Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Written Output and the Least Restrictive Intervention

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Lately I've been fielding a lot of questions about voice dictation for young children (first through third grade).

Here are my thoughts on the subject...

  • In Occupational Therapy grad school, professors told us that the best opportunity to impact handwriting is up until the end of third grade. With this in mind, I never want to jettison handwriting instruction/therapy too soon. 
  • In special education we discuss the importance of placing children in the "least restrictive environment" to help them be successful. Meaning: too much support is just as bad as not enough support. I feel the same way about technology...if a student can learn to use standard available word processors, that is ideal.  Our hope is that a student could enter any library and access any computer for word processing. If they need special software or hardware, that becomes less likely. 
  • Voice dictation requires a relatively clear voice (though this is getting better all the time) It also requires fairly succinct sentences, or you get a lot of "uhms", "errs", and other filler phrases. Along with these necessities, one needs a fairly thick skin, aka a strong frustration tolerance. Apple's Siri is remarkable, and I've spent no time with the Android version, but hear it too is good. 
All that considered, sometimes a student's handwriting is just simply not functional. So, while their peers have already learned the task of writing, and are now learning with their writing, some students are still learning to write, and missing the next level content. 

In such a situation, if feasible, I like to introduce word prediction, and have the student engage in keyboarding instruction daily (10-15 minutes tops). The only way to become proficient keyboarding is to practice, and use it regularly.  For longer assignments we might ask the educational team to provide a scribe, thus allowing the student to focus on his/her content and not the arduous task of writing.

If the team envisions the child being able to learn and utilize keyboarding, that is my first choice. If not, then we consider voice dictation, knowing that we will ultimately be binding that child's productivity to a specific piece of equipment and software. 

I'd be curious to hear how other's navigate such questions. Thanks, and happy therapy!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Gift of Tech-y Children

Hey Tek-Ninjas! So today, my 14 year old son posted the following message on his Facebook account:
PSA to all friends with iPhones who updated to the latest OS - go into your settings, select "Cellular", scroll to the very bottom of the menu and switch off the "Wifi Assist" feature. Apple has sneakily added this to iOS 9. It automatically uses cellular data when wifi connection is poor, even when connected to your network.
Here is a picture map of what you are looking for
I love that my Apple Fanboy continues to teach me about the products which I so enjoy using! 

Happy Therapy!

Guest Blogger! ArtSee Studio iPad App & ArtSee Studio Case

One advantage of working in a school system is there are often very talented veterans I get to rub elbows with and learn from. Donna Swahlan, is one of those veteran Occupational Therapists. She works with our pre-k students, and is an endless font of wisdom. When asked if she might like to write a post she came back with the following:

Purpose of App:
ArtSee Studio is basically an art app that allows children to draw, stamp, move objects, make
use of various “themes”, and apply sounds to artwork. It also has Activities and Games including Odd One Out (think about the question, Which one does not belong?),  Association (Which items go together?), Coloring, and Connect the Dot activities. It may be best suited for children 2.5-7 depending on what features are being used and the child’s skill level.

The app is free on the app store (with some in app purchases) and can be used independently.  However, additionally, there is a plastic “case” that can be purchased here for between $10 and $20.

Tools (Digital tools in the app and also physical tools in the case):
  • Doodlee: (Green and Black Stylus) A drawing tool that can be used like a traditional crayon, marker etc, but can also be used horizontally on its side to add textures to a picture.
  • Stampee: (Purple Star/Flower shape): Stamp down with this tool to add characters and objects to artwork.
  • Funnee: (Long Orange rectangle shape): Allows user to change the theme. Themes that come with the app include Vehicles, Safari and Underwater.
  • Pointee: (Green Arrow shaped tool): Allows the user to move (run, jump, drive etc) and create a path for the object being moved. This tool draws a dotted/dashed pathway as the tool is moved and once the tool is taken off the screen then the object (like the vehicle or animal) moves and follows the drawn path.
  • Rollee: (Blue smaller rectangle shape) allows user to add background art and patterns to the artwork.
  • Melodee: (Pink Music Notes) Allows user to add sound and animation to the various stamped objects.

