LIFE IS A SPECTRUM

Debbie Yost, mom of three daughters, including one with Down's Syndrome, started a great tradition on her blog Three Weddings: Ability Tuesday. On the first Tuesday of each month, she writes about her daughter's ABILITIES, rather than her challenges. What a beautiful idea, I thought.

BillyPinkhat_small

So, of course, I'm going to steal it. No, not steal it ... pay homage by copying the idea blatantly.

Today is Tuesday and here are 10 things Billy can do much better than I can:

1. Sing. His voice is beautiful, and he adds a soundtrack to everything. His voice is pitch-perfect and he gives equal airtime to music composed by Dvorak (a current favorite) and Elmo (eternal).

2. Keep rhythm. Ask his Kindermusik teacher, Mrs. Jaci: His sense of rhythm is freaky-good. Insanely, we bought him a drum set for Christmas, though he will happily drum away on anything: table, chairs, microwave door, windows!

3. Remember people. It's not names he zeroes in on; it's usually some detail of his first encounter with someone, a detail that they might not even remember themselves. If you had a dog with you the first time he met you, even if it was six months ago and you were just dogsitting, you better be prepared to explain the absence of said canine on each subsequent encounter with the Billster.

4. Remember ANYTHING. Song lyrics, movie dialogue, the complete text of books he's only heard a couple of times. He has a media library in his head that I often wish I could tap into, particularly when someone is boring me (see #8).

5. Get his way with my mother. Where was this push-over when I was growing up?

6. Climbing. He's half mountain goat, half squirrel.

7. Dance with his heart and soul in it. Let me tell ya: The boy puts the “bust” in “bust a move.”

8. Entertain himself when people around him are boring. I wish I had the guts to just completely check out the moment someone starts boring me. And start singing my favorite song loudly in their faces. Or dancing with abandon for no apparent reason. Or pull their cell phone out of their purse and start screaming for them to show me the “Angry Birds game!” Kids are awesome and they don't even know it.

9. Escape from his clothing. Oy vey! Can I say that even though I'm not Jewish? Because the situation warrants it. If you don't believe me, click here for our trials and tribulations with our young Houdini.

10. Make Willow laugh. They have their own language. He only needs to look at her in some inscrutable way and she just falls over in hysterical giggles. She adores him and he can't make a step without her at his heels, just waiting for the next hilarious and fascinating thing her brother will do for her.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away." -- Henry David Thoreau

Reader Comments

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Billy

Re: #5 He always gets his way with me bacause, at this point in my life, I am better able to slow down - even stop - and appreciate a Masterpiece. That's what our li'l Billy is - an absolute masterpiece!

Memory

The memory comes in so handy for me when I can't remember someone's name, or their kids, or their dogs, or directions to their house, etc, etc.

What a fantastic idea!

What a fantastic idea, Amanda! Your number 10 made me tear up a little bit. The bond between siblings is such an incredible, touching, lucky thing. Your kids are blessed to have each other. :)

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I teach Sunday school every other Sunday morning at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church. The kids in my class can range in age from 5 to 10 years old. And they are awesome.

hello-kitty-angel

The first and last time Hello Kitty will show up on my blog.

Occasionally, I have to leave Sunday school and go repent of a few thoughts I've had over the past hour, but I always leave with a fresh perspective on religion, spirituality, life, and sometimes, variations on a few songs I thought I knew.

Usually, the class is pretty evenly divided between girls and boys, but today I had a class of eight girls. All girls.

Girls and boys are different, obviously. The boys will punch one another in the shoulders, make up violent lyrics to children's songs, stick the craft pipe cleaners up their noses, one-up one another and get increasingly loud until I have to shout to hear myself think sometimes.

The girls always raise their hands before talking. Their comments aren't always on point, per se, but they do politely wait their turn.

This morning:

Hand goes up in the middle of our story about an angel breaking the apostle Peter out of jail.

"Yes?" I ask.

