Loving Children Who Love to Hate Starting School

*written by Audrey Simmons


When I was younger, our new curriculum for the year would arrive in the mail sometime in the mid to late summer and “unboxing day” was an exciting event. We’d go over every book, flipping through pages and exclaiming about our excitement. I’d marvel at how complex some of the math or science at the ends of the books seemed and my mom would have to confiscate readers that we attempted to start plowing through right there on the kitchen or living room floor. We were enthusiastic, and we were not an anomaly among homeschoolers. I know families who have started school a week or two earlier than planned just because the kids were so excited to start.


Some of these same kids, including us, would burn out a few weeks in and start complaining about math or writing– we weren’t saints, just kids– but that excitement sometimes made it easier to launch into our schedule and getting used to school again.


However, if you’re homeschooling kids on the spectrum or adopted children with attachment issues or learning challenges, you might not get that shot in the arm of enthusiasm. Maybe you home school but you and your child both silently (or loudly) dread each upcoming year.
Kids who love to hate starting school


Summer has been nice and you’re reluctant to start again what feels like an uphill battle, both ways, in a snow storm…just to start working, much less getting through the material itself.


One thing that can help is getting materials that plug in to a special interest, like a science or physics book structured around the study of cars, but where a neurotypical or attached child might immediately be excited to start, it might feel like this has backfired when working with autistic or attachment-disordered kids. That “unboxing day” might not have the same meaning for these kids.


Please don’t lose heart. Chances are, your child doesn’t hate the learning environment, you as a teacher, or the material– all things parents tend to interpret resistance being signs of– your child probably just has difficulty with transitions. Be consistent. Be pleasant. One of our biggest enemies, mentally, is our own expectations. If you are expecting a child to be thrilled to start, to switch to each “new book,” you’re going to both have a miserable day. If you anticipate some feet-dragging, some crying, some upset, you’ll be better prepared to handle it and not feel derailed.


For many kids, the transition to a new schedule is difficult, but where neurotypical or attached children may be whining and complaining six weeks in to the school year when you also want to come up with excuses for a day off, autistic children may be better motivators! They might be the kids pulling out the books, insisting on the new schedule that they’ve adjusted to, and helping you stay on track!


But some kids take much longer to even reach that point, if they ever do. Some kids with learning delays or oppositional disorders might rarely be enthusiastic about school as a whole. But after you’ve settled into your new schedule, resist the temptation to “change things up” unless you know for certain something isn’t working. These kids aren’t motivated by change. Be consistent in your schedule. And then start finding ways to introduce some excitement.


It might be themed stickers or small toys. It might be short YouTube videos. There is controversy about the health of offering food or treats as a motivator or reward, but I’ve found some success in offering a single chocolate chip or other small item for each broad task. Another thing that my kids in particular respond to is games– we can transition to a reading lesson if they know that I’ll sit and play an alphabet or word game with them, like Bananagrams or Pairs in Pears, after we finish or to aid the transition. Be willing to try this even if you feel like your child should be “too old” for such motivators!


 Do not lose heart! Do not grow weary of doing good. And you are doing good, giving your child(ren) a safe, attachment-fostering learning environment and presenting them with educational material. Our goals might sound like “teaching him to read” or “getting through algebra,” but ultimately your goal is to be faithful in the job you’ve been given and loving your child well. Your reward will come from God, not from your child. Take a deep breath, remember your child is not the enemy, and know that you aren’t alone.

Kids on the Spectrum: Diet and the Inner Hulk

We were visiting my younger brother Jess in South Carolina and trying to decide what to take to eat at my niece’s swim meet. Brother Jess called around about pizza  and I settled on taking a gluten-free wrap for myself. I decided Rafal could take some SerenAid and eat the pizza.

“I don’t want you to get sick, Rafal,” Jess commented.

“Oh, I won’t. Mom will. I just eat gluten-free to keep my inner Hulk inside,” Rafal explained.

I have celiac and Rafal is on the spectrum.  He normally eats gluten free and dairy free. Once or twice a year he eats something with gluten. Once or twice a month, he has some dairy. I am kind of starting in the middle of the story. Rafal and I know what gluten and dairy do to him. I may know a tad more of the scientific stuff, but he has a firm grasp on the main point. It makes him act crazy and out of control.

