Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New AAC Device - The Jive!


The UK company Possum has released a new handheld augmentative and alternative communication device, The Jive.

Vendors include Possum in the UK and Tecsol in AU. No USA vendor currently (that I could find). There is a good review (as usual) at Voice Output.

Device Specs
  • Dimensions (Approx) Width: 85mm Length: 145mm Depth: 40mm (3.4" x 5" x 1.6")
  • Weight: 350 grams (12.4 ounces)
  • Long battery life
  • Touch accessible, highly visible screen (even in bright sunlight)
  • Message building using Mayer-Johnson PCS Symbols
  • Character, Word and Sentence prediction
  • Loud, Synthesized, High Quality Acapela Speech
  • Digitized (recorded) speech and sounds
  • Programable - On device or via PC
Full Environmental Control
  • Easy to set up
  • Synthesized IR - predefined Infrared codes
  • Recorded IR - Infrared capture for Environmental Control
  • Compatible with the new Possum Sero! Telephone/Answerphone
Jive Package Includes:
  • Possum Jive! Communication Aid
  • Mains power adapter
  • 2 Styluses
  • USB cable
  • One CD-ROM – PC setup Software, User Manual and Quick Start Guides
  • User Guides - Quick Start (hardware, software, vocabularies)
  • 2-year return-to-base warrenty

Cyborgs Unite!

I often times (quietly, in my head) compare my insulin pump to AAC devices and not just because I relate to a cyborg identity (prosthetic pancreas, prosthetic speech).

(obviously the scale between these two items is not quite right, but I deliberately choose to show an older pump, the one I use, and an older AAC device - because we can't all get to have the newest and the fanciest. Of course if I really wanted to demonstrate the obsoleteness of my pump I would have shown a ChatPC original, not a ChatPC 3. )

Insulin pumps are small devices that recreate, to some extent, the insulin producing part of a pancreas (a pancreas does more than produce insulin). Insulin pumps deliver a constant flow of insulin, just like a pancreas, and the wearer pushes some buttons to deliver a burst of insulin when carbohydrates are eaten, just like a pancreas (well minus the button pushing). However the wearer still needs to take their blood glucose level (commonly known as blood sugar) six to eight times a day (by sticking themselves with a needle to produce a drop of blood to put into a glucose meter) and then enter the number on the meter into the pump.

My insulin pump is vital to my life. I, could, technically, live without, if I were to return to a world of five injections a day, carrying syringes and vials or a pen-esque device and little needle caps to go on it and revolving my life around a schedule of injections and carbohydrate consumption. People's AAC devices are vital to their lives. They could, technically, live without them, if they were to return to manual communication books, a life of only being able to say yes/no and a limited world.

Much like AAC devices there are many flavors (i.e. vendors and models) of insulin pumps. Much like AAC devices some models are top of the line, with well researched engineering, an intuitive design and amazing customer service while other models are copycats, with sloppy engineering and customer service that is practically non-existent.

Much like AAC devices there are issues with proving a potential user is "worthy" (will be able to use and benefit from the device according to whatever professional gets to make that call - it took me three endocrinologists before one would write me a script for a pump) and many, many issues with funding.

Also, much like AAC devices, insulin pumps have come a long way. (To use my first pump I had to carry a number of charts and a calculator to figure out the math and know how much insulin to give at any time, now my pump does all that for me. My first pump was also much larger than the one I have now. However, my pump is obsolete, it is no longer sold and the newer models do so much more than what mine does, from coming in colors and just being cooler looking, to playing music instead of noisy alarms, to being smaller and having an integrated carbohydrate glossary listing thousands of foods and the number of carbohydrates in them, eliminating the need to carry a carb-counting book. Also newer pumps can get an add-on feature that continuously monitors blood glucose and beams that number to the pump, meaning less sticking of yourself with needles. Yet, because of insurance and funding issues I cannot get a new pump and live in fear of my pump failing because it is out of warranty. The first AAC devices I knew were huge, impossible to carry/mount and did one thing only, "speak".)

Why am I telling you all this? Because some things are going on in the insulin pump world that I fear could happen in the AAC world. For example, because of the economy, low sales and high costs one insulin pump maker has announced it is stopping production. This company is in the top tier of pump makers, maybe not the Dynavox or PRC of pump companies, but still well known for its use of standard features, durability and customer service. It was also popular with the kids because it looked kind of cool.

