Wednesday, January 18, 2012

8 Things I Learned From Blogging Daily

Mission Accomplished!  Well, when I wasn't looking, I surpassed by 30 day challenge.  A post a day for over 30 days.  I confess.  I am not timely, so I did not always get them up on each specific day, but I reflected and started the post at least.  The experience has taught me many things.  Here are some of those:

1.  It took a lot of time!  The more I did something, the more it became routine however.   Some of the mechanical tasks became faster (thank goodness).

2.  I learned it was better to be simple.  I stepped back to look at the design of my blog and made changes over the past month.  This came from looking at other blogs such as Art Mind and Modern Parents Messy Kids.  They typically use one large image in the center of the post.  I was trying way to hard to resize and place images side by side.  This finagling also ate up a lot of time.  The layout of some of my posts would have made my high school English teacher, Mr. Connor, cringe.  He was also the year book editor and I learned so much about white space and placing elements on the page.   I now try to place one large centered image for a cleaner look and to save time.  If I need to combine images, I'll try to make a single mosaic picture using Flickr tools.

3.  I learned frustration tolerance and how to stay calm.  Once I tried to change settings, eliminating  one of my authoring accounts (I had two under different emails).  It was the one that had administrative power.  For a moment I thought I deleted the whole blog!  With a little patience, I got it back up and running. 

4. I learned a little more about HTML...enough to realize I like WYSIWYG much better!

5. I learned about many of the apps on my iPad.  I often download one and then go off to work on other things.  If I was writing about them, I had to understand the ins and out.  The pleasant outcome of this work was that I applied what I learned to use at school with my students.

6.  I learned to be reflective and edit before posting...I am still learning this one. Yes, I know about the "preview feature," but sometimes I am too quick to hit "publish."  After, I would view the blog post and change it several times (my perfectionism coming out, I guess).  That was until I read Sean Sweeney's post apologizing for editing a post.  Apparently,  people who receive email updates don't necessarily see the corrected post.  Whoops. 

7.  I learned to connect and drive business to readers.  If I was spending this much time, I had to think of ways to share it.  I remembered to use Twitter to send it out to the masses.  I created a Thriving in School Facebook page to drive traffic.  I labeled each post so they are searchable (still trying to catch up with this one).

8.  I learned to present with humor.  Although I think the topics are important to the learning and lives of our students, I approach it with a spirit of fun.  It makes the "doing" more enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sensory Patterns in Review

I hope your enjoyed this series on matching apps to sensory preferences.  In review, here are the patterns of relating to our sensory world around us:

Sensory Processing Patterns

Registration -
high thresholds, passive self regulation
may not notice sensations ("let the world go by")

Seeking -
high thresholds, active self regulation
pleasure with sensations ("wants and gets it all")

Sensitivity -
low thresholds, passive self regulation
notices more than most ("no filters, gets everything")

Avoiding - 
low thresholds, active self regulation
minimizes sensory experiences ("covers up, gets away")

Keep these patterns in mind when choosing apps for your students.   It might help you understand why a seemingly good educational app doesn't work for a particular student.  Have fun exploring and discovering.

I want to thank Winnie Dunn (a self proclaimed Seeker) for her thoughtful work on Sensory Patterns and relating them to everyday life.  I have learned so much from her over the years.  If you are interested in reading more, please check out her book, Living Sensationally - Understanding your Senses.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Celebrating Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr. encouraged everyone to participate in civic life, so a wonderful way to remember him is to give something to your community.  Check out City Year or Volunteers Match programs near you for sponsored events or make up your own.

Download this free book in honor of Martin Luther King Day.  I wish I had this last week when one of the classrooms I work in was talking about this very subject.

The story of Rosa Parks is told through a young girl's eyes. The message is that one person can make a difference and that people make change by joining together. 

This book offers word help on underlined words. The page flips over to give added explanations and picture support for comprehension.

sample page
word help

Rosa Parks (level J) is part of Reading a-z leveled book series.  They have created a list of itunes books according to reading levels and offer one free book app at each level

After volunteering with your community, curl up with a good book!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Apps for Avoiders - Create Schedules!

Established routines are comforting and supportive of Sensory Avoiders.  It helps them know what is going on and what is up next.  Consistency is key.  Having such low thresholds means they are met frequently and this is uncomfortable and frightening to them.  Overall, Avoiders want to keep these events from occurring.  You may see withdrawal or emotional outbursts to help get them out of a threatening situation.  One strategy they use is to create strict rituals to prevent these events from happening.  Although they might appear as controlling and stubborn, they are seeking ways to limit sensory input to those that are familiar and easy to interpret.  Change brings the unexpected...things that may be too loud, too itchy, too visually confusing.  Help them by creating routines and introducing small changes so they can can adapt.

