And my two boys also know that this summer is different because we are not taking any real long trips or vacations and holding on to the money a little tighter.  They know it is all about Daddy’s job.  At least we still have medical insurance for a couple more months.

But I DO have some good news to share!  Liz Ditz has been a sort of guardian angel of my blog since its earliest days, linking, commenting and promoting articles she thought were good, and driving a lot of readers my way.  She is just a dynamo of reading and writing and promoting the cause of disability advocacy.  Every blogger should be so lucky to have a Liz in their readership!

A few weeks ago, she emailed and asked about an article I had written from my IEP series and wondered if I would be interested in participating in a project of contributing it toward a book she and some other folks are working on.  And so after doing some editing and updating, we finished it and you can read the revised version of my article on IEP goals at the Thinking Persons Guide To Autism which will eventually become a print book!  How cool is that?

I invite you to seriously check the blog out, because it has many awesome articles written be some very accomplished bloggers.  I totally wish I had a resource like this in the earliest days of son’s diagnosis.  It is a common sense and scientific look at autism issues without the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth that I see in so much autism literature and articles by parents and professionals in the field while being sensitive to the emotional overhang associated with autism.  There are some great articles there that are worth a look as a professional as well as a parent.  This blog is decidedly parent-centric written by and for parents but is a great resource for teachers and othe professionals too.

Book Review: Autism & Alleluias

8 Apr

A while back I got an email inviting me to review a book, and the publisher even offered to send me a free copy in exchange for doing a review.  This blog does often result in some interesting offers (no job offers tho, haha) but I do not do many of them.  I like blogging because I can do it in my own time, in my own way.  I also do not read a whole lot of books on autism much anymore.  I’ve been around the business enough that I know they generally follow a similar formula.  Basically they tend to follow the story of a couple who give birth to a seemingly normal child and then within 2-3 years discover their child has some sort of developmental delays.  They are thrown into fits of grief, rage and searching.  Then the reader is led through a myriad of treatments and therapies, hoping against hope trying to find a cure.  And each book author has found some sort of cure or recovery story.  Or so it seems.

Autism & Alleluias is not that sort of book at all.  In fact, it is more of a Bible inspirational devotional than a real story.  Kathleen Buldoc may have covered the autobiographical formula in an earlier work, but this one is put together differently.  In 39 little chapters, she conveys a different lesson in each that her son has taught her even in the midst of being nearly overwhelmed by the trials and tribulations of raising a son on the autism spectrum.

Each chapter begins with a Bible scripture, then Buldoc shares a story of something that happened with her son.  It might be a call from the school, trying to sit in church, a vacation gone awry or any number of challenges that all of us parents are familiar with.  She will share her frustration and emotions before also sharing the lesson that each event teaches.  At the very end of each chapter, there is a prayer thanking God for the lessons learned.  It is basically about how she finds God expressed in raising a son with autism.

I found the stories encouraging as this was a good demonstration of the pluck and courage of one mother in spite of some very real and very large challenges.  Her son had many behavioral issues including some that seemed quite aggressive such as hair pulling and grabbing glasses.  It shed a light on how gratitude could be expressed even in some dark situations.

I did buy the book and once my wife reads it, I have no doubt is will be passed along to someone else.  In  fact, when it came in the mail I had to admonish Jane not to run off with it as she was REALLY interested it.  So it is safe to say that just about any christian mother of a child with autism would identify with, and like this book.  It is one of the few that lays out some comfort without a lot of guilt.  Many books that purport a cure,will leave a reader feeling very guilty for not trying it out or doing it, all in the name of finding a cure.  Kathleen does not do that in this book, but she does guide the way into finding more acceptance with her son and finding acceptance with God.

So all-in-all, I would say it was a worthwhile purchase, even though it is well outside of the genre of books that I normally read and buy.  I would be more apt to buy this for someone else rather than myself.  So I think this might make a good gift book for christian parents of children with disabilities, especially autism.

