New On The Block: Hovi Care and Hua Hee

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

In our previous New On The Block feature, we shared two promising new initiatives aimed at serving the deaf and hard of hearing community. Today, we’re going to feature two new ideas and solutions in the eldercare sector! The first, Hovi Care, is a senior activity centre offering unique and personalised care for their clients. Hovi Care’s concept originated in Finland, and they have just begun operations in Singapore this year. The second, Hua Hee, is a card game specially designed to engage seniors, fight dementia, and draw families together.

Hovi Care: Flexibility and Care

Photo Credit: Hovi Care

We spoke to Andrew, the Managing Director at Hovi Care, about their innovative approach to eldercare. The centre doesn’t call itself a nursing home – rather, it promotes the holistic wellbeing of the client, aiming to meet social, emotional and physical needs. They model their centre on a social club setting, aiming to create the environment of a ‘living room’ where seniors can come to relax, meet friends, and have fun.

Rather whimsically, Andrew compared Hovi Care’s model of care to that of a hair salon. Clients can drop in anytime by making an appointment, and most of them come in once or twice a week. The centre offers a myriad of activities – karaoke, mahjong, walks and even equine therapy in the beautiful setting of Horsecity! This maximises the independence and choice of the client. In this way, Hovi Care offers as much flexibility as one might want, and as much care as one might need.

Engaging and Empowering Clients

Zooming in, one of the clients’ favourite activities are the Wellness Walks. Being located in Horsecity, Hovi Care is surrounded by greenery, with open spaces to walk around and explore. On certain days, clients even get to watch the horses exercising in the field beside the centre! Andrew shared that these walks, like all the activities, are geared towards engaging their clients both mentally and physically. The care workers always try to ask as many questions as possible – what do you see, what do you hear, what do you like? Whenever the opportunity arises, seniors are invited to share their own stories and memories from their younger days. Reminiscing reminds them of happy times in the past, and encourages bonding between the storyteller and the listener.

Photo Credit: Wheellator

What’s more, special mobility equipment is used to help seniors retain mobility as long as possible. For instance, the wheellator, a Finnish invention combining a wheelchair and a rollator, allows clients to walk and exercise their leg muscles for as long as possible, while offering the option to convert into a wheelchair if a rest is needed.

Battling Loneliness

Ultimately, Hovi Care hopes to alleviate loneliness by offering a way to get out of the house, enjoy activities and entertainment, and spend time with others. They hope that the eldercare sector will see increasing innovation in engaging and empowering seniors, helping them to live full and happy lives. Andrew emphasised that we need to open up more options for seniors to age well: institutionalisation should not be the only choice. This is exactly why Hovi Care seeks to go beyond offering nursing and medical care, by providing intellectual and social stimulation to address the full spectrum of an individual’s needs.

If you are interested in Hovi Care’s services, please see http://www.hovicare.com/ for more information.

Play Hua Hee: Engaging Seniors

Christal from Hua Hee created the card game in the hopes of connecting with her own grandparents. This is a challenge many local youth may have in common: not knowing how to approach and engage their elderly loved ones, whether this is due to language barriers, or lack of shared experiences. Playing games can be a form of early intervention against dementia, by creating social interaction and engaging cognitive functions. What’s more, games provide a simple platform for grandparents and grandchildren to have fun together, removing the awkwardness of starting a conversation.

Happiness Through Play

‘Hua Hee’ means ‘Happy’ in Hokkien, and that is exactly the aim of the game! It started off as a simple matching game, similar to the popular game ‘Snap!’. The cards show familiar local heritage items, such as satay, ketupat and gasing. This allows seniors to relate to the game in a way that cannot be achieved with conventional games. Further, the matching process provides an easy, fun way to exercise mental muscles, staving off dementia and improving memory.

The games have now been developed into many spinoffs, and can now be used in memory matching, snap, charades, pictionary, sketching and colouring, and puzzles, with even more to come!

Photo Credit: Play Hua Hee

It Takes A Village…

Sharing from her personal experience, Christal explained that one of her inspirations in creating the game was in hoping to stave off the approach of dementia for her grandmother. By playing games and spending time with her, she believes that their family managed to manage and delay the onset of dementia.

Thus, it is crucial that the whole family rallies around and plays a role in supporting seniors as they age. We should be on the lookout for early warning signs of dementia, such as confusion about the date and time, or forgetfulness over recently learned information. After all, they say it takes a village to raise a child. Perhaps the same goes for caring for our elderly loved ones!

To find out more about Hua Hee, read up about their approach, or buy their card games, go to https://playhuahee.com/.


 We hope finding out about these two new eldercare solutions was useful for you! If you have suggestions for our next New On The Block feature, please feel free to write in.

Introducing Walking Sticks to Your Elderly Loved Ones

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

As we grow older, it becomes harder to maintain the balance and strength of our younger days, and walking sticks are one option that can help preserve the ability to walk independently. But as many of us know, not every elderly person is happy with this idea!

As if persuading our loved ones to consider using a walking stick wasn’t enough of a challenge, there’s still the matter of actually choosing a walking stick. This may sound simple, but with the growth of the eldercare sector, more and more walking sticks are appearing in the market.

Today, we’d like to share 3 pointers on each of these topics, thanks to the insights of two caregivers to elderly family members, as well as an interview with Tan Lee Tuan, the creator of the agegracefully range of walking sticks.

Photo Credit: Pixnio

Introducing The Idea

  • “Let’s take it slowly…”

There’s no need to rush straight to the idea of using a walking stick. For some people, carrying an umbrella that can double as a support is a good in-between step, without forcing them to use a walking stick before they are ready. Focus on the person, not the problem, and take your time.

