Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Living the Least Dangerous Assumption

Some of the most difficult things we face in our field are those things which are intangible.  One of the most damaging to our students and possible our sense of purpose as educators is that our students must somehow prove themselves, repeatedly, to show they are capable, competent and are acting with intentionality when they attempt to communicate be it through language, AAC or behavior.  We live in a land of pre-requisites and accountability, which leaves little room for "The Least Dangerous Assumption" as pioneered by Anne Donnellan in 1984 and clarified by Rosetti and Tashie.  The least dangerous assumption is, of course, the premise that (in the absence of evidence) we believe we not yet found a way to make it so a child or adult with a disability "can" instead of believing he or she "can't".

The issue, sadly, sometimes becomes that making the least dangerous assumption and thus presuming competence uses resources (time, money, energy).  We must come to understand that refusing to presume competence is, in the long run, more costly than making that least dangerous assumption.

Let's take, for example, a child who at age ten is presumed to be functioning at "a 6 month level" in spite of the difficulty of truly measuring the capabilities of an individual who moves only his eyes and tongue, communicates only through moaning vocalization, sleeps most of the school day and does not live in an English speaking home.  While it may be true that this individual has significant developmental delays it also may be true that this child does NOT have significant developmental delays.  When we choose not to accept the premise of severe cognitive disability and instead begin to form a relationship with the child, build trust in that relationship, respond to eye, tongue and vocalizations as if they are intentional and then introduce assistive technology we may find that this individual in fact is at grade level.  This is a true story and it turned out that little boy was, indeed, not developmentally delayed, and one has to wonder how many stories are out there are there where individuals are capable of so much more than is being presumed of them.  Even if it were just that this little boy functioned three, six or 24 months higher developmentally than his initial evaluation suspected it would have been a triumph of "the least dangerous assumption".  The child would have been given the gift that presuming competence creates.  And what a marvelous gift it is.

How DO we go about living the least dangerous assumption and giving the gifts that presumed competence creates?  Here are some ways:
  • Focus on who your students are becoming, not what they are doing
    • it is the process not product
    • every interaction of the possibility of being the A-HA moment
  • Give the gift of assuming intentionality in communication
    • because even if you are wrong in your assumption you will teach intentionality by responding as if the action was intentional (pure application of behavior analysis there)
  • See strengths
    • what can they do
    • how can you shape what they can do
    • how can you better understand why they do what they do within the assumption of competence
  • Wait.  Then wait more.  
    • Patience makes things possible (allow processing time)
    • Rushing is no path to discovering abilitiesb
  • Puzzle out possibilities
    • think critically about your students and how to reach them
    • treat writing evaluations and IEPs as an opportunity to better understand the individual and share that understanding with others
  • Use the right tools for the job
    • introduce assistive technology (AT)
    • teach assistive technology
    • always work towards the next step in using assistive technology (don't be satisfied with cause and effect, keep trying for something more)
  • Ignore the nay-sayers and negative people who see every student action through the lens of the lowest possible level of understanding and imply your presumption of competence is no more than your projection of your wishes for the child
    • you can do no harm by making the least dangerous assumption
    • and you might even change the world
  • Never give up
    • even when everyone else has
    • especially when the student has

StoryKit Possibilities

StoryKit is a free iPhone/iTouch/iPad app from the International Children's Digital Library.  It allows the user to create story books using multimedia including images and audio clips.  Integrated into the program is a paint program and ability to share books you make.

You can use this app to create scrapbooks of recent classroom events, social stories and visual schedules.  Essentially you are limited only by your creativity.

If you download the free ARASAAC or Scelera Picture Symbol (or the Mayer-Johnson PCS Metafiles or similar) set onto your iDevice you can intergrate picture symbols into your "book".  Otherwise you can use photographs you take with the camera (on an iPhone or iPad) or import through iTunes.

StoryKit has the possibility to replace some of the more expensive prompting (a  visual schedule could be created with one picture per "page" and audio of what happens next and a child taught to turn the page when done with each step or his helper could do that for him) or storyboard programs, so long as you aren't looking to have an alarm or timer. 

