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Sep
21

Evaluate the Show or Be The Show?


Audio Version of this Blog (10 minutes, 38 seconds)

Lately, several happenings in my life have seemed to converge on this one particular topic that I find fascinating; one cannot actively evaluate the show and be the show at the same time! 

Daniel with a microphone, dressed up, dancing, smiling, singing with his daughter who also has a microphone and is dancing/spinning
When my oldest daughter was about 11 or 12 years old, she and I began taking voice lessons together. Our voice-coach felt it very important that her students perform for real live audiences periodically, and I recall the very first performance she required us to do. She had rented out the entire theatre on Main St., and the place was pretty full! It was a duet that we'd be performing and as it got closer, I was scared out of my mind and body sitting backstage with her! I spoke to crowds regularly for a living, for many years, I did not expect this sort of anxiety! I remember turning to my daughter and telling her, "I think I'm going to puke!" To which she responded, “Well, go out in the back alley and do it, but hurry up!” So, I tried. I was not successful and I came back in and sat next to her again. She said, "Take three slow deep breaths, you won’t be able to see anything except bright lights, you won’t see the people." "Think about the first 3 lines of the song only and then everything will be fine.” The very message she was actually conveying to me, at such a young age, was that focusing on the perception of the performance instead of the performance itself, was counter-productive! 

Lead singer of a blues band in a red dress with Daniel sitting on the drumset in the background      Daniel sitting at a red drumset with his right hand about to hit the ride cymbal and his right hand hitting the snare drum, looking off into the crowd 

Several years later, for my birthday, the amazing PATINS staff arranged to have dinner for me at a historic and awe-inspiring blues music location in Indianapolis, where I was not only treated to great tunes, I was eventually invited onto the stage by the powerful and amazing singer; yes, the PATINS staff repeatedly yelled that I was a drummer and that it was my birthday. Even though I hadn't sat at a drumset in years, I thought, "this will be fun and I'll just have a good time for a few seconds while they sing the birthday song to me." Well, they actually kicked right into one of their set-list songs and I had a decision to make immediately; give this smooth band a beat or don't! I did! I had a blast and was playing my heart out for about 3/4s of the song, when the lead singer turned away from the crowd, faced me, and gave me a nod of approval that went straight to my soul! Yes! ...then, in slow motion, I saw the drumstick in my right hand flying away...away... away...nooooooo! Indeed, a split moment after I received her approval, I started thinking about all the things she might have liked and what I could do next to really make the rest of the song rock, and those thoughts, while in the midst of performing, proved detrimental to my even finishing the song with any amount of dignity at all! This amazing singer stopped the show, turned around, and said, "that's why we hire professionals." We all had a good laugh, but she was right. A true professional separates evaluating from performing. Those two things cannot usually happen simultaneously while upholding optimal versions of either! 

A class of 6 people sitting on motorcycles all facing the same direction and in two lines,  in a parking lot, with all students practicing looking to the left.
Since that embarrassing accidental drumstick toss into the audience, I find myself spending a few weekends a month during the warmer seasons of Indiana coaching new riders to learn and apply the skills necessary to obtaining their Indiana motorcycle endorsement! During these classes, student ability and experience varies significantly, but the one thing that I've found holds absolutely true for all of them is that performance decreases the very moment they start to evaluate themselves and/or worry about my perception of them WHILE they are performing the exercise! This has been true for the brand new rider and for the rider who comes to me with 35 years of experience on motorcycles! I've started to make this a part of the class as well, as it most certainly applies to the pressures felt when out riding on the public roads. 

A concrete cinderblock welding booth with a stool, steel table, foot pedal, TIG welding torch and motorcycle helmet hanging on the wall. close up image of Daniel TIG welding with torch in his right hand and filler metal in his left hand with welding hood and gloves on image of a TIG weld on steel that looks like stacked dimes
More recently yet, I've found myself on Wednesday and Friday nights from 6-11pm, inside a 4' x 8' cinderblock welding booth, trying my hardest to make beautiful welds using an electrode with 100amps in my right hand, feeding a 1/8" metal filler rod with my left hand, and my right foot on a variable control pedal constantly adjusting the strength of the electrical arc that is creating a flowing puddle of molten steel! It's a lot to type and a lot to think about! I find myself making worse and worse welds, the more I try to focus on the things like, "are my hands in the right place for the end of this stringer?" "Did my foot just let off unintentionally?" "Is that my left pinky that's starting to go numb?" "shoot, my teacher is going to point out that underfill for sure." In my mind, the more I tried to notice things like that as I went, the better I would become at improving them. The reality is that the more attention I paid to those sorts of things as I was welding, the worse my welds became! Attempting to critically evaluate, while performing the act, is not productive! 

a right hand on the home row of a mac computer keyboard in black and white
Finally, and most recently, I was having dinner with a couple of professors at Purdue this week, and this very topic came up, coincidentally! It was specific to finger tapping though, and the notion that one can typically tap at a much faster rate when they are not consciously aware of their tapping rate! If you are any sort of a typist using a traditional type of keyboard with your fingers starting on the home-row, etc., you may have noticed that you are able to type much more quickly when you are focused on the content, on the next idea, or on the composition as a whole, than you are when you are actively thinking about trying to type fast! This is the very same principle! One cannot usually type their fastest while they are actively focused on typing fast! Go ahead, give it a try right now! Try focusing entirely on typing quickly and then try typing and focusing on the content and compare!    

Right about now, in the school year, is when things always tended to start to become tiring for me as a teacher. And right about now, as we head into October, is often when things start to feel more burdensome as an administrator as well. I'm not entirely sure of all the reasons for that, but I know that as a state, we are in the midst of many changes, and thus as organizations, school corporations, and cooperatives, we find ourselves in the midst of change as well. Change can be difficult and scary, and sometimes very rightfully so! Regardless, the conclusion I've come to after having done this and gone through many changes for going on 17 years with the PATINS Project, and in consideration of the many other examples in my life ranging from drumming to welding, motorcycling, and singing, is that spending your time, energy, and cognitive power on trying to evaluate and/or guess at the perception of others WHILE trying to perform my best, isn't the most productive.

