Moms, You Are NOT Failing: Getting Help for Struggling Child

I see you struggling to homeschool  your challenging child.  I see you struggling to decide if the public school is doing enough for your child. You question if you can give them everything they need to succeed.  You question what you are doing wrong to create the challenges you are facing with your child.   Let me tell you, Mom, you are doing a great job!  You are doing great by your kid by looking at the big picture.  You recognize your family needs help, and you are seeking resources and people to give you what you need. I see you juggling new therapy evaluations and the regular doctors appointments, and let me tell you, it’s worth it!  It’s worth it to be able to name the challenges so you can search for the best resources to help your child, yourself and your whole family.

Building a community to help you raise your child can include professionals with expertise that we lack as parents.

We as moms do not need to personally meet every need our children have.  As homeschool moms, what is best for our child can sometimes be seeking an expert to help with a learning challenge.  It’s not a failure for us when we look for help. We are equipping our family with the tools our child needs to succeed.

I had a mom tell me these things recently and it made me cry with relief to feel validated.  She has “Out of the Box” kids who are a few years ahead of my own, and we caught up at a recent event.  She had talked with several families who are having some learning struggles, but aren’t willing to look beyond their own experiences and seek testing or screening to see if their children would benefit from outside help. She encouraged me that it’s nothing to be ashamed of to seek help.

Our job is to launch our kids at 18 to be successful adults and contribute to the community.

Moms hear me!  If we see roadblocks coming down the road in our kids’ lives, we should help them.  And when our own parental knowledge is exhausted and the problem persists, it is imperitive to seek outside help.  Our first clue to Cub’s Autism was that he was not using a spoon independently as he approached his 3rd birthday.  We had to push our doctor to give us a referral for an Occupational Therapy evaluation.  We are so glad we did, as it led us to knowing so much about how Cub is wired and how we can best help him grow and learn.

AJ wasn’t talking clearly at 18m so we pursued a Speech evaluation, we didn’t really think much about it but seeking help early is best when they are young.  AJ didn’t have any additional issues and just needed focused help mastering some of his sounds.  He has returned to Speech therapy once more recently to work on more sounds but that’s it.  My mom knowledge is limited when it comes to how our mouths and brain work together to make speech, but for a Speech and Language Therapist its part of their training.  It’s part of my duty and training as a mom to sense where each kid struggles and discern if its something we can work on at home or if we need to seek other help.

When you see a red flag in your child’s development or learning, seek help and ask friends.  You are very much not alone.  You will find a village willing to help, and it’s larger than you ever expected!  If you don’t know where to start, I’m here to talk, shoot me an email or a Facebook message.  I love connecting people to resources.  With the knowledge and right tools in your family toolbox you can thrive as a family once again.


Mom You are Not Failing, getting help your challenging child InsideOurNormal

Visiting Fort Donelson, TN

Whenever we travel, we like to add a stop or two at National Parks for the kids to earn Junior Ranger badges, and for us to learn about another aspect of the history and character of our country.  Once we know where we are headed I like to look at the National Park maps and see what might be on our route.  Our 14th Junior Ranger Badge came from Fort Donelson, TN.

On our recent travels, we squeezed in a last minute stop at Fort Donelson in Dover, TN.  We traveled from Nashville to get there and Google’s direct route was rather scenic.  We were directed down many rural roads and gave us a real flavor of the landscape and towns of that part of Tennessee. It was beautiful.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

Confederate Fort, Union Victory

Fort Donelson is a National Battlefield.  It is the site of a Union victory at a Confederate Fort on the Cumberland River.  One of the stories of the battle is of the friendship between Confederate Brig. General Simon B. Buckner and Union General Ulysses S. Grant.  Classmates at West Point and comrades in the Mexican-American War.  Buckner even loaned Grant some money so he could get home after the war.  They now found themselves on opposite sides of the battle leading the fight against each other.  They reconciled shortly before Grant’s death, which was symbolic of the healing needed for the whole nation after the Civil War.