Video Scheduler ($12.99) is an app that lets you use photos or video to create schedules.  You can set up multiple users, handy for a school based occupational therapist working with a caseload of youngsters.  This allows you to keep multiple routines under a specific user's name.  Label each step or event with text.  Add a photo (take one using the camera or choose one from your camera roll).  Finally add an audio comment explaining what to cool!  If you have the iPad2 or camera enabled iPod touch, you can take video for each step instead of the photo and audio comment.  These videos can target exactly what you want the child to model.  When you choose a schedule, you see the linear list view of the steps.  When touching the step, the photo/video associated with it fills the screen and you hear the audio prompt or the video playing.  Even though you can do great things without the camera in older devices, this app takes full advantage of the camera and video capabilities of the iPad 2.  Video modeling is considered an evidence-based practice and provides an effective tool for instruction, intervention and behavioral supports.  I can't wait to upgrade my first generation iPad!

iPrompt ($49.99) is a prompting app that provides picture schedules, visual countdown clocks and choice prompts.  Schedules can have many pictures, or just two (a schedule of the day or first - then schedule, for example).  It presents as a linear step view when holding the device vertically.  Turn it horizontally and you swipe through each step or event.  You can use photos and clip art provided by the app or take photos on the fly if you have a camera on your device.  Since I am camera-less, I import photos through my camera adapter or search for photos from the Internet without ever leaving the app.  Your schedules are saved in a general area (not assigned to individual users).  The app recently added videos that you can purchase.  These are pre-made and cover a range of topics from making conversation to manners.  They even have a video on the different functions of pencil, pens and markers.  I think I will be showing the "playing tag" video to a student of mine who runs and chases in PE class but does not understand the tagging  part.  This app will make you get rid of those old handmade schedule boards and re-purpose your velcro dots...they make great fidget tools when placed under a desk, by the way.

Two other options are First Then Video Schedule ($9.99) and Picture Scheduler ($2.99).  Which app suits your needs?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Apps for Avoiders - Integrating Movement


The overall approach to intervention for Sensory Avoiders is to offer discriminating sensory information to honor their low thresholds so they may engage in useful routines and habits.  Discriminating  movements are those that repeat in a simple sequence much like rocking in a rocking chair.  These repetitive head and body movements help to calm a child who is overstimulated.  Having sounds repeated in a rhythm through a simple sequence or beat is discriminating as well.   

Now that we know that repetitive, linear movement helps to organize us, what would happen if this was paired up with a frightening sound?  Balloon Pop does just that.  In order to pop the balloon, you need to shake the device up and down.  Do this is a rhythmical fashion and the child is using linear movement while the balloons pop.  The sound turns into a simple beat instead of an unpredictable surprise.  See if this helps you Avoiders acclimate to the sound.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Apps for Avoiders - Desensitize through Stories

Never underestimate the power of stories.  Try adding a tale to deal with upsetting noises and events.  The Off We Go book series fit the bill.
Off We Go! books prepare children for everyday experiences and improve language and social skills. Each book tells the story of a particular event or everyday activity in a sequence of 12 steps. The Off We Go! book series help prepare a child to cope better with that new event or activity. Each book supports kids to partake in activities that they might otherwise find overwhelming, decrease parent stress levels, while at the same time provide a valuable learning tool.
Two of the books are made into apps.  Going to The Dentist book app helps kids get ready for a dentist visit in an appealing way.  They'll see what is likely to happen and hear some of the typical sounds from the dentist’s chair.

Airports and plane trips can be initimdating and frightening to a child.  Going on a Plane book app is just the thing to read to help prepare for this journey. 

These are both QBooks, an interactive digital picture book format by Kiwa Media.  If you are not familiar with them, you are in for a surprise.  Run your fingers over the text to see the words come alive (words seem to dance on the page as you hear the story).  Touch any word to hear it said or spelt.  Color in the book pages.  Kids can record themselves or their parent, so that even the narration is a familiar comforting voice.  Both apps are $3.99, well worth the price if these experiences are unsettling.  Watch them in action in this video and see if you don't agree.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Apps for Avoiders - Particularly Bothersome Sounds

Perhaps there is just one sound you need to target:
  • The loud industrial school toilets, particularly bothersome to those with sound sensitivities
  • Construction sounds with renovations in the schools (I have worked through this - we ran out of noise cancellation headphones that year!)
  • The sound of chalk during the Handwriting Without Tear "Wet, Dry, Try" activity
  • The visit to the dentist (we all know the sound of that drill adds to the pain!)
Choose any of the apps below to expose the student to specific noises while giving them the ability to lower the volume or to turn it on and off.

