Archive for the ‘Fragile X Syndrome / Autism’ Category

First of all, I’d like to say that I am not picky with the term “special needs” ; I think today’s Mama Mondays post can help EVERY child!  A child does not need to have a diagnosed impairment to require extra care and attention.  Strong-willed children have special needs; “picky” children have special needs; sensitive or insecure children have special needs.  Most children require a little extra help regulating anticipation and delaying gratification; Christmas can cause a lot of stress even in “normal” children with all the promises of upcoming parties and presents and the delay in realizing them.

For some children who have no concept of time, however, anticipating joyful events can be extremely painful: all promises of future enjoyment swirl around tantalizingly at the same time, all demanding immediate attention, creating a cacophony of desires, worries, and expectations that make present fun unenjoyable and future fun seem irreducibly distant.  Not only are such children miserable, but their parents are usually worn thin with unceasing requests (I think there is probably a version of PTSD that applies to us parents of autistic children in particular!)  No answer we give is satisfactory because the repetition is really a cry for help to sort out what is going on.  Our children are lost in their own desires and have no internal framework for our verbal answers to help them.  We can say, “We are going to Grandma’s on Christmas Day” a thousand times (in response to a thousand, genuinely distraught requests for Grandma’s house), but it has no meaning.  When is Christmas Day?  Is it now?  Is it later?  Will it never come?

Part of the difficulty in hearing those repetitive requests–from an autistic child or otherwise confused or disappointed child–is because our hearts go out to our children when we see how much they struggle with understanding what is going on.  We want to help them; because we have no personal difficulty relating words to concepts of time sometimes we forget that some children cannot visualize what time is like.  Even if our children are fairly well-regulated most of the time, the excitement of Christmas may be enough to disconnect whatever the child may understand of time and cause them to revert to a more immature understanding.  In either case, it is immensely helpful to have an EXTERNAL reference the child can see to teach or reinforce WHEN to expect certain events.

Below, I have created a very simple “Sliding Visual Schedule”.  You could make it in less than an hour.  If you use it faithfully each day and try to stick to a similar routine each week, the repetitive requests for certain events or people should be noticeably curtailed over the next few days and weeks.  Special Schedules can be made for certain times of the year (especially if your child is off school and off schedule); Thanksgiving schedules or Christmas Schedules, for example, can be introduced by saying, “We are going to have a different schedule this week because it is Thanksgiving.  You can help me move the Day Slide over and the Activity Slide down.”

Of course, it may be useful not to mention any events in advance at all because this can be very confusing to children with special needs; if, however, your child is already anticipating or requesting something, this Sliding Visual Schedule should function as external scaffolding upon which an internal sense of time can be developed to put the desired outcome in its proper place.  Once the child has a visual understanding of what is going on, verbal reminders (with pointing to the schedule) are useful to reinforce the concept: “We are going to Grandma’s house on Christmas Day, here (point).  Today (point) is Christmas Eve; we are watching a Christmas movie tonight.  Tomorrow (point) we will go to Grandma’s.  We are still here (point) today and our day is not finished yet.”  Now your words make more sense!

I printed an 11 row x 8 column table, with five simple activities each day of the week (you can use Excel or Open Office Calc, etc.). I used clip art to paste into the larger cells and wrote a descriptive phrase for each activity in the cells underneath. It is extremely important not to clutter your schedule with every activity you plan to do each day: your child only needs to know the “high-points” that will help him pace himself through the day.  Keeping it simple will help your child not to become overly rigid with his schedule and will give you more grace to adjust plans as needed (avoiding further confusion or disappointment!)

The vertical piece of card (“Day Slide”) is slightly taller than the page: a v-shaped cut helps it to hang on the top of the page as it slides horizontally. The horizontal piece of card (“Activity Slide”) has two v-shaped cuts on each side that help it to slide vertically; friction helps it to stay in place so it is important not to space the cuts too far apart.

I put our schedule on the ‘fridge and secure the bottom of the Day Slide with a weak magnet that holds it in place without impeding its movement.  Within three to four days our autistic child’s request for Grandma’s house reduced to almost nothing (by comparison): she now only asks for Grandma’s house when she is upset or confused about what we are doing (i.e. whenever there is a deviation from the schedule…she is still trying to figure out how going to Grandma’s house relates to each activity we are doing!)  This is a significant improvement from being asked every five minutes (yes, literally that often!) if she can go to Grandma’s house.

I am going to give God the credit for this one.  Not only was I beside myself with frustration and concern for our autistic child’s unceasing requests but I had completely forgotten how important visual scheduling can be.  I asked God for help and this idea popped into my head.  In the spirit of Christmas I can genuinely say: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE among those with whom He is pleased!  I wish you and your children the same this year (and for the next).

