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!

Tips for Travelling with a Wheelchair

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. We’ve chosen a slight variation this week, as the festive season approaches: travelling with a family member with limited mobility.

The festive season is almost upon us! Off we will go to those end of year get-togethers, where we’ll eat copious meals and of course, give and receive gifts. We will probably spend hours in transport to get there, alongside hundreds of millions of people around the world.  At Irisada, we wondered: how do families with wheelchair users cope?

We spoke with Pascale and Hervé, whose experience of physical disability is relatively recent. Hervé suffered a stroke four years ago and is now hemiplegic, with slowed mobility and frequent wheelchair use.

Ensuring the Destination is Accessible

Pascale is in charge of logistics. Her motto is to always prepare for whatever might go wrong. “Whenever we travel, book a room or even visit friends, my first thought is to understand if Hervé will be comfortable and able to move around. I always look at photos, and often call for more information,” says Pascal. The obvious reason, being to confirm how accessible the destination really is, the second being to limit the unknowns in the equation. “We can’t improvise anymore – unless we already know what might be problematic.”

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It’s not always easy to find accessible bathrooms

“When renting, the most important rooms to look at are definitely the bathroom and the bedroom,” she explains. “The bathroom is the scariest place for people who aren’t steady on their feet. Especially when the floor is wet.” So Pascale always makes sure there’s enough space for Hervé to walk around comfortably, or even use his chair if he needs to. They also bring their own material: the invaluable shower stool, a portable shower bench, shower mats and a couple of suction grab bars for the shower.

As for the bedroom, the couple is most vigilant about how the bed is placed in the room. It can’t be too close to the wall, and height can be an issue.  “We recently travelled abroad, and found ourselves confronted with an unusually high bed, which was a big problem.” Hervé wasn’t as autonomous in those conditions, so they’ll be on the watch in the future. As they like to have breakfast in bed and Hervé spends a lot of time reading, they also bring an Invacare Backrest so he can sit up.

Choosing the Right Mode of Transport

So far the couple has tested travelling by car, train and plane. “At first we would only travel by car,” says Pascale, “because we felt more autonomous.” The first few trips were long, perhaps even too long. “I remember once we crossed the border and couldn’t find a place to stop for Hervé to use a bathroom. That was unnecessarily stressful.” They have got better at evaluating how long they can drive without wearing Hervé out. For them, driving is still the most convenient mode of transportation.

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Quan Peng’s inspiring travel story has been picked up in China (for more, see links section)

“We’ve only flown once since Hervé’s stroke,” says Pascale, “and it was not a satisfying experience.” The small awkward spaces, lack of adjustable seating and overall poor organisation did not make them eager to fly again. “I suppose we’ll try again in the future, but it will require more organisation.” Meanwhile, taking the train can be either a smooth ride or a bit of a fiasco. “So far”, says Pascale, “the TGV service in France has been amazing, but in the only other country we’ve taken the train, customer service was less than average.”

Making the Most of the Celebration

Once you get to your party or your holiday home and the room is buzzing with chatter, how do you make the most of the celebration? Both mentioned that in his case, he tires faster in noisy environments. Moreover, Hervé prefers to stand than sit in public, which is also physically tiring. “I like to know there’s a quiet place he can retreat to if it becomes too much,” adds Pascale.

One reason Hervé stands is to maintain eye contact and connect more. “When I sit, I prefer people to come down to my level – sit or bend – so I can see their faces,” says Hervé. “But if I’m in my chair, I don’t want my disabilities to become the centre of all my conversations.” Little things count.

Generally speaking, Hervé is conscious that his social interactions are still distorted by his handicap. “Sometimes people want to give me a hand, but they don’t know how, and that can stress me out,” he says. If a friend or stranger tries to help by holding his immobile side, they will unbalance Hervé. “It’s difficult to ask someone not to help you, or to do it some other way.” Similarly, he needs to draw a line. “Often I’ll say that I don’t need assistance with a certain task because otherwise, I’ll regress!”

And in the end, surrounded by family and friends, his stress and preoccupations evaporate. Good food, loving people and fun gifts have a way of doing that.

Additional Links

Looking for some of our sources? Here are a few we browed on the web. You can send us more by commenting below:

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. 

Sports for Kids with Hearing Loss: Keys to Success

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 who are deaf or are hard-of-hearing. The previous article in this series can be found here.

“Deaf kids can do anything but hear well”

But apparently some with aided hearing do hear amazingly more than a regular hearing person. But we digress. When we asked Bianca Birdsey, a medical doctor and mother to deaf twins, about extracurricular activities she immediately enumerated her kid’s hobbies. Her children really can do anything: from karate to dancing, including team sports, they are busy!

Duck-hee Lee is an South Korean Teenage tennis sensation

Duck-hee Lee is a deaf South Korean Teenage tennis sensation

Tips for helping kids do sport fall under two main categories. On the one hand, adapting social behaviour and communication patterns, and on the other, finding equipment and technical adjustments. Furthermore, “the challenge is more around socialising,” says Bianca, “especially if people see implants or aids and assume they won’t need to accommodate.”

Adjusting to Deaf or Hard of Hearing Team Members

Listening to Bianca talk about her experience, it seems that many of the adjustments are minor. For example, Bianca explains to coaches that her children will need more eye contact, and lips should not be hidden. These adjustments meet the child halfway, as she learns how to adapt too. As a result, her kids have developed “special powers”, and she marvels at how they can now lip read backwards in a mirror during ballet class.

Tamika Catchings was the star player of the Indiana Fever WNBA team and an Olympic gold medalist. Image courtesy of lovewomensbasketball.com

Tamika Catchings was the star player of the Indiana Fever WNBA team and an Olympic gold medalist.

A good way to make the sports environment more inclusive is to teach coaches, teachers and fellow team members a few words in sign language. Involving the team, by giving them 10 new signs is a great way for them to bond. What’s more, we suspect being able to sign a little might even give them an edge over competitors if they want to share secret information during a match!

Use these Adjustments to teach your Child to Advocate for Themselves

Bianca is very aware that her children will need to learn to advocate for themselves in the future. “What’s important for me is their confidence,” she says, “and I want to model how to advocate in a nice, calm way.” In this respect, a sports environment is a great place for children with hearing loss to realise that asking for accommodations is normal.

In rare instances where coaches put up resistance, Bianca wants her children to see that they are worth fighting for. More than just sports, her children need to know “they are loved unconditionally,” and should not take no for an answer when it comes to their social needs.

Equipment and Technical Adaptations

In some cases, technical gear might be required. Swimming comes to mind, as kids with implants might have a difficult time keeping them dry. Solutions do exist, like the ListenLid Swim Cap, so these children can develop their full athletic potential. In other sports, bigger helmets might be the answer, as well as headbands to hold aids and implants in place. We even saw some creative braiding while surfing for ideas, by the mother of a very athletic teenager.

Terrence Parkin is a deaf olympian swimmer

Terrence Parkin is a deaf Olympic medal winning swimmer

Sometimes technical adaptations are easy for schools and training centres. For example, the dance school Bianca’s children attend turns the base to the floor so they can feel the beats. We bet the experience is also enriching for the hearing kids, who are getting a different approach to dancing.

All Worth the Effort…

Most of all, Bianca is really proud of her dancing deaf children. “They absolutely love their dance concerts, they seem confident and happy. And they have the biggest smiles!” she says. Which goes to show deaf children really can – and should – do anything.

Additional Links

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

 Final Takeaway

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Photo credits: Duck-hee Lee (L’Equipe), Tamika Catchings (lovewomensbasketball.com), Terrence Parkin (Michael Steele/Allsport/Getty)

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

Diagnosing Hearing Loss in Children

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 who are deaf or are hard-of-hearing. The following article on hearing loss and sports can be found here.

Studies show that over nine out of ten deaf and hard of hearing children are born to hearing parents. This makes identifying hearing loss and adapting very difficult for families. We spoke to two mothers of deaf children who are happy to share some advice.

The Silent Handicap

Hearing loss is invisible. Many children can go years without ever being diagnosed. Bianca Birdsey, medical doctor and mother to deaf twins, recalls being politely hushed when she expressed her concerns. When she noticed oddities in her children, “people would say “it’s their normal!“”  she recalls. “They would think I was paranoid because I worked in paediatrics.” Bianca even asked a day care teacher if they noticed anything unusual about the twins, “and at the end of the day, she said “there’s nothing wrong with them”!

It took a dramatic scene in a public setting, with one twin crying for her mother, who was standing a few feet behind her, for Bianca and her husband to confirm their intuition: the girls just couldn’t hear. Stories like these are apparently quite frequent in South Africa. Bianca says many children there aren’t diagnosed until as late as five or even later.

Of course, diagnosis can differ greatly from one country to another. Tara Teo, founder of Irisada, gave birth to her daughter in Norway, where children are automatically screened. However, after the first check the nurses told them to come back two weeks later, as there might simply be “water in the ears.” The next test was also inconclusive, mainly because her daughter was too agitated to get good readings. It took an additional two months to finally get consistent readings of one ear and discover Heidi was profoundly deaf.

The Language Barrier

Why is an early diagnosis so important? The first two reasons are linked to how the human brain develops at that early age. Firstly, the early months and years of a child’s life are those where the brain learns how to structure language.  If they are diagnosed too late, they may have missed this critical phase and be left with learning difficulties.

Why? Because deaf children can only access language via visual aides until they are taught sign language or have hearing devices (if their family chooses to). Most families don’t sign at home unless there is already a deaf family member. This means that until a child is diagnosed, they often have absolutely no means of communicating and structuring thought with others.

The second very important factor, is that a child’s brains learns early on how to differentiate frequencies, especially to pick out human voices from other sounds. Tara’s daughter was given hearing aids and cochlear implants at a young age, but she needed lots of additional speech therapy to learn what to listen to in a sound. She’s also working hard to reproduce speech sounds, as she wasn’t exposed to them as early on in the belly as other babies.

Follow Your Child’s Lead

Both parents stress the amount of pressure they were under. “You’re making all these decisions for them” says Bianca, and some people have very set opinions on what is best for deaf children. Some of these decisions can be expensive in many countries, which can make it even harder. There can also be an impression that once your child has aids or implants, things will just miraculously get easier. In fact, the operation or “switch-on” is often just the beginning.

The mothers both laughed when they recalled their children’s reactions as the implants were turned on: pure horror! Bianca even jokes that there’s no point spending hours thinking up the first sentence you’ll speak to your child, as they won’t have a clue what the sounds mean! Imagine coming from a world of silence into a world of continuous noise. A great deal of energy goes into adapting to hearing.

Mothers with a Mission

Bianca’s advice is to “trust yourself”. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the politics around deafness, just follow your child’s lead. “There’s no right or wrong choice”, she says “as long as your child is progressing”. In Bianca’s case, meeting and socialising with deaf adults broke the spiral of grief. In part because she came to terms with a realigned vision for her twins’ future, and also because she was able to master sign language faster. Learning to sign, as a family, allowed them to bond like they never had before.

Tara, meanwhile, was frustrated with how difficult it was to get adapted headbands for her daughter as Heidi’s ears were simply too small to keep the devices in place. She spent hours online, searching for something that would keep the implants in place. She realised there was a gap in the market, and how useful it would be to be able to provide a small solution that could have a potentially huge impact. She felt how wonderful it would be if parents free up time they were spending sussing out where to find special products, to spend with their children instead. With this conviction and simple goal in mind, she founded Irisada, the very platform you’re reading on now.

Additional Links

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

  • Facts about hearing loss
  • Bianca’s blog, on her experience of bringing up three kids with hearing loss
  • A preliminary list of famous deaf people, to get you started with imagining your child’s future

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)

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

Assistive Tech Fair in Norway

This week, we were at an assistive tech fair in the far north of the world. So what is interesting over there (or here)?

Mobility and Sports

So the Scandinavians are big on getting out there and nothing can quite get in the way, definitely not a disability. The first section were different types of mobility equipment. There were a lot of unusual ones such as the ones in the picture below. They are much nearer to the ground, good for outdoors and skiing.

Outdoor wheelchairs

A picture with three outdoor purposed wheelchairs. Behind the wheelchairs, there are banners and a screen illustrating the use of the wheelchairs

This can be used on the beach. When not in use, it can float on water. This video shows how a man transferred from it quickly onto a canoe on a beach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iShrnJOTDTg

Hippocampe

An outdoor 3-wheelchair with 2 big balloon rear wheels and a smaller front wheel. The seat is nearer to the ground than a regular wheelchair.

The outdoor wheelchair on the right is interesting as it is highly modifiable for different outdoor needs. A detachable shaft with a waist sling can be used so a parent can pull a child while hiking. Or parts of the frame can be removed and skis can be added to the base.

Fjellgiet

A picture with two outdoor wheelchairs. The one on the left has skis on. The one on the right is much bigger and has two fat bike wheels and a slightly smaller front wheel. The back of the larger wheelchair has two handlebars and what seem like brakes similar to bicycles.

Luis Gran is the first wheelchair user that crossed Besseggen. We have been there and we know that it is not an easy route, some parts of this ridge are pretty steep.

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A picture in the mountains. In the foreground, three persons are helping a person sitting on a outdoor wheelchair along the ridge. One person is in front with waist slings attached to the wheelchair. Two other persons are behind pushing or lifting.

Photo credits: Taken from Aktiv Hjelpemidler AS website

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Picture of a child sized doll standing in an exercise machine with full body support. There are gliders at the base of the foot, braces at the knee level and supports around the hips, waist, chest and head. There is a handlebar above the waist level with a tabletop mounted on it.

A children’s tricycle with a larger seat and supports around. There is a back bar (for mounting different supports), a push handlebar and a basket at the back of the tricycle.

 

The left picture is a children’s bike that has extra support on the back and neck. The picture beside it is an exercise machine with full body support.
The bottom left picture shows a stroller with additional back and neck support. The bottom right picture is a light weight frame that allows kids with severe physical disability to stand and walk. We asked if it can potentially be uncomfortable or not good physically for the person to be on this for long hours. The sales person said that it should not but not enough research has been done in this area but there are some undergoing right now.

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A stroller with supports on the seat and a inclined footpad.

A picture of a child sized doll standing support by a frame with 4 wheels. There are braces and supports around the child, a handlebar attached to the supports at the back of the child and what looks like brakes on the wheels.

¨

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The device on the left is a frame used to support a child during swimming.

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A tripod frame with a seat in the middle and 3 black buoy like objects around it.

The is an ergonomic wheelchair.

A children’s wheel chair with rounded cushions on the back and seat and foot pads on both sides of the seat.

This amazing bike allows parents to bring their kids out and get a work out too. It is roomy and provides ample support for the child’s head and neck.

img_7164

A tricycle with a big rounded cart at the front which can sit 2 children. One side of the cart has a child seat with supports.

Occupational/ Speech Therapy and Communication

These pads are a training system that responds to the touch of hands and feet. The light responds to the force or weight, allowing therapists to design a custom program to train the child’s motor skills and body awareness.

A lady standing on two different coloured pads that have lights in the front of the pads. Beside and in front of the pads, there are other similar pads of different colours placed near to them.

I like this wallet which has felt pages and symbol cards with velcro can be attached to it. Easy to bring around.

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There is a poster of symbols at the background of the picture. The foreground shows a ring note book with a symbol showing a person pointing to himself and words that says ‘meg selv’. Beside the notebook is a fabric wallet with fabric pages. On each page are cardboards of signs.

This is a beautiful series of books that talk about feelings and include symbols.

img_7152

6 colourful ring bounded books placed in a row overlapping. The first book is titled ‘forelskelse’ with a cartoon of a man with two hearts for eyes and smiling showing teeth

A ring bound book that is opened. The left page shows a heart with a man and a woman looking at each other with a heart between them. The right page shows a broken heart with a girl in tears. Below both pages there is a sentence and above the sentences there are symbols.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caregivers’ Aids    /  Household Aids
Support arms. The white ones are feeding robots while the black one, though is powered, requires one to use one’s own hand and it provides the additional push.

The bed on the left is a shower trolley, the middle equipment is a multipurpose hygiene chair and the one on the right is also a hygiene chair.

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The sales person is demonstrating how this equipment helps a person get up from a chair and be transferred somewhere else.

This is a simple share on the different solutions out there and is not an endorsement by Irisada on any of the products.

Financial assistance schemes for disability in Singapore

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Having a disability, or caring for a loved one with a disability can be challenging. Physical, mental and emotional challenges aside, having a disability or caring for a loved one with an impairment can be a real financial strain.

Thankfully, in the last decade or so, as Singapore takes significant steps toward creating a more inclusive society where persons with disabilities (PWDs) can truly become empowered and recognised, more funding has been funnelled into helping children with special needs and persons with disabilities.

If you are searching for avenues of financial assistance for PWDs, look no further as we have compiled a list of grants and subsidies you could apply for. The list has been broken down into several categories, namely:

  • Support for Early Education, Study/ Training Bursaries and Grants
  • Transport Cost Subsidies, Assistive Technology
  • Support for the Elderly
  • Saving Schemes
  • Activity Centres and Disability Homes

This list is in no way exhaustive, so if anyone reading this would like to share more information regarding grants, subsidies, or whatever financial assistance schemes that has not been covered here, please let us know in the comments section below so we could update the list to make it as comprehensive as possible.

Support for Early Education by SG Enable

Development Support Programme

The Development Support Programme (DSP) helps kids with mild developmental needs to improve and overcome their language, literacy and social skills when they are in preschool (before six) to prepare them for primary education. On top of the monthly base subsidy of $300 that all Singaporean children are entitled to, parents will also receive further subsidies based on their income per capita.

*Children who are enrolled in an Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) are not eligible for DSP.<Link here>

Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children (EIPIC)

The Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children (EIPIC) provides social, educational and therapy services for children below the age of 6 who are diagnosed with moderate to severe disabilities. Through this programme, the kids will be able to participate freely in activities that will help with their development growth potential and also help minimise the development of their secondary disabilities. The fees at these EIPIC centres are means-tested, so families will be entitled to subsidies according to their income per capita.

*Applicants will undergo an initial screening before admittance to the programme.

<Link here>

Integrated Childcare Programme (ICCP)

The Integrated Childcare Programme (ICCP) caters to children with mild to moderate disabilities, aged between 2 and 6 years old, by providing them with a conducive environment to learn alongside their peers in an inclusive programme offered in existing childcare centres. The programme aims to better prepare children for integration into primary education. Working mothers will be eligible for subsidies of up to $300, and non-working mothers, up to $150.

<Link here>

Study/ Training Bursaries and Grants

Caregivers Training Grant (CTG)

The Caregivers Training Grant (CTG) is a $200 annual subsidy that helps defray the cost of training caregivers who need to acquire to better care for and cope with the physical and socio-emotional needs of the person with disability whom they are caring for. The caregiver must be a person in charge of the care recipient, who in turn has to be at least 65 years of age or has a disability as assessed by a doctor.

*This grant also falls under Support of the Elderly.

<Link here>

Microsoft Unlimited Potential Professional Certification Training Grant

The Microsoft Unlimited Potential Professional Certification Training Grant enables PWDs with a PCI< $700 or less, based on means-testing, to undergo Microsoft professional training for employment opportunities in IT-related work. The grant funds 50% of the total course fee and other fees relating to the course or up to $3,000 per year, whichever is lower. Applicant is allowed one grant per every two years.

<Link here><Link here>

SPD Bursary Award

The SPD Bursary Award is offered to students with physical or sensory disability, i.e. hearing or visual impairment, from low-income families with a PCI of less than $950, studying in mainstream schools. The quantum of the grant ranges from $300 per year for primary level to $6,000 per year for university level.

Educational Level Quantum of Subsidy
University $6,000 per year
Polytechnic $2500 per year
ITE $850 per year
Pre‐U/Junior College $500 per year
Secondary $400 per year
Primary $300 per year

<Link here>

Wan Boo Sow Charity Fund

The Wan Boo Sow Charity Fund aims to provide financial assistance to needy students studying in polytechnics, PWDs, and homebound elderly. Financial assistance is provided for PWDs for their expenses on education, medical needs, therapy, transport, and purchase of assistive equipment. The percentage of subsidy is tiered based on monthly per capita household income (not more than PCI =$1300) and capped at a maximum of $5,000 per annum.

