Building a homeschool group similiar to building an afterschool group

Are you a Mom or Dad, Grandpa or Grandma, who is considering building something in your community for your children?  A homeschool group shares structural similarities with an after-school program .  I am both a homeschooling grandmother and an after-school provider who advocates keeping the children constructively engaged throughout the day with fun, educational activities. […]

Autism Family Challenges: “Refrigerator Mothers”

The documentary “Refrigerator Mothers” is a very moving account of the history of autism diagnosis and treatment in the United States from the 1950s forward. The families who contributed to this movie gave their stories of the battles and conclusions that they had to work out themselves since there was no reasonable medical or psychological support at that time.  Here is the address  of that movie:

This documentary gives such hope for today’s research and parental involvement.  I am so thankful that parents today are no longer blamed for the origin of their child’s challenges.  I believe and agree with one of the final points of this movie that the parents know their child best and must be involved and included with the professionals in the treatment of their child.

I tutored a young student with autism every school day for two school years. Autistic children are children just like any other youngster with likes and dislikes and strengths and weaknesses.  For this school year of 2012-2013, I meet with this same child twice weekly for fun one hour “social” sessions.
child with autism and our pet goatchild with autism and our Great Pyrenees dog

Mute Girl Finds Her Voice

“Carly can’t speak. Many people called her dumb or mentally retarded. But after she turned 11 years old, she discovered something truly incredible and found her voice.” If this video doesn’t bring you to tears nothing will. Check out this video and see how Carly’s parents never gave up on her and now they get to hear their daughter say, “I love you,” to them.

Carly may not be autistic, but her parents went through the same thing that every parent of a non-verbal autistic child goes through.

Watch the video below or click the following link to see the video on YouTube:


Help Alex Spourdalakis

Alex Spourdalakis is a fourteen-year-old with severe autism. He was admitted to the Loyola Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois for gastrointestinal problems. While there, he has been a victim.

“Alex remained in locked restraints to all four of his limbs for in excess of 20 consecutive days.”

“Alex’s basic human needs were not met.”

“Alex did not have any accommodations for his disability.”

“He did not have access to any specialized evaluations or services from any professionals such as occupational health, speech therapy, developmental pediatrician or behavioral specialist who might have been able to address his disability.”

“Alex did not have anyone attempt to provide him the ability to communicate.”

“Not one professional that specializes in autism had examined him.”

“None of the many standardized assessment tools for nonverbal patients had been utilized and his mother was told that staff is ‘unable’ to determine if he is having pain.”

“Alex was kept in locked restraints without any written plan to work towards release.”

“Alex’s mother had been denied a list of physicians in charge of his care.”

“His mother had been denied a list of medications that are ordered for her child.”

“He had a delay in treatment waiting 5 days for an
ordered consultative physician to see him and one additional day until he was examined by a specialist for his gastrointestinal problems, the very reason he was transferred to this facility.”

All of the above quotes are from a letter which was sent to CNN in order to get them to “do an investigative story into Alex’s case and assist Alex in getting the appropriate medical care he needs.”

To read the entire letter on CNN, click the following link:

A petition has been created on to get signatures so that CNN will investigate. Click the following link to see the petition:

A Facebook page called “Justice for Alex” has been created. Today, it was announced on this page that Alex is going to be moved to a different facility! Click the following link to see the “Justice for Alex” Facebook page and keep up with this young man:

KidsRead to ReadDogs!

The photos in the below YouTube are just a taste of the work done with my therapy dog and oral reading. All photos were all taken during the 2009-2010 school year while I volunteered to tutor 20 hours weekly to strengthen readers in grades K-2. You will see “Dogs Help Kids Inc.” on this slidecast. […]

Sign Language can help children

This is a large subject with the potential of many interesting discussions.  I’ve seen that simple sign language can help avoid communication frustrations.  American Sign Language doesn’t link to grammatical English but it does link to concepts.  Considering the pictorial, graphic structure of ASL, I  believe that a child can more easily access sign language than verbal language. I am not an advocate of continuing ASL for hearing children past their Kindergarten year, but it is a very valuable tool for child and parent/caregiver during the younger years.