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Sprouted Lentil Pizza Crust & toppings prior to baking. Yum!

I recently had a challenge for my FXS child’s birthday party: to make a grain-free pizza crust that did not contain any oil (I have a relative who gets terribly sick when eating grains or certain oils).  I didn’t want anyone to miss out on the nutritious pizza goodness so I reached into my cupboards to see what I had leftover from our GFCF elimination diet “season”: half a cup of almond flour/meal.  That was it.  I found a way to make it stretch using half a cup of sprouted lentils, some yogurt, and one egg; click here to check out my killer grain-free pizza crust that makes a mean (tasty) personal pizza.  For the toppings I used reduced Homemade Spaghetti Sauce (requires roasting tomatoes on low for a long time; you could easily use my Fresh & Fast Pizza Sauce Recipe and it would probably taste just as good!), shredded (at home) mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes, and some Rosemary sprinkled on the top.  Buon appetito!

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Get a Helping of Hope through your TV!

First of all, I’d like to say that this post is probably not going to make the point you think it will!  I could drum up the statistics on obesity, attention deficits, etc. to berate the use of Television in the home; however, the purpose of this post is not to criticize how long we let our kids watch TV, it is to give hope and help so we can make right choices (wherever we’re at) to a bright future.

Exempli gratia, if I told you to buy nothing but organic products (which would be a good thing: who wants to eat anything with 15 different pesticides on it?), you wouldn’t do it.  Neither would I: I can’t afford it.  Or more accurately, I haven’t rearranged my budget to make that a priority.  What I CAN do is buy the organic versions of  the 12 most pesticide-ridden vegetables and fruits and buy regular produce that has few pesticides.  It’s a step in the right direction; now I have significantly reduced my risk for developing Cancer and other bodily ailments.  Once I get used to buying some organic products I can buy more as my grocery budget increases…or maybe even contemplate growing my own as an investment stratagem!

It’s the same thing with TV, I think.  Ideally, none of us would use a TV except for Family Movie Night and documentaries.  We should be frolicking out in the fields, playing board games, reading stimulating books, and ACTUALLY talking with each other about our day.  Yes, we should.  I am sure in the long run the costs of NOT doing those things are pretty high, just as the cost of eating pesticide-ridden food is very high.  Few of us are in a position, however, to LEAP from where we are at now to where we ought to be.  There is little environmental support to do so; our lifestyles are systemically busy, we forget how to do things with our kids, and at the end of a busy day it is less emotionally and intellectually demanding to entertain ourselves to drowsiness than it is to engage in meaningful conversation with our loved ones.

For some of us, the situation is a little different.  Perhaps depression has set in and you just don’t know how to engage your kids; you feel worthless as a parent.  Your feelings aren’t motivating you to interact with your children and your self-condemning thoughts are preventing you from emotionally connecting to them.  You have “zero” physical energy to do anything other than sit on the couch.  The more you sit and criticize yourself for using the TV, the worse you feel and the depression deepens.  If that’s you, I want you to stop feeling badly about yourself and your kids’ situation; letting your kids watch a lot of TV may not be an entirely good thing, but it need not be a terrible thing if you know how to direct it (more on that below).  If these feelings describe you I have the following advice **from experience**:

  • Make sure you are getting the nutrition you need to physically recover (see my Transformation Tuesdays posts for positive steps you can take to start feeling better).  My brain completely crashed after eating a Standard American Diet through college; it took me over a year to write my undergraduate thesis, I forgot to pay the wedding videographer before he moved (I still don’t have my Wedding DVD after seven years of trying to get in contact with Hafer Video…), I was unemployed for six months and when I finally did get a job, I was not even close to being “myself”.  Working and suddenly pregnant, I ate out every day and the depression only worsened.  Only when I started eating eggs everyday did I start to feel better, and only when I got rid of corn syrup did I get rid of my Seasonal Anxiety Disorder.
  • Make sure you are getting a dose of healthy “thoughts” that will change your outlook (see my Faith Fridays posts for encouragement from the Bible).  I recommend listening to or watching Joyce Meyer’s Enjoying Everyday Life show (yes, on TV!); The Lord used her in my life to help me get over a nasty, three-year-long depression.
  • Please make sure you are talking about your struggle with someone who can love you into wholeness.  Not just someone who gives you advice, but someone who listens.  At my church we have Celebrate Recovery; if there isn’t a CR group near you, you may be able to find local support groups through your child’s school or you can speak to a professional counselor or pastor.  Stephen’s Ministry is another organization available at many churches; you will have to check out your local churches’ websites or call to find out if they have that or a similar option.  Make that your goal for this week, even if you don’t feel able to do the previous two recommendations.

