October 2011

I was talking to a very busy father the other day. He is the Chief of Staff of medicine at one of the major Hospitals in the area and was taking time out for his daughter's soccer game, though he admitted he regularly worked 16 hour days and did not see his children often enough. He is a brilliant man of medicine yet confessed he did not know how to use technology well. I immediately had him pull his iPhone out and showed him several features. A major one was texting.

Many parents are overloaded with schedules that are too busy, not enough time and especially not enough time for their children. I told him that texting his children several times a day, just to say "I love you," "You matter", "What are you doing?" will make all the difference in the world in keeping connected. It will let them know you care and are really just a call or text away.

We need to leave room for margin. That white space on a page. That free time in our day for something else to occur. We cannot get so busy that we forget about doing those special things for our spouse, our children or a stranger.

Do you know that Christ Jesus did great healing in what you would call "margin"? As Jesus was urgently walking to heal a man's daugther, he stopped to heal a woman in great need. (Matt. 9)

Are you making room for MARGIN? Are you taking the time to help someone along the way, or help your family along the way? Are you looking around and noticing the unnoticeable? You can make some to the greatest impact with some of the littlest things in life.

Bad Habits have many names, but the one that prevails in the blind field is "blindisms". A Blindism may be rocking, poking eyes, pressing or hitting oneself, light gazing and a plethora of other things.

We all have bad habits and the only way to get rid of one is to do something else consistently for a minimum of 30 days. Yes, you can take the "Will Power" route out of self-destructive habits. I have not seen success in the will-power that just "says" I'm quitting the habit. Where I see success is exchanging one habit for another less noticeable or offensive habit. The person has to WANT to improve their habits.

If you take drugs or smoke, you have a chemical bond to break in your body , which makes it difficult. With a habit that inflicts injury to the body or a tic, you have some sort of psychological bond to break in the mind. Most children don't want to be associated with blindisms which stimulate a reward for poor habits.

So I help them exchange one stimulus for another. Example: One of my students rocked furiously and poked her eyes while doing it. She is very intelligent but did not look intelligent while in this frenzy of motion. Her peers jeered and made jokes and it was difficult for her to make friends. When young, her parents were told it was fine. No one knew the consequences of being told that. So instead of giving her other activities to keep her entertained, they let her entertain herself with rocking and eye poking. Then it became such a problem the girl had a terrible time breaking the habit. By her teens, she was very distressed at the lack of friends and worse the damage that she had done to her eye sockets. She had pressed her eyes back in the socket, had dark circles around her eyes and further damaged her optic nerves and lens'. Doctors refused to do eye surgery because she would cause even more damage after the surgery if she could not break the eye poking habit. (I have had kids actually pull their eyes out of their sockets, or pressed them so deeply that the deep black circles around their eyes looked as if someone hit them hard every day). Habits like this look bad but also damage…damage physically but also possibilities of making friends, getting jobs or advancing and competing with others around you.

Back to my intelligent girl: We tried bracelets and necklaces for her to rub instead of eye poking and rocking. That worked for a while, then it stopped. We moved to makeup and that was almost the breakthrough. Then we added a cool looking pair of glasses and that pretty much did it, but it took a couple years, until she could do it consistently for 30 days. She is pretty much steady as a rock now, though she admits, behind closed doors on those depressed days, she reverts back. But she knows she has to fight it every day until it stops the urge to revert back.

Other techniques that have worked: That soft fleshy part of the skin between the thumb and pointer finger. Yep, that's the part, press it and just slightly massage it. Very stimulating and enough to break another habit you do not want others to see. Holding a paperclip or pen, yep, even blind people can hold a pen and by twirling it in the fingers your mind is kept off doing the other habits that are not as acceptable in society. Others shake their leg, well just about everyone shakes their leg, so that is really acceptable. Find something!

I even had a friend who told me that for Lent she gave up rocking and eye poking and it worked after the period was up. Yep, God is a good one in helping you break those habits.

