Sunday, January 30, 2011

Adapted Computer Games

I am always looking for ways to incorporate technology options into Emma's entertainment and skill building (eye hand coordination, cause and effect, timing, etc.).  I have an older iBook that runs great with the internet and doesn't have any must-keep files on the hard drive so I've designated that as the girls' computer. 

Julia loves to play on the pbskids.org website and we have used the helpkidzlearn website with both Julia and Emma.  We also have a lot of files on powerpoint that move forward with a click of a switch but they don't seem to keep Emma's attention for too long.  Recently, Emma's teacher told me about the hiyah.net website and we are so happy that she did!  If you go to the website and select the Play Online tab at the top it brings you to a screen with a lot of different options.  We've only just started to explore all the options on this site so I can't speak for too many of the options, but I will say that we always wind up on Songs and Stories.  Clicking the Songs and Stories tab brings you to a screen of favorite songs - The Wheels on the Bus, Old McDonald and This is the Way.  Emma LOVES playing with these songs and you can open each of them in their own window so the song/game fills the screen.

We use the Don Johnson Switch Interface Pro to connect our switch to the laptop.  The school district had one available for Emma's use at home so we didn't have to buy one.  If you are interested in switch adapting your computer you might want to see if your school has one to lend out or if your state's assistive technology lending library has one available for you to "try it before you buy it."  We tried a couple fancier interfaces, but like this one the best.  

The really nice thing about the songs on this site is that there are so many photos to keep the child's attention.  For each line of the song there is a photo and to continue hearing the song the child needs to push the switch to get to the next line of the song along with a new photo.  This keeps Emma's interest up and she played the songs for about 40 minutes the other day with minimal assistance from me.  Ok, I'll come clean and admit that I hovered a bit while she was playing but she pretty much told me she wanted to do it herself.  She is really asserting her independence these days and is trying to do so many things herself.  Since there are so few things that Emma can actually do herself I was so happy to find a site that keeps her interest and has games that she can actually do all by herself!  That alone has me giving the hiyah.net site rave reviews.

For computer games I usually position Emma in her stander.  It is the perfect height for her to see the computer screen on the table and has a surface to position her switch.  It's also a way for me to sneak in some work on strengthening her neck without her realizing it.  

If you try out the website, let me know what you think.  And, if you have any other favorite websites that work with switches I'd love to hear about them - just leave me a comment or send me an email.  Thanks!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Emma loves a good hand washing

I took this video of Emma and thought it was too cute to keep to myself!

One of the things Emma misses out on at home is leaning into the sink and washing her hands by herself and making a mess with all the water.  I think all kids love to make a mess at the water in the sink.  It's almost like a rite of passage for little ones.  Emma has shown me time and again with her giggles and happy feet that she loves to play in the sink and wants to experience this right of passage through toddlerhood.

Since our house is not set up to easily have Emma wash her own hands (i.e., none of our sinks are roll unders!) I usually wind up wetting a washcloth and using it to wash her hands.  It's not that I couldn't put her hands under the sink to wash them more than I do, it's just that there are a million things like this I could do each day but my back can't accommodate them all.  

So, whenever we are out and about I always look for the handicapped sinks to let Emma wash her hands.  This occurs on our weekly visits to the hospital, trips to the bathroom at church, and many museums.  There is one particular museum that has the best set-up for Emma's hand washing and it is the local Children's Museum.  And while you will not find it on their brochure or website the family bathroom stalls with the roll-under sink is Emma's favorite exhibit.  It is there that I shot this video.

One thing I want to point out is how well Emma is listening and following directions over the noise of the water.  This video is soooo cool to me because it shows how good Emma's receptive language is getting with her cochlear implants!  She might not be saying much, but she is certainly taking in all the language we throw at her.  And she looks so grown up washing her own hands.  Thank you, Emma, for sharing your hand-washing joy with me and reminding me to celebrate the little things in life.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Overview of our current iPad Apps

We have been using the iPad with Emma for about 5 months now and she still LOVES it!  In fact, we all love the iPad and are happy when Emma decides to share it or when she goes to sleep and it's up for grabs.

We bought the iPad for both communication and entertainment use and I have to say we are 100% satisfied with the purchase.  The iPad opened up a whole new world to Emma.  She can use it to communicate, watch movies, flip through books, play music, learn her alphabet, play games - it almost feels like there is very little this handy device can't do!

I've had several people ask me for app recommendations for the iPad so I decided to share the programs we have loaded.  I am going to do a separate post on how we use the iPad for communication and focus this post on our iPad set up and non-communication apps.