Assessing Students with Disabilities: Some Answers to Interview Questions

16 Jan

I have on several occasions gotten questions from graduate students who are taking classes for which they have to interview a special education teacher. The questions are rarely simple or at least I have problem answering them simply. So the price for answering graduate level essay questions on a Friday afternoon is that I blog them! So guess what Ms. M – consider yourself officially blogged! Hehehe!

These are questions about cognative impairments and assessment.  The school she is getting her degree from uses the term “Mental Retardation” or MR in the questions, but you’ll note that I generally avoid the “R” word in my answers in deference to those who are sensitive to that term.  We do use it as professionals among ourselves, but not as a pejorative as much as well-recognized descriptor and is shorter and easier to write than “Cognative impairment” or “Intellectual disability.”  Not everyone knows what “ID” means.
Keep in mind I’m doing this cold and flying without the net, a textbook or Wikipedia because that is how a face-to-face interview would be conducted. So if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me but no whinging on about it.  I’m not going anywhere to look this up, I’m just answering it as I see fit.  Your fitness will vary.  All other standard disclaimers apply….

#1 What in your professional opinion are the meanings of intelligence and adaptive behavior

Intelligence, to me, is indicated by a person’s ability to solve novel problems and navigate novel situations. While you cannot teach intelligence, you can help it grow by requiring its regular use. Intelligence is the ability to figure things out by pulling together reasoning, experience and observation.

Adaptive behavior is the application of more specific skills in navigating through daily life requirements. There are people with lower intelligence who can survive very well on the street, while your college professor would probably perish if he or she were require to live a week on the street. Adaptive behaviors can be learned and taught and that is a large part of what we do when teaching students with MR.  We can navigate many adaptive behaviors by following a script or series of steps.

#2 What problems are associated with assessing students with MR?

At my level, the problems are legion. This is why “pay for performance” and “accountability” break down so profoundly when we discuss teaching the population of students that I serve. First of all, my students do not produce anything. They are nonverbal and cannot read or write. So right off, that eliminates 99% of all the assessment tools currently used for high school students. Also keep in mind that my students have multiple impairments so they may be visually or hearing impaired. My students are decidedly nonstandard, so there are few if any standardized measures that would work. But even those with less severe impairments will work more slowly, require more support and generally do poorly under standard conditions.

Under any objective standardized scale of performance, my students regularly floor out. There are no high school assessments that give a score at an 11 month-old instructional level. Most simply don’t bother with a percentile less than 20%.

Finally, the fact is due to cognitive and sensory impairments, my students require thousands of trials to learn a single simple task. In one academic year, they MIGHT gain 1 month of learning in some area. I do not know of any initiative by any politician where this would be an acceptable gain. So the politics that drive current assessment practice further discriminate against the most severe students.

#3.What are the characteristics of the students with MR that result in eligibility for special education?

To simplify this, it is a combination of intelligence and adaptive behavior that causes them fall behind in their school achievement. This cannot be caused by a sensory impairment, a specific learning disability or a behavioral disorder and the onset must be prior to being school aged. For those with milder cognitive impairment, this would look like a broad form of a learning disability that is not specific to any one area. Those with specific learning disabilities and many with autism will have performance valleys and spikes, where they may be proficient in one area while being very weak in another. Cognitive impairment cuts across all learning, which is intelligence and adaptive behavior together, are important.

So how would one assess a student with a cognitive disability fairly and accurately? The answer to that is that it will take more than one tool to do it and over some span of time. It will not be easy or cheap. First off, you can use standardized intelligence tests providing they don’t floor out. You can also use adaptive behavior assessments and questionnaires. The questionnaires should be given to parents as well as teachers. Next, do some real-time observations of the student in the actual environment. And then look at actual work products and compare them with same-aged peers. All of these last measures should be done in several settings and across time in order assess the rate of progress. Assessment should always inform instruction, but in practice most of what passes as “accountability” and “performance” nowadays does not.

This is just my quick and dirty take on assessment of students with cognitive impairments so hopefully it helps with the degree as well as gets my readers thinking about assessment beyond the graduation test or CRCT.

