Saturday, September 14, 2013

Club 21's Technology for the Journey Conference

Wow!  I have to start with just, Wow!  I attended the Technology for the Journey Conference that Club 21 put on and I am blown away.  I've written before about their Tools for the Journey Conference that they have historically hosted around February, but this year they listed to their members and created a conference that focused on using assistive technology.  The Friday session was geared towards parents, educators, therapists, etc who have/work with children who are non-verbal.  Sweet Pea doesn't fall into that category even though her intelligibility is a challenge.  Today's session focused on using assistive technology to allow our kids to have the same level of independence as others in their environment.

To start with, I think that is a pretty amazing way of looking at success and assistive technology.  We have always used "independence" as a goal, but I have never really equated her/our success with that when really I think we should.  If we can use technology to bridge the gap that separates her from what her peers are doing, I want to do it! 

Before I get into what the presentation, let me share the bios of the three amazing speakers as shared in the brochure for the conference:

Gayl Bowser is an independent consultant whose work that focuses on the integration of technology into the educational programs of students with disabilities. She is the former Coordinator of the oregon Technology Access Program (oTAP). Ms. Bowser provides assistive technology consultation, training and technical assistance throughout the United States and internationally. Gayl has authored numerous publications. The most recent is the 2012 edition of Education Tech Points: A Framework for Assistive Technology. In 2013, she is co-author of the 2013 edition of Assistive Technology Pointers for Parents, which will be released in November. Ms. Bowser’s passion is for collaborating with families and educators to discover all the exciting ways that technology can help kids with disabilities to be more independent and self-determined.

Dr. Caroline Musselwhite is an assistive technology specialist with more than 30 years of experience working with children and adolescents with severe disabilities, in a variety of settings. She is known for her expertise internationally. She has authored a number of textbooks and software on a range of topics from Literacy to Communication Programing for Individuals with Severe Disabilities. She is a founding member of the Board of Directors for the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ISAAC). Dr. Musselwhite’s passion is seeing students achieve literacy skills well beyond all expectations!

Erin Sheldon is a parent, advocate and educator. Her journey began when her daughter, Maggie, was diagnosed with Angelman syndome, low vision and a dual diagnosis of autism. Erin focuses on the use of assistive technology to support literacy development for students with significant disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Maggie was the first student in her school board to use an iPad as assistive technology. Maggie's success with the iPad led to her school becoming a demonstration site for using iPads to support access to the general education curriculum. Erin has a Masters in Education from Queen's University in Canada. Erin’s passion is problem-solving to support students with significant disabilities to participate and contribute in friendships, recreation, and in the classroom.

Below are some bullets on highlights from what I learned today.  I hope I walk the delicate line of sharing some important topics for so many parents, and not sharing too much as these wonderful women have to make a living!

Gayl Bowser -  SETTing up Cognitive Supports
  • Once assistive technology services are in place, school district has to make it work
  • Reasons to use AT
    • increase levels of independence
    • improve quality of life
    • increase productivity
    • enhance performance
    • expand educational/vocational options
    • increase success in regular education settings
    • reduce support services needed
  • Assistive Technology Assessment is:
    • a process
    • a group process
    • an on-going IEP Team process
  • AT Assessment Process:
    • Frame the question!
      • Define the task which causes the child difficulty, the child's present levels of performance and why you think child isn't making enough progress
    • Clarify the problem
    • Try tools and strategies
    • consider the need