With the new operating software we gained the ability to put the apps into folders.  This cleaned up the desktop significantly so now I can find her apps by the skill we want to work on.  I left our communication programs - Yes/No, Proloquo2Go, and TapSpeak Sequence on the desktop for easy access while I put most of her other apps into categories.  The categories I created are:  Books, Music Apps, Listening Fun, Pointing Fun, Educational Games and Flash Cards.

Our favorite books are the Dr. Seuss books, The Monster at the End of the Book (Grover Monster), and Toy Story.  They highlight the words as they are reading, have fantastic graphics, and include interactive options.  The Dr. Seuss and Toy Story (a free app!) books include the feature to auto read which I love!  She can also scroll through the pages on her own and is getting really good at flipping through her iPad books in a way that she can't do with her actual books.

Both girls really love the music apps we have loaded.  Emma loves to play the Virtuoso piano on her own but needs a bit of help on the others.  Julia is more than happy to play the music apps along with Emma so she gets to play these apps a lot even if I am doing something else.  I highly recommend the Old Mac and Itsy Bitsy apps shown below.  The Toddler JukeBox app is great, but I wish they made something like that where you could put your own music from iTunes along with a coordinating picture (sort of like in Prolo or TapSpeak) into the boxes and customize it for your child.  Anyone know of a program that does that?  Any app developers out there?

One thing we really like about the iPad is that we can use it to reinforce Emma's listening skills in a fun way.  She does not really enjoy her listening or speech therapy sessions, but is totally tuned in to listen when I incorporate the speech and listening into games.  The iPad has so many fun games for listening!  Our go to favorite games are Peekaboo Barn and Peekaboo Wild.  LOVE them!  For Peekaboo Barn the barn door shakes and you hear the sound the animal in the barn makes until you tap the screen (anywhere!  perfect for our kids with little finger pointing!) and the barn doors open and the animal is shown and a child says the animal name.  Then you tap the screen again and you get a closed barn door with the animal noise to play again.  The one thing that would make this program better is if the animal sound was louder - it would really make it a better listening game but as is we still love to play it.  We were lucky to get a free code for Peekaboo Forest to add to the collection and are happy to hear that a Peekaboo Fridge is in the works.  Sparkabilities Babies 2 is also a favorite in this house (we did have a couple problems with the app and the developers were very good at responding to my emails and then follow-up on the resolution).

We've seen that the iPad has brought out Emma's pointer finger a lot.  She is less fisted and more open handed when using the iPad and we are even seeing her pointer finger emerging to play some of the games.  I've collected a few games, many of them free, to promote the increased use of her pointer finger.  Emma loves these games, especially the Fireworks, Glow Draw and Koi Pond app.  I love how much fun she has with these games, that she can play them independently, and that she is working on her fine motor skills without even realizing it!

I downloaded a lot of ABA Flashcards when they were giving them out for free last year.  Emma loves to flip through the flash cards and can do this activity independently but I often choose to play with the flash cards when we are working together.  I like to reinforce the vocabulary and talk about each item and love that they are on a plain white background.  We don't use the Flash Cards as much as the other apps because I have touch and feel real flash cards at home that I use more, but I think we will use these more as Emma gets older.

Here is a screen shot of our desktop.  As you can see there are other apps. I haven't covered here including 123 Color HD.  I've left that one on the desktop because it is our most used app.  Both girls love coloring with it and it updates the coloring sheets for the changing seasons.  I think this app is free and is on my must have list.

There you have it - an in-depth looks at what is on Emma's iPad.  I've underlined the apps that I'd put on my Top 10 list and many of them are free or a very good value for your money.  We were able to use many of the iTunes gift cards Emma received to buy them, so if you have an iPad and want to buy some apps for your child you might want to let people know that an iTunes card for birthdays and holidays would make for a great gift.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - How we use the iPad for Communication.  I hope to have that post completed shortly.  Let me know if you have any questions on any of the apps we use.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One Little Word: Reflection on Month 1

I have to say that I am so glad I chose (or it chose me) Faith as my one little word for 2011!  I feel focused in a way that I haven't in the last several years.  Daily life demands make it easy for me to lose focus of the truly important things in life, to get pulled off balance.  I find my one little word grounds me.

I love taking the time to notice the daily reminders that God is present in my life and that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  Most days I feel hopeful, happy! and I love feeling this way!  On the days when I don't feel so hopeful I rely on others and borrow from their faith.  And I am so grateful to have many people with great faith from whom I can borrow.

