Children with autism seem to love this software.

January 30, 2009 at 6:17 pm (autism, Children, homeschool, Life) (, , , , , )

Download software free here.

By Claudia Kalb | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Jan 16, 2009

Science is rich with happy flukes. Remember the story of penicillin?
Alexander Fleming discovered the bacteria-destroying mold by accident
when he left a culture dish uncovered in his lab in 1928. Eight decades
later, here’s another one: a Googlesoftware program called SketchUp,
which was intended largely for architects and design professionals, has
found a very unexpected and welcome fan base-children with autism.
SketchUp is not only entertaining kids with autism spectrum disorders,
it’s providing them with skills that might one day help them as they age
out of school and into the workforce.

It all started when Google’s Tom Wyman and Chris Cronin started getting
enthusiastic calls and e-mails from architects who had children on the
spectrum. Their kids, the parents reported, had discovered the software
program and loved it. All they needed was their creativity and a
computer mouse and they could design entire neighborhoods. It turns out
that SketchUp, which was acquired by Google from a small Colorado-based
startup in 2006, allows people with autism to express their ideas in a
visual way-a welcome release for kids who have trouble communicating
through speech or writing. “After the second or third call, you begin to
think there may be something here,” says Wyman. So he contacted his
local chapter of the Autism Society of America (ASA) in Boulder. “What
gives?” he asked.

What gives is that many people with autism excel at visual thinking.
Studies show they perform exceptionally well on the Block Design Task,
part of a standard IQ test, which assesses an individual’s ability to
recreate a complicated red and white pattern using a set of red and
white blocks. “They’re able to mentally segment the design into its
component parts so they can see where each block would go,” says Ellen
Winner, a professor of psychology at Boston College, something
non-autistic kids have trouble doing. Geraldine Dawson, chief scientific
officer for Autism Speaks, a leading autism advocacy group, found that
the parents of children with autism have superior spatial abilities on
the Block test, too-a gift they may be passing on to their kids.
Environment likely plays a role as well, says Dawson. Because children
with autism have trouble communicating with people, they tend to spend
their time interacting with objects. The end result: the visual portion
of their brain becomes highly developed.

Anja Kintsch, head of the assistive technology team for the Boulder
Valley School District, has seen this spatial talent up close. Kintsch,
who is trained in special education, has seen students with autism walk
the streets of Denver, then go back to their desks and create perfect
architectural renditions of the city. “I thought they were professional
blueprints,” she says. Kids with autism tend to love computers, too,
because they’re predictable and don’t demand the social skills required
of humans: you don’t have to look them in the eye, talk to them, or read
their emotions.

All of this makes SketchUp a captivating program for people with autism.
Amateur designers can draw straight or curved lines, then use a
“Push/Pull” tool to pull flat shapes into 3-D objects. A rectangle can
be pulled to become the living room in a house; a hole can be pushed out
of a wall to make a window. An “Orbit” tool lets you look at a desk from
back, front, top and bottom. Users can find models that already
exist-furniture, playgrounds, amusement parks-in the program’s 3-D
warehouse to incorporate into their own designs. Or they can store their
3-D houses or stadiums or cities in the warehouse for others to see.
Google’s Wyman says he has seen kids with autism adapt to the program
with little difficulty: “They picked it up at least as quickly as
architects do.” The response was so positive that Google launched
Project Spectrum,a partnership between SketchUp and educational outlets,
i ncluding the Boulder Valley School District and the Boulder chapter of
the ASA, to get the software into the hands of kids and teens with
autism for free.

Meg and Casey Grothus are two of the lucky ones. The week before they
were introduced to SketchUp by the ASA, the teens tried to hand-sketch
the bathroom in their house for a geometry class assignment. A
rectangular room with a door, the layout was “pretty basic,” says their
mother, Heidi Grothus. But it turned out to be a frustrating,
time-consuming and tearful experience. Meg, 17, who has Asperger
Syndrome, says she thinks in pictures and can visualize a design in her
head, but she can’t translate that image onto paper. “I just wouldn’t
know how to get it out,” she says. But when she and her brother tried
the same exercise on SketchUp, “it just clicked,” says Meg. Casey, 18,
has high-functioning autism. He calls his original drawing “a piece of
junk, very crude, very inaccurate.” With SketchUp, Casey was able to
draw the bathroom-and decorate it with toilet, sink, plants and

Now Meg and Casey are taking part in a SketchUp partnership with Cornell
University, where Matthew Belmonte, an assistant professor in the
department of human development, is creating a video game called
Astropolis. Belmonte says he wanted people on the spectrum to help
construct the game, which will ultimately be used to test the range of
cognitive abilities in people with autism. Meg and Casey joined the
team, using SketchUp to create designs that have been fleshed out and
incorporated into a test version of Astropolis. The teens say they were
thrilled to take part and their mother was delighted to see her children
being treated with respect for their talent, rather than patronized for
the skills they lack.

