Friday, February 08, 2013

Inclusion Week and Diverse Abilities Day

(Brace yourself, this is going to be a long post)

I'm going to preface this by saying that I am not a "go-getter". I know some of you probably don't believe that but really I do not, by nature, have a go get'em kind of attitude. I don't particularly like to be in charge of things and to be honest, I'm not terribly confident. There I said it. It's the truth. So taking on "Inclusion Week" was a huge, giant, massive step out of my comfort zone. I was so far out of my cozy comfort zone during this process that I couldn't even see my comfort zone anymore. It was that far away! That being said, if I can do this, anyone can do this. Seriously. I am making all of my files available to anyone who wants to use them. You can see the files by clicking here.

I'm going to back up a bit to give a little background on how this wonderful event came to be. A couple of years ago the PTA at Caleb's school was looking for new board members to fill some open positions. I should add here that the PTA at Caleb's school is full of go-getters. They are the most involved parents I have ever seen. Our PTA works tirelessly all year round to do amazing things for the students, staff, and the school. I recognize not all PTA's are like that but Caleb's school is very lucky to have such a great group of parents. Anyway, as I was looking over the open board positions, I noticed that there wasn't a position that addressed the needs/concerns of students receiving special education services. It seemed to me like there should be a parent on the board that was there to be a voice for students that have IEP's or receive some kind of special education service. I presented my idea to the PTA president and a new position was created. I filled that position. After doing some research I learned that other districts in our general area had what they called SAGE (Special And Gifted Education). SAGE specifically looks at the needs of special education and gifted students within the school. I drove out to these other school districts to meet with some of their SAGE representatives and I loved everything they were doing for their schools. So, I followed their lead and took the SAGE label as my own. I am the first SAGE chair in our district...but after all of this, I think that will be changing. One of the events that I witnessed at another neighboring school district was: "Diverse Abilities Day". I drove over an hour to see this event for myself and I loved it. I decided to tackle this event at our school along with "Inclusion Week". Now, Inclusion Week is actually a nationally recognized week in a lot of schools across the country. It is the first week of December but because of scheduling issues we had our "Inclusion Week" the last week in January. 

There are a million things you can do with Inclusion Week. The website has some great resources and ideas. Here are a few of the things we did at Caleb's school:

*A book display in the library showcasing different abilities.
*Morning announcements about inclusion. We did an "Inclusion Challenge" each day. Example: Take a look around our school. Is it accessible to everyone? 
*Posters all around the school.

I got these first 2 posters on the InclusiveSchools website.

This poster came with a DVD: "Ten Tips for Kids: Disability Etiquette"
I bought 5 DVD's for the teachers to check out and share. Each DVD came with a poster.

I also bought this poster pack from Lakeshore Learning.
I hung up these posters all over the school along with a "definition".

The students at Caleb's school are in the halls a lot as they go to recess, art, music, computer, lunch, etc. I knew these posters would draw attention and students would stop to read. Even as I was hanging them up, I saw students stop to read.

Here are all my "definitions". I just typed them up, glued them on colored paper and laminated them.
I laminated just about everything!

*I really wanted teacher involvement so I put together a 2 page list of possible classroom activities they could do with their students during the week. I got all of the ideas from the Inclusive Schools website. I'm telling you, that site is a great resource. They have a ton of ideas and resources.

Now for the main event of the week: Diverse Abilities Day. This was the part I was most worried about. This was the part that took the most planning and organizing. This was the most important piece to our Inclusion Week. Basically, Diverse Abilities Day gave students an opportunity to visit different stations to learn more about that diverse ability. 
We did the event in the gym. We did it over 2 days so that every single student in the school had a chance to come through. We scheduled it so that the classes came during their enrichment time so it didn't interfere with class work. There are almost 600 students at Caleb's school, so doing this over 2 days really helped to spread out the number of kids coming in at one time. It kept the number of students at each station more manageable. Ideally 8-12 kids per station seemed to be a good number, when we got over 12+, it was more hectic. There was only 10 minutes at each station before the buzzer rang and the students switched to the next station. It went by quick. Because the students have a one hour enrichment time, they were able to visit all 5 stations within that hour. The stations ran all day, for 2 days.. 

Here are the stations I did:

Wheelchair: The students got an opportunity to complete a wheelchair obstacle course. I set up a mock classroom with a desk and chair. I put backpacks and jackets on the floor around the desks. The students had to navigate around the stuff on the floor to get to their desk, pull the desk chair out so they could square up with the desk. Next, they had to take a piece of paper from the desk and take it to the other side of the room. All of this while pushing their wheelchair. We had 3 wheelchairs available, one was Caleb's old chair, the other 2 we got from our vendor. A big thank you to Innovative Seating and Mobility for loaning those 2 chairs.

We also had a "Wheelchairs Manners" sheet that we went over briefly with the students.

