Tagged with 'Special Education'

Summer Plans for Our Next Best Academic Year

Summer Plans for Our Next Best Academic Year

By: Dr. Ray Heipp

The Beach Boys gave us an “Endless Summer” almost 40 years ago. While that might be something we could use today, we only have so many weeks for our own transition from the 2023-24 academic year to the 2024-25 academic year. We want to make sure we have some time for ourselves as well as keeping an eye toward the start of the year. What are some of those things that would be helpful to focus upon understanding the current educational environments in which we operate? How can we set ourselves up for a healthy academic year as well as from a mental health standpoint?

Let’s start with you first. The phrase that I have heard and used for most of my academic career is “You don’t understand. I don’t have time for myself.” It is always good to focus on your family or on matters that need to be addressed during the summer. Taking just 15 minutes per day along with finding some time each week to “do you” can lead to a more relaxed and refreshed feeling throughout the summer and into the upcoming school year. “Do you” can be anything you want it to be. I know some folks like to go to the beach and soak up the sun. Others might prefer to go camping or hiking to be closer to nature.  Some might simply want to find a comfortable chair and a good book. Whatever your choice is, do it! Even if you are on a vacation with the family, still find that 15 minutes where you can be by yourself and recharge. By finding this time now in the summer months, you may be able to create a habit that can move with you into the school year.

As you look ahead for your students, here are some themes you might want to consider. The first is the idea of transitioning. How can you begin to look at multiple aspects of your classroom day and create opportunities for transition? One of the tools I always recommend as an important part of training the behavior of transitioning between activities is a Time Timer Visual Timer. Aside from decreasing anxiety through the use of a visual timer, one can also begin to have consistency in transitioning between activities. If you have a Time Timer sitting on a shelf somewhere, bring it down and use it every day. If you don’t have one, consider using a 5-minute timer as it gives a different visual perspective for your students. We are beginning to use their own bodies to train the behavior of a timed transition. We are also teaching them the importance of a schedule moving forward in their lives. Simply putting information on a dry-erase board as to the activities which need to be completed is good in identifying which tasks need to be done. That is like a to-do list. Adding in the visual time aspect is what creates a stronger behavior around completing that transition. Please be aware that having timers with numbers or using an actual clock can only be as effective as the individual’s cognitive ability to process time. The research supporting the use of a visual timer reducing anxiety focuses on the fact that numbers still require math and do not always alleviate feelings around needing to rush through things. A visual timer creates an understanding of the passage of time and a visual cue to understand how much time is left. I even use a visual timer when completing activities as it keeps me more focused.

The second theme focuses on sensory supports and how to use them properly. We have been trained to believe that sensory supports should only be used during escalations or periods of increased emotional response. In fact, when any individual, including those who are neuro-typical, is taught to use socially and environmentally appropriate sensory supports, they can begin to work on self-regulating behaviors which can then transition outside of the classroom. For those who do not look to put items in their mouths or to throw things, products such as a tangle toy, boinks, sensory stones, or a pencil grip can become tools that can be a go-to when feelings of stress or overwhelm begin to arise. Again, this is a strategy that can work for all individuals. I have a “worry stone” that I carry with me and a tangle toy on my office desk. Sensory supports should not be hidden away until certain times. I have even worked with some OTs and some SLPs who give sensory supports to individuals when completing therapy sessions so that those individuals can process their kinetic energy and train themselves to maintain focus on the task at hand.

Another theme is one that I preach on a regular basis. This theme is making any assistive technology inclusive and accessible to many. Again, what devices do you have sitting on shelves because the student who needed them has graduated or transitioned to another building? See how you can repurpose those devices to enhance what goes on in your classroom. I love the example of using TalkingBrix2 to become single message “direction givers” in different parts of the classroom.  Now, your voice can be in multiple places at one time, and you begin to train a behavior around getting directions from auditory and visual prompts as well as getting them from a teacher, therapist, or another adult. Think about when that student might enter the workplace and have to get directions from a training video instead of a person. You have them ready to go!  Other single message communicators can also be placed in different areas to give affirmations or reminders. Be creative with your AAC devices. I always share the example of using a QuickTalker with the Widgit software to create “auditory books.” Take a book like Goodnight Moon and record the pages on your QuickTalker. Use Widgit to create a grid that has a picture of the pages and record what is written on that page. Now, individuals can take the book and the QuickTalker and “read” to themselves without always needing your input. Let them begin to understand the flow of words within reading and get them to enjoy it as they learn how to do it.

Incorporate switches into your classroom as well. Something as simple as taking a battery interrupter and putting it into a light and then connecting it to a switch can help you to create an “answer button,” a “call button,” a “question button,” or any other type of button you can design as the use of that switch simply turns on the light. Now, many students can communicate that way without the need to shout out loud, raise a hand, or go unnoticed as their hand or voice might not be visible or audible.

Summer is the time where we can create the idea in our minds of how we can utilize the tools that we have to enhance our classroom environments. Dream big and let those dreams come to fruition! Don’t forget to take the time for yourself first. When you are centered and focused, it allows you to be even more focused on those around you, students and family! If you do have some questions about your specific environments, feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com and let’s see what we can come up with for you.

May you have an amazing summer and come back ready for an amazing 2024-25 Academic Year!

Inclusive Recreation– Exploring the Shoreline with Beach Wheelchairs

 

What are Beach Wheelchairs? 

Beach wheelchairs are specially designed to navigate sandy terrain and access beaches with ease. They often feature balloon like tires that glide over the sandy surface. These large tires distribute weight more evenly and don’t sink into the sand as easily. Traditional wheelchairs and transport chairs mostly have narrow wheels, which do not move through the sand very well or at all.

