Friday, December 31, 2010

This week Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs reached 1,000,000 visitors!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trabasack Portable Lap

Ok, technically it is a tray/bag, but in my classroom we call it a "lap".  The Trabasack is an innovative bag that doubles as a lap desk and has the option of a Velcro accepting surface.

We use our Trabasack everyday, especially for activities away from our group table, like music therapy.  Using the trabasack instead of a tray makes it easier to "see" the student instead of the equipment because it is smaller and looks more natural than a tray.

The Velcro accepting surface allows us to attach switches and smaller communication devices as well as preferred leisure items like an iPod or fine motor activity.

Although we don't use ours as a bag very often it is wonderful that it can carry switches, symbols and sensory items while hanging on the back of a wheelchair and then be used as a tray to access those items.  (I wish we had the Trabasack last school year when we went on a field trip to the movies, using it to attach sensory items would have helped one of my students stay calm and happy.)

The Trabasack is available in two sizes:

Trabasack Curve – curved edge hugs the body’s contours, helps to keeps hands and elbows on the surface
Size: 39 x 37 x 7.5cm.
Trabasack Mini – rectangular, A4 size, fits smaller chairs.
Size: 33 x 25 x 7.5cm.

Connect – Is a tray cover option.
A super soft Velcro tray top. Use it to securely position and reposition switches toys etc.
(And would make a great holiday gift!)

Monday, November 29, 2010

iDevices and Switch Control

Hardware Based Options
There are three hardware-based options of which I’m aware for accessing the music playing functions an an iPod, iPhone, or iPad, as well as customisable software programs. These won’t help you to use the programs on an iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad - just to play the music, audiobooks and podcasts you’ve already put onto the device.
Each option has different features, and of course different things work for different people so I’ll let you know as many features as I have knowledge of, and we can go from there:

SpaceKraft’s iPod Switcher

This is the simplest controller, with only three buttons. It has a desktop docking unit where the iPod sits plus a wireless controller unit with the three buttons.
The iPod Switcher with a traditional type iPod
The iPod Switcher with a traditional type iPod
Functions it controls: Play/Pause, Next Track, Previous Track.
Switch access: This unit does not allow your own switches to be plugged in, only the unit’s own built-in buttons can be used.
Compatibility: The sales page just says “iPod”. There’s no clear indication of which iPods it will operate with - it looks like the dock part would only fit specific sizes of iPods.
Wireless controller size: 24cm wide, 19cm deep, 7cm tall.
Button size: Unspecified.
Cost: £295 (No USA vendor has been found)
Notes: The switcher control box is battery powered. The page says “Operates on 240v” which implies the dock section needs to be plugged in to operate, however.

RJ Cooper’s BIG iPod Remote

RJ's BIG iPod Remote being used by an elderly womanFive-button remote with large brightly coloured buttons on the top, separate switches can also be plugged in.
RJ's BIG iPod Remote being used by an elderly woman
Functions it controls: Play/Pause, Next Track, Previous Track, Volume up, Volume down.
Switch access: The unit’s own built-in buttons can be used or any/all of these buttons can be replaced by separate switches.
Compatibility: It should fit any iPod/iPhone/iPad except the iPod Shuffle.
Wireless controller size: 8″ wide x 5″ deep x 3″ tall.
Button size: The large green button is 1-3/4″ and the smaller buttons are 1-1/4″.
Cost: US$119 via RJ Cooper

Technical Solutions’ iScanMP3 (formerly SwitchPod)

Single switch visual/auditory scanning system, including adjustable scan speed.
The iScan MP3 plugged into a traditional style iPod
The iScan MP3 plugged into a traditional style iPod
Functions it controls: Play/Pause, Next Track, Previous Track, Volume up, Volume down, Power on/off.
Switch access: Plug in any standard switch.
Compatibility: It should fit any iPod/iPhone/iPad except the iPod Shuffle.
Cost: AU$190 via Technical Solutions; US$289.95 via Enabling Devices

RJ Cooper iPad Switch and Switch Interface
This bluetooth switch is designed to be used in conjunction with app designed for switch use.  Currently that includes the Conley Solutions's Tap Speak Choices AAC app.  There is information out there that most AAC apps will be adding switch support.
Functions it controls:  any which are supported in the app, will not run the iPod/iPad
Compatibility: It should work with any iPod or iPad as long as supporting apps are used
Cost: US$99 for the Switch Interface and US$149 for iPad Cordless Super-Switch

