Friday, April 25, 2008

Hidden Treasures Inside

I had a wonderful day yesterday. You want to know why? I discovered buried treasure.
The treasure was in a 15 year-old high school boy who I visited yesterday for assistive technology. We had never met before, but I had been hearing that his condition was worsening and that there needed to be some new access method for him over the summer to be able to work at his computer.

My son had gotten a Taco Bell Comic Book Maker CD software in his kid’s meal and had been dragging the background, characters and bubbles to make comic pages. He was typing text in the bubbles to write the story. I thought…why not take that with me today for my visit to make a fun and motivating activity with writing and practice using the AT too?
I took a USB
Ablenet Cruise Trackpad for him to try because he is losing fine-motor. I put the comic book software with it and he practiced using the track pad to navigate. Then we opened the Click-n -type virtual keyboard and he practiced interfacing with it to add text to the bubble in the comic. It worked great. Every now and then he would turn in his wheelchair and grin from ear-to-ear at his assistant, a male of about 26 or so that seemed like a great guy to have work with him.
I had him use Click-n-type with a Word document and with
Co:Writer by Don Johnston. He was doing very well and I was beginning to see he knew his way around a computer very well. I thought how great it was showing him what he could do with this technology.
The team had talked about looking at a speech device for him because he is having more difficulty communicating too. I showed him how he could use
Audacity, a free open-source recording software at home with a microphone headset to make WAV or Mp3 files of things he would like to archive to put on a Tango or an on-screen communication device we could make for free on a laptop. I made an Mp3 file saying “I want a big fat hamburger.” He grinned again.
“He has recording software on his computer at home,” said the assistant.
“What?” I asked.
“He makes rap recordings with his computer software, mixes them and makes CD’s. He sells them.”
I was dumb-founded.
The case manager, school counselor and other team members had known nothing of this. This was a kid who had a body that was shutting down and no one understood him. He had progressively gotten sullen, angry at times and was having behavioral issues. The boy I saw was a motivated, creative and enterprising kid that no one understood. Somehow, we had happened to meet today and all of a sudden we hit the jackpot and found out how to help him. He obviously doesn’t need motivation, he has that. What he needs is someone to help him tap his inner creativity and the person inside screaming to get out. Now that we know where we can go to support him, the sky is the limit.
“I didn’t know I had a celebrity here!” I said.
He beamed.
“I am so proud of you! You are so far ahead of what I thought. Here you are a musician creating CD’s and needing a way to keep doing what you love to do. We will get you going with this.”
This student looked relieved. He conveyed that, yes, he wanted to use the equipment and he could make it work.
I left a loaded laptop, comic maker CD and the track pad with him for a trial. It is a no-brainer that he can use the track pad for access - for now. I showed him a head tracker by Natural Point that can be used when the time comes.
I found a treasure inside a kid that I really didn’t expect to find. I was surprised and encouraged to find that we can really make a difference in this boy’s life. I have funding to purchase one of the track pads for him so that he has it by summer. I offered to do home visit to help him get a speech/communication voice archive started and help with any access issues.

Treasure sometimes comes in unexpected places. Yesterday I found a motherlode.

All the best to you!


Also: Today (Friday) is the last day to submit a post to the April edition of the AT Blog Carnival. Check the sidebar if you wish to contribute.

(This post also appears on my No Limits to Life Blog from yesterday. I just felt it was worth having both places!)


narrator said...

I remember one of the first cases I worked with in AT - a high school junior who could not read or write anything. We gave him WYNN (1.0 I think, back then), and ViaVoice, and a Dvorak keyboard. Withing one semester he had read the transcript of Galileo's inquisition from Fordham University's History Sourcebook, and written a paper on that. Amazing. Even more amazing was the reaction of teachers. They expressed shock, "His whole attitude has changed!" I simply said, "Duh, he has a reason to come to school now."

That was ten years ago. It is so frustrating that schools continue to see neither the potential nor the solutions. But luckily now, there are a few more of "us" moving around.

Kate said...

Lon, I have a student in my class with C Oxidase deficiency, a rare and progressive mitochondrial disease. She is rapidly losing her speech. She is likely to get a Dynavox in the next nine months or so. I spoke to our speech therapist about your fantastic idea to use audacity to record her voice now so that she can use those phrases in her device later. I was wondering if you could do a little tutorial either in your blog or by e-mail for me on how to use audacity to do this. My speech therapist is very "techie" when it comes to AAC and access, but otherwise is a little limited in getting around a computer. Think you could help out a few colleagues for the benefit of a great kid?