Children's Picture Books, Life Skills, Special Needs, Teen

Having an Almost-Teen With Autism|13 Ways He’s Like Any Other Teen #WorldAutismAwarenessDay #AutismAcceptance

Parenthood flies by in a blink of an eye. A preemie, my firstborn daughter weighed in at only 4 lbs. 14 oz.

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After six days, she was released from the hospital. I brought her to my grandfather’s 90th birthday party to show her to the family.

Setting her down on an upstairs room carpet, I stepped away to grab a diaper from my bag.

My aunt stood in the doorway and gasped. “I thought there was a doll on the floor, but she moved.”

So small, so delicate, I didn’t know if she’d ever catch up to the regular developmental milestones of most children.

But then.

Blink. My baby girl could walk.

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Blink again. She’s studying for her driver’s permit.

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Blink away the tears. I only have 2 years left with my baby!

My oldest daughter is now sixteen. And my have the years flown by.

In only one month, my next-born, my only son, will be turning from tween to teen, the rite of passage year of thirteen. In some cultures, this would be the year he becomes a man.

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The thing is, he has autism. Picture 008

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Does that mean he can’t be a regular teen?

So, far he’s been like any other almost-teen in many ways.

1. The boy loves to eat.

Some of his favorite foods are not super healthy, but isn’t that like any other kid? If I let him, he’d eat yogurt and Life cereal for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and spaghetti for dinner everyday. Veggies are not at the top of the list, but he’ll eat a good salad and a bowl full of broccoli cheddar soup.

2. The boy loves tech.

Video gaming, time on the tablet, the phone, the TV. Anything with a flickering screen.

3. The boy loves books.

Being a book-loving mama, this is what makes me most proud of him. Reading a-loud to him and audio books started my boy on liking stories (those not on a screen). He learned how to make a movie of what he was hearing in his mind. Now he reads books on his own. Recently, I peeked over his shoulder and recognized the book he was reading. A classic we listened to on audio book this year—Farmer Boy.

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4. The boy loves LEGOs.

Grown men play with LEGOs. So, it’s okay that he asks for a new set every week (but, I tell him to use the blocks he already has!)

5. The boy loves classical education.

Latin, history, science, English grammar, geography and more, the classical style of learning fits my boy’s way of thinking. This year, we studied U.S. history and all we’ve been through as a nation. It’s opened his eyes to a world that is bigger than the four walls of our own home. And that he is a part of the great timeline of history that still goes on.

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6. The boy loves people.

He may have trouble meeting new people and making and keeping friends, but his heart is full of compassion for human beings made in the image of God. Every time we see a homeless person, he prays for him. When we studied September 11, 2001 and the destruction of the World Trade Center, he cried for all the lives lost. He has wept after realizing he’s the only boy out of our family of four children because his brother lived only a short life.

7.  The boy loves truth.

The Internet can be a scary thing. No telling what our kids can stumble onto. We have clear rules in our family about not getting on the computer when Mom and Dad have not given permission. Our boy couldn’t keep it a secret that he watched something without asking. I’m thankful it was only a kids’ show and that he told us the truth.

8. The boy loves God.

Throughout his childhood, we’ve read the Bible to him, prayed with him, have taken him to church, but I didn’t know if he could grasp spiritual things. Then one day, as I folded laundry, he sat next to me and blurted out, “Mom, I want to become a follower of Jesus Christ.” Stunned, I said, “Okay.” Then my heart overflowed with joy. By the grace of God, he got it! I prayed with him and have seen the fruit of his faith.

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9. The boy loves goodness.

Like any other almost-teen, my boy doesn’t get why anyone would want to harm another human being. He now knows there are people out there who completely lack empathy and do very evil things. He’s learning that we must overcome evil with good. To see change, we must be the gift, the miracle, and the one who changes first. To do right, to be merciful, and not think you’re better than anyone else will change the world. Having three sisters, and a tendency for brotherly teasing, he gets to practice at apologizing everyday.

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10. The boy loves beauty.

He tells me, “Mom, you look beautiful today,” which makes me smile.

Watching films with epic scenery and music are one of his favorite things to do. We listen to John Williams’ soundtracks on family trips.