*This grant also falls under Support for the Elderly

<Link here> 

Transport Costs Subsidies

Taxi Subsidy Scheme

The Taxi Subsidy Scheme aims to defray transportation costs of PWDs by providing taxi subsidies for those of whom are only able to travel by taxi for school and work. Subsidy rates are means-tested, allowing significant subsidies based on monthly household income.

Per Capita Monthly

Household Income

Subsidy Rate
Singapore Citizen Permanent Resident
$0 to $700 50% 25%
$701 to $1,100 40% 20%
$1,101 to $1,600 30% 15%
$1,601 to $1,800 20% 10%
$1,801 to $2,600 0% 0%
$2,601 and above 0% 0%

<Link here>

VWO Transport Subsidy for Persons with Disabilities

The VWO Transport Subsidy for Persons with Disabilities provides subsidised transport options for PWDs for those of whom who regularly use dedicated transport services provided by VWOs to attend their school and care service. Like the Taxi Subsidy Scheme, the VWO Transport Subsidy is provided based on PCI.

Per Capita Monthly Household Income Subsidy Rate

 (Singapore Citizen)

Subsidy Rate

(Permanent Resident)

$0 to $700 80% 55%
$701 to $1,100 75% 55%
$1,101 to $1,600 60% 40%
$1,601 to $1,800 50% 30%
$1,801 to $2,600 30% 0%
$2,601 and above 0% 0%

<Link here>

 

 

Assistive Technology Grants

SG Enable’s Assistive Technology Fund (ATF)/ Special Assistance Fund (SAF)

The Assistive Technology Fund (ATF) provides subsidies for PWDs to acquire, replace, upgrade or repair assistive technology devices that aid in daily living. Successful applicants qualify for a means-tested subsidy of up to 90% of the cost of the required equipment, subject to a lifetime cap of $40,000.

<Link here>

For adults who are unemployed, application is made to Special Assistance Fund SAF. The per capita net monthly household income is ≤$1,300.

* Any other fund administered by NCSS, SG Enable, or Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) for the same purpose would disqualify an applicant from the SAF.

<Link here>

 

SPD’s Assistive Technology Loan Library

The Assistive Technology Loan Library (AT Loan Library) has a wide range of AT devices available for loan or for the purpose of trial use, training and temporary accommodation. Loans are extended to people with disabilities as well as professionals working with people with disabilities. Deposit and nominal renting fees apply.

<Link here>

 

Support for the Elderly

HDB’s Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE)

The Enhancement for Active Seniors (EASE) programme, part of the Home Improvement Programme (HIP), was rolled out separately and offered to all towns in March 2013. Catered to the elderly, especially those who require assistance for one or more of the Activities of Daily Living (ADL) with  improvement items such as slip-resistant treated tiles, or grab bars, to make flats more elder-friendly and improve mobility and comfort for elderly residents. The programme is greatly subsidised, and depending on the type of flat you live in (as per table below), can cover up to 95% of the total cost.

Per Capita Monthly

Household Income

Subsidy Rate
Singapore Citizen Permanent Resident
$0 to $700 90% 65%
$701 to $1,100 65% 50%
$1,101 to $1,800 40% 30%
$ $1,801 and above 0% 0%

Figures are estimates and subject to change

<link here>

Singapore Silver Pages is a one-stop resource on Community Care information to help you make informed care choices by making it easier to find the information you need. SSP is the first portal to integrate social care, healthcare, mental health and caregiving resources under one roof for seniors, caregivers and care decision makers. The following are some schemes listed in SSP’s portal.

Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme (PioneerDAS)

The Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme (PioneerDAS) is part of the Pioneer Generation Package, which honours the contributions of Singapore’s pioneers towards  the development of the country. Under this scheme, pioneers with disabilities can receive $100 a month, which they can use for expenses.  The care recipient must be a pioneer living in Singapore and require permanent help in at least three ADL.