Update Post Holiday Break Edition

6 Jan

We went back to school, the kids and I, for the first time in 2010 today (Jan 5th). Originally, yesterday was supposed to be a teacher workday, but the school board moved that workday to the end to try to make room for more furlough days should the state legislature decide that there is too much of a budget shortfall. I was totally fine with that move but I know a lot of teachers really needed and wanted that time to prepare their classes for the new semester. In my program, in matters less since we continue to do what we started last semester despite new course titles and course numbers. I’m the only one in the school with more separate classes than students!

My break was uneventful and calm…just the way I like it! I did my best not to get too entangled in the holiday madness even though some of it is unavoidable. I am dealing with a slight case of Second Life (SL) withdrawal, though. Of all the things I’m plugged into (blogging,youtube, Classroom 2.0, Teachertube, Facebook and the FB game Farmtown) SL has me the most hooked. It combines a lot of nerdiness, with heavy role play with social interaction and the only limit is imagination which is nearly limitless because other people are constantly creating things from their imaginations. I was in-world a lot over the break, up late at night. Back to work means getting to bed earlier which means less SL time.

My students who returned today all seemed glad to be here, albeit some were tired by the end of the day. I know I had a period right after lunch when I was sleepy! but I thinki the restoration of a consistent routine is good for me and most definitely good for my students and my own kids at home. We just do better with a regular schedule rather than too much unstructured time. But to be honest, my oldest did really well with all of the unstructured time. He loves the computer and TV, of course. but also likes doing imaginative play with his brother using Legos or stuffed animals. For the past 9 months his obsession has been the Titanic. When he gets on the web, he is reading all about the titanic. He watch YouTube about the Titanic. He wants to know everything there is to know about the Titanic. His interest does branch out a bit to other ships in the White Star line and other ships in general that sank and finally to just ships. So what to do with someone who has a seemingly narrow obsession?

I bought a book last fall by Paula Kluth called Just Give Him the Whale: 20 Ways to use Fascinations, Areas of Expertise and Strengths to Support Students with Autism. I have to admit that this is not a game changer, but then again I have not found many books about autism that really grab me anymore. I do like that these are simple and practical suggestions of how to incorporate a single fascination and use it to open new doors and expand personal interests in the process. So for those who have kids higher on the spectrum, it might be a handy book to have around.  It is a place I will go when puzzling about what to do with narrow interests areas of expertise of my oldest son.

And this blog is about to turn 4 years old! Whoo hoo! There have been some threats to it since I started and the present climate is every bit as threatening or more so than it was 4 years ago. School officials at every level (building, county, state, national) are simply not comfortable with some unauthorized teacher writing news and views without some explicit control or without their own front-person calling the shots and spinning things to make everyone look good. While I’m not out to make anyone look particularly bad, neither does it have to look good all the time. I think people will respect the honesty involved in saying “Hey, we screwed up! We’re willing to admit it, fix it and move on!”

2010 is going to be a wild and woolly year, I have no doubt about it!

I wonder if I’m the only one who would like a snow day later this week?

Last Day Before Break Edition

18 Dec

Well guess what? My GAA is NOT totally finished! In fact, I haven’t started on #2 at all! So, there you go, I can be as much of a procrastinator as anyone else. And the holiday mindset has been long set around these parts.

Here at the high school, Wednesday and Thursday were days of final exams. And last week was end of course tests (EOCT). So the schedule has been altered for quite some time. For my students, only the last couple of days have been more difficult. They simply do not do well when the schedule is severely altered. They get cranky, they get irritable, loud and sometimes even aggressive. The schedule and routine functions as a source of security for them (and the rest of us, too!) and they rely on that consistency to keep them oriented to time, since they can not really read a clock. So when the exam schedule calls for running the periods backwards or altering lunch time, it throws them and they let their displeasure and anxiety be known.

I wasn’t going to blog this next bit, but I think I will at the risk of offending some of the local folks. The topic is rather soft, but my treatment of it is not. The last couple of days of school, it is common for people to like to throw little parties and such. In elementary school, the teachers do manage to turn it into a theme day and that seems to work most of the time, but still runs the risk of upsetting the schedule for the students. I have no objections to the holiday-themed days with and for students. We did a great one in here last year when we studied Mexico and had a fiesta. No, my beef has been when the teachers decide to throw a potluck luncheon as a small group or department. For most departments, this is probably perfectly fine. And for most teachers, it is probably worry and drama-free.