I can either evaluate the show or I can be the show, but I cannot do both optimally at the same time. 


old photo of Daniel as a 2 or 3 year old, walking in denim overalls with one strap falling off, a tricycle front wheel and a 1980's pickup truck in the background.
So, now, regardless of what it is that I'm tackling, I try to be this much younger version of myself... head down, entirely focused on the task at hand, and trusting that any necessary feedback or evaluation will come from someone else afterward! I try hard to: 
  1. Be prepared. I try to make sure that I ask as many clarifying questions as I can to help myself feel ready. 
  2. Not spend so much time preparing that I'm no longer taking care of my sleep, exercise, relaxation, and nutritional needs. 
  3. Conscientiously pause before beginning.
  4. Take a couple of very slow and deep breaths.
  5. I tell myself that it's OK to feel nervous or anxious and I welcome those feeling and I embrace the energy they can give me.  
  6. Instead of dwelling on everything that MIGHT go wrong, I try to drum up positive energy and remember that my performance will almost always be a diminished version of my best if I am evaluating WHILE I'm doing! 
  7. I trust that people around me will provide the necessary evaluation and then I can start all over, but I know that keeping the evaluative part and the performance part separate will ultimately be the most beneficial! 
  8. I also try to expect this sort of performance from those I'm interacting with! “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.” (Rosenthal, R., and E. Y. Babad. 1985. Pygmalion in the gymnasium. Educational Leadership 43 (1): 36–39)
In your work with Indiana students and educators; try focusing on the above 7 steps. Try this concept out with just one small task this next week or over the weekend and see what happens. When it comes to trying to problem solve for a particular student who might be struggling, for example, allow the PATINS staff to be the observers while you dedicate all of your focus on the performance, and trust that we'll provide the follow-up input! Then, you can begin the process of asking more clarifying questions, preparing, embracing anxiety, letting go of trying to evaluate while performing, and just giving it another shot, entirely focused on the performance itself! We can help, but none of us can simultaneously be the show while we're trying to evaluate the show! Make us part of your team for optimal performance! 

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Sep
15

Synonymous

Synonymous [Definition] 


Artist Name - Recording-of-blog-15-Sep-2022-Crecelius.mp3

Every year I have the pleasure of writing my blog the week of Mexican Independence Day on September 16. And no, I am not confusing it with our beloved Cinco de Mayo, a holiday to celebrate the removal of France’s support of the Confederates via Mexico during the Civil War. This year our family has a bilateral celebration as my husband got his U.S. citizenship. We have proudly been flying our U.S. flag since the day he got his naturalization papers and on September 16th we will proudly fly our Mexican flag in its place.man wearing USA jersey smiling with U.S. flag in background

As we navigate the life of a bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural family, one of the most important things for us is to honor and celebrate both U.S. and Mexican traditions, language, and culture. Oftentimes we have to choose between the two instead of simultaneously representing both. When this happens we have to be cognizant of how to bring both back to the forefront of our lives or balance spotlighted time for each. 


 [Image: Hugo, Amanda's husband,wear USA jersey, smiling with U.S. flag in background]

When we travel to and from Mexico different documentation is required. Passports, resident cards, visas, and tourist documentation; we’ve had them all, folks! These powerful papers indicate our status and our qualifications for privileges, responsibilities, and regulations. Without this documentation we would not be able to enter into either country and there would be no defined representation of our mutual commitment to individual and/or nation.

Although students are not defined by paperwork that they carry in school systems, the Individual Education Plan (IEP)/Section 504 Plan/Individual Learning Plan (ILP) often referred to as English Learner Plan, represent a similar promise from the school to make sure that the student is provided resources, accommodations, supports, services, and opportunities to succeed. The IEP/504/ILP are all legally binding documents of which school staff are responsible for identification, creation, and most importantly, implementation. 

This documentation follows a student through grade transitions, school transfers, and ultimately to independent living/employment/higher education, making it similar to the documentation required when traveling from one country to the next. Each of these documentation forms have different core purposes. All of them are living documents in need of regular updates, as students’ skills and abilities change, placement changes, technology changes, etc. Just like our balancing of bicultural life-- when one culture will falls back to bring the other to the forefront, these documents and their purposes might not always shine simultaneously, but they concurrently exist. 

This can often happen when schools move towards Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which is something to celebrate. Many schools in Indiana are leading the way in UDL by creating their own Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for students and providing school-wide accommodations, including Assistive Technology, (AT), such as text-to-speech and dictation. 

While these are impactful and noteworthy actions, the spotlight has to re-adjust for students who formally only had access to these supports through IEP/504/ILP. Meaning that through the implementation of UDL, these students will benefit from an inclusive classroom in conjunction with continued documentation of their required services, accommodations, and specialized instruction. When these occurrences happen simultaneously, balancing the spotlight honors both inclusion and specialized needs. 

As we move toward a more inclusive school environment through UDL, remember that documentation with necessary AT and AEM is still part of equitable access for all. They can exist synonomously. 

Related Webinar: 

5 part series: AT in the IEP

Part 1 and Part 2 on September 29, 2022 

Register:

AT in the IEP: Getting the Money

AT in the IEP: Boots on the Ground

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Aug
24

The Vision of the Project

Recently I helped my husband work a concrete pour. This wasn’t our first pour together, and like all the times before, we were nervous. He had already prepared the environment: cleared the building site, built the forms, bent and placed the rebar and supported the forms with clamps and stakes. We were pouring a 4-foot wall, about 100 feet long, to support the hillside and allow Tom to begin his newest building venture.

Pouring concrete is very hard physical and mental work, fast-paced, even frantic, especially if there are not enough people. One of the workers we had hired cancelled at 11:30 p.m. on the Friday night before; no time to find a replacement. So, there was the man who drove and operated the concrete truck, my husband Tom, our friend Ed, and me. This could put us in the category of “not enough people.” We talked about the stress this would put on all of us, and decided to go ahead.