Dr. Caroline Musselwhite - Write On! Supporting Emergent Writing Through Technology - Linking Reading & Writing!!
Graphic from
  • Research shows students who write become better readers.  Students learn to write when given daily opps to see others write.  Students need frequent opps to write without standards.
  •  3 main supports for writing for students with significant disabilities
    • Closed, Activity Specific Vocabulary - Word banks, symbol banks - Allows early success, modeling great vocabulary, however it's temporary and not self generated
    • Core & Content Vocabulary - lots of words to pick from and consistent, but finite vocab
    • The Alphabet -
  • WRITE from the start - Use some type of alternative pencil
  • Form follows function - Kids will learn how to write AFTER they learn purpose of writing.  A primary focus on form may interfere with the development of understanding of function.
  • Focus on form in stand alone tasks, but for most activities make it easy for the child to learn function without difficult task of form
  • Encourage scribbling!!!!  Set a purpose for scribbling (gives us context to make guesses about possible meanings) and model scribbling for the student but choose a slightly different topic (so student can't copy your ideas), read what you wrote, then turn over.  Give reinforcement feedback (Good writing, awesome work, you really paid attention, etc) during and informative feedback (I see some letters from your name - let's find them, you have a lot of "C"s in your writing - let's find all of them, etc) after. 
  • Assessing Progress: Typical order of progress
    • repeats letters in order - student repeats the letters in order they are presented.  Doesn't include all letters, but most.
    • repeats letters out of order - continues to repeat letters, but not always in the order they are presented.  May include single letters.  jjjjjiorttghhhhhhemae
    • letter patterns - selectively experiments with a pair or small group of letters to make repeated patterns - hrhrhrhrwwwlwlwlwlllqwllrttytytyty
    • random spaces - experiments with using spaces - rr l l   l  w www qw eeeeeee   fhfhfhfhfhfh    w  w 
    • word like groupings - contains word like groupings - kjl  ryry  ruaiu jdjdjdjdj ajlkj ffff
  • Beyond Scribbling = Developmental Spelling (vote by letters)
    • Use first letter of word
      • For a break do you want to go for a walk or play on the computer (w or c)
      • Read a book about hurricanes or tornadoes (h or t)
    • Do this at least 10 times per day to see real improvement!
  • Publishing is powerful!  frame it, read it, put it on the wall, occasionally publish it more formally.
  •  Apps Recommended: Sticky Notes, Magnetic Letters (lite might work enough)

Erin Sheldon - Parent advocacy and assistive technology
  • When children as old enough, use person centered planning.  You bring the focus onto what is important to the child (now and future) and bring their peers in to help identify the issues and solutions.
  • The purpose of assistive technology is to create a match between our biology, environment and the contexts which we need to function.
  • Paras, generic support and hand over hand are just bandaids in achieving all the things the other kids are doing.  Once the child ages out of school, those supports aren't there.  Finding a way to create independence is key.
  • I love her 3rd rule of assistive technology - Our kids time is valuable.  Lets not waste it.  Yes!!!!!
  • The access barriers that are a nature of the disability are intrinsic and can be solved with a mix of human resources (teacher, therapist, peers, older/younger students, etc) and technology (high and light tech).
  • Opportunity barriers cannot be removed by assistive technology and need to be problem solved by the IEP team.
  • "How can we do this?" and "What would it take to..." are great phrases to use!
  • Separate the cognitive task from the sensory-motor act.
  • Need an IEP goal for the task and then you match the tool to the task
  • Assess each of the following areas to identify strengths and weaknesses: communication, cognition, physical abilities, sensory, attention, affect and medical needs.  These can give you very valuable insight as to what types of supports will be most useful.  It's essential to have clarity about the nature of the barriers and that is what this can help do.
  • Most important take away for me: There are red tasks (requires high cognitive engagement) and green tasks (require low cognitive engagement).  With red tasks you MUST pair a green tool so that cognitive engagement is reserved and available for the task not the tool.  With green tasks you can use a red tool.  Don't mix hard with hard!  Example: Spelling test, don't have child who has a hard time writing use a pencil to write when spelling the words alone is complex for the child.
  • Recommended a few apps, not all of which are applicable to Sweet Pea: Pictello, AbilipadExplain Everything, WordToob, Animoto. Not an app we will be buying anytime soon, but she couldn't stop raving about it: Go Talk NOW.
  • Summary: "Effective advocacy leads to effective problem-solving.  The tool, the technology, should be the result of individualized problem-solving of specific barriers.  Tools require instruction until they become automatic.  Prioritize the tool that provides many supports over many tools that each provide one support."

There was so much more but hopefully that gives you a place to start!

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