New Year, Same Promise, Exciting Developments

The old year is closing, the new one is coming. We thought now would be the right time to reflect on 2017 and give you a taste of what is yet to come. As you know, our goal is to become the go-to platform for families in search of solutions adapted to their developmental differences. We’ll continue to pursue this goal.

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Photo credit: Aaron Burden

2017: Developing Community and Awareness

Those of you who’ve followed us from the beginning know Irisada is still young. As the online platform grew, we also wanted to get to know our community better. So just under two years ago, we opened a Facebook page.  This year we worked on strengthening our community of followers and pursuing socially responsible goals.

We held several fun giveaways, including Hua Hee card games to help fight against dementia and Senseez Pillows for kids with sensory needs. We also held a fundraiser to give back to the community when we launched T-Jacket (a vest that helps autistic children relax by simulating a hug) on Irisada.

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Part of our aim is also to build awareness around a wide range of conditions and explore the kinds of products and anecdotal tips that help families live fuller lives. Over the past six months, we focused on different conditions, striving to share tips from other parents in similar situations. Here’s a quick recap in case you’ve missed some of them:

2018: Same Promise, Exciting Developments

With already more than 300 products available for a range of conditions and abilities, we’ll be continuing to find the best solutions for your families. We’ll expand product ranges and cater to new conditions, including those linked to mobility and the elderly, to give you more choice.

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As for our community, we’ll be actively discussing specific points in our specialised Facebook groups. One such group is already running (The Discussion Group for Solutions and Tools for Special Needs), feel free to join, and we welcome suggestions for groups you’d like to see set up.

In terms of blog articles, we’ll be delving deeper into some of the conditions already mentioned, reach out to us if you have specific topic suggestions.

We look forward to the coming year with you. Keep following us on Facebook and Instagram. Get in touch with comments and suggestions. And of course, send us product ideas or reviews. You are the reason Irisada exists, you’re part of our story!

Last but not least: Happy New Year and thanks for following our adventures!

Turning Hospital Fears into Positive Experiences

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. We’ll be looking at what parents, specialists and people with diabetes have to say about living with the condition.

We’d initially planned to cover the difficulties faced by diabetic children learning how to use needles on a daily basis. But kids with many conditions face a common fear of medical setting. So we spoke to Esther Wang, an entrepreneur and inventor, whose innovative approach to children’s health education is having an impact in hospitals around the world.

Explain Away the Fear

Esther Wang wanted to design a product that would answer this specific need expressed by hospitals in Singapore: when kids are brought into hospitals, they are usually scared. She started by immersing herself in hospitals and watching kids interact there.

Her first conclusion what that most of the fear stemmed from a lack of understanding of medical procedures. Children needed more than words and explanations, they needed an experiential approach. She started testing ways children could learn and understand the purpose of their visits. The challenge was to turn healthcare moments into experiential learning.

There was also another issue at hand: when children don’t understand medical procedures, they can feel hostility towards medical staff, or betrayed by their parents.  This needed to change. “Family ties should grow stronger through these experiences,” says Esther, not weaker. Similarly, it’s easier for medical practitioners to work with kids who understand they are all on the same team. They too, need to have a positive relationship with the child, albeit a very different bond.

Rabbit Ray pack

That’s how Rabbit Ray was conceived. Rabbit Ray is more than a blue plastic toy with health-related gadgets: it’s an invitation to play and learn. There’s a whole process of using Rabbit Ray that allows children to go from being passive and scared to willing and active participants in their care. And it’s simple.

How Rabbit Ray Works

Rabbit Ray is a cross between a doll and role play. Essentially, it is a doll: kids immediately reach out to play with the cool looking Rabbit. The sleek bunny opens up to reveal medical instruments which can be used on Ray to explain major medical acts. Vaccination, blood sampling, intravenous drips and more can be experimented directly on Ray. So he is a medical doll which doctors and nurses can use to explain what will happen to the child. They learn by watching medical acts performed on Ray.