For a job such as this, everyone works together as a team, yet someone has to be in charge: that person assigns the specific jobs, provides the tools needed for each job, and goes over the instructions, answers questions and invites input, then goes over the details one more time. The mental challenge is to manage what is happening in real time, to anticipate what is about to happen, and to know when to step in and help your co-workers without neglecting your own tasks.

My job was to guide the “elephant trunk”, the canvas sleeve attached to the chute which puts the concrete where it needs to go, to re-direct any spillage, and to communicate to the driver: “Hold up” or “Bring it on.”  Ed stood above the forms with a long pole which he used to tamp and shake and settle the cement as it filled the forms, and he shoveled overfill to underfilled areas. Tom followed up with the “finish work”: the screeding and floating, which levels and smooths the surface, and helped Ed and I as needed. This was roughly a 2-hour job, it seemed like 30 minutes, and we never stopped moving, from start to finish.

As it is with working concrete, so it is with the SETT Framework. Developed by Joy Zabala, the Director of Technical Assistance at the Center for Applied Special Technology, this is a valuable tool that collaborative teams may use to create the best learning environment for each student. SETT is an acronym for Student, Environment, Task and Tools, and provides an outline for the gathering of student information. This is a great starting point for designing instruction for each of your students. A friend and previous co-teacher of mine uses the SETT outline this way:  She fills in the info for each student during the first couple of weeks of school, as she is getting to know and understand each child. Then she sorts the outlines by their similarities, and this helps her determine who goes where for small group instruction. Brilliant!

The PATINS Specialists can help you determine the best tool-a.k.a. assistive technology- which will effectually fit the needs of a particular student. They can suggest software, show you hardware, and demonstrate how it is used. Maybe there is an item in the Lending Library that you would like for a student to try. And of course, the ICAM should be your first stop for specialized formats when you see a student struggling to access the curriculum. We can explain the federal mandate to provide specialized formats, describe each of those, and advise you on the requirements for obtaining specialized formats of print instructional materials and related content.

Last Saturday, Tom referred several times to the “vision of the project.” It was not just about this 4-foot wall we were pouring, it was about the tiny home that will eventually be, which will provide needed shelter for someone in a peaceful setting.

Remember the vision of your project will be realized when your students move forward on productive paths because you have created the best learning environment, have given them meaningful tasks and the tools to complete the job. This is our vision too. We are here to assist you every step of the way.

Thanks so much!
 
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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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Mar
29

Behind the Scenes of April Testing

Behind the Scenes of April Testing Chalkboard with math equations.
I’ve spent a lot of my time in the past month or so interacting with teachers for the blind and low vision who are preparing for the new ILEARN test that will be given starting in April. I love being called to drive to Valparaiso or Connersville for these visits. Connecting with these teachers is the musical equivalent to attending an amazing jazz performance with masterful improvisations.

Fingers on the keys of a saxophone
The new test is built to test students online so that we can level or adapt the test to the user, giving us a more accurate picture of proficiency. Leveling also lowers the stress on students as they are quickly sent to questions at their level or ones that are slightly harder or easier.


The state has provided an item repository for all subjects and grades to try out in advance, so that students and teachers can know how to tweak the many accommodations offered to match the features they use in their daily work. Accommodations include things like using a Braille display, enlarged display, different types of contrast, or text to speech for students with BLV. Many other accommodations are available to students with other disabilities, such as closed captions for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Technology moves quickly and teachers for the blind have to keep up with both Braille and low vision devices while often working in multiple districts with multiple platforms for students of multiple ages. If this were the subject of an ILEARN test question, the answer would look like:

complex learner X many devices X all the subjects
= explosion of detail management!

chalkboard with math equations and symbols

The folks I’ve visited with are courageously forging ahead into new territory with technology, and working overtime (read on their spring break), to figure out what will be best for each of their students. They are choosing to engage with technology outside of their comfort zone, becoming vulnerable to ask for help from a team member or from PATINS. At each visit, they are teaching me new things and engaging me in new questions about giving students the right setting, environment, and device.

More than focusing on technology for the test, they want materials and devices that support real learning. They don’t need the fanciest tool, but the one that really works for their students. They want to set each student up to become the best versions of who they are and engage with the world independently. Most folks who interact with students with blindness first instinct is to assume dependence, so these BLV teachers are constantly whispering (or shouting), “let them do it!” They wear the “mean teacher for the blind” badge with pride.

They are learning subject content with their students like AP chemistry or braille music notation, even if they don’t read music in the first place, because some of their students dream of becoming scientists and Broadway stars.

These teachers wouldn’t ask for it, but I’m shining the spotlight on their hard, unglamorous, day to day work. I see you, and I’m grateful that you keep showing up for your students.



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Aug
01

5 Ways to Include Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing using Universal Design for Learning

Inclusive-DHH-UDL-PATINS-Project-Poster-Print-Blog-Banner-1

Welcome back to School! While you are planning your seating charts, prepping lunch option boards, and digital homework options take a peek below at 5 easy tips to make sure you are universally including access to the curriculum and participation for all students in your classroom this year. 

Printable Poster to share at your case conferences and beginning of the year in-services. Thumbprint image of the poster below. Thumbprint DHH UDL PATINS Project Poster

  1. Flexible Seating: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing need sight of everyone’s face to follow the conversation. U-Shaped desk arrangements or kidney-shaped tables are best. 
  2. Representing Content: A visual representation (open/closed captions and descriptions) of the spoken language on all media and presentations/lectures are suggested for full access to auditory information in the classroom. 
  3. Small Groups: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often participate and learn from peers best in small groups. Provide device for live captioning software and ear level FM/DM systems to be utilized. Allow students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their group to move to a quiet room or hallway to work to ensure an optimal signal-to-noise ratio. 
  4. Options for Repetition: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often need options for how the information is represented and may need early access to materials before the information is presented in the classroom. Pre-teaching vocabulary and early access to reading materials and media content allow students to participate in discussions.
  5. Expression of Knowledge: Flexibility in the ways that a student who is deaf or hard of hearing can express what they have learned will increase engagement and motivation to participate in activities. Provide back channel or alternative ways to ask questions, visual presentations in slides, google draw, etc. 

