Tag Archives: communication

liver la vida

It’s hard to know how much involvement to have in assignments when your child has no chance of doing it on their own.

A lot of the assignments to date have been more about me teaching Mac the concept of choosing topics, researching and then deciding what to include – I guess this is probably much the same for everyone.

That being said… I wasn’t overly thrilled when he brought home the requirements for his assignment on “organs”.  He had been assigned “the liver” and was to present to the class as if he was ‘the teacher’.

Ugh, the liver, I thought.  How are we going to find age appropriate stuff and avoid the obvious drug, sexually transmitted disease and alcohol damage issues that seem to feature ‘way more prominently’ on the internet than any other.

With some focussed searching we did OK.   We watched some cool videos, found some good websites.  Mac had to decide what he wanted to include in his assignment.  I showed him how to change up the information so it sounded like something he might say.

We decided to go with a Powerpoint presentation so he could progress it with his switches while ‘taking the class’.

We created his own avatar using the WeeMee Avatar Creator app (we like it because it has a wheelchair accessory).

We popped his Avatar into his CrazyTalk 2D animation software so it could speak with his dialogue.

We decided to use the Acapela-Box to download the voice.  We had to pay for some credits to use this despite having his Dynavox.  Thing is the Dynavox doesn’t really ‘hold its own’ for long tracts of speech.  It gets crackly and breaks up a bit too much for our liking.  With Acapela Box we can use the same voice he uses on his Dynavox but with greater clarity and no chance of it failing mid-sentence.

I poked around on the internet and found some pictures, bought some stock images to include and created some of my own elements.  I discussed with Mac what his images might look like, what we could include and importantly made him choose the ‘liver’ image he liked the best.  From memory… I think he over-ruled my first choice for making “liver dude”

Here’s the video version of his Powerpoint presentation
(you’ll need your sound turned on & be sure to read on after you’ve watched it).

THE LIVER by Mac Burns

Did you learn anything new?

Oh, and for those super-observant folk…
Disclaimer: no M&Ms were harmed in the making of this assignment… but, that’s not to say a few weren’t hacked 😉  


Filed under Accessing the Curriculum

fridge magnet friday…

Thanks to Marlena Katene for reminding me of this quote. CLICK THE IMAGE to go to her recent article on RampUp: Facilitated Communication; from the inside

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Filed under Accessing the Curriculum, fridge magnet friday, Inclusion... straight up!, the big picture

classroom friendly wireless keyboard/mouse


The Lenovo Mini Wireless Keyboard has a built in trackball mouse.   It comes with a USB dongle and works wirelessly from a distance of up to ten meters, it is compatible with Windows 7, XP and Vista (does anyone still use Vista?)

Mac’s aide this year is a Gen “Y”er and awesome when it comes to thumb typing.  This little keyboard/mouse is fantastic for maneuvering around the screen without having to be in touching distance of the computer or communication device.  We primarily use this with Mac’s Dynavox V (open device) and do have lots of macros set up in toolbars so much of the everyday stuff is just a click of an icon..

These little keyboards would also work really well for group time when you have the entire class sitting around the whiteboard.  Just because most kids can clamber up and use the interactive whiteboard doesn’t always mean the need to.

I am sure you can waste a lot of time waiting for kids to stand up, step over other kids, do their stuff and sit back down again.  Some days it might be easier and novel to hand the wireless keyboard around the group.  It’s a new level of dexterity required, it’s less disruptive on those days where you just need to keep things calm and it’s great for kids in class who may not have the physical ability to get up and access the whiteboard – or might just find standing up in front of everyone a bit too much pressure.

We got ours off eBay and so far it has got a five star rating from both Mac’s aide and myself.

(We did try a bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo but found it wasn’t reliable enough with its pairing on the Dynavox.  Not sure if that was a Dynavox issue or that Keyboard’s issue.)


March 12, 2012 · 1:18 pm

fishing for info @ AGOSCI 2011

Just back from the AGOSCI conference in Adelaide where I was both an attendee and presenter.

I will post soon about what I learnt, gleaned, extracted from those in attendance.

It is a very interesting coming together of people with complex communication needs, family members, Speech Language Pathologists, a few OTs and some educators.

As always with these bigger/longer conferences I tend to get so overloaded with information it takes time to sift through it.

A positive is I don’t feel we are behind where we should be with Mac and his communication – in some ways I am feeling quite confident we are on the right track – despite being surrounded by ‘professionals’ – our home-made approach with Rosemary Crossley’s initial guidance holds its own.

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Now that Mac has a number of letters under control we have started giving him a “free spell” opportunity.  This is where he gets to write any word he wants using his morse code.

On the first occasion he chose ” .  .-  -” or  E-A-T.

I switched to his yes/no box and checked.

Did you want to spell out the letters ‘E-A-T’?  YES

And, does that spell ‘EAT’? YES

Do you want something to eat?  YES

Would you like to eat some chocolate?  YES

I figured I should absolutely make this moment memorable by offering one of his favourite foods.

This is/was a huge moment.  If Mac learns he can ‘ask’ and ‘receive’ then self-instigated independent communication becomes all the more real.

During Mac’s free type today he again chose E-A-T (I guess if you are on a good thing stick to it right?   By the way, today’s treat was a guava and coconut ice block, yum.)