StoryKit also has access to the books in the International Children's Digital Library to read and share together.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Dwell ClickUsing a dwell program is a way to "click" the mouse and is especially useful for use with mouse emulators, like joysticks and head or eye tracking.

Recently in working with a young adult who has some significant issues with touching a touch screen or clicking a mouse to make choices (it seems to be a psychological issue along the lines of learned helplessness or desire to avoid displeasing others) a dwell option seemed to be a possible way to circumvent the issue.

There are various free options for using dwell to replace a mouse click that can be downloaded:
There are also a variety of paid dwell programs, sometimes these products have extra features to steady the mouse or contain mouse movement:

Finally a number of software programs have built in dwell settings (some programs disable dwell for everything but head and mouse tracking, limiting usefulness):

Monday, June 21, 2010

Action Needed

Judy Terranova is a 20 year old from Boston who just finished her freshman year at Salem State College. She began Salem State College under the impression that she had recieved a John and Abigail Adams Scholarship which would cover her tuition at any four year state college or university.

The Adams scholarship is awarded annually to Massachusetts high school graduates who score "Advanced" in in one area of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam and at least "proficient" in the other as well as scoring in the top twenty-five percent of their school district on the exam. Judy's test scores were stellar and she was well over the twenty-five percent mark on her scores.

However, Judy happens to fall on the autism spectrum and took an extra semester to graduate from high school (the prestigious Boston Arts Academy, a Boston Public Schools pilot school where she majored in Theatre). While no one is questioning that Judy has disabilities (for which she was on an individualized education plan and continues to receive services through the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission), the Massachusetts Office of Financial Assistance, who administrated the scholarship for the Massachusetts Department of Education insist that Judy did not meet the requirement of enrolling in the first traditional semester following graduation.

Yet Judy did begin college the first traditional semester following graduation. Her graduation took place in February 2009 (well after spring semester began at all state colleges and universities) and she enrolled the next traditional semester which was Fall 2009.

It is clear that the impact of the decision of the Massachusetts Office of Financial Assistance is discriminatory against Judy on the basis of disability. Judy required an extra semester to graduate from high school because of her disabilities and because of this her Abigail Adams Scholarship has been revoked.

Additionally it seems the Office of Financial Assistance has told Judy's family that her involvement and receipt of support services from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commision prohibits her from receiving the scholarship she earned. This is not stated in any of the materials about the scholarship and is blatant discrimination. There is no plausible explanation for barring this young lady from this scholarship except that the Office of Financial Assistance feels that someone on the autism spectrum who has met all listed criteria for the award is not worthy because of the fact that she has a disability.

Like all individuals diagnosed on the autism spectrum Judy struggled to succeed in school. As she says, "Some of us don't learn by osmosis." She had to work hard to undertand non-verbal communication, figurative language and on organizational skills and expressing herself in writing. There were times when she wanted to give up. The second half of her junior year she had to re-take two classes at night school and the next school year took two more night school classes to be able to graduate in February. She missed out on walking across the stage to receive her diploma with her classmates, a big deal in small arts school with a focus on the "ensemble", and instead graduated nearly eight months later in a small private ceremony. Judy worked as hard, if not harder, than many for her chance at college and success, yet her scholarship was plucked away.

Judy is excited to be returning to college next fall as a sophomore. First semester freshman year she even made Dean's List. Yet the Office of Financial Assistance still refuses to reconsider their decision and grant her the scholarship she earned.

You can reach the Massachusetts Office of Student Financial Assistance at
454 Broadway, Suite 200
Revere, MA 02151

Or call
Phone: (617) 727-9420
Fax: (617) 727-0667

Or E-mail: osfa@osfa.mass.edu

And insist Judy Terranova's scholarship be reinstated.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, June 20, 2010

iPossibilities for Those with Significant Special Needs and their Teams

Updated June 19, 2010

The YGWYPF notation means "You get what you pay for!"
T&T is Tried and True and means the blog author uses this application and finds it useful
BIC is Best in Category, based only on the authors impression, no other criteria are in play
* means that the app has been used by the author