What will be lost because of this, I think, is innovation within the market, not to mention many users who will have to switch to a different company and jobs. Insulin pumps are expensive and the more features you get/need the more expensive they are. Just like AAC devices are expensive and the more features you get/need the more expensive they are.

People, including me, complain about the cost of their pumps. People argue that they should not cost so much, that the actual value of the little plastic box, the piston inside and the electronics is very, very small compared to what we pay for them. We forget about the years and years of research and innovation that went into it. We forget about the fact that the need for these devices is actually very small and thus the parts to manufacture them are more expensive. We forget about exactly how specialized they are. We forget about the team of researchers, community based customer representatives and the customer support people on the phone/online who need to be paid and have benefits. We forget about the cost of marketing, without which the devices would not survive. We forget that to stay in business these companies must be innovating all the time.

Sure, some people can go with the less expensive device (pump or AAC) because they want/need (usually need) less features. If you don't need continuous glucose monitoring or highly sensitive alarms when your pump malfunctions or compatibility between your pump and your monitor you can buy a cheaper pump. If you don't need scanning or a keyguard or Morse code access or tech support you can get a cheaper AAC device.

It might be time, given this economy and the risk of loosing some great devices (pumps, AAC and more) for cyborgs to unite. We need to remember the true cost of not having our cyborg parts to ourselves and our worlds. We need to remind ourselves why our cyborg parts cost so much. We need to fight for research and development. We need to remind the world including our elected officials, our doctors, our insurance companies (public and private) and everyone else we can think of that we would be lesser people if it weren't for our cyborg parts and that is a cost saving measure none of us should be willing to take.

I am sort of imagining a campaign like the Windows campaign (you know, "I'm a PC and I am four and half"), except "I'm a cyborg, I pump insulin (or bacoflen or immunoglobin)", "I'm a cyborg, my heart is keeps it's rhythm with a pacemaker", "I'm a cyborg, I breathe with a ventilator", "I'm a cyborg, I speak with an AAC device". "Cyborg and proud!"

P.S. Obviously I am not ACTUALLY a cyborg. Please don't mistake my humor with that belief. Nor do I believe that other people who use medical devices/prosthetics are cyborgs. Nor do I think cyborg is any kind of insult. I am seriously proud to be a cyborg. I bask in the glow of my cyborg-ness (or that might just be the glow of my pumps backlighting).

P.P.S. For you fellow diabetics and those who love diabetics (I don't want to hear one word about person first language here. I'm a diabetic and I get to self label as I wish.) I received my latest Hemoglobin A1c in the mail today. 5.7. Feel free to congratulate me.

Monday, March 30, 2009

AAC Videos - see new devices in action

Today a man, Augie, with ALS was featured on the Today Show using a Dynavox Vmax with EyeMax.

Also available is a video of Sam Sennott demonstrating Proloquo2Go, the new AAC application which runs on an iPod Touch or iPhone.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

New AAC Device: PAPOO

Developed by the French company Smartio the PAPOO AAC device is designed as an extremely light weight communication device. The device can be held and run with one hand, or can be run with a single switch.

Here are the specs (these are gathered from the French, British and American websites):
  • weight 7 oz.
  • Dimensions: 5,5" x 2,5" x 1,77"
  • 10,000 messages (full sentences or phrase based)
  • two touch screens, five sensitive buttons (up and down navigation, select, yes/no)
  • cost about 2200 Euro (converts to about 3500 US)
  • color changing case
  • direct select or single switch scanning (PAPOO makes a switch or use any 3/8 switch)
  • designed to be ergonomic and can be used easily with one hand
  • various accessories (neckstrap, mount, stand, cradle, protective case)
  • programming software for your computer
  • OLED Screens 1,06" x 1,06" (Diag. 1,5”)
  • 262 000 colors
  • Resolution : 128 x 128 pixels
  • Lithium-Ion Battery
  • Charge holds 24 hours
  • USB Rechargeable
  • automatic sleep mode
  • integrated speaker (sound power : 25m range, directional sound)
  • Sturdy and shock absorbing shell
  • Weatherproof
  • automatically adjusts to be used up and down or sideways (like a position sensitive phone)
  • uses any picture or symbol set you desire (you upload images into the device through the software - thus you can use any free or commercial set of symbols or photos - downside is you may have to purchase a symbol set separately if their is one you want and don't have)

Here is a video of the device in use, it is in French, but you will get the general idea.

