Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sugar Plums and Snowy Days

What is this little boy doing on such a snowy day?

Could it be he found a sugar plum?

If so, where did he get it?

Miss Forbis had just read Night Before the Night Before Christmas to the class. No, not the famous poem – rather Natasha Wing's funny book that begins “Oh, no! It's the day before Christmas Eve.”

And we had just played drums while Miss Paula played Tchaikovsky’s “Sugar Plum Fairy” (from The Nutcracker) on her ipod player. (Watch it at: )

All this to-do about sugar plums. But just what was a sugar plum anyhow? Actually, a sugar plum is actually not a plum; It’s a piece of French candy known as a dragée, about the size, color and shape of a jellybean. They are widely associated with Christmas from Clement C. Moore's poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas."

And now Miss White had made some Rice-Krispie treats and Miss Forbis had covered them with Pillsbury vanilla-cream frosting. They placed them right in front of the boy – along with Gummy Bears, Skittles, and… could it be the fabled candy itself?

Visions of sugar plums had danced in his head long enough. The little boy would try one and see for himself. And so, he administered the coup de grâce to the treats, the Gummy Bears, the Skittles and to what was most likely the sugar plums.

So let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fun with Bells

Meet our eight-member Frankie Lemmon Ringers. We play small bells and big bells, loud bells and jingle bells, and whatever bells Miss Paula brings in. The sound of bells – especially at Christmas – is just glorious. To many of us it brings joy and comfort.

Today, after Miss Forbis read to us from There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Bell, we ran the gamut of fun with bells—from ringing jingle bells together (while singing a reindeer song) to ringing a giant sleigh bell one by one.

We learned that a good bell ringer has two traits: a sense of rhythm and being a good team member. (Being able to read music is not required!) It's the ultimate in teamwork because each of us is responsible for one note. We have to play it when it’s our turn or sometimes together – and if just one person is missing, the music doesn’t sound quite right. Also, you have to concentrate; if you let your mind wander while you're ringing, you're lost.

Oh, yes, we found a new thing you can do with bells. It’s called "jingle bell rolling". Each of us soaked a jingle bell in red, green or white Biocolor paint. Then we created our own design by rolling it around on construction paper in the bottom of a box. Neat!

There are a lot of different “bell-things” you can do with your friends – you can even say goodbye to them. Did you ever say goodbye with a sleigh bell? Try it sometime! Watch how these ringers do it at:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Escape of the Gingerbread Baby

On Tuesday, we all gathered for a class photo.
Then we baked a gingerbread man.

He had two round eyes, a round red nose, a happy mouth, and shiny clothes. He was supposed to bake for eight minutes but one of my friends (I won’t say who) grew impatient and opened the oven door too soon. The gingerbread man escaped, but he was still a baby!

Well that cheeky baby led us on a wild chase, all the while singing, “I am the gingerbread baby, fresh from the pan. If you want me, catch me if you can.”

We chased him and chased him but we could not catch him. Then he ran outside, where even a cat, a dog, three goats, Martha and Madeline, a mama pig, some villagers, and the milk and cheese man couldn’t catch him.

Meanwhile my friend (I still won’t say who) was feeling guilty. So he stayed behind and baked an elaborate gingerbread house, which he put outside on a shelf. Just as the wily fox was closing in, the sassy Gingerbread Baby vanished before his eyes.

Where did he go? Look close. You may see him smiling and winking from his new house!

Who saved the gingerbread baby? I’m not saying, but it may have been one of the Argyle twins!

I am wearing an Argyle sweater
an Argyle sweater
an Argyle sweater
and that’s all I will say!

My thanks and apologies to Jan Brett, author of Gingerbread Baby, from which most of this story was "borrowed".

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving: Simply Thankful

I'm thankful for God blessing me
with such wonderful friends and family.

What are you thankful for?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Doors and Windows

My horrible cold relapsed, so I stayed home this week. But Miss Betsy and I ordered the HBO movie Temple Grandin (see my last blog) from Netflix and watched it the other night. We were left literally speechless and awestruck. It is, by far, one of the very best movies I have ever seen! Claire Danes plays autistic Temple Grandin to absolute perfection. Judge for yourself; See the movie trailer at:

Temple Grandin’s mother never gave up – and neither did Temple. The movie made me think about how important it is to never give up on children who appear to be low performers.