But for me and my brave little band of paras and students, it represents yet another source of stress. My students need someone to feed them or at least help them feed themselves. They need someone to wipe their mouths, change them and wipe their bottoms. It’s just what we do. But when free food appears, a lot of that gets thrown out the window. We rely on a lot of outside help to feed during lunch and during every single potluck this year, much of that help has evaporated. The reason for this is that it is a potluck and not everyone brings food or enough of it. So there is a rush at the beginning of the lunch period when people are knocking down the proverbial barnyard gate, trying to waddle up to the trough in order to get their fair share. Which means 2 things: 1.) my kids are short changed 2.) My staff is short-changed.

During the feeding frenzy there is much gobbling, grunting and chomping in some nice quiet room whilst the 3 or 4 of us try to feed the 9 kids who are all STARVING – or at least they act like it. And this gets my mood seething and dark, as ?I feel like we are abandoned. By the the time we are finished feeding all the kids, the lunch period is nearly over. And my paras can forget about getting much to eat as the bones tend to be picked clean across the building or wherever the potluck is. There is no way to even participate without leaving the kids with someone…and those people are already at the trough. This is why I am coming to despise the potluck parties in our department. We’ve tried to have them in our kitchen, but the same problems are still there and exacerbated by the traffic and disruption as people are tending their food, heating, stirring, mixing, and serving. Since we somehow end up eating with the kids during these things, it sort of sucks a lot of the fellowship out of it. I have students who have issues with adults talking among themselves and ignoring them which isn’t uncommon among any students/children. Mine just get more active and vocal about it. But we are a very small part of the department, so I would not deprive others of the joy they get out of it. I’m just pointing out that it isn’t the greatest deal for us. The department party this evening, though, should be a better occasion to relax.

So, I probably come off as a bit of a scrooge about a lot of the holiday hoopla but it’s because my kids left behind in so many of the cases. That’s not to say that people do not do extra ordinary things. Yesterday, some of my students were able to watch a show put on by the drama students as part of their final exam. Of course some of my kids wanted to take to the stage themselves! I kept a few of those students out so the actors would at least have a shot at hearing their own cues and passing their finals. But it was nice that we were thought of, and I hope the drama students enjoyed having us as an audience. And the teacher who volunteered to host us for Christmas activities kept the invitation open but I wasn’t able to make it work out. But it was a nice invitation, nonetheless.

As the day wore on (and it wore on forever!) I pulled a page from Erin’s book and got out my Qchord and we played some Christmas songs. I had a few bells and tambourines and had a few of the kids joined in the playing of the music while one of them just danced to it. This got everyone in the mood for lunch, which was a bit of a mess since the cafeteria was in shut-down mode. even the custodians were coming through early, trying to get all the trash cans done. I mentioned to the one in our room that she might want to wait on us until the very last. We still had a mitt ful of students and they all had to have their diapers changed one last time before going home. And having a pile of poopy diapers sitting around for 2 weeks is not something I would like to contemplate.

But I think I got all the required tasks completed, and although tired I am feeling okay with where we’ll pick up next semester.

As for my two boys, they are both handling the holidays extremely well. Of course, Thomas is totally ready for school to be finished but is really doing well during these last few weeks. Not having to fight over the homework is the biggest and most welcome improvement. Percy has always done well, but the stress has gotten to him just a bit and he has had problems with strep and asthmatic conditions. But overall, we’re doing pretty well with the holiday stress and basically trying to avoid it as much as possible. As Thomas would say, We’re “looking forward to some luxurious R & R!”