At the Judevine Center for Autism in St. Louis, Mo., CEO Ron Ekstrand
says educators will use the software as both a socialization tool and a
design program. Using SketchUp, educators can map out unfamiliar
environments that kids with autism might visit, like office buildings,
city parks or doctors’ offices. The unknown can be a major stressor for
kids with autism. If the student has a teeth-cleaning appointment, for
example, teachers can create a SketchUp model of the space, complete
with the dentist’s chair, then walk the child through what to expect
when he gets there. Judevine is building a new lab to teach SketchUp in
collaboration with Mackey Mitchell Architects, a firm that is eager to
tap the design insights of people with autism. The kids will be taught
how to use SketchUp and asked to create their ideal living and learning
spaces. Ekstrand says he hopes to incorporate these dream spaces into
designs for a future school campus and for residential homes that the
center runs for adults with autism. Mackey Mitchell hopes to merge the
students’ ideas into architectural plans for an even larger autism
community, creating new classrooms, schools, living spaces and treatment
centers nationwide that are specifically designed for the growing number
of people on the spectrum. “We believe people with autism have unique
capabilities that are going untapped,” says Ekstrand. “We think we can
provide opportunities for them in the future with highly marketable,
highly valuable skills.”

Job skills are, of course, critical for kids on the autism spectrum. The
unemployment rate for adults with autism is estimated to be as high as
87 percent, says Marguerite Colston, ASA’s vice president of marketing
and the mother of an 8-year-old boy with autism. And 76 percent of
parents of kids with autism are very concerned about their child’s
future employment. “The tragedy is that they have these remarkable
skills which are totally unshared with the broader social world because
we never give them a chance,” says Cornell’s Belmonte. Casey Grothus is
glad he was given the opportunity. “It feels really good,” he says.

For more about Project Spectrum, check out the organization’s Web site.
Or, take a look at this video demonstration on You Tube.  And for more
about using Sketchup, visit the official Google Sketchup blog; for more
about the video game “Astropolis,” visit the Autism Collaborative.

(c) 2009

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A Total God Thing

January 29, 2009 at 3:57 pm (Children, Family, God, Life) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you just knew God was giving you a sign or a message?  When you realized what it meant, did a feeling of peace just come over you?  For me, this has happened, but on rare occasion.  This is a story of my favorite “touch” from above.

It was the morning of September 27, 2004.  I woke up like normal, groggy but desperately trying to focus , because I had 10 minutes to get my teenage daughter to school or she would be late.  I was 21 weeks pregnant and really tired and I just didn’t feel quite right.  Something in the back of my mind was bugging me and trying to come forward, but I couldn’t figure it out.  I didn’t take the time to figure it out.  I dressed quickly, changed my 19 month old son’s diaper and ran out the door.  I drove my daughter to school, dropped her off and decided to do some grocery shopping.

There were only two grocery stores in my town at the time, so I opted to go to Kroger.   As I’m putting my son into the grocery cart, that “thought” that had kept nagging me finally came to the surface.  When was the last time I had felt my baby move?  I couldn’t remember any kicks that morning.  Of course, I had been in a hurry and not really thinking about it, so maybe I had just missed it.  I couldn’t remember any movements the night before, but again, I was so tired from working on our new house, that I told myself it was possible I had just not paid any attention and missed the movements.  All I could remember, was about noon the day before, sitting in a swing with my oldest daughter, the baby kicked so hard that you could see my stomach lurch.  I stopped still in the middle of the fruit section, trying to feel my little one move.  I started to sweat and nauseating heat started building in the middle of my gut.  I decided that the baby must be sleeping, especially since I was moving around and walking so much.  I hurriedly went through the isles in the store, grabbing items haphazardly, not really giving much thought to what I grabbed.  I would stop occasionally, thinking I had felt a tiny flutter.  My chest started getting tighter and my throat felt like it was closing off.  By the time I was going down the last isle, I felt like I was going to throw up or cry or scream.  I felt panicky and I tried to tell myself not to worry so much.