Perhaps like me you have a special needs child who was (and may still be) unresponsive to your attempts to make a structured, educationally rigorous, and visually engaging work….um, home…environment.  You read the books (or blogs), created your homeschooling plans to have your child graduate from high school at age 14, and envisioned them memorizing the first five books of the Bible by age 13 like the Jewish children in Jesus’ time 😉 !  But the child you received as a gift from God did not roll, sit up, crawl, or even walk on time.  He did not speak, had difficulty eating, and refused to play with toys.  He did not pester you with questions as you imagined he would, did not ask for help, and didn’t want to do…anything.  Even touching, hugging, and smiling became difficult for him.

That’s what happened in our family; the only solution that seemed to make our Fragile X Syndrome Child (with Autism and Attention Deficits) engage in ANYTHING was TV.  It started with Veggie Tales, moved on to include the Gaither Gospel/Homecoming shows (how much music transformed our FXS child’s face!  The tube wasn’t the only thing glowing 😀 !), and then we progressed to preschool TV shows.  We read books and tried different toys but the majority of learning came from our TV.  When our FXS child became overwhelmed by all the sensory inputs in our home, TV was the only solution to the resulting outbursts and fits; it soothed and numbed a brain clawing for an input it could safely hold on to.

As I suggested at the beginning of this post, I am not going to say what you think I might say.  I’m not going to say TV is bad; through bouts of depression and coming to terms with special needs parenting, we have relied on it quite a bit.  I have no idea what is too much TV and for whom, but I have found the following RIGHT CHOICES very helpful:

  1. AVOID COMMERCIALS LIKE THE PLAGUE.  Bright future: children with a higher attention span who are less demanding or materialistic than many other children and whose self-esteem remains relatively untouched by the subliminal “sex, money & power” messages that come through advertizing.  There are several ways to do this:
    • DVR: whether you have a standard TV signal or cable/satellite, a Digital Video Recorder can help you to be more selective with the shows you watch, give you flexibility to watch recorded shows at a time convenient to you (so you aren’t forced to “watch what’s on”), and most importantly allows you to fast-forward through those dratted commercials and pause for real-life interruptions.  It is worth the additional $5/month or whatever promotion is available to you.
    • Cable/Satellite: only allow your children to watch commercial-free children’s channels.  With most providers, you can set locks for ratings and times you don’t want your children to watch.
    • Internet TV (Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime): If you have a PS3 (as we do), you can easily access internet TV companies and play BRDs.  I recommend Netflix on the PS3 because it has a child-interface that blocks scary grown-up icons and is easy to use.  You can select from many educational and age-appropriate children’s shows, including family movies, 24-7, for only $8/month.  (This way you can save your cable/satellite bill and spend it on organic veggies…right?)
    • VHS/DVDs/BRDs: make sure you skip past beginning advertisements to get straight to the main content, but this is the surest way to avoid commercials and control the content.
  2. USE THE ENGLISH DESCRIPTIVE VIDEO SERVICE.  Bright future: increased vocabulary and attention to descriptive language, including prepositions and adjectives.  On some DVDs and BRDs, there’s an extra audio track under languages (on the PS3, you can access it using the triangle button and selecting “audio” until you get the right track) that includes a complete verbal description of everything that is going on.  It is like turning on a radio story broadcast!  What a wonderful way to provide our children with descriptive words that are otherwise difficult to teach (prepositions, adjectives, etc.) FYI, we would never have known that Tangled’s Flynn Rider (Disney) had a “smarmy grin” if it wasn’t for this feature…
  3. STICK WITH EDUCATIONAL SHOWS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.  Bright future: your child should have a great visual repertoire of complex ideas that are best taught through repetitive demonstration.  There are five main types of educational shows we focus on:
    • Faith-based.  Teaching children about the Bible and God’s Love helps to keep them from succumbing to the negative ideas prevalent in out peer-pressured world.  Our favorites are Veggie Tales (Lord of the Beans is hilarious), the Animated Passion Series from Nest entertainment, and the King of Dreams (Dreamworks).
    • Kinesthetic.  Anything that gets our kids moving (Yo Gabba Gabba, Go Diego Go) or teaches them about physical interactions with objects (The Upside Down Show, Wallace and Gromit, Sean the Sheep, Pingu) is a plus when you have a child with limited mobility.
    • Reading & Comprehension.  Anything that reinforces the written word gets an A+, since reading is the gateway to all learning.  We have watched Your Baby Can Read, Word World, Super Why, Pinky Dinky Doo and now… the Electric Company!
    • Mathematics & Science.  Abstract concepts like mathematics are typically a struggle for people with FXS.  We have used Dora the Explorer, Team Umi Zoomi, and Sid the Science Kid to introduce our children to counting and measuring.
    • Social.  Yo Gabba Gabba does a great job of encouraging children to interact with others; we also like Nickelodeon’s Avatar for its character development and focus on forgiveness (it employs a lot of Eastern ideology that many Christian parents would find unpalatable; we point out these ideological differences to our children and use them to reinforce how and why we believe as we do.  As with all TV watching, please go with your conscience and be as interactive as possible).