  • “It’s just additional safety.”

One of our interviewees shared that while her father was initially resistant to the idea of using a walking stick, he came round to the idea after some discussion. She emphasised that the walking stick would give him additional stability if he should happen to stumble when he was alone. Often, our loved ones may be willing to change their minds, as long as we are patient and persistent.

  • “Let’s choose it together!”

After all, they’re the one who’s going to use the walking stick, not you! It’s only natural that our loved ones would want to retain a sense of control, and involving them in the process of choosing a walking stick is a good way to honour that. Ask them about their preferences, what they feel is most important, and let them try out different models!

How To Choose a Good Walking Stick

This leads us, of course, to our next section – what to look out for in a walking stick. Unlike days past when there was only one type of walking stick, today there is a much wider range of options available, from smart walking sticks with fall alarms and MP3 players, to walking sticks that double up as stools or umbrellas.

  • Grip and stability

It may not sound exciting, but the most basic function of a walking stick – to help with balance – requires good design that doesn’t compromise on grip or stability. For instance, some foldable walking sticks, while convenient, may be less sturdy. If portability is an issue, ensure that the foldable walking stick is reinforced at the interval section, where it bends.

It is also important to consider the environment. The ground surface will determine what type of grip is best suited. If the walking stick is mainly to be used on rough concrete and dirt paths, a common tip is sufficient, but if the walking stick is to be used indoors on smooth floors, a special anti-slip tip would be better.

  • Additional features

Nowadays, many walking sticks come with cool features! For a simple and useful addition, a walking stick that can convert into a stool would be great for users who require regular rest breaks when walking. There are also walking sticks integrated with umbrellas, which might be helpful for users who are new to using walking sticks and are concerned about their image.

Photo Credit: Tan Lee Tuan, agegracefullyshop

There are even smart walking sticks with music playing functions! The benefits of music therapy include improving cognitive function and mood – see this article for more details. Walking sticks with radio and MP3 functions not only allow users to play their favourite songs and listen to their favourite radio stations, they can also load audiobooks and news broadcasts to keep users entertained!

Photo Credit: Tan Lee Tuan, agegracefullyshop

  • Aesthetics and style

Walking sticks can be yet another channel of expressing unique styles! In recent years, there has been an increase in ‘designer’ walking sticks with fancy designs and colourful tubing, adding vibrancy to the gadget. If your loved one enjoys colourful styles, let them choose a design that suits them. For example, this elegant Vanda Miss Joaquim design by The Cane Collective might suit someone who likes flowery patterns. Alternatively, this fun polka dot design helps to bring out that individual spark!

Photo Credit: The Cane Collective

Aging With Grace

In the larger scheme of things, it’s important for us all to realise that there shouldn’t be any stigma attached to carrying a walking stick. After all, we all grow old someday, and if a walking stick helps us to keep the ability to walk around and go out, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Music Therapy is on the Rise in Singapore

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

You may have heard about a new kind of therapy for your elderly and younger loved ones with conditions ranging from dementia to autism spectrum disorders. Here’s a recap for those of you who are interested in finding out more about music therapy.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy isn’t exactly new. Western doctors have been experimenting with music as a tool for healing since the 50s and 60s. Proponents of music therapy argue that music has had a role in well-being and health for all known civilisations. What’s new, is that more and more institutions and organisations are using music therapy in Singapore.

You’ll find different types of music therapy. Some, like the Nordoff-Robbins approach, are more specifically geared towards children with atypical neuro-development. They focus on using music as a means to communicate with children who might be non-verbal. Other methods are better adapted to elderly patients, to activate forgotten memories or create shared experiences. You might also find music therapy used in hospitals to reduce stress and anxiety, especially with kids undergoing surgery.

Last but not least, some forms of music therapy are passive, with patients listening to music, and others are active, with patients playing. Many are a mix of both.

What are the Main Advantages of Music Therapy for Elderly Loved Ones?

The positive impacts of music therapy are most obvious when considering elderly people with dementia. Because the condition causes loss of memory, any approach that stimulates multiple senses is likely to trigger recollections. So playing music that dates back to when they were young can really help bring back memories and engage. Moreover, it seems more and more apparent that when people are exposed to music, blood flow in the brain increases. This is thought to help improve (or slow down a decline in) cognitive abilities.

You may also remember an article we wrote a few months ago about spending time with loved ones once dementia has settled in. The key takeaway was to find failure-free activities. They help pass time without generating stress or anxiety. Music (and art in general) fall under this scope. You can’t listen “badly”. And if you sing out of tune, in a fun activity, no one’s going to mind.

Listening to music brings joy and activates the brain (photo credit: Shutterstock)

Another interesting aspect of music therapy for elderly people is that it might encourage them to move. Now, Grandad might not boogie all night after listening to all the hit songs from his twenties, but even tapping his fingers or clapping his hands can have significant positive repercussions for his overall health. Generally speaking, you might want to invest in handy objects that allow your loved ones to listen to music easily, like radios, apps, or even a neat walking stick with an integrated MP3 player!

And because elderly people in Singapore (and around the world) are increasingly lonely and bored (many show signs of depression), music’s power to bring people together is absolutely vital to helping our loved ones thrive. Collective music sessions are great opportunities to bond with new people.

What are the Main Advantages of Music Therapy for Kids?