Resources for this Week's News-2-You: Tiger Woods

Internet ResourcesMath
  • work on one to one correspondence by matching one golf ball to one tee (hammer the tees into florist foam so they will stand up)
  • count out sets of nine or eighteen tees
  • using colored tees extend or make patterns
  • do a golf maze
  • work on estimation by filling a jar with golf balls or tees and having a guessing contest
  • work on probability by filling a box with assorted color tees and graphing the probability of pulling out a certain color
  • work on measurement by putting golf balls (real or foam) and measuring how far they go, then compare and graph
Social Studies
English/Language Arts
Arts and Crafts
  • sensory box filled with sand, tees and golf balls - even more fun with grass (real or fake)
  • hit golf balls (or larger balls) from a tee (or water jug, or other DIY tee) with a real or toy golf club (or just hands or feet) from a platform swing
Adapted P.E.
Community Based Instruction
  • local driving range
  • miniature golf
  • sports store to do a golf equipment scavenger hunt

Friday, March 27, 2009

"This is so cool!"

You must go see Schuyler use her new Vantage Lite. If for no other reason than you will smile for six minutes and twenty seconds.
When you are done you should get the book and read it, which you probably have already done, I am fairly certain I was one of the last people in the field to read it!

Updated Princess Bride VoiceThread

Our unit is nearly over and here is the complete VoiceThread showing what we did. Now you can see and hear about our Princess Bride board game and out cooking class's fun making shrieking eel appetizers and Miracle Max Revival Pills. Enjoy!

P.S. Much of my Princess Bride curriculum unit are available for download on the Boardmaker sharing site, Adapted Learning - search for Princess Bride.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

ALL Literacy Curriculum On Sale Now (Finally!)

I have been gazing longingly at the new ALL (Accessible Literacy Learning) curriculum for months on the Mayer-Johnson and Dynavox websites, especially in September when there was some money available in our agency. Now it (well, the print version, not the software yet) is finally on sale.

The ALL curriculum is an evidence-based literacy curriculum for learners with communication disorders. Read that again. Finally a researched literacy instruction system for students with low or no spoken language ability. A literacy instruction system for our students. No adapting, no guessing how to make it work for our low- or non- speaking students.

I have not seen it yet, I have not used it yet, but the literature about it excites me. (I wish the sample size was larger, but it still excites me.)

I, personally, can't wait to check it out, hands on.

Here are some links for you to check out:

More Princess Bride Resources

Because there is just no such think as too much Princess Bride...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tango at Home

I was sent this fun video of a boy using his Tango to read books with his mom. I have to say, having just finished a trial with a Tango for a student in my classroom this is a pretty accurate representation of the Tango. Notice how the mom is doing lots of the navigating and linking, that happened with our student too. The Tango has a high cognitive load (i.e. is not very intuitive) for users which means that users with developmental delays or intellectual impairment need higher levels of support with the device compared to other devices, especially navigating/linking. However the voice is just awesome and the smaller number of pictures can be easier for students who have access issues and students with cognitive issues if someone else navigates for them. Another issue I saw was that the icons, well beautiful, are not familiar to students who have used other symbol systems their entire lives. Older users especially may have issues learning a new symbol set. If Mayer-Johnson Picture Communication Symbols or SymbolStix were available this device might make a difference in a lot more lives. I also bet to differ that only a Tango would be comfortable in that setting. What about anything from the Chat series from Satillo or the Palmtop or iChat from Dynavox? How about any of the Lite devices from PRC? Even a Dynavox V would be fine - my student with a V curls up with it on the beanbag chair and even holds it comfortbaly on her lap and talks on the school bus.

Like any other device the Tango might be just perfect for some and not so for others. That is why we do full evaluations, trials and collect data.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Switch Activities at HelpKidzLearn


HelpKidzLearn has a new program they are trying out called Train Tracker that allows switch users (one or two switches) to design train tracks and play with a train set.

Also new for those working on cause and effect are Big Bang Patterns and Big Bang Pictures.

Via Barrie at OneSwitch.

Adapted Learning Print Editor Beta


Adapted Learning has a new feature in open public beta. Print Editor allows you to do basic editing and print any non-interactive, non-zipped board in your "my files" section of Adapted Learning.

In my school the internet connected computers do not print, so I have had some luck using Print Editor to print to CutePDF and then bring that file to the computer with a printer on a flashdrive.

