Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘Asperger syndrome’

Why the “core values approach” to home education really works for us

Yesterday I discussed our philosophy and some of our methods when it comes to home education. It occurred to me after I’d posted it that I utterly neglected to mention the weekly baking we do, how much the girls help with shopping (especially at the Farmers’ market), and all the fun, crafty things we do. Ah well, now you know. We bake, we shop, we craft. 🙂

There are so many reasons that this approach is effective, that I would suggest that every person who is home schooling their children, or who is considering doing so, should first make a list of everything they hope to give their children from home education. That list will probably be a long one, and it should be refined and distilled until it’s a simple and clear (and achievable!) as possible. Once that’s out of the way, make a decision about curricula and methodologies is so much easier. You’ll be able to spot what you want – and what you don’t – at a glance!

For us, this really works for three reasons:

  1. I am sure that my children are learning what I believe is essential to becoming well-rounded adults.
    Because I have identified what I believe is most important, I can focus on those things. This process was done in consultation with many others, mentors, parents, pastors, home schoolers and (of course) Papa Bear. It was also the result of deep personal reflection and hours of research. I believe that our approach will deliver capable, resilient, well-rounded adults, ready and able to take on the world, and equipped with all the tools they need to face an ever-changing future.
  2. I know that I am not missing anything, since the net is fairly wide and covers the most essential bases.
    Most of what we learn in formal schooling is a series of facts. Why? When everything is available to us at the click of a mouse, why does it matter whether or not you know when the battle of Hastings was fought, or the scientific name for the Cape Swallow? I propose that it doesn’t matter. Of far more worth is a sense of the sequence of events (in History) and the ability to find things out for yourself. Spoon-feeding and regurgitating facts is a recipe for the learnt helplessness we see so prevalent in young people today, who seem unable to think for themselves, or take care of themselves, or make a valuable contribution to society. I am training young adults who will be able to make a positive impact.
  3. This approach supports my children’s learning styles (and my teaching style and need to work).
    My kids are unique. No one who has spent more than five minutes with them has ever doubted this. In fact, many of them have announced it to me within moments of meeting the girls, just in case I myself hadn’t noticed! Thanks, but we already knew. Between ADD and Tourette’s and what looks a whole lot like Asperger’s Syndrome, not to mention high IQs and sparkling wit, these two do not fit into any conventional boxes. Now, they don’t have to. And as a result, they have become so much more confident and self-assured. They’re ready and willing to interact with a wide range of people of all ages and races, and they no longer worry that, without their preassigned pigeonholes, they don’t have a place in their community. We also no longer have to battle feelings of failure and worthlessness because they don’t happen to be part of the eight percent of children who think and learn in the way that schools teach. We learn their way.

And of course, a key factor for us is the simple fact that we can afford it! Cost was one of the motivators for switching to home school, and since most of the material we use is either online (for free), at the library (for free), or in the head of a loving, engaged and doting grown up (for free!), we spend very little on education.

We may pay for outings, books or DVDs, or we might buy equipment for inventions and experiments, but I feel that these things are a much better investment than sending the girls to a school where the main thing they learn is to hate and fear learning. Now, let’s be really clear: I do not mean that all schools squash the love of learning in young minds. I do not mean that all teachers ignore the uniqueness of their learners. I know many, many children who love going to school, and who thrive there. And every teacher I know personally is a dedicated, passionate, involved individual who gives everything she has to elicit the best from her pupils. All I mean is that school doesn’t work for us. 

 

Parenting “on the spectrum” – part 2

Autism Spectrum Disorders | Image from http://www.autismdailynewscast.com

Autism Spectrum Disorders | Image from http://www.autismdailynewscast.com

In my last post I explained a little bit about what it’s like to live with a child on the autism spectrum, and how we identified that Goldilocks is such a child. Essentially, she has both Tourette’s and ADD, both autism-spectrum disorders. She also shows all the signs of high-functioning Aspergers as it presents in women and girls. So, without spending thousands of rands and dozens of hours on tests with the simple goal of acquiring a label for what we already know by plain observation, I’ve taken a different approach. I am harnessing the power of research, the internet, and maternal intuition to treat hat we’re presented with as best I can.

