When I think of hardship, I think of special-needs moms. Parenting is difficult, but parenting with special circumstances… that’s excruciating at times.  These words are for you. Soak them in and walk through this year – through the challenges – bravely.


As I’m writing this, I’m lying on my floor because I’m walking in hard places. Yesterday I was lying prone praying for the same reason. After we press through this, we’ll look back and see the growth. Sometimes we look back and see that we’ve just survived, and that’s okay because guess what? We’ve made it through the hard place.


Similar Pain, Different Struggles
My challenges and yours are different. What’s hard for me is a piece of cake for you. And I’m alright with that. What matters is that we’re both pressing through our hard places. Many times we press through the hard alone and that increases the pain exponentially. I talked to a new homeschool mom yesterday as she was struggling. As she reached out, yet another mom felt free to discuss her struggles.


Responding to others in hard places, and acknowledging their pain, without condemning is key. We wonder why people’s circumstances are so challenging for them.  We can place condemnation on them, keeping them alone and full of shame. We must understand that our hard place is not going to look like others’.


Share Your Burdens
Look around you and find other moms needing encouragement. Sharing our burdens make the loads easier to bear. Community. Doing life together. Hmmm… I’ve heard this before… Those phrases are the new catch phrases in church… for good reason. We are not designed to walk life alone, but many times condemnation or shame keeps us there.


Where do you go when life gets hard? I’ve just talked about walking through the hard with others, but there’s someplace you should go first. To the feet of Jesus. The one who is free from condemnation and abounding in love. The one who knows hard. He’s walked it. He is the one who will carry you through.
“When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” Psalm 94:18-19 ESV



Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

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I talk to many parents who are interested in homeschooling, but they don’t know where to begin.  Many of these parents have kiddos with significant intellectual, behavioral, physical and emotional special needs.  These are parents who have been advocates for their children their whole lives.  They have gone through countless doctor appointments, therapies, IEP meetings and accommodations in order to help their child to succeed.  


Once we get to the bottom of their fears, the underlying issue isn’t that they are incapable of teaching their child, it is that they aren’t sure how to create “public school at home.”  


Homeschooling Teaching Secret
I want to let you in on a big secret: you don’t have to create public school at home!  Read that sentence again, because it truly is freeing.  You are not responsible for creating a whole classroom at your house.  


In our homeschool, the world is our classroom.  Because of the way that most of us were educated, we have a picture in our minds of what school is supposed to look like.  The picture may include things like lined-up desks, an American flag,  textbooks, workbooks, tests with fill-in-the-blank bubbles.  However, as homeschoolers we are free to let go of these constraints.  We have the privilege of teaching our child in their learning style and at their level.  


“Out of the Box” Schooling Options
I have two children with a variety of special needs including:  Down Syndrome, Apraxia, Sensory integration disorder, and Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder along with  other needs.  I use  many different resources to teach them.  


We don’t tackle every subject every day, but here are some of the things I choose from:


Math
Numicon math, Touch Math, Rod and Staff, Some great resources from Teachers Pay Teachers, Fun hands-on manipulatives by Lakeshore, Learning Resources, and many other places.  Sometimes we even tackle math by going around the house counting, adding and subtracting.  We also incorporate math into our cooking and shopping.  Math is everywhere!


English/Reading
This year we are trying to see how language rich we can make our home by using read-aloud books!  We have a couple hundred picked out for a variety of topics and some small units.  We absolutely love the picture book recommendations at the “Read Aloud Revival” and have found them to be so beneficial.  


To target phonics and sight words, I have made many of my own books (which I  offer on Teachers Pay Teachers), materials from other Teachers Pay Teachers stores, and odds and ends from other curriculums like Abeka and Happy Phonics.


Science/Social Studies
We are learning some of this through our fabulous read-alouds.  We are also enjoying nature walks and are going to attempt some nature journaling this year.  My girls also love videos and tend to remember things with catchy songs or tunes.  They LOVE “Rachel and the Treeschoolers”, “Sid the Science Kid” and I think they may eventually like “The Magic School Bus”.  


