Jun
30

Assistive Technology for Vision Loss & Reading Comprehension!

If you have attended any of our recent PATINS Tech Expo events, you may have had the opportunity to talk with Greg Blackman of Eye can see, Inc. His company is located right here in Indiana and provides services, products & support for individuals with low-vision or blindness that assist them in their daily lives. As my guest blogger this week, I’m excited to give him the opportunity to let you know a bit more about his company.

EYE can see, Inc. started in 1998; we are local providers of Assistive Technology for low vision and blindness in Indiana, and work with schools to find tailored solutions to help students succeed in the classroom.  We focus our treatment on the students’ specific needs and goals, and how these are best met in their classroom environment.  We work with the entire spectrum of equipment from low vision to blindness solutions, hardware and software.  We provide equipment to the PATINS Library and are happy to provide on-site demonstrations, assessments, and trainings.  We have been the local representatives the top manufacturers of low vision/blindness solutions since we started including Freedom Scientific, Optelec, ZoomText, JAWS, Fusion, HIMS, LVI and OrCam.  Over the years of working with schools we’ve identified a few categories of tools that work best for students and schools.

Portable video magnifiers are the most common devices that schools get for students in the classroom.  These devices range in size from a 5” – 17” screen, are battery powered and can easily be taken from class to class.  They all will magnify text as much as the students needs and provide different color enhancements as well.  Depending on the needs of the students, these devices can come with several advanced features such as distance viewing/magnification, text-to-speech/OCR, and the ability to save documents and record lectures.  These devices are small and discreet, very easy to use and great for the classroom environment.

Another device that is very popular with schools and effective with both students with any level of vision loss or reading comprehension issues is called the OrCam READ.  It’s a smart pen that will read printed text out loud.  The OrCam READ is a laser pointer pen that will read any text you point it at.  It reads printed text on hard copy materials and any screens such as computers or tablets.  The OrCam Read is a very small, discreet device that is very easy to learn and use.  It is a great tool for any level of vision loss or reading comprehension challenges. 

Lastly, for students with any level of visual impairment looking to access the computer, we provide software such as ZoomText, JAWS, Fusion and OpenBook.  With these software programs, students with any degree of sight loss can do anything the need to on the computer.  These programs all have free demos you can download to try and then we can provide the full product with training and support alongside the PATINS Specialists! 

With all of these products, as well as all of the others from our Assistive Technology Lending Library, PATINS provides Indiana public schools with implementation training and support at no cost! Reach out to our Specialists! Additionally, we work with EYE can see, Inc. to provide local education discounted pricing for many of these items and free on-site demonstrations of any of them. Many of the EYE can see, Inc. products are available through the PATINS Lending Library as well. We ship them to your school and we pay for you to ship them back! Please feel free to contact us directly and let us know how we can help support you and your students!

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Jun
16

Lost

Artist Name - Lost-blog.mp3

A fork on the trail leading into a wooded area.

My family and I, like many of you, travel over summer break. Exploring a new place is the highlight of any trip. Walking down mysterious streets, eating unfamiliar food, hearing the unique voices and sounds, and getting insight on the history of the region based on graffiti or architecture are a few of the reasons wanderlust is written on my heart. But pioneering a new path in an unknown place can also be terrifying. Without warning that right turn was the wrong turn, and now, everything that you know is out of sight. Loneliness and panic fill your brain and tears well up in your eyes. That feeling of being lost can seem demoralizing, making you feel helpless. Then, you turn one more strange corner and the home base comes into view. It is in that moment that you have this overwhelming rush of pride in finding a new road home. What was once obscure and complicated is now recognizable and familiar. Exploring and being lost become essential parts of the same story and are now part of all my trip agendas. 

Balancing the excitement and fear of being lost have not always been so smooth. When I was in first grade, I felt lost while the other students learned reading with ease. My classmates pronounced each of the words on the page effort-less-ly while I struggled to know the sounds and fumbled through read alouds relying heavily on images, context, and the whispers of the other students. It was scary and I felt like I was the only one who couldn’t learn to read. Those feelings of loneliness and fear impeded my reading progress and made every reading assignment feel like an overwhelming task. I had all but given up on reading until fourth grade when I turned a corner. One of my teachers, seeing my reluctance to read, suggested the short chapters of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Engulfed in the stories and all the possible outcomes, I would read the same book several times which helped build my skills. I then moved on to The Babysitter’s Club book series (the 90s equivalent to binge watching), and I devoured each one, rushing to the library for the next adventure. Being lost in the learning process of reading made me feel ashamed and excluded but exploring topics that interested me gave me a safe space to practice reading. Today, my safe space resides in historical fiction which I read either with my eyes or with my ears on a daily basis. I was lost until I found something that I loved.

This was not my sudden shift to embracing being lost. Fast forward to college decision time. As my peers began looking at career choices and college, I reflected on my understimulated time in high school. I had moved through general education classes with little connection or interest which led to an increased lack of effort on my part. I was lost in the possibilities since there was not a high expectation that I would even attend college. My grades were dismal and my confidence shot, high school did not seem like a good fit for me. Feeling pressure that I should do something with my life, I finally settled on studying business at a local community college. While I was attending this community college I turned a corner. My local church was looking for a youth group leader so I stepped into that role and found a love of project planning and working with teens. Soon I was headed off to university to study education. I thought that I had finally found my dream job until the results of my Praxis came back and I had not scored high enough to complete my course and get my teaching license. I felt I had taken another wrong turn and those feelings of being lost returned with increased hopelessness. But where Praxis said no, Spain said yes. Soon after my graduation, I took a position as an English teacher to multilingual students in Madrid, Spain. Following a month-long intensive training program, I stepped into my first classroom teaching English to adults. I followed that experience with getting my teaching license, and soon after, my master’s in education. Being lost led me to teach for over twenty years in three different countries and seven different subjects. I was lost until I found a place that was right for me.

