Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Holes and Elevators

I read an article awhile back about how being a mom actually makes you smarter. I absolutely concur. In fact, I'd add that being a stay at home mom must up one's IQ at least a few more points. Never mind those worries about "staying home is going to turn my mind to mush." I've used just as much brain power and creativity to come up with new ideas on the 5th snow day in the house than I did when I was crafting communications plans over at the hospital.

Add autism into the mix, and creativity when it comes to teaching and keeping things fun in the home becomes a MUST.

The thing with Ethan is that he is darned smart. This is not just a proud mamma raving here; his teachers told me back when he started school that he learns more quickly than any child they'd had in the autism program for quite some time. He's smart but lacks motivation and focus. I read somewhere that people with autism have an extremely difficult time doing something that they don't want to do. You know the way we have to tear ourselves away from a good book to do something like cook dinner? Or watch a movie someone else wants to watch but we're not interested in? We suck it up and do it. With autism, the brain and will resist more mightily.

The way this plays out for us often is that Ethan will attempt something for a moment, realize he's not interested and motivated, and bam! He's done and on to something else. What to do? I used to wonder...I STILL wonder, but now have a few more tools in my toolbox.

In Anna's class they often talk about "connecting thoughts." They read a story, for example, and then the kids tell about a connection they have to it; maybe something similar to the plot that happened in their own life. With Ethan I realized connections were huge. Or more than that, familiarity. His beloved ABA therapist Jessica first mentioned this, when I asked her how help him be at least minimally interested in the animals in the barn at the park.

"Why not sing Old McDonald?" she suggested. Of course. Ethan loves music, he loves the song, and it relates to the topic at hand. Singing Old McDonald brings something familiar and desirable into a new and (in his eyes) not that interesting experience. We tried that next time and voila! Progress.

And so I am always looking for connections. At the bird sanctuary the other day we sang Ethan's favorite rooster song once we saw the roosters. This made him smile and bought us more time there so Anna could enjoy the birds without us whisking by everything in a blur.

When Ethan turned three I thought we should think of ways to motivate him to start working on dressing himself. For awhile he wanted nothing to do with it. One day an idea popped into my head -- holes! Ethan loves holes. I can't tell you why, but they hold a special place in his heart. I wondered if introducing dressing as an opportunity to "look for the holes" might make the whole concept more attractive. "See the big hole?" I asked, opening a t-shirt for him. "These are the little holes," I added, pointing to the sleeves. Ethan was sold. A month later, he can dress himself with some help now. Every morning he goes through his shirt and pants, looking in the holes and asking, "Is THIS the big hole?" at each one. It's a little game now.

Ethan also has an affinity for elevators. At first I was just using them as a reward (i.e. "if you're good in the store at the mall we can ride on the elevator"). But then I wondered if there was another way to maximize the elevator's allure. First we tried Bristle Blocks. I thought building an elevator might interest Ethan a little more in the blocks. We met with some success. Ethan loved watching ME build an elevator, and he did help me build one, too, before smashing it. Recently I thought of our chalkboard. Ethan hates writing but really needs to keep practicing at it. His hands are weak and it's something he continually struggles with in OT. I can almost never get Ethan to write on our chalkboard, but last week I asked him to watch me drawing the elevator going up, up, up, and then down, down, down. That was all it took to get him over there. He grasped the piece of chalk and in his own clumsy way, which is improving, starting making lines up and down. Then I asked him to do a merry-go-round (another favorite), so we could do circles. He loved it! I was so happy to see him happy doing something he normally dislikes.

We are hoping to (finally!) plant our vegetable garden next week. I am thinking a certain someone just might be interested in dropping seeds in the "holes." It's worth a shot, anyway.

P.S. I know I'm not the only out there wracking my brain to come up with creative ideas to help my kids. Other moms of young kids reading this, I'd love to hear some of your inspirations!


Anonymous said...

such great ideas! it inspires me to think of ways to connect with my girl and help her learn. sometimes it seems so hard to know how to do that - especially b/c there's a lack of language. but music... i'm sure we've got something there...

Deb said...

Jeneil, music has been one way we've really been able to connect with my brother. We used to catch him humming snippets from church songs that we had no idea he knew. Years later I will sing those songs to him and he gets a gleam in his eye and starts singing. too. I DO think you have something there, as far as Rhema goes...