For Social Studies I purchased “Liberty Kids.” They are not quite interested yet, but I’m holding out hope for it.  We also do a lot of map puzzles geared toward geography and use some ipad apps.  


Sign Language
We love the “Signing Time” series.  While one of my daughters uses it for communication, my other daughter is learning it as a second language.


Occupational Therapy
Right now we do OT at home with things that I set up for the girls.  We  work with clay, painting, push-pin work, and coloring. This year I’m going to introduce some felt sewing and embroidery.  The girls love to watch me crochet and they want to learn, so we may attempt that as well.  


Last year was a monumental year for fine motor improvement.  I fell in love with coloring again and they wanted to join me.  I cannot pay them to do handwriting worksheets for more than 15 minutes,  but if I get out my coloring books they will color for 3-4 hours at a time.


Physical Education
They play outside!  The run, they swing, they jump on the trampoline.  We explore different parks when we have good weather and they love it.  


We target many skills and goals by shopping, cleaning, running errands and visiting with friends.  Life is about learning.  If you look at your daily activities you will find that your children are learning so much from you.  Don’t be afraid to jump outside your box, try something natural, fun and child-led and see how your children blossom. 

 

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Social skills play a significant role in a child’s life well before he or she enters elementary school. If these skills are not learned in the early years, our children’s successes in school and life may be negatively affected.  


Many times we think in order to accomplish teaching social skills we must have elaborate play-dates, the perfect preschool and expensive toys and games.  This is not the case. As a loving sensitive parent,  you are the ideal social tutor.  In fact, there is evidence that too much time with peers at this early age can contribute to negative social behaviors.  (Taken from an article in www.ParentingScience.com)  


The three essential areas of social skills for the preschooler are self-control, communication and empathy.   Here are 7 recommendations on how to help your preschooler acquire these skills.  
    
                   
7 Parent-Focused Preschool Social Skill Building Recommendations                                                                                                                          
#1 – Making Contact
When your child is an infant you first need to connect by touching, eye contact and talking and cooing with your little bundle.  Games like peek-a-boo, reciting nursery rhymes and laughing are not just silly play; they are essential to the bonding process.  You are your child’s first human contact.


I keep mentioning eye contact because it is the first avenue for an infant to connect to another.  If your special-needs child has difficulty with eye contact, you may need to focus on this skill.  Positive verbal reinforcement may be necessary to establish good eye contact. (e.g.. “ I love it Timmy when you look at mama, thank you!” or, “You have such beautiful brown eyes, Sarah. Oh, what pretty eyes Sarah!”)  As you are modeling good social skills to your child, remember total acceptance of this child is vital. 
                                                                                         
#2 –  Realizing Emotions
As your preschooler gets older, teach him or her about emotions.  Allow your child to express his feelings even if they are strong.  When the child is calm, use that time to talk about his feelings and how they could have been better handled. Let your child know that you have a variety of emotions too. Talk about your own disappointment and sadness, (e.g., “When you don’t listen to me while I am talking to you, it makes me feel sad”).  


By doing this, it helps the child realize all of us experience emotions.  Draw simple faces exhibiting various emotions and remember together when he felt that emotion. With the use of a hand  mirror, have him show you what happiness, sadness, surprise, etc. looks like.  This is a fun game and it teaches him to be able to read social cues later on.
          
#3 – Discussing Social Experiences
Make it a habit of talking over your child’s social experiences.  It keeps you informed and is an opportunity to go over any social rough spots that may occur and use them to explain a better way.  Always show your child you are interested in their social world.  Teach them the social basics such as please and thank you.  As parents we are not perfect, so when you mess up use it as a teaching example,  (“Oh no,  I forgot to tell Daddy thank you for washing the car!”).


