Sunday, January 1, 2017

War Stories from the Perspective of a Belgian Girl

My mother will be 89 years old in less than 2 weeks.  She's had a lot of medical battles the past few years.  She is such a treasure to all of us in my family.  She has often mesmerized us with her stories. I truly believe her generation is the greatest. They grew up in difficult times and learned how to be survivors.  Here is some of her story...

My mother was born in 1928 in the Belgian Congo (Zaire, Africa).  Her father,  was employed with Caltex.  Her mother gave birth to my mother two months early, after falling off the back of a motorcycle in the jungle.  She weighed 2 pounds and had to be kept warm by the stove (no incubators back then). My mother had a 7 year old brother.  By the time she was two years old, the family left Africa and moved back to Liege Belgium because my mother was suffering from Jungle Fever and would not survive if she remained in the jungle climate of Zaire. Miraculously, she had survived premature birth and serious illness. 

They lived in an apartment in the city of Liege.  Mother attended a girl's school and lived a typical European city life.  Then World War 2 broke out.  Belgium was one of the first countries occupied by the Germans.  She tells stories of blacking out windows to avoid air raids and bombings, rationed foods, falling bombs, and life under the occupation.  She was a young teen at the time.  Here are some of her stories.

What the Cat Dragged In...
        Rationing.  Everything was rationed from hosiery to food.  Instead of hose, the girls drew lines on the back of their legs, for that's what hose looked like in those days.  Coffee was replaced with chicory. When you went to the meat market, you never bought a rabbit without its head attached. Otherwise, you might find yourself eating a cat.  They lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building with a meat market on the ground floor. They received a special treat once, courtesy of their cat. They had not had meat in a long time and she prayed for some meat. One night they heard a noise on the stairway: clump, clump, clump, clump.  When they went to see what the noise was they found their cat dragging a ham up 5 flights of stairs.  Sadly for the cat, they grabbed the ham, cleaned it off and feasted.  

Her Father had a Sixth Sense...
        My grandfather had an uncanny sense about danger which saved their lives many times.  Once they were walking along in the countryside and sat on a bench to rest.  After a short time, my grandfather said they needed to go.  They found a shop with a bomb shelter when the bombs began falling.  The dust was so thick everyone in the shelter was dipping handkerchiefs into milk and holding it over their mouths and noses so they could breathe.  When they emerged from the shelter, the bench upon which my mother and her father had been sitting was gone... a bomb had landed directly on the bench.
        Another time when this sixth sense saved them was on their way to Paris.  Many believed the Germans would never make it to Paris so many evacuated to Paris.  My mother and her father were walking to Paris from Liege.  My grandmother stayed behind to care for her mother.  They found themselves walking along among a group of American soldiers.  The soldiers invited them to ride in the back of one of the trucks.  They rode along for a little while when suddenly my grandfather said it was time for them to go.  They got off the truck and set off in another direction on their own.  Not long after they heard the hum of the airplanes and the guns of the German's strafing the road they had  been traveling on.  

Underground Army....
        Belgium was a neutral nation and conquered early on.  However, it had an underground army that fought actively against their occupiers.  Both my grandfather and my uncle were part of this army.  As a result they were also wanted by the Gestapo.  To avoid  being taken by the Gestapo, my grandfather volunteered to go work in a German factory (to escape suspicion and to carry out activities of the underground). He tried to blow up the factory but was unsuccessful.  Many Belgians were conscripted and forced to work in the factories.  Often they would try to sabotage the bombs or steal munitions.  While working in Germany, my grandfather assisted in helping two French officers escape Germany.  He was awarded a French medal for his action.  When in Germany, they were forced to "Heil Hitler" and every time he uttered in French "Hitler is a pig".  After about a week the Germans sent him back to Belgium because they thought he was crazy.   
        At one point, his mission was to deliver or receive a secret message.  He was told to wait at a certain streetcar until the last one left.  If the messenger had not arrived, he was to leave.  He waited and waited until the last car was pulling away.  He ran to catch the streetcar but lost his footing and slipped under the car.  He lost his leg.  The artificial leg worked in his favor several times in dealings with the German military...
        Her brother, Roger, was also in the Underground Army.  He worked in a munitions factory and stole parts of weapons to deliver to the Underground and assemble.  Two of his companions were arrested after he had already left the factory.  The Gestapo showed up at my mother's home looking for him.   He escaped just before they arrived.  My mother remained composed while the Gestapo played with his gun in front of the 13 year old girl questioning her as to where her brother could be found.  She said she did not know.  They searched the house.  When they went into the room of my grandfather, he had his artificial leg laying out.  The German office looked in and saw my one legged grandfather sitting on the bed; he said my grandfather did not need to get up as it looked okay and they did not need to search the room.  My grandfather was relieved after they left because he had a gun under the bed.  My mother and grandfather later wrapped up the gun and threw it in the river.  My uncle made his way to his grandparents home where my mother met him and walked him out of town to a bus past the German checkpoints.  He went to stay with an uncle in another town.  