The Wheelchair station was definitely a favorite with the students. They were all really excited about the opportunity to try using a wheelchair. Over those 2 days I discovered that every single student in that school from kindergarten to 4th grade knows Caleb. And I mean they KNOW him. He isn't "that one kid in the wheelchair", they know his name, they know who he is. I'm not joking, Caleb has serious rock star status at his school. When he rolls into the room, you hear about 10 different kids yell "Hey Caleb!!" He's like a celebrity or something. Warms this momma's heart to see how accepted he is. And why wouldn't he be? He's awesome.

It was fun watching the students try the chairs. I forget that there is a bit of a learning curve to pushing a chair and it was interesting to see how much some of them struggled to make the chair go and turn.

Vision Impairment: This station was run by our VI teachers. They did amazing. They brought different goggles that mimic a variety of vision impairments. They had braille books for the children to look at. They had a braille machine that types out braille, and a variety of other vision resources. The students had an opportunity to wear the goggles and use a cane to walk around. Each student also got an Alphabet Braille card and a slip of paper with their name in Braille (they thought that was pretty cool)

I ordered the Braille cards here.
The VI teachers made the personal cards with the student's name in Braille.

Caleb trying to read with the goggles on.

(it was pajama day at school-that's why he's dressed like this)

Trying out the Braille printer.

Sign Language: At this station the students learned some basic signs. They also got to see some assistive technology devices that allow student to touch a picture and the tablet "speaks" for them.
I got this sheet here.

The students reviewed these signs. Some station leaders paired the kids up and had them spell their names to each other. They got to take the paper home so they could practice.

Working hard on those signs. He really like this station.
This was a popular station for all the students.

Dyslexia/ADHD: This station had some non-dominant hand activities. The students had to use the opposite hand they would normally use to write.
I made copies of this sheet, then laminated them. The students used dry erase markers for the activity and we just used baby wipes to clean it off. It worked really well.

We did this activity with the older kids, grades 3 and 4. The story is reversed, making it very difficult to read. They only got a couple of minutes to read it before the station leader started asking them questions about the story. Quite a few kids related to this station. Some of the older kids shared their own struggle with Dyslexia. I think it opened a door for them to share something about their self. It was really, really neat.

I got these resources from this website.

It's really hard to write with the opposite hand!

For ADHD, we just reviewed what it means to have ADHD and we read this book:

 Autism: This station is a bit tricky. Most of the kids have heard of Autism but don't really know a lot about it. We tried to focus on the 5 senses and how those senses might be heightened for someone with Autism.

We used the red flashing light to show how some people with Autism are distracted by lights, even an overhead light in a classroom can be a distraction. We used the tape recorder to make a high pitched feedback sound to show how some people with Autism are very sensitive to noises. I made some velcro collars by laminating strips of poster board and putting squares of velcro on it. The kids put the collars around their neck to see how some people with Autism find their clothes to be itchy and uncomfortable. Because Autism is a broad spectrum we just tried to keep it simple and focus more on the sensory aspect. I think the kids, especially the older ones, really learned something at this station. We also had this book to read if time allowed:

I also ordered these book packages from Lakeshore Learning. Some of the books were used at the stations. The rest of the books I made available for the teachers to use if they wanted to incorporate inclusive themes into their curriculum.

These are the station signs I made. I just used pre-cut letters on poster board, then laminated. In hindsight, I wish I had made the station signs bigger.

Our stations. At first I had the signs taped to the tables, but the kids wanted to gather around close to the tables so they could see everything. I eventually moved the signs to the walls, that worked much better.
Every station had an "instruction sheet" that outlined exactly how the station should run. I wanted it to be as easy as possible for my volunteers. They had everything they could possibly need to run their station.
(All of this is on the file drive if you want to access the files)

So, how did it go? I can't express enough how incredibly nervous I was about this. I had nightmares that everything went wrong, I woke up with a racing heart and near panic for 3 nights in a row. I was scared to death. This has never been done in our district and I just didn't know how it would go. It went absolutely fantastic. Seriously, it couldn't have gone better. I had amazing volunteers that signed up to run the stations and I needed a lot of volunteers. I think I had about 40 volunteers help out. Wow. I loved watching my volunteers run their stations. It was fun to see how each volunteer did their station a bit different. No one did the exact same thing, they all added their own twist to the material they were given. It was really fun to watch. Those 2 days went so smoothly. It was hectic and crazy but also wonderful. Those students left each station having learned something. You could just see it on their faces. They left that gym with a wealth of knowledge and understanding that they didn't have before. They now have a personal memory of using a wheelchair, of not being able to see, of using sign language to communicate, etc. My goal was for them to appreciate these diverse abilities without feeling sorry for those that experience these things every day of their life. I hope I achieved that. I know for sure they all learned something and they all had fun. I can't ask for more than that. I received nothing but positive feedback from everyone. I'm still floating on cloud nine!

Some of my favorite quotes from the students:
(while wearing vision impairment goggles) "I feel like I'm BLIND!"
(while pushing a wheelchair) "Wheelchairs are awesome, I wish I had one!"

The event got district attention and they came out to film the stations and interview me. The district seemed very interested in this event and it looks like this might just get district wide support. That means this event would happen in schools throughout the district. This is huge! I am beyond excited. This event was a labor of love and the success of it exceeded my expectations. I can't wait to see what happens next. I'll share the district video once it is finished.