Mounting evidence shows that music therapy helps a vast array of neuro-atypical kids. We looked at an experiment conducted by Harold Russell, a clinical psychologist and adjunct research professor in the Department of Gerontology and Health Promotion at the University of Texas.  It showed that music therapy could help kids with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

His experiment focused on a group of 40 boys with ADD. He would administer 20-minute music sessions on a regular basis for several months. At the end of this period, the boys were outperforming a control group. It seems their concentration skills had improved and they were displaying fewer behavioural problems.

Learning to play is also part of many approaches (Photo credit: Pixabay)

In other types of neuro-atypical kids, music can serve as a bridge. Some children with non-verbal autistic tendencies are able to bond via music. Music isn’t perceived as aggressive or threatening to kids who struggle to interact with the outside world. Some even start using more words thanks to music therapy. But of course, this depends on each case and the types of therapy used.

Just as importantly, kids with non-typical neurodevelopment have the same right to discover their artistic talents. Sometimes we forget, that they too, can be musicians. Interestingly, a whole part of music therapy is mostly about encouraging kids to learn to play themselves. We particularly like Magdalene Wong’s approach. She was recently featured by Hua Hee’s blog (you may remember the card game). She has set up a choir of kids with different needs and they often sing for elderly Singaporeans in specialised homes. Now that’s one way to kill two birds with one stone!

Where can I find Music Therapy in Singapore?

Curious? Want to find out more, for yourself or a loved one? You can reach out to the Association for Music Therapy of SingaporeThere are currently just under 30 registered practitioners, but according to recent trends, it seems that more and more professional therapists will be available.

If you still want to read up more on the current trend, you can check out this article in the Straits Times.

Sensory Friendly Cafes in Singapore: A Review

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

Eating out is a fun activity for the family, and as a child many of us remember looking forward to these special occasions. But for a child with sensory needs, eating out can be a stressful experience – new places, new food, and an overwhelming environment. It’s hard enough for parents to keep up with daily life – how do we find the energy to look for good places to visit as a family?

Singapore’s restaurant scene has much to offer parents of neurotypical children, with many restaurants touting themselves as kid-friendly, but unfortunately it may be more difficult to find sensory friendly cafes. In some other countries, more accessible and inclusive cafes are opening up – for example, this cafe in the UK serves its food in special, separated portions, and provides understanding service with no judgment on children’s unusual behaviour. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find places to eat out with a neuroatypical child in Singapore, though – in this article, we take a look at some good candidates.

  • Old School Delights

Old School Delights is a nostalgic look back at 1980s Singapore – complete with period decor, well-loved games and heritage recipes. Tucked away in a quiet corner of Esplanade, it boasts a calm, quaint environment.

Each table has five stones and erasers, and there is a hopscotch game on the floor, providing ample entertainment while waiting. Service was prompt and friendly. Special requests can be made on the whiteboard used to take orders – a fun twist on ordering that will appeal to kids! The menu consists largely of local favourites such as Mee Siam and Laksa, and includes kid-friendly options such as Macaroni and Fish & Chips.

The lighting, which consists of individual bulbs for each table, may prove too glaring for some children, but the taking a short break outside, in the soothing tones of Esplanade Mall, may be an enjoyable solution.

While you’re there, Esplanade Mall also features a children’s art space, Pip’s Playbox, where children can enjoy craft work, reading, and even an outdoor play area. Esplanade Theatres have also begun holding special sensory-friendly sessions for some of their children’s plays. We would suggest avoiding Esplanade on weekends, however. Prime theatre timings, especially Friday and Saturday nights, lead to swelling crowds and noise levels!

OSD@The Esplanade Mall

8 Raffles Ave

#02-25 Esplanade Mall

Singapore 038902

Tel: 6909 3507/ 9108 8746

  • NOM (No Other Meaning)

NOM, situated at Macpherson Community Club, is a bright and friendly restaurant offering food, drink and dessert. Designed by a local firm, the interior mirrors the communal space of a void deck, complete with a miniature version of the iconic dragon playground!

Kids will love the children’s corner, which boasts the dragon slide as well as some board games and toys. As NOM is popular for weekend brunches, weekdays might better for a family visit, with a quieter environment and less stress.

Food-wise, NOM is famous for rainbow cakes, which are pleasing to the eye and good for a special occasion. It might be a good idea to call ahead if your child has specific dietary needs, as the menu does not specify gluten- or dairy-free options. They also have a special kids menu set ($9.90) that includes a main, drink and dessert!

NOM

400 Paya Lebar Way

Macpherson Community Club Level 1

Singapore 379131

Tel: 6747 3839

  • The Living Room Cafe

The Living Room Cafe is an initiative by Zion Bishan Bible-Presbytarian Church, situated in a ground-floor unit in the church building. The cafe aims to create a welcoming atmosphere, accompanied by wholesome food and warm ambience.

The mellow, soothing colours of the cafe complement the gentle background music, creating an oasis of calm. The use of natural lighting reduces harsh sensory input, creating a beautiful setting. The small, homely nature of the cafe means that service is friendly and personal, and special requests are gladly accommodated.

While there is no children’s area, the cafe features a book area where reading material is free for customers to browse. Service was efficient, minimising waiting time. There is also a patio right outside the cafe, where children may wish to play.

The Living Room Cafe

4 Bishan Street 13

Singapore 579792

Tel:  6715 7899

A Quick Summary – 3 Sensory Friendly Cafes

Criteria OSD NOM TLC
Noise level (low, soothing) 🙂 🙂
Location (accessible, quiet) 🙂 🙂  🙂
Food (kid-friendly, sensory-friendly) 🙂 🙂
Service (friendly, accommodating) 🙂 🙂  🙂
Entertainment (availability of toys, etc.)  🙂  🙂
Ambience (comfortable lighting, soothing colours)  🙂  🙂

Enjoy Your Day Out!