National Autism Center Report

2 Oct
This just came up on my radar, and I thought I would check it out.
Before I even get into anything about the report itself, I do want to mention that actually getting a copy of the report involves submitting your name, email and state. I looked for any privacy notices regarding this information, but didn’t see any. So before even reading it, I resolved that I was going to mention this hoop that everyone must jump through. I think it is needless and detrimental to the stated primary mission of the organization which is to help professionals and families of individuals with autism. If you’re going to release the report to the public, then release it. If you’re going to harvest information from people who want to see the information, then be explicit about that.
Having said that, I went ahead and submitted my information, trusting that I wouldn’t be spammed into oblivion. I then download all 3 of the options and began reading.

On Vacations and Family Reunions

15 Jul

We’re returning to Georgia, Thomas and I, from our vacation with my folks.  We had a real good time visiting with relatives, swimming, going to the county fair and visiting assorted local attractions in the area.  We stayed busy and Thomas was happy, for the most part.  Most of my relatives have gotten around to dealing with him on his own terms, and he made it very easy by being very good and well-behaved, meaning that he didn’t get into too much trouble.

But that was not always the case.  When he was younger, he did have a penchant for getting into things.  Christmas gatherings were always a chore, because he was forever getting into the tree, presents, decorations as well as all the other bric-a-brac that people have in their homes.  We nearly gave up having a tree of our own.  However, getting to the point we are at now involved a lot of work, firmness, diligence and consistency.  And most of that was from Jane, although this is one area where I was involved in being more of a stone wall in standing firm and expecting good behavior.

But there are things that will never change, no matter how well Thomas does.  He is a curious person and will always have to be supervised to some extent.  And parents can simply not rely on anyone else to do it as well.  We’re not just the first line, we’re most often the only line.  Other relatives often allow their kids to run amok and get into everything and they expect everyone else to watch their kids.  Not so with Jane and I.  That’s not to say Thomas’ grandparents wouldn’t or couldn’t or didn’t watch him, because they are all competent.  1:1, Thomas is a very good child.  But in a large gathering like a family reunion we have seen the wheels fall off, behaviorally.  And this can often make large family gatherings very stressful.

My preference is to keep the events very small, simple, intimate and low stress.  Outdoor venues seem to work well for us, especially if there is sufficient space for Thomas to withdraw from the crowd and excitement if he has the need.  If all else fails, I’ll go ahead and take him out or somewhere to get away, even if it means just sitting in the car for a bit.  The thing is that if he is experiencing stress, so am I.  He likes being around people for the most part, but he does get overwhelmed sometimes.  This is true of all of us at different times.  Sometimes, as a parent I don’t often have a chance to talk to people for very long if I’m responsible for watching him because he will wander off and go his own way.  I jus like to know where he’s going in case he decides he might want to take a hike on the street!

Thomas is always wary of meeting new people and don’t always do well with a lot of hugging that happens when family member greet each other.  But by the end of the week, he was fairly happy to give his grandma a hug which did help make her day.  He got used to other family members and we had a lot good experiences which will make for some good memories.

I’m rambling a bit here, just thinking about the past week and all the neat things we did together.  It was only at the end that he started to get somewhat homesick for his mom and brother, and was ready to go back home.  Overall, it was great to get away with just the two of us.

Autism and Summer Vacation

6 Jul

For the first month of summer, I was reading and learning and generally focused on my teacher-self. But for July, it’s about being the Dad. I mean, I never stop being a parent, but I’m simply blogging it more now. And I recently got an email from someone who is doing some similar things as Jane and I, and wondering if it’s the right thing. So let’s see if I can set her (and your) mind at ease.

My experience is that among all the best things to do with someone who has autism, is to travel. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a kid with ASD who didn’t ride well in a car or bus. Once you get to where you are going, it might be a different story altogather, but generally my experience is that they like to ride. I spent many, many a long night when Thomas was a baby just riding him in the car until he fell asleep. He has always liked to ride. I have kids that I teach who will raise a huge fuss until we get on the bus to go somewhere. Kids that will do nothing else, but when they see the bus, they are totally ready to go.

As I said, once they get somewhere, it is a different story. My son Thomas, like many with ASD, likes things to stay consistent and the same…sort of. He also likes a certain degree of novelty, which going for a ride symbolizes. When he gets in the car, it means something new and exciting. So where are some places to go?

