Thursday, June 26, 2008

Blog Changes

You may have noticed some changes to the blog, especially the sidebar.

  1. For starters the "Meebo Me" box is gone. This is because I had to disable Meebo and, therefore, was never online. Hopefully Meebo will fix whatever was causing Firefox to crash and I can reinstall it later, especailly since I enjoyed the conversations I would have on Meebo with blog readers. I am looking into a G-Talk Friends widget as a replacement.
  2. The "Power Point" links are gone, as they were hard to keep up with and were not exactly specialized to our field, they have been replaced with "Software for Learners with Disabilities".
  3. A "Wikis for Speducation" link section has been added.
  4. "Autism and Sensory Procesing Disorder" was renamed "Autism and Related Disablities".
  5. All links are in the process of being checked.
  6. Over the summer "Special Education" will be broken down into categories like, "Paraprofessionals", "Curriculum" and "Research"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Last Day of School Blues

Today was our last day of school (four snow days, plus two full weeks off at winter break will keep you in session until June 24th). It was a sad day for us. Long time blog followers will remember that at the end of last school year we packed 70 boxes and moved to a new building (well new to us, the building itself is 100 years old).

Unfortunately we are doing the same thing at the end of this school year. Our classroom is part of an educational agency and rents space in public schools. This year we rented space in an large, urban district in a building that was being used almost solely for special education. The people in the building were wonderful and I came to adore many of the students. I found myself tearful several times distributing "good bye" gifts with my students today.

However the physical facilities at the 100 year old building were challenging and we are being moved to another (brand new) school in September. The classroom staff, the students and I are going to dearly miss the friends we made. My students became much closer in a short year to the folks at this school, staff and students alike, than we did in five year at our previous school. Some of my students were close with the secretaries, others with a particular guidance counselor, others with certain students and still others with teachers or even the principal.

On top of our sadness to leave our friends is the confusion some of my students felt. Our speech therapist approached me a couple of weeks ago and told me one of my students was concerned that I was moving to a new school and leaving her behind. This lead to many class wide discussions about the difference between moving and graduating and how we will all, students and staff, move together.

I have to go back to the building a few more times to finish some paper work and to pack more boxes, but school will not be in session and it will not be the same.

We will miss you, friends!

Know any parents of students with Autism who might be interested?

Parents of students with autism are sought for a journalistic report on Autism and mainstreaming/inclusion. Please visit A Life Less Ordinary for more information.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Project Lifesaver and Medical/Non-Verbal ID

Project Lifesaver is a program that coordinates between caregivers for individuals with disabilities that make them likely to wander or get lost and local law enforcement/rescue services. It involves the individual with a disability wearing a transmitter, usually on a wrist or ankle band (which must be checked daily to be sure it is working by the caregiver). This transmitter relays GPS location to rescue workers in the event that the individual is lost. Project Lifesaver has a 100% rescue rate (1,691 rescues), is endorsed by many sheriff and national disability societies and has been featured on TV shows like Extreme Home Makeover. Here is a video explaining how it works:
The carrying of medical or some other kind of identification has long been a mission of mine when it comes to individuals with significant disabilities. I worry less about something happening to the individual with a disability and more about what would happen to the individual with the disability if something happened to his or her caregiver.

For example, if one of my non-speaking students had a seizure out at the mall with his or her PCA, then the PCA could coordinate his or her emergency care. However, what if one of my students was at the mall with his or her PCA and the PCA had a medical emergency, perhaps fainted or choked? How would emergency workers know who to contact for my student? How would emergency workers know whether or not my student's behavior/medical status was normal for him or her? (Trust me, no one is going to set up that AAC device if it is not set up already to ask the individual.)

The answer is that the medical worker would not know. Not unless the student was wearing or carrying some kind of identification. At the very least, I hope that the my student was carrying some kind of cell phone with I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency, MOM or DAD programmed into speed dial) and someone answered.

My "better safe than sorry" recommendation is a cell phone plus both a medical ID bracelet, necklace or shoe tag (a shoe tag is a great way to go with sensory defensive kids) and an information tag/card hanging on the back of the wheelchair, the back pack or in a wallet.