My last experience solidified my many similar lost moments throughout adulthood. Arriving in Indianapolis after living in Mexico for 10 years, I stepped into job interview after job interview knowing that my lack of professional connections in Indianapolis overshadowed my background and education. I started in a job designed for a high schooler with low pay, long hours, and little consideration for multiple years’ experience, a master’s degree and being multilingual. Being lost and exploring work options with a small child depending on me took me to a new level of scary. I accepted those wrong turns and settled into a world of being lost. Those wrong turns seemed to be endless with each job leading only to temporary positions and little promise of a home base. The corner that seemed out-of-sight came into view when I was working as an adjunct professor at IUPUI and Jena Fahlbush and Katie Taylor came to present about UDL and PATINS. I started to see some familiarity return. Collaborating with co-workers, working with educators in Indiana, and seeing students get access to materials like those that I missed out on brought me full circle in my exploration process. I was lost until I found people who recognized that the road to success may look different for each individual.

Having access to materials that students love, creating a space that feels right for them, and recognizing various ways to get to the same target can convert feelings of being lost into an adventure of exploration. Experience the joys of being lost as you search the many titles on Mackinvia and Bookshare through the ICAM for students with print disabilities, including dyslexia. Additionally Vox books, c-pens, and livescribe pens are just some of the items available in the Lending Library that any IN educator can check out for a six-week trial period. Don’t forget the built-in text-to-speech, word prediction, and dictation features on your student’s computer. Also connect with a PATINS Specialist to explore strategies, tools, and resources to open up new routes for you and your students.

I have often been off the beaten traditional path but in the midst of a state of “being lost” I have had many opportunities to explore the multitude of ways to reach my goals. Being on the outside has its own feelings of loneliness but knowing that this path is MY path has led me to embrace and even love being lost. 

This is my story, what’s yours? Share on twitter #PatinsIcam 

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Jun
10

Tools in Your Toolbox

 

Various battery operated power tools and toolboxes with various tools

Most of us have completed a project, repaired something, helped a friend, written a letter (or blogpost!) at some point.  When planning for these endeavors we usually have a plan and/or a tool in mind.  Often everything goes well but sometimes it doesn't.  To be successful, we must have access to more than one solution or tool.  Students must be offered and taught how to use a variety of tools.  Need ideas?  Please check out the PATINS Project training calendar.

A picture containing outdoor pergola over and outdoor grill/kitchen area

My plan was to help a friend dig three post holes for a pergola (unique design).  We were warned by his neighbor that the ground was hard clay, and the preferred tool would be a towable, one-person auger/post hole digger (available to rent but would take about one hour of our time to borrow and return). I've dug many fence post holes in the past and I have manual post hole diggers.  During my site prep we measured, used my diggers to start the holes and everything looked good (i.e., somewhat soft clay and no rocks).  To save that hour of time, I figured we could use my neighbor's small, gas post hole digger.

I forgot to mention that his neighbor had just built his own pergola and successfully dug six post holes…in the clay. You know what happened next, we were forced to rent the larger one-person auger/post hole digger.  Unfortunately, we had more obstacles; three rose bushes and an outdoor grill/kitchen brick wall.  Respectively, they didn't appreciate the one-person auger’s wide wheelbase or large obtrusive handle.

It took us almost twice the time we planned, and we used three different tools.  However, we got those holes dug!  One tool did not get this task completed.

When students are assigned academic tasks, they should be allowed to choose from several tools to successfully complete those assignments. When writing, students could respond with handwriting, with a keyboard, speech to text, audio recording, video recording, scribe, etc. 

When reading, students could read with their eyes, ears (speech to text solutions), have someone read aloud to them, audio books (e.g., Hoopla or if they qualify, access digitally accessible materials from the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM)).

When communicating, students could use gestures, vocalizations, sign language, partner assisted scanning, static/paper-based communication boards, single message voice output devices (e.g., BigMack), multiple message devices or high-tech dedicated speech generating devices (SGD).

What tools are in your teacher's toolbox?  If you want ideas to fill it up, please reach out directly to one the PATINS specialist.

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Jun
02

Banana Bird and The Rubber Chicken

Banana Bird and The Rubber Chicken Banana Bird and The Rubber Chicken

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Artist Name - ruchick.mp3


My daughter just completed her first year of college and while chatting about papers she had to submit, we revisited the time when she was immersed in her writing creation of Banana Bird in elementary school. She used to walk around the house singing, “Banana banana banana bird, it makes the monkeys herd!” It definitely became an earworm tune and still is until this day when a banana is opened. It’s been nearly 10 years ago.

Meet the Banana Bird by then 9 yr old, Natalie Suding
Meet the Banana Bird

One day there was a Banana Bird. He sang this one morning: “Banana banana banana bird, it makes the monkeys herd!” He heard a noise. What was it? A monkey heard it! He started to climb a tree. “Shoo!” he said, but it didn’t work.

So, he jumped to a vine and so did the monkey. That didn’t work. Mr. Monkey was very bad. His name was Sam. So, he flew but Sam didn’t. He went down and went to the tree. He climbed a banana tree. The monkey was confused. “Which one was the Banana Bird?”

So, the monkey ate all of the bananas but the Banana Bird flew away happy. The end.

Binder of banana bird ideas

Ah, the creative storytelling of young people. She had a binder of ideas for future Banana Birds. I think my favorite one I looked forward to was “Monkey Attak” as she has written in her notes.

