Interview with Author Samantha Craft of EVERYDAY ASPERGERS

My interview with Author Samantha Craft of EVERYDAY ASPERGERS

By Maria Lawless of Awesome Aut[odidactic]ism Blog

 

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Good morning Samantha! Thank you so much for taking the time do this interview, we appreciate it very much.  You have so many interesting things to offer with your new book EVERYDAY ASPERGERS, your EVERYDAY ASPERGERS Blog and Community, as well as a wealth of information on Education and Advocacy with regard to Autism -especially in women and girls on your website MY SPECTRUM SUITE. Your personal experiences in Home Education are what I would like to focus on today.  As I mentioned previously, I have decide to ask about homeschooling as I know there are many mothers who are choosing homeschool our Autistic children, myself included and many who are themselves Autistic. So I will just go over a few questions, based upon the most common I have had from parents that are considering, or just starting out homeschooling.

Let’s get started.

We found our child was actually regressing -physically, emotionally, mentally and in coping skills, and being held back by the school system and that was what made me begin to research homeschool. What was the driving force behind your decision to home educate?

Thank you for setting aside time for this interview and thank you for your kind words. I can relate to what you are saying. I have three sons. I home schooled my middle son two different times, at the start of third grade until sixth grade, and again at the start of seventh grade. He is now 17 and entering junior college as part of his high school completion. As a former schoolteacher of pre-kindergarten, elementary, and middle school, I have some insight into the educational system that the traditional parent might not have. I have sat on both sides of an IEP (Individual Education Plan), as a teacher and as a parent. I was fortunate to be aware of my child’s rights and to have studied the disability laws, as well as No Child Left Behind Act, at that time.

When my son first started school, over 12 years ago, I advocated for my son and other children with special needs. This included meeting regularly with the assistant superintendent. I even founded a small support group for parents of special needs children. My son managed to do fairly well in traditional kindergarten, because he was in a structured environment, where he could move about freely and only attended half-day with the other students. By first grade he required a fulltime paid assistant. Much needed assistance that I fought hard for him to receive. I believe he was one of the first children with ASD to receive a full-time, one-to-one paid helper. He did well with his assistant in first and second grade. The assistant was brought on to give my son direction, modify his assignments, and protect him from self-harm. (He had attempted to climb trees, run off campus, stack chairs on desks and stand on them, prior to having an assistant.) I had to go to the school and document all of my son’s behaviors to get him the assistance he needed. The school district, at first, wanted to place him in a special education class with children with severe emotional challenges. I adamantly refused and cited laws to make our case.

He is lucky to have you as his mother and advocate.

One morning my daughter looked at me and begged through tears for me to homeschool her. I looked at the dark circles under her eyes (she had been up all night worrying about school the next day) and the scratches she had from clawing herself, and how she was cupping her hands up over her sore tummy, and I decided, no more school. I had been researching it for almost two years and I had already started filling out the forms, I just knew I had to pull her out that day. I took her to her Doctor, and upon seeing her stress levels and hearing our story, he gave me a 3 week medical certificate to keep her home while the exemption application was processed. It only took 9 days to be approved, I was elated. Was there one incident or one day that it clicked for you, and you decided, that is enough?

I am so glad that decision worked out for you. It sounds like you took a lot of time to plan and consider. For us, it was more sudden.

In one instance, in sixth grade, we placed him in an accelerated program at the traditional public middle school. Within a few months, he was extremely depressed, had suicidal thoughts, and hated school. The last straw was when a cluster of his peers waited for him to sit down at the lunch table, and then together, as a large group, stood up all at once, and left him alone, as they walked to another table, shunning him. No child should have to endure that. I homeschooled my son from that point onward, without pause. At that time, until now, he joined a local, homeschool charter school and attended part-time courses and we did the rest of the schoolwork at home. Now, in eleventh grade, he has joined a program where he can complete high school at a junior college. His anxiety is very low now and he functions at a very independent level. He is even going to take the transit city bus to school!