I personally wear a Medic Alert bracelet (the one that has the toll free number that rescue workers or emergency rooms can call for more information on my medical condition), carry a wallet card and have a medic alert sticker on my car (I am an insulin pump using diabetic). I have friends who also carry a bright red, medic alert, encrypted flash drive with their medical files. I would love to see all of my students and all people with disabilities do the same.

When my friend's daughter, who has significant disabilities, was in a minor school bus accident and was taken to the emergency room they looked in her back pack for emergency contact information, prompting us to make emergency information cards and place them in every student's backpack in our classroom.

In addition, Medic Alert even sells bracelets/ID for caregivers as part of their safe return program, the bracelets state that the individual is a caregiver for someone with _____ disability and to call the toll free number for more information. When the emergency worker calls the number they not only receive information on the caregiver, but also on the individual with a disability.

Here is the link to Medic Alert and other medical identification and similar companies:
Free Online Medical Cards to Print, Laminate and Carry
Note: after writing this post I happened to see similar cards left out for people to take at the registration desk at my doctor's office! Perhaps you local doctor's office or hospital could supply you with these for all of your students.

AAC Programming and Technical Support

Edutopia AT Video

Thanks to The Assistive Technology Blog for the link.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hands Free Tablet PC/AAC Carrying Case Choices for Amublatory Individuals

Last week I spent some time with an AAC user who is ambulatory but typically sets the device down on a desk at school or the table at home. The student was pretty uncomfortable after two hours of carrying the nearly five pound device around hanging from the neck/shoulder.

Since I was in the middle of an ongoing e-mail conversation with someone from research and development at Dynavox anyway I asked if they knew of anything to help this youngster carry the device around. My correspondent in R&D redirected my question and I found out Dynavox has been struggling with the same issue. I was pointed in the direction of the hand's free cases from Intelligent Technologies, which luckily aren't as freaky looking as the CommBelt from CJT which was the only thing I had heard of until then.

Here are the links the Intelligent Technologies and CJT's CommBelt in addition to some other hands free cases for Tablet PC's I found. You will need to know the dimensions of your AAC device and it is helpful to know the name of a mainstream Tablet that is similar in size.

  • Intelligent Technologies - over the shoulder coverts to around the neck, comes in black
  • CJT CommBelt - specifically designed for carrying AAC devices, comes in child or adult sizes, not exactly attractive or "normal" looking
  • The Pouch - created for OSHA workers to use Tablet PCs hands free at work, several colors, harness style
  • Hoggan's - designed for rugged, outdoor use, over a dozen colors, and can be made to order, harness style with hip belt
  • GD-Itronix - designed for proprietary tablet, but may work with some AAC devices
  • InfoCase - a variety of styles
I don't think any of these is ideal, at least for the ambulatory users I have met using the middle size high tech AAC devices.

Ultimately a hands free carrying case will likely need to be invented just for these users; ideally I see such a carrying case looking as "normal" as possible while distributing the weight of the device over the child's shoulders/back/hips evenly and allowing the child to have the device somehow held up in front of him or her without supporting it so that he or she can access it using only one hand and still have the other hand free (therefore making it usable for individuals with hemiplegia or people who are carrying shopping bags or something).

Today I was blocked in by a UPS truck and admired the way the UPS person was carrying his computer device that he uses for signatures. It was belt worn and flipped up for signatures and typing. Maybe something like that would work?

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Today Only - Free Word Prediction Software

Giveaway of the Day is offering Typing Assistant, an Windows OS Compatible word prediction program, today only as the giveaway of the day. You most download and INSTALL it today. Typing Assistant normally costs $35.00 USD. I recommend you download and install onto a flash drive, so it is portable. Download it now!

Here is a description of Typing Assistant from Sumit Software:

Typing Assistant


Universal Compatibility: Works with virtually all programs.
Typing Assistant seamlessly integrates with all popular programs, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Notepad, UltraEdit, WordPad, ICQ Messenger, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, etc.