         After my mother and her father got to Paris, it was not long before the Germans invaded.  All of the children in Paris were boarded on trains and sent out to the countryside to escape the city and live with farmers.  My mother was separated from her father for several months living with a host family. Once the children were returned to their parents, she had to stay several more weeks until they found her family.  

      The scars of living under occupation and witnessing atrocities run deep.  My mom saw many evil things.  Her grandmother hid three Jewish girls in her home until they were able to be taken into a convent for hiding.  They knew bad things were happening to people. All through my childhood I recall my mother getting upset during war movies and she would begin using various negative expletives in French when she saw Nazis or SS.  One of her friends just shared this insight with me.  Betty VanderLinden writes:  "I gave her the book The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I hope you have read it! It was also a movie . Anyway, your mom said she stayed awake all night reading that book! She hated the Germans so much but she decided if the author could forgive them, she could too! I think she said she cried a lot in doing so but it was a good thing for her!"  I remember my mother telling me: "I don't hate Germans anymore, just Nazis."

June 21, 2017 Update:

We lost my dear mother on June 10, 2017.  I cannot begin to describe to you the hole it leaves in our lives and in our hearts.  I only wish I had done more to document her rich legacy...


Happy New Year!

Wow, I see I only had 2 posts in 2016.  Well, no resolutions for 2017 but maybe I will post more this year.  I am planning some changes to my business that will hopefully reduce my stress and cure my semi-burnt out state.  So check back from time to time and see what 2017 brings!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

TPT Store

When I set up this blog several years ago, I linked  it to my old email account.  Then I sort of forgot about that account.  I stopped using it because at one point it had been hacked.  A couple of weeks ago I logged into it and was surprised to see over 1000 requests to share links to my self made materials linked to blog posts.  At some point Google Docs converted to a new format and apparently many of my docs  did not convert properly.  So, since I have to go through some effort to re-establish links and fix my docs, I decided that I would put them on TPT.  Hopefully this will be a more permanent and reliable storage solution and it seems a bit easier to access.  I will be working over the next few months, as time allows, to fix my docs and place them in my store.  There will be a small fee for items to compensate my time, but I will also try to place a few things in for free.  So please be patient as I work on these and if there is something you are trying to access, check back from time to time to see if it is available.  I will post links to the item in my TPT store as they become available.

Friday, February 26, 2016


Over the years I have had several clients on the Autism Spectrum who have a problem with collecting things and refusing to get rid of them.  Some examples:

  • A child who printed out pictures from her computer and refused to throw them away. Problem: using costly ink  cartridges up very quickly and hoards of paper everywhere.
  • A child who papered her walls with drawings and any scrap of paper she liked. Problem: obvious?
  • A child who kept objects because they have memories for him. Problem: too much junk and too much emotion in keeping his "things".
So what's to be done.  First, it involves a gradual process of downsizing.  Mass cleaning would be traumatic for these children.  My recommendation  is to scale things back in degrees over time. 
  • First, begin a dialogue with the child (if he is able to do this).  Explain that you understand these things  are special.  Show the child your method of holding on to special things you do not want to forget (photo albums, pinterest boards, computer files, flash drive).  
  • Create a social story about holding onto memories, not things. The story can also discuss the peace that comes from order and organization (only achieved by culling out things).  Review this story daily with the child for a week or two so he/she can internalize the ideas.
  • Start with the least special items. Or, choose the least conspicuous area (a remote corner of the room or an area not of current interest or value). Tell the child, "We are going to do what our story talks about. Let's choose one area (or 5 things) that we can take pictures of.  
  • Snap photos of the items.  At this point, based on what your child needs, you can download the pics to the computer and either print them out to put in a photo book or save them to a picture file.  If your child loves the ipad, this would be an excellent way to store the photos.  The child can then see that the loved items are always accessible to him and they are now portable.  This might also become a good way to help the child self soothe when in stressful situations out in the public.   
  • For the child who hoards pictures or papers, start by making binders of them.  Or take a picture of the wall with the pictures to save on the computer.  Perhaps you could buy 10 simple frames to use for special items and arrange these on one wall in a nice display.  Then the child can change out pictures in these 10 frames when new pictures are found.  Create a social story that states only 10 items can be on the wall and they must be in these frames.  
  • Pack the actual items away in a box after the photo is taken.  If your child is okay with getting rid of the item, do so.  If that's still too hard, place the box in an inaccessible location such as the attic.  Your child may need time to adjust to the idea and be comforted knowing the  item is nearby.  But, don't  let your child talk you into getting it back.  When he thinks about it, refer him to the picture.  
  • Help your child write memories down about the item, if that helps.  You can create stories about the items.  This is a great way to practice language skills and writing skills. 
  • Continue this process over several weeks slowly culling and removing the clutter from your child's room (or your home). 
  • Over time, the hope is that you will be able to donate the items or throw away the excess papers since they are no longer such a strong attachment to your child. 
Here is an example of a social story: 