It sounds like he had a hard road, you must be so proud of his progress. I has planned on doing it sooner, but due to falling down my stairs and getting a concussion and then Post Concussive Syndrome that held me off. My brain was in a scramble for a year, so unfortunately the home education had to wait as I was not in any shape to guide her.

For us, it got to the point of no longer being and ‘if’ we home educate, but rather we ‘must’ do it now, to help our child thrive. We had several reasons, but mostly she was not getting the support she needed. What issues or problems were you facing within the school system?

In addition to not initially finding the support my son needed and having to literally save my son from harm’s way, the biggest problem was the student bullying and one of the teacher’s behaviors. My son did okay in first and second grade, producing standard work. At that age, having a full-time assistant was acceptable. The other children were still young and didn’t take particular note of my son’s helper. In third grade, with the change of a grade and teacher, he was no longer being serviced as needed and faced ridicule from his peers. The teacher assigned his one-to-one personal assistant to do general classroom work for her, such as instructing small groups of children and making photocopies of worksheets in the workroom. At that point, I was too tried to keep fighting for his needs at the public school. Plus, the children were older, and began bullying my son in the lunchroom. After a few meetings, and a few meltdowns at home, on my son’s part, as he could only hold it together for so long, I made the decision to homeschool. I’d felt I had done as much as I could, up to that point, to try to make the public school system work. Following the start of third grade, I homeschooled my son for three years, and then, when we moved out of state, I had him repeat grade five at the new, local school. I reasoned, it was a new group of children, my son was older, and repeating a grade would give him a heads up academically and socially. He did all right, as he attended school with his new friend, our neighbor, and the school was only a block away from our house. No modifications or assistance was needed.  However, there were a few instances where he struggled socially and where the teacher sent home letters of concern; by the end of the year he disliked going to school.

Well it sounds like you made the right decision. It is amazing how much we struggle to make the school system work for our kids. The sad part is, it is largely due to a lack of funding and thus training, and that is a shame.

Now, when I notified the principal, he said, “I think you are making a very bad decision. I also think she is more influenced by learned behaviour, and blaming Asperger’s for all of her issues is a very dangerous road to take.” All that did was give me more resolve to prove him wrong. Did you face any opposition from the school principal or his teachers regarding pulling your son/s out?

It’s hard when professionals force their strong (often bias) opinions on parents. It’s always better to consider all sides of a situation.

My son’s therapist was the one that suggested I not over-protect my son and said I should not pull him out of school and that he needed to “toughen up.” That was when he was being bullied in sixth grade (the lunchroom table incident). Fortunately, I knew a depressed child with ASD did not need to be exposed to social situations with hormonal teenagers to toughen up. No child should have to endure humiliation. I remembered some books I’d read in the past; I believe even a quote by Attwood, that stated the problem wasn’t my child but the other children. I would have done anything at that time to assist my child. Going against the wishes of a “professional” wasn’t difficult. I knew my son best and I had an educational background. I’d been through enough with the school district in the previous state we lived in already, that I wasn’t deterred by conflict of opinion.

Yes, that is what I felt as well. I just knew I was doing the right thing. His dissent only strengthened my resolve.

We are very blessed to have full support in our decision from friends and family and even from her Doctors. Did you get support from your friends and family in your decision to home educate?

I didn’t get support but I didn’t get the opposite either. I think my extended family trusted my expertise and choices. Plus, they knew my son and some of the challenges he faced.

I think we are blessed in that regard, many people face opposition from family, friends and professionals.

We found a hug improvement in the family when the stress of school was taken out of the picture. The whole house dynamic shifted to a more peaceful one, but most noticeably the children get along much better now. Do you think home educating made an improvement in your home and family life and the relationship between your sons?

That makes sense. Yes, homeschooling made a 99% difference. I’d say 100%, but like to leave a 1% margin of error. He changed overnight; literally, into an anxiety-free child. I’d say his anxiety decreased ten-fold. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my family. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. My son never had another meltdown again and absorbed the learning materials, for the most part, with eagerness. He didn’t like learning, per say, but he appreciated not having to go to an environment where he was ostracized and had to excerpt a great amount of energy in order to try to fit in. He also was tired of his teachers not truly getting him or misinterpreting his words or actions. My life changed from one of constant worry to complete freedom. I was fortunate to already be a homemaker. I think if we’d had to take a financial blow to homeschool that would have added other stresses. But still, the rewards would have out weighed the sacrifice.