As soon as I got home, I called my husband at work.  When I heard his voice, I started sobbing ” I can’t remember, I just can’t remember except on the swing yesterday”.  He tried to calm me down and to figure out what I was talking about.  I couldn’t stop crying, but I finally made him understand.  He told me to lay still, on the couch or bed and call the doctor.  I told him I would as soon as I put the groceries away.  I was still telling myself that it was all because I hadn’t slowed down, I was moving so much that the baby was just sleeping through it all.

While I was putting away the groceries, I called and talked to the phone nurse.  She told me to drink some juice and get on my hands and knees.  She said the baby was probably just sleeping and that I should feel something within 30 minutes.  I did what she said, searching for some tiny little sign that everything was ok.  I swear, I thought I felt some little flutters.  I just wasn’t sure.  Still, there was no major movement so I called the nurse back.  She told me to come in to the office as soon as possible.

I called my husband back to let him know that I was headed to the doctor’s office.  He said he would meet me there.  I was about 55 minutes away, he was more like 1.5 hours.  I didn’t have anyone to watch my son, so I took him with me.

When I arrived at the office, they took me straight back and a nurse started looking for a heartbeat.  When she couldn’t find one, she still tried to reassure me, but in my heart I knew.  They sent me to have an ultrasound.  While my son sat on my chest I just cried.  The nurse had the monitor turned away from me, she was watching it intently.  About that time, there was a knock on the door and my husband came in.  The nurse excused herself and said she would be right back.  I just looked at my husband and sobbed.  I told him that they hadn’t said anything, but I just knew that our baby was gone.  After a minute or two, the nurse came back in, followed by my doctor.  He watched as the nurse showed him some pictures on the screen, then he turned and grabbed my hand and said “I’m so sorry.  I’m so very sorry.”

It was like my world just stopped.  How do you explain that?  Nothing else existed but that feeling of utter despair.  Then, there was a feeling of disbelief.  Denial.  Then the questions started pouring out of me.  How?  Why?  What happened?  What had I done wrong?  My doctor tried to tell me that it was nothing I had done.  He said everything on the ultrasound looked normal.  There was nothing he could see to explain this.    He said they would run tests, and that after the baby was born, then there was a chance that they could see something physically wrong.  He explained I had two options.  I could wait and let nature take it’s course and let the baby come when my body was ready, or they could put me in the hospital and induce me.  I was sort of shocked and I remember asking “So I’m going to have to go through labor to have this baby?”  I don’t know what I was thinking except that I had 2 previous c-sections, so I just assumed that was how this baby would be born.  He tried to explain it all, but really, I can’t remember much of what he said after that.  I remember he left to make the “arrangements” with the hospital for me to go in the next morning to be induced.  While he was gone, a nurse stuck her head in the door, I think it was the phone nurse I had spoken to on the phone earlier, and she handed me a little book and told me she was sorry.  After my husband had all the details about where to go, we headed home.

I called my Mom on my cell phone and told her that our baby had died.  I cried and told her that I needed her.  She lives 450 miles away.  She told me she would leave as soon as she was packed.  She got here around 3am the next morning and I met her at the door.  I had taken a sleeping pill the doctor gave me, but I was still awake.

Two days later, on the 29th of September, I gave birth to a little boy.  There is much that happened before that and after, but I can’t write about it right now.  Maybe I will at a later date.

Months later, I still couldn’t go back to that Kroger.  I would have a panic attack if I even thought about it.  One day, I decided enough was enough, and I asked my husband if he would go to the store with me.  With sweaty palms and a tight chest, I forced myself to drive to the store.  During this time, there was literally a storm brewing.  It was one of those quick southern thunderstorms that you can just feel in the air.  The clouds were gathering at about the same rate that my heart was pounding.

It wasn’t easy and I was praying silently the whole time for God to help me get through this.  Finally, I walked into the store.  I started feeling so panicky, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make it.  I had to leave!!  My husband talked with me quietly and held my hand.  He talked me into trying to get a few things and then leaving.  The storm outside had broken loose and the walls of the store felt like they were shaking from the thunder.  I felt like I had a storm inside of me also.  All I could remember was the worry and fear that I felt that morning a few months ago.  I remember trying to breathe and  I prayed for God to make all of it go away.  I just wanted to get out, to go home, to pull the covers over my head and make it all go away.

We finally finished shopping and we paid for our items.  I remember my chest hurting and I wanted to run outside.  I felt like I was losing my mind.   I finally got out of the doors and I couldn’t go any farther.  I stopped dead in my tracks and I felt and saw the most spectacular thing.  Not more than 200 yards in front of me, was one end of a double rainbow.  I mean, it started (or ended) right there!  It arched way up into the sky and the other end came down within sight, just down the road.  I was totally amazed.  I remember a feeling of peace come over me.  Nothing but peace and hope and love.  Then tears of relief began to pour and I turned to my husband and said “This is a sign from God.  A promise that everything is going to be ok.”