Filed under Inclusion... straight up!, Technology - things that help

yes! no!

The yes/no options with switches are working well – very easy to incorporate.

I know it is only a starting point but this is what I learnt from Mac when I asked him about his day…

  • His teacher today was Mrs C and his aide was R.  
  • They didn’t make planes but they did make ships.  
  • He did some numbers and he knows that seven is bigger than four.  
  • He also told me that two plus three (2+3) does not equal four, seven or nine but it does equal five.  
  • 23 is bigger than seven and 32 is not bigger than 43.  
  • He does not like the yes/no buttons but he does love them.  
  • He doesn’t want anything to drink nor does he want anything to eat, but he does want the TV on.  

He was consistently pressing the buttons with his feet and because I tend to watch his face, his expressions as I read them were matching his foot answers.  I know all except whether they did numbers today were appropriate answers.

The benefit of the physical answers with the switches is that it tends to keep you engaged for a little longer regardless of whether the answers are right or wrong.   This is way more than I would ever have managed to drag out of Mac’s cousins when they were his age – but then you don’t tend to ask yes/no questions – maybe we should.

Yesterday in class he was asked by his teacher whether he liked chocolate – she said he used his cheek to quickly hit the yes three times.  Still a chocoholic it seems.


Filed under kindergarten at last, Technology - things that help

she said… he said!

Rosemary Crossley

Mac has just spent a week of his school holidays with Rosemary Crossley at DEAL communications in Melbourne.

It has probably been one of the more incredible weeks of our life.

We spoke with Rosie some months back to determine who, if anyone, she recommended for us to see. We knew Mac had a yes ‘facial expression’ but we needed help with the next step of getting consistent yes/no options for him. We were starting to get overwhelmed with the next step in technology to better allow him to access more learning and increase his chances/options for communication.

The upshot, she recommended herself, so we trotted off to Melbourne knowing this was the best option for Mac and us. Within two hours Rosie had provided Mac a YES/NO option using two jellybean switches with his feet being the ‘conduit’ for his decisions. His cheeks will work equally as well, but as I was more unfamiliar with him using his feet we concentrated on them this week.

The rest of the week focussed on helping Mac develop a process for auditory step scanning.

Rosie’s piece of technology of choice for Mac is the Macaw 3. It is an older piece of equipment but it’s capabilities are perfectly suited to Mac’s needs… and the best bit, it bounces, it is a sturdy bit of kit.

Mac uses his left foot and a jelly bean switch for auditory scanning where he controls moving through the choices and removes his foot when he reaches the desired answer. The machine then repeats his answer more loudly to show that is what he is wanting to say (as opposed to the quieter scanning volume while he is making his choice).

Some of Mac’s appointments with Rosie went for 4+ hours. He was incredibly tolerant and determined. I know he is a great natured little kid, but it was nice to hear Rosie comment on how much she enjoyed working with him because he just ‘kept on going’. He did ‘nod off’ mid switch at one stage, but it was a fleeting micro-sleep, then we pushed on.

So where to from here…

Our directive from Rosie is that Mac needs to be accessing the same curriculum as the other kids but designed for a ‘blind child who won’t/can’t use braille’. She believes his level of cognition is easily on par with his peers and therefore we need to keep pushing him along the mainstream curriculum that is merely made accessible, not ‘dumbed down’.

This is the first time anyone has suggested to us that Mac may not have a developmental disability.

It is generally assumed based on his physical condition, lack of vision that there is most likely cognitive delays… but it seems, this is not so!

Some of the questions Mac was answering were pretty interesting.

  • We now know for sure he is a Sydney Swans (AFL) supporter.
  • He thinks I am meaner than Rosie. 
  • He’s pretty good with his numbers.
  • He knows the wolf didn’t actually eat the three little pigs.
  • He knows which letter he needs to turn ‘mat’ into ‘mate’ and ‘hat’ into ‘hate’… although he did suggest we ask him something else when asked to spell ‘dog’ (funny kid).

He did remarkably well on comparative relationships including:

  • are watermelons bigger than apples?
  • are lemons sweeter than chocolate?
  • is night darker than day?
  • are parents older than their children?

And even better on the passive relationship with questions including:

  • John was hit by Eric, was Eric hit?
  • Mary was driven by Alice, was Alice driven?
  • Paul was chosen by Steve, was Paul chosen?

These are great insights for school. We will now be able to have a more focussed approach with a much clearer IEP. We now have the opportunity for Mac to be challenged and, subsequently, the ability to collate results and progress more readily.

On reflection I do believe all early intervention and early childhood services need to set goals far higher than they do.  I guess I always suspected they needed to (as did Mac, explains why he disliked it so much) now I KNOW they do.

They all need to set a goal for consistent YES/NO by any method as a basic requirement for every student.   Communication is power, communication is opportunity.  

Any centre, therapist (or even school) who sets a goal below this should be challenged – we all need to play a role in demanding higher expectations for all children… after all the the least dangerous presumption is that of competence, we all know that… now we need to ‘DO THAT’.

Mac’s world has just grown from one with reasonable (primarily because we don’t think small) but limited opportunity to unimaginable, endless opportunity.

This is a wonderful place to be.


Filed under Accessing the Curriculum, Technology - things that help