Santa doesn’t need speech to understand

This holiday, our families from New Zealand decided to have holiday lesson swap. Each of the ten families contributed one holiday themed lesson and walked away with TEN LESSONS! Since I am no fool, I jumped right on this swap. All of the lessons have been fantastic but I have particularly enjoyed the lesson about Tinsel and the Christmas Spider, written by Kiwi mum, Jo Lussey.  In the spirit of the holidays, Jo has offered to share her lesson with all of you! I particularly enjoyed lesson because I had never heard this story before.  At the end of this lesson, I challenged my students to create a brand new Christmas story. My kids have come up with all kinds of fantastic stories but this one by friend Alex stole my heart!  ~Merry Christmas! Elizabeth & The GKTC Team

Alex decided to ride my style - tucking his pencil behind his ear!

Alex decided to ride my style – tucking his pencil behind his ear!

So many Christmases ago, there was a boy who did not have real communication. Realizing that he could not talk the way he wanted to, he could not ask Santa for communication. The boy was absolutely devastated.  However, Santa does not need speech to understand. He landed on the boy’s rooftop and slid down the chimney.  He placed a letter board in the boy’s stocking.  Wonder of wonders, the boy who could not communicate could spell. He loved to spell and share his words with the world.  This was the merriest Christmas in his life.

fullsizerender-4

 

Advertisements

Creating Social and Communication Opportunities

We are often inspired by the creative strategies our families find to make education and communication on the letter boards interesting and meaningful. During a Skype consult, Jasmin explained how she created social and communication opportunities between her son, who spells to communicate, and her nephew. Jasmin graciously agreed to share her fantastic strategies as today’s guest blogger!

Guest blogger bio: Jasmin Dutton is one of our GKTC moms from Quebec, Canada. She has been an avid homeschooler to both her sons for the past 7 years. After months of attempting to teach her son to point on her own, Jasmin and Wyatt took off on the boards after observing a GKTC workshop in March 2016. Jasmin enjoys gardening, and the outdoors in all seasons. She likes to emphasize a love of nature, curiosity and social contribution in her teachings.

Beyond the Boards

What has always attracted me most to Growing Kids Therapy Center is the emphasis Elizabeth and her team places on community building and collaboration amongst their students. This is something I’ve always wanted for my son but due to so many challenges, have struggled to create.

This past summer I have been determined to make it happen. So I took everything I have learned from coaching my son on the boards and put it into helping him connect socially.

Tolerance – for socializing: not outside the house, zero with strangers, tricky with same aged peers, and requiring structure and support. So it would have to be at home, someone older and familiar and well planned. There was also no way Wyatt would tolerate being left alone with anyone. This was not going to be respite. I would have to be present and directing the engagement.  Luckily, my 17 year old nephew lives nearby so I got in touch with him and made arrangements for him to come by for an hour a week to “hang out” with Wyatt and me.

Skill Goal – the challenge here was socializing so it would be over the top to work simultaneously on learning new physical skills. We’ve stuck to familiar activities that Wyatt excels at, such as cooking and swimming and have participated in them as a team, with me coaching both guys in the activity and creating opportunity for them to work together.  I was able to model for my nephew how to interact with Wyatt

Cognitive Goal – having always homeschooled my son, conversation can get pretty stale around here. I wanted my nephew to bring in conversation that would expose Wyatt to what teens are up to; the music, hobbies, and interests. Conversations were started around where my nephew was going to college in the fall, what his course load looked like and what he had to accomplish to be accepted into his program.

Response Level – well, response level wasn’t something I had thought too much of in the beginning, hoping really, that Wyatt would just stick around, but it was something that developed organically over time.  During one occasion, I came up with an activity Wyatt and his cousin could do together.  I would ask his cousin questions regarding his interests, he would then write his answer in invisible ink and Wyatt would use a developer pen to reveal the answer (we have linked two cool options if you want to try this at home!). Wyatt was pretty enthusiastic about the activity and I asked if he wanted me to ask him questions as well, and he agreed. So I quickly ran to get his board and took turns asking the guys each a personal interest question, trying my darndest not to cry at what I was witnessing.

