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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Jul
09

Is Your Assistive Tech Biased?

Is my assistive technology biased? screenshot of text from phone, sender to PATINS:

Five years ago I was excited to sit at a table with a young Black student and her mother to show her all the things her child using a new robust augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device could do.

She could tell us what she wanted to play with.

She could tell us her favorite color.

When one of her classmates was bothering her, she could tell them “stop.”

She loved it. The school loved it. Mom wasn’t sold.

“It doesn’t sound like her,” she objected.

Both of us knew this student’s mouth sounds were mostly squeals and cries. I opened the settings and showed her the choices: “Ella,” “Heather,” and “Tracy.” We listened to little clips of the computerized voices.

“They don’t sound like her.”

And she was right. There wasn’t a voice that sounded like someone that came from her family or community. Not a single voice that sounded like a young Black person, not on any system I could find. I could program a voice for her talker that sounded just like Yoda from Star Wars right then and there, but a Black American was too far fetched for assistive technology.

Because technology is programmed by people, who all have biases, our assistive technology has biases. And those biases are a danger to the UDL framework we use and in some cases, life threatening.

The speech-to-text software doesn’t work equally across all voices and varieties of English, especially Black voices.

The grammar checker flags non-white varieties of English.

The AAC lacks language from other dialects, cultures, and communities, and if it is there it is labeled as fringe. You want another language? It's available, but no one downloaded the file or attempted a translation.

The visual support makers are absent of vocabulary that is developmentally appropriate for all school aged children, such as words for sexual health, identity, and justice or they are locked behind a wall of “adult only.”

Indiana’s Article 7 Special Education law is explicit on how to figure out if a student can take home their AT:  “On a case-by-case basis, the use of school-purchased assistive technology devices in a student's home or in other settings is required if the student's CCC determines that the student needs access to those devices in order to receive a free appropriate public education” (my emphasis added). 

If your staff refer to a “school policy” or a hoop for families to jump through, such as an after-school training, you’re inviting bias into determining which kids get to talk, read and learn when the school bell rings at the end of the day.

Your word prediction program guesses the words that could follow “He is ___” are: good, smart, and mean, but “She is ___”: crazy, married, and pretty.

As we scrutinize our own biases, inherent tools and instruction we are welcoming into our classrooms and families:

  1. Listen to the people using the technology.
  2. Question your own biases.
  3. Take action. Engage your colleagues in what you’ve learned. Dialogue with the people creating the technology. Good developers are open to constructive criticism from consumers. My word prediction example was immediately discussed and corrected by the company. If they aren’t responsive to your concern about bias within their product, why would you want that in your room?

Our assistive technology has some problems created by humans. Humans can fix it.

Resources and Further Reading

PATINS Lending Library and no-cost training for supporting all students

Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education for K-12 Educators, Teaching Tolerance

Vocabulary for Socially Valued Adult Roles, Institute on Disabilities at Temple University

Ableism, National Conference for Community and Justice

AI is coming to schools, and if we’re not careful, so will its biases, Brookings

Don’t Get It Twisted- Hear My Voice, ASHA Leader

8 Influential Black Women with Disabilities To Follow, Disability Horizons


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Apr
07

Who's Afraid of AAC?

Who's Afraid of AAC? When someone says “AAC is not my thing,” what they're really sharing is that they are scared.

Somehow being an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) specialist with PATINS has put me in the position of listening to the confessions of school staff:

“I’m not good with technology.”

“They didn’t teach any of this when I was in school.”

“AAC is not my thing.”

It’s usually said in a hushed tone when they think no one else is listening.

“I have nothing but good news,” I’ll often say. “90% of what we’re talking about is just good instruction for all students that you already know, we’re just framing it in a new way to support non-speaking students. The rest I’ll put on a cheat sheet, and I find cheat sheets helpful too.”

But what I want to say is “AAC wasn’t my thing either and look at me now!” At one time, out of the things that SLPs had to learn, I would have ranked AAC dead last. Even below the paperwork.

I had “The AAC Class.” In one semester I was to learn everything I needed to know about AAC and I would be set for the rest of my career (haha!). However, there was one little snag: the professor who taught the AAC class took a sabbatical and another staff member was wrangled into covering it so we could graduate on time. This is what I learned that semester:

Nothing.

At least, nothing which was practical or helpful in the real world. I was given my first “real job” caseload with several non-speaking students, a binder for PECS, a Boardmaker CD, and released into the wilderness. My class notes were worthless.

I was in trouble and these students needed something I didn’t have: the knowledge of how to “do the AAC.”

Of course, AAC was definitely not my thing. But it had to be because there was no one else. I adopted a simple plan that has kept me afloat to this day: just keep saying “yes” to every opportunity. Every training and app I could find to practice with, every opportunity to attend or present at conferences and network. None of this came naturally or from a book or college course. Yes, I will pilot it. Yes, I will learn it. Yes, I can teach it. It was just years of chasing ideas and tools for students that made them light up inside when they found their voice. I made mistakes, forgave myself, and tried to learn and do better. Yes, yes, yes.

Exactly none of us started life as “technologically gifted” or imbued with the knowledge of AAC or any technique or educational principles. We all had to start at zero and learn.

When someone says “AAC is not my thing,” I think what they're really sharing is that they are scared.

They are scared of failing. They are embarrassed by the idea of not being enough for the task. They are traumatized and work-worn from so many evaluations and tasks, and worried that their work won’t be enough. 

And you know what every scared person wants?

A friend, a light in the darkness, and some tools.

At PATINS we have lots of those. Did you know that if you are an Indiana public PreK-12 staff member and one of our events on our training calendar isn’t at a time that works for you or your team, you can request it at another time? If you were hoping to talk about that topic but wanted 1:1 personalization or a deep dive into a special topic, we can set up that consultation at no cost to you or your district.

In particular, for those who are ready to say “yes” to trying out AAC tools and techniques, we have a process just for that. For a no-cost PATINS AAC Consultation, please fill out this referral for each student. This 2 minute video is a brief overview of our process.

The scariest thing that could happen is doing nothing.

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Oct
06

AAC Awareness Month: Back Up and Backup

AAC Awareness Month: Back Up and Backup Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools are like a tangible bit of your student’s soul.

I love working for PATINS. Going into work knowing there’s something I can do to help Indiana’s public PreK-12 staff and the students they serve at no cost to them? Amazing. A true dream job. However, there is one part of this job I really, really hate because it's so preventable.

At the time of this blog publishing, it has been 19 days since the last Least Favorite Thing happened. It hurts my heart, a feeling of mad-sad unlike any other, and it makes the list as my Least Favorite Thing because it’s so easily preventable:

Back up the AAC tools.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools are like a precious tangible bit of your student’s soul. These tools have words for family, friends, and favorite things. It’s organized and situated just right, like a perfectly organized office, where things are just the right style and everything is in its right place and no two are exactly the same. Just like the perfect office where all the most important things happen, it might burn to the ground and your student might be left with nothing. It is always heartbreaking when the tool is lost forever, sometimes life-threatening, and always preventable.

Reasons I've heard staff share while fighting back tears and screams of frustration:

  1. An art project resulting in q-tips and jello shoved into the charging port
  2. Dropped device in toilet
  3. “I don’t know, I just looked away for a minute and then suddenly all the buttons are gone!”
  4. Frisbee’d device across the room
  5. Well-meaning IT staff “updating” the device
  6. His sibling used it like a step stool to get to the kitchen counter
  7. App updates corrupted original file
  8. Left on the playground during a rainstorm
  9. “She got mad and deleted the app so she didn’t have to talk to us, but now she’d like it back.”
  10. He ate it

When backing up files, three really simple rules:

1. If it's not set up to be automatic, backup at least 4 times a year if not monthly, especially if you've done a big "vocabulary dump" or settings change.

2. Backups should be shared and shared confidentially with at least 3 people in a way that it could be retrieved in the dead of night in the middle of winter break on the way to the hospital. Google Drive, One Drive, or Drop Box are very popular options, others offer options owned by the software company.

3. Involve your student in the backup process. Talk about who sees the backups and why they're important and how to get to them. Backups, like checking the batteries in your fire alarm, aren't magical mysterious events. Involve your young students early and often and give them the opportunity to learn to advocate and direct how they want their tools, an important part of AAC competency.

Backing Up AAC Files:

These are a sampling of AAC products and directions on how to back up the files. Are you supporting software not on this list or have a tool that’s not software and need some help with backing up and using it? Please reach out to one of our AAC Specialists and we will help!

TouchChat iOS App

Proloquo2Go iOS App

LAMP Words for Life iOS App

Avaz Android and iOS App

TD Snap iOS App 

TD Snap on Windows

Empower (PRC-Saltillo Accent devices)

NuVoice (PRC-Saltillo Accent devices)

NovaChat devices

Speak For Yourself iOS App

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Jul
06

Failing the Stranger Test

Failing the Stranger Test: a communication board, and IEP screen, a Speak and Spell Toy, and a red Failing “The Stranger Test” means you’ve failed a student, and that failure can mean, literally, life and death

My first year writing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) an administrator coached me in “The Stranger Test.” I would argue it was one of the hardest ongoing writing assignments I will ever have: everything you ever learned in graduate school, all the jargon and technical language, hide it. Write and communicate in such a way that a stranger on the street would understand what you mean.

It’s important because in practice, failing “The Stranger Test” means you’ve failed a student, and that failure can mean, literally, life and death.

A student I got to work with for a few years had moved across the state. I got a friendly email from the new team asking if I could help them out. When I recognized the student, I asked about the  Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) tools that he had been using at his previous  school.

“He has specific AAC tools? All the IEP says is that he gets ‘high and low tech AAC.’

What in the world could that mean?

  1. A picture of snack choices and an eye gaze controlled computer
  2. An alphabet board and an iPad with any random app.
  3. The cases of DVDs from his video collection and the Speak & Spell from my childhood.