This month has been filled with challenges, milestones, and some sadness.  Highlights include Julia's 5th birthday and her acceptance into kindergarten at the school of our choice, Emma's exciting progress with crawling and the power chair testing, Chris' enrollment for his first marathon this spring, me finding some time to complete a few craft projects and the opportunity to carve out a few date nights!  We also lost a dear family friend who will be sorely missed by many, but most especially by her family and my parents.

January brought with it a couple snow days/snow delays, colds, and the resurgence of our extra-curicular activities.  It also allowed me to prioritize time for reflection in my daily activities.  I'm starting to find more balance in my life and think it is a great way to start off the year.   So far I'm happy with where my One Little Word is taking me this year.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Power Wheels

It's very evident that Emma wants to keep up with her peers - she wants to go where they go.  We were lucky enough to get a KidWalk gait trainer for her in late November and I'm thrilled to report that she is starting to take a few steps independently in the KidWalk.  Everything she is doing makes me believe in my heart that she will walk one day.  Lately, though, I've come to the realization that day is a bit farther out into the future and will not likely be her main mode of mobility.

I've been in conversations with Emma's PT for about 2 years now around power mobility for her.  It all started with a research study at the local university that is studying the impact of power mobility on very young children with motor delays.  They have even demonstrated that children younger than 1 year old can benefit from power mobility if they are unable to get around independently.  I spoke with the researchers and they felt Emma would be a great candidate for power mobility.  Emma's PT agreed to start tsting Emma's power chair readiness with the Cooper Car.  You can see a video of her in it here.

Recently I've stepped up the conversation around a power chair for Emma.  It's obvious to me that Emma will not learn how to function a power chair by spending 10 minutes in the Cooper Car each week.  She is not learning stop because when she can only go for 10 minutes a week I think there is ZERO reason for her to want to Stop when we say so.  I really think she needs a lot of time with a power chair to learn the Stop/Go concept and demonstrate that she is ready for one so we can get the insurance to cover the chair.

I discussed this with some friends and the offered to let Emma test out the power chair they had for their son.  We met at the hospital because the halls and the space there are great for testing out power chairs.  Emma fit perfectly in the chair and seemed quite pleased to be sitting in it.  The controls were on the left side which is the worse of Emma's two arms, but she still had a lot of fun moving the chair around in circles.  I was able to get her to move up and down the hallway with minimal assistance.  While looking at the set-up, Emma might do even better with a different joystick set-up and possibly have the chair move forward when she pulls the handle back and go backwards when she pushes forward.  But, overall, Emma did much better than I expected.

I don't have great videos of Emma testing the chair out because I was monitoring the kill switch (it shuts the chair down when I push the button) in case Emma drove a bit crazy and I was trying to help her out and take the video with my iPhone.  Here is a brief video of Emma going in circles in the chair.

Emma will get a chance to give the power chair a more thorough test over the next couple of months because our friends are generous enough to lend it to her for testing.  I'm looking forward to seeing how she progresses in the power chair and deciding if now is the time to start the process of getting her one.

The one thing I do have to say is a power chair will require an adjustment to our lifestyle.  We will need to map out handicap access to all our favorite places because you cannot just pick up a power chair to go over a curb.  We will also have to determine the best way to transport the chair (minivan access in our future?) and a host of other issues.  But for now we're taking it one step at a time and looking forward to the possibilities for independence the power chair could give Emma while we continue to work with the gait trainer and her crawling.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


A while back I did a post on an affordable crawler Emma received.  Since Emma was too small for the crawler we made quite a few adjustments to make it work for her.  Emma did manage to crawl around with the modifications but the crawler was not ideal.

This week the crawler her school purchased (one a bit smaller than what we have) arrived and I was able to see Emma try it out.  Immediately, she started scooting all around the room and it was evident that the belly sling made it much easier for her crawling rather than the foam covered board we were using.  Not a big suprise :-)  When we got home I looked at her crawler again to figure out a way to make it work with the belly sling.  And then I got and idea!

I can't believe I didn't think of it before since it's so simple.  I did an internet search for a local machine shop and gave them a call before heading over there .  The reason we couldn't use the sling is because the bar holders the sling slid into was tall and the lowest setting was still too tall for Emma.  Well, the machine shop took off a couple of inches on the frame where the sling slid into and - voila! a crawler that is a good height for Emma when she uses it with the sling.  To use it, I put the sling into the holder bars and then move them to the lowest level hole and then go even further down so the sling is not in any of the holder holes but rather sticking out the bottom a bit.  This even allows her to use her hands a bit more to crawl and her palms are starting to open up a bit in this position.  The bonus is that it didn't cost a cent to have it modified thanks to the incredibly nice machine shop owner!  If you are still looking for an affordable crawler you might want to consider buying the crawler we did and having it modified a bit for size.