This has been such a huge success for Wyatt that I have recently hired another teen (still familiar but less so) to come by during the week, and am using the same goals with her as I do with my nephew. I still need to remain present and help guide the interactions but my son now has the opportunity to collaborate. This fall, I will definitely be planning out more ways to use the boards during their times together. The experience has given me a burst of confidence and motivation to look closely at the opportunities I want for my son, envision what that could look like for him and make it happen.

photo

Jasmin, thank you for sharing your fantastic ideas for developing new relationships for your son! For many of our kids, building in opportunities for peer communication requires creativity, I know so many families will benefit from these great strategies!

~Elizabeth and Jasmin

The ABC’s of Inclusion

Last month we were delighted to participate in the Institute of Communication and Inclusion held in Columbia, Maryland. We presented to a great audience of people who are dedicated to serving nonspeaking and minimally speaking individuals. We got to collaborate with so many progressive thinkers and meet some of our inclusion super heroes, Cheryl Jorgeson and Paula Kluth! Our own Meghann Parkinson and skilled Atlanta practitioner, Kelsey Aughey joined me as we held daily skill building workshops for 20 plus spellers and their communication partners to help practice new skills. Since the focus of the conference was on inclusion, we decided to put our groups of subject matter experts to work!

Practicing independent typing with Philip!

Practicing independent typing with Philip!

One of our groups focused on typing skills. This group was challenged to come up with the ABC’s of inclusion!  Each student, Philip, Mike, Camille and Matthew took turns writing a sentence for each letter with the keyboard held for them.  After typing their sentence, each practiced typing one or more of the words independently. All made fantastic progress!  Our friend, Philip Reyes, reported that this was one of his favorite parts of the conference and wrote about his experience in his blog, Faith, Hope, Love and Autism.  

Actual inclusion opens doors.
Be patient with us.
Caring people make it successful.
Don’t give up.
Excellent expectations.
Friends, need I say more?
Give us lots of patient encouragement.
Hear us when we spell.
In day, talking to friends opens my world.
Just like typically functioning,need support.
Keep believing in us.
Learn challenging subjects.
Must be proud.
No baby talk.
Open hearts please us.
Praise our achievements as they are yours as well.
Question your assumptions.
Remember we are just like you.
Spelling is our way out.
Treat us with respect.
Understand totally intelligent and eager to learn.
Voices must be heard.
Wait for us to finish our thoughts.
Xylophone can’t make open words and it still is in the orchestra.
You are needed for our success.

Zero tolerance for non believers.

One of our other groups was tasked with giving advising educators on inclusive practice. Not only did the come up with some great tips, they also collaborated on an acrostic poem!

Huan: INCLUSION IS LIKE ACCESSING ALL FACILITIES AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE. THERE IS A NEED FOR SPACE WHERE EVERYONE FEELS PROTECTED. CAN I SHARE MY SPACE WITH EVERYONE? YES. LEARNING TO SHARE MEANS KEEPING TALKERS ENGAGED IN MY TYPING.

Nadia: BE ALL CARING, DO NOT YELL

Harry:  BE OPEN TO RECREATE INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES…SOME NEED CERTAIN ACCOMMODATION.

I think everyone should be included.
No one should miss each opportunity.
Children all deserve a good start.
Learn to share with all others.
Understand strengths.
See the intelligence underneath.
Instead of treating me like not smart, treat me like smart.
Obstacles may come, they make us stronger.

No child left behind!

Finally, we finished our third day of skill practice by creating a Pokemon Go inspired game to take our skills out in the community in our own game of Communication Go! The object was to “capture” (by snapping a picture) an introduction, a conversation, sensory aids, a story ~ any form of communication or comfort! The more you communicate, the more “experience points” you gain!  We all had a blast meeting folks all over the conference center and loved sharing our finds!
Lucas and his mom capture a sensory soft t-shirt AND an introduction! Bonus Points!

Lucas and his mom capture a sensory soft t-shirt AND an introduction! Bonus Points!

Once again, we find our students are our very best educators! So inspired by their messages of inclusion and we can’t wait to put them into practice. Feel free to share their great tips for inclusion – just in time for back to school!
~Elizabeth, Meghann, Kelsey and our friends at the ICI

A Modern Day Christmas Carol

I have been working on a hefty RPM lesson on Charles Dickens with some of my clients this week.  From this lesson, a couple have written brilliant Dickens inspired satires which I will share soon.  In the spirit of the holidays, my friend Paul wrote a modern day version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  His story is so timely, on point and simply too good not to share!

