Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What My Boy Got for Christmas

Since my older son ignores most toys, he mainly
gets books. He asked for Qwirkle 
(which he mostly ignored)
and Christmas books this year, and especially wanted 
a Christmas song book. His first question Christmas morning
was: "Did I get a Christmas Song book?" and he
would not open stocking or Santa presents until
assured, yes, he did.
My sister gave him
"Easy Piano Ultimate Christmas" (hereinafter
called the Green book) and my husband found
him "Easy Christmas Fake Book" (the red book).
These provided some moments of amusement. 
He also received Silver Packages (a Christmas 
picture book by the incomparable Cynthia Rylant) 
and poetry books and joke books. 
I did not give him anything challenging except
a book with writing prompts, which he would
not use today. I'll keep asking. I'll try to figure
out what to do with Qwirkle too, he likes 
the colors and shapes, but he's not so interested
in the game. Perhaps we can use the tiles for 
pattern matching.
He spent a happy hour under the tree looking
at his books. By this afternoon he was back
to older favorites in his room. He read
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree out loud
to me from inside his new (collapsed on
floor) Hugglepod.
He did play a game of "Guess Who" with his dad, 
which is a logic and recognition game that two of
his speech therapists have used with him.
Hoping you had a lovely and peaceful day,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
-Spectrum Mom

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree and Other Gifts

Like many of you, I'm in a bit of a rush right now, 
so I just asked my son which is his favorite 
Christmas book.
"Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree," he said,
"Did you know it was a book?"
I did know it was a book by Robert Barry, 
but not until years after I first
saw the delightful muppet version with (really, I'm not making 
up) Robert Downey, Jr. as Mr. Willowby.
"It's in verse you know," says my son, 
explaining the book's appeal.
The video is not in verse, but has songs and is very 
Want more gift ideas? 
Here's my post from last year's holiday. 
And please, please, comment with
your own child pleasing gifts - 
they need not be books.
(My son wants Qwirkle this year)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

D is for Dreidel

D is for Dreidel crosses an alphabet book with a holiday book
for a rhyming introduction to the Jewish holiday of Channukah
(or Hannukkah).
And who doesn't love a dreidel?
Both my kids love the four-sided top with hebrew characters. 
Look up the rules, and play the dreidel game.
"A is for afternoon
Sundown is near
Hanukkah's starting
The family's all here!
B is for bracha
The blessing we sing-"
The School Library Journal says "there is no pronunciation guide and most of the Hebrew 
words are not fully defined."
To which I say, Bah Humbug!
(sorry, mixing holidays here).
This is a fun little book and the illustrations and rhymes make it very accessible to kids.
Here are the lyrics to the dreidel song, and
the rules to the dreidel game.

Happy Hannukah!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Snowmen at Christmas

Every day my boy with autism asks when I will be getting out more Christmas books. I usually get all the Christmas books down December 1, and he races through them. 
He may look at them more than once, but
he does not read them in a way I recognize as reading. So I am trying to slow down the pace. 
He finds this frustrating. Hence the daily query,
oft-repeated and varied a bit - 
"Are you getting down more books today?" 
"How many will you get down?"
I handed him Snowmen at Christmas yesterday.
This bright and bouncy book by both Buehners rhythmically 
and in rhyme recounts the story of the secret snowman celebration
held every year at this time.
Every double page spread contains hidden pictures, so there
is lots to engage almost every child personality.
And, oh my gosh, you can even buy matching pjs.
That and another gift idea below.
-Spectrum Mom

Featured Book:
Snowmen at Christmas
by Caralyn Buehner
pictures by Mark Buehner
Dial Books for Young Readers
Jack and Jill offers this & other book/pj sets
Snowmen at Christmas is Day 9