#4 – Limiting Bad Influences
Make sure you avoid bad influences in your child’s social circles and watch for bullying and peer rejection.  The preschool years are the easiest to control these bad situations.  Choose TV programs and movies carefully.  Be careful about entertainment aimed for older kids too!
.
#5 – Practicing by Pretending
Encourage pretend play with older children and adults.  Not only is this fun; so much can be learned while playing as they act out various social situations. You can teach social graces like how to put your napkin on your lap, how to pass the potatoes, and other practices that have fallen on hard times. Be inventive and this can be a great teaching tool!


#6 – Explaining Expectations
Always explain the reasons for the rules and your expectations for an event or behavior.  Let your child know the consequences of bad behavior ahead of time. Making a child aware of what is expected and what will happen when these expectations are not met is key in helping better self-control and cooperation in your child.  Remember to always follow through with the consequences.


#7 – Showing Love
Maintain an intimate loving relationship and display positive, warm, and loving emotions at home.  You may have setbacks and have to apologize, but the key is to demonstrate a “can- do” attitude!.  My favorite saying when I mess up is, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again!”




Having children is joyful, full of learning and mistakes for both of you.,  None of us would want to miss out on this experience!  This gift from God is what makes life worth living!  I wish you many wonderful times with your little ones!

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Whether your child may have Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder or any other issues that may create a learning delay, a light table can be a useful tool to inspire your learner.

When I started teaching my special needs daughter, I noticed how her sensory needs overshadowed her drive to learn.  Thus, I started researching how to meet her sensory needs alongside learning instruction.

Once I started looking at light tables, I knew I had found the perfect learning tool. Light tables are a natural draw for kids, and learning on them makes basic tasks much more engaging and fun.

Here are 4 ways a light table can help in teaching a child with sensory needs:

1.  Light tables can engage and bring a new dimensions to a repetitive task

This is a picture of the same activity, one without the light table and one with.


2.  Light tables can bring tracing and writing to life on a reusable platform

You can take any workbook page, overlay it with a transparency sheet, 
and thus transform it for use with a light table.


3.  Light tables can transform tasks to exploratory hand-on activities

Whether your child is sorting, adding, or even spelling the light table can 
help your learner interact with and explore the concept on the board.


4.  Light tables make learning fun and entertaining

Who does not like to learn when things are entertaining?  We all prefer that.


Dawn’s Recommendations for Light Table Materials

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Managing anxiety and sensory overload present a core challenge for those with autism and their caregivers.  These two obstacles can limit social engagement and successful navigation of social environments.  Below are six tips that have worked for  my family and others to help those affected by autism develop resilience in difficult situations.  When successful, these interventions open up a world of greater involvement and connectedness.


1.  Identify and list contributing factors  


Identifying factors which contribute to autistic social difficulties may seem an easy task, but this first step is often challenging for families.  Sometimes, the stress of the difficulties or their frequency makes it difficult to think through these factors.  Other times, it seems impossible to determine the triggers.  


Either way, writing them down, keeping a journal and asking for others’ observations are simple steps caregivers can take to start identifying these factors.  Once you have developed a list, it becomes easier to clarify and organize the factors contributing to specific problems.


2.  Determine the threshold for each difficulty


Individuals affected by autism become overwhelmed when their tolerance threshold has been exceeded.  Where that threshold lies varies by activity, stimulus and individual differences.  

For example, a person who seems overwhelmed by the wind may be able to tolerate a gentle breeze around buildings, but not at parks where it blows leaves around or causes tablecloths and awnings to flap.  Likewise, that person might enjoy the sensation of a gentle breeze when they are well-rested and relaxed but are unable to handle it when tired and stressed.  


As best you can, note the limits you observe.  The key in making these observations is to learn how much the person can tolerate BEFORE experiencing a meltdown.