Other Options

There are some ‘easy music controller’ programs for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad which present an interface that’s easier to operate for those with limited dexterity. They generally operate by gestures, where a single tap gesture anywhere on the screen will operate either the ‘pause/play’ function or the ‘next song’ function. Some are configurable so that you can define what gestures mean what.
These are some cheap options I recommend:
Gesture Player
This is the one I use myself to listen to my audio books. Specially cool things about it:
  • Compatible with both iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. Most seem to be iPhone/iPod Touch only.
  • Clearly displays the function you have activated, so you know what’s happening.
  • You can pick a default playlist to use. Most seem to only have the option to use the full library.
  • Can adjust the sensitivity of the gesture recogniser, more sensitive requires the gestures to be more accurate before they’re recognised.
About the only thing that isn’t perfect about this one is there’s no ability to configure which gesture does what!
Swiper Music Player
Swiper has slightly different controls, so a single tap to the screen moves to the next track and a long tap (press-and-hold) is needed to operate the play/pause function. It also displays the music’s cover art so you can see pictorially what’s playing. Swiper is for the iPhone/iPod Touch only, there’s no iPad native version.
LeechTunes allows some controls to be customised, but basic controls seem fixed, including a single tap operating the play/pause function. There are a bunch of different “skins” to change the appearance and a software function to lock the program in either portrait or landscape mode. It also has iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad versions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Learning through the Olfactory Sense

Many of our learners who have multiple disabilities we are often somewhat limited in what sensory pathways we can use to teach new skills or build cognition.  Our students may be deaf, blind, have reduced tactile sensation, be unable to eat or even taste foods by mouth or be unable to participate in most vestibular and proprioceptive activities because of medical conditions like orthostatic hypotension or brittle bones.  These means that the sense of smell may be the most powerful means of accessing our students skills.

Most of us are sure to include the sense of smell in our cooking lessons, passing around the vanilla extract or onion for every one to sniff.  Yet how can we include the sense of smell in other areas of the curriculum.

1.  Consistently call attention to the scent of items in natural settings, if possible pairing the scent with another sense such as touch or hearing.  Have your student notice the smell of the crayon while feeling its shape and making the movements for coloring hand over hand.  Notice the odor of the playground ball as you roll it and bounce it.  Observe the smell or the toothpaste and hand soap while doing activities of daily living.

2.  If at all possible consider embedding scent into a visual schedule/calendar box system.  A few drops of an essential oil like evergreen or gardenia can be added to the "outside" symbol, a minty toothpasty kind of smell added to the ADLs symbol or a lemony smell for vocational tasks that involve using citrus scented cleaners.  (You can add scents to symbols by placing a free drops of oil on a cotton ball in a small container or plastic zip bag attached to the back or the symbol.)

3.  Ask people to try to stick to the same perfume, aftershave, scented lotion or or even deodorant so students can associate a person with a scent.

4.  Attempt to embed scents into theme units.  Learning about India?  Introduce each lesson with the smell of curry.  Learning about gardening?  Introduce each lesson with the smell damp soil (put some in a baby food jar).  Think about this when you plan out your unit.

5. Using a systematic program (such as Every Move Counts) do a preference assessment on your student's favorite scents.  You can then use this scent to reinforce learning activities.  For example teaching switch use using a scent diffuser and an environmental controller.

6.  Add an aroma diffuser to your sensory area.  You can adapt battery run ones with a battery interrupter for switch use or get a plug in version and use with an environmental control unit.  Some more expensive versions have a remote control, which means you can program communication devices or IR environmental control units to run the diffuser.

7.  When doing sensory stimulation, sensory soothing and educational activities consider using scent:
Please note:  student and staff sensitivities and allergies must be taken into account when planning to add olfactory experiences to your program.  Some people believe that scented toys maybe risky for children, please be aware of the risks and understand your school/agency policy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Free iPads for Low and Non-Verbal Individuals with Autism

Hollyrod Foundation has a program to provide individuals with autism and communication challenges iPads for communication.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Things you never thought you would say...

One of my tutoring students is a late bloomer in terms of AAC.  It wasn't until 17 when he received his first dynamic display device, a Tobii C-Eye

Six months later he was hanging out in his kitchen with a friend, blasting Shania Twain on his iTunes, through her Tobii.

"That's too loud; turn it down!" his mother told him.  Like any other teen would he turned it down, but just a little.

One of the best gifts of AAC and accessible environmental control is a chance to be like any other kid.  Not to mention the chance for a parent to be like any other parent.

More AAC Apps Coming to iPad

The world of AAC is opening up even more.  A number of new iPhone/iTouch/iPad apps are being added to the broad field of AAC apps in the iTunes App Store.

First TouchChat by Satillo offers the advantages of a well known and widely used AAC system that has been around for over a decade since the original ChatPC on the iDevices.  Four vocabulary page sets come with the TouchChat - VocabPC, MultiChat15, Spelling and Primary.  A number of other vocabulary page sets can be purchased if more suitable such as Inman Innovations Word Power and PRC's iEssence for literate users.  The TouchChat uses SymbolStix symbols with over 8,000 available.  TouchChat offers something unique to complete iDevice AAC systems - a sharing site where page sets can be posted and used by others.  The TouchChat app is $149 with additional costs for more vocabulary page sets and $59 for six months access to iShare.  A Windows based desktop editor is also available for $59, it must be used with a subscription to iShare.  This allows off-device programming.  The device also offers a choice of five synthesized voices.

Conley Solutions is adding a full AAC app to its Tap Speak Button and TapSpeak Sequence apps.  Tap Speak Choices uses Mayer-Johnson Pictures Symbols, allows 1-56 buttons per page, has drag 'n' drop editing and is one or two switch accessible using RJ Cooper's Bluetooth Switch Interace ($99).  No price has been listed for Tap Speak Choices nor is the type of speech listed - recorded or synthesized.

