Thursday, 30 October 2014

Waiting for the Muse to strike

Hi All

I have been mulling over how to get part 2 into writing as its a confused jumble in my head.  Part 1 & 1a were easy enough.  Right now life is taking over and we're concentrating on his new walker, dental surgery and another leap forward in iPad Communication use.  I do intend to write the second half of our communication journey.  But I am thinking as its such a HUGE subject that I may end up making a 4 part serial! LOL
Mostly because there was another step after the basic cards - Choice Boards, and to jump from Choice Boards to iPad wouldn't be fair as there was a lot that went on and still does go on with the Choice Boards.  They are fall back when communication breaks down or we don't want the added stimulation of the iPad around.  Such as bedtime, where the iPad remains on charge in the kitchen away from his bed! We'd never get it out of his room till he fell asleep otherwise!
So stayed tuned for the next few parts in this serial and hopefully next week after his dental surgery I will be more inclined to write another section!

Take care until then


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

How do I get this Kid to Communicate? - Part 1a (Addendum)

I have been thinking a lot about my first post about this communication Journey with our son Evan and thought...Ok, I told you OUR story...and mentioned briefly how WE did it, but if you're there at that point with your kid thinking...great I'll try that too...but HOW do I even start?  Well I've been there, and I can sympathise.  Even with an onboard Speech Language Therapist you see every other week (or maybe less) it can seem really overwhelming when you have a frustrated non-verbal child grunting and crying because, well, "you just don't understand me!!".  Yep, that acting out phase where they may physically act out, you know, tantrums, thumping, biting, vomiting (yep, we had that too), and the all important: every time Mum or Dad talks - SCREAM!!
It can be soul-destroying, frustrating and bewildering for all of you, believe or not those are actually your child communicating, even though it may not seem like it.  So HOW do we harness that 'bad behaviour' and turn it into meaningful communication?  Thats what I was stuck with 5 years ago, a child that was really happy and unhappy all in one go, I would talk endlessly at him, use sign language, sing songs, read books, point out words..yadda yadda...but it seemed to just pass him by even though he did say the odd word.  Then came our crunch time, major surgery, out of the blue, our son had a dislocated left leg that was going to take major work to fix.  He was going to be stuck in a pelvic(hip) spica cast for 3 months.  Well believe it or not the sunshine in all those storm clouds was an opportunity to connect with our son as he was going to be a 'trapped' audience.  It was that and the time was right I guess...but anyway, I am getting off topic.

Just so you know in a former life (we all have one of those) I used to be a Senior Computer Engineer and have LOTS of experience with technology so I may come across a little technical or give you information you may go "yeah, great, but HOW do I do that?".  Sorry, but I will try and explain and if you need help you can always add a comment and I will try and help.  Also, remember this is one families journey, one unique childs way of relating and communicating.  Every person is different, has different experiences, different problems and skills.  It doesn't mean they won't communicate it just means you haven't found the common ground yet between you to start that dialogue. Take heart no matter how overwhelming it seems, break it down into small manageable moments and you may just find a place to start and maybe like us get a breakthrough.  I am NO SLT, I have no real experience with this apart from what I have learnt, read, experienced, and tried.  This is about how WE went about it and what we found works for us.  Others may have other ways, maybe better, maybe their SLT is fabulous and has great ideas.  Either way I am not advocating anything or promoting any particular product - I am just telling you how I did what I did and what products I have used and found useful.  That said lets give you an insight into what has worked for us.

