Sunday, 30 November 2014

Kids have so much to teach us.

This past week has been full of ups and downs.

There have been a few tense, trying moments (from my personal point of view, probably not the kids) and there have been a couple of days where I only wanted to go back to bed and start over. Sigh.

However, amongst the detritus, there have been a few stunning revelations. Yay!

My 10 year old son (ASD (PDA), Dyspraxia, SPD, CAPD, Misophonia, ADHD) showed me something that blew my mind!

I understand that technology is moving fast. I know that something becomes outdated within a matter of weeks. But this was other-worldly for me.

He showed me a video of Hatsune Miku (live) from 2013.

My first response, was along these lines, "Why, oh why, would people spend all that money to go and watch a hologram?! It's not even real".

And my response was countered by Dominik carefully, and knowledgeably explaining to me how this character (Vocaloid) was created.

Her voice is an entirely digital creation (as is she). She is entirely fictional. A 3D, singing, dancing fictional character on a stage, with an audience. (With a massive fanbase too that created a backstory and persona for her).

In the YouTube comments section, the top comment, by Kaito S, said this:

"For people that doesn't understand why other people would actually pay to see hologram singing and dancing, please let me enlighten you. But this might be a little long so I hope you bear with me :D
(I'd appreciate it if you would upvote this so this will remain at top of the comments for any newcomer to read.)

First off this is Vocaloid's concert, and Vocaloid long story short is a program with voice database inside where you can make songs by putting lyrics and melodies into it. Of course it is incredibly complicated as it has many parameters (like velocity, dynamics, breathiness, clearness, opening, gender factor, portamento timing, pitch end and ect) so its not as simple and easy as you think,

Anyone can practically buy a Vocaloid and make their own songs or cover songs. Users of Vocaloids can directly contribute by compose songs for any vocaloids, and by now (year 2014) the number of Vocaloid songs alone reach up to HUNDREDS OF THOUSAND, and yes I'm not kidding nor do I exaggerating things. Thier creativity doesn't come from a single mind like every other "real" artist, but rather is a collectives from their fans. That's why as long as their community is alive, Vocaloids will be alive as well. I'm even confident that Vocaloids such as Miku will keep going even after 50, or 100, or 200 years from now as she and any other Vocaloids are not shackled by reality. By now you should get my point that by being "not real" is their strongest weapon.

You might argue that their voice is terrible and you don't like it, well I have something to tell you: remember that Voclaoids are just a PROGRAM. So if you hate their voice its their "settings" or "parameters" that you actually hate. You will realise this if you listen enough number of their songs. Even though they are sung by Vocaloids, they sound uniquely different individually. This because each song has different composer, and each composer has their own unique parameter setting. So my point is don't hate Vocaloids, but hate the composer, like you don't hate guitar in general just because there is a guitarist you hate. Given enough effort and luck, you will surely find your favorite composer through out thousands out there :)

So the "thing" you see on that stage is not just a hologram, but a personification of creativeness coming from hundred of thousand of Vocaloid fans (And I should add that actually their fans count up to millions world wide). In a sense it really is a concert from Crypton Vocaloid fans, to their fans, and by their fans. Thats why they are not there simply to see the marveloussness of hologram technology like you think, Its more than that.

I would also like to add that if you search on Google: "Why Hatsune Miku popular" you would find an article from LA Times Magazines. It will give you more detailed and unbiased information around Hatsune Miku than me.

Lastly, whether you agree or disagree with me, please leave me a comment. I'd love to chat with fellow vocaloid fans and make any newcomer (or probably hater) to see vocaloid the same way as I do :)

P.S.: Damn, this is longer than I thought would be :P
-Written by +Clemens Cave 
-Edited by +Ratio Kun 

Ratio Kun / Kaito S Speaking here
Also if you are new to the Vocaloid I will welcome you, please tell me what you like otdislike about the concert or the Vocaloids in the comments, I would like to hear your opinions.

I will make a new post relating to more about the actual Vocaloids and some examples of their voices."

Dominik went on to show me more examples and enquire about the software used, whether his laptop could run the programme, how he would create the character to go with one of his own Vocaloids and generally how much he'd like to play around with it. Wow.