Be aware that when the beta is over the Print Editor will be available only on a fee based subscription basis to owners of Boardmaker v. 6 (or Boardmaker Plus or SDP v. 6)

Resources for This Week's News-2-You: Monsters vs. Aliens

Computer Resources:
Language Arts/Communication:
  • work on adjectives such as straight vs. crooked by studying sites in San Francisco like Lombard Street (the world's crookedest street) or work on prepositions like on and off and over and under by looking a various pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and describe things like, "The boat is under the bridge" or "The car is on the bridge"
  • work on vocabulary using the "Dossiers" section of the Monsters vs. Aliens website and matching symbols for adjectives describing the various characters with the characters themselves

science:Arts and Crafts

Spoon Alien (Pk/12)

Adapted P.E.:
  • capture the flag monsters vs. aliens style (one team is monster and one aliens - consider costumes!)
  • tag monsters vs. aliens style
Be sure to check out Adapted Learning and The Classroom Suite Activity Exchange for more things to do in the classroom.

Free Audible Kids Downloads

Right now (and possible just for this weekend) there are some Audible Kids recorded books available for free. The first set are a partnership between Reading is Fundamental and Audible Kids, the second set is sponsored by Fox and Friends and the third set is sponsored by Parenting.com. You will need a (free) Audible.com or Audbile Kids account to get the books.

Also free are "The True History of Little Golden-Hood" , "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Emperor's New Clothes"

Audible Kids also has new enhanced Audio Books in public beta that allow readers to see and follow the illustration either on the computer or on an iPod or MP3 player while the book is read.

Don't forget about all of the other alternative format books available, many of which are free.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More Princess Bride Theme Unit Resources

I found some great foam swords at Rite-Aid for 2.99! We will be using them in fitness group in my class this week to do a little adapted fencing. Only six dollars for two of them!

Here are a few more resources found since the last Princess Bride Theme Unit post:

Audio Clips
Alternative Book Formats
Snack Time Idea
  • Have a "battle of the wits" snack - crusty fresh baked bread, apples and grape juice, then play a guessing game with some goblets from the thrift shop. Put a sticker (preferably with the universal symbol for poison on it) on the bottom of one goblet and have students try to guess which one it is under. Use the opportunity to teach this important survival sign.
Random Things

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

As You Wish - Princess Bride Theme Unit

Completely unintentionally my class is doing a thematic unit on the Princess Bride (one of my top ten favorite movies). Here is the back story, if you just want the resources skip down. Late last week one student and I were hanging out in the classroom while the other students and staff were in the cafeteria. Usually this student listens to music or a book on tape or just chats (via Dynavox) with me, but this day our conversation lead us to the Princess Bride. He said he really wanted to watch it and I happened to have in on my laptop in my iTunes. Besides who am I to deny that kind of fun during someone's lunch break?

I have never seen this student so into anything. He loved The Princess Bride (and who can blame him). This evolved into a classroom wide phenomenon, a couple of staff and the PT had seen the movie and loved it, some others had never seen the movie. We are going to watch in three parts (two down one to go) and we are doing various activities to improve engagement as we watch.

Here are the other things we are gong to do in our spur of the moment Princess Bride theme unit:

General Princess Bride Resources

Arts and Crafts
Free Worksheets (most are for general ed and for the book)

Computer Resources
Science - Study the Capybara (a true rodent of unusual size)http://farm1.static.flickr.com/68/184525337_c113fc9c2f.jpgScience - other ideas
  • sink or float? (play act Vizinni or the Dread Pirate Roberts tossing things overboard and see if they sink or float)
  • learn about eels
  • learn about suction
  • learn about water wheels

  • Miracle Max Revival Pills (aka Rice Crispy Treat balls painted in melted chocolate)Miracle Max by xamonster.
Adapted PE
  • using pool toy "noodles" have a fencing match or joust a ball of a tee
  • make an obstacle course that includes sitting on a large bolster roll (Buttercup's horse), sitting on a scooter board and pulling across the floor using a rope (the cliffs of insanity), "noodle jousting" (see above - sword fight), steering around obstacles and then going for a swim in a ball pit (the fire swamp and quick sand), pushing a wheelbarrow (storming the castle)
  • sensory box filled with sand (aka quick sand in the fire swamp) and plastic rodent toys (our dollar store has these)

Be sure to check Adapted Learning and Classroom Suite Exchange (I will be posting Boardmaker items to Adapted Learning this weekend.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Free for Download - Eye Tracker using Web Cam

This from myEye Project:

Free web cam based eye tracking! It is designed as a free alternative to commercial systems for use by those with significant disabilities especially for computer and AAC device control.