11181685_10153369132079174_8452716875247477595_n

THE CHRISTMAS GHOSTS NEED TO VISIT THE LEADERS OF OUR WORLD.  THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST SHOW A WORLD THAT IS NOT TOXIC WITH POLLUTION.  THE WORLD WAS STILL ABUNDANT WITH NATURAL RESOURCES.  THE WORLD HAS NOT LEARNED SUFFICIENTLY FROM THE PAST.

ENTER THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT.  THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT PLUGS IN HIS IPAD AND RUNS A POWER POINT OF SLIDES SHOWING OUR CURRENT STATUS.  SYRIAN REFUGEES….CLICK….TERRORISM….CLICK….SCHOOL SHOOTINGS….CLICK.  HOW ARE WE TO MOVE FORWARD?

CHRISTMAS FUTURE MAKES AN APPEARANCE.  IN HIS HANDS HE HOLDS TWO CHOICES FOR OUR FUTURE WORLD.  IN ONE HAND IS A WORLD OF HATE, GREED, INTOLERANCE, AND WAR.  IN THE OTHER IS A WORLD WHERE RESOURCES ARE PROTECTED.  PEOPLE ARE VALUED.  TOLERANCE AND ACCEPTANCE ARE THE NORM AND LOVES REPLACES GREED.  CHOOSE WISELY.

Paul asks a great question, “how are we to move forward?”  His solution sums it up….”choose wisely”! Our world leaders and policy makers could learn a thing or two from our RPM students. Wishing you Christmas Ghost free dreams this season!
~Elizabeth & Paul

Learning from Each Other During the Holidays

Today marks the last day of Channukah.  To all who celebrate, Hanukkah Sameach! I had the opportunity to learn more about Channukah from one of my clients, Dustin. Dustin came in for our weekly session and I gave him a choice of lessons, which included a lesson on the traditions of Christmas.  Although Dustin and his family are Jewish, he chose to do the Christmas lesson. Dustin was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on Channukah with me so that I was able to learn too! Like Dustin, I think it is important to learn about the religions and cultures of the world.  Perhaps if we all learned more about each other’s religions, cultures, customs, abilities, and lives we might all contribute to create a more accepting world.

IMG_0081

Here are a few questions from our lesson and Dustin’s fantastic creative writing.  My questions are in italics and Dustin’s responses are in all caps.

How do you think Christmas and Channukah may be similar or different?
SIMILAR BECAUSE THEY ARE BOTH HAPPY CELEBRATIONS WITH FAMILIES. DIFFERENT BECAUSE THEY ARE FOR DIFFERENT RELIGIONS.

 

 

What are two theories behind Christmas gift giving?
EYES ON HISTORY WILL RECOGNIZE THE STORY OF SANTA IN THE STORY OF ST. NICHOLAS. I THINK WHAT MATTERS IS THE SPIRIT OF THE GIFT NOT THE GIFT.

Tell me about gift giving in Channukah.
THERE ARE EIGHT NIGHTS OF PRESENTS IN CHANNUKAH.  THEY ARE STRICTLY SYMBOLIC. IT IS NOT REALLY ABOUT THE PRESENTS LIKE CHRISTMAS.  YOU HAVE SO MUCH GIFT GIVING AND GETTING ON CHRISTMAS.

What are your thoughts on gift giving/getting?
THE REAL GIFTS ARE THE ONES YOU CAN’T WRAP. STUFF IS NOT A GIFT. STUFF IS NOT VERY PERSONAL. REAL GIFTS ARE YOUR FAMLIY AND FRIENDS.  REAL GIFTS ARE YOUR WORDS AND TIME TOGETHER. TIME SPENT WITH LOVED ONES IS THE CHRISTMAS GIFT I WISH FOR ALL.
Do you have more to add? ONLY THAT IT IS NOT IMPORTANT TO SHOW LOVE WITH GIFTS.