Who can ask for more than this? 
Genuine interest. 
Genuine learning. 
Genuine enthusiasm. 
A genuine desire to explore and expand his world (and ours I guess).

Who would have known a 10 year old could be this inspired? Especially a 10 year old, who, had he gone into traditional education, would have been classed as 'unteachable', 'disruptive', 'disengaged', 'distracted', 'disobedient' (hmmm..lots of 'dis' words in there) etc.

It turns out that he is none of those things. He is everything I, as his teacher, could wish for. 

So, yes, that's one thing down!

The second thing I learnt this week was from my middle son, Hannon, 7 years old. 

He taught me that birds and butterflies actually move as one (learned from 'Wild Kratts') the water in a wave, rather than as individuals in a group. Amazing and perhaps more than a little insightful. 

We had this discussion whilst driving back from Ampthill Park after we'd had a trek through the muddy woods and sat in the cafe watching the camera that is fixed on the bird-feeder.  

The camera was fun too actually!

It reminded Hannon instantly of 'Five Nights At Freddy's' (an horror themed Indy game which is essentially a complex puzzle game), and he began playing a game with Lily where they performed 'Five Nights At Freddy's in real life. The funny thing was, we had face-painted before we left the house and Hannon was the 'marionette' from the 2nd game, and Lily was Chica, one of the animatronics. Perfect.

Also this week, Dominik has begun making the family bread, Lily has decided she loves to bake, bump is growing fast now (and I'm getting more tired) and Hannon is now a maze genius after completing this book!

Here are some pictures.

Thanks for reading.

N x

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A discussion about therapies.

Last night I was involved in a discussion with a lady called Jude Seaward who has always been my 'go to' for more practical, empathetic approaches to helping my children, and particularly my PDA son. You can find out more about Jude here at her website, "SimplyMisunderstood".

She was asked by someone else in the group we belong to, what the difference was between Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and why one might be more beneficial for children (and adults I guess) with Pathological Demand Avoidance, than the other.

I am going to copy and paste the discussion below as there is not much more I can add. Jude's summary was concise, comprehensive and easily understood.

Here you go!


"What I have found is that therapy alone doesn't work, or is very slow. I have found that it must be multi elemental so you look at the environmental changes, teaching a new skill in line with their development and broken into small steps, altering interaction and changing the persons approach.

That is where NLP is slightly better than CBT.

CBT is about challenging people's views and offering alternative thoughts. For example, my friend walked past me and ignored me; 1) because they didn't see me or 2) because they don't like me and are ignoring me. So, CBT would look at the evidence to support or disprove the persons thoughts.

This process, if you think about it, is quite directive, and in some ways challenging. This, in its own way, becomes a demand.

With NLP, it's about building a new thought process and skills, so if you see your friend and they are walking past, you can call them, tap them on the shoulder and so on. You have a shared experience in the process. Instead of being an exploration, you look at the positive thought patterns and plant ideas.

The more you practice them, the more your brain positively reacts to it.

So, instead of with CBT, saying, 'Why am I scared? What can I do about it?', with NLP you would look at, yes, it does worry me but I can do this. Do I need to ask for help, or do I have the skills?

This way it helps the child (or adult) develop coping skills that they can use, (rather than with CBT changing what they think) in a logical format. It is very subtle, the difference, but one is more structured and therapist led (CBT) rather than free-flowing and child-led (NLP).

This is why it works better for kids with gives them some control and relationship with the therapist - it is more nurturing.

Also, NLP will take into account the preferred learning manner and get you to be more in touch with your body, helping you to realise what senses you use to take in information from the world.

It's used a lot hypnotherapy where a positive thought is 'planted' to be triggered. For example, I used it when studying and the thought was simple: I like to read and study. This was in line with my natural balance but I reinforced it and it made doing my masters a breeze as I enjoyed it even more! Even now I enjoy a book (but not always a reference book)!"

So, there you have it. The subtle and yet crucial difference between CBT and NLP.

After having this discussion with Jude I realised that, whilst I don't have the technical terms for what goes on in my own home, I am following NLP principles. We constantly build on what makes us happy and helps us to feel accomplished. We rarely talk about 'deficits' and 'struggles'.