Here are the specs:
  • CPU: 1.5 Ghz or higher
  • RAM: 256 DDR RAM or higher (Recommendation 512 RAM)
  • Space: at least 100MB hard disk space.
  • Camera: 640x480 capture resolution or higher. (At least 30fps)
  • O.S.: Microsoft Windows XP SP2

Resources for this Week's News-2-You: The Kids Choice Awards'

This week's theme for News-2-You is the Kid's Choice Awards on Nickelodeon. I am not sure I will use this week's News-2-You for a variety of reasons, among them that it is not totally age appropriate for high school students (I can't think of any other high school student in our building who would care remotely about this topic) and there are some serious equality issues in the Nick's Choice award (i.e. an under-representation of girls/women in categories that represent both sexes and a lack of representation of people with disabilities), the controversy over Chris Brown, and the idea of promoting television and video games (to their credit their is a favorite book category). My class just finished up with the "Water for Africa" News-2-You so we can do the Buzzards edition this week or we may skip altogether and focus on St. Patrick's Day (a big deal in the Boston area).

That being said for the late elementary and 'tween set I can see the value of the Kids' Choice Awards in opening up these students to age appropriate interests, liking Miley Cyrus is a lot better than still being into Barney or Dora at ten or eleven years old, while liking Miley Cyrus at seventeen is the kiss of death socially. Thus here are resources for this week's News-2-You.

Online Resources:
Intregrated Academic Idea
  • hold your own Kids' Choice Award either with the same nominees as the really Kids' Choice Awards or with school based nominees (best teacher, best book in the library, best school lunch served). Work on choice making during voting, counting when you figure out the winners and communication as students write about who the winners are in an announcement.

Don't forget to check Adapted Learning and the Classroom Suite Exchange.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"For Mom"

Today we rounded out the week with a seasonal craft the last 35 minutes before packing up and heading out the door for the weekend. The students were all handed green construction shamrocks to decorate with the glitter, sequins, tissue paper, bingo daubers, markers, googly eyes and other materials that were on the table.

One of my students was waiting patiently at his desk for someone to come help him with the project while I finished up writing the daily notes home to parents/caregivers. Soon he said, "Hey, Kate". We were all a little surprised, this young man typically does not combine a greeting and a name in a phrase without cues, nor does he typically call out for someone, being more the type of person who gets up and goes to who or what he needs.

Given this was a first I went over and sat with him and after chatting for a bit, asked, "You called me over here, what do you want?" He took a minute or so to consider how to express what he was thinking, finally reaching out and holding up the green paper shamrock, "For mom!" he said.

My eyes welled up and we set out together to make one heck of a shamrock, with glitter, green bingo dauber dots and shamrock sequins on it. We worked on sequencing, pincher grasp, colors, the concepts of more/less and opening and closing containers while we worked on the project, but we both knew that all that work was, "For mom!" I made sure I wrote out the story on the back for his mother to read.

The communicative intent of calling me over and telling me he wanted the craft to be "for mom" was remarkable and a major step forward. The cognitive ability to predict that something he was about to work on in school could make a difference in his world after school was even more remarkable as was the understanding that he could ask for help in the way he did. The kindness in the desire to make his mother happy and proud made my heart sing.

That is why I am a special education teacher. That is what makes the paper work, the administrative hassles, the days where I go home with someone else's lunch on my shirt, have my hair pulled or wrench my back with all the lifting worth it. When a student can communicate something he has never been able to communicate before, when he can engage in an activity and extrapolate the meaning in it to his own life, when he can connect what he is doing at school with the important people in his life at home I know I have chosen the right path. Happy St. Patrick's Day indeed. Everyone one should be as lucky as I am to work with such amazing students.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Coming Soon: ALT-Chat from Saltillo

Saltillo Company, who have been making the ChatPC line of products for many years has announced they will be offering a new product the ALT-Chat, which is essentially a bigger, stronger version of the ChatPC software installed in the PRC Springboard Lite hardware. The price is expected to be from $3500 to 5000 depending on software choices and features choosen.

