Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's Bake Some Holiday Treats!

One of the best things about the month of December is all of the holiday treats!! I did cooking every Friday when I was a deafblind teacher. I loved when we made holiday treats! Next week I am doing my annual Holiday Skills Day with my students. Each year we make a craft and a treat (don't worry, I will post ideas and tips in a few days...).

Cooking is a great activity to do with practically any child (or teenager) with a vision impairment. It teaches so many things and it is usually quite motivating. So here's what I am going to do: I am going to share my favorite top 10 recipes all December long! Yay!
A few things to think about before you head into the kitchen:

1. Remember that the point of this activity is to provide experience for your child. If you are not having fun and getting into hands-on style, you are doing it wrong!

2. The cooking exercise needs to be a connected activity: equipment shouldn't magically appear and then you bake. Part of the lesson needs to be going to the fridge, getting the ingredients, checking the oven, getting the bowls and spoons, etc. Also, the clean up is part of the lesson. Where do dirty bowls go? Clean the counter tops, put food back, etc.

3. Process vs. Product--so what if it burns? You've heard the expression "not about the destination, it's about the journey"? Same concept here. Let your child be involved with everything! Use hand under hand, modeling, let them smell (teach them to taste appropriately, you don't want to start a bad pattern..., get their hands in it. Go slow--have fun & take pictures!

4. Set it up for success--think about your child's visual needs. Background clutter because of a table cloth? Should we use red bowls for CVI? Large print or Braille recipes? Do you need to put some slip grip under the bowls? Lighting or glare issues? It may seem like a lot of questions, but the more you get to know about your child's visual needs, the easier this gets. I write as many possibilities as I can to include my whole spectrum of students. The one thing that I can say that every student needs is a defined work space! You can use a tray, cookie sheet, plain colored placemat, etc. but a defined work space keeps all of our students organized. I even use them with my kids when we cook!!

5. Work at your child's work level. I have done cooking with typically developing children, deafblind children, preschool age children and even children who are on the autism spectrum. Know what the realistic work potential is. If it's hard to work at the table, don't! Keep it as close to the kitchen as possible to keep it all connected. I actually put a big tray on the floor at cook with my preschool kids there because they can access it easier.

Do it at home: here's another favorite article of mine. It's from TSBVI. Here's the link: https://www.tsbvi.edu/component/content/article/104-archives/2146-get-out-in-the-kitchen-and-rattle-them-pots-and-pans
And the recipe....
Toffee Crisp
12 whole graham crackers
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup semi sweet chocolate
1/2 cup chopped almonds (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Put crackers on cookie sheet. In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter and vanilla. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until full boil. Continue to boil for 4 minutes. Pour over crackers. Bake 10-12 minutes until bubbly and lightly browned. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, allow to soften, spread and sprinkle chopped almonds. Refrigerate until firm.
Good luck!!

New Exciting Sports Program

Are you ready to kick of the month of December? I am!! I am so excited because this weekend is my first Sports Adventure Weekend for students 8th-12th grade. Justin, my APE partner, and I will have almost 20 students playing track and field events, beepball baseball, Goalball and low ropes activities. And if that isn't enough, we will be ending our Saturday night game play with yoga around the fire!

Stay tuned because Savannah and others will be blogging about their experiences at Sports Adventure Weekend!

The December Sports Adventure Weekend is the first of my sports/physical education clinics for students who are blind or visually impaired (in Connecticut). I will be running at least one more for middle school grades in the spring with Justin.

**Justin and I have worked out a pretty sweet program for students in Connecticut. If you are interested in starting your own Sports Adventure Weekend or Sports Activity Days, contact us. We would love to help develop a program for your area today!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Inspiration

My mom came to visit a few weeks ago and we had a great visit. It provided so much insight and reflection for me. If you didn't read my side bar, let me get you up to speed. I was raised by a single mom who has total vision loss. She was born with toxoplasmosis. She had low vision as a child and then lost the rest of her remaining vision in her teenage years. She was totally blind by the time she had me. She is, of course, the reason why I'm in this field and why I have great passion for it.