To Temple, being autistic was like being trapped between two windows – it was almost impossible to communicate through the glass. And she had tremendous difficulty with change. In transitioning from high school to college to Doctor of Animal Science, she would act out each phase of her life by walking through an actual door, window, or gate. And her mother was always there for her.

In her book Thinking in Pictures, Temple says that when she reads, she translates written words into color movies, complete with sound, or simply stores a photo of the written page to be read later. When she retrieves the material, she sees a photocopy of the page in her imagination. She can then read it like a Teleprompter. She pictured – then developed – a deep touch pressure device ("squeeze machine") that helped her overcome problems of oversensitivity to touch, and reduce her nervousness. Today, livestock handling facilities she has designed – based on the same principles – are found worldwide.

Perhaps at Frankie Lemmon, a dream is born in the mind of a child. Who’s to say this dream will never come true? Do we “close the door” and tell the child to give up his or her dream? Or do we encourage the child to keep trying?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Special Teachers: Making a Difference

(Author Unknown)

Ms. Forbis:
With a special gift for learning
And with a heart that deeply cares,

You add a lot of love
To everything you share,

Ms. White:
And even though
You mean a lot,
You'll never know how much,
For your help
To change the world
Through every life you touch.

Ms. Paula:
You sparked the creativity
In the students whom you taught,
And helped them strive for goals
That could not be bought,

The teachers at Frankie Lemmon:
...You are all such special teachers
That no words can truly tell
However much you're valued
For the work you do so well.
- Author Unknown

Temple Grandin didn’t talk until she was three. Instead, she communicated by screaming, peeping, and humming. In 1950, she was diagnosed with autism and her parents were told she should be institutionalized. But she somehow struggled through school until a high school teacher found a way to use her strengths to help her reach great heights. The rest is history. Today Dr. Grandin is a Colorado State professor, best-selling author and one of Time Magazine's 2010 "100 Most Influential People in the World"! She is also the subject of the 2010 HBO movie Temple Grandin.

Do teachers make a difference?
Ask Temple Grandin.

"I am different, not less." — Temple Grandin

Friday, November 5, 2010

No Shame in Trying!

I didn’t want to infect my friends at the Frankie Lemmon school with my horrible cold. When I stayed home, I opened the N&O and read about “Ms. Pearce”. The lead sentence read: “In 50 years working at Hilltop Home, Etherlene Pearce missed so few days of work, her employees swear she never took a sick day.”

“For sham
e, Mr. Pat!” said the voice in my head.

The article went on. "She came rain, snow, sleet or hail… It didn't make a difference if there was two feet of snow…”

“Hang your head, Mr. Pat!” said the voice.

But I read on… I learned that Ms. Pearce spent 50 years caring for developmentally challenged at Hilltop Home (, a private, nonprofit residential center that serves children with severe developmental and medical disabilities. Ms. Pearce retired only last year as the home's director at age 89. But she’s still going!

“For shame! Look away! Don't look at Mr. Pat!”

Raleigh is just full of inspiring people like Ms. Pearce.

...For example, Dorothea Dix.

While teaching Sunday School to a group of women in prison, young Dorothea found her calling. The prisoners, a mix of criminals and the mentally challenged, were kept in dark, damp cells with no blankets or furniture. She was horrified! Dorothea spent the rest of her life lobbying for better conditions for the mentally challenged. She never gave up and in 1856, largely through her work, Raleigh's Dorothea Dix Hospital opened for the care of mentally ill patients. By the 1930s there were over 2,000 patients on a site that at one time included 2,354 acres.
Even though she was weak and suffered from tuberculosis, Dorothy never gave up.

“Oh me! Oh my!” said the voice. “You can never be like Dorothy!”

And then there’s Frankie Lemmon himself.

The son of Frank and Georgia Lemmon, a Presbyterian minister and his wife, young Frankie was born with Down Syndrome. In 1965, the Lemmons were appalled to learn there was no kindergarten in Wake County that would enroll a child like Frankie. So, with help from members of Raleigh’s Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church, they opened a kindergarten class for children with mental retardation. Today there are classes for three-, four-, and five-year-olds at Raleigh’s Hayes Barton Baptist Church.

The Lemmons knew that Frankie would never get better, but they never gave up.

And neither will I. There is no shame in failure. The shame is in the not trying…sometimes again and again.

Be still, stupid voice.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's in a Name?

What's in a name? That which we call Autism or Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy by any other name is still not a disease – because you can’t catch it from us.