Smarty Ears is also offering an AAC app now, although much less compelling than either of those above or the original Proloquo2Go.  Smarty Ears AAC app is called Expressive.  It uses non-standardized clip art images, many of which are confusing (i.e. verbs is two clasped hands).  There are male or female voice options.  Expressive is $34.99.

It should be noted that some smaller, innovative health insurance companies, such as Fallon in the Northeast, are now funding iDevice based AAC. 

Finally RJ Cooper mentions on his site that ALL of the AAC Apps will be adding switch access.

A User Finds a Device

I will admit that I have been a naysayer about Dynavox's new Maestro AAC device.  My reasons for my less-than-impressed attitude are two fold.

First I find Dynavox's arrogance repugnant, take for example this quote, "When asked about the iPad at leading communications company, Dynavox, some of the representatives felt the device was helpful, but not to be relied on in assisting those with autism or other special needs." (The Examiner).  Really, Dynavox?  Really?  Since when do you get to decide what can be relied on for AAC?  Is it because it isn't a Dynavox or is it (more likely) that someone is offering an AAC solution with a price tag way way under the $8,000 you charge?  Everyone knows you charge that price because it is the top price the government will allow you to charge.  Tech prices in all other sectors drop over time as components become less expensive, but not for AAC.  Proloquo2Go has leveled the playing field for AAC as far as offering a complete language solutions of the same quality or better than the big players in the field at an affordable price.  Now well know AAC companies like Saltillo are jumping on the iPad bandwagon, offering AAC solutions for a price users, families and schools can afford.  Meanwhile Dynavox proports to be the field of AAC to help those with communication disorders and instead shows the kind of attitude shown in that the quote above (and others like it) which demonstrates what they really care about is making money for their stock holders before helping anyone.

Second I continue to find major faults with Dynavox's software system.  Both InterAACt (and Gateway before it) mix symbol sets without regard for the needs of the user, often times the symbols for a single word (i.e. "sorry") is different on the same pages within one system.  InterAACt has built in visual display scenes, which are poorly researched for most AAC users (research has found them useful for aphasia and young children with autism, which is only a percentage of AAC users), and those visual scenes are nearly impossible to remove.  Additionally InterAACts varibles are hard on those who need keyguards and the "emergent" communicator level lacks important vocabulary like, "feelings".  Essentially is is almost easier to program from scratch than it is to reprogram a Dynavox for many users.

Those things remaining true this past week I participated in a Maestro trial for a young adult user.  This user is currently using a Go Talk 20+.  This users is definitely ready for dynamic display.  We were looking for a lightweight device for this ambulatory user to be able to carry which had a large and bright screen and a key guard to assist in access issues for to fine motor control.  A number of devices have been trialled unsuccessfully, the PRC Springboard was difficult cognitively, the Saltillo Alt-Chat had a screen which was too dark and too small for our users vision issues, the Xpress was both too cognitively difficult and too small, Proloquo2Go on the iPad didn't have fine motor setting or a key guard that would help with the fine motor issues and the Dynavox V and Tobii C-8 were too heavy. 

Since we had a Dynavox rep coming out to demo an Eyemax for another user we asked for a Maestro for this user.  I was thrilled to see that the Maestro seems to be a perfect match for our user.  It is only .4 ounces heavier than the Alt-Chat, but the screen is large, bright and clear.  The key guard eliminated most (though not all) of our fine motor access issues.  Thus the only remaining problem was the software (with it's mixed symbol sets and key guard defying variables), thus we choose to make some pages from scratch for our user.  The page we mostly used, one we were calling "Bossy Betty" had words like "go", "on", "in", "under", "table", "corner", "outside", "chair", "come back" and "sorry".  Thus in what had to be the funniest demo I have ever been to I spent a lot of time under the table, in a chair, outside and in the corner.  This was the most communication we have ever seen out of this user in one time.

We will try again with the Maestro next week and then begin the long and arduous trek towards funding if things work out so well again.  (And a long trek it will be with that $8200 price tag.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

AAC Awareness Month

There are many options to participate in AAC Awareness Month.  The easiest is to download a sign or post and hang in a visible location.  Another is using AAC in public.  What a great motivation for some community based instruction!  Maybe even have a "AAC Sit In" and gather a large group of AAC users in a public space to communicate together (I have visions of the food court being taken over at the mall).  Even better if you do so in front of a live web cam.  The AAC Visibility and Awareness Campaign has ideas and a list of web cams all over the world if you are interested.

There is also a Read-a-Thon could be more aptly called an  "Online AAC Open Mic" where AAC users log into Skype and share their writings and thoughts about AAC.   Today my high tech AAC users tried to participate in the AAC Awareness Read-a-Thon, but we have issues with Skype and neither the blog nor the Facebook page really made up for that, thus we ended up watching some AAC Related Videos (embedded below) and posting to the Facebook page about our participation.

