Friday, April 29, 2011

Using Technology to Talk

This morning, I put some truth to the phrase "lifelong learner".

I went to Lily's school for a meeting and an iPod Touch tutorial.  While using all this technology is no big thing for the Bird, it doesn't come quite as easy for me.

Lily is using her iPod Touch along with an Augmentative and Alternative Communication app called Proloquo2go.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's very user friendly.  Or at least what I learned today was simple!

Here's what the home page looks like on her Touch.

And here's a close up so you can maybe see the choices a little bit better.

All of the those little boxes are things Lily can choose to click on depending on what she would like to communicate.  Since this is still new to us, we eliminated some of the boxes on Lily's screen so it's not quite so much to look at.

I think this is pretty fascinating stuff so I'm going to walk you through how she might use this to let me know she would like a snack.

Lily would first select the box labeled "Categories" which would take her to a new screen that looks a little something like this:

Next, she would select the category titled "Food and Drinks", automatically taking her to another screen that has more little boxes to choose from titled "Breakfast", "Lunch", "Dinner", "Snacks", and so on....

Lily would then select the box labeled "Snacks".

If at this point you're wondering how she knows "Snacks" from "Breakfast" since she can't read yet, it's all about becoming familiar with the pictures.  Just like my big girls could "read" McDonalds before they could really read.  This works the same way.

Once Lily is on the "Snacks" screen, those little boxes are now pictures of foods such as pretzels,  Goldfish, raisins, peanuts, Cheerios, etc....  She then chooses her preferred snack and shows me the screen.

Easy as pie!

You might think working through those screens would be complicated but not so for the Bird.  Actually, it's quite easy for all the kids at Lily's school.  I've been so impressed watching them just go to town with all this technology like they were born to do it.

One other feature that I learned about today was a speaker attachment.

Basically, I can attach a small, portable, and very lightweight speaker to the Touch and then every box Lily selects, the Touch will "speak" that word out loud.  Loud enough to be heard in a restaurant, or when Mom is cooking supper, or while sitting at a table with friends at lunch, for example.

What makes this so much fun is it allows for Lily to "converse" with someone.  If a friend asks what she is having for a snack, she can push the box labeled "pretzels".  Just today, I observed her having her snack and using the Touch to "talk" with a peer.

Of course, "Food and Drinks" is just one of the choices.  We can create categories for Outside Play, Inside Play, Bedtime Routine, Morning Routine, and all kinds of stuff.  There's really no limit since we can input exactly what we need into the device.

I am so excited about the possibility of opening yet another avenue of communication with my baby girl!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where Every Kid Can Play

With summer quickly approaching, my mind is drawn to fun family activities.

Finding entertainment for the whole family can be quite a challenge, especially for those of us with special needs kiddos.  

As a mom, it's nice to see all my children engaged in something enjoyable.  I'm realistic and understand that this simply isn't going to happen every single day, especially with a 13 year and 10 year age gap, not to mention special needs!  

But a girl can try, right???

One place our entire family absolutely loves is Morgan's Wonderland in San Antonio.  I cannot say enough wonderful things about this incredible 25 acre park.

It's the world's first ultra accessible park designed for special needs children and adults, along with their family members, caregivers, and friends.  

You truly have to see it to believe it.

Both of the large playgrounds are built with ramps so kids in wheelchairs can play on it.  Plus, once you "climb up", the walkways are wide enough for not one, but two wheelchairs to either be side-by-side or to pass one another.

The playground surface is soft and cushiony, perfect for strollers or wheelchairs.

There are several picnic areas.  

Since so many special needs children are on special diets, you're welcome to bring your own lovely picnic lunch.  There is only one place where you can purchase snacks, right where you come into the park.  So you don't have to worry about other kids walking around with ice cream bars and cotton candy while your child can't have any - it's simply not sold anywhere.

There are regular swings, as well as high-backed swings with seat belts for children who need more support, and wheelchair swings.

Plus, they're all together in one area so special needs and typical kids can play together.

There is a Sand Circle


a Carousel

a Music Garden

a Fishing Wharf

a Train ride

a Gymnasium (though Spurs players aren't always there!)

a Sensory Village

a Jeep Adventure ride (and yes, it's also wheelchair accessible)

a pretend Grocery Store

a Hippotherapy horse

Touch Screen Painting

an Ampitheater...

and Lily's all-time favorite, a Water Play Area.

Even though these are pictures from last spring, I can't resist showing you some of our family's first ever trip to Morgan's Wonderland.

These roller slides are Lily's other favorite thing at Morgan's Wonderland.  I didn't think we'd get her off of them!

Even going down on her belly was fun!

We really need one of these in the backyard.  I think it's the only thing that might keep her truly engaged for a while and I could sit on the porch swing and read a book!  Anyone know someone who could build one of these for me???

Of course, once Lily discovered Water Works, she was immovable.  We've learned to save this for the very last thing we do.  One, because she won't do anything else afterwards because nothing else even comes close to water play.  And second, because we have to change her clothes!

That is some sheer joy on that sweet little face.

Lest you think this trip was just fun for Lily, I think these pictures of my big girls (not to mention my mother-in-law!) speak for themselves.

There are many things we love about Morgan's Wonderland but here are a few reasons why it's such an exceptional place to play.

1.  Everyone can participate.  Truly.  

2. Your kids can do just about anything and no one stares or looks at your kid - or you! - like you are the wackiest thing they've ever seen in their lives.  At one point, Lily decided she needed to take a break and just laid down on the sidewalk.  We just stood around her, chatting amongst ourselves, until she was ready to walk again.  Not one person said anything or looked at us like we were nuts.  Try that at Disney World.

3. Special needs adults can play right alongside the children, giggling, digging in the sand, squealing with delight on the carousel, or catching a fish.  And the kids don't notice a thing wrong with that.

4. It's a wonderful opportunity for my typical girls to spend some time around the special needs population - all ages and all needs represented.  It's a good chance for them to see we're really all alike, created in God's own image, and there's no reason to be afraid of or put off by someone simply because they look or act differently than we do.

5. Seeing wheelchair bound people swing for the first time in their lives will bring tears to your eyes.  In fact, you'll see many things that will bring tears to your eyes.  But in a good way.

6. Several of the park volunteers and workers have special needs themselves.  It's not only a fantastic opportunity for them to exercise some independence and earn a little money, but it gives those of us "typicals" a chance to see how much these special people are capable of accomplishing.  Which then translates to hope for our own children.  

I was purchasing some t-shirts and was especially blessed to be helped by a sweet, sweet lady with cerebral palsy.  We talked so long that Ryan ended up coming to look for me!  She hugged me good-bye like we were old friends and I promised to look for her on our next visit.

7. It's inexpensive (special needs individuals are free!) and crowd controlled.  It never gets so packed that it is no longer accessible and there are never long lines to wait in.

7. My big girls get on a soapbox when someone without a special needs family member asks if they can go to Morgan's Wonderland.  In their words, a typical family is not limited in any way to go to any theme park, playground, water park, etc... in the whole. wide. world.  Go to Fiesta Texas.  Go to Disney. Go to Schlitterbahn.  But leave Morgan's Wonderland to those who can't go to those places. A little harsh?  Maybe.  But I love seeing them get all fired up and defending the special needs population.

Morgan's Wonderland.  It's a special place.
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