It is a work in progress. Every day present unique, unforeseen challenges, and I am sure I will never master the full scope of what it means to parent an “Aspie” with any degree of excellence. However, I can share what’s working for us right now, in the hope that it will help someone else.

Nine ways to help your Aspien Girl

  1. Identify her learning style

    We have spent a lot of time understanding just how Goldilocks processes the world. She is very musical, and even more kinesthetic. Ideally, I should be giving her hours of dance classes and free dance time, too. I am working on finding ways to share information with her that involve her whole body, and that use music. (Any suggestions are most welcome).

  2. Identify her triggers – food & environment

    Goldilocks can’t tolerate nuts, sugar, casein, lactose, wheat, gluten, grains, artificial colourants or flavourants, and any processed foods. Any of these, even in tiny doses, trigger asthma, tics, ADD and OCD. She becomes irrational, defiant and paranoid. She can’t control her body, her words or sounds, or her emotions. She is very likely to punch or kick others, break things, scream at people, flail around with her arms, forget things, shout, stamp her feet, be cheeky, be cruel in her words and actions, cry, make strange sounds and try to hide in small spaces. When she has not had any of these trigger foods, she is the easiest child in the world. She is pleasant, helpful, thoughtful, polite, kind and mature. She works fast and accurately in her school work and is artistic, creative and placid.

    Too much noise, heat or light, or noises that irritate; too much physical touch, or being forced into activities she can”t tolerate, trigger very similar reactions. While a certain amount of self-discipline is a valuable skill that she must acquire, forcing too much of it is a recipe for a melt down of epic proportions. It also results in what she calls a “tic bomb” at night, where she lies in bed making all the tics that currently form part of her repertoire, all at once, sometimes for hours on end.

  3. Make her feel safe

    This is key. At the tender age of eleven, with puberty looming large and what the scientific literature promises to be the very worst of her reactions to everything, Goldilocks finds it difficult, at times, to cope. My job is to let her know that it is okay to have “quiet times”, where she is undisturbed. It is okay for her to want and even need those times. It is okay for her to tic. It is okay for her to “cheat” in what she eats, and I will help her work through the consequences. It is safe to tell people about her challenges, and fine if she chooses not to do so. It is okay for her to go outside during Sunday School if the sheer weight of effort involved in socialising with so many people all at once is more than she can bear, and she devolves into one of her “tic bombs”.

  4. Make her feel understood

    As an extension of point 3, I need to make sure Goldilocks realises that I understand. In fact, I share (or have shared) some of these challenges, But even if that weren’t the case, I need to know as much as possible about what she faces. I need to do my homework. I need to invest time and energy into finding out what makes her “tic”, so to speak. Then I need to communicate that information to her, so that she knows she’s okay. And I have a duty to make sure that anyone else involved in her care in any way is aware of her special needs as well.

  5. Protect her from naysayers

    Sometimes, people just don’t get it. No matter how carefully I try to explain it all, or how much scientific backing I provide, they refuse to understand. They maintain that firm discipline will resolve the issue. Or they expect things she can’t hope to deliver. In those cases, I need to step in and run interference. I will always believe that education is the solution to our problems, and start these conversations with yet another attempt to educate the other person, to give them the tools they need to understand my unique little genius. And if they still stubbornly refuse to be nice, we gracefully exit the situation. We don’t actually have to put up with unpleasantness, and it’s my job, as her mom, to protect her from it wherever I can.

  6. Balance that protection with resilience-building determination

    Having said that, sometimes a little resilience goes a long way. I will protect my daughter, but I will also teach her to stand up for herself. I will protect my daughter, but not at the expense of a valuable life lesson: sometimes people are mean. Sometimes, people are hurting, and they lash out. We need to respond in kindness, gentleness and love. We need to be nice, even if others aren’t. This lesson breaks my heart a little bit, but it is vital, and I won’t shirk my duty.