 

Beach Wheelchair Features

Beach Wheelchairs come in a variety of styles, so the materials, operation, and customization vary. Some general features include:

  • Frame: Constructed from durable materials such as aluminum or stainless steel to withstand the saltwater and sand. Some models have been created with PVC pipe as well
  • Tires: Large tires that are soft to roll over the loose and compact sand, gravel, and uneven terrain.
  • Arm rests/Footrests: Some models have removable armrests and footrests to make transfers easier
  • Seating: Some have an adjustable backrest or seat depth for customized support
  • Fabric: Typically made of strong, waterproof, UV-resistant and materials to withstand wear and tear and fading.
  • Floating ability: Some models have floats attached so the chair can go further into the water without tipping over
  • Safety: Seatbelts are common, along with brakes for the wheels and some have anti tipping features to prevent the chair from falling backwards in the sand
  • Manual/ Power: Some chairs are designed more for a caregiver or companion to push the user, while others have a joystick and operate like a power wheelchair.
  • Transport: Some models can be broken down into smaller pieces to be transported in a car or packed into a large bag for plane transport.

While beach wheelchairs are primarily associated with coastal environments, their use can extend far beyond the sand. They are well-suited for navigating other outdoor terrain, including parks, nature trails and even the snow. These types of chairs offer individuals the ability to explore a wide range of outdoor spaces.

Beach Access:

There are several beaches along the coasts of the United States that are accessible. The main accessibility features of these beaches include, accessible parking, paved pathways and boardwalks, beach access mats, portable beach walkways and ramps. Several beaches have equipment rentals or beach wheelchairs that can be borrowed. It’s important to “know before you go” when planning a trip to the beach to make it a smooth and fun activity. Researching online can be extremely helpful as many families and those that use wheelchairs share their experience of visiting various locations. Visitor centers that are near coastal towns may also include detail of access for people with disabilities. Many more initiatives nowadays are aimed at promoting accessible tourism for individuals with disabilities in the United States and around the world.

 

Beach Wheelchair Experience:

Going to beach has always been an adventure. When I was younger people could just carry me onto the beach. As I grew older and bigger my family had to become more innovative with how we would get me down to the water’s edge. Certain strollers would work okay when pulled backwards, snow sleds worked okay for a time, carrying me across the sand in various lawn chairs was fun but required a lot of heavy lifting. Then one year, I had the opportunity to try a beach chair that belonged to my good friend Justin. It was the best experience ever and he was gracious to let me borrow his chair many more times! We could stroll down the beach for miles and the distance between the parking lot and the edge of the water was not a factor because these chairs are easy for a caregiver to push. About eight years ago, I got my very own beach wheelchair, it’s called a Sand Rider and is shown in all the photos! I’ve now visited several beaches along the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts. The type of chair I have breaks down into smaller pieces allowing it to fit it into a car top carrier or in the back of a vehicle. This style does have a seatbelt and wheel brakes.

 

A few tips from my experience: If you have access to the beach chair ahead of your ocean trip, spend the time to figure out seating and safety. It’s so much better to already know the steps you’ll need to take for a successful beach trip, than trying to figure it out in the parking lot for the first time. If you do not have access to try things out ahead of time, pack a few extra items for comfort/safety. Consulting with a PT/OT may be extremely helpful for positioning and safety ideas.

  • Positioning: Seat and back pads are a must for me. I use a custom wheelchair, so positioning is critical. I place a non-slip material on the seat of my beach wheelchair and a separately purchased seat cushion. I have a wedge cushion I use for my back. Typically I will also roll up a few towels to place on each of my sides.
  • Safety straps: Although my beach chair has a seatbelt, traversing over the sandy terrain can often move your body from side to side. I prefer a chest strap to help stabilize me better. Special chest straps can be purchased for this purpose. I also added a calf strap to my chair for additional support.
  • Sun/wind gear: With all the excitement about being on the beach. Remember to include the essentials. A hat, sunglasses, water, sunscreen, jacket/lap blanket to match the weather, etc..
    Don’t forget the small Ziplock to carry the seashell treasures you’ll find!

Beach wheelchairs provide individuals with mobility challenges the freedom to explore and enjoy the beach, creating opportunities for unforgettable experiences and memories to last a lifetime!

Beach wheelchairs provide individuals with mobility challenges the freedom to explore and enjoy the beach, creating opportunities for unforgettable experiences and memories to last a lifetime!

 

Let us know: Did you find this article interesting? Would you like to read more of these types of articles? Do you have a topic you would like to see highlighted? Contact me through email Gabe Ryan gryan@scoolhealth.com. I’d love to know how you use information from the School Health Access Angle segments.

Looking to the Future While Staying Present

April is such a unique month when it comes to our work with students. It’s a time when we are making sure that they are staying on top of their learning, especially upon returning from spring break. At the same time, we are making sure that they are prepared for the end of this academic year.  We cannot forget that we are also finalizing IEPs and making sure that we are ready to transition our students into the following academic year. I know it often feels like we are straddling academic years like the Colossus of Rhodes standing over both sides of the port. As we look at our own mental health and anxiety levels, what are some activities we can be doing to make this month and the rest of this year go as smoothly as possible?

Let’s start with planning for next year as the IEP process has us thinking that way already. Do you know who your students will be next year? In some cases, you may be continuing with a group or at least a few students.  Those are the ones that you can use to set a foundation for next year. Take their IEP information and as you continue to work with them this year, set aside worksheets, a list of activities, and a list of devices that you will need for them. As you create your lists, when possible, bring some of those devices into your classroom. Set them in a container that you can set in a cabinet for the summer. If your returning students still need them, verify with your AT Specialist or Special Education Director that you can store them over the summer to make it an easier transition for you in the fall.  