It was one of those great teacher moments to watch my students watching "If I had A VOCA" and "1 Voice".  One student was so enthralled that his eyes never left the monitor, with his entire torso leaning out of his wheelchair towards the screen.  The other student kept saying, "Cool!" and "Awesome!" with her AAC device.  Over the next few weeks I think we will start writing about AAC with our AAC devices.  

Would could be a more important part of AAC Awareness than AAC users being aware that there are others who communicate just like them all over the world!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Conversation vs. Quiz

When I was in my undergraduate practicum I had to wonderful opportunity to spend some time observing a teacher named Subha.  One of the things that impressed me about her classroom was that it immersed her students in communication; symbols were everywhere, they hung by subject on a pegboard that filled an entire wall, and labeled every item and every student used a communication book with direct select or partner assisted scanning.  (Dynamic Display Devices with options our students needed were just on the horizon.) On each communicate book there was a large message which read:

My name is ________________.  I am ______ years old.
I use this book to talk.  You can help me by __________.
Please DO NOT QUIZ ME by asking me where things are or to find certain messages.

In the years since I have tried to never, ever confuse conversation with twenty questions or a multiple choice quiz.  I make sure my students have a way to say something along the lines of, "I get really sick of people asking me boring questions all the time!  How about we just chat?"

That has mean some creative activities like adapted games, dramatic impressions of me developing aphasia and needing assistance thinking of a word (this is becoming less acting and more real with every passing year) and lots of meeting new people in the school and community to practice finding vocabulary.  It takes lots of practice on the part of the communication partner to stop just asking and instead converse with an AAC user.  It means saying things like, "I really love cereal in the morning.  What breakfast foods do you like?", instead of, "Where's the breakfast foods?" or "How do you feel when you see that cute boy you like?" instead of, "Find happy." 

One of the best ways to do this is for both communication partners to use the (of if possible two of the same) AAC books or devices.  We all know the fancy words for this, "Aided Language Stimulation" and "Modeling", but mostly it can be really fun.  Plus, you find out pretty quickly what is missing and how difficult a device is to use when you yourself are using the device.

Just this week I was working with a student at his home.  He is learning how to use Proloquo2Go on an iPod Touch.  I pulled out my iPhone and matched the settings on his iPod Touch.  At first we chatted, then we started racing each other to find words and finally we took turns describing the pictures the other made using an iPad.  We both had a great time and family members wanted in on the action.  I doubt he would have even sat at the table with me if I had quizzed him rote style on the vocabulary on his device.

Using this fun and functional way of working with emerging communicators using AAC means that my students usually enjoy using their AAC books or devices.  When AAC is conversation and not a quiz students think of the communication system as a voice and not work.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Wait Time

We all know we are supposed to give wait time.  It is one of those things drilled into our heads in "teacher school".  We even know how much more important it is for our kids.  Still waiting is one of those things that is hardest to do.

A few examples from our week:
  • a student was being put into a stander and her helpers were preparing to give a boost up because there was a lot of slouching going on, reminded to wait and that the student IS capable of pushing further in to stand independently we waited; it took one minute and forty five seconds, but the student eventually was able to process the verbal command and touch cues and push into stand; impressive stuff
  • we had recently discussed another student's need for long wait times, of up to several minutes to complete complex tasks which involve both intellectual processing and motor planning; an aide therefore cued the student early to go to the appropriate page on an AAC device and get ready to activate the right message, it took nearly four minutes, but the student was ready to answer with the rest of the class when a question was asked of the group
So much goes into what we ask our students to do.  Pushing further into stand for a student with apraxia and significant motor disabilities means understanding the prompts to stand, figuring out what is needed to complete that command and then making a body that is difficult to move purposefully on the best of days do what is being asked.  When you think about it this way just under two minutes to follow such a command is a miracle.

This is a time when we, as adults, caregivers, teachers, parents, therapists, need visual cues and reminders.  We need to hang signs that say wait next to the clock and around the room.  We need to cue each other to "shhh" and "wait".  We need to discuss and agree on how to move through a prompt hierarchy and how much time to leave between cues.  Because waiting is one of our key tools in our toolbox.

From Phrase Based to Core Words

Most of the AAC users I have had in my classroom over the years have used programming on their devices that is phrase based.  Entire sentences or at least independent clauses are programmed on each button.  This is usually the chosen method of programming by the SLP and TEAM because of significant cognitive and/or access issues.  The low-tech version of this is topic boards. 

Let's face it chaining a sentence or linking multiple meaning symbols together to form a thought is generally more complex intellectually and requires more activations (by they direct selection, switch or eye gaze) per sentence than phrase based programming.  Yet, it is widely understood that core vocabulary programming using the top 100 words in the language plus fringe vocabulary is best practice for AAC users.  Core vocabulary allows a wider array of messages to be displayed, reduces AAC user reliance on the person programming their device to have the correct message and has limited means of growth in communication competency for the user. 

So how do we begin to move our early or emerging communicators using phrased based AAC towards core vocabulary AAC design?