All learning in my house, (social, emotional, physical, educational etc.) happens by building on strengths and focussing on positives. I do not ever begin an activity with my children based on the premise that they need to 'improve' or 'practice' as these in themselves devalue where their skill level is at this current time, which in itself can be discouraging (especially for a child with PDA who has massive anxiety about their performance to begin with).

I know I risk sounding like a broken record, but, the unstructured learning approach for kids with PDA  is so very beneficial. It is also, slower and it is more bumpy and it is certainly requires a lot more faith, but, in the long run, it leads to better outcomes because ultimately, it is an internal change and not an external change.

If your child, whether they have the PDA part to their diagnosis or not, is anxious about failure and struggles to get motivated if the task is something that has been forced upon them, please consider how NLP and using different language might help.

Are you building on their passions? Are you harnessing their interests? Are you strengthening their confidence and self-esteem by using a 'can do' attitude?

I hope you have taken something from this short discussion that can be of use for your family.

Have a great day,

N x

Friday, 21 November 2014

An afternoon window shopping.

Fair warning

(well, not really a catastrophe, but certainly a massive a whole in your wallet)!

My son, Dominik, loves, loves, loves a YouTube channel called Vat19. Find their website here.

It is basically an innovative, geeky team of guys and gals who find, test, promote and then sell unusual and awesome products.

I think they seem particularly geared towards those of us who are slightly more quirky than the norm!

Yesterday afternoon my kiddos and I sat and watched dozens of their product reviews on YouTube and had an absolute blast.

In my opinion they have a high educational slant as well as being super fun and highly sensory.

Here is our wish list!

JishakuMaster the art of magnetic attraction with Jishaku, the strategic boardgame.Your goal is to place all of your magnetic "stones" on the Jishaku board without any of them touching each other. This is simple at first, but becomes increasingly challenging as the board fills up. Stones will twist, turn, and jump as you search for a safe location. Make a mistake and a flurry of magnetic action will end with a half dozen stones stuck together.

TenziTenzi is the fast-paced and frenzied dice-rolling game for 2-4 players. The concept is simple, the game-play is lightning fast, and the fun is immediate.Here's how to play: be the first player to roll all ten of your dice to the same number.Because speed is essential to winning, Tenzi creates frantic bursts of sloppy and sometimes erratic dice rolling and oftentimes induces frustrated screaming and indiscriminate insults. It's almost too much fun!

Konexi - If Scrabble and Jenga got together and had a bit too much to drink, Konexi might be their "gift" nine months later.Konexi is played by taking turns adding notched letters to a teetering tower of words. The longer the word you spell, the more points you are awarded. But be careful, the next letter you place could topple the entire tower.

Piperoid - Paper Pie Robots - Piperoids are desk-sized robotic characters made entirely from colorful paper pipes. Starting with a handful of tubes and only a pair of scissors, you can build a Piperoid Robot in roughly 30 minutes via a series of cuts and folds.Because all Piperoid characters are built using the same diameter of pipes, pieces can be interchanged to create awesome hybrids. Furthermore, the absence of glue and tape allows you to move all of their joints.

Fastrack - Fastrack is a frenetic desktop disc flinging game. Your goal is to shoot your five wooden discs into your opponent's half of the court. The catch? The opening is only a quarter-inch wider than your ammo.Therefore, you must aim carefully as you pull back on the elastic band used to fire your discs. But don't dilly dally or you'll surely be bombarded and overwhelmed by your opponent. Ride the fine line between speed and accuracy to win the day.

Timeline - The GameIn Timeline, your objective is to correctly place inventions in chronological order. This involves asking yourself questions like, "Was barbed wire invented before or after the can opener?" Yeah. Not so easy.At the start of your turn, select a card from your pile (representing one of mankind's creations) and call out its place amongst the table's current timeline of inventions.Next, flip over your card to reveal its date of creation. If correct, add the card to the timeline. Claim victory by being the first to correctly place all of your cards.

