Our 2E/ASD Therapeutic Homeschooling Journey

This is a story, an explanation, a little bit of how-to on shaping homeschool to fit a unique learner. But really all children are unique. So this isn’t my story, so much as it’s Johnny’s.


At 21 months, Johnny’s parents were desperately packing to sell their house and move. So they plopped him in front of the TV (an unexplored realm!) and turned on “Signing Time.” One episode in particular made him do uppy-arms and squeal at the screen. So they played that one on repeat for him. And suddenly, their non-speaking one year old was signing. And not just signing, spelling. Whole sentences fell from his fingertips, one letter at a time.


“W-A-N-T  A-P-P-L-E” 


“G-O  P-A-R-K”


“N-O  B-A-T-H”


And these naive little first-time parents delighted in their clever boy.


Watching “Signing Time” on Daddy’s phone


After his second birthday, came speech therapy. Then the neuro evaluation. Then the autism diagnosis (level 2-2, if that means anything to you). The OT. The PT. The verbal behavior therapy.


And these more experienced first-time parents continued to delight in their clever boy!


So here’s my first piece of advice:


He is the same child today as yesterday


To butcher a famous special-needs parenting analogy. Parenting any child is like being dropped in a new country. Receiving a diagnosis changes nothing about your child. Not a single thing. It just hands you a roadmap, so you finally know which country you’re in.


The diagnosis gives you the lay of the land, the major roadways, and points of interest. But it’s not a substitute for traveling the country on foot. It’s the beginning of your long, slow, and intimate journey together.


Evaluations are your itinerary


Continuing our travel metaphor (why not?). A diagnosis is as large as an entire country. You won’t explore it all overnight. Evaluations and assessments are the great big blinking red “You Are Here” pushpin on your map. It’s the most important tool in our homeschool.


You wouldn’t dream of planning a trip without knowing whether you’re in Athens, Greece or Athens, Alabama. Just the same, the assessments breakdown skills and tendencies so you know exactly where your child is.


Johnny’s ABLLS-R has been the single most important evaluation for guiding our instruction. It tests language and critical thinking skills up to the first-grade level in children with autism and other developmental delays. This test is an absolute gem, breaking down skills into 544 separate, sequential subskills.


A reading evaluation from a curriculum provider spits back 3-4 skills: decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and a vague “comprehension”. ABLLS-R isolates 15 individual skills that comprise reading.


If there’s a missing skill at the bottom of the column, your child cannot reach the top of the column. It’s that simple.


Targeting incremental skills produces huge gains


An example: I’m consulting my teaching notes from 18 months ago for this. At the time, Johnny was 5.5 years old.


Me: Johnny, can you read a house?”


“Can you pull water?” 


“Are these (blue) shorts red?”


“What is a food you eat for breakfast?” 


Johnny: “Yes. Yes. Yes. Plate.”


Memorizing the labels of things is comparatively easy. Being able to understand a question so you can then give a correct answer is quite hard. But without seeing the different skills, you might not understand how a child can speak in small sentences (labeling) without being able to answer small questions (intraverbals). 


Labeling and intraverbals aren’t even in the same column on the ABLLS. They are different categories entirely. 


So we started at the bottom of the intraverbal column with explicitly teaching function, feature, and class.


Checking in with the example above. You can see that Johnny had not developed these skills. Function: books have the function of being read, houses do not. Feature: the shorts are red, and therefore cannot also be blue. Class: plates are used with food, but are not food.


Let’s compare this to the last thing Johnny said as he ran through the room where I’m typing. He recently turned 7 years old.


Johnny: “Hey Mommy, can I take my helicopter toy outside? Because the wind will blow and carry it even higher. Maybe it will go over the tree! That would be so cool.”

Me: “Yeah, just as long as it doesn’t get stuck in the tree.”


Johnny: “Yeah, but if it gets stuck, then Daddy can throw a football and knock it down. Like when your shoe got stuck last year.”


(Don’t ask, I can’t tell you what my shoe was doing up there)


Therapy materials beat whole curriculum every time

Autism is a developmental disorder. That means his development is out of the typical order. E.g. spelling before speaking. I’ve yet to find a curriculum that can be done start-to-finish for kids with autism, since they’re all developing in their own unique order.


Only last year did we add a mainstream language arts and math program to fill in odd gaps (What’s a comma? What’s metric?), but at least 50% of the time he blazes through the lesson since it’s something he already knows.


