Monday, December 31, 2012


My Family at Emilee's "Giving Back to Autism 5K"
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a phenomenal young lady named Emilee. I had heard she was working on a senior project about autism, so I decided to help out. Her 5K fundraiser was absolutely perfect. She raised over $2,000, some of which will help fund communicative devices for my classroom.

(PS - Tanner ran the whole thing!)


Just before Christmas, I received a phone call to meet the EC (Exceptional Children Program) Director at the County Office. I was told someone was going to present our department with a check. Excitedly, I rushed to the office, where I met this remarkable young man named Aaron. He is a high school student from another local high school who is also doing his project on autism. His contribution will help fund items for sensory integration in my classroom.

picture taken from article on www.thedigitalcourier.com


I am amazed at the ambition of the young folks in our county. These two outstanding teens worked so hard to bring awareness to the community and to give back to a cause they deemed worthy. I am absolutely touched to have been a part of their journey.


As I sifted through piles and piles of my kids' books today (one of my New Year's Resolutions is to unclutter!), I came across one of the most life-changing children's books in our family. If you are remotely familiar with autism, you know that OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) comes with the territory. From the time Tanner was very small, he was a perfectionist. Any mistake he made while drawing (which he does a lot of) did not dare allow an eraser, but got crumpled, thrown, and trashed. Depending on the amount of time already invested in said drawing, a meltdown usually ensued. 

Then I found this little treasure:

It is a marvelous celebration of mistakes, or "Beautiful Oops". We used to read this book daily, often many times. Tanner loved the colors and the ability to interact with the book to see smudges, smears, and tears come to life. We even practiced making beautiful oopses from torn envelopes, old napkins, and crumpled newspapers. Soon, it was (almost) fun when we really made mistakes. 

Tonight, as I contemplated blogging about it, Tanner became upset when a tiny drop of water got on a picture he had printed, making a small faded place in the ink. I reminded him it was a "beautiful oops", and he decided to turn it into a raindrop and created a rainstorm (see below). :)

I highly recommend this book for any child, especially those who equate mistakes with failure. It is available on Amazon for less than $10.  
To see this awesome book in action, watch the YouTube video below:

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Every year on the first day of school, I always make it a point to explain to my students that "fair does not always mean equal". Equal opportunity requires student-centered teaching, classroom modifications, and/or behavior plans. This is what we now refer to as "Differentiated Instruction". It is a new catch phrase, but something good teachers have already done for years. If you are connected in any way to a child with special needs, you know this comes in the form of an IEP - a legal document to make sure you provide this individualized instruction to a student. 

Unfortunately, I have had to discuss this topic with more adults than children (you know, those teachers who insist on having Stepford children as students).

One of my favorite educational cartoons ("No Animal Left Behind")

 I often demonstrate the concept of "Fair vs. Equal" to others using a tactic I learned in grad school from one of my favorite professors, Johnnie Walkingstick:

royalty-free images
I tape two one-dollar bills high on a wall (but just within reach of a tall person in the room). Both bills are placed near each other at the exact same height. I announce to the class that I will call up two volunteers, each to retrieve a dollar. The task is simple: If they are successful at reaching a dollar, they can keep it! This immediately stirs interest and sparks conversation about who can reach it and who cannot. I then call up a "random" person (unbeknownst to them, I have already planned to choose a tall volunteer). This person reaches high, maybe even tiptoes a little, then gloats when they successfully snag the dollar. I then call up another "random" volunteer (this time I have decided ahead of time it will be the shortest person in the group). This person reaches and jumps to no avail. Without speaking, I slide a (safe) chair over and allow this person to stand and retrieve the dollar. 

Almost every time, someone will comment, "That's not fair!" This is the perfect teachable moment. The volunteer could not help that he was shorter. In order to make the situation "FAIR" - each person having the same opportunity to achieve the same goal, one person needed a little modification. The conversation is endless...

Here is a poster that can be used in your classroom, from Christi Fultz. 
Check out her blog for the free printable and other cool stuff:

Friday, December 28, 2012


Forty-five minutes. That’s how long it took for Tanner to stop crying over our recliner today. Not the sniffles…not crocodile tears…but the kind of crying that leads to hyperventilation and soaked bed sheets. 

Our recliner was a generous inheritance from my parents this year when they retired to Florida. After countless hours of kid-cuddles, Sunday naps and cartoon marathons, hubby and I decided it was time to retire our battered brown baby. The family fixture had seen better days (see photo) and it was time to part ways. Soooooo, my husband told Tanner to sit in the chair one last time before we took it out the door.

We were NOT prepared for what came next. Tanner ran to me, grabbed my legs and began to scream and wail. This began an absolute emotional meltdown of drastic proportions. Suffice it to say that Tanner was MUCH more attached to this piece of furniture than I could have ever imagined. 

I explained the overall condition of the chair and the safety issues it posed (obviously grasping). My husband promised a Father-Son trip to the recliner store. I even called my mother in on speaker phone for assistance. Tanner wasn’t having any of it. He continuously begged, “Please don’t take it away!”

I began to process this turn of events with my husband:

“We just totally disrupted Tanner’s schedule. We should have prepared him for this.”

“This recliner was his favorite place in the house. It provided security and we are jerking that out from under him.”

“How could we not have seen this coming? Tanner hates change. We are horrible parents.”

Once Tanner began to calm down (waaaaay later), I asked why he was so upset. He began to cry, “BECAUSE IT REMINDS ME OF NANA!”

For those of us dealing with autism, we have conditioned ourselves to scrutinize atypical details, to constantly uncover triggers of our kids’ behaviors, to “think outside the neurotypical box”. Sometimes, we miss the forest because we are dissecting the trees. Tanner missed his Nana and wanted to keep that piece of her with him - A touching response from any child.

The happy ending is that, visibly upset, my husband called a local upholsterer and dropped off the recliner this afternoon. His plan is to take Tanner to pick it up next weekend.  :)

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I would like to HIGHLY recommend a new Facebook Page, Autism Shines.  
The simple instructions on their page are as follows: 

"Upload your photo of someone you love with autism, or yourself, and caption it with something great about them. Help us show the world all the positive attributes of autism!"

If you "Like" their page (and make sure you are following them on your newsfeed), your days will be blessed with pictures of children and adults with Autism and the joy they bring to the people who love them. 

Here is a photo collage I recently contributed of my own son, Tanner:


I have decided to open my blog with a passage I recently posted on my Facebook page:

In response to the media frenzy on the "possible link between Aspergers and violence", here is my two cents: First of all, Autism is not synonymous with mental illness. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder. The stereotype that our kids lack empathy has led to erroneous reporting and unsubstantiated assumptions regarding those on the autism spectrum.

Yes, children with autism tend to be socially awkward and may have a more difficult time making friends than their neurotypical peers, but they are most likely to become a victim and not a victimizer. Violence is in no way, shape, or form a characteristic of Asperger Syndrome. Autistic "outbursts" are often misinterpreted as acts of violence, when in fact they are displays of frustration from the inability to communicate or express one’s feelings. As a result, aggression is most often self-directed.

My point is that folks fear what they don’t understand. Do the research. Listen to teachers and parents who deal with autism every day (the REAL experts) and know your facts. Don’t join the media bandwagon, or you’re likely to miss out on knowing some pretty cool kids.

Here are just a few statements from credible autism groups and parents: