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!

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Diagnosing Sight Loss in Children and Adapting

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 and specialists have to say about raising children who are blind or have sight loss. 

This month we interviewed Lea Lay Hong, Vision Teacher at the IC2 Prephouse of Singapore, who specialises in assisting those with sight deficiencies in learning how to adapt. She is also the mother of two children with visual impairments. The elder now studies in a polytechnic school and the youngest is still in a mainstream high school. Both are national para-swimmers!

Step 1 – Red Flags and Diagnosis

We asked Lay Hong what telltale signs could alert parents as early on as possible. Some symptoms seem more obvious than others: if your child is bringing things close up to their faces to look at them or shows signs of ocular discomfort (like rubbing their eyes excessively), a trip to the eye doctor could be in order.  She advises also to consider the child’s eye movements (are they jerky?) and whether the child is directing their gaze at people and objects.  Does he seem interested to look at people speaking to them? Does she startle easily when you pick him up, does she seem surprised when someone starts speaking near her?

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Homer, the celebrated, blind poet of Greece

All these signs may not specifically mean that your child is blind, but they can help initiate the right discussions with your doctor. Then, and only then, can you start testing your child’s eyesight to discover if there is a problem. It’s important to remember that “a definitive diagnosis is not possible at the first or initial visit”. In fact, Lay Hong explains that “many conditions are progressive so a diagnosis may not be possible until some years later

 

As the medical investigation continues, parents and caregivers need to move on to finding ways to help the child continue to learn. As says Lay Hong, “What is important is not so much the diagnosis per se, but knowing what your child can or cannot see, and how to ensure they are still able to learn like their peers.

Step 2 – Finding Support and Becoming Empowered

As with many conditions, most parents go through a grieving phase when they find out their child will have a different life path than expected. Moreover, “because visual impairment is a very low incident disability, chances are [the affected parents] do not know of anyone else going through the same ordeal as they are.” Thus Lay Hong stresses that parents should find support networks as soon as possible. There they will get emotional support – or counselling when needed – as well as knowledge and insight regarding their child’s education process.

“Remembering that the child learns differently, and knowing what adaptations or modifications are needed to enable the child to learn is important,” says Lay Hong.  There is no “one-stop” solution, but there will be a combination of adaptations that will give your child the tools to reach their full potential. Moreover, Lay Hong is optimistic and ambitious for kids with sight loss. She states that they don’t usually have slower learning curves than other children if concepts are presented to them in accessible ways, i.e. tactile methods.

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Stevie Wonder was a child prodigy and musical genius, blind since shortly after birth.

For completely blind children, however, the learning curve might be different as “their acquisition of information is linear, moving from one to the other. It is difficult for them, especially at a very young age, to understand complex relationships between objects, ideas, etc.” In this regard, common difficulties may include using concepts like “otherness” and “permanence”. In the first case, blind children sometimes have trouble with the use of pronouns – I, you, me, them – and in the second, they may cling to objects and people, fearing that once they let go, they will disappear.

Step 3 – Fun, Games and Everyday Life

A recurring theme in bringing up kids with sight loss is how to ensure they are included in games and activities with their peers. Parents sometimes worry that they will be left out, or games are difficult to adapt. Yet, according to Lay Hong, certain simple good practices can go a long way to helping them interact.

They should be included in all family activities, mealtimes, outings, shopping, etc, as much as possible,” she says. Other tips can be easy to implement even outside family circles. For example “conversations directed at them should begin with their names, so they know they are being spoken to.” And when in group situations, telling them how many people are in the room (as well as their names) and encouraging them to call out to those in the room to organise activities or games, helps them become more autonomous.

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Marla Runyan, legally blind, competed and won in both para and able-bodied competitions

According to Lay Hong, any game can be adapted. Want to play football? What about using a ball with bells inside (and possibly smaller teams) so that everyone can find the ball? Cards with Braille or other tactile methods mean they can be part of fun games. Lay Hong notes that visually impaired kids are frequently left out of games because the rules aren’t explained in an accessible way, or others simply assume they cannot play.

Final Words – Always Assume the Impossible is Possible

Lay Hong encourages parents to never take no for an answer. “Do not accept when people tell you your child can’t do something because he can’t see,” she says. “Find out, if there are different ways to go around doing the same thing.” Sometimes you will have to advocate and be strong to make sure your child has access to quality learning. So read up and stay up to date.

And most importantly, remember that you know your child best, and are his or her best ally. You will be constantly explaining how your child is unique, so find simple ways of getting the right message across. For example, “instead of saying “My child has constricted field of vision due to retinitis pigmentosa”, you may simply say “my child has difficulty seeing things around him, and may need some help when moving around, especially going down the stairs, or if there are obstacles around him”.”

Additional Links

Some additional links for parents looking for more information. 

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Funding Campaign – The Interstellar Board Game for the Blind

Every month we focus on parents 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 who are blind or have conditions related to vision impairments.

October 12th is International Sight Day, so at Irisada, we thought it would be a great month to highlight cool products and causes around blindness. We’re kicking off the October with a very special fundraising campaign to support Interstellar Fantasy Flight, a unique board game designed especially for blind kids. I interviewed the creator and designer of the game, Annie (佳芝), to learn more.

Stage 1: Early Years and The Realisation  

20901654_2071918266363334_2670588857863537285_oAnnie is currently a PhD student at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, majoring in Design. “I first got involved with blind children and their families in high school”, she says. “After I started volunteering, I gradually came to understand how being blind affected their lives and education.” She realised that blind children are missing out a seemingly small aspect of childhood: board games.

Yet from an educational and social point of view, they were losing much more than just the opportunity to play. As we’ve mentioned again and again and again, play is an integral part of learning. So Annie started applying her design knowledge to their specific needs. First she made a dice with bold braille numbers, which turned out well.

Then she realised that she could make a whole new game from scratch. So she set about creating something new, with two objectives in mind: 1) fun, of course, and 2) helping children acquire new skills. “At first I wondered if we should focus on the fun aspect, but their passion for knowledge touched us, and gave us the motivation to improve their education.”

Stage 2: Designing Interstellar Fantasy Flight 

Annie started working on a concept game to help blind children develop numerical skills: counting, adding, subtracting and other basic maths. “Contrary to seeing kids, they have less opportunity to familiarise themselves with these concepts, and more importantly, they can only access them through touching,” she says.

A brand new game was born: Interstellar Fantasy Flight

A brand new game was born: Interstellar Fantasy Flight

At the same time, Annie wanted the game to be social and inclusive. “We designed the game to be played with their parents and their seeing friends”, she says, “so that it creates a social moment all together.” It’s also based on a theme that all children can relate to, interspace and spaceships, which gets their imagination fired up, and is very cool to them.

So now you’re wondering: how does it work? The aim of the game is to build a space craft. To do so, each player needs to collect a certain number of ores, which are represented by different shaped pieces (round, square, pentagon etc.). To get each piece, they need to randomly pick a ball from a jar. The balls have numbers on them (in braille) and the kids then perform basic maths problems. Players take turns, and the first player to complete their space ship wins.

A glimpse of the space ships and ores

A glimpse of the spaceships and ores

“It took about eight months to make and test the game. We’ve tested it multiple times and about 30 people (seeing, blind, adult or child) have already played” Annie reflects. The tests take place in two Taiwanese schools for the visually impaired and so far the feedback from children and parents is very positive.

Stage 3: Production and Distribution

Interstellar Fantasy Flight is now ready to be produced and distributed. This is where Irisada and our readers come into play. We at Irisada are always on the look out for products that will appeal to children with different learning needs, and this game stood out.

We’ve teamed up with Annie to help her raise funds to pay for the first batch of production and to give the game to specialised schools and institutions in Taiwan. The game is also available to pre-order on our site. If you’d like to lend a hand, you can access the crowdfunding campaign here, and if you’d like to have your own game, you can pre-order it here.

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