Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lizard Music

When I started this site, one of my motives was to 
elicit book suggestions for my son. There haven't 
been a lot of those. Generous authors
(i.e. Oliver Neubert and Jacqueline Houtman)  
have sent me books to review, 
but there's been almost no "I (or my child) loved this book."
Except for Lizard Music. I posted a query on a Pinkwater
site and a reader came here (thank you) to suggest this as the
best of the Pinkwater canon for my boy.
In Lizard Music Victor tells the story of his unusual summer. 
Eleven years old (like my boy) Victor is home alone since his
parents and his sister (mature in age only) have gone on separate
vacations, one after the other. He does what any right thinking
boy his age would do, orders in pizza and stays up late watching
television. Which has lizard musicians on after the late movie. 
My son likes this book because the Chicken Man has a lot of
different names, and Pinkwater sounds like Pentwater, and 
Lake Mishagoo sounds funny, and because last night he read
"Charlie got a question" instead of reading, "Charlie asked a
I could explain some of the logic of these likes, but you either
already get it (in which case email me immediately!) or are
like me and will never quite understand.
Liking is not the same as following the story, but liking is
good too.
-Spectrum Mom

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Little White Horse & Books for Girls

Last week my family watched The Secret of Moonacre, and really enjoyed it. 
(At least my husband and I did, and the boys stayed still:) 
I had checked it out because I saw it 
was based on an Elizabeth Goudge 
novel and I remembered Green Dolphin Street with fondness.
While the movie does a good job of the 
heightened stakes that make for a good movie, the original book is considerably quieter and more lyrical (Literally. 
There are song lyrics throughout the book).
The Little White Horse belongs in the company of orphan books,
specifically those beloved of girls- Anne of Green Gables &
Emily of New Moon (Montgomery) The Secret Garden
A Little Princess (Burnett).
I'm posting this on a random read day because even though I
enjoyed it and probably would have adored it had I read it as
a child, this is not a book I'm going to try with my son. 
Emotion dominates and subtlety rules.
But I want this to be a girl friendly blog too, so I offer this for
any child who loves reading about orphans with devoted animals,
brave girls, and happy romantic endings.
-Spectrum Mom
p.s. remembered two more in the orphan girl genre-Pollyanna / Porter and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm / Wiggin. Anyone remember others?

Friday, February 24, 2012


If you're new here  (from Autisable perhaps)
this is the place for kids books from Captain
Underpants to Hatchet that may interest our
kids with autism. I welcome comments from
all and posts from kids with autism and those
who love and work with them.
Every Wednesday I post a review/discussion
of a book for kids.
Some Fridays are Education Fridays where I
or guest experts write about teaching reading
to kids.
Some Mondays are all All Grown Up Mondays
where I or guests write about books for adults.
And some other days are Random Reads when
I write more at - random.
Thanks for coming. There are lots of books and
ideas here, so I hope you find something helpful.
And your ideas are very welcome!
-Spectrum Mom

Education Friday - Reading Professional Strategies

Today, a few thoughts pulled from an expert's emails (with permission)
about the literacy web and her work with middle schoolers:
"A strategy that seems to work for both of my sixth grade students is asking comprehension questions in a multiple choice format rather than asking open ended questions. Both of the guys are willing to chance an answer given three choices. 
I usually ask the question as written first, then if I get the "I don't know", I give three possible answers. If they miss that question, I am pretty sure it's something we need to look over again.
Always pre-teaching or pre-discussion of key concepts is helpful, which means pre-reading on my part! 
Whenever possible we look at the questions before reading a passage, a method called "priming" in the reading comprehension series I am using between classroom reading assignments. We look at the title of the chapter/story to predict what might happen, and look at any pictures that may be given. 
With my trusty iPad I can google or wikipedia just about anything on the spot and usually come up with some kind of picture to illustrate. 
And always as part of my literacy "web" I try to include a semantic web or thinking map. 
[I asked if multiple choice should be used for his grammar homework (mm)]
I do think that multiple choice options can be used with mm. 
I would probably try the conventional method first, then provide multiple choices as 
needed to move along with the assignment. 
I believe that fits into the literacy web view of reading comprehension. 
Interesting that I have seen multiple choice format offered as a classroom accommodation for years on the IEP, but just now associate it with my ASD kids as an essential teaching strategy. 
I wonder if perhaps that accounts for good scores on standardized testing sometimes when reading comprehension is such struggle in day to day assignments." 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Little Lit

