In the Morning

christmas2011 (2)

Liam gets breakfast, then a snack in the morning.

Mea will talk with Kieran, which distracts him from eating, in the morning.

Kieran will go to get dressed and get lost in his room in the morning.

I will usually find Kieran reading instead of getting dressed, in the morning.

There’s usually a point at which I am raising my voice in the morning.

I don’t get out the door to work without uttering the word, “Kieran,” or the command, “Let’s go,” at least 25 times, in the morning.

Mea never knows what to wear in the morning.

Kieran has to be reminded to brush his teeth in the morning.

Hair sometimes wet, maybe make-up, and a chance of jewelry worn, in the morning.

We usually forget something we need for school and have to run back to the house, in the morning.

Liam waits patiently for all of us to be ready to leave for school, in the morning.



Why International Adoption?


I was once asked by my biological father, why didn’t we want adopt one of the needy children right here in America? I didn’t have an answer formulated at the time. But there were many reasons.

We started out not feeling comfortable with open adoption, which is possible in America. We are a quiet family and possibly not one that would be open to blending well with another.

We already had two children biologically. With some agencies, we would not be able to adopt a baby. While we didn’t want to adopt an infant, we also didn’t want the child to be too old.

Once we determined international, we had actually chosen a different country due to Mike having family from that country. In this, we were trying to keep a cultural connection for the child.

When we found out that we could not adopt from this country, we felt led to adopt from Ethiopia because of a book that I was reading about orphans in that country. The book, There is No Me Without You, was extremely compelling.

While the conditions that children in poverty in America face are horrible, someone at church once talked about poverty in a country like Haiti. There is no comparison to third world poverty and what life could be like for a female child in one of these countries.

Ultimately, our hearts said, Ethiopia. No other explanation was needed.

Our Little Police Officer

One of Liam’s less “fun” traits was (and still is) his habit of reporting all of the aberrant behaviors of his classmates and siblings.


The way that Liam’s mind works, if he is told a rule, he follows it and believes that others should follow it as well. He trusts all adults and believes that the rules are “truth.” The book Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin does a good job of sharing about this characteristic.

When others broke rules, Liam would get upset. This would often find him telling the teacher on the peer(s). One time, he even told on a substitute, because she didn’t follow the directions set out by his teacher. We worked to help him understand that while we knew it was wrong to break the rules, unless someone was getting hurt, he needed to “mind his own business.” Telling on others was not being a friend.

What a tough lesson to learn! Sometimes, the teacher would ask Liam to “report” on the class’s behavior when she was away. There have been many times that we have asked Liam for the “truth” about a situation between his siblings. His honesty and rule-bound behavior is prized among adults. He is always trusted to do the right thing. He does not lie.

Among his peers, however, he was just seen as a tattle-tale or a “teacher’s pet.” We had to help him learn when he should report something and when he could just share it with us to express his confusion and disappointment.

Most importantly, we needed to realize (and help others understand) that Liam’s goal was not to get anyone into trouble. Rather, he was trying to show respect for what he was told to do, and for the person telling him.

On the flip side, we learned of a therapist who was teaching teens with ASD to lie to their parents, because that was normal teen behavior. I emphatically disagreed with this stance. While I understood where she was coming from, I don’t believe that it’s necessary to learn to lie in order to be a healthy teen. Moreover, I want Liam (and my other children) to know they can tell us anything (within reason).

What a tricky world we live in.

How to Find a Writing Topic (Reluctant Writers on the Autism Spectrum)

As a second grader, in a curriculum that valued creative writing, Liam struggled.

If a student has a literal mind that focuses on specific topics and does not play creatively, sitting down to write a story about any topic you want is an overwhelming task.

Even at this early age, I recommended to his teacher that he identify a few topics about which he was willing to write, so that he would not shut down during writing workshop. Did it always work? No. But at least is was a concrete, viable place from which Liam could start.

For many writers, completely a Heart Map at the beginning of the year can be a valuable experience.


At the same time, with a less experienced writer, the Heart Map can still offer too many options.

For Liam, identifying Writing Territories worked best. He identified three topics about which he felt he was an expert and would be willing to write. The topics were: video games, his family, and building with Legos or K’nex.