As you look toward the end of this year and the summer, you also want to start supporting the students with life skills that can be utilized throughout their lives. We spend time working on that end-of-year transition and do a wonderful job with that. We also want to start promoting behaviors for our students that make sense for the summer. Begin talking about nutrition and hydration, especially when it comes to the summer months. If your students are not participating in your summer program where these things can be monitored and supported, introduce lessons that create some of those behaviors now. Have some hydration breaks and talk about lunch and proper snacking. Some of you will have your students with you during the summer months and can reinforce these lessons. Know that either way, you are giving your students the skills they need to create some independence in the future. Another thing to consider when working with your students for the summer months is properly preparing themselves for being outdoors. See if you can work with local dollar stores to make sure that your students have proper eyewear when out in the sun. Speak a little about sunscreen as well. We recognize that the feeling of sunscreen might trigger some adverse reactions in some students, but we still want to provide information. For those students who do not like the feel of a spray or cream on their arms, legs, and face, work with them on understanding how to use shade, wearing hats if possible, and taking precautions by having some awareness of time in the sun.

In preparing for next year with devices or products you do not currently have, remember that ESSER III funding is open until September 30 when all monies must be encumbered. Many of your districts have a page on their website which shares how much ESSER money has been spent and how much is left. One of the suggestions I have been making to districts is to utilize these funds by projecting what devices might be needed over the next two to three years. Looking at products like the Scanmarker Pro for its use in ELL settings or the Big Mack in all areas of the building because they can serve multiple purposes may give you some guidance in buying. I have explained to districts that using their ESSER funds for things bought annually from your regular or IDEA funding, like classroom supplies, workbooks, or online subscriptions should continue to be aligned with those budgets. The ESSER III funds, based on how they are written, are perfect for stocking up on those devices which are regularly used, but may rely on grants in future years. Take some time, speak with those with whom you trust, and come up with a plan that has you better prepared for future students and budgets. Know that I am always there to support you with questions around this and can be reached at rheipp@schoolhealth.com.  

I am seeing districts right now using their funds on Ablenet products since they meet all government guidelines a couple of years ahead of the guidelines being formally put into place. I have seen the increase in systems like Simply Works to create accessible classrooms and workspaces. Some districts are supporting those with visual impairments by bringing in products like the OrCam Read3 which has AI that can support students in so many more ways than just reading documents out loud. Take some time (I know that is a precious commodity!) and think about how you can make your classroom environment even more inclusive and sensory friendly, like adding in a Sensory Blackout Tent. Looking ahead now can save you time and budget space in future years.

Finally, I want to share the most important activity for you at this time of the year. That activity is taking time for yourself! I know I sound like a broken record as I am continually reminding you about this.  Even five minutes a day of silence, self-reflection, meditation, breathing, or some other activity that lets you relax and focus on you. I have been speaking with colleagues throughout the country who are overly concerned about both the teacher and substitute teacher shortages. Many of these colleagues have shared with me that the greatest reason for teachers leaving is not retirement, but wanting to get away from the stress and feelings of overwhelm that are prevalent in so many aspects of education today. I am not saying that by taking five minutes a day that you will stay in education. What I am saying is that by taking those five minutes a day, you will be more centered and able to make the best decisions for yourself, your family, and your students. Know you are valued and appreciated!

 

Looking at Special Olympics as a Key to Community Involvement

Looking at Special Olympics as a Key to Community Involvement

By Dr. Ray Heipp

 

When many of us think of Special Olympics, we think of our individuals participating in games and finding success in their efforts. Special Olympics has evolved into so much more and is making a strong push to become part of the fabric in connecting the larger community to our individuals. I recently attended the “Sports for Inclusion Event” and saw various groups within the Special Olympics organization come together to expand their impact. Much of what they are doing can have an influence on what we do in our schools and therapy centers as well.

I first began volunteering with Special Olympics in the mid-1980s. It was great to see individuals receive an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in more of the public eye. It was wonderful to observe the camaraderie between athletes and the support they gave each other. To me, the most amazing part came when I witnessed one of my athletes compete in the 100-meter dash. He was fantastic in training. When he competed in the finals, his time would have placed him in the top 6 at the high school level if he had the opportunity. The other volunteers were as amazed at his efforts as I was. The difference lay in the fact that I understood that he had the potential to do something like this. The others were not as aware and made comments like, “how can someone like him run so fast?” It would take another decade until the arrival of “Forrest Gump” where the public would have a wider sense of our individuals’ abilities.

One of the aspects discussed at the “Sports for Inclusion Event” was of the Unified School Program. Many of you may already be familiar with our Unified sports where our individuals are on teams with their neuro-typical peers and compete with other teams in sports like basketball and soccer. We are seeing more schools move toward this program which benefits everyone involved. I recently had an opportunity to work with one of the districts in my home state of Ohio as they put together this program for their students. The moderator of the program described how neuro-typical involvement increased dramatically once a few games had been played. The excitement generated by these games and the overall interactions with individuals who would not have had other opportunities was contagious. This story reminded me of the student with CP, whose use of a Zip Ball to play catch with the school’s varsity quarterback created a lasting relationship as well as changed the way others viewed the individual.

The “Sport for Inclusion Event” also brought in the idea of community support and activities. We definitely want to consider moving beyond a single day in the summer to provide games for individuals of all ages. Here are some “what ifs” to consider for your community:

  • Can we create leagues for those outside of school ages to compete in things like basketball?
  • Does your community have a wheelchair basketball league?
  • Would one of your schools be open to hosting these leagues in their gyms?
  • Can you have some of your students learn life skills by having them support the concession stands and ticket booths?
  • If you are able to create these leagues, what about indoor soccer, so that those in wheelchairs can also be included?
  • We have seen the rise of “Champion Leagues” for baseball, so what about expanding those into softball for all ages?
  • Are there available fields and can we also encourage support from our communities for sponsorship?
  • How about the inclusion of these teams in any kick-off parades?

