Tuesday, April 29, 2008
My friend who used AAC was a few years older than me, and at first used a communication board attached to his wheelchair lap tray. He had a number of things he loved to say, like, "you. bus. mine." when he wanted me to come hang out at his house or, "you. wedding. me" during his daily wedding proposals. His communication board used black and white Mayer-Johnson symbols that were photocopied from a big book, cut out, arranged and mounted. (All you "old timers remember all that copying, cutting and coloring by hand - Boardmaker 1.0 was such a revelation.) He and I hung out all the time at school and had a great time. I remember in particular putting on my roller blades during a school dance and pushing his wheelchair around the dance floor. Later he would get a light talker, it used minspeak (which he couldn't figure out) and he had to grip a glowing wand to activate series of pictures to make phrases. The speech quality was horrendous and both he and I were much more comfortable conversing in what I now know as "manual communication" and "partner assisted scanning". Eventually I would become his PCA and then his camp counselor and overtime we reached that level of communication that so many of our students have with those they are close to, where half of a gesture relates a whole sentence. Yet, I know we would have never been friends if not for his manual communication board on his tray and the power of AAC that gave him a voice to chat, joke and flirt.
The summer between sophomore and junior year of high school I worked at the state muscular dystrophy summer camp and had a little girl in my cabin who sealed my commitment to being a special education teacher of students with multiple disabilities, especially those who communicated without speaking. She was a cute little kid, the only child at camp who did not speak and one of the few who could walk. She communicated using what had to have been one of the first Dynavox devices ever, adapted sign language and vocalizations. On the third night of camp she grew home sick, crawling onto my bunk and signing, "mom" repeatedly. I had no idea how to use her "talking box" but I wrestled it out of the case and took it and her to the camp office where I plugged it in and watched as she used it to talk with her mother over the phone. When she said, "I love you, mom!" I was hooked, why didn't all of the people in the world who could not speak have these things?
That winter I would write an essay about the experience that would secure my place at Simmons College in the intensive special needs undergraduate program (which no longer exists). I would take every elective relating to speech and communication and go off of the college's list of pre-practicum and practicum placements to find schools that worked with students who used AAC.
Even now with a roomful of students using AAC I think about the two people who taught me that just because someone can't speak, doesn't mean they don't have anything to say.
As a blogger I am sometimes shamelessly out-of-touch. Then Ricky Buchanan of AT Mac e-mailed me to let me know she was submitting my post about taking my class to see Les Mis to the AT Blog Carnival. Given that my life was (an continues to be) a little out of whack I am not even sure if I replied to that compliment (sorry Ricky).
Then I checked out the AT Blog Carnival website, it turns out it is written by the author of a blog I have been following on my RSS reader for sometime, Lon Thornberg who writes No Limits to Learning and No Limits to Life. (He also has My Reading Chair, with text-to-speech readings of books for children.) In the end I submitted another post of mine, Part Two of "My Voice is My Power" series about AAC. (I couldn't figure out if Ricky submitted the Les Mis entry for March or April.)
In the end the blog carnival provided me with some links to some great blog entries and some new blogs to add to my RSS feeds. Here is a quick list of the entries submitted (but you should check out the Blog Carnival site to read about why the each post was submitted).:
- From my blog: "My Voice is My Power: Part Two" (then read about the same individual in My Voice is My Power: Part Four) and Les Mis
- From Ricky's AT Mac Blog: "Did you know your Mac could do that?" and "Assisitive Technology Makes a Difference: Dustin's Story"
- From Ron Graham's Access Ability Blog: "Yahoo Acknowledges Inaccessible Content"
- From Dr. Barbara Boucher's Blog TherExtras: "Assistive Technology and Me"
- From Jason Voiovich at "The State of the Brand"
- From Paul Nastch at Assistive Gaming
- From Dustin Oakley at The Crass Pip on AT Blogging
- Craig Phillips, Second Chance to Live
- Heather Johnson on Audio Book College Content
- Nick from Understanding Media on Podcasting in the Classroom
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Free E-mail Programs
- Free Gab Mail by Gab Sight (simple webased audio or video e-mail)*
- eyejot (needs registration)
- Yack Pack (needs registration)
- Multi Mail Accessible E-mail Program (switch and touchscreen accessible)
- Tar Heel Typer (switch scanning to type text with an email button at the end)
Pay E-mail Programs
- I Can Email by RJ Cooper (simple audio e-mail program)
- Qualimail (text based, scanning, accessible e-program)
- Inter_com by Mayer Johnson (appears to be taken off the market)
- The Grid 2 (built in SMS texting, fully accessible)
- Cog Link (for those with intellectual disabilities)
E-mail Groups for AAC Users and Friends
Downloadable Resources about E-mail
- AAC Small Talk Packet with worksheets on emoticons and safe surfing.
