Saturday, April 22, 2017

Repetitive Play: Becoming Who They Are

It was spring semester of my freshman year. I had been living beneath the overcast skies of a Michigan winter for months. Things were dragging and I found solace in the strangest of places: differential equations.

In my dorm room, I sat at my desk and worked problems from the textbook. Then I worked them again. It felt good. The patterns, the rhythm, and the difficulty all gradually increased from 1 to 99. I did the set again. In fact, I did them over and over again. Differential equations became my mantra.

Weird? I know. But merely the academic manifestation of playing with your favorite thing, your favorite patterns. I remember finding great comfort in doing my maths homework over and over again. It seemed like a winning way to spend my time because I was escaping from the drama of dorm life by studying. (Brilliant!)

It turns out that comfort is just one reason repetition is good for you (and for your kids). Repetition invites us to be imagined participants rather than passive dummies. Consider how...

...How Repetition Strengthens

Read the rest at Fat Brain Toys...

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Vlog - Triple Rainbow

A year ago Mikey and his sister performed a Jeff and Paige skit for his kindergarten class. Get ready to jump out of your seats and dance along to "The Triple Rainbow!"

Did you love it? Want a CD of your own? "Triple Rainbow" was produced as part of the "Mighty Wolf" album. For more music about nature and science, go to

Want to see the inspiration for this skit? To watch the original video by Jeff and Paige go to their official YouTube channel and watch the pros:

Celebrate Earth Day with Educational Music about the Science of Climate Change

Celebrate Earth Day with music about nature, environmental science, and sustainability by Jeff and Paige.
Download their music (or buy a CD) from
For Earth Day I recommend "21st Century Superheroes." Here's what you can expect: 
  • Embark on an adventure with Jeff & Paige as they explore and inquire into the natural world. Educational, upbeat & kid-friendly songs, stories, science and solutions for a changing climate!
  • Tired of eco-doom and gloom? "21st Century Energy Superheroes" is an educational & solutions focused journey into climate change and energy conservation. The songs, woven together by a story, will keep the whole family captivated from start to finish! 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Vlog - Intro to Equilateral Triangles

Follow along to learn about the smallest Magna-tile: the equilateral triangle. All three sides are the same length and all three angles are the same.

Mikey wants you to know that he shot this video just outside the art studio where his sister was attending art class.

Related Books

Little Kids will love seeing shapes and how they go together in Lois Elhert's "Color Zoo."

Older Kids will enjoy learning all the proper terminology for triangles in David Alder's book, "Triangles."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Vlog - Fieldtrip to Nature Center

It was Spring Fest at our local Nature Center and Mikey wants to show you what he did. Follow along to see the critters he found and to hear how fun it is to learn about the outdoors, outdoors.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Revisiting 2e Issues: The Danger of Ignorance is Broken Children

My 2e Autistic child has suffered injury because of the unique way he moves through the world. Most importantly, the way his giftedness (verbally precocious) fools his caregivers into having unreasonable expectations has resulted in a broken arm and a broken heart (dangerously close to depression). The following stories are my plead to therapists, teachers, and other caregivers to take a step back and consider “bad” behavior by 2e kids as a desperate call for help. Each story is also a cautionary tale to parents.


I cried over the pages of The Out-of-Sync Child. Finally I understood how and why my almost-three year old son was out of sync. He is undersensitive. Signals between his mouth and brain were muted, which explained his affinity for food with textures that were not too hard, nor too soft, but just right. It explained why he was so anxious in noisy places - the sound never got processed correctly. It explained the constant repetitive motion - jumping, spinning, arm flapping - and the ways he earned adrenaline junkie status at age two. It explained why when he fell on concrete and came up bloody he never once shed a tear or sought comfort, instead continuing right on what he had been doing before his faceplant.

Reading that book was the first research in my journey to understanding twice exceptionality. My son’s subsequent diagnoses (Autism, Phonological Disorder) and cognitive assessment (Highly Gifted) pointed us toward occupational therapy and speech therapy. So that is how I took my four year old to Pillar.