She wrote that story around the same time that I was making my first switch with a rubber chicken. That’s right, a rubber chicken toy. 
rubber chicken
She had a lot of questions as to why I was cutting open a rubber chicken to place wires and coins inside. This began a wonderful conversation about disabilities, access and accessibility. She decided that she wanted to make Meet the Banana Bird her first attempt to make her book more accessible for her friends. So, she did. 

I recently saw a sign in front of a rural school that said: “Small and mighty.” That is right…small and mighty. There is no but in what we typically hear people say, “small but mighty.” That statement within itself busts through mightset change, making it clear that there is nothing wrong with being small. It builds upon the word small and makes it as grand as the word deserves. 

Try not to underestimate not only your own power of change toward accessibility; but those we can facilitate with even the youngest of students. Model accessibility and inclusion. Talk about accessibility. Teach accessibility. Consider giving Book Creator a try in your classroom for student projects. The earlier our students understand the why and how of access for all, it can become the only way they know how and then ask a lot of questions when things are not accessible. Our students can be small and mighty.
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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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May
18

Summer Activities!

Summer is almost upon us once again and one great thing about summer is that it allows extra time for families to spend time together. Activities such as cooking can teach many skills while being fun and educational at the same time.

Families can start small and build up to bigger and better creations. While cooking students can learn many skills. The following list was on the Norton’s Childrens Hospital website entitled “Cooking activities for kids can teach confidence and skills that can prepare them for a lifetime of healthy habits.”

Here are seven skills that your children can develop while helping in the kitchen:

  1. Explore their senses. Invite children, especially younger ones, to experience the activity of the kitchen. If you’re baking bread, for example, kids can listen to the whir of a mixer, pound dough and watch it rise, smell it baking in the oven and finally taste the warm bread fresh from the oven. If it smells good, looks appealing and is easy to eat, they may just be willing to try it! Seeing you enjoy the process of cooking healthy meals can help them see cooking as fun and not a chore. Processed foods are readily available and fast; watching you take the time to make a quick, healthy meal instead of something fast can help reinforce the behavior as they grow and start making food choices on their own.

  2. Expand their palate. If you have picky eaters, bringing them into the kitchen to help cook can help open them up to new foods and flavors. Introducing new foods to children may be more successful if you introduce only one new food at a time along with something that you know your child likes. Consider trying healthy recipes from different countries and cultures to not only expand the palate, but your child’s worldview.

  3. Working in the kitchen provides kids and teens opportunities to gain a sense of accomplishment. Even if the end result is not exactly what you expected, praise your kitchen helpers for their efforts.

  4. Making healthy choices. Planning a menu and grocery list is an opportunity to explain smart food choices. Talk to your child about different food groups and encourage him or her to try new foods. Kids who have a hand in making the vegetables may be a little more willing to try a sample when they sit down at the dinner table.

  5. Responsibility. From following a recipe and learning how to safely handle kitchen equipment to cleaning up spills and putting things away, helping in the kitchen provides ample opportunities for children and teens to learn responsibility.

  6. Sharing good conversation. Share with your child or teen family stories and recipes. Or ask thought-provoking questions about food choices, school, friends and other activities. Developing these conversations while preparing dinner teaches your child how to carry on a thoughtful conversation and can enhance your relationship.

  7. Basic math, science and language skills. As kids learn to crack eggs and stir sauce, they also gain new science, language and math skills. Basic math skills (“How many eggs do we need?”) and sequencing skills (“What is first … next … last?”) give way to fractions (“Is this ¾ of a cup?”) as your child gains confidence in the kitchen. Reading recipes helps improve reading comprehension, and you can demonstrate basic science principles with something as simple as salt sprinkled on an ice cube.

I also wanted to share the following which I shared last year at this same time and it follows.

Summer is almost here,and I’m excited to share some outdoor time with my cousin who will be in 9th grade in the Fall. I work with him during the school year, helping out with his homework and studying for quizzes and tests. We work especially hard on Math, and he has shown tremendous growth and I want to keep it going. So I have been looking for ways to incorporate Math into the activities he enjoys. Here are a few ideas I have come up with so far:

  1. Having him pay with cash when we go somewhere, and then checking to see if he receives the correct change.

  2. Letting him help with navigation to the places we go. Which direction are we going? How many gallons of gas do we need?

  3. He enjoys baseball, and there are many statistics that we can talk about and how they are figured.

  4. Cooking may not be his favorite activity, but occasionally I can get him to help out. We talk about measurements and conversions. When we have cookouts, he gets to figure out how many hotdogs, hamburgers, etc. we need for everyone.

  5. When we go shopping for shoes or something he truly wants, we get the opportunity to compare prices and to figure out how much 20% off saves us.

  6. I am hoping to build a project with him, and we can use the tape measure and figure out the amount of materials we will need.

  7. I take him out to eat, and I have him look at the calories we will consume. He can also help me figure out the tip.

  8. We play board games like Monopoly, and this includes money skills and budgeting. Battleship helps with graphing and logical reasoning. Connect 4, Clue, Chess, and Checkers help with planning strategy. Yahtzee and Rummikub are fun ways to work on math skills as well.

  9. He spends much of his time playing video games, so I encourage him to play games that involve strategy and planning.

I also encourage him to read all year long, but especially in the summer. I must admit, this has undoubtedly been a challenge! These are some ideas that I have used, or that I am planning to use over the summer.

  1. I take him to the library. I can’t always get him to read while we are there, but they always have a puzzle out so we work on it, and I encourage him to find something to check out.