One time, I was presenting in a professional learning session on “Literacy Strategies to Support Students on the Autism Spectrum” and a teacher raised a question. She shared that one of her sixth grade students would only write about wrestling. She felt that he should write on a wider range of topics as a sixth grader.

I agreed that this should be a goal for this writer. However, if he was not writing at all, unless he could write about wrestling, developmentally, he was not ready for more topics.

I asked the teacher to think about what her goal for her writers was that year. Was it to write about a wide variety of topics, like we need readers to read? Or was it to learn how to write in the different styles of writing: poetry, informative, narrative, and argumentative.

She shared that the latter was actually her goal. I offered that her student could write about wrestling in a variety of ways: write a procedural paper about how to complete a specific wrestling move; write a story about a wrestler going to a big match; argue that professional wrestling was a “real sport.”

I recommended that once the student saw himself as a writer, because he spent his sixth grade year comfortably writing, as he got older, then he could move out of this territory to explore new topics.

I am happy to share that Liam has written a few short stories (Nanowrimo)


and even flash fiction. He has written poetry about math. While he was thrilled to hear that there would be no creative writing in 9th grade English, he has moved past his territories, through the scaffolded support of wonderful writing teachers who allowed him to grow, in his time, to see himself as a student who could successfully write.

Reading in Kindergarten


As was to be expected, Kieran did not kick off his reading career anything like Liam did. In fact, he was quite the opposite.

Kieran struggled to “break the code.” I  believe that early on, he tuned out during alphabet and phonics lessons, or learned enough to “get by.”

We struggled when he would bring books home to practice reading. He would say he had read them already and that they were boring.

He was reading them by memory, which was not why the teacher had sent them home.

When we spoke, she said that he got easily frustrated with books above a certain level. She sent home easier books so that he could practice decoding and sight words and build his confidence.

I don’t know that her goals for him were completely met, due to him memorizing the words, but I admired that she did not give into his self-proclaimed boredom to send home things that were too hard. She also knew that how he felt about reading was just as important as developing reading skills.

Had she not been as knowledgeable about Kieran as a reader, and advocated for what was best for him, it might have turned him off to reading from early on, and possibly forever.

The Best of Friends, the Worst of Friends


This week, Liam has been away at a competition. The family feels different without him. The house feels a little more empty.

It reminds me of the time that Liam went with his grandmother to Alaska, to visit cousins.

I worried about how he would react if he didn’t get enough to eat or the right amount of sleep. I stressed about whether he would eat what they were serving. I hoped that his cousins didn’t think he was too “weird” to play with. I missed having him around.

Kieran, however, missed him more. While they fight constantly (did I share how the other week I walked into Liam’s room to find Kieran on top of Liam? Picture a boy almost 5′ and about 70 pounds sitting on top of a young man, 5’8″ at 105 pounds), they are also each other’s best friend.

They play together constantly. They have many of the same interests and talents. They talk the same “language”; they get each other.

The week that Liam was away, Kieran wandered aimlessly around the house. He slept in our bed each night. He didn’t eat as much, or talk as much. When the phone rang, he was the first to pick it up, saying, “Liam?” to whomever was on the line.

Their reunion (as I imagine it will be on Saturday), was sweet. Kieran had been planning all week what they would play and what he had to say to Liam. He had been bottling all of that thought and energy to share with his brother.

At the same time, Liam just needed some time to rest from his “vacation.” This week will be worse: he has been up until 11 and 12 at night for the past two nights with one more night to go.

Then the fighting will ensue: “He doesn’t want to play with me.”

“Kieran, can you please get out of my room?”

Everything back to normal.

How We Know She’s Happy

While Mea is quiet at home, there are a number of ways to tell that she’s happy. Even back when she was only two to three years old, these “signs” emerged.


When Mea is happy, she talks out loud about everything that is on her mind. It’s like a cork was popped and all of her thoughts start to bubble out. They come out in random order and jump from topic to topic. When she babbles in this bubbly sort of way, she’s happy.

When Mea is happy, she bounces. One time, during karate, she was standing still, listening to directions. The sensei gave her a compliment in front of everyone. She literally started to hop in place. We could tell that his words made her happy.

