Monday, November 29, 2010

Think Pun Thoughts

Mr. Putney's Quacking Dog
Here's a book recommendation direct from my son:
Jon Agee's Mr. Putney’s Quacking Dog 
“I like it because of the very funny jokes.”
Agee really appeals to my boy because
of the word play. Like many of Agee's books,
Putney dispenses with conventional
narrative to better indulge in 
outrageous word related silliness.
Putney lives with a wacky menagerie
of animals who often make
themselves useful in punny ways.
Each morning, Putney's alarmodillo wakes
him for another day playing with his
anteloop and taking care of his poor
ill hippospotamus.
My ten year old loves this book and 
would have loved it any time these past
five years. I worried a little lest he fasten
on the jokes too strongly (as boys with or
without autism sometimes do) but he 
contents himself with occasionally
saying "Alarmodillo. Do you get it?"
or the like remark. 
This imaginary world works well for
kids who enjoy word based silliness
with a solid structure visible beneath
the nonsense.
-Spectrum Mom

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where's the Post?

Happy Thanksgiving!
Since I should be putting away groceries and cooking and cleaning and taking care of kids, I'm putting in a teaser for the brand new essay I wrote for Toon Books at their website. Don't worry, if you don't want to go there, I'm sure there's probably one or two of the 80 plus posts on this website you haven't read . . .
The wonderful people at Toon plan to pay me a little for writing the essay, but I would have written the same words for free (don't tell them though)
Otto's Orange Day (Toon)
Why I Recommend Toon Books for Children with Autism
The growing number of children diagnosed with autism today presents many challenges for parents, educators, and society as a whole. As the mother of a boy with autism, I focus a lot of my attention on his reading, because reading is a skill that opens so many doors. While the supporters of that notion seem innumerable, reading support specifically designed for the child with autism is far harder to find.
.  .  .
[continued at http://toon-books/blog] 
The Toon website also has cool graphics, a cartoon maker, video and other cool stuff-I found the cartoon maker a little complicated, but a very neat idea]
Happy Turkey Day Week! gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble gobble
(yes, I'm a bit of a turkey this week .  .  .)
-Spectrum Mom

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's Never Too Late

Late for School!
"Do you remember the book Late for School?"
my boy asked Saturday.
"No, did you read that at school?"
"No, at home," he said.
"When?" I asked.
"October 10, 2008."
"No I don't remember it."
"He changed the rule from 'Never be late for 
school' to 'Try your best to be on time.'"
With that, my son ran off.
Thanks to his description, I remembered 
the book and its hapless protagonist, a 
strictly punctual teacher on a Murphy's 
Law day. I recommend it for elementary
school tykes, especially those worried
about getting places on time.
Any time my older son initiates a topic I'm
all attention, trying to make a connection
and encourage the habit of conversation
without pushing him too far past his 
comfort zone.
This time he surprised me, because he 
seemed to be pursuing a train of thought
to address a feeling. He worries when we
may be late, but he has become much 
better than in the days when the thought
of lateness inevitably brought screams and
sobs. Now I wonder if he's been thinking  
of this book when we're a few minutes
behind our time. 
How wonderful if he is!
And what else can we read to soothe
his fears of getting the world wrong?
-Spectrum Mom

Friday, November 19, 2010

A funny, punny world of words

The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary (I Can Read It All by Myself Beginner Books)
What room should you eat vegetables in?
asks my son, "A mushroom."
Then we have a long discussion on 
mushrooms really being fungi, and
discuss very seriously the mushroom's
claim to be a good friend because
he's a fungi and the plural of fungus
being fungi and not fungis and the
necessity for breaking grammatical
rules for jokes until he strategically
tells another joke-"What is a teletubby's
favorite vegetable? A potato. Do you
get it? Because one of the teletubbies
is named Po." This time I refrain from
pointing out that a potato is a tuber.
Words, the meaning and sound of them
are both a delight and a trouble to him
(as I suppose they are to us all, but
I'll avoid that philosophical path here).
He loves his Cat in the Hat Dictionary
and reads it like one of his Dr. Seuss
books, voluntarily and often. He's
had it since he was five. 

The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
About a year ago (age 9) he started asking
about the meaning of common words on a
regular basis. I'm still unclear how much
of this is a quest for knowledge and
how much for reassurance. But at 
homework time he's started a new
"Let's look in the dictionary,"
he says and does. 
remember my childhood
trips to the mammoth tome
in the living room, but for my
boy with autism, a more
manageable and brightly illustrated
volume makes sense.
We had to model and coach, but 
after a year or two he now uses
the book on his own and it's 
proved a good investment.
Now if I can just get him
interested in those children's
encyclopedias .  .  .
-Spectrum Mom

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Learning by Numbers

Presidents of the United States of America Placemat
Yesterday my husband asked which our son 
liked better, science or humanities 
(what I knew as social studies).
"Both," he replied.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because there is a picture of a plant
cell on page 36 in the Science book, 
and there is a list of the states on page
6 of the Humanities book," said my
I started to point out that teachers care
about what's in the book, not what page
it's on, but my husband spoke over me
to ask if it felt good to know what page
things are on in the book. He didn't answer.
It must feel good to him to know, because
he always does. Associating knowledge
with a number gives him some kind of
reference he needs, and I guess it doesn't
matter that page numbers change from
book to book. I guess he'll learn the new
If non-math has numbers, he learns it
easily. While other kids learn definitions
from context, he doesn't. But he's had 
placemats of the presidents and 
of the United States and he's memorized
the order of the presidents and when
all the states joined the union. 
No one suggested he learn this, he just
did. He can even do "president math" and 
"states math" adding and subtracting them
the way he used to do months and the
alphabet when he was four.
He can also tell you the date we started
and finished any book in the last four
I guess the takeaway is we shouldn't 
fight the numbers. But I still find it hard
to work with them. They seem like a 
distraction from the ever more complex
task of text comprehension.
What might work? And how does the
world add up for the child you want to
-Spectrum Mom