On our visit to the Morse Museum to view the Louis Comfort Tiffany art collection, he stood in awe at the way stained glass could depict life with such beauty and light.

11. The boy loves creating.

Since he was old enough to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He’s always said the same thing, “Inventor.” I bought him The Way Things Work, The Way We Work, and The New Way Things Work to hopefully help him generate ideas on which to build.

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12. The boy loves to argue.

Arguing is not a bad thing as long as he’s respectful. It means he’s forming his own ideas about how the world works. It means he’s growing up.

13. The boy loves his friends.

He’s had friends when he was younger. Usually one really good friend for a few years, but then that friend would move away. But lately, it’s been getting harder and harder for him to find friends his own age. Thankfully, he’s made friends in his weekly Social Thinking group at 3 C’s Therapy who all have autism like him.

The point is, he’s growing from being a boy to a man. It may not look totally like other almost-teens, but I’m still proud of him. My heart overflows with motherly love for my boy. I know he’s growing into the man God created him to be. And that’s enough for me.

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Life Skills, Teen, Young Adult

A New Year of Adulting Part 1: 10 Ways to Release Stress|Things to Do Before You’re 18 #adulting #2018Resolution

“I don’t wanna grow up ’cause I’m a Toys R Us Kid!” chimed the TV as I wasted away the Saturdays of my childhood watching cartoons with my brothers in front of the flickering magic screen. I had no idea what I was missing out on by not spending more time reading.

Books can really help us grow up. I learned much of how to live on my own while attending college and later about being a mother from reading books as a teen.

Some of the first real full-length chapter books I read were the classic Anne of Green Gables series. I fell in love with Anne’s life in Avonlea, where the roads were red and walking or taking a carriage ride were the common ways to travel.

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With each book in the series, Anne grew from an insecure, precocious tween to a college graduate (unusual for a woman of her time), to a happily married adult with half-a-dozen children.

Anne learned all the life skills she needed to know from her adoptive mother, Marilla. This fundamental knowledge was passed from adult to child.

Though we live in the age of information and globalization, the method of transferring knowledge is no different. Yet, it seems like we, as parents, have less time and know-how ourselves on how to help our children launch.

So, this has motivated me to search, to learn myself, what does a teen need to learn before turning 18.

In previous posts, I’ve shared these resources:

10 Must Have Books for Teen Girls

The Ultimate Teen Guide Vol. 1: Social Graces

The Ultimate Teen Guide Vol. 2: Kitchen Essentials

With the start of 2018, it’s back to schoolwork, chores, and responsibilities that cannot be ignored by our teens. Which means stress! Now more than ever, teen anxiety has been on the rise. Maybe life since the times of Anne of Green Gables has quickened at the pace of the high-speed Internet.

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My teen daughter and I both have utilized the following methods to deal with the anxiety that accompanies stress.

10 Ways to Cope With Stress

  • Listen to instrumental music or play an easy instrument like the ukulele
  • Consider getting a pet dog, cat, or fish for your teen’s room and open the blinds for letting in the sun and watching birds outside
  • Think of at least three things daily that you are thankful for (Ann Voscamp’s blog has free resources on living a life of gratitude)

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  • Explore a park or nature preserve with many shade trees—something about trees calms our nerves

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  • Try “star-breathing,” which means take a deep breath in and draw a line down each finger slowly as you breathe out. It really helps! 
  • Pray—talk to Jesus, your best friend beside you and/or journal your feelings
  • Sing an uplifting song
  • Meditate on a Bible verse you know by heart or think about an inspiring quote you’ve read or heard
  • Read a classic book you love (like Anne of Green Gables!)

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  • Rest in a quiet, comfortable spot until you feel less stressed

This year, let’s resolve to make time for our teens and teach them what they need to know to grow into successful adults.

My son on the autism spectrum will be turning 13 this year, so I will also to be sharing more resources specifically for teen boys, coming soon!

 

 

 

 

Blog, Life Skills, Special Needs, Uncategorized

How ‘Georgisms’ Can Help our Kids Succeed|The Importance of Executive Functioning #historyrocks #adulting

Have you ever witnessed a living miracle unfold before your very eyes?

To me, my middle school aged son on the autism spectrum, giving his very first speech in his Classical Conversations class a few weeks ago was miracle enough. His speech was short and he had trouble looking at the audience, but I didn’t care. He overcame his social anxiety, and I beamed at this huge step in his development.