  • Answers: Yes No - is an app that simply says yes or no, press the green yes to say yes or the red no to say no, you can have a male or female (or cartoon) voice, simple and works great in a pinch ($.99) T&T*
  • AutoVerbal Talking Soundboard - an AAC app which uses clip art like icons and low quality voices when off of wifi and high quality voices when on wifi, has a limited number of programmable buttons, many have noted it is currently buggy, compelling horizontal scrolling looks interesting ($.99 with rumors to be going up to $29.99) YGWYPF
  • Expressionist - is a app by Adastrasoft it holds 120 common expressions in 7 catagories and 1000+ nouns using photographs as identifiers in addition to a black and white line drawing of a cartoon-like person to create "composite images", the system design is a little baffling to me just looking at the screenshots and videos
  • EZ Speech by Gus Communications is a text-to-speech system with NeoSpeech voices and a system of folders to organize and speed things up.  No pictures symbols. ($795!!!!)
  • Grace - A PECS style app for all the iDevices that uses simple color drawings in a PECS like set up.  ($37.99)
  • iComm - a newer photo based AAC app with recorded voice and yes/no confirmation of choices, iPhone and iPad only (free for introduction period and price will scale upwards to $27.00, some reports of being "nagware"*
  • iConverse - this is a "you get what you pay for" augmentative and alternative communication solution, offering six choices with a decent voice and clip art icons and a horrendous text-to-speech voice for user created buttons ($10) YGWYPF*
  • Look2Learn AAC - yet another "you get what you pay for" app, this one is photo based (comes with 80) and allows you to change sizes of the images, basically this allows the user to communicate "I want" messages only (only 4 buttons with vocal output). ($25) YGWYPF*
  • My Talk Tools - Voice output AAC using photos and emoticons, not research based, nor designed for intuitive communication or motor planning based use ($35.99) YGWYPF*
  • Small Talk - by Lingraphica is a photobased communication program designed for adults who have had strokes (free - subscribe for more)*
  • Speak It! - text to speech program with choice of voices ($1.99)*
  • Proloquo2Go - a complete augmentative and alternative communication solution using current research in the field, SymbolStix communication symbols and a high quality voice and many highly customizable features ($189.99) T&T, BIC see TLWMSN review  Proloquo2Go - AssistiveWare 
  • Talk - by AlterMa Inc is a text-to-speech application ($0.99) YGWYPF*
  • Talk Assist - a free program that allows keeping selections of text-to-speech to click on and play or typing and playing messages with TTS, voice is very low quality (free) *
  • TapToTalk - AAC seet up in "albums" of "emoticon" style clip art, the starter album is free and may be enough for beginning communicators, more advanced albums and original program requires a subscription (free starter, $99 a year subscription) *
  • Tap Speak Button - essentially a Big Mac Button (or single message voice output switch) where you record a message and touch the screen to play it back, you can store multiple messages and use when needed ($9.99) T&T*
  • iAssist Communicator - a photograph based AAC app with 4 photos and related speech output per page over multiple pages, customizable ($29.99)
  • iBlissSymbols - not many people still use Bliss symbols with individuals with severe or multiple disabilities, but if you happen to work with someone who was talk Bliss Symbols this app is for them, a Bliss Symbols based communication app!  (Lite is free, Full is $18.99)*
  • iCoon - a global icon dictionary using very simple line drawings and digital pics, meant for travelers, may have other implications in our field
  • iInteract - an odd communication board set as it has no regard for the heirarchy of symbolic representation, the main board is text based and subsequent boards mix clip art and photographs; there are a total of six boards at this time and a choice of a boy or girl voice ($8.99) YGWYPF*
  • iMean - is a letter board based AAC system with word prediction for literate AAC communicators, currently no voice output ($4.99) YGWYPF*
  • Locabulary - is a primarily text based (some small digital pics), list based, sentence chaining, AAC or vocab teaching or prompting system that uses GPS to determine vocabulary on the page (i.e. puts you to the coffee page in Starbucks) currently the lite version is up for beta testing; hopefully they are putting together a really great expansion of Locabulary because the beta is very promising T&T*
  • iTake Turns - simple app allows user to say, "my turn" and "your turn" in a male or female voice ($1.99)
  • SynthSpeech - allows you to use an adjustable voice to create text-to-speech selections, which can be stored on a soundboard for AAC use ($1.99)
