At this time of year in Ohio we are seeing the leaves change color and fall to the ground. Our outdoor walks provide us with crunchy leaf textures to trample and there is a different “fall” smell in the air around us. A leisurely stroll down the block will show us fallen acorns, black walnuts, and other tree products eagerly gathered by squirrels as they dart to and fro on the ground and along tree branches. We have a squirrel living in the ornamental pear tree in our front yard, and I like to pick up loose acorns and other such treats when I take the dog for a walk and then place the nuts in the nooks and along branches for “our” squirrel to enjoy. When my children were younger we took lots of nature walks, and I gave each of them a bag for collecting pretty leaves from different trees. We used tree identification books to figure out the names of the trees we saw, and we preserved a leaf from each different tree in a nature notebook. After pressing the leaves in a book, we glued them to a page where we listed all the information about what kind of tree it came from, where we found it, and the date we collected it. It was fun to read the book throughout the year and review if the leaf was simple or compound, when we had collected it, and more. Over the years, our collection increased and it was a challenge to see if we could find a new specimen that wasn’t yet represented in our nature book.
Those times spent in nature are some of my favorite homeschooling memories for this time of year. My son, Josh, gave me another fall memory that is equally imprinted in my mind. With his AD/HD, auditory processing, and sensory issues, Josh often said or did unexpected things. His impulsivity gave him a tendency to do whatever came into his head, with the result that I often found myself trying to figure out what was going on with Josh based on what I was seeing and hearing. Our special needs children do what comes naturally to them, and often don’t realize that not everyone experiences things the way they do. In this instance, Josh starting making weird vocal sounds as he played. I went into my analysis mode as I observed him. Is he stimming? Has he developed a vocal tic? Is he trying to calm and organize? Alert himself? Keep others at bay? Provide sound effects for what he is playing with? Can he stop making the sound if I ask him to? The speech therapist in me tuned in to see if the sounds Josh was making could be considered vocal abuse and could physically harm his voice. As I observed Josh, he seemed content. He could stop on request, but returned to making the sounds a minute later. It was not vocally abusive and his pitch and volume were within acceptable ranges for his “normal” voice. In the back of my mind, I recognized something vaguely familiar about the sounds Josh was producing. Then it hit me and seemed so obvious that I almost laughed at not recognizing it sooner. Josh was reproducing the noise of a leaf blower! Once I realized it, I became aware that somewhere in the neighborhood a leaf blower was in use. It was faint and distant and I had not even registered it. But Josh had an uncanny ability to imitate noises and he heard things that most people don’t notice. He did a pretty accurate leaf blower noise. He also made airplane and vacuum cleaner noises, but I recognized them right off the bat. The leaf blower noise took me awhile, but whenever I hear one in use I still smile and think of little Josh’s noise imitation talent.