Stop and think for a moment...
Before you even embark on this if you haven't started already or are still coming to grips with a bunch of failed tries to communicate.  Take a step back.  We were there too, rushing headlong bombarding our son with words, books, pictures, sign language, hand over hand helping etc.  What I didn't realise is I was trying to get him to understand ME, when really I wanted him to TALK to me, so I could understand HIM.  Of course its natural to push your language at a child, you wants and
needs and forget or maybe not even realise thats what you're doing.  So step back, look at your child, be mindful. What are they doing?  Are they actually communicating with their grunts and cries, are they in context?  Are they flapping a hand, shaking their head, looking away or maybe even towards something, do they close their eyes on queue when they don't want something.  When you ask them a question like "Do you want a drink?" do they cry, reach for it, grunt, babble, or just ignore.  All of those are forms of communication. So look at them, take note of these situations because all of them are opportunities for communication.  If they reach for a drink you maybe have in your hand, then great you can redirect that activity to a picture card and have them tap that instead.  If they flap their hands or clap (like our son did), great you can redirect that activity to a switch button with a 'YES' word spoken or even to a picture card.  Its intention, they are showing intention and that is worth redirecting to useful output! Ignoring is still communicating, its a non-response, so maybe they didn't want a drink, so you can use that as an opportunity to say "NO? Ok, would you like MORE food?"  so you just acknowledged their non-response as a NO, and maybe it won't seem it but the child probably notices that and will continue to use that as their means of saying NO.  In these situations its well worth it to learn basic sign language (pick your method - we use Makaton and NZ Sign) to sign words like NO, YES, MORE, FINISHED, WANT and others that may be handy.
So why am I so interested in this food thing anyway?  My kid doesn't eat, they're either tube fed or fussy.  What then?  Well of course I am going to talk about food, thats my sons motivation, yours might not be and thats Ok.  But I bet they love something, what is it?  TV? YouTube? Swinging? Cuddles?  A favourite toy?  So in those situations again stop and think, wait for a moment.  What is it your child is doing when you are standing poised with the TV remote, the favourite toy?
If it helps, write down what you think your child loves, even if its just you! While you're at it write down what you notice through the day as noises, try and notice when the noises happen, what are you both doing?  Are you talking to them? Asking a question?  Are they happily doing what motivates them?  Or is it just random?  Just watch, take note, take video if necessary.  Try and work out what makes your child tick.  Its that mindful step back and watch rather than DO that seems to help.  If you ever get a quiet moment think about your interaction for the day and you'll realise you communicated in so many ways through touch, words, gestures, and actions.  It doesn't have to be a formal iPad AAC App, it doesn't even have to be sign language, or Picture Cards.  There are many other ways to be understood.
In our household we use the phrase "He just doesn't understand the rules of the game yet".  I have used that with many SLT's over the years.  Once our son knew what we wanted from him and how to play that game he was off and 'running' and still is - hes a heck of a lot faster than us too!

Software used (Windows PC (XP/Windows 7) 
Ok, so I use(d) a boring old Windows XP Netbook (HP in fact) with no CD/DVD drive and limited USB ports, memory etc etc.  All that mattered was I had a computer to do stuff with and access to the internet.  I had no fancy camera, I used a standard old Canon 2 Megapixel camera to take my photos
and I just randomly photographed stuff and uploaded it to my PC.

I tried using MS Paint, MS Word, and inbuilt software like it but found in order to adjust the picture size, crop the photo, or whatever I needed something else and it had to be FREE!

So over the years I have been using the following programs on my PC:
Serif Page Plus Starter Edition 
- A free Desktop Publishing software that is great to get started with manipulating pictures on a page and then printing it and laminating.  I created a series of templates of a certain size box to put photos into and then text to create my choice boards.

- A free photo editing tool that I found really handy over the years for doing all sorts of edits of my photos and graphics

Google Image Search - yep I just typed into Google Search Engine whatever I was looking for and click on the Images section.

I did use an earlier program called QuickPics but it is no longer available, and the graphics are available out there still - Google Patrick Ecker.  
Also I registered for a free trial of Boardmaker which gives you a 30-day trial to play with the software and create your own boards, test some out and get your own graphics.  It was a handy way to get some early boards done with good well known graphics that I could use without spending $200+ on the software that I may never eventually need all the time.  

Other Stuff
I also brought a cheap A4 Laminator, Lamination Sheets, A pencil case to store all my cards in or a cheap plastic lunchbox, a colour printer, scissors, BlueTac, stick on velcro dots (hook & loop) and plenty of other things over the years to do the Low Tech cards we originally (and still) use.  

Heres a link to my Pinterest Page too where I keep all my handy to read items on both Low Tech (paper & ink) aids, and the AAC (iPad) communication 

I'll be back in a few days to do Part 2 of our Journey - Thanks for reading my BLOG!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Generic Choices - Free Printable

Hi All

I have had a request to provide a few files for labelling your items at home so I thought I would provide two free printables so you too can go around labelling the doors at home and your drawers.

So heres the links to the Google Drive stored PDF's

You will need a Google account in order to access them:

Generic Choices 1.PDF
Generic Choices 2.PDF

How Do I get this kid to communicate?? (PART 1 - Baby Steps)

I thought I would write a blog entry about our endless journey on this Special Needs Train we're on.  One of the biggest hiccups for our son has been his ability to talk which has come and gone.  He used to talk when he was 2 years old, only small words like Mum, Woof Woof (for the dogs) and a few others I can no longer remember.  He also has said 'Hello' and 'Banana' over the years but they have all but vanished.  He just garbles now, I think the official term is 'Jargon' where a toddler knows the vowels and the consonant sounds but doesn't form them into words.  Random words will pop out but we've accepted he is non-verbal.  At 7 years old we just have to leave him to it and hope one day he remembers how to talk.  That aside we realised the only way to help his frustrations was to get him talking SOMEHOW.  It wasn't obviously going to be a voice so where next?


