Chess Friends Forever

Hi everyone!  My name is Karen Dorula and I’m an occupational therapist at GKTC.  Elizabeth has challenged us all to jump onto the blog.  I’m very excited to be able to share all of the wonderful chess that has been happening here!

I started teaching chess in January 2016 after one of my letterboard clients, William, asked me to teach him “something hard.”  I thought of many different challenging topics, such as the periodic table of elements or the physics of outer space, but when I thought of chess, a quote from one of my favorite movies popped into my head: “Knight to e4.”  (Yes, it’s a Harry Potter quote!)

Harry Potter Ron

I went online and immediately started learning everything there was to know about something called “Algebraic Chess Notation” (ACN).  ACN is a system of letters and numbers that correspond to moves on a chessboard.  Most players use ACN to record their moves in a game so they can review it later.  I thought it would be a perfect way for William to communicate the move he wanted to make and since I’m an occupational therapist, I saw this as a great opportunity for him to practice his motor skills as well.  

ACN Board

There was one slight problem.  I didn’t really know how to play chess.  I had a basic understanding of how the pieces move, but that was it.  I reviewed the fundamentals of chess by myself, and then started teaching it to William.  We practiced simply moving the pieces to a targeted location.  He would spell out the ACN on a letterboard and then I provided him with the least amount of assistance to move the piece.  I continued to teach him more advanced concepts by staying only one step ahead at any given moment.  This became a problem as I realized just how quickly he was learning.  Something that would take me an hour to learn took him only a few minutes.  For example, when capturing, you spell out the symbol for the piece you want to move, the file it’s currently on, an x to indicate the capture, and the square you want it to move to.  So, if you want to capture a piece using your rook, it might look something like, Raxg5.  This took me a longer to learn than I care to admit, but after a few minutes of practice, William spelled, “MAKES SENSE TO ME.”  

William loved learning chess so I dove in head first.  I spent hours a day playing chess on my phone and watching videos online that I later turned into lessons.  After a few weeks, he sat down to play a game with his dad.  His parents noted how regulated he was during the game.  His body was able to stay extremely calm because his brain was so engaged.  As I teach more people to play, regulation is a common result of chess.

William Chess
William’s first time playing against his dad.
(From left to right: William, George, Karen)

I have now taught dozens of students how to play.  At first, I didn’t realize just how perfect chess can be for people who spell to communicate (thank you to Elizabeth for seeing the potential!).  Chess is a hobby that can be played throughout a lifetime and you can always learn something new.  Since there are small “mini games” you can play, you can practice even if you only have 10 minutes.  It’s a fun way to get on the letterboards with family members and practice skills.

Huan and Ian Chess PNG.png
Huan and Ian playing a Knight Game, with Huan’s brother and Ian’s dad holding the letterboards.
(From left to right: Thuy, Huan, Ian, Eric)

Chess is also the best equalizer.  It doesn’t matter your age, gender, race, language, socioeconomic status, or diagnosis.  During a discussion about chess as an equalizer, Dustin wrote: “THAT WAS WHY I WANTED TO LEARN HOW TO PLAY WITH THE LETTERBOARD.  PLAYING WITH THE LETTERBOARD IS A WAY TO PLAY WITH YOUR MIND INSTEAD OF YOUR BODY.”

Dustin chess PNG.jpgDustin playing against a friend.

Chess provides the perfect opportunity to meet new friends.  Here’s a conversation from a chess sessions with Ethan and Dominic:

E: HI, MY NAME IS ETHAN.  KAREN HAS TOLD ME SO MUCH ABOUT YOU.  MAY GO PROFESSIONAL WITH CHESS.  KIDDING.

D: THAT WAS FUNNY.  MY NAME IS DOMINIC.  I JUST STARTED PLAYING THIS WEEK.  I AM REALLY EXCITED TO PLAY.

E: THANK YOU.  MAKES ME HAPPY TO MAKE A NEW FRIEND.