The Original Buddha Board - Live in the moment with the Original Buddha Board. With just a dab of water, each stroke of the brush appears like black ink on the surface. Similar to watercolor painting, the Buddha Board produces soft, beautiful images. As the water slowly evaporates, your painting fades and a new blank canvas is revealed.With the mentality of a Zen Buddhist, you're free to create pictures on a whim, without concern for the outcome. The Buddha Board is great for relaxing, clearing your thoughts, and is just plain fun. It's the perfect gift for the hard-to-shop-for.

Sand by BrookstoneSånd (rhymes with "wand") brings all the fun of beach sand indoors without any of the mess.You can mold it, sculpt it, and write on it just like wet beach sand, but Sånd is completely dry and only sticks to itself — not your hands!Sånd is an ingenious Swedish invention that is 98% regular sand and 2% polymer. But boy, oh boy, that two percent makes a huge difference!Sånd simply has to be felt to be believed. It oozes when you squeeze it, yet you can sculpt it and it will hold its shape. And watching it flow is simply mesmerizing.

And finally,

Magnetic Thinking PuttyMagnetic Thinking Putty takes regular "silly" putty and turns its awesomeness up to 11. Like any other putty, it can be stretched, bounced, molded, popped, and torn. However, when this putty is in the presence of a magnetic field, it exhibits fascinating properties.Millions of tiny micron-sized magnets are embedded in each handful of Magnetic Thinking Putty. Use the included super-strong ceramic magnet to control the putty like a snake charmer. Or "charge" the blob of putty so it can become a magnet of its own and pick up small tacks and paperclips.

I hope you like our discovery and at the very least, that these products have given you some unusual Christmas ideas for the coming holiday season! 

If you do decide to buy any of the above, or better yet, find a UK stockist for these products (outside of Amazon), please do let me know! 

N x

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A few Amazing Things Happened this week!

I try to find the time to sit down everyday and count my blessings.

I will admit that my ability to sustain the practice is not great, and I certainly don't manage it 100% of the time, I do do it properly when I remember!

Today, I have done it so I thought I'd share my gratitudes with you.

It was my birthday last week and the children and I went out for lunch. Success.

Last week we attended a fireworks display for the first time ever as a family of four. Success.

Hannon is picking up his reading ability with a vengeance and it is both exciting and awe-inspiring to watch.

Lily is branching out in whole new ways. She is showing signs of maturity in her ability to understand the world around her.

Dominik has not argued with me about any of the following things (which are usually a massive issue for us): teeth brushing, showering, exercising, making healthier food choices, spending time with his siblings...and the list goes on.

Dominik and I had lunch out by ourselves this week too. Such a rare occasion and so lovely when it happens!

Today Dominik and discussed ratios and percentages as s result of his kill/death ratio in Battlefield 4. He also showed an amazing level of skill! I cannot imagine ever being able to master the skills he demonstrates...the speed with which events move on its own is astounding to me. Let alone all the different weapons combinations!

Lily is immersed in a new anime. (My three children love Japanese anime and manga). She is learning to sing the theme tune. She is asking intelligent and interesting questions about the show and its events, It presents lots of discussion points and it also means we can begin a new manga together once we have finished 'Soul Eater' and 'Soul Eater NOT!'.

(For those who don't know, getting to grips with reading a book from back to front and from top right to top left is no mean feat...especially when it is written in block capitals, which is a real challenge for me already)!

Comic books have helped Hannon to learn how to read because the letters are the same as they are on a computer keyboard. He is learning to read by listening (a lot...30 minutes per day, one to one) and by using the letters themselves in his daily activities. He does not like to write (most boys don't I think), so he is able to practice his skills using a more than valid (and let's face it speedier) alternative. He is given as much time as he needs/wants to read/spell with me.

Dominik would like to spend time with a native Japanese speaker. The search is on for someone who likes (and wants) to talk about Pokemon, Nintendo, Manga, Anime and Japanese Mythology...wish me luck won't you!?

Now, I am sure there are many, many other things to be grateful for, (a healthy Harriet bump and wonderful friends to name two more) but, perhaps the one that is stopping me from continuing to write any more, is this one:

Tomorrow, I am having an afternoon and evening out in London, with my absolute best friend in the world, and we are going to see a live performance of 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin', read by Russell Brand, at the Royal Albert Hall with a live orchestra to boot! I am so excited I could pee my pants (which is much more likely these days as it is)!!