All of those would satisfy the legal document. Yet none would match what this student had been using for years, the only way the team had figured out how to help him communicate what he wanted and gave him access to his education.

Why had the IEP been written in such a way that one of our most vulnerable students potentially lost all of his access to language? The most common answer I hear: “I was told not to name the exact brand/type of device in the Assistive Technology box.”

In the words of the greatest movie of 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean, the unwritten rule about not naming brands is “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” Individually, with the case conference committee, consider what the student needs and be clear about the features. In some cases, one and only one specific language system or product may meet that student’s needs and it may need to be named. For other students, several options might be appropriate, and then it’s critical to name the features that make that tool successful for that student, and “high and low technology” is not professional vocabulary for a stranger test.

In other words: the language systems of Proloquo2Go and LAMP Words for Life are not interchangeable for many students. The language system that is only available in iOS is not often interchangeable for whatever language system that can be found on a Chromebook. They might both be “high tech AAC” but for many people it’s like exchanging German for Mandarin. That change move might mean the difference between being able to communicate pain, needs, and accessing education and not. It might mean the difference between life and death.

Of course, we at PATINS have nothing but good news:

If you need help, a friendly stranger for your stranger test, PATINS is here with Specialists to assist you in making sure that you accurately describe the features in the tools your team has trialed. If your student has outgrown those tools and you’re looking for something new, we are here for that too!

Also, I have created a list of common feature terminology used in Augmentative and Alternative Communication tools with descriptions of what they mean, a little study aid for your ongoing Stranger Tests.

The hardest writing assignment of your life, the one in which the futures of children rest in the words you choose, is a living, breathing group assignment. Don’t hesitate to reach out if PATINS can help.


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Jul
06

A Stained Glass Starfish

A Stained Glass Starfish Just show up and help make something beautiful. It will matter to at least one.

One of the most surprising things that happened to me last year was learning how to make stained glass art. By chance, I ran across a video of someone making a suncatcher and I immediately fell in love and bought a beginners kit.

It has been pretty easy to draw parallels between two of my favorite topics: stained glass art and accessibility, especially Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

Learning only takes place when other people are involved.

Being self-taught is a myth. No one on this planet is “self-taught” because learning takes other people and the environments they design. While I have yet to attend a formal class in stained glass, I’ve benefitted from dozens of knowledgeable people. I’ve learned through the thoughtful design of hundreds of experienced teachers through the environment and tools they created for me. Our students are no different: the support we give and the environments we design are the soil, air, and water to their growing minds. No one learns in a vacuum.

I need a lot of tools.

So many tools! Six of them are for breaking glass in slightly different ways. But that makes sense because just like in AAC ecosystems we’re supporting an environment of creativity and communication and we need lots of tools to do it. We can’t teach someone one tool, even a really great tool, and expect it to work for all situations and times.

Good tools don’t make up for good technique.

Breaking glass is very easy, it’s breaking it the way you want it to break is the difficult part. It takes practice and learning and reflection. In the same vein, predictably I will get at least six phone calls this school year complaining that the communication tool they borrowed from the PATINS library didn’t work for a student, and when asked if they modeled on it and how often, the phone goes silent and we begin the conversation about how students do not learn by osmosis and a good tool doesn’t make up for evidence-based techniques. Every single item in our lending library we provide no-cost support and training so you can hone your skills and maximize your student’s success.

Everyone benefits if we design accessibly.

I choose many of my tools because they were designed for “people with arthritis” or “if you have cataracts.” I have neither, but my own disabilities and preferences, the specialized allow me to make things. Without them, I wouldn’t be able even to try! Providing multiple ways to communicate to and with learners also makes sense, even if they don’t “qualify” or aren’t someone you’d suspect would need that tool or technique.

Forget “go big or go home”: show up and do a little. 

I’ve spent most of my adult working life thinking everything had to be in 20-60 minute chunks to “count.” Even when I feel tired and uninterested, I try to spend 5 minutes in my “creative space” even if it’s just cleaning. 5 minutes is perfect to start. Modeling 5 phrases on a device are always better than 0. Spending 5 minutes connecting with a child is always better than none. Not every day can we or our students summit a mountain. Just show up and help make something beautiful. It will matter to at least one.

In honor of that "it matters to this one" mentality, I made a starfish and shared the process. I hope you enjoy it!




Video Description: Jessica Conrad narrates the starfish story while creating a starfish suncatcher. First, she pulls out sheets of blue glass of different colors and textures. Then with a red marker, she writes numbers on each part of a paper pattern of a starfish. Placing a blue-green stained glass sheet on top of the pattern she scores the glass with a glass cutter. Then using running pliers (decorated with googly eyes) she snaps the glass into pieces along the scored line several times breaking it into the desired shape. The pieces are taken to a glass grinder where the edges are smoothed. She then lines the edge of the cut glass with copper foil tape and uses a tiny roller to smooth out the foiled edges. She then lays out all five pieces of her stained-glass starfish onto the table and brushes the coper with flux. With a soldering iron, she applies the solder to the copper and a jump ring to the tip of one of the starfish legs. Finally, the finished star fish spins in the light by a window.

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Apr
28

If I knew then what I know now.

Jena and her grandmaFuture teacher, Jena, and one of the
best teachers in her life, Grandma.


We can all likely agree that teaching is not what it used to be. In fact, the profession I found myself in as an elementary school teacher was worlds away from what I envisioned.

I believe that one reason for this disconnect is that I expected to teach the way that I was taught- following along with my teacher’s lesson and directions quietly from my desk; then completing my assignment and checking it twice before handing it in. I hope that some of you can relate; however, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that my preferred method of learning couldn’t sound more like beating your head against a brick wall… Yet to me there’s almost nothing better than being given information, asked to complete a task, completing it to the best of my ability, and receiving praise for my work. Needless to say, I’m a people-pleaser.

Not only did I love being a student, I revered my teachers- such poise, such excitement, and so much love for and genuine interest in their students. They were the bee’s knees to me, and I can proudly name every one of my elementary school teachers. Of course teaching was in my future! Bee clipart

Nowadays, the education pendulum has shifted. For better or for worse, teachers face more state testing, rigid evaluations, changes in general attitudes towards the profession, and increasing daily demands. This includes planning for and meeting the needs of all students.

It is the last of the changes — meeting the needs of all learners — that inspires this blog post. There were many days in the classroom that I viewed this expectation as a mountain I could never climb, especially alone. With so many students, each one with a unique set of needs, how could I ever meet each student on his or her level?? 

If only I could have know then what I know now. You see, as a third grade teacher, I wasn't aware of the wonderfully valuable resources that PATINS has to offer until I left the classroom and found a job posting online for the PATINS Data & Outreach Coordinator. Lucky for me, the position was something I was very interested in; I landed an interview and was offered the job. Now I am able to reach out to educators, who were just like me, in order to offer them invaluable resources that would have been an immense help to me while in the classroom.


For instance, I would bet it's safe to say that every teacher has experience with a student that has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention identify 1 in 68 American children as having ASD. As educators, we know that these students bring a different set of talents and challenges to our classrooms.

One of the most common struggles for these students is social interaction and communication, which can lead to heightened frustration among the student, classmates, and teacher. Check out this video of Dillan, a student who describes himself as “autistic,” as he describes his experience with ASD. This is an incredible example of the way that we can help you meet the needs of your students. We lend iPads and other devices with text to speech software, so that you can give a voice to a student who may so desperately want one. Not sure how to implement them or use the software? We’ll come to your classroom and educate you, so that you get what you want out of the technology!

If you’re reading this, then you are probably already aware of our lending library and services; yet so many educators across the state have never heard of us, and this is my cause. I am passionate about the services we provide to the students across the entire state of Indiana. I want every educator to understand what we offer and to feel comfortable reaching out when they are in need of some guidance.

Not sure what to do to help a student who struggles with focusing on tasks? Give us a call. Need recommendations when searching for the right assistive technology? Let us know. Have you borrowed an item that you are excited about, but aren’t quite sure where to start? Reach out. The list goes on and on.

We are here for, and because of you! So please help spread the word about PATINS to as many friends, family members, and fellow educators as you can. The more educators we can support, the more student lives we can positively affect. We are here to help teachers climb the mountains that can stand in the way.



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Mar
24

Did You Miss Us? Tech Expo 2022 is In-Person!

Did You Miss Us? Tech Expo 2022 is In-Person! Teacher and student smiling at one another. Tech Expo 2022 PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE. April 14, Carmel IN.

Almost one year to the date, I wrote the blog “PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates!” about our second virtual Tech Expo. Fortunately, we are back 100% in-person in Carmel, Indiana for PATINS Tech Expo 2022. We are excited to partner with IN*SOURCE for the fifth time!! It’s quite apparent over 400 of you are looking forward to hands-on time with assistive technology, face-to-face conversations with resource organizations, and fun and networking too!

The presentation schedule has been set with 20 excellent sessions from knowledgeable experts, including representatives from Apple, Don Johnston, Inc (makers of Snap&Read, Co:Writer, uPar), Texthelp, Microsoft, and many more! All sessions will show you how to boost accessibility in your classroom without adding more to your plate and provide valuable information to share with parents/families about their child’s future. Nearly all presentations tie into a big topic for educators - literacy!

In addition to the presentations, there are over 40 exhibitors available throughout the day! They will answer your questions, provide resources for supporting Indiana students both in and out of the classroom, and introduce you to their transformational products and services. Attendees will not want to miss the live Exhibit Hall to find out how to win educational door prizes from our generous donors!

Check out the presentation Schedule-At-A-Glance and Exhibit Hall List now.

There is still plenty of time in the school year to make an impact on that one student who needs better access to communicate, read, write, and/or socialize. Tech Expo 2022 is the spot to find your a-ha solutions.

Only two week’s left to register for a no-cost ticket. This includes free parking and complimentary breakfast and lunch, plus you can earn up to four Professional Growth Points (PGPs)/Contact Hours for attending.