In the end, TV is so endemic to our homes that the only way to get rid of it is to have something else to do.  Scheduling times to go to the library, go to church, go to the park, etc. are great ways to keep TV-free.  Doing chores and cooking together as a family is another way.  Incorporating reading and play times may be difficult at first, but are very rewarding if you can take the pressure off yourself to perform at a certain level.  If you feel in any way guilty about watching too much TV, slowly add one activity at a time to your family routine until it becomes permanent; you’ll watch TV less and less.  Most importantly, the best choice you can make is to pray and ask God to show you what is right for your family and to give you the Grace to get to that “place”; The more time you spend with Him, the more likely all your other activities (like watching TV) will fall into place as you step into the bright future He reveals to you.

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We eat a lot of eggs! Make sure to read why…

With all the negative press on cholesterol, few of us realize that we have been slowly moving away from one of the most nutritious contributions to our diets: eggs.


Eggs are not bad.


Cholesterol is not bad.


(Did you know your brain is 25% cholesterol?)


Guess what happens when you go on cholesterol-reducing drugs (An A-Z based on Dr. Mercola’s article):

  • Acidosis
  • Anemia
  • Cataracts
  • Chronic Inflammation
  • Cognitive and Memory Loss
  • Depleted CoQ10 Levels
  • Fetal Malformations (in pregnant women)
  • Immune depression
  • Impaired Vitamin D creation
  • Increased risk of Cancer
  • Increased risk of Diabetes: Blood Glucose Elevations, Hyperglycemia, Insulin Resistance, Misdiagnosed Diabetes 2
  • Increased risk of Lou Gehrig’s Disease
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Muscle and Tendon Problems
  • Pancreas dysfunction
  • Polyneuropathy
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Sexual dysfunction

For a scientific discussion on exactly why cholesterol is needed and how it us used, read this Health Impact News Article.  Even if you aren’t on Statins, it is easy to see from the list above how dependent many major body systems are on adequate cholesterol.  Mother’s milk contains a lot of cholesterol because it is essential to neurological and physical growth. Even as adults, we still need cholesterol!

So what are the benefits of eggs specifically?  According to Marillyn Beard, author of Just Making: Ice Cream, these are the nutritive benefits of consuming egg yolks:

  • 100% RDV carotenoids,
  • 100% RDV fatty acids,
  • 100% RDV vitamins A, E, D, and K.
  • 90% RDV calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate,
  • 89% RDV panthothenic acid,
  • 81% RDV folic acid,
  • 45% RDV protein,
  • 23% RDV potassium, choline, lecithin, phospholipids, arachidonic acid and DHA
  • 50% — 80% of the copper, manganese, and selenium

She suggests (and I also recommend) throwing out the multivitamins and eating FREE-RANGE ORGANIC EGGS.  How many egg yolks it takes depends on the egg: free-range organic eggs have a higher nutritive content so you can eat fewer of them.  To calculate your needs, you can use the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference(change the number of eggs in the “Large” column).

Inferiority Complex! Commercial Egg Yolk (left) inches away from the Mega-Yolk of the Free Range Egg. What this picture doesn’t show you is how TALL the free-range yolks are: they really “stand proud”!

We eat 4 Free-Range eggs a day for adults, 3/day for our teen and FXS child, and 2/day for our preschooler.  Right now we hard-boil them to pack with lunches, but I think it’s worth soft-boiling them to get the most nutrition.  Even with hard-boiled eggs, we are certainly not dragging our feet as we used to when we missed our daily vitamins.  It is important to keep in mind that the vitamins in eggs are in a bio-digestible (easily absorbed) form rather than the chemical approximations that are used in pills.

Here are my calculations as to which is cheaper: Commercial eggs or multivitamins? Turns out that EGGS are cheaper than those artificially sweetened, chewable pills. (Free-range eggs are nominally more expensive) Also notice my handy note-paper. Tea bag packets come in handy when you can’t find your posts-it-notes!