  2. I am also going to encourage him to listen to audiobooks over the summer to see if he would enjoy them.

  3. I buy him used comic books which he seems to genuinely enjoy. They are inexpensive, and he will usually read them. I try to ask lots of questions about them when he has finished, so we can work on comprehension.

  4. When we build our project, I will have him read any written directions that we come across.

  5. I will also take any chance I get to have him read in any activity that we do. He can read directions when we are playing games, and he can read recipes or the grocery list when we go to the store.

These are just a few ideas that I have come up with. There are many other ideas, activities, and a wealth of information available with a search on the Internet. What ideas do you use with your students or children that you have found to be successful? Please share with me via the comments section.

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May
10

A Taste of Anxiety

For my birthday and spring break last month, I was fortunate enough to celebrate in Mexico with my husband, Chris, and some friends. We spent the first part of the trip in Puerto Vallarta. It is a remarkable city filled with buzzing culture, delightful foods, beautiful beaches, and lovely people. As one of Mexico’s tourist destinations, many local staff speak English in addition to their native language. This was much appreciated by the majority of our group since we are English speakers trying out our tiny bits of conversational Spanish on occasion. 

alt=Friends at the beach in Puerta Vallarta. From left to right: Andrew, Chris, and Jena.

The second part of our trip took us to Mexico City to continue our vacation with our close friend, Andrew, who recently moved there for a new job. It was wonderful getting to see where he resides and to be guided through the city by someone who knew his way around. It was especially nice having a guide who is multilingual and speaks Spanish fluently. This is because I naively overestimated the number of English speakers in Mexico City based upon my previous international travels to tourist destinations in non-English speaking countries. 

Despite a language barrier for my husband and me, Andrew confidently led us through a handful of the city’s neighborhoods, to some amazing restaurants, and to some of the “can’t miss” sites to see. One of our adventures included a hot air balloon ride at sunrise over the architectural site of the pre-hispanic city of Teotihuacan. It has gone down in my book as one of the coolest experiences I’ve had to date!

Vantage point from a hot air balloon of one of the two remaining pyramids of Teotihuacan.
Overall, the trip was refreshing, enlightening, and a total blast until the language barrier came for us the morning of our flight home… 

It was 6am and we were pulling up to terminal one, the domestic terminal, because Andrew was also flying out to venture to another part of Mexico the same morning. Thankfully, before getting out of the Uber, he had chatted with the driver about taking us to the international terminal--terminal two--upon his departure.

So we said our goodbyes, Andrew walked into the airport, and we got back in the Uber. Expecting the Uber to head to terminal two per the conversation he had with Andrew, Chris and I buckled up and I said, “Terminal two,” to which the driver began responding to me in Spanish as we stayed parked at terminal one.  

My anxiety was immediately awakened, and Chris and I looked at each other with confusion. I began asking myself what are we going to do? Why isn’t he driving? How far is terminal two? Is there another way we could get there? 

I decided to get out of the car and look around for someone that could possibly interpret for us. The only language I was hearing was Spanish, and there were not that many people around. Failing to find an interpreter, I got back in the car and pulled out Microsoft Translator on my phone. Now, I wish I could tell you a success story about how this app magically saved us and opened lines of communication in this moment, but sadly, it did not. Instead, when I would put the phone close enough to the driver for my speaker to pick him up, he would stop talking. I tried asking him to repeat in Spanish (though I wasn’t even conjugating the verb correctly), but he remained silent. 

With my anxiety becoming palpable, I decided to give Andrew a call, though I wholeheartedly did not expect him to answer. Luckily, he answered my call. I explained that the Uber driver wasn’t leaving terminal one and that we were not able to figure out why. I then put Andrew on speaker phone so that he could talk to the driver. 

After a short conversation between the two of them, the call went silent. I could tell Andrew was still on the line, but he was not replying to my frantic calls of his name and asking him what’s going on. I look over at Chris and think, what are we going to do? Why isn’t Andrew answering me? At this point, I made the decision to get out of this car and be done with the ride. Chris and I got out, and I began knocking on the trunk to communicate that we needed to get our luggage out. 

Our efforts were gratefully met with the driver saying, “Hey, hey!” and pointing to his phone. This is when I noticed that Andrew had requested a new Uber ride with our driver to get us to terminal two. With some cautious relief, we got back into the car. The driver accepted the ride on his app, and off we went. 

I couldn’t have been more relieved to arrive at terminal two. As it turns out the terminals are far enough apart that we couldn’t have easily walked, and navigating a way there would likely have proven just as stressful as our Uber situation due to the language barrier. 

Heading into the international terminal and being greeted by someone who was multilingual began to tamp down my anxiety, though now I was feeling somewhat nauseated from the stress. Regardless, we had made it with enough time to get checked in, through security, and to grab a snack before our flight departed. 

I’m sharing this story with you because it highlighted the anxiety and full body stress I felt in a single experience in which a language barrier was present. Upon reflection of this moment, I’m filled with empathy for our English learners in our schools and communities. This is because as someone who knows some Spanish and how to use translation technology, all my knowledge flew out the window in a time of elevated stress. Your students and families have likely felt the same way in more than one instance. 

It is my hope that this story helps you reframe the experiences of your students and their families who are learning English. Could you be offering a more inclusive experience at your beginning and end of the year events and gatherings with Office 365’s Present Live in PowerPoint? Have you implemented apps like Microsoft Translator during conferences or meetings to support equitable communication? Have families been included in the training of their student’s assistive technology through an interpreter? 

We know there are many languages present in our public schools and not all languages are supported through translation technologies, but we are here to help you navigate those waters. Microsoft, iOS, and Google do have some great translation tools for many languages though. It would be my pleasure to support your use of any Microsoft or Windows based tool as the Microsoft/Windows PATINS Specialist. Email me any time! Plus, our passionate English Learner Specialist, Amanda Crecelius, would be happy to support language access for your multilingual students. 

