Augmentative and alternative communication 2015, much more than face to face communication – The future starts here

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Augmentative and alternative communication has progressed exponentially from its beginnings years, and now it is capable of giving its users access to the world and a wide range of communication needs. In the paper, “Using AAC Technology to Access the World”, Howard Shane,  Sarah Blackstone, Gregg Vanderheiden, Michael Williams, and Frank DeRuyter discuss the ways that AAC has developed and the possibilities that it offers its users today (2012).

Michael Williams, an AAC user himself, describes the systems with which he communicated before assistive technology existed. Williams discusses the frustration with the “point and grunt” method, which he relied on for his basic wants and needs in life. After he learned to read and write, he later progressed to “air writing”, which was just as frustrating but allowed for more successful communication. In the 1970’s Williams received his first computer and began writing columns in his local paper on the capabilities that computers had to help people with disabilities. With this newfound speech device, Williams spent much of his time focused on face-to-face communication; however, he states that now the world relies heavily on the Internet, and there are many other ways to stay in contact and interact with others.

Like Williams, much of the world has recognized that face-to-face communication is no longer the focus of augmentative and alternative communication. The world has changed its focus and people rely on the Internet for more and more of their daily actions. So, the AAC industry has tried to respond accordingly. Nevertheless, with a changing industry and a constantly evolving technological word, there are many challenges that the AAC industry is facing. As explained in the paper they include: physical access and control of the device, fluency and capability using technology, the cost, and societal blockades. In addition, the AAC world must solve physical, cognitive, and linguistic access issues that AAC users might face.

The global society is drastically changing, and the way that people communicate with each other, access information, and interact with others are advancing every day. These changes are also subsequently affecting the way that the AAC world is developing. The AAC world is creating new possibilities for AAC users, and with these new possibilities there are also many challenges. With more research, trial and error, and new development, the AAC world has a lot cut out for them in order to meet all AAC users needs and benefit them in the best way possible.

Ola Mundo is the next step in providing non-verbal people access to messaging and quick communication. It gives them the opportunity to reach people not in direct proximity to them and utilize symbols/ illustrations/ pictures to make messaging easy. As society changes and technology evolves, it is necessary for people without verbal skills to keep up. Ola Mundo provides them a new way to communicate just like their verbal peers in a fun, exciting and a truly enjoyable way.

Shane, Howard C., Sarah Blackstone, Gregg Vanderheiden, Michael Williams, and Frank Deruyter. “Using AAC Technology to Access the World.” Assistive Technology 24.1 (2012): 3-13. Web.

 

 

What types of parents are at a higher risk for autistic children?

A new study published in the Molecular Psychiatry Journal has now linked parental age with the increasing risk of autism. The study looked at autistic rates of children in relation to both older and younger parents, as well as the age gap between parents.

The study analyzed over 5.7 million children in 5 different countries, making it the largest study to look at the correlation between parental age and autism risk.

The population of the study consisted of children born in Denmark, Norway and Sweden between the years 1985 and 2004, children born in Western Australia between the years 1985–1999, and Jewish children from Israel born between the years 1993–2004 with a subsequent diagnosis of ASD.

Both the age of the parents as well as the age difference between the parents were analyzed. Statistical analyses were done and age was looked at independently, and joint parental age was also analyzed. Micahel Rosanoff, the director of public health research for Autism Speaks stated, “We can now say confidently that advanced paternal and maternal age is a risk factor for autism” (Greenfield, 2015). Although this information is not new or shocking, it is the first study that examined such a large population and concluded with such extensive results. The correlations they found showed that autism rates were 66% higher among children born to dads over the age of 50 when compared to those in their 20s. The study also showed rates of autism were 28% higher among children born to dads in their 40s paralleled to those in their 20s. In addition, rates of autism in children born to teen moms were 18% higher than those born to mothers in their 20s, and autism rates were 15% higher in children born to moms in their 40s (Sandin et al., 2015).

