ATs for ALL, please!!

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Body Sox – Photo Source

Having been blessed with three healthy children and, as a teacher of able-bodied high school students, I didn’t feel as though I would easily relate to the assistive technologies topic.  Thank you, Heidi, Holly, Allison, Launel, and Benita, for your very informative presentation; it helped me to realize that EVERYONE can benefit from assistive technologies!

As this topic was so unfamiliar to me, I decided to start with the definition.  Expert, Dave Edyburn did a great job of “dissecting” the definition of Assistive Technology in an article shared by the AT group:

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Photo Source and Full Text PDF

While reading Edyburn’s article, I came across the term “universal design” a couple of times.  This seemed related to the concept that Alec introduced in the chat room last Tuesday night:  “universal design for learning” or UDL.  I had never heard of this, so I did a bit more digging.  I came across an article, Assistive Technology, Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning: Improved Learning Opportunities, that used a “windshield wiper analogy” to explain what UDL is and how it differs from what school divisions do.  (Note: you will need to log in on your University of Regina account to access the full PDF.)

Basically, the analogy takes  you on a journey through various kinds of weather without functioning windshield wipers.  Quick fixes are suggested, different routes and approaches are tried, but, in the end, the person is still driving without a clear windshield.  This is not unlike how many students (and teachers) are forced to navigate through their own educational journey.   The authors conclude their analogy with the following statement:

“Today, the general education curriculum is quite similar to an automobile without wipers. It requires special accommodations, modifications, supports, and add-on devices to overcome the barriers in the goals, methods, materials, and assessments.”

In this same article, the authors state the following:

“A universally designed curriculum is a curriculum that has been specifically designed, developed, and validated to meet the needs of the full range of students who are actually in our schools, students with a wide range of sensory, motor, cognitive, linguistic, and affective abilities and disabilities rather than a narrow range of students in the “middle” of the population.”

“Teaching to the middle” was a practice that I had heard of – and that I likely do on any given day; however, I hadn’t ever considered how assistive technologies might allow me to better reach (and challenge and motivate and enable!) a wider range of students and even my own young children.

With this in mind, I went online to browse some AT products; I was amazed at how many items there were.  One of the more unique items that I found were “Body Sox”; these were designed particularly for children with autism or ADHD.   (Product information was found on the Therapy Shoppe website.)

bodysox-purpleBody SoxPhoto Source

Body Sox are meant to help calm children down and improve their body awareness, among other things. They can create a safe space when the world is overstimulating for the child.

Here are a few of the more universal products that I believe would benefit most, if not all, children at times!   I would be more than willing to purchase some simple AT tools to help my own children to be more comfortable in their environment, to be able to focus better, or complete their work more efficiently.  I am certain that, if they were financially able, many parents would agree.  There are some who might resist the use of such AT tools for their children for fear that their children might be “labeled”, teased, or ostracized.  This is yet one more reason why assistive technology should become commonplace in every classroom, for every student who wants it.

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Weighted Lap Pad Photo Source

The weighted lap pad provides a sense of security to children who might feel anxious.  It is also said to assist people with self-regulation (ie. knowing what they are doing with their bodies at any given time and self-correcting).

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Chew Stick Photo Source

These durable, textured sticks offer great oral stimulation.  They were listed under products for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but I have seen many nail biters, thumb suckers, and sleeve chewers who would benefit from something like this.

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Visual Timer Photo Source

Time is a difficult thing to grasp for many children (and adults, too!).  This timer shows how much time has elapsed since a particular task was started and how much time is left.  There is an option to have “beep” notifications as well.  I will definitely be buying one (or two, or three) of these, as I have a few little ones at home who are always asking, “How much longer???”

pink-wiggle-seat

Wiggle Seat Photo Source

The name says it all.  These seats are great for children who have trouble focusing and really need to keep moving.  The seats both notify children when they are moving in their seats and also allow for enough gentle movement that the children feel relatively comfortable in their rather rigid desks.

In addition to assistive technology products, I am sure that there are certain educational practices that teachers can adopt in order to help all students to succeed in their classrooms.  One such practice that I stumbled upon has to do with keeping kids moving and engaged … and with allowing the comfort of small groups help students who might be shy in large group settings.

Chat Stations

With “chat stations“, the teacher posts questions around the room and small groups of students move around, discussing the questions before returning to a large group format to share their thoughts.  This is likely something that elementary teachers do quite often, but not something that I’ve really done with the senior students whom I teach.  I found this idea on a website called Cult of Pedagogy; it focuses on good teaching practices, regardless of subject, level, or purpose.  Jennifer Gonzales, site author, says this about teaching:

“Teaching is an art, a craft, and a science, and perfecting it is an ongoing, endless process.”

When I read this statement, it resonated with me.  The “ongoing, endless process” made me ask – once again – what can I do differently in my classroom to help my students to learn more effectively or more easily?  One answer that pops into my head is “mindset”.  Teachers must always have an open mind – a willingness to try new teaching styles, new assessment strategies, and new educational technologies.  After a couple of years of teaching with very little spark, this class has certainly ignited that fire in me.

This is a quote from a Reading Rockets article, retweeted by Heidi earlier this week, that helped me to have a slight shift in my thinking when it comes to AT tools:

AT doesn’t cure or eliminate learning difficulties, but it can help your child reach her potential because it allows her to capitalize on her strengths and bypass areas of difficulty. For example, a student who struggles with reading but who has good listening skills might benefit from listening to audio books.