- Boardmaker with Speaking Dynamically Pro 6
- Classroom Suite 4
- Clicker 5
*My classroom uses and loves Gab Mail. We e-mail other students and teachers in classrooms, parents, friends and even our case managers at DMR. Some students use it with AAC and some use their voices. Seriously, Gab Mail rocks!
Friday, April 25, 2008
Once again thank you to regular readers for allowing this blog to occasionally turning into a memorial site for my sister and still returning day after day. The information below is from the Sarah Lawrence College website.In Memoriam: Stacey Ahern '08
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Stacey Ahern, class of '08, died on March 20 in Bronxville at the age of 29. A memorial ceremony to celebrate her life will be held at the College April 30th.
Stacey entered Sarah Lawrence College through the Center for Continuing Education in fall 2005 and matriculated into the regular undergraduate program the following year. Stacey was passionate about language in all its forms. She wrote poetry and fiction, and recently completed her first novel. Works she was particularly fond of included those of Emily Dickinson and Kafka, Jane Eyre, and New Yorker cartoons. Her favorite songs came from the Grateful Dead and Ani DiFranco. On campus, Stacey was a member of the student group Beyond Compliance, and persistently advocated for the rights of people with disabilities to reach their full potential.At the request of Stacey's family, the College has set up a scholarship fund in her memory. For information please call (914) 395 2525.
This is from the Sarah Lawrence College website. Please e-mail or comment if you want more information about the memorial service.
You know all this blogging about my sister and I think, given what this website is for, I should talk about her disability and the assistive technology she used. Stacey suffered an anoxic brain injury on April 1, 2000. She spent nine days in an unconscious coma and then several more months moving through the levels of the Los Amigos Coma Scale. She then spent many, many months in various hospitals and group living situations re-learning how to do everything from communicating to sitting up, to walking, to self-care. Surprisingly Stacey suffered no cognitive or behavior effects from the injury. Eight years after the injury, at the time of her death Stacey still had mild to moderate dysarthria and ataxia which caused fine motor disabilities (she could barely write by hand but could type slowly) and a sometimes awkward gait. She was also very easily fatigued.
From the time of her injury until the time of her death Stacey used a few different types of assistive technology. Before I list what she used I need to mention two things, 1) Stacey was very anti-devices during her rehabilitation; she wanted to be "normal", 2) Stacey later looked through an Enabling Devices catalog I had in my car and marveled at the items she could have used is she had been willing. She even asked me why I hadn't given her a voice output aid and was surprised when I told her that I had in the early days of her recovery and she flat out refused to even look at it.
Here are the devices Stacey did concede to use:
- a Boardmaker created set of communication boards, these were text based and Stacey spelled her messages at first by pointing using a covered marker with an enlarged grip and later her finger (until she was able to speak clearly). (I am happy to email the boards she used upgraded to version 5 or 6 of Boardmaker.)
- a low tech handle I made on her communication binder by punching two holes in the spine and tying on a handle made of shoe lace laced with Toobers and Zots (until she was ready to ditch the communication boards)
- an Intellikeys Keyboard with the QWERTY overlay and keyguard (until she was ready to use a regular keyboard)
- a custom built adapted remote control for her stereo (until she threw it out, sick of being different)
- weighted utensils and covered cups with thin straws (until fine motor and swallowing issues resolved)
- "Good Grips" utensils, especially the can opener
- a laptop computer (this continued until her death as she never really learned to write well again, she used it for all of her college classes, all note taking and all correspondence)
Today I visited again with my former student (the one I wrote about in the second My Voice is My Power follow up). This time he had his AAC device. What a difference it made!
When I first arrived he used his device to tell me that he was mad at me because he doesn't like change. I realized that this was because I was supposed to spend the entire week with him, but instead was only with him today (see previous entry about my going to NY). So we talked about it and he was fine after a few minutes. Without his communication device it would have taken us hours to work this out.
We visited and he told me all about his week and his new school using his ChatPC. Then he went to a page of all of his teachers and friends from when he was in my class and he asked about each of them one by one. After all the updates he decided he wanted to go visit a classmate who was in my class with him and then happened to move to the same residential school he is at now.
The entire drive there he talked to me with his device. He told me about the music he has been listening to (Bruce Springsteen), his favorite class (horticulture) and his favorite friends and staff members at school. It was great. Then we called his old (as in former) speech therapist and he used his ChatPC to talk to her on speaker phone. On the way to visit his classmate he decided he wanted to go to McDonald's where, without help, he ordered his fish sandwich and a Coke.