According to Dr. Mercola, the best way to eat an egg is to have cooked whites and raw yolks“Sunny side up” certainly is an appropriate description for a right way to cook your eggs for a bright future! (And you don’t have to worry about salmonella: free-range organic eggs are far less likely–down to five times less likely–to get the bacterial infection than commercial eggs.)  Raw yolks are the best; foods like homemade mayonnaise and homemade custard ice cream are nutritious and healthy ways to consume them.

Who would have guessed that yolk-rich homemade mayonnaise and homemade vanilla ice cream would be so NATURALLY “fortified”?!

Where can you get free-range organic eggs?  The best place is your local FARMER’S MARKET: do a Google search and make sure to find one closest to you.  If you live in a city, it would be worth the trip to a more rural area (it makes for a nice family outing too!) to get the eggs.  Some health food stores carry free-range eggs too.  Cost?  A dozen commercial eggs from the grocery store here costs $1.35.  Free range eggs cost anywhere from $2/dozen (I know a new egg-seller) to $3/dozen (health food store) with the average being $2.50 at the Farmer’s Market.  I buy 8 dozen eggs a week to cover our vitamin and baking needs.  That’s a lot of eggs and big business at the Farmer’s Market 🙂  I also buy Raw Honey and local veggies there, but that discussion is for another post!

I hope I’ve encouraged you to eat more eggs in your diet.  They are an inexpensive and effective way of instantly increasing the nutrition in your diet and helping you to function as God intended!

I hope you enjoyed this Transformation Tuesdays post.  Please share with a friend using one of the many options below.  Thanks!

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SUCKERS!!! Was the delighted cry of my children when these arrived in the mail. They never get candy (well, except at special events), so seeing this much arrive at once sent them reeling 🙂 “These are for working hard!” was this Mama’s reply. Sometimes it helps to give them a glimpse of the reward to get their best effort!

Today’s Shop-Til-You-Drop Saturday Post is all about SWEETS!  Whether you want to stock up with healthy rewards for your little ones, treats for your grandchildren, or even for a guilt-free Halloween, there are traditional sweets out there that are NOT made from corn syrup and are preservative and artificial ingredient FREE.

My favorite (so far) is the Yummy Earth brand of suckers.  I bought the Vitamin-C variety in a 5lb bag on Amazon.com for $27 (FREE SHIPPING).  They have worked really well as rewards for potty training my Fragile X Syndrome child; she gets one whenever she wakes up dry or avoids an accident.  I have to admit, I typically don’t like candy and bought them just for the kids…but that didn’t stop me grabbing a few the first few weeks, so we probably put a greater dent in them than I anticipated!  Three months later, the 5lb bag is still going strong…although it probably only weighs 2 lbs now (!), so I think it is possible with careful rationing that this bag could last you for 6 months or more.  $27 for half a year’s worth of organic, all-natural candy?  You’ve got to try them!

Check out these delicious ingredients! Even the colors are made from fruit juice and each sucker is only 23 calories! The Vitamin C pops come in all the same flavors as the regular pops.

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My youngest child stirring the pizza sauce from a safe distance!  Check out her trendy clothing combo

This Mama Mondays post is about encouraging your kids to help you in the kitchen.  I’ll keep it short because I still have a lot to learn (!) but I have some resources that will help you get started and a couple tips for helping to introduce special needs children to cooking.  (In the future, I plan to develop a “How To Do Stuff With Your Kids” series on cooking with special needs in mind–right now it’s just laundry–under the “Family” menu tab above and instructions in EACH recipe how to include your children in meal prep).  I hope this post will whet your appetite for FAMILY FOOD FUN in the kitchen (throw in a little FAITH and you’ll have all the ingredients for a major Helping of Hope!)

When I got started with this “all-natural cooking” thing back in September ’11, I couldn’t believe how much time I was spending in the kitchen.  I was used to opening cans and jars, mixing, and baking on high heat in toxic, non-stick pans.  There was a huge learning curve for me, mostly because I was trying to learn EVERYTHING at once: how to throw bad ingredients out, learning which ingredients were most nutritious, learning the best ways to cook, how to make yogurt, how to cook beans, how to cook breads, how to find healthy recipes to replace the food my family was missing…it was nutrition boot-camp, self-imposed.  Of course now, it’s easy…or easiER.  I know how to cut corners in prep without cutting corners in nutrition.  I know where to invest my time and where not to. The fact remains it still takes more time and effort to cook food from scratch than to microwave a freezer dinner (but it is soooo worth it, please trust me on that!).  I couldn’t help feeling conflicted; I wanted to make healthy food in the kitchen, but it was seriously cutting into time with my children.  They would watch TV shows or a Disney movie while I scurried in the kitchen, nervously poking my head into the living room every five minutes to make sure my then three- and five-year old weren’t getting into anything they shouldn’t, or that my FXS child hadn’t fallen asleep on (and wet) the sofa.  Sigh.