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Crafting the Holidays

The huge problem used to be how to find out what my boy with
autism wanted for Christmas. His answer, "presents," left a lot
of options on the table.
Only recently have I worried about the giving side of the equation.
One answer is crafts.
We need to keep crafts simple around here,  
so we're talking basic ideas like bookmarks and pencil jars with easy instructions. The more crafty among you 
may not need a book, but a book may help you keep it simple 
and spark new ideas.
My favorite is Gifts to Make for Your Favorite Grown-Up,
simple and direct.
Online, you can find a million crafts (and a million ads).
Here is a link to firstpalette, the site from which the bookmarks pictured above came. And here's The Crafty Crow
suggested by my craftiest friend.
This site features a list of craft/art books for kids 
on the right sidebar.
If you have a very crafty/high skills kid, you may be
interested in diy.org, which gives skills challenges and
lets kids submit their own projects. 
-Spectrum Mom

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Talent Tuesday - I Go Exploring

Writer Gaynell Buffinet Payne has long written about her own child and the needs of children with autism in general in her blog
Wildflowers for Jade,  and in articles for other publications, including Nashville Parent Magazine and Attachment Parenting 
Now she branches out in a new direction with a children's book based on the imaginative adventures of a young child. Here's the
information from her post:

"Chase and Pip are here! Kindle version and in paperback. Beautifully illustrated story of fun adventure in rhyming verse, for kids ages 2-5.

This is my first published book. It even has my name as "Gaynell Payne (Author)" How exciting is that? And yes, you will be supporting a single mother of a child who has Autism as well! (Shameless plug, maybe, but it's true.)
If you want a hard cover book, stick around just a little bit longer, it's coming soon!"

And here's a link to the post itself.
Jacqueline Buffinet did the illustrations.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bear Says Thanks

I am thankful for Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. 
There are a lot of read aloud rhyming stories, but Wilson's Bear series (Bear Snores On etc.) uses rhyme and repetition to engage readers in an ursine centered world as warm and cozy as Bear's cave filled with furry friends around a campfire in winter.
When my son with autism listed things that made him glad last week, he wrote that reading the rhymes in Bear's Lost Tooth did. 
For him, the discovery of a new Bear story is a delight.
And in a recent shipment of books to review, we found a real treasure (just in time for Thanksgiving): Bear Says Thanks.
Here is my boy's review:
"Bear has nothing and he misses his friends at the
beginning. He wants to make a dinner, but his cupboard
is bare.
'Oh my, a huckleberry pie, but I have nothing,'
he says with a sigh. 
It made me thankful when Bear said 'thanks.'"
This is a great read aloud book. The repetition of
the word "thanks" gives children a chance to 
read along with you. I had a classroom full
of first graders enthusiastically chiming in and 
loving the surprise when Bear suddenly says something
Happy Thanksgiving. May you all have reason
to say thanks.
-Spectrum Mom

For more about Karma Wilson and Bear, visit her website.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What Animals Really Like

"Cows can't dig. Lions can't arrange flowers. 
Horses can't go deep sea diving because they're not seahorses."
What Animals Really Like by Fiona Robertson
is a picture book performance of animals who sing about 
what they really like to do, destroying the original musical composition by Maestro Timberteeth, the unimaginative beaver who is conducting them.
Both the idea of a song and the outrageously silly exploits of the animals entertained and amused my sons. 
My boy with autism stretched out on the floor and sang the book
to himself (he provided the music, which is only implied in the book).
The quote above is from him as he joyously contradicted the assertions of the book's characters.  
He liked the book because "it's funny."
The more absolutely silly a book is, the greater its appeal
to him. Emotions and plot developments 
fail to engage his interest, singing animals with absurd 
past times instantly rivet his attention.
So if you need a giggle, check this one out.
-Spectrum Mom
Next Wednesday: What happens when Bear Gives Thanks.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Cat in the Hat Comes Back . . . Again

