Archive for the ‘Tips and Favourites’ Category

Children with disabilities often have difficulty keeping up with the school ciriculum. Health, motor skills, cognitive abilities, support, equipment, etc., influence how well a child can learn. The equipment required to make that happen can be quite extensive.  A child with low vision for example may require their school work to be magnified with equipment such as a Flipper, low vision keyboard, zoom-text, specialized software, etc. A child with motor difficulties may require a touch monitor, specialized pointers, pen grips and more. Parents can find it challenging to support their childs learning at home because they don’t have all of this specialized equipment. Thankfully, technological innovations have helped to bridge that gap and make learning easier and engaging for children with disabilities.

The IPad serves as a great educational tool for children with or without disabilities. Though the IPad is not in everyone’s budget, it is much cheaper than the alternatives and provides a lot of bang for the buck. Some children with special needs may still require assistance with the IPad’s swipe or touch and drag functions. I will be doing several posts on IPad pros and cons for children with disabilities and my App reviews. Here are a few educational and entertaining Apps I think are worth checking out.

AutismXpress     Autism Express teaches emotions to children through funny faces and sounds. This app is also free.

Monkey Math School Sunshine     Monkey Math School Sunshine is fun and educational for young children to learn basic math, addition, subtraction, numerical order, etc. It provides the child feedback and has a reward system. Good contrasts in colours for children with vision impairment. This App has touch or touch and drag  functions. Support may be required for a child with motor difficulties however, it is easy to navigate.

TeachMe: 1st Grade     Teach Me offers a variety of Apps for different ages. This is the app is for the first grade. It’s pages offer fairly good contrast for the visually impaired. The text is large but in some areas should be darker. The exercises are great using touch. There are number and spelling exercises that require the child to use their finger or stylus as a pencil for writing numbers or letters. It has a reward and tracking system.

Kids Magic Draw - Animals ,...     Kids Magic Draw has several options for children to colour pictures and it’s free. It’s helpful in teaching a child fine motor skills such as using their pointer finger, grasping a stylus pen, touch and drag, etc.

SentenceBuilder™ for iPad     Sentence Builder is designed to help children learn to form sentences. This is a good app for children without disabilities however, in my opinion this may not be the best educational app for children with special needs. I did not find it to be very user friendly to a child with motor impairments and it can be visually limiting.

PrepositionBuilder™     Preposition Builder teaches children to understand prepositions and their placement in sentences. This App is easy to use however, more expensive. The pictures are fairly good for low vision users. The text is clear and it’s a touch and drag function.

Talking Tom Cat 2 for iPad     Talking Tom Cat 2 a free entertaining app. It definitely inspires some giggles and serves a different purpose also. Talking Tom mimics what you say. This could be a good teaching tool encouraging non-verbal children to make sounds or children with limited communication to say words.

There is something to be said about bowling.  It’s been around for as long as I can remember and just about anyone can play.  If you don’t mind looking ridiculous when your ball goes into the gutters or you only get a strike if it hits the kid bumpers, you can’t help but laugh.  Now a bowling party with many sugar buzzed children can be even more fun.  


It had been a year since I last bowled and many, many years before that.  It was no wonder I was getting my butt kicked by seven small children and other adults.  “Maybe you should try it between your legs.” one little girl suggested.  Now there’s a statement.  I bit my tongue, swallowed my pride and knew she was simply having pity on me for bombing at bowling.  It was definitely worth a few laughs. 


My daughter didn’t stop giggling the entire time.  This was one party where she didn’t have to sit out of certain activities.  With the help of the ball ramp, she could bowl with the best of them.  She wasn’t strong enough to hold the ball so the other kids fought over who would give her the ball next.  She’d wheel up to the ramp, line it up and let it rip.  I’m proud to say she had the 2nd highest score out of 12 people.  I on the other hand, should probably take lessons from her. 


If I could say just one more thing about this bowling birthday bonanza, it would be that it’s an accessible party alternative for children with disabilities and in many cases a place where all children are on a level playing field. I would suggest checking with parents of the child with disabilities to make sure there are no sensory or other issues to consider.


