Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Voice is On its' Way!

"Can you be at the East Oregonian office tomorrow morning at 9:30?" Carol asked over my voice mail. The SLP that coordinated and raised money so that Taylor would get a voice for Christmas (see the blog post "A Voice for Christmas") had called me the night before to go help her do an interview for the paper.
Yes, Taylor was getting his voice and yes, the Tango device had arrived in the mail. She had wrapped it with ribbons and a bow, and the plan was that this morning, Friday, December 21st, we were going to hold an interview for the paper and then go to Taylor's house with the reporter and photographer in-tow to get photos. (The article would be in either the issue Christmas Eve, or the day after Christmas - since there is no paper delivered on Christmas Day.)
I was excited to think that we were actually going to Taylor's house and that we were going to watch him open the greatest gift I could imagine being given to a boy this year. My Christmas spirit "richter scale" was registering a strong 8 or greater...major stuff!
I looked at my watch. It was 8:30 a.m. and I had several things to do in the office before I could leave. As I reached for my list, the phone rang.
"Hello, Lon? This is Ceci West from Blink Twice. I bet you weren't expecting to hear from me this morning!"
"No, I wasn't!" I said.
Ceci explained that she was the marketing director for Blink Twice, the company that makes the Tango. I had sent my blog story links to them several days before thinking the company would enjoy hearing the story.
"I had to get out my tissues while I read Tyler's story," said Ceci. "We wanted you to know that to sweeten the pot, we would like to give Tyler and his family a free, one-on-one webinar with our training and education specialist."
I felt the need to pinch myself. "This is great! Thank you so much!" I replied.
Ceci continued, "Richard, our president and founder read the blog entries too and just loved the story. I went in his office yesterday to tell him about it and he was already reading it."
"We are getting ready to go to Taylor's house and deliver the Tango here in a few minutes." I explained. "The SLP and I are meeting at the newspaper office first for an interview and then we are all going to the house."
"Well, Richard would love to give you a direct quote for the paper if you would like. I can connect you to him." offered Ceci.
I asked if I could call back once we were at the newspaper office and let the reporter get the quote. Ceci said that would be fine. We chatted for a few minutes more and then I was out the door.
At the newspaper office, I explained the new developments - the free training and the direct quote from the founder, Richard Ellenson.
The interview went well, and after we explained to the reporter how this amazing miracle had happened, we got out the phone and called Blink Twice. We were connected to Richard, who was genuinely excited and supportive. He shared that this story was making it a special Christmas for him too.
"Thank you for developing such a wonderful device that is making such a terrific Christmas for Taylor." I told him. "Let me turn you over to the reporter."
I handed the phone to her.
After a couple of minutes of writing notes, she said "Thank you," and then hung up.
"OK," said the reporter, "Richard told me that we were supposed to have a group hug. Since he can't be here, he said to share one and include him too!" We all huddled in a group hug and then got ready to head over to Taylor's house.
There will be pictures of Taylor opening his Tango under the tree, but in the meantime I will be sharing what happened that morning - after the article comes out in the paper and Christmas day has come.
I am so thrilled to have the honor to share this story with you and I hope you will continue to follow it as it unfolds. There is more to share, but this update has been enough for now! Get ready for some great pictures and the final story as Taylor finally gets his voice.
I am so thankful that I have seen that Christmas miracles really can and do still happen. I hope this is true for you too as you share with your family and friends over the next couple of days.
Merry Christmas!

A Chance to Act

Taylor (I can use his real name now),

got to do his part in the school play.

I thought you might enjoy getting to see him

in action.

His teacher said that he was able to focus on the "acting" because
he didn't have to think about how to say the lines. This was a new thing for him to be able to really be a part of a play. He had his lines programmed in the Tango so he could press the buttons in order to say each line. This Tango was on loan and had to
be sent back the last day of school before Christmas break. It was a lot easier this time knowing one was coming soon that Taylor could keep!

You can see he has his Tango device on his lap tray. It has a little stand to sit on.

We are all proud and happy for you Taylor!