The study also showed higher rates of autism when parents had a wide age gap. When the father was between the ages of 35 and 44 with a partner at least a decade younger, the rates of autistic offspring were much higher.

One theory for the rise of autism in children of older parents is attributed the parents advanced age at which they met and conceived. The theory is explained by the fact that the parents may be on the spectrum as well making it more difficult to find a partner and starting a life together (Greenfield, 2015). Of course, this is just one of many theories that attempts to explain the cause of autism in children of elder parents.

It is important to remember that most children born to elder parents will develop normally. Although there is no definitive cause of autism and the trigger for the disorder remains a mystery, with more research hopefully soon a cause will be determined.

 

Greenfield, D. (2015, June 10). The Type of Parents Most Likely to Have a Child with Autism. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from https://www.yahoo.com/parenting/the-type-of-parents-most-likely-to-have-a-child-121212598657.html

Sandin, S., Schendel, D., Magnusson, P., Hultman, C., Suren, P., Susser, E., … Reichenberg, A. (2015). Autism risk associated with parental age and with increasing difference in age between the parents. Mol Psychiatry. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/mp.2015.70

Are Standardized Tests Underestimating the Nonverbal Population?

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Nonverbal or minimally verbal children are being overlooked. Standardized tests that incorporate verbal abilities could potentially be missing the hidden talents and skills that children with Autism possess. Children who cannot speak are often categorized as “low-functioning”, yet they may have potential that has not been recognized yet. 2In a study published in Molecular Autism on March 6th, researchers found that children with Autism are not being tests appropriately on standardized intelligence tests. Through research and tests, they have an overwhelming amount of evidence that when children with Autism are tested using verbal instructions and requiring verbal skills their potential is higher than we originally thought. Tests that include pattern identification and visual perception might accurately show us the cognitive skills that they posses. 1Courchesne and her team tested 30 autistic children from ages 6 to 12; all of the students were attending a specialized school for kids with the highest level of impairment. They were assessed using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV), which is a test often given to assess intelligence. They were also tested with the Raven’s Colored Progressive Matrices board form (RCPM), Children’s Embedded Figures Test (CEFT), and visual search tasks, which are mostly picture-based and rely little on verbal communication. None of the children could complete the Wechsler Intelligence Scale; however, when given the picture based tests 65 percent scored in the normal range and 10 percent scored in the 90th percentile. Also, 26 children with Autism completed The Children’s Embedded Figures test, which involves the child finding hidden pictures and locating a certain symbol among other similar symbols. These autistic children’s scores for this particular test were faster than RCPM-matched typical children. The results show that “minimally verbal” or “non-verbal” children might be overlooked on their intellectual abilities because of the way they are being tested. These children might be underestimated and are being wrongly diagnosed as having low cognitive potential. These children should be tested using their strengths and by utilizing the cognitive abilities that they do have.  1One researcher, Isabelle Soulières, says, “I think that developing alternative assessments for children with autism could uncover hidden potential and result in adaptations to how they are taught at school.” As, hopefully soon these adaptations can be placed to find every autistic child’s cognitive strengths and potential.

 

1Courchesne, Valérie et al. “Autistic Children at Risk of Being Underestimated: School-Based Pilot Study of a Strength-Informed Assessment.” Molecular Autism 6 (2015): 12. PMC. Web. 8 June 2015.

 

2Kremen, Rachel. “Standard Tests Underestimate Nonverbal Children with Autism.” Web log post. Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. N.p., 14 Apr. 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

 

Researchers Look at Multiple Causes of Autism

Jeri Johnson

As of today, there is no clear-cut reason for the development of Autism. This fact is a frightening one for many parents, and with further research doctors are trying to ease their worries. Dr. David Amaral, a director at the MIND institute, claims that with the current research it looks as though there are multiple causes of Autism. There is a genetic predisposition to ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and that is only a small portion of the bigger picture. With further research, doctors are finding that Autism is a cause of both genetic and environmental factors. Dr. Joachim Hallmayer at Stanford School of Medicine says, “there is some consensus that adversities during pregnancy increase the risk of a child developing Autism”. Based on current research there are a few possible cause of Autism:

Gestational Diabetes:

Gestational Diabetes is a condition where women who had no previous diagnosis of diabetes show high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women with Type 2 Diabetes prior to becoming pregnant showed a lesser risk of having a child with ASD. However, mothers that were diagnosed by their 26 weeks showed higher risk of having a child with ASD. A few reasons that research has shown causes ASD is lower levels of oxygen in the blood; oxidative stress in placental tissue; and chronic inflammation.