Folklore and Fairy Tale Funnies
follows in a long tradition. The book
even includes Walt Kelly's 1943 
version of The Gingerbread Man.
Another in the small category of books he will
grab and read on his own, Little Lit Folklore
combines sophisticated art and storytelling
with easy vocabulary and eye-catching graphics.
What my son likes, is, of course the word play.
"I want to see my favorite parts.
And another favorite part is when
they ruined the song."
Again, there seems to be a nursery rhyme chant driven theme
to the ones he likes, "Humpty Trouble,"
"The Two Hunchback Brothers" (with singing Grandmas),
and "The Gingerbread Man."
"I'm going to change the rhyme:

Humpty Dumpty
while seated on a wall
has suffered a shattering fall."
-Spectrum Mom

Friday, February 17, 2012

Education Friday - The Literacy Web Part Two

   Reading comprehension is amazingly difficult to assess in children with autism because there are too many variables. Is the child able to understand but not express their understanding? Is the type of test appropriate? Is it the vocabulary? My son often seems to understand words in isolation but be confused by the same words in a sentence-
the opposite of what most children experience, and a problem as
his class focuses on "context clues." 
  Again, think of a web rather than a ladder. Give the student
many ways to demonstrate knowledge: ask questions in song, accents, or by writing, give extra time, and the option to circle answers.*
Some students may respond in more depth by drawing, acting, pantomiming, or creating collages and dioramas based on the
But even if the child still struggles to show mastery,
opportunities for reading and literacy activities should continue
while the teacher continues to look for better ways to test and
support comprehension.
In a think-aloud** strategy the teacher explains what she predicts
will happen in the text. Students may enact a story, process, or
historical event. Students may also take turns teaching in 
summarizing, questioning, explaining, and predicting.***
If you're interested in finding out more, see the bibliographic 
notes below. Paula Kluth's research summaries are invaluable 
because until very recently, literacy studies and strategies specifically for children with autism were few and far between. And there continues to be a need to draw from all literacy sources because our kids learn in individual ways.
Kluth's most important message here is every kid with autism
can be literate. Always assume that, never the reverse,
and give every child as many opportunities as possible
to prove you right.

*Chapter 8 "Seeing Students with Autism as Literate" in You're Going to Love This Kid.
Ideas suggested by *D. Williams in Autism: An Inside-Out Approach (1996), **Harvey &
Goudvis Strategies That Work (2000) and Wilhelm Improving Comprehension with
Think-Aloud Strategies (2001) and ***Palinscar & Brown Cognition and Instruction (1984).
Photo from all rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love Stories for Little Ones

Long ago when we had just one little boy, storytime sometimes
morphed into readers' theatre. Perhaps because our little boy had autism, we soon had permanent roles in one or two stories. 
The one I remember best is Kiss Goodnight by Amy Hest.
This story of a little bear going to sleep in a house on Mulberry Street had the three of us cuddled and cozy with Daddy as the narrator and myself as Momma Bear and The Wind.
I remember I didn't always want to stop everything to be part of this
(foolish me) but I always did (I'm not completely stupid).
Another one that tugged at my heart strings and that I was permitted to read to him on my own was Love Songs of the Little Bear, forgotten lyrics by Margaret Wise Brown (author of Goodnight Moon) rescued from obscurity by illustrator Susan Jeffers with words and pictures of gentle sweetness.
"Long time will I love you, never, never go away."
Happy Valentine's Day to you and your sweethearts,
-Spectrum Mom

Friday, February 10, 2012

Education Friday-The Literacy Web Part 1

©Laurie Hayden-quinn

Children with autism often acquire language and literacy later than neurotypical kids and this can lead to many mistaken assumptions about their intelligence and ability to learn. 
   Paula Kluth argues* that teachers should abandon the notion of a literacy ladder in favor of a literacy web. The ladder requires the student to master  skills in order to move on and leaves some students stuck at the bottom. The web gives students many types of exposure to literacy activities. Some children with autism comprehend stories and can engage in literature projects long before they can read fluently. Some students may suddenly read whole passages without ever "learning" sight words or other intervening literacy rungs.
  If teachers embrace the non-sequential learning, literacy in the general education classroom becomes accessible to all learners.
  Of course, the instruction should not be of the sink or swim type. To truly include all learners, teachers must observe and respond to individual learning styles. Kluth suggests many strategies, such as using individual interests, visuals, writing down instructions, reading aloud and echo reading, and multiple texts.
  As always, I'm struck by how helpful these strategies can be for all learners.
   Next week I'll discuss what Kluth writes about comprehension.
-Spectrum Mom