Yesterday I tried to get my son to cross the aisle. 
Perhaps you have one in your library? 
I mean the aisle that separates the easy readers from the juvenile fiction.
But he went back, back to Dr. Seuss.
Back to The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, which we do not own for some reason.
I told him I would check the book out for him if he would write a review, so he did.
Twenty-one lines of exactly what happened in the book. Here’s a sample:
“Little Cats A, B, and C pop out and work together as a team to clean the bed with the T.V.
Little Cats D, E, F, and G pop out, but they wind up making more snow spots 
because they need more help.
Litte Cats H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, and V pop out and try their best, 
but they make one BIG spot.”
So I discussed the difference between a synopsis and a summary with him, and asked for a summary of three to four lines. I also told him that reviewers say what
they like and dislike and explain why. 
So this is his review:
“There is a spot scene in the book The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.
The spot scene is because of the Cat in the Hat eating cake in a tub.
The cat first cleans the spot alone.
After that, the little cats come to help.
Voom makes the spot go away.
I liked the book.
I liked the rhymes and the voom.
I dislike the spot.”
He always dislikes whatever the problem is in a book,
which I think is one of the reason he is not interested
in moving on from picture books. Books for older readers
are about problems. Even setting aside the grim dystopian
tomes other twelve year olds seem to be reading, any
book above easy level (and many in that category)
tell the story of someone overcoming a problem. If
my boy wrote them, there would be no problem. Which is,
itself, a problem.
Anyway, both of us highly recommend The Cat in the Hat
Comes Back
-Spectrum Mom

Monday, November 5, 2012

How to Read Aloud by Mem Fox

In honor of Mem Fox's visit to the Nashville Public Library Tuesday evening, today's All Grown Up post is from the first chapter of her book Reading Magic. You can hear her read this excerpt and more on her website.
Do It Like This
 Section 1
An American father once said to me: "So how do you do this read aloud thing?" I was almost too taken aback to answer. Wasn’t it obvious? Then I realised it wouldn’t be obvious if he hadn’t been read aloud to as a child. I wanted to say: "Well, you know—find a book, get a child, and sit down and read the book to the child," but it seemed so simple that I was too embarrassed to say it.
When I see a read aloud session in my mind’s eye, there’s either an adult sitting in a big old chair or on a sofa, with a child on the adult’s lap or snuggled up close, sharing a book, or an adult sitting or lying on a bed with the child tucked up, wide eyed, as stories are being read. And the experience is always fantastic.
The more expressively we read, the more fantastic the experience will be. The more our kids love books, the more they’ll pretend to read them, and the more they pretend to read, the more quickly they’ll learn to read. So reading aloud is not quite enough—we need to read aloud well.

When we read the story we are usually familiar with it. We should like it. And naturally we’ll maintain our enthusiasm for it even if we’ve read it five thousand times. As we read the story we need to remain aware of our body position, our eyes and their expression, our eye-contact with the child or children, our vocal variety, and our general facial animation.

There’s no exact right way of reading aloud, other than to try to be as expressive as possible. Each of us will have our own special way of reading a story. For instance when I read the beginning of Koala Lou, my voice swings up and down in the same tune, the same s-l-o-w song, every time:
There was once a baby koala, so soft and round that a–l–l who saw her loved her. Her name was Ko–ala Lou.

The ups and downs of our voices and our pauses and points of emphasis are like music, literally, to the ears of young children, and they love music. Simple tunes also make anything easier to remember, so it’s useful to read a book in exactly the same way every time, and to read the same book over and over again. The more quickly children pick up the "tune" of the words, the more they’ll remember the words and the more quickly they’ll have fun trying to ‘read’ the story themselves, with the same expression as we do.

(Here's one of my posts about choosing read aloud books for children with autism)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin

My box of Halloween decorations includes a few 
Halloween books, and Spookley has become a 
yearly tradition. 
Both my boys know how Spookley’s odd shape 
became an asset one stormy night in the pumpkin patch.
I had no idea Spookley’s fame had gone beyond our box 
until Sunday when I saw a dvd of his adventures playing 
on the television at a party.
So many books celebrate the value of being different
that you’d think we’d all believe it by now. The trick is to remember all the little ways differences can help see the world in new and sometimes wonderful ways. 
If that’s not enough of a treat for you, curl up with Spookley
or Shadow and the Halloween Party (another from our box)
Today's Book:
The Legend of Spookley, the Square Pumpkin
 Written by Joe Troiano and Illustrated by Susan Banks.
Happy Halloween!
- Spectrum Mom

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween Monster Books for All Ages

Two books today that should fit the Halloween needs of most boggarts and ghouls, sorry,  I mean boys and girls.

