Welcome to the Wisconsin AAC Network first quarter newsletter. We made it through the challenging year 2020. I can not tell you how thankful I am to be in the new year. Parents and educators we can not thank you enough for your hard work last spring and this fall educating your children/students. I am sure many of you are thankful and hopeful too, isn’t that what a new year is for. We celebrated the end of 2020 on December 31 and on the next day we celebrated the new year, new beginnings. We do this tradition at the end of every year but isn’t everyday a new beginning for all of us. Of course yes. Meet Tim. Tim is a second grader who just got his device. Everyone on Tim’s team is so excited for Tim to use his device to communicate. For the first weeks everything was going amazing. His family saw him communicate with two and three words to tell them about his day and what he wanted. His school team saw fewer behaviors and saw him communicating his needs. Things were going great until the third month when Tim showed less interest in his device. You know like you and that gym membership you signed up for on January 1st. We need to excite Tim with the power of language and have fun with his device daily. If we do not do this we risk his device ending up on a closet shelf and we will never know his potential.
In this newsletter you will read about what they are doing in Madison to support their educators, how a trip down a ski hill can give your communicator lots to share and some book ideas to read on a cold February night. May you enjoy a new beginning every day.
Madison Schools Uses AT to Address Mental Overload for Students and Educators
As the pandemic unfolded in March 2020, many educators found themselves challenged with new tasks, roles, and demands in response to the needs of students. Educators quickly became overwhelmed by the unpredictability of the world and fears for their own families, friends and personal well-being. Vast amounts of new technology were presented resulting in so much new learning. Comments were often shared such as, “this is too much,” “I can’t possibly keep up with my family’s needs and all the new technology,” or “It’s so hard to do remote teaching for my learners with unique abilities or circumstances.”
In response to documented research about the effects technology can have on mental and physical health and the current challenges noticed in Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), two program support teachers, Layla Coleman, Coordinator of Multisensory Reading Interventions and a member of the MMSD District Mindfulness Core Team and Anna Cliff, Program Support Teacher for Assistive Technology, Occupational Therapist, and Special Educator came up with a new training ideas.. Collaborative discussion brought the realization that so many educators often take care of their students’ assistive technology needs but do not always use those tools or resources to benefit themselves.
Layla and Anna teamed up to train and teach educators, parents, and the greater community to consider how they could incorporate assistive technology tools and resources into their own lives. With the underlying belief that “mental overload” can be reduced by increased awareness of the use of assistive technology, Layla and Anna introduced their first training to DPI through members of the AT Forward Project, titled: Proactive Strategies Using AT to Address Mental Overload during a Pandemic. With a positive response to their efforts and training, they plan to expand to more departments in the Madison Metropolitan School District community in Spring 2021. Although Anna and Layla have always shared the belief that technology should be individualized and meaningful to students, they have found even more joy in helping educators, parents, and other community members find ways to best utilize similar tools and resources to meaningfully create space and calm in their own lives.
For direct access to the video training and resources, please visit DPI’s AT Forward Project: https://dpi.wi.gov/sped/educators/consultation/assistive-technology/at-forward.
Anna Cliff and Layla Coleman
I usually write about ways to incorporate AAC into your communicator’s day to day life. Today I would like to share a resource that is sure to give your communicator lots to talk about! We learned about the Moving Mountains Adaptive Ski program from another AAC communicator and her family. I really did not know if Mike could participate so I involved Mike’s former school PT in the process. We took a look at their sleds, she talked to program organizers and she gave it her stamp of approval. She and Mike’s former adaptive physical education teacher skied with Mike that first year. They actually were so impressed with the program they worked with the Special Education Department in Appleton’s school district to offer a ski weekend to their special education students and families. What a great opportunity for other school districts (if you want more information about the school’s process, email the Network). Pine Mountain Ski Resort, Iron Mountain Michigan houses the program. The program gives adults and children of all abilities the opportunity to feel the wind on their faces while they race down the slope. Mike uses one of their adaptive sleds (see picture below) but a range of assistive equipment is available depending on the skier’s strengths and abilities. It can be an activity the whole family enjoys. In our case my husband and I do not ski so I was very nervous about putting Mike in a sled and sending him down the slope. Mike on the other hand could not wait. The volunteers are just wonderful. The process starts with an application to gather information about your skier. Denise or Bud, program organizers will reach out to you. On lesson day (they call it a lesson but it really is the activity of skiing) they work with the skier to get them the support they need. On Mike’s lesson afternoon the volunteers took over getting Mike strapped in the sled, assisted him out and onto the chair lift, and my husband and I walked to the bottom of the slope to watch. Mike had a huge smile on his face when he got to the bottom of the slope. Last year Mike set a personal record with fourteen runs down the slope. The volunteers are just fantastic. Moving Mountains staff and Pine Mountain Resort have worked hard throughout the year to plan for the 2021 ski season. They have safety and mitigation processes in place and are offering lessons in February and March. They have information on their website and videos of the skiers’ having the time of their lives. Check out their website www.movingmountainsap.org
Dancing Daisies is geared for high school students. Author is Sarah Pyszka. It is about a teenage girl who uses a communication device who wants to go to a regular summer camp. She broke it off with two friends who betrayed her and she was so sad. Even though she was hurting she decided to go ahead with her camp plans. At camp she met new friends and a boy. They changed her summer. She gets in trouble at camp, will she get sent home. Read it to find out.