ASL incorporates the following:"I love you" signing

-the movement of your hands and handshapes,

-the location of your hands in front of you,

-your body language that you incorporate into your signing from your face, head, or arms.

For younger children, I highly recommend “Talking Hands”as a wonderful introduction.Although I am aware that there is some minor inconsistency of signing throughout the video, this small detail can be easily overlooked in view of the engaging presentation it gives as a positive introduction to childhood signing.

Learning Sign Language also benefits children socially and behaviorally (National Research Council, 2001). When children are able to express themselves, they are much more likely to seek out social interactions, and to be rewarded to doing so. Also, behavioral outbursts are far less likely when children are not frustrated by being unable to express needs and wants.”

March 2013

my pasture tree

Monday, March 4, 2013, Brittany Ammons created the posts Purchasing Apps, Mute Girl Finds Her Voice, and Downloading Apps on her blog Autism 4 Life.

Jeannie Bolstridge divided her blogs for Learning Socially to contain nonprofit work and ReadDogs as a mostly photoblog to show therapy dog work.

On the 2nd Saturday of the month, March 9, our nonprofit held its monthly meeting at the Coffee Regional Medical Center in Douglas, Georgia. The meeting began at 11:00 AM and ended at 1:00 PM in Conference Room 2 by the Cafeteria. Jeannie Bolstridge, Kimberly Duckworth, Brittany Ammons, Moe Tucker, Mary Ann Purvis, Melinda Phillips, and Danielle Sellers attended the meeting.

Brittany Ammons uploaded the video she created called App Guide: Count-A-Licious Toddler onto YouTube.

Jeannie Bolstridge continues her Skype meetings with the Georgia Tech students to build the Social Prompter app and continued to meet one-on-one twice weekly with a child with Autism.

Think “outside the box” like your kid

Following a child-initiated interest is the fastest “ticket to success” that I know for teaching a child anything.  During the most surprising fun activities, a child can be “slipped”  customized learning material  almost unknowingly IF initially time is taken to watch and see what is important to them. Here are some helpful techniques that I work into a plan of getting a child’s attention:

  • Work with them initially one-on-one. Working side by side and encouraging them builds trust and confidence. A little investment of your time with them to get the “brain moving” helps to set our young creative thinkers on the right path.  After a while, you can leave them with a project for a short time knowing they are “on a roll”.  This tip applies to a spelling word list or setting the table for dinner.  Having pets that you both care for together is another great opportunity to work together and talk about their interests.
  • If a specific skill needs to be addressed and the child’s interest or cooperation is just “not there”, move outside of the immediate work challenge to find interests that indirectly relate to the task at hand.  For example, take a fresh air walk around a track or building or pick some flowers (or weeds) to put in a vase.  Going outside really works with some kids to clear the mind. Take the time to discuss topics that arise from this time and that may include the skill/subject that needs mastering.  Then show how the need to learn what needs to be learned will bring the child to the expertise of being able to follow through on their “real” interests.
  •  Example: Dr Ben Epstein learned his math, and used it to go on to more exciting, creative projects, like putting microphones on the belly of a cockroach to help find people lost in earthquakes or tsunamis.

Now THAT’S thinking outside the box, isn’t it !

Is Learning affected by Relationship?

