Parenting Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids: Choosing a Language (Part II)

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. The next few months we’ll be focusing on parents of deaf and hard of hearing kids. This article follows a previous article here.  Last time we spoke about deaf kids was here: Diagnosis, Keeping Devices on Kids, Sports and Activities.

Part I focussed on the importance of early language acquisition and briefly reviewed different methods. This article will draw on the experience of three people with different perspectives, to give you more informal insight.

We were very lucky to have input from three experts and parents. Phoebe Tay is a Deaf teacher from Singapore. She speaks of her journey growing up oral in a predominantly hearing society to discovering the Deaf community, where she learned about Deaf culture and Deaf identity. Toshiko Clausen-Yan shares experience as a hearing mother to a multilingual oral son. We also spoke to Joyce Lew, a speech-language therapist and certified auditory-verbal therapist who migrated from teaching using the auditory-oral method to concentrating on auditory-verbal.

A Speech-Language and Auditory-Verbal Therapist on Oral Methods: Joyce Lew’s Experience

Joyce started her career in Singapore at a time when screening tests were rarer, and kids came into her office quite late. “They had already learned how to get by with lip-reading and mostly came from hearing families”, she recalls. Their families didn’t really have the time to learn a whole new language (like signing) to be able to stimulate them soon enough. “Parents were really just desperate to connect with their kids. They wanted activities to do that would teach their kids language, now.”

Joyce initially focussed on auditory-oral methods. “But research [at the time] suggested that if we continued teaching kids language through lip-reading, they would likely plateau in language acquisition because we read and spell based on how words sound.” So she decided to test auditory-verbal methods in her work.

At first, it was difficult for children to accept to learn relying only on their residual hearing. “It felt extremely unnatural at first,” she says “we had to think of all kinds of ideas to bring the focus away from the lips. But within a few months, there were moments of automatic listening and verbal responding while the kids were busy with their heads down in play.”

In some cases, residual hearing can be used to access language.

A few years later, as newborn screening became mainstream and more and more hard of hearing babies arrived with hearing devices, auditory-verbal became a norm. She says “some of the reasons are associated with the relative ease that babies experience in getting used to hearing devices and in learning how to listen without first learning how to lip-read.”

After a decade in her field, Joyce is convinced communication is key to developing language. And that parents tend to communicate more with their child if they are comfortable with the chosen language.

From Oral to Signing and Deaf Culture: Phoebe Tay’s Journey

 

Phoebe’s life changed when she started to use both English and Auslan

Phoebe was born deaf and diagnosed around three and half years old. At the time in Singapore, oral methods seemed to be the only option. Moreover, spoken and written English were expected to be understood by everyone. With the use of hearing aids and residual hearing, Phoebe was able to pick up English. She fared well enough in school and her language skills “started to bloom from upper primary onwards.”

 

Yet communicating wasn’t always easy. “It was okay to communicate in one to one setting”, she says “but classroom and group settings were tough.” Phoebe points out that language development is not just linked to academia, but also to social development. She felt like she couldn’t quite fit into the hearing world. Almost like language was a barrier.

Then she went to Australia, where she learned Australian Sign Language (Auslan). She suddenly discovered a language she could acquire, as well as a whole new culture. “I started to feel more confident, and signing helped me get a better sense of self-esteem.” Realising that she could use both Auslan and English changed her life.

There’s growing evidence that being part of a Deaf community and developing a Deaf identity helps build a child’s resilience. For Phoebe, this effect was palpable even as an adult. “I use aids, but they have their limitations. And they don’t make me a hearing person.” At the end of the day, “some kids will fail at oral methods no matter how hard they try because they simply can’t hear enough”. They still deserve to have a language they can succeed in naturally.

When Cochlear Implants Are Combined with Auditory-Verbal Therapy: A Mother’s Modern Tale

Toshiko’s second son was born profoundly deaf. Her family chose to give him the most mainstream life possible. This was possible according to doctors, who recommended cochlear implants at a very early age: only seven months old! Despite their natural fears regarding invasive surgery and the high cost, they chose this option.

Of course, this meant many years of intense speech therapy. “As soon as he had his cochlear implant, he got the same exposure to language as a hearing child,” she says. Sometimes it can be hard to get children that young to focus on tasks (like speech therapy) and keeping their devices in place, “but you have to keep in mind the long-term goals.”  Over time, her son has been able to learn several languages, including English, Mandarin, Japanese and Norwegian in natural settings.

Implants are getting more and more sophisticated and invisible.

For Toshiko’s son, the implants worked so well he can hear very minute sounds. “The advancement of technology has made this possible and we embrace all advancement that makes life simpler and better,” she says. In fact, he can now pick up calls directly to his implants, which he thinks is pretty neat.