One for All PNG.png
William, Ethan, and Dominic play against each other in pairs or have “Chess Club,” which they have named One For All, so they can learn and practice drills together.  
(From left to right: Rabun, William, Ethan, Karen, Dominic)

 

I’m grateful to William for challenging me to learn something hard.  Chess didn’t turn out to be very hard for him, but it has become a hobby that he loves.  Chess combines motor, communication, and friendship, which is an OTs dream.  My absolute favorite part of chess is the CFF – Chess Friends Forever – that have been formed! These friendships are what push me to stay up to speed with my students and continue to improve with every session.

I will become more active on the blogs to share information and other activities that we’ve been doing at GKTC.  Until next time!

~Karen

 

 

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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

Back to School Countdown! 1….Huan

For many, tomorrow is the first day of school. Huan is here to count down this last day and share some fantastic news! Huan has been very clear about his feelings about his education.  At the beginning of the Summer, Huan, Ben, their families and I attended the Virginia State, I’m Determined Summit for youth with disabilities at James Madison University (I will tell you more about this amazing experience in a future post…so many great things to blog about, so little time!). The youth summit was very empowering! The guys participated in daily, small and large group sessions.  I tagged along, letter board in hand, serving as translator and trying to keep up with these two dynamos! The focus of the I’m Determined Summit was to encourage students to: advocate for themselves; navigate obstacles and roadblocks to their success; set short and long-term goals; and participate in their IEP (Individual Education Plan) meetings.  By the end of the summit, Huan had developed clearly defined plans. His long term goal:  ATTEND COLLEGE AS A RESIDENT STUDENT. To reach this goal, Huan specified his short-term goals, among those goals was: LEAVE SPECIAL EDUCATION IMMEDIATELY.  After reviewing the work Huan completed at the Youth Summit, his parents immediately called his school to schedule a new IEP meeting.  Huan completed the lesson below on August 14, 2014. Keep reading to find out what happened at the IEP meeting on August 28, 2014!

"The goal of education is not to educate for the sake of education but to learn," Huan.

“The goal of education is not to educate for the sake of education but to learn,” Huan.

Back to School
*Note, Huan has just started using the keyboard for his responses. Because this is a new skill, it is physically and mentally demanding, so we used the keyboard for the questions and quotes and the letter board for the creative writing.  

Today we are going to talk about education!

Spell Education.   EDUCATION

What do you think of when you hear the word education? LEARNING

Tell me one thing you expect to see at schools.  CLASSROOMS

Let’s discuss some famous quotes about education. Listen to the quote and tell me what you think it means.  (Click here for the entire lesson!) 

“You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward.”
~Conrad Hall (American cinematographer)
LEARNING NEVER STOPS.  YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR LONG TERM LEARNING.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
~ Nelson Mandela
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER AND YOU NEED POWER TO MAKE CHANGES IN THE WORLD.

“Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” ~John Dewey
THE GOAL OF EDUCATION IS NOT TO EDUCATE FOR THE SAKE OF EDUCATION BUT TO LEARN.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~Aristotle
JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE SAYS SOMETHING DOES NOT MEAN IT IS A FACT.

“The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women.” ~ Booker T. Washington
EDUCATION DOES NOT JUST HAPPEN AT SCHOOL.

Creative Writing: Write a letter to your teachers. Tell them about yourself. How do you learn best? What do you expect out of school this year?  What can they expect of you?

DEAR TEACHERS,
I AM OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR.  NICE TO BE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE MY EXPECTATIONS TO YOU.  I EXPECT TO BE ABLE TO ATTEND REGULAR CLASSES AND ACCESS GENERAL ED CLASSES.  FAIR EDUCATION IS BASED ON INTELLIGENCE NOT ON SPEAKING ABILITY.  I DO NOT HAVE TO SPEAK TO LEARN OR ACCESS REGULAR ED.  I AM FULLY CAPABLE OF LEARNING WITHOUT TALKING.  I DO NOT REQUIRE AN AIDE AS I CAN GO TO CLASSES INDEPENDENTLY.  BASICALLY, I AM ONLY ASKING FOR THE SAME THINGS YOU PROVIDE ALL OTHER STUDENTS.
SINCERELY,
HUAN