If you and your team need suggestions on implementing any of the above please do not hesitate to contact Katie Taylor, PATINS Project’s deaf/hard of hearing state-wide specialist at ktaylor@patinsproject.org.



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Jul
25

C-Pen for the Win!

Student using C-Pen in magazine. Student using C-Pen.
This week, I'm excited to introduce Christina Ilyuk, AAC/AT Specialist for the Greater Lafayette Area Special Services (G.L.A.S.S.), as a guest blogger. Below she shares an inspiring story about how the C-Pen improved independence and confidence in reading for one of her 5th grade students this past school year.  

"Finding the right tools to support the needs of my students is so rewarding, and finding the C-pen was a huge game-changer for my student! Thanks to this technology, my student is more independent, confident and accurate with his work." - Christina Ilyuk


Here's the Story

When I received a referral to do an evaluation for Assistive Technology for my student, I met with his teachers right away. They both said he struggled immensely with reading. My student was in 5th grade and was reading at about a 2nd grade level.

During an observation, I watched and listened as my student attempted to read a worksheet with sentences at his reading level. He frequently got frustrated, resulting in a couple of outbursts and avoidance strategies, and had to take several breaks. When he reached the end of the worksheet, I was astonished.

The worksheet was comprised of about five sentences, and it took him about 45 minutes to get through it. I could see that comprehension wasn’t a problem though. Once he was able to get through the reading, he could answer the comprehension questions just fine. This is what made me think that a tool like the C-Pen might be a good fit for him. 

As soon as I introduced this device to him, he immediately loved it! It was almost a night and day difference for him. He loved all the features and was able to pick up on how to use the device very quickly. We trialed the device through the next few weeks, his teachers and I keeping track of his progress using the pen.

His teacher was just amazed! One-page worksheets that would have taken him at least a half an hour to complete were now being accomplished in ten minutes with satisfactory work. My student made several comments to me about how much he loved using his pen, and you could just see the boost in his confidence towards his schoolwork.

5th grader smiling while using C-pen in magazine.
His teachers’ goal was to make sure he was prepared to move into 6th grade as close to the level of his gen ed peers as possible. Before, they weren’t sure this would be possible due to his frequent outbursts and frustrations when given work, even with material modified at his level. Now, he completes work independently and is able to work through longer assignments that are closer to his grade level. He is motivated and able to focus better.

I am so happy to say that he finished his 5th grade year off strong! The C-Pen is an awesome tool that I have tried with several other students since when evaluating for the best tools to support assistive technology needs. It is absolutely in the top favorite devices among my students!

I am so thankful to have PATINS as a free resource to be able to trial devices like the C-Pen, as well as other fun technology like touchscreen Chromebooks, adaptive keyboards and bone-conduction headphones, just to name a few, to support equity and opportunity for all of my students. I find the lending library catalog on the PATINS website easy to navigate so I can always find what I’m looking for, and the borrowing process is smooth!  


“Do they want to know what I think?! It helps me to read really long sentences when I don’t want to and really big words that I have never seen before. Lots of people might think a reader pen is a useless device but not people who have reading challenges. When there are lots of little words in a magazine or a book, I can just scan them with my pen and boom, it reads them to me and that way I know what it says!” – My student

"Getting to know my student before introducing any AT tools to him was so important in helping me know which tools might be best. We met several times to talk about his preferences, likes and dislikes when it came to activities and school. By actively involving my student in his evaluation process, his use of the C-Pen was successful because it was something he was interested in and excited about trying.  Student autonomy is a must in educational programming!" - Christina Ilyuk


 

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May
28

That’s a Wrap! What’s Next?


IMG 2985

The school year is wrapping up for my children. The hustle and bustle of the end of the school year is an exciting and stressful time for many of us. As we consider the growth and successes of the school year, it is great to also regroup and plan for what is next. One hopes that the skills they have learned up to this point, will prepare them for the next season. 

My oldest son is graduating from high school next week. I am an admittedly proud and grateful mom. The journey from preschool to high school has been so quick and yet so long. We have had no less than one or two yearly IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings since he turned 3 years old. He has had numerous goals met, triumphs, and a few failures as well, but he was steadily learning. It took a village of caring adults to teach and encourage him along the way. We worked so hard at home to make sure he had everything he needed. He had many services for years including occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, special education, instructional assistants, counselors, assistive technology supports, and other service providers along the way. When I say he had a village, I truly mean it! As soon as he gained more skills and became independent, some services were discontinued and new ones were added when we realized there was a new area for improvement. We all worked together and that teamwork is about to pay off. As he wraps up his K-12 career, he looks toward college now.

With one season ending for him, a new season of life is beginning. As we make the transition to summer and prepare to go to college, I hope he remembers what the village has taught him thus far and he will continue to advocate for himself. One part of the village has been the PATINS Project for Assistive Technology support for his providers. As the transitions continue for my children, I am grateful for the village that ensures student success through the educational process. Here's to the next season and new adventures!

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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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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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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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Mar
09

"There is No Cure for Autism:" A Mother’s Journey with Her Son


Photo of Daniel with student Dylan back in the year 2001

Audio version of this blog
 (8 minutes 35 seconds)


Derek would scratch, hit, scream, and was unable to remain still for more than a fraction of a second at a time. It was May of 2000. It was 22 short years ago and it was the beginning of an experience that would shape the next two decades of both my professional and personal lives and would help to continually reignite the passion in me to keep going in this challenging educational work, year after year. 

I was still an undergrad at Purdue and my side-jobs as a paraprofessional, respite worker, camp counselor, and Big Brothers volunteer all had me so frustrated in the missed potential I perceived in many of the older students and adults I worked with, that I quit all of my part-time jobs and started a behavioral consulting service for young children on the autism spectrum. One of my very first clients was Lianna, the loving, smart, determined, caring, patient, and strong mother of Derek. It is with great honor that I welcome Lianna as my guest blogger this week who graciously shares a portion of her journey! 