Flush It
Pocket JackHammer

Chalk Screecher
Dentist Drill

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Apps for Avoiders - Annoying Sounds

One fourth grader at my school is particularly sensitive to gum smacking.  As I observed her in PE recently, she was trying to avoid a peer who was chewing loudly.  When she was assigned to the team with this child, she looked up incredulously and muttered, "You mean with the girl chewing gum?"  Instead of joining the team, she inconspicuously assigned herself to another team.  How can we help children adapt to noises that cause them to flee from situations?

There are many apps that target particularly annoying sounds.  Not surprisingly, most have "annoying" in the titles.  Use these to target environmental sounds that are disturbing to an individual.  Have the student control the volume when experiencing them.

    The first one is Annoying Sounds - Free Sound Effects Boards.  It has a quick on-off button, but you have to use the iPad volume button to lower the sound if needed.  The sounds are divided into categories: high frequency, alarms, animals, eating, emergency, human, office, phone, random and wake up.

    The school environment has a range of troubling noises.  This app has them: fluorescent lights, coughs, blowing noses and clearing throats.  Imagine the school cafeteria.  It can be overflowing with upsetting sounds.  Look for slurping and smacking lip sounds under the "human" category to help kids desensitize. 

    Here are some other annoying sound apps (all free).  Both have a quick on-off switches and a repeat button.  Volume needs to be controlled by the iPad volume button.  Annoying Sounds! has twelve sounds, including  hammering, in-sink-erator and garbage truck.  Annoying Noises comes with 15 sounds including dripping, buzzing fly and a drone. 
    Annoying Sounds!
    Annoying Noises!

     If you feel you need more control for your Avoider, try Sounds Annoying!   You can change the pitch, volume and filter using slider buttons.  Did you not find the noise that you need to target?  It has the ability to customize your sound if you buy the in app purchase option (99 cents).  If there is a timer beep, a certain tick of a clock or a voice that may be grating to a particular individual, record it and use this for controlled exposure.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2012

    Apps for Avoiders - Bring on the Noise

    Even the most everyday sounds can be bothersome to Avoiders.  Part of Avoiders' ability to handle noise is through control.  They can prepare themselves if they are in the driver seat.  There are apps that target typical sounds in our world (animals, vehicles, environmental noises).  Given the chance to choose the sounds and listen after controlling the volume, the Avoider can prepare their nervous system and desensitize to the noise.  Sounds are not so offensive if the volume is turned down.

    Pocket Sounds is a collection of everyday sounds.  There are six pages with eight sounds on each.  The first five pages are sounds of objects and animals.  The last page contains longer sound clips to listen to while falling asleep, relaxing or doing homework. There is a large volume slider at the bottom of each page for quick access to sound levels (no need to fumble with the side volume button on the iPad).  How would this encourage participation at school or home?

    • Perhaps the students are going on a field trip.  A child who may be bothered by the unexpected animal sounds can listen to farm animal sounds to become more comfortable in this environment. 
    • Is the fire department visiting the school?  Expose the student to emergency sounds to explore.  
    • Going on a vacation?  Have your child listen to airplane, traffic and crowds of people.
    • Opening day is less than three months away.  Listen to the crowd "boo" (especially helpful if you are at Fenway and the Red Sox face the Yankees). 
    • Finish the session with a favorite relaxing sound on the last page.  Remember, Avoiders do well with routine, so stick to one song they enjoy.  I like the garden sounds.  It makes me feel like spring can't be too far away!

    Monday, January 09, 2012

    Teachers Have Sensory Needs Too

    Being an Avoider does not stop at childhood.  These sensory processing patterns tend to stay with us throughout life.  Hopefully the more we understand our sensory selves, the more we can develop strategies to help us navigate through life.

    Having grown up in a large family, I am used to a significant amount of auditory chaos.  I can generally tolerate a noisy working environment.  This suits me in my current job as I work with students in a variety of natural environments: classrooms, loud cafeterias, boisterous playgrounds and gyms with poor acoustics.  Each classroom has different noise levels.  I think this reflects the range of tolerance individual teachers have for sound.  If a teacher is an Avoider, the classroom is probably more structured and quiet.  If a teacher is not bothered by noise, the sounds of students working and playing are more noticeable.

