Friday, February 02, 2007

Plans for Aidan

The bottom line is that disabled children too are "born persons", and have the right to move at a pace of their own (excellent blog post at the Common Room, and here is the follow-up about Head Start -- the book she mentions, When Slow is Fast Enough, is definitely a keeper -- it reminded me a bit of John Holt's How Children Fail).

I wrote a bit about When Slow is Fast Enough on my other blog: here and here.

This post is the first in the series-- the next posts are:

Anyway, to start with the context for my plans for Aidan, I am putting down two former posts, one to the Catholic Charlotte Mason list from 3 years ago when Aidan was just getting healthy enough so I could actually think about education past basic survival and nurturing; and another I wrote more recently on the Real Learning message board (that will be in the next post). It is incidentally rather affirming to look at these old plans and see how much they did influence how we worked with Aidan and how much he has progressed. Though we never did get very elaborate with the arts&crafts -- we still seem to rely on therapist visits for most of that kind of thing!

from 3 years ago:

My 4yo Aidan is developmentally delayed and has sensory integration disorder after a liver transplant and stroke in infancy. The fact that he is also curious, responsive and full of joy and humor I credit mostly to his warrior spirit and to the grace of God.

At the same time, though, I think the fact that he has parents and siblings living a homeschooling life around him and with him, that there are books and pencils and papers everywhere, plus conversation and activity and lots of affection, has been a help.

Recently Aidan's vocabulary has blossomed tremendously. Ever since he was an infant we have sung to him, recited nursery rhymes to him, and showed him pictures in books. He loved all this, but was not able to give any verbal feedback. A year before last March, when he was just turning 3, he literally had 25 words, and that was counting both vocal AND signs -- I made a list. Now he is saying sentences as long as 4 or 5 words. This kind of progress, of course, I took for granted with my other children, but for him it has had such a liberating effect as he is able to express his feelings and opinions and make "jokes" -- even though in primitive toddler talk.

I was thinking about how CM can be worthwhile to special needs kids and came up with this list-- right now targeted towards preschoolers:

Nature/Outside time: vocabulary, sensory integration, gross and fine motor development, thinking skills such as observation and classification, physical health.

Literature: language rhythms, vocabulary, development of attention span and relationships, social comprehension.

: fine motor, sensory integration, organization

-- rhythms, intellectual enhancement, relaxation of stress/anxiety

All of the above
-- "connections" or relationships with the world and with other people

eg order, attentiveness etc -- well, he does not pick up good behavior intuitively -- he needs to be taught specifically and reinforced often and often.

A follow-up post also from 3 years ago

Though children with disabilities probably do need more intervention than typically developing kids who just seem to learn by osmosis, they share the same need to be respected as small persons. Aidan has a stuffed Pikachu pillow. It came with him to the hospital -- he sleeps with it - he talks to it and it talks back -- you get the picture. My daughter mentioned today that she was bugged by one of Aidan's therapists making Pikachu part of one of Aidan's lessons -- "...making Pika talk like a Sesame Street character" in her words -- saying something about how well Pika knew his ABCs or something. It bugged me a little too -- and I realized it was because to Aidan, his toy is an imaginary friend and companion and protector -- not an object to be manipulated for the sake of a teaching moment. OK -- Pikachus are NOT very CM but this is just an illustration of something that sometimes bothers me -- and why I'm glad we homeschool!

I have for Aidan this year: Story Stretchers for Infants and Toddlers, the Gryphon "Comprehensive Toddler Curriculum" and a manual on Apraxia for preschoolers. I like the literature lists in the first two and some of the ideas for extensions will be useful. HOWEVER, I am going to resist the temptation to push the "curriculum" at the expense of the kid. Aidan is very inconsistent -- quick to learn when motivated, then distant and unfocused when something is going on to distract him. He does something like the poem counterpoint, and I'll think he's made a breakthrough, then he won't do an equivalent thing for weeks or months. I have to seize the good moments and build on them, and not be disappointed by the steps backwards. Easier said than done.

SO rather than have a lesson plan and a set structure, I have to have a short list of priorities in my head that I can build on in the course of the day during his regular activities. Right now my priorities are -- encouraging imitative speaking and turn-taking, developing the ability to speak longer strings of words, extending vocabulary and improving eating skills. Toilet-training and self-dressing are somewhat further down on the list.

So whether outside or inside, doing art projects or looking at books, I am trying to do things in two layers. One layer is the receptive comprehension ability. I try to build new language by elaborating on things he already knows. We do this by talking about pictures in books, or by making up story lines about things he is doing. If I "lose" him, I go back to what I know he
will respond to. This is a little like Greenspan's Floor Time concept, but not so forceful because Aidan is not autistic.