To be honest, the thought of including my children in meal prep DID occur to me…but so did the mess they might make, the fits they might throw, and the unwillingness (or inability) to follow directions.  I wasn’t sure how to give them tasks that were age- and ability-appropriate.  For me, learning this new-fangled… I mean, old-fangled cooking thing was stressful enough that I didn’t want to add child-wrangling to the situation.  Helping of Hope: you CAN cook with your children, spending valuable time with them, encouraging them to be independent, and instilling a love for healthy choices that will lead them to their own bright future!

I’m learning from GNOWFGLINS (a blog created by Wardeh Harmon) HOW to encourage my children in the kitchen and how to instill in them a love for healthy food.  I think I’m succeeding with my 15-year-old stepchild; she’s already excited about our coming up with 4, seasonal week-long menus of made-from scratch “comfort” (real) foods for college.  It’s another three years away, but it gives her an end-goal to encourage her to learn to cook independently in the kitchen.  My four year-old is always eager to help, but my five year old FXS child…well, lets say she’s “apprehensive” (as any FXS child might be when doing something out of routine).

Here are some tips I learned after attending GNOWFGLINSReal Food Kids Webinar (link expires in two weeks):

  • Don’t just use children as “helpers” in the kitchen: encourage them to do tasks and eventually entire meals independently.
  • Special needs kids:  If your child has attention deficits, set a timer and give him a simple task to do.  Many real foods require short preparation steps (with long periods of waiting in between): sprouting and preparing yogurt, for example, require very little interaction and it is something he can learn to be entirely responsible for.
  • Special needs kids: If a special needs child has limited mobility, set up a workspace for him that makes it more comfortable to work independently; give him activities so he can contribute something to the meal along with his siblings and assist him as necessary.

I do my best not to let information “sit”; I know if I don’t get my foot in the door of my heart (talk about a mixed metaphor…and an unpleasant one at that!), I won’t get anything done.  IMMEDIATELY after the Webinar, I thought I would “give it a go” and have my children help me make mini-pizzas using toasted sourdough hamburger-buns and our Fresh & Fast Pizza Sauce.  It worked really well!  Daddy loved coming home and eating the yummy food the kids had made him; they were as pleased as punch to make something (mostly) healthy and grown-up, with a little supervision and assistance.

The girls spread the pizza sauce on some sourdough hamburger buns I toasted under the broiler (with some oil on top to prevent sogginess)

Next we sprinkled on some cheese. The girls watched as I grated some block cheese using our old-but-faithful food processor. The sound of the motor was difficult for our FXS child, but she stayed on her safe chair through it all. (It’s best to AVOID BAGGED, SHREDDED CHEESE because they add too many ingredients. You only need one ingredient: cheese! Avoid anything with colors added too. How can cheese be made any more appealing than it already is?)

Our kids did a great job distributing pepperonis. OK, so pepperoni is NOT a healthy option. I’m still on the lookout for a healthy option that contains NO additives, NO preservatives, and NO corn syrup. Alternatives could include roast chicken, Hormel all-natural Deli Ham with organic pineapple, or homemade Italian sausage.

The finished product! Our children set the table, made the salad (lettuce!) and Mama dished out the hot pizzas. Our youngest is pointing to the pizza, “I made this!” They tasted great!

Here is the biggest lesson I have learned so far when encouraging an FXS / Autistic child with Auditory Sensory Processing issues:

INTRODUCE a sensitive child to kitchen equipment GRADUALLY (please use your best judgment whether or not the child is capable of using or interacting with a gadget safely.  See my disclaimer –>).

  1. Have him look at and identify the kitchen gadget. Explain to him what it does and how it helps you.
  2. Have him touch or inspect the equipment when it is off (don’t let him touch anything dangerous and make sure the item is unplugged).
  3. Have him sit in the kitchen on a “safe chair” while someone else uses the gadget (if you can keep him in the room: I used a Yummy Earth sucker to keep mine sitting on a chair in the kitchen.  She was very upset by the sound but a firm Mama and reassuring sibling helped her to cope).
  4. If he is able, ask him to touch a safe part of the equipment (or stand near it) while it is in use. This will help him learn there is nothing to fear even though the sound is overwhelming.  Do not let him run out of the room; he may return to his safe chair for a reward and continue watching.
  5. Finally, if he is able to do the above steps and if it is age- and ability-appropriate for him to do so, ask him to interact with the equipment for a reward.  Don’t give him a reward unless he interacts with the equipment as specified.  If he refuses, keep giving him opportunities.  As he watches you or his siblings interact with the equipment from his safe chair or spot, he may reach a point where he is willing or neurologically mature enough to assist as specified.