Most of our time working together is spent using therapy materials to directly address those ABLLS skills mentioned above. (We also do OT/PT/Sensory skills, but those are harder to describe in print).


Curriculum also places huge demands on children’s expressive language right from the start. Look at the sample pages of any kindergarten curriculum. Every sentence begins with “Ask the child.. Discuss… Tell a story together…” 


Impaired communication is a core deficit of autism. It’s cruel and pointless to force children to do something completely beyond their current skill set. At best, you’re teaching them to sit quietly. At worst, you’re souring them on schoolwork and destroying your relationship to boot.

Expectations are the enemy

Expectations are a contract the other person never agreed to enter.


You say “Since you can do X, you HAVE to do Y.” But that’s not how life works. Now it’s the neurotypical parent living in a fantasy world. And coming back to earth hurts.


Many times, the expectation comes from ignorance. Not knowing how much higher one skill is than the child’s current functioning level. Making unreasonable contracts and expecting your child to fulfill them.


I am his mother first


His safe place. His nurturer and encourager. I am his biggest fan. He is my favorite person. And anything that interrupts that role has no place in my home.


Stretching is always a little uncomfortable. It’s part of the growth mindset we’re helping Johnny develop. But help should never hurt. If I’m pushing either of us too fast, it’s vital to pull back to center. 


Incremental gains come from incremental work. Consistency is better than cramming. Mastering myself has often produced better results than trying to cram more into his brain anyway.


For more practical, step-by-step advice on starting your own therapeutic homeschool, follow along for the next blog post in this series.

Consecration to St. Joseph

A Year of St. Joseph

In a new Apostolic Letter entitled Patris corde (“With a Father’s Heart”), Pope Francis declared a Year of St. Joseph. The Letter marks the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s declaration of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. Fr. Donald Calloway writes that this event set off a tidal wave of St. Joseph’s devotion within the Church.

For Such A Time As This

As Pope Francis wrote in Patris corde, the world of 2020 has awoken to the value of “ordinary” people who do essential work. They reflect to us Saint Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence,” who nonetheless played “an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

Sister Lucia, the Fatima seer, wrote “The final battle between the Lord and the Kingdom of Satan will be about marriage and the family.” Who better to follow than the head of the Holy Family? Who better to cling to than the Terror of Demons?

How Can We Draw Close To St. Joseph?

St. Joseph is silent within the Scriptures. He’s a man of prayer. A man of action. A beloved father, husband, and worker. Much of what is known of his character is deduced from his actions. But God has also revealed the foster-father of Jesus to mystics, popes, and Saints throughout the years.

Fr. Donald Calloway has assembled many of these teachings and prayers into a clear 33-day program titled “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.” After a month of spiritual reading and prayer, participants can entrust themselves wholly to the spiritual fatherhood of St. Joseph.



Is Consecration Necessary?

Certainly not. The Scriptures tell us that only one thing is needed. No one who joins the group is required to make a formal prayer of consecration, unless they so desire. All are welcome to join us in reading and prayer.

What If I Am Already Consecrated to The Blessed Virgin Mary? Can I Consecrate Myself More Than Once.

Absolutely! I love what Fr. Calloway writes in the introduction to his book: “God desires that all children be committed to the love and care of a mother and a father.” Indeed, loving never divides. The more love you give, the more you have.

Does Consecration Lessen My Commitment To Jesus Christ?

Never! Turning to Fr. Calloway again, “The Hearts of Jesus, Mary, and St. Joseph are one.” Mary and Joseph were among Christ’s first followers. Fr. Calloway identifies St. Joseph as the first missionary, since he first brought Christ to another country, when he protected his family on the Flight to Egypt. At all times, Sts. Joseph and Mary echo “do whatever He tells you.” (Jn. 2:5)

An Invitation to Group Consecration to St. Joseph

You are invited to join us, ordinary Catholics like you, in a private Facebook group, dedicated to St. Joseph.

Beginning on February 15th, we will read through Fr. Donald Calloway’s excellent book, “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.” Each participant needs a copy of the book (you can of course share with your spouse!).

I will post daily reflection questions. There’s no participation required. But do use these daily check-ins to mark off each day’s readings.

We will also host a small number of speakers to tell us their own story of St. Joseph’s protection, guidance, and wonders.