"Look what I have!" and an energetic five-year-old jumps out of her chair and pulls a circular plastic lip gloss out of the pocket of her dress. "IT'S HELLO KITTY!!!" she's practically screams. Several necks crane to look.

"That's awesome," I say in what I hope is an adequately admiring tone. "Now let's put it back in your pocket until church is over, OK?"

Ever polite, satisfied and happy that she has now shared this with everyone, she complies and I go back to the story.

Another hand goes up. It's reaching and reaching and reaching, so eager to share.

"Yes?" I ask this new participator.

"I have lip gloss too!" And she pulls it out of her lavendar sparkly purse. An appreciative sigh goes throughout the group about this remarkable coincidence, which prompts a general dumping of purses in the middle of the table as everyone examines the contents of everyone else's purse in the search for yet more lip gloss.

"Ok! Ok!" I tell them. "Purses away. We're at church. And you all look beautiful. But today we're focusing on how we make ourselves beautiful on the INside." I get kudos for bringing this back around to a life lesson, huh?

Another hand goes up.

"Does your comment have anything to do with Peter and the angel?" I ask her.

She carefully considers this for several seconds. And slowly nods her her gorgeously curly head.

"OK," I say. "Let's hear it."

"I'm stronger than my dad."

We all mull this over a bit before several enthusiastic voices pipe up with "Me too! Me! Me!" and "I'm stronger than my dad too!"

After the lesson we went into a bigger room outside the class to play a game. It was a kind of "Tag" game with some kids playing angels and some playing guards and some playing prisoners. At first, they all wanted to be angels, until they realized that the guards had the most fun. One of the “prisoners” nearly got to the point of tears, so fearful was she that she wouldn't be "rescued."

Billy's class, the class below the girls in age, was in the big room too. Their class is less structured. They mainly play with toys, listen to music and have a snack.

The “tag” game with prisoners and angels totally enthralled Billy. He was so excited watching the girls play that he started jumping up and down and running in and out of the players, tagging people randomly.

He approached one of the girls – she's two years older than him but about the same height – and got very close to her. A bit too close for normal social comfort, probably.

But he had a big smile on his face and I could tell that he wanted to say hello. So I got down on my knees next to him and led him through the process of saying, “Hi, my name is Billy!” which he handled pretty well with prompting.

The beautiful big-eyed girl smiled back at Billy and told him her name.

Back in our classroom, I talked to the girls about Billy, about autism, and about how much I appreciate their kindness and patience with him as he learns things like how to introduce himself and how to share – still not his strong suit. They listened and took it all in matter-of-factly.

Later, as I was coming out of the nursery where I was picking up Willow, I saw a table of “my” girls playing with various games. Billy had plonked himself right down in the middle of them, reaching for the games and poking at the parts and pieces. And the girls weren't laughing at him or getting impatient or angry.

On the contrary. They were showing him how the games worked, which parts moved, how to make them turn. One little girl gently took Billy's hand and used it to make the spinner spin. His eyes lit up and a big smile spread across his face. He looked directly into her eyes and she smiled back.

I learned everything I need to know about angels today.

Reader Comments

Hello there!

Hi Amanda! We just connected on Twitter. Thanks for following me too! I have two daughters with bipolar and other neuropsych issues, and am getting certified in ABA so I'm excited to meet and learn from the community online who's affected by Autistic spectrum conditions. Glad to find your site. You're a kindred spirit, I can tell! Intense life, lots of resources to share, but full of humor and normal life too :). Very fun to meet you!

And I just started teaching Sunday school at my church this summer - 5th and 6th grade. Today's class was 7 boys, 1 girl. Wild, silly, and wonderfully fun. But no lip gloss for us ;).

Looking forward to learning lots from you and getting to know you better!

-Laurie

From Amanda Broadfoot

Thanks so much for getting in touch! Looking forward to checking out your blog too ...

High-five to a fellow Sunday School teacher too :-) I was nervous about signing up for that at first, but I've been so glad I did. Please stay in touch!