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May
04

Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools

Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools

This week's blog is brought to us by our guest blogger and Language First founder, Kimberly Sanzo, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL. Kimberly's biography is at the bottom of this blog. 

Educational interpreters are an important part of the educational team and their work in providing language accessibility for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students is critical. However, it’s important for school districts contemplating hiring an American Sign Language (ASL)-English interpreter for their DHH student(s) to consider a few vital factors. First, what is the language level of the DHH student? If the student has strong signed language skills, they may benefit from having the academic information interpreted into a visual language. If, however, the student has strong oral language skills and minimal signed language skills, then perhaps there needs to be a discussion as to the ultimate goal of having an educational interpreter in the classroom. If the goal is for the student to learn some ASL, then simply being provided an interpreter will not help them acquire a new language. Educational interpreters do not provide language instruction, and it would not be fair to expect the DHH student to attempt to acquire a new language while simultaneously trying to take in academic information. Additionally, having information interpreted into a language they barely know will likely be unhelpful. 

Most crucially, if the student has minimal signed language skills and minimal oral language skills, an interpreter may not be beneficial. In fact, providing an educational interpreter to a DHH child with no complete first language may be more harmful than helpful. As Caselli et al. (2020) assert, there is no evidence that DHH children with language deprivation can overcome their language difficulties from a single language model, even if that model is fluent in the language. School-aged DHH children without fluency in any language will not be able to simply acquire a signed language from an educational interpreter. Rather, they need intensive and purposeful language intervention in their most accessible language as well as plenty of language models and same-language peers with which to interact.

Another important consideration is the skill level of the educational interpreter. In a study by Schick et al. (2005), the authors found that 60% of the interpreters evaluated did not have the skill level necessary to provide DHH students with full access to the curriculum. This may be a result of state-by-state variation in requirements for interpreter skill levels. Many states don’t have standard requirements for educational interpreters, while others have standards that are gravely below the needs of DHH students (National Association of Interpreters in Education, 2021). Thus, it is critical that the school properly vet ASL-English interpreters who may be working with their students by ensuring they have an objective measure of adequate skill level. 

This is vital for a few reasons. First, interpreters themselves may not be able to accurately estimate their skills. This is due to a human cognitive fallacy called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, or the tendency for less-skilled individuals to rate themselves as highly skilled, and highly skilled individuals to rate themselves as less skilled. Indeed, Fitzmaurice (2020) found that the least skilled interpreters overestimated their skills, while the most skilled interpreters underestimated their skills. Therefore, a score on a standardized test like the Educational Interpreter Proficiency Assessment (EIPA) can be helpful in offering a more objective evaluation of an interpreter’s skills. Second, less skilled interpreters are less accurately interpreting information for their DHH students (Schick et al., 2005). The lower the percentage of accurately interpreted information, the less access DHH students are getting to academic content. Indeed, Schick et al. (1999) found that “many deaf children receive an interpretation of classroom discourse that many distort and inadequately represent the information being communicated” (p. 144).

Our DHH students need and deserve 100% access to academic information at all times, just like their hearing peers. It is our responsibility to ensure that a.) the student is a good candidate for an educational interpreter (if they are not, other educational placements should be discussed), and b.) that interpreter is highly qualified to provide full language access.

References:

Caselli, N. C., Hall, W. C., & Henner, J. (2020). American Sign Language interpreters in public schools: An illusion of inclusion that perpetuates language deprivation. Maternal and Child Health Journal.  

Fitzmaurice, S. (2020). Educational interpreters and the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Journal of Interpretation, 28(2).

National Association of Interpreters in Education (2021). State Requirements for EducationalInterpreters. https://naiedu.org/state-standards/

Schick, B., Williams, K., & Kupermintz, H. (2005). Look who’s being left behind: Educational interpreters and access to education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11(1), 3-20.

Schick, B., Williams, K., Bolster, L. (1999). Skill levels of educational interpreters working in public schools. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4(2), 144-155.


Kimberly Sanzo, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL


Kim is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who is committed to educating parents and professionals on the neurological effects of a late or incomplete first language acquisition for Deaf and hard of hearing children. She received her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology from Gallaudet University in 2012 and is a board-certified specialist in child language (BCS-CL) through the American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders.

Kim is also the founder of Language First. Language First aims to educate and raise awareness about American Sign Language (ASL)/English bilingualism and the importance of a strong first language foundation for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. You can find more information on Language First social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and website.

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Apr
20

Did You Want to Talk About the Weather?


daffodils in foreground surrounded by snow on the ground. Farm house in the background
It’s mid April, so I put away my husband’s heavy Carhart coats, my winter boots and all of the hats and gloves clogging up the entryway and the mudroom. It felt amazing saying “so long!” to fleece and wool. Did I mention that it’s mid April in Indiana? Right on cue, the day after my ceremonious dumping of the hats into the back of the closet, Indiana came back with an inch of snow overnight–on a Monday morning no less. 

The snow melted gradually throughout the day–gone by evening, but it left a little frostbite on my psyche. As a Hoosier, I have trust issues with the natural universe. My weather app predicts 80’s by Saturday, but I’m thinking this wild swing into sweatiness will also mess with my head. 

To quote one of my favorite actors, Bill Murray, in one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day: "Did you want to talk about the weather, or did you just want to chit chat?"



For Hoosiers, maybe it’s less chit chat, and more talk therapy. 