He didn’t arrive at this summation/revelation over night. In fact, there were battles, major ones over food. He wanted to eat gluten. He wanted to eat whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. Especially sugar (that part is still true). Now I know why. You know how an alcoholic craves a drink? Well, a person with a yeasty, leaky gut craves sugar and simple carbohydrates, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Why did I have Rafal go gluten free?

The more I read about kids on the spectrum, the more it became clear that there was a link to diet. I’m not saying that eating a certain diet has cured my child. It hasn’t. What it has done is make him feel more calm, more in control of his reactions. The green, angry Hulk doesn’t appear as much. The final decision to remove gluten and dairy from his diet came after reading Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder by Karyn Seroussi. There are some weighty scientific studies quoted in this book and it can be overwhelming to read at first. Basically it says that children on spectrum may have leaky gut syndrome. It is common in children on the spectrum. They have opioid excess.

“Reichelt suggested that the source of these “opioids” could be peptides that result from incomplete breakdwon of certain foods, in particular casein from milk and gluten from wheat and other cereal products. It has been demonstrated that is casein or gluten are mixed with stomach enzymes, opioid peptides (known as casomorphins and gluteomorphins) will result. Normally, these would be broken down further into individual amino acids, but if the appropriate enzymes are not present or otherwise inhibited, the peptides will persist and could get out of the gastrointestinal trace and into the blood.”- Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder by Karyn Seroussi

Milk and gluten acting as drugs, opiates because certain enzymes are missing. Hmmm. That was something to look into. If these opiates get to the brain, they have a widespread effect on the central nervous system similar to that of hallucinaogenic drugs. The result? Autisic behaviors or as Rafal calls it, the inner Hulk is released.

You can read more in Karen’s book:

autism book

How did I get my son to accept eating gluten free/dairy free?

There were two major habits that helped Rafal accept his change in diet. Number one, I bought him foods only he could eat. For example, he has his own box of cereal, his own granola bars, his own cookies, you get the idea. I had to sell the idea as something he was gaining, not something he was losing.

The second major habit that helped Rafal was my making treats at home, a lot. It is time consuming. It takes forethought. It’s worth it if he sticks to the diet. The best cookbook that is teen friendly, i.e. it has lots of sweet recipes that he loves is Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-free and Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals. 

Cooking for Isiah

Some of his favorites are:

Gluten-Free Cheesecake-Stuffed Pumpkin Cupcakes:

pumpkin cheese cake

Click on image for recipe.

I modify this recipe and sometimes skip the cheesecake middle and add chocolate chips instead. As I am typing this post, Rafal just asked if he could have one of these (made a few days ago). Silvana has an extensive list of yummy recipes on her website. I think I gained a pound just searching her site for this favorite.

Another fall favorite is Penny’s apple-brown sugar coffee cake, it is only in the cookbook.  Also,

  • cinnamon-toasted belgian waffles
  • any of the doughnuts
  • Isaiah’s gingerbread pancakes with apple-cinnamon slaw

Dinner favorites:

  • sloppy joe-stuffed potato skins
  • pizza
  •  oven-fried frito chicken fingers with honey-mustard dip (I could drink this dip, so yummy)

So, in other words, find some recipes your child loves. There are plenty of guten-free products on the shelves of your local grocery to fill in the gaps (Aldi has a fantastic selection), but homemade takes the cake every time.

Does Rafal eat gluten-free and dairy-free one hundred percent of the time?

No. He doesn’t. Ninety-eight percent of the time, he does. That gives him about a few days of cheating and I don’t mean all out binge eating. I mean a piece of pizza on vacation, then a month later some milk in something. He is pretty religious about it himself now. He didn’t used to be. He used to sneak things all the time, I could tell. Now he is touch with how it makes him feel.

If I know he is going to eat gluten or dairy, he takes two SerenAid tablets.


” SerenAid® is specifically formulated to assist in breaking down the fullest range of plant and animal proteins, including casein (milk and dairy products), gluten (wheat, rye, oats, barley, and other grains), and soy proteins.”

SerenAid is a wonderful product, used in moderation. it won’t replace a gluten-free, dairy-free diet. It’s not an antidote for every day. It’s a safety net for when you fall off the tight-rope once in awhile.

