Sharing Assistive Technology Ideas in Australia

by Sandy Masayko, Director of Assistive Technology at Easter Seals of SE PA

During my recent trip to Australia, I was delighted to meet with therapists who are providing Assistive Technology (AT) and Augmentative /Alternative Communication (AAC) services in Melbourne.  On September 1, Anne Williams, of the Occupational Therapy Department at Swinburne University of Technology, arranged for me to meet with occupational therapists and speech/language pathologists from ComTEC. ComTEC is a division of Yooralla, a provider of services for people with disabilities in Melbourne.  As we talked, we discovered that share many similar concerns in providing AT and AAC services and devices, including funding, planning instruction and problem solving with families and caregivers.  Anne also invited faculty members from Swinburne in the areas of Occupational Therapy, Robotics and Biomedical Engineering to learn about the work we are doing in eye gaze technology with young children.

The following day, September 2, I made a short presentation to occupational therapists at the Vic-Tas (Victoria and Tasmania) Regional Conference of Occupational Therapy in Melbourne.  The paper, focusing on factors related to use of eye gaze technology with young children, was well received.  Attendees asked many questions.  I was very interested to learn about issues being addressed by occupational therapists in Australia.  The emphasis in many presentations was on self-reflective practice, engaging consumers and promoting participation for people with disabilities.

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Pictured in the photo, Anne Williams on the left and  Sandy Masayko on the right at the Vic-Tas Regional Conference of Occupational Therapy in Melbourne.

Six Super Rules

by Michael Murphy

At Friendship Academy in Bucks County, following the rules is not as hard as you’d think. While the children all learn differently, we have really had the benefit on controlling behaviors following six simple rules. The rules are not a list of ‘Don’t’ and ‘No’, which can intimidate and often do not help students behave any better, nor are they loosely described by any means. Our six rules are very closely tied to our classroom expectations as labeled through our PBIS initiative (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports). Our six rules are:

Hands Help

Hearts Care

Ears Listen

Feet Wait

Eyes Watch

Be a Friend

The nice thing about these rules, best utilized during times of instruction (circle, story, activity\craft instruction, etc.), is that they describe aspects of the individual child that can be controlled with self-regulation and practice. Instead of telling students what not to do, and providing examples of how they can (poorly) behave to receive some additional attention, the rules simply act as reminders of what their bodies are capable of and how they can best use their bodies to their advantage.

What has made our rules all the better is tying them, in part, to a superhero theme. Thinking of the different aspects that make superheroes special, yet still require them to work in teams to solve problems, helps to create some additional hints towards working together with our peers, finding individual strengths and using new ideas for the greater good. Many preschool and early learning programs use a similar “Be A Superfriend” strategy that helps to recognize the everyday superstars that our children can be, through simple, kind and intentional acts in daily interaction.

Recently Edwin Gonzalez, Friendship Academy’s artistic Teaching Assistant, has created an exciting set of pictures and classroom reminders that help students focus on their expectations. The pictures show diversity, from Wonder Woman’s watching eyes to The Incredible Hulk’s waiting feet to Iron Man’s mechanical caring heart. They are bright and colorful, much like the students we teach. The pictures speak to all types of children, whether they like the hero or just the picture itself. The pictures grab their attention just enough for the teacher to direct it to the lesson. The pictures are unique and even the process of putting them together drew attention from the students as they watched Edwin plan, draw, color, laminate and post. You could tell that they already felt a little super about each addition to the series.

In addition to our Superfriends, there is much to be said about the everyday unsung heroes, the Teacher’s Assistants, the Bus Aides, the therapists, nursing staff, individual support staff, those that cook, clean, file or place calls. We are all part of a team of heroes. When we focus on what we are able to control, our body and our attitude, we can think more positively about the effects our actions have on our team, and more so, how we can contribute to make a team stronger. A team is only as strong as the weakest link, and if your weakest link is the Incredible Hulk, you are in pretty good shape.