*Chapter 8 "Seeing Students with Autism as Literate" in You're Going to Love This Kid.
Researchers Kliewer and Biklen originated the idea.
Photo from all rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Black and White - Reading to Self

A few weeks back I wrote about choosing books for my kid 
and how that works. I only wrote about one
book. But of course I brought home several titles. I
read Shimmering Sky with him and  talked up Pontus,
but Black and White I just showed him and left in his
Black and White is a strange book. Four stories contrast
and interact on every page spread. It has its own logic
and the illustrations reflect the words, so I thought the
strangeness might appeal to my son.
He read it on his own, so it worked on some level. 
Asked about the story he said "They thought the
shredded up newspapers were snow." Which means
he read and understood the middle of the story well.
So this sophisticated picture book seems a good choice
to try for mid-range readers.
What does he understand when he reads on his own?
How to get at what he knows? As I mentioned before,
when he reads a chapter from an assigned book, he cannot
answer any questions about it.
But my husband pointed out, my questions may be as pointless
as someone asking me what page chapter three started on-which
my son usually knows. He's noticing other things. He quoted a
magazine story to me today and I asked him why he liked it-
"Because it's about swimming."
So maybe I need a kids book about swimming? Suggestions
-Spectrum Mom

Friday, February 3, 2012

Education Friday-Ways of Learning, Ways of Listening

Here at my house I continue to struggle to find how my child reads and if there is any way to make him retain what he reads better. Last week he read an entire chapter to himself at school, so he didn't want to read it again at home. But he could not answer any questions about it. I almost wrote that he remembered nothing about it, but I don't know that. I just know he answered "I don't know."
   At a recent Autism Society event I met a mom whose son loves Harry Potter. At school they concluded he did not understand 
what he read so eagerly because he could not answer questions about it. But at home he played games with wizards and wands. 
He understood the book in his way, even though he could not
discuss it.
   Another friend of mine home schools her neurotypical boys. She often reads to them while they pet the dog, toss a ball, wander around, etc. And they are listening. They are understanding. They are learning.
   I let my son act out some of what I read this week instead of making him hold the book and follow along till it was his turn to read. Then when I asked about the book I answered his "I don't know" with "What did you act out?"  
That worked better at the time, but by the end of the week he 
was back to "I don't know," and back to my saying "Then you
must read the page again until you find the answer."
He hates that. So do I.
What to do?
-Spectrum Mom

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Read Aloud Books Part Two

This week, read aloud books for school-age kids. Whether you're reading at home, at school, or putting together a story time for kids with special needs, figuring out what to read aloud to kids in elementary school may be puzzling. But as one of my librarian friends says, there's a picture book for every age! 
So here's a list of picture books (and one well-illustrated chapter book) to try with older kids with autism (or without).

500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins/Seuss
Bartholomew and the Oobleck/Seuss
longer, more complex Dr. Seuss-never be afraid to abridge if you’re losing your audience.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs/Barrett
Pickles to Pittsburgh/Barrett
are two books with proven appeal and great visual humor.
Lady Lollipop/King-Smith A fun chapter book about a royal pet pig, by the author of Babe.
Madeline/Bemelmans  Rhymes make this classic almost irresistible, and kids w/autism are usually less tied to gender/age expectations.
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch/Noble  A funny book that plays off of story conventions-also featured on an episode of Reading Rainbow.
Stand Tall Molly Lou Mellon/Lovell A be yourself book.
The Twin Giants/King-Smith  A funny story with BIG pictures.
Tuesday/Wiesner  another in the visual humor vein, very few words but with time and
date references (which appeal to kids with calendar interests).

Let me know which ones worked best-and ask the kids for their
favorites too.

-Spectrum Mom