  7. Don’t expect too much

    Goldilocks is gifted. Sometimes things come naturally to her. Often, she’ll look at a Math problem and it seems to solve itself in her head. She can read pages of old english fluently and with understanding. Science is as easy to her as eating chocolate is to me. And some days none of this is true. Some days, adding one to five is well beyond the scope of her abilities (just last week, in fact). On those days, I want to give up. My frustration is palpable, and she feels my disappointment like a living thing. A venomous snake, biting her, belittling her. Destroying her. I am ridiculous to expect to much on those days. I should revel in the good days and be patient and inventive on the bad days. But I am human (and busy) and I want every day to be a clockwork machine filled with highlights of genius and buoyed along by hours of happy, harmonious play. I expect too much. If I can give Goldilocks one gift, it is this: I will take each day as it comes. I will enjoy it thoroughly, regardless of how it goes academically. I will cease to measure “success” in academic terms, which have so little relevance to daily life. I will simply delight in watching her unfold into who she is meant to be.

  8. Don’t expect too little

    Even so, what can be worse than realising no one expects you to amount to anything? I will not do her that disservice. As parents of unique children, we need to be ready to expect the unexpected. They will always surprise us, and very often those surprises will be good – wonderful, even. I will expect her best, and thus elicit it, always encouraging her to be her own, wonderful self. I will remember that my idea of success, achievement, and excellence are not the same as her reality, and I will be sensitive to my tendency to measure things too strictly. We must embrace all that these angels offer us, and let them know that it is good.

  9. Love her unconditionally

    What greater gift can a child have than a mother’s love. No matter what. On bad days and on good. When she’s messed up. When I’ve messed up. When things are messed up despite our best efforts. This above all I commit to do. I will not hold grudges. I will not be cold and distant. I will not be unclar and vague. As far as I can, I will not be distracted. I will be available. But above all, I will love.

Today, I’d love to hear from you. Are you facing similar challenges? What’s working for you? And what isn’t? What have I left off this list and where am I going wrong? Please leave me a comment and let’s start a discussion on this vital topic.

With love,

Vanessa

Parenting “on the spectrum” – part 1

What “the spectrum” means

When my brother was about eight or nine years old, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. We were not surprised. He’d been impulsive and extremely “busy” since he was born. But the diagnosis gave us nothing more than a label for what we already knew to be true. Oh – and some personality-draining pills. In an effort to appease his teachers, my brother took his pills faithfully for some time. However, the effect they had on his emotions, personality and creativity were too great, and finally he and my parents called time on the drugs, choosing instead a series of expulsions as he wended his way through academia. Needless to say, despite an incredible IQ and masses of “potential”, he barely scraped through high school. And he hated it. As I watched, I vowed to avoid the same scenario for my children.

A tentative diagnosis

At first, we didn’t realise that we had any “special needs” in our family. Both girls are beautiful, bright and healthy. They excel at anything they set their formidable minds to. But that’s just the thing. They don’t set their minds to everything. Goldilocks, in particular, can be very focused and effective working on activities that interest her. But if an activity doesn’t engage her,  getting her to participate in it is no straight forward affair. You’d have more success milking a male mountain lion. Her teachers noticed that “something was up” before we did. What we identified as Goldilocks’ unique awesomeness, they identified as a learning disability. We were sent to speech therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists and paediatricians. In the end, the “experts” diplomatically told us that we were both right. Yes, she’s highly gifted. Yes, she has ADD. Here are some pills. Have fun. I fought tooth and nail against the party line for years. I refused to give my child Ritalin until the teachers refused to teach her if I didn’t. Even then, I took my laundry list of concerns into the doctor’s office with me.

  • What if her personality changed?
  • What if she lost her specialness?
  • What if her tics got worse?
  • What if? What if? What if?