Autoimmune Disease:

Autoimmune Disease has also shown signs of causing Autism Spectrum Disorder. Antibodies are the body’s way of fighting off infection and disease. However, sometimes these antibodies attack their own tissue, and during pregnancy they can attack and harm the infant’s brain potentially leading to ASD. In a study1 done in 2013, 2,400 mothers were tested and found that those with “anti-brain” antibodies are more likely to have children with autism spectrum disorders.

Air Pollution:

According to a study2 done by Environmental Health Perspectives, living in high traffic areas with high levels of air pollution during pregnancy can be associated with ASD. According to the study, polluted air contains toxins that are linked to neurotoxicity during pregnancy. The risk is higher during the third trimester, and the association cannot be seen before or after pregnancy. It is frightening for many people that there is no direct link or cause of ASD as of today. However, with current and further research, the world is on the way to finding out what leads to this mysterious disorder.


 

Post Based On:

Bender, Rachel. “What Really Causes Autism.” Yahoo. N.p., 12 May 2015. Web.

1Brimberg, L, et al. “Brain-Reactive Igg Correlates With Autoimmunity In Mothers Of A Child With An Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Molecular Psychiatry 18.11 (2013): 1171-1177. Academic Search Alumni Edition. Web. 24 May 2015.

2Raz, Raanan, et al. “Autism Spectrum Disorder and Particulate Matter Air Pollution before, during, and After Pregnancy: A Nested Case-Control Analysis within the Nurses’ Health Study II Cohort.” Environmental Health Perspectives (Online) 123.3 (2015): 264. ProQuest. Web. 24 May 2015.

Do Caregivers’ Views of Disabilities Impact Their Perception of Their Child?

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Around 10 per cent of the total world population or roughly 650 million people are currently living with a disability1. These statistics are international; however, they may be poorly represented. Disabilities are measured and perceived differently in every country, especially in third world countries such as Africa. 29 African countries reported a wide variety of support and rehabilitation, including poor delivery, a limited access, and a constant need for development2. Although some people with disabilities will receive support from families, caregivers, and community members; there is an overwhelming amount of people who will not receive care due to scarcity of specialists, low income, or simply no family support. So, does a caregiver’s perception of disabilities affect the amount of support they give to their child?

Many factors can lead to the extent of parental support that is given to a child. Poverty is a huge factor that affects third world countries like Africa. Economic challenges of poverty can easily lead to extra stress and strain on a family and the caregivers. 2A study done in Kilifi, a poor African town, where 8-10% of their population is children with disabilities, found that when parents learned more about their child’s disability their perceptions of the disability and perceptions of their child changed.  The study followed 12 children with disabilities living in Kilifi. The intervention provided parents with explanations and information on their child’s disabilities, as well as an AAC communication board created from pictures of familiar objects that the child used. The intervention built on the caregiver’s relationship with the child as well as teaching the parent how to use the AAC communication board to facilitate communication with their child. Throughout the 6-month intervention period, parents were asked to complete questionnaires about their experiences with their child. Questions such as: How has your child been communicating with you and the family or what has been difficult to communicate with your child?  The results showed that parents viewed disabilities less severe and communication was more prevalent in the home. From the results it is clear that when parents are educated about communication disabilities and supported in providing intervention, their perceptions of disabilities and their child change and communication with the child increases.


