Reflections on a Week of AT in Costa Rica

by Sandy Masayko

Almost a year ago, Susan Tachau and I were contacted by Connie Del Rosario Zúñiga, a teacher we know in Ciudad Quesada, Costa Rica to see if we would come to Costa Rica to share information about Assistive Technology, Communication and adaptations with the teachers and parents at Centro de Educación Especial de San Carlos Amanda Álvarez de Ugalde. The school serves children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities and more, in an agricultural region north of San Jose. After many email exchanges and with the help of Google Translate, we set off for Costa Rica at the end of October and spent a week working at the school, followed by a week of touring in the country.

“No tenemos nada (we have nothing),” our contact had informed us by email. Based on Susan’s experience as Director of PA AT Foundation and as a parent of a man with a disability, and my experience as Director of Assistive Technology at Easterseals of SE PA, we planned to share our perspectives on disabilities and adaptations and to learn from the professionals, parents and students at the school. Susan decided to focus on how she helped her son prepare for independence and work, and to discuss mechanisms for acquiring assistance. Based on my experience with AT for a variety of students, I decided to concentrate on using switches to activate toys and appliances, adapting books and adapting toys. For this reason I packed two suitcases with adapted puzzles and books to leave with the school as samples, and I included a PowerLink, switches and battery interrupters that I purchased on EBay. (The TSA left a note that they had inspected my bags filled with these mysterious items.) In addition I brought some battery-operated toys to use with switches and Spanish Handwriting Without Tears materials. Both of us brought PowerPoint presentations to share.

To our surprise and theirs, the school had more resources than they knew. Once I showed the teachers the technology I brought from the states they began pulling out boxes that had been tucked away. It seemed that they had a lot of equipment that had been put away in boxes by previous employees, but that current employees did not know what those things were. The teachers had speech generating devices, PowerLinks, switches and other things, and although these items were over 15 years old, most could still function. This is a great example of how Assistive Technology consists of both materials and services. Without services or support, technology can be useless.

We spent time observing in classrooms, setting up technology, and trying out adaptations with children and teachers. The response was positive and teachers asked many good questions. A highlight for us was making a presentation, with translation by a specialist from the Ministry of Education, to 28 parents and an occupational therapist and speech pathologist. Cultural differences were evident in some questions, such as when one parent asked Susan, “Why doesn’t your son live with you?” We also noted less emphasis on books than we have in our culture, but people were interested in seeing adapted books. Another cultural difference is that some children with disabilities attend school only part time or even just once a week because they live so far away. Parents stay at the school during the day to help the child with self-care activities if necessary.

Susan and I were involved in different activities our last day at the school. Susan accompanied Connie on a home visit to a teenager who spends all of her time in bed. Because she brought a language board with pictures of the body, Susan was able to show Connie how this girl could communicate pain using the language board. I did a demonstration to small groups of teachers to show them how to use the toys and adaptations we had set up. Veronica, an occupational therapist who had attended the earlier presentation with the parents, listened and translated. After hearing and translating my presentation to the teachers one or two times, Veronica took over the presentation and my job as a consultant was over! Exactly how I would hope this would end.

We completed our collaboration and changed our role to tourists. Costa Rica is an amazing country with friendly, tolerant, intelligent people and an emphasis on family. Volunteering gave us personal perspectives on this stunningly beautiful place and we believe we gave our contacts at the school different perspectives on adaptations and disabilities to be able to consider challenges in new ways. Pura Vida! Pure life! That is the Costa Rican motto. Our trip certainly enriched our lives.

Behind the scenes of a Merry Christmas

 

Without a doubt, the Delaware Valley Children’s Charity toy drive is the highlight of each year for many of the Easterseals community.  This is an event that is impossible to describe, but must be experienced to fully appreciate the generosity of so many people.  Arriving at the ‘Y’, you are greeted by volunteers who have already spent hours upon hours carefully wrapping and labeling enough gifts to fill many trucks of various sizes.  For the children we serve, the Easterseals team is charged with moving the gifts from the trailers to rental trucks for transport to the respective programs, where they are offloaded and stored for pick up or delivery.  The energy and excitement of the Easterseals team is evident well before arriving at the Upper Main Line YMCA (which serves as the distribution center for the gifts) and explodes as staff see the packages of wrapped gifts, bicycles and assorted items.  Each gift is personalized and intended to make each child’s Christmas special.

