Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas Geronimo!

My son has a great assistant at school and she's noticed that
he sometimes writes "tall" tall. And so she gave him a 
wonderful gift for Christmas-A Very Merry Christmas 
by Geronimo Stilton. He started reading these books in
third grade and enjoyed the way "Geronimo" writes his
words, making "tall" look tall and "frosty" look frosty.
The Stilton series is immense and includes entries from
Thea Stilton too if you have a girl who prefers to read about
girls. The humor, plots, and emotions are 
simple and there are enough illustrations (in addition to
the illustrative words) to help the reading along.
At eleven my son is on the far upper range for these books,
but they are a good choice for readers on the elementary 
school level or for kids like mine where the main idea is 
to keep them reading.
Have a very happy holiday!
No book review next Wednesday during the holiday week,
but I'll be back in the New Year.
-Spectrum Mom 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fall Mixed Up

Fall Mixed Up
Bob Raczka/illustrated by Chad Cameron
"Every Septober, Every Octember
Fall fills my senses with scenes to remember
Apples turn orange
Pumpkins turn red
leaves float up into blue skies overhead"
Here at the very end of Fall 
(yes, I know but Winter officially starts on the Winter Solstice)
one last book with giggles for all.
This is the kind of picture book that always has
and still does appeal to my boy. Lots of silliness
and rhymes. Depending on your kid's level, you
can have fun and teaching moments pointing
out what the book gets "wrong" (do apples
turn orange?). 
On a more holiday note, if you're looking for book gifts,
the box set of Lobel's Frog and Toad is a great choice
for beginning readers.
Happy giggling and shopping,
-Spectrum Mom

Friday, December 9, 2011

Education Professional-Part Two

"Puzzle" by Grace Goad*

Last week I excerpted (with permission) a few comments from one
of the gifted education professionals working with my son. Here's a follow-up 
note in response to my query about the five paragraph essays:

"From here on out, writing five paragraph essays will be required in most subjects 
at one time or another. Using the “formula” for writing an essay, with the support 
of graphic organizers, I am hopeful that he will independently begin to use these 
supports to complete assignments. 
That is my goal at this point. I believe with the overall goal being an increase in 
reading comprehension, this is a good way to support that while working on
 classroom assignments at the same time. 
You can always find the thinking maps we are working on in the laptop." **

This approach to the difficult task of engaging, sustaining, and testing conventional 
comprehension for a child who connects with text through his own matrices
(today he was writing a song for every two pages of an old picture book,
Ruby's Beauty Shop) may help him understand the more neurotypical
method of reading a book.  Fingers crossed, and many thanks to his talented
specialist and teachers for sharing and caring.


*Read more about this beautiful painting and Grace Goad, the wonderful young artist who created it,
at Leisa Hammett (GraceArt in SOHO! October 21, 2011).

** thinking maps-a way to generate and organize thoughts before you write, they're using the Inspiration
software program.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Detective Little Boy Blue

Have I mentioned that my eleven year old likes nursery rhymes? 
(Oh, only about a dozen times or so .   .   . )
Since I strongly advocate taking an interest and streeetchiiiing
it, I'm trying to practice what I preach here.
Yes, Nursery Rhyme Comics and Detective Blue may skew
a bit young for my son, but I don't think he's ready for
Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy yet.
And he sure glommed on to Detective Blue fast, quickly 
spotting all the other nursery rhymes hidden in this narrative
of the eponymous cerulean rhyme child who has grown into 
trench coated fedora wearing missing person case solving.
This is graphic novel lite with big panels and big letters.
There's enough silly stuff going on here to keep the interest
of older kids, but the narrative is straight forward with no
hidden subtexts. This will be a good match for most kids
age four and up-how far up depends on how much they
like being silly about nursery rhymes.
-Spectrum Mom

