Planning First Grade Homeschool

My middle son, P, is autistic, hyperlexic and has very limited language. This makes planning first grade a little more of a challenge. He is a smart boy and capable of learning plenty, but I need to teach him in a highly visual way and we need to work on language as much as possible. He will be in public school for Language Arts/Literacy and PE, Speech and OT, but because their expectations are so low, I am treating school more like a very good babysitter where he may learn something while I teach his older brother in the mornings.

First, I start by setting goals for the year and I choose which resources I will use to accomplish them (not every detail, just main textbooks, workbooks, etc. used for each subject).
Click here to see my goals and resources: P First Grade Plan and Goals

From my list of goals, I then break it out into months, setting goals for each month (many months are the same because we are going through a certain book or curriculum all year for that subject.)

See our monthly plan here: P First Grade Monthly Plan

The last step is to set a sample schedule to see if the plan will work.  See our sample first grade schedule here: Weekly Schedule P First Grade

It seems like a lot of work, but we prefer to do many shorter assignments, so it is actually only about 2 hours and 30 minutes of actual work each day.  We have actually begun our schedule already and P is as happy as ever and he actually chose to spend extra time doing a math app after all his work was done, just for fun.

Beacause P has such unique needs, I often end up making things myself, instead of using prepared curriculum.  Here are two examples of “journal pages” that we fill out daily to work on printing, talking about the past and expressing feelings.

P Day Review

Today I feel

I am looking forward to a new year of fun, learning and progress!

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Hyperlexia

Just before my oldest, D, was three, and still did not talk, he was already reading. Much before that, before a year old, he showed a fascination with letters and books. I loved reading growing up, so I was thrilled to have a son that would also enjoy getting lost in a good book.

What I didn’t know, was that D couldn’t have cared less about the story. He just liked the letters. He quickly learned the alphabet and easily identified all the upper and lower case letters. Soon after that he learned their sounds, which brought him a whole new level of giddiness. When he started putting those sounds together to make words, his joy was complete and that was what he did constantly.

We had some therapists that wanted us to take away the letters, and for a while I tried to comply, but letters are everywhere! Even if we took away his plastic letters, there were books and signs and toys with letters everywhere. In the end, we just decided to try to use reading and words purposefully. He was already reading, so why not use that skill to teach him the other skills he was lacking? This worked for us and by the time he was talking well, the reading (decoding) obsession faded. What remained was a tendency to read without comprehending what he was reading and that has taken years to address.

Hyperlexia is not defined in the DSM, so its definition is actually a bit fuzzy. There is a common theory that there are three types of hyperlexia:

Type I: A “normal” (known as neurotypical or “NT”) child that just reads very early. Development does not lack in any particular area.
Type II: A child on the Autistic Spectrum that reads well beyond language that they seem to have (receptive or expressive) otherwise. Many would call this a “splinter skill.”
Type III: A child that has some autistic traits, and seems to read beyond their language abilities, but the autistic traits fade in time.

I am not sure that these are great categories for several reasons. For one, hyperlexia type I is just an early reader. There is really no need to even give it a name. What do you call a child with no delays that jumps twice as high as his peers? A hyperjumper?

As far as type II, the whole idea behind the term, “splinter skills” is one that many people with autism have objected to. It conjures up the idea of a person that is “low functioning” (another not particularly helpful term) that has an interesting, though not particularly useful ability in music, art, math or some other area. The reason that people are surprised at these abilities is because they are presuming “incompetence” and low IQ. It would be better to just say that it is an area of strength, just as any of us may have greater abilities in any particular area. Also, reading is a very important skill, not some “fascinating” ability for people to stop and stare at like a circus act.

Also, I am not sure that hyperlexia type III actually exists. To say that the autistic traits fade in time may just be children that have successfully used reading and other abilities to “catch up” in areas of delay. The problem lies in how we define autism. Currently, it is primarily defined in terms of delays. However, if we could see what it actually is neurologically, I think that many of them would still have some of these characteristics, like my oldest, who has no real measurable delays anymore (falls into “normal” range) but still struggles in some of the common areas affected by autism (language comprehension, reading social cues, and others). We also know that the ability to read can be a tool to help the person move beyond their delays in development, even if they were born with the neurological make up that would describe a person with autism.