This spectacular day truly ushers in the holiday season, literally bringing tears to the eyes of many first time participants as well as seasoned veterans.  This event, which enjoyed its’ 32nd year in 2017, has grown from serving 5 children to nearly 7,000; from 2 cars filled with gifts to 3 semi-tractor trailer trucks and 26 twenty-four foot moving trucks.  Easterseals is fortunate to serve as the conduit between the Delaware Valley Children’s Charity and the families of the children served by our community and we thank them for allowing us to be a small part of such a powerful expression of caring.  It is noteworthy that the donors will never see the faces of the children they’ve touched, only reinforcing the idea that this is all about the kids!  As their website offers, they believe “. . .  that a new winter coat or bag of toys may not change a life, but it can change a heart, and that is where it all begins.”

We thank the DVCC for allowing us to be part of such an incredible day!

 

Year of Change

by Jeanine Johnson

I am now at my 2nd anniversary with Easterseals. It has been a time of significant change and growth. This year’s graduation was bittersweet. I have had two whole years to develop strong bonds and love for the students. Seeing them graduate gave me all the mixed emotions I felt with my own child; worry, pride, sadness and joy all at the same time. I wasn’t ready to let go, though I know they were ready to move on. They have had the best foundation possible to facilitate their transition to the next chapter of their little lives. Some of the bonds I have formed I know will remain for years to come. Just knowing I don’t have to totally let go, at least not yet, brings a smile to my face!

I have become more entrenched in the culture and the mission of the organization. It’s hard not to when you see the miracles that take place on a daily basis. I participated as a team captain in Easterseals Walk With Me campaign putting my fundraising skills to work by soliciting donations and organizing raffles. I got to work alongside one of the Ambassador families to help make the family comfortable and this year’s campaign as successful as possible. It was a rewarding experience and I plan to continue my commitment in that way going forward.

I have recently accepted a new position within the organization which entails a lot more responsibility. That’s where my growth over the last year comes into play. I will approach this opportunity the same way I did the 11 story zipline across Freemont Street in Vegas, with fear, anticipation, excitement and wonder if I’ll make it across alive! I hope the outcome is the same as I experienced then, determination, exhilaration, courage and pride in stepping out of my comfort zone. My motivation to be successful will always be the same, it’s for the children and I don’t think I need any more than that to take me to the next level.

Learning about fire safety

by Angela Shelly

On October 23, 2017, Easterseals Gresh Center in Montgomery County got a very special visitor! October is Fire Safety month, so Lieutenant Eric Greiner brought his fire truck to school! Eric is the parent of two of our Friendship Academy students, Olivia and King. They were very excited to see their dad with his fire truck! All of our friends were so happy to learn about fire safety from a real fireman.

Lieutenant Eric introduced himself and showed our friends around the fire truck. They spotted the ladder, axe, hose, controls, and many other parts of the fire truck! Our friends discussed “stop, drop, and roll” with Lieutenant Eric and we learned that smoke rises, so in a fire, we should crawl on the floor, or get as low as we can. He read “Going to the Firehouse” by Mercer Mayer to all of our friends and explained all about how his firehouse is like the one in the Critter’s book. Lieutenant Eric’s fireman friend came out of the fire truck to help demonstrate how firemen wear their safety gear. Our friends learned all about the different parts of their safety gear and why they are important. Everyone got to high-five the geared-up fireman so that they knew he wasn’t someone to be afraid of, but someone to look for in an emergency!

When it was time for the firemen to leave, they got a call to go help put out a real fire! Lieutenant Eric turned on the siren as he left in the fire truck. It was very loud and exciting! All of our friends at Easterseals are very excited, because the fire company gave each child a very special plastic fire hat! We are so grateful to Lieutenant Eric Greiner and his fire company for visiting us and teaching us all about fire safety.

B is for Bus, and C is for Cupcake!

by Angela Shelly

ArtWorkBC

In The Friendship Academy, we like to display our friends’ art proudly! Last week our friends created buses for letter B, and cupcakes for letter C using dot markers for sprinkles. Our friends love to see their artwork displayed on our art wall!

When our friends created their B-B-Buses, they practiced using their fine motor skills and memories as they used a glue stick to place wheels and stop signs on the buses. They used their memories and imaginations to remember what color a school bus is (even our friends who don’t take the school bus yet!) and where the wheels go. Our friends got to use dot markers to decorate C-C-Cupcakes during C-week, and practiced writing the letter “C.” They also practice writing the letter of the week on the iPad, white boards, and several other mediums. Our student teacher in The Friendship Academy likes to have the children say the sound of the letter of the week as an “exit ticket” to finish up circle time in the mornings! Our friends are truly becoming masters of the letters of the alphabet!