I hope to see you on April 14 in Carmel, IN!


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Dec
08

Reasons To Stay Strong, Collaborative, Positive, and Brave


Starfish award winner, Mandy Hall, with her husband, son, and daughter.
As educators, we are all quite aware of the many reasons it's challenging to keep pushing on, especially right now. Rather than spend even one more sentence reiterating those reasons, however, I want to emphasize the reasons it's so critical that we don't stop moving forward, that we find ways to re-kindle the fires that fuel and warm us, that we remember there are people who need us to do just that, and that we will likely also need someone else to do that for us at some point in our lives, as we are all inevitably Temporarily Abled

It's been a good while since I've had a guest blogger. In fact, it was August of 2019 when Beth Poss graced my blog with her wisdom on designing and decorating a classroom with more function than form! ...definitely, a read worth revisiting! I'm pretty picky when it comes to sharing my turn to blog with another writer. It was a pretty easy decision, however, when I learned about the most recent PATINS Starfish Award winner, Mandy Hall, M.S. CCC-SLP! All Indiana educators, administrators, related service staff, and all other school personnel are eligible for this award that is presented to the super heroes who consistently go above and beyond to meet the needs of all students through Universal Design for Learning, the implementation of Accessible Educational Materials and Assistive Technology, in order to be most meaningfully included in all aspects of their educational environment! Mandy Hall absolutely embodies all of this and while we wait in eager anticipation for her official Starfish Award video to be released on PATINS TV, she has most graciously agreed to guest-blog with me this week! Mandy has worked as a speech-language pathologist for sixteen years serving students ranging from preschool through high school as well as volunteering her time to support the communication needs of adults in her community.

"One busy evening at work (summer job) led an unexpected customer to me. Our eyes met and she immediately looked so familiar. It was Karen, Tony’s mom! I remembered her son from my own grade school when I was little! He was the young boy who carried around ‘that thing’ because he never spoke. I never knew the name of it, or got to use it with him, but I now know the importance of those things! Anyway, I remember not seeing him very much; he was always in the smaller room down the hall, with “that bald teacher.” I also now realize the extreme importance of inclusion!

Karen looked at me and said, “I heard you’re the girl I need to talk to!” Her son, Tony, is now thirty four (oh my gosh!) years old. Karen shared that he still lives with her, and that he is still unable to verbally communicate with his mouth. I shared with her that I am, indeed, a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and that I love helping people learn to share their voice through Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)! 

Working with learners who have intensive needs can be very tough, and sometimes you get to feeling like it’s never enough, or questioning how you will ever be able to make a difference. Progress can often be slow, but the (SLP) life is fast paced! It can be easy to lose your direction, your passion, your spark, and to feel like you’re drowning in frustration and piling tasks. There are some keys though, that I want to share, to keeping your drive strong, your passion thriving, and the outcomes with your learners trending upward! Mentorship, collaboration, the support of a partner, family, continuous learning and development, community resources, and celebrating the small wins each day.

Fast forward - I would finish my day at school and began visiting Tony every Wednesday evening to work with him using an AAC device. I will say that magic happens at their kitchen table on those evenings! Well, perhaps not magic, but many small wins that are celebrated with vigor! Tony and I share many moments of joy, filling my heart, his parents’ hearts; and Tony is communicating! I quickly realized that I was getting my ‘spark’ back through each of these small wins with and through the support of this family and them with my support! Oddly enough, sometimes it’s the finding of extra work like this, that can reignite the passion! This includes the sharing in joy from our littlest students, at 3 years of age, to adults at thirty four plus! First words, first moments of experiencing in learners that eagerness to communicate and a readiness to learn; the first time parents and caregivers are hearing and seeing their loved ones communicate their feelings, their wants, their preferences in life! 


Starfish award winner, Mandy Hall, with a student and parents
Reaching those milestones to be able to share in those particular joys with other people isn’t usually an easy task, that’s for sure. It takes an entire team, which can include SLPs, SLPAs, teachers, OTs,
parents, administration, support staff, and community partners! You just have to be
all in and open to utilizing them all!

For me, it all started with an amazing mentorship, with the incredibly skilled SLP, Cathy Samuels. I was an SLP Assistant for her. She showed me the ropes and I witnessed the powerful and moving changes she was able to initiate with kids. I wanted to be able to do that! I remember navigating through our first AAC user experience, which was uncharted waters at the time, and we felt like it was just too complicated for us. Paintbrush man, a bucket, a pot boiling? What are these pictures and how will kids ever figure this out? Well, they do. And they do it beautifully. We doubted initially, and they proved us wrong over and over. This may just have been the start of me embracing continual life-long learning, professional development, and not capping possibility!

84 cupcakes in a 7 by 12 grid, each with a paper decoration topper representing one of the 84 buttons of the LAMP Words for Life home page.

The tables have now turned. Me, Cathy's former SLPA, finished graduate school and became an SLP myself! In turn, I then find an irreplaceable SLPA to work alongside me; my own sister! Without my sister/SLPA, there is absolutely no way that I could do this job. She jumps right in with some of the most inspiring bravery I've every seen, to help with any and every group of learners, any level of need, and has also found a love of working with kids in their AAC journeys! Her shared passion, drive, and support of me, has allowed so many of the kids we work with, to be true communicators, which in turn, feeds my ‘spark’ even more! Find those people around you who support you and believe in the work that you do and utilize them!  

Starfish award winner, Mandy Hall, with her sister who is also her SLPA

Helping people, kids and adults, obtain their own communication device can certainly be challenging. Writing funding reports, fighting medicaid, writing appeals, attending appeals hearings with attorneys and parents; all to fight for a person who is unable to tell us their basic wants and needs. The frustration with that, easily reaches high levels and there are times when giving up seems like the only option, and sometimes it’s easy to forget about the resources that are available to you, but critically important to those people you're serving!

A family shared with me a foundation that is now, near and dear to my heart, and many of the families we serve here; Anna’s Celebration of Life. When devices have been denied funding for various reasons, this foundation has pulled through for us and graciously gifted communication devices so that our learners voices can finally be shared! One young girl’s short life on this Earth, is now changing the lives of so many others with exceptional needs in Indiana. Brad Haberman has built a phenomenal foundation that provides to so many children; including 4 of our own here!

The PATINS Project of Indiana has also helped in big ways! Learning of PATINS, a few years ago, I was able to acquire items from the Lending Library for 6-week loans, for free! I was reminded of all the wonderful things PATINS does this past Fall. I was able to attend their 2 day Access To Education conference, learning, listening, and taking in so much useful information! I’m not afraid to reach out, ask for help, and request devices for loan. How do we know what our kids can and cannot do unless we try as many possibilities as we can find? ...and how do we possibly do that without organizations and services like PATINS! That’s the beauty I have found through PATINS. Their support and understanding goes far beyond the loaning of a device or the provision of an accessible material. It’s the implementation support, the follow-up, the training, the feeling of someone holding my hand through the process if necessary, that makes all the difference! PATINS has allowed for some of my learners to figure out that an expensive speech generating device is just too heavy, and that the keyguard is better than a touchguide, and that headpoint access, while exhausting, can work! We learned through two loaner devices that one particular student needs a lighter, more accessible device with special features that cannot be accessed through an iPad, for example. That trial and error process simply wouldn’t be possible without PATINS!

Circling back to Tony, it’s tough to realize, after 34 years and multiple therapists and educators, Tony was only able to communicate with two people (his mom and his dad). I am going to do my best to make sure that Tony gets his forever voice; to keep and never have to return. Though you may not be able to reach them all right away, if you can change the life for even just one by recognizing, facilitating and encouraging communication, then that one will make you want to dig and reach even harder to find the next! Seek out mentorship and try to recognize it when it falls in your lap even if it might seem like a challenge to your current way of thinking! Share the accountability and the responsibility with your team, partner, family! Seek out and utilize the resources that already exist and are so eager to serve you, for free, like PATINS! My goal; to be able to make sure that all of my learners find and have their voices before they walk through their school’s door for the last time."

While Mandy is super-busy, I have no doubt she'll do whatever she can to support you in your own journey to support others! Please reach out to me if you'd like to be put in touch with our latest Starfish Award Winner, Mandy Hall! And... if you know someone who's also doing inspiring work to include all students meaningfully, please don't hesitate to nominate them for a PATINS Starfish Award of their own! You can also learn about the past 13 Starfish Award Winners!

For now, I'll leave you with an email I was sent back in April of 2018, from a Director of Special Education in Indiana. It's an email that I'll never forget and it absolutely reinforces the passion, dedication, and urgency that Mandy Hall represents. Thank goodness someone thought to borrow a speech-generating communication device from PATINS near the end of this 3rd grader's year, but... what about all the things he never got to share during the previous 8-9 years of his life... things that we'll never get to know. Stay passionate, stay eager, driven, fighting for those who need you right now, and using the resources around you! PATINS is here to support you!

On Apr 30, 2018, at 4:58pm,     Daniel - will you please forward this to whomever there at PATINS sends out the assistive technology for us to trial? We have a Dynavox on order to trial with a 3rd grade student of ours at                Elementary School (he is the one for which your staff has been assisting us with the AT evaluation). He passed away quite unexpectedly this past Saturday (April 28, 2018). We need to cancel that request to borrow the device.  Thanks so much -                  ,      Special Education Director

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Oct
01

AAC Awareness Month

AAC Awareness Month AAC Awareness Month with quote from USSAAC.