Freely Dictionary Selecting: General or professional dictionary is available.
You can select a general dictionary or professional dictionary(only Medical dictionary is included in this version) as the basic dictionary, this selection will change the content in Typing Assistant suggestion window.

Auto-Learn: Learns unknown and recently typed words.
If you type a word that not in the dictionary (e.g. your name, or a long string such as "m_strUserName"), Typing Assistant will learn the word. The next time you begin to type it the word will be suggested. This saves you thousands of keystrokes.

Typing Assistant learns all the words you type and is invaluable in any repetitive typing task. Its Auto-Learn vocabulary list will be bigger and bigger and so its functionality and accuracy.

Auto-Expand: Expand shorthand to full text.
You can define shorthand shortcuts and abbreviations, for example, when you type "usa", Typing Assistant can autoexpand it to the full text: United States of America. Thus with one key stroke (ENTER – the default hotkey), a full text replaces your shorthand. You can quickly define multiple shorthand entries yourself and have them automatically replace anything, phrases, tradenames, people’s names, anything you wish.

Typing Assistant can expand your shorthand to whole paragraphs, and unicode characters are fully supported in the Full Text.

Spell Checking: Beep on misspelled words.
When you type a word that not in the dictionaries, Typing Assistant can warn you with a beep.

Easy to use.
There is no training or learning curve with this software. You simply use your computer as normal and Typing Assistant helps with your typing automatically. The whole process is mastered in 5 minutes and it will save you hours of work and needless effort.

  • If you need real-time suggestion window when typing, you can set "Delay Suggestion Window for" to 0 ms.

  • If you are fast typer, perhaps the frequent suggestion window is annoying, you can set "Delay Suggestion Window for" to a value more then 0 ms, then the suggestion window only appears when you are hesitating during typing.

Blog Facts

  • average number of site visitors per day = 369
  • money earned via ads per day $0.58 (all ad revenue is put back into my classroom)
  • most popular blog entry "Free Boardmaker Boards and Activities"
  • awards/nominations 2007 Blogger's Choice Nominee, 2007 Weblog Award Finalist
  • total visits since blog inception 117,000+
  • we have had visits from every state in the USA
  • we have had visits from every continent (except Antarctica)
  • 17 people have saved the home page of TLWMSN on Del.ic.ious and many others have saved links to specific blog entries
  • the most unique visitors to TLWMSN on any one day was Tuesday, February 12, 2008 with just shy of 1000 visitors, three posts went up that day including a review of the Chat PC 4, a post about my Donors Choose Grant Application for An Interactive White Board (which will expire unfunded in 17 days , sadly) and a slide show about Free AT for High Incidence Populations
  • 63 people read this blog via Google Reader
  • I post an average of 5.6 blog entries a week
  • TLWMSN has an authority rating of 29 on Technorati (meaning that 29 other blogs/websites link here) and a rank of 233,847 (out of all the blogs listed on Technorati)
Don't forget that you can still vote for TLWMSN for the 2008 Blogger's Choice Award Nomination!
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Welcome to all my visitors from the University of Hawaii Autism Specialist Program! (Thanks for sharing the link BA.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

AAC Static Display Devices

AAC Demands

There are now 2, count 'em two, computers on the market which have screens that can be viewed in bright sunlight. The OLPC and the Flybook. (I get this information from Gadget Lab.)

So, AAC manufacturers, when, precisely, can we expect the Dynavox Series Six Degrees, the PRC EGO, The ATI/TOBII Venus or the Great Talking Box e-It Works In The Sun?

(Obviously I have taken a little liberty with the device names here, but dontcha think they are some great device names?)