I think that hyperlexia can be better defined as decoding skills that are far above comprehension skills, accompanied by a fascination with letters and words. The term can be helpful when speaking to therapists and teachers because it helps them develop a plan to help the child. It lets them know that the written word can be a powerful tool for this child and that comprehension needs to be monitored.

My next son, P, was (is) an even more extreme hyperlexic. He read and spelled out words shortly after he turned two years old and surprised visitors and strangers with his spelling abilities. To this day, his favorite activities involve encoding (spelling) and decoding (reading) words. He also seems to understand language better if he sees it written first. Sometimes it seems that he just can’t find the words to say and he uses his iPad (with the LAMP Words for Life app) to make the sentence and then read it. Because he does have some spoken language, I was unsure if this type of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) would be useful to him, but it has become an important tool in our communication toolbox and I am so thankful that we have been allowed to use the iPad and app (for now) through his school. I am not sure what will happen next year when we will be homeschooling for a greater percentage of his day.

Some people have seen hyperlexia as a “disability.” Some have told us to avoid spelling with P, so that we don’t “feed his obsession,” even telling us to hide the letters, but I am glad that we learned by then that it was useless. It is just another way that he is his own person, with his own unique strengths and I choose to celebrate those strengths, not squelch them.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad “A Word”?

I almost named this blog, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad A Word.” I remember the first time I heard it concerning my children. My oldest (D) had an evaluation by Early Intervention for a speech delay when he was barely a year old and I remember that there was a Developmental Therapist and Speech Therapist at my house and they seemed to be trying to tell me something without telling me it directly. After observing him they exchanged knowing glances and mentioned how he constantly ran into the sofa and other objects. They pointed out his lack of sustained interaction and eye contact. I really didn’t know what they were getting at, but they recommend an evaluation by an Occupational Therapist and repeatedly used the term “sensory integration.” I locked the term in my memory and rushed to my PC to look it up as soon as they left. I found that it was almost always used when talking about Autism. “Autism?” I thought. “Well that can’t be right.” I read more and worried more and waited for the OT evaluation.
When the Occupational Therapist came to do the evaluation, she continued with the “sensory” talk, but assured me that it didn’t mean that he was Autistic. She, of course, could not make a medical evaluation anyway, but there began my journey that would change my life forever. Occupational therapy, Developmental Therapy, Speech, Floortime, tens of thousands of pages of books, countless internet sites, videos, evaluations, hyperlexia, IFSPs, IEPs, and hundreds of other acronyms familiar to the exclusive “Autism Mom” club members. There was no “cure” and for me, at that time, that meant that “experts” believed there was no hope. For some “experts” that is exactly what they meant. After six months of intense speech therapy failed to produce even one spontaneous word or sign and little, if any, understanding of speech, I was told that my son may never speak. Well, his the story of his journey “off” the spectrum (maybe, maybe not) is for another day, but he did learn to speak and quite well, thank you very much.
When our second son (P) seemed headed for a similar diagnosis, we had little fear of the “A Word.” We knew what to do and he would be just “fine” also. We worked and read and took him to therapies, just like we did with our oldest, but he didn’t make the same progress. He was hyperlexic, like our oldest had been, but even more extreme, and was reading and spelling shortly after he turned two. He was so smart. Of course he would make amazing progress! Well, he has and he does make great progress and he is very smart, but he is still definitely on the spectrum. However, I don’t say that as a disappointment, like I would have ten years ago. I realize that he has his own set of challenges and his own unique set of strengths. Do I want him to talk? Yes. Do I want him to stop being Autistic? Not necessarily. My hope for him is that he can do what he wants to do and my hope for the rest of us is that the world will value him for who he is and not judge him by what he cannot yet do.
reading a book

sleeping with a giant book

unique solutions

spelling makes me happy

words all over the house always