Predictability, in general, helps us all to flourish mentally. At PATINS, our staff has a brief weekly meeting where we report progress on our professional goals and ask for anything we might need to move forward. It has become an important ritual for me, and a way to connect with my coworkers as we work remotely all over the state. You educators reading this likely have daily/weekly rituals in your classrooms that make your students feel secure. Would love to have you share some of these in the comments!

rear car window covered in snow with the word
Indiana educators have missed out on a well-loved summer ritual in the past two years as Summer of E Learning events were canceled. For summer 2022 these are being revived as Summer of Learning Conferences. Our PATINS staff will be presenting at many of these events and excited to reconnect with you in person. 

It will probably be a warm day that we’ll gather. Or hot. A storm might blow up unexpectedly. Not ruling out an F5 tornado. I predict 100% we’ll gain some new knowledge or add to our professional network.  But dress in layers.


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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
15

A Good Novel

A long while back, prior to becoming the ICAM Technology Specialist, I dabbled in getting eBooks on the iPad, Android, Nook, Kindle, Palm, Symbian, Nokia, Sony, Ericsson, Blackberry, Franklin, Casio, Psion, Clie, Garmin, etc. I must admit, it was quite a challenge, because most had to be sideloaded. Sideloading is the installation of an application on a mobile device without using the device's official application-distribution method.

The process was trial and error. What worked for one device, wouldn’t work for another in quite the same way if it worked at all. Once they were “loaded,” it would become a game of hide and seek. I knew I had loaded it, but where did it end up? Once found, would it open on the devices app?

I enjoy a good challenge, and at that time, that is exactly what it was. Today, the process is much simpler. The devices and apps are much more forgiving. However, back to the beginning, if there was just an easier way to get content on a device, it would make the process so much easier.

I stumbled on a website that did just that. The website is freekindlebooks.org, but don’t let the URL fool you. The website is straight forward text and hyperlinks to thousands of the classics that are in public domain. The website itself dates back to 2008!

I am sure the question can be raised as to who would want digital content that is that old? Well, considering that the authors are famous for their literature, hence classic, their content is timeless. What Free Kindle Books appealed to me, however, was twofold.

Firstly, these are novels that have tested time. Read and enjoyed by millions. For many a window into our past, and for some a prediction of the future. Secondly, the unbelievable ease of getting the content on devices.

There is not a lot of content at the Free Kindle Books website, but a thing to note is the content are file format conversions of Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg has an enormous amount of content in a wider variety of formats than Free Kindle Books, but the one feature that drew me to Free Kindle Books was the Magic Catalog of Project Gutenberg E-Books. If that is the only thing you take away from this blog, this is it.

Once you have clicked on Magic Catalog of Project Gutenberg E-Books has two links to consider. One link is for MOBI (Kindle) Edition to the catalog and the other is the EPUB Edition. Both are hyperlinks with the MOBI format for Kindle devices and the EPUB format for all other devices.

Clicking on the EPUB Edition will download the catalog file as MagicCatalogE.epub. This file will probably be found in the users Download directory. Import this file into any app that supports EPUBs, and it will create the eBook in the device library.

Upon opening the Magic Catalog of Project Gutenberg E-Books, the user has access to thousands of authors with titled novels which has a direct hyperlink that once selected will automatically download the file and place it in your device library. They can also be opened in a browser once downloaded.

In the screenshot below, this page is one of 629 pages of authors/titles.

Screenshot of page one of the magic catalog of Project Gutenberg with a brief introduction and one and half columns of hyperlinked authors with titles.

The ease of adding classic digital content from the Magic Catalog of Project Gutenberg is simply amazing.

Does it have today’s popular best sellers? No, but it offers access to novels that can fit anyone’s taste that enjoys reading. It is never too late to pick up, I mean download a good novel.


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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
31

Routines and Comfort Zones

I recently attended a Professional Development Webinar from edWeb.net the presenter is a high school biology teacher in Massachusetts named Bonnie Nieves. Check it out,  "Increase Student Engagement: Decrease Your Teacher Workload."

The very beginning of her presentation really got the wheels in my head spinning. Getting kids to have more ownership in their learning is an important first step - it gets students more engaged too. The hook for me was her discussion about routines and how vital routines, plans, and expectations are for students.

Students must feel safe before they can engage and learn. They need to know what content to expect, classroom rules/expectations, daily schedule, quiz/test schedule, modules of learning, and throughout all of these routines - there must be a clear beginning, middle and end. You can start with Visual Schedules - It's good practice. If your student has a visual impairment, review the schedule aloud or offer an accessible format.

Reach out to PATINS staff on our Educator Support page for assistance.

classroom visuals for schedule listed vertically. Each activity includes and image and word.  For example, the topmost item is morning announcement snad has computer winrdo with a magnifying glass.  Further down the list is pack up with a backpack.

We all have routines (e.g., wake up, (some exercise early), let the dogs out, start coffee, feed the dogs, get dressed, eat, brush teeth, go to work/school, etc.). Each of us has a morning routine and it's hopefully something that sets a good mood for the day. It's comfortable and known.

Alarm Clock

Routines can be stressful if they don't occur as planned. Morning routines can vary depending on planning from the night before, work schedule, and more. Stress can factor in when the routine is disrupted…overslept, allergies kicked in full force, spilled coffee, out of coffee filters (solution = use a paper towel), no clean socks, or forgot lunch at home. What if your students don't have exposure to positive routines at home (e.g., inconsistent food, disrupted sleep, minimal/no homework support, etc.)?

You can't control your students' routines outside of school but you can at school!