After our quest for sensory friendly cafes, we’ve found that eating out with your child can be an enjoyable experience! For parents looking to take their kids out, here are some quick tips:

  • Go at off peak hours! Having an early dinner, or a late lunch, can make all the difference. With lower people traffic, staff have more capacity to accommodate special requests.
  • Call ahead! Many restaurants are happy to accommodate requests if they have enough time to prepare.
  • Prepare your child! Some restaurants may have menus and pictures online. These are great visual resources to explain what will happen, and ensure that your child feels comfortable when going out.
  • Come equipped – if the restaurant lacks ready entertainment, bringing along some toys and fidgets might help. Check out these sensory bracelets, or these pencils with fidget toppers. If the noise level is too high, noise-cancelling earphones might do the trick – try these earphones by Califone. Or if your child has trouble sitting still, these vibrating cushions by Senseez are one option, and they even have some with extra textures and touchables!  

The writers are unaffiliated to any of the abovementioned outlets. All reviews are based on personal opinion, and reflect personal experience.

Inclusive Fitness: What Does It Look Like?

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

When we think of getting fit, we often think of athletes training hard, lifting impossible weights and running marathons with ease. Needless to say, fitness can be a somewhat intimidating concept. What more for our loved ones who are aging, and may lose confidence in their physical abilities? What about our children with different learning needs, who may not be suited for typical sports enrichment classes?

In this article, we want to explore how anyone, no matter their starting point, can enjoy the benefits of fitness! To gain some insights, we spoke to Moses from Innervate Fitness, an inclusive Crossfit gym, and Shermaine from Strong Mind Fit Body, a community initiative that introduces strength-based workouts to seniors.

Photo Credit: Innervate Fitness

Anyone Can Enjoy Fitness!

Innervate Fitness works with seniors and people with diverse learning needs in their specially customised classes, ensuring that everyone works at a level they are comfortable with. Thus, many are able to overcome their unique challenges by adapting movements, exercises and methods of instruction.

For example, let’s look at a simple weightlifting exercise – a deadlift. In a deadlift, a barbell is lifted from the ground to the level of the hips. Moses shared some ways to adapt this exercise. A wheelchair user might be able to perform a deadlift from their chair, by changing the equipment used.  Replacing a barbell with dumbbells, or adjusting the range of motion, could make the exercise more suitable. Similarly, someone with an intellectual disability could be taught using a step-by-step approach. For instance, a broomstick could be used to simulate a barbell and reinforce the mechanics of the movement, before advancing to a real barbell once they have mastered the movement.

Deadlift illustration (Photo Credit: High Intensity Training)

Breaking It Down

Fitness is for everyone, and one way of starting out is to break the concept down into simple steps. Shermaine shared that it is important to understand each individual’s experience of health prior to starting any exercise plan, exploring their unique attitudes and interests in order to journey together towards fitness. We would want to understand what each person understands as ‘being healthy’, their attitudes towards health and exercise, their level of confidence and thoughts about developing a regular fitness routine. This individualised approach is shared by Innervate Fitness, where coaches work closely with clients to design a workout that works for them.

The common thread, then, seems to be that diverse needs don’t have to be an obstacle to working out – with the proper support in place, anyone can enjoy the benefits of physical fitness!

Photo Credit: Innervate Fitness

Beyond Exercise – Building Community

Fitness doesn’t end at the physical benefits – the adventure of trying out different exercises can pull people together.

Strong Mind Fit Body sees the formation of many strong relationships through the process of exercising together. Shermaine also pointed out that fitness can promote intergenerational bonding, with grandparents and grandchildren working out together! Through holding exercise sessions at void decks and community parks, Strong Mind Fit Body seeks to draw people together in the heart of the neighbourhood. Ultimately, physical fitness and health, while important, are just one avenue through which we can build community. 

Moreover, Moses pointed out that fitness classes don’t just build community for the individual.

They can draw caregivers together too, by providing a space for them to share their experiences. One of the best things about gym classes is the experience of hard work and progress that participants share in. This can be a wonderful opportunity for caregivers to become part of a wider community with similar background and experiences, who can support each other through challenges. In fact, Innervate Fitness strongly encourages caregivers to take part in training together with their loved ones, providing great bonding time and allowing them to access a network of support through the gym community. 

How Do We Get Started?

All this sounds wonderful, but if we haven’t been exercising, it may all seem a bit overwhelming! Some helpful first steps to think about:

  • Establish realistic goals, both short term and long term! This could be something simple, like wanting to walk up your block of flats without being winded – small steps are the key to success.
  • Record your progress. Keeping track of exercise and nutrition lets us monitor our progress over time. This also makes it easier to identify problems and challenges, and attain consistency!
  • Rest and recovery is just as important as the exercise time itself. Recovery activities like stretching and foam rolling can prevent injuries.
  • Take a positive attitude: self-love is the starting point of healthy exercising. Wherever your starting point, encourage and build up, and enjoy the process, not just the  results!

Information provided here is drawn from personal experience as well as the sharing of fitness professionals and volunteers. This is not medical advice. If you have a medical condition, do consult a medical professional before beginning any exercise programme.

Inspiring, Differently Abled Singaporeans

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

At Irisada, we meet a lot of differently-abled Singaporeans. Few of them make it into the public eye and the lack of representativity of differently-abled individuals means we sometimes forget how successful they can be. So we wanted to take the time to write about successful, differently abled Singaporeans.

Singaporean Olympians and Para-Athletes

When we were brainstorming, the first group that really stood out was the Olympians. In a few minutes, we had totalised no less than six amazing athletes, most of whom you’ve probably already heard of.