That is so great, I could see the improvement in my daughter right away as well. The reduction in her anxiety was amazing.

For myself, I see how my daughter blossomed by being able to move at her own pace and do things she was passionate about, video editing, art and music. Did you find that your son/s found some of his passions through being homeschooled?

I think so. We had a more structured curriculum then it sounds like your family incorporated.  My son discovered what books interested him and what subject matter he preferred to spend more time doing. One year he was struggling in writing; so we took most of the year off writing and he read and read. After a year of focused reading and a year of maturing physically, writing came much more naturally to him. Now, I am comfortable saying he is a better writer than I am, and out-writes any college student I’ve ever come across. My son also enjoys history and philosophy, and subjects with higher-level thinking. We were able to focus on aspects of society, such as slavery, the Native Americans, the equal rights movement, which broadened his ability to understand the world and apply empathy.

I think part of Sophia’s issue with school is that she was bored. She started doing sign language at 6 months old, and went to school knowing her alphabet, colours, animals, how to write her name and several words, how to read and loved drawing and creating so she was always advanced in her work.

We do a mix of Eclectic, Unit Study and Unschooling, in that our daughter directs the learning based upon her learning interests, but I make sure to provide materials and activities which cover a scope of educational areas within that interest. We also have curriculum workbooks for the required work, which she gets out and does herself. What type of homeschooling did you do? Did you use a combination or just develop your own style? (Traditional, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, Unschooling (Interest led), Topic Study, Eclectic, etc.)

I actually made homeschooling my special interest, and ended up building a 100-page website about homeschooling in six weeks time! I traded in a bunch of books my dad owned and stocked up on used books. There was not much information online about homeschooling at the time and not many resources gathered in one place. Typically you had to search multiple places or order a book to get information. I wanted to provide a free service. My website served to help others for several years. I explored different homeschool methods, discussed learning styles, and provided curriculum ideas. I focused on a combination of traditional and classical. As a former teacher, it was easy for me to incorporate lesson designs and my son strived from having exact lessons, check off lists, and goals. At home, I taught different subjects using a variety of tools and resources. We also partook in daytrips, watched documentaries, and incorporated art.

Is that website still active? I would love to see it! We are so lucky to live in this digital age and have all the information literally at our fingertips. We also an extensive home library and we go to the library regularly. My husband and I love reading too so that helps.

I think choosing to home educate was definitely the best decision I have made. Seeing the improvement in my child’s health, confidence, and social and coping skills is the most rewarding aspect for me. What are a couple of areas that you saw major improvements in, with your son/s?

As I mentioned earlier, his anxiety lowered immensely. Other areas of improvement were writing and comprehension. He historically stored very high on state testing, and remained above many of his peers academically. I loved that he got a chance to expand on an assignment if he wished, or shorten another, depending. I’d say it was a very wise decision on my part. But I tend to make wise decisions in general. lol.

Very good, yes I agree watching them expand on their work is so refreshing. That aspect is such a bonus as they can fully immerse themselves in the topic to the extent they feel they need to, in order to understand it.

What advice would you give to Spectrum Mums, who are also on the spectrum who may be thinking about homeschooling?

Follow you heart. Get support. Seek out alternatives. There are charter schools, homeschool organizations, and many families with experience homeschooling. You can get an inner-district transfer; some parents even move cities or states to get the support they need. Don’t let obstacles deter you. You know what’s best for your child. Seek out information. I strongly believe where there is a will there is a way. If you choose the public school route, which was wonderful for my oldest son, then know the laws. Visit Wrights Laws on line. Check out books from the library. Find a free advocate. Write a letter to the school district asking for a professional evaluation of your child and get a formalized plan started. Don’t go to meetings alone. Document everything. Be your child’s advocate. It does get easier. And time does heal wounds.