<link here>

Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF)

The Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF) provides holistic support for seniors on low income by extending three different subsidies to Singaporean seniors with different needs.

  • The SMF subsidy for Assistive Devices provides financial assistance to those requiring mobility and assistive devices for daily independent living. To qualify for the subsidy, the elderly has to be a Singaporean citizen aged 60 or older, assessed by a medical professional, and making claims for the device in its category for the first time.
  • The SMF subsidy for Transport aids seniors’ transportation cost for attending any day services at the Ministry of Health-funded Eldercare Centres, Dialysis Centres or Day Hospices. The elderly must be assessed to require a wheelchair, any form of special transport, walking aides, or assistance when travelling, and must not be already getting subsidies for the same transport service.
  • The SMF subsidy for Home Healthcare Items alleviates the costs of healthcare items by providing subsidies for products such as milk supplements, adult diapers, and wound dressing. The elderly must be receiving healthcare services at home or at the Singapore Programme for Integrated Care for the Elderly (SPICE) Centre, and must be assessed to determine the type of healthcare items required.

<link here>

 

Caregivers Training Grant (CTG)

The Caregivers Training Grant (CTG) is a $200 annual subsidy that helps defray the cost of training caregivers who need to acquire capabilities  to better care for and cope with the physical and socio-emotional needs of the person with disability whom they are caring for. The caregiver must be a person in charge of the care recipient, who in turn has to be at least 65 years of age or has a disability as assessed by a doctor.

*This grant also falls under Study/Training Bursaries and Grants.

<link here>

Wan Boo Sow Charity Fund

The Wan Boo Sow Charity Fund aims to provide financial assistance to needy students studying in polytechnics, PWDs, and homebound elderly. Financial assistance is provided for homebound frail seniors who require help with expenses ranging from personal care to meals, and even escort services. The percentage of subsidy is tiered based on monthly per capita household income (not more than PCI =$1300) and capped at maximum of $5,000 per annum.

*This grant also falls under Study/ Training Bursaries and Grants.

<Link here>

 

Savings Schemes

Special Needs Savings Scheme

The Special Needs Savings Scheme is a way for parents to set aside funds from their CPF savings by nominating their child with special needs to be entitled to their savings so the child can receive a regular stream of fixed payouts upon their demise.

<link here>

Activity Centres and Disability Homes

Residential Care Services At Children Disability Homes

The Residential Care Services At Children Disability Homes are for children under 16, diagnosed with congenital disabilities, and without caretakers. Not only do these homes provide the children with the option of staying for short or long periods of time, they also enable the children to undergo therapy and training, as well as participate in recreational activities that will help to maximise their abilities. There are four different centres providing different services, so it is important to choose one that best suits the child’s needs. The fees at these disability homes are means-tested, entitling families to subsidies according to their income per capita.

<link here>

Metta Day Activity Centre for the Intellectually Disabled

The Metta Day Activity Centre for the Intellectually Disabled caters to beneficiaries aged between 18 and 55 who are diagnosed with intellectual impairment such as Down’s Syndrome, Autism and developmental delay. Programmes at the activity centre are individually designed to help each person achieve maximum gains in his/ her abilities. Like Residential Care Services at Children Disability Homes, the Metta Day Activity Centre for the Intellectually Disabled is also means-tested for fees, providing families with substantial subsidies.

<link here>

 


We hope this list of financial assistance and/or related schemes PWDs can apply for would be useful. Once again, we recognise that the list is not exhaustive and there might have been updates since our research. We have made deliberate attempts to look for schemes spanning a wide categorical spectrum so as to hopefully provide you with help in the area you are looking for.

Stay up to date  with the Singapore disabilities community

There is a large community of people with disabilities here in Singapore, and they are not always visible to the rest of the population. So if you would like to be to be a part of a community that openly celebrates the beautiful gift and unlimited potential of persons with disabilities and stay up to date with the community, sign up for the newsletter in the link below. Together, we can connect entire communities of people to a world of colours.

Sign up for the Irisada newsletter here.

*This article is written for Irisada in hopes of providing information on financial solutions for PWDs who might need financial assistance.