February 26, 2014

Book Notes: "What Color is Monday?" by Carrie Cariello

Image from carriecariello.com
I recently finished reading, "What Color is Monday?" a book by fellow blogger and author, Carrie Cariello. It's about the colorful experience of raising a child with autism.

Prior to reading the book, I enjoyed Carrie Cariello's blog, especially this post (about grand-parenting a child with autism) and more recently, this post (about looking for the rainbow in the darker moments of parenthood).

I was originally drawn to Cariello's book because I thought it might be good preparation for Autism Awareness Month coming up in April, and that it might be helpful for some of my clients and readers. Given that sign language is a common therapy prescribed for children on the autism spectrum (and for many other children with special learning and developmental needs), I interact regularly with parents and educators who love and work with children with special needs. Although Cariello's point of view is certainly influenced by her experiences parenting a child with autism,  I was pleased to discover that her book offers perspectives that are relevant to a broad range of parents. I have found her thoughtful essays applicable to my own parenting journey.

Although the challenges of parenting a child with identified special needs are far beyond anything I've experienced, I too struggle with the particular challenges I do encounter (sometimes daily!) in parenting the unique and special needs of each of my typically developing children. As Dr. Stephen Cowan said in this essay, "Pushing your buttons is a spiritual practice, and children are our spiritual teachers." Suffice it to say, my children are quite devout in their spiritual practice. I've been brought to my knees with frustration, cried myself to sleep, and asked the universe, "Why this?!" Cariello's book helped me remember why: Because I am just the right mama for these particular children. They hold what I need to learn, and they need what I have to offer.

I most appreciated Cariello's chapter entitled, "The Autism in All of Us." It is here where Cariello points out that we all have special needs (challenges, quirks . . . ). Indeed, these special needs/challenges/quirks are greatly amplified for people on the autism spectrum, and yet, each of us has a unique blend of special needs that is the secret sauce that makes us who we are. We are each uniquely lovable because of our special needs/challenges/quirks . . . not in spite of them. I must especially remember this perspective on the days when it is harder to find the rainbow.

I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Cariello's book (it should be noted that she donates a portion of the proceeds from her book sales to autismspeaks.org). At a minimum, I hope you will visit her blog (I've added it to my blog roll on the right side of this page).

Oh, and here is a fun tidbit: Cariello lists her favorite books here. "Where the Red Fern Grows" (one of my childhood favorites), by Wilson Rawls, is on her list of honorable mentions. We also share several adult favorites, including "The Red Tent," by Anita Diament, and One True Thing, by Anna Quindlen.  I will encourage Cariello to read, "Bird by Bird," by Anne Lamott, my all time favorite.

February 21, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #4

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Sign language is a great way to provide "pencil practice" for young children because it stimulates fine motor development. Holding a pencil requires fine motor skills. Incidentally, so does talking (given that vocal cords are fine motor muscles).

Some people shy away from teaching babies and young children "difficult" signs because they might not be able to do them accurately. I prefer to teach kids a variety of signs, including those that might be more difficult.

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The sign for water is a classic example. You make this sign by tapping the index finger of your "W Hand" to your chin. It's hard for new little fingers (and old arthritic fingers!) to hold the pinky finger down with the thumb. It often takes several practice attempts over time before a young child will produce this sign correctly. But think about all of the brain stimulation this provides! I love watching a child's face when they are attempting/practicing a challenging sign. It's as if you can literally see the wheels turning in their brains. The same is true when they are learning to hold a pencil!

It's easy to add the sign for water to your home or classroom routine. Instead of saying, "raise your hand if you'd like some water," or "line up for the water fountain," you can say, "Show me with your signs if you'd like a drink of water." This turns transition time into learning time!

Alphabet games can also be enriched with sign language. Instead of just singing the alphabet, sing and sign the alphabet. Instead of just signing with the dominant hand, sign with the non-dominent hand. Instead of just signing the alphabet with one hand, sign the alphabet with BOTH hands. Instead of signing the alphabet at a normal pace, sign it faster, and FASTER and FASTER!  You can find loads of ideas for incorporating the alphabet signs into your learning environment in this Start to Finish Story Time Post and you can find free ASL glossaries and alphabet games/activities (for younger kids or for older kidson my publisher's website.

Happy Signing!