The other layer is the expressive communication. When I do or say something that he wants me to repeat -- like a new nursery rhyme -- I have him say or do something to elicit the repetition. The kids do this too, by habit. It's become second nature. Once he's repeated something many times in imitation of us, he finally incorporates it into his "spontaneous" repetoire.

CM recommends a broad exposure to different forms of knowledge or ideas -- and I find again and again that Aidan will seem to tune out something or even seem afraid of it, and then over time, if one is patient and careful, he will accept whatever it is and build a relationship with it. An example -- he had a Dorling Kindersley First Word book that he had looked at so much that he had worn it to pieces. I bought him a DK board book set in the same format with an Alphabet and Number book. At first he wouldn't even look at them or touch them. Over time, by leaving them around and occasionally picking one up and saying, Aidan, look at the grapes (or whatever) he got attached to them. This is how it works with almost everything.

Because of Aidan's "issues" he needs lots of repetition and reinforcement in order to really acquire a new idea or word. But it can't be just rote repetition, it has to be something that he accepts and enjoys, and it has to be introduced in different contexts. So I have to keep my agenda in the background, and be observant of him -- a sort of CM "masterly inactivity". Usually the best way to introduce something is to appeal to his imagination, his affectionate personality, or his sense of humor. And then....wait and give him time. If he isn't responding, I drop it and go to something else.

For Nature Study, what we do now is pretty informal. When he is feeling good and wants to walk, I let him explore and just talk about what he seems interested in. But when he prefers to stay in his stroller, I do bring him things and if possible relate it to something that he's seen in a
book -- OR often I do it the other way around and show him the book after he's seen whatever out of doors. One of his books had pictures of leaves, but he ignored them until I showed him leaves outside and he had a chance to handle them.

Eventually I'll become more structured about this -- collect rocks after showing him a book about rocks, that sort of thing. Let him bring his own collections home and store them to look at later. He is a little hesitant about handling natural things, probably because of the sensory integration issues. So I don't push things much right now.

About Arts and Crafts: I'm still getting arts and crafts off the ground for this school year -- I plan to have the siblings oversee a daily activity with him. We have a Headstart teacher come into the house weekly and she brings fun arts and crafts. He learned to use scissors (with help) last week. He also had a lot of fun with tempera paint. So I think mostly I will follow up on what she introduces. As time goes by I can tie his arts and crafts into what he is listening to in books. He is not really at that stage of development yet. He does like me to draw pictures for him, especially on his arms!! I draw happy faces or circles or whatever vocabulary I am emphasizing and hopefully, that teaches him a little about symbolic representation as well, especially since my drawings aren't very good!

How about "food art??" That is what we have been focusing on since Aidan came home from the hospital. He got extremely orally aversive while he was sick, to the point where he would gag if he saw anyone in the room eating. Today he helped me make coffee cake, pouring the liquids in and stirring. The other day he helped his brother make French toast. We occasionally make edible play dough -- basically cookie dough without the eggs -- for him to roll out and cut
with cookie cutters. All the kids like this.

He does a lot of water and sand play for sensory integration. I plan to adapt some of the Montessori activities for him this year A lot of pouring, arranging and sorting -- hopefully will help him slow down and do things more carefully -- he is sort of destructive right now, today he deliberately scattered cereal all over the floor not from malice but because he just couldn't resist.

I just sang the Muffin Man about 30 times for Aidan today : ) He laughed every time! I like the idea of music during therapy -- well, usually we do this too, but again it's me singing and I don't know if that counts as music. It sure works to help him through the more challenging stretches and bends though. I make up songs for him -- this is a family habit -- putting our own words to familiar tunes -- he really loves this and I think it helps him "pace" his own words. Up till recently he had a very difficult time saying more than 3 syllables at a time -- now his record is 12. Either singing or chanting gives him a rhythm to follow and helps him extend his length of utterance.

We have a keyboard, a guitar, and various kinds of whistles/recorders. We listen to a wide variety of music -- Corelli and Saint-Saens to Celtic and folk rock. Again, it's more CM "atmosphere" than a specific goal-oriented program.


BH said...

Hi, Willa --

I hope you won't consider this an intrusion, but I wanted to invite you to visit my new blog:, where I'm writing about the school at which I work. It's a music/vocational school for young adults who are disabled; we also offer a summer Music Therapy Camp for children ages 7-11. I work every day with families who are on a journey similar to yours -- I wish you the very best. Beth

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post. You have captured something I'm always trying to sort out -- the need to work on developmental milestones in a more premeditated, purposeful way with kids with special needs without losing the opportunity for a spontaneous, joyful way of learning that honors the child as a unique individual.

Willa said...

Thanks Miranda, I know, it's always a balance, isn't it?