Our Initial Assessment

October 11th, 2012

The past few weeks have been filled with homework. Yep, homework. You see, the goal of RDI is to train the parents to better guide their autistic children on their own. So the first portion of our consulting has been educating ourselves. Of course, we will continue to learn as we go along, but the initial learning curve has to be hurdled first. It’s been a huge help that we learned about RDI several years ago and have been trying to educate ourselves all along. So a couple of weeks ago our consultant decided that we now had enough understanding of the RDI principles to move into the practical hands-on phase.

This morning we had our initial assessment session. Now, lest you think this session was to assess Hannah, let me set you straight. Remember, RDI is all about training the parent. So this assessment was focused on John and me. Yes, we will be able to learn more about Hannah as the consultant reviews all the video footage, but the main focus will be how we can improve as her guides.

One improvement popped up as the morning wore on. We noticed that Hannah has become very dependent on hearing us talk to her, so she is not using her other senses very much to also capture information about our communication. When we first started some RDI-type activities, we put a big emphasis on reading and referencing faces, and her eye contact increased dramatically. However, today we discovered that we have gradually slacked off over the years and settled into accepting rare eye contact. It was quite interesting that once that tendency was identified, and both we and the consultant worked on reducing our auditory input to encourage Hannah to look up and use visual referencing more, that personal connection carried over for a few hours after our session was over. Hannah and I ran some errands after the assessment, and I noticed a marked increase in her eye contact as we walked and talked, going into and out of various buildings. She didn’t rush ahead, but stayed beside me of her own volition, looked at me often during our comments, and best of all, I was reminded of how beautiful her eyes are.

I’m eager to hear what the next focused improvement will be for our guiding style. But as I wait for the consultant to review all that footage, you can bet I will be pausing more in my verbal communication with Hannah to wait to see those beautiful eyes looking into mine.

The RDI Book

September 17th, 2012

I just finished reading The RDI Book and found it very helpful! The approach of RDI therapy is explained, common terms are defined and illustrated, and lots of real-life examples are included to help a person wrap her brain around what it is we’re attempting to do. Read it with a highlighter in hand!

Artwork and Other Work

September 7th, 2012

Our family has been doing some artwork recently, using the Creating a Masterpiece DVDs to guide us. So far we have tried our hands at watercolor and pastels. Hannah has enjoyed participating in these video art classes too. You can see her parrots on top and her lake on the bottom of these collections.

Along with the artwork, we are committing the next few months to other work with Hannah; we have teamed up with an RDI consultant and will be working with her to focus more fully on Hannah’s progress. We have agreed with the principles of RDI therapy for many years and have tried to implement as many as we could on our own. But it feels like we have stagnated in the process, and thanks to a gift of money and a few months without travel, we are turning our focus to fine-tuning our abilities to guide her and help her continue to grow.

I’ll be posting about our experiences here. We’re excited to learn more and see what adventures lay ahead!

A Moment of Joy

December 2nd, 2010

This afternoon a dear friend came visiting. When he was about to leave, he walked by Hannah and she asked him where he was going now. He answered, “I’m going to [a nearby town] to worship practice. I hope you have a good evening.”

The next thing I heard was Hannah’s sweet voice, with just the right inflection, replying, “I hope you have a good practice, too.” Then she happily skipped upstairs and started singing O Christmas Tree.

Our friend summed up the moment well when he came into the kitchen and said, “That made me happy.”

Another Step On the Right Track

February 25th, 2010

Last week I noticed more focused attention and resulting progress from Hannah in both her school work and her interactions with family members. My first thought was, “Oh, great, she’s getting sick.”

You see, we have noticed a pattern over the years of increased attention and interaction for two or three days, then we’ll see the runny nose. (We’ve often wondered if there is some kind of physical connection that we could discover and capitalize on, but so far haven’t been able to figure out the mystery.)

But this increase in focus has continued for a couple of weeks now, with no cold symptoms.

Another possibility has popped into my mind. We are being more careful to eliminate casein (dairy) from Hannah’s diet. In the past, we have depended more on her enzymes to counteract the effect of the casein. But then I noticed that, when given the choice, she would prefer pizza with no cheese and macaroni without the cheese sauce. So I’ve started making no-dairy versions of any meals we’ve had with cheese, and Hannah has been voluntarily eating those instead.