The great power of dolls is that they can be used to role play. “When children are put into the position of injecting Rabbit Ray, they get to play the star and the medical person,” says Esther. This can lead to vital interactions. “Telling the child that Rabbit Ray is scared – like he might be -, helps the child empathise with the nurse or doctor.” So that when the child gets the same medical act performed on himself, he will find it easier to cooperate. Cooperating will feel like being part of a team, rather than passively subjecting to a scary event.

Kids playing with Rabbit Ray

Kids playing with Rabbit Ray

Last but not least, Rabbit Ray was designed for a variety of clinical scenarios – from emergency with a high volume of patients, to the quiet moments during a patient’s hospitalization. Explanations can be given in just one minute or turned into a 30-minute game. Moreover, Rabbit Ray is certified according to Europe Safety Standards and strict clinical infection control standards. Ray is easy to wipe down in record time, which helps for fast transitions.

Real Situations Rabbit Ray has Saved the Day

As we’d initially wanted to focus on diabetic kids who need to learn how to perform medical procedures on themselves, Esther talked us through the specifics. “The needle is very realistic, but it’s made out of a tiny straw“, she explained. “This means they can use it as a practice needle on themselves, as they learn to get comfortable.” In essence, children can practice how and where to inject themselves insulin, without the actual scary needle. “Touching the fake needle conveys a lot that words cannot.”

Rabbit Ray is also great for special needs kids. A special needs school in Singapore used Rabbit Ray to explain the upcoming vaccination campaign, and they were thrilled with the results. The children – juniors – were relaxed and happy, many of them even hugged the doll after the shots, and the headmistress intends to use Rabbit Ray all year long to explain health-related subjects. Generally speaking, Rabbit Ray’s multisensory approach could help children affected by conditions ranging from autism to sight loss.

Happy Nurses with their Rabbit Rays

Most often, Rabbit Ray is used 45 hospitals in 11 countries, mostly with children fighting cancer. The bunny is fun and uncomplicated. It helps ensure kids in hospitals stay just that: kids.

Esther Wang and the Joytingle team are recognised globally as the Global Winner of the Shell LiveWIRE Top Ten Innovators Award (2015). Now she hopes she will be able to bring this resolutely humane innovation to more kids all over the world.

Additional Links

Looking for some of our sources? Check them out. And send us more by commenting below: 

  • Rabbit Ray is available on Irisada, here.
  • Rabbit Ray on the web: here 
  • A short TV report by News Channel 7 WJHG.com.

Playing with Children on the Spectrum: Developing Faculties and Playtime

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. This month we’ll be looking at what parents and specialists have to say on raising children on the autism spectrum. Previously we wrote about the diagnosis stage here and helping parents here.

All parents know that play is fundamental in a child’s development, be they neuro-typical or facing specific challenges. But playtime is also a unique moment to interact with your child and create bonds. We spoke to Delia Yeo, a speech and language therapist, and Ladislas de Toldi, co-founder of Leka, to know more about how play can help children on the autism spectrum develop skills and bond.

Playing and Engaging with People

Games stimulate and motivate children, through fun and the desire to win. Yet both experts stress that children on the spectrum often have difficulty engaging with playmates, remembering  rules or using all the concepts necessary to win.

Therapists like Delia “look at several aspects of how the child plays to understand how he or she understands the world”. Like an alternative mapping, Delia is able to identify what types of play are easy, which ones are hard. She chooses specific types of games accordingly centred on internal feelings, external sensations, sitting, physical activity, etc.

In some cases, Delia has to teach a child to play before she can teach them skills through play. She starts with simpler games, ensuring she can interact and engage, before moving on to complex games. Most importantly, she has to look for what the child enjoys. “I choose the game depending on the child’s interest, [so] they [will] have a gleam in their eye and connect”.