The grocery shopping skill is used for everyone; even blind students. Here are a few ideas on how to teach grocery shopping skills for the blind.

We aim for the whole experience of making a list, checking prices, calling for assistance at the store or bringing a friend, walking or taking the bus to the store, buying the food, paying for it, packing their tote or bags and getting back home, or to school.

Get Organized…hmmm, an absolute running theme in what we do.

  • Keep a grocery list throughout the week, either on a brailler or slate-n-stylus (slate n stylus is truly easiest at a home. Easy to put in a drawer, take out to add an item then slip it back in the drawer because it is so small and compact), yes a Braille Note or other adapted laptop works too, but I am always leery with computerized equipment around food and liquids. A grocery store can mean anything and you will never cry over ruining a piece of paper you brought to the store versus a Braille Note. Bring a calculator.

In school, students can write a list of ingredients needed to cook up a paticular meal.

  • Budgeting. Prices can be looked up online, to get an idea of how to stay within your budget. You may also call your local grocer for prices. If you are tech-savvy, you can order food items online, which will include the prices already.
  • Getting to the store. Select a grocer and then make a phone call beforehand to see if they have someone available to walk you through the store and gather items. You may walk to the store or ride the bus, either way it is great orientation nad mobility practice. When I lived by myself, I would always bring a rolling shopping tote and never buy more than the tote could carry. Students can also e encouraged to take reusable shopping bags to carry their contents.

If 2 or more students go shopping together, the students can divide up the responsibilities. One student can be in charge of handling the food and liquids, while the other student keeps track of the items on the braille note. This is great for the student who needs to practice math, because they will need to add up the total as they are shopping to stay within the budget.

  • Returning home, or to school, with the items and putting them away.

We have refrigerators at school and shelves to store the food until we use it. Due to the limited time in class, we divide the activities. Shop one day and cook or bake another. This way the students realize the reward of learning shopping techniques. As he students continue shopping, their fear will diminish.

When in school it is a greater benefit when you can do this in groups. I have my high school students mentor the young students…or sometimes everyone is learning the same thing and mentoring each other, but being together always adds to the fun.

Jaws offers a great spell check option that WORD cannot.  Word offers you the applications key any time you misspell a word.  Those of you who do not know what the applications key is, on a desktop keyboard, it is the 3rd key to the right of the space bar. It is the key you most likely have never used because you have no idea what it does. It is a very powerful key. Any time you do not know how to spell a word, spell it out the best you can, then hit that applications key and it will give you the correct spelling…that is as long as you have not misspelled it so badly WORD really has no idea what you want.

The next spell check in WORD is F7. I will provide a lesson on that later on, as it is very involved.

But the power spell check for JAWS is ALT+SHIFT+L. Try it out. Open word, misspell several words, then hit the command ALT+SHIFT+L and it will bring up your misspelled words and tell you how many you have in the document. Hit enter on the word and you will pop back exactly to the word, hit your applications key and enter on the correct spelling. Repeat the command ALT+SHIFT+L and continue until all words are correctly spelled.

Today, as I showed one of my students this power command, I could hear her smile across the miles of our virtual screen. She lit up the room and once again, she is shown how technology is making her life so much easier.

More lessons to help teach

Spell check as you type—finding the secrets to spelling

Spell Check after you finish typing a document

WORD-JAWS-Finding Spelling mistakes within a completed document

WORD – rechecking a document after you used spell check

Word- advanced spell checking

First of all, there is no such thing as unteachable. The only people who are unteachable are those who decide NOT to learn any more.

In regard to people, we all have the tremendous ability to learn, no matter where we start out. Children who are assumed to be unteachable were labeled that way and people started teaching DOWN to that label. We need to teach UP to the child.

We read in the book, The Brain that changes Itself," by Norman Doidge, "The Structure of the Brain changes with ACTIVITY!!!!"