Multiple Sites to visit

The area has 4 separate sites to visit.  There is the visitor center, National Cemetery, Dover Hotel, and the Confederate River Batteries.  The visitor center was closed for remodeling when we were there and a temporary center was set up in the city’s Visitor Center nearby.  There was a short movie and displays of the battle.  Rangers are also available at the Visitor Center to give you the Junior Ranger materials.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

The Dover Hotel is not staffed but is open for self guided tours during the day.  This is where the terms of surrender were worked out between Grant and Buckner.  The National Cemetery is next to the Battlefield.  We spent most of our visit in the park and driving the self guided tour to the River Batteries.

We made our first stop at the temporary visitor center to pick up our Junior Ranger materials and watched the introduction video.  There were a variety of maps and posters to look at as well.  Then we drove across the main road to the actual Battlefield.  Because the site is a protected natural space there was a variety of wildlife to see while we drove including Eagles and Foxes. We saw a fox and a deer when we were driving through.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

You can see the trenches throughout the battlefield that the two sides built.  They are much larger than you imagine them to be.  The boys had quite the imagination and wished they could have climbed into them, which is discouraged.  When we arrived at the Cumberland River where Fort Donelson stood you could see the cannons lined up at the river where it could defend against Ironclad gunboats.  You can can walk the trenches with the cannons on the hillside and see the earthen bunker where addition munition was stored.

Our Take

We spent about 2 hours here between the sites.  It was quite a bit off the interstate and off the main roads, but well worth it for the history lesson we gained.  My 4th grader and Kindergartner both got something out of the visit.  The ability to walk where the soldiers walked gave all of us an opportunity to think about what it was like to be there and see it from their perspective.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

The Junior Ranger book at this site is one of the better ones we have seen.  The color pages included labeling a map of the battle and the surrounding states and rivers. It also included historical cultural context and wildlife you find in the park today.  The activities for the younger students were nature based.  In addition to the Junior Ranger pin on badge students have the opportunity to earn a patch as well by completing extra activities in the activity book. Lynn was lucky enough to earn both the pin and patch!

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

Poetry Made Simple for Your Homeschool

Teaching Poetry to our children: the idea sounds picturesque, high society, serene and intimidating.  The reality I have found, is that it’s simple, fun and easy.  Last year, we started including it because it was part of our curriculum from Sonlight.   Most days we were assigned to read a couple pages from our Mother Goose Anthology or from a collection of poems.  It wasn’t love at first sight but as time went on the kids recognized various Mother Goose rhymes they heard other places and enjoyed the rhythms.  Quickly it became one more place in our day I would hear, “One more please!”

All I was doing was following a pattern and reading the next one each day.  The slow exposure was feeding and growing their appetite for beautiful words.  They were hearing rhythm and rhymes, discussing the descriptions in a passage and breaking apart new words.  Its easy to want to jump to the great classics and read Henry Longfellow, Maya Angelo, and Langston Hughes to our kids right away, but that would be like giving them black coffee and expecting them to like it the first time. They have to work up to it like weaning oneself off of sugar and cream in coffee.

Where do I start

Head to your library and start browsing,  poetry can be found in the 800s by the Dewey Decimal System.  Pull a few off the shelf and start reading.  Don’t feel bad if you don’t like the first few you choose.  Our family really enjoys Something Big Has Been Here by Jack Prelutsky.  I have even caught them memorizing his work for fun, but we didn’t enjoy Shel Silverstein in the same way.  I know many families who love Where the Sidewalk Ends but it’s just not our style.

Anthologies are some of my favorites because you get to taste the best of many poets in one place as you find your favorite voices to read.  You will want to preview whatever you choose as different poets have different flavors to their work and see what fits your family’s tastes.   Caroline Kennedy and Julie Andrews have each edited anthologies for children as well. Andrew’s Treasury for all Seasons, is on my wishlist right now,  I love the idea to read through the seasons with poetry.   There is a good series called Poetry for Young People that is designed to help expose young students to great poets. Check it out if you are looking to do a study on a specific poet.

