Busy but still at it…and eyes on the sky!

Merry late Christmas, and Happy New Year to all of you!

Between our work schedules, our little Bug’s education, and general household upkeep, we have kept extremely busy.  So busy, in fact, that most everything else has slid by the wayside, including my goal to post at least once a week.  I had a few spare minutes this weekend, though, so decided to catch up on some of these to-do list items.  Here is what we’ve been up to:

The kiddo is excelling beyond our expectations since we’ve begun his homeschooling in earnest!  When we started, he could not tell me what a noun was, struggled with addition concepts, and acted as if we were demanding he remove his own limbs without anesthetic if we handed him a book and suggested he read it.  Since then, he can diagram sentences without much help (identifying and labeling all the parts of speech with few errors), has mastered addition and subtraction, and multiplication and division and can explain the relationships, is moving into fractions, can still spell like a little champ and actively seeks definitions of words he does not immediately understand, and is reading chapter books for fun without pressure to do it!  The best part is, he is retaining it all because we continually ask him questions about concepts learned a while ago and he can answer.  He ended his public school education at the end of third grade, testing at the early second grade level in most subjects.  We cannot wait until the end of this year – his fourth grade year – to test again because we are pretty confident he’s made up ground.

The thing that makes us the most proud is how he’s adopted a love of science, specifically astronomy.  His daddy is his science teacher, and they started with Earth & Space Science.  They since moved into Life Science, which upset him because he was having such a good time learning about the sky mysteries.  His fascination with the planets, stars, and all those fantastic things in the sky brought on such a light of curiosity and intrigue in him that everyone in the family has fostered it.  His grandparents bought him an Orion Dobsonian XT8 Intelliscope for Christmas, and it was beyond generous for a budding, young astronomer that might decide he’ll be a fireman next year!  It’s certainly done its part in further sparking his curiosity, though!  We got it assembled and outside for the first time last night, and realized we have a huge learning curve to get him truly started.

Still, despite some cloud cover, we got our first glimpse of something in the nighttime sky and it was amazing.  The picture below is Jupiter, shot with the XT8 scope, 25mm lens (we failed to swap in the 10mm for better magnification), taken through a bit of cloud cover, and with the camera on my husband’s phone.  It does not do justice to what we actually saw!  We could see two of the stripes (zonal winds), and the four Galilean moons; three of the moons are somewhat visible in the picture, and if you look really hard, to the left of the left-most moon in the picture is the fourth but the camera did not get it clearly.  Our little budding astronomer has a long list of sky targets, but the weather appears against us for the next few nights.  Still, it was a great first night out with the telescope!

We are so proud of him.  He has hung in there with the change in schooling, and is doing amazing.  We are so pleased to foster this interest in him, though if he changes directions next week or next year, we feel confident the XT8 will still be part of family nights in the back yard for some time to come.  Despite how he would have responded last year about something clearly educational, he no longer gets a disgusted and broken-hearted expression when we say we have lessons, particularly if it involves anything beyond our atmosphere.  And while telescope viewing and looking up planetary facts is obviously educational, he just says it’s fun!  In short, 2013 turned out to be a pretty great one, and we have even better hopes for 2014.

Here’s to hoping all of our New Years also take you sky high!

Image

Jupiter 01/04/2014 10:28PM – Orion XT8 Scope, 25mm lens, moderate cloud cover, camera phone

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Autism: Two analogies to give perspective

When someone first learns our son is Autistic, the most common reaction is a blank stare, or a look of pity.  Unless someone personally knows an Autistic person, few understand that it is rarely a reflection of what was seen in the movie, Rain Man.  In reality, that imagery only reflects a small portion of those on the Spectrum.  I cannot describe all Autistic people, because I only know a handful; Autism is a Spectrum “disorder,” though I cannot stand the “D” word, because I disagree with it.  I can say with confidence that Autism does not mean my child is broken and in need of fixing.  He is perfect as he is, and just requires a different approach than might work with other kids.  That is like all children, though, right?  All children are unique in their own ways.  To follow are two analogies that might offer a bit of perspective for those not familiar with Autism – or Autism as is experienced with Asperger’s diagnoses – and is not meant to trivialize, but to give a glimpse of how Autistic kids are just kids that think a bit differently than the rest of their peers.

One analogy that might provide a hint of understanding will appeal to those familiar with computers.  My husband once described Autism as the difference between Windows and Linux platforms, where teachers are the users and children are the computers.  Most children function like Windows; it is the most common functional system of computers, and it is how most users know how to use a computer.  Autism is like Linux.  It is just another way of thinking and functioning.  A proficient user of Linux might be able to teach a Linux machine to function and behave like Windows, but it will never be Windows.  It may not be able to perform all Windows functions as a Windows user would expect, and in some cases, it will struggle to behave similarly no matter how good the user is at “programming,” but there are some tasks where it will excel and perform tasks far above anything a Windows platform could achieve.  Linux machines are not broken; they are just different and can perform just fine if treated with an understanding that a user is functioning in a Linux environment, not Windows.

Another analogy that sometimes sheds light on differences relates to cars, with standard or automatic transmissions.  Anyone who knows how to drive can drive a car with an automatic transmission.  You still need to know how to drive, pay attention to traffic and all that, but you can get where you’re going.  With a manual transmission, it requires quite a bit more effort, both in the learning process and daily driving.  Both function fine – a standard transmission is not broken just because someone cannot just get in and step on the gas to accelerate without further effort – and both will get you from Point A to Point B so long as the driver knows how to drive that car.  Standard transmissions may require more effort to learn and use, but they can perform at least as well – and in the right hands, much better in certain environments – than their automatic counterparts.

Autism is not a disorder, in my opinion, and I dislike the word.  It is merely a different way of thinking.  Unfortunately, most teachers only know how to teach one way; they know how to teach “Windows” because they are “Windows” themselves, or they know how to teach “automatic” driving because they are “automatic” drivers.  Those teachers think medication is the answer; we’ve been asked about why his doctor and we refuse to medicate, but to date, there is no magic pill that “fixes” Autism, because it does not need “fixing.”  It does require more work to teach an Autistic child how to function in the “normal” everyday world, but they can and do thrive and excel with the right support, education, and upbringing.

So please, the next time you meet someone that confides that the child over there is Autistic – you know, that kid that behaves a bit different from the kids he’s playing with, but looks like all the rest – pity is not necessary.  He’s perfect just as he is.  In fact, he might be capable of excelling far above his peers with the right love and educational environment.  He’s just like any other kid; they all have strengths and weaknesses.  They’re all unique, right?