We had been going twice a week to Pillar for a year when it happened. Normally my two year old and I would wait in the waiting room while Tigger would do his work. Some people would drop their children off and go run errands but I usually just sat and read books and played finger games with Twinkle. Until the day I didn’t. Twinkle and I ran to the grocery store.

When we got back to the office there were no signs that anything had happened. At the end of the session the therapist walked Tigger out and said, “Tigger fell off the swing today. He wasn’t listening. When he landed he cried and cried and cried but he’s fine.”

Cried? I thought. That's weird. He never cries.

But then I figured that if I had something to worry about that she would have told me. I assumed someone would have told me something. But they didn’t. So I took Tigger and Twinkle home.
Over the course of the day I noticed that Tigger wasn’t using one of his arms. So I asked him to lift a fork for me with that arm and he couldn’t without wincing.

A trip to his doctor revealed a broken arm.

I was livid. I was angry that he had broken his arm in their care. I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t trusted my gut - that nagging feeling that something wasn’t right when they told me he had cried and cried and cried. Regardless of how I was feeling, I had to spend the rest of the day carting him between doctor offices to get the break diagnosed and treated.

The next day I asked to talk with the owner and the therapists. This is what I was told:
  • “He wasn’t listening.”
  • “We had followed all the protocols. We are not at fault.”
  • “No one has ever gone on record about being hurt here. Yes. There was one other injury but they didn’t file claims.”

Let’s put aside the fact that they were protected legally because they were “following protocol” by putting pads under the swing. That is a conversation for a whole other topic. Let’s just focus on the part: “He wasn’t listening.”

He was four years old.

Four year olds are notorious for listening, following directions, and remaining calm when stimulated with fun rides, right? Wrong. Even typical four year olds have a hard time turning things around.

But twice exceptional autistic four year olds? If they are laughing and “not listening” then they probably aren’t even on this planet. They are higher than high with happiness. If other 2e four year olds are like my son, then you need to stop the ride, get eye-to-eye, and reconnect with them to bring them down from the clouds of glee.

So tell me. If a four year old did not appear to be listening to you, would you allow him or her to swing? Would you assume he was being defiant? Or would you pause and try to connect with that child and make a safer choice?

Now when I leave my son in the care of a ski instructor, karate coach, or anyone, I tell them: “If he doesn’t seem to be listening, then do not assume he is being defiant. Assume he does not hear you. You will have to get eye-to-eye with him to bring his attention back to you and your request.”

No matter if it is someone who has had training with 2e kids, autistic kids, or gifted kids, I still tell them. Because if they just “follow protocol” instead of following my child, then he is likely to be injured again. And I will not give anyone the excuse of not recognizing his “bad” behavior for what it is, nor the out of not knowing what to do.


To the Principal:

We disenrolled Tigger because his health and safety needs were not being met and we were not willing to put them further at risk while we waited even longer for the school to put a plan in place. I am writing now to bring the most salient concerns to your attention without the filter of the IEP team and to ask one question.

The problem easiest to discern is Tigger’s increased eloping. His classroom teacher reported that he was showing up unexpectedly at the SpEd room, at the counselor’s office, and at other teachers’ classrooms. The study written in Pediatrics shows that wandering is a serious issue but an important one for families and schools to attend to. His classroom teacher said that she wrote a Safety Plan but that it wasn’t working. He was still eloping during the school day and leaving the school before dismissal without her permission. You can imagine our concern when we learned this information, especially when we considered how he has been telling us that he “doesn’t deserve to be alive” and that he was going to “walk into traffic.”

His decline in mental health is only slightly harder to coincide with his school attendance. At the start of the year he was known as an energetic, charismatic, and creative young boy. He was intellectually insatiable with a special craving for novel and complex systems (scientific and social). By January he had stopped showing interest in learning, working creatively, or doing karate, and it was noticed by the providers and people who have known him intimately for years.

After the community-building part of the year (the first three weeks), he started begging to stay home from school. Hour-long meltdowns seven days a week lessened to five days a week, then to five minutes per day, but they never stopped. Angry or sad, he requested daily to stay home from school. He started sobbing during our evening prayer claiming “I don’t deserve love.” That was when things first started to unravel at school...the music teacher called very concerned about the holiday performance. Next he confessed to his therapist/yoga instructor “I don’t deserve to be alive.