Along with those demands how about these ideas:
  • instant daily/weekly/monthly backup via wifi to an online storage site (for free) or to an external hard drive
  • page sharing online (for free)
  • integrated eyegaze control (this one is in the works from Dynavox and ATI/TOBII from what I understand)
  • awesome kid and teen voices, I want to hear those teen boy voices crack
  • integrated web cams for video and still
  • integrated MP3 player with controls through the buttons on communication pages to do all features (play, pause, forward, back)
  • multi-touch screen option
  • the same "turn-the-device-and-the-image-on-the-screen-turns" feature as new phones (read the i-phone)
  • drag and drop to install music, photos and more, no packages, no complicated macros, no tech knowledge needed
  • online knowledge bases/support that is up-to-date and easy to navigate and cross referenced to various generations of devices
  • more colors of devices, more external customizing of devices, and colored cases too!
  • ability to store and play movies (that means lots and lots of memory)
  • solid state drive option for those who don't need tons of memory but are hard on devices
  • auto updates to software via wifi and none of this you can only download the update once business, what if the device crashes?
  • integrated hardware to operate a computer (not additional hardware)
  • option for 100% integrated mobile phone, or txt only, or 911 (or other emergency number only)
  • a code given to a customer at the same time a return authorization code is given that makes computer editing software into communication software for a limited time while the AAC device is being repaired (back up communication is always nice)
  • EXTERNAL volume controls - the only thing I LIKE about the ZYGO Optimist. That and hot swap batteries.
  • Hot swap batteries
  • Every device comes with two AC chargers, one for home and one for work/school/day program
  • Print the directions for power on/off and reset clearly and in a decent size on the device
  • Print the directions to work the case on the case (especially if the case is crazy complicated)
  • ONLINE AAC software editing and backup - access your communication software from any internet connected computers, SLPs and teachers no longer have to take devices away to program them after school, mom and dad can program while the child uses the device to say what he or she wants on the device
What else folks? Comment!

Sleep Apnea and Special Needs

Over the years I have had probably a dozen students who frequently dozed off at school. These student's disabilities ranged from Apert Syndrome to Mitochondrial Disease to Down Sydrome to Cerebral Palsy. Only one of my students has even been formally diagnosed with and treated for sleep apnea and that student often refused to wear the CPAP device that was prescribed to treat the apnea . (A CPAP is a Continous Positive Airway Pressure device that basically blows air into the nose or mouth in order to maintain enough pressure to keep the airway open during sleep, there are other variations such as a BiPAP.)

Rarely are students with special needs evaluated for sleep apnea (although it is becoming common practice to rule out sleep apnea before diagnosing ADD/ADHD). This is inspite of 45% of children with Down Syndrome having obstructive sleep apnea and apnea being more common in individuals with sickle cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, mitochondrial disease and other neuromuscular diseases, cerebral palsy, and craniofacial abnormalities. (Here is a list of risks from the Mayo Clinic.)

Can you imagine how hard it is to learn, perform and most of all BEHAVE if you are exhausted all the time? In fact some Down Syndrome specialists think that sometimes what looks like early symptoms of Alzheimer's in Down Syndrome is really sleep deprivation from sleep apnea!

As far as treatment, in children and adults with special needs a CPAP or BiPAP may be used (if the individual is likely to be compliant), but other treatments may also be options, including orthodontic treatment and surgical intervention.

Teachers and classroom nurses of students with disabilities are on the front lines. If students are sleepy in class, if parents complain of frequent night waking, difficult sleep patterns or snoring, it might serve the student well to suggest a visit to the primary care physician to discuss the possibility of obstructive sleep apnea.

Here are some links for more information:
Sites about Sleep for Kids (with sections for teachers and parents)
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Monday, June 16, 2008

Old Dog, New Tricks: Turning Cassette Tapes into MP3s

We joke around a lot in our classroom. One of the running jokes in the room is about our ancient classroom nurse (who is actually definitely not ancient and is a very good sport about the jokes, including programming herself into the classroom phone as, "Old One"). Last week she asked me something about cassette tapes and I informed her that you can transfer cassettes to MP3 for free using one of those cords that come with every Big Mac and Step by Step from Ablenet (we have at least six of those cords), a Walkman and free software called Audacity. It is up to you to decide if the title "Old Dog, New Tricks" is in reference to the act of converting cassettes to MP3s or in reference to our classroom nurse learning how to do it.