That is a complex question and the answer will be different for every AAC user.  Here are some ideas we have been trying:
  • direct instruction of core vocabulary - i.e. word of the week, highlighting core words in other curriculum activities, core word bingo, etc
  • static core words on every page or in every page set (top left buttons are always, "I", "want" and "don't", bottom left are always, "more" and "done", etc.)
  • move away from "topic boards" towards "core vocabulary" plus fringe vocabulary even on manual boards and lower tech devices (this has the bonus of saving hours of time and programming on devices like Go Talks, Cheap Talks and TechTalks), thus a cooking overlay with core vocabulary for cooking (I, you, want, don't, come, go, more, all done, plus certain fringe words like stir, cook, pour, measure) rather than a new overlay for every recipe
  • for high tech AAC users currently using phrased based communication provide a link to a core vocabulary based system which allows the user to begin to supplement phrase based communication with core vocabulary, teach the student how to go to that page set and how to use it
  • teach communicator partners to respect "good tries" and look for the essence of a message, thus, "I go store" can mean, "I went to the store", "I want to go to the store", "I am going to go to the store", "I want to play store", etc.  (This is important in phrase based communication too, where, "I miss my brother" can mean, "My brother is coming home from college this weekend" or "I am thinking about my brother because he likes this recipe we are making".)
  • WAIT - learning and using AAC takes time, learning to compose thoughts with AAC takes time, we need to be patient

Monday, October 4, 2010

The New Dynavox Maestro

Dynavox announced today their new device, the Maestro.

The major assests of the Maestro are the weight, durability and multi-lingual ability. 

The Maestro weighs in at 2.75 pounds with the three hour battery and 3.44 with the 9.5 hour battery  and is 2" at its thickest.  Yet it has a full size LED screen of 10.4".

The Maestro has a magnesium case with port plugs and is spill resistant.

Other than the size and durability the Maestro is a fairly standard issue AAC device.  Bluetooth, WiFi, 2 USB ports, a camera (it does have zoom and pan which most AAC devices don't have, but it is in a weird place and could not be used with any accuracy if the device is mounted), microphone, 3 or 9.5 hours battery life (depending on how much size and weight you are willing to trade off for portability), e-mail, SMS messaging, built in stand, forward facing speakers (if you use the device flat), two built in switch ports - the works, but the same works as most devices.  There is no internal CD/DVD drive, which is also now standard on new AAC devices.  Also no hot swap batteries or external volume control.  (Check the specs.)

Software wise the Maestro runs InterAACt, the same as the rest of the Dynavox version five devices.  InterAACt has some nice features especially around quick conversation, but there are some issues with symbol set mixing and inability to "turn off" visual scene displays for those who don't need/can't use them.  I assume you could get Gateway, Word Power or another vocabulary set installed on the device. 

All in all this is a device I can't wait to look at for student who need something light weight and tough. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Finger Isolation Switch

These photos show an Ablenet Jelly Bean switch adapted to teach finger isolation.  It is adapted with molded splinting material to cover the switch and a hold cut in the middle.  For low vision the hole could be marked with paint or brightly colored duct tape.  The adaption was done by the wonderful COTA at our school.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Part of the Syndrome to Be

Years ago when I taught more students with Down Syndrome I was moved by the essay, "If People with Down Syndrome Ruled the World."  I was moved not only because it was so true, but also because it was so funny.  If you have ever loved an individual who has Down Syndrome you will see them in that essay.  (Heck even if you have just seen, "The Ringer" you will know some of what that essay is talking about.)

But what about of all the other syndromes and conditions that make up our classrooms?  What would the world be like if they ruled it?  If people with CP ruled the world their would be a warning before every loud noise, but enough time after to let the fun of a startle work for you if you want.  If people with CVI ruled the world everything would be in yellow, red, black and white with excellent lighting.  If girls and women with Rett Syndrome ruled the world eye pointing was be an assumed and preferred form of communication.  If people with Cockayne Syndrome ruled the world their would way more affection and laughter.  If people with autism ruled the world intense hobbies and interests would be the norm and everyone would keep track of the kind of car everyone else drives.  If people with Leigh's Disease and other Mitochondrial Diseases ruled the world energy conservation wouldn't mean turning off the lights when you left the room it would mean napping when you need to. 

In a discussion with a friend today we joked that one syndrome was the syndrome to be, but aren't they all?    Isn't it great to think of all the positive things about our students and the ways we can re-frame the not-always-positive? 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

AAC Device Sharing

If you are interested in downloading board sets for any of the popular communication devices it is likely there is something out there.  You just need to know where to look:

  • no sharing as of this post
  • V/Vmax
  • Xpress
  • Tango
  • No sharing was found for older Dynavox Devices (Series Four, 3100, 2c, iChat, Palmtop)
Prentke Romich Communication
  • while not exactly boards or sharing you can find a plethora of materials at AAC Language Lab
    Tobii ATI
    • Page Set Central for newer devices running Tobii Communicator (Tobii P10, Tobii C8, C12 and C-Eye)
    • Boardmaker Share for older devices running Boardmaker Speaking Dynamically Pro (Mercury, MiniMerc, Gemini) 
    • Online Grids for devices running The Grid 2 (typically in Europe)
    • no sharing for Say-It Sam! or EZ Keys as of this post
      If you know of a company not mentioned, or a sharing site not mentioned please comment.