I wonder if the casein was affecting her more than we thought, so much so that the enzymes were not powerful enough to deal with it.

Now, it would be really easy at this point to start berating myself and send away for another Bad Mommy trophy. However, I’m trying to think of this as another step on the right track of discovering how Hannah’s body works (which is a trick when she won’t tell you how she’s feeling). And if this more complete elimination of casein helps her process her surroundings better, let’s keep going!

A Reading Milestone

December 1st, 2009

Hannah just read the first story in First Steps all by herself. I’m so proud of her and so thankful to our Heavenly Father for graciously allowing her to keep learning. It’s been a long journey to get to this point, and I know we’re not anywhere near the finish line. But I’m celebrating this milestone because I distinctly remember about a year ago thinking, “She’s never going to be able to read that story. We’re too far from that level.” Now, just a few months before her twelfth birthday, she did it!

Finding Your Child’s Way on the Autism Spectrum

October 8th, 2009

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book as Biblical, helpful, and encouraging as Laura Hendrickson’s Finding Your Child’s Way on the Autism Spectrum. Laura speaks out of an experience with her autistic son from preschool diagnosis through high school valedictorian.

Laura does an excellent job of weaving her personal experiences, Biblical principles, and practical suggestions together into short, readable chapters. She does not back away from the tougher subjects, such as “How do I discipline my autistic child?” and “What about stims?” or “How should I handle a meltdown?” In fact, the Biblical principles she presents for those subjects–always seasoned with grace–have helped to clarify my thoughts and encourage me to persevere with our autistic daughter.

I am especially thankful for her examples of discipling our special needs children, nudging them closer to Christ even when we don’t know whether they are comprehending spiritual truths.

I was convicted by chapter 8, in which Laura graciously shared what the Lord taught her through watching her son be rejected and ridiculed by others.

Recent statistics cite that 1 out of every 100 children are on the autism spectrum. To those of you who are seeking to be an intentional parent for your autistic child, or for those of you who know a parent of an autistic child, I highly recommend Finding Your Child’s Way on the Autism Spectrum by Dr. Laura Hendrickson, published by Moody Publishers.

Narration Progress

August 31st, 2009

I’m so excited! I just tried something new with Hannah, and it seems to have worked well.

First, some background information. Last year I started requiring narrations from Hannah at times. (Narrating is listening carefully then telling back in your own words.) Hannah would usually give me a one-sentence narration, worded as a question. I was quite happy with that attempt since she was just starting out.

Today I decided to encourage her to take a step further in her narrating. We got out Aesop’s Fables. She had heard a few last year, but this time we were going to use them more fully. I wanted her to narrate the fable and I would write down her narration. Then we could use that narration for copywork. I figured that we could also work on wording her sentences as statements rather than questions too.

So before we read I wrote down two key words: fox, grapes. I told her that this story was about a fox and some grapes, and I wanted her to listen closely then tell me what happened to the fox and the grapes and I would write it down.

I read the story aloud, then asked, “What happened to the fox and the grapes?” She gave me the first part of the story, worded as a question, but still the first part of the story: “Did the fox try to reach the grapes?” I tried to prompt a statement by writing “The fox tried . . . ” and she finished the sentence for me “to reach the grapes.”

That in and of itself was pretty much expected. What I didn’t expect was the rest of her narration. It seems that while I was taking time to write down each of her statements, she was taking time to formulate each of her statements. So using this method of my writing her words, she was able to put together this narration:

Did the fox try to reach the grapes?
Were they out of reach?
Did the fox walk away?
Were the grapes sour?

We reworded each sentence as a statement, but I was thrilled with the comprehensive nature of her narration. I’m thinking this idea of key words given first and time to process between each narration sentence is going to produce some great results!

Prayer Photo Album

August 16th, 2009

When my children were young, I noticed that we would mention an extended family member in a conversation but the children wouldn’t know who we were talking about. Since they saw those family members only occasionally, they didn’t remember them.

A Prayer Photo Album really helped in that situation. I collected a photo of each member of our extended family and compiled those photos in a photo album, one family or individual per page. We also included some friends who lived near or far away, as well as missionaries that our family or church supported.

Each day we would pray for one or two of those friends and family. We would open the album, look at the next photo in the book, and tell that person’s name. If it was a family’s group photo, we reminded the children of everybody’s names. Then we prayed for that person or family.