Games and Technology

Traditional games like hide and seek, puzzles, swings or anything another child might play are used to help autistic children learn skills. Nowadays, thanks to technology, new games have emerged, some of which are more high-tech than anything a neuro-typical child will use.

Take Leka, for example, a small, round, ball shaped robot developed by a French start-up with specialists in several countries. The robot uses artificial intelligence and is designed to help children progress on their cognitive, motor, social and communications skills. Less intimidating than a human, the robot interacts directly with children, setting the rules and congratulating them when they succeed. They get a real sense of accomplishment when they are able to crack the game. Amongst other games, Leka plays hide and seek and Simon Says, and new games are added every week.

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Leka, the robot, happy face

“The most important thing”, says Ladislas “is figuring out what each child enjoys. It’s the only way to open the door. And if they only like Dreamworks animated movies, then so be it.” In fact, Leka are very humble in their approach. They advise parents and organisations consider all their options before investing in Leka, because at the end of the day, their objective is to make sure the robot is bringing out the best in children.

“There are so many incredible new ways of interacting with children on the spectrum now. I’m impressed by some apps on the iPad, that have non verbal children interacting with the world, and I’m stunned by how apps like Sidekicks are helping people with autism communicate with their families.” Children on the spectrum can greatly benefit from technological playthings, which unlock new opportunities to learn and communicate.

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A child plays with Leka the robot

Is All Play Work Disguised as Fun?

Delia recommends that “parents should always play without a teaching goal in mind”. The tendency to test their child might take all the fun out of playing. Just the act of spending quality time together and fostering engagement is valuable. As they play together, the child will learn some things naturally from them, in a softer, less goal oriented way.

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Family play time, in this case with Leka the robot

“My advice is to simply follow your child’s lead. Join and imitate her at first, and as your play grows, her ideas will grow too. You’ll be “teaching” by supporting her experience in play”. As you do so, Delia suggests introducing your ideas and small challenges into games. They will encourage your child to problem solve around them, or create unity in a scattered game.

Delia recalls an autistic teen who was brought up with very little play. “He was very compliant and would carry out tasks, but seemed robotic and detached.” Recently, as she has worked around discovering what he likes and doesn’t like, and developing his ideas through play, she has seen the teen grow in confidence and become a real playmate. “He used to interact because he was supposed to, not because he wanted to. Now he’s pulling his weight in our interaction!”

Happy playtime!

Additional Links

Some additional links for parents looking for more information. Please also suggest more to us, which we can add to the list.

  • For more about Leka you can also visit here. Leka is currently looking for financial partners. Contact Ladislas at ladislas@leka.io for any inquiries,
  • An example of a sidekick app,
  • A review of Ron Suskind’s book on using Disney sidekicks at home to communicate with their son Owen,
  • Link to the film about using Disney sidekicks. 
  • Autism Speaks has a very long list of apps here

Note: all photos in this article are curtesy of Leka

A Child I know is on the Spectrum: What Do I Say and Do?

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. This month we’ll be looking at what parents and specialists have to say on raising children on the autism spectrum. Previously we wrote about the diagnosis stage here.

When parents find out their child is on the autism spectrum, it can be difficult to explain to their friends and extended family what this entails. Similarly, often people are unsure how can they can show their support and create bonds with the child.

The First Key Reactions

One of the key messages for friends and family is that each child will be unique. We asked  Lisa, who writes the Quirks and Chaos blog to give us some insight on what a family with an autistic child might need. Her view is that parents are also very different. In her case, hearing the word autism was “devastating” in the beginning. She needed people to listen and sympathise, without ever minimising her feelings, while she mourned the loss of plans and dreams for her son, and fretted about his future.

Kyle Jetsel from the Autism Laughter Therapy is also cautious about the first interactions with a parent that has recently discovered their child is on the spectrum. He warns against upholding false expectations. As a parent with two autistic children, he knows first hand that raising these children can be difficult at times, and may entail considerable sacrifices. Of course, overall, each family learns to love differently, grows and can thrive with their child, but parents should be prepared going into the adventure to “decide they will come out happy”, without trying to “fix” their child.