For example:

  • The “A-word”: Autism. An overly simple definition of autism is a brain defect that causes problems in a person's ability to socialize, speak, and focus.
  • The “D-word”: Down Syndrome. A condition named after a doctor (Dr John Langdon Down) for babies born with an extra chromosome (47 instead of 46).
  • The “CP-word”: Cerebral Palsy. Simply defined, a combination of a sane mind with a disobedient body.

These names and many others come under the general category of “Developmental Disability,” meaning a mental or physical disability (such as the above) arising before adulthood and usually lasting throughout life.

How did we get it – this thing called developmental disability?
Some of us got it from Mom’s or Dad’s abnormal genes. Some of us got it because Mom drank alcohol or got an infection like rubella in the weeks before we were born. Others didn’t get enough oxygen during Mom’s labor or during birth. Some of us were just fine – until the day we got whooping cough, measles, or meningitis. Maybe we nearly starved to death or maybe we didn’t get to the doctor in time. Maybe we were exposed to poisons like lead or mercury. And
maybe – just maybe – we are blind or deaf as well.

So clearly, our problem is not a disease. You can’t catch it from us. It is not a type of mental illness, like depression. There is no cure for it. But we can learn to do many things. It just takes us more time and effort than our “normal” friends.

There may be some things we’ll never learn, but our teachers here are amazing. Today they taught us the “T-word”: TEAMWORK.

Friday, October 22, 2010


My friends are allowed to choose. They are almost always allowed to choose. It helps them feel like they have some power and control over what they do. It’s a step in growing up. Everything isn’t planned for them. Making good choices is a skill they will use for the rest of their lives.

Our teachers decide ahead of time what choices they will allow my friends to make. They offer choices only when my friends will truly be allowed to choose. They select two or three things and let a friend choose from them such as:

…“Which book would you like to look at?”
…“Would you like to paint or use crayons today?”
…“Would you like a plain banana or a chocolate-covered banana?" (See above photo.)

How else do they give my friends choices?

…They keep toys on low shelves, so my friends can choose what they want.
…They keep books where my friends can reach them.
…They give my friends free play time to choose and play what they want.

Giving my friends choices also helps them feel good about themselves, their parents, and their teachers…especially when it’s time to go to the NC State Fair!


A while back I chose to be a friend to my friends at Frankie Lemmon. One of my inspirations was a man named Dick Parsons. Dick passed away this week. When Dick was eighty years old, he chose to volunteer at Fred Olds Elementary School, where the children and staff became the light of his life for ten years! Farewell, Dick. It was good to know you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cheese Day

Can you have too much fun? Absolutely! But that's a daily event at the Frankie Lemmon School. Last week, we learned where milk comes from. Today we learned you can make cheese from it.

Ain't we havin' fun now?!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


We like to sing a lot. And we like to play drums.

Why do we sing and play drums?

…I can't see. But I like the sound of the drum…the feel of it. It makes me smile. I can sing and play drums even before I learn to speak. It is something I can do. It makes the pain go away.

…I have autism. I don't know what to say to people. My life is one of involuntary silence. But when I sing with the others or play drums with the others, I can participate like the others. I can express myself like the others. I can behave properly like the others. I hope I'm learning some of these skills for life. Then I can go where life's paths lead me.

…I have special needs and I find that growing up can be slow and difficult. But when I sing and play drums in class I feel more at home. I can think better. And I think it makes it easier for all my other therapies to become more effective. It makes it easier for my teachers and my parents to teach me. They won't let me quit.

…I was born with severe brain damage. But singing or playing the drums in class forces my brain to follow the tempo and melody. It makes me want to sing and move with the music. Best of all—the good part of my brain is learning how to bypass the damaged part. I'm getting more "normal" every day!

That’s why we like to sing a lot. And that’s why we like to play drums.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The New ABCs

Do you remember how you learned your ABC's? You may have started in Kindergarten—or even earlier if you had glasses with pink frames! Don’t believe me? Ask my friend Ellie. She is only four and she can already navigate through IPAD’s Interactive Alphabet. It even has sound effects! Go ahead—click on her picture yourself. Give it your best shot because I know you can do it!

—I’ll wait.

Meanwhile, I’ll join my friends as we again rehearse our melodrama/operetta Inside a Barn in the Country. We make our own sound effects as we identify various farm animals and the sounds that they make. Today we held colorful pictures of our favorite characters as we sang along with the rebus text.