What do we do now?

Now that you have something to read, start reading.  Read regularly together.  We start our read aloud time with a poem.  We are using Favorite Poems of Childhood right now.  Each morning I open to where we left off and read the next one, and if it’s less than a page we might read two.  I like to read it twice so that we can be introduced to it the first time, and then savor it the second time.

After I read it the first time I like to ask questions to see what they noticed or understood.  Opened ended questions like “What do you think this poem about?” or “How does this poem make you feel?”

After we discuss our initial thoughts I read it again so we can think about our discussion as we hear it again.  Busy hands help us focus on listening sometimes, so we doodle while we listen or sometimes get Play-doh out.  Last week we read a poem that mentioned Seahorses.  After we were done reading, we used our Step by Step Drawing book and everyone followed along to draw a seahorse.

Final Thoughts

Poetry doesn’t have to look pretty and polished when you add it to your school or family.   It can be loud and boisterous.  There can be interruptions and giggles.  Just as we enjoy beautiful stories together as we read novels, it is good to enjoy beautiful words when we read poetry together.  Find poems you enjoy, and don’t worry about the Classics or Shakespeare.  If you want to make Poetry an event at your house check out Poetry Teatime by Bravewriter.  I love the idea but this mom does not have time for that, so for now we settle for reading daily on the couch with doodle books, savoring the sounds of the poetry together as we begin each school day.


Poetry Made Simple by Inside Our Normal

On the Go Sensory Toolkit

We have homeschooled in part for Cub to have a positive sensory environment so he can focus on learning and not on his senses being overloaded  in a traditional classroom. We also make an effort to participate in learning opportunities in our community when we can.  By controlling his sensory diet we can work on his social skills when we are out and about.  We have made a Sensory Toolkit to empower Cub to handle his environment when we are out.

Cub’s autism shows itself strongly with his sensory sensitivities, things like loud noises and busy crowded spaces can be overwhelming and make him easily agitated and anxious. We have learned many ways we can help him control his sensory input from working with an Occupational Therapist.  Through trial and error we found the ones that work the best for Cub.

On adventure days Cub takes his backpack which has many of the sensory tools we have found to help him adapt for his sensory challenges.  Having tools available to him empowers him to control the situation and learn to stay calm.  We are able to make the best of the environments be encounter.

Sensory Toolkit Backpack-

So, Whats in Cub’s Sensory Toolkit

Grounding Object.  For Cub that’s his Blankie. He grew attached to it when he was a baby. It is never far away from him even at home.  Its presence and silky tag help him stay regulated and focused.

Noise Canceling Headphones are the #1 tool Cub uses. They are easy to pull out in church or a noisy classroom. These help him control the environment so its less intimidating to him. Cub is 7 now, as he has grown he has started using these less than he did a few years ago.

Weighted Lap pad – This was a suggestion from Cub’s Occupational Therapist. The pressure the weighted lap pad provides is calming and provides positive stimulation. Pushing on walls or a good bear hug can provide similar sensory input. Cub can wear his lap pad on his shoulders when he needs to, it has magnets in the corners to stick together and hold it on him. Having the weight in his backpack also provides the deep pressure when he carries the bag. Both of our weighted items are from CapeAble Weighted Products.

-A Fidget Cube lets Cub move his hands and stay busy when he is in situations he can’t get up and move physically. He can play with it in his lap while sitting listening to someone talk or waiting in a line. Other fidgets could be Tangles, Slinkys, Puzzle Cubes, Rubber bands, textured balls, or Silly Putty. You have to see what your sensory seeker likes.

-A book to read, waiting is one of the hardest things for Cub. So we often bring along something of interest to have ready when the need to wait arises. Usually this is a few books to read from our home library, I wouldn’t recommend library books for the risk of losing them. He often reads these in the car when we run errands for an extended time or when he gets bored waiting for us grown ups to finish talking somewhere.

