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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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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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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How things are working out!

January 9, 2009 at 1:00 pm (ADHD, autism, Children, Family, God, Life, photography) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I started out this GFCF diet process, by trying to keep a journal of everything Levi eats.  Well, that didn’t work.  I just couldn’t keep up with it all.  I read in one of my books or research sites, that you really shouldn’t have to write everything down.  It stated that after an initial “withdrawal” period, in which behaviors can get worse, you should be able to just tell if your child is following the diet correctly.  You should be able to see such an improvement in him that there is no doubt it is a success.  Anything less than that and you might as well not follow the diet.  It’s just not worth all the work to see only minimal kickback.

Well, I’m happy to announce that I see the diet working!!  I’m not the only one either.  Other people in our lives have made comments about how they can tell a difference in him.

  • My Mom say’s he’s calmer and more in control of his actions than a few months ago.
  • Levi’s teacher says he seems to not be as active or impulsive and when he is, he backs up real quick & apologizes.
  • The staff at Church say that Levi is “back to his sweet self”.
  • I have noticed all these things in addition to he seems to have a huge understanding now of what we’re trying to accomplish with this diet thing.  He has amazed all of us with how he has taken control of his own diet, and will make sure that he knows it’s safe before he eats it.  Not even candy or sweets get by him!  But, the thing that most excites me is that he seems to show more empathy.  (Those of you with autistic children will completely understand why this excites me.)

I have to admit to some added benefits for the rest of the family.

  • I feel healthier and have less stomach problems when I eat foods only on the diet.
  • We are eating out WAY less than before, saving money by doing that, and eating more meals together at the table.
  • We are eating  healthier by keeping a pantry stocked with healthier snacks & foods.
  • I have enjoyed getting back to cooking, which I used to love!

I am praying hard that this positive momentum continues!  I’m sure we’ll have obstacles along the way, but with all the positives I’ve seen so far, it will be WELL worth it!

I want to thank God most of all!  I should have been listening to Him from the beginning and we would have never even tried the drugs!


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Where does your special needs child spend time-out?

December 22, 2008 at 3:41 pm (ADHD, autism, Children, home school, homeschool, Life) (, , , , , )

This is such a sad story and I felt it needed to be circulated more.  Please read this article and ask your school what happens if your special needs child needs to be removed from the classroom.

I know there are times when the safety of others will mean the removal of children having tantrums or being violent.  I believe the removal should not mean putting them in solitary confinement somewhere.  These children still need CONSTANT supervision.

This just reinforces my decision to homeschool Levi.

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Is the diet working?

December 19, 2008 at 3:44 pm (ADHD, autism, Children, Life) (, , , , , )

The last few days have been really tough.  I guess the last few weeks actually.  Levi’s behavior is crazy!  Since Monday, the school has called me 3 different times.  His actions have sometimes become violent and totally uncontrollable.  Maybe we are trying too many things at once.  Here’s a recap.

  1. Daytrana patch, one patch per day starting at 7am and coming off no later than 3pm.  The first 4-5 days we saw improvement in his hyperactive behavior, but he lost his appetite.  By Day 7 he was having “spacey” moments, some crying for no reason & loss of appetite.  By Day 9, which was the last day we used it, he was totally lethargic and non-responsive.
  2. We began implementing the GFCF diet.  The first week & a half, we started phasing out the gluten.  The next week & a half, we took casein out.  He has been on the diet fully for about 2 weeks with only one “free” day.
  3. We met with his pediatrician to discuss the results of Daytrana, and to inform him that we had implemented the GFCF diet.  We were told that there is not much research to support the diet.  He did not tell us not to do it, but we didn’t get much support about it.
  4. The pediatrician recommended we try putting Levi on Adderall.  Since beginning this medicine Levi has had bad tummy aches and awful mood swings with very violent episodes.  Now he has become defiant with his teachers and has been very disrespectful.  He took the last Adderall Sunday (5 days ago).

So, what is working and what isn’t?  It doesn’t seem like anything is working!  It seems like his behavior is worse than ever.

I really want to continue with the GFCF diet and give it a chance to prove itself.  I found this informative website and even chatted live with an experienced parent who assured me that this “worse” behavior is proof that the diet is working.   Whew!  Just another view to confuse my already befuddled mind.  She told me to hang with it for a couple more weeks.  By the time Levi heads back to school after Christmas break we should be able to see dramatic positive changes.  We shall see!

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I’m at a loss.

December 14, 2008 at 11:34 pm (ADHD, autism, Children, Family, God) (, , , , , )

Levi got kicked out of his class tonight at church.  I’m sitting in the sanctuary, listening to our pastor, and faintly I hear something that just catches my attention.  My instinct has already told me what I was trying to figure out.  I knew something was wrong with Levi.  Then, I hear him louder, crying and screaming.  I took off out the door and down the hall.  When I got to him he was not crying, not screaming, not doing anything but just standing there.  I asked him what was wrong, what happened?  He told me to leave him alone.  I get him over to a couch and I’m trying to pry details out of him.  His teacher comes out into the hall after a few minutes and says that he has had 4 meltdowns and this last one was violent, with him kicking chairs.  She said she removed him from the class because she was afraid he was going to hurt someone.

My first thought was that I had told the teacher that if there was any sign of trouble, to come and get me.  So, 4 meltdowns and an act of violence LATER, I find my son out in the hallway by himself.  But my head is screaming “I TOLD YOU TO COME GET ME!”  It could have been avoided!  Why don’t people listen to me about MY OWN CHILD!?!?!?