Young Derek holding a purple stuff bear
Things were normal until just after he turned two years old. He started displaying some odd behaviors, like staring at his hands and flapping them. If he didn't recognize a person, he would start screaming until the person left. When his dad took off his eyeglasses, Derek would start screaming and it would take a considerable amount of time for him to settle again. There were a lot of behavioral issues, including scratching himself and hitting his siblings because he still couldn't talk. I thought he was just a late talker, and I expressed my concern to his pediatrician, who gave us a referral to a neurologist. At the next doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician gave us the diagnosis of “Severe Autism with Mental Retardation.” That was 1998 and I had never heard of autism before, so I asked his pediatrician what the cure for it was. With a sad face, I remembered what he said to me vividly: “Mrs. Dawson, there is no cure for autism, you have to prepare yourself that your son might live in an institution because he will be hard to handle for you later on.” That was the last time we saw his pediatrician or any doctor.

I immersed myself in finding a cure or at least, how to help improve my son’s berserk behavior. I lived and breathed autism. The Barnes and Noble bookstore became our favorite place to visit until I stumbled upon one particular book on behavior intervention for young children with autism. That book became my bible. Luckily, we lived one town away from Purdue University and I put an ad in the Purdue Exponent newspaper. I started hiring Purdue University Special Education pre-service teachers and Speech, Occupational Therapy, and art students. This is when I met Daniel McNulty, a special-education pre-service student, along with some other bright students who were willing to make a difference in Derek’s life. Daniel McNulty facilitated the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) with Derek when ABA was not even known or accepted in a school setting. It is not easy to implement, especially with a child who lives his own little world. Pulling him out of that world and his autism-related behaviors, I pictured was like pulling him out of a darkness filled with repetitive and odd behaviors. This was not an easy task for Daniel McNulty or for myself. Daniel seemed a miracle worker, rewarding Derek’s positive behavior with popcorn and other tangible items that Derek preferred at the time. He started sitting at the table and doing the short tasks that he was prompted to do, starting with things like clapping his hands, pointing to letter sounds of the alphabet, and identifying colors.

It was a long, dark, difficult road ahead, full of twists and turns. I was a desperate mother who was desperate to give my son the best chances in life that I could! I integrated different approaches, as to not leave any stone unturned. Applied Behavioral Analysis, Auditory Integration training, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and Gluten-free and Casein-free diet. Following his diagnosis, I started seeing a naturopathic doctor who did some biofeedback along with lots of vitamin therapy. It turned out that Daniel McNulty accepted a classroom teaching position in the school corporation that would be where Derek attended Kindergarten through 12th grade, which meant that Daniel wrote Derek's Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and ensured that the appropriate accommodations and assistive technologies were in place! This also meant that Derek never had the same sort of summer vacation as many other kids. His school sent a teacher to our house all summer long for extended school year services to help compensate for the lack of progress during the school year. We were very lucky to be living in a good school district that wanted the best for Derek, as we did. 

Derek standing in wrestling stance, facing an opponent in high school wrestling

Fast-forwarding through substantial behavioral therapies and other educational services, and never-ending hope, high expectations, and perseverance; Derek graduated last year with a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology at the age of 24 from one of the best engineering schools in the country, Purdue University. There were a lot of challenges along the way, but somehow, we managed to get through them, one by one, and to conquer that uphill battle. I always told Derek that he was a warrior and I called him Victor. From the background, in the stands, I always cheered him on with “Go, Victor!” I'm sure some people thought I must have had two sons out there! Derek always asked me why I called him Victor, especially when he was wrestling (his favorite sport, which he was great at, and perhaps channeled some of his aggression onto the mat). I told him I called him Victor because he is my warrior and while this road is full of barriers, he will be victorious. I told him he is one in a million and he is very lucky, that not all kids with autism are afforded the opportunity to overcome their challenges and function independently as he does. I thank God, that I met his angels like Daniel McNulty, Shelly K., and Betty R., who introduced me to a holistic approach to autism. Without these people who helped pulled him out of the dark, he probably wouldn’t be living independently now. 

Derek sitting in Purdue University cap and gownDerek standing in front of a massive Caterpillar dump truck
Autism is not a life sentence as I once thought it to be and as our pediatrician made it out to be. It may not be an easy journey and there will be times of seemingly insurmountable challenges, but those make the victories that much sweeter as well. Derek is now working in engineering for Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives, and lives independently out of state! When I talk to Derek on the phone now, he complains that he has a lot of meetings and big projects at work. I just smile in deep gratitude for that, and in my mind, I scream, "yes, Victor!

Derek standing with his mom, Lianna, in front of the Purdue Engineering fountain
For all the parents, family members, and educators that are a part of the critical team supporting a "Victor," do not give up. You are probably the strongest advocate and the biggest voice for your children. There is hope!  Derek is the living proof of it. Seek out resources and help, as it's out there for you! Search for Daniel McNultys, the Shelly K's, the Betty R's, and the many tools and resources that are available through organizations like PATINS

Derek's IEPs always included accommodations for text-to-speech (TTS), word-prediction, graphic organizers, reduced verbal instructions, extra time, and additional non-verbal prompts when needed, and others! While some people viewed these accommodations as "cheating" or "lowering expectations," Derek's amazing success as a young adult and highly productive professional member of society is proof that these accommodations actually facilitated setting and achieving incredibly high expectations for a once young, non-verbal, physically aggressive child who was not able to focus!" 