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In class yesterday, he did something that made my jaw drop.

The opening to his speech went like this:

“Do you know how my mom is like our first president? (three second pause) Because she’s always washing a ton!”

His whole class—the kids, the teacher, the other mothers—all laughed.

He had his audience in the palm of his hand.

Then he turned serious and shared how as a boy, Washington accidentally killed his mother’s favorite colt.

All eyes were on my son as he projected his voice, stood confidently, and shared for a minute and a half about the trials and triumphs of our first president.

I sat mesmerized, in awe at my son’s transformation.

My only regret is that I forgot to get out my phone and take a video!

He’s learning. He’s growing. I think he’s going to do all right in life. He may not be president of the United States when he grows up, but I believe by the grace of God, he’ll do something to make a difference in our world.

Have you ever wondered how George Washington became our first president, trusted by the colonists who shed their blood, sweat and tears to create a whole new country set apart from the rule of the King of England?

From historical accounts of his life, we can know that George Washington was a man in control of his words, his body, and his actions.

When he was fourteen years old, Washington wrote out 110 rules to live by.

These rules laid a foundation or framework for him to advance to the highest position in the United States of America. They helped him to be dignifieddiplomatic and wise beyond his years.

Nowadays, we call this executive functioning.

Washington was singled out for a job that men much older than himself usually did. In 1749, at the age seventeen, he became a surveyor and mapped out land for his employers.

From there, in 1755, Washington had moved up the ranks in the military and was awarded the position of Colonel of the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War (also called the Seven Years War, 1754-1758).

From years serving in the military, Washington gained leadership skills. He understood British military strategies which would help him later when he became the General of the Continental Army.

America had had enough of England’s “taxation without representation” and the colonial patriots were gaining more support to rebel against English rule and become their own independent country, The United States of America.

After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Continental Army formed. George Washington was appointed General of the Continental Army and Commander-in-Chief.

As General of the Continental Army, Washington’s first great victory was against the Hessian army (German soldiers hired by the British). Washington chose to execute a sneak attack on the night of Christmas 1776. He crossed the Delaware River to Trenton, New Jersey and captured nearly 1,000 Hessians.

By 1777, The Continental Army had grown to 11,000 men. During the winter at Valley Forge, north of Philidelphia, Pennsylvania, about 2,000-3,000 men died from the harsh winter and lack of supplies. Washington stayed with his men, suffering along with them and used this time to train them with the help of Inspector General von Steuben.

With the help of French troops, supplies and naval forces, in 1781, British General Cornwallis was trapped and surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, ending any further hostilities from England.

When choosing the first leader of the United States, our founding fathers knew that Washington was the best man for the job.


On April 30, 1789, George Washington was voted by 100% of the electoral college to be the first president of the United States of America. He did not desire to be called “your majesty,” like King George III of England. He wanted The United States of America to be a democracy through and through and to be simply called, Mr. President.

Throughout his life, Washington relied on the rules of leadership that he learned at a young age. As he gained knowledge from both victory and failure, he matured and became the kind of leader our country needed, one who was both strong and reasonable.

In order to be successful adults, children need to learn the same skills that our first President learned. Attaining life skills, including proper etiquette, improve their executive function, which is a crucial element in allowing a person to mature and become a productive member of society. Even George Washington did not possess these skills on his own. He studied them, copied them and lived them out.

What We Can Learn from George Washington:

Developing a well-trained mind is crucial for making the best life decisions.

Focusing on the things that are important and organizing them in a step-by-step, systematic way to be used again later is the foundation of having good executive function. Washington did this with learning his 110 rules so well, he knew them by memory and was able to use this knowledge at the proper time. Learning the general rules of manners can be useful in understanding how to act in any given situation. And, then we must make the choice to follow those rules.

Having control over one’s emotions, body, and words is another level of executive function.

It is hard to follow the rules, when we let strong emotions control us.

Washington was remembered as a man of reason. He did not allow strong emotions to take control. He used his words to encourage others and not to hurt or belittle them. He faced battles with bravery and did not allow fear to affect his decisions. Choosing to use coping strategies and keep our feelings under control is another way to develop good executive function.