It doesn’t get any more clear than this! With this intention set, Huan, his parents and I entered his IEP meeting Friday morning.  Huan led off the meeting with this statement that he spelled on the letter board, “I AM HAPPY TO BE HERE TODAY. PLEASE KNOW THAT I RESPECT YOU AS EDUCATORS AND I WOULD LIKE TO REQUEST THAT YOU ALLOW ME TO ATTEND REGULAR EDUCATION CLASSES THIS YEAR. EVEN THOUGH I AM NONSPEAKING, I AM CAPABLE OF LEARNING.”  Bam!!! That is an opening statement! From this point the discussions began in earnest. Huan responded to questions from the team on the letter board and the wireless keyboard. Over the course of the meeting, there was a slow shift…from shock and disbelief to admiration and acceptance (this was the first time anyone from Huan’s school had seen him using RPM.) Huan and his family are not asking for the school to use RPM, just to allow him to attend classes in general education. The bottom line….after much discussion, the committee has agreed that Huan can attend regular classes!!! Another IEP meeting is needed to work out all the particulars, but tomorrow, Huan will begin visiting some regular ed classes to determine which classes he would like to take! Huan’s response to the committee, THANK YOU FOR YOUR BELIEF IN ME.  IT MEANS SO MUCH TO ME.

Huan and I at his IEP.

Huan and I at his IEP!  “I would like to request that you allow me to attend regular education classes this year.”

WOW! This moment was one of the best of my entire career! Huan was completely relaxed and radiating confidence the entire meeting (I have to confess that my hands were shaking for at least the first 2 minutes). Huan, his family and I walked out of the meeting with as much decorum as possible, walked down the hall and broke out into the craziest happy dance you can imagine! One GIANT step for Huan, one small step forward for nonspeaking kids everywhere!!!! ~Elizabeth

 

My Paradigm Shift…from traditional speech therapy to RPM

Now that I have introduced you to a few (and there are MORE) limited and non-speaking clients with autism who are using Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) to communicate, I thought it was time to share my story. Perhaps you have some doubts. Perhaps it seems just too incredible that a person with autism, who has never spoken at all, or who has never spoken more than a few words or scripted sentences, is communicating thoughtful, grammatically perfect messages on a letter board. I understand your suspicions. I too was skeptical when I first heard about RPM. Since April is Autism Acceptance Month, I thought it was time to share my journey from flat out doubt to whole hearted belief.

I will honestly admit that when a family I was seeing for speech therapy told me they wanted me to go through RPM training I did, what I hope was only a mental eye roll, as I thought to myself, “not another miracle cure.” Curiosity, a slightly open mind, and a sense of obligation to my client prevailed and I went to RPM training with Soma Mukhopadhyay. Soma is a woman of science. Without preamble, she launched into neurology and the various learning channels of the brain – auditory, visual, tactile, kinesthetic. I appreciated the science because I had expected some serious hocus-pocus and snake oil. (Going on 19 years in the field has made me a little jaded about “new” techniques). About a half hour into training, a 14 year old girl, who is a very limited speaker with autism, came in for a demonstration. She was a beautiful girl with an infectious smile. She appeared to be gazing off in space at things no one else could see and was bopping along to a sound track that only she could hear. Soma immediately began to present a complex cognitive lesson. I thought that there was no way this kid was attending to or comprehending the information. However, the girl consistently answered each factual question correctly, spelling her answers on the letter board. Soma did not touch her or influence her response in any way other than to encourage her to point on the board. I began to pay serious attention at this point. Soma started asking increasingly complex questions. One of the questions was something to the effect of, “have you been to the zoo?” The girl spelled, “I have visited the zoo but am uncomfortable with animals in cages because I live in a glass cage called autism.” THAT was the moment that changed my life and clinical practice! After nearly falling out of my chair, I picked myself up and started furiously taking notes!  Instantly, names of clients flew in my head that I desperately wanted to try this method with because I knew they were smart kids trapped by autism.