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Voice for Christmas

I shared the story several weeks ago about Tyler, the boy who used a speech device called a Tango. (See the November 30 post)
He had really taken to it and had wanted to keep it. We had to say no, we were just borrowing it to see if it would work for him.
Well, there is A LOT more to the story and it is due to the efforts of many people. So sit back, relax and enjoy this GREAT Christmas story. You might even want to turn on the Christmas music here on the blog and grab a cup of cocoa. OK? Here we go...
A day or so after visiting Tyler and packing up the Tango device and shipping it back to the OTAP equipment center in Roseburg, Oregon, the speech pathologist, Carol called me.
"I have made up my mind that we need to find a way to get the Tango for Tyler. I don't know how and it seems pretty impossible to do, but I would like to see the $7,000 raised, the device purchased and here by Christmas."
Now this meant we had to have approval by the family as well as the district. It was going to be difficult to get all the details figured out on this. Carol shared these concerns with a gentlemen who had some contacts with foundations that might have money to give. He said, "Carol, you are just God's agent in this. If it is supposed to happen it will. Don't limit what can happen."
I gave Carol the number of our regional AAC sales company that dealt in the Tango and gave the sales rep a heads up on what we were looking at. The company, Aug Com Solutions, was able to ship us a Tango for a week and a half, until Tyler was out of school for Christmas. The purpose was to do a video taping to demonstrate how Tyler uses the device and play it for donation pitches. We also wanted to do a show and tell with the device while we had it to show foundations that would grant an audience.
The next challenge was the shipping. It was going to be $50 to get the device here in time and then ship it back. Carol asked the school staff if they could pass a hat and collect money to get Tyler's device back and try and raise the money to get him one. No problem there, the staff rallied and the device was on it's way! This was Dec 3rd or 4th. The race to get Tyler's voice by Christmas had officially started and the momentum was starting to build.
Carol and the special ed teacher, Jennifer, made an appointment to see the head of a local foundation. They also had found several charitable groups, Wildhorse Casino's foundation and corporate donations that might be possibilities.
The day of the first appointment a terrible ice storm shut schools down and stopped traffice on the roads - they had to re-schedule. Several days later, they took the device, a copy of my first blog entry to read if needed, and the prayers of lots of people.
The wife of the foundation director met them at the door. "Come this way," she said, as she led them to his office. Carol shared with them that they were there to ask for help funding a speech device for a boy with cerebral palsey.
"I don't care what it costs," the wife said, "You had better give them what they came for!" She apologized as she had a prior appointment and let herself out.
Carol and Jennifer shared the device and showed the director what it could do for Tyler.
"So how were you thinking of raising the money?" he asked.
"Well," started Carol. "we were hoping that we could get this by Christmas for Tyler. So if you were willing to give us half the money, and loan us the rest with no interest until June, we would work to pull in the rest this winter and next spring."
"How much is it?" he asked.
"7,000 dollars" replied Carol.
He thought for a moment. "I think I would like to just purchase the entire thing".
"Can I hug you?" asked Carol. "You just need a hug for being willing to do this!"
He smiled. "If you come up with this need again for another student, let me know. I might like to help with getting another one too."
Carol and Jennifer went out on the porch and hollered "Whoo Hoo!" jumping up and down. It was actually happening!
The next step was convincing mother. You see, as any good parent would be, she was concerned about using any device that would become a crutch and stop further language development. Our job was to let her see him use the device and convince her that the Tango would actually support and encourage more speech and communication.
I came over a day before the meeting with mom to prep Tyler on how to use the device. I showed him a secret weapon on the device that kids from day one have been able to use to warm a mother's heart. (Be prepared, you will learn what that is in a few minutes!) Tyler also had a school play that was being video taped for a classmate that couldn't participate because he was in the hospital. Jennifer had programmed the Tango with Tyler's lines so he could "say them" in the play.
The next day, we met with mom. I came early and everyone was in a staff meeting. I walked down the hall, and behind me, Tyler came in with his mom and older brother. Tyler ran to me in the way only he can and threw his arms around me. "You must be his buddy Lon," said the mother.
We shook hands and introduced. I led them into the speech room where the Tango laid on the table waiting for Tyler's demonstration. Tyler wanted to turn it on and show her right away. I told him he would have to wait. Carol, Jennifer and the principal would be there shortly. I shared some information on the device with mom and began to build my case. I casually threw in some of the advantages to having the device and we also made small talk about the holidays, plans and interests in general. By the time everyone came in I had made some new friends!
Tyler pressed "power" as soon as the first adult came through the door. He began to have it share his thoughts. The first one was "This is cool!"
Carol shared with mom the plan to use this to supplement his speech - not replace it. Tyler busied himself with our "secret weapon"...
"I love you mom" came floating up out of the Tango as Tyler wrapped his arms around his mother.
"Who could say no to that?!" I asked with a smile.
"I think this would be great for him," said mom.
"We have the resources to get it, but needed to make sure you were on board before we could proceed," explained Carol.
We all laughed and cried as Tyler teased and joked with the many comments he had mined on the device during his week with it. We all left the meeting feeling that we were experiencing the real miracle of the season.
"When do I get mine?" asked Tyler today while I went to visit.
"It was shipped today," said Carol. "the check is in the mail and the company has two devices they are trying to get delivered by Christmas day and yours is first on the list."
Tyler smiled.
His play is tomorrow afternoon. Three men (I'll call them three wise men), were instrumental in Tyler getting this device. One was the first acquaintence of Carol that gave her the advice to not limit what could happen. The second was the man who gave some seed money and referred her to the third man who donated the $7000 for the device. These three wise men will be at his play tomorrow afternoon where they will be officially thanked in a school assembly by Tyler and the school.
We helped Tyler program what he will say to them:
" I want to shake your hand."
" Thank you for giving me my voice."
Thank you Tyler for giving us a reason to believe that miracles really still happen at Christmas!
Merry Christmas everyone!
Here is the Tango site if you want to see the device. The home page has some great videos.
Post script:
The mother has released permission for us to video "Tyler" with his Tango. The play is being taped tomorrow so maybe we can post a clip on here. The Tango company has heard bits and pieces of this story and are excited. If Tyler gets his device in time, our local paper, "The East Oregonian" is planning to get a picture of Tyler and his device for the front page on Christmas morning. Aug Com Soutions wants a copy of the video and further demonstrations to see if Tango might want to post one on their site. I will keep you posted on all these things. ALSO...I LOVE and appreciate comments. When I look and there is a comment I am excited. It lets me know people really are coming here and reading. There are exciting things planned ahead in the next few months on how I am going to use this blog to link many of us together to do good for kids - so spread the word - refer friends to this blog and let me know your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Smaller Pieces