I have proven, many times over, the brain changes itself through activity:  I've taken children who had been written off or inundated with the "unteachable" label. I ignoring the label and taught the child about a world they could access. Computers and different types of technology have enabled the deaf/blind to "talk" with their friends through texting. With my method, the blind can be independent and keep up with their peers. The low cognitive children can "speak" and interact with their surroundings.

Emailing opens up everyone's world and if you have a reluctant child to learn, tell them you will start with making friends on email. Add a braille display and they start reading. Everyone wants friends and it gets any child engaged.

One of my children who was put in the lowest class in the district, was thought to be unteachable. It appeared he had no skills. Slowly but surely through many activities of teaching color, moving and stacking objects and yes, teaching conversation skills, this child began to open up. After a year, I added a talking computer. As soon as I placed it in front of him, he placed his hands on it and said, "My computer." He got it. He knew this would help him even more. When we opened it I helped him to learn how to type words, so even when he did not want to speak, he could through his computer.

Everyone can be TEACHABLE!

Counting starts with the simple things.

Inexpensive counting starts with a long sting and a set of beads…or even lots of buttons lying around. Help the child string the beads or buttons on the string and count as they string it. Then tie knots at each end and have the child count moving the beads from left to right and back again. Make strings of ten, so counting to higher numbers is easy.

Make different lengths and tie around their neck for a necklace. Make a small strand on elastic and tie around wrist for bracelets. Keep their minds active and busy so they won't be thinking about poking their eyes or rocking for entertainment. They can wear their entertainment.

Cupboards are also a great way to learn math, spatial concepts and stacking. Have your child sit on the counter after you go grocery shopping and have them place the cans of food in the cupboard. I can already tell you, they will want to do this over and over again. That is fine. It is worth the mess at first and the inconvenience for you, as this teaches so many concepts.

I used to have several drawers and the bottom cupboards of my kitchen just for small children who would enter our house. I had a large can of beans with a bowl and stacking cups. The child will get these out, open and start scooping from the can of beans and measuring into the bowl and vice versa. I did this with rice also. They have that lower cupboard full of canned goods and the child will pull them all out (you will have to help them at first to know what to do) then 1 by 1, place them back on the shelf, counting each can they place back in the cupboard. Depending on the size of your cupboard, the child should be able to stack 2 or 3 cans on top of each other. For beginners, the sides of the shelf are great to help support an off centered can, but they get good at this. Then they count the cans as they stack. They also eventually learn how many cans will fit in a certain space.

While the tiny child would be playing in the cupboards, I would be making dinner. Of course, if the child were 3 or more, the child would get up and help me. As you know their attention wane's quickly, so then they would go back down to the cupboards and continue to "play".

By building in things to do at the child's level and around what you already do, they quickly gain concepts about the world around them.

Self-consciousness blows up in the face of some teenagers an they feel as though everyone is staring at them and judging them for every little thing. They worry about facial acne or their clothes, and blind students have the additional worries of being seen with a cane, or reading braille in front of their peers.

This fear of a superficial judgement also grabs us as adults. We judge ourselves and other on everything from what we wear to the job we have or the house we live in.

Here is what we must realize.
Everyone has something they are dealing with.
It's okay to be different, because generally it is seen as "cool." Not everyone can use a cane or read braille.

People in general who are beating themselves up about every little detail because they THINK someone perceives them in a certain way, are getting a mixed-up view of reality.

In general, everyone is so involved with their own lives that after the 3 initial seconds of talking with you or seeing you, you are pretty much out of their mind.
In general, your perception of yourself is not reality for the way others are thinking about you. Everyone is too caught up in his or her own lives.

Even if you trip and fall (OK, the exception is a President, where the media decides to play the same video over and over for the world) so even if you trip and fall and we all do it, after 3 seconds, you are pretty much out of everyone's mind.

We need to get over ourselves, so we can go on uninhibited and do greater things. As long as you are trapped in a self-absorbed reality, you cannot see the bigger picture of what can be accomplished. You are wrapped up in the fears in your world that are not true reality and then you cannot improve yourself, because all you see are your faults. Figure out your faults and correct them.

