Issue 27 | October 5, 2012 | Featuring Ian Baker

Our featured family this week is home schooling a twice-exceptional student; Ian Baker is very bright but deals with a disability.  The parents themselves are highly trained professional educators. Betty earned a doctorate degree in special education and the dad has a master's degree in gifted education.  Find out how they used their talents, training and parenting skills to support their son into a successful education using the home school route.

INSIDE NARHS: Computer Credit and a Phone Reminder

Did you know that for the NARHS computer requirement, you can go to www.Brainbench.com, take the COMPUTER proficiency test, present the official documentation provided by Brainbench as evidence and secure the .5 credit needed?  It is that simple.  Some of their proficiency exams are even free!  Call our office if you have any questions about them.

 Also, here is a quick reminder of the new advisor extensions when you call 800-882-2828: 

  • Becky Meinzinger.......................21
  • Silvia Johnson:.........................22
  • April Thome:............................23
  • Laurel Smith:...........................24
  • Registrar:................................25
  • Stephen & Katie Meinzinger:.....26
  • Wendi Frank:...........................27

Maureen Martin is still at her previous phone number: 207-778-3545

Please remember that if you know who you are trying to reach, you can always enter their extension at any time after the phone starts ringing.

FEATURED STUDENT: Ian Baker

Ian BakerIndividuals with Asperger's (part of the Autism spectrum) are one of the fastest growing segments in our society and Ian Baker's diagnosis falls into this subdivision.  With advanced resources to draw upon due to her education, Betty was able to recognize the challenges that Ian was facing and to develop processes to help him rise above his seeming limitations.   Here are some examples:

       Ian's social interactions have improved, but as a child, interacting with other people was extremely difficult. His parents had to teach him every little detail about positive social engagement. On his own, Ian had no idea if people were joking.  He could never figure it out. Eventually he learned to explain himself to those who had used sarcasm or humor by excusing his lack of response with, "Sorry, I am not able to understand what you are referring to."

      Secondly, Ian is TOO honest, resulting in responses to questions that can seem quite blunt.   If someone might ask him, "How do you like my dress." he just might respond with, "I don't like your dress."  Betty had some work to do in order to teach Ian the art of answering a person's question.  "Your dress is very colorful." "I like the shade of blue."

Together, mom and son would brainstorm alternative solutions to answering such questions.  During the process, they would write scripts and role-play social interaction options.

    Another challenge Ian faced was dealing with routine changes.  "Putting him to bed had as many tiny routine steps as a rocket launch.  If anything was left out, you would have to go back to step one."  To navigate this daily experience successfully, the parents would prepare him verbally, talking through all the steps so he could rehearse it in his mind.  Another example involved Ian's routine when he came home from school. If there were possible interruptions, Betty would talk it through with him.  "Usually when you come home, you can set down your books, change you clothes and watch a TV show.  Today we will have a guest in the home so this is how your routine might have to change."

       Students with Asperger's can really benefit from drama experience.  It teaches them different roles they can take and different reactions they might practice.  Ian has asked his parents to write scripts for different situations that he may encounter so he can work through the options as in a rehearsal. Carol Gray has written SOCIAL STORY BOOKS which give children a chance to practice different roles in moments of decision.

     Ian wasn't the only one with challenges.  Having come from a classroom-trained background, Betty needed to overcome her idea that home schooling had to look like school at home.  Doing so she felt like she was trying to drive a square peg into a round hole.   

Eventually she learned that if Ian was loving to work on a project, he should continue. Quality home schooling does not necessarily mean to do every subject every day.

Home-schooling Ian revealed another of his obstacles not mentioned before; Ian possessed a very black and white, all-or-nothing perspective.   If he had a large assignment to do, he might see that he had to do it all right now, or that he should do none of it right now.  To help Ian adjust, Betty went to a paint store, made a poster board on which were painted strips of color ranging from black to white, with all shades between.  Visual depiction of two viewpoints can be very helpful.  On the poster, they would imagine one option at one end of the spectrum, and the other option on the other side. Then she would ask him, "Can you think of one option that lies between these two?  Now can you find two options that lie between these two?  Eventually she was able to expand Ian's thinking about the value and variety of different alternatives.

    The creativity that Betty had to call upon in order to support Ian, who is now 19, into the realm of adulthood was pretty remarkable, and possibly exhausting.  But when I asked her how she remembers those experiences, she said this, 

"He was so fun to teach, and it was satisfying to see these techniques work. Individuals living with Asperger's have amazing brains. A wise teacher can use their specific passions to introduce all other disciplines. For instance, a student who is passionate about World War 2 could be required to read and write about that period of history for the English requirements.  Studies of weaponry development, aircraft technology and chemical warfare could provide the background for science studies.  

"The hardest thing about Ian is that he lives at so many levels at the same time.  Physical skills are very low, but intellectually he is very high functioning."

 For a very memorable ending to this fascinating story, I will let Betty and then Ian, himself, have the final say:

BETTY'S CONCLUSION

"When you plant a garden and every vegetable grows well except the lettuce, don't blame the lettuce. Be a detective to find out what went wrong.  Come up with ideas on how to support the lettuce so it can grow in the conditions it has to deal with."  

Working with people diagnosed with Autism can be time well spent.  They have gifts to contribute. These are the people who do not need to spend time with other people.  They are the ones writing computer code and who can focus to the exclusion of everything else. 

 IAN'S CONCLUSION

This gifted young man has said that if someone offered him a cure for Asperger's, he would not take it.  While the condition offers many challenges, they are balanced at the same time with many gifts.  "I think society needs me just the way that I am. "

 April,

I truly enjoyed our conversation.  Please don't hesitate to ask if I can help NARHS or parents in teaching quirky, exceptional kids.  It is what I love to do.

 Have a great afternoon.

 Warmly,

Betty Hallenbeck

 Parents, if any of you would like to send a question Betty's way, use my email address and I will forward it to her.

athome@narhs.org