Christmas is coming. How are you doing? Are you getting overwhelmed with all the tasks on your "to do" list? Between work, family and church/community services does it look like there is no time to focus on goals that really matter to you? Do you look at personal and professional goals you have set and feel there are too many obstacles for them to ever happen? I have a secret for you...
See the chocolate? There is an awfully big chunk over there. But it has been broken into smaller pieces. Have you ever started on a big chunk of chocolate and broken off little pieces to eat until you looked over and it was gone? You probably thought "Oh my! Did I eat all that?"
Our lives get busy and the goals in front of us looks unreachable. Well, it's time to sit down and slow down. Take some special time to break down your goals into smaller pieces. Find a way to set mini-goals or action steps that will draw you closer to your big goal. If you give yourself 2 small tasks a week that will somehow bring you closer to your ultimate destination, think how much you would have accomplished by next summer, and what a sense of accomplishment it would give!
Don't give up on those dreams you have. I have dreams that involve my profession, accomplishments that might seem outlandish and impossible, but I KNOW that they are possible because I have stopped letting the big formidable project scare me. Instead, I am looking at the little pieces and saying "I can do that!"
It is also interesting to note that as I have intentionally put focus on the goal as finished and affirming that it is a done deal - and being grateful for that fact, I have seen events, people and circumstances join to bring the vision closer to reality. The encouragement I receive helps to spur me on. So...
What do you want to do? What would you like to accomplish? I see children every day that have big goals ahead of them - to walk, to communicate, to get what is inside them out to others around them. I get overwhelmed sometimes in the task of trying to help them accomplish these goals, but if I break them down into little pieces I believe that they will become reality.
Well, I say to you, "You can do it too!" Don't give up. Keep dreaming, and focus on the little pieces and before you know it you will have accomplished great things!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Drawing on the Wall

Today I expanded on several weekly visits where I have been modifying the curriculum and working with 2 challenged students. One is Downs Syndrome and the other CVI. We connected Intellitools Classroom Suite to a Promethean Board. The Promethean Board is like a Smart Board but caters more specifically to education and the classroom with templates and all kinds of activities.
I worked with the SLP and special education specialist to design some writing, reading and dictating activities where the students could design a story and hear it read and watch it animated back to them. The CVI student enjoyed seeing things big where he could manipulate them. He used the wand that was callibrated to the board so he could draw, write letters and drag and drop manipulatives for math.
We had a good time playing with technology today and so did our kids!
Check out the Promethean Board. Check out the latest version of Classroom Suite by Intellitools. The two work great hand in hand!

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Birthday Voice

Today a rare thing happened that will be a memory I will hold for the rest of my life. The event was so heart-warming and also so sad at the same time that I have to share it with you.
I have this device on loan from OTAP, our state assistive technology equipment loan center, called a "Tango". It is a long oval white digital computer communication talker with lime green lights and touch panels that slide through communication topics. It is very intuitive and children can naturally explore the cartoon topics and select one that branches to choices that surround that topic. It has a recorded childs voice stored for each message that is very warm and life-like. A student can even choose between angry, happy, whiney and tired voices!

I took this cool tool to an elementary school this morning to share with a couple of speech pathologists and a fourth grade student we'll call "Tyler".

Tyler is one of those kids that has a twinkle in his eye and a love of life in spite of his circumstances. He cannot pronounce many consonants and his oo-ah-oh sounding words are difficult to understand. He sits in a wheelchair much of the day and can walk with great difficulty. That doesn't stop him from going out on the playground and insisting on playing touch football with the other boys at recess. They are very kind to include him.