Those sports, along with track and field, tend to be the ones that we think of for our individuals and Unified teams. Did you know that other sports are also at the heart of what Special Olympics does? How about some adapted bowling or bocce? The hottest sport which was discussed at the conference was Paddle Ball. Are there ways that we can get our individuals into other leagues? The beautiful thing is that Special Olympics already has kits designed for these sports to assist with the adaptations as well as getting the sponsors of these games a start on the equipment needed. What would it be like to have inclusive bocce or paddle ball tournaments as part of community days? There are so many opportunities to create events like these and I encourage you to reach out to me or to Special Olympics for other ideas!

 

The picture you see here is just one of the ways you can get involved with Special Olympics. I annually partake in the Polar Plunge in support of Special Olympics. This picture shows this year’s plunge. I dove into Lake Erie on a day with slightly above freezing temperatures here in Ohio. School Health supports the Illinois chapter, but every state has its own version. I spoke with several individuals who did annual 24-hour plunges, where they dive once per hour for 24 straight hours. You could also simply sponsor someone instead of plunging yourself or volunteer for the formal events. Let’s now consider some other potential ways for you to become involved.

  • Is your district interested in the Unified program and can they host events there on campus?
  • Can the faculty and staff at your school compete against the Unified teams or even join with our individuals to take on other schools?
  • Can businesses in the community step forward and offer support through sponsorships, volunteer hours, or even buying kits for various sports to support the growth of potential leagues?

Inclusion must take place within and beyond the walls of our schools! Special Olympics offers us an opportunity to take inclusion to our communities. Together, we can make the “tomorrow” of everyone a little better by allowing everyone to demonstrate their abilities. If you have any questions about how you can look to create this inclusion, please feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com!

Supporting Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities

Access Angle: Supporting Parents of Children and Youth with Disabilities

By: Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor

 

Parents and guardians of children and young adults with disabilities taking an active role in the special education process and as a member of the Individual Education Program (IEP) is extremely important! Learning about how their child’s disability affects their participation in school and in the community helps parents to be more informed decision makers for their child.

For many families of children with disabilities, finding information, when they need it, related to services and supports can be overwhelming and sometimes difficult.

In this Access Angle segment, I want to spotlight a fantastic resource for parents and families of children with disabilities. Across the nation, parent organizations are available to support families of children with disabilities as well as young adults with disabilities. These parent organizations may operate differently from one another and from state to state. However, there is one consistent purpose, and that is to support and assist parents with resources, information, and training to be the most informed they can be as they effectively participate in their child’s education and development.

According to the Center for Parent Information & Resources website, there are nearly 100 Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) in the US and Territories. You can find the PTI in your state by using their Find Your Parent Center page at https://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center.

In California, there are six PTIs, these centers serve parents of children ages birth to 26 years old. In addition to the PTIs, California also has over 40 Family Resource Centers (FRCs) which are funded to serve ages birth to 3, and 32 Family Empowerment Centers (FECs) funded to serve ages 3 to 22.

I have personal experience with these centers in California as my family has accessed them for supports and services over many years. My mom, Robin, served as a Resource Specialist at one of the FRCs in Sacramento. She worked there for many years before moving on to a California Department of Education state training and technical assistance project, which supports and provides assistance to the FECs and aspects of Family Engagement. The last couple of years have been exciting for California in relation to the Family Empowerment Centers. FECs were originally enacted through legislation in 2001, and by 2006, there were 14 centers serving 27 of California’s 58 counties. There was not enough funding to have a center in all FEC regions of the state. Sixteen years later, additional funding was allocated to expand the establishment of the FECs to the rest of the state. In the last couple of years, 18 new FECs have received funding, which brings the total to 32 centers serving all regions of the state! Learn more about the FECs at the Seeds of Partnership webpage related to Family Empowerment Centers. If you are in California, I encourage you to reach out to a center if you are looking for this type of resource and support. They are mostly staffed by parents of children with disabilities, so they have first-hand experience!

Learn more about the type of supports and services offered in your state by accessing the parent centers. They are a great place to start when seeking resources and support for you, as a family, or families you serve. If you are an educator or a support provider, reach out to explore what collaborative partnerships can be made. I am excited to spread the word about these agencies and the wonderful work they do each day!

Let us know: Did you find this article interesting? Would you like to read more of these types of articles? Do you have a topic you would like to see highlighted? Contact me through email Gabe Ryan gryan@schoolhealth.com. I’d love to know how you’ve used information from the School Health Access Angle segments.

Understanding the New Federal Guidelines for the End of ESSER III

 

Several things happened at the end of January that helped bring clarity to the assistive technology landscape. Annually, the end of January brings us to the ATIA Conference in Orlando. This conference is a great opportunity to learn about the latest technology and the prevalent application of these from our colleagues across the country. We will get to the highlights of that towards the end of this piece. The bigger news was the fact that the U.S. Department of Education, in a document dated January 22nd, spelled out guidelines for the use of assistive technology as well as presented another document that addressed myth vs. fact looks at perceptions in education. Both can be found on our website. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to read the document, here is a synopsis of what it states, as well as some thoughts as to how you can proceed over the next few months with the end of ESSER III funding coming September 30th, 2024.

The first two myth vs. fact statements focus on the IEP and the need for AT. Assistive Technology should be a consideration in every IEP meeting, not just certain ones based on conditions. That does not mean that every child qualifies for AT. Instead, it is through the work of assessment during the IEP process whether there is a need. Stemming from that, recommended AT must be provided by the district or LEA under the guidelines of FAPE and cannot be dismissed by saying the funding is not available. What this means is that a quick assessment of tools which any district may be lacking could be conducted now so that while ESSER III funding is still open, districts can fill the gap of having AT devices for trial and/or usage by students. This is a perfect time to review what your district already has and create training for those devices with the teachers and therapists in the field.