I have lots of stuff in my room.  
I like my stuff.  They hold memories for me. They make me feel happy.
When I get new things, I am not sure where to put them.  Because I have too much stuff.
Too much stuff makes the room look messy.  Sometimes I can't find something.  Or since there is so much stuff, I am not sure what to look at first.  

Too much stuff can be bad.
It makes a room messy.
It makes people feel confused when they can't find things they need.
It makes them feel stressed 
It makes keeping the room clean and healthy a difficult job.

I need to keep the things I use everyday: my clothes, my furniture, my...
I can keep 10 things I love the best to look at.
The other things I like, need to be stored away so that my room is not messy and unhealthy.
If I think I will miss something, I can take a picture of it so I can look it whenever I want to.  Pictures are not messy as long as I keep them in my book or on my computer/ipad.
I will give away the things that are not special to me anymore. Someone else might need it.
I will carefully pack away the things I feel I need to keep. First I will take a picture to save the memory.
The box will be put in the attic.  I know where it is but I should not try to get it down.
When I want to see the item in the box, I will pull out the picture of it and think about it.
I will find the 10 things I love the most and will keep those in my room.  
When I find a new thing I love, I will need pack up something old so my new thing will have a place to go. 

Things can be nice but things don't stay around forever.  My memories are always with me, in my head.  If I am afraid I will forget something, the pictures will help me remember. 

You can create a similar story  that specifies your problem, correct thinking regarding the problem, and the solution.

Why a social story? Because they work.  Kids with ASD like rules and tend to follow them. However, the rules often need to be their own internalized thinking. The social story is a script or rule of expectations.  Rehearse it frequently with the child so that he/she can internalize these ideas and allow them to become a new 'rule' for them.  For most children, adding pictures to the story is immensely helpful to help them visualize (thinking in pictures).

*Disclaimer: This is just a general idea on how to begin to address a  hoarding problem.  These problems can be more complex and may require the assistance of a psychologist or other mental health professional.  Use your discretion and knowledge of your child's needs when devising an individualized approach.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Inside Out by Disney Pixar

This week I decided to take my social groups to see Inside Out, the new Disney Pixar movie.  I am currently running four groups this summer consisting of 3-4 children per group.  Since this movie deals with emotions it seems like a "no-brainer" that it would be beneficial for social groups.  The moment I saw the trailers I thought "Aha! That's what we are doing this month."   I use Michelle Winner's Social Thinking curriculum (R).  Her Super Flex (R) curriculum is all about villains and a social super hero in your brain helping you make good choices.  So the idea of little emotions in your brain dovetails nicely with this type of teaching.  I know there are differences of opinion on the movie.  Michelle's recent blog touches on some of the differences of opinion concerning the precepts of this movie. Click here to see her blog.

After seeing the movie (several times), I feel there is value in it.  The emotion characters display great visuals of facial expression, body language, and tone of voice.  Recognizing  the role of "sadness" as helpful validates the idea that all emotions are necessary and no one emotion should  rule over everything.  There are deep lessons about how growing up also means letting go of childish things, even if it hurts a little (or a lot).

We spent last week going over hidden rules of the movie experience covering everything from standing in lines, concessions, choosing seats, watching quietly, being mindful of others, and exiting the movie theater.  This week I am meeting the groups at the theater to apply all that was discussed last week.  I have told parents that they are welcome to attend with siblings but asked them to sit apart from the group.  My reasoning for this is that group dynamics differ from family dynamics. Having a parent sit with them would likely influence behaviors externally versus intrinsic or self-controlled behaviors.  The goal is that one day, when they are old enough, they will go to the movies with their friends and know how to behave appropriately.  We have also discussed peer pressure; if your friends are misbehaving that does not mean you need to misbehave also.

The next couple of weeks, we will delve into the movie details.  First I will check for comprehension.  I have found that many children with social disorders fail to follow the story line and the rationale for the various experiences. I have had them tell me fractured details of a movie or story with no idea how those events fit together to form the plot.  Next we will discuss the various emotions and their characteristics.  We will discuss the importance of the various emotions.  We will validate the benefits of feeling sad, angry, fearful, etc.  But we will also stress the importance of  not camping out or getting stuck in those feelings.  It should be interesting!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Wordless Books: The Bountiful Benefits

"Wordless books". When I first heard the term I couldn't help but think it was contradictory; like an oxymoron (jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly, working vacation...).

