Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The School Board's Vote

I attended the school board meeting last night. Unfortunately, it looks like minds were made well before the meeting. Read my thoughts here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Is My Son’s Future At Risk With Impending School Board Decision?

How much money does a school district have to save to in order make it worth risking the future of a few kids with special needs?

That is the question that the North Shore School District 112 Board of Education will be faced with at its next board meeting Tuesday night.

I discuss this in a post today on my local Patch site.

I know many of you are not local to my area, but for those of you that are, please spread the word. I think that there has been almost no publicity about this important decision and time is running very short.

Please click here to read more.

Thank you.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Practicing Comprehension Skills Through BrainPop

BrainPop has been one of my son’s favorite apps from the time he first got an iPad. We like it because the short animated movies teach a variety of subjects including math, science, social studies and more. Kai likes it because the character of the orange robot, Moby, is very funny as he antagonizes his buddy, Tim.

Lately I’ve noticed that as Kai has seen just about all of the different movies the app has to offer, he watches only the funny parts, skipping all of the educational content. I was wondering if he remembered at all what the movies are attempting to teach.

The cost to subscribe is over $7 a month, so it’s not terribly expensive, but it does add up. And for nearly $90 a year, I wanted to make sure Kai was actually learning something.

So, I’ve started making him take the test that is given at the end of each featured movie of the day. He had been skipping that part, but we are now tying in taking the test with earning points from our Point Store. If he answers 80% or 90% of the questions correctly, he earns 50 points. If he gets 100% correct, he earns 100 points. And if he scores less than 80%, he loses points.

The first day he struggled and got only 70% correct. I could see that while he can answer most questions about facts that were given, he struggled when he had to make inferences. It is the same issues he has with reading comprehension.

The next day, he still struggled with the same types of questions, but improved his score to 80%. I saw that he was paying much closer attention to the main content of the movie.

So, I’m thinking that this will be good practice for him. He can still laugh at all the funny parts. But, I’m hoping it helps to condition his brain for listening and thinking through what he hears, too.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Math Word Problem Struggles

Kai does very well in math normally, but there are areas where he really struggles.

I had him do coordinate plane word problems on his online Khan Academy program the other day.

The first problem stated that an ad was as 4 inches wide by 3 inches high. The upper left corner of the ad was given as (-6, -2) on the coordinate plane. Kai would have to place the four corners of the ad.

I thought this was a very easy problem for him.

So I was a little surprised when he didn’t know where to begin.

I asked him if he knew where one corner of the ad was. He tentatively moved his cursor to place the point in the wrong spot.

I stopped him and asked him to read where the sentence that gave the coordinates for the upper left corner.

He was starting to get agitated, and he did not pick up the fact that all he needed to do was to plot a point at (-6, -2).

I wrote out (x, y) on a sheet of paper and asked if he knew the x and y coordinates of the upper left corner. He would not answer the question.

I then told him that the he needed to plot a point at (-6, -2) and asked him to point on the screen where that point is. He waved his hand wildly, not pointing to any particular spot. He was getting more agitated, and I was starting to get that way, too.

I finally explained that -6 on the x coordinate meant that we needed to count six places to the left, and -2 on the y coordinate meant that we needed to count two places down. This was not the first time we have worked on coordinate planes. This really should not have been so hard.

I finally got him to place that first point. I breathed a sigh of relief as I thought the other three corners would be easy.

I was wrong.

He started to place the next corner in the wrong spot.

I stopped him. I pointed out that the first point he plotted was the upper left corner. When it says “upper,” does it mean that it is at the top or bottom? He answered bottom.


I was getting very frustrated.

I drew a rectangle on the paper. I asked him to point to the upper left corner, and he was able to do so. I asked him to write down the coordinate of the upper left corner. He resisted.

I yelled that he needed to write it down.

Now he was getting more upset.

If the upper left corner was at (-6, -2) and the height was 3, how far down to we count to get to the bottom left corner?

I thought I was giving away the answer but he just did not seem to understand any of it.

My frustration boiled over, and I was shouting my questions at him. He was yelling back saying that he never wanted to Khan Academy with me again.

My wife came downstairs to find out what was going on.

She suggested that she could take over for me, but I didn’t want to end on this sour note.

I had Kai take a five-minute break, which extended longer than that. For most of the time he was still yelling that he wanted to do this with Mom, not Dad.

Finally, my wife encouraged him to come try again.

I spoke very softly. Okay, we know where the upper left corner is. And we know the height is 3. Let’s count down three from the point we already plotted.

Finally, with me pretty much giving him the complete answer, he was able to plot out the other three corners.

And after he completed this one problem, he was able to do four more similar to it all on his own.

But it was an eye-opener for me how he struggles to comprehend the simplest things that are in word problems. It showed me how reading comprehension is still such a big issue for him.

So, we’ve got a couple of big things to work on: Kai’s reading comprehension, and my patience.

I think that progress with the latter will be essential to making progress on the former.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Generosity – Highlights From Parent-Teacher Conference

We had our parent-teacher conference at my son’s school last night.