She has a few words of encouragement to parents of children born deaf: surround yourself with people who are supportive and positive. “I did not allow people to cry or feel sad for him in front of him,” she remarks. “Stay positive, and keep your child feeling positive.”

As a brief conclusion

We hope these three testimonials will help you with parenting your child. Remember: each family is different. We hope yours will thrive!

Additional Links

Looking for some of our sources? We used some of these links. Send us more by commenting below!

Disclaimer: these blog posts are intended as exploratory articles for parents of recently diagnosed children. They do not constitute medical advice and cannot replace a medical opinion.

Parenting Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids: Choosing a Language (Part I)

This series is designed to help parents manage specific aspects of bringing up a child with a different learning path. The next few months we’ll be focusing on parents of deaf and hard of hearing kids. Last time we spoke about deaf kids was here: Diagnosis, Keeping Devices on Kids, Sports and Activities.

Over nine out of ten deaf and hard of hearing kids are born into hearing families with almost no connections to other deaf or hard of hearing people. Their parents have to quickly grasp the ins and outs of their child’s specific form of hearing loss while making decisions about how to communicate with their little one. Our aim here is to introduce you to different options, without claiming to have a blanket solution for all families.

Back to Basics: Communication vs. Language

If you’re a parent, you probably measure your child’s development against standard milestones. Communication and language skills are often a focal point: they help us understand our child and be understood by him. On a very practical level, it’s such a relief to go from guessing why he’s frustrated or ecstatic, to handing him the glass of water he’s asking for and sharing his joys.

Of course, parents of deaf and hard of hearing kids face the same practical need. But there’s also additional urgency for them. While parents of hearing kids know their child is constantly picking up language (even though they aren’t showing yet), parents of deaf and hard of hearing kids don’t know exactly what their child may or may not be picking up. “Kids are hardwired to learn a language, be it oral or visual,” says Joyce Lew, a speech-language therapist and certified auditory-verbal therapist, “but they need to be exposed to one.”

Babies only have a few years to gain solid understanding of language.

If deaf and hard of hearing kids aren’t exposed to an accessible language, they are at risk for language deprivation. In short, their brains aren’t learning what language is. They must acquire strong foundations in a first language during the critical early years. Those who don’t will have difficulty learning any language in the future, even non-oral languages because their brains haven’t yet formed the necessary connections. “While individual cases vary widely, the younger we see the kids, the more confident we are of the outcome,” says Joyce.  Thus parents have about 4 years to make sure their child is equipped to build a strong foundation in a first language, irrespective of which one they have learnt.

Different Viable Communications Methods

Here’s a brief overview of main communications methods used today.

Auditory-verbal or oral methods focus on using only residual hearing. Therefore children learn how to concentrate on the actual sounds with very little visual help. These methods typically work best for people who can hear across the speech spectrum, using hearing aids and/or cochlear implants.

Auditory-oral or cued speech methods teach children to combine listening with lipreading and visual cues. Cued speech provides additional visual elements for words that look the same on lips. For example, when speaking, hand gestures will specify the first letter of a word, like between “pat” and “bat”.

Manual communications modes include different forms of “sign language”. Many variations exist and some are not considered “languages” in their own right. The easiest way to understand is that Manual English (which includes SEE) is a literal transcription into signs, whereas other sign languages (like ASL for the US, Auslan for Australia, SGSL for Singapore etc) have their own grammar and internal logic.

Girls learning sign language.

Total communication methods allow for the use of all of the above methods in the acquisition of language. The underlying idea is to help kids pick up language with a combination of approaches, which may or may not include sign language, using cues, lipreading and maximising residual hearing.

How to Start Exploring and Choosing

Each case is different. As you explore, you’ll run into advocates of each type of method. Some will focus on making your child’s deafness as invisible as possible, others will want to open doors to Deaf culture and identity. Together they will complement the advice you’re getting from your doctors. How much residual hearing your child has and her prospects of learning sounds are important factors.

You’ll also take into account the community you live in – or want to live in. You need to know you’ll have enough support in your community to go forward with your choice. How much time and resources do you have to invest?  For example, if you are confident you can learn to sign and that your child will have a community of Deaf people to interact with, this will impact your choice.

We’ll be exploring experience from three interviewee’s in part II. Check it out here.

Additional Links

Looking for some of our sources? We used some of these links. Send us more by commenting below!

Disclaimer: these blog posts are intended as exploratory articles for parents of recently diagnosed children. They do not constitute medical advice and cannot replace a medical opinion.

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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. 

How to Keep Hearing Devices on Kids

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 on raising children who are deaf or are hard-of-hearing. The previous articles in this series can be found here (on diagnosis) and here (on playing sports).