I learned a lot from my mom but not because of what she taught me directly. It's what I learned from being part of her world. As I have said in other posts, it never occured to me that it was hard because my mom was blind when I was growing up. It was just a way of life for me. I learned early on what I needed to do in order for her to understand what I was talking about.

As a professional, I sit back and observe my mom with my teacher eye. She put her cane on our dinner table and I told her to put it on the floor because I don't like "cane bogies" on my table (it's the exact same thing I tell my students!) It's not that I treat her like my students. It's just now as I have had time to learn, I realize what a hero my mom truly is.

My mom had limited skills and even more limited resources when I was a child and a teenager. We relied on good friends to help. We had limited financial resources. We didn't have a phone or nice furniture. And despite a long list of negatives, my mom was a mom first and a blind person second.

I always knew that even though she physically couldn't see my JROTC uniform or watch me at my softball games, she thought I was the best. Again, I am humbled, proud and amazed to see what she continually accomplished with such limited resources. I thought about this constantly as she was with me this last visit. I was proud that my sweet daughter chose to stay at home with her and play with her. I laughed with love when my mom reported that it was my daughter who got the step stool and helped cook lunch, washed the dishes and took care of things. I looked at my daughter and saw myself as a child standing next to my mom doing the exact same things.

I learned a lot that week. I learned about how visual memories fade. I was reminded again how different the world is for my students with total vision loss. But how brilliant my mom and my students are to have figured out how a visual world works. I am reminded to look at each step of a sequence in order to understand the whole concept when teaching. Sometimes I don't think I can articulate it for my education teams how to look at each and every tiny step in a concept. It just makes sense to me. My mom taught me.

My other favorite moment of my mom's visit was watching my almost-5 year old guide grandma and her little brother across the street. I told my girl to hold on to both of them as tight as she could! It has always been my hope to share with my children the love I have for my students. They come to several of my student events and play with my students. But I think this visit and this moment I'm writing about built a new bridge.

They played in the big yard at our apartment complex after they crossed the street. I have to admit, I was reluctant at first to let my mom take care of the kids alone. I feel ashamed but I couldn't help but wonder, what if something happens? But then I stood up, reviewed everything with my kids and mom and let them go. I watched them play from my apartment. My mom held her cane up and let them run under it. I remember this game with such tenderness. I played this very game with my mom, too. Then I watched her play freeze tag and my kids circled around her with excitement; just like I had when I was a kid. And to make me proud again, they didn't run away or take advantage of her blindness. They played with her as if she could see them. But then again, she can.

I know that it is hard for my parents at times as they learn to navigate the unique needs of their children who are blind or visually impaired. Blindness is a unique disability. It cannot be compared to Autism or cognitive impairments or deafness or anything. I'm in this field to make a difference because blindness is not about what you cannot see, it's about what you can do. There are wonderful, brilliant strategies for teaching all children with a visual impairment. It doesn't matter if it is a child that is a Braille or large print reader, deafblind , CVI or has autism spectrum disorder/visual impairment. As professionals, we are constantly learning from our students (and our families).

I hope as you follow my blog you will feel empowered. I hope we learn together. I am thankful for my students, my colleagues and most importantly, my mom. I'm proud to be her daughter.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cool Facebook group

My students created their own group called "Who Says Blind Kids Don't Kick Butt at Sports?!". I L-O-V-E it! I am so proud of them for helping everyone change the way kids who are legally blind and visually impaired are viewed by the community.

Check out the group on Facebook. Many of the students will be participating in the Sports Adventure Weekend for 8th-12th graders on December 4-5, 2010. Justin, our APE guru, and I are leading a great team of PE instructors and students for a sports-packed weekend.

You can also check out several of the Camp Abilities websites for more information about how to incorporate physical fitness and rec & leisure for children with vision impairments.
www.campabilities.org or my fave, www.campabilitiesct.org.