The park is a fairly easy choice, and has the virtue of being free. Thomas loves the swings and will sometimes go on the slide and climb some the equipment. He’s also getting more social, so likes playing and running around with other kids. Even tho it’s with mostly younger kids, he generally has a good time.

Movies are iffy. The first movie we saw was Finding Nemo which went over fairly well, except it was so loud. The next time we went to a theater, he refused to go into the place as it was so loud. The following outing was Polar Express which he definitely liked and loves the DVD to this day. So it’s hit and miss on those and this brings up something important. Just because something works once doesn’t mean it will always work and just because something doesn’t work, doesn’t mean it won’t later.

Jane bought season tickets to the Georgia Aquarium, the Coke museum, the Zoo, the High Museum and the Botanical Gardens. I know that the first time he went to each of those places, Thomas had issues of some sort. Sometimes he wasn’t into it, sometimes he didn’t pay attention and sometimes just wanted to get the heck out of there. But he eventually warmed up to all of these, and found things to like. One thing that I think helped was that after the first exposure, he was given a choice. He could go with his mother to one of these fun places or stay home with his dad and do stuff at home or in the garden. Most of the time he chooses to go with his mother.

Restricted interests are one of the cardinal features of ASD, but over time and with persistence, those interests can be expanded. I’m blogging live from a hotel somewhere in Illinois, as Thomas and I are going up to visit my parents. He is in for some new experiences, and he’s off to fine start. All the way up, he was pretty insistent that he wanted and cheeseburger and fries for dinner. I offered and teased with other choices, but that is wat he wanted and what he was stuck on, tho. I was fine with that, generally, as we are on vacation, afterall. But next to our hotel there was a Chinese buffet. I offered that as a choice and surprised me by accepting that as a good choice. Suddenly he was feeling adventurous.

His fist plate was noodles, onion rings and an eggroll I put on his plate. His second plate he got even more adventurous with some dishes having sweet and sour sauce which he later described as “amazing!” It was a breakthrough of sorts. He decided that trying new things was pretty neat. So we’ll see how the rest of the trip goes.

Sometimes you never can tell what our kids will pick up or what they are attending to. While Thomas often misses obvious things (like we don’t barge in on people in the toilet stall at rest area bathrooms) he picks up on other things like the friendly waiter at the Chinese restaurant who wanted to help him learn how to use chopsticks.

So what do you do if you’re a parent who wants to enrich your child but he/she doesn’t seem interested? I say continue to introduce various novel experiences and then make subsequent visits something that is more optional. After visiting several places of interest, offer choices. You might be surprised when they choose something that they previously didn’t have a lot of interest in. And then be prepared for them to fix and glom onto new things that you never expected. For Thomas, this happened when he went to the Georgia Aquarium and saw the Titanic exhibit. At first he didn’t really like it that much. Then he liked it. Then he really liked it. Then he really, really really liked it, that is he got obsessed with everything Titanic. He can tell you what time it went down, who the captain was, how many drowned and how many survived as well as the fate of the two sister ships. And he continues to obsess on it. You never can tell.

The splinterizing of attention and skills is another cardinal characteristic of ASD that is both fascinating and frustrating. It’s basically an adventure for the rest of us who don’t think or learn that way.

Preparing for Graduation

26 May

It’s that time of year, again.  It’s graduation time for the high school seniors.  This year, I have one student who is walking across the stage.  You might recall a student who used to inhabit this blog who went by the name of Taz.  Like the cartoon character of that name, he rarely simply walks anywhere.  He is like a tornado the way he moves, which has the potential to be a bit unnerving to people looking for an occasion that is more solemn than cartoonish.  That would be the administrators who are only now getting nervous.  I was nervous from the minute I knew his mother wanted him to walk this year.  So we’re walking the tight rope between allowing him to have his moment on the stage while keeping him from being the proverbial twister in the trailer park.