Total 2 comments

Are you tired of me yet? Probably. I'm in danger of becoming as over-exposed as Miley Cyrus this week.

monkeytyping

But seriously, I am super-excited to be guest-blogging in two different places this week, because both places are among my favorite online reads:

SouthernMOMentum.com
This great site is written by several Southern moms for Southern moms. Their witty take on all things motherhood will have you laughing, occasionally sniffling, and always apprised of unique shopping opportunities. I've written a piece for them, "Can we really have it all?", because the choreography involved in juggling full-time motherhood and (theoretically) part-time working has been on the challenging side this month.

36x37
Maura Bowen is an excellent writer who has given herself 365 days to do 36 things she's never done. I love the concept and I adore her honesty and beautiful writing style. She blogs about her journeys and occasionally features writers she likes. I was honored that she chose one of my posts about Billy, "Dream a Little Dream," to use on her site.

If you get a chance, check out these awesome sites this week. I guarantee you'll be reading them long after my posts have disappeared :-)

Reader Comments

Thanks!

Thanks so much for the shout-out! I'm so glad we've connected, and am grateful you were willing to post on my site. :)

Total 1 comments

I was staring into my medicine cabinet a couple of days ago, desperately searching for something for a headache that didn't have the letters “PM” in it. Apparently, there was a time in my life that I had trouble falling asleep, and I've been carrying around a couple of bottles of Tylenol PM ever since then. (FYI, I'm usually so tired these days that I could fall asleep while someone was punching me repeatedly in the head, so this was a very old bottle.)

pills

We were having one of those days. And I had a headache throughout it.

In hindsight, cutting out my caffeine intake on the same day that I was asking Billy to cut down on his TV watching probably was a mistake. It created a perfect storm of tantrumming and questionable parenting.

I took a couple of old-fashioned aspirins and started wondering if there was a drug for patience. Maybe there was some magical pill out there that would ensure I would never yell at my son and experience the kind of shame I felt when he looked back at me, his big blue eyes welling with tears.

Man, I felt like a heel.

Why shouldn't there be a drug for patience? There's a drug for everything else. And if you don't mind risking stroke, heart palpitations or sleep-eating (I'm not kidding; that totally exists), your nails can be clear of fungus, you'll never feel anxiety at parties and your legs will no longer be restless.

Just as a side note: How bad does nail fungus have to be before you're willing to risk stroke? Can't you just wear closed-toed shoes? And be alive?

So here's what happened: The night before I had created this detailed “lesson plan” for the day, outlining the book we would read in the morning, the craft we would create together, the songs we would sing, and everything had the same wonderful child-friendly theme: animals.

My children adopted the theme whole-heartedly by behaving like animals throughout most of the day.

Billy started the morning off by shouting, “Please stop singing!” at me every time I opened my mouth – whether to sing or to read. He pitched an almighty tantrum at any mention of the bathroom. Then while I was retrieving a crayon from Willow's mouth, he shredded up the paper I had intended us to use on the craft. When I tried to act out a little play with a monkey puppet, he pulled it off my hand and threw it across the room. “Throw it in the garbage!” he screamed.

“Stop it!” I yelled back at him, really loudly. “Just sit down! I've had it!

He dropped to the floor and started bawling. And I wanted to crawl into a hole.

My head was pounding by the time they went down for a nap and I was feeling like world's worst mother.

Whenever I get really down or Billy has a particularly challenging day, I start hearing these little voices in my head. The drug voices. Don't worry: They aren't voices urging me to do drugs. They're the voices of the doctors who have suggested drugs for my son. For his autism.

He was two when we first visited a neurologist who suggested we try MAO inhibitors. Less than a year later, a neuropsychologist (I don't even know exactly what that is) brought it up again. Of course, she also had a clock in her office sporting the logo for Zoloft, so I took her opinion with a grain of salt.

In both cases, we had no interest in drug therapy. Actually ... I shouldn't say that. Instead, I'll say that we didn't think it was the right choice at the time. After all, he was two.

That being said, I hear their voices in my head sometimes saying, “Why don't you just try it? See if it eases his anxiety. He can't learn if he's anxious or overwhelmed and won't make a kitty cat craft ...”