Let’s do a creative writing of your choice. A poem, story, anything…
I WOULD LIKE TO WRITE A LETTER TO SANTA. (This came as quite a surprise to his mom and me! We could not wait to hear what Dustin was going to tell us.

DEAR SANTA,
NOT SURE YOU GET MANY LETTERS FROM AUTISTIC JEWS.  HERE I AM ANYWAY.  I DON’T WANT TO MAKE ANY REQUESTS FOR STUFF.  I ONLY WANT TO ASK THAT YOU TAKE CARE OF MY FELLOW AUTISTICS.  THEY MIGHT BORE MANY PEOPLE BUT TRUST ME THEY HAVE THE BEST IMAGINATIONS.  TOO BAD YOU CAN’T WRAP UP EVERYTHING AUTISTICS NEED.  YOU CAN’T WRAP UP LOVE, MY FAMILY AND ACCEPTANCE.  YOU CAN’T PUT A BOW ON EDUCATION AND WORDS.  YOU DO A SUPER JOB SO DON’T FEEL BAD.
LOVE,
DUSTIN

Wow! Dustin’s message is on point for any holiday that you may be celebrating this season!  Wishing you a great joy for all holidays that you celebrate.
~Elizabeth and Dustin

The Voice….A Halloween Tale

One of the most rewarding things about working with nonspeaking clients is witnessing the process of students developing their “voice”. Each student has a different voice that emerges loud and clear through spelling their thoughts and ideas on the letter boards. Although this voice is not necessarily audible – it is distinct and powerful. It has been a great privilege to watch Katerina find her voice. I first met Katerina and her parents in November 2014 when they came the GKTC offices for an out of town visit. After those first sessions, Katerina and her parents returned home and began daily practice on the letter boards. In subsequent quarterly visits, Katerina’s skills grew by leaps and bounds as a result of diligent practice! Each visit, Katerina comes ready to take on new skills. She is now communicating on both the laminated boards and keyboard. Her voice grows stronger every day. During her last visit, Katerina expressed her desire to advocate for other autistics.

Katerina, August 2015

Katerina, August 2015

Last week, Katerina sent me an early Halloween treat – an original Halloween story that she wrote for a school assignment. She currently receives home bound educational services.  Katerina has graciously allowed me to share her story with you.

The Voice
by Katerina Gogal

Once upon a time there lived a girl named Katerina. She was very beautiful and so sad, no one could communicate with her because she had no speech.  Katerina’s voice was trapped inside her head. She was brilliant but everyone treated her like she was stupid. Not having speech was harmful, she was perceived as not having any language, oh how wrong they all were.  Language and speech are not the same! Katerina developed such anger, so many insensitive cruel people said such horrible things about the girl in front of her, thinking she did not understand.  People who were suppose to educate the girl did not believe she had any potential.  Such a sad life the girl had and oh how lonely. Imagine a world where you have no one but yourself to connect with,  how many people could survive? Katerina did. Katerina learned to communicate her thoughts through RPM. Some people still doubted her, fools.

RPM gave Katerina the strength and drive to find a voice.  She yearned to find a way to show the world how smart she was. She needed speech to show them. On Halloween night, Katerina woke up with a brilliant plan, she was going to make a magic potion that would allow all the words in her head to spill out of her mouth. She jumped out of bed, lite a candle for some light and scrambled around her bedroom frantically for her book on magic potions. Where did she last see it? Yes, under her bed! Katerina pulled out the book and turned to the drink some speech potion page.

Katerina carefully read the directions, this recipe looked yummy. She quietly went downstairs and gathered her ingredients, sugar, water, fresh lemons and food coloring.  She ran up to her room, mixed the ingredients together while saying the magic words     ” talk! speech, turn on” , she said the magic words in her head three times and then gulped down the drink that looked like pink lemonade and smelled like sour lemons. The potion was wet and smooth and even more delicious then Katerina could ever imagine. Puffs of steam came out of her mouth and ears. Did it work? Katerina was not sure at first but then all of a sudden she felt different. Katerina opened her mouth and out spilled such beautiful words! Ecstatic to hear speech come out of her mouth, Katerina frantically began labeling everything in her room. She was so excited and wanted her parents to hear her speech too.