Friday, December 2, 2011

An Education Professional at Work-Part One of Two

"Puzzle" by Grace Goad*

For Education Friday I'm thrilled to introduce a new voice, one of the professionals from my boy's team who has given me permission to excerpt some of her email updates on his progress. You may remember, the goal with my kid is trying to get him to get a sense of the story. He reads the words, but it's almost like light passing through a window. We're trying to get paint on canvas.
This post may seem to be about writing rather than 
reading, but at this point all we are looking for when he 
writes is, does he remember and understand what he read? 
"Well, here we go, with countless five paragraph essays in his future.  He chose to write about the theme of the benefits of teamwork for his Freak the Mighty essay. 
We created a story map in Inspiration** to get started. I offered character analysis and other choices, but he always chose theme as his topic. I also created a tree map template in Inspiration so we can start out by filling in the squares in the future and won’t have to create the map each time. We also made a map for his “best Thanksgiving”. He is on a roll with putting things in parentheses (I prefer quotation marks myself!).  I don’t know why, maybe you do. J
I am giving heavy support at this point with the graphic organizer maps, but I am seeing progress as he takes my ideas and makes them his with his own choice of words. I am asking him to be more independent with saving documents himself and he is doing well with that. He did a nice group activity today using a white board with a partner to identify adjective-nouns about Thanksgiving, “buttered rolls” and “green bean casserole” (his contributions). He paired up with two other classmates to think of metaphors and similes around the Thanksgiving theme also, which was much harder for everyone, me included!"

-Spectrum Mom

*Read more about this beautiful painting and Grace Goad, the wonderful young artist who created it,
at Leisa Hammett (GraceArt in SOHO! October 21, 2011).

** Inspiration is a software program that lets you make thinking maps-a way to generate and organize 
thoughts before you write.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Big Nate On a Roll

"Time to read"
"Nooo. Nooo."
Then I sit on his bed and pat the spot next to me. 
After about four more minutes of perfunctory 
but seemingly unavoidable protests,
he joins me and reads, and reads
-all the way to the end of the chapter.
He didn't even ask how long or how many pages. 
I stopped him once to ask who would make a perfect couple.
"I don't know"
"Then look in the book."
This took awhile.
"Gina and Artur."
"Why would they make a perfect couple?"
"I don't know."
"You just read about it."
"Which page?"
"The one you just read."
"Which one?"
"This one."
So he is still reading much faster than he is comprehending, 
but his familiarity with the series is paying off in some ways. 
He commented at one point. 
"This should say 'I hate Gina.'"
And he knew that Nate liked Jenny. Remembering character relationships from one book to the next gives him a headstart 
with the book.
This is one reason I think series books can be so great for kids 
with autism (or without (or for adults for that matter)). 
Scholastic publishes the Big Nate series and it falls into
what is best described as the Wimpy Kid genre with Dork
Diaries (for girls) and Lenny&Mel (for true zaniness)
chapter books that rely as much on drawings as words with
decidedly flawed protagonists.
-Spectrum Mom

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gifts for Children with Autism

If you have a child with autism in your life you
may have the unusual (and somewhat refreshing)
experience of a child who does not ask for presents.
But at Christmas or Hannukah, a list of demands is welcome,
if not compulsory. Here are a few gift ideas if you're stuck. 
I like the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series
and my mother also remembers the books fondly 
(1st-3rd grade) since it is very scripted, and my kid responds well to that.

My sister gave him Bananagrams which he can spill out 
and play however he wants to, and we can take turns or not,
depending on how the day is going.

My mother gave him a magnetic poetry set, 
strange groupings of words that he then tries to decipher. There are a whole lot of magnetic word sets, from first words through genius, 
so kids at all different levels can enjoy making their own combinations.
For more ideas, just browse through the site and visit 
your local independent bookstore (in Nashville that's Parnassus)
or email me describing the child
you want to buy a book for and I'll try to give you a good
suggestion. We've prompted my boy, thank goodness,  to
want two things already. Now we just have to prompt him
and his brother to want to give .  .  .
-Spectrum Mom
Since I wrote this I posted a listmania list on Amazon with 
some non-word gifts.  Other non-book faves around here:
mini-trampoline, body sock, wikki stix.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nursery Rhyme Time

My boy reads Mother Goose the way others do sudoku.
Neither activity makes much sense to me. But I knew
he'd love this collection of comics by by cartoonists
(including Jules Feiffer) illustrating nursery and nonsense
rhymes. He read/sang his way through the volume in about
half an hour last night, no prompting required. He skipped
some, I don't know why, reread others, ditto.
Your eleven year old may not share this fascination, but
this is a great collection for younger readers. Sweet, 
quirky, and funny it reminds me of a lot of kids I know-
especially my own.