We then visited his friend, who he nagged about her not using her ChatPC (it wasn't charged) and then he gave her a foot rub. (I kid you not.)
Next we went to Bob's Discount Furniture to sit in the massage chairs and try out the massage Bob-o-pedic Craftmatic style bed. He used his device while we there to chat with my father (who is a salesman there). He told my dad that I am mean, messy and that the side view mirror is broken on my car. My dad told him that they were both saying all the same things about me (thanks soooo much, dad). Then my student decided to look for Bob, but since Bob doesn't work in that store he settled for a Bob's Discount Furniture tee shirt, even using his device to say what size he wanted.
Then my dad asked us to do him a favor, could we go to his house, find his cell phone and bring it to him? We said yes and were off on an adventure to look for the cell phone. We found it and brought it back to the store. The entire time we were conversing with the help of the ChatPC.
It was such a different day today versus the day we spent together in April when he did not have his ChatPC. His voice is his power.
See the My Voice is My Power video.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Recent studies have used fMRIs to look at what happens when individuals identify emotional states by picture versus by using language. In the study individuals were asked to match photographs of face showing matching facial expressions and then they were asked to match the photograph to the printed word for the emotion displayed. Matching only images caused the amygdala to become active. This is the part of the brain associated with emotional distress. However, when matching images to words the amygdala shows less activity and the right ventral lateral prefrontal cortex shows more activity. The right ventral lateral prefrontal cortex is a language center of the brain and its activation along with the suppression of the amygdala mean that using language to describe emotions lessens emotional pain. Long story short if you can use language/words to label feelings then the feelings will have less of an impact. (Here is a link to the APA article.)
This is all reinforces our responsibility to work to increase not only our students vocabularies, but also their emotional intelligence. It also explains why some students who finally receive AAC devices and therefore can now use language to label and explain emotions show a decrease in maladaptive behavior.
In particular it has been found that up to 85% of individuals on the autism spectrum have some level of alexithymia. (It is also co-morbid in many cases of anorexia and other eating disorders, depression and individuals exposed to early and/or ongoing childhood trauma.) Add that to the fact that many of the students in our classrooms have limited expressive language and we are likely to see students who either have organic (neurogenic or psychogenic) alexithymia or students who have secondary alexithymia because of expressive language limitations.
It is recommended that those with alexithymia learn a large repertoire of words that describe emotions and that they work with someone who can teach them how to recognize the physical signs of various emotions and the labels for those emotions. This is, of course, where we teachers (and therapists and parents) of learners with alexithymia or limited expressive language come in. We must teach our students through direct instruction, modeling, role plays, incidental teaching and other methods of instruction the words for emotions, how to recognize emotions in themselves and others, and how to understand the degrees of emotions (angry to furious, happy to ecstatic). We can't just expect our students to "use their words" without teaching them the words and how to use them. The bonus of teaching our students the words is that when they do use those words they will be able to lessen the intensity of their feelings.
Here are some tactics I use in teaching my students about emotions and the words for emotions:
- Start by teaching "mad, sad, glad", then add scared and move on from there
- Emotion communication boards and pages on AAC devices
- Daily check in during morning meeting where students are taught to use feeling words
- Use of "cloze" style statements, "I feel...." and "I need..." (with use of AAC to answer if needed)
- Feelings pages on AAC devices link to "because" pages which link to "you can help me by" pages (For example pressing and saying "I am so mad!", links to a page with choices about why the student is upset, thus the student may press, "I am so mad because someone who is supposed to be here is not here!", this links to a page with choices of things that are calming so the student may say, "You can help me by giving me some space so we will all be safe.")
- Role plays where students draw a picture card of an emotion out of a hat and then must act out that emotion through facial expression and label the emotion with his or her words (in whatever form that takes)
- Bingo and matching activities that ask student to match photographs or drawings of various emotions with words/picture symbols
Here are some products I have used with my students:
Here are some books I use with students:
- Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis
- Feelings by Aliki
- The Feelings Book: The Care and Keeping of Your Emotions by American Girl Press
Here are some communication boards about emotions for all levels:
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
In this case a button requesting a cheese and crackers snack was programmed to say, "I want cheese and crackers" during the afternoon and evening and something like, "Sorry, no cheese and crackers right now", in the morning.
Programming variables can be helpful for behavioral reasons (self-modulation and cueing), decreasing cognitive load (limiting choices), and access reasons (no need to scan or have on the screen buttons that are not relevant).