  • Yes/No Bilingual - allows the communicator to say yes or no in English or Spanish and in a male of female voice ($1.99)
Data Collection
  • ABC Data Pro -  complex data collection software for those that need it (27.99)
  • Behavior Tracker Pro - allows the users to log ABC, frequency or duration data and then see it graphed, supports multiple data collections at once ($9.99) T&T*
  • eCove Observation Software - five types of counters and timers to allow you to take different types of data (free)*
  • iBehavior - allows tracking of positive/negative behavior of multiple subjects, designed for teachers to track classroom behavior in general education (free)*
  • Percentally - data collection by tally or +/- which is automatically converted to percentages, allows for tracking multiple goals and objectives for multiple students at the same time ($4.99). T&T, BIC*
  • Tallymander - list based tally management, keep tally of multiple things (behaviors, data) at once and e-mail it
Prompting/Visual Schedules
  • First/Then Visual Schedule - simple picture schedule allows three formats of viewing, however a limited choice of pictures and currently no means of importing images ($9.99)*
  • Halo Talk - by AdstraSoft this forced choice/prompting app is designed as pairs of opposites to use to offer choices from a field of two photos or to prompt to using a field of two photos, like the other AdstraSoft applications this uses the cartoon drawing of a person as well as photos ($33)
  • iPrompts - this is an ap allowing you to use photograph or clip art symbols to make visual schedules, pair with a count down time or make basic choices from a field of two (without speech output) ($50) (if you tried this a year ago, the updates make it more user friendly - still not worth $50, but more user friendly and no bugs)*
  • Picture Scheduler - this app shows a visual reminder (photo or video) at a specified time as well as playing a voice note to cue the user ($3)*
  • Step Stones - by AdastraSoft is a new app for visual schedules using photos the current version has 12 visual sequences, the new version to be released will add 15 more and allow user made sequences, the user can check off each step as it is done ($29) 
  • Visules - sets of individual or lists of picture cues to use separately or as routines. ($4.99) YGWYPF*
Reward Charts
  • iReward - is essentially a "star chart" or behavior contract system for your iPod/iPhone ($2.99)*
  • Reward Chart - simple, early childhood type sticker charts for tracking multiple rewards over time for children (free)*
Sign Language
  • Signing Time - the famous DVDs now have an app! Learn sign on your iPhone or iTouch
  • Sign4Me - SEE Sign Language Tutor using animated avatar ($9.99) *
  • Time Timer - the original Time Timer as an app, visual showing of time remaining, 10 sounds you can play when time is elapsed (we like the clapping for differential reinforcement of zero behaviors) ($4.99) T&T, BIC*
  • Time Jot - allows you to time things and keep multiple logs of those times, good as both a timer and for data collection*
  • Visual Count Down Timer - a stack of blocks that lowers as time counts down ($2.99)
  • 3D Brain - a 3D image of a brain with various view, labels and information about brain and brain disorders; very useful if you teach those with brain injury, seizures and various brain based issues like agenesis of the corpus callosum or microcephaly (free) T&T*
  • A_T_Chooser - it is hard to say something isn't worth $.99 but this isn't, basically it is supposed to give you an overview of AT options for various types of disabilities, if you know how to use Google or have ever been in a special needs classroom you don't need this app, let's just say if someone can't be bothered to remove the underscores from the app title don't but it! ($.99) YGWYPF*
  • ArtikPix - using SymbolStix Communication Symbols for flashcards and matching games this app gives teachers and speech therapists probes for working on articulation
  • A Special Phone - this is an app that allows dialing without looking at the key pad and a shake of the phone instead of pressing dial, additionally you can program six dial by photo numbers that allow dialing without knowing or mathcing numbers ($0.99)
  • Flick Tunes - allows a playlist to be controlled by sliding a finger or fingers across the screen, designed for drivers and others to control music without looking this app is wonderful for those with fine motor issues (be careful, your students will learn how to crank up the volume FAST!) T&T, BIC ($.99)* b
  • Flux Tunes - very similar to Flick Tunes ($.99)
  • IEP Checklist - this app lists all of the sections of the IEP as required by federal law and allows you to create a checklist of those sections by student to be sure you have completed everything you need to complete before, during and after the meeting (free)*
  • Talkulator - a talking calculator, basic in design ($.99) *