Each week in The Friendship Academy in Montgomery County, we practice a new letter of the alphabet! Our friends are getting better and better at recognizing words that start with the letter of the week. We work together to create a long list of words that start with the letter of the week. Then, two friends get to pick a word for our Word Wall. We learn the ASL sign for those words, and practice the words and their signs throughout the week! Any visitor to The Friendship Academy would find that our friends are masters of the ASL signs for our word wall words: airplane, apple, ball, boy, cat, and cloudy.

10 Spooktacular Apps for Halloween 2017!

This blog was originally published on the website Playful-living.com

by Jo Booth

Halloween is just plain fun for kids of all ages. Dressing up and trying out new roles and rules for pretend play gives kids a chance to take on another’s perspective. Young children often have a blurred line between reality and make-believe, so putting on that princess’ dress is the way to being royal – at least for a while. In addition, scary stories, movies, and playthings help us practice self-regulation by challenging our comfort zones and exploring the unknown. If you look up Halloween apps for kids, there are a plethora of apps, most are silly and ridden with inappropriate content, IAPs (In-App Purchases), and ads. Here is a list of our must play games and apps that will keep it challenging, but most of all playful. Many apps companies put out holiday versions – to be updated during a special holiday, i.e. Sago Mini, Highlights, Lego, and Edoki – so be sure to check out your update section at the app store or google play for these classic apps that include a holiday theme.

Weirdwood Manor is a series of 6 interactive books by All Work, No Play. What makes this series so exceptional is the sheer fun of original storytelling with a spooky theme, beautifully rendered animation, and interactive puzzlers that give rise to creative problem-solving. It is a perfect blend of reading and gameplay that immerses you in the world of Weirdwood. The story centers on the lives of three talented children who are unique – and have been misfits at home. They’ve won a prize to come to Weirdwood to meet Arthur Weirdwood, an author, and inventor, but soon things get a little weird… This is a must-have series for elementary and tweens as it celebrates the unique and talents of all – and that is a message worth repeating.

Ravensburger’s Whoowasit? is a play on the classic game of Clue. It’s a “who done it” with an interactive punch! There is a bit of a learning curve to play, and it is worthwhile to go through the tutorials. The story centers on the children of a castle finding a lost ring hidden by the evil wizard. To find the ring, a room to room search must be undertaken. In each room, participants can either find hidden foodstuffs to bribe the animals into talking or keys to unlock a chest of a suspect. Oh, and there is a pesky ghost to deal with…

Highlights Hidden Pictures is a subscription model that is updated frequently to remain current with the season. Who hasn’t known and loved these puzzlers? Hidden pictures add challenges of timed and sequential order for finding objects hidden from view as well as the time-honored standard of finding them at leisure. I love how the app grades the complexity within a level. In settings, a parent or teacher can modulate what type of clues are given – by a visual – picture, auditory – word, or to hide the clues altogether and have the child discover the hidden pics on their own. In addition, by adding a black and white picture to the mix, it makes it a little harder to find the objects and is reminiscent of the Highlights magazine. These are great games for visual scanning and learning to think outside the box.

Another Highlights Halloween App is Highlights Puzzletown. It is also based on the subscription type service, however, as in the Hidden Picture app, the holiday puzzles are free to download. The puzzlers include hidden pictures, mazes, interlocking puzzles, and a find the difference within 2 pictures. I love these kinds of challenges for kids as it teaches early spatial and visual discrimination skills that are so important for reading and writing. Highlights is a well-researched and trusted brand that parents can rely on. There are no IAPs for secret gems, hints, or advertisements. The subscription model is for bringing in new content to keep their app fresh and challenging.

Lego Scooby Doo Escape from Haunted Isle couldn’t be more fun than as it contains two long-standing kid favorites – Legos and Scooby Doo. Lego Scooby Doo is a fast runner type game that helps build eye-hand coordination, challenges spatial abilities, and problem-solving adapting to environmental needs. Play centers around completing missions and solving a mystery. It would be super to have this sold as a set with Legos to build the items that are in the app to extend play. Now that would be grand!

Monster Park – Dino World Walking with Dinosaurs by Vito Technology is a load of fun by putting a wee scare into you. Made with Apple’s new ARKit, the two dinos are lifelike and it is unnerving to see T-Rex prance about your living room. Currently there are a T-Rex and a Pteranodon – hopefully, more dinos will be added in a future update or add-on pack. Some of the activities are walking with a dino, taking pictures with your dino, and even making a video. The coolest part of the app is to open a portal into the time of dinosaurs. Once opened, walking in is a snap and it is a wondrous scene taking you back into the time of dinosaurs.