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Google Autism, Santa, by Lisa Smith, Quirks and Chaos

If you want to do additional research and be part of the parents’ lives, Lisa also advises asking them which book they recommend you read to better understand their child’s case. “The autism spectrum is so wide, the book I recommend might not be the same book your friend might recommend to you.” Showing that you want to read up and better understand will also reassure the parents on your desire to accompany them on their journey.

Interactions Within Defined Social Circles

You may know a family with a child on the spectrum, but not be close to the parents, and still want to do what’s best in social settings, or help put them at ease. Birthday parties and school events come to mind, as it can be difficult to anticipate what sort of interactions the child and their parents can manage and enjoy.

While social environments can be stressful for some people with autism, they also help improve social skills. Lisa’s son Tate attends a mainstream school, and many of the children there have grown with him. In first grade, Lisa gave a talk to the class about autism and explained some of Tate’s behavioural differences.

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Boys Say Hi, by Lisa Smith, Quirks and Chaos

“I remember asking the students to promise me they would always be as nice to Tate as they were that year,” says Lisa. “Those students have made a huge difference for us. When one of them sees Tate struggling to pull on a jacket or find the correct page in a book, they jump up to help him. I’ve been out in public with Tate before and kids have come up to us said “hi”.” According to Lisa, none of these children get the same thing out of a friendship with Tate as what you’d normally expect, but their acceptance of his difference has given Tate a social network of sorts.

Interactions in Broader Social Networks

Lisa also encourages Tate to interact in public, even if it means telling a waiter that he will need more time to process information. Even though interactions with her son can be rather “strange”, as she puts it, and although relationships with him tend to be one sided – with Tate talking about his interests but mostly uninterested by whatever others may want to talk about -, these relationships do help Tate grow and develop. In fact, Lisa also points out that her son has created real bonds, mostly with adults – in part because they are more predictable than children -, and though these relationships take time – and humour – to build, they have had unbelievable impact on his development.

If you are confronted with the case of a child on the spectrum in your community, time and patience can help alleviate the initial awkwardness you may feel. Look to the parents for guidance if you interact with the child or their family. Most importantly, in the words of Lisa: “remember that an autism diagnosis is not nearly as scary as it first sounds. All the fears and apprehension will begin to fade somewhat after a time.”

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We’re doing just fine, by Lisa Smith, Quirks and Chaos

Additional Links

Some additional links for parents looking for more information. Please also suggest more to us, which we can add to the list.

Note: all images are curtesy of Lisa Smith (Quirks and Chaos)

Diagnosing ASD and Unlocking Each Child’s Potential

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. This month we’ll be looking at what parents and specialists have to say on raising children on the autism spectrum.

A recurring question around the autism spectrum is: what signs appear first? In other words, how can parents know their child is on the spectrum and when should they consult specialists?

When and how can parents know something is unusual?

According to Doctor Jean-François Havreng, a development specialist based in France, some parents express concerns for their child from six months old. Often, they find the parent-child bonding process unusual, for example eye contact is rare or inexistent, the child’s body is hyper or hypotonic when held, or the child might seem deaf. Children any age can show signs of autistic behaviour, though Doctor Havreng is careful to point out that in the early stages, cues and hints are not definitive proof. And though in some cases these signs do indicate the child is on the autism spectrum, they might have an entirely different condition, or even just display oddities now and later develop along a mainstream learning curve.

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Love in the Family, by Kenny Tan

Doctor Havreng’s team runs an open clinic, located outside the hospital and in the center of the city, where parents can easily bring their children to meet professionals without stigma or fear. Trained specialists take the time to get to know each child, consider whether they present developmental delays and suggest tests. All the while, parents and their children are kept in a child friendly environment, with suitable toys and attractions.