You will make your fears and faults your REALITY if you don't change.

All you who are using talking software and are trying to use FACEBOOK.com, it is time to switch to m.facebook.com

m.facebook.com is an HTML version of Facebook. All the information is lined up vertically so you can easily move through the text. You will save tons of time reading the Wall and responding to people

So save time and frustration…go to m.facebook.com and TAB through the pages. You will start smiling about your Facebook experience.

You can download lesson about facebook from the Jaws/Internet Tab above

If you are looking for a few IPAD apps for kids check out the link.

Baby Finger is an IPAD app that has been touted as a great tool for children with cortical visual impairment or low vision children learning their colors and shapes.

With large bright objects and verbal feedback giving directions on objects to touch, children are absorb in this interaction. It is also free, which makes it something great to try out to see if this would be right for your child.

Interesting article to read about how to use the IPAD with low vision children

Another free app iFarkle which is a dice game for iphone or the IPAD–and a completely blind person can utilize this game..fun for adults too.

A whole list of apps at

Apple Applications for Students and IPAD- ITOUCH- or IPHONE

I always think about the tricks I use for teaching the blind and realize almost all the same techniques work great for sighted too. How many sighted people have placed their hand on a burning stove? Yep, me too! LOL! We are a funny bunch of human beings.

As I take my students into the kitchen, the first thing we do is feel EVERYTHING with it off. They feel every burner, or flat cooking surface, all dials, open oven and pretty much almost climb inside. They need to feel every corner, racks, pull out and in, feel what they will need to clean on the bottom when something spills over. I relieve their fear on this immediately. Yes, food will spill over and YOU will have to clean it. They practice using oven-mitts while pulling the racks in and out of the oven. Then they practice with heavier dishes so they can get the idea of how much harder the rack is to pull out with weight on it. All with the stove off! Same thing for the burners, lifting different sizes and pans of water off and on the burners.

They turn on the burners one at a time, so they can see which dial goes with which burner. They hover their hand above the burner. If I have a scared and reluctant child, I have them put that oven-mitt on their least dominant hand, touch the burner and hover with non-mittted hand to get the idea of distance between the heat and their hand. We do this with each burner and this takes some practice. Once again, I relieve their fear of being burned and tell them, "You most likely will get burned if you are cooking."

What does not kill us does make us stronger. How can we pass knowledge along, good and bad, without experience? If you are going to experience life, you will be injured along the way. Oh yes, I teach first aide too–smile

After they make their meal, and need to place it in the hot oven, I have them place their least dominant hand on the side of the opening into the oven, then slide it down onto the rack, so they know where the food is going to be placed. Then their dominant hand places the food on the rack and slides it in. When done, using the same method of placing their hand on the side of the opening of the oven, down by the rack so they can get their bearing and support themselves, then with the dominant hand joining the least dominant hand, they slide the rack out with the dish of food. The other hand reaches for the dish and they easily left the dish of food out and place on the stove. Bend over, push rack in, lift door up and they have just baked their first food item in an oven. The oven-mitt is essential at first because they will touch hot surfaces and if the mitt covers their whole hand, then they will not be burned and the fear level goes down tremendously. If the child is afraid, they will tentatively do something and are more likely to make errors, such as dropping the dish because they fear getting burned or other silly things we humans do when afraid.

By using the method of them touching everything when it is cold and getting the idea of place, position and heat, the fear starts to wane and cooking begins to be more of a part of their life.

I even had one student who became a great cookie baker. When her sisters would come over, they always would ask, "How did you get these cookies so perfectly round and baked?" She told me this story and of course, after mixing the batter, she used her hands to form the perfect round ball, flattened it with her hands and placed it on the baking sheet. She knew her oven (oh yes, side note, 350 degrees is not the same on every oven, so get to know yours) and knew the exact time to cook them, because of experience and lots of practice.

Good articles to read on this subject:
Cooking Without Looking"….for Kids
A huge list of other cooking ideas

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