So simple, yet so powerful.  She is still learning how to crawl a bit with the sling because it allows her to flip forward a bit and doesn't make her keep her feet/knees on the ground, but she is learning fast!  Yesterday she was crawling around the house for about 45 minutes before I thought to take some video of her.  She gets slower and her feet don't move as well the longer she moving with the crawler - it takes a lot of energy to move! - but even after 45 minutes she was still moving so I decided to take some videos to share.

Here is the video I took.  She starts to crawl around 45 seconds into the video.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hopeful Parents

I'm happy to report that my monthly post is now up at Hopeful Parents.  It's titled Finding Time.  Click HERE to read it.  

Sunday, January 9, 2011


This year I read about Ali Edward's One Little Word - the idea of picking a word as your personal theme for the year.  Since I've never been a big fan of New Year's Resolutions, I thought the idea of a word might be perfect to ground me this year.  I already had the perfect word:  Faith.

The word Faith actually found me.  In December I found a gift card that I had won for Silpada jewelry and I decided it was time to use it (you know, since it expired at the end of the year)!  I picked up my catalog and found a couple of items that interested me but when I flipped to the back for the order information I came across a necklace that had the word Faith engraved on the inside of a concave disk with a mustard seed charm attached.  I knew that was the item I needed to get with the card.

I don't think it's a coincidence that I discovered the idea of One Little Word right now.  Or that Faith showed itself as my word for this year.  So, now that I have my word, what am I supposed to do with it?  According to Ali Edwards:

        You live with it.  You invite it into your life.  You let it speak to you.  You might even follow where it leads.  There are so many possibilities.   
I have my one little word.  Faith.  I actually LOVE it!  I'm looking forward to the journey the little word will take me on in 2011. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year

It feels like it's been AGES since Christmas day, but really it's only been about a week and a half.  We even still have our tree up and it is always lit when we are at home.  I think all of us, but especially Julia, will be sad to take it down this weekend.  We didn't decorate the house too much this year - mostly just a tree inside and a wreath on our door - because of it being up For Sale and it has made both me and Chris surprisingly happy.  The less is more idea really worked well for us this year.  Our stress level was quite low and I haven't tired of the tree at all like I tired of our house being taken over by Christmas decorations in years past.

We celebrated New Year's Eve with dinner at a local steakhouse along with hundreds of other perfect strangers.  We phoned for call ahead seating at 3:30pm for a 4:30pm dinner slot and I figured we would beat the rush with such an early dinner.  Nope!  Apparently everyone headed out to dinner early and there was a 75 minute wait at the restaurant around 4:20pm when we arrived.  Thankfully we had done the call ahead seating and within 10 minutes we were shown to our booth and were all happy as could be.  I loved the fact that I wasn't cooking, Chris loved that we were at a place that served great steaks, Julia loved eating the peanuts that came in a bucket on the table and Emma loved that we were at a booth in the back giving her the best view of everything going on around her.  Have I mentioned that she is a busybody?  Well, she was in busybody heaven that night.  Having an early dinner put us at home right around 7pm, giving us plenty of time to give the girls a bath and shower and let them curl up on the couch to watch High School Musical 3.  It's so funny to see them so interested in a movie for the entire length of it.  I find it especially great that Emma loves watching it with Julia.  It's a nice activity they can do together and both of them seem to love snuggling on the couch watching a musical.  I think the key to their attention is breaking out into song every 10 minutes or so.  I might have to remember this and just break out in song next time I need their attention.  

When the girls went to bed, Chris and I put on our own movie.  We have been watching the Band of Brothers series for most of the holiday since Chris received the box set as a gift and it was nice to take a break for the evening and watch a very light comedy.  I managed to be sound asleep when the New Year arrived and I think Chris abandoned watching the ball drop and rung in the New Year watching a basketball game.  The best part of the night was that everyone slept through it!  Over the holiday there were very few continuous nighttime hours of sleep so a good night's sleep cannot be underrated in my book. We spent New Year's day with some close friends that we see all too infrequently and just had a great day.

The new year also brings with it Julia's birthday.  My big girl is now FIVE!!!!!  Oh, boy!  Because FIVE is such a special birthday (really, aren't they all at this age??!!!), I will do a post on Julia's big day all by itself shortly.  I'm just pulling together the year in photos video to go with it and then will get it up.  I am optimistic that this could happen as early as this weekend :-)