This practice was a great reminder of absentee relatives or friends. The next time we mentioned one of those people, the children had a face to go with the name. But it also helped to establish the habit of praying for others.

We soon discovered that the Prayer Photo Album could get a bit monotonous if we didn’t know what was happening in those people’s lives. We would have to pray a “generic” prayer for each one, and that got old after several days in a row. So the album was also a great motivation to keep in touch with family members and friends.

These days, with all the social networking Internet sites or even just e-mail, staying in touch can be pretty easy—if you make it a priority. You could make it a point to contact, say, the next five people in the book to find out what is going on in their lives. You wouldn’t necessarily have to ask, “How can we pray for you?” Once you know what is happening in their world, you will have a pretty good idea of how to pray. But feel free to let them know that you are praying for them regularly, if you think it would encourage them.

A Prayer Photo Album—a simple and effective way to value friends and family, plus instill the habit of praying for others.

Dealing with Special Needs

July 15th, 2009

On Mother’s Day, 2002, we began an unknown journey with our youngest daughter, Hannah. She was four years old and we had finally determined that she has autism. Not the grandest way to spend Mother’s Day, believe me.

I wrestled with many things over the next few years. And if you were to ask me, What are the top three words of advice you would share out of those struggles?”, here is what I would tell you: Be intentional; Do your research; Rest in God’s plan.

In the paragraphs below, I talk about living with a special needs child. You may be dealing with a parent or a spouse with special needs during this season in your life. No matter what special needs you may face, these principles would be my counsel to you.

Be Intentional

When your child is diagnosed with a special need, it’s easy to adopt a victim mentality. You feel like something that isn’t supposed to happen has happened to you, and you can’t do anything about it.

But a victim mentality is not what is best for your family or your children. So in this, as well as in other circumstances, think things through and do what will be best. Just as in other areas of parenting, we must make sure we are not operating out of a default mentality (following the crowd and mindlessly doing what everyone else is doing) or a survival mentality (recklessly doing whatever it takes to survive until the hard times suddenly go away).

You can still be an intentional parent to a special needs child. In fact, our special children need intentional parents all the more.

Do Your Research

The second piece of advice I would share is to do your research. If you don’t know about something, go read, think, and learn. Educate yourself. Dedicate yourself to learning about all the facets of your child’s situation and exploring the pros and cons to all the options you discover.

Listen to others, yes, but don’t assume they know best. Think about what they say, learn all you can, seek God’s guidance, and then do what will be most beneficial for your child.

Not everyone will understand. Not everyone will agree. But if you have done your research and prayed for wisdom, you can move forward with confidence.

Rest in God’s Plan

The third piece of advice I would share is to encourage you to rest in God’s plan for your family. During that first year after Hannah’s diagnosis, we had to severely limit our activities. We couldn’t go on field trips anymore, because Hannah couldn’t handle it. We couldn’t have company over anymore, because we were focused on Hannah’s daily therapy. There are still limits that we deal with today because of those special needs.

As moms tend to do, I began to be concerned about my other children. I began to view the special needs as a problem that was hindering them and could possibly ruin their lives. But God graciously showed me that our situation was not a mistake for any person in our family. He was still very much in control, and He had plans for the other children just as much as He had plans for me on this journey.

Over the years I’ve seen the other children grow in many beautiful ways and develop specific character traits that are a direct result of living with a special-needs sister.

So don’t fret about what the special needs or limitations are doing to the other children. God is big enough to include them in His plan. He has it all worked out. Trust Him and watch what He will do.

Encouragement for Parents

One of the hardest parts about that first year after Hannah’s diagnosis was dealing with the spiritual struggles. I could find books that recommended different therapies, and I saw several books that told other families’ stories, but I couldn’t find the encouragement that I needed to address the spiritual abyss I felt like I was in.

During that year God had orchestrated circumstances so that I was already reading through the Bible. And as I continued that schedule, He was faithful to speak to my various needs and questions through His Word. I recorded that spiritual encouragement in a journal and have made it available for other parents who may be on a similar journey: This Anguishing Blessed Journey.

Also, I’ve pulled several key points from that book and combined them into an article called “Lessons from the Valley.” You can read it free on our Web site.

Dealing with special needs is never an easy path. Yet we can rest on God’s promise that this, too, is for our good. As we walk down that path, holding tightly to His hand, we will also begin to see how it is for His glory.