CREATING CUSTOM CURRICULUM FOR KIDS WITH AUTISM AND ADD/ADHD, “ON THE FLY”
I created "Big Book(s) of Learning" from a thick spiral notebook, where I capture my child’s focus whenever it lands and create an activity to extend that area of interest through an activity. Autistic kids and those with ADD/ADHD (all autistic kids have, both) have trouble controlling their intentional focus, and many time more difficulty doing so when someone else is directing them, so whenever their interest is on a topic it’s extra valuable to go with that topic, which is exactly what we do in the Son-Rise Program. It’s like jumping from lily pad to lily pad with your child, where each place you land you’re ready to start doing and learning something together from that vantage point.
Anna's two current "Big Books of Knowledge", organized by tabs for each page.
I created these book because we’re at the age that physical stuff and skills like going to zoos, playing sports, cutting with scissors, noticing sticks float, and concrete concepts you can DRAW like “soap” or “apple” are being replaced in normal kids with abstract, symbolic, complex mental activity and self-understanding, like math, sophisticated words you CANNOT DRAW, and real-world concepts like why and how we pay bills, how to use advanced tools like settings on an iphone, and how to know what foods or activities work for you. We needed a way to accelerate that and bring more adult concepts and skills into her focus and link it to strong motivation.
While the core engine of learning in the Son-Rise Program is to “pair a motivator with a challenge”, Son-Rise is all about pairing social goals with social rewards (such as cheering and favorite interactive games and activities), I’ve found non-social rewards are the most effective the way to motivate children toward accomplishing non-social goals. I pay my daughter $5 or $10 per “challenge” depending on how long it takes to work through it.
Examples of challenges I’ve created for her and what inspired the challenge:
- Behavior: repeatedly watches and talks about a character (“Ellie”) online who sings children’s songs. Challenge: learn to sing and perform a song of her choosing, well (on tune and all). I am helping her select, practice and refine it.
- Situation: a former participant died and her mom sent a letter to us in cursive which Anna totally couldn’t read. Challenge: learn how to write in cursive (turned into 3 sub-challenges (1) write all the small case and (2) upper case letters each 12 times, and (3) write 30 sentences all in cursive words that are true statements about her life).
- Behavior: Anna kept leaving out the “when” words in sentences, like saying “Can we buy ice cream?” rather than “Can we buy ice cream when we go shopping tonight?” Challenge: Learn to use all the “when words” by (1) Write all the most common “when” words for past, present and future events such as (“next/last ___”, “now”, and “before/after ___”) and use 30 of them in 30 different sentences that are true statements about her life.
- Situation: she speaks repeatedly about episodes in the Simpsons, My Little Pony, Berenstain Bears, Arthur and Curious George, particularly certain favorite episodes as well as characters she doesn’t like. Challenge(s): (1) write a list of favorite episodes (2) write a list of characters she didn’t like and why (3) write a list of characters and real people she likes and why, and (4) help her understand the meaning of words in characters' lines she doesn't understand.
- Behavior: She doesn’t brush her hair or if she does, it’s a partial job and she brushes straight down - not flattering! It makes her look mentally off in how unaware she is of how it affects her appearance for better or worse, and what it says about her – in fact, she hardly ever looked in the mirror at all when brushing it and it showed. Challenge: Learn awareness about how her hair looks when it’s beautifully cared for and styled vs. disheveled, and how to brush and style her hair on her own. I showed her how to brush ALL of it, then style it, brushing across the top, running her fingers through to get rid of knots and also scrunching the top with her hands to make it bouncy and beautiful and well-balanced in by shape. She gets paid less than a dollar for every day she thoroughly brushes it.
- Situation: She earns or receives money as a gift, but can’t calculate how much she has left each time she buys something – can’t do long addition or subtraction. Challenge: long addition and subtraction.