The first day I met Tyler - over a year ago, I brought him a binder with communication pages to start building so he could point to topics and choose things to communicate to others. He was thrilled and to this day demands his book when in speech sessions. He has added video games, family, activities, questions and a new page on friends.

I didn't know that his birthday was coming up this weekend. I arrived early and his speech path, Carol, told me they were excited to demo the Tango. Carol had told Tyler that there was a surprise coming for his birthday and that it was a person. "Is is it Lon?", he had asked.

So when Tyler came in this morning, he was very excited to see me. On the table lay this cool new "toy" that was potentially a new experience waiting for him...his voice.

"Whaaa iiis aaaat?" Tyler asked. His eyes were big as he touched it and let out an "ooh" sound.

We showed him how to choose topics and he eagerly pressed the take a turn button and listened to it say, "It's my turn now!" He grinned big.

Tyler is unique in that although he has physical limitations, his mind is totally sharp, clear and full of potential. There is so much going on in that mind of his...all the time.

"Would you like to be able to tell that to your friends when you want a turn?", I asked.

He nodded. His fingers began to explore some more.

Conversation topics under "Play Date" let him express "What do we do next?" or "Let me do it now".

After we took some pictures and recorded me telling him happy birthday, (yes, it lets you make new topic pictures and put sound to it -too cool!), I told him to surprise us and choose something he wanted us to hear and we wouldn't peek. He let me understand that I needed to move to the other side of the table to make sure I couldn't sneak a peek!

We sat watching as he smiled , touching panels and moving deeper into a topic to find just the right conversational message. I was amazed at how easily he found what he wanted to say. All of a sudden he grinned and looked at us as the Tango said, "Where are my presents?"

I was stunned. He had seen the cartoon birthday cake and party topic, selected it and moved through the sub topics to find presents as a question.

Carol's eyes teared up as she saw the excitement in his face while he held total control of his communication in his hands.

"Aaan I eep iit?" Tyler asked.

"No, we are just playing today to see if this was something you could use", I said.

He had a disappointed look, but seemed to understand.

He found the power-off button and set it down. Carol gave him a birthday post card and pencil. He read Carol's birthday message on the back of the card.

His assistant packed him up to go as he watched his new -found voice and friend get packed away at the same time.

As I said good-bye and watched him leave to go back to class, I couldn't help but be sad because he couldn't take his voice with him.

"Happy birthday Tyler. I wish the Tango could have been your birthday present. I wish you could have taken it home tonight to ask mom and family "Where are my presents?" or, "Thanks, mom. I love you."

A post-note: The principal saw the device today. After I left, the speech path went to the district office fired-up with the knowledge that she needed to go to bat for Tyler. You see the Tango costs about $7,000. There is not a way the district can justify that expense, but they agreed to contribute and look at a possible pilot program to use it with Tyler and assist in finding other contributors who could donate towards the purchase so Tyler can have his voice. If you are interested in contributing or rallying some organization that could contribute, let me know at my work email: and I will get you contact information as things develop. Maybe I can post a counter on this blog "A Voice for Tyler" and we can see what grows!

The Tango website has some remarkable streamed videos you can see on their home page by going to:

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

There Are No Limits To Learning!

Have you ever felt like you were in the "Mystery Spot" while trying to learn something new?
Have y0u ever tried to teach something to someone who you just knew was in the "Mystery Spot"?
What is the Mystery Spot?
It is that place where we all live when we are insecure and confused, when we need someone to hold our hand and walk us out into familiar territory.
Turning a mystery spot into familiar territory defines learning. What happens when new territory becomes familiar? It broadens our boundaries and increases an abundance of knowledge, confidence, security and joy.
My job happens to be in assistive technology so I am leading students out of the mystery spot daily. Sometimes this means I have to walk into that spot with them and solve the mystery for them because they can't see, talk, move or think for themselves.
I often feel unsure of my ability to understand the situation. I am often in awe of the honor I have been given to step into this spot and help a child find their way. I believe in teamwork, so I am challenged and inspired knowing there are capable occupational and physical therapists, speech and language clinicians, autism, vision, hearing and early intervention specialists all there with me to sort out a situation.
So I take a child's hand and give them a voice, or if possible, some eyes or some ears. I invent a way for them to participate and interact in an educational activity that brightens an otherwise dreary day.
When I see a child make sense of the mystery and find some new familiarity around them, I breathe a silent prayer of gratitude. Today I pray for you. I pray that you experience overwhelming joy walking into some personally new, yet familiar territory. But I also pray that you get to experience the blessings that come from bringing someone else there too.