So, I hope you can find the time to think about what you are grateful for right now.

It will be soooo worth it.

Sweet dreams.

N x

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Is your Aspie a born gamer?

So, as I am sure many of you know, a large number of Aspies seem to arrive with an inbuilt love of technology and all things digital.

My oldest son is no exception!

I have found that above all else, gaming is the best way to engage him in true, meaningful learning experiences that are self-motivated and highly rewarding (the virtual trophies, the new high scores, the online competition and the ultimate goal of game completion).

I have often felt conflicted about the benefits of gaming and about the level of his obsession,but as time has passed, I have learnt, read, watched and experienced so much that I no longer feel any conflict.

I hope that by writing this, some of you, who are perhaps still skeptical, might gain a new perspective and understanding, and perhaps even support your child's less than 'politically correct' hobby.

A bit of background.

Dominik was obsessed with the computer from around the age of 3. He would repeatedly attempt to 'break into' our family pc by trying many different passwords over and over again, giving up and switching it off by the power switch to just begin all over again! Eventually we decided to teach him how to use it rather than constantly having to do pc maintenance because of repeated, unnecessary rebooting!

He had some simple games revolving around 'Thomas the Tank Engine', 'Dora the Explorer' and 'Bob the Builder' to begin with and invariably completed them on the first try so we expanded his horizons to BBC Bitesize, OMGPop, National Geographic Kids and a few other 'kid friendly' sites that I have long since forgotten.

He would spend hours watching his dad playing 'Morrowind', 'Evony', 'Kings Bounty', 'World of Goo' and playing strategy/tower defense, puzzle and brain training games on!

So, after several more years, along came 'Minecraft'!

I introduced Dominik to 'Minecraft' when he was just over 7 years old when the game was still being heavily developed and improved.

Well, it was like I had opened Pandora's box! 'Minecraft' combined his love of the PC, Lego, sand box games, YouTube research, real life physics, multiplayer servers and much, much more. He was in love and still is to this day. We have 'Minecraft' on our tablets, on our PS3, on our XBox and on our PC's.

If you are unfamiliar (or even skeptical) of the benefits of 'Minecraft', here are some useful links:

Minecraft In Education
Hey, Parents. What Minecraft Is Doing to Your Kids Is Kind of Surprising. (includes some excellent videos too)

The Benefits of Minecraft for Children

I could go on, but, if you are truly interested, you will have the idea by now! If not, then you should probably stop reading here as it is only going to get more controversial from your point of view!

During this time we also played many games that used real-life physics engines: 'The Incredible Machine', 'Happy Wheels' (yuk) and 'Crayola Physics' to name a few.

We played 'Bookworm', 'Scrabble', 'Spore', 'Worms', 'Little Big Planet' and countless 'Lego' games!

Using the 'Minecraft' multiplayer model, Dominik moved onto 'Steam' games ('Team Fortress 2', 'Portal', 'Half Life' and 'Binding of Isaac' (yuk)). 'Steam' offered him further opportunities to make new and interesting friends from around the world (some of whom he still speaks to to this day on 'Skype'), as well as improving his typing, reading and social skills (all unexpected and welcome events).

We bought ourselves a second hand Wii gaming system for his 8th Birthday and the fun just kept on coming! 'Mario Kart', 'Wii Sports' 'Raving Rabids' and the 'Zelda' games just expanded our repertoire further and allowed us to incorporate more gross motor skills into our learning, as well as continuing to improve his fine motor skills.

Whilst the learning is taking place, there is another important factor to consider...the family time! The joys of racing each other, out-shooting each other and sabotaging each other cannot be underestimated! We have had so many hours of laughter and family bonding over the Wii it is worth its weight in gold as far as I am concerned.

At this current time we have the following gaming systems in our house:

PS3 (x2)
Wii (x2)
Nintendo DS
Nintendo 3DS
XBox 360
Tablet (x3)
Laptop (x3)
Super Nintendo

So, as you can tell, I have now fully embraced my sons expensive hobby!