Additional Features and Possibilities:
A user can import photos into the app and use these as part of their artwork. An example of using this feature is to take a full body picture of a child, import the photo and then have the child “draw” himself on top of the photo. The children I have done this with have LOVED this! Additional thoughts I have had about possibilities include taking a photo of an object such as a table and have children move objects on, under, next to the table. Take a picture of a toy garage and move the digital vehicles into the garage teaching perceptual, space and directional concepts and supporting the language goals of our speech therapy friends. You get the idea. Really the possibilities are potentially quite endless.

The app has typical features for saving to a library, sharing by email (could be used to possibly send work samples to parents or to therapists data files), printing, and submitting to a gallery.

Additional Fairy Tales Theme is currently .99 (in app purchase)

  • Honestly the reason I bought this case and then downloaded the app is because the stylus (Doodlee) is excellent for preschoolers! I love the shape, size, weight, length, and feel of it for this group and their little hands. A plus is that once you have this stylus you can use it with any other child friendly I-pad app that requires or allows use of a stylus. I think probably kindergarteners or older children with delays who are still working on grasp would benefit from making use of the stylus. I like it so much that if I can, I plan to look into purchasing an additional stylus.
  • If the case is purchased, the physical tools fit and snap into the case.   These tools are very nice for promoting the use of a pincer grasp as the user removes the tools by grasping the handle. For children with weak finger strength, they need to apply/use some finger strength but not an excessive amount. These same handles are very nice for continuing to promote a pincer grasp while the child is actually using the tools.  The tools are moderately secure when they are not in use.
  • The case comes with a stencil that can be used for teaching shapes. It is in the back of the case.
  • The app offers a really nice way to work on prewriting stroke development by drawing vertical, horizontal or circular strokes while having interesting and motivating objects, shapes or visuals on the screen.
  • The case has a fold out panel on the back so that a user can angle the case, much like an Occupational Therapist would use a slant board. This promotes wrist extension in children who are still developing it. I have not actually used this slant feature, so I am not sure how stable it is.
  • If you purchase and use the case, the case covers the home button on the I-pad so that a child does not or can’t leave the app. This can be something to consider during therapy or teaching sessions. Actually one could use the case with different apps when it is advantageous to have the home button covered.
  • I think it is a good value for use with younger children, especially in a supervised or guided session.

  • Some of the Amazon reviews say that the app is not intuitive enough. I did have to play with it a bit to get used to some of the features. It is not really that difficult though and the case does come with written directions (the papers are inside the back of the case).
  • Other Amazon reviewers claim that it is easy to lose the small tools. This is not an issue for me, as I will only be using it in supervised settings.
  • It is a bit bulky to be carrying around as a therapy tool, but I think it is still worth it. Additionally, I can just carry around the stylus, Doodlee, and use the stylus with the app without having to always bring the case for all of the kiddos therapy sessions.

Questions or Comments:
Donna Swahlan, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist,

Monday, August 31, 2015

Writing Equations Without a Pencil!

Hey Tek-Ninjas, lately I've run into a number of older students with some variation of dysgraphia  performing a high level math.

These students have been struggling with writing out complex formulas. Not because the math itself is difficult, but rather the motor output.

One great and free solution I've found is Google Docs. Built right into the word processor is a free Formula editor.

If your student does not have a gmail account, get parent permission ( I like to get that in writing ) or ask them to set up an account for the student.

Then, in google docs follow the easy instructions in the video below.

Happy therapy!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Helping your Student Get their Clang-n-Bang Needs Met!

Greetings Tek-Ninjas. It's been a long and glorious summer. Alas, backpacking, mountain biking, and fishing will slow down dramatically with the return of school.

Even so, in order for me to stay productive and focused, I must incorporate movement and a little "bang-and-clang" contact with others. Some would refer to it as my sensory diet.

Recently a friend asked me to recommend something for his rambunctious 4th grader. She also craves movement and crashing into stuff. Her teacher notes that she wiggles non-stop in class.

I am a huge fan and advocate for martial arts. But not all martial arts offer the same experience. It's good to consider what your student (or you) will most benefit from. In our area there are multiple types of martial arts; Ninjutsu, Akido, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Folk-style Wrestling (America's Martial Art!) Jujutsu, and Brazilian Ju-jiutsu just to name a few.

Primary Differences
Some martial arts are formal, and require a student to stand at attention and follow specific protocols, others are less formal and relaxed. Certain forms focus on punching and kicking, other's involve grappling on the ground to control or dominate your partner. Another distinction is whether the form incorporates learning long katas (prescribed choreographed movements) or short katas (moves). Also, does a school offer kid specific programs. A final distinction I make is whether or not the school participates in competition.