My second thought was this would have never happened if it had been a “normal” Sunday night.  Usually Tommy helps in the class so that he can keep an eye on Levi and detour any difficulties.  Tommy is out of town right now, so his absence probably had a twofold affect on Levi’s behavior tonight.

Third thought:  I should not have let Levi have a “free” day from his GFCF diet.  His Sunday School class was having their Christmas party, so I told Levi that he could enjoy a piece of cake and goodies from the party.  How much did this wheat & casein & sugar & preservatives & CRAP affect Levi’s behavior tonight?

How am I supposed to answer that?  Really?  I feel like I have no clue anymore.  I’m frustrated and hurting and scared for my little boy and his future.  I just wish someone could give me the answers.  I’m at a total loss.

Psalm 55:22:
22Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.


I am casting this upon You.  It’s obvious I can’t do this by myself.  Please Lord, give me the wisdom and the knowledge to teach Levi.  Give me the insight to anything that I can do to raise him like I should.  Please take this burden from me Lord, it’s crushing me and I can’t handle it anymore.  Please give me patience & understanding.  Please take this anger and frustration and fear away from me.  If there’s something that can be healed with Levi, please Lord, heal his body, heal his mind, cradle his spirit and keep it safe.  I praise you Lord, for the peace and understanding and joy that I know will follow.  I love you Lord!

In Jesus’ name I pray,


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Yesterday updated

December 9, 2008 at 12:22 pm (ADHD, autism, Children, Life) (, , , , , )

I was really sad and stressed yesterday after Levi’s meltdown.  I was feeling like a failure and my heart was breaking for my son because it seemed like we would never get through to him.

Now I am just angry.  No, really, I’m pissed!  The more I find out about this woman that the school allowed into my son’s classroom,  the more I want to just rant and rave and scream at them “How could you allow this to happen?”  It is all your fault that my son had a meltdown!

The assistant principle has assured us that this substitute will never be called back to their school.  But then I think, well that’s fine and good, but what about other schools where some patience and common sense might be needed?  As more of the story unfolds, Levi was made to feel ostracised and belittled because he brought in a certain snack.  The teacher next to their room overheard comments made by the substitute such as ” I just can’t handle this!”  and “You are the meanest class I’ve ever had!”  I mean, my gosh, these are 5 & 6 year olds!  This woman obviously had no business being a substitute teacher for any age!  After speaking with his teacher this morning I found out that there had been prior problems with this woman and that the school had vowed before to never call her back.  But, six teachers were absent, so they felt they had no choice??  That’s BS!!!!  I would rather they have called me and I remove my son from the class before they exposed him to someone that they had problems with before.

I know that life happens.  I know that Levi will HAVE to learn to adapt.  I know that there are going to be times that are going to be so unfair to Levi.  I know I can’t protect him forever.  I truly know that.  I am trying my best to teach Levi how to deal with situations that may arise.  But, my heart just breaks because he is truly the most loving, funny, intelligent & sweet little boy.  He doesn’t deserve people treating him like that woman did.  But what can I do?

Just pray, that’s all I can do.

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December 8, 2008 at 3:24 pm (ADHD, autism, Children) (, , , , , , , , )

Implementing a gluten-free dairy-free diet for Levi has been very challenging.

First, the books I ordered back on the 20th of November got lost in snail-mail world.  I finally received them two days ago.   I really wanted  some better guides in my hands than just trying to piece together the information I get off the internet.  Now, finding the time to get them read.

I’ve tried to cook meals that fall under the gluten-free diet.  I have not even tried to tackle the dairy-free part of it.   I finally got a GFCF cookbook.  I have purchased special mixes and flours so that he can have bread and his favorite peanut butter sandwiches.  It has not been hard to eat more veggies & fruits.  It has not been hard to eat more fish.  As long as we’re home, the diet is not that hard.  It’s when we’re on the road going from one activity to another that is hard.  Having to pack snacks and meals because there is NOTHING (that he will eat) out there  in restaurants is hard.   Finding the time to actually cook a non-overly-processed gluten-free dairy-free as-natural-as-possible nutritious meal is hard.  Remembering to tell his teachers (church & school), cafeteria personnel, family & friends has been hard.  Having them remember it all is even harder!  Before I know it, he has eaten something that is not allowed.

And then, the cost is CRAZY!!  It’s almost $4.00 for a 8 oz. box of gluten-free pasta.  Not to mention that I have to drive over 30 miles one way to a store that even sells these special items.

I’m not giving up though.  We are just going to have to arrange our schedules so that we can eat more meals at home.  We are going to have to make special pizzas, snacks, etc. so that Levi can take them to school or church.  That way, everyone eats the same thing and he doesn’t feel left out.  We will figure it out!

(During the writing of this post, Levi’s school called me.  He was throwing tantrums and giving his teacher (substitute) fits.  He even picked up a chair and acted like he was going to throw it.  The assistant principle had a hard time getting him to even follow her to the office. When I got there, he was calm and happy.  From what I can gather, he said the substitute was not doing things the way Mrs. Becky does them.  There was also some confusion with snacks that upset him.  It was his day to bring in snacks for the class.  I sent enough applesauce cups for everyone.  Evidently he was made to eat applesauce while the other kids got to eat cheese crackers.  I’m not totally sure of the whole story.  It was decided between the principle and myself, that on days that there is a substitute,  he is to go to Mrs. Connie’s (a former teacher) class.   I also found out that he ate breakfast at school (sweetened cereal & milk).  The principles have assured me that Levi will no longer eat the school’s food.

I just don’t know sometimes.  I feel like I am just totally clueless.)

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