3.  Develop a plan for success in those challenging environments


Borrowing heavily from systematic desensitization principles, I have found success in helping others adapt to challenging environments and even overcoming them.  This involves the following components:
  • Allowing exposure to the stressors, but not to the point of overwhelming your loved one
  • Repeated, short exposures to the stressors without long periods between times (i.e. weekly or bi-weekly library visits or grocery store trips) until they have achieved mastery of them
  • Providing education and problem-solving, if appropriate, to equip them in the challenge (outside of the stressful environment)
  • Encouraging the child repeatedly before and during the stressful exposure of their ability to handle the situation
  • Assuring the individual you will leave as soon as they have tried their tools and/or their threshold has been met
  • Gradually extending the time in those situations as improvement is demonstrated
  • Reducing other stressful situations while targeting one


4.  Solicit their involvement/agreement if possible.


Even if your child is nonverbal, talking with them about your love and concern for them in these situations is vital.  Framing the plan you have developed as a tool to help them achieve greater social skill navigation. goes a long way in garnering their cooperation.  Talking about their struggle, and your desire to help them with it, demonstrates respect for them and encourages a teamwork dynamic.


5.  Start by targeting the most troublesome barrier


In most families, there is one issue that rises above the rest.  If possible, I recommend working on that one barrier first to build momentum for success and to quickly reduce familial stress.  Perhaps it is sitting in church or being in groups of other children; whatever it is, get focused and marshal your energies to hit it first.  Let the other challenges take a backseat so you can work together on this one goal.


6.  Give grace, understanding, and compassion to one another


This process will not be easy.  You will need to rely on encouragement, and support from others as you grapple with these challenges.  Your family will also need to practice patience while giving grace for unmet goals and do-overs as you all adapt.  


For our family, having the prayers and help of friends while we tackled the hardest problems carried us through.   In that time, a couple of verses which encouraged me greatly were Genesis 33:13-14.  In these verses, Jacob is leading his family and herds on a long journey.  They are stressed, tired and overwhelmed.  Jacob refuses to drive them too hard on the road, but to travel instead at the pace his family is setting.    


As you move forward in tackling issues with your child, I encourage you to let your loved one set the pace.  Challenge and support them.  Then, celebrate as the struggle gives way to greater confidence, skills, involvement, and hope.

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To have a friend…be one” were the words the iron trivet in the little Texas kitchen of my childhood.  I used to look at those words everyday and I knew they held wisdom, but for the life of me, I could not figure what that wisdom was.  


I always made friends easily, maybe due to the fact that I was an only child and no friends meant no playmates.  It wasn’t until much later when I had kids of my own that I realized not everyone possesses the ability to form and maintain friends.  


Struggles Turned to Homeschooling Goals
As a mother of a son with special needs,  I experienced the pain and helplessness of having a child who was rejected, isolated and he knew it.  I prayed he would grow out of it.  I had no clue of what to do about it. This was the early 90’s and all anyone was focused on for children with special needs, were their academic shortcomings.   


As homeschool parents we teach our children everything from how to hold a pencil to analytic geometry.  Do we need to add social skills to our busy lives too?  The answer is a resounding …YES!  


Social Skills are a Foundation
Helping your child develop these skills are crucial to a happy, abundant life.  All of us are born with the desire for meaningful relationships, and experiences with others that add to our confidence, enjoyment, and well-being.  These skills teach our children how to express and control their emotions, take turns, ask for forgiveness and many,  other necessary social graces they need to become proficient in navigating the communal highway.  


Remember, social skillfulness is also important in laying a foundation for our children to become confident spouses and parents later in life.


Upcoming Blogs on Social Skills
My next five blogs will look at the different aspects of social skills and provide intervention activities you can do with your child.   Listed below are the categories I will focus on:
    • Strengthening social skills in your child, Pre-K
    • Helping your child join a group
    • Forming and maintaining friendships
    • Resolving conflicts
    • Becoming attuned to social skills and cues
    Please join me as we explore together some activities you and your child can do to help your child raise their social IQ.

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    When God first captured my heart, I remember long hours reading through bible studies and books on how to be a perfect Christian.  As I look back now, I giggle remembering how naive I was in thinking that books would bring me closer to God.

    Perfect?  Maybe Not
    In my mind, my new walk with Christ was perfect.  And, to add to this ideal scenario, I had been blessed by a perfect child.  My newborn was quiet, didn’t like a lot of my attention or to be held.  Plus, he liked a calm house just like I did.