The next two statements focus on the idea of AT devices and services. Simply providing a student an assistive technology device does not mean that other services need not be provided.  I think that most of us recognize that AT is the tool and what we can do with therapies and life skills add focus to the assistance of these individuals. It is nice to see this clarified for those outside of the Special Education realm to aid in the understanding that there is no “one-size-fits-all” device or approach that is available. The second part of that duo focuses on the AT evaluation. IDEA does not require a formal evaluation for each piece of AT before it can be implemented. I know some of our AT Specialists have a large caseload of evaluations that they are attempting to conduct. Other districts have enlisted third party groups to conduct these evaluations as well. In many cases, an AT evaluation qualifies what an individual needs. This statement refers more to the situations where the AT device that might be able to support that student is obvious. Therefore, the need to wait for an evaluation before implementation can be eliminated. If we know what will work, let us get that student paired with the device and not delay or cause other frustrations.

We then move to the fact that training must be a part of any AT implementation. Students do not have to learn these devices on their own. Keep in mind, we need to make sure that teachers and therapists are given training, so that they might be even better equipped to support the students. Reach out to the groups with whom you work to see what kind of training they can provide you. This training can be virtual or video presentations with time for questions at a later point after the support team has practiced with the devices.

The next two statements have been created for those outside of our community. They refer to the fact that any recommended assistive technology must be included in the IEP and formally reviewed and included in transition planning. I know that some districts prefer not to put specific manufacturers down in the IEPs when discussing AT, and that is fine. However, the definition of those products, e.g., a reading pen that does not need the internet and can be connected to earbuds, should be listed. Transitioning from elementary or middle schools into the secondary setting should also include these definitions and how the devices are best utilized for the next group of teachers.

Another statement addresses the usage of assistive technology with state-mandated assessments, and I am so grateful for this addition! AT is approved for these assessments if it is a part of the individual’s IEP and the way that they learn daily. The use of AT is NOT an unfair advantage or prohibitive for students who do not need it. AT is NOT cheating! With that in mind, districts do want to look at devices like reader pens and speech-to-text software while the ESSER III funds are available. Certain reader pens are also incredibly efficient for our ELL population and can help them to understand the questions in a manner that allows them to best answer like they do for our students with reading issues or dyslexia.

The next two statements address how AT is viewed. First AT is not simply technology that is high tech. AT in both mid-tech (speaking calculator, digital recorder, single message communicator, etc.) or low-tech (one of my favorite tools – pencil grips, communication boards, etc.), are by their definition AT and must be addressed. In that same thought, AT is also not for any specific condition or conditions. The DOE reminds us that assistive technology can be incorporated into the IEP of any student if it provides the support that the individual needs to succeed.

As we look at the next statements, we have defined for us that AT is for ALL environments and not just the classroom, must be individualized, and it cannot be assumed that a device which works for someone will work the same way for others. They then go on to spell out succinctly that AT is NOT the same as accessible technology. Nor are AT, UDL, and AEM all “the same thing.” They state that the purpose for each is different, and all should be reviewed considering each individual. There are many of us who have had to fight through situations where those from the outside were content to have something that was “good enough” recommended – often because it was cheaper. No more of that!

The next few statements look at the individual’s usage of the AT. We have heard from the outside that AT lowers motivation for students to learn and lets them get away with having to do the work. That is a myth, as the research has shown that student motivation improves when the AT assists them in sharing their knowledge and abilities. The next two statements look at a child who does not want to use the recommended AT or uses their own devices. The facts around these are that the district still needs to support the students and encourage them to use the devices that will help. Those students who are hesitant to use a device may simply be trying to fit in with their peers. That is another good reason to utilize the ESSER III funds for products like reader pens, unobtrusive switches, or simple communication devices to reduce some of the stigma of using these that students may be feeling. Training for everyone is also essential here.

The final set of myth and fact statements review the deployment of assistive technology. It is the decision of the IEP what technology should be employed, and then someone from that team can work with the district IT team to make sure it is implemented properly. Another statement focuses on how much time it takes to procure the devices. You always want to check with your provider on this as some devices may be experiencing production delays. The good news is that most devices like those by AbleNet, Enabling Devices, software companies like Widgit and ProStudy, and Cosmo, are in stock and can be shipped quickly in 30 days or less. Work with groups you can trust. Please be wary of companies like Amazon. I use Amazon for a lot of my purchases today for personal use. However, working with companies like School Health and Jodi Szuter will provide you with the confidence and support that you are getting the products you need that will help the team, as well as the individual.

The final part of this document focuses on infants and toddlers. AT, which includes items like helmets, cushions, and adapted seating are covered under the auspices of IDEA-C. This has been a contention with some of our Head Start/Early Head Start programs, as well as other specialized programs within some of our districts. The AT needs of these students, including AAC, are supported. Feel free to look at the documents from the government as we have also posted those.

ATIA was one of the best ones I have attended since pre-COVID days. The discussions were deeper, and the excitement of sharing ideas was palpable. There was focus as well on the sensory side of education. Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles and Jennifer Edge-Savage had a phenomenal session on sensory supports for everyone and people came out of it energized. The one caution I have from the conference is with some of the “new” technologies. Many of the groups who were there had long-established technologies with new models or great updates. Those are the technologies which are evidence-based and make a difference. I always worry about some of these newer technologies which have no direct research. Please do your homework and work with people you can trust for insights into what will best support you and your students’ needs.

As always, if you do have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com.

Gift ideas…when the average gift just won’t do.

Gift ideas…when the average gift just won’t do.