Trick or Treat Little Critter
is an interactive storybook by OceanHouse Media that explains the customs of Halloween to little folks. It describes in detail the expectations and roles to play at Halloween as well as all the great benefits to Trick or Treating. It always amazes me how a few kids have no idea what is going on during Halloween because no one has explained it to them. Often there is not an older sibling or friend that explains what the holiday is like in Kid’s Terms that would make it remotely interesting and something that they should invest time and effort into participating. Too many kids, the thought of dressing up in something uncomfortable, staying out late, and all the noise is just too much. Once they have an idea of the benefits to be reaped in terms of attention, candy, and fun…they are all in. OceanHouse Media is a company that always comes to the rescue in explaining the world and its customs to kids.

Peek-a-boo Trick or Treat by Night and Day Studios is a classic app for beginning iPad users. The app itself is an open play invitation to investigate further and gives kids time to process what they need to do to explore the characters inside a haunted house. A gentle tap or swat for kids on the iPad opens a door to a Halloween denizen. The simple but bold graphics on each page enhances vocabulary without unnecessary visual or auditory clutter – making the labels clear. Once the doors are opened, kids are treated to an animation. Repeat play reveals a hint of who is behind the door – and builds good listening skills. I like that you can choose between an adult or child’s voice.

Go Away, Big Green Monster! Is an action-packed app that can be Read Along with the exciting author and narrator, Ed Emberley, Read Along with a child narrator, Read by Myself, or have the Story Sung in an upbeat jazzy tune.  The benefits to this playing are both learning about the vocabulary for body awareness, but the ability to anticipate and sequence a story. We use this app in therapy all year round as its liveliness is simply infectious.

 

I look forward to Sago Mini Monsters Halloween update every year. This is an app that can be used for children that have mastered single causation in play, and need more of a challenge. The Halloween version has kids bring up a monster face from the green slime pits. He is then dusted off and painted, given new accouterments, and then feed all sorts of treats and goodies. There is a price to pay – and if you eat a lot of treats – you need to brush your teeth! I love how daily routines are reinforced in this app. Brushing teeth is often hard to incorporate in a young one’s day. And practicing this in-app presents an opportunity to familiarize them with the sequence to the task and make it non-threatening.

In Summary

Take a peek, trick or treat, and download an app or two. You can’t go wrong with any of these selections. Halloween is a play time for one and all!

 

Masterpiece Mix by Roxie Monro

by Jo Booth

This post originally appeared on the blog Developmental Play and Learning

Masterpiece Mix by Roxie Munro has been an enormous hit at Easterseals in our preschool. The book is beautifully written and the author is speaking directly to children in the language that is developmentally understood. Of course, the artwork is fantastic and done in Roxie Munro’s award-winning style of realism with just a wink of whimsy. The book consists of extra-large and thick pages that are perfect for repeated readings and the handling of preschoolers.

Inside Masterpiece Mix

The story begins with Roxie trying to decide what to paint. She readies her canvas giving kids a peek at the life of an artist and what an art studio might look like. Should she paint a landscape – which we learned was a picture about places, a still life, or portrait? It is most impressive how she speaks with ease and explains the different categories of paintings. Scattered throughout the pages are classic paintings covering all the surfaces of her workroom – some even hidden on mugs and calendars! I had one boy who is dependent on a ventilator and probably had not been to an art museum before sitting in rapture, staring at the paintings on each page. At one point he grabbed my arm to get a closer look, and in that moment I knew his life had been changed by the exposure to art from this book. He had experienced beauty and the notion of creativity was planted. The last page of the story displays what Roxie chose to paint. The kids loved all the hidden works of art contained in her painting and enjoyed seeking out paintings they had seen previously. In the back is a key to all the artwork in the book, explaining both the piece and a little bit about the artist.

Extension activity

After our classes read and explored the book, we decided to make our own masterpieces. We got out the tools of our trade – markers, pencils, and crayons and went at it. It was exhilarating to see the kids so inspired. We then framed each one and displayed them for all to see. A follow-up session gave each child the opportunity to describe their masterpieces. We used a plastic microphone and gave everyone a turn to say something about their work. It was fascinating to hear the depth of answers to poised questions from their peers. It boosted the spirits of all for not only the day but for all the days to come. The message was clear – There was a masterpiece inside of them too. And what a message that is!

This video was filmed at the Friendship Academy, inclusive preschool program. We believe that everyone contributes, and through our shared experiences that we all are stronger.

This post was originally published at http://www.playful-living.com.