Discovering Your Inner Peace - rock cairn on water

It's a beautiful, sunny and warm day. You arrive at work early, find a close parking spot, all is well. Upon arrival to your classroom, it's clean and organized, you prepare for your students with the lesson you created last night. You feel good. You used the PATINS Project UDL (Universal Design for Learning) Lesson Plan Creator

Using the Lesson Planner can help with your teaching routine to ensure that you consistently consider the needs of all students in the areas of EngagementRepresentation and Action & Expression. Your students will feel safe because they know you have optimized your teaching and their opportunities for learning for every lesson you create. It's part of your routine and thus you have increased their independence and success.

Be clear in your routines (e.g., time, expectations, lesson format, options for response formats, access to Accessibility Tools, organization, etc.), use the resources that are available to you and you will also decrease your workload.

postcript: I did not initially follow the PATINS guidelines/routine for posting this blog as shown below:

Proofread, proofread, proofread

  1. Have your screen reader read it back to you
  2. Have at least 1 other staffer proofread your blog 
  3. Grammarly extension helps to identify mistakes
  4. Hemingway helps clarify wording
  5. Print it out and read it on paper

I had a fellow staff member proofread and was ready to publish...I thought I should review the guidelines!  Practice what I'm preaching here. Original word count in MS Word was 450...good. [updated word count is 595]. Below is a screenshot of me using Read&Wrtie to read aloud the content I was preparing to release. Yikes! Numerous errors, mostly you/your substituions. What an eye opener!

portion of text highlighted with Read&Write from Chrome. Sentence is highlighted in yellow and current word is blue.

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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
17

How to Incorporate MTSS into What You're Already Doing

Welcome Cassie Weaver of Cowan Community Schools, as our guest blogger today!
We are fortunate to have Cassie share her experiences with us. Cassie is a military wife and mother of two children, which she adores. They lived in North Dakota for three years and Alaska for four years before moving back to Indiana. She currently works as a special education teacher at Cowan Community Schools and in the past she has worked at the K-12 level for about three years. Prior to that she ran a daycare for four years. She has a contagious passion for working with kids and teaching them through STEAM activities, allowing to spark their creative and involvement in their own learning. Cassie is an advocate for Universal Design for Learning, students in Special Education, and students who are English Language Learners. She shares that she decided to write about MTSS because she found lots of resources that tell what MTSS is but not as many resources that say how to use MTSS in the classroom. When looking at the big picture of MTSS it can be overwhelming and Cassie felt like many educators might not know where to start. So she wanted to try to put a resource out there that shows how to build off of what the educator might already be doing. She also wanted to talk about how to make material more accessible for all learners, since that aligns with her educational philosophy. We hope that our readers find this information helpful.  

How to incorporate MTSS into what you're already doing. 

Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) is a framework for making data driven decisions. When developing a corporation's MTSS framework, it’s important to take into account universal screeners that are already being used and utilize those as the first step in the process. 

Teachers are currently overwhelmed with making up for the learning loss due to COVID-19 and students being quarantined. This is why it is crucial to use the tools already in place to make MTSS effective. If your corporation gives NWEA in the fall that should be step 1 of MTSS. Use that data to identify the students who may be falling behind more than others and have not already been identified under IDEA. Additional assessments for the MTSS students need to be conducted to determine skill deficits. 

EasyCBM lite, is a free resource that allows you to assign benchmark assessments for K-8th grade students. When deciding what interventions or accommodations the MTSS teams would like to put in place it is important to make sure you are using evidence-based practice. 

Let’s talk about how to simplify MTSS. 

Adding in academic support to your daily routine doesn’t mean completely throwing away your current lesson plan. When examining your lesson plan, look for areas that you can add to it. For example, if you are preparing a lecture, you can add closed captions using Google Classroom, or add pictures to help illustrate a concept. Another option would be when teaching using multiple steps or directions, have each step listed out in order for students to refer back to. You could also add an extension for creating audio recordings, such as Mote, so the directions or content can be read aloud as needed. 

Use independent work time as intentional re-teaching instruction for students identified as needing MTSS. Rather than counting on the students to come to you for assistance, go to them. Engage with them 1 on 1 and have them explain what they heard from the lesson. This gives you the opportunity to correct any misconceptions or reinforce any positive behaviors or processes.  

Goal and progress monitoring

Create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound) goals for your MTSS students. Don’t expect a student to produce a year's worth of academic growth in 6-8 weeks. Set a skill specific goal that can be met in the 6-8 week timeframe. For example student A will create a checklist of assignments and meet 8 out of 10 assignment deadlines per subject.  

Conclusion

Incorporating MTSS doesn't need to be time consuming, nor should it require you to rework your lesson plan. Use the resources you already have available. Make your material more accessible to students, by incorporating visuals, hands on materials, or written text paired with oral support. Use guided practice as a time to focus on breaking down objectives into smaller steps to help build students skills. I hope that this helps you in your journey with MTSS in the general education classroom.

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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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Mar
03

You Have The Superpower!

Turtle Drawing of a turtle

Guest Blogger! I cannot thank Mark Pruett enough for sharing his personal experiences on the power of what educators can bring to the classroom that can change the trajectory of students’ lives. The recording of him reading his blog definitely makes this blog an experience through storytelling. 😁

Mark resides in Nashville, TN and is a successful editor for television for over 36 years. Along the way he bought a farm in Tennessee and has fallen in love with working outdoors. These days he splits his time between the computer and the table saw…continuing to be creative.