Autistic child with me on see-saw

Yes it is !  I make it a point to spend “out-of-session” time with the students I tutor. We have fun with exercise and digital games as well as one to one tutoring so that over time a friendship develops.  I’ve always believed that there is greater capacity to learn and retain when there is a personal touch involved. Happily, I’ve discovered I’m joined by quite a few professionals in this belief ! There is nothing more empowering than to evaluate our practices up against respected professionals, and then discover we agree !  The final proof of our work is the difference we make in the lives of our students.
Such is my experience recently as I compared this aspect of the approaches of both Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Dr. James Comer.  Having taken the Greenspan Floortime Intro Course and three of his workshops, I was immersed in hours of his lectures and have followed his best practices more accurately since that time. Dr Greenspan is no longer with us, but his son Jake Greenspan is a very compassionate professional practicing in Maryland.
Yale also has a wonderful Children’s Center with whom I’ve recently had a phone consultation. One of Yale’s doctors is James Comer.  Dr. Comer has written some excellent books, and I’d like to include a quote from  Dr. Comer that is a principle our nonprofit has carefully followed:

No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.

(Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s World, Dr. James Comer, 2004)

Temple Grandin: Autistic Children Plus

Dr Temple Grandin,Jeannie Bolstridge, and Max the therapy dog

I spoke briefly to Dr. Temple Grandin at a professional dog training conference in Atlanta, Ga several years ago. She offers sound advice to parents of children with not only autism but also very accurate help for ADD/ADHD continuum and other special needs children.  I’ve posted some of her helpful tips  taken from the Autism Research Institute website. The following bulleted tips are all direct quotes from Dr. Grandin, taken from the article linked above  except for my explanatory remarks in brackets. If you’d rather listen to Dr. Temple speak about these points, she covers much of the below on her YouTube Videos.

Sound and Visual Sensitivity

  • Hearing tests indicated that my hearing was normal. I can’t modulate incoming auditory stimulation. I discovered that I could shut out painful sounds by engaging in rhythmic stereotypical autistic behavior [or manipulating something in my hands]. Sometimes I “tune out”. For example, I will be listening to a favorite song on the car radio and then later realize that I tuned out and missed half of the song. In college, I had to constantly take notes to prevent tuning out.
  •   An autistic child will cover his or her ears because certain sounds hurt. It is like an excessive startle reaction. A sudden noise (even a relatively faint one) will often make my heart race.
  •  I can shut down my hearing and withdraw from most noise, but certain frequencies cannot be shut out. It is impossible for an autistic child to concentrate in a classroom if he or she is bombarded with noises. High-pitched, shrill noises are the worst. A low rumble has no affect…..
  • The fear of a noise that hurts the ears is often the cause of many bad behaviors and tantrums. Some autistic children will attempt to break the telephone because they are afraid it will ring. Many bad behaviors are triggered due to anticipation of being subjected to a painful noise. The bad behaviors can occur hours before the noise. Common noises that cause discomfort in many autistic individuals are school bells, fire alarms, score board buzzers in the gym, squealing microphone feedback and chairs scraping on the floor.  Autistic children and adults may fear dogs or babies because barking dogs or crying babies may hurt their ears. Dogs and babies are unpredictable, and they can make a hurtful noise without warning.
  •  Children with less severe auditory sensitivity problems may be attracted to sound and visual stimuli that more severely impaired children tend to avoid. I liked the sound of flowing water and enjoyed pouring water back and forth between orange juice cans; whereas another child may avoid the sound of flowing water.
  •  Some autistic individuals can see the flicker of florescent lights.