I started incorporating RPM into my therapy immediately. Of course, I thought that with my amazing skills as an SLP, my experience with autism and overall awesomeness – I could improve upon Soma’s methods. WRONG! I had some ego deflating to do and experience to gain. After a several weeks of trying things my way with limited results, I tried it her way. It worked! It still took me some time to get my first word out of a kid on the letter board – loads of alphabet soup at first. I became fluent in my rapid prompting skills. I learned to prepare cognitive lessons that engaged the brain and elicited insights about my clients – who they are and what they think. Words became phrases; then sentences; then paragraphs. Some of my clients began to access open communication, meaning that they can express novel sentences to respond to any question or express any idea (just like you and I do) by spelling on the letter board.

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When you see how non speaking people with autism can communicate and show what they know – you can’t un-see it!  Experiencing this has irrevocably changed me and my clinical practice. This has not been an easy transformation. It wounded my pride to realize how much I misunderstood about autism. I wrestled with guilt. Why didn’t I know this before? What would the lives of my clients be like if I used this method with them 5, 10, 15 years before now? I have had to accept the fact that I may lose credibility and respect in the eyes of other speech language pathologists as well as others in the autism field by embracing this methodology. I have had to unlearn everything that I have been taught, and then in turn, passed along to students in my years as a professor of speech-language and education.

It has been pretty much universally accepted (and defined in the DSM IV) that autism is a disorder of “significant language delay/deviance; restricted range of interest and/or repetitive behaviors; and a qualitative impairment in social engagement.” Most experts believe that the many people with autism have some degree of cognitive impairment. As I have been using RPM, I have found this to be completely untrue! Each client has demonstrated themselves to be intelligent, emotionally attuned, desirous of social relationships and communicative -using language skills better than most speaking people! I now believe that autism is a motor disorder in which there is a significant disconnect between cognition and voluntary motor control of the body. Now, the only experts I believe are those with autism.

Accepting this paradigm shift has been difficult, uncomfortable and surprisingly emotional. It has taken me almost a year to wrap my head around all of this and find the words and courage to start writing about it in my blog. My clients have been the tipping point for me. Watching client after client find their “voice” through RPM has been amazing and inspiring. Each client, without fail, has expressed an immediate desire to reach out to help other non speaking people with autism. I no longer use the term non-verbal because my clients have shown me that they are PLENTY verbal – they just don’t speak. One hundred percent of my clients have expressed dissatisfaction with their education. My clients are so eager to learn anything and everything. I am constantly struck by their incredible patience, courage, forgiveness, desire to communicate, interact and tell their story. My clients have inspired me into action! Their courage has compelled me to relay their words to anyone who is willing to listen!

My clients have more to say, I have more to share with you. Still doubtful? That’s ok. Just keep an open mind, listen to the words of my nonspeaking clients, and follow and share their stories. Draw your own conclusions and see where this journey takes you!

~Elizabeth

Add Life to Social Stories….Comic Life!

Social Stories are one of my favorite tools to help model and shape behaviors. If you are not familiar with Social Stories, check out Carol Gray’s website (Carol Gray first defined social stories in 1991).  Here is a new twist to put life into your Social Stories using the Comic Life app on your iPad or Comic Life 2 for your Mac or PC. Comic Life provides templates, fonts, panels and caption balloons to help you create a comic using your photos.

I wish I could say that I came up with the idea to use Comic Life to create Social Stories, but I was introduced to this little gem by Adrienne Day and Joshua Taylor, two extraordinary special educators at the Stratford Program in Arlington, Virginia public schools. Adrienne and Josh created this Comic Life Social Story for our shared client, Ben, who has a tendency to get distracted from his work by items that are out of place or need “fixing.” Ben was a full participant in this venture! He posed for the pictures, helped create the text, and format the comic. Each step is an excellent opportunity to practice social skills, follow directions, organize and plan, and use expressive language!

It is time for desk work…but there are papers and pencils out of place!  (I love how they are calling out for help!).  Ben stays focused and completes his work!

Ben indicates that he is finished with his work and cleans up the mess!

Order is restored and now it is time for a break!  Everyone is happy – Ben stayed on task, the mess is clean now, time to celebrate!  Great job Ben!

What a cool way to shape desired behaviors! There are so many ways to use Comic Life:

  • Create a comic of your summer vacation
  • Narrate a special event  (pool party, award ceremony, birthday)
  • Make a fun behavior expectation chart (good sitting, cleaning up toys, playing nicely with siblings)
  • Work through a problem (bullying, approaching kids on the play ground, spending the night with grandparents)
  • Design a comic featuring target speech sounds to practice articulation (ex: “Super Steve saves the Solar System!”)