There’s no way to understand a child’s developmental specificities in a few minutes. With this in mind, his centre takes a slow, measured approach to diagnosis, ensuring parents don’t feel overwhelmed. During each phase, the child interacts with several specialists, though the atmosphere is voluntarily not too medical (for example, no intimidating white lab coats), and more often than not, multiple evaluation techniques are applied to confirm and explain a diagnosis.

Diagnosing Unique Children
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Daring Cats and Mouse, by Kenny Tan

Each case of autism is unique. Understanding how a child on the spectrum can develop is complex, which is why Doctor Havreng recommends finding doctors with “extensive experience of developmental delays, including but not restricted to autism.”

The diagnosis gives parents a single word to explain and describe their child’s development. But for Doctor Havreng’s team, the diagnosis is just the beginning of a more important and fulfilling task: finding how children can thrive,  acquire skills and live a fuller life.

Focussing on Potential

Vincent Tan’s son Kenny was diagnosed aged 18 months. When he was finally given a name to put on his child’s uniqueness he felt both relieved and overwhelmed. He knew raising his child would indeed be challenging, but now he had clues about what that would entail.

His advice is to start with whatever issues feel the most pressing, asking other parents what they have tried. Some start by trying to make their child table ready for school – when appropriate -, others work on getting their child to stop specific behaviour patterns that create awkward or dangerous situations in the home. The quest for solutions is part of an overall discovery process to identify what makes your child tick.

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Wings Elephant, by Kenny Tan

Vincent admits the process has been difficult. There are many ups and downs and there is often no way of comparing or monitoring a child’s progress. In fact, comparisons with the development curves of other children, especially neuro-typical, can be demotivating and disappointing, as though their limited achievements reflect poorly on all the parenting put into their development.

From Childhood to Adulthood

Kenny is now 23, and has learnt many skills. He can ride a bike – in a safe environment without cars for example -, he can swim, and he has become an accomplished painter, selling his artwork in Singapore via the Everyday Revolution. He can read quite well, and enjoys reading classic literature works by Charles Dicken, George Orwell and Harper Lee. Writing independently, on the other hand, is still a challenge and needs a lot more work. In his father’s words “the most important trait is his willingness and his perseverance to try whatever the caregivers can have the patience to teach him”.

When Vincent reflects on the early years of his son’s education, he advises other parents to surround themselves with support groups, and get to know those who have similar problems. “Learn from their experience and experiments, together you will be more resourceful,” he says, with optimism.

Additional Links

Some additional links for parents looking for more information. Please also suggest more to us, which we can add to the list.

  • A short video to help explain how the world feels for people on the spectrum, by Amazing Things Happen
  • An (old) Letter to the new autism parent, by Eileen Shaklee (Autism with a Side of Fries)
  • 15 truths about parenting special kids, by Lisa Smith (Quirks and Chaos)
  • New words for parents of a child on the spectrum, also by Lisa Smith (Quirks and Chaos)

Note: all the artwork in this article is curtesy of Kenny Tan.

HOW TO USE THE RIGHT PUZZLES FOR YOUR HOME THERAPY NEEDS (PART 2)

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In our previous article, we talked about the benefits of puzzles and the types of puzzles to choose from. Now let’s be practical and talk about how to teach concepts with them!

HOW TO TEACH?

How do we teach a child how to solve a puzzle? We went through some speech therapists, occupational therapist, homeschooling and Montessori style articles and extracted some ideas. We’ll also be referencing back to the same article in  HubPages.

Non-connecting puzzles with just 2 – 4 pieces are good for kids at a developmental milestone or age of 0 to 24 months. The ones with big pegs are good for gripping for players with not so good fine motors skills, so the child can focus on the matching activity without getting too discouraged.

It is recommended to progress to puzzles with more pieces after they have mastered the smaller ones. When first working on bigger puzzles, present a few pieces at a time. Let them play with those pieces and figure out the pictures first before attempting to match.