Singapore’s Paralympic Team for Rio 2016 (Photo Credit: Sport Singapore)

Two names often pop to mind: swimmers Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh. Both are wheelchair users (muscular dystrophy and spina bifida), but both make us look slow in a swimming pool. Theresa Goh’s weekly swimming distance is no less than 41km, which is probably as far as some of us will ever swim in our lifetime.

When they aren’t in the pool, they continue to surprise and impress us. Yip Pin Xiu co-authored and published a children’s book in 2017, called The Mermaid who Became a Champion. The story recounts her own life in a cute, relatable way and can inspire kids everywhere to reach for excellence.

Meanwhile, Theresa Goh has become a vocal activist for the LGBTQ+ community in Singapore. Her very open and honest portrayal of her own journey out of the closet can help all types of abled and disabled Singaporeans in the process of figuring out their own identities. Here’s a great video interview she did for Dear Strait People in 2017 and you can check out her Instagram account for more updated posts.

Photo Credit: Pink Dot SG

Other Athletes You May Know

Of course, Singapore boasts many Para-athletes. A few examples:

  • Laurentia Tan was the first Singaporean to earn a Paralympic medal (and the first Asian to win equestrian medals at the Paralympics). She initially took up horse riding as a form of physiotherapy for cerebral palsy.
  • Tan Hun Boon, who learned to peddle with one leg after an accident left him amputated, has become more and more open about sharing his story.
  • Jason Chee, a navy serviceman who suffered a major accident, leading to the amputation of both his legs and one arm. Less than one year after the accident he was already winning medals in para table-tennis. With his non-dominant hand.
  • There’s also Shariff Abdullah, also known as “Blade Runner”. He regularly raises money for Club Rainbow, an organisation dedicated to children suffering from long-term illnesses.
Artists, Entrepreneurs and More

Of course, Singapore isn’t just all about sports. Differently-abled Singaporeans can be harder to find because no one’s pinning gold medals on their t-shirts. Most of them are living what they consider to be pretty ordinary lives. Some don’t even mention their disabilities. Here are a few Singaporeans you might not have heard of.

Lily Goh, who founded Extraordinary Horizons, is a deaf Singaporean who set up her social enterprise to help deaf and hard of hearing children discover and interpret music as well as other art forms. She was awarded the 2014 Singapore Woman Award and continues to develop links between deaf and non-deaf cultures. Here’s a song that that Singaporean indie band Black Forest wrote and performed with Extraordinary Horizons.

Chng Seok Tin is a renowned and acclaimed artist, who continued to produce art after a severe accident and multiple surgeries led her to lose most of her vision. She paints, sculpts, writes and much much more. Her very personal artform continues to engage with audiences worldwide. She has held no less than 30 solo exhibitions and has received several awards in her lifetime. Check out her website to see her beautiful artwork.

Jim Bek, whose incredible life-tale of losing his sight and his family members will leave you speechless, has now become a renowned counsellor. He’s one of the unsung heroes of Singapore, helping others grow and thrive around him. He also takes an active stance in denouncing a form of “anti-disabled” prejudice he perceives in Singaporean culture.

It’s Not Over

Of course, these are famous Singaporeans. At least famous enough to have become part of popular culture or be featured in the media every now and again. There are plenty of others around you, working hard and doing things they love.

Everyone’s out on their own journey (Photo credit: PIRO4D, Pixabay)

So-called “disabled” Singaporeans contribute to making Singapore the vibrant city it is. We wanted to sign off with an organisation that helps some of them express themselves as artists.  The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists is an international organisation that believes in “self-help, not charity.” The fact that the artists don’t paint with their hands brings them together, but when you look at their artwork, that’s not what you’ll be thinking about. You may also remember Kenny, an autistic teenager from one of our previous articles, who sells his artwork on The Everyday Revolution. These differently-abled artists are already sharing their vision of the world. And that’s what makes society stronger and richer.

If you know of people we should feature, don’t forget to shout out!

Adaptive Fashion: How to Find Clothes That Reflect Who You Are

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

Adaptive fashion is a subject we’ve wanted to write about for months. The fashion industry constantly seems on the cusp of taking a big leap. We thought we’d soon have a “one size fits all” set of solutions to cover. Unfortunately, it seems the market is still fragmented and complicated. As we wait for the fashion industry to develop more offers, let’s have a look at what’s out there already.

What is Adaptive Fashion?

One of the reasons this one size fits all solution isn’t forthcoming is the sheer number of variations in body types. Are we talking about physically disabled wheelchair users or kids with heightened sensory perception who can’t stand the contact of certain materials on their skin? Elderly people with Parkinson’s who struggle to close shirt buttons? Adults who wear diapers? People in wheelchairs? Blind people, who can’t tell whether their clothes are the right way up or not? People who live with feeding tubes? Adults and children with missing limbs? Small people?

And the answer is: potentially, all of these and more. Recent estimates consider that 15% of the world’s population has a physical or mental disability. That’s 1.2 billion adults and kids. So next time you’re looking for adaptive clothing, remember, you are NOT alone. Combined, all these people have $2.1 trillion in spending power. The fashion industry is starting to take note.

Great! Who sells Adaptive Fashion

That being said, very few brands have launched full-blown collections. An online search will pull up mostly medical looking clothes designed by well-meaning professionals who think about convenience before style. But differently-abled kids and adults want more. They want to look and feel good. They want their clothes to express who they are. And they are sick of sweat-pants.