I will also be running a Sports Adventure Weekend for primary grades in the spring. We need to get all of our kids active! If you need help with ideas, post your questions so I can help!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Free Descriptive Movie Feature on Toy Story 3!

I am sooo excited to share this! I was having a Toy Story 3 date with my kiddies (we had Toy Story mac & cheese, dino Rex nuggets and the movie, yay!). I started the movie and right away it had a prompt to select if I wanted English descriptive titles. I got excited, descriptive movie for free? I selected it to check it out and yes! There it was! I heard that sweet narrator's voice describing the fireworks going over Cinderella's castle!

Just in case you are not tech savvy, there are two ways of selecting this feature:
1. It automatically prompts you to select what language you want the movie to play in. It says 'English Descriptive Language' (that's it!!)
2. Go to the menu feature and select the languages. You can also select it there, too.
I am so excited that Disney included this feature! It has been difficult to find descriptive movies for kids. Have fun listening to Toy Story 3 this holiday!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Books I love...

I am so excited to share this idea with everyone! I'm gonna show you how you can make super cute storybooks for your family. Check this out...

I have been using this company to help me launch my Family Literacy Project. The focus of the Family Literacy Project is to use personal family stories to empower family activities and family time. I have been doing it with preschoolers and thought about how I could use this for my students and their families.

Have you ever noticed that the things they make for children with visual impairments are usually pretty bulky and not cute? I have. In fact, whenever I make things for my students I make sure that they are stylish (without being visually overwhelming, of course). I like to put flowers or baseballs to decorate the labels and items I make.

Here are some fun ideas from my Family Literacy Project:
Swatch books-
-Use a swatch book to make sequence books. For example, a “how to” book on following directions. Each page uses a picture with written directions of each step.
-Make a book for a specific topic: Nature book that can go out onto the field during a science lesson.
-A portable dictionary of pictures, themes or words.
-My fave idea with swatch books are to use them as pre-teaching tools for my low vision students. I show pictures of each step or of each place that we are going to visit.

Playing cards (Not just for playing anymore!)-
-Make a custom made memory game
-Each card can be customized to have a family or school fact printed on it!
-Make your own sight words
-Hole punch them and use them as sequence cards. You can add Braille labels and make them accessible, too!

Storybook ideas:
· Teachers can make a community books specific to the school community. Use pictures of the town police and library buildings to teach about the community.
· School rules/policy books. Make a book about what it’s like to be part of your school using pictures of your centers, teachers and school yard.
· Teach language by taking pictures and putting the words in different languages (you can highlight the different languages using different fonts, sizes & colors).
· Communication dictionaries: feelings & emotions, manners, basic requests, etc.
· Concept books: weather topics, science, community, yearbooks & art books—plus much more!

I have found that I can add Braille labels to almost any of these projects. Plus I can make them in large print. The one thing I really like about making things with this company is that I can save and share the templates that I make! All my projects are archived and are professionally produced. I got hooked and now this is my fave new hobby :)

The best part of this being my hobby is that I can sell it at a discount price! FYI, I do this on my own time and not part of my professional job. If you would like to order anything, email me and I will help you get the workshop pricing. The website only shows the retail price.

Not only are these great little finds for making customized books for my students, I have also scrapbooked all my years as a deafblind teacher and made a scrapbook with no mess or trips to the scrapbook store!

These projects look like they are time consuming but they aren't! You simply upload pics, drag and drop them into your templates (or you can start from scratch)

Some pics of demo products:
(I didn't include student projects because I don't like to publish
student projects without consent from families)
Playing cards that be customized by the card

Wire bound books

Scrapbook pages, 5x7 book & calendar

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Communication Boards

I came up with the idea of Communication Boards because I have a student who is on the Autism spectrum and is visually impaired (ASDVI). She is actually blind from birth. I have had a wonderful time working with her and her beautiful family. It is amazing to watch her learn. I use a lot of strategies for working with children who are deafblind with her. It has been interesting to learn about Autism and how cogenitally blind children with it learn.