Her parents were in a deep sleep, she gently nudged her mom and waited for her mom to wake up. When mom woke up, she looked at Katerina and asked “what’s wrong Katerina?” Katerina smiled and said “nothing is wrong mom, things couldn’t be better!”  Mom jumped out of bed and turned on the lights. She hugged Katerina and burst into tears. Dad woke up and said “what is going on?” Katerina began talking and now dad was speechless. The world seemed perfect and no one doubted Katerina’s intellect.

Katerina made it her life’s mission to give voices to all non speaking kids, she never wanted any child to be treated as cruelly as she had been. Non speaking kids are underestimated by the world! Going to bed that night Katerina realized advocating for non speaking kids was necessary and could be accomplished with speech, a letterboard or a keyboard. To say speech is better then a letterboard is wrong, a letterboard is a voice! Katerina undid her potion, she realized she loved herself the way she was. It was not her that needed to change, people need to accept and learn RPM and teach non speaking kids like they do regular kids. Now is the time for change, watch out world Katerina has found her voice!”  KG

Look out world indeed! Katerina is currently using her voice in self advocacy efforts asking to be included in regular education, in school, with her peers. Thank you to Katerina and her parents for sharing this story. Your message is loud and clear and we are listening!
~Elizabeth and Katerina

Liam on Desegregation – Lessons learned from Ruby Bridges

Our last blog post featured Angie Paquin as our guest blogger, describing her work with her son, Liam, on the letter boards.  In today’s post, we present some of Liam’s work with his mom!  I have often looked at this picture of Ruby Bridges and thought of the courage it took for her and her family to fight for equality and inclusion and how it is analogous to the recurring plea I hear from my autistic RPM students to be included in general education. Clearly, Angie and Liam were thinking along the same lines so Angie created a a lesson Ruby Bridges and her story for Liam.

US Marshals with young Ruby Bridges on school steps.

US Marshals with young Ruby Bridges on school steps.

Here is Liam’s essay on Ruby Bridges and school desegregation in the South.

INJUSTICE WAS ROBBING AFRICAN AMERICANS OF EQUAL EDUCATION.  AFRICAN AMERICANS WERE SEGREGATED IN SCHOOL.  MIGHTY EFFORT HELPED TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE.  ONE PRINCIPAL TURNING POINT WAS FRIGHTENING, HARD TO BELIEVE, BUT TRUE.  RUBY BRIDGES WAS A LITTLE GIRL WHO STOOD UP FOR DESEGREGATION IN SCHOOLS.  SHE ATTENDED WILLIAM FRANTZ ELEMENTARY, A FORMERLY WHITE SCHOOL, AS THE ONLY AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENT.  ALL OF THE WHITE STUDENTS WERE REMOVED FROM THE SCHOOL BY THEIR PARENTS IN PROTEST.  ONLY ONE TEACHER WAS WILLING TO TEACH HER AND RUBY LEARNED FROM THIS TEACHER ALL THROUGH HER INTERESTING FIRST YEAR IN THE SCHOOL.  

RUBY UNDERSTOOD INJUSTICE.  MASTERING SUCH A DIFFICULT REALITY MUST NOT HAVE BEEN EASY.  ONLY SOMEONE WHO HAS EXPERIENCED DIFFERENCE HAS AN UNDERSTANDING OF REALLY HARD LIFE.  HAVING TO PROVE THAT YOU DESERVE EQUAL EDUCATION ILLICITS FEELINGS OF LINGERING SORROW NO ONE CAN TRULY UNDERSTAND.  MY INTEREST IN HAVING EQUAL EDUCATION IS SIMILAR TO RUBY.  I HAVE TO SHOW MY COMPETENCE IN ORDER TO BE INCLUDED IN REAL EDUCATION.  THIS IS INJUSTICE.  I SOMETIMES FEEL UNDERESTIMATED.  I LIVE WITH A REALLY HARD SITUATION.  I HAVE NO OPPORTUNITY.  MY NORMAL PEERS HAVE OPPORTUNITY HANDED TO THEM.  I FEEL THIS IS DISCRIMINATION. HUNDREDS OF AUTISTIC PEOPLE ARE BEING DISCRIMINATED AGAINST.  I WANT RACISM TO END.  I WANT DISCRIMINATION TO END.  LIFE NEEDS TO BE VALUED REGARDLESS OF THE HUNDREDS OF EXAMPLES OF INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCE.  I NOT ONLY AM MARGINALIZED, I IMAGINE I AM LIVING IN A PRISON. GIVE LIFE TO COUNTLESS OTHERS LIKE ME.  I LIVE WITH INJUSTICE LIKE RUBY DID. I MATTER TOO.  MALIGN INJUSTICE FOR ME PLEASE.