We are still working on staying in the kitchen while the mini-blender is operating 🙂

If you want to learn how to incorporate your child in the kitchen (special needs or not) so they can have a bright future, I encourage you to take part in GNOWFGLINS‘ eCourse Real Food Kids: In The Kitchen.  It starts tomorrow (first video in a weekly series: all videos are available all the time to members once they are posted) so make sure to sign up for GNOWFGLINS membership today!

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Today’s Mama Monday focuses on how to get your children cued in to their environment and develop a sense of time.  Whether you have an autistic child, sensory processing disorder child, a child with attention deficits, or an otherwise normally-functioning child, these tips and techniques can help your child to engage their day (and play) better!

Use Visual Cues to Organize Possessions!

[Note: the following steps can be used to organize adult possessions like craft items, tools, papers, or books also]  Toys can get overwhelming, especially the little ones.  Some of the toys your children need to play with get lost in a sea of flashy (but rather useless) gizmos.   Helping of Hope: you can quickly reduce the clutter to 1/3 or less!  Here are some steps I took to streamline our play routine and I think they will work for you too (this is especially fun to do at Christmas; if your children are older, you can tell them you are making room for their Christmas presents: they may even be willing to help!):

  1. Pull out the toys your children NEED to play with (educational toys, art supplies, a favorite doll or stuffed toy to practice caring for others, toys that encourage imaginative play, a couple of toys your child is emotionally attached to, etc)–no more than 10 unless you have a designated play room–organize and put in accessible places;

    Toys were overrunning our living room until we got these inexpensive storage bins from a Family Dollar store. These are the toys we want our children to play with most often; Art, Puzzles, Trains & Dinosaurs, Dress-Up, Dolls & Horses, Play-Dough, Duplo blocks and Musical instruments.

  2. Separate the rest of the toys in three piles, one to discard, one to circulate, one to organize and put away.
    • Try to put as many (if not all) of the battery-powered, non-educational toys in the discard pile.  They cost extra money to keep (batteries) and can limit imaginative play; even if they were expensive, they aren’t worth the storage space.  Unless your child plays with it frequently, or you are willing to help them use it regularly, discard it.
    • Try to put all the promotional (fast-food children’s meal), stocking-stuffer, party-favor, and other tiny toys in the discard pile.  These toys are to children as junk mail is to adults; they keep accumulating and keep you from the important stuff.  It might be worth getting into the habit of throwing these toys away on the same day the children get them, after they go to bed, or as soon as they lose interest.  Chances are, they will keep getting more in the future!
    • If you have a lot of one particular type of toy, try to divide it equally across all three piles, with the toys your children like the most in the organize pile, the toys you want your children to play with in the circulation pile, and the toys neither of you like or use that much in the discard pile.
  3. Donate the “Discard” pile to Goodwill, Once Upon a Child, or another charity/consignment store.  If you have younger children, just tell them you are cleaning up their toys; don’t let them see you getting rid of anything or every toy in the bag will become their “favorite” instantly!  You can load up your car in the evening after they go to bed.
  4. Bag or box the toys in the “Circulate” pile and store them out of view and out of reach.  In a few months, switch out the toys in the organize pile with the toys in the circulate pile.
  5. Organize the remaining toys into accessible, open bins or shelving.  If it is out of sight, it will be out of mind and there will be no point keeping it!  One of the cheapest solutions is to get wire shelving from a local Family Dollar or Discount Retail store; you can organize the toys into cubes.  If toys are small and likely to fall through the gaps, buy a cheap plastic basket that will fit in the squares to put the smaller toys in (like Beanie Babies or toy cars).
  6. GET VISUAL!  This will take time.  You can buy printable labels or business cards and use a downloadable template with your choice of document software (I use Open Office) to type text and insert pictures; printing on plain paper is fine too, but you will have to cut out the rectangles and stick them with tape.  Having an electronic document to print out is especially helpful if the labels or cards become dirty or worn because you can always reprint them.  Or, use your art skills and some markers to draw/write your own.  YOU MUST INCLUDE PICTURES that are as close as possible to the contents of the baskets, tubs, or squares.  This helps children to locate toys (very helpful when it is time to put them away); they can practice sorting, categorizing according to use or appearance, and recognize what activities they are actually engaging in (“I am playing with cars” as opposed to “I am playing”).  Here are some examples of the evolving organizational process in our home:

In the Beginning…our children’s closet when they were but babes! The same baskets we used to organize their diapers and infant clothing we now use to organize their toys!  Notice how we use differently colored hangers to separate clothing; color coding can help direct children (or babysitters) to the correct items.