The group’s daily practice will end on March 19th, consecration day, and the highest feast of St. Joseph. Then our real work begins: going out to our own communities and spreading the devotion of St. Joseph, our spiritual father.

Marian Consecration for Families With Young Children – Review

Buying books and reading books are two separate hobbies. but I enjoy both equally. I have to strictly keep some rules around buying children’s books, or else I’d drive my family to bankruptcy. 


My requirements for Catholic children’s books are that it be:


  1. Orthodox 
  2. Accessible
  3. Instructive
  4. Delightful


And I’m happy to share that “Marian Consecration for Families With Young Children” ticks all the boxes.

An Orthodox Catholic Book

The author, Colleen Pressprich, is a former Lifeteen Missionary, experienced Montessori teacher, and current homeschooling parent. We’ve worked together on projects before, so I know a bit about her own high standards for children’s materials.


The book is published by Our Sunday Visitor, and carries an Imprimatur from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. So I already knew it would present the true Catholic faith. Which is especially important in a book about the Blessed Mother.


There are so many false teachings, missteps, and watered-down depictions of Our Lady, even among books for adults. “Marian Consecration” is so faithful and clear, I’d recommend it as a primer for new converts or reverts looking for a trustworthy conversation starter on the Virgin Mary and her place in our hearts.


Good Design is Accessible Design

Frankly, I don’t need one more thing that makes faith formation difficult. Not in the year we’re having. Not in our therapeutic homeschool with an alphabet soup of diagnoses and profiles. So any children’s material that appears to have been written in the 1850s by a childless crone is straight out. 


After a few introductory pages, the book begins a 33 day journey. A predictable rhythm takes over: me reading the short reflection while young sir takes in the lush illustrations (by Rebecca Gorzynska). Even the conversation prompts are simple enough for my son, who’s short on words, to contribute a thought.


For a bit of extra assistance, there are daily notes to the parent in the appendix. Colleen’s Montessori experience shines here, with frequent reminders to follow the child. Just because your child isn’t conversing fluently doesn’t mean they aren’t learning!


Instructive for Parent and Child

“A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story,” CS Lewis


Having followed Fr. Michael Gaitley’s popular “33 Days to Morning Glory” for my own consecration and having led two group consecrations, I wish I could’ve done this children’s version first. 


Colleen has taken a subject that confounds theologians and made it accessible to the very young or developmentally delayed. She relates huge theological mysteries to the commonplace experience. Times we’ve felt scared or challenged. Running to our mothers. Offering to share our possessions. God’s plan for Mary in our lives flows clearly across the vibrant pages, for children and adults alike.



Delight Drives Desire

At the end of the day, it doesn’t just matter how much I enjoy a book. Ha! If only that were the main criteria. But one must also ask, “Will my child actually like it?”


I can happily report that Johnny’s given it two thumbs up. Not only do we read it together, but I tuck it in my purse to bring to Mass. This from a child who is never caught reading! 


Even if the 33-day structure is too demanding for you in the present year, “Marian Consecration for Families With Young Children” is a gorgeous, faithful book for the whole family to read through.


A Five-Star Family Read

According to my very scientific Catholic children’s book criteria, “Marian Consecration” earns full marks. It’s faithful. It’s easy to implement. I enjoy learning to love Mary alongside my son. We’re both inexorably drawn to the beauty of the book. 


Colleen and Rebecca capture the essence of Our Lady. A radiant woman. A guide for all peoples. The pinnacle of humankind. Our Blessed Mother.

Devoted, Not Consumed: Motherhood & The Life Of The Mind

Like most of you, all this extra (enforced) time at home has been both a blessing and a trial. Is this our new normal? Do we even want the old normal?

I’ve hit a wall about what to do with my blog here. Feeling like I have nothing to say.

I lost sight of what my purpose here is.

It’s not to tell my story. It’s to tell your story. The story of thousands like us. The story of the good student, the bookworm, the daydreamer, suddenly and happily thrust into the incarnate, all-consuming work of motherhood.

Your Story

You love motherhood. But miss some of the things you had before. Your intellectual pursuits. Reading simply for pleasure.

The thrill of all the disparate threads of a mystery coalescing into one.

Understanding a complex character motivation, and suddenly the fascicle foil transforms into a deep, image-bearer just like you.