Written By: Gabriel Ryan 


The holidays are fast approaching, did you get everything on your holiday list yet for your family member or someone you know with disabilities? If not, don’t worry, because I have various adaptive gift ideas you could consider. I recently came across a few holiday gift guides and lists designed specifically for thinking about products which may be helpful or of interest to people with disabilities. These types of lists can be a great starting point for learning about products you’ve never considered before. It can be tough to find the perfect gift. There’s nothing wrong with a gift card or cash, however, unwrapping an item that can make everyday tasks a bit easier or bring an element of fun into someone’s life is exciting! I want to give a shout out to the Cerebral Palsy Foundation for their Annual Accessible Holiday Gift Guide. This year’s guide is one of the best I’ve ever seen. This guide has ideas for all ages and abilities. I can’t begin to describe how much fun it was to go through each page and point out items I’ve personally tried and have great memories of using. There are several items in the guide I currently have and use every day. I loved reading about ideas and products I’ve never heard of before, that I look forward to exploring further. 

 

I was inspired to create a short list highlighting a few products found on the School Health website, which may be just the gift you are looking for.


Giraffe Bottle Handsfree Drinking System and Giraffe Bottle Journey Hydration System

Water bottle with flexible straw. This product is great for keeping hydrated. Read more about this item in this Access Angle Product Review: Giraffe Bottle


Theragun Pro Plus

Handheld massage and vibration therapy tool. Relieves pain, helps you recover faster, treats join pain, improves mobility.

 

GRIP Boards, Activity Pad, GRIP Rolls, and Cat Tongue Grip

Multiple use non-slip texture material that makes almost any surface a no-slip, non-sticky place for your food, books, tablet or other daily items. Read Access Angle review of Cat Tongue Grips.

 

Inflatable Jump Balls and Hop Balls

Inflatable balls provide bouncing fun and aides in development of muscle strength and balance.

 

Fold and Go Trampoline

Small portable trampoline for ages 3 and up and holds up to 150lbs.

 

Color Changing Bubble Tube w/ Beads

Sensory Lamp Bubble Tube helps stimulate your senses.

 

Tangle Therapy

A twisty and fun way to get hand, joint and muscle therapy and stress relief all in one

 

Dimpl Digits

Squishy, silicone bubbles captivate fingers in a way that's impossible to put down. 

 

Pin Art

Board of pins creates impressions of any object with its moldable pins.

 

Cuddle Ball

Round sensory pillow made with the softest fabrics.

 

Franklin QB Cornhole

Target toss game fun for all players and brings an interesting, creative twist to your cornhole games.

 

Bean Bags: Canvas, Nylon, Fleece, Numbered and Franklin Bean Bag Toss Game

Assorted colors of beanbags in various materials and one target frame for a bean bag toss game.

 

Don’t forget to check out this Access Angle: Travel Friendly Essentials video where Dr. Ray and I discuss a few items from the list above and more great products.

These lists are great for Christmas, as well as throughout the year, for birthdays or other special occasions. The more we share great resources, the more we expand opportunities to find just the right gift!

 

Wishing you a very happy holiday!

Making 2024 the Best Year Ever for All

Making 2024 the Best Year Ever for All

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

 

So, I realize that the title of this blog sounds a little cliché! We tend to hear statements like that every year from pundits trying to cash in on the “new year, new you” ideology and the promotion of “New Year’s Resolutions.” Keeping that in mind as well as trying to stave off another purchase of a stationary bike which becomes a clothes hangar by April, we will take a look at ways that we can inspire the individuals with whom we work to have “Best Me Ever” plans along with some insights into the ending of ESSER III funding and how we can utilize it for the benefit of both current and future students.

Why “Best Me Ever” plans? When we analyze the idea of New Year’s Resolutions as neurotypical adults, we can distinguish that these resolutions are for our own benefit and are ways of tweaking how we approach aspects of our lives. Whether it is looking at habits like smoking cessation, being nice, and diet and exercise to lose a few pounds’ or something more detailed like changing lifestyles to protect again significant health concerns, we can come at these resolutions knowing that it is for our benefit that we are doing these activities. For our individuals, levels of cognitive awareness might not be there to understand the idea behind “resolutions,” thus creating a feeling of inadequacy or lack. We do not want them to approach these plans from the negative. By having them focus on the positive effects of activities that will help to create “Best Me Ever” plans, we encourage them to stay with it and look forward to it as well.

What might these plans include? Let’s look at some common issues our individuals face and see how we can help to create a positive mindset around them. Our first issue surrounds the need to lose weight. When I speak of weight loss with them, I am looking at those individuals who may need to lose 20 or more lbs. for their health and well-being. I have seen too often the idea of promoting weight loss to someone who might not be overweight by a great extent. However, weight loss for them can become an unhealthy fixation which causes significant drops and improper focus. The first thing we should determine if weight loss is something to be added is why the weight is on in the first place. Is the additional weight due to improper eating habits? What if they are due to anxiety or lack of exercise as opposed to eating habits? These questions will help to point us toward the proper approach to take. For example, if there are improper eating habits like “eating one’s feelings” by overeating after stressful situations, then simply teaching about healthy food choices does not make sense. Instead, we want to look at other coping strategies that do not focus on eating.

In speaking with a former student-athlete of mine who has worked in both the exercise and nutritional realms with many individuals, including some you might know, he shared with me that he encourages a weekly “cheat day” when approaching weight loss due to the body simply being out of shape. We discussed the merits of my “Pizza Fridays” and how something like that actually can help a body to acclimate to other foods during the week. Psychologically, these “cheat days” can help give an individual better internal strength when approaching their diets. He has noticed that many of his clients begin to adjust their “cheat days” into healthier foods while more easily acclimating their bodies to an overall diet regimen.

He cautioned about diets though when it came to overeating due to stress or emotional responses. He works with his clients on coping mechanisms first in these cases. He then can see or help a client transition to less overeating issues. With our individuals, we may need to begin with these coping mechanisms. These could include breathing exercises for both daily practice and emergency usage. We might also include some physical activity at the beginning and end of each day. Even something as simple as a walk – a quarter mile or less – can be a good starting point. If we focus on those activities first, we can then move toward the nutritional component. If we start in the wrong order, all the work we might do with nutrition and portion-controlled eating can go right out of the window the first time any stressful event occurs.