Speaking of sound effects and pictures, I learned today that our class now has a Flip™ video camera. It is small and compact and easy to use. I think back to the days when my bigger-than-a-breadbox video camera used VHS tapes bigger than a book. Nowadays, by cracky, you can put your video camera in your pocketbook. And kids can shoot videos of themselves and their friends, publish them on YouTube and even share them via email!

These gadgets are wonderful as well as fun. But they can be complicated. I remember some of Robert Fulghum’s simple wisdom in his famous book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:

—Share everything.
—Play fair.
—Don't hit people.
—Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

—Take a nap every afternoon.

To these I would add:
Life is always better when you wear pink-framed glasses!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Big Picture: An old tale retold

Once upon a time three blind men met an elephant the street. They had no idea what it was.
“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.
“Oh, no! it’s like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.
“Oh, no! it’s like a branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched his trunk.
They could not agree on what the elephant was like and began to argue.
A wise man was passing by and heard them. “All of you are right,” he said. “Each one of you touched a different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features that you said.”
…Some of my friends can’t see. Some of my friends can’t hear. Some of my friends can’t talk.
But a blind person “sees” with his ears; a deaf person “hears” with his eyes; a mute person “speaks” with his hands. And overall, my friends hold the secret of true joy and pure love clutched tightly in their tiny hands.
So you see, none of them are really handicapped.
…How many disabilities do you have?
It’s only when you can’t love that you are truly handicapped.
Mr. Pat is no saint, anymore special than the parents who spend the night awake worrying about their child’s safety, or the teachers fast approaching sainthood in their perseverance of love.
We are just ordinary people who are fortunate enough to love extraordinary children. We are all heroes to our friends, and if we aren’t, we need to try harder.
And that’s really the elephant in our street—the big picture—isn’t it?
…It’s all in your point of view.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Excitement! That’s the word for what’s happening at the Frankie Lemmon School. We’re excited to be back; we’re excited about our new teachers; we’re excited about making footprints!

Ms F. captured our feelings when she read from The Way I Feel. She taught us through her dramatic facial expressions and the book’s whimsical characters that emotions are a normal part of life—that it’s OK to be silly or scared or thankful—or even angry. It’s OK to be happy and it’s OK to be sad.

Then we swung into joy with Inside a Barn in the Country, a rousing melodrama led by the just-arrived Miss Paula. It is a cumulative tale in the style of "This Is the House That Jack Built." We each adopted a favorite character as we happily mimicked the clamorous noise of a cat who chases a mouse and—one-by-one—wakes up every animal in the barn, including a horse, a cow, a rooster, baby chicks, some sheep, a dog, a pig, some hens, and even a duck. They finally end up waking the farmer, too! All is chaos, reflected in the ping-pong-ball eyes of open-mouthed cartoon-like characters.

After all that, we took a walk in the hall. You’ve heard the campers’ slogan: “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints.” Well, today I took the pictures while my friends left the footprints. They stepped barefooted onto Jumbo washable stamp pads and walked the length of a giant wall poster. Ms W. signed their footprints and hung the poster by the door for all to see. It was an altogether wonderful day!

Friday, September 10, 2010

First day back

September 7 was my first day back as a volunteer at the Frankie Lemmon School. It was a great day—even though I had “first day of school” jitters. They are always so—jittery! But it gave me a good adrenaline rush, I have to admit. I got to meet all the new kids in my class—mostly four-year-olds—and maybe even a couple of new “best friends” for the year. But I’d worked with the super staff and terrific teachers all last year and they welcomed me with open arms. They’d had their first day last week. Even with multiple college degrees, lots of preparation, and the drive to succeed, first-day jitters are tough to get through for staff and teachers, whether they are experienced or brand new. But I can tell you one thing for sure: these “special needs” children—as well as the three- and five-year olds in the other two classes—are very fortunate indeed to have such a loving and energetic support team. They all want to to share their love and passion for teaching with the kids of Frankie Lemmon.

And today was Miss Paula’s first day back as well. With her traveling Yamaha keyboard and her big bag of musical fun—tambourines, sticks, bells, drums, shakers, and something called a cabasa—we were soon making a “joyful noise” and singing “Shake a friend’s hand and say hello.” Our jitters became smiles!

We also read Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe. We sang “Five Green Speckled Frogs” and painted stuff with little round Crayola "Beginnings." I had lots of fun, but what do I know?—I’m just a big kid who comes to play on Tuesdays.