To sum this post up in a few sentences:

  1. Gluten and dairy can behave as if they are hallucinaogenic drugs in a child who is on the spectrum.
  2. When you remove gluten and dairy, make sure your child feels as if you adding something. Find foods he loves. Take the time to bake.
  3. Try Serenaid for those times you just cannot avoid gluten and dairy.

*Disclaimer:  This post is not a paid endorsement of any of the above products. It is my experience and opinion only.  The Hulk was not harmed in any way, nor did we experiment with gluten or dairy in his actual diet. My son is not actually the Hulk.


When your Child on the Spectrum Needs a day off

Ania and I were packing up the cooler and getting ready to head out the door to hike at Cooper’s Rock State Park, about an hour from our home. Youngest son decided at the last minute he would rather stay home. I mentally went back over the week’s events before I gave him the okay. It had been a busy week. Two trips to the local fair, one for a few concerts (and some rides). another for barrel racing and demolition derby, an eye appointment with news that he needed glasses and helping his older college-age brother move in and get somewhat situated. I was tired from the long week, but not overwhelmed. I could tell he was. He normally loves climbing on rocks, but it wouldn’t have been a fun outing for him this time. He was overloaded.

Sometimes kids on the spectrum don’t want to come out of their comfort zone at all. They would rather stay home and stick to their routine, play Minecraft or other video games and not have the stress of social interaction. They may want company some days, but only if they call the shots. Company overwhelms them because it requires social interaction. If a child on the spectrum doesn’t know how to walk away from the bustle of an extended family gathering, he may shut down the next day. Kids on the spectrum don’t bounce back quickly from extended social time.

So, where do you draw the line? How do you balance outings with time away from the fray? It’s different with each child. It’s important for us parents to read the signals and help the child regulate. When he is able, he needs to recognize the signals with some help from parents before he can move on to self-regulation. Some kids on the spectrum will grow into adults who need a trusted friend or spouse to help them watch for the signs of overload. It’s not a weakness. It’s a strength.

Think of it like waves. The waves come on the shore, then they recede. When they recede,they gather strength to surge onto the sand again. Life is busier than it has ever been. Our schedules are full to the max and if we are not careful, we can push our kids on the spectrum to meltdown mania. They need time to de-stress. They may need a day off with no demands. If we make this a priority, it will not only benefit us, but the whole household will be happier, calmer.

barbed wire rest

If you feel as if your family is drowning in a busy schedule and your child or children meltdown all the time, you may need a rest day. Not a day to stay home and do a bunch of other stuff that requires them to participate, just a good old fashioned day off. One where a kid can lie on the ground and watch the clouds go by. One where a kid can build a blanket fort and read books with a flashlight. One where he can pretend for hours. A day to eat dinner on the back deck and stay there talking, laughing, waiting for the fireflies to make their evening debut. A day where the clock doesn’t dictate. A day where Mom can sit down and see all the things a kid has designed on Minecraft and listen, really listen. These sorts of days don’t just happen anymore. Years ago, when I was a child, they  did. Now we have to plan them.

Most kids are under too much stress these days. It’s not just kids on the spectrum who need a day off. We all do. Watch for the symptoms of stress in your kids on the spectrum. Be the regulator. Take your foot off the gas and just idle for a day. Stay home. Watch the grass grow. Walmart will still be there tomorrow. So will everything else. If you don’t do what you planned in pen on your calendar, will it really matter ten years from now? Kick off your shoes and help your child de-stress by being the example.

*If you need some help warming up your pretending gears, check out this book to get you and your child going-

I Missed It! (Three Word Wednesday)

This month we have extended our series on Autism. This post is for anyone who has ever suffered mom guilt (Tweet this). If you feel as if you missed it, it was staring you right in the face and you didn’t see it. I know. I’ve been there. Today I (Kathleen) want to make a huge confession about my eldest daughter (Audrey), she is most probably on the Autism spectrum and I totally missed it. It wasn’t until several years ago when she and I were researching Asperger’s Syndrome that I started seeing Audrey in the list of the symptoms. Tons of memories flooded in with an “aha” moment for each one.