"International AAC Awareness Month is celebrated around the world each October. The goal is to raise awareness of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and to inform the public about the many different ways in which people communicate using communication devices." - International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication

A few things to know about AAC:

  1. There is No Prerequisite for using AAC - as long as you are breathing, you are a candidate
  2. Everyone has the right to communicate - treat the communicator with respect and offer AAC solutions
  3. Presume competence/potential for the communicator - expect that communicator can learn, wants to connect with others, develop literacy skills and more
  4. Give the communicator adequate wait time to formulate a response
  5. High Tech is not necessarily the answer nor is any one particular device or app - complete an AAC assessment to determine the best fit solution for your student

Augmentative means to add to someone’s speech. Alternative means to be used instead of speech. Some people use AAC throughout their life. Others may use AAC only for a short time, like when they have surgery and can’t talk. - American Speech-Language Hearing Association

AAC is more than just high tech, fancy communication devices. It can be as simple as teaching a student gestures/signs (e.g., more or help), writing/drawing, to tactile symbols, pictures, icons/symbols, simple voice output devices to high tech devices like an iPad with an AAC app or a dedicated speech generating device (SGD).

Here are a few tools/resources to help your promote communication skills:

AAC Intervention Website by Caroline Musselwhite

Communication Matrix The Communication Matrix has created a free assessment tool to help families and professionals easily understand the communication status, progress, and unique needs of anyone functioning at the early stages of communication or using forms of communication other than speaking or writing.

Dynamic AAC Goals (DAGG-2) The primary objectives of the Dynamic AAC Goals Grid-2 are to provide a systematic means to assess (and reassess) an individual’s current skills in AAC and to assist partners in developing a comprehensive, long-reaching plan for enhancing the AAC user’s communicative independence.

PrAACtical AAC Website PrAACtical AAC supports a community of professionals and families who are determined to improve the communication and literacy abilities of people with significant communication difficulties. 

Lauren Enders (Facebook) compiles an exceptionally thorough resource that highlights the many AAC apps/software that go on sale during October.

Infographic created by Lauren Enders showing numerous AAC apps/software on sale for AAC Awareness month. Plain text version linked below graphic.

PDF with AAC & Educational App Sale information (info from above) for October 2021 provided by Lauren S. Enders, MA, CCC-SLP.

Do you want to learn more? Check out the
PATINS Training Calendar. If you don't see a training that meets your needs, look over the PATINS Professional Development Guide for inspiration. The guide offers summaries to some of our most popular in-person trainings and webinars developed by our team of specialists that are available year-round upon request. These are offered at no-cost for Indiana public LEA employees.

If you have an AAC case you would like help with, request a free consultation with a PATINS AAC Specialist by completing our AAC Consultation FormYou will meet with at least one or more Specialists to review your case and help brainstorm ideas.

Want additional Professional Development?  Come to our 2021 virtual PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 16, 17, 18! Registration is open now!

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Sep
10

Perception, Least Restrictive Environment, and Changing A Culture

As humans, we tend to perceive the things we’re already looking for. …the things that we are expecting to see, the sounds we are expecting to hear, and the things we are expecting to feel.

Executive functions refer to brain activities that regulate or control cognitive and behavioral processes. It’s responsible for initiating, organizing, and prioritizing what we think about. Subsequently, what we think about is what we tend to perceive. Knowing, understanding, and being aware of this has huge potential implications for nearly everything in our daily lives, including how we teach, how we learn, and the expectations we have for others’ learning.

When teaching new motorcyclists the fundamentals of controlling a two-wheeled vehicle for the first time, safety is up the utmost concern! We actually begin with this very concept of perception. For example, total braking distance is determined by first perceiving that there is a threat, second by reacting to it, and finally by the actual physics involved in stopping the motorcycle. The perception part is overtly critical in whether or not this process will be successful! In that regard, much time and effort is focused on demonstrating how perception improves drastically if the brain has a priority (safety, threats, escape paths). The idea is to see everything but pull out the most significant factors in that moment, quickly, to be processed and reacted to!

Do you see the rabbit or do you see the duck? Both? 

Image of a drawing that can be perceived as a duck or a rabbit

If you only see one or the other, your brain has likely been conditioned, for whatever reason, to search for and perceive that particular animal over the other one. The really cool thing, however, is that you can reshape this! You can train your brain to perceive the other animal and once you do, you won't be able to NOT see them both from that point on! You might also check out this auditory and video version of the old duck/rabbit drawing on YouTube. 

Clearly, this becomes very important as a motorcyclist is scanning the road ahead, traffic to the sides and to the rear in the rider's mirrors. The more potential threats and potential escape paths that the rider is able to perceive quickly, the greater any risk becomes offset by skill and awareness. Personally, I work very hard at getting better at this, both on a motorcycle and in education in general! 

Getting better at perceiving things more deeply and/or in differing ways isn't easy. It requires deliberate focus, continued effort, and dedication. I wonder, a lot, how often we let our initial perceptions about learners settle as our only perceptions about them. For now, let's allow the rabbit to represent the more limiting or negative parts of what we perceive and the duck to represent the other parts that we're not perceiving, yet. 

Back in February of 2019, I wrote about an experience very much related to this, concerning a colleague I was traveling with and the difficulties she was forced to deal with as a result of initial perceptions. How often do we experience a student's IEP and gain a perception that we stick with and subconsciously allow to set the cap on our expectations for that learner? How often do we witness a student in the hallway making a poor decision, or hearsay from a previous teacher, etc., and allow the same thing to occur?

Even further back in June of 2017, I wrote about myself as a younger student and the way I was perceived by many of my teachers. Perceptions that guided what they felt I should be doing differently...how I needed to change...perceptions that clouded them from noticing that I loved to compose, that I loved to draw, that I loved music, that I love motorcycles even then! They just saw the rabbit! I wanted them to see the duck too!

More recently, I've been heard a lot about Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and student proficiency. Both of which are highly important factors for consideration in schools! When learners are perceived as one thing, solely by their disability category, their inability to speak using their mouth, or their need to receive information in specialized or accessible formats, for example, they often get placed in more restrictive environments! When this sort of thing happens more than once, a trend begins to form. When that trend isn't deliberately, and sometimes uncomfortably stopped, a culture begins to form. ...a culture of, "this is just the way we do things here," or "we just don't have the resources here to do it differently." When that sort of culture has formed in a place, it really means, "we've decided we're satisfied with only seeing the rabbit, we just can't see the duck in there." This sort of mentality becomes very difficult to change. It requires the strongest, most tenacious, and wise parts of a place, to change.

This involves the combining of one's perception and their brain's executive functions. In other words, if a person maintains the priority to actively seek out certain things within a space or environment, the senses and the mind can process them very quickly and accurately. If an educator WANTS to perceive the capabilities of a learner or the ability to see the duck, they usually will have to seek out training, discussion, debate, mentorship, and collaboration!

This is where organizations like PATINS are so valuable to Indiana's public education. It takes trust, which is built over time! Encouragement, which has to be genuine and timely! Accessiblity and adaptability, which require great skill and practice! All active participants, which takes planning and patience. ...and Goal-oriented experiences, which are purposeful and requires great focus. Those 5 pillars represent, construct, and support everything that the PATINS staff builds, shares, creates, and offers to Indiana public schools, at no-cost to them! The offerings from this PATINS team are no accident! Through hundreds of combined years of experience and genuine passion for inclusivity and progress, we're here for you, Indiana. Reach out to us!! Come to our 2021 Virtual PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 16, 17, 18! Registration is open now! Sign up for one of our Specialist's MANY GREAT no-cost trainings

Allow yourself to acknowledge that you, maybe, aren't always perceiving the "duck." Possess a desire to perceive more than just the "rabbit," because you trust that it's there. Reach out to others and request assistance in exploring a situation differently, focusing on different parts of it, and enjoy the process, as you begin to perceive so much more than you ever noticed before!

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Jul
02

Lifelong Learning is a Must!

Quote

Today, there are so many opportunities available to improve your skillsets to help students improve communication, literacy and learning.  Instead of being the person who says "I don’t' know how to do that!", you can;

  1. Find someone to teach you, or
  2. Teach yourself, and then
  3. Become the person who says "Let me show YOU how!"

Every year on my birthday (February, if you want to send a card…LOL), I reflect back on the previous year and tell myself I thought I knew everything but NOW I really know what life is about.  In reality, I spent another year learning not just about life but work, relationships, technology, teaching strategies and what things make me happy. 

From 1986 to 1991 while attending Purdue University full-time, I worked 30 hours per week (except for my first semester of Graduate School). After earning my Master's degree, I worked nine months in a Fellowship before I was let loose on my own.  I had to work while I learned.  Now I learn while I work!  It can be overwhelming but I have found a balance.

Being employed is important to me and specifically in the field of education I find happiness helping students, teachers, professionals, parents and more.  To be an effective educator, continuous learning is a must.  It is so important that state credentialing and licensing organizations require continuing education hours.  National organizations too require commitments to continuous learning to receive renewed certifications/credentialing.  Technology improves seemingly daily and data is being collected to help improve instruction.  We must consider these, be willing to learn and improve our teaching.

At one point in my career, I was licensed by three state agencies, certified by one national, and was a member of three professional organizations.  Each had different continuing education requirements!  And…this was before Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts and all of the other learning opportunities and choices that constantly fill my email inbox today.  How do you know where to get you information and learn new ideas (scientifically sound with good evidence)?  I love to learn new ideas and solutions that not only improve my service delivery but help kids communicate better, read better and become more independent.

There are SO MANY options available…FREE, subscription, Patreon (fans support your creative work via monthly membership).  How do you find the time and avoid burnout?  I have found several solutions and ideas that work for me and might help you too!

First of all, consider how you learn best (UDL Guidelines from CAST) - great resource for upping your teaching skills for your students).  How do you engage learning, what keeps you connected, how do you best perceive and connect to new content, how do you organize and express what you have learned…

  • Do you prefer to read with your eyes or your ears (computerized or human)?
  • Are you a hands on learner?
  • Do you learn from watching others?
  • Do you take notes with paper and pencil or digital?

I am definitely a hands on learner.