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The New Tobii S32

This week a student and I logged onto the internet via her Tobii C-Eye to look for some images of her favorite books to put on her "my favorites page".  Her default home page is set to the Tobii website and we saw the new Tobii S32 displayed.

The SLP came over to join us are we looked at the S32 (ok, Tobii, could you maybe get a little more creative with the naming?  My students and I will happily help you out.) 

The Tobii S32 looks to be an upgrade from the old and discountined LEO from ATI (before it was Tobii ATI), as it combines recorded speech with environmental controls.  

Here are some specs:
  • weight 2 pounds
  • about 12 by 9.5 by 1.5 inches (a little bigger than a sheet of paper in length and height)
  • built in handle and a carrying strap
  • study and durable, can be cleaned with alcohol is needed
  • 192 "levels"!!!! (They call them cards - that is so awesome, we have maybe 2 dozen Go Talk 20+ boards for one user, which means constant re-recording, this eliminates that.)
  • automatically recognizes overlays made by the SymbolMate software
  • holds 60 hours of recorded speech
  • allows visual scenes
  • 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 or 32 buttons per page with interchangable keyguards
  • allows sequential button ("context based speech") hits to build language (think Minspeak, I guess)
  • 1 or 2 switch scanning, with or without audible prompts, with keypad lock to prevent using the touch feature while scanning
  • built in (TIRA enhanced) IR (use the S32 to control anything an infrared remote control can run like a TV, stereo,DVD player, IR toys, the computer via a IR adapter on your computer)
  • two switch OUTPUT ports so the device can be used as a switch to run switch adapted toys, tools and appliances (adapted toys, switch adapted scissors, etc.); these switch ports can be direct, latch or timed
  • mini USB port
  • SymbolMate board creation software allows controlling the settings on multiple S32s and transferring boards from SymbolMate to the S32
  • share overlays at www.pagesetcentral.com (same site for sharing Tobii C-8, C-12 and C-eye boards)
  • interchangable, durable, rubber like, colored end caps for the device (like the other Tobii devices)
  • runs on four AA batteries, rechargable AAs or an AC adapter
Converting from the Austrialian prices it looks like the cost is about $1400 US dollars for touch only and $1870 US dollars for the scanning version and it comes with the SymbolMate software.  These prices seem comparable to the AMDi Tech/Scan Pro devices (although none of them has ALL of the features of the S32).

Monday, June 7, 2010

Internet Based AAC Options

Internet based AAC options seem to be a hot things right now, not as hot as the iPad, but hot just the same.  (And especially hot is combined with an iPad!) 

For the purposes of this blog entry internet based AAC is augmentative and alternative communication which is primarily or solely created and stored on the internet (or the "cloud").  The pros of this arrangement are that you do not need to worry about backing up as much (you still need to back up), you can program while the user is still using the speech device (be it a dedicated device or an adapted tablet PC, netbook or iPad) and you often times have access to instant sharing of materials.  The cons of this arrangement are you can not count on the speech software being research based, overtime subscription fees may cost more than purchased software at the outset, more unique AAC users needs may not be met without a specially designed speech device, not all users have high speed internet access (only 65% of homes according to FCC), new companies may not be there in the long run. 

Internet Based AAC may be the future of AAC and "old  school" companies like the "big three" (DV, PRC, T-ATI) may start considering having online backup and online programming of their devices which would be a welcome addition to their services (as long as prices don't increase).  Here is a list of Internet Based AAC companies:

  • Alexicom Tech: is an internet based AAC program offering photograph and clip art symbols, SAPI 5 voices, 1-10 columns and 1-10 rows per page, page sharing and on or offline use with the program running in your web browser, it also will run on iTouch or iPhone, prices are tiered with the highest price being $40 a month and the lowest price being $23 per user per month per year.
  • MySitris: is for literate communicators wishing to make a phone call over the internet using Sitris as augmentative/alternative communication.  It is priced per minute with 50 free trial minutes.
  • Pogo Boards: is an online communication board building program which offers SymbolStix as well as proprietary symbols and text-to-speech for online talking communication boards.  There is board sharing and a very limited free trial.  Their rates are tiered based on number of users and number of months/years in subscription ($9.99 a month to $129 for 3 years for 1-4 users). 
  • Vizzle: is an online program that allows interactive lesson and communication board creations, much like programs like Boardmaker Plus, Clicker 5 or Classroom Suite (only no scanning).  There is little information on the picture symbols set (although it appears to be a unified set) or the voices.  Prices are not listed on the site, you have to call or e-mail (annoying that).  It is primarily for students with Autism, although it may be used with students with many types of disabilities.  The research for Vizzle was done out of Children's Hopsital Boston, John Hopkins and the Monarch Center for Autism.  They off a 14 day free trial. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Outside the Box Craft Blogs

Loading...If you are like most teachers, especially if you are a "craft impaired" teacher, you are always looking for craft ideas that are new and different beyond the usual hand print turkey at Thanksgiving and vegetable print painting in the spring.  Add these blogs to your RSS reader or just bookmark them to visit periodically for new ideas to try out. 
  • The Crafty Crow - with entries like "What can you do with paper tubes?" and many crafts related to children's literature this is a great blog to have on the ready
  • Dollar Store Crafts - the name pretty much says it all 
  • Kid's Craft Weekly - is a free weekly newsletter you can have sent to your email in box or you can go through the archives
  • Kiddio - another mixed content blog with a link to kids crafts entries, these projects are very cute
  • Made by Joel - mostly crafts to make for kids, but many can be made with kids and/or using various assistive technology adaptivations
  • Make and Take Kids Crafts - these craft and activity ideas tend to flow with the seasons and their holidays
  • Mel's Own Place - the most recent post is drawing with fabric paint on plastic bottle caps to make stamps, my suggestion is to hot glue some spools inside to adapt them and your off, check out this site
  • Mineco - Eco-crafts and recycled crafts to do with children (great site for the eco heavy Unique units if you are a Unique Learning teacher)
  • One Crafty Place - does not appear to be recently updated but has some great activity ideas
  • Plaid Kid Crafts - all sorts of craft ideas to try with kids
  • Roots and Wings - another multi-topic "mommy blog" however the craft ideas in this one usually lead to an activity you can do with the project (water bottle ring toss, science experiments with an altoids tin before crafting with it)
  • Silly Eagle Books - this is a "mommy blog" (said with the utmost of respect some of my favorite blogs are "mommy blogs") about favorite children's books which often has activities and crafts to go with the books written about 
  • Skip to My Lou's - all sorts of simple craft ideas in a multi-topic blog
  • Zakka Life - is a blog about crafts and recipes but this link goes to their kids craft ideas and instructions
When doing crafts in your classroom you are going to want to consider all the ways you can possibly integrate assistive technology (your pouring cup for glitter, your environmental control box with a switch and a hair dryer to dry crafts or your battery operated scissors with a switch for cutting) in addition to embedding as many communication opportunities as possible (see this post).

Also it helps to remind each other that parents, in general, do NOT WANT what Robert Rummel-Hudson calls Macaroni Art (see the sixth paragraph of this blog entry).  Parents can tell what their child has actually worked on and participated in versus what they sat next to an adult for while the adult did the work.  A friend of mine was telling me recently how her son, who "participates" in art class by directing his 1:1 aide on her drawings had taken to writing notes to the 1:1 complementing the improvement in her drawing skills.  That mother wonders why her child even takes art.  (Especially since the children aren't allowed to talk with each other while they work so it isn't for socialization.)

While we do our arts and crafts projects we have to be clear about our goals and objectives for the lesson and how doing the project helps students meet their IEP goals and objectives.  In fact it might help to write about the child's process in completing the project on the back or on an index card attached to the project so everyone is clear.  How can we answer the questions, "How is this child participating as fully as possible in ALL aspects of this project?" and "What is the purpose of this child participating in this project?"

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