        Wednesday, September 22, 2010

        New Mid-Level AAC Device: Ablenet's QuickTalker
        Ablenet has introduced a new series of mid-level augmentative/alternative communication devices.  Called QuickTalkers these recorded speech devices feature 4, 9 or 20 main message buttons that change on each level and 3 static message buttons which remain across levels (total recording time six, twelve or twenty minutes).  Each device has five levels.  The devices have a built in handle and overlay storage compartment.  The devices are listed as rugged and designed for users of all ages.  They are 11.6” x 11.8” x 1.7” in dimension and as of this writing do not have a listed weight online.  The devices retail for $159.00 to $199.00.  

        The obvious comparison to make with the QuickTalker is Attainment's tried and true Go Talk Devices.  Go Talks come in 4+2, 9+3 and 20+5 buttons configurations, each with five levels, a built in handle and overlay storage.  (Four and a half, nine and fifteen minutes of recording time respectively.) Go Talk devices have level and record lock buttons to eliminate issues with our "button happy" users.  They also range in price from $159.00 to $199.00.  The Go Talk also come in a six message, multi-level pocket model and a 32 Message Express model.  Go Talk devices are well known for their durability.    

        DOGO News at Morning Meeting

        Our class has been trying a new morning meeting format since July.  It is a format I have used before, but in a different setting. We are having a morning "news show".  The students rotate in pairs through a different role each week - Top Story, Sports, Entertainment and Weather.  Students help pick the story of the day for their role which is recorded on a sequential switch and also use some means of generative language (speech, AAC) to tell the day, month, year, weather and temperature (as it applies to their role).

        This means that every morning we start the day at computers or the iPad searching for the story of the day.  For a while we used CNN Student News but it was a too complicated and often too depressing for our needs.  Sometimes we would use the World News Updates on News-2-You but they aren't updated very often.  WE have similar problem with ELIVE at SymbolWorld.

        For now we have settled on Dogo News.  Dogo News, which has won an ALA Award for Best Web Site for Children, focuses "Fodder for Young Minds".  Although sometimes a bit inaccessible for our students as far as complexity and vocabulary it is certainly more accessible than sites like CNN Students News.  If used with a free screen reader such as  Read Please, Browse Aloud or My Study Bar students can hear the news story read to them.  Dogo News features stories from Current Events, Science, Sports and more.  Many stories link to video clips or other websites.  

        In addition to Dogo News there is Dogo Sites which highlights different sites for kids daily and Dogo Earth which is a fun spinning globe that pops up with stories from all over the world.  Dogo Teachers allows teachers to create a free account and customize the website for their students.  I am hopeful that if many special educators and their students find Dogo News useful and frequent it they will add universal design and accessibility features (i.e. text to speech, literacy support symbols, vocabulary  and switch accessibility) like some other sites, such as Silly Books, have added just for us.

        Many of the stories we start out learning about from Dogo News (or our weekly News-2-You, Unique or another source) we follow up with at Amazing Stories, which is a great site from primary sources.

        Wednesday, September 8, 2010

        iPossibilities: iPods and iPads in Special Education

        You are hereby invited to view the slideshows from the iPossibilities: iPods and iPads in Special Education Presentation give by Kate Ahern, M.S.Ed. and Bonnie Dwyer on August 30, 2010.
        That is all.

        P.S. Although the presentation is less than three weeks old there is some info that is out of data and new apps that have been added to the app store.  There likely will not be an update of this slideshow (as it is trapped on my iPad and has decided to be incompatible with everything except iWork).

        PCI Enviromental Print Program

        We have begun using the new PCI Environmental Print Program in our classroom.  (We would have started soon but I made attaching all the Velcro and punching out the signs a vocational skills project!)

        I am not sure when I have ever seen a curriculum program better meet the needs of my diverse students with significant special needs!

        The program, which retails for $599.95, is an adapted and age appropriate English Language Arts Curriculum that uses stories about environmental print to teach both the signs and reading/listening comprehension.  The symbol set used is SymbolStix which is wonderful since we also use News-2-You, Unique Learning, Tobii Communicator and an ALT-Chat in our classroom and all of those use SymbolStix. 

        The program includes:
        • 160 scripted lessons (and the scripts are detailed but not overwhelming and perfect for having paraprofessionals take over a lesson)
        • 16 Units each have a story book on two different levels detail
        • 48 large signs (I mean LARGE)
        • sequence cards and a retelling mat for each story
        • activity sheets pre-printed and on a CD in PDF format
        • home follow up activities
        • 16 interactive map posters
        • 16 unit assessments that assess the current and previous units
        • teacher's guide
        • cardboard storage box

        There are a lot of great materials in that box.  A fellow special needs teacher and I opened it up and it was like Christmas morning.  First of all this is the most differentiated program I have ever seen.  All lesson instructions give two way to answer, speech or symbols.  There is a yes/no/maybe response board for students who need it and the option to have students point to separate symbols or those in the chapter book. The symbol cards and response boards large and colorful and I haven't needed to enlarge them for my low vision students.  (If you are keeping track so far students with vision and speech difficulties have been accommodated.) Every story is offered on two different levels.  (Check off differentiation for developmental issues.)