My student uses Now, Next & Finished boards (see pictures from another post) with great success. I wanted to keep her communication going forward. In addition, I am working with her speech & language pathologist (SLP) for her communication needs. I wanted to help with her turn-taking skills in a conversation.

I decided to suggest to her classroom teacher that we use scripted language so that my student can anticipate the conversation needs. Sorry if I am not explaining this well. I am not a SLP :). For example, her teacher, therapist or paraprofessional always begins the conversation with the same language. Next we teach my student what to say. Then the teacher takes a turn and says something. My student completes her part of the conversation.
There are also symbols for each therapist or teacher. The symbol is the same one/very similar that is used in her schedule boxes. The student takes the symbol at the beginning of the conversation/activity. At the end of the activity/work time, my student takes her symbol and puts it on a designated "finished space" and uses a structured conversation to help with communication needs.
I had the classroom teacher print out the structured conversation on the card and laminate it. The reason the structured conversation is printed on the card is to make it easy for therapists to know exactly what to say in the conversation. Laminating it helps with the durability of the Board.
My student uses an assistive tech (AT) device to help verbalize her part of the conversation.
Check out the examples:
This is the finished side of the Communication Board. The structured conversation is printed for the therapist to read. The green paper is textured carboard paper. It designates where the finished location is. At the conclusion of the activity, she places it on the paper.
Bottom picture:
This is the Now side of the Communication Board. The structured conversation is printed on the card. It also includes what my student is supposed to do and what her response is.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Savannah Says...

Here is another post from one of my students & her perspectives on life with a vision impairment

The topic is on dating and social life-How easy or hard is it to make new friends? How does your vision impact you making new friends? What kinds of things have you done to help get passed your visual limits when in a social situation? (like going to a party that has dim lighting or being outside late when there isn't a lot of light)
What's your thoughts on dating? Do you feel like your vision holds you back? How do you get around it (the vision issue)?Does your syndrome ever get in the way?

Honestly I have not been interested in dating or boys, I have yet to go on a date. I am aware that it may be tricky... doesnt bother me though! Making friends is also tricky... I find myself making friends with adults or teachers, easier then making friends with my classmates.

Frankly I think it is TCS [Treacher Collins Syndrome] that makes it harder, not my vision imparment. But when I do go out with friends like to basketball games, I dont catch much, half the time I dont relize that our team scored until the buzzer goes off. When we goto the movies I cant see nearly as much in the dark as I can in day light, so menuvering is harder. Other instances are when my friends and I are meeting at the mall and I cant see them across the food court! Thats when a cell phone comes in handy. When I goto a friends house at night and we play outside or whatever, luckily all of my friends are aware of my limits and are always there supporting me and helping me out where ever they can or when ever i let them help me. I dont generally ask for help from my mom or grandma, I actually get alot of support from my sister and girl friends. There are ALOT of obsitcals in the way... but there is always a way around them... wether you just jump or destroy the obsitcle. If theres a will, theres a way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Adaptive Tech Tips, Part Two

What Happens When Your Adaptive Equipment Fails in College?
by Dennis Gallant, Rehab Technologist

Think about your FRIEND!

F. Make Friends;
when you're high-tech devices fail, and it will be when, not if, and probably at the worst possible time, it is important to have friends in the right places. In this case, the right place means the same class as you are in, since they will be able to take notes if necessary, read homework assignments to you, as they will be reading the same material for their work as well, and generally offer assistance to you in your time of crisis. Of course, it is important to have made these connections well before the crisis hits; so good planning is essential.

R. Keep a Recorder Handy; is always useful to have a backup option such as a tape recorder handy to take notes and take down your thoughts for assignments when other methods such as using an electronic notetaker fail. A recorder can capture lecture material and can help you take notes back in your dorm room on either a braille writer, yes they are a great backup option, or large print paper. Recorders can also come in handy during study sessions and for taking down assignments when other high-tech devices fail.