That is excellent advice! I have sent a few family and friends in the USA to the Wrights Law website and facebook page for help.

What drove you to write your book EVERYDAY ASPERGERS?

That’s a huge question. In brief, I was called to write and felt I had to share my story. The book was a combination of stories from my life I wrote over ten years ago and from excerpts of my extensive blog by the same name.

I love your book. I enjoyed the way it was written, in small excerpts and blips of your life. It was so relatable to my own life. You definitely need a box of tissues nearby from both tears of sadness and of laughter. It is defintely a labour of love. Thank you for sharing your story.

Can you give us a brief overview of SPECTRUM SUITE?

I wanted to start a company that supported my book and gatherings and also gave a voice to autistic literature and art. It’s a small company that works toward celebrating neurodiversity through the arts and literature. I interview authors and artists and host free gatherings. I also provide interviews and guest speaking. You can find us at myspectrumsuite.com. I’d also like to mention the company that I work for, ULTRA Testing. We employ adults on the autism spectrum to work from home in the USA, as software testers. You can find us at ultratesting.us.

Your website is great. It really is an extensive resource. Yes, thank you I meant to mention them as well, what a great company.

Thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions. It was so great getting to know more about you. Most of all, thank you for being the voice for so many of us who are still finding ours.

You are most welcome. This was an interesting change to what I normally discuss. I enjoyed the process. All the best to you.

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For more information on Samantha Craft and her wonderful book, website and Facebook community, please see below.

My Spectrum Suite Website

Everyday Aspergers Facebook page

Everyday Aspergers Blog

Sam’s New Blog Everyday Aspie

EVERYDAY ASPERGERS Softcover Book:

EVERYDAY ASPERGERS E-Book:

 

I will add these links to the Resources page as well.

Thank you for stopping by.

 

The tree, Archery, Swimming and cuddles

My darling girl helped me put up the our Christmas tree yesterday before our trip to the lake.

Later in the afternoon, we had her friend Kaya come to spend the night. They played with the Archery set and the hula hoop before dinner. Then played together on their computers.

Sophia gave Kaya her old laptop because she got mine when I upgraded. She wanted her friend to have her very own laptop, so we wiped it and set it all up for her. Kaya was a very happy girl. 🙂 I love that Sophia wanted to give it to her friend rather than sell it, it was very kind of her.

Brent and I did two hours worth of gardening while they played some games and talked about girl stuff.

In the morning Kaya read for a bit, while Sophia cooked them breakfast. I helped flip the eggs, but she cracked the eggs like a pro and cooked a lovely mean. She is getting really good at making scrambled eggs and toast. They had a nice chat while they had breakfast.

Next they explored outside and looked through the microscope. They were really fascinated with the erosion happening in our driveway! They had all kinds of theories about why the top layer was pulling away and cracking. I loved hearing them discuss their ideas.

After snack time, we went swimming. The kids area was closed down, but they got to go in the lanes after about a twenty minute wait. That was a bit rough for Sophia as it broke routine, but we worked through it. They had a great time and Kaya even showed Sophia some tips for swimming faster.

Then we visited Kaya’s mom and little brother for a bit and of course the animals. Honey is one of Sophia’s all time favourite feline friends. I am sure you can guess why.

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We did some book work when we came home from Kaya’s.

She and Max played their game together after he got home.

What a great couple of days with good friends and family.

Ice cream, Flowers, Rock hunting and a long walk with Friends

We went rock hunting today!

First we went and collected a box of rocks from a lovely lady who was giving them away to people who wanted to be involved with #Whanganui Rocks.

This is where we paint rocks, write #Whanganui Rocks on the bottom, seal or clear coat them, then hide them all over town in safe places for other kids to find. We then look for rocks and can either keep or re-hide them. It is just taking off and it is so much fun.

I got a hold of my good friend, fellow Author and Spectrum Mom, Joleen Scott and we took our kids for a day of fun.