-Spectrum Mom

Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists [Hardcover]

 Chris Duffy (Editor), Leonard S. Marcus (Introduction)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Where to Buy

Looking around the grand opening at Parnassus Books and all the happy children's faces watching the puppet truck I thought, 
"Darn, forgot to blog about this." 
But Saturday at least, Parnassus didn't need the publicity. 
I assume Ann Patchett (above) classy novelist and bookstore investor was there, and thanks to a nudge from a friend I saw and recognized Nicole Kidman (I've seen her before at kid-centric stuff and thought her just a particularly tall and good looking mom).
But the real story was the kids crowded around the puppet truck  The World of Mother Goose and the solid kids section behind
Why write about a bookstore? A real bookstore can offer far more to you and your kid with autism than the internet can. 
In any bookstore you can actually look at the books-look around
the room and let something catch your eye without knowing what you wanted when you walked in. Your kid can pick out a book on his/her own that is theirs to keep. And sometimes a knowledgeable staff can really help you out.
I still visit Chicago's 57th Street Books regularly and always want more than I buy (the mark of a great bookstore). Last trip I was enchanted by the Iona Opie / Rosemary Wells Nursery Rhyme 
book blocks, perfect for young readers.
What local bookstore do you treasure? 
Do you still have one? We do-now.
-Spectrum Mom

* Click to check out Leisa Hammett's pondering how Nashville may prove worthy of
its new bookstore bounty.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter Books for Kids with Autism Part Three

My boy is reading Freak the Mighty, along with the rest of
his sixth grade class and the other members of his team who
are helping with the comprehension/communication/etcetera
pieces of his IEP (Individualized Education Plan).
On the plus side for a reader with autism, Freak has
- a linear narrative (oh, that timeline in Holes!)
- short chapters
- first person narration
On the downside,
- no illustrations whatsoever 
Lots of chance to be expressive with the reading, and he
likes that. But he's mainly off on tangents when he reads
with me. They're doing a lot of good work at school, and
when I learn more about concept mapping I'll do a Friday
post. I know they've done some work on a timeline. We've
done some pre-questioning, where we read the questions
first and then read the chapter to answer them. That took 
awhile, and he wasn't enthusiastic which is an accurate
description of our reading sessions so far.
He joys in his digressions-making rhymes, quoting from
tv shows, singing his Freak the Mighty theme song-and none
of my efforts so far have made him hook into the story. I hope
they're having better luck at school .  .  . 
Last night we took a break from Freak and read from Horrid
Henry Wakes the Dead which has all of the above virtues
plus illustrations and is aimed younger (about 3rd grade).
-Spectrum Mom

Monday, November 14, 2011

Do You Know What I'm Thinking?

"Do you know what I'm thinking?"
"No, I don't. What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking about the beach."
"I didn't know that."
"Can you swim at the beach?"
"Can you burp at the beach?"
"Can you burp the alphabet at the beach."
"Yes, if you have that talent."
"Can you swim and burp at the beach?"
"Ye-No. No. You cannot swim and burp at the beach."
"Not even the alphabet?"
"Not even the alphabet." 
Anyone know a good book on theory of mind? I think my 
boy has made an important breakthrough.
-Spectrum Mom