For those of you have read my book Positive Adoption A Memoir, you may have seen some of the signs in my description of Audrey’s early years. I see them now. I didn’t then.

Some clues in my own words (book excerpts)

“I hiked up the carpeted stairs of the townhouse with baby Audrey slung over my shoulder. She slept until I stopped moving up and down like a human escalator. Then the crying began. Relentless, ear-piercing, you-are-not-going-to-sleep-all-night-mama-crying.

“She doesn’t like me!” I worried to Jerry. “My own baby doesn’t like me!”

Jerry’s job kept him away eighty hours a week. Some nights he stayed in a hotel close to work to grab a few hours of sleep before he began another shift. We owned one vehicle so I was alone with Audrey ninety percent of the time. My dreams of motherhood had come crashing down over my head in a deep depressing darkness.

The few times Audrey smiled, I snapped a photo.

“I think you brought the wrong baby home from the hospital,” my brother-in-law teased.” 

The not smiling, not engaging, not satisfied until moving should have been signs. I didn’t see it. I had no clue. Audrey was my first child and I didn’t have  some one else to measure her by.

Another clue:

“Audrey was a square peg in a round-pegged world. She cried when other babies smiled. She slept little. I received loads of free parenting advice from friends and family who had compliant text-book babies. None of it worked for Audrey, so I chucked it.  

At five and a half months, she could crawl up stairs. At one year old, Audrey could do a puzzle, take the laces out of her shoes and re-lace them, flip out of her crib and land on her feet. At four years old she could read, at six she won a story-writing contest but had one of her frequent bouts of pneumonia and couldn’t attend her own celebration.

I was frequently scolded by adult family members who wanted me to put Audrey in her place.  The truth is, Audrey was smarter than them (fact-wise) and she didn’t have the filter to tell her to keep her mouth shut about it. “

Kids on the spectrum are like square pegs in a round pegged world. Something is different about them. Not bad, just different. As I said the other day, they are honest. They don’t read social cues well. Audrey didn’t know it wasn’t socially acceptable to correct her aunts and uncles when they had facts wrong. Audrey has an amazing ability to read or hear something once and remember it. Most of us don’t have that ability and we may remember bits and pieces of something and she has always been a stickler for exactness. I didn’t know this was a sign. I was so busy treating her physical symptoms that I didn’t hone in on the tells. To me, this was just Audrey.

square pegs

Thankfully, Audrey is high functioning. She managed her childhood pretty well. She didn’t like hugs or anyone touching her face. She had obsessions, it is who she is. She seemed to live on a different plane or in a different universe. I chalked it up to her being an eccentric genius. She and a friend spent hours creating a Tolkien inspired world complete with a creation story and language.

The good news is that is was no surprise to God. He didn’t miss anything and where I messed up, He liberally poured out His grace and covered me and my child. For those of you who are experiencing a season of guilt over what you did or didn’t do, I challenge you to take some time to look back and see the hand of God. Trace your story line to those moments when you feel as if you failed and God showed up to pick up the pieces. Maybe he provided a friend who supported you. Maybe he sent someone to pray with you or take you out for a cup of coffee. It may be that you have spent years feeling guilty and you haven’t taken the time to look for the grace God covered you and your child with. Take a moment now and ask Him to show you the infusion of grace He poured out in your past. It’s only in forgiving ourselves, putting the guilt to the side that we can move forward into healing (Tweet this).

If you suspect that your child is on the spectrum or that he doesn’t fit in, he hones in on one thing, he obsesses, highly intelligent but doesn’t read social cues, has a large vocabulary at an early age or none at all, doesn’t like to play with toys or only plays with one kind of toy, doesn’t need other kids to play with, has sleep issues and won’t let an issue go, maybe check into some more research or talk to someone. This is not an official list or medically approved list. It’s my list. Sometimes the lists on medical sites are hard to interpret, hopefully mine helps.

I did miss it, but God caught it. I see His grace prints in my life and hers. When I question why, I see Audrey comforting and parenting with understanding. I watch her encourage other Moms and I know, God has it under control. He didn’t miss a thing.

Linking up with Kristin Hill Taylor at TWWbutton200x200_zps62610d74

My Autism Education

Autism will propel you into higher learning.