None of these distinctions make a school good or bad, but they are simple distinctions which may better suit a specific student.

Locally, my favorite school or Dojo is the Chapel Hill Quest Center (QC), which teaches Stephen K. Hayes' To-Shindo Ninjutsu. Both of my sons, and I trained for several years at QC.  QC offers a blend of formality with relaxed friendliness. They offer a robust youth program which trains near-by the adults (meaning you and your child can train simultaneously), allowing you to be a role model for your youth. To-Shindo Ninjutsu is a blend of strikes, throws, wrist locks, and grappling. This art form uses short katas (ideal for folks who struggle learning long patterns), and is non-competitive. They offer a "Mighty Dragons" program for very young children which resembles an Occupational Therapist's sensory motor playground.

I'm also a fan of Folk-style or collegiate wrestling. This involves a lot
of physical contact, short moves to learn, competition, and self discipline.

A final consideration, parents may find it useful to talk with the staff and ask specific questions: i.e.: is your school comfortable working with kids with _______ (autism, Aspergar, sensory issues, or some other consideration). Some will be uncomfortable, others will jump at the opportunity to help your child reach his or her potential. Go where the staff are excited to work with your child.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Talking BIG Math

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Recently I have been working with a unique situation.

I have a student whom I will call Mike. Mike is very bright. Exceedingly bright. Top of the curve bright. However, he has some significant motor impairments, which leave him unable to write with a pen/pencil, and unable to type functionally.

I have worked with Mike for many years. We've tried voice dictation on and off, but his voice quality was never quite good enough. I always thought, eventually his voice would mature, he might get better breath control, and the voice dictation software would continue to become better.  All of which has come true.

Mike is taking Calculus. He has been dictating formulas to a scribe/TA. It is challenging to find
people who can dictate such formulas easily that are also willing to work for a TA salary. Let me be clear, I don't mean to denigrate, the fact is, I would be hard pressed to scribe for him. Math has never been a strong point for me.

Recently Mike asked to give voice dictation a try again. We set him up with a Windows 7 computer and Dragon 12. Mike was able to successfully complete the Scott Adams training module, which is the hardest of the training modules. I choose the harder one, because in order for Mike to be able to use this tool functionally, he needs to be able to dictate with the sophisticated vocabulary he utilizes.  Anything else, would essentially be pointless. He struggled with just a few words, but overall it was a great success.

Along with Dragon Naturally Speaking, we are using Scientific Notebook and Math Talk.  Scientific Notebook is essentially a word processor designed to create documents that contain text, mathematics, and graphics. Scientific Notebook can be downloaded for a free 30 day trial to get a sense of what the software can do.  A student license is $79.

The third component, Math Talk is a unique and phenomenal piece of software that integrates with Dragon Naturally Speaking to allow the user to voice any math phrases, including pre-algebra, algebra, trig, calculus, statistics, and graphing. An individual student version retails for $275.

Now, these are all pretty robust pieces of software. Layering of technology can often lead to problems. But, when loaded correctly, following the directions from the folks at Math Talk, and the training is completed, it is very impressive what a user can accomplish.

This is not a particularly inexpensive intervention when you tally a laptop, Dragon Naturally Speaking  Scientific Notebook, and Math Talk. But, in the long haul, it is significantly less expensive than hiring a scribe.  Also, I have yet to find anything that will work in this type of situation. My expectation is that the intervention will open up a significant level of independence for Mike.

One more note to make. The dove-tailing of 3 pieces of software can at first seem daunting. It did to me, and I tend to be fluent in this sort of venture.  If you follow the written directions from the Math Talk, it will work.  Or, if you call Math Talk for help, you will get NanciLu on the phone. She is the creator and owner of the company. She will make you laugh, and help you experience success with dictating complex math to a computer.  That is a win!

For the right student, this intervention is phenomenal, and I encourage you to take a look at a video or two if you think you have that student.

Happy therapy!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Believe the hype!

Hey Tek-Ninjas! First, let me say, I love rap music. I do. Old school, and even new school.

Second, I also love when everyone gets to participate in cool stuff!

So, if you haven't seen this clip, dig it... a sign language interpreter at a Public Enemy concert. Too cool!

Happy Friday!