Some more games that stand out as being instrumental in his learning have been:

'Guitar Hero'
'DJ Hero'
'Band Hero'
'Portal 2'
'Mirrors Edge'
All of the 'Call of Duty' games
All of the 'Sonic' games we have
All of the 'Lego' games we have
All of the 'Mario' games we have
'Tomadachi Life'
'Angry Birds'
'Plants vs Zombies'

I am sure you are asking yourself how it is possible that these games could lead to learning experiences, well, I am going to tell you!

I am going to focus on the 'shoot-'em-up' type of game as I think this is the most controversial type of game in the grand scheme of things but here are some links to general gaming benefits/pitfalls:


10 Benefits of Video Games

Video game play may provide learning, health, social benefits, review finds

Are There Benefits in Playing Video Games?

The educational benefits of videogames

Gaming Can Make A Better World

Benefits of Gaming - A Graphical Representation

So, the 'Call Of Duty' series and others like it, were the games that I resisted buying for the longest period of time. I am an anarchist (please look up the definition if you think it is synonymous with violence of any kind) and a pacifist and I hate the idea of warfare full stop.

Buying the first game (which I bought last Christmas after having had the PS3 for two whole years prior to that), was a big step for me and a huge leap of faith.

I spent many hours watching Dominik playing these games trying to ascertain what the benefits are, as I was certain there must be some given the level of popularity of this particular genre.

He has learnt the following from these games as far as I can tell (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • remarkable hand eye coordination
  • problem solving
  • strategy and planning
  • teamwork
  • focus
  • communication
  • patience
  • logistics
  • weapons expertise
  • history
  • military history
  • geography
  • English

The reason I decided to write this blog entry happened last night. Dominik chose to buy a new shoot-'em-up' game yesterday called 'Battlefield 4'.

As I watched him, I noticed that the graphics were of outstanding quality....such outstanding quality that the glare from the sun can affect gameplay and requires you to plan your strategy. The game engine is so precise as to allow you to walk on girders (if you are able), to plant bombs in rail cars and then close the doors to remote detonate them if an enemy enters the area and to parachute into areas occupied by the enemy and infiltrate their base. This particular game has an added element that intrigued me enough to actually play!

You can download and install, on any tablet, an app called 'Battlefield Commander'. This allows you to join the server that you are playing on on your PS3 and 'command' the gameplay. This enables further strategy and planning, the use of EMP's to disable to enemy teams communications and so much more.

Yes, not nice I hear you cry! I agree! I DO NOT envisage my son being military material and yes, I hate the idea that he is being 'trained' in modern warfare, but the long and short of it is, he is.

And he is extremely good at it.

The benefits of watching (and playing) these games with Dominik are that I am able to discuss some of life's' bigger questions with him within a context that he understands and loves.

How does he feel about war?
How does he feel about unmanned drones?
How does he feel about remote warfare?
Does he realize his skill set is one of a 'soldier of the future', where robots and unmanned vehicles will be the norm?
Does he realise that being able to control machines via game console controllers is something the military are really interested in? (Game Controllers Driving Drones, NukesArmy fly UAV spyplane with Xbox 360 controllerUs Army Remote Vehicles Using Xbox 360 Controller?Wii All You Can Be? Why the Military Needs the Gaming IndustryWar Games and the list goes on).

Whilst Dominik is uncomfortable with this reality, even he has to concede that I have a point! Through these discussions and many others like them, I hope that (as he matures), he will be able to make the right choices for himself...whether I agree with them or not.

It is not my place to make decisions about how he should prepare for his future. I do not have a crystal ball. I do not know what the future holds.

I want my children to make decisions that are right for them, not me. It is my job to ensure that he is fully informed and that he has a moral grounding that is sturdy. I am doing that to the best of my ability whilst enabling him to pursue his interests.

Whilst people are frowning upon 'gamers' as a group, they might want to consider that one day, in the not too distant future, a gamer might be responsible for saving their life.

The technology is not going to go away.
The horse has already bolted.

My son, and the millions of others like him, are being trained for war and they are the future.

I wonder what it will hold.