Another issue surrounds something we addressed above and that is dealing with stress and anxiety. An individual may not be overeating or have weight issues when anxious. Instead, they may have escalations which can be detrimental to themselves or to others. A “Best Me Ever” plan looks at the causes of these escalations and addresses activities, like breathing, that can be used in several different ways. We are teaching life skills to our individuals in this case and encouraging them to deal with their stress and anxiety in positive manners.

Exercise is another aspect of the “Best Me Ever” plan. Again, we want to start with what the individual can do and build off that. We then want to move into areas that might interest them and let them add more activities to their own exercise portfolio. A slow build of exercises along with directing them toward lifelong activities is most beneficial here.

Notice what we have been doing throughout this blog. Let’s start with the “Best Me Ever” designation. Our foundation is that we are already good and that we are moving to the “best” version. That is not only a positive move but can be improved upon each year. We are not focusing on the negative aspects of our life. Instead, we are looking at causes and how to handle them in a healthy manner. We want our individuals to be excited for these plans and apply them daily to life. We don’t want them to feel they are failures by setting benchmarked numbers which may or may not be reached. We want them to begin to have healthier approaches to life and the other issues or concerns will be addressed as a positive side-effect.

As enter into 2024, we still have until September 30th to spend the ESSER III funds. All Assistive Technology is eligible to be purchased using these funds. Assess what you are already using in your school or district and bring in technology which may fill in some gaps. Look to create your own AT Assessment/Trial kits that can be utilized by teachers, therapists, AT Specialists, and yourself in the future. Consider making AT as transparent as possible in the buildings by re-visioning how to use some of the older AT in standard classrooms or offices, e.g. using a QuickTalker 12 as a support with a book like Goodnight Moon to let students “read” to themselves at the press of a button. Bring in new AT to support the current student population with an eye toward future students as well. We can use these funds to help so many students and don’t want them to go to waste. If you have questions on what might be good to have in your building or would like some ideas of how to use your current AT in other ways, please feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com.

2024 will be the best year for all of us! What is your “Best Me Ever” plan going to be?

The Holidays Are Not Always a Wonderful Time for Some Individuals

 

As we enter the holiday season, we find excitement and lots of activities that go beyond our normal routines.  Starting with the schedules that we see in schools and at home, changes to routine become more routine than not!  As parents, we learn to verify what the actual breaks from school are so that we know how to best prepare.  For example, when I was a student in the 1970s, we went to school the Wednesday before Thanksgiving up to the 22nd or 23rd of December before any breaks took place.  Things have changed greatly since then.  As an administrator in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we saw that we needed to add the Wednesday before Thanksgiving due to the lack of attendance.  We also learned that the time off at Christmas needed to be two full weeks and had to work around potential weekends.

As fun as time away from school might sound, it does create issues for individuals who crave routine.  Even within school days or therapy sessions, we may see different scheduling of classes or decorations which can draw attention and cause issues around focus.  For some individuals, this could lead to sudden escalations around things we might not have considered, like having to walk around a decorated area instead of walking through it.  

What can we do to become more aware and help to spread that awareness to others?  First, recognize that we can only control what we can control. As our individuals leave our buildings, there are other disruptions that can be problematic.  With that in mind, I recommend “Holiday Sensory Kits” for the parents and guardians.  These kits can be used throughout the year; however, I am making suggestions that will help to address the constancy of change over the next few months.  To start, have the parents consider putting this together in a backpack or drawstring bag so that it can be portable without being obvious to others. In this backpack, a pair of noise reducing earbuds or headphones will be important for many. I like the Vibes as they really do appear as earbuds, yet give that reduction in ambient noise that might be encountered outside, in malls, or in larger gatherings.  For some, those might need to be noise cancelling headphones.  

Depending upon where you live, you also want to consider sudden changes in weather.  Having a pair of gloves and a knit hat in colder regions is also a good idea.  I have even seen some groups go as far as to recommend hand warmers in their kits.  This can be a good idea, as long as the individual who might be using them understands when something is too hot as well as why something like this should be used.

The next things to have in the backpack are a range of sensory support items that are socially appropriate for situations.  The Sensory Tangle Toy is one of my go-to items for both recommending and having available for myself.  I actually have one on my office desk and will utilize it during longer virtual meetings when I cannot get up and move around. This is a good choice as it does not make noise, can be used under a table or close to the body, and is better accepted by the external community for stress relief.  I also recommend that this is not the only item one has for sensory release.  In some cases, if an individual is not prone to throwing items, a squeeze ball can also be helpful.  Again, it does not make any sound and they are socially acceptable.  I do recommend for any sensory object to have more than one in the backpack in case something gets dropped or lost.  

A small first aid kit is also something to consider in the backpack.  Why? I have had stories shared with me where individuals began to escalate in a situation and either fell or crashed into something.  Having bandages and some antiseptic is always a good call.  The First Aid To Go Mini First Aid Kit is a nice choice for this.  

Finally, we do want to look at something with a little bit of weight (2-4 lbs. max) like Theo the Therapy Dog, the Manimo Weighted Lizard, or a Washable Weighted Lap Pad, adding the dynamic of having a weight that can be placed on the lap or shoulders.  For younger individuals, animals are acceptable.  For some of our older individuals, the lap pad is a more socially acceptable choice.

Think about also having some juice boxes, a filled water bottle, and some snacks.  For some individuals, they may need to have something that they are used to eating or drinking when the situation is strange and somewhat overwhelming.  I have spoken to parents who regretted not taking simple things like a favorite juice or snack along, along with presuming a food court or refreshment stand would have something that might assist in de-escalation through food or drink.  Hot chocolate is a great treat but may not help to calm someone who has been triggered in a new environment.  