PATINS
1. Lending Library of Assistive Technology 
2. Training and Professional Development Specialists
3. AEMing for Achievement Grant (Open now, Closes May 30th)
4. Statewide Conferences in November and April (Tech Expo Registration Open Now) 


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Feb
27

The Lenses Adjust The View

Photo collage of four pairs of glasses:  paper 3D, yellow lenses in reading glasses, round rimmed glasses and safety glasses


This week I was reminded that the lenses one looks through, adjust your view. Each year, I visit the optometrist to check my eye health and see if the vision in my eyes has changed any in the last year. The results are typically one of 3 things: 

  1. Vision unchanged and no new prescription
  2. Vision improved, new prescription needed
  3. Vision worsened, new prescription needed

I could even consider new or colored contacts, at this annual visit, which adds another type of lens to consider after my annual check up!

While watching a photographer/videographer friend’s YouTube channel, as he was showcasing a Stream Deck for streaming and productivity, I realized the lens I viewed this equipment with had changed over time. Originally, I used a Stream Deck with OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) for live streaming, for projects unrelated to school based therapy. Then, I moved to the option of using shortcuts to allow a student to press one button and land on the page they needed during instruction, rather than typing out the most common web pages she needed in class.

After viewing my friend’s video, I am reminded of all the options that are available for productivity and shortcuts that can be set up with a Stream Deck by Elgato. Using a device as the manufacturer intended is great, but what if it can be used to increase productivity or increase access to a student’s curriculum? One tip he reminded me of was that one can set up a group of websites that will launch in one window. Another is that a user can have a direct link to their storage drive or email that would allow the student to already be logged in. As an educator or therapist, do you have students that shortcuts like this would work well for? 

I am thankful for a different lens to view this valuable technology! The PATINS Project Lending Library has both a Stream Deck 15 and a mini available for loan, along with thousands of other resources to help Indiana’s students. Indiana’s educators are able to check out resources for a 6 week loan to gather data and see if the tool is a good fit for the student’s needs.

Myself or any of our PATINS Specialists are available to assist with set up and training for use of a Stream Deck, or any other Lending Library loan that an Indiana educator would like to trial as Assistive Technology or use the view of the Universal Design for Learning lens. Reach out to us today!

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Dec
30

Recharged and Raring to Go!

Battery with lightning over it with the word charging

Recharged and raring to go!

Winter break often cannot come soon enough. Up to this point in the school year, we have been depleted by so many things such as lack of connection with family, daily workload, testing, grading, COVID worries, our own health, unexpected changes, and advertising. Advertising is all around us knowingly or unknowingly shaping our behavior and not necessarily for the better. So, we strive to counteract these forces in the new calendar year by planning new goals for personal habits, health, finances, professional growth and more.   

Change is inevitable, growth is optional. Considering the number of ads we encounter on a daily basis, how easy it is to neglect our physical health and how we may not make time for professional growth, I ask you to pick three things to change for the next year and choose to grow.

Screen_Shot_2021-12-30_at_12.45.01_PM.png

Figure 2 Man running away while looking over his shoulder at advertising icons chasing him.

We are bombarded with advertising on TV, Radio, Billboards, emails, social media and more. Just yesterday while I was trying to enter and update my password on the vendor’s website, I had to close pop-ups from the vendor inviting me to enter my email to win $100!

In 2004, “The advertising industry spends $12 billion per year on ads targeted to children, bombarding young audiences with persuasive messages through media such as television and the Internet. The average child is exposed to more than 40,000 TV commercials a year, according to studies.” – Protecting Children from Advertising, American Psychological Association 2004

In 2007, it was reported that on average, people were exposed to 5,000 ads per day.

In 2021, that number is estimated to be between 6,000 and 10,000 ads per day!

#1 Reduce the amount of time you spend on social media and talk about social media's impact and effects with your students.

To Do: 

  • Connect with a family member or do something active that brings you joy (i.e., electronics break). These are actions that can recharge you mentally and physically.
  • Block ads (Android, iOS, WIN, Mac, Chrome)
  • Use built-in tools to reduce website distractions [great to help with focus]:
  • You can also use 3rd party solutions to improve focus like:

Figure 3 Before using Reader Mode, example similar to what one might see when accessing an article on a website showing the extra content that can be distracting.

 

Figure 4 Using Reader Mode, example in Safari on a Mac computer. Irrelevant content has been removed, the background color and text are higher contrast and the only content on the page is from the blog post.

#2 Make healthier choices.

It’s easy to skip taking care of yourself given work and family commitments. Convenience and fast food are easy but will cost your body in the long run. Working into the late hours of the night to “get one more” thing done also comes at a cost.

Keeping your body healthy helps you have more energy to meet the mental and physical demands that your students bring. Rest, drink enough water and reduce caffeine. That’s a tough one. I like coffee! I am fortunate enough to still be able to run. Running keeps my heart, body and mind healthy.

To Do:  

  • Choose something physical that you enjoy and do it!
  • Maintain a regular bedtime routine
  • Consume some mindfulness blogs, newsletters, books or podcasts

#3 Improve your knowledge and expertise.

No single educator can know everything. Hopefully, you are already part of a team (e.g., grade level, focus area, specialty area, etc.) that shares knowledge and information to overcome problems and improve learning. If you are not or your team needs assistance, you can:

To Do:

  • Connect with a PATINS/ICAM staff member to learn new ideas to help you improve your instruction and take your students' academic, literacy and communication skills to the next level!
  • View Free PATINS Training Videos and earn Continuing Education Hours.

Figure 5 Battery showing Full Charge

By making just three changes, you will recharge your mental and physical batteries, have more focus and provide better instructional support for your students! Have a great New Year in 2022!

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Oct
21

New, not Normal

20220128-175602IMG_1679

I stopped knitting in March of 2020. It was a small thing that happened amidst some big things. There was this new thing called a pandemic. We were all blinking like Dorothy staring out into Munchkin Land. My daughter and her family moved in with us. We had a toddler in the house and a daily wifi supply that needed to be stretched between two high schoolers, one grad-schooler, and 3 adults with full time jobs. So the knitting got shoved into a cupboard because we had to figure out grocery pick up and all the Zoom features.