My fears were well-grounded, and all of them turned out to be completely valid. Having read the material obsessively, I knew the side effects of that little white Teachers’ Aid. I have had tics all my life, and while I could easily dismiss my own (aren’t I a grown adult, after all?), I certainly didn’t wish the same on my child. She had enough on her plate as it was. The pill took effect devastatingly fast. School was no longer challenging in any way, and the teachers were delighted at the turn around. Poor little Goldilocks, however, lost her spark. She became withdrawn and depressed. She lost her appetite and a noticeable amount of weight. She began to express the wish that she’d never been born. It was then, when I identified suicidal ideation in my eight-year-old, that I stopped the treatment. We removed gluten from her diet and started her on a strong course of excellent Omega 3s. The teachers didn’t notice, and within a few months I began to see a glimmer of my little girl starting to resurface. The tics, however, got progressively worse. The paediatrician and a GP both flippantly acknowledged, “Oh yes, that’s Tourette’s”, and offered no further assistance of any kind.

No matter.

I trusted them not one jot and set off to find solutions myself. First things first, we investigated the link between migraines (which both Goldilocks and I are victim to), epilepsy (which my mom had in her childhood), ADD and Tourette’s Syndrome. That research led us to the link between these conditions and both Aspergers and Autism. Even then, I was reluctant to accept any labels. For one thing, I didn’t want my daughter in a “box”, so to speak. And for another thing, it seemed a little like Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy as I kept digging into what afflicted my little girl, trying to identify it. My research (and some good friends) led me to the blog of Tania Ann Marshall, a research pioneer on autism in women. Here I found lists of symptoms describing what Autism is and how it presents in girls. Because girls are not like boys, and their syndrome experiences are different, as well. I watched videos by thought leaders and research pioneers on the subject.

Symptoms of Aspergers in Girls and Women

Autism Spectrum Disorders | Image from http://www.autismdailynewscast.com

Autism Spectrum Disorders | Image from http://www.autismdailynewscast.com

Today I’ll end here, with a list of symptoms that all match my Goldilocks. Next time, I’ll go into some coping strategies for helping your autism-spectrum child be the best they can possibly be.

This list is taken from Tania Ann Marshall’s website, where she explains:

This profile was created for females who are self-diagnosing or considering formal diagnosis and to assist mental health professionals in recognizing Asperger Syndrome in adult females.

  1. Cognitive/Intellectual Abilities – girls with Aspergers tend to have above-average intelligence.
  2. Education/University Life – girls with Aspergers tend to have eratic performance at university and higher education institutions. Despite high marks, they have a tendency not to complete their studies.
  3. Career/Work – these girls are very often drawn to careers in the arts (writing, painting/drawing, acting or music) or careers working with animals. They tend to work to become experts in their chosen fields, thanks to their obsessive focus on things that interest them. Social interactions tend to be fraught.
  4. Social and friendships/relationships – “Aspien Girls” tend to battle to understand social interaction, and use “social echolalia” (copying the interactions of others) to mimic social graces.
  5. Communication  – she can find it difficult to express herself, especially under stress. Usually writing her feelings down makes it easier for her to be clear and calm.
  6. Physiology/Neurology – a woman or girl with Aspergers will tend to be highly sensitive emotionally. She will be easily upset if her environment is disturbing (too loud, messy, bright, dull etc). She may need to withdraw at times to recharge. She may have OCD, ADD or Irlen Syndrome, and may grind her teeth. She will probably battle with being organised, and is highly inclined to have wheat, gluten, grain, dairy and casein allergies. She may have tics.
  7. Physical Appearance – her dress sense will be unique. She is either very unlikely to conform to social norms, or ultra-conformative to the point of obsession. There is also anecdotal evidence of a link between girls with Aspergers and anorexia.
  8. Lifestyle  the Aspergers girl seeks peace. She prefers not to work with other adults, selecting children, books, computers, or nature instead. She tends to be obsessive about her area of interest. She requires routine and works hard to “automate” tasks to simplify her life.
  9. Relationship Choices/Sexuality/Gender – girls with Aspergers tend to date much older men, or to adopt a same-sex orientation.

There are more on the list but they are covered for the most part by topics mentioned here.


References

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