My Autism Education

Three years ago I found myself sitting in a classroom on the student side of the desk all because of autism. I had been doing some reading, researching and studying on the subject and I thought my son was somewhere on the spectrum and I didn’t know what that meant, so I signed up for a class for educators with daughter Amerey- Autism Training through Marshall University.

Autism gives you a special bond with others who have children on the spectrum.

I felt as if my autism investigation was a secret for a long time. I didn’t tell anyone about my suspicions at first. I kept things close to home. I talked to a counselor  who suggested I get a comprehensive evaluation done, but I felt as if I were faking it, as if all of my son’s behavior was in my mind. He would meltdown erratically at home and then be quiet and seemingly well-behaved in public. What if I’m just making excuses for behavior? What if I’m just a terrible parent, I got the first six children going and fizzled out on the seventh?

After homeschool co-op one Friday, everyone was loading up their kids in the parking lot to head home. I walked to my car thinking I should ask another mom who had two children on the spectrum a question or two. I knew she was the real deal because her kids had been evaluated. I hesitated then ran across the parking lot like a mad woman when she was shutting her back hatch.

“Hey, I wanted to talk to you about Asperger’s,”

“You think _____ is in the spectrum?”

Just then my son loped across the parking lot with that uneven gait he is famous for.

“He’s got the walk,” she said and then we talked for twenty minutes hiding from the rain under her back hatch, she encouraged me to get the evaluation and gave me some validation. It wasn’t all in my head. She had seen the signs. She had noticed.

Autism gave me a new perspective.

autism gave me a new perspective

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone processes information and events the same way. We tend to believe that everyone is motivated by the same rewards or wants the same sort of life. We have all had that friend that pushes us to do something just because they love it. We might even give into the peer pressure and try the new thing and absolutely hate it, but not say so. Kids on the spectrum will not be polite when it comes to doing things they don’t like. They tell the truth. It’s an interesting perspective. They do what they like when they like. By that I mean, they stand their ground. It’s refreshing. How many times have I volunteered for something or was coerced into an activity, such a three legged- race in which I fell on my face, that I didn’t want to do, but I did it, all the while complaining inside.

Saturday on the way home from my aunt’s funeral service, I thanked my two youngest for coming with me, my son said, “you’re welcome Mom, but I didn’t have much of a choice, did I?” That is his honest perspective. I laughed and so did he.

Some things are stupid.

My son and I have this ongoing joke about a book he is going to write. It will be a best seller. It may have a thousand pages or more and each page will have a simple sentence about one thing that is stupid.

He takes everything literally. He doesn’t catch social cues and I try to explain what is going on ahead of time or what is expected of him at a certain function. “That’s stupid” is his standard reply. All of his older siblings are probably reading this and thinking they never got away with saying things are stupid. i cut him some slack even though I get some flack for it. Truth is I know the interpretation of “that’s stupid”, it means I don’t understand, I’m frustrated, that doesn’t make sense. When I say things like, “people are coming over, get some real clothes on” and he looks down at what he’s wearing and says, “these are real clothes, that’s stupid”.

I admit some of our societal hoops are stupid. When I look at them through his lens, I re-evaluate what I expect of him. It’s more important that he knows the real important things and skips some of the stupid stuff.

For instance, we don’t have to go on every field trip, especially if I know it will put him into hypersensitive mode and he won’t retain any information and he won’t enjoy it. I don’t make him go to youth group (disclaimer*- my other children participated in youth because they could process it), he doesn’t understand the social parts and it sends him into shut down mode the next day. He helps with the Royal Ranger Program instead. I’m not saying youth group is stupid, see my interpretation of the words above. It’s overwhelming and frustrating for him.

Learning about autism is like learning a new language in a foreign country with a different culture. Once of the guest speakers at the autism training (an adult who is on the spectrum) said it’s like growing up in China when you don’t speak the language, understand the customs and you aren’t a native. You feel out of sorts all the time. If we parents can educate ourselves on the way our children on the spectrum perceive and process things, maybe we can make them feel a bit more at home in this neurotypical world. If we can sort the stupid things out for them, they can navigate social situations a with a little less stress and skip the outings that aren’t important. Just ask them what is important, kids on the spectrum tell the truth.