    Everything was working out great.  But, my world was about to abruptly change.  And, the faith I professed was to be intensely tested.  God, in His divine wisdom, loved me enough to show me I needed His truth not only in my head, but also in my heart…and it was through my very quiet newborn that His greatest tests would come.

    True Faith Is Tested
    Most parents with children on the Autism spectrum have already picked up on my newborn’s issues just by my description of him.  But, since autism in the mid-90s was not on the radar of most pediatricians, my son’s issues became an intensifying struggle for both him and me because we had nowhere to turn and no one to ask how to navigate the road we were on.


    Adding to my blinded path, I was struggling with my own battles against anger and depression which were the result of my own autistic tendencies and sensory issues.  But God knew all these things even when I did not, and He knew how He would use them to bring me closer to Him if I chose to stay, learn, trust and grow in my faith.  And that is what I choose, amidst many tear-filled and heart-breaking days and nights.


    Faith Made Real by Walking
    What I learned through those 20 years of sticking close to God and holding onto the truth that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28) is that faith cannot become real if it is only thought about while sitting in a chair contemplating the greatness of God.

    Instead, faith is a daily walk, trusting in God’s truths so greatly that you move forward each day expecting Him to do what is in His word despite what circumstances around you lead you to believe.
    “I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without him.”  Joni Eareckson Tada

    Looking Ahead and Walking in Faith
    Looking back on the difficult road God has so graciously walked with me on, I am grateful of the things He has allowed me to experience. Each difficulty has helped me grow closer to Him.  My trust in Him is more profound than I ever thought was possible.


    As I look ahead to all that I don’t know about the future of my children, I know one thing: The God who created and loves them is always working out His good for the purposes He created for them just as He has for me.

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    Planning a new homeschool year energizes some and sparks fear in other homeschool moms. Personally, I enjoy planning, but scheduling a year for a struggling learner reminds me of never-ending tasks such as laundry or putting away toys while a toddler dumps them out behind you… every time you get stuck on a concept, or have a medical set-back, you have to adjust your plan and schedule.




    “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” (Ben Franklin)


    I’m not saying you’ll fail at homeschooling without a schedule, but tackling a homeschool year without an idea of what needs to be accomplished and when does create challenges.




    8 Tips for Planning a Homeschool Year for a Struggling Learner:


    1. List the main goals in each subject for the year. Setting goals keeps your eyes on the purpose of your homeschool. Doing this in each subject allows customization based on your student’s needs.  Remember to keep your goals focused and doable. Some goals can be for mid-year with a higher expectation set for the end of the year. Goals can state how much of the curriculum you want to accomplish or an end date for completing it.  If you haven’t created an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) before, it can help with setting goals and specifying what accommodations your struggling learner needs. Check out #4 on Step 3 of the SPED Homeschool Getting Started Page for more information on how to write an IEP.
    2. Decide which lessons / topics are most important.   Some can be skipped, shortened, or combined. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this lesson and how can we do it in a way my child will learn, be challenged, and successful?” Not all of the curriculum needs to be done, nor all of the assignments.  
    3. Plan with pencil and the ability to move things around. Schedule a rough draft or overview of what lessons need to be done by Christmas and May. If you want to write out each day’s plans in advance, keeping it on the computer in a spreadsheet provides an easy way to move things around. I’ve even planned using sticky notes.
    4. Utilize a checklist of daily subjects. Give your student a checklist of what subjects or books  need to be done each day. It can be laminated to be used weekly or daily.  This is my favorite tip for planning math. Some concepts can be combined (shapes or estimation), while some lessons might take days to work on (long division). This also helps your child feel accomplishment as they complete the tasks..
    5. Schedule in shorter chunks. Don’t plan what lessons you will do each day for the whole year;  rather plan a few weeks at a time. Rely on your goals or the overview for year-long planning.
    6. Give yourself margin. I leave an extra week unplanned each semester to give margin. If we don’t need the extra days for the important lessons we are behind in, we use that time for fun units or projects. Some years we do schoolwork on four days with Fridays for fun. This can also be used for a catch-up day.
    7. Plan backwards. Instead of writing what you think you will do before you do it, keep a file of what you do accomplished each day.This is helpful for the times you feel like you aren’t meeting goals. When we start our day stressed about what we are “supposed” to do, we forget to celebrate what we have done.
    8. Pray. This should be done first, in the middle, and last!  God knows your child and what is needed. He also knows what your year looks like, even before events happen! Through the good days, and the tough ones this year, God is not surprised. He is there every step ready to lead you.