    The TooLoud! app is ideal for the teacher who needs to limit noise in the classroom environment.  It records decibels, displaying the volume levels in numbers.  Use it to let the class know when they cross the auditory line.  Hook your iPad up to the projector and manage the working noise level in class by letting the students see the feedback for themselves.  The data is also visualized in a live graph and in a sliding bar that indicates the rising levels of clamor and babble.  Watch out for the red zone...time to bring the level down!

    Sunday, January 08, 2012

    Apps for Avoiders - Keep the Volume Down Low

    Ringer icon: screen shot from Auracle - Winter Is app by Auryn
    Is there anything more annoying than turning on the car when someone left the radio blasting?  This unexpected noise can happen when we open up a story book on the iPad with the volume turned all the way up.  Let's teach Avoiders how to control the volume on their device in a quick efficient manner.
    • The volume button is a rocker switch on the side of the device.  Keep pressing it to adjust the volume down or up.  If you want to quickly mute it, hold it down steady for about two seconds.
    • The side switch above the volume rocker button can be set to lock the screen in portrait or landscape orientation OR to mute notifications and other sound effects.  If you want to use this button for muting, go to Settings > General > "Use the Side Switch to..., " then tap Mute.  This will turn the sound off  in apps. The side switch does not mute audio or video playback such as music and movies.   You still have to hold down the rocker switch for this. 
    • To set a volume limit when listening to music, go to Settings > Music > Volume Limit.
    • Have Avoiders customize their own sound effects.  If they don't like that swoosh sound when they send email, choose from over 25 sounds...maybe a choo choo?  Go to Settings > General  > Sounds  > Sent Mail and choose an effect.
    • Adjust the alerts volume: Go to Settings  > General  > Sounds and drag the slider. 
    • Turn off the keyboard clicks if these bother a student with avoiding tendencies.  (I do this in meetings so as not to offend others)!  Go to Settings > General  > Sound  > Keyboard Clicks and turn to off.

    Saturday, January 07, 2012

    Apps for Avoiders - Having to Get Away From it All

    Photo by fekaylius
    Avoiders are similar to Sensors.  They also have low thresholds which get met quickly.  Their nervous system responds frequently to stimuli.  The difference is that they don't passively accept the situation like Sensors.  Because they are bothered by this sensory input, they actively try to avoid it.  Hands go over ears, bodies seek retreat under tables or stubborn behavior arises.

    The characteristic of this sensory processing pattern is craving limited exposure.  Avoiders will run away from anything that offends them.  As a result, these individuals establish rituals for themselves so they are not surprised by offending stimuli.  They hesitate to make changes because change opens up the possibility of getting attacked with unexpected and bothersome noise, sights, sounds, movement and smells.

    Withdrawal from experiences and the rigid routines that are created as coping strategies often affect participation at school and home.  As adults, we want to honor their need for reduced input while introducing changes in small ways.  Imagine a child who avoids textures in food.  The result is a very limited diet.  A knowledgeable parent respects this while introducing new textures a little at a time.

    Some of the apps suggested for Sensors would be suitable for Avoiders as well.  The difference is that Avoiders need the control.  Let them manage the type and amount of sensory input they get.  We will explore apps that have the ability to control input and make small incremental changes.  Our goal is to help an individual cope and make changes that promote participation in life.  Stay tuned.

    Friday, January 06, 2012

    Not So Flashy for Sensors, Please!

    Flashcards are a standard study tool.  They come in all shapes and designs.  Let's keep it to the minimum for Sensors, though.  Flashcards+ is a free app that is promises just the basics.  These are like the standard index cards you find at the office supply store.  Adding decks and cards is quick and easy.  Need something in a pinch?  Don't create a set if someone has already done this.  Flashcards+ taps into's database of over 8 million decks.  I downloaded Really Important Basis Spanish Verbs, Italian - Food and Meals, and Muscles of the Shoulder and Arm.  Notice the range of categories.

    In an IEP meeting this week, we discussed a student's struggle in math due to poor memorization of math vocabulary.  This prompted me to download "Geometry Vocab" as well.  Maybe you'll find what you need.

    This is a totally free ads to support it.  The only thing you pay for is audio if you want to add this feature (22 languages in multiple dialects and both genders).

    As Joe Friday from Dragnet would say "All we want are the facts, ma'am."  This is just what the Sensors want also - to stay focused and learning.