The recommendation from the counselor’s Suicide Risk Assessment was to “give him different language” to express himself. She was wrong to assume that Tigger’s vocabulary is insufficient given that he has demonstrated above-average verbal comprehension on the Verbal Comprehension Index and we have been actively and intentionally teaching him skills to identify and name his emotions since he was born. Her response suggested that she could not (or would not) offer me viable or valuable solutions to meet my son’s needs. That evening he threatened to walk into traffic but it had been the last day of fall semester.

Winter break was not without intensities, but in those weeks he never uttered a statement of self-loathing. Two days after attending school in January he stormed toward the exit of our house to walk into traffic again.

His emotional outbursts were not happening just at home any more. I started getting calls, emails, or pick-up assertions that he had had a “bad” day - crying unexpectedly requiring intervention, angry outbursts, increased eloping, required interventions from whomever was available (sometimes the speech therapist, sometimes the counselor, sometimes the classroom teacher). The classroom teacher and others were asking me my advice but not able to implement what works at home for lack of resources. For example, the classroom teacher told me that she tried to give him the sensory breaks he needs but that she cannot because she has an entire class full of children for whom she is responsible. She also said that he performs beautifully academically when he has one-on-one support but that she could not give him one-on-one support he needs, again because of her responsibilities as classroom teacher.

So I requested increased one-on-one support either in the form of pullout or classroom aide. I even reiterated my proposal for a new program that I volunteered to build that would serve more than just Tigger.

At parent-teacher conferences last week everyone asked me what had happened at home that might have caused Tigger’s decline. Believe me, if there was something we would have taken care of it. We have had the same daily and weekly routines for two years. My husband has had the same consistent and fulfilling job. We are screen-free, food-dye-free, and eat good food made from scratch. (Gluten-elimination and casein-elimination yielded no changes.)  No one has come or gone from our lives unexpectedly. His therapists concur with us that his life at school is the source of his anxiety, imminent depression, and suicidal ideations.

Why was my request for the School to meet my son’s needs for more one-on-one support denied?

I have not received an answer that demonstrates ownership of any misunderstanding or wrong-doing. (Duh.) And so I am left to draw conclusions based on piecing together the responses I got over the course of the year and the way I was treated during those an overbearing hysterical looney of a mother.

The single most telling “data” I have is what the school counselor told my son’s advocate. I had given permission for them to connect to, hopefully, partner to find a solution to his behavior which was becoming increasingly problematic at school and worrisome at home:

“Plenty of kids have it worse than Tigger.”

That is what happens when a twice exceptional child is seen by an uninformed person. That is what happens when the bottom line is academic success instead of mental, emotional, and physical well-being. That is what happens with a well-spoken and seemingly robust child asks for help through tears. The tears are assumed to be a manipulative tool, the sophisticated language an indicator that he is “fine.”

He was not fine. And when I observed a school-wide 500-person assembly, he was the only child I saw stimming in an attempt to self-regulate. He was also the only award-winner who was taking advantage of physical space of a the stage (half of it!) to move his body - bouncing, spinning, flapping his arms, and shaking his head. He had won a reading award but his body was brimming with physical energy and anxiety.

That’s not what they saw. My gut told me:
  • The counselor thought Tigger was stupid and certainly not gifted.
  • The assistant principal thought I had no right to bring to bear my knowledge about anything regarding education.
  • Everyone thought he was manipulating situations.
  • The speech and occupational therapists “had their hands tied” and could not provide care despite recognizing the need for it.
  • The classroom teacher was in over her head.
  • They couldn’t handle my son. Everyone was worn thin by his overexcitabilities, stretched thin because they are always stretched thin in public schools, and would not own the fact that they were failing to keep him safe.
  • They wouldn’t ask for help from the district...unless I sued them.

They all heaved a big sigh of relief when I disenrolled my son. He was too much, and so was I.

