• Social Skills,  Sports + Games

    Inclusive Basketball–Hoops

    Originally posted 9/19: Sports were never my thing. Not that I despised them, I just felt a little…meh, I guess, about all of it. Like many people, I couldn’t see why the big excitement or all the time and money funneled into it. Then kiddo—now 11, found a game so beautiful and sparkly and true for him, that he can watch 2 hours of it without blinking his eyes much at all. This sport, this one and only, b-ball, brownball, hoops…you know, it’s “nothing but net” as the NBA fast approaches.

    He loves it and the NBA players so very much. He knows details about his favorites’ performances, and is on a first-name basis with many of them, though we haven’t been to a live game yet. It thrills his young heart to see replays of Wilt’s successful “granny shots,” and “Spicy P’s” last-minute 3-pointers.

    He even likes to play the sport—almost as much as he likes to watch it 🙂

    At first, I was just happy he was happy. He lights up a room. Then, the social possibilities of such an interest, I thought…are unlimited, I thought, eyes a-glitter. In came the basketball T-shirts, basketballs of almost every size and color, and as many trips to ball courts as we could stand.

    We were lucky to find a basketball team for kids with disabilities through Newton Athletes Unlimited—The Newton Bears. It was a Saturday basketball oasis, and we loved it. The coach made no apologies for his differently-abled team members, nor did he try to make them “pass,” or be “up to snuff.” It was “come as you are, do your personal best, and not only will we accept you, but you will have fun.” What a concept, sign us up forever!

    Each week I looked forward to seeing the faces of other parents who could relate to living with disabilities, who had been through the mill with their own versions of biomedical interventions, in-home therapy visits, sleepless nights long after toddlerhood, IEP meetings from the netherworld, and more.

    At the end of the season, Athletes Unlimited hosts an awards dinner at a local hall to honor their players from ages five-to-adult. That group knows how to party! Through the game weeks and up to awards night, part of me held my breath—here was something rare and happy—a break from the loneliness of special needs parenting.

    A few months later we decided to enroll him in a “typical” basketball clinic—a parallel universe with different rules:

    • Look cool.
    • Smile slightly, with a hint of enthusiasm.
    • Yes, you are being scrutinized.
    • Giggle when a child (not yours) misses the basket.
    • Humble-brag about how many baskets your child made in a row last week.

    There was no cheering for making it cross-court with the ball, and clapping would have been…juvenile. I turned into a seated, silent cheering squad. When kiddo looked over, I nodded my head vigorously and pointed to my dancing feet.

    He barely kept up, and I knew how hard he was trying. I was so flipping proud! Maybe this crowd—who seemed to have no reason to sign their kid up for The Newton Bears, was missing out…it’s possible Hallmark has me brainwashed, but I think it’s true. At The Bears’ practices, it was good enough to be together, to have some fun and laugh, to know you’re not alone, to have some empathy for each other’s humanity…I mean, what’s the point?

    TO BE INCLUSIVE, OR AT LEAST TRY…that’s the point.

    Competition is a fact of life and sure it has its place, but having some extra kindness and understanding never hurt, and pretty much raises everyone who sees it. Autism, or any other disability, is not contagious, so why not give inclusion a try?

    I would like to live in a world where inclusion is a given, not an anomaly or saved for special places and occasions like temple, church, or the holiday season.

    We as a society have a long way to go, I think. But if you see a disabled or disadvantaged person, why not go out of your way to be a little kinder and possibly make the world a bit warmer? Just saying.

    Ok, I’ll get off my soap-box now. But thanks for reading, just the same.

  • Living Skills,  Mental Health,  Social Skills

    Increase Literacy Through Visualizing and Verbalizing

    Lindamood-Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing Reading Program is a rocking way to increase reading comprehension skills and something you can do from home!

    Who knows what the 20-21 school year will bring for our kids. Let’s face it—there’s no guarantee it will be safe enough for them to physically stay in school for the duration. Now there’s a cringe-worthy thought!

    One thing looks certain: our kids will need extra support this year. This post offers one method to help grow their reading comprehension skills no matter what comes next.

    I had already found and fell in love with Linda-Mood Bell’s (LMB’s) Visualizing and Verbalizing program in September 2019. I still adore how it addresses the heart of comprehension difficulties. Its central idea is clear:

    To better understand content, learn to create vivid, detailed mental images of what you read.

    This process is called dual coding. Dual coding happens when you learn something through both word and image.  

    The program is for people at all different reading levels.

    So it meets the student where they are. The program starts with having you verbalize what you see in a given picture. Once you master that skill, the visual aids vanish and they lead you step-by-step through a series of progressively more challenging exercises. The next activity is visualizing words, after that, visualizing sentences, and finally. visualizing paragraphs.