Anyways, over the next couple of days she picked up a Walkman somewhere and asked me to explain the process. We never had time. Yet she came in this morning and told me she had already copied several of her old cassettes to her computer. I was impressed, mostly because I thought I was the only person I knew who was nerdy enough to actually research and do such a thing, but also because this woman still uses 3.5 inch floppy disks to save things on (to her credit she also carries a flash drive hanging around her neck).

To make a short story longer I thought that transferring some of those classroom casssettes to MP3 might be a productive summer project for those of us who have dozens of music or book on tape cassettes in the classroom. So when you pack up your room and leave for the summer be sure to grab your cassettes and one of those cables that comes with the Big Mac and Step By Steps.

Here are the easy directions for basic kinds of people. These directions fo not include how to reduce hiss, clean up the audio or anything like that. Links to better directions follow. Good luck.

Oh, one more thing. Make sure you have enough space on your hard drive or record onto an external hard drive as to not clog up your computer with "Curious George Goes to the Hospital" and "Ella Jenkins Multi-Cultural Songs".

1. Download Audacity. Feel a little overwhelmed by its features. Realize you will not need many of them. Remind yourself all those features are free.
2. Connect your cassette player to your computer. Likely, if you are using a Walkman and the "microphone" input on your computer your 1/8th inch "male to male" Ablenet cable will work just fine. Oddly (or not oddly if you are nerdy about these things) the quality of the cassette player matters a lot more than the quality or the cable.
3. Open Audacity. Start the tape. Hit record on Audacity. Let the tape play.
4. Save the tracks.

Links to better directions:
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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Not Just Thinking Outside the Box, Nailing It Shut and Standing on it to See Better

A Garden hose.Image via WikipediaA friend of mine who teaches middle school intensive special needs told me this story today and I thought it was a perfect example of "not just thinking outside the box, nailing it shut and standing on it to see better".

Last Wednesday her class was scheduled for an end-of-the-year field trip to a local pond to go swimming and have a picnic. At 9:30 in the morning her students were all changed into their bathing suits and having an early snack. Then the minutes ticked by and turned into an hour, finally she contacted the bus company. The bus company told her that they would not be picking her class up until 11:30, which was way too late to leave for a field trip, go swimming, have lunch, return to school and toilet students in time for buses home. The trip was canceled.

Forced to think fast, and very outside of the "box", the teacher dumped left over sand from a craft project on the ground outside and knocked on the door of the home of a neighbor whose house bordered the school. She told him about her canceled field trip and offered him five dollars to borrow his garden hose to create a "water park" in the play ground abutting his back yard. He turned down the five dollars and fed the hose through his fence and turned it on.

My friend's students had a delightful time cavorting in their "water park" in their bathing suits. They played with the hose, threw water balloons and played on their sand "beach island".

Some teachers would have whipped out the worksheets, others would have put on a video, still others would have let the students "do nothing" and thus descend into self stimulation and aggressive behaviors for the afternoon. This teacher took a bad situation and found a way to make it great. In spite of having no bus to take them on their field trip she still found a way to have a "beach day".

Here's to thinking outside the box and then some!
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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

UDL 4 All Wiki

My blogger friend, Paul Hamilton, has created a fantastic new wiki of universal design for learning (UDL) tools. It is called UDL 4 ALL. There are a few things I love about it off the bat 1) he used UDL tools to create his wiki of UDL tools (like webslides) 2) he is welcoming contribution and 3) all of the (free) tools I recommend in workshops and to other teachers all the time are now available in one place. It is definitely worth checking out, bookmarking, sharing and pitching in on.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Korea's AAC Device: KidsVoice

From their website:
About "KidsVoice"

KidsVoice is a tool for AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). AAC allows Stephen Hawking, a world-renowned physicist, to communicate despite suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. KidsVoice has developed the first product in Korea, which is also the third AAC device in the world following Canada and the United States. A special education tool for students with cerebral palsy or developmental disabilities, the device is a great aid in speech development, academic learning, and adaptation to one’s surroundings. With 3200 symbolic images, the interface is designed to meet the needs of disabled students.