Before giving you a few brands and tips for choosing adapted clothing, we’d like to share Mindy Scheier’s inspiring TED talk about what lead her to research and prototype adaptive clothing, and ultimately founding The Runway of Dreams Foundation. She’s approached the fashion industry with her revolutionary ideas and has already had considerable impact.

 

Where can I Buy Adaptive Fashion?

If you’re looking for something related to physical differences, one well-established brand with an adaptive fashion collection exists: Tommy Hilfiger. The Spring 2018 Adaptive Collection should cater to your needs. But if you don’t live in the United States, you might have trouble coming by these specific clothes.

Sometimes adaptive clothing is “hidden” in the mainstream sections, like Nike’s FlyEase shoes. The brand designed them after a teenager with cerebral palsy wrote, explaining that shoelaces were a real struggle with his condition.

Tommy Hilfiger is making a colourful splash in the adaptive wear industry (Photo Credit: Tommy Hilfiger)

If your needs are more specifically for issues linked to neurologically atypical kids (and adults), you’ll want to look at a brand like Special Kids Company. They sell body suits (with or without gastric tube access), as well as adapted bibs (for older kids) and special socks with adorable hoops to help pull them up. As for adults with similar needs, ABLDenim has a few trousers and shorts catering to kids and adults with sensory issues.

What About Smaller Brands and One-Off products?

Some of the things to look out for are products that have any of the following features:

  • Clothing with magnetic closures rather than zips and buttons as they are usually easier to manoeuvre. A famous pioneer is MagnaReady, founded by Maura Horton after looking for solutions to her husband’s advancing Parkinson’s disease.
  • Adjusted materials and cuts, especially for wheelchair users. ABLDenim‘s jeans are a good place to start shopping.
  • Waistbands and internal hemming systems that allow for trousers legs to be adjustable to the shape of the body (especially for people with missing limbs or in wheelchairs). This is one of the focus points Mindy Scheier worked on.
  • Alternative ways to put the piece of clothing on (forwards rather than backwards, for example).
  • Slip-on shoes. Many lace-ups can become almost slip-on thanks to add-ons like Quick Shoelace (Hervé, who we spoke to a few months ago, loves them)
  • On a more specific note: if you’re looking to keep hearing devices on kids, here is a previous article we wrote on the subject.
Some last thoughts

While we were researching this subject we came across so many smart, funny and articulate people, here’s another video we wanted to share. Sinéad Burke is a 105 centimetres (or three foot five inches) tall, Dublin-based teacher, PhD student and fashion blogger. She spoke at the 2017 VOICES convention, a yearly fashion industry gathering.

In Conclusion

We tried to keep this article practical and mainstream. There are many designers out there, like Camila Chiriboga and Izzy Camilleri, and Parson’s School of Design has an Open Style Lab specialised in developing trendy fashion for specific adaptive needs. But most of us can’t get a tailored made piece of clothing or don’t aspire to wear high fashion. So let’s hope more options will continue to develop so everyone can shop according to their tastes.

Thanks for reading and keep reaching out with questions and comments.

New On The Block: Elf Centre and Knoctify

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

At Irisada, we love discovering new initiatives in Singapore. Today we want to share promising new organisations dedicated to responding to needs in the deaf and hard of hearing world. The first is the Elf Care Centre, an after-school daycare programme catering to deaf and hard of hearing children. They are brand new and unique in Singapore. On a different subject, Embodied Sensing is a tech start-up that has developed products specially adapted to deaf and hard of hearing adults.

We spoke to Christina Lim, founder of the Elf Centre and Kian Peen, co-founder of Embodied Sensing, to find out more about their goals and approach.

The Elf Centre: Giving Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids the same Support 

Christina’s daughter was born deaf and finding the best way to help her learn was an uphill struggle. “Deaf kids usually have the same cognitive ability to learn,” says Christina. But they often accumulate delays, due to difficulties interacting during their early learning years.

And says Christina, “there are no structures that give them the specific support they need.” Christina had noticed that even in the best of cases, deaf and hard of hearing children would be mixed with other special needs kids. This didn’t seem like the best environment considering their challenges were essentially around communication.

A fun outing to Kidzania with kids at Elf. Everything was explained to them in sign language.

What’s more, Christina had noticed two other needs regarding homework-related activities. First, these kids often have a backlog of delays to struggle with if they are to catch up with their peers. So they need a safe place where they can put in the extra work. But very few places are capable of accompanying oral kids and none cater to those who sign.

This brings us to the second point. Not all parents of deaf kids can sign well enough to help them with their homework. Considering most deaf and hard of hearing kids are born into hearing families, some of them don’t have fluent signers at home to interact with. And that’s a huge difference compared to their hearing peers, who can easily access adults who use the same (oral) language.

Helping them Learn How to Learn

This is what Elf is all about. Opening up a centre that can help all these kids “build a firm pre-primary and primary school foundation to prepare them for the academic and social requirements of adulthood in Singapore”. The after-school is modelled on the bilingual Mayflower School, where two teachers simultaneously work with kids in sign and oral languages.

At Elf, children can get both oral and sign language support to learn in the best possible way and at their own pace. Christina says “we stress that each child learns differently, so academic performance is not our top priority.

After a kite-flying outing in April. The adult on the right is the sign language teacher at Elf.

So what is their top priority? “We aim to build the confidence level of each individual child so that they are able to grow up independent learners as they progress,” says Christina.

At the moment, the centre can accommodate 8-10 students. Elf is looking to expand, with a Kindergarten/ Pre-school program in the morning and Family Sign Classes (July 2018). If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more, you can contact them here: 8202 7065.