 Mark Pruett sitting on rock with a dogMark Pruett sitting on rock with a dog             QR code to audio versionsQR code to audio versions

Artist Name - Turtles.mp3

It’s been almost fifty years, but I’ve never forgotten what it was I wanted to paint. The why of it is lost to time and the odd fixations of an eight year old, but I definitely remember wanting, more than anything, to use that particular art class to paint a turtle in the rain. To this day, I can still recall my childhood vision, a heroic turtle on a rock in the pouring rain. Why a turtle, why heroic, why for heaven’s sake in the rain? Go figure. For some kids, it’s their dog or a firetruck or a lego set. Let’s just say that at eight, my thing was turtles. It’s at this point my mother, if she were listening to me tell the story, would chime in to tell you about the time I lost a turtle on an airplane. “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, please do us a favor and check under your seats. It seems a young man has lost his turtle.” Some things you never live down. 

Of course, at eight years old I knew very little about art and what it might take to make my vision of a heroic rainy day reptile a reality. Some of my friends constantly filled margins of notebooks with doodles, but that wasn’t my thing. I’m not even sure I was what you might have described as an “artistic” child. So, I wasn’t terribly aware that the log of a paint brush, larger around than my childhood thumb, wasn’t a good instrument for fine art. Not that a better brush would have made a big difference, but equipping a kid with what was essentially a house painter’s tool certainly didn’t help. And we didn’t have a huge variety of paint colors to choose from, jars of mostly primary hues along with some eye searing tones like Pepto-Bismol pink. There were plastic jugs with blue and black on my table, other jars scattered around the classroom to experiment with, and I remember going at the project with gusto. 

I hate to say it, but childhood gusto and a paint brush better suited to whitewashing fence posts didn’t get me where I wanted to go. I ended up with a dark un-turtle like mess in the middle of the page and big blue “dots” of color blobbed all over for rain, but that’s not why I really remember that day. My teacher, Ms. Allen, asked me what I was trying to do and then she took my work and held it up for all the class to see, as a failed assignment. It seems that I was supposed to fill the page with color and not leave any white, so she showed my painting to the class and told them I couldn’t follow direction. Oh, and she said that I might not have much skill as a painter either.

It took another fifteen years and a close friend forcing me to go through “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” for me to realize that I actually could learn to draw or paint. That one experience in grade school made me believe I had no talent.

Everyday, when you walk into the classroom, you have more influence than you realize. You might call it your superpower. The things you say and the care you invest can have an impact that lasts years, perhaps a lifetime. At eight, I was a painfully shy child. My parents had split a few years earlier and I didn’t have the best sense of self esteem. Like the young person I was fifty years ago, there are children in your classrooms, at this very moment, going through life events they aren’t equipped to handle. You really can make a difference and every class is another opportunity. Your presence can be the difference that helps a young person feel better about themselves, and maybe helps a child discover something in the learning process that sparks a new sense of enthusiasm. 

Be that spark, as a teacher embrace your superpower. It doesn’t always take a lot, a supportive word at the right moment or taking some extra time for one-on-one interaction. Think back for a moment to the adults who were kind influences on you as a young person. Be that person and pay it forward, one day a young adult may look back and realize that you changed their life. You can make that memory one to treasure.

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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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Feb
19

Music is Good for the Soul!

Music heals the soul graphic

You might have heard the saying “Music heals the soul.” I have always believed this, now according to the evidence, it’s good for your health as well. Psychology Today states on their website: 

“Study after study has found that music therapy has a positive effect on a broad range of physical and psychological conditions including dementia, anxiety, depression, and cancer."

Music therapy is a service that can be delivered by psychologists, therapists, or caregivers in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and even outpatient clinics. The goal is to improve people’s health through music experiences such as free improvisation, singing, and listening to, discussing, and moving to music.”

This comes as no surprise to me that music had and continues to be a big part of my life. I have always loved a variety of music, but the musical genre of Rock has always been my favorite.

My pre-teen and teen days were spent at the roller skating rink when Disco and the beginnings of Rap kept me bouncing and dancing as I went round and round. When the skates came off, we would head to the floor and dance the night away doing the Bus Stop and other popular dances at the time. 

For Christmas one year, my parents purchased a stack music system from Sears for me as a present. I was so excited. It had a record player, an 8-track tape player, and dual cassette players. My first 8-track player title purchase was The Eagles and one of my first records was Meat Loaf, Bat out of Hell. In prior years for Christmas, I was always so excited to receive my K-Tel records which were a compilation record of the various hits at the time.

Sears Stereo   K-Tel Record


In high school I discovered Rock music and I continue to enjoy it even as I grow older. I have attended countless concerts with my best friend, my cousin and my daughter. Many of these concerts are out of town and we always have so much fun being together, listening to great music, and making great memories.

Sandy and her music friends


Music is also a mood changer for me. If I am feeling down, I can listen to a good dance tune and the next thing I know I am dancing around and feeling better. On the other hand, when certain songs come on they can instantly remind me of a sad time in my life. It always surprises me how hearing a song can take you back to a moment in time.

The next time you need a boost, put on your favorite song and dance around the room, trust me you won’t be sorry!

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Feb
09

The ramp AND stairs

The ramp AND stairs The ramp AND stairs

Next time it snows, I invite you to take a look at your ramps outside of your school buildings. Are the ramps AND the stairs shoveled and salted or just the steps? One sign that your school or district is fully inclusive is that the ramp is included in the clearing of snow. Every staff member needs the mindset that ALL of our students are included in ALL of the classrooms and buildings. This means the ramp is included. After all, who can use the ramp versus the stairs? EVERYONE. 

I am calling on each one of you to have this very important discussion with your staff on behalf of each one of our unique, bright students. As we are charged with educating ALL of our students as they come to our buildings, let’s not make accessing the building their first barrier to their education. 

The photo below was captured at an Indiana school the week of February 7th, 2022. ramp with snow and stairs shoveled and salted entrance into a school building with text ramp and stairs

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