    Thursday, January 05, 2012

    Apps for Sensors - List It

    Sensors need more structure to keep them on task and avoid distractions.  Wouldn't it be nice to have something handy on your iDevice to quickly set this up?  You are in luck.  QuickTodo lite is one of many apps that do just this.  For Sensors, I like the simple and clean design of this free fancy bells and whistles to take your mind off the task at hand.  QuickTodo lite is a list maker that provides you with boxes to check offwhen you complete a task or step.

    You can use it for homework:

    You can use it to break a overwhelming task into manageable steps:

    Definitely keep this "in hand" for instant structure!

    Wednesday, January 04, 2012

    Apps for Sensors - Visual Background

    Gaze HD - lite provides nine video scenes to "gaze" upon.  Think of these as ways to block out other visual distractions.  You can set it to shuffle through the scenes, but keep it on one preferred scene for the Sensor.  Remember, they don't need random stimulation.  There is an option to play natural sounds that make the view more realistic.   In addition, there is a sleep mode that allows you to set a time before it fades to black.  This would be a great help for those who detect everything to fall asleep, don't you think?

    Encourage Sensors to chose a visual background that is most suitable to their needs.  They can sit in front a cozy fire, a waterfall, a snowy day or other restful scenes.  This might just be enough to help structure the setting and limit the variety of visual stimuli coming into view.  It's free, so give it a go.  A paid version with more scenes can be purchased here.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2012

    Apps for Sensors - Structured Noise

    The ticking of a clock is quickly pushed into the background for most people, but this sound is enough to distract Sensors from what they are doing.  Help them to choose a background sound that is predictable, while blocking out other random sounds around them.  Here are a few apps that you can try:

    White Noise lite provides ambient noise to block out other distractions.  The free version 10 sounds including rain, crickets, chimes, a fan, waves and a train ride.  You can mix the sounds, but stick to one sound with Sensors.

    You can purchase the sister app called White Noise Recorder.  This allows you to record you preferred sounds (a fan you are used to for example).  You take 10 - 30 seconds of the sound and it loops it for continuous play.

    Piano Classics is a simple piano music box that plays 15 classical music songs including Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner to name a few.  Experiment with which song is the "just right" one.

    There are many apps out there that fit the bill for calming, ambient background noise...what have you found as a favorite?

    Monday, January 02, 2012

    Wait! Apps for Sensors

    Sensors are those who detect everything.  Nothing gets by them.
    This makes them well suited for jobs that require noticing all the details (think airport security).  In some environments, this pattern would make it difficult to focus on important stimuli because they would be attending to even the slightest sounds, sights, taste, smells or touch.  They are distracted or bothered by things others do not even notice.  We have a clock in our conference room at school that separates the Sensors from the Bystanders.  The slight ticking sound is sure to to generate at least one comment while others are oblivious to it!

    According to Winnie Dunn's classification of sensory patterns, Sensors direct their attention to the latest stimulus, drawing them away from what they were doing.  When sensitivity interferes with participation, input should still be provided but in a more structured manner.  They still need sensory input, but not random input.  They operate best in a controlled setting. 

    Here are ways to structure sensory experiences for Sensors in school:
    • establish routines
    • provide feedback when drifting off
    • reduce visual distractions
    • create predictable patterns of sensory experiences
    • limit amount of information or steps provided to child at one time
    • encourage an even tempo during work time
    • select an even background noise to block out auditory distractions
    Is there an app for that?  Indeed there is...many in fact.  My favorite is a simple WaitStrip, described this way:
    "The WaitStrip provides a concrete visual representation of increments of time, amount of steps to be completed, number of minutes to work, number of math problems to be completed etc. It is a visual guide that allows an individual to remain on task or focused for a duration of time."

    You can determine the number of circles (5, 8, 10) to coincide with the number of items or steps to complete.  When one thing is completed, touch a circle and it changes color.  It has a satisfying click sound, but you Sensor may want the sound turned off.  This is just the predictability and structure sensors need...and it is all at your fingertips!

    Sunday, January 01, 2012

    Plunge into the New Year

    Granted, it was sunny and 45 degrees, but walking barefoot with winter coats on after taking a plunge into the North Atlantic is a bit out of the ordinary.  You might even call it "out of the box."

    If you were on Easton's Beach on New Year's Day, you would think it was more of the norm, however.  You would have been one of thousands plunging into the chilly water to greet the new year head on. 

    How can we jump out of our boxes in school?  What "out of the ordinary" thing will you do?  Bring a crowd with will seem more like the norm.  Guaranteed it will be refreshing!