Knoctify: Adaptive Technology for Deaf Households

Embodied Sensing is launching Knoctify, a new product, specially designed to help deaf and hard of hearing people know when important sounds require their attention. The idea is simple: replace common sounds (like a doorbell or someone knocking on the door), with light or vibrations. In fact, the name Knoctify comes from the merger between the words “knock” and “notify”.

So how does it work? The doorbell sensor includes a physical button and a sensor that recognizes door knocks. When this sensor is triggered, it wirelessly sends a signal to a Knoctify receiver which provides multiple feedback outputs in the form of light, sound and/or vibration to the user.

Kian Peen concludes: “when someone knocks on the door, a LED light on the receiver flashes brightly to help capture the attention of a person who may be deaf, heard of hearing, or even someone who is in a loud and noisy environment.” And should you want to be alerted at night, you can use the vibrating receiver under your pillow. Knoctify is completely wireless and runs on batteries, making it easy to deploy anywhere in the house.

Knoctify: Beta Testing and Production

Kian Peen has been working on this project since 2016. He has beta tested it within the deaf and hard of hearing community in Singapore and adapted many elements according to their feedback. For example, users can customise output for each type of situation and the device is palm-sized, making it small enough for travelling.

The purple light flashes when someone knocks on the door (photo credit: Isabelle Lim)

The next steps once this first sensor will be on the market is to develop additional sensors. “We are planning for other sensors to add to the Knoctify product family, like a sound sensor which can be placed near a fire/smoke alarm, an alarm clock sensor, a telephone sensor etc.” So it seems Knoctify is just the beginning of the adventure.

Manufacturing has started and the first shipments arrive in July. Preorders start in June, so keep your eyes peeled. You can sign up to be informed when sales start on their official website.

 

We hope this article was useful to our Singapore based readers. Let us know if you think we should feature other initiatives and products relevant to specific communities.

 

Tips and Practical Objects when Flying with A Sensory Child

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

The summer vacations are upon us and many families will be travelling. Taking planes – or trains and cars – with kids is always exhausting. But if your kids happen to have heightened sensory needs, it might feel impossible. So we dug up some tips and handy accessories to help you. Some of these things might even be useful for your neuro-typical kids too. After all, even rational, sensible adults can get overwhelmed in an airport or a long-distance flight.

Tip 1: Factor in Rest and Extra Time

Sometimes when travelling, we want to get it all over as soon as possible. How many of us book absurdly early flights and tell ourselves we’ll sleep on the flight or deal with the added fatigue? Be kind to yourself. If you know each trip is going to be difficult for you and your child, factor this in.

Try to choose flight times that fit into your daily schedule. Make sure your child has had time to nap the days preceding the flight. And keep a few days to relax and rest after the flight. You don’t need to head straight out on adventures before your little one has had time to regain their bearings in their new environment.

Tip 2: Prepare them by Visualising the Trip

Many children get over-excited, stressed or stimulated in environments they are not familiar with. Why not walk your child through the experience the day before heading out to the airport? You could use online images to explain what an airport looks like, all the stages you’ll have to go through and what the final destination will be.

Airport hustle and bustle are easier to cope with if your kid understands what’s going on (photo credit: Skitterphoto on Pixabay)

The more your child understand why each step is necessary, the better their coping skills. Many parents just use search engines to find images, but some airports have special programs to allow kids to discover an airport before actually flying.

Tip 3: Noise Cancelling Headphones

If your child is sensitive to noise, you’ll probably want to bring along noise cancelling headphones. Other kids might also feel better with them on: they won’t get stressed out by all the hubbub and announcements and chances are they will sleep more on the flight.

If you’re looking for a pair, we have two different sets, the Califone’s traditional red noise-cancelling headphones, and their cute animal headphones.

Tip 4: Bring All Your Calming Gear and Habits

Helping your child find his or her bearings will help keep them calm. If your child is soothed by heavy objects, pack one into your carry-on. A heavy book might be enough, or a weighted blanket might do the trick. Other kids enjoy vibrating objects or pillows. You might want to look into something like the Senseez pillows, like these cute, plush, vibrating pillows.

Senseez Pillows are a good example of handy objects for sensory kids (photo credit: Senseez)

Don’t forget to use good old fashioned hugs, hand presses and joint compressions. Small things and physical contact can help reassure your child while passing on your calm energy.

Tip 5: Find Ways to Keep Them Active

It might not feel like there are many opportunities to keep kids active in an airport setting, but simple games can do the trick. Once you’ve passed security, you can play games in the seating area. Count how many times your child can stand up and sit down in one minute. Count the cracks and the lines on the floor. Keep repeating these kinds of games until you’ve had enough.

Also, take as many stairs as you can. The more you move, the more your child will be tired and occupied. This varies for each child of course, but many children get fidgety in airport settings.

Speaking of fidgeting, if you bring along your fidget toys, your little ones will have their hands occupied. We have quite a few for sale, our favourites are this Tangle Therapy fidget, this multi-side fidget ring and these spikey sensory bracelets. Find whatever works for your kids.

Last but not least in this section: you can, of course, bring along games and colouring books and screens and any type of distraction your child enjoys. 

Tip 6: Food and Chewing

If your child has chewing needs or gets peckish (sometimes these are related, sometimes not!), make sure to have food in your carry on luggage. We have cool chewelry and chew sticks you can check out. Most kids, even those without specific sensory needs, love a lollypop or a sweet during take-off and it’s a good way to relieve ear pressure. Some prefer chewing gum, which is another alternative.

There are many chewable toys out there, like this Chew Stixx (Credit: Chew Stixx)

Tip 7: Try to Enjoy Your Flight Too

Don’t forget to also take care of yourself. Many kids mimic or mirror their parents because they empathise with adults around them. Remember, you can’t plan for everything and try to make the most of your vacations.