Then time became blurry. The initial event felt a little thrilling like being stuck at home during the blizzard of ‘78. Then came the slump of daily reality. We stopped making homemade bread and added routines for checking the numbers in our county and the emails for school status. We’d pause while ordering another box of masks on Amazon and ask, “are we in Season 2 of the pandemic or have we moved on to Season 3?” 

In my work with PATINS and supporting teachers for the blind the pandemic has caused me to view my stakeholders in a new way. I had always known that the 140 or so itinerant teachers for the blind in Indiana struggle with feelings of isolation. When your caseload is spread over several districts or counties and you’re also educating staff about a low incidence disability, isolation comes without “unprecedented times”.  

Now they were being called to work in isolation from their students, and find ways to teach tactile skills remotely over a visual medium. They kept going, and they kept calling asking for ideas. We established some online professional learning communities to share obstacles and ways to overcome them. New strong bonds forged between teachers and families. Many who were hesitant to learn new assistive technology for braille were now forced to get a crash course, and finding they could stare down their fear of the blinking braille curser.

Many teachers and districts were forced to look at the accessibility of their online content. They worked to learn how to post and curate higher quality lessons and materials. The daily showing up to do the next impossible thing has generated better methods for future education. 

I’m trying to restart knitting. The weather is turning cooler, and life is feeling cautiously calmer. I have mastered the grocery order, which I will stick with post COVID. It saves time, I waste less food, and I’ve learned that it is much easier to leave the M&M’s out of my virtual cart than out of a real one.  I can make it to the Zoom meeting like a champion, putting on my earrings and lip gloss 2 minutes before it starts. 

I’m not sure why I’m restarting now. The daily showing up doesn’t feel much different, and I can’t say that I feel like the crisis is over. I’m hearing the phrase “new normal” lately like we used “unprecedented times” in the spring of 2020. “Normal” isn’t a real thing, right? But I can see glimpses of “new” on the daily, and will continue to look for them. 

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Jan
19

A Girl, a Frog, and Accessibility

20220120-004655frog-dissection-and-iPad-Pro A student with blue plastic gloves completes a frog dissection using an iPad to enlarge her view of the task.

Once upon a time there was a girl in middle school. She was like every other middle school girl, in that she wanted to succeed in school. She was also like every other middle school girl who wants to be noticed but is painfully averse to being singled out. 

Her inner heart cried out, “Look at me!” and “Everyone is staring at me!” at the same time. 

This fairy tale intro is one that I’ve heard throughout my years as both a PATINS specialist and a teacher for the blind before that. Adolescence is hard. Needing to use large print books that don’t fit in a backpack and using a magnifying device to see the board makes it harder. 

Most of the students I’ve worked with have been able to move past the “everyone is watching me” mindset. Once I got a teen girl to use her magnifier because she had a cute student teacher and she could see him in hunky detail with it. Another teen girl used the technology for some mean girl antics, inviting a peer to her desk and zooming in on other peers to make fun of them. This made me cry, not because she misbehaved, but because it was so normal. When you have a disability, feeling normal can be a luxury.

The advent of one to one devices and built in accessibility has been a game changer for all folks with low vision, and especially for the teenage folks feeling all the feels. Now students are able to get digital texts delivered to their devices through the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) and facilitated by their district’s Digital Rights Manager (DRM). And whatever is projected onto the board at the front of the room can be sent electronically to the student’s device. 

All of the platforms continue to race like a fairy tale hero on horseback to outdo each other with built in accessibility features like enlarged/bold format, enlarged mouse/cursor, special color filters for folks with color blindness, and many ways to have text converted to speech with more and more human-sounding voices

I received the cover photo for this blog from one of our stakeholders of an 8th grade girl using an iPad Pro clamped in a stand to enlarge her frog dissection in science class. She wrote, “In observing her during the frog dissection lab it was evident that her confidence and efficiency with the task grew using the tablet clamped to her lab table.” She went on to describe how the student took the lead in the dissection where before she would have been dependent on the partner to report observations. 

This also made me cry because 

  1. A CONFIDENT adolescent is more beautiful than any Disney Princess. 
  2. When I was a science teacher at the Indiana School for the Blind from 1996 - 2000 all we could do was buy the extra jumbo frogs from Carolina Biological Supply. 

This student and many others are benefitting tremendously from new technology. Here’s to their continued success and just the right amount of getting in trouble so that they can live happily ever after. 

Masked female student looking at a frog dissection through an iPad Pro


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Dec
23

Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative

Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative with student in wheelchair reaching for book.

“I wish I still had to use my wheelchair.” This was a quiet statement made by one of my students.

While this particular student had made immense progress physically following a stroke, he was continuing to struggle academically and a bit socially to keep up with the ever changing landscape of middle school.

When asked why he wanted to have his wheelchair back, he said “So people would remember I had a stroke.” He felt without an external symbol of his disability, his teachers and friends treated him like he had recovered 100%. They had assumed he was “being lazy” or “being a teenager” when he did not complete his school work. 

I know some days he enjoyed being able to “blend” back into the classroom environment, especially when he was up to some pre-teen trickery. Although he worked hard to cover up his struggles, he needed support. For instance, I noticed he had a particularly hard time editing his writing on the computer. He said looking at the screen would give him a headache and he had trouble reading back what he typed.

Only after the fact did I find out our district had the AEMing for Achievement grant at the time I worked with this student. I had heard rumblings about Snap&Read and Co:Writer from my speech-language pathologist counterparts at other levels. So I asked about the tools but was told “Oh we are trying it out in elementary and high school right now. This will come to the middle school soon.” 

So I waited.

And that was my mistake.

The tools that could have supported my student (and subsequently benefitted his classmates) were literally sitting right in front of him on his Chromebook everyday. District administration never brought us more information about the AEMing for Achievement grant processes and tools that year.

Here is where I wish I had a happy ending to wrap in a big shiny bow to share with you. The truth is we never found a great strategy to help him in middle school and I am not sure what happened once he moved on to high school.

My hope is that you can take away a couple of lessons from my experience.