Finding Helpful Solutions to Keep those Devices on Kids

Today’s area of focus is the logistics around hearing devices. Some of the ideas and products listed below are available on our platform, all have been tried and tested in the community. Reach out and comment if you have more to add.

Solution 1 – Babies: Scarves and Headbands

The first difficulty parents of kids with hearing devices run into, is the size and bulkiness of the aids compared with their bambino‘s head. For very young babies, this can be an issue during breastfeeding especially. As hearing aids can make very loud noises when they are shifted, some parents decide to avoid any discomfort for their child and remove the aids completely at feeding times. Another option can be to use baby sized scarves on their heads to prevent rubbing against the devices, such as these baby buffs.

As children grow, the very delicate and expensive pieces of equipment continue to sit awkwardly on a toddler. In many instances they are prone to flapping or even falling. Hence many parents’ nightmares about their kids losing them in sand pits or the neighbour’s garden. One solution that seems to work well is headbands, especially for babies and girls. Ai Sin Soh, mother to a profoundly deaf little girl, started making her own headbands.

Lynne's Collection

As you can see, not only are they snazzy and pretty, they perfectly hold the hearing devices into place. There are also options out there for all tastes and styles – yes even kids who hate bright and delicate apparel. A recurring comment we hear from parents is that the right kind of headband makes it easier for kids to accept their hearing devices, as they are less physically annoying and even cool.

Several of Ai Sin’s headbands are on sale on Irisada, including models with flowers and others without, glitter elastic versions as well as safety clips. We also have a second vendor called It’s raining bows and if none of our selection works for you, check out Etsy or other vendors like Hearing Aid Headbands (UK).

Solution 2 – Ear Gear, Protection for All Hearing Instruments

Mark Rosal founded Ear Gear in 2005, after many frustrating attempts to keep his little girl’s hearing aids in place. He designed sleeves that could protect hearing instruments from sweat, dirt, moisture, loss and wind noise, as well as protect the wearer from chafing and discomfort often associated with aids.

Interestingly, Mark says “the most popular choice of color has stayed consistent with beige which matches many skin tones. For people who want to conceal their hearing aid, beige is the best choice.” However, never fear, fashionistas, as he adds “for those wanting to make a fashion statement, we’ve got bright, fun colors and custom options to mix and match cords, clips, sleeves and more.”

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Ear Gear donates products to many groups around the world, like camps, hearing loss awareness walks or charities. Mark encourages organisations to get in touch at info@gearforears.com. His parting words were for parents: “it’s imperative that parents are persistent when keeping the hearing aids on the child. Hearing is an integral part of a child’s development and taking the hearing instruments off or losing them for extended periods of time can directly affect the success of your child.”

Ear Gear is available on Irisada.

Solution 3 – Time for a Swim

As mentioned in a previous post, there have been quite a few deaf olympic swimmers. Deaf and hard of hearing kids and adults can now swim more easily thanks to ListenLid. This short video perfectly sums up how ListenLid make pools more fun for their wearers (turn the sound up).

Alana Triscott designed ListenLid so her son would “enjoy his swimming school lessons and be able to blend in.” She recalls that “there were a few options, but they were either pretty unusual, blocked the acoustics or involved the device being housed in a shirt.” ListenLid is the exact opposite. As you can see below, the swim caps look pretty much the same as regular swimming caps. What’s more, Alana’s son even uses these caps under helmets when he goes skateboarding or biking.

Photo taken from the ListenLid look book on Facebook.

Photo taken from the ListenLid look book on Facebook.

These caps are to be used for the following devices: iPod®; MP3; Advanced Bionics® Neptune® cochlear implant (up to two devices can be accommodated) and the Naída cochlear implant with AquaCase® (one AquaCase® can be accommodated). ListenLid is also available on Irisada.

Parting Words

Irisada is always on the lookout for other products that could help parents, kids and adults lead their lives to the fullest, no matter their abilities Regarding deaf and hard of hearing needs, we also have batteries and Dry Briks, as well as a selection of toys and games. If you have suggestions, we’d love to hear them and see if we can add them to our inventory!

Additional Links

Some additional links for parents looking for more information. 

  • For more tips on head gear, check out this post on BC Hands and Voice.
  • Recently, books featuring deaf or hard of hearing kids, some with implants, have started coming out. Liam the Superhero is available on Irisada, and explains how cochlear implants works in fun rhyming ways. You may remember Bianca from previous posts, she co-authored Benjamin’s Girl, a four book series about the life of a little deaf girl through the eyes of her teddy bear. To find out more, contact her directly.

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.

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

deaf-champions2

 

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.

family-harmony

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