Friday, November 11, 2011

Home Educating Our Autistic Spectrum Children

Home Educating Our Autistic Spectrum Children: 
Paths Are Made by Walking
Edited by Terri Dowty & Kitt Cowlishaw
This book fits both the All Grown Up Monday
and the Education Friday category, so I'm writing about it late
Friday and probably no one will read this until Monday.
I started reading this book with a great deal of skepticism and with two
major expectations:
1 All the children (despite the inclusive title) would have Asperger's.
2 The case histories would not give the nitty gritty of education.
To a large extent this proved to be the case, and I didn't realize that 
some case histories would be from the U.K. and even Australia. Sure, Education
Otherwise sounds like a great resource, but Americans can't access it.
But the book succeeds in what I see as the editors' main goal-
showing that people can and do home school their children with autism
and that this can be a valuable and viable option for many families. 
Yes, most of the parents are writing about home schooling their
kids with Asperger's. And many of these kids seem perfectly suited
to home schooling, easily accomplishing academic tasks with minimal
direction. But not all. Greg, for instance, required a different, more intensive,
and more creative approach. His parents basically gave up on a family life to 
educate him, but "a different life need not necessarily mean a lesser one."
The common denominator among these parents
was that they felt their children would learn better at home than at
school. Any parent may make that choice.
Personally, I am very, very grateful that my son has a supportive 
team at public school helping him learn. But the stories in this book
made homeschooling a child with autism seem a little less daunting.
-Spectrum Mom

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chapter Books for Kids with Autism Part Two of Three

Last time I discussed when children make that all important
connection with chapter books. Sometimes a particular book
opens the door. A decade ago, Harry Potter did so for a 
generation. But however wonderful, fantasy books have
certain drawbacks for readers with autism. Fantasy presumes
an understanding of the way the world actually works so that
the reader enjoys the contrast between fantasy and reality. 
Autism can impede this understanding. 
On the other hand, realistic books often depend on entering
into the emotions of the main character. People with autism often have difficulty with empathy, and knowing what emotions
a character is feeling in a book may be almost impossible.
So it is no wonder that my boy has trouble with comprehension.
He still likes Geronimo Stilton books which he and others read
in second grade. But he likes it for things like the name of the
hospital and other word play. 
And that's the problem. Whatever book he reads, he is not 
looking for the story. The movie Hugo is coming out, and 
since we slogged through The Invention of Hugo Cabret 
this summer (see Response to Hugo post) we may go see it. 
But I'm not sure he remembers any of the story. 
Now, you can comprehend material without enjoying
narrative. I was talking to the father of a very smart
high schooler who still hasn't found that magic book that
makes reading recreation. 
But you must hook together events and have at least some
motivation to do so.
Gary Paulsen, who writes relatively straight forward adventure, 
keeps coming up in these discussions. Can someone 
suggest other authors? Other insights?
Next week - his chapter book at school and the multiple
methods at work to try to help with comprehension.
-Spectrum Mom

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chapter Books for Kids with Autism Part One of Three

Last week I had a parent teacher conference with my eleven year old's teachers. He's doing fine in terms of assignments, but his teacher said that at the beginning of the year there were maybe six kids who did not really understand what they were reading. Then the class read Holes and for five of them something wonderful happened - one thing led to another in the story and they found the story compelling, they wanted to know what happened next and 
they comprehended the story. 
My boy? No. Not so much. This concerned her. And me.
"For some of the students," said this sympathetic and talented 
teacher (whom I really like and am freely paraphrasing here) 
"this was their first exposure to a chapter book. Not just picking it up and putting it down, but really reading it all the way through."
I know no house but ours, so presumably some sixth grader 
could have avoided actually reading every chapter of a book
until now, but not my sweetie. Here is his review of The Magic Finger from third grade:
Do you have a problem? You could fix it with a magic finger. 
In the book The Magic Finger, the girl uses her magic finger on her teacher Mrs. Winter and makes Mrs. Winter grow a cat’s whiskers because Mrs. Winter calls her stupid for spelling cat “k a t.” Mrs. Winter also grew a tail like this one. The book is in the magic fiction genre. In the story the girl uses her magic finger on the Greggs because she asks them not to hunt and Mr. Gregg laughs at her.  It’s exciting when the Greggs shoot their guns. Then the Greggs get tiny and grow wings while four ducks get arms and live in their house.  I like the picture where the Greggs’ wings have gone and their arms have come back and they are not teeny any more.
I think Brandon and other eight year olds should read this book because the girl is eight years old like me.
This is the book, The Magic Finger, Roald Dahl is the author.
-Spectrum Mom