I. Introduce Yourself to Your Professors; it is important that your professors know who you are before you need to call them up in a panic to ask for an extension for some important homework assignment. If you have developed a working relationship with your professors before a crisis occurs they will be more open to working with you to accommodate their assignments in order for you to work around your technology failure situation. If you wait until the assignment is due and you need to ask for an extension before contacting your professor the odds are far less likely that he or she will be as receptive to your situation. It always helps to make a connection with someone before you ask them for a favor.

E. Start Your Assignments Early; for one thing it takes you longer to complete an assignment when compared to your cited classmates and if there is a problem with your adaptive equipment by starting the assignment early you will have more time to figure out a solution before the important term paper is due. Starting assignments early is also great to do because when others are scrambling at the last minute you will have a much less stressful time knowing that the assignment is done and if something were to go wrong you have time to figure out a solution. N. Not All Your Eggs in One Basket; as you plan your schedule of work for each class, remember to back up information so that it will be accessible to you if you're high-tech equipment fails when you most need it. This may mean you need to plan ahead so that additional copies of important material are available to you and not stored on one notetaker. It also may mean that you have a braille writer handy for emergencies and if you are a print reader have an extra magnifying glass available for those times when you're electronic magnifier goes down. However you work out the details, it is important to have thought about backup plans before the crisis hits and not to keep all your hopes for success on one piece of equipment.

D. Don't Forget the Disability Resource Office; in many cases the personnel at the disability resource office can be of great assistance when you're high-tech equipment fails. They often can provide you with backup equipment in their adaptive Tec labs or can help you to complete assignments by assisting you directly or connecting you with others who can help you to get the work done. They are familiar with the special needs and requirements of persons with various disabilities and are used to working with students in times where there usual study methods have failed either because of a high-tech failure or a last-minute assignment that is a challenge for one who is visually impaired.

Adaptive Tech Tips

How to Choose and Get the Most Benefit
From Your Adaptive Technology
By Dennis Gallant, Rehab Technologist


B. Be Informed; learn about what is out there in the world of adaptive technology keep current by sharing information with your friends and by using such resources as podcasts that are created by and for blind technology users to keep the blind community up to date about current and future adaptive Tech products.

E. Start Early; the earlier you can start to use and become comfortable with different types of adaptive technology the more comfortable you will be with using it as part of your school experience. It is best to become familiar with what adaptive technology works for you, in which situation, before entering high school so that once in high school, you can focus your attention on studying the material rather than trying to study and become familiar with new technology at the same time.

S. Say What Works; don't be afraid to say what works and what doesn't work when asked to evaluate different types of adaptive technology. You are the only one who knows what will work for you, and what you will really use, so don't be afraid to give your feedback to teachers and others who can use your recommendation to provide you with the best equipment.

M. Make Time; take time to become familiar with and comfortable with the adaptive technology you have been given. Many times it takes a while to become comfortable with certain types of equipment, including electronic notetakers that can take months to fully explore. It is only when you become comfortable with the adaptive technology that you have that you can use it in a natural and relaxed manner as it was intended.

A. Make Teachers Aware; tell teachers about the strengths and limitations your adaptive technology provides for you in the classroom. Let them know how your equipment helps you with some tasks and how it may have limitations on what it can do for other activities. It is likely that many teachers have not seen the specific type of adaptive equipment you have and do not really understand how much it helps you, or does not, and they may think that you are now capable of doing more than the equipment is designed to do.

R. Be Realistic; have reasonable expectations of what adaptive equipment can and cannot do, recognizing that no one piece of equipment is designed to do all things and that, at best, adaptive equipment can help make some tasks easier but it is not the perfect solution and it will still mean that you may have difficulty in some areas in the classroom.

T. Take Care of the Equipment; treat all your equipment carefully as it is often very expensive and if it breaks or becomes damaged you will be without the benefit of the equipment for a period of time.