 

A Simple Solution

by Kathryn Wallace

I am a Physical Therapist in Bucks County and I wanted to share a quick tip when working with children in their walkers in their home environment. Some of the children with whom I work require maximal assistance when walking. Recently I was working with Paige,  a graduate of Easter Seals in her home environment.

In this session, I was cueing Paige to take steps and mom was holding toys to keep her head up. The toys motivate her to walk forward. Mom mentioned that when there isn’t a second person she is not sure how to motivate Paige to walk. Together we came up with the idea pictured below. We mounted the iPad on the IV pole and used a broom to move the pole as Paige walks forward.

Music Makes it Work

by Michael Murphy

Dan walks in right on time, but circle has run long at Friendship Academy. Dan doesn’t mind, he readies himself for his session. The children watch him as he does, waiting to get to say hello, waiting for their turn to find their spot on the carpet for music. As we wrap up our circle routine, a couple songs to go, the children look back at me and continue. With each song, Dan starts to play along, strumming in the background. We tend to make up songs, but that doesn’t slow him down. Dan goes along and adds another experience to our circle. He is in no rush, but increases the pace along with my song. Each child hears their name, jumps up from their chair and hurries to their carpet square for music. Dan praises their walking feet, greets them and listens to their quick stories about their day or comments on a new Paw Patrol shirt.

Music therapy adds something special to our classrooms. We all sing songs to our students, it serves an educational purpose and provides functional language, but there is something different about Music Therapy. The students are always excited to see Dan, they’re ready to sing the moment he walks in. Our quietest kids jump into “Hail Hail the Gang’s all here,” One of Dan’s welcome songs. Students call out their requests, and Dan finds a way to redirect or work in a new song or two. A towering teacher, Dan spends time on his feet, at eye level with the kids or works to control the gaze of students, willing to do what it takes to maintain that attention and push children to another level of focus. One thing at a time, Dan has all the time in the world to spend with each student until they give him something special for that day; a smile, a word, a sentence… Dan asks for a lot, but gets exactly what he needs before he continues.

We’ve seen shy kids open up, quiet kids yell, “busy” kids slow down and reluctant kids jump in. They throw curveballs at Dan and he throws them right back. “Z,Y,X,W…” Dan starts “his” ABCs. The children shout “NO!”, stopping his song. “That’s not how it goes” says a student who months before spoke in only grunts and groans. Commanding the attention and participation of a big concert of adults is cool, but there cannot be anything more difficult than getting a group of children to listen to your every word, chord or cue. Dan does it.

The exciting part about Music Therapy is that the same song is never really “the same song”. Either Dan plays it different, the children sing it differently, maybe the support staff adds a little something extra. It depends on the day, the weather, what the kids had for breakfast. Each session is exciting and each session ends too soon.

“Music time is over,” begins. Heads hang low, students sing along. Snack comes next, but they wont find solace in their Goldfish and fruit snacks. Dan’s time has ended, they have to wait a whole half hour to hear Dan’s songs blare in another classroom. Different again, effective again. They shout goodbye to Dan, they thank him. If only they knew how to ask for an encore, they would never let him leave. Music Therapy works and it is awesome to watch.

More than you think

by Michael Murphy

It is easy to say that kids will be kids. Easy to think that their silly actions are a step to growing up, a phase they will outgrow, or a gasp for attention. As the Friendship Academy teacher at Easter Seals’ Bucks County Division, I see a variety of behaviors and work alongside with numerous professionals to decipher what the children, some able to communicate and others who struggle, are trying to say. Each action is a message, a question, or a statement and all the adults have to do is listen. Imagine that, adults not using their listening ears!

When we ask a student to clean up the floor, they don’t know what that means. A nephew of mine was told to clean up the floor at home, and he actually picked up every single toy… and put it on a higher surface. The floor was clean… the table, tv stand, bookshelf and couch were not. However, he cleaned up the floor and actually showed an impressive ability to follow directions. As adults, we have to think about how we explain our directions. Children throwing toys during clean up time or continuing to play could communicate that they are unsure of what “clean up” can mean. Instead, at Friendship Academy, we give shorter instructions;

Now David, you’re not doing that right, you’ll be in trouble unless you clean up all your toys”

becomes “Put in bin, David.”