A Mum I met early on suggested we label things in our house with large laminated picture cards so he would be at least exposed to PCS (Picture Communication System) Cards early on and we could continue to point them out.  Of course they were going to be nouns, naming words.  So we set about labeling the toilet door, his bedroom door, the bathroom door, and his drawers in his room to say what was in each drawer.  We also had a 'brush teeth' card by his toothbrush in the bathroom.  They are still there today somewhat ignored by us all now.


So we then moved onto choice boards, and flip books.  We took photos of things around the house and filled a small flip page photo album with familiar photos which he used for comfort at the Preschool.  Every-time he got distressed they could pull out his photo book and sit with him and he would calm down looking at familiar items, Mum, Dad, our Dogs, the car, his bedroom, all sorts of things.  I did put words on them but he really never noticed the words.  So after trolling the internet for advice I landed upon large simple choice cards.  One for FOOD and one for DRINK.  At home we stuck them onto the table in front of him either side of his plate.  We would encourage him to touch each card in order to 'request' some food or a drink.  He would get annoyed at us and wail, but we persevered. He did eventually get the idea and would touch his card when he wanted more FOOD.  We discovered however that even when the card wasn't there he would touch the spot where the card should be and tap.  It was then we discovered the card didn't matter and he wasn't aware of the picture or the word on it.  He had 'motor planned' that in order to get something he needed to tap that spot on the table and people would give him things.  So where to next? How do we get him understanding the pictures and cards have meaning?


Next came the simple strip of choices, and large pieces of paper with 4 photos of food choices that we stuck to the front of the pantry. As we came in for morning tea I would take him to the picture and manually hand over hand touch each picture and state what it was 'CHIPS', 'BANANA' etc and then slowly go back and wait for him to make a choice.  I could tell he was choosing an item by the pressure I felt of his wee hand pushing the page.  As he got better at the choosing he would touch each of the pictures himself and wait for one of us to say what the pictures were.  It was then we realised he was 'auditory scanning' , he needed to hear what each picture was called before he chose what he wanted.  Again we realised the pictures didn't matter it was the words spoken and the motor planning of what each picture was and where.  So we added a second 'Core' choice to his choice boards the 'I WANT' button knowing he wouldn't really get it as such but we would continue to model it with him, tapping the 'I WANT' picture before touching the FOOD picture so he learnt the sequence he needed to do in order to get what he was after.

This went on for a few years and at the same time we were doing Makaton sign language with him.  Over time he developed a means of saying 'Yes' by clapping, it was this definite yes sign that helped for our next level of communication, which was also asking him direct simple questions and getting an answer of YES or a non response which we took to be a NO.  He was still doing great choosing using the simple choice boards as well.

But this is when an SLT (Speech Language Therapist) also came into our lives and things started to change.  Also we purchased an iPad2 at this time and put a basic AAC (Communication App) on it.  We never told the SLT we had done that, we just put the App on and setup a few basics and modelled with our son to choose the items on it.  He couldn't manage the dexterity needed to touch the buttons on the App but again we kept helping him and did educational play (cause & effect) till he got the idea of how to use his hands on an iPad.  I will leave the rest of the story for Part 2 - Next Level

Monday, 13 October 2014

Seatbelt Protector Tutorial

As promised here is an easy but useful project - The Seatbelt Protector.  Its a good way to use up leftover scraps or those oft collected Fat Quarters!

You'll need the following:

  • Patterned Cotton of your choice
  • Flannel, microfibre or other absorbant fabric scrap
  • Plain cotton backing, or more patterned Cotton of your choice
  • KAM size 20 Snaps x 2 Sockets & 2 Studs  (or pieces of hook & loop velcro) 
  • Double Fold Bias Binding 12mm wide or knit ribbing strips 

From the 3 fabrics cut the following:

  • Cut 23cm x 18cm piece of patterned Cotton
  • a 23cm x 18cm piece of flannel (or other absorbant fabric)
  • and a 23cm x 18 cm piece of backing fabric

Pin the three layers of fabric together wrong side of patterned cotton to right side of the inner flannel layer, and the wrong side of the backing fabric to the wrong side of the flannel layer.

Overlock (or zig-zag stitch on a normal machine) all the three layers together

With backing fabric facing you fold out one side of the binding and bind around the edges curving at the corners. Trim corners off of all the fabrics taking care not to cut the binding strip.

Fold over binding to the patterned cotton side and stitch in place (you can also press at this stage to make it easier to stitch the binding.

you now have a completed bound Seatbelt protector - wasn't that easy?

At this point you can do two different fastening options.  Add two KAM Snap Studs as I have done.

on the opposite side you need to put the KAM Snap Sockets.  Notice how they are both on the patterned fabric, this is so that the Protector has a folded edge as in this below picture:

You can also sew on hook velcro tape piece to one long side and loop pieces on the other side as I have done with the snaps.  
I wouldn't recommend using buttons to fasten these as the buttons will be bulky and uncomfortable against the childs skin.