To cap off her unit on Ruby Bridges and school desegregation, Angie presented Liam with a lesson on ekphrasis as illustrated by this painting by Normal Rockwell titled “The Trouble We All Live With.” Do you know what ekphrasis means?  Well, you are about to find out! 

The-problem-we-all-live-with-norman-rockwell

The Problem We All Live With

To start her lesson, Angie asked Liam if he knew what ekphrasis meant. To her surprise, he said “yes”! She asked him to define it and he spelled IT IS GIVING VISION TO REALLY GREAT ART.  Surprised by this fantastic answer, Angie asked Liam how he knew what ekphrasis meant. He responded,  I READ IT ON YOUR PHONE RECENTLY WHEN YOU WERE MAKING BREAKFAST. Wow! (Note to readers and self! Watch what is on your phone!) It turns out, Angie did have an article on ekphrasis on her phone which she used to create his lesson! For those of us who may need further definition of  ekphrasis, it is one art form expressing the meaning or spirit of another art form. For example, a sculpture depicting some element of a film or vise versa. (One of the best part of creating RPM lessons is how much you will learn in the process! Thanks Angie and Liam, I did not know about ekphrasis but will be creating my own lesson on it soon!)  After further teaching about ekphrasis, Angie challenged Liam to create an ekphrastic poem.   

Here is Liam’s ekphrastic poem.

INJUSTICE HAS IMMEASURABLE HATE
WHEN LIFE MAKES MAN HATE
HIS INTIMIDATION MAKES LIFE IMMEASURABLY SUFFER IN UNTHINKABLE WAYS.
IMMEASURABLE SUFFERING FILLS MAN WITH HATE SO STRONG THAT NO ONE IS SAFE.
NOT EVEN A LITTLE CHILD.
REMEMBER MAN HAS LIMITS IRRESPECTIVE OF HIS CIRCUMSTANCES.
CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE LIFE LIMITS.
NORMAL HARDSHIPS GIVE MAN CIRCUMSTANCES IRRESPECTIVE OF HIS ABILITY.
LIFE CAN MAKE PEOPLE HATE.
INJUSTICE IS MANS TROUBLE.
REMEMBER, NO ONE IS SAFE WHEN INJUSTICE IS SERVED.
HATE MAKES IMMEASURABLE SUFFERING NO ONE SHOULD ENDURE.
GIVE LIFE TO MAN SO THAT MAN IS MOSTLY MIRRORED IN HIS LIFE STRONG.
GIVE MAN LIFE OF EQUALITY.
UNDERSTAND LIFE HAS IMMEASURABLE INJUSTICE,
MAN HAS IMMEASURABLE STRENGTH.

Cognitive lessons are essential in RPM.Parents sometimes tell me that they don’t understand why it is so important to use lessons. They tell me they just want to know what their child is thinking and feeling. These two lessons are a perfect example of why they are so critical to RPM. Not only are they a means of education, which our kids intensely crave, they provide the framework for communication. Through this history lesson on Ruby Bridges, Liam learned about discrimination, segregation, the value of education and the courage that individuals have displayed to fight for their right to receive an education. This lesson gave Liam information about these issues and an opportunity to freely express his opinions about these issues; opinions that we would not necessarily have ever known had the topic not been presented! Angie took it a step further in a second lesson, introducing ekphrasis: presenting Ruby Bridges’ struggle through the lens of art, teaching Liam about Rockwell, ekphrasis, and giving Liam a means to further express himself through an ekphrastic poem. I don’t know about you, but I certainly learned a lot about how Liam thinks and feels!

Once again, we are so grateful to Liam and Angie for sharing their experience, their words, and inspiring all of us to continue learning and communicating through RPM!
~Elizabeth, Liam and Angie

11694897_10153398055474174_5965758735753535736_n