Wordless books contain no words or very few words and tell a story through pictures.  

Here are some of my favorites: Link to photo file

These books are wonderful resources for work on language skills and for social skills training. Here are some general ideas.

For speech or language impaired children, oftentimes they only need help with expressing ideas.  If they already know how to "read" scenes and interpret them, then we can focus on the expression of those ideas:
  • Verbal expression: Have the child look at the pictures and tell the story in his own words.
  • Written expression: The child writes sentences to match the page. Or, older children can write an entire story to go with the pictures.
  • Answer questions about the scenes.
  • Ask questions about the scenes.
  • Inference: What can we infer based on the pictures?
For children with social pragmatic disorders, we need to help them learn to "read" the scenes.  We can do this by asking specific questions while pointing out things that lead to correct answers. The skills areas often weak with these children include the following:
  • Gestalt processing: Figure out what is going on by observing the whole picture.
  • Coherence: Link the interpretation of each page in relation to what was happening on the previous page (rather than interpreting each page at face value/as a new thought).
  • Emotional understanding: Observe the facial expressions to help interpret or to assign emotional states to characters (thus making more accurate interpretations).
  • Prior knowledge: try to recall personal experiences with the scenes/situations/feelings
  • Inference based on our prior experiences/knowledge.

Pancakes for Breakfast

This is a great book for language skills since it provides a sequence of events that can be used to tell a story from beginning to end. It is also excellent for social pragmatic language due to its use of thought bubbles to show what the character's intentions are; although many things go wrong in her plans. It is better to "guide" a child into making his own correct discoveries rather than "telling" him what is going on.  By guiding him with questions and pointing out things he may have missed, we teach him to sharpen his own observation skills and thinking processes.  Plus we all learn by doing so much more efficiently than we learn by being told. 

  • What time of day? The woman has on a robe and is washing her face so it is either morning or night just before going to bed. (Interpretation/gestalt processing)
  • What is she thinking about? Pancakes. Why? 
  • When do we usually have pancakes? Breakfast. (prior knowledge)
  • If she is thinking about eating breakfast, then what time of day is it? Morning.
  • What will she do next: cook pancakes or get dressed? (Sequential processing/personal knowledge)
  • What do you do first in the morning?
  • Do you think she likes animals? She has a cat and dog so she probably does.(Inference) 
  • How does she feel right now? Happy. How do we know this? She is smiling. (Reading emotions)
  • How does she feel here? Sad. (Emotional understanding).
  • What are other emotions she might be feeling? Disappointed
  • What is wrong? Based on the previous pages: she has run out of something. (Identifying a problem)
  • What does she need now? Milk. 
  • Why do you think this? She is holding the pitcher in her hand and the cup only has a little milk. (Problem Solving)
  • How do you think she will get more? go to the store.  
  • She lives on a farm. What is another way she can get milk?  Milk the cow. (Alternate Solutions - Flexible thinking)

a boy, a dog, and a frog

This book shows the story of a boy who goes to the pond with his dog one day. They get try to catch a frog who outsmarts them.  However, when they go home wet and disappointed, the frog is lonely and decides to follow them home. This book is great for retelling for language skills due to a sequential storyline.  It is also great for social pragmatics. Some to the social areas that can be drawn out it include:
  • Emotion Reading: Facial expressions on boy, dog, and frog
  • Eye gaze: what is the boy looking at? What is he thinking/planning?
  • Prediction: What will happen next?
  • Inference: Why does he feel this way? How did the frog feel about the boy trying to catch him? Afraid, mad, happy.  Since he followed him home, he must have liked the boy. 
The Snowman

This is the story of a boy who builds a snowman that comes alive at night and becomes his friend.  The boy shares his home with the Snowman who then reciprocates and shows the boy his world. It is great for the following skills:
  • Reading scenes and making correct interpretations.
  • Use of Eyes: What's the boy looking at? What's he thinking about? Social Thinking (R) Concept of what we look at is generally what we are thinking about.
  • Inference: The snowman is afraid of the stove. Why? 
  • Reading emotional states.
  • Friendship

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Winter Revisted


This winter I am revisiting my old posts for therapy ideas and I am updating them with links to other SLP posts and Pinterest ideas. I am trying to give proper credit as I make these additions: I provide a link to the original post so please be sure to click on those links so you can see the wonderful sites with all of the creative ideas.  These posts are primarily a place where I can catalog sites for quick reference when I need to find them.  Follow this link to see my previous Winter posts.