But he’ll be back.  Unlike his peers, he will be returning for post-graduate studies for 2 more years (he’s already 20).  I wish I could say that we had much more to offer hime than custodial care.  I really wish that was the case.  But NCLB has turned us into an academic factory.  The product is a finished assessment and the raw materials are academic standards, technology and creativity.   Since the general curriculum is aimed at college, that’s where we have to aim, with considerable leeway, of course.  But school resources have been totally diverted from vocational instruction to college prep.

Will any of my students go to college?  with IQ’s in the single digits…what do you think?  Are they going to use the algebra, geography and literature I’ve spent all these years teaching them?  Remember, it’s the law.  So what happens to my students when they graduate?  Where do they go?

I recently stumbled into Lance Strate’s Blog, and he writes a post that addresses this a lot better than I could ever do it.  Go over there and read it.

The exit door from my program leads to only two paths.  One, is a funeral.  I’ve done that one too many times.  The other is a waiting list, which all of my graduates end up on, if they don’t take the first path first.  And with funding drying up all over, the waiting lists are going to just get longer and longer.

Learning Latin

28 Mar

No, I am not teaching Latin in my classroom, although we have had brief lessons on Spanish and Irish as part of our social studies dealing with other countries. My students will probably have no occasion to visit Ireland or Mexico, but neither will they use Algebra, Geometry, Statistics or a study on matter or plant tropisms. But we study them anyway as part of our regular curriculum instead of life skills. It’s a NCLB thing. And it’s fun.

No, this is about my son, Thomas, and his own adventures. My wife, Jane, got the idea before Christmas of perhaps homeschooling our boys and giving them a more classical education. She was mainly thinking of doing this with my youngest, Percy, who is at that age where he is keen to learn almost anything. Thomas, OTOH, is more of a challenge. He rather dislikes school and homework and schoolwork and all the stuff that goes with it. Which is to say, he is a lot like his father. But that in no way means that he dislikes learning.

This was recently demonstrated when Jane bought the student and teacher editions of Song School Latin as she was looking at classical education materials. In the end, she decided to make this material available to the boys and supplement what they were learning in school. So she is homeschooling in a way, just not in a conventional way. And she spends a lot of time with Percy, teaching and working with him. But it was Thomas who picked up on this particular subject. In the space of about 2 months, he has memorized the book and the CD that goes with it. He can translate any of the 100 words contained therein. And he did it without writing in the workbook. He read the workbook, but the CDs with the chants and songs were what really helped crystallize it for him. And he did it all pretty much for the fun of it. There are 30 lessons, each supposedly good for about a week. He did the whole course in less than 60 days. And he knows how to use the words properly in the correct context. All without being explicitly taught by a live teacher.

The difference, of course, is motivation. The boy is intrinsically motivated to learn language and languages. Even though he didn’t talk until he was 3, he was reading well before that. And he has always gravitated toward other languages and cultures. He’s currently a bit obsessed with Japanese and always eating with chopsticks. We haven’t said much about this obsession as it does have a side benefit of slowing down his eating so he is not inhaling his food as much. He hasn’t mastered the shovel-method of using chopsticks and we haven’t really taught him just because we’re okay with slowing him down. If he’s hungry enough, he will grab a spoon or fork after laboring with the chopsticks for awhile. The chopsticks, for him, make good, cheap and functional reinforcers!

But back to the Latin, it has been an education for me to witness the power of simple motivation. So often teachers and parents try to drill content into a kids’ head when altering the presentation can make all the difference. Making it fun seems to make all the difference, and Latin itself has side benefits in the way of new vocabulary and grammar. It is not something that most kids would just glom onto and I’d bet that if the school system made in mandatory, Thomas would not have touched it with a 10 foot pole. But since it is just for fun and is totally outside of what is going on in school, he’s more inclined to just go for it.

Compared to Percy, Thomas is a total challenge in the classroom setting. Learning how to reach and engage students like him is what the profession is all about. Watching the boy learn a year’s worth if Latin in 60 days has been quite an education. But he still can’t tie his own shoes. He still hasn’t learn how to dry himself after taking a shower.

This really is the challenge of high functioning autism/aspergers. They can be absolutely brilliant in so many instances but nearly hopelessly helpless in some of the most basic aspects of life!