I love to read but since discovering audiobooks and podcasts, I have increased my reading and learning time using my ears while running, in the car, and walking my dog.  Many audiobooks provide additional controls.  I increase the reading or playback speed to 1.5x or 2.0x allowing me to devour books and podcasts more quickly! At night, I read with my eyes before bed (usually fiction for entertainment).

Notetaking is accomplished with paper and pencil at times but Microsoft OneNote has improved my organizational skills.  I can type or dictate notes, insert pictures, documents, recordings, share/collaborate and so much more.  OneNote is also text searchable.

When people explain things to me, I sort of understand but as soon as I do it myself everything seems to click.  I have always like this quote (various forms of this have been attributed to many people) because it fits MY learning style, 

When I hear, I forget.

When I see, I remember.

When I do, I understand.

Is there an online platform that works for you?  Find it or try a new one!  You don't have to do it all at once.  James Clear says (author of Atomic Habits) in his Blog from February 25, 2021, "Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour. You don’t have to do it all today. Just lay a brick."   Find a time each day, a regularly scheduled day and stick to it.

Here are some trusted resources and tools (various platforms to suit your learning) that I have found useful and you might too!

From the PATINS Project:

Access to Education is where dedicated educators, who are focused on ensuring that every student has equitable access to the curriculum, will come together to experience motivational keynotes, local and national presenter breakout sessions, opportunities to view the latest assistive technology, networking, and so much more!

Sessions will be designed around accessibility, Accessible Educational Materials (AEM), Assistive Technology, and/or the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. There are no vendors at this conference.

Continuing education opportunities curated by your professional organizations and others - books, journals, Twitter, podcasts, Facebook, listservs, etc.

Book options

  • Hard copy - local library and bookstores
  • Digital and/audio

Libby or Hoopla app (books, magazines, music, movies) active library card required

Audible paid audio books

MackinVIA through PATINS ICAM for eligible students

Book Clubs (Team/Collaboration learning) e.g., The Knowledge Gap  by Natalie Wexler

Speech-Language Pathology - ASHA Continuing Education, Learning Pass and Special Interest Groups and Indiana Speech-Language Hearing Association (ISHA)

Occupational Therapy - AOTA Continuing Education and Indiana Occupational Therapy Association (IOTA)

Physical Therapy - APTA Learning Center and Indiana Physical Therapy Association (IPTA)

Deaf and Hard of Hearing - PASS Project Deaf/Hard of Hearing Listserv and Center on Literacy and Deafness Activities and National Deaf Education Conference Elementary Resources, Middle School, High School

Teachers - MyNEA360 edCommunities Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA)

Facebook - Indiana Inclusive Communication Matters (IICM)

Twitter - #PatinsIcam, #UDL, #AT, #AAC

PATINS hosts a weekly Twitter Chat during the school year on Tuesdays from 8:30 - 9:00pm ET

Podcasts - Talking with Tech (AAC) (link to website)

Assistive Technology Listservs and more

AT Makers - ATMakers.org introduces Makers and Assistive Technology (AT) users and give these two communities the tools they need to collaborate.

AT users and those who support them desperately need engineers and technologists to help them with everyday tasks. High School STEM and Robotics students, hobbyists & DIY electronics enthusiasts have the skills necessary to create innovative solutions today.

QIAT (pronounced quiet) - Quality Indicators in Assistive Technology

RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America) AT Forum

Indiana Resource Network (Organizations across the state)

Please reach out to one of us at PATINS if you have questions, want to learn something new or want to share an idea!  Enjoy the 4th of July, be safe and enjoy the rest of the summer!


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Jun
17

How Do I Get “Buy In”?

How Do I Get "Buy-In"? How Do I Get "Buy-in"? written on chalkboard with pencil, ruler, and chalk nearby.

“How do I get “buy in”?” It's a perennial question many educators ask throughout their careers. How do I get my student to try new assistive technology? How do I change mindsets to create universally designed lessons/environments? How do I encourage caregivers to model and provide a student’s communication device wherever they go?

Much of it boils down to creative marketing, or messaging from multiple sources/formats, and persistence. Here are a few ideas you can seamlessly incorporate into your day to day:

  1. Get your students on board. This has been a time tested proven strategy for me. When I introduced the Expanding Expression Tool (EET) to a class of middle schoolers, teachers were hesitant to adopt another tool. It was viewed as too much of a time commitment for something that may not work. What quickly convinced the teachers to “buy-in” was seeing how their students looked forward to our weekly EET writing sessions and when they independently requested an EET visual support for other writing assignments. The students enjoyed selecting their subject for writing and sharing their interests with the class. Ultimately, their teachers were convinced with impressive writing quality and quantity!
  2. Tie in real-life success stories. Sharing student success stories with your colleagues can help spark “a-ha” moments. If you need a bank of these to draw from PATINS has a playlist of success story videos showing students gaining tools to communicate, improving their literacy skills, and independently reaching higher academic success.
  3. Keep it top of mind. When introducing new tools or ideas, bring it up anytime there is an opening in the conversation. Staff meetings are a great time to connect your ideas to what teachers are already doing. Also, there are many creative ways to share the information such as hanging posters or filling bulletin boards in hallways or common areas for all to see research based strategies. You might even schedule a PATINS no-cost professional development session to help you demonstrate the importance of Accessible Educational Materials, Assistive Technology, and Universal Design for Learning.

While you may feel like a broken record for a little while, with creative marketing and persistence; eventually your efforts will pay off as colleagues and families “buy-in” after seeing the benefits for their students!

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Apr
30

What You See May Not Be What You Get

For this week's blog, I'm beyond delighted to share an incredible story of a student's communication journey to success experienced by my AEMing for Achievement grant team in Perry Township. I'd like to thank two members of the grant team, Callie Herrenbruck and Kelsey Norris, for their collaboration in sharing this story. Please enjoy!

I have this student. You most likely have one, too. This student is what I would call a communication conundrum. It’s not that this student doesn’t communicate, because he most certainly does, but when asked if unfamiliar individuals understand what he is attempting to communicate? Probably not.

Student from blog seated and smiling
This student most often communicates to express enjoyment, request preferred objects and actions, and refuse non-preferred activities and objects. He does not (YET) verbalize but will vocalize using a variety of pitches depending upon the context. He moves his body to convey his refusals and moves others to make his requests. This student’s laugh is one of the most infectious ones I’ve ever heard, but when he is upset he has significant self-injurious behaviors.

I, along with this student’s teachers, other therapists, and paraprofessionals were constantly attempting to find the “magic tool” for communication. This is where we have all thanked our lucky stars that our school district was one of the AEMing for Achievement Grant recipients, as being a part of the grant includes a communication package!

Members of our grant team and the teacher of record (TOR) met with Jessica Conrad for an in-depth problem-solving session. Several topics were discussed during the session including behavior(s), motivators, previous trials, and goals. The best part of the session was having someone from PATINS who is extremely knowledgeable about communication and communication tools, along with having access to a variety of resources, share their knowledge with the team.

Following the problem-solving session with Jessica and members of the grant team, this student’s TOR, and the rest of his team, put the suggestions to work. One of the suggestions was to use a mid-tech device (Logan ProxTalker). The device was borrowed from the PATINS Lending Library. Almost immediately, this student “picked up” use of the device to request desired objects and actions. He had NEVER done this with any other communication tool! Absolutely amazing! This student’s family then met with the team to learn more about the Logan ProxTalker-- how the student uses it at school, and what the next steps would be in obtaining his own device. Upon seeing this student use the device, they were blown away, to say the least! Watching their reaction to him using the device was one of the best moments in my career.

This student continues to appear to prefer using the Logan ProxTalker, as opposed to other communication tools to make requests. I will be honest and say that he does not love communicating with the device every day. He may even meander away when prompted to use it, but don’t we all have our days?

Student from blog seated in classroom pursing lips in disapproval
So, is what you see really what you get? ...not necessarily. If you didn’t know this student, you might see him putting cards on a machine and the machine talking. What you don’t see is the progress he’s made in being able to effectively communicate his wants and his likes/dislikes. You might not see him participating in joint attention with an adult regarding his interests, and you might not see the relief his parents show when this student demonstrates growth in his communication! Thanks again to PATINS for helping our team and this student to grow in his communication capacity. As the Starfish Story says, “It made a difference to this one!”

Written By: Kelsey Norris and Callie Herrenbruck, Perry Township Schools | Pictures used with parent permission
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Mar
25

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates!

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates! Tech Expo PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE. Virtual 2021. Students and teacher using assistive technology.

Around this time last year, you pivoted with us to the first ever virtual PATINS Tech Expo with IN*SOURCE allowing us to ensure the health and safety of everyone, while also bringing you high quality presentations, resources, and time for connection. It still amazes me how quickly everyone -- attendees, presenters, PATINS/ICAM staff -- adapted for a successful event!

As I am currently writing this, a small part of me is waiting for the frantic rush to get everything into place for the second virtual PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE like last year. I have checked my to-do lists many times, communicated with presenters/exhibitors, and assigned duties to our top-notch PATINS/ICAM and IN*SOURCE staff. Everything is running on schedule and humming along nicely for April 15, 2021. (Knock on wood!) What’s left to do? Get excited!

PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE has new and improved features and extra perks for the virtual event! With a record number of presentation submissions, we have added 4 additional sessions from amazing organizations dedicated to support students. That’s 24 presentations to choose from to earn up to four Professional Growth Points (PGPs)! Due to popular demand, we have divided the sessions into strands to help you determine the best presentation agenda for you. The strands are:

  • Access
  • Advocacy and Social/Emotional Services
  • Communication
  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Blind/Low Vision
  • Literacy
  • Tech Tools 

Your time is limited and valuable, which may make it tricky to choose only 4 sessions. Even if you are not sure if you can fully commit to attending live, we encourage you to register for no-cost to receive access to presentation/exhibitor information as well as presentation session summary videos for the opportunity to earn up to two more PGPs!