Ok, that last bit I kind of made up. But I start to worry that I'm missing out on crucial learning years. That he'll be so anxious at school that he'll miss his window and never learn something important like his right from his left or how to multiply things times 2 or where north is. And someone will say, “Clearly if you had given him anti-depressants when he was three years old, he wouldn't be walking around in circles right now.”

But we've always felt strongly that as long as he was making real progress, we wouldn't resort to drugs. We're afraid that we won't really know where he stands developmentally is he's drugged – particularly while he still has communication delays. It may be different when he's older, when he can talk to us about how he's feeling but ... it just doesn't feel right.

Billy slept for a long time during that nap. I had a lot of time to obsess and worry and wonder. After almost three hours, he woke up – and he had a big smile on his face. “Good morning!” he announced with a big smile on his face when I came in his room. It was almost 3 o'clock.

He didn't cry when I took him to the bathroom. And when we got downstairs, the carnage from the abandoned kitty cat craft was still all over the floor. We both sort of stared at it.

“I'm sorry I yelled at you,” I said to him.

“I'm sorry,” he repeated back to me. Good enough.

Taking a big breath, I asked him, “What does Billy want to do?”

He started blinking rapidly, something he's doing currently when he's trying really hard to think about how to say something. He raised his cupped hand up to his eyebrow level and gestured with it, in a move we call “the fin.”

“B-b-Billy ... I want ... to go outside,” he told me.

No wonder he didn't want to do a kitty cat craft or sing a stupid song about a monkey. So we went outside.

As a prescription, a nap and a run-around worked wonders. The only side effects were a few bug bites and a pair of muddy shoes. My headache disappeared and my patience returned ... mostly.

I could still probably use that drug for patience. Until they invent that, I've gone back on the caffeine.

Reader Comments

Drugs

Kudos to you for avoiding the drugs. My daughter is 6 and we have successfully avoided them...so far. I can't say that we will never try them, and I don't judge anyone who does. I've had the EXACT same scene with my daughter where I yell and then apologize...some days you just can't help yourself. I'm waiting for that patience drug too!

From Amanda Broadfoot

I'm so glad to hear you say that your daughter is doing so well at 6 without drugs. Like you said, I in *no* way judge people who go the drugs route because each child is different, and we may very well make that decision at some point. But I'm sure every parent would prefer not to have to take that road if possible.

So far, Billy's continuing to make great progress without them. Me, on the other hand ... eh, maybe *I'm* the one that needs the drugs!

Total 2 comments

I can still remember learning to read. It was a very exciting time. I was in first grade, and we were taught phonics with the Open Court system.

predecodables

If you're around my age, you'll remember the wall cards with the letters and pictures on them, and the chant that we stood and recited every morning: “Block A, Block A ...ay, ay, ay! Beating heart, beating heart ... buh, buh, buh!” And so on.

There was a story behind the pictures associated with each sound. We started with the letter “M,” which we learned made the sound “mmmm...” The picture on the card was a girl enjoying an ice cream cone, and she was the star of the story. I can remember each picture on every card, because it made sense and had relevance to the story.

As we learned another letter, another bit of the girl's story was revealed: At one point she saw a motorboat on the water, which made an “nnnnn....” sound. And at another plot point, she encountered an angry cat, teaching us “fffff...” sound. At various points in the story, she cracked some nuts(C- and K-), knocked on a door (D-), got out of breath (H-), made some coffee (Qu-), and encountered a frog (G-), baby birds (Y-), an angry lion (R-) and apparently, a ghost (Oo-).

I have a couple of points. First of all, the story was exciting. There were ghosts! And lions! And motorboats! And ice cream!

Secondly, I was six years old. My mom had taught me how to read quite a few words before then, but the school didn't actually attempt to teach me to read until I was six.

Billy started pre-K when he had just turned three. Almost immediately, his class began with sight words.

The first word I was taught in school was “ME.” It had obvious significance for me, and I knew how to sound it out because I had been taught the “ice cream sound” (M-) and “Block E” (long E-).