If you’re looking for ideas, consider bowling as an option for an inclusive children’s party.  It may not be pretty for us moms but hey, the kids have a blast and you will too.

A few days ago, I did a post on the Virtual Music Instrument and its debut with Erin Wan’s hands-free violin performance.  A truly a remarkable breakthrough in technology gives the gift of music to people with disabilities and can be used as music therapy to improve motor and cognitive ability.  Thrilled by this discovery, I set out to find other options of similar technology and the closest I could find was Timocco. 

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Recently I heard of new technology that gives people with disabilities the opportunity to learn to play an instrument.  Developed at the Bloorview Research Institute at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, the Virtual Music Instrument (VMI) has made what once seemed inconceivable now a reality.    


The Virtual Music Instrument made its debut when Eric Wan wowed the audience at Montreal’s Place des Arts stage last November. Wan, who is paralyzed from the neck down, performed a 6 minute piece of Johann Pachellbel’s Canon in D Major using this virtual hands-free violin (VMI) with the Montreal Chamber Orchestra.  Eric Wan trained as a violinist until he became a quadriplegic at the age of 18. 


As a graduate student in engineering at Bloorview Research Institute, Wan started working in Dr. Tom Chau’s Bloorview laboratory where VMI was conceived. The laboratory focused on the technological innovations with practical implications for children with disabilities. Wan was a key player in developing the most recent version of the Virtual Music Instrument.  Using the VMI, Eric Wan can create and perform his music once again.



Music therapy has been around for many years often with good results.  With recent technology, parents and therapists have turned to products like Nintendo, Xbox Kinect or Wii to increase mobility by motivating movement, play and cognitive function in children with disabilities.  Switch devices, toggles and other tools have been used.  It can be very frustrating when the product doesn’t quite meet the unique needs of the child.  These products can also be very costly despite their limitations. 


The Virtual Music Instrument doesn’t rely on a child being able to manipulate an instrument.  A web cam is placed onto a television projecting the child’s image back onto the screen.  Colourful dots surround the child’s image representing a musical note.  When the child moves and passes through a virtual dot the musical note is played.  The computer software essentially translates movement into music.  The program is customizable right down to small movements like a finger. VMI takes music therapy to a whole new level. 


The Virtual Music instrument was originally tested in rehabilitation centers.  It is now an affordable program that can be used in your own home.  VMI can be purchased through the following link, click here


There are times when we simply have to stop, listen and witness something extraordinary.  Tonight was one of those times.  I received a call from my mother who was aware of my recent post on the impact of Steve Jobs to the disability community.  In a few short words she had me drop everything and turn on 60 Minutes.  As I listened intently, I heard yet another example of the wonders of the IPad. 


The story reported by Lesley Stahl showed how the IPad is helping adults and children with Autism.  More specifically, it demonstrated how the IPad was giving a voice to those who did not have one before.  This tiny little box was providing therapists and parents with new insight into the minds of their patients or children.  They were learning how each soul had feelings and interests they couldn’t share before.  They were amazed and grateful.  Apps like Proloquo2goAutism Xpress, Look In My Eyes 1 Restaurant or Look In My Eyes 2 Car Mechanic  were being used to facilitate communication, learning, and social skills. 


Some forms of augmentative communication can seem so primitive and cumbersome.  I’m astonished at how far technology has come.  The IPad and Apps are opening doors for those with Autism and other disabilities.  Being non-verbal is often perceived as being unable to understand.  In most cases this couldn’t be further from the truth. 


Let’s be wheelistic.  This may not be for everyone but for some, it’s fantastic.  If you would like to view more on this CBS report, click here.   



 A few years ago, I witnessed two children learning to play with each other without language.  One had limited mobility and normally communicated through sign-language, while the other was Haitian and didn’t understand English.  Yet despite the challenge this could present, these two children didn’t seem to care.  They played like they had known each other their entire lives.  They found away to communicate and play without support from anyone else.  It made me think, if we get rid of our barriers, our children won’t have them either.  In an effort to make that easier, here are my top ten ways to include a special needs child.