From then on,  I felt like I was going to heal.  I felt like life did have a purpose and I understood that we are not going to understand all of God’s plans for us.  I realized that He is in charge and taking care of us.  Now don’t get me wrong.  The longing for my child is still inside of me.  It will always be with me, until we meet again, just like God promised.

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Wordless Wednesday ~ Snow White & Day

January 28, 2009 at 2:58 pm (Children, Farm, Life, photography) (, , , , , , , , , )

Snow White feeding her spoiled brat cat

Snow White feeding her spoiled brat cat


Toulouse geese

Toulouse geese

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks




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25 Random things about me.

January 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm (ADHD, autism, Children, Family, Farm, God, Home, Life) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Whew, this wasn’t that easy to me.  Pretty boring to most, I’m sure.  I actually received this “tag” on Facebook, but thought it would be fun to post on here also.

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

  1. I LOVE God!  I love serving Him, trying to be like Him, and talking about Him.  I love being surrounded by people who love Him like I do.
  2. I LOVE my family!  I am so blessed to have a loving husband (more on him later) & 4 wonderful children.
  3. I LOVE being a Nana.  I hate being a long distance Nana though.
  4. I have the most wonderful husband in the world!  He really does spoil me.  His goal in life seems to be to make me happy.  I LOVE him so much!
  5. My husband is the BEST Daddy in the world!  He helps me with the kids so much.  We’re always having FUN!
  6. I love to crochet.  My great Granny Kelly taught me when I was about 7.  My favorite things to make include baby clothes & gifts for other people.
  7. I HATE to do housework.  It’s so useless to me sometimes because by the time I turn around, it needs to be redone.  I like that line on that show “30 something”, it goes sorta like this “I’m sorry I haven’t cleaned up the house for the FIFTH time today!”  Or as one of my friends likes to say “My goal is just to avoid e-coli”.
  8. I love my chickens, ducks, geese & guineas.  I started out with 6 pullets(hens) so that I could have fresh eggs.  Now I am embarrassed to tell you how many I have.  My goal is to add peafowl and sebastopol geese to my flock this year.
  9. I am a HUGE procrastinator!
  10. I had a tubal ligation done in 1994.  I had a tubal anastamosis in 2001.  I have been blessed with four pregnancies post surgery.  Levi & Erin are my “babies” I have with me.
  11. I gave birth to Franklin in September 2004.  He was stillborn.  I think this was the most devastating thing to ever happen to me.
  12. I married my sweetie in a barn loft.  It was in the middle of December (16th) and so cold!  Our guests sat on hay bales wrapped in homemade quilts and blankets.  We had bird seed to throw out, but just as we were leaving it started to snow.  So romantic!
  13. I would love to have more kids.  This doesn’t mean I’m going to, but the desire is still there.
  14. The song “Bring the Rain” by MercyMe really is my song.  Having lost Franklin, having a son diagnosed autistic & ADHD and having a husband with chronic  ITP & polymyositis, I feel like I have become closer to God through the storms in my life.  I now praise Him more for the blessings I do have.
  15. I wish that I had raised my oldest girls right.  By that, I mean I wish I had taught them God’s word, so that no matter what life throws at them, they would have it hidden in their hearts to bring them through.  They are both WONDERFUL daughters and I am so proud of them!  I hope they see my life as a testimony to how great God is and that they should turn to Him for EVERYTHING.
  16. I never thought I would be a minivan Mom, but I LOVE my minivan!
  17. I am very disappointed in how I have let myself go in the past 8 years.  I could give excuses, but the fact is I just have no will power and I’m plain LAZY!
  18. I wish I had more patience with my youngest two.  While I believe I have grown into being more patient, I still have my moments.  I YELL at my kids WAY too much!
  19. I love the beach.  I would love to live near the beach one day.  I think my whole family would love this.
  20. I am so unorganized.  I used to be the opposite!  I used to make a menu for two weeks, make a grocery list (in order of what is in each isle at the store), clip & use coupons & feed a family of four for under $100 for those 2 weeks.
  21. I love to shop.  BY MYSELF!
  22. I spend way too much time on the computer and internet!
  23. I wish I lived closer to my Mom.
  24. I have a new goal to lose weight and take better care of myself.  I would love to meet this goal by the time we have our 25th year high school reunion.
  25. I love people, I hate strife, I love my friends, I dislike people who hurt my children, I always give the benefit of the doubt and second chances.