Think about a boss giving you directions as an adult. How long does it take for you to tune them out? Children are saying more than you think by not cleaning up.

Kids like to move! They jump off couches, run into walls and just won’t stay still. They are trying to tell you something, just listen! I like to think that I get a lot out of my kids when they’re at our circle time. Sometimes I can get up to 15 preschoolers of varying abilities sitting for up to 30 minutes, and its not by having them all sit still and quiet while I do the lesson that I wanted to do. I make THEM the lesson! Their ideas, their questions, their movements. I give opportunities to get loud, to move around and to be silly, and after that they are ready to listen. We assigned a portion of the room as the jumping corner, and that is not to punish the child who wants to jump and send them away, but it is a way to provide these much needed opportunities to students to help them wake up and refocus.

Again think about a long day at work, staring at the screens or dealing with customers over and over… sometimes you need to step away and shake it off. A child’s wiggles, jumps, claps… its not to ruin your day. It is saying more than you think. It is asking you to give them something to do to help them refocus.

No David stop doing that right now, I need you to sit.”

becomes “Lets jump (wiggle, clap…) ten times and then try this again.”

And yes, I’m that parent running up and down the aisles at Target because, frankly, I don’t like clothes shopping either.

Kids hit! They may do so out of internal frustration, external frustration, or just to get you to listen to them. My son gave my a shove to my chest today while I was checking my text messages, and I was about to get very upset until I realized that, from time to time, I’ll give him a pat on the shoulder when I know he is too into Fruit Ninja or Netflix. Kids learn more than you’d think from just watching us in action as adults. At their most extreme, students need to learn how to deal with their frustrations, but children don’t always hit out of anger, usually just out of frustration for not knowing or possessing the best words to use to solve their problems. At Friendship Academy, long before any kind of threat or punishment, we share some words to use. “Are you angry?” “Do you need help?” “Would you like to do something new?” These are all phrases we use when we observe an event getting ready to boil over. They are openers to allow students to begin a larger conversation and to help increase their available language. Sometimes we just have to provide some of the attention that that child is seeking. Children are well aware that their physical aggression will bring more attention than saying “Excuse me.” until they have their time to speak.

I cannot speak for every child, but I have seen students of varied cognitive and physical abilities respond well to shortened instructions, a respectful tone, an opportunity to do something THEY enjoy, and a simple opener to have their own time to talk. Children will grow to exceed your expectations, however high you hold them, they will do more than you think they ever could. The best way to get them to reach higher and higher is not to tell them what NOT to do, but to provide them with guidance towards what they should do. And always praise, even for failed attempts because when you try hard at your job, don’t you want some recognition too?

 

What’s Qoming On at Bucks County?

by Michael Murphy

Thanks to some dedicated staff and several generous community technology grants, Easter Seals in Bucks County has been able to install Qomo boards in each classroom. A Qomo board is an exciting interactive whiteboard with an outstanding variety of applications in today’s classroom. Since the boards were installed in the fall of 2015, each classroom at the Margaret “Judge” Brooks Center in Levittown, PA has worked to utilize the technology as best as we can. Our teachers have used the boards in new and diverse ways, as the populations and purposes of our students can be very unique. We use the boards in routine activities, like circle and calendar times, while also testing its limits and challenging the limits of our students in more academic and focused activities. The entire staff has challenged their tech skills at one time or another in order to best utilize these tools, even going so far as to plan gatherings among staff to share and troubleshoot new ideas or problems. The initiative of the staff shows a promising dedication to best serving our clients in all facets of learning.

Often children are said to have too much screen time at young ages, however as educators we know that any experience can be turned into a learning adventure if students are taught to utilize tools in the best ways. At home my children can unlock my cell phone, find (and delete) applications and, of course, exit out of anything they do not like. At the earliest of ages students are learning to solve simple problems. When applied to our Qomo boards, we have instant engagement from our students and are able to watch them solve simple problems, accomplish tasks and apply technology to learning activities. Whether the required tasks are simple or complex we try to address a variety of goals.