For alphabet or number puzzles, it is also a chance to work on letter or number recognition and speech (sounds of consonants and vowels). Separate the pieces by rows and present them one row at a time.

Connecting puzzles  are more complex and can feel like a leap from their non- connecting counterparts. They require far more advanced perceptual skills. Most of them do not have reference pictures and therefore require the child to either work on memory or on logic, which they clearly have not fully developed yet. A tip that Rose Mary shared was to trace the pieces on the board or keep a notebook of pictures of the finished puzzles. Heidi Song suggests writing the numbers behind each piece and on the board itself. How simple and smart these suggestions are!

Interconnecting puzzles are typically jigsaw puzzles. If your child does not have the focus for a bigger puzzle or you do not have enough time, simply get your child to work on small sections of the puzzle at a time.

OT mom here has 2 methods of working with puzzles. One is to work on the borders first. The other is to group similar pieces together like what Rose Mary did here.

With jigsaw puzzles, you might have to spend a fair amount of time setting up. Make sure all puzzles pieces are faced up before starting the game with your child. This will help children with limited patience who may lose interest if parents take too long setting up. Another method is to involve them in the set up by getting them to help flip over the pieces that are facing down.

It is also useful to note that, before starting a puzzle, it is good to lay down some rules so that children can benefit from the session. For jigsaw, we should encourage children to take a good look at the completed puzzle before taking the puzzle apart. We should also remind the child to work on  one puzzle first before moving to the next to avoid distraction or getting  pieces mixed up.

 

WHAT ELSE TO THINK ABOUT?

A Special Purposed Life, a pediatric speech therapist blogger, walks us through what to think about when buying puzzles. Depending on their stage of development, one can choose puzzles based on the speech goals we want to achieve for them.

For instance, if your child is working on single words, use puzzles that have animals, vehicles, fruits and so on and work on words like animals sounds (‘moo’ for cows, ‘baa’ for sheep, ‘beep-beep’ for cars, etc). Every time they respond to the sound, be it mimic or mouth the word, reward them with the piece and guide them to put it in the right location. Other words they can learn are verbs and preposition such as ‘go’, ‘move’, ‘in’, ‘put’, etc. (We will, in future, include a list of sounds you can make for each type of object.)

If they are working on two words or more, you can say things like ‘I want dog’ or ‘I want the dog’, ‘Find the truck’, etc. You can even find puzzles to teach colours and sentence structure at the same time by saying ‘I want red bear’, ‘I want blue bear’, etc

Are they working on a particular consonant sound such as /b/, /p/? You can use alphabet puzzles to work on these sounds by applying the same technique as used for the animal puzzle. Or you can reuse the transportation puzzle, by presenting a boat for the /p/ sound. This was what we learnt at AVT: say /p-p-p/ and when the child responds, present the boat. Let the child play with it for a while and get him or her to place it in. If the child does not respond, present the boat anyway after the third articulation. If using the alphabet puzzle, do not attempt all letters at one sitting.

It is important to note that puzzles with sounds might not be recommended for training speech as it can be distracting and the human voice is after all better than mechanical sounds. However, for the purpose of occupational therapy, it can be something fun and more attractive to a child with ASD, for instance.

Additional tips: for families who are bilingual, allocate one language to one parent. Play the same puzzles in the same manner but with both languages at separate sessions. This introduces variety so the child can familiarise herself or himself with concepts without getting bored. Also, the consistency helps the child be effectively bilingual as he or she has a good learning model for both languages. At the same time, the other parent can take a break (play can be exhausting for adults too!)

 

Check out these other articles for even more ’puzzling’ tips:

 

Check out these videos too:

 

Do visit our site for more exciting products. Our vendors are not big warehouses, but therapists or specialists in the field and are experts in selecting and curating products carefully and meaningfully. We work hard to bring to you as many great products as we can source from around the world so you can make the best choices for yourself.

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Thank you.

Team Irisada