    Arm yourself with chocolate, pencils, calendars, lessons, and sticky notes and start planning your new homeschool year!

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    My Daughter has a global developmental delay, which necessitates breaking learning down into very concrete parts. 



    Using Color to Bridge the Gap
    When introducing math, with the premise my daughter would transition eventually into the Math-U-See curriculum, I determined to make my adapted materials with the same colors that Math-U-See uses, so as not to confuse her later with color changes. 





    Solidifying One-to-One Correspondence

    Instead of starting right away with the Math-U-See connected cubes, I used Unifix cubes for her.   I also associated each color with an object. 1 green frog, 2 orange ducks, 3 pink pigs, 4 yellow chicks, 5 blue whales, 6 purple princesses, 7 vanilla cones and so on.



    I made cards, laminated them, and then adhered Velcro to the card as well as matching laminated colored paper squares.  This way, my daughter could attached the squares to the card and the process would reinforce the one-to-one correspondence of the number to the counting and the Math-U-See color.




    I also made cards to match the Unifix cubes so my daughter could use the manipulatives in different ways, thus transfer the associations I was trying to bridge for her through these exercises.


    Successful Transition
    After breaking down these processes, to include more hands on activities, my daughter was eventually able to transfer her learned knowledge and complete similar pencil and paper tasks with the Math-U-See blocks.



    My daughter is now on her way, and working through the Math-U-See Primer.  The only modifications she has now, is the use of stamps, which is a big leap from where she started. I cannot tell you how exciting that is, not only my husband and I, but also for her.





    My daughter is living proof that every child has potential to learn when they are taught at the speed, and in the way, they need to learn!



    Disclaimer:  The blog writer and SPED Homeschool do not represent Math-U-See/Demme Learning.  Math-U-See/Demme Learning does not sell a package containing all of the modifications shown in this blog.  Math-U-See/Demme Learning has not not reviewed these modifications pedagogically.  For this reason, Math-U-See/Demme Learning does not agree or disagree whether these modifications might work for other students.

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    Do you ever feel like life is a blur? Are you just going through the motions? Do you feel like you’re behind before you even start the day? I know how that feels too.


    Rest is productive
    I have to remind myself every year that white space on the calendar is a good thing. Scheduling off-time is crucial. Our society pushes us to believe that we must always do something and that rest is unproductive. You don’t really NEED to sleep 8 hours do you? Six hours is enough, isn’t it?


    Can I persuade you to believe that rest IS productive?  Taking time to rest enables you to be the best version of yourself you can be. It allows you to fully be with your children. They become your mission and not your distraction.


    Exhaustion is real
    The beginning of the school year looms with all of the activities that it brings. Pair that with appointments, church activities extra-curriculars, and the daily tasks of housekeeping and you have a recipe for exhaustion.  This is especially true in my family of ten!


    Plan white space
    Can I encourage you to take a day a week, an hour a day or 5 minutes an hour and just do nothing? To just Breathe?  Here are some things you can do to recharge:  


    • Pray
    • Take a walk
    • Relax in a bubble bath
    • Whatever it takes for you to unplug


    This has helped me so much! I can go into the day with a clear focus because exhaustion no longer rules the day. We are so intentional with our families, but often neglect ourselves.


    Welcome rest
    So as you go into this next school year, take a deep breath and say no to things you’re not called to (it is okay to say no). Say no to the things that drain you. Say yes to REST.


    Remember that white space in your life brings a calming peace. Kids being bored is a good thing. That’s when imaginations come in and creativity abounds.


    Say yes to white space…
    You CAN do this..

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