As the Friendship Academy teacher at Bucks we can have a challenging group of 3-5 year old students of a wide range of physical, cognitive and emotional abilities. We use the Qomo to encourage students to follow the class expectations if they want the next turn. You’ve never seen such perfect demonstrations of Criss Cross Applesauce. We achieve physical goals at times by having students use a non-preferred arm, reaching high or low, or even just standing with minimal support for a period of time. We get students to patiently wait their turns, while still engaged in conversation and thoughtful discussion. They wait. They try. They learn. They succeed. One by one the children get more and more excited for their turn, turning an average attention span of a few minutes into an extended, sometimes twenty minute activity where everyone gets a turn to show what they know.

The activity was something simple, dragging shapes to a matching space on a tangram. No curveballs here, just your basic shapes. When the shapes were all added to the tangram, the picture came to life. A duck, a turtle, a horse… nothing spectacular. Students came up one by one and added a piece of their choice by dragging their finger across the board, or requesting to use the “Magic Wand” (a simple stylus that doubles as a light saber). The students who are sitting on the rug are encouraged to make predictions about what piece will be chosen, what the picture will turn into or counting the number of other shapes left on the board. When the student picks their shape their friends clapped or gave thumbs up and watched as another student came up to do the same. At the end the students confirmed their predictions, laughed at the animation and calmed themselves back down to be ready for the next tangram. Not an earth shattering lesson, but in an inclusive classroom it truly included everybody. We worked together to achieve a common goal. Students felt confident enough to share their ideas, predictions and encouragement for their peers. At the board, students were able to make a simple choice, under considerable pressure in front of their peers and sometimes explained or defended their choice. Every student walked away with positive praise from teachers, students and staff and a new approach to their ability in the classroom.

Through these exercises we are practicing patience, sharing, cooperation, and determination. These are some of the most difficult lessons to teach young children. While the Qomo board is so much more in each classroom depending on its usage, at its most basic level it is an automatic motivator that achieves whatever goals the teacher wants to address. With a focus on individualized education, there is no better way to teach and assess students of such varied ages and abilities than I have seen when that board turns on and I start my lesson.

PBIS Training

by Colleen Joyce

On Friday, June 10th, the Montgomery County Division of Easter Seals had a full day of PBIS training for the majority of the staff, including teachers, administrators, and behavioral specialists.

What is the PBIS methodology though?

PBIS is an acronym for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. One of the key components of its methodology involves one to one coaching and training. PBIS training shows teachers and staff members how to apply positive social behaviors in both classroom and non-classroom settings, so they can get positive results from their students in return. The PBIS method uses research and an evidence-based approach to school discipline to create a system that encourages supportive social competence and academic achievement. PBIS training aims to help disabled students reach social, emotional, and academic milestones.

The PBIS method focuses on four key elements:

  • Outcomes: Families, communities, educators, and students work together to meet behavioral and academic targets.
  • Data: Research and information regarding student behavioral status and modeling good social behaviors teaches positive behavioral expectations for students and creates a reward-based system, rather than a punishment-based system. Educators teach students how positive change can create favorable outcomes for themselves and others.
  • Practices: Evidence-based interventions and strategies, including supportive staff behavior, supportive student behavior, and supportive decision making are applied so students may reach goals.
  • Systems: Sustainable and meaningful supports involving families, educators, students, and the wider community allow the PBIS training to function and flourish for many years afterwards, allowing students to reach their goals and become their best selves.

On June 10th, representatives on behalf of the PBIS training method came to Easter Seals of SEPA – Gresh Center to give a rigorous presentation to staff members. Our staff learned a lot and they are now ready to implement technical, multi-tiered strategies in real classroom environments!

For more information on the PBIS training method, including webinars and a training slideshow go to their website: https://www.pbis.org/ .