The best part is that there isn't really a limit to the stations you can do. I decided to start small with just 5 stations. I tried to pick topics that I thought would be most relevant and fun for this age group. But you could do a number of different things, you can do more stations or less. I'm sharing all of my resources because I couldn't have done this without the help from other districts that have traveled this road before me. I had tremendous help and direction from other SAGE representatives in the area. They shared all of their resources with me so I'm sharing all that I have with you. Hopefully this will help someone who wants to do this at their school. How great would it be if this spread like wildfire throughout the country! I get goosebumps just thinking about the possibilities. I was so blessed by this experience. I'm getting teary just thinking about it. 

You can get access to all the files I used by clicking here

Seriously, I am not a go-getter. I'm just a mom of a child with Spina Bifida. I did this for Caleb. Something like this wouldn't have even been on my radar if I wasn't his mom. It's amazing to me how life pushes us to do things we wouldn't normally do. I've learned more about myself and what I'm capable of in the last 7 1/2 years than I ever learned in the years prior. I'm just a mom. If I can pull this together, then anyone can.

If anyone has any questions, contact me. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Knee Immobilizers

A few weeks ago I came to the conclusion that Caleb needs more support to walk. He has worked so hard since his tethered cord surgery last April (seriously, I can't believe its almost been a year already). He has given it all he has but AFO's just aren't enough to support his legs for walking. At least not right now. Today he had an appointment with his orthopedic doctor to talk about our options for getting Caleb up and walking a bit.

Playing video games in the waiting room. He was playing some game with a skateboarding wolf. He loved it. I had to pry him away when they called us back.

Doing what I call "wheelie spins". He does a wheelie and then spins really fast in a circle while maintaining the wheelie.

He spins crazy fast!

Anyway, back to the ortho appointment. I had every intention of getting him fitted for KAFO's today because I am certain he will be able to walk if he just has more support in the knees. The doctor had a different suggestion...knee immobilizers. I have heard of these and our friend's son with SB walks pretty well with them. The argument for the knee immobilizers instead of KAFO's is that the immobilizers are lighter so they won't add extra weight to Caleb's legs making it harder for him to walk. They want to see how Caleb does with the knee immobilizers first. If he does well with them, then we go back and get fitted for KAFO's. It seemed like a fair compromise so I agreed.

I don't really know how to describe them. Basically the immobilizers wrap around his leg, offering support and stability. You can fit them tight for more support or loosen them for less. Pretty basic design and easy to put on. He can't bend his legs at all in them so these can only be used when we are specifically working on standing or walking. He can't really get around on the floor with these on.

They worked great. Caleb has been dependent on his arms to hold all his weight when he tries to use his walker. He will complain that his "arms are getting tired" because he uses them to hold up his weight. These immobilizers almost forced him to put pressure through his legs and feet.

I know the immobilizers were working because after walking around a bit, Caleb complained that his "legs were getting tired." That was the first time I have heard him say his legs were tired. That means he was actually using his legs and not relying so much on his arms. That's a good thing.

I think the immobilizers will force him to put pressure through those feet and legs. I think he will start using muscles he hasn't really been using. I'm excited. I think he was pretty excited too. Man, that kid works so hard. Love that booger.

All dressed up....

...and nowhere to go.

(He put this ensemble together all by himself)

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Wheelchair Fencing

Caleb's wheelchair basketball team had some special visitors after practice. All of the kids got an opportunity to try fencing. How neat is that!?

Putting on all the necessary safety equipment.

Before they got started, I noticed that Caleb seemed really nervous about it. I wasn't sure what was making him anxious at the time but later in the car he told me that he was worried the swords would hurt. Once he realized this was just for fun and no one would get hurt, he was ready to give it a try.

He's ready to go!

En garde!

Facing off with his opponent.

Caleb can now say he has tried fencing. Man this kid gets to do a ton of fun stuff!

Crazy Hat Day

Caleb had "Crazy Hat Day" at school this week. I found a floppy hat that I had bought a few years ago on clearance. I gave Caleb some crafty stuff and let him decorate his hat however he wanted.

The hat before.
(I don't know why he won't just smile at the camera. He always gives me this silly faces! He's probably so sick of me always taking his picture)

I gave him some pom poms, feathers, stickers, leaves, and pipe cleaners.

His finished masterpiece: Caleb's Crazy Hat

Monster Truck Arena

I feel like I am so behind on blogging! These pictures were actually taken a week ago but I'm just now posting them.

The boys love watching Monster Jam videos. Whenever they watch any videos about monster trucks, Benjamin will run back to the playroom to get the stash of monster trucks. Last weekend the boys and I created our very own monster truck arena.

(I love it when the boys play nicely together)

The trucks were all lined up, waiting for their turn.

Crushing cars!

We even had a fans watching the monster truck show.

Completing a back flip. Caleb's trucks always do a back flip.

Up the ramp.
I love how purposeful Benjamin is when he plays.

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