Here are some ideas I have for using time variables in programming AAC devices:
- using the example from above to say what is available or not available for anything to toy choices, food and staff members based on time of day or day of the week
- having a greeting button automatically say "good morning" vs. "good afternoon" or "sleep tight"
- "what's now" and "what's next" buttons that change according to the time and schedule
- a seasonal or holiday button that automatically goes to the correct holiday for the day (in October to a Halloween page, from mid June to July 5th to an Independence Day page)
- using a seconds or minutes later variable for cueing, for example a student says, "I need the bathroom" and a set time later the device says, "I should be on my way to the bathroom" (you could even use a temporary voice or temporary volume setting to make it whisper the cue)
- lunch menus that change based on the day to match the schools pre-set menu
- "here is what I am doing after school" and "this is what I did last night" that change based on the day (i.e. Tuesday is says, "I have Challenger League Baseball tonight!" and Wednesday morning it says, "Ask me about my Challenger League Baseball game last night!")
- A Sunday school page that pops up on Sunday only
- a birthday page that automatically lists only the birthdays in the current month
- ages that automatically update
- weather pages that only offer snow as a choice during winter months and heat wave during summer months
- casual conversation pages that change based on the time of day (for example afterschool boards say, "What up?" and "Peace out!" while school time boards us more formal expression, "How are you doing?" and "See you later."
- and so much more!
- svTime: Time ("3:38")
- svDate: Date ("May 19, 2006")
- svYear: Year ("2006")
- svMonth: Name of the current month ("May")
- svMonth#: Number of the current month ("5")
- svDayOfMonth: Date within current month ("19")
- svDay: Name of the current day ("Friday")
- svDay#: Number of day (Sunday being 1) ("6")
- svHour or svHour12: Time in hours ("3")
- svHour24: Military time in hours ("15")
- svMinute: Minutes after the hour ("38")
- svSeconds: Seconds after the minute ("21")
Expert programmers and vendors please post links to directions on programming variables on your devices in the comments!
Finally I found two online (with a little help from Go 2 Web 2.0). PikiKids and Comiqs. They may not be as fancy as Comic Life (I don't know I have never used Comic Life), but it does the job. I haven't had any time to really try these out (also comic based social stories aren't really appropriate for any of my current students), but I hope that you all will check them out and comment on how it goes.
Sample (not a social story, just a sample) of Comiqs:
The Sippy Cup from Jimslam on Comiqs
And here is a random sample from PikiKids (note that while this does not have speech bubbles you CAN put speech bubbles in):
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Thursday, April 17, 2008
- Association of Positive Behavior Supports
- The Center for Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports
- Behavior Doctor
- Multimodal Functional Behavioral Assessment Forms
- Functional Analysis Interview
- Center for Evidence Based Practice
Here are the two Power Point Presentations I used in teaching the class:
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
- Math Moves U
- Fact Check Ed
- King Tut
- The Earth Institute
- PBS Kids Sprout
- Kids Health
- The Good Food Fight
- Sound Junction
- Geo Greeting
- Earth Observatory
- Cute Overload (cuz its cute)
- H2O = Life
- Club Penguin
- Channel One
- Kids National Geographic
These sites are from my "post to blog" bookmarks:
- The Children's University of Manchester
- animations about social studies and science
- social studies and science activities
- great "full screen mode" option perfect for touch screens and whiteboards
- Toys R Us
- guide to toys for differently abled children
- Number Nut
- a variety of levels of flash math quizzes
- Roy the Zebra
- a website for emerging readers
If you miss the dynamic display slide show or the switch slide show you can view them in Picasa.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
On Monday, April 14, 2008, AbleNet Inc. acquired Tash International Inc., a world-class provider of assistive technology with a strong presence in the areas of physical therapy, rehabilitation, and daily living.
For nearly three decades, AbleNet and Tash viewed each other as friendly competitors with both companies offering a unique assortment of switches, communication aids, wheelchair and desktop mounting systems, environmental controls, and a variety of cutting edge computer access aids.
With Tash now a part of AbleNet, both brands and product lines will continue to be available with each providing distinctive features and exceptional quality, but with the convenience, cost-effectiveness, and support of one-stop shopping. Now you will be able to browse and purchase both Tash and AbleNet products 24-hours a day, seven days a week at www.ablenetinc.com.
AbleNet's acquisition of Tash is a great milestone in the world of assistive technology. We are delighted at the prospect of offering Tash products as part of AbleNet's ever-expanding line of easy-tech assistive technologies and look forward to serving you just as we always have.
To learn more about the exciting news regarding AbleNet's acquisition of Tash, please visit www.ablenetinc.com/tash.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Blessed are you who take time to listen to difficult speech:
For you help us to know that if we persevere,
We can be understood.