KidsVoice features the high-performance VoiceText Engine, which generates human voice by analyzing text input. It preserves the natural rhythm of language for accurate pronunciation and intonation. The recently developed KidsVoice supports male and female voice. In Korea, all other electronic products do not offer a male voice as it takes up more memory. However, with KidsVoice, users can choose between male and female voice.

More notably, the natural language processing function produces natural voice even when there is improper word spacing. Also, commonly used sentences can be easily recalled, and there is real-time recommendation from the vast database of 1500 sentences. KidsVoice allows editing of symbolic images as well as voice recording and playback. The device is portable, strongly built, well-designed, and comes at an affordable price that is one-third of foreign products. KidsVoice can be used by anyone with autistic disorder, language disorder, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, developmental disability, and hearing difficulties.

KidsVoice is optimized for use with Microsoft’s Win CE. Developed with Visual Studio.NET, it operates on a Compact Framework platform. Even with Win CE.NET’s limit of 32mb per process and a low-end CPU, KidsVoice has resolved the problem of slow processing for the 3200 symbolic images and 1500 recommended sentences. Noted for its 2004 launching of the KAIST Technology Development Team, UBQ has participated in active research since 2003.

Beware the Flavor of the Month

Every few months I receive an e-mail from somewhere in the world, usually from a parent, occasionally from a teacher, about a student who has just received or is about to receive a very expensive AAC (augmentative/alternative communication device). Invariably the e-mail tells of how the child has or is getting this new device and it is the wrong device for him or her. This baffles me because there are more than thirty companies selling dynamic display AAC devices (see left) and even more selling access systems and low tech AAC. Here are the most common reasons why the device is wrong for the child:
  • the device is far too complicated for the child
  • the device is far too simple for the child
  • the parent/teacher/speech therapist does not know what to do with the device and will not be getting any training
  • the child does not want a device/wants nothing to do with the device
  • the device is not physically accessible to the child (does not scan, did not come with key guard, etc)
  • the device would have been ok, but has been programmed poorly
  • the device would have been ok, but has never been taken out of the box
  • the child cannot see the screen/text/icons and the device does not have auditory prompting/auditory prompting has not been programmed
  • the device is too heavy/is not portable
  • the device cannot be seen in the sun
  • the battery life is too short
  • the child has severe aggressive behaviors and the device is likely to be destroyed
  • the device has not be trialled with the student in real life settings
Here are the reasons why the child is getting the wrong device (according to the e-mails):
  • "they were sick of waiting" (and now they will have to wait five more years for insurance/the school district/etc to pay for the right device)
  • "they are getting everyone the same device" (flavor of the month)
  • "the sales rep told us this was the right device for him" (of course they did, their job is SALES)
  • "the other devices were too expensive" (aka they didn't want to take the time to do all the paper work to get funding for a more expensive device or they don't believe in this child enough to do the work for him or her)
  • "they don't need a trial because he is so good at PECS" (passing pictures isn't the same as dynamic display with voice output)
  • "they will teach her not to throw it" (I believe AAC decreases negative behaviors, but you don't start teaching that with an $8,000 device)
  • "I think the specialist ordered it because she wants to play with it!" (we all like tech gadgets, but that isn't a good enough reason to order the wrong device for a child)
  • "they were trying to be helpful" (see the end of this blog entry for an example)
In the end, like everything in special education, parents need to be out there advocating for their children. They need to "believe but verify" when the experts gives them information. When it comes to something as important as communication it is best to have a second and even a third opinion.

Here are my choosing an AAC device tips for parents/advocates:

  • Make sure the person/team evaluating your son or daughter for an AAC device is an expert at three things 1) speech/language and cognitive development, 2) current AAC and access options and 3) your child.
  • Don't trust sales representatives, while they are generally good and well meaning people; they are sales people whose goal is to sell. Definitely don't trust sales reps if they have been selling for less than three years or cannot answer questions about the device (for example we asked one company rep about eye gaze tracking and he brought us the Smart Nav which is head tracking not eye gaze tracking and in the same session he told us it was not possible to program random responses so I had to log onto the knowledge base and show him it was). A sales person has no part in an AAC evaluation.
  • Make sure that the process of choosing a device, an access system and a mounting system is done by the assessment/educational team.
  • If the sales rep tells you something new is coming out on the market call or e-mail research and development (not just different sales reps) at the company to verify that information.
  • Never order anything blind, get rentals or trials of everything, from the AAC device itself to the access system (switches, eye gaze device, morse code controller) to the mounting system and take data. The perfect AAC device is nothing if it is too heavy to carry for two hours at the mall or if the mount keeps slipping and it droops to the floor every 45 minutes.
  • Make sure the batteries will last as long as you need them too and find out if a spare battery pack (or two or three) is an option or perhaps if it can run on a power chair batteries and if so what accessories you need.
  • Make sure you are choosing the best means of access. If eye gaze is best, don't settle for scanning because the device the specialist knows the most about doesn't have a fire wire port, instead explore the 30+ links to the left for companies that sell a device with similar or the same software and a fire wire port. I promise you someone out there sells a device that can be matched with the software, access system and mount your child needs.
  • Once you have the sample device set up the way your son or daughter will use it and try it out, have several conversations and see how it goes. Is the interface user friendly and intuitive? Is the access method simple, will it cause fatigue? Can you find or create important messages? Can you see the screen? Do you like using it? Is it meaningful? Is it fun?
  • Keep reminding the team that you are willing to take the time to get this right, so long as they are doing their jobs (trying devices, taking data, teaching access and language skills, etc). Remind them that once your child has the device he or she is "stuck" with it for five years (the least amount of time it takes for another device to be funded)!
To paraphrase someone on a listserv I am also on: Don't just think outside the box, nail it shut and stand on it so you can see better!
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Monday, June 9, 2008

Assistive Technology Blog Carnival

Assistive Technology Blog Carnival #4, Issue: "Grab Bag"
Deadline: June 27 for submissions; Will be up June 30.

The next edition of the AT Blog Carnival, our 4th, will be out on June 30. We are calling for submissions by June 27 from those of you who have blogs and would like to submit a post on AT. This issue is a "grab bag" because we want to open this wide for folks to share whatever they have in their post archive or something new they would like to share on assistive technology. As submissions come in, I will group them as well as I can into categories. So, we want to hear what you have to say. What have you been learning about AT lately? What new gadget has you intrigued? What new area do you think is a frontier in research and development for servicing disability?
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Incidental Teaching

One of the best things about my job is the opportunity to build learning into every moment. For example during community based instruction (CBI) we were at WalMart and one of my Down Syndrome/Hearing Impaired students became excited about noticing the hearing aid batteries in the aisle across from the cough drops I was looking at (summer colds are the worst).

"Kate! Kate! I did it!"
"You did what?"
"For my hearing aid!"

I turned around and saw that he had discovered the hearing aid batteries. That lead to discussions about what batteries he uses (the orange ones - we do love universal hearing aid battery color coding), whether or not he needs any right now (not really he has two or three left in the case) and how much they are ($10.99). We then looked for the sign that said "hearing aid batteries" and tried to figure out what section of the store they were in so we could find them again (pharmacy). In the end we spent about 20 minutes on this "incidental teaching" lesson, which I never could have planned to be as instructional as it worked out to be.

Later that day, when I was writing the daily notes home to parents he asked the question he always asks, "What's it say?" I read it to him. Then he said, "What about the hearing aid batteries? I am proud of me."

(Completely unrelated I want to share a funny story. This same studeOfficial film posternt also bought a father's day card today. He chose one with Spiderman on it. Then he re-wrote the Spider-Pig song from the Simpsons Movie, "Spider Dad, Spider Dad, He's my dad, Spider Dad. He's so buff. He helps me out. Spider Dad, Spider Dad. He takes me to Special Olympics. He buys me all the binoculars. Spider Dad, Spider Dad.")
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Ask me a yes/no question.

Many of my students have IEP objectives to correctly answer yes/no questions.