Here are the specs for the ALT-Chat:

>Color Dynamic Display

>Lightweight and portable

>Software volume control

>On/off switch and auto power-down

>Several hours of recorded speech

>Holds numerous vocabulary files, each containing hundreds of pages

>3,000 PCS symbols are included on the ALT-Chat™. The included DesktopChat software includes approximately 10,000 PCS symbols and 3000 Imagine symbols.

>NeoSpeech, DecTalk or Loquendo synthesized speech

>Accessed by finger touch, single switch or two switch scanning

>Extended-life rechargeable (Lithium-Ion) battery.

>Screen size: 7.0" (diagonal)

>12 to 36 month warranty

>Size: 7.3" x 7.3" x 1.8"

>Weight: 2lb. 8oz.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Where do we go from here?

One of the challenges of educating young adults with significant disabilities is knowing where to go next. As students approach the end of an entitlement to special education and move, as one parent put it, "from the cruise ship to the life raft" in terms of services, what precisely do we want to be sure we teach them? What are the most important things they need to master to have maximum function in post-school placements? This becomes even more difficult when you are thinking about an individual who is significantly physically involved with medical and communication disabilities.

Here are some of the things that seem most important to me:
  • communication especially yes/no/I don't know, choice making, direction of personal care, communicating in an emergency, an ability to "tell" if something happens that they need assistance with (mistreatment, etc), an ability to retell events in the day, asking for assistance, communicating about feelings, the ability to communicate medical problems (seizures, empty medication or feeding pump, etc)
  • leisure/social skills especially participation in the types of activities that are the mainstay of adult "day habs" such as table top games, cooking, music and movement/dancing, bowling, arts and crafts - if motor skills limit participation then the communication skills to direct those in the role of helping with the task
  • self care and well being such as feeding, hygiene, toileting and if motor skills limit participation then the awareness skills to know what needs to be done when and the communication skills to direct their care
  • quality of life including self knowledge about likes and dislikes, the ability to be flexible and deal with changes, the ability to connect with staff and peers and also to tolerate/work with non-preferred staff and peers, the ability to request favorite activities, people and interactions, the ability to tolerate changes in peers and staff (staff turn over)
So basically it all comes back to communication, at least in my mind. What do you think?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tablet PC News

I am blogging this on a new Tablet PC purchased through a Donors Choose grant. Unfortunately the Tablet I wrote the grant for was sold out, as was the backup choice I sent to Donors Choose, thus this is a stylus drive touch screen without a CD/DVD drive or a touch pad mouse (only one of those little buttons in the middle of the keyboard) and is quite a bit smaller than what I wanted. Still I am excited. It is my wish that this act as a trial AAC device, a means to input student performance data on the go and a teaching tool replacing some of the laminated paper and velcro items I use now with Classroom Suite, Clicker 5 and Boardmaker Plus interactive activities.

I am busily loading Classroom Suite Player and Boardmaker Player onto the Tablet and beginning to further envision how I will use it in my classroom.

If you use a Tablet PC (specifically a stylus driven one) in your severe special needs classroom I would love to read how you use it in the comments.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Power of "Yes"

Tonight I was reading Maternal Insticts: Flying by the Seat of My Pants which is one of my favorite blogs by a parent of a child with disabilities and Niksmom's recounting of Nik learning how to sign "yes" and thus answer questions about pain brought back one of my favorite teacher memories.

About 10 years ago I taught a very small intensive special needs class in an urban elementary school. One of my students, a 10 year old boy, came to me with a history of sleeping all day, every day, at school and an estimated "developmental age" of six months. This little boy came from a Spanish speaking home and lived in the housing projects in the city. He had a severe seizure disorder, cerebral palsy, used a wheelchair and was non-verbal. As we settled into a routine in our classroom that September and October I noticed that he often laughed or responded in an obvious way to humor, especially joke questions like, "Is you mother's name Tallulah?" (It wasn't.)

One day we were in that nebulous part of the afternoon when everyone has their coats on and their bags packed, but the buses have not arrived yet. Jokingly I asked my student if he could open his mouth to catch a fly in the room. He did. I stifled my gasp and asked him if he could look up. He did. I repeated my question and he again looked up, laughing now. I went into the hallway and grabbed the first person I could find, the OT, and asked her to watch us. I again requested my student look up. He did and then he laughed. I asked him if there was anything else he could do. He stuck his tongue out just past his lips and grinned at me.