In Gabe’s Access Angle blog, he addresses some of the outer wear which may be good during these months. Having lived in the Midwest for most of my life, I always urge to take layering into account if the individual is comfortable with that.  Think about things like thermal tops and pants to go on as the base layer and then build out from there.  The nice thing about layering is that one can always remove a layer if it begins to get too warm.  Temperature and other weather conditions can play a major role in escalations as well!

Those of you who have spoken with me or read my work before know that I am big on preparing our individuals to decorations and changes in advance.  I know of some families and schools who slowly transition into the holidays with inside decorations.  One mother described the fact that they have pumpkins around the house from the beginning of October until the day after Thanksgiving for Halloween, along with fall decorations.  The day after Thanksgiving is the changeover day.  In the morning, they say goodbye to the pumpkins and put away the fall decorations while bringing out their Christmas tree.  They only set up the tree on that day to start the transition.  On Saturday, the lights go on the tree.  Then on Sunday, ornaments go on the tree, decorations come out, and the outside is decorated.  This mother stated that even with only a 24-hour gap, it is enough to assist in the transition and not create escalations.

Furthermore, be aware of the places you are traveling to.  Prepare the individuals by explaining to them what they will be seeing and experiencing.  Be ready to take things slow.  Whatever you are doing, make sure that you include the whole family.  Inclusion in all activities is so essential to overall fulfillment and happiness in our lives.  Lack of inclusion can also cause escalations.  Be aware of the focus of the individual and what they are hoping for.  I learned this the hard way one Christmas, when my son was much younger.  He and I slept on a pull-out couch in the room with the Christmas tree as he was intent on catching “Santa.” Well, “Santa” woke up at about 3:30 am, brought out the gifts, and filled his stocking.  Santa also ate the cookies which happened to be my…  I mean HIS favorites and tossed the carrots outside for the reindeer and animals to eat.  “Santa” was feeling pretty good about things until my son awoke and had one of his worst escalations ever.  He was inconsolable for almost an hour because he didn’t catch “Santa.”  Take time to understand their needs beyond what we might believe those needs to be!  He did learn soon after that the spirit of “Santa” lived on in all parents.  In the future, he was able to catch “Santa.”  It did mean that lots of noise had to be made or “Santa” had to even “accidentally” shake his bed to wake him.  

The most important thing when helping individuals is to take care of yourself first.  When you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it can take its toll and not allow us to be present in the moment.  Make sure you are engaging in self-care as well.  When we focus on ourselves and preparing our individuals for various activities and changes in routine, we can make this the most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Warm Up With Winter Gear

Winter is near, it’s that time of year… to get out the jackets and rain gear. I will be highlighting some warm winter accessories for you or someone you know that uses a wheelchair, scooter, stroller, or something similar. Finding a way to keep the extremities warm and dry can take some additional planning. The lap blanket from the company Bundle Bean called Adult fleece-lined wheelchair cosy has continued to be such a great find. Its convenient to take along in my backpack, its warm, windproof, and keeps me dry from the rain.

If you or someone you know uses a wheelchair, scooter, stroller, or something similar, you probably also know that finding a way to keep the upper and lower extremities warm and dry can take some additional planning. I have used a wheelchair for a very long time and often found that I’ll be warm and cozy in a flannel shirt or winter jacket, but my legs become very cold. It is difficult sometimes to keep my entire body warm as my temperature fluctuates. If I am participating in an outside activity, I must take along a blanket or wear a few layers of pants. These methods work well, but can be bulky, take extra time to put on, or become too hot.

Several years ago, I was introduced to a couple of great products that I really like. These are worth checking into if you are looking for solutions to this same challenge for your child, student, family member, friend, or yourself.

X-Ability Bodycoats:

A couple of years ago, my Aunt Katherine saw the following news story about these specially designed jackets for people that use wheelchairs: 9&10 News WWTY Parents Invent Coat to Keep Kids, Adults in Wheelchairs Warm and Dry. This coat was designed by a mom for her daughter with Cerebral Palsy that uses a wheelchair. She created a prototype attaching two jackets together, making a full bodycoat. My Aunt surprised me that Christmas and purchased one for me. I was very excited; I have never seen anything like this jacket before. It is like wearing a sleeping bag with arms and a hood! Very warm and the zipper runs the length of the coat so I can have it all zipped up, half, or fully open in the front, without having to completely take the coat off. This bodycoat is great for use year-round for kids or adults as they come in different sizes. I have had the opportunity to use this bodycoat on a sailing trip in San Francisco Bay, it was perfect. I could enjoy my time and not be concerned about feeling uncomfortable due to tight muscles from the cold weather.
 
Bundle Bean:

I’ve been in search of a lap blanket, but not just any lap blanket. I used to have a waterproof lap cover with elastic sewn into the lower part that fits snug around my feet. It was originally part of a stroller used when I was a toddler. I kept that piece for a few decades, but it was misplaced in a move a few years back. This was one of the best tools for guarding against rain and wind. Earlier this year, I was thrilled to find an adult version of this similar item. The company Bundle Bean has a product called Adult fleece-lined wheelchair cosy. Woo hoo! One of my favorite winter apparel items, but made even better – it’s fleece lined! They offer a variety of patterns and colors for kids and adults. I chose black so it would match whatever jacket I decide to wear. What makes this type of item handy is that it is easily folded up and fits in a backpack. It features an elastic that hugs around the foot area, and elastic and Velcro straps on the reverse side keep it from dragging on the ground or getting caught in wheels. It’s very warm and waterproof. In the summer, I participated in a local 5K race to support Shriners Children’s Hospital. This wheelchair cosy was perfect for the early morning race start temperatures. I wear mine covering just my legs, but I can pull it up higher; mine is long enough to cover my feet all the way up to my chest while seated.

These are a few great options to consider for students waiting for a school bus, participating in recess, outdoor physical education classes, sports, and so much more!

Stay warm out there this fall and winter!