-A Water Bottle, we often forget to repack this as he often takes it out of his bag. Taking a drink of water can be an important detraction tool when he is getting anxious or agitated. He can also be demanding when he is thirsty and can’t get a drink immediately so problem solved when he carries his own supply!

-A Backpack to carry it all.  The action of carrying the weighted backpack can provide input.  It helps the child work towards being a self advocate in meeting their own sensory needs.  I would suggest a simple design with only a large and small pocket.  Its easy to lose things in too many pockets and an unneeded stress when dealing with preventing a meltdown.


Download Your Copy of the Sensory Toolkit Checklist!

Making The Hard Choice for School

One of the hardest parts about parenting an autistic child is that there is no one with all the answers for you. The spectrum is broad and each child is unique. This makes getting advice and plotting the best course for your child’s education unique and difficult. Many families find homeschooling a good fit for their child’s needs while others find success in the public school. The flexibility of the homeschool environment can be suited to educating a differently wired kid.  I know for a fact that my child is the brave, confident, child he is because we gave him a safe and supportive environment for the last 3 years to learn at home.

Homeschool Burnout can come with Special Needs

What often isn’t mentioned is the isolation that occurs for the parent when teaching at home.   When the child’s needs begin to limit your interactions with others it can be very lonely.  Homeschool Co-ops have been a great place for us to find a supportive community, but they do not solve all problems. You may  have to take him out of the co-op classes once a week because he’s being a disruption.  Co-op field trips can be an ordeal if the special needs child is having a bad day, and this can cause the siblings to miss a fun adventure.

Providing Special Education services at home can be exhausting and it affects the whole family.  Facilitating therapies and adapting curriculum can be time consuming.  Also, the needs of the child are constantly changing, which requires constant tweaking to the routine for everyone.  I have witnessed growing anxiety in our other kids as they struggle to make sense of it.  Unhealthy burdens can also be placed on the siblings as they have to (or feel like they have to) act as mini caretakers or guardians.

Trying Something New

For some of these reasons, we made the tough decision late this summer to enroll him in the local public school district this year.  At the end of his first day at his new school, we had an IEP meeting.  His new teacher prefaced her first comments with concerns for not hurting our feelings as the parents.  She shared with the others at the meeting that she needs help in the classroom immediately because of the multiple verbal outbursts that disrupted her class that day from our new student.

It was hard to hear another educator describe what had been such a part of our normal for awhile.  She was able to ask a team for help while I had very few people to turn to to help in the same way.  Most suggestions around me were to just “send him to school”.  Our previous experience with a local school (in another part of the country) had been very negative, so we were resistant to that suggestion for a long time.

Summer Growth prepares for New Experiences

However, last year I started to dream of other options for school for him.   I never pursued it because I didn’t want to be doing it for selfish reasons.  At times I felt like it would be choosing favorites.  Over the summer I started asking him what he thought about going to school, and (to my surprise), he liked the idea.  Recently he has made huge leaps in maturity and social interest.  He became comfortable at our city pool and could navigate the lazy river completely independently, even asking on multiple visits to go by himself.  He went to a day camp and took needed sensory breaks on his own initiative. For the first time, he was eager to rejoin the activities instead of wanting to quit and go home when he was overwhelmed.  His desire to try out school made it feel to me like this was no longer me considering sending him away to school. It was part of his desire.  As a mom it made all the difference in my motivation to pursue this different education path for him.

So here’s to a new year and a brave boy!  We will all be adjusting to a different rhythm and school routine. Now we have 2 students at home and one who rides the bus.   Those of us at home will be adjust to a missing playmate, and an empty desk.  We can’t wait to hear about his new friends and favorite activities.  I guess you could say we made already made some changes to those 3rd Grade Curriculum Choices.  


Linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers


Enrolling In Public School as A Homeschooler -InsideOurNormal