 

We hope these tips will help. Don’t foget to comment below with additional ideas and experience.

What Happens When Neuro-Typical and Neuro-Atypical Kids Mix

Welcome to Irisada‘s blog. We focus on solutions and awareness for families living with differently-abled loved ones so they can live life to the fullest.

When a neuro-atypical kid enters a room full of neuro-typical peers, most parents hold their breath. We worry that somehow, their differences will make getting along difficult. As parents of either type of child, we definitely want them to make friends. So how can we, as adults and parents, help?

When we started out on this post, we were hoping for powerful one-liners we could say to our neuro-typical or neuro-atypical kids. We contacted Niamh Daniels, mother to Essie, a 6-year-old child with Down Syndrome, and Wei Ling Lee, a teacher at Kindle Garden, an inclusive pre-school in Singapore. The more they answered our questions, the more we realised the answers are usually simpler than we expected.

See the World Through the Eyes of a Child

When Niamh talks about Essie’s relationships with her peers, she admits that she’s often more worried than is necessary. As a toddler, Essie blended in well with other children, none of them seemed to notice anything different about her. “Now she is 6 and differences are more obvious to them,” she says, before adding “I have realized, however, that I sometimes project this difference onto both Essie and her peers.

Niamh tells a story that we can all empathise with: during Essie’s first week at school, Niamh felt a kind of trepidation. She wanted to see how other kids would react to Essie in a school setting. When a boy approached Essie, Niamh was subconsciously holding her breath, wondering what would happen next. And he just asked her to play tag. Simple as that.

“It was a moment I will never forget as it reminded me to stop putting Down Syndrome first,” she says. The two children still play together every morning. “He has asked me how old Essie is, but other than he has never ever brought up anything about Essie being different – it is obviously not something that interests him!” she concludes. 

Kids are more interested in playing than knowing if one of them is different. Photo credit: HaiRobe on Pixabay

Wei Ling shares similar insight, describing neuro-typical kids interacting with differently abled pupils at school. “They do not treat them any differently than their peers but they do seem a bit lost at times when interacting with them for the first few times as some of them might be unable to respond appropriately to social interactions.”

So it seems the first conclusion is: let kids be kids, and you’ll notice they don’t care about these differences as long as they can play together.

Show Them By Example

Of course, this doesn’t mean they have nothing to learn. Wei Ling goes on to explain that the neuro-typical kids do notice the differences. At Kindle Garden,  “the teachers and staff play a big role and have to be conscious of how they speak and interact with children with added needs as the other children often take them as role models.” When all the adults treat these children with respect, their neuro-typical peers do the same.

A good way of nurturing the right kinds of attitudes is to develop empathy. This mindset is a powerful tool, that teachers use, not just to help kids with different abilities get along better, but even among neuro-typical children. “We highlight strengths and teach children that all of them have different areas they are stronger at and there are areas that each of them might need help with.” She also adds that discussions and collective problem solving helps promote a “growth mindset”.

This doesn’t mean everything’s always easy. “We do have some instances where children with Down Syndrome get frustrated,” she concedes. But the other kids are well equipped to react. “They learn how to communicate with them or how to seek help, like approaching a teacher or leaving them to calm down.”

Sometimes we project our own fears onto kids. Photo credit Free-Photos and Pixabay

Essie is also in a school with neuro-typical kids. Niamh thinks that one of the reasons she has been able to adapt so well is that she has always been used to routines. As the youngest of three, “she has had to learn to share from a very young age.” Today, “if Essie is told it is her turn next, or in 2 minutes, she understands – she may stomp her feet and get a bit huffy – but she doesn’t melt down and collapse in a tantrum.”

Give Everyone a Chance to Succeed

Niamh wants Essie to achieve her full potential. That’s one of the reasons she wanted her daughter to be in a mixed school setting. And with two other daughters, she has to cater to everyone’s needs and abilities.

When she first told her eldest daughter that Essie had Down Syndrome, they had a very striking exchange. Her daughter said “Oh, well I’m not going to help you,” to which Niamh replied, “You don’t have to help, that’s my job as her Mummy.” At the time, of course, Niamh was crushed, but she had actually managed to reassure her eldest daughter. Knowing she would have her own space to grow, she started asking her teachers about Down Syndrome and came to view it as “something that made her sister special, in a good way.”

At Kindle Garden, each child has their own learning path. No one has to wait for another child to understand something before the whole class can move on. This is positive both for the kids, who know that doing well doesn’t mean conforming and for their parents. “They are often reassured when we tell them that each child is always at their own pace.”

Giving each child the space to grow at their pace is key. Photo credit: Bess-Hamiti and Pixabay

The pre-school works to create a sense of community. “We have lots of family-school events where parents are invited to showcases or family school activities into their child’s classroom and this helps parents understand other children with needs -and also their abilities,” says Wei.

Kids First, Disability Second

For Wei, after working with children on a one to one basis, she loves seeing all these children in an inclusive environment, learning and playing together. She adds: “it is truly enriching and I feel very fortunate to witness growth in all of them daily!”

And when Niamh’s second daughter recently explained Down Syndrome to her class, she ended the presentation with the words: “at the end of the day, she is just my annoying little sister.” Her message was that Essie is her sister, who happens to have Down Syndrome, and not a child with Down Syndrome who happens to be her sister.

Says Niamh, “the wonderful thing about all children is that they rarely notice differences – kids are looking for other kids to connect with, make friends and have fun.” This is her biggest takeaway as a parent of a child that is different.