A major upgrade for the 2021 event is the opportunity for attendees to speak with exhibitors live! There are currently close to 50 organizations eager to share their transformational products and services with Indiana administrators, educators, pre-service teachers, families, and advocates. So even if you only have 10-15 minutes to drop in, visit the Exhibitors to learn about products and services which can support your students’ academic, communication, and social/emotional skills.

I hope to see your name come through on our registration list before April 12, 2021 when the form closes.

If you would like to start the Tech Expo 2021 celebrations early with us, download and use one of these free themed virtual backgrounds on your upcoming video conferencing meetings!


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  1359 Hits
Jan
28

Communication is Key

Key and keyhole with the text communication is key


This Jamie Witheringtonmonth I'm thrilled to present a guest blogger, Jamie Witherington. She has been a teacher for students with intense needs for 19 years. Her career began with Indianapolis Public Schools before moving to Greenwood Community Schools, where she has taught for the past 14 years. She presented at the PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference in 2019 and was also a Project Success Model Site Teacher during the 2019-20 school year. When she's not passionately supporting her students' communication in the classroom, she is a mom to 3 amazing kids, coach, friend, and lover of all things gnomes.



Have you ever had a day where you couldn’t get your thoughts and feelings into the words you needed? Have you ever been so frustrated or overwhelmed you couldn’t articulate those feelings and just felt like screaming or crying? I know I have had days like this. So many of us take for granted that we can have a verbal conversation with someone and share those thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. But what if you couldn’t… what would you do? 

I often think of these things as I work with my students with complex communication needs. Many of my students use an alternate method of communication or numerous means of alternate communication. I work with students who use modified sign language, Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, picture boards, and verbalizations. I have worked really hard to try and make sure every student I teach has a mode of communication… it may not be a standard mode to some… but it’s a mode that works for that student. I have had students who used eye gaze, facial expression changes to indicate a response, picture cards, pointing, etc. The main thing it comes down to is building a relationship with each student and figuring out what works for them to “show/tell” what they know. 

I currently have a student that when he moved into our district had some basic sign language, but did a lot of screaming and vocalizing his displeasure. We started with choosing pictures to communicate his wants and needs. We continued to work on growing his base of understandable sign language signs, using American Sign Language (ASL) as the goal, but knowing his physical needs, we knew some signs would not be perfect! Today, he uses a communication device and has learned to scroll down to what he wants. It wasn’t easy; it was days of a lot of headaches, but the smile on his face now when he uses his device to communicate what he wants to us, that’s why I do what I do. 

This has become my passion, my purpose, my “why” if you will. Communication is key to every area of our lives. How do we function without it? We can’t. We have to communicate-- behavior is communication, body language is communication, facial expressions are communication. There are so many ways to communicate if we just take the time to learn what works with and for our students. 

If you follow me on Twitter (@JamieWithering2) you have seen me tweet about the importance of visuals. I love visuals! I need them to function in my daily life. I need them to communicate to me what is happening around me and what I need to do. The red octagon telling me to STOP, the green light telling me to go, the yellow telling me to be cautious, my color coded lesson plans and calendar telling me who I am supposed to be working with and when. If our daily lives need these types of visuals to keep functioning, think how much more important it is for students with complex communication needs to have access to visuals. 

Side by side photos of visuals. The left pictures a check in visual that allows students to indicate how they feel about the lesson and whether the understood it using different emoji faces. On the right is an I Can statement. I can create a 3 or more word sentence using the Core Word of the week.
My students have a visual daily schedule that tells them what is happening and what time it is happening. I have classroom rules and expectations visuals, “I can” statement visuals, and even more importantly, core word and communication visuals all around my room. Students need access to ways to communicate. Students need teachers and speech therapists willing to stand on their heads if need be to give them that access. I have learned that the more I am willing to go that extra mile to find the communication tools, visuals, access points, etc, the more I am able to connect with my students and the more they connect with being able to communicate. 

Side by side photos. On the left is a photo of a large augmentative and alternative communication board posted on a whiteboard. On the right a photo of a folder visual with the top showing to do items and the bottom is open for moving these items to the done side using Velcro

I have also learned that Teamwork Makes the Dream Work. I have partnered closely with my Speech Therapist, PATINS Project, and other passionate educators in my district to create an Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) team. By sharing my passion for communication and visuals, my team was able to create two Playground Communication Boards. They are pictured below with students using them. These boards were a dream for my Speech Therapist and myself, but they became a reality thanks to the buy in from teachers across my amazing district. They were constructed by the high school Industrial Technology teacher and his students. I truly believe it takes a village to make great things happen for students. 

Side by side photos of a two different young male students pointing to words on a large outdoor augmentative and alternative (AAC) board

All this to say Communication is Key! Don’t give up on students, have high expectations and presume competence. In the end, it’s all for students, and don’t they deserve to have a voice no matter what that looks like?!


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  3868 Hits
Dec
23

The One Gift All Educators Need This Year

The one gift all educators need this year. The one gift all educators need this year.

At the end of October, I start to see gift guides for anyone and everyone in our lives such as “The Ultimutt Holiday Gift Guide” or “Your Dad Doesn’t Need Another Tie - 20 Unique Ideas.” While I love exchanging thoughtful gifts with family and friends, there is one gift I am valuing more each year - time. Specifically, time to engage in hobbies, time to learn a new skill, time to learn a language, and even time to be bored once in a while. 

As educators, we know time is a critical resource. It is always at the top of my speech-language pathologist (SLP) wish list. Alas, we cannot wrap up time and top it with a bow to give to colleagues, but we can gain more of it. This year, more than others, time has been at a premium encouraging me to find creative ways to get everything done. I’ve compiled five reflection questions which have proven helpful to me in gathering up more time. I hope you find these helpful too. 

  • Am I inventing things to do? I heard this on a podcast and it stopped me in my tracks. (I wish I could remember which one to give credit!) As educators, we may think “Of course, everything I am doing directly benefits my students.” While I have no doubt we all have the best intention of doing right by our students, there may be a more efficient way to approach certain tasks. For example, as a SLP, did I really need to laminate every speech therapy material? Absolutely not! I could create or find digital materials, print one time use visuals, or use a page protector. I saved hours each week by freeing myself from the unreliable laminating machine and directed this new found time into analyzing data for better educational reports as well as leading to a better work life balance. A major win for me and for my students!
  • Can I “outsource” part of my work? The students on my caseload very much preferred receiving a pass from the office rather than having me picking them up from their classroom. Nothing hurts your “cool” factor more than a random lady breaking up gym time with your buddies. This left me creating hundreds of paper passes each year until I outsourced this work. In lieu of a study hall, some students were “pass runners” for the office staff during a class period. These helpful students were more than happy to cut the passes for me and one of them even offered to laminate a bunch for me so I could reuse them, saving me even more time!
  • What can I automate? Automation is huge in the business world right now. It is one of the main reasons Amazon can get items to your doorstep in two days. Educators can reap the benefits of automation right now with technology readily available on your devices. Do you need to send reminder emails for IEP meetings? Do you need to collect data and send daily/weekly communications to parents? Do you need to speed up the calculation process for progress reports? Automate it all! If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to PATINS Specialists for ideas on how to optimize your work day.
  • How often do I need to check my email/phone? Did you know it is estimated that every time we stop a task to check our email or phone, it can take us roughly 25 minutes to refocus on the task? (View the study “No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work.”) That’s why a seemingly simple task can end up taking us three times longer than originally planned. Also consider this scenario, if you check your work email from bed, on your way out the door, or in the car and then decide you need to be at work to focus on answering it, you are devoting twice as much time to the email reply. To combat these pernicious time wasting habits, dedicate a few times a day when you check your email and voicemail. It’s important this is not the first thing you check though. You want to get your most important tasks on your to do list completed at the beginning of the work day. This new habit has been a game changer for me!
  • How many things can I actually get done in a day? Two. I have averaged it out, and I can get two major tasks done in one day. If I try to do 3 or more tasks, usually I am working overtime or it’s not done well. This realization has been both shocking and empowering. Shocking since I originally estimated I could get five to ten tasks done each day. Two sounds like a low number yet, think about if you completed an entire language evaluation, reported all grades, or developed lessons for the entire week or month in one sitting. Those all require major time commitments and are often completed in smaller chunks throughout time. This information was also empowering because the knowledge of this causes me to be “choosier” about the tasks I agree to and reminds me to reflect again on question one above. Plus, when I happen to get more than two things done, I feel super accomplished!

I believe it goes without saying that the demands placed on educators this year has stretched our time thin. However, we are the only ones who can give ourselves more time. I hope the reflection questions posed help you gather up chunks of time by eliminating, “outsourcing”, and automating tasks to do what you do best - teach Indiana students!

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you might approach your work after reflecting on the five questions above. Is there anything you plan to do differently? Are there any other ways you give yourself the gift of time that I did not mention?

Suggested time management focused reading:

40 Hour Teacher Workweek by Angela Watson

Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam


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  1066 Hits
Sep
22

Boost your Creativity with the PATINS Lending Library Catalog

Types of Assistive Technology Lending Library Items Requested 2019-2020 School Year Portion of Infographic
Before I was a PATINS Staff member, I was a middle school Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and introduced to the Assistive Technology Lending Library by a colleague. I knew exactly what I wanted to borrow first. An iPad loaded with LAMP Words for Life for a student with a lot to say and in need of a better tool to tell us about all the amazing ideas he had to share with the world.

I started using the loaned device with the student and saw his language and his personality blossom. Once I had a good amount of data to share with his family and school team, I packed up the iPad, completed the loan request evaluation, and it was on its way for another Indiana student to use.

The last time I borrowed from the Lending Library as a SLP with my own caseload was in 2018. To create the infographic below, I spent some one on one time with the AT Lending Library catalog. I discovered ingenious tools that could have been *life changers for many of my former students, like bone conduction headphones, reader pens, and Cling! ARM.