The next day I asked my student if we could pretend looking up meant "yes". He looked up. I proceeded to ask him a variety of questions and he accurately responded to all of them using his new method of raising his eyes to say "yes". Actually he missed one question, "Is your mother's name Tallulah?" (Which he thought was the best joke ever.)

Over the next few weeks we worked to refine this method of answering "yes" and I was hesitant to call his mother (who was not named Tallulah) in for a meeting, in case he wasn't ready to carry his new communication over to his home life. One morning the phone rang and his mother (through a translator) asked why her son was rolling his eyes at her all the time. We knew we had accomplished generalization and filled the mom in on what all the eye raising meant. She was excited, but dubious.

A few weeks after that we received another early morning phone call from my student's mother. She was crying and before long the translator was crying as well. The mom was explaining, "Last night my baby was crying. He was sick and I didn't know what was wrong. I started asking him questions. Do your toes hurt? Do your legs hurt? Does your bottom hurt? Does your stomach hurt? When I asked about his stomach he raised his eyes and stopped crying so hard. I gave him some stomach medicine in his tube and he was better. He stopped crying. This is the first time I could help my son because he could tell me what was wrong. Thank you so much. Thank you for making it so my son can tell me what he needs from me."

Once we heard what the conversation was about we were all crying. A few months later my student added a slight head shake for "no". Then he learned how to use partner assisted scanning in a more formal way and then to use simple scanning software with a switch to make choices and spell out messages. All of this from an afternoon of joking around. His picture still hangs on my wall (taken with his hero Rick Hoyt) to remind me of the power of "yes".

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

Resources for this Week's News-2-You: Water for Africa


Online and Computer Based Activities:
Video a Day (you may need to download videos and show off line if video sites are blocked)
  • have children add green glitter to cups of water to represent germs (review germs from the news-2-you flu unit) and offer them a variety of materials to use to attempt to filter out the germs such as a coffee filter, burlap, and cheesecloth. Compare the results of filtered to unfiltered water. Possible embedded concepts - clean vs. dirty, conservation of liquids, more and less, sanitation in relation to hygiene and clean water
  • collect a variety of actual pumps such as hand soap pumps, the pump off of a large container of laundry detergent, bicycle pump or the pump part of a water gun (you may need to break it apart) have students predict what will happen if they activate the pump and then compare to what actually happens. Possible embedded concepts - up and down, press, stop and go

  • after you make drums you can dance and play to South African music
  • fill a sensory tub with water and various pumps (see science) and allow students to explore. Possible embedded concepts - wet vs. dry, hot vs. cold, up vs. down
Adapted Physical Education
  • if your school has one go to the playground and use the merry-go-round if not try spinning on other toys/physical therapy items (sit and spin, stand pivot disc)
  • try out African dancing (see videos above for ideas)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tobii ATI C Series

I am very excited to announce the new Tobii ATI C series ofhttp://tobiiati.com/Images/contentimages/Products/AT/cseries/Tobii-C8_e.jpg communication devices, if for no other reason that an AAC company has finally put hot swap batteries in their new AAC device. Hot swap batteries, the ability to change batteries while the device is running instead of having to plug the device in is as close to a "deal breaker" as I can come when I am looking at at a device without a student in mind. Hot swap batteries means a student can go into the community, on field trips or to work without worries of "running out of juice" and either being voiceless or being tethered by their AC adapter.

The C series devices run on the Tobii Communicator software, which I have not seen, and is capable of recorded or digitized speech and can be used for text or symbol based communication. The symbols used are SymbolStix (from the News-2You people, about 15,000 symbols). It doesn't say if there is an option to use other symbols such as Boardmaker. Otherwise the devices seem to be comparable to other devices on the market. The C8 is smaller and the C12 larger weighing in at 4 and 6.5 pounds. You can add premium features like text messaging, e-mail and the internet to the software if you wish. There are the usual multiple means of access including touch screen and switches. You can also add the eye gaze control that Tobii is most famous for (meaning that there is now eyegaze avaliable from every major AAC company - Tobii ATI, PRC and Dynavox). The C series is compatiable with all of the major mounting devices. You can personalize the style of the C series by changing the side panels to different colors.

Considering the Tobii ATI company (or part of it) is located in my home state perhaps I will get a chance to give you all more information soon.

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