The Toddler Years: we put everything in accessible bins and baskets so items would be used. This was before we found out one of our girls had Fragile X Syndrome with Dyspraxia, Attention Deficits, and Autism.  Wire shelving comes in very handy!

Fast-forward to today…”circulation” toys on the top shelf, labels for all the toys, outfits on colored hangers, shirts and jackets on white hangers. “A place for everything and everything in its place!” makes it easier for kids to keep their toys clean and cuts down on clutter.

Use Visual Cues to Organize Time!

If you have a child who has difficulty sequencing events or needs to develop a routine; if you are an adult who struggles with staying organized or suffer from memory loss; if you have a busy schedule and need a way to communicate in absentia with older children or adults; a visual flip-schedule is a wonderful prompt to help accomplish certain tasks.  A visual flip-schedule is particularly useful when developing a sense of time and routine, avoiding the Summer Slump, getting ready for school season, getting chores done, and homeschooling.  Children can take turns flipping the pages as each item is accomplished (or at designated times); you can also use a flip chart to communicate with your older children so they can complete tasks independently while you are otherwise occupied (“Out to Garden: Clean your floor” or “Having Quiet Time with Jesus: Help yourself to breakfast”)

It is important that you don’t over-schedule or become rigid with times; this is an assisting tool, not a slave-driver.  Some personalities are driven to keep rigid schedules, others resist them like the plague.  If you are trying to accomplish more in your day, it will be tempting to put extra activities in the chart.  Prompts give you no power to do what you aren’t already able to do; keep your expectations realistic, organize the MINIMUM sequence of events you need to get through your day; as time “opens up” and your skills develop, you can add extra activities and may be able to wean yourself off a visual schedule altogether.  The purpose of a visual schedule is to help your body and brain internalize the schedule through visual sensory information.  If you get off track, you can reuse a visual flip-schedule to get back on track.  Children will benefit from a visual schedule until they become old enough to motivate themselves to get tasks done on time.

Our first visual flip-schedule (a ring-binder bent backwards). I learned how to use these from our local Community Bible Study’s Children’s Ministry. They are a great way to keep children moving across a 2.5 hour intense children’s program. In a relaxed setting, as at home, they can encourage a variety of activities throughout the day; if you keep the categories general, you can do different types of the same general activity on different days of the week.

The easiest way to make a flip-schedule is to bend a binder backwards and secure a piece of cardboard–as the base–to the leaves of the binder with packing tape.  To make pages, cut construction paper down to letter-size, paste a descriptive picture and short phrase to the paper, and hole-punch to put in your binder.

This is the first page on our visual flip-schedule. I printed out a calendar (reverse image) on printable transparency film and secured the printed side down with spray adhesive to a piece of white paper. This way I can use dry-erase markers to check the day, date, month, season, and year. It is a great way to teach time to the kids!

To make a sturdier flip schedule, make your own Trapezoid out of cardboard (I used a cardboard “envelope” that a photo-book came in) and rip the metal ring-clasp section out of an old binder: poke holes in the top of your trapezoid to fit the studs through and hot glue the ring-clasp section.  Insert the construction paper pages as before.

Visual Flip Schedule Prayer Page | A Helping of Hope

We used our flip schedule to encourage good habits like having a devotional time each morning! The girls memorized this fairly quickly, even at three and four years old.

If you are particularly savvy and create an even number of steps, you can put the last “half” of the steps in reverse order on the back of the first set of steps: when you have completed the first set of steps, you merely turn the schedule around and keep flipping.  This reduces the total number of leaves in your flip schedule by half.

It’s best to find images that most closely resemble the ACTIONS written on the pages. These images are standard clip-art. I highlighted phonetic combinations of letters to help our kids learn to read.

[UPDATE: I am just now figuring out that I need to write these posts the night before…I guess if you are Pacific Standard Time, you might just get to read this Mama Mondays post before you go to bed!  I apologize for not getting it out sooner.  Now all I need to do is write my Transformation Tuesdays post and I’ll be all set.  Tomorrow will be a “two-for”!]

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