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