- Behavior: I use sayings with her that is very valuable but she never seems to remember or mention them. Challenge: She memorizes quotes I most want her to learn such as the Golden Rule, “No matter how far you’ve gone down the wrong road, turn back”, and “Happiness is a choice.”
- Situation: Words came up in conversation she didn’t know. Challenge: learning our “word of the day” page - all selected for being relevant, occurring in her shows or directly relating to things she was discussing with us.
Our Son-Rise session, the starting shot of this embedded video is of me joining her. It looks like you're mirroring although it's deeper, you're getting into what's comforting and cool about the activity. This distinction is more important when a child is doing something not easy to join, when you need to capture the essence of the activity using a different item or behavior because you don't have a matching item and must improvise, like when she's making a dress for a doll and you don't have that type of doll and need to dress a different character like a stuffed animal, or can't exactly join without hurting yourself, like when my child used to do headstands when "isming". It's then that those that merely "mirror" are stumped and those of us getting what's at the core of the "ism" don't skip a beat.
As you can see the opportunities for engagement and learning are endless! Some of our current challenges include:
- Brainstorm genuine and silly reasons why some people don’t answer phones calls and texts,
- How to measure things with rulers,
- Create a “vision board”
Benefits include that Our Son-Rise staff is better focused on these side-non-social goals: they have at least one default activity to reach for and always know where to find it, and that our child is:
- Learning these non-social goals more quickly, with more consistent efforts across days, sessions and participants.
- More aware of and proud of her progress and accomplishments.
- Learning about the “real world” and adult behaviors by “going to work” like mommy, including getting paid.
- Willingly diving into more abstract and engrossing mental activities that she previously was totally unmotivated to learn.
- Feeling more aware of herself, history and preferences, since many challenges are designed to help her write about herself. One of her favorites is writing what she used to be afraid of but is no longer - she smiles when she reviews it. The Big Books of Learning are becoming part of her sense of who she is.
- Is learning about numbers, math and money, particularly the decimal system, because the number of iterations I ask for and reward amounts appear in multiples of 5’s or 10’s, and how has to keep a budget.
- Replacing a tutor by teaching herself. I was initially going to be cheap about the rewards because we’re so short on money, then I thought how much I’d have to pay someone else to teach her these things if they could at all, and how important time was in getting this to happen sooner to catch up, and realized it was worth being generous and making a big impact.
- Starting to see the pleasure intrinsic in being more “mental” and in “getting” abstract things. I remember the first abstract vocabulary word I taught her was “metaphor” and I used the example of how she was like a butterfly, how she changed from having IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) to well (I’m writing a mini-book on this right now), and she quickly she started saying how she was “like a butterfly” couple minutes afterward, unprompted.
- Organizing her thoughts and feelings.
Anna and me, taken right before the video. We're buddies! Hard to believe we had NO relationship before the Son-Rise Program gave us a way to connect and enjoy each other. This can happen with you and your child too!
SON-RISE + ABM (ANAT BANIEL METHOD) = EXTRA AWESOME PLAY THERAPY
The two best autism therapies, combined!! I’m training in the Anat Baniel Method (ABM) in order to apply the concept of the “nine essentials” (http://www.anatbanielmethod.com/about-abm/the-nine-essentials) in conjunction with my Son-Rise Program. This video shows an example of us using both simultaneously right after I'm done showing the “Big Books of Knowledge”.
The Son-Rise and the Anat Baniel Methods mesh and synergize. ABM encourages body awareness and variations in movement, a rich source of physical variations you’ll see here. My daughter had been playing this “faces game” for like years and I felt stuck, unable to come up with more variations, uncomfortable with how repetitive it was. Through the ABM training I realized body movement variations could vary this activity, while helping us both with body mapping and differentiation which we both – as autistic persons – could benefit from.
Improved awareness and mapping of our physical bodies helps people move more efficiently and in a differentiated way physically, mentally and emotionally, more sophisticated because it’s the same brain improvement delivers all 3. Contact me for more info on mixing them.