One of the many ways I work on this is the yes/no round robin. This is a great "fill in the gap" activity when one lesson ends before it is time to start another. It is also a great activity for this time of year when it is way too hot to actually expect anyone to move! We often discuss that questions usually start with some version of "can", "do", or "have" as in "could he..., "do they...", "have you" before we begin. Sometimes we compare yes/no to W5/H questions. Yes/no questions is my classrooms favorite fast and easy game after the Super Duper game All About Me, All About You.

We work the yes/no round robin by simply going around the group and having each student answer one yes/no question. Sometimes we keep score, but usually we don't. Asking one question per student from a list makes it very easy to differentiate instruction as the leader can ask each student a question suitable for his or her ability level. A student functioning on a more concrete level might answer a question like, "Is your teacher named Bob?" and another student might be asked, "Is 911 the correct number to call if your brother's feet smell?" while a third might be asked, "Is the automotive section the right part of the store to look for molasses?".

If your grouping is more homogeneous you can write your yes/no questions on cards or Popsicle sticks and have your students draw a question and answer it. Integrating AAC is also simple for this activity. My students answer the yes/no questions using everything from their voices to looking up or down for yes/no, to sign language, to dual sided rocking switches to dynamic display devices.

When more time allows I have also created a board game version of "Ask Me a Yes/No Question!" which I have posted on Yudu for all to download, if you wish, just download and print, line up the edges of the four pages and glue to some poster board, laminate, fine a die and some pawns and play.

Free Resources for Yes/No Questions
Purchase Resources for Yes/No Questions

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Creating a Summer Book Program

Playaway solid-state audiobook deviceImage via WikipediaSummer reading programs are a staple in schools. They are also often sponsored by local libraries, book stores and other programs. As I have written before such programs can be adapted to our learners. An article on LD Online suggests the possibility of developing a summer listening program for learners with special needs. I love this idea and all of the suggestions on how to do it. From e-books with text-to-speech, to parents reading to children, to downloaded MP3 audio books and audio books from the library on a CD player. Also there are interactive books like Silly Books, TumbleBooks, and Bookflix. (Our local library just added Bookflix to their website.)

Sites and Articles about Summer Book Programs
Where to Find Summer Book Programs (There is no reason a student with a disability should not be able to count books listened to instead of read)
Free Recorded Books for Those with Disabilities
Download Audiobooks
Electronic Interactive Books

Websites to Share with Parents
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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Two Free Online Book Sites For Kids

Lookybook and Big Universe have recently been featured on a few other education blogs. Both allow you to read commercially published children's books online for free. Both allow you to position your switch over the "turn page" button to create single switch access.

However, Big Universe, seems to me to be a little ad heavy and some of the books took forever to load, yet it offers a feature to create your own online books.

Maybe next there will be cell phone picture books for us?
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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Free Web Browser for Learners with Autism

The ZAC (Zone for Autistic Children) Web Browser was created by a grandfather for his gandson who has autism. It is designed to go beyond other "kid's browsers" which act as "walled garden's and limit what web sites children can see; it also stops unneeded keyboard buttons from working, takes care to have plenty of content related to areas of interest with autism.
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Sunday, June 1, 2008

End of the Year Project

Inside of the front cover and the first page of an ordinary Azerbaijani passportImage via WikipediaHere in the USA the school year is almost over (15 more days in our building). We will be sending our students off to extended school year programs, summer camps, and in some cases new teachers, new schools or adult services for the next school year. One end of the year project we can complete that is both fun and meaningful is communication and/or transition passports. If that type of project seems too big for the end of the year a one page "All About Me" to pass on may be just right!

Communication and transition passorts are one to several page booklets done in a low, high tech or mixed media format that gives current and future communication partners and caregivers information about the individual with disabilities. You can focus only on communication in a communication passport or the whole child in a transition passport. The communication passport focuses on all means of communication the individual may use from eye gaze and gestures to set-up and trouble shooting an AAC device. Meanwhile a transition passport features everything from feeding and hygiene to what to do in an emergency and what is calming or upsetting to the individual.

Here are some links to give you more information and even templates and samples:

All About Me

Communication Passports and Transition Portfolios
Also this is a book for about thirty dollars about transition portfolios/

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