This was written as part of the GHF Bloghop. Cruise over to their site for more blogs about Issues of Twice Exceptionality.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Announcing Preschool Engineer YouTube Channel


A seven-year-old has launched his YouTube Channel. Each video is designed for preschool-aged viewers and up. He will invite them to learn about different science, engineering, and math concepts. He is a self-proclaimed expert in building with Magna-tiles and has chosen to use them to teach pre-science and pre-math skills.

"I'm excited to teach about Magna-tiles. They are my favorite building toy," he said.

Mikey has been building with Magna-tiles for more than six years and has used them in two-dimensions to make power grids and road systems as well as three-dimensional sculptures, custom vehicles for LEGO figures, and massive underwater stations for Octonauts.

Check out the first lesson here...

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Autism & Sound Sensitivity

Autism & Sound Sensitivity: Hindsight is 20:20
We had been parenting our son for four years when we got the diagnoses: autism, phonological disorder. In the days that followed, my husband and I started to understand things in a new light. Autism explained so many of the otherwise inexplicable behaviors we had struggled to parent. Our hindsight was 20:20.

It has been more than three years since the diagnosis and sensitivity to sound remains one of the most impactful symptoms. The cacophony of daily life doesn't appear to be painful, per se, but my son's incredible sense of hearing and his inability to process the sounds set him on edge.

This is what sound sensitivity means to our family...

Audiophiles Go Silent

My husband and I are audiophiles, lovers of music. We have invested in a high-end stereo and countless CDs. When he was very small, I loved to listen to music with our son in my lap, singing along, dancing. I even liked to have music playing in the background while i did housework.

The problem was that if the music was on in the background, my son was frantic. He toddled around without direction, seeming to be scared, on edge, and crazy. He would find the quietest place to retreat to. It was a simple solution to turn off the music.

And so that is how two audiophiles went silent. To ease our son's obvious anxiety, we turned off the music.

Outdoors Works Too

A quiet indoor space was a wonderful place for my son but so was the outdoors. He was always such a delightful person to be around when we were outdoors. So I spent as much time as I could taking him to playgrounds, parks, and hiking trails.

We Can't Always Be Quiet

The problem is that we can't always be quiet. Sometimes life gets a little noisy. The house, grocery stores, restaurants, gymnastics, and places like them often have a level of background noise above my son's threshold.

So we avoid noisy places if we can. If we can't, we try to be prepared to tolerate his my son’s first-best self-regulating technique: stimming. Jumping, punching himself in the head, flapping his arms, spinning in circles, shaking his head vigorously left-right-left-right, and rolling on the floor are his go-to behaviors. If stimming got out of control or disruptive, which it often did, we would leave.

At home, we do our best to keep the space comfortable for him. It is, after all, a small thing we can do to love him and make him feel safe.

Echo and Din (Two Christmas Stories)

It is January 2017 and my son has been attending public school for three years - preschool, kindergarten, and now first grade. It does not seem that exposure to indoor noise has helped him tolerate it. These are a couple short stories about sound sensitivity that happened a week ago.

The Echo of Conversation
It was Christmas. We had spent the better part of the day in a comfortably finished basement. It was a quiet space. The walls surrounded by the earth, the false ceiling insulating noise from upstairs, carpet under foot. Even the lights did not seem to buzz. The only sounds were those from my children while they played with new toys and reading new books. It was a quiet space.

In the early afternoon two guests arrived, a beloved pair, aunt and uncle. Our numbers had grown from five (me, my husband, my son, my daughter, and my mother-in-law) to seven. Not a big increase by any means. And yet the noise increased. Uncle had laid down to play with my daughter on the floor. Pregnant Auntie was talking with Nana about the baby she was expecting soon. My son began to vibrate with anxiety. 

He said to me, "It is too noisy. I want to show them my new electronics and robot. But I need it to be quieter." While he was expressing his needs, he was moving all his things to a far corner of the basement, as far away from the collection of people as he could.

It seemed like he just couldn't tune out the noise of the conversation. The sounds bounced off the walls of the basement and vibrated him to his core.

I gently took him to the group and said, "Mikey would like to show you something."