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No, David Before Be Five Be Four

For Fours - Part Four
I never dared read my boy No, DavidI thought he'd mistake it 
for a how to book. Now in double digits, he still climbs and destroys furniture and fixtures. Not often, he's not destructive, 
just a boy with little sense of his body's boundaries who 
sometimes really wants something that's out of reach. 
He's read No, David on his own. It's not like there's anything new for him in the story of a boy wreaking havoc through
the house as his mother chides "No."  But I digress.
J likes No, David as he likes those other picture books of young beings being young. As a four year old you hear "No" from 
somebody. J has a great mom, but I'm sure she has to say "No" sometimes.
I'm not sure whether J's autism affects how he thinks about the 
"No" he hears and the "No" David hears in the book. At one level,
the repetition is just funny. And if the kid identifies the "no" behavior, helpful ("uh oh .  .   .").  Unless you're as 
hyper-cautious as I was about giving bad examples, No, David works on enough levels to appeal to most children.
Like the other books I've discussed in this series, the end message 
is reconciliation. The message I knew I wanted to give my
children even before they were born:
"Yes. I love you."
-Spectrum Mom

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Write Your Own

"Do you think you can meet the PiBoIdMo challenge and create 30 new picture book ideas in 30 days? Well then, sign-up for all the craziness!"
That's the challenge from children's author Tara Lazar and she's offering encouragement, guidelines, and giveaways at her website. 
If you want to take her up on the challenge or to find out more,
click the link:
Now, I haven't even sat down and written out all the social stories my son
needs, so it is unlikely I am going to do this. But if you are a  
picture book author looking for an idea, let me encourage you-think
about a child with autism-not as your theme, but as your audience.
If you have a child with autism, I probably don't need to 
encourage you to do this, but if you don't, think about a
kid you know you know with autism and make one of your thirty ideas 
something that would appeal to that kid.
If you know one kid with autism, you know one kid with autism, so your
book isn't necessarily going to be "a book for kids with autism." But if you
make a book that can appeal to a kid who doesn't like to read or that includes
a kid who's usually excluded, you will have done something as special as Mr.
Geisel did with his little Cat in the Hat trick.
You can look through this blog for ideas if you feel intimidated (don't-kids with autism are no more or less difficult to please than others, totally depends on the kid). If you don't know a kid with autism, write for a reluctant reader. Write for an individual and you'll be sure to have at least one reader. 
In general,
-simple and clear
-avoid abstract pictures
- or completely absurd
Now, get writing! (and thank you)
-Spectrum Mom

Monday, October 24, 2011

Not Even Wrong

Paul Collins's Sixpence House and Not Even Wrong use autobiography
as a framework for thoughtful and entertaining digressions. I almost
said scholarly, but Collins wants to reintroduce knowledge, not
prove a theory.
Collins wrote Sixpence House first,  but I read it second. The narrative
centers around his family's (himself, wife, and baby son) adventure of
moving to the used book capital of the world. Auster belongs to the
relatively small group (seemingly getting smaller all the time) of
people who read non-fiction and enjoy the feel of a real book in
their hands. Baby Morgan provides moments of charm, or if you
have a child with autism and read Not Even Wrong first,
moments of "oh." Like "oh, I remember
when my little one was absolutely entranced by curtains."
For in Not Even Wrong Morgan is diagnosed with autism.
Not Even Wrong is a marvelous book. I have never yet read
a book about a family and their reaction to the autism diagnosis.
I am not sure I can.
Instead of doing that, Collins places the events of his family life
within his research life of the wild child, which to his surprise,
turns out to be something of a history of how children with autism
have been (mis) understood in the past.
Not Even Wrong refers to an answer so remote from the question
that it can't even be understood as a mistake. And that is often how
I feel when talking with my son. We are simply not even starting at
the same place. I look for clues to our divergences all the time and
Collins provides quite a few. Collins has given us two enjoyable journeys
 in mind, space and time by a man who's found the interesting spots
and is willing to share.

-Spectrum Mom