        My favorite thing about the program is how it integrates life skills with standards based academics.  The stories are about safety and environmental print is taught and at the same time English Langauge Art standards are addressed through teaching about things like plot, characters and details in a very accessible way.

        In fact, as of right now, I only have two complaints and they are so minor that I hesitate to mention them.  Really, you are going to laugh, my complaints are that the velcro doesn't follow the "Soft Stays" rules (always put the soft or loop side of the velcro on the thing which stays put like the communication board, the wall chart, the adapted book and the hard or hook side of the velcro on the thing that moves like the picture symbols or star for the star chart) and the symbols on some of the interactive map posters aren't in the same order as the character met them in the story.  I told you that you would laugh, I mean that's pretty petty!

        If I were going to look for improvements I would like to see ways to integrate assistive technology more and my dream of dream would be that there would be communication boards for SymbolStix using communication devices (the Tobii, the ALT-Chat, the AMDi products).  It would be so awesome to just download boards for my students devices.  (Of course that is a dream of mine for Unique Curriculum too.)

        It would also be nice if PCI's next endeavor was a math curriculum with all the same features as the Environmental Print Program. Then maybe a level two of the Environmental Print Program?

        If you want to find out more you can check out the slide from the CEC presentation or  this video.

        Monday, August 23, 2010

        What's on the Agenda for Your Curriculum?

        As the school year approaches I am drawing up IEPs at a Glance (a.k.a Goals at a Glance or One Page IEPs) and thinking about our schedule and the curriculum we will be using. 

        Here is what we will be using for curriculum in my classroom:
        Supplemental Materials will be drawn from:
        and more.

        What will you be using for curriculum?

         In a dream world we would also be using the Ablenet Equals curriculum for math, but until then I will continue to design my own math curriculum. (Unique Learning is weak in mathematics and also does not differentiare math content, thus it is never appropriate for my learners.)

        Sunday, August 22, 2010

        Switch Positioning

        Finding the right switch for the job is just part of the puzzle for our students.  Positioning a switch (or other light weight items) can be a challenge.  We need the switch to stay consistently in one place, yet we might need to accommodate for extraneous or "too hard" movements.  We also may need to position the switch in a way that is tamper or "behavior proof".  Switch mounts without any "give" might mean an injury if hit "too hard" and switch mounts with too much "give" means that all of the effort that goes into a switch hit might be wasted if the switch is not where it is supposed to be.

        Here are some factors to consider when choosing a switch positioning system and setting it up:
        • how much force can the positioning system sustain without moving or breaking?
        • does the switch positioning system have any "give" for students with movements of varying force?
        • how expensive is the positioning system?  is it possible to by the same thing at a lower price?
        • is it preferable to have a permanent or movable switch positioning system?
        • how many moving parts do you need the switch positioning system to have (remembering that the more moving parts the more likely it is to break)?
        Some tips and reminders:
        • many of the switch mounts/positioning systems look the same because they are; most use Manfrotto clamps and joints with an Ablenet switch base, because they all use the same parts quality will be consistent so price and warranty should be the deciding factor (also you can order Manfrotto pieces from non-AT sources and an Ablenet plate from Ablenet and make your own system much more cheaply)
        • consider using the Manfrotto cable clamps for "cord fiddling" students
        • if using an adjustable "easel" type system be sure to check on how the angle of the easel is selected and maintained, both velcro and knob style systems can wear out and slip, making the system useless over time
        • a sheet of pegboard, some plastic table ties and some C-clamps can be your best friend
        • the more "joints" or moving parts the more likely the system is to slip and/or break over time
        • remember a drill and a set of screws and nuts can be the best mount you have, drill holes to aline with those on the switch and mount directly and permanently on a chair ( or easel or tray or table) (make friends with the janitor if you need to!), mind you don't void a warranty!
        • remember that a round clamp on a round pole is likely to slip, Manfrotto sells clamp wedges very inexpensively to avoid this in systems based on the Manfrotto super clamp
        • also a piece of Dycem or non-slip material between tubing and the clamp can prevent slipping
        • suction cup based systems can often be revived by wetting or washing the suction cup and removal is easier if you slip a thin piece of plastic (like a credit card) under one edge
        • Dycem and other non-slip materials can also be revived with wetting or washing
        • it might be in the users best interest to install permanent switch mounting and switch(es) on the users wheelchair/bed/stander, ASL and other companies vend these systems