When I read this, I thought, “Why not??”  Why NOT give children as many successful, encouraging experiences as possible?  The TEDx video by Henry Evans that Luke posted is the perfect example of this.  Here is a brilliant man who, due to a stroke at the age of 40, is now challenged by even the simplest daily tasks.  With the help of his “quadrotor drone”, Evans is able to independently do the things that most able-bodied individuals take for granted (opening the refrigerator door, browsing the Internet, etc.).  He said it best with his statement, “All of us have disabilities in one form or another.”  Why not enable each and every one of us to use our abilities to overcome our disabilities?

Henry Evans’ connection with and use of technology developed gradually, over a long period of time, and required support from his family and technology experts.  How can we expect teachers to help students use more complex ATs without the strong foundation that Evans had?   The Student Achievement Division of the Government of Ontario had this to say in their publication entitled “What Works:  Research into Practice”:

“[T]he multitude of rapidly evolving assistive technology devices and programs can leave teachers feeling unprepared for supporting their use in the inclusive classroom. To address this issue, school systems need to put in place supports to enhance teachers’ ability to effectively use assistive technology tools.”

I decided to look at my school division’s staff directory to see who might be able to help teachers to prepare for the addition of AT tools in their classrooms.  I was disappointed to see only four occupational therapists on staff.  (Keep in mind that my division is responsible for educating 22,000 students each year.)  There were 19 speech-pathologists listed, but their primary focus would likely be working directly with students, as opposed to assisting teachers with speech-related AT tools.  I know of at least one specialist whose role is to assist students who are visually impaired.  I didn’t see any other people who had that type of title in the staff listing.  There were three or four staff members whose title was “Intensive Supports”.  I imagine their role would be to help teachers who had students with very particular needs, but I’m not certain about this.  With everything else that teachers have to do in a day, I am certain that many feel that they simply couldn’t add one more thing … even if that “one more thing” might enable them to help more of their students to learn more.

Next year, I will be teaching a boy whose vision has been deteriorating for his entire life.  The visual specialist visits our school on occasion but, from what I have been told, this boy is quite reluctant to make use of the AT tools that she offers.  I hope that, as he completes his grade nine year, he begins to accept the support that is being offered to him.  Regardless of his willingness to learn about these tools, I will be making a point of familiarizing myself with all of the “best practices” for teaching severely visually impaired children.    … just another part of the journey for an educator.

I am looking forward to going from zero to sixty tomorrow night when Logan and Bill blow our minds with their virtual and augmented reality presentation.

Nancy

p.s.  Krista, Erin, Heidi, Luke and Andrew (and others!), thanks for sharing in our Google+ Community.  I feel as though I’ve been missing a massive piece of the “educator puzzle”.  The videos, etc. that you’ve found and passed along will really help me to fill in some gaps in my teaching.

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9 thoughts on “ATs for ALL, please!!

  1. I resonated with your post a lot Nancy- I too have been blessed with healthy children of my own. and teach able-bodied high school students, and also had no prior knowledge or experience with AT. I too, started with the same dissection of the definition (great minds think alike!). I really appreciated the AT’s that you shared, not only for students I teach, but also for my wiggly 5 year old son. We do have wiggle seats and fidgets in our school, but nothing like the chew sticks you shared. I also really like the timer idea, and will be passing these suggestions on to our LRT.

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  2. Wow–awesome post, Nancy!! I love that you get some universal ideas–I wish I had thought of some of these when I was teaching FIAP in my first year. We did have some wiggle seats and visual timers but I have never heard of the body sock before (it looks comfy just to have at home as well ha ha).

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  3. Great post Nancy! I really like how you brought in the analogy of the windshield wipers and your “ha” moment about all students benefiting from AT. I have used some of the example that you posted. I really enjoy using the timer, body sox and weight bag with my students. We also have stand up desks, therabands for around the chair legs and fidgets.

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  4. Great reflection! Many of those tools would be considered self regulation tools. In grade 5 we have a health outcome that focuses on self regulation strategies. We discuss how these tools are can be used for regulating ourselves. We also discuss ways they can regulate their bodies with things they have. For example quietly bounce a leg under the table or play with the strings on a scarf. Different students require different tools. I have seen some very creative home made self regulation tools.

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    • Thank you for your comment, Heidi. I didn’t realize how prevalent self-regulation tools were. When I was a kid, there was no talk of such things. It makes perfect sense to include it as one of the health outcomes. I am glad that things like this are becoming more acceptable. It certainly helps to reduce the risk of ostracization for students who do require such tools.

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      • Yes exactly and the language becomes well know to students! If someone is being distracted by a self regulation tool I usually point out that the tool isn’t doing its job. Kids are generally pretty responsive. Tools are not toys!

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  5. I appreciate how you highlighted the weighted lap pad within your post. I had a student with ASD and he had a weighted “Larry the Lizard” that really helped with his anxiety. I can also relate as I find deep pressure and weight is extremely beneficial for my own anxiety. An incredible colleague once told me that every time she goes to the dentist she asks to wear the heavy x-ray coat as it helps with her anxiety about visiting the dentist. This little story always sticks in my head and relates to your title…AT For All Please!

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    • Thank you for sharing that, Erin! Now that I think of it, I really do like the feeling of pressure on me when I need to calm down. Even when trying to sleep at night, a bunch of heavy blankets feel so good and definitely help me to relax. I usually end up feeling too hot and have to shed one or two, but I wish I didn’t have to do that! Maybe I’ll ask for the weighted x-ray protective vest when I take my 3 yr old for her dental check up on Thursday (for me, not for her! 🙂

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