The Sleepless Little Vampire by Richard Egielski
is an unscary Halloween charmer that should appeal
to fans of simple picture books, onomotapoeia, 
and reversals.
The little vampire listens to the bats flitting, 
"FLAPPITY!-FLAP!” and “the cockroaches crawling
SCRATCHITY-SCRATCH!” and all the other nocturnal creatures wondering if it is the noise keeping him 
awake, until he finally remembers why he cannot sleep 
at night.
Egielski places white text on the left and the picture on the right on black pages. As the creatures increase, the pictures expand across the center until dawn lightens the pages and they all go to sleep. Your little goblins may not comment on this clever design, but the effect is calming and the story
ends with the reassuring message that no matter how
different you are, you are normal for you.
For children who enjoy poetry, rotting heads, and zombies,
I recommend Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex.
My twelve year old does too:

“This is funny stuff. The part that made me laugh was 'An Edgar Allen Poem.'”
The book is full of puns and ends with this haiku for 
the monster sticklers among you:
"He knows Frankenstein's
the doctor, not the monster.
Enough already."
If your kid loves this one, check out Rex's website.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Secret of the Stone Frog

Toon Books has a plan to make readers out of your kids.
Give them wonderful comic books written for young readers.
The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra skews
a little older than Benny and Penny, Nina, or the other
fun Toon books. Stone Frog is Toon's first graphic novel.
Nytra creates a fantastic universe for kids to explore along
with his sibling protagonists. Buildings come to life, and
strange fishy characters roam the streets, while giant bees
take the words right out of your mouth.
When I read it with my twelve year old, he found it very easy to understand
and express the emotions of the characters. The drawings of the children
are simple and make them easy to connect with, while the backgrounds
and other characters are strange. The strangeness of the adult world 
perhaps - or even that of the neurotypicals.
Toon takes its educational mission seriously. Here is 
a link to the lesson plan for the book and here's the reading level: 
This is my boy's review of The Secret of the Stone Frog:
The stone frog was the only one who knew the way home.
The two children were named Alan and Leah.
There were a few mean guys.
[That was unprompted. Then I asked him to write what he thought
about it and why]
I thought it was fine, because books that sound great are fine. 
It sounded great.  And I mean ALL of it. When we read it together.
One of Nytra's giant bees

For more fun and to order Toon books, check out their website

Friday, October 12, 2012

Education Friday - Guest Expert Linda Hodgdon M. Ed., CCC-SLP

12 Essentials Every Classroom Must Have for Autism Success
Students with autism can achieve great success in environments that help them succeed. How does that work? Settings that are “autism communication friendly” provide a variety of little things that result in big positive changes in student participation.
Of course, there will be variations, depending on age and skill level of students. Classrooms will have differences. But these essentials are essential. We have learned so much about what students on the autism spectrum need to be successful.
One thing that we know is that the majority of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (and lots of other students, too) are visual learners. You’ll see lots of visual tools on my essentials list.
The problem is that we don’t always use what we know. That’s human nature. So here’s my challenge and here’s my list.
12 Essentials
(1) Camera
This can be one of your most powerful communication tools. 
They are so common now. You probably have a camera on your phone that you carry in your pocket. Teachers can take pictures or you can teach students to use the cameras on their own phones.
Take pictures of everything. Use them in the phone or print the pictures as needed. Use your photos for conversation starters, demonstration tools or reminders to help students remember what to bring to school tomorrow.
(2) Calendar
Posted on a wall, written in a notebook or accessed on a smart phone, the calendar is an essential tool for helping students orient to their flow of life. Calendars can focus on group information at school. But many students need a personal calendar for school info or one that also includes home and family information. Does that mean one for a classroom and one for personal needs? Possibly yes.
(3) Schedule
The daily schedule has finally become one of the most used visual tools. That’s because they work really well to help students follow their daily routines. Everyone benefits from knowing what is going to be happening today.
Linda Hodgdon, M.Ed., CCC-SLP
Here's the link to Linda's other nine essentials. I think teachers largely forget the camera. One year his SLP gave my son photos of all his classmates. Another use could be making social stories and even illustrations for student writing.
Linda Hodgdon is the author of the best seller, Visual Strategies for Improving Communication. To learn more or to sign up for her FREE E-newsletter, visit www.UseVisualStrategies.com