When Mea is happy, she writes. She started by copying stories that she heard in school. Now, she has journals full of different writing and stories. Reading what she has written let’s us know what makes her happy.

When Mea is happy, she holds my hand. She is not a “touchy” person. But if we are going to a place such as a restaurant, store, or Hershey Park, she will quietly slip her hand into mine. I know we are going somewhere that is making her happy.



A few days ago, I was reminded of Kieran talking about “crushes” in Kindergarten.


He came home one day and told me that this girl had a crush on him and another girl had a crush on his best friend, but that when another boy had a crush on the two girls, they started to both have crushes on him instead.

“What does it mean to have a crush, Kieran?”

“It’s when you want to play with someone more than other people. But they have to be a girl. I only want to play with Wade. So I don’t have any crushes.”


The Effects of Sugar


Sugar affects each of my children differently. With some, we avoid it at all costs. With others, we encourage it.

Encourage: Liam. Whenever Liam has a huge frown on his face, I make him eat. He has low blood sugar that affects his mood. The same is true for his dad. We have to keep snacks on hand so that Liam doesn’t deteriorate into catastrophic thinking (which I discussed in a previous post). If I really want to boost his system, we give him chocolate. It brings him back into balance. We have also discovered that it gives him acne. Sometimes, it’s worth the breakout.

We can take this “boost” too far. Once, Liam had pancakes breakfast. His grandparents were with us, so his pancakes got drenched in syrup. Later that morning, he was literally shaking:

“What’s wrong, buddy?”

“I’m okay, Mom.”

“You’re shaking!”

“I don’t know why.”

I did – sugar.

Discourage: Mea. In past posts I have discussed how Mea’s teeth are highly susceptible to cavities. Mea usually feels “punished” when we deny her candy. Because she gets cavities easily, we’ve tried to explain to her why she cannot have candy. Unfortunately, this has caused her to steal candy from us and other kids…. To give her candy and destroy her teeth? Or to keep it from her and cause her to act out – it’s a sad situation.

However, when other kids are getting candy, like this past Sunday at Easter, we cannot be cruel. While I didn’t let her have both pieces, I gave her one chocolate cross. Her eyes lit up and a broad smile stretched across her face:

“Thank you, Mom.”

The blessing of sugar.

Highly Discourage: Kieran. Kieran is extremely sensitive to any kind of sugar. We’ve significantly changed the household diet due to this sensitivity. No more “white” bread. No juice (except for organic types). No candy in the house. No soda, except dad’s (which also has caffeine). Even cereal is scrutinized.

High Fructose Corn Syrup will keep him from being able to sit still, will keep him awake at night, and will usually end up in some consequence for him, due to impulsivity.

This Sunday, we let him have water ice WITH red die (another enemy to Kieran’s system). At 10:45 that night, he came into my room:

“I can’t sleep.”

“I know, buddy. Sorry. It’s my fault. I didn’t say no to the water ice.”

“I wanted it. It’s not your fault.”

“But you need your sleep.”

Thankfully, it was a long weekend.

We got to talk late into the night, my lying against his back to calm him down enough to sleep. We don’t snuggle as much because he’s a young man now. Sugar gave us some special time together.


Sometimes, reading comprehension strategies that have been around a long time, or that work well with many learners, are used successfully with students on the autism spectrum.

In second grade, we found out that Question-Answer-Response worked helped LIam navigate different types of comprehension questions.


The reason it worked so well was because it was explicit in its approach to teaching him how to respond to questions.

Not only is it clear on the type of thinking that needs to take place, it also provides students with information about where to go in the book to get the answer.

Right there: you can find it in one, no more than two lines of text.

Think and Search: It will be across a page or two; answers come through connecting pieces of information found in the book.

Author and Me: I need to connect what the author says to what I already know and make an inference (see the inference post last week).

On My Own: I can give my opinion about the text. No need to look in the book for the answer.

Sometimes, strategies that work best for students on the autism spectrum to foster comprehension aren’t new or difficult to implement (requiring extensive training). They also don’t need to be expensive.

Sometimes, tried and true works perfectly well, and all learners in the classroom can benefit.