1Disability Statistics: Facts & Statistics on Disabilities & Disability Issues “http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/statistics/”><i>http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/statistics/</i></a>

2Bunning, Karen, Joseph K. Gona, Charles R. Newton, and Sally Hartley. “Caregiver Perceptions of Children Who Have Complex Communication Needs Following a Home-based Intervention Using Augmentative and Alternative Communication in Rural Kenya: An Intervention Note.” Augmentative and Alternative Communication 30.4 (2014): 344-56. Web.

 

Changes in technology continue to have a dramatic impact on the way people connect, including among those with unique communication needs.

 

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[The following post is based on an article from centerdaily.com]

Focus on Research, Penn State researchers explore the future of augmentative communication.

This topic is no stranger to researchers at Penn State, who are testing and developing new technologies and supports to advance a field in which there is limited knowledge and information.

Penn State’s department of communication sciences and disorders, in collaboration with a variety of other health care organizations and research centers, is leading experimentation, training and dissemination of information to improve outcomes for those who rely on alternative communication.

Led by principal investigator Janice Light, distinguished professor of communication sciences and disorders at Penn State, several of the research and development projects were underway as of Oct. 1.

 

Ola Mundo is a finalist at the Verizon Powerful Answers Award

We are very excited  and proud to share with you that Ola-Mundo was chosen to be one of 10 finalists on Verizon Powerful Answers Award’s education category. Last month we presented Ola-Mundo to the judges at Verizon’s corporate office in San Francisco, a truly unique experience for us. The Verizon Powerful Answers Award is a call to inspire innovation and ideas that utilize empowering technologies to address society’s biggest challenges. We believe that the current status quo is ready to be disrupted with the introduction of an innovative, fun and affordable tool which deploys fresh, new technologies that ultimately improve the lives of children with special needs and their loved ones. We’re glad Verizon shares this vision with us. At Ola Mundo we are committed to serve children with special needs and their families and bring them together.

Near or far always close.

The Ola Mundo team

Original announcement by Verizon ]

My Boy Sonny – A Poem by Alex

family_OlaMundo   friend_OlaMundo

My boy Sonny – Alex/Muldwych

Life is hard enough as it is, for normal people like me and you,
Growing up and getting a job, just trying to make it through,
And if you’re lucky just like me, to also have kids and a wife,
People assume they know what it’s like, to live in your everyday life,

It’s not like that for the misses and me, we’re part of a special pack,
We’re different from other families, it’s not just white and black,
Going each day to make it through, without trying to be labelled,
It never happens though you see, because my son he is disabled,

No physical impairments to give it away, nor does he have a wheelchair,
But when he is out being really loud, it’s easy to see it’s there,
It’s NOT a badly behaved kid you see, it’s really not that simplistic,
What you see is my middle child, an amazing boy who happens to be autistic,

I love my three kids just the same, there’s no favouritism in any way,
We watch television go to the park, together we all play,
Having an autistic child can be hard, whether he’s your son or he’s your brother,
Frustrating and amazing at the same time, like him there is no other,

It annoys me when I read these parents, who claim they wouldn’t take it away,
It’s what defines him and who he is, along with other nonsense they say,
I would get rid of that bastard disability, I would do anything to make it so,
Just so he could live one day without it, my life I would even forgo,

For him to just do normal things, to see the world as it really is,
I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like, in that autistic world of his,
Anything is what I would give, really anything at all,
Just so he can see the world how it is, preferably for the long haul,

Or LET ME IN so I can share his world, understand what it’s like for him,
To see his colours, smell his smells, I would easily risk life or limb,
Join him in his odyssey, his epic adventure in what we call life,
Preferably with room for us all, his sister, brother, me and the wife,

It breaks my heart every day, knowing this will never be the case,
Knowing I won’t ever know what he thinks, when he is staring into space,
I’ve cried and screamed more times, than I honestly can remember,
Through frustration, guilt and blaming myself, January through to December,

With an autistic son it’s the little things, that bring happiness this dad,
The huge big smile and chuckling laughter, I am not going to focus on the sad,
A unique individual and a wonderful kid, extraordinary in every way,
Don’t get me wrong it’s still really hard, for his mum and me every day,

We never get any time for us, no one offers to babysit,
The problem is that everyone is scared, but no one will admit,
Yes he is hard work, yes he is different and yes he can make you cry,
But the tears are more from happiness now, why THE HELL doesn’t anyone try,

These last three lines I will try to explain, what autism is to me,
It’s that bastard disability that lives in my kid, which I dream every night would flee,
My beautiful boy that is being robbed, of leading a normal life,
He can count on one thing though every day, love from his sister, brother, me and the wife.