Kai’s teacher gave us a nice overview of his academic progress; he continues to struggle mightily with writing, especially, but, not surprisingly, continues to do very well in math.

This year they are teaching math to Kai using three different methods: a textbook three days a week, and two different online programs the other days. We are already familiar with one of the online programs as we have him do Kahn Academy at home.

The other program is called Dreambox, and the teacher explained that all of the kids like it because the program awards points that can be traded in for game time. While all of the kids like the program, she said that Kai was the only one to stand up and cheer when she announced that they would now be able to do it at home as well.

We thought it was cute that our son was cheering that he got an opportunity to do more math.

Though, later, after we got home, we had Kai show us what he is working on in Dreambox. He showed us the avatars you can select and the games you can play and it all looked quite fun.

Unfortunately, the program doesn’t let you select your own level; you have to start from the beginning and work your way up. And so, on Dreambox, Kai is doing math that he mastered two, three or maybe even four years ago. And since he is a kid who loves to do easy work and has to be pushed to challenge himself, he loves this way-too-easy math program.

I emailed the teacher and asked that they limit use of the program to break time or only as a reward.

But I digress. Back to the conference we had at school…

Kai’s teacher shared a story about a recent class project. Each student had to write compliments about each of their classmates.

She said that Kai thought long and hard about each one. He praised one student for achieving a Level change. He complimented another for doing well at PE. The teacher said that every compliment was very appropriate for that child and very well thought out.

Kids with autism often have a very hard time relating to another person’s perspective. So for Kai to be so thoughtful with his compliments was quite an achievement. His teacher was nearly tearing up as she explained what a great job he did.

She went on to say that because he did such a great job, she awarded him with a Generosity card. Generosity is one of the school’s Circle of Courage values along with Belonging, Mastery, and Independence. Students who show special adherence to any one of the values have a card with their name on it posted on the Circle of Courage board in the school’s common area.

When she honored Kai with the Generosity card, he spoke up.

“But Ms. F____, everyone should get one because we all wrote compliments for each other.”

And with that, Kai showed his generous spirit even more.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wondering If A Special Needs Activity Is Right For My Son

My son’s special needs soccer league wrapped up this past Saturday.

This is the fourth year that Kai has been participating. When Kai first started, there were enough kids that they had two groups, one for older kids and one for the younger ones.

The kids had a wide range of disabilities, with several requiring volunteer buddy kids to take their hands and help them go up and down the field, to direct the ball toward their feet, or to point them toward the goal. Other kids were able to function independently.

I recall one boy in the younger group who was an excellent soccer player. He was so talented that I first wondered why he didn’t play on a team with typical kids. When he had the ball, the “coach” (on the field) would sometimes defend him to make it more challenging, or to get the ball over to other kids who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance.

As the weeks went on, though, I could see that this boy had trouble keeping his emotions under control, getting angry on several occasions. It was not unlike how Kai gets many times.

In those early seasons, Kai did not play well. Physically, he should have been fine, but he rarely ran after the ball, and frequently complained about how he was too tired to play. I was seemingly constantly yelling at him to run and go after the ball.

It was frustrating for me as other kids with disabilities more severe than Kai’s were enthusiastically playing hard.

But gradually, Kai started to play better. It helped when a classmate of his joined the team and they could run up and down the field together.

Over the past couple of seasons, though, several of the more able kids stopped coming out. That talented boy from the first year had long since stopped coming to the games. And this season, all of the other kids at Kai’s level, including his classmate, also dropped out. Kai was now the most capable soccer player left on his team.

In recent weeks, attendance among the kids still signed up was poor. We barely had enough kids for one game, let alone two separate groups. One week we had only four kids come out, meaning that they played a two on two. With the disabilities of the other kids, they didn’t play a game so much as just taking turns with each child having a chance to kick the ball down the field and scoring.

Back when there was a wide mix of kids, it was tough to balance the varying needs of the kids. But it usually worked out well enough. Sometimes the more able kids would run and pass and try to score like in a real game. Sometimes the volunteer kids would get the ball to a less able child and make sure that they had a chance to kick the ball.

Now, with no other kids at Kai’s level, I no longer felt like cheering him on to play hard or try to score. Though Kai now plays like I wanted him to before.

This past Saturday, at our last game, Kai ran, dribbled, kicked, and got off some really hard shots.

One of the parents of a volunteer buddy child commented to me, “He can really play!” He may have even been wondering what my son was doing playing in a special needs group.

But then it started to rain. Kai started to scream, “I WANT TO GO HOME!”

There was no thunder or lightning. The rain was really light. He wouldn’t calm down when I tried to tell him there was nothing to be scared of.

And so Kai’s panicked screams drew stares from the volunteer kids and their parents. I think they might have figured out why Kai was in this group.

And so we’re left with a conundrum. Kai is still not capable of playing on a “real” soccer team with his typical peers. But it doesn’t feel like the special needs team is right for him anymore either.

I love that the special needs program exists. I think this is a great activity for these kids. I’m glad there are wonderful volunteers who make it possible.