The conversation stopped and he was able to share what he needed to share. After that initial connection, the adults were able to go back to a table and talk. My son stayed in his quiet(er) place and worked on building things.

All the while, I marveled at how hard it must be for him to just be but also at how effectively he coped with noise by immersing himself in building something.

The Din of Background Music
Two days later we went to visit my parents. We were welcomed into their space, which was heated by a wood-burning stove and made festive by background Christmas music. 

We were expected to stay there, all crowded together and enjoying each other's company but, as you may guess, my son was not going to do that. Instead, he found his way to the large unfinished basement where he discovered a ping pong table standing on the chilly cement floor. It was cold down there but at least it was quiet.

He spent almost the entire four hours in the basement, playing ping pong with his father.

An All-New Unthinkable & Superhero
It was the end of the first day back at school. My son pulled out his work from the day and exclaimed, excitedly, "I made a new Unthinkable!" These Unthinkables have been a huge success this year, invaluable tools for him to understand when he is having a hard time of things. Designed by the team at, the Unthinkables are creatures like "Glassman" who overreacts to the smallest things and "Topic Twistermister" who talks on and on spinning stories that are seemingly unrelated.

The Brand-New Unthinkable my son created? Noise.

And the Brand-New Superhero he designed to combat Noise? A Super-builder named Bolts.

"How poignant," I thought. He is very well aware of the way noise effects him AND he knows that he copes by building. 

A Case Study of One
So here we are still trying to figure out how background noise plays a role in our lives. I have gone digging to learn more about it. I've found a handful of articles:

None of them seem to quite fit the bill. And so I'm writing this blog. This is what I know about my child:

  • Background noise bothers him.
  • The more different sounds there are, the more uncomfortable he is. 
  • Exposure does not seem to help, it merely drains him of all energy.

Moving forward I do not expect him to "get used to it" through exposure. I will just continue to kluge together best practices that work for him and for our family including:   

  • Make our home a sanctuary. 
  • Take noise-canceling headphones with us wherever we go. 
  • Always defend his right to leave a noisy place.

It is my job to help him find his way in the world. This is how I can do it.

Fan Favorites - March 2017

The New Preschool is Crushing Kids

Unstructured Play is the ParentingMiracle We've All Been Hoping For (Really)

How Free Play Creates Emotionally Stable Children in an Unstable World

19 Commandments From Maria Montessori to Help You Become the Perfect Parent

This LEGO tape turns anything into a LEGO-friendly surface

How to Be a Quiet Adult: Five Tips to Encourage Child Directed Play

Origami Applied to Physics & Engineering
Robert Lang is a physicist who worked at NASA studying lasers and has 46 patents on optoelectronics to his name. However, that's not what he's best known for now: he's a legend in the world of origami. His intricate designs are second to none, and they actually have applications back in engineering.

Julie's Greenroom

Raise the curtains, Julie Andrews is here! Join Julie as she introduces kids to the magical world of the performing arts. Julie's Greenroom is now streaming, only on Netflix.

"Real" School
"Most kids didn't even attend kindergarten, it wasn't considered a proper year of schooling."

Children should learn mainly through play until age of eight, LEGO says
"The 29-year-old Lego Foundation, generously funded with a quarter of Lego’s post-tax profits, is beginning to flex its muscles. Where once it quietly dished out cash – and bricks – to lots of small projects, it has set its sights on campaigning for a mindset change in education around the world. “Our contribution to the world is to challenge the status quo by redefining play and reimagining learning,” says the foundation’s mission statement."

The Preschool Engineer's Definitive Guide to TRUCKS

Before I had a son I called all working machines “trucks.” Alongside my toddler I have learned more about trucks than I ever would have guessed. We have read books (good, bad, and ugly). We have memorized lyrics to songs. We have played with (and, if possible, broken) what seems like every toy truck available.

This is the definitive list of all things TRUCK. It is a summary of the best toys, music, videos, and books for preschoolers about trucks.

According to Harvard Psychologists: Parents Who Raise "Good" Kids Do These Five Things 

Five things, each with a "Practically speaking" section of tips for implementing.