But why hadn't I seen these items before or thought about different ways to use them? I did some research and it turns out there are two reasons, *time and stress. (Learn more in the article "The Science of Creativity"). Being a new SLP, I was low on time, placed plenty of stress on myself, and therefore did not allow much room for creativity.

*I wish I had set aside a little time to search through the catalog to boost my creativity, stretch my professional skills, and be an even better educator. I would follow only two criteria:
  • Learn more about any item which piqued my interest.
  • Brainstorm how I could use the item to benefit the skill development of students at my school.
*Finding creative solutions is one of the most enjoyable parts of being an educator (and in life). Think of the last time you discovered a new tool that made a big impact. How did you feel? Hopeful? Proud? A little relieved?

Right now, uninterrupted time is a luxury, so tuck this idea away for when you need a burst of inspiration. This would be an engaging activity to begin a staff meeting or even for your students to partake in. Who better to know what we need to succeed in school than ourselves right?

The Assistive Technology Lending Library loans out a variety of educational items, even when we’re facing a pandemic. One of the best parts is that the AT Lending Library is a no-cost service. (The PATINS Lending Library is following the strictest protocol for cleaning and disinfecting all loan requests before shipping to Indiana schools.) Here’s a breakdown from the previous school year:

Types of Assistive Technology Lending Library Items Requested 2019-2020 School Year Infographic.

Types of Assistive Technology Lending Library Items Requested 2019-2020 School Year.

Toys - 23%

AAC - 15%

AT Hardware - 15%

Hearing/Vision - 14%

iPads - 12%

Switches - 10%

Print/Software - 6%

Mounting - 5%



Toys - Educational toys to support academic skills.

AAC - Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices.

AT Hardware - Hardware to facilitate access to Assistive Technology tools.

Hearing/Vision - Devices to support hearing and vision needs.

iPads - iPads for academic and communication apps.

Switches - For environmental and communication control.

Print/Software - Reference guides for theoretical methods, assessment/intervention techniques, and practical tips.

Mounting - Adjustable arms and connectors for improved access to devices.

Peruse the Assistive Technology Lending Library when you have a chance. To view the most results, use a *simple keyword and *always capitalize the first letter. This will return all the items with that word present in the title or description.

Lending Library catalog with

Another way to learn more about the AT Lending Library is to join us at the virtual Access to Education conference in November 2020. You have the opportunity to view new and popular AT Lending Library items paired with practical ideas for your students at the *AT Exploratorium and the UDL Classroom Experience.

How has the Lending Library helped your students recently? Let us know in the comments below.
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  1465 Hits
Jun
18

Temporarily Abled

Pause your day for a moment and deliberately gather a handful of some things you regularly do every day. Think of some things you do without thinking too much or without putting much effort forth. Making coffee, emptying the mailbox, carrying my own towel to the shower, walking through the front door of the grocery store or doctor's office, carrying an onion from the refrigerator to the cutting board with a knife, are a few such activities that come to my mind. I want you to keep the activities you thought of readily accessible, perhaps, even write, type, or dictate them into a quick note. I'm actually going to ask you to make two lists, so here's a template for you to use, with two columns and some ideas to get started, if helpful.  

visit link for access to 2 column chart for use with this blog
Now, I'm going to make an assumption that many of the readers of this PATINS Ponders blog are educators or other professionals working with learners who struggle with one or more aspects of their daily world. ...some of my most favorite people in the whole world, by the way. I'd like you to now think of why you do this work. Write, type, or dictate the top three reasons you do this work. You've probably stated this many times when people tell you, "I could never do what you do," or "You're a very special kind of person," and then ask you, "What makes you want to do this work?"

Place your second note next to your first note now. Compare them. Do any of the items (activities) from your first list appear, in any way, on your second list (why you do this work)? If they do, you probably already know what I'm going to tell you next! If they do not, stick with me here and let's think about why they should. 

Several years ago, a colleague for whom I have a lot of respect, whispered something to me. She looked around first to make sure no one else was within earshot and still whispered the term to me, "Temporarily Abled." It took me a moment to process her term and while I was processing, she indicated that she was whispering it as to not be offensive to anyone around. At the time I nodded my head as she explained that we're all "Temporarily Abled" in one or more ways, inevitably due to either an accident/injury, disease, or simply due to aging. I've spent significant time thinking about her words since that time and more importantly, why she felt it could be offensive to hear. I do want to say that I understand that disability, for people who have a disability now, is much deeper than using this term or this concept to promote understanding. However, the conclusion I've come to is that there is so much work still to be done for our world to truly be inclusive and there are so many people in our communities who have no idea what that even really means, largely in my opinion, because it hasn't had a personal effect on their life... yet. I do think this matters and I think it has potential for making a difference more quickly, fully and meaningfully including all people in all of our communities, all of the time. 

Moving Image of Daniel riding a dirtbike up steep hill and flipping it over at the top
Seven weeks ago, doing what I love on a steep hill in the woods on my old dirtbike, I completey dislocated my right knee, severing all four ligaments and causing cartilage and meniscus damage. Yes, that's right, the MCL, LCL, PCL, and ACL are all torn! I didn't even know there were so many CL's in my knee! Two required surgeries six weeks apart and 9-12 months of physical therapy certainly have put some things into perspective and strongly reinforced many things I already knew. Several of the people in my personal life whom I consider the smartest, strongest, kindest, and most creative I've ever known, have a disability. From this angle, accessibility and inclusion have been important to me since I was a young boy. However, the inability to walk, carry anything, perform manual labor, sleep normally, etc., these last 7 weeks have reinforced another dimension of my understanding of access and inclusion as well. These personal experiences, while never as meaningful to someone else, are still so important to share. While it may not be your experience (yet), my experiences just might add something to your second list that wasn't there before. 

collage of three images showing three sides of Daniels knee with large surgical incisions and stitches.

Some things I've learned recently and will never forget: 
  1. Automatic or button-operated doors that work are very important. Being non-weight-bearing and havinig to fully utilize crutches, I simply cannot open some doors by myself. While most people are very quick to help, if they are around, I just want to be able to open the door myself! Many places have not had working automatic doors, including the hospital where my surgeon works AND the building my physical therapy is in! 
  2. Knowing where my assistive technology is at all times, that it's close to me, and trusting that other people aren't going to move it, is essential and causes a good bit of anxiety. For me, it's mostly my crutches. I simply cannot move from one place to another without my crutches unless I sit down and scoot. For someone to see my crutches as a tripping hazzard, for example, and move them, is a lot like taking my legs away from me. I compare this to taking away a learners communication device or system for any reason... behavior, battery dead, damaged, etc.  My crutches have become a part of my identity and nearly a part of my body. Moving them or playing with them without talking to me first feels violating. I'm not sure we always keep this in mind when we work with students using assistive technologies. I think that sometimes we feel we're helping by making adjustments or moving things and it might NOT really be a help at all! It might actually change the task entirely. 
  3. High Expectations are essential! Be very critical about ever telling someone that they "can't" or "shouldn't" do something that they want to do! Further, expect that they will do things that they think they cannot! In my case, while I may not be able to carry the onion and knife to the cutting board, I can sure as heck prop myself up and chop it like a pro! ...right along with the peppers, carrots, tofu, and zuchini! I actually love when I'm asked to do things instead of asked what someone can do for me! "Can you come chop this onion." "Can you refill that soap dispenser in the kitchen." I already know that I need many things done for me, but I can totally still do other things and I need to feel needed as well. Let's try to remember this with ALL of our students! 
  4. My "mule pack" is essential to my level of independence. This is a simple and low-tech assistive technology that I greatly rely on. It's a small backpack that I can carry without my hands, that I cram full of as many things as possible allowing me to not have to ask someone else to get them for me. All the things I need daily or that are high on the list of importance, such as my wallet, tools, medical items, snacks, personal care, etc. This allows me to have many of the things I regularly need with me, minimizes repeat trips, and minimizes my reliance on others. 
  5. Steps! There are just some steps that are too high, too steep, or too slippery for me to even consider using.  This means that I have the choice of not accessing that place or sitting down and scooting up or down the stairs...neither allow me to feel dignified or included in that place.
  6. Trust! Whether I like it or not, I simply need help with some things. Our students do too. Having someone you trust immensely is very helpful. Someone you trust to encourage and push you to grow, to assist you minimally enough to preserve your independence and dignity, and to still expect great things from you. This is also exactly what our students need! Thinking about this from the perspective of what I need from my trusted help right now, most certainly provides some guiding mental framework for when I'm the one helping students in the future.  
These are just a small handful of some things that I've realized and/or had solidified for me recently. I'm sure I'll have many more to share. This has truly reinforced the fact that accessibility is so important for everyone, all the time, even if you aren’t one who needs it right NOW. Chances are definitely that you will need something different, something specialized, or just something more accessible at some point in your life, either due to an accident, an injury, a disease, or through aging. The notion that accessibility only matters for a small percentage of “the disabled” is so completely short-sighted and irresponsible to your future self! If, for no other selfless reason, try to keep in mind that the fight for inclusion of all people, high expectations of all people, accessibility to all places for all people is a critical one for more reasons than you might know right now. The loss of or lessing of inclusionary concepts in any amount is a very slippery slope. Work hard, daily, to build a culture of increased expectations and inclusion of all people, never letting that lever tip in the opposite direction. Imagine all the things that are simple for you now that could very quickly and easily be otherwise...what sorts of actions on your part TODAY might better prepare your world for that scenario...what sorts of people would you want surrounding you in that sort of scenario? Speak up when you notice inaccessible entries, public televisions without captions, etc. Learn and become better equipped through the many diverse PATINS Trainings on our Professional Development Guide and our Training Calendar. Trial the many assistive devices available to you, through the PATINS Lending Library!...all at no cost to you, of course! Consider networking and furthing your knowledge-base by attending the FIRST-EVER PATINS Access to Education VIRTUAL Conference this coming November!  



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  2092 Hits
Mar
06

Literacy, Performance, and Well-Being: Realizing Reading, Writing, and Accommodations!