    To help you start your reading journey, they also supply these structure words:

    A simple premise and basic tools, but not so breezy with autism or nonverbal learning disability!

    A lot of our kids have trouble painting a picture of verbal information, so they naturally lean on processing things through words instead. Verbal processing needs to happen in sequence, and in small chunks. This takes more time and effort than making an image in your brain. When you make a visual in your brain, lots of info can be processed simultaneously.

    A quick contrast between verbal processing and visual processing:

    Verbal processing happens in the left brain hemisphere and visual processing happens in the right. Verbal information is digested sequentially in little bits. Visual information is organized synchronously—so rich details and the big picture are perceived simultaneously.

    The goal of the Visualizing and Verbalizing program is to make and strengthen new neural connections in the areas of the brain that visualize information. 

    With a little imagination, you can jazz up the assignments.

    For example, in Picture to Picture, where you describe what you see, it’s easy to find a slew of images from the web that will fit any hobby or obsession. So if your kid happens to be a Star Wars fanatic (ahem, like mine), you could use “Kylo Ren,” “Yoda,” or my favorite go-to, “Darth Vader.” This picture is a fun activity for all SW fans out there. (Note: This kilt-wearing man truly exists, and his fascinating videos can be found on the world wide web!)

    This program really works. It can be done—like balancing on a unicycle while playing the bagpipes, except easier!

    With enough practice, it can be done. “Ten weeks of intensive reading intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder was enough to strengthen the activity of loosely connected areas of their brains that work together to comprehend reading.” Says a study of the Lindamood-Bell program by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It’s hard work, and it takes tenacity, but it does the job. If you keep at it, you can see results in as little as a few weeks.

    You can get in touch with a center and have your child evaluated remotely. They also run online Visualizing and Verbalizing training events for caregivers and educators. You can find more information about the program here.

    ***********

    References:

    https://lindamoodbell.com/press-releases/uab-study-on-children-with-autism-improved-reading-and-brain-activity-utilized-lindamood-bell-instruction

    https://lovetoteach87.com/2019/05/02/examples-of-dual-coding-in-the-classroom/

    https://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2016/11/17-1

     

  • Social Skills,  Sports + Games

    Race to the Treasure Cooperative Game

    Let the Search Party Begin!

    You and your fellow players have a mission if you dare! Together, beat the Ogre to the treasure. Use your strategic and cooperative skills to design a path leading to the keys to the treasure before Mr. Ogre gets there!

    Good for the 5  and up crowd. Race to the Treasure combines  visual planning, graphing, and cooperative play into a fast-paced journey. An engaging game created by Gina Manola for Peaceable Kingdom, it’s easy to learn. Working together and agreeing on a strategy really counts towards winning!

    At the start of the game you roll the color and number dice to lay out 4 keys. Gather 3 out of 4 keys on your path to get the gold. Will you go north, south east or west? Increase the difficulty level by using a timer for each turn (not included), or by placing one or two ogres on the red Ogre Path at the beginning of the game. If you draw 8 Ogre tiles before your team gets to the treasure…he wins the race, and all of you get to try again.

    It’s a great game for young players as it nurtures cooperation and communication. Each game is a little different, so it’s entertaining for the adults who play along!

  • Social Skills,  Sports + Games

    Mole-Rats in Space Cooperative Game

    Watch Out For That Snake, Little Mole-Rat!

    Although we love winning and gloating about it in Uno and Monopoly, cooperative games are big around here–especially this one by Matt Leacock for Peaceable Kingdom.

    You and your mole-rat friends need to band together and help each other get to the space pod in the center of the game board where everyone will blast off to escape many hungry snakes! As you and your associates scurry around the tunnel network, there are a few necessary supplies to pick up for your intergalactic trip: a toothbrush, a turnip, a map and duct tape. Once you’ve all gathered these and make it to the mother ship, everyone wins the game and can safely take off.

    This can be a fast-paced game, and there’s suspense to the very end as the snakes have a way of multiplying indefinitely. A mole-rat can survive one bite from a snake because they can use the first-aid kit in their backpack. But if you’re bitten twice, you’re a goner and its game-over! Once one rat is out of the game, the adventure end–but have no fear, you can start the game again! The game play is about 20–25 minutes.

    Social Skills

    In order for the individual to win, all need to win. Similarly, if one player loses, all lose (womp-womp)! In a very direct way, this game promotes teamwork. If there’s enough buy-in and excitement, competitive players can have a chance to show off their supportive side.

    Upping the Ante (Spoiler Alert)

    Once you get the hang of the game, you can add to the challenge by opening up the special envelope containing 3 extra mole-rat cards. Each one places more snakes in the mix. Slowly introduce them one at a time, or throw in all 3 in for a triple dare!