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We Both Read About the Ocean

One of the techniques we use is so simple and effective that 
there are multiple series of early reading books that use it too. 
If your children do not want to read to you out loud by 
themselves, take turns with them. First you read, then your child
The We Both Read series does this nicely, as I've mentioned
before. About the Ocean pairs beautiful photos with informative
text that covers the seas from shells to ocean conservation.
The child's side is about 1st grade level (the book is labeled
1-2, meaning grades 1-2).
We Both Read Books include fiction and non-fiction titles 
with the same format - parent page on the left with one word boldedchild page on the right with that word included 
among easier words.
The books range from Kindergarten to 3rd Grade and 
can be found at libraries, bookstores, and their website.
Of course, the alternation technique can be used with
any book. We've alternated pages with everything from
Hatchet to Hugo Cabret.
This series is not my boy's favorite for alternating
readers. More about that series later this month.
May you surface in time to breathe,
Spectrum Mom

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Make Suggestions for Gift Book Selections

It's not even Halloween yet, so I will not use the C word.
Or the Ch word. Or the Kw word.
But one of my friends has, so I started thinking that I 
should plan ahead. Do you have some books that your
child with autism loves? Ideally I'd like to be able
to feature different books that appeal to kids on many 
different points of the spectrum. If your kid has a
favorite book, please comment or email me
with the book title, your child's gender and age,
and his/her diagnosis (or reading gift/challenge).
Thank you! Let's help make this a happy season
for all of us trying to find the right book for 
a special kid.
Do you have a favorite app or reading related
gadget? I'd love to hear about those too.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Fly Went By and By and By

Repetition. It's how we learn. Kids know this, underneath the demand to repeat the game, reread the book, retell the joke, 
is the brain building itself up and strengthening connections.
Kids with autism know this, and some demand the game,
the book, the joke in quantity and duration almost unbearable
to those around them.
Early rhymes and songs like "The House that Jack Built," and "There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly" use this joy 
to teach.
So do kids' authors, particularly authors of early readers.
Repeated vocabulary gets that originally unfamiliar word into
the eyes and brain of the kid.
A Fly Went By is a classic of repetition where a boy 
encounters a veritable parade of the local fauna chasing
each other - or are they? His efforts to stop their flight
lead to repeated descriptions of the situation with the
animal names and feelings written out each time.
The fly ran away
In fear of the frog,
Who ran from the cat,
Who ran from the dog."
The story also rhymes and has simple illustrations, giving 
new readers reliable clues to what is happening in the text.
When the Elephant Walks is a newer version of this type
of story available in board book format.
So, to repeat myself, your comments and favorites are welcome
-Spectrum Mom

Friday, September 28, 2012

Reading Advice from Resources for Educators

Sometimes I forget the basics when working on reading
with my boy. This method,  from a 2010 Middle Years
handout, resembles KWL. The Check Understanding
step can be especially valuable for readers with autism
struggling with comprehension.

Textbook Super Sleuths
Like investigators on a case, good readers examine clues, 
and fit pieces together. These steps can help your middle schooler 
understand the material, connect with what she’s reading, and use the 
information in textbooks.  
Look ahead 
Before starting, your child should identify what 
the section is about. Checking the table of contents or end-of- 
chapter questions can provide valuable clues. She can also 
browse headings, diagrams, and illustrations. This will prepare her 
for the type of reading she’ll be doing and help her zero in on key 
Check understanding 
After reading a sentence, paragraph, or chapter, your 
youngster can ask, “Did this make sense?” If not, she should try
 to pinpoint where she got lost and go back and reread the pages. 
To shed light on the meaning, she also might find definitions for words
she doesn’t recognize, make a chart of the information, or write 
a summary in her own words.  
Put it in context 
Once your middle grader is finished, she should think 
about how the material fits with what she knows. For example, 
how does the information build on another topic she has learned about? 
What was the writer’s opinion, and does she agree with it? 
Making connections will help her master the material so she can 
discuss it in class and draw on it when doing homework.

copyright 2010
Resources for Educators, a division of Aspen Publishers Inc.