Added bonus – so many opportunities to work on language, executive function and social skills!

  • Discuss the problem and possible solutions
  • Go through photos and select the appropriate pictures for your comic
  • Set up a photo shoot!  Role play through your comic and snap some photos!
  • Organize your ideas and how the will best fit into your comic
  • Develop the narrative (all kinds of opportunities for language, spelling and reading practice!)
  • EDIT!
  • Share (email to family and friends, post on Facebook, Tweet your story)

Can you think of other uses for this great application? Please share them with us!

P.S. Sorry for the long hiatus on the blog. There has been a lot of growth at Growing Kids Therapy Center the last few months!  Look for more blogs coming up and see how we have been growing! ~Elizabeth

What’s in a Word?

As a speech language pathologist, I spend a lot of time thinking about words.  What words will open the door of communication for a toddler with an expressive language delay?  (“Open,” “More,” “Help,” and “All Done” are my standard initial set of toddler power words.) What words would be most meaningful to a non-verbal child?  What words do parents need from their child?  Exactly which word precisely expresses the nuance I am trying to communicate?  Words are the embodiment of our thoughts, emotions and ideas.  Powerful!

As the New Year has dawned, I have been contemplating words.  Guilt is a word…. I have been behind on my blogging, internet exploration, projects and to-do lists.  December was a crazy month… my father had hip replacement surgery; my son, “Hurricane Jimmie” was home from college and I felt like “Tropical Storm Chaser Elizabeth”; HOLIDAYS (plus, THREE December birthdays!); and the chest cold that has been pursuing me since Thanksgiving finally landed!  But GUILT is not a productive word.  I am intimately acquainted with this word but feel it is time to let this one go…it is over used and worn out! Buh-bye!

My friend, Alessandra, author of Tribal Times, embraces her word, SHINE, as she dances in the snow! 

I kicked off the year very differently!  No RESOLUTIONS! Instead, I took a lovely yoga workshop New Year’s Day.  During the workshop, we were encouraged to choose a few powerful WORDS to define ourselves for the New Year.  Wordsmith that I am, I loved  this idea!  I chose COURAGE, ACTION and VULNERABILITY.  The first two are pretty self-explanatory.  When I get to vulnerability, people tend to squinch up their nose and ask, “really, that is how you want to define yourself??”  Dictionaries do not paint a kind picture of the word vulnerability – using terms such as “weakness,” “open to damage,” “susceptible to injury.”  Ick, doesn’t sound too powerful!  However, in defining vulnerability, I am not reading from printed dictionaries, instead I am consulting my internal dictionary… the semantics based from experience which is how we truly define words.  To me, vulnerability means being open to new ideas and new things; surrendering control; not having to be superwoman, right, or flawless.  It means asking for help when I need it; looking to the experience of others; and fully experiencing failures along with successes.  Hmmm… a little scary… but that is where courage and action come into play!

For the many parents, educators, and speech pathologists who read this blog, we think so carefully about the words we teach and use around our children with communication impairments.  I encourage you to take a minute and think about the words that you want to define yourself as you move forward into 2012!  While you are at it, determine which words are no longer serving you and bid them farewell!  I would love to hear your powerful words!

Need a little inspiration????  Here are some strong words to consider!

Abundance, Acceptance, Action, Adventure, Attention, Awareness, AweChange, Choice, Clarity, Commitment, Compassion, Confidence, Courage, Creativity, Deliberateness, Delight, Discipline, Energy, Focus, Forgiveness, Freedom, Friendship, Fun, Expansion, Exploration, Generosity, Gentleness, Grace, Gratitude, Growth, Health, Integrity, Joy, Kindness, Knowing, Laughter, Love, Mastery, Openness, Patience, Peace, Perseverance, Playfulness, Presence, Risk, Self-love, Shine, Spirit, Trust, Wealth, Willingness….

For more inspiration, check out Alessandra’s blog, Tribal Times, and watch her SHINE!