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Wordless Wednesday~Nana misses her boy!

January 22, 2009 at 12:25 am (Children, Family, Life, photography) (, , , , , , , , , , , )





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Serving more.

January 19, 2009 at 11:41 am (Children, God, Life, photography) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

1 John 3:17-18:

17But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.


I feel like I need to do more around here.  Not “here”, in my house, although I have been severely slacking in that area also, but that’s another post.  I miss helping out my friends, family & community more.  I need to be an example to my children, so that they see the joy and blessings that come from helping and serving others.

So, I’m going to make a list here every week or two, and try and accomplish all of it.

Here’s my list:

  1. I’m going to a make dinner for a friend and her family from church.  She has had a lot of medical problems that are still ongoing.
  2. I’m going to make dinner for two friends that just had babies this week.
  3. I’m going to crochet some baby clothes.
  • Burial clothes for the little ones that don’t make it.  Here’s another one. And one more.
  • Some outfits for the Mom’s and babes who live here.
  • Preemie clothes for the NICU babies here. I usually deliver once or twice a year.  I’m late!!!  Maybe I can get lots made in time to drop off on our way to GA in March.

I’ll update and post pics of what I accomplish later.

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Update on Bad Week

January 17, 2009 at 9:12 am (ADHD, autism, Children, Family, Life, photography) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Just wanted to let you know I updated the last post.  It’s a good thing!


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Bad week.

January 16, 2009 at 2:45 pm (ADHD, autism, Children, Family, God, homeschool) (, , , , , , , , , , )

fulldoublerainbowPsalm 56:3:
3What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.

Well, after a great report last week, I’m afraid I can’t give the same for this week.  Levi has really pushed the limits at school.  He ended up in the office twice.  Numerous time-outs.  He “accidentally” kicked or hit two different students during times of hyperactivity.  The most frustrating thing is he is telling his teacher “no” or lying to the teacher.

I am still keeping a journal.  I am still implementing the diet.

I am wondering if God is trying to tell me to just go ahead and withdraw Levi from public school.  I mean, we have plans to homeschool starting in 1st grade, so why not now?

We have decided to give it till Friday.  Any more problems and homeschoolers we will be.

**Update:  I wrote this post on Friday before picking Levi up from school.  When I got him, I found out that he was GREAT all day long.  His teacher said he was calm, he did his work, he wasn’t hyper, & he even layed still at nap.  She said he was a totally different kid.

When we got home, he was the same.  He actually fell asleep in the van on the way.  We went to a skating birthday party, and he had a blast!  He didn’t want to leave and got a little upset, but he wasn’t the only one.

I have to conclude that something he has eaten affected his behavior.  Other than the kool-aid Sunday, I don’t know what it could be.  It’s really hard to know considering he is away from us more than he is around us when he eats.

How else can this be explained?

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Wordless Wednesday ~ Christmas Eve 2008

January 14, 2009 at 12:56 pm (Children, Family, Life, photography) (, , , , )

Erin at Aunt Susie's

Erin at Aunt Susie's

Erin LOVES her new Dora luggage & backpack from JJ!

Erin LOVES her new Dora luggage & backpack from JJ!

Levi LOVES his new scooter from Christy & Brian!

Levi LOVES his new scooter from Christy & Brian!

My little princess.

My little princess.

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Will You Promise?

January 12, 2009 at 6:57 pm (Children, Family, God, Life, photography) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Will You Promise?

I feel so empty
without him here,
so all alone
with all my fears.

How will I survive
without my dreams fulfilled?
To see him running and playing
like his brother, who can’t be still.

How do I get through this?
All this emotional stress and strain?
How do I smile and laugh
when everything is tear stained?

I am just so hesitant and scared
to try and dream again,
to keep up the hope,
to leave it in God’s hands.

I need some sort of assurance.
Please Lord, send me some sign,
that if I’m ever blessed again
You will let this baby remain mine.

I still don’t know the answers,
I just don’t understand,
but I just can’t give up the dream
of holding another tiny hand.

Terri Stanifer

December 23, 2004

I found this poem today, that I had written a few months after Franklin died.  At the time, all I wanted was to know why this had happened.  I questioned God a lot.  I didn’t really allow myself to get angry with him though.  I was so scared that I would lose more of the blessings that He had given me.  Even though I was terrified, I never lost the yearning for another baby.  I never lost the hope.  I feel now that was God’s way of telling me to try again.  He allowed that hope to remain and He fulfilled it with a wonderful & healthy daughter.

My hope fulfilled

My hope fulfilled

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