1. Communicate. Often children with special needs can still indicate their interests and make choices.  Ask the child or their parent what things they like to do and discuss any accessibility concerns. This will make your life much easier instead of focusing on the barriers of what they can’t do together. For example: if the child is non-verbal or has limited communication, ask the parent if there are ways to communicate and what types of things their child enjoys. Chances are that parent is going to love helping the children play and will not mind the questions. Beware of getting too personal though. That child’s health history, etc., is none of your business.


2. Ask your child. “Have you seen things Jimmy likes to do?” This is probably better than asking “what do you think Jimmy would like to do” since a child is often going to respond by providing his or her favourite things instead of Jimmy’s. Many children already recognize what another child’s interests are just by watching, at school or other places. Still a word of caution, some children come up with their own conclusions on things a child can’t do when in fact they probably can.   

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A short time ago, I entered into the realm of renovations.  Maybe you know about it.  It’s the place where good intentions, clear vision and money go out the window in no time.     As I walked through this world of measuring, swatches, and shopping overload, I couldn’t help but feel like I was having an out of body experience.   

If that little voice comes to you while watching a home design show and says “I can do that”, try to look at the whole picture.  I like to stroll through stores with interesting and colourful accessories but that doesn’t make me a designer.   I often find no matter what your intentions are for your home, some things can be really difficult to find or create.  Still I do my best to take it on thinking positively and holding to my vision.  Before entering into the realm of renovations, make sure you understand your needs, time frame and budget as clearly as possible, and you’ll do just fine.

Whatever your renovation desires, your contractor (if you’re using one) is the most important decision you will make.  Take the time to ask lots of questions, check references and get more than one quote.  You’ll know who is right for you, simply by how informed and helpful they are.  Keep in mind that a cheaper quote or going with a friend is not always the best direction to take. 


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As I sit here typing my next post, I have to wonder how many other people are doing the same.  How many other people got up this morning with great intentions and barely made it through the day.  Now as they curl up with blanket, they aren’t ready to fall asleep because their brain doesn’t want to shut down.  They’re clicking keyboards, remote control madness or turning pages, whatever works.   

My day probably wasn’t that much different.  We all have errands to run, chores to do, calls to make and emails to return. Some folks are working and others I can only envy as they are on some sun and surf vacation.  The big difference in my day is the norm for me is not norm for most.  Mine begins whether I’m ready to get out of bed or not. 

My daughter Callie is my alarm clock.  As other children her age  might jump out of bed and watch the morning cartoons, I help Callie out of bed as she can’t do so on her own.   I was ridiculously tired this morning but reminded this is such a great way to start to my day.  It’s that moment where you think you need toothpicks to hold your eyelids open, then you see that precious little smile waiting for you.  Suddenly I’m awake and happy.  I have a quick morning snuggle and I help her up to start her day.   

Our day has medications, feeding protocols, therapies, etc., but we’ve learned to go with the flow and have fun with it.    Perhaps the biggest thing I learned, was just to incorporate things into daily activities.  When the therapist gives me feedback on what to work on, I put that into a play activity.   If  it’s positional, I make sure Callie practices those positions while doing other things.  I made a chart to help me keep track of what we do each day, so I can see what we need to work on. 

I wasn’t always this organized.  There was a time when Callie’s medical priorities far exceeded everything else.  Exhaustion was my middle name.  In the beginning she spent 7 1/2 months in hospital and the years that followed were the most challenging times of my life.  Lack of sleep was understatement.  That was then, and this is now.  Now it was all worthwhile.  Now I feel so fortunate to have such an amazing little girl. 

Though my norm may not be like yours, it’s never boring and always rewarding.  Wheelistically, I know there will still be those days of exhaustion, but as the years go by, it get’s easier. Knock on wood.  Is my kind of norm that different?

(Wheel-ist-ic) Adj: awareness or acceptance of actual fact, real existence, or truth with relation to inclusion, accessibility and/or persons with disabilities.

Let’s Be Wheelisitic is a blog designed to open communication, share and create change through parenting, awareness, inclusion and advocacy. Over the years people have encouraged me to use my voice and experiences with my daughter to help others with or without disabilities, or parents of children with disabilities. This blog is my way of doing just that. I hope you will find this site enjoyable, educational, helpful, and rewarding.
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Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. — Dr. Maya Angelou