First of all, my student is an example of many students in our schools who are passed over year in and year out because they do not “look” disabled. Having mobility aids or other assistive devices is not a prerequisite to receiving academic support. We must create a learning environment without barriers. By designing lessons with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in mind, we can remove barriers to full participation and progress for all students in the classroom.

Second, if you hear of a tool that you feel will help a student, go after it tenaciously. There is always someone willing to help train you, lend it out, or in some cases pay for it. PATINS Assistive Technology Lending Library has many devices, software, and educational items to trial with your students for six weeks for free - shipping included!

Third, access to the curriculum is a district wide initiative. In other words - access for all students! This especially applies to students with disabilities who must receive their accessible materials in a “timely manner” (IDEA, 2004). 

It can feel overwhelming to make systemic changes and to get everyone on board. The PATINS Project is here to help you in your efforts to create and sustain an accessible learning environment. PATINS AEMing for Achievement grant teams receive intensive support to set up accessibility policies, procedures, and practices district wide. Additionally, our specialists can help you get the ball rolling if you have questions about designing accessible lessons or would like training in this area. Furthermore, the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) provides Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) to qualifying students. All of these services come at no cost to employees of Indiana Local Education Agencies (i.e. public/charter schools). 

Our students do not have time to wait for access to their education. They need it now and the PATINS Project is here to support you in achieving this in 2022 and beyond.

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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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Dec
01

Small Steps, Big Gains

Screen-Shot-2021-12-01-at-12.35.23-PM creek with stepping stones

QR code to audio versions
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Artist Name - big-steps.mp3


Have you ever come upon a creek and need to get to the otherside? You think if you make a good run and jump, you can make it. I have done this more times than I can even count. I have made it a few times. However, splash! Your foot lands into the water and soaks through your shoes. You were so close! Now you walk away with soggy feet and potentially miserable for the rest of your journey. 

Now, think about the times when you come across a creek and someone before you has already set out the rocks or logs for you to walk on to get across. Perhaps you find them yourself and make a path on the water. You take your time, hold out your arms for balance and slowly make your way, really thinking of the strategy to make it across without falling into the water. Some of the rocks may have seemed unbalanced but you kept going even if nervous. Maybe you have someone on the other side who reached out their hand for that last jump across. You make it! You celebrate.

Yes, attempting to make the jump seems like a quicker way to get across. However, it is the steps you put down to slowly make your way and perhaps leave steps behind for others that is the most consistent. 

ladder with big steps and a ladder with tiny steps

Steps we need... 

As a PATINS Specialist, I have the honor to work with specific school districts who are recipients of our AEMing for Achievement Grant. Through this grant, school districts assemble a team to develop a sustainable system for the acquisition of Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for their students in a timely manner. They are essentially creating a path, much like the rocks and logs, so that all of their teachers can get across and know how to ensure that all of their students receive their needed accommodations. They are setting the groundwork for current and new staff to know the why and how of AEM. Building those steps is key for long term success. 

More steps needed…

Students who qualify for AEM, assistive technology is often an element for access. Which also means there is a need for implementation of new accommodations for students. This could be new assistive technology, new schedules, new devices, new strategies, etc. Oftentimes we get so excited for our students to succeed, we hand over new ways so they can quickly jump into the new...when in reality, it is the steps between that will bring potential proficiency and consistency. Not to mention, those steps create opportunities for our students to succeed. These are all skills that need to be taught. It can be the difference between students embracing their support for learning and students who get frustrated and give up. 

Does your school district have accessibility and AEM policies and procedures in place? If so, do you know where to find them? If you are unsure, have you asked? Do you know what a Digital Rights Manager (DRM) is? Do you know who your DRM is in your district? Are your students receiving accessible materials in a timely manner? Are you intentionally teaching your students how to use their assistive technology accommodations? 

PATINS-ICAM staff can certainly assist you in developing those essential steps to support all of your students. We can help ensure that accessibility is in the forefront from start to finish… Contact us

door opening to stairs

While hoping you have superhero jump strength to jump across any barrier you may cross sounds pretty awesome, it’s when you lay out those tiny steps that can get you to the other side more consistently. A little more work upfront can alleviate so many unnecessary barriers for our students. Our students deserve it. 

While I have zero doubt we will end up with a few more soggy shoes in the future, let’s just be mindful that we will always make sure that those behind us can get across. 

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Sep
23

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either) I Never Learned About UDL in College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

“You do UDL so well!” said the Director of Special Education.

“Thanks!” I cheerfully responded. It’s always nice to know your administrator values your work, especially as a brand new employee.

But, as I walked away, I thought “What am I doing well? What does UDL mean?”

To this day, I am not sure how I was implementing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) well. Did he hear I allowed students to choose topics for writing based on their interests? Did he know I start each language therapy session with ample background knowledge? Or did he see I was encouraging students to use both low and high tech assistive technology options that fit them best? I can only guess. At the time, I assumed UDL was a term everyone else knew and I had somehow missed this after six years of college.

In reality, I did not sleep through the lesson on UDL. My former classmates confirmed we had never learned the term. While not explicitly taught, the UDL Guidelines were interwoven throughout my graduate coursework. This may have been the case for you.

I have refined my understanding of UDL and its' implementation through attending conferences, trainings, and trialing what works best. It has made me a better educator for my students. By removing barriers to accessing school work, they saw real, impactful academic success. We even had conversations about moving students back to the diploma track. This created life-changing opportunities for my students and their families.

Are you ready to do UDL well too? Here are a few opportunities provided for no-cost by the PATINS Project.

  • The Access to Education (A2E) 2021 virtual conference is a great opportunity to learn more. There is an outstanding line up of local and national presenters who are eager to teach you the why and how of UDL. Our presenters have created preview videos to give you a snapshot of what you can expect to learn at A2E 2021. If you register for both conference days before September 29, 2021, we will send a welcome box, including earbuds (eligibility requirements apply).

  • Try out the PATINS Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Lesson Plan Creator or interact with the Virtual UDL Classroom.

  • Contact Us for in-depth, individualized support and trainings.

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