Tactile and Sensory Experiences and Problems

  • I believe that the beneficial effects of holding in some children are due to desensitization to touch of the autistic child’s nervous system. It is not the “cure” that some of its proponents tout, but it has a beneficial affect on some children.
  • I wanted to feel the comforting feeling of being held, but then when somebody held me, the effect on my nervous system was overwhelming…..and confusing.
  • The sensory activities are done gently as fun games and are never forced. Strong encouragement and some intrusiveness may be used, but a good therapist knows how far he or she can intrude before the stimulation becomes so overwhelming that the child starts crying. Even intrusive activities are kept fun. During the activities, the therapist will also work on improving speech and establishing eye contact.
  • Ray et al. (1988) found that a mute child will often start making speech sounds while he or she is swinging in a swing. Swinging stimulates the vestibular system and the defective cerebellum.
  •  Spinning in a chair twice a week helps to reduce hyperactivity (Bhatara et al. 1981)
  •  non-contingent vibration will reduce stereotypical behavior (Murphy 1982).
  • Research has also shown that vigorous aerobic exercise reduced maladaptive and stereotypic behavior (Elliot et al. 1994).
  • Many autistic [and ADHD] children will seek deep pressure. Many parents have told me that their children get under the sofa cushions or mattress. A slow, steady application of pressure had a calming affect on me….Good results can often be obtained with less than an hour of sensory treatment per day. Spending hours and hours each day is not required.The effectiveness of sensory treatment will vary from child to child.
  •  It is important to desensitize an autistic child so that he/she can tolerate comforting touch.  I learned how to pet our cat more gently after I [gradually learned to tolerate the deep pressure stimulation].

Cognitive Considerations

  •  In autism, the systems that process visual-spatial problems are intact. There is a possibility that these systems may be expanded to compensate for deficits in language. The nervous system has remarkable plasticity; one part can take over and compensate for deficits in language.
  • [Thinking in language and words is one category of cognition.]   Brain scans have revealed that some of the circuits between the frontal cortex and amygdala are not functioning normally (Haznader et al., 1997). This may force a person with autism to use intellect and logic to make social decisions instead of [observing and interpreting] emotion cues.
  • [Thinking in pictures is another category of cognition.]  I think totally in pictures. It is like playing different tapes in a video cassette recorder in my imagination. I used to think that everybody thought in pictures until I questioned many different people about their thinking processes.  This method of thinking is slower. It takes time to “play” the videotape in my imagination.
  • Written language is easier to understand than [a long string of]verbal language. Word processors should be introduced early to encourage writing. Typing is often easier than hand writing [because of small motor skills challenges].
  • I screamed because it was the only way I could communicate. When adults spoke directly to me, I could understand everything they said…. I had the words I wanted to say in my mind, but I just could not get them out….. When my mother wanted me to do something, I often screamed. If something bothered me, I screamed. This was the only way I could express my displeasure. If I did not want to wear a hat, the only way I could communicate my desire not to wear the hat was to throw it on the floor and scream.   Being unable to talk was utter frustration.  [However,] some children with more severe sensory problems may withdraw further because the intrusion completely overloads their immature nervous system. They will often respond best to gentler teaching methods such as whispering softly to the child in a room free of florescent lights and visual distractions.
  • The speech therapist had to put me in a slight stress state so I could get the words out. She would gently hold me by the chin and make me look at her and then ask me to make certain sounds. She knew just how much to intrude. If she pushed too hard, I would have a tantrum; if she did not push enough, there was no progress. During recent visits to autism programs, I have observed this technique being used in many different types of programs. When I started to speak, my words were stressed with an emphasis on vowel sounds. For example, “bah” for ball. My speech therapist stretched out the hard consonant sounds to help my brain to perceive them. She would hold up a cup and say “ccc u ppp.” Vowels are easier to hear than consonants.
  • [When teaching some children with ADHD or Autism, observe if their minds are MONO-CHANNELS.  Dr. Grandin uses the following example with her friend Donna to explain this as follows:]  If Donna is listening to somebody talk, she is unable to perceive a cat jumping up on her lap. If she attends to the cat, then speech perception is blocked. She realized a black thing was on her lap, but she did not recognize it as a cat until she stopped listening to her friend talk.


  • Teachers, therapists and other professionals who work with [ADHD or ] autistic people need to recognize and treat sensory processing problems…. At ages two to four, many autistic children will probably respond well to gently intrusive programs where the child is required to maintain eye contact with the teacher. Lovaas (1987) has documented that roughly half of young children will improve sufficiently so they can be enrolled in a normal first grade at age six or seven. It is likely that the children who did not improve in the Lovaas program were experiencing sensory overload. They may respond better to a gentler approach using only one sensory channel at a time.