We let them play at the playground first, then headed off to find some rocks.

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We found the ice cream counter too! Time for a short break to cool off. Tommy kept looking as he really wanted to find a rock!

We found the smaller children’s play area and had a play and after we looked for rocks. Still no luck, I was starting to think we had come on the wrong a day.

We decided to explore the The Winter Gardens, we looked the the flowers, ran through the tunnel and saw the koi fish, and Tommy stopped to make a wish. The we headed to the Art Garden, we all love this space with the garden art and sculptures.

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Leaving the Art Garden we found a rock… it was painted… by the paint dripping off the wall when it was last painted. We decided to count it as it was the only one we found. We decided to bring it home to repaint it, and turn it into a bug of some sort, then put it back.

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Then we went down by the lake and admired the swans and ducks while Joleen gave us a quick lesson about the native birds and what they are called. Then we searched the walkways and headed back around our loop.

Then lo and behold… a real painted rock. Thanks to Joleen for spotting this one, it made the day complete. 🙂

Sophia got it down for Tommy and they both had a good inspection of it and decided to re-hide it for the next kids who are searching.

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We had to get home to get Max, so Joleen carried on to the Aviary with Tommy and we thanked them for an awesome day.

Sophia and I can’t wait to go again, what a great day.

There is something very special about spending time with people whose lives parallel yours. People who allow for the odd little quirks, and celebrate in the way our child’s brain operates, without judgement and with pure joy in allowing our kids to live life in their own way.

Joleen and Tommy are those kind of friends and we feel very blessed to have them in our lives.

 

Puberty – Educational Video 6:8 vagina and menstruation

I came across these excellent EDUCATIONAL videos on Puberty, from Norway.

They have English subtitles but I found them pretty awesome. This is for open minded people who don’t see any shame in the body.

These are very well done. There are 8 in the series, and you can watch them in order, or play them as the questions come up. This is the approach we are taking.

Sophia and I have been talking a lot about menarche (the first occurrence of menstruation), monthly menses and how our bodies change through puberty and continue to change throughout life.

We have been discussing her breast development and how the mammary glands provide milk and how breasts are all different sizes and shapes, etc.

Also we have been discussing  changes in her shape; her waist, hips, legs, buttocks, etc. and how she may look in a  few years and of course, about body hair.

So this was such perfect timing, to find this series of videos.

 

I watch them first so that I can prepare her for what is coming and we discuss what is in the video before we watch it, just in case she has an aversion to something.

I like that they are visual and artistic in the way they are presented. I also like how everyone is comfortable talking about and showing their bodies throughout the videos.

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Here she is discussing tampons and pads

They are done in a tasteful way and are very natural. Real bodies, fun facts, and humour in a very relaxed teaching style.

Remember, this is from Norway, and they are not afraid of the human body so there is a lot of nudity.

(Be aware: They show the vulva of a young girl, a pubescent and a woman to show how the body changes. However with the woman, they do explore the vulva in depth, showing the venus mound, labia and clitoris and show all the parts. The internal; vagina and cervix are shown on a dummy and the ovaries and uterus are drawn on a nude woman in an artistic way with body pens.)

If you are offended by seeing a vulva, vagina, labia, clitoris, breasts, penis, testicles, etc. then do not watch these videos. (Although it may do you some good to look at what you are afraid of and explore why that is so. You may find it is because you were not taught with such great videos lol)

I also love how they state that all labia are different sizes as I know many girls worry about labia size, in fact labiaplasty is one of the most sought after plastic surgery for teens. So showing them these videos so that they know that they are perfectly normal and not in need of surgery, is definitely a plus!

Also, talk to your girls about boys and how they should never change their body for a boy -because the most common reason (according to the surgeons) why those girl are wanting surgery is because their boyfriend asked them to. Because there is a false perception about labia due to what they are taught in sex education via a 2d drawing with minimal labia.

Sophia really liked this video: 6:8 vagina and menstruation. She said it was very educational and answered questions she had such as: “How much blood do we loose during our period?” and “How much is that compared to what is in our bodies?