Each year, about this time, educators all over Indiana are likely feeling drained, pressured, overwhelmed, and perhaps worried! I hear so much about state assessment and preparing for it, how it throws off schedules and routines, and how everyone in the building is a bit on-edge. I understand that feeling! I struggle a bit, however, with some of the reasons we allow it to occur. While we don't have a choice in many aspects of high-stakes assessment, we do have a lot of control over the other majority of the school year, which most certainly has an effect on the relatively short assessment portion! 

The things that come to mind are the concepts of literacy, of testing anxiety, and of the general well-being of people. The PATINS Project has a laser-like focus on improving literacy in Indiana PK-12 schools and in order to achieve that, we had to define literacy, which is where my struggles around high-stakes testing anxiety likely begins. The dedicated, passionate, and skilled PATINS team chooses to recognize and actively support the International Literacy Association's definition of literacy: 

"Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context. The ability to read, write, and communicate connects people to one another and empowers them to achieve things they never thought possible. Communication and connection are the basis of who we are and how we live together and interact with the world."

With this definition in mind, the PATINS staff meets every single week as a team to share, collaborate, and ensure that everything we're doing maintains a strong focus on improving literacy outcomes! While this intentional and deliberate focal point of our work is fairly recent, our services have always centered around literacy. I was reminded of this recently when I was asked about an old (2009) article that had been written about me as a classroom teacher, which you can find here, for some additional reading! 


Daniel as a first year teacher playing guitar for students.
Back in 2001, I decided it was time to leave the business I'd started. I had spent the previous 4 years establishing a system of working with very young students on the autism spectrum and had experienced some great success. While a very difficult decision, what I really wanted to experience was my very own classroom of students on a daily basis. So, I took a teaching position in a K-6 classroom with students identified as having "moderate - severe disabilities."  

When I arrived, eager and enthusiastic, I received a warm welcome, but I also received some advice about my students-to-be. I was told that they were non-readers and non-writers and that I would be using a lot of pictures and symbols. Not knowing my students, yet and also realizing that I hadn't ever had any real reading instruction in college, I took this advice. Not only did I take this advice, but I plastered by classroom with pictures I printed out and with symbols of all sorts! Schedules, social cues, tasks related to IEP goals... all pictures and symbols! I covered a 10' X 6' board with tempo-loop and laminated and velcro'd until my poor, raw, aching fingers nearly bled! We used these in my classroom day-in and day-out! 

a sample of Daniels classroom schedule in all text
While I realized that I was no expert in reading and really had no formal training in the science of teaching others to read, I also understood behavior and I understood fairly well, how learners often perceived things differently in their learning environment. I remember sitting back in my chair at the end of one school day, frustrated that my students were paying textbook rental for books that were inaccessible to them, that I wasn't able to work on writing (composing) with my students, and I looked across the room at my giant tempo-loop schedule. I looked at the symbols and it suddenly hit me that some of them, very much, resembled short words from that distance. It stood to reason then, that if that symbol resembled a word and my students were recognizing the meaning of it daily, perhaps they could just recognize words! ...And they DID! What I also very quickly realized and made all of my paraprofessionals and parents aware of, was that my students were not "reading" phonetically. They were recognizing symbols. However, these symbols they were recognizing were now far more functional in the real world than most abstract, stick-figure symbols, that I had to teach the meaning of anyway. Nevertheless, I knew that my students needed more, if they were to become readers (and writers). 

At this point, I implemented a systematic phonics program, but I also implemented word-prediction! Not really knowing how to teach phonemes, nor understanding reading science at the time, I did realize that by removing the barrier of spelling (with word-prediction software), that I could very quickly begin experiencing the ideas, reflections, and questions that were in my student's creative minds! ...thoughts that I often wondered if anyone else ever knew was even in there!  ...stuff we'd never heard come from these kids verbally, that was coming out in writing, because now they could compose without the impasse of spelling or physical handwriting!  Another amazing thing with word-prediction was that my students could hear the computer read their sentence back after they'd punctuated it, which effectively improved their self-editing and perhaps more importantly opened my mind to the powerful idea of them reading with their ears, and thus began text to speech in my classroom for all students, all of the time. They became VERY good and implementing it for themselves when they needed it and choosing to read with their eyes at times when they did not need it. They began leaving my classroom and joining their general education peers for more and more academics, for arts, and music, and on the weekends for birthday parties!  

As a result, I also worked out that text and language could be fun, engaging, and musical! We played with my guitar and made up words to made up songs and then wrote them down and discussed them, revised them, and laughed! Yes, we laughed! We had fun with language. We went from using stick-figure symbols to having fun with language.  

I look back and recognize this successful and fun 4-year experience in my classroom as a culmination of having high expectations, implementing assistive technology and accessible materials, and having FUN! ...also known as engagement!

Circling back, I wonder why more case conference committees aren't checking the boxes on the IEP that asks if Assistive Technology (AT) or Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) are needed when those two things can lead to such unthought-of outcomes, often at little or no cost. I wonder why, in many places, schedules change and test prep becomes such a focus that the stress and anxiety actually shows on the faces of educators. At the time, my students wouldn't have been permitted to use many of their accommodations on the state's high stakes test, BUT I can guarantee they still would have done better on those assessments with me providing them all year long until then!  

In summary, if you ever find yourself in an IEP meeting and those two questions about Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials aren't deeply discussed, I:  
  1. Encourage you to borrow items to trial (at no cost to you whatsoever) from the PATINS Lending Library.  
  2. Challenge you to initiate those discussions about AT and AEM in the IEP meeting. 
  3. Contact PATINS Staff, even during the meeting, for more information, consultation, and support on AT and AEM! 
  4. Implement something new with ALL of your students THIS NEXT week! It doesn't have to be in an IEP and you don't have to be an expert to try something new! 
  5. Reach out to the PATINS Specialists for specific training and support! 
  6. Come to the (no cost) PATINS Tech Expo on April 9th, to make yourself even more aware of some of the tools, resources, and strategies that are available!  
Photo of Daniel riding a stick unicorn in a literacy phoneme game       Word Play Root Matrix of word parts and phonemes


















Be brave this week... take a deep breath, think about literacy a little more broadly and try to have fun with your students doing something for at least a few minutes every day! It's OK to laugh with them! ...and, I'll leave you with this one fun literacy-based idea. I recently took part, as a volunteer, in a silly activity with respected educational colleagues from around the world called, "Unicorn Poop." Yes, you read that correctly. In this game, I was part of a team, "riding" on a stick-unicorn from one side of the room to the other in order to scoop a plastic spoonful of unicorn poop (skittles candy) and bring it back to my teammate who was making a new word and conveying it to our "teacher" allowing me to claim the unicorn poop on our side of the room! We ended up losing the game by only a half of a spoonful of poop, but I ended up learning so much about teaching reading instruction in the process. We didn't spend any time on letter recognition or even individual sounds. We put BIG words together by practicing understanding of smaller phonemes!
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  1886 Hits
Jan
16

Blue Crayons


12 blue crayonsJanuary is when I go for my annual eye exam, and as a specialist for issues regarding vision, I suppose my optometrist braces himself for that lady who has all the questions about eyes. My eyes are worsening each year, in no small part, due to screen use for work and I admit, due to viewing flowers, babies and political nonsense on social media. I’m working on reducing my screen time, and literally, taking a longer view, by scheduling time to look out the window.


My traveling views over the dashboard this winter are taking me frequently to my hometown of North Manchester. Manchester Community Schools is one of the several districts receiving our PATINS AEMing for Achievement Grant this year, and I have been assigned to help them with guidance and training. I’ve enjoyed visiting, and being reminded of my childhood in this small college town. The sledding hill at 5th and East Streets looks impossibly smaller than when I was 11. The injuries I sustained couldn’t possibly have happened there. The playground next to the little league field at the old Thomas Marshall School no longer has maypoles or tether balls. If you don’t know what either of these are google “playground hazards from the 1970’s”. Mr. Dave’s restaurant remains the same as does their tenderloin recipe. 

Part of the grant for Manchester’s schools provides specialized assistance with finding the right communication device or system for a student with more intensive needs. Jessica Conrad, PATINS specialist for AAC and I consulted with a teacher and speech therapist about a student who had puzzled them for a while. 

The student had a few words and some gestures to communicate but they felt like he had much more to say. Using picture communication had been inconsistent for him. As they described the student I started to hear some behaviors consistent with a cortical visual impairment. Cortical visual impairment, or CVI is where the eye itself is healthy but the visual pathways in the brain struggle to process an image. When the teacher mentioned that the student always chose a blue crayon or marker for a task, I was pretty sure that CVI was a possibility. Students with CVI often have a strong color preference (although it is usually red or yellow). 

cover of book titled Cortical Visual Impairment by Christine Roman showing a student viewing colored clear pegs on a light box

The teacher contacted his parent to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist. The student’s team also immediately began to offer the student assignments copied onto blue paper. They changed the settings on his iPad so that a blue overlay would cover the display. They used communication symbols highlighted in blue. 

The team was excited to report after only a couple of weeks that they were seeing dramatic improvement in the student’s attention, engagement, and accuracy in pointing at communication symbols. 

view looking over a boy's shoulder at his iPad and school assignment printed on blue paper.

The brain never ceases to amaze me. As educators and humans, we need reminders of how perception can vary so widely from individual to individual. Whether it is the filter of perception through color or through the lens of long-term childhood memories, our view is highly individualized. Keeping this in our awareness as educators can only lead to better results in our work. The staff at MCS are also benefiting from an initiative in Indiana called Project Success that supports higher academic achievement for students with disabilities. I’m grateful for this initiative and the educators at Manchester Elementary who hadn’t given up on finding out what could give this student a voice, and a means for academic success.

graphic logo for Project Success


How are your eyes? Where are you looking?
How are your perceptions expanding?
3
  2090 Hits
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