Or the slow and cozy ease of resting in a well-worn novel, like going to a family reunion without the pinched cheeks and watery potato salad.

Gosh, don’t you just long for those moments?

But there seems to never be enough time, enough quiet, or simply enough YOU leftover at the end of a long day and night parenting.

What’s even worse than this loss, is the guilt you feel for mourning it. Your longing for these transcendent moments feels like a betrayal.

Isn’t motherhood enough?

Shouldn’t it be?


You love motherhood. It's your vocation. But you miss the intellectual life you had before. Reading, journaling, contemplating, discussing books with others. What's worse, you feel guilty for missing these things...


Motherhood is not a vocation for dabblers. With a special-needs son, I can see the path of intensive motherhood stretching into the shining distance. Possibly until the moment of my death. But even parents of typical children know the season of mothering moment-to-moment won’t end in the blink of an eye.

Your commitment to motherhood must be absolute.

But you needn’t be consumed by it.

That’s the heart of my corner of the internet. The purpose for my blog & attendant social media.

To celebrate the milestones & ordinary days of Catholic home life, without sacrificing the life of the mind. To support you in the endlessly spinning task of giving all to these little people, and filling back up again. And to see you. To make you feel seen. Because you are a devoted mother, yet you are not consumed.

You aren’t a fragmentary creature, split between BP and AP (before parenthood & after). You are the same girl who daydreamed and scribbled in margins. The girl who created life in her mind now shephards little souls through life. That was training you for today. And the true student knows that learning never ends.

You are an integrated, beautiful whole. With all aspects enhancing and embracing one another.

So we’ll get into the practical. I’ll recommend a book I like. I’ll show you how I make margins for reading, and hold space for contemplation. But that comes second. First, you have to give yourself grace.

Lean into the desires of your inmost heart. Forget all the shoulds and shouldn’ts of so-called “perfect” motherhood. And allow yourself to dream again.

Top 9 Books of 2019

I completed 90 books in 2019. If that’s a staggering number to you, I recommend you take my free 5-day challenge to read more books!

While I didn’t hit my goal of 100 books in 2019 (and didn’t match the 103 I read in 2018), I’m content with that number.

We had a lot of life happen in 2019 with homeschooling, foster care, pregnancy loss, and -ahem- video games. 90/100 is still an A in my book.

These books were all new to me in 2019. If I included rereads, this would’ve been more like top 30!


My Top 9 Books of 2019

Continue Reading…

Catholic Fiction: In This House Of Brede

A book about nuns of a Benedictine monastery doesn’t sound thrilling. Go on and say it, you think it might be boring. Won’t it be all pious and sweet?


I assure you, no realistic portrait of 96 women could be a gentle and darling thing. Rumer Godden’s penetrating, lyrical work lulls you in with a restraint that is quintessentially British. Then, with your guard down, she strikes at your heart. The personalities, secrets, and piercing truth make In This House of Brede my favorite work of Catholic fiction.

Continue Reading…

33 Days To Merciful Love: Read Along Group

Join us on Facebook for a consecration to Divine Mercy, inspired by the spirituality of St Therese of Lisieux and her Little Way.

We’ll spend 33 days reading Fr Michael Gaitley’s book. Just a few pages each day builds a solid biography of St Therese.

More importantly, these weeks of prayer will open our hearts to the merciful heart of Jesus. We can experience his merciful love, and console his heart with our own!

You can find your copy of the book at your local Catholic store, or on Amazon.



Our online book club will run May 14th through June 16th. We’ll make our consecrations on Trinity Sunday, the anniversary of when St Therese first offered herself to God’s merciful love.

Don’t Feel Like Reading? 7 Tips To Get Back To Reading More

The beginning of this year was a roller coaster for me. Extreme highs contrasted with extreme lows.


One day I was on top of the world.


My business was keeping me busy. We had a packed social calendar. And after years of infertility, we were pregnant again!


Then we suffered a miscarriage and lost the twins.


I didn’t feel like reading


Grief sapped my energy. Depression steals your personality. I was trapped in my thoughts, unable to focus on the hobby I once loved.


I had to find a foothold and grapple my way up Depression Mountain, through the Vale of Tears, and get back to myself.


The journey has changed me in countless ways. But I’m so glad to have reading back. Here are 7 ways to shake the cobwebs and jump back into reading.

Continue Reading…