Blessed are you who walk with us in public places,
And ignore the stares of strangers,
For in your companionship,
We find havens of peace.
Blessed are you who never bid us to "hurry up",
And more blessed are you
Who do not snatch tasks from our hands to do them for us,
For often we need time rather than help.
Blessed are you who stand beside us
As we enter new and untried ventures,
For our failures will be outweighed
By the times we surprise ourselves and you.
Blessed are you who ask for our help,
For our greatest need is to be needed.
Blessed are you when you assure us,
That the one thing that makes us individuals
Is not in our peculiar muscles,
Nor in our wounded nervous systems,
Nor in our difficulties in learning,
Nor any exterior difference.
But is in our inner, personal, individual self
Which no affirmity can diminish or erase.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Monday, April 7, 2008
The first seven photos are from a reseller and manufactured from a variety of companies, the next three are products by Super Duper (and I have many of them - they are great), the last four are from Adaptivation Company, with the last three showing some creative ideas for the classroom.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
I think this will be a great application for my classroom. I can make mixes of my student's favorite (school appropriate) music, load it up and then put the mouse cursor on the "next song" arrow/button so that the student can cycle through the songs just by hitting her or his switch (thankfully it starts over at track one when you click through all the songs).
Here is a sample mixwit you can play right in my blog, I made it for my friend's five year old (who has been singing at open mics since she was three).
Saturday, April 5, 2008
The CEC conference is expensive, for a decent price you have to be a member (which is VERY expensive) and register early, add that to travel, lodging and food and chances are that unless your school or agency is footing all or part of the bill most teachers, especially young teachers, will not be able to afford it. This year it was held an hour from my house so it was somewhat in my financial reach, but transportation and food still killed my budget for April and it is only the fifth of the month.
The second reason is my bigger reason for not returning and that is relevance. I teach intensive special needs, also called severe, profound, significant, low incidence or multiply disabilities. It is estimated that only 1-2% of learners are in this category. Special education is such a broad field covering everything from learning disabilities, sensory disabilities, autism and related disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders and physical disabilities that it is easy to understand why the lowest incidence disabilities,such as the disabilities I work with, don't get much of a billing. Yet I expected that there would be something that was relevant available for me to attend during each session. There wasn't. I spent much of my time bored and wandering the expo (after having seen every vendor at least five times this was very old), sitting around chatting with people I know or just fiddling with my computer. There were dozens and dozens of RTI workshops and more things about autism then you could possibly imagine, but very, very little for those of us in this branch of special education.
Even when something appeared to be relevant when reading the workshop description it would turn out it wasn't once I was in the room. For example one reading workshop proclaimed to be about severe cognitive disabilities, but it turned out to focus on children with an IQ of 40-55, which is not exactly severe in my corner of the sped world. Another math workshop proclaiming the same category of special needs had students doing math problems that involved reading or listening to math story about elapsed time and then solving for X to find the answer. The problem was creative and well adapted by required a knowledge base including one to one correspondence, counting to ten, forward and backward counting, an understanding of both the basics of time and using a number line not to mention a physical ability to use manipulatives. When I asked about more significantly challenged students I was chastised for having "low expectations" and told that even very involved students could probably do this and use eye gaze to respond (then I asked, "well what about non-verbal, blind and significantly cognitively challenged students" (which describes many of my students) and was told, "Oh we excluded blind and deaf students from the study." Of course they did.). When I think that I could have spent my money on the TASH conference, which I have attended in the past and which has many, many relevant workshops every session or something like Closing the Gap, CSUN or ATIA which would let me see the newest and greatest things happening in assistive technology I truly feel like I made a bad choice. I am now planning on letting my (expensive) CEC membership lapse and instead re-joining TASH.
Perhaps I can even find a way to get to the TASH New England Conference on April 15.
Friday, April 4, 2008
I wanted to interview Dan for my blog (and he REALLY wanted to be interviewed), but we kept getting interrupted because he needed to demonstrate his device for everyone. The one thing Dan wanted me to be sure I told everyone is that he is a composer. He was a big part of the creation of some of the music software that came out of Massachusetts Hospital School a few years ago.
This is Dan's Eco AAC device. He runs it with head tracking using the headband he is seen wearing above. He is an excellent user, having no problem with the PRC representative changing the types of images (to and from an enhanced set of images) on him. He uses the Unity (Minspeak) system of language compaction in addition to some spelling of words as needed. I even watched him go into the editing pages to change his age, since his birthday was pretty recent. Here are links related to Dan.
- Headbangers Switch Band from Mass Hospital School
- Super Switch Ensemble Software
- South Coast today article about MHS and Music
- NY Times article about Super Switch Ensemble