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Here she is showing the average shed during menses.

Next, we will watch episode 2:8 Breasts as she has some questions about how they develop. I have watched it and it has some great information, which I will talk about in more detail, in the post when we watch it.

I believe knowledge frees us from fear, and when it comes to puberty all girls and boys are fearful for they have no idea what is happening to their bodies. When you compound that with Autism, it can be very scary as they often do not like change.

I also believe that the more we know about both bodies, the better we are able to understand human interactions and sexuality. (Age appropriate of course.) I will let her ask, and when she is ready we will explore each one.

We will write a post about each episode/video we watch, and document how Sophia responded to them; what she found good, and what bothered her or questions she may have had.

So far, nothing bothered her so this one (episode 6) was great as it had some things that she did not know how to ask -or how to put her thoughts into words to form the questions.

Sushi and the park

After we did our work this morning, we went out to lunch with Daddy.

Sushi is a great motivator for schoolwork! 😉

 

Then we went to one of our amazing parks for some exercise and physical therapy.

Sophia about gave me a heart attack today. When we arrived her hat blew off of her head and she ran after it. Straight over the guard rail at the park, and into the street.

She knows better, but that tunnel vision of catching her favourite hat overrode her sense of danger. I am so thankful that no cars came around the corner and hit her, as it is a very busy street.

It was a reminder to me of how she has no sense of danger in some cases and how I must be closer to her as my yelling at her to stop did not break though her focus on the hat.

After thanking the Angels for watching over her, I talked to her about how a car could have killed her as they would not have seen her bending down and running in between cars that were parked.

I reminded her that I will get anything that leaves the park fences, no matter what it is.

She was quite upset when she realised what she had done and I had to be sure to not drive the message home too hard, yet strong enough to hopefully stick in her mind.

I had her pull her hood up over her hat so that it would not blow away again.

This park has great equipment for working on balance and strengthening muscles.

She really likes the activities and I do them with her so it is more fun.

She brought along her handheld microscope and checked out some flowers, leaves and twigs. This is such a great device because it is portable and it works well.

I let her play on the swing a long time as she goes into a zone on the swing and finds it very peaceful, she has always done this.

Then we went back home to be there four our Maximoo and made after school ice cream cones.

Yes, of course I had one too.

Another great day of learning and fun.

Later on, Sophia and I watched one of the videos in the series on puberty from Norway and had a great discussion.

See the post Puberty – Educational Video 6:8 vagina and menstruation

 

 

A shopping trip and new supplies

We got up and got on the road early. We are taking a shopping trip about an hour away to get some things for Sophia, as well as some Christmas presents.

Sophia brought along Sir Forrest the Magical Goat, he is mine but she loves him and he is cuddly and fun to travel with.

We stopped for lunch at one of our favourite places; Wendy’s. They ran out of numbers for the tables so they wrote this on our ticket. Sophia got a real kick out of that, we all did.

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When we got home, we tried out Sophia’s new items. She and daddy went outside with her Metal detector and looked for treasures. The treasure the duck left on the deck, was not what she was hoping to find. 😉

She really loves the way Sugar’s feather looks under the hand-held microscope. It is so beautiful. She especially loves looking at fabrics and materials, and so do I.

We also checked out the plasma light that we bought. She was absolutely fascinated by it.

The other item we bought was an archery set. She is a natural with this, I love that it can be played inside or outside.

This was another great day.

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Park Group and Aviary

We went to Park Group today after book work.

We met some really nice homeschooling families.

Sophia even talked to them.

After we played on the playground we checked out the Aviary.

There are such beautiful creatures in there and they are very well cared for.

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I really love seeing how fascinated she is by animals, it reminds me of myself. 😉

We went home and did some artwork and started to set up our Abacus order for this year.

She played outside with Max, and did some reading as well.

Bella Donna and book work

Sophia has finished these books over the week.

She really enjoyed the Bella Donna books.

We tried some loom band projects as well.

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We also did some book work and then she did some digital art and explored outside.

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Later on, she did some research for some videos she is planning.