Billy's first word : “the.” How do you teach a 3-year-old the significance of “the.” WHY do you teach a three-year-old the significance of “the?”

In my first grade class, after learning “me,” Mrs. Peel taught us the “knock on door” consonant (D-) and “the angry lion” (R-) and I sounded out the word “deer.” My first book: We Feed A Deer. A little light on plot, sure, but it was followed by Fire! Fire! (long I-) and one about a jewel heist on a boat (long O-) that I remember to this day.

Billy's books are called “pre-decodables” and they are the most boring stories on the planet. In fact, calling them “stories” is a little misleading. They are more like word collections.

Some of the titles are A Table, The Pond and The Cows, and they make We Feed a Deer read like an episode of “CSI: Miami.” I mean, come on, who ever heard of a children's book in which the protagonist was a TABLE?

Here is the actual entire text of The Pond:
"The pond.
He and I are by the pond.
The frog is by the pond.
The pond."

Billy's going to start his second year of pre-K next month, and he will very likely be getting the same material again. The only thing worse than studying The Pond for a week is a re-run of The Pond. I've tried getting these books back out to re-familiarize him with the sight words, but the last time I pulled one out, he just laid his head down on the table and started to weep softly.

His favorite books at the moment are Madeline, which involves crying and emergency surgery and a man with a “hurchy foot” and scars and presents and balloons (these plot twists are listed in the order of their importance to Billy), and Finding Nemo, which has sharks and a blowfish and water and a seahorse and hugs and lots of shouting.

The Pond can't compete. I'm glad he's learning to read at school. I just hope the plotless reading material doesn't cause him to develop an aversion to it.

Books are competing with more stuff than ever for kids' attention. It's never been more important to make their reading material exciting and challenging – even if they are three. Especially if they're three. Have you seen an episode of the "Wonder Pets?" Those animals get around.

For the time being, I'm spicing up The Pond with a few plot twists of my own. I hope it doesn't raise too many eyebrows in the fall if Billy explains how the giant frog at the pond ate the boy who then cried and cried until his friends, the magical fish who were cousins of Nemo, sang the theme to the “Wonder Pets” and saved the day.

Now that's a story about a pond.

Reader Comments

Teaching Reading

Still laughing here. The truth is always funnier than fiction. You are a great mom and natural teacher. You're also the only person I know with a memory that can even mildly compare to Billy's. Keep up all the good work! I love you. Mom

Feeling jipped!

Wes and I BOTH feel cheated! Never once did that ice cream eating girl every star in a story for us that involved knocking on doors or zooming off in boat full of diamonds. I can vaguely remember a ghost, but I don't remember him ever haunting Madam Gelato. Bummer! :)

Then again I did have Mrs. Miles teaching me in 1st Grade, who secretly, and by secretly, I mean she held her hand in front of her face while she exclaimed to her aide three feet away from me that she couldn't believe I was the sister of that really smart girl who knew lots of big words. Chances are, Mrs. Miles of Meanness cut out all the good stuff!

Most teachers are saints in my opinion because they have a HUGE responsibility on their shoulders to shape the hearts and minds of youth. Self-esteem and confidence can both be directly correlated to those early mentors. If they are good, the affect is good. If they are bad, it is horrid. 1st grade was a tough year! LOL


Oops!

OK, I'm embarrassed...I posted before spell check! For the record, I do know that gypped is not spelled jipped. Ugh...maybe that Miles chick was on to something!

I had the pleasure of teaching the Open Court Reading program to my first graders in 1972. It was an amazing phonics program. I taught both of my children using the same technique and would love to teach my granddaughter as well. I am unable to locate the sound cards, etc. I have looked at the Open Court website, but it appears that their sound cards have changed. In fact, I called them and spoke to a representative, but they were not aware of the sound cards that I was interested in, i.e. M for ice cream, S for flat tire, etc.

I would appreciate hearing from anyone who knows where I can purchase these old sound cards and books.

Total 4 comments

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