        Saturday, August 21, 2010

        Free Programs to Make Communication Boards and Free Symbols Sets

         Free Communication Board Making Software
        • Picto Selector/PECS for All
          • windows based software
          • includes several free symbols sets (Sclera, Arasaac, Mulberry)
          • makes grid style communication boards
        • Tico
          • make printable and/or dynamic display boards
          • uses the Arasaac symbols in addition to their full photo library
          • simple software is easy to use
          • see previous review of Tico
        • EdWord with Grid Maker
          • allows import of entire files of photos or symbols (using a second application called Symbol Maker)
          • has a "symbolate" like program
          • windows based
        • PHOTOsyms
          • use photographs or import images from other symbols sets
          • very easy to use
          • makes grid based communication boards
          • flash based application
          • see my review from November 2008
        Free Symbols Sets for Communication
        • Axelia - freely available French symbol set
        • Arasaac - full set of color or black and white line drawing communication symbols available in multiple languages, it is also possible to add this symbol set to Writing with Symbols 
        • Imagine - focusing on core and topic vocabulary this is a full set of colored line drawing symbols (note based on personal experience Imagine symbols sometimes do not import well into other programs)
        • Mulberry - full set of line drawing communication symbols, register and download one at a time or the entire set
        • Sclera - black and white, high contrast images which are excellent for low vision and available in multiple languages
        Please also note that Slater Symbols are available for free download one symbol at a time and for classroom using Unique Learning System or News-2-You or supporting Tobii, AMDi, Jabbla, Proloquo2Go or Tap to Talk AAC users, the SymbolStix symbols can be downloaded and imported into the above board design programs with a $99 dollar yearly subscription fee if you don't happen to own the SymbolMate or Communicator software.  Similarly if you are overseas and supporting Divertic symbol users you can subscribe to that symbol set for 55 Euros.

        The Communication Matrix and Seven Levels of Communication

        The Communication Matrix describes seven levels of communication:
        1. Pre-intentional Behavior
          1. the behavior is not under the individuals control
          2. the behavior is not intentional for communication 
          3. the behavior reflects the state of the individual, 
          4. the behavior is not yet differentiated
          5. interpretation of the behavior is dependant on the communication partner
          6. example - crying may mean hungry, uncomfortable or tired
          7. in typical development this occurs from 0-3 months
        2. Intentional Behavior
          1. the behavior is under the individuals control
          2. the behavior is intentional for communication
          3. caregivers continue to interpret behavior
          4. example - differentiated vocalization meaning hunger
          5. in typical development this occurs from 3-8 months
        3. Unconventional Pre-Symbolic Communication
          1. behavior is under the indivduals control
          2. the behavior is intentional for communication
          3. the behavior is non-symbolic
          4. the behavior is not "socially acceptable" as we grow older
          5. example - tugging someone to the location of a desired item
          6. in typical development this occurs from 6-12 months
        4. Conventional Pre-Symbolic Communication
          1. behavior is under individuals control
          2. behavior is intentional for communication
          3. the behavior is non-symbolic
          4. the behavior is "socially acceptable" as we grow older and we continue to use them
          5. the behavior may be related to culture (shaking head for no)
          6. example - pointing to a desired object or waving "bye-bye"
          7. in typical development occurs between 12-18 months
        5. Concrete Symbols
          1. concrete symbols look, feel or sound like the thing they represent (parts of items, miniature items, photos, line drawings)
          2. example - patting chair to mean sit down or using a picture of a shoe to mean shoe
          3. this stage is con-current with conventional pre-symbolic communication and language based communication in typical development between 12-24 months (not usually a separate step in communication development)
        6. Abstract Symbols
          1. symbols are not related to the meaning for the symbol (i.e. picture symbol for want, most spoken words, printed words, sign language words that do not resemble the action/item)
          2. symbols are used one at a time
          3. in typical development this occurs from 12-24 months
        7. Language
          1. symbols both concrete and abstract are used in combination to express an idea or thought
          2. combination of symbols follows grammatical rules
          3. individual understands symbol order impacts meaning
          4. in typical development this occurs from 24 months and older
        Each of these seven levels calls for different teaching interventions and methods to facilitate learning in our students.  We know that all of these levels of communication have two basic meanings - to obtain or to avoid (aka to get or to get away).  Within those two basic meaning we can desire to obtain or avoid attention, tangible items and/or sensory experiences, which brings us to six basic things to communicate.  Our job is to meet our students where they are at in this six basic communicative purposes and to us shaping to bring that current means of communicating to the next level.

        This means we might play simple contingency games, i.e. spinning a favorite toy and waiting for an indication of pleasure (smile/laugh) before repeating the action, thus reinforcing that this non-symbolic communication.  It might also mean requiring a different student say or use a method of AAC to say a full sentence, "I want more, please" before we repeat the same action, this time reinforcing language.

        If we understand where our students are, where we would like them to go and how to embed appropriate communication instruction strategies into every moment of the day our students will become better communicators.

        Friday, August 20, 2010

        Switches Galore Slide Show

        Just updated, with new switches and labels, all of the switches available on the internet.  This are all single (and a few double) switches to use to give input to a computer (via a switch interface), an adapted toy or device or an environmental control adapter like a PowerLink.

        Remember that Tash Switches are now vended by Ablenet.
        Also if you cannot find a certain switch in the USA then check ATNAD or QED.

        Interested in sequentail switches?  Many folks think there is only one choice, but here are a few.  Most come with levels standard or levels as an option, all have either a recording time or message number limit.  All allow a sequential message to be played by pressing the switch top or an access switch attached to the sequential switch.  Some allow the attachment of an external speaker for when you need big sound.

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