[Originally posted on Muldwych’s blog]

 

ISAAC2014

Back from ISAAC 2014 – An Interview with Ofir Harel

Ofir Harel, the founder and CEO of Ola Mundo recently traveled to Lisbon, Portugal to take part in a conference led by ISAAC, the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication who works to improve the lives of children and adults who use AAC.

Ofir spent July 19-24th in pre-conference workshops in addition to the main conference. In this time there were presentations featuring leading edge research, and clinical and educational interventions and innovations. People who use AAC shared their experiences, perspectives, and feedback of new technologies, applications, products and services. Most importantly, Ofir attended this conference to gain knowledge and insight on how to develop Ola Mundo in order to enhance the lives of YOUR children.

I conducted a short interview with Ofir to hear about his experience.

Q: Overall, how was the conference?
A: The conference was amazing. It was great to meet people from all over the world to listen and share ideas with them. It is a place where you can really talk with families and professionals who care about making changes in the field of AAC. It was extremely important to meet all of them, and take part in the sessions to learn what is new in the field of AAC.
Q: Tell us a bit about ISAAC.
A: Everyone at ISAAC are purely volunteers. They have one objective: To help and change as many lives as possible.
One thing that was beyond amazing about the organization ISAAC was the lack of a gap between everyone in the conference. There were people there who were top speakers, professionals, families, and despite all of our differences there was no gap. The concept of hierarchy did not exist. The highly qualified speakers were extremely knowledgeable, yet they put themselves on a level that everyone could relate to. Once the speakers gave their lectures, they came and spoke to individuals giving us their honest and genuine feedback.

Q: What were some highlights?
A: The highlight of this conference for me, was to listen to AAC users and be a part of their sessions. It was inspiring to see the users’ determination and drive to be more connected with the community as a whole. They are like everyone else with some special needs.

ISAAC2014_2After hearing the users speak, and connecting with them, it reinforced my belief that they need a tool to connect. The professionals agreed with me, and spoke a lot about improving their communication. The professionals spent a lot of time talking about social media and how AAC users use current social media like Skype, Facetime, and other platforms. But the main issue is that these users are unable to use Skype by themselves, they require additional help. These users need the freedom to say what they want, to anyone they want, from anywhere they are, but they need the proper tool.

Q: Did you specifically speak to the users about the app?
A: Yes I did. I got great comments from them. They were so amazed by the app and the opportunity that they could potentially have. They were extremely excited that they will be able to have the chance to connect and communicate like anybody else. I believe that this tool is just the beginning of the process to help these people. This is so exciting for me because this community is so open to seeing new opportunities, and I cant wait to give back. After all of this, I now know that we will be able to make a change and directly help the lives of AAC users worldwide.

Q: If you could send one message to the readers, what would it be?
A: There is a huge gap in this community for users to be able to communicate freely and independently. Our mission is to bridge that gap.
We’re building a better future for our children – one symbol at a time.

I am inviting everyone to take this opportunity to be a part of the Ola Mundo family to create a better future for the non-verbals and their families.

Try it – Use it – Make the difference.

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Helping Children Expand Their Sentence Length

[The following post is based on an article by Prof. Carole Zangari ]

 

We all know that the beginning stages of every learning process can be difficult and frustrating for both sides; especially when dealing with your own children. The initial steps in introducing your child to AAC are part of a crucial foundation for language development.

Based on the advice from Prof. Carole Zangari, here is how you can implement it by using Ola Mundo:
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