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Retell Me a Story

Little Red Riding Wolf (Seriously Silly Stories)

You know what's fun? Knowing
what comes next. You know what
else is fun? Not knowing what 
comes next.
Children with autism usually like
predictability. The world is extra
chaotic if you can't recognize faces
or a piece of string captures your
attention more easily than a friendly
By the time kids start to read for 
themselves, they have a repertoire of
the stories that we tell our 
kids over and over again (fairy tales)
and know what will happen next when
the title has "Red Riding Hood" "Goldilocks"

"Frog" or "Three Pigs" in the title.
A good retelling may keep closely to
the original and successfully rely on 
beautiful illustrations for its appeal.
But many change either or a little or
lot, often to the delight of the child
reader who gets the joke because the
story is so familiar.
So when my child had an assignment
to read a book in an evening, we went 
for a retelling of a familiar favorite.
This "Seriously Silly Story" changed
the plot quite a bit, but the touchstones
remained: a girl, a wolf, a riding hood, 
a sick grandma,  a basket of goodies,
and a woodcutter. It did not bother my
son that the wolf wore the riding hood
and carried the goodies, the girl pretended
to be a sick wolf grandma, and grandma
wolf was the woodcutter.
The book has ample black and white
illustrations and is written at an 
elementary friendly level.
Mixing the familiar and the new is
a way to engage readers, and the
mix may be especially helpful for
readers who have challenges learning
the world, and appreciate already 
knowing part of the landscape
in fictional new worlds.
Wishing you vast new worlds of
the pleasantly familiar.
-Spectrum Mom
Featured book:
Little Red Riding Wolf
by Laurence Anholt

Monday, November 8, 2010

Little Boy, Little Boy, What Do You See?

Thinking In Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism
Temple Grandin, perhaps the most
well-known and widely read person
with autism on the planet, explains
her comprehension process as hearing
or reading a word and then mentally
flipping through all her visual referents
for that word. One reason I favor strong
picture support in the books I suggest
for readers with autism is because 
such a process takes time and
attention away from the material
presented. If the picture comes first,
the reader may read the words without
having to screen a whole gallery of
Of course, I don't know if my child
or yours visualizes the way Ms. Grandin
does. Judging by his descriptions and
illustrations, my son has mind's eye
trouble (an ailment hilariously described
by humorist Robert Benchley) and sees
very few details in his head at all.
He still works with the "Visualizing
and Verbalizing" curriculum at school
(see August 25 post). But he wants
pictures of the characters-now,
Hamlet and the Tales of Sniggery Woods
Yesterday I tried to have him read
Hamlet and the Tales of Sniggery
Woods to himself, a lavishly 
illustrated volume. But to my boy,
a page is a page, even if it has just
one word on it, and no way was he
going to read a chapter with 30 
pages. So I read it to him after dinner
together with his little brother and
my big guy reading Hamlet's 
words and thoughts (to open a cafe,
or not open a cafe, that was the
question). The reading went well
with a minor glitch when King
Heron showed up in the text
before he showed up in the 
pictures. "Where's King Heron?"
and back through the pages
he went as his brother screeched.
He illustrates stories with 
characters in stasis, never in 
Stasis-I can understand wanting 
that in a random and chaotic 
But what does he see?

-Spectrum Mom

Friday, November 5, 2010

We Talk Silly Most Days

In the Deep (Andrew Lost #8)
Here's Andrew Lost again, in the deep this 
time. My son continues to follow Andrew, 
but his enthusiasm is reserved for Thudd.
You know he's paying attention to what 
he's reading when he uses expression and 
neither sings nor shouts.
Last time I wondered how we could get
his attention, knowing full well that if
someone else asked me this I would
blithely say, "find books on topics that
interest him."
That's hard with my son. It's not that he
doesn't have interests, but most of them
don't translate well to book form. He likes
math, but not books about math; music,
but not books about music, etc.
But he loves word play. And he loves 
talking silly-in fact, trying to keep him
from changing the words in a book to 
silly ones can be a big problem.
Orangutan Tongs: Poems to Tangle Your Tongue
So word play books like Jon Agee's are 
But what about helping him read a story?
A book must have characters who have 
their own language or funny way 
of talking-like Thudd in Andrew Lost,
or Mouse in My Father's Dragon.
Comment or e-me with your own
picks for funniest sounding fictional
character-please? I'll share.
-Spectrum Mom

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Attention Anyone?

On the Reef (Andrew Lost #7)
My son started reading the Andrew Lost 
books last year at age 9. Then he didn't 
read any for several months. One night he 
was talking like funny characters from 
books and I asked about Thudd 
(Andrew's robot) and he remembered him 
so back to the books we went. He likes them 
and reads them readily enough, though he 
calls them hard to read. Anything but a 
basic picture book he calls hard to read.
Your average reader would read these in
second or third grade, but older kids might
snack on these as quick fun reads.
Pictures continue to be vital, 
for a reason I've not yet mentioned.
My boy needs a reason to read, and
finding out what's happening in a 
picture gives him one.
He reads, but he doesn't pay attention
to the story. He pays attention to the
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
aloud he changed words to their opposites, 
sang words, and switched words around.
When asked what the story was about he 
"I don't know I wasn't paying attention."
Anyone else have this problem with a
child? Anyone have a solution?
-Spectrum Mom