Learning from our successes and failures is one of the final steps in developing good executive function.

Washington was considered mature at a young age. He used his knowledge of math and skill in drawing to his advantage when he became a surveyor. He learned in his years in the military the strategies that worked to win battles. He was flexible and willing to learn new things and try them in different ways. He chose to do things the best way rather than the easy way.

Children can start young by making choices to develop good executive function. Having a well-trained mind, good self-control and flexiblity is important in gaining the life skills needed to be successful in life.

Books about George Washington:

 

GEORGE-isms: Rules George Washington Lived  by George Washington

George Washington’s World by Genevieve Foster

George Washington by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire

Who was George Washington? by Roberta Edwards

George Washington Games and Videos:

 

Apples for the Teacher has George Washington coloring pages, puzzles and games

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery has a mystery game

The History Channel’s website has a short documentary about George Washington here.

*Images of George Washington, flag, and map courtesy of Wikipedia.

Blog, Life Skills, Teen

The Ultimate Teen Guide Vol. 2: Kitchen Essentials|Things to Do Before You’re 18 #adulting

 

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Where should one start in learning how to cook? Julia Child might ask, “Does she know how to make an omelet?” True, omelets can be a versatile meal, eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but let’s add more than eggs to our teens’ cooking repertoire.

As shared in my post on 10 Must Have Books for Teen Girls, a good cookbook is essential for independent living. We want our teens to not rely on eating convenience foods that are bad for both the body and the pocketbook. Teens need to learn that they too can make a fantastic meal. Even better than that is building up enough confidence in their cooking skills to give a dinner party and invite friends and family to enjoy their culinary masterpieces.

1. Teach teens to cook healthy, budget-friendly meals.

As a mom of four, I live by a routine of Spaghetti Monday, Taco Tuesday, and a variety of seasoned chicken on Wednesday, Thursday, & Friday. Dad takes over on Saturday and left-overs are for Sunday (weekends are my days off!). This keeps the budget low and stress-level for cooking low for me. All my ingredients are on-hand, and I know the recipes by heart. Inform your teen that cooking can get pricey depending on the ingredients. Give her a turn in cooking dinner once a week until she learns them all.

2. Let her bake.

The kitchen is my domain. I don’t want flour all over the counters, on the flour, or in the cracks beside the oven. By the grace of God, I’ve had to learn to deal with this. When I’ve let go of my desire to dominate the kitchen and have given free rein to my teen, she has flourished in baking biscuits, breads, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and muffins. She’s even made cream puffs! And, because my idea of dessert is in the freezer, I never would have been able to enjoy these scrumptious delights had I barred her from baking because, truthfully, it can get messy. I’ll share tips on teaching teens to clean in a later post!

3. Start building up her own kitchen supplies.

One day, our teen is going to grow up and move out (that’s the plan anyway!) and she will need some kitchen items to take with her. My teen has asked for baking pans and a mixer for Christmas. With her knack for baking, I was happy to oblige. I’ve since acquired a new set of pots and pans, but I kept the old ones to give to her when she leaves the nest. I remember my mom giving me a great deal of her old dishes and silverware when I went off to college. I hope to do the same for my daughter.

4. Take her grocery shopping.

In our family, Dad is the grocery shopper. Before we had children, we would shop together. With each pregnancy, my husband starting shopping on his own. Now, he does it full-time, and I am more than thrilled with that. He’s known as “Super Dad” at out local supermarket with all the kids with him, holding onto the shopping cart. My stepdad used to do the same thing. He made a grocery list, took his calculator, and me with him. It was my job to add up all his purchases and make sure he stayed within the budget. Whether mom or dad is in charge of the shopping, try taking your teens with you and let them keep track of money spent. It’s eye-opening how easy it is to spend over two hundred dollars a week for a family of six. Maybe we should do once-a-month freezer meals, couponing, or base meal planning on BOGO’s? Encourage our teens to brainstorm ideas on how to save money.

5. Teach about expiration dates and food rotation.

I’ve learned the hard way that you should always check the expiration date on milk before pouring it into your cereal. My husband, (our designated family food shopper) is really good about rotating the food in our refrigerator and pantry to make sure the newer food is placed behind the food that would spoil first. Teens need to learn this when they help put groceries away. Also, they need to learn not to open up another bag of chips or carton of milk before the old one is used up.