I just wonder whether it is right for my son now.

I think one of the difficulties of having a child with special needs is finding an appropriate placement – in school, in therapy, and in extracurricular activities like this. I’ve learned that just because something is labeled as being for kids with special needs does not necessarily make it appropriate for my particular kid with special needs.

Well, next soccer season does not start until spring. We have a few months to think about it.

Here's a photo from earlier in the season of Kai with a couple of the volunteer buddies:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Making (Some) Progress on the Bike

After a rainy few days, the sun came out on Sunday so we were able to get out on our bicycles once again.

We went back to our favorite forest preserve along the Skokie Lagoons, but this time we convinced Kai to go on a different path that goes in the opposite direction. That was no small deal as Kai is a boy who usually prefers to stay well within his comfort zone and just do things that he is very familiar with.

As we started riding, Kai seemed much more comfortable on his bike. He didn’t seem so anxious to be on his bike, and he was pedaling a bit faster than how he started last week. Though still riding far behind Mom, still afraid that he would crash into her if he rode too closely. In the photo below, can you see the tiny spot of pink far ahead of us? That is my wife, and that is about as close as Kai felt comfortable getting.

Besides riding so far behind Mom, when other riders passed going in the opposite direction, Kai would sometimes yell out, “I’m scared!” as if they would crash into him.

But I also heard him humming as he was riding. That was a good indication that he was mostly relaxed and enjoying himself.

But it wouldn’t be an outing with Kai if he didn’t get really upset about something.

Unlike our other path that loops around back to our starting point, this one goes on for many miles. As we did not want to travel all the way to the end, we picked a spot to stop, turn around, and head back.

We had all agreed that our turnaround point would be Lake Street. But it wasn’t until Kai and I stopped to look at a map that we realized that there was no intersection there; rather, there was an overpass.

We tried to yell to Mom to stop before the bridge. But as we were riding so far behind her, we weren’t sure she heard us.

As we slowed down to stop, we yelled to Mom to stop. But she kept riding up and over the bridge, disappearing from view.


I told Kai that Mom would come back soon. But he would not calm down.

“When she comes back, she should get a big punishment!”

I told him that if we were riding closer, Mom would have heard us.

I called her on he cell phone and she came back. Kai wasn’t exactly happy to see her.

“Mom, you did a bad job!”


We resumed riding. Kai was crabby much of the way back, complaining of how his legs couldn’t pedal any longer. I wasn’t surprised that he felt tired. Our old path was about 4 miles; this time we biked about 7 or 8 miles, so we went about twice as far.

I was exhausted, too. Not from the distance, but from constantly exhorting Kai to keep going.

When we caught up with my wife back at the starting point, she was cheerful about how beautiful the new path was. I grumpily agreed.

She enthusiastically praised Kai for making the longer ride.

And though I wasn’t exactly in an enthusiastic mood, I agree. He did deserve the praise.

Progress is measured in many ways. On this day, it was by the length of a little longer bike ride.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween: Ketchup and Mustard

Kai has been really into collecting Trashies that I thought perhaps that he could be one for Halloween.

About a month ago, I googled “Trashies Halloween costume” and, well, let’s just say the results were not what I was looking for. (Though I notice today that the same search now yields a bunch of kid-appropriate results.)

We eventually found one Trash Pack costume for sale, but since it was for young kids, it would not fit Kai. So, I decided that I would make him a costume this year.

I ordered a light-weight collapsible trash can. We would make it a craft project to paint it as if it were trash-stained, and to also paint an old t-shirt.

Unfortunately, nearly four weeks later, the trash can never arrived. It is still showing as “In transit,” stuck at some UPS facility. I contacted the seller and they refunded the money rather than send out another one.

So, still without a Halloween costume for Kai and with the big day approaching, my wife went out and got a replacement:

It’s not homemade, but I have to admit that they look good together.

My wife attended the Halloween parade at school in costume.

And then they came home and did a short round of trick-or-treating in the rain.

When I got home from work, Kai was ready to go again. I don’t think he particularly cared about getting more candy – he eats hardly any of the candy he collects – he just wanted to do another round with me, which was very sweet.

And so it was my turn to be Ketchup, and we embarked just as the rain picked up again.

Three Halloweens ago, Kai was just beginning to talk more ably and it was still hit or miss whether he would say “trick-or-treat” and I constantly had to remind him to say “thank you” at each house. He did not respond when people commented about his costume.

This year, I heard him say “trick-or-treat” loudly and clearly. And I only had to remind him to say “thank you” once.

And when people remarked how great his costume was, he quickly and appropriately thanked them.

At one house, the person at the door did not see me hanging further back with the umbrella over my head. Seeing Kai as mustard, she asked what happened to ketchup. He turned around, pointed to me, and told the woman, “He’s right there.”

We probably went to less than ten houses before turning around and heading back home. It was late and the wind started picking up.

But it was plenty of time for father-and-son bonding.

And for me to notice the progress he has made with his communication and socialization.

And so, despite the rain, we had a great Halloween.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...