With a little extra time and patience, we can teach our teens to take full rein of the kitchen so that one day, they too can make more than an omelet.

Blog, Life Skills, Teen, Young Adult

The Ultimate Teen Guide Vol. 1: Social Graces|Things to Do Before You’re 18 #Adulting

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By the time a teen turns eighteen, what sort of things should she know in the world of #adulting? Making a great score on the SAT’s is all fine and good for getting into college, but what about real life skills? We want to give our teens roots, but also wings that they may fly to new heights in their next stage of life called adulthood.

Interpersonal skills are a gift that some naturally possess and others have to learn or constantly suffer the consequences for committing embarrassing social faux pas. As an adult, this skill will translate into pragmatics, networking, or building relational capital.

Unwritten rules of our society are not easily deciphered, but here’s some tips I’ve learned that I’m passing along to my own teen. And going to parties is a great way to learn to apply social graces.

18 Things to Share When Teaching Teens Social Graces

  • When you receive an invitation, RSVP by the deadline. If you cannot attend, try to refrain from saying a plain “no,” but politely reply with the other plans you had made.
  • When you go to a party, stay at least 30 minutes. It’s considered rude to show up for snacks and then leave before making any real conversations with other guests.
  • At a larger get-together, try to talk to at least three different groups of people.
  • Whether at a birthday, wedding, or graduation party, it’s important to know how to speak and act as to not offend others. There are many rules when it comes to learning social graces. If you do end up saying the wrong thing, it’s best to simply apologize. Most people are sympathetic and forgiving.
  • A simple rule for introductions is to remember The “Six S’s”:

1. Smile.

2. See their eyes (make eye contact).

3. Say, “Hi.”

4. Shake hands.

5.  Say, “My name is            . What’s your name?”

6. Say, “Nice to meet you, Mr./Mrs.            .”  

  • Try not to look insecure, even you feel like the simple country mouse visiting the extravagant city mouse. Give affirming smiles to others and add to conversations.
  • As a last resort, if it’s difficult to join in other ongoing conversations, try standing in a line of people, like the bathroom line or the buffet line. Strike up a conversation with others who are also waiting and maybe you’ll make a friend.
  • If there are no more chairs available, give up your seat to an elderly person, pregnant woman, or those with disabilities.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not talk about another person’s body or your own. Even if you’re hot, cold, or recovering from some sort of illness. It’s just not the stuff good conversations are made of and will lead to even more awkwardness.
  • It’s better to comment on what a person is, rather than what they do. For instance, “Sally is such a creative person.” sounds more affirming than “Sally likes to draw.”
  • Figure out your talking points. Try brainstorming about things you are good at talking about before a party.
  • Inquiring minds want to know, but please don’t share others’ personal information that you know they wouldn’t want others to know about.
  • Also, don’t gossip. Just avoid saying negative things about others, even if you add, “and we should pray for this person.”
  • In my writer’s group, Word Weavers Int’l., I learned the “sandwich method” of critique. When saying something that could be upsetting to someone, but it still needs to be said, first say something positive, then the hard truth, and follow up with something encouraging. For example when in a conversation with someone who is gossiping try, “You seem like a caring person, but maybe we shouldn’t talk about Kayla’s boyfriend troubles. Hey, she’s sitting on a chair in the corner by herself. Let’s invite her to sit with us.”
  • Nobody likes to listen to a one-sided conversation. Keep the flow going by asking others about what is going on in their lives.
  • Learn the art of wrapping up a conversation. Steer what you are talking about to lighter subjects, like “Wow, this was a fun party.” Then end with something positive like, “It was so nice to meet you, Mrs./Mrs.            . I really enjoyed our conversation.”
  • When you need to leave, simply tell the host/hostess, “I do wish I could stay, but I really have to go.” No need to explain why.
  • Write a thank you card to your host/hostess. A simple message of thanks for a great party let’s them know that their hard work of hospitality paid off.

Whatever the occasion, applying common rules of interpersonal communication can lay the groundwork on which relationships are built. Doors may open in the way of making a new friends, growing in empathy, or a building connections for a future career. So let’s start those conversations with our teens about what it means to have social graces.

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