Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Halloween Checklist

Though Halloween is still several weeks away, chances are your children are eagerly anticipating the holiday, planning their costumes, and thinking about parties and trick-or-treating. If your child has special needs, Halloween can present some extra challenges. But none of these challenges are insurmountable. Check out these tips for a Happy Halloween!

Find the perfect costume
What child doesn’t love playing dress-up? Costumes provide children with the opportunity to pretend, fantasize and express their interests and creativity. If your child uses a wheelchair, incorporating the chair into her costume is a great way to go. Does he love NASCAR? Create a race-car from the wheelchair. Does she dream of being a princess? Turn her wheelchair into a coach. Check out Enabling Devices’ Halloween post from last year for more terrific ideas.
If your child has sensory issues, take care to choose a costume that fits comfortably and isn’t made of scratchy fabric that could spoil your child’s fun. That may mean avoiding store-bought costumes, masks, hats, face paint or other accessories that can irritate sensitive skin.
           
Prepare for the big day or night
Halloween is tons of fun, but it can also be kind of scary. If your child tends to become fearful or anxious, consider trick-or-treating during the day instead of at night, read books, sing songs and have discussions about what to expect during Halloween.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Salute to People with Down Syndrome

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. So, this week’s blogpost pays tribute to people with Down Syndrome who are accomplishing amazing things, as well as their families, teachers and therapists.

Here are some facts:
According to the National Down Syndrome Society, “Trisomy 21 (nondisjunction) Down syndrome is usually caused by an error in cell division called "nondisjunction." Nondisjunction results in an embryo with three copies of chromosome 21 instead of the usual two. Prior to or at conception, a pair of 21st chromosomes in either the sperm or the egg fails to separate.”
People with Down syndrome share certain physical characteristics including eyes that slant upwards, low muscle tone, a deep crease across their palms, and short stature. Though all people with Down syndrome experience some degree of cognitive delays, it is now understood, that they are capable of learning, have diverse interests, talents and strengths just like their typically developing peers.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Wheeling Through Middle School

Like so many girls her age, Melissa Shang of Westborough, Massachusetts, loves American Girl dolls and the accompanying books that tell the dolls’ stories. The company’s BeForever line includes dolls and stories that teach children ages 8-13 about American history, with characters including Kaya, a Native American girl living in the mid-late 1700s, Felicity, whose story takes place at the beginning of the American Revolution, Josefina, a Mexican-American girl living in the early 1800s and Molly, who resides in Illinois during World War II. Beginning in the early 2000s, the company launched its Girl of the Year line, featuring contemporary heroines of different races, religions and ethnicities dealing with a variety of challenges.
Melissa enjoyed playing with the dolls and learning about their stories, but as a girl with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a type of muscular dystrophy, she longed for an American Girl doll who like her, had a disability. With the support of her older sister Eva, in 2014 Melissa initiated an online petition asking the creators of American Girl dolls to add a Girl of the Year doll with a disability. Though the petition went viral, was signed by more than 140,000 people and garnered significant media attention, the company has not committed to produce a doll with a disability.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Five New Apps Changing Life for People with Disabilities

With new apps being developed all the time, it’s hard to keep up. Here’s a run-down on some new and coming soon apps likely to benefit people with disabilities.

Beam Smart Presence System
Remote shopping is nothing new, but this app, currently being tested by American Eagle Outfitters, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based clothing retailer, promises to make remote shopping a more personal, interactive experience. “The Beam Smart Presence System” will help people with mobility challenges that prevent them from traveling to a brick and mortar store to “beam” into an American Eagle location from a computer or tablet. When users “beam in” they can communicate with a sales clerk, who speaks to them through a tablet at the store. Using a second tablet, the shopper can remotely follow the clerk up and down the store aisles as the clerk shows the shopper store merchandise.

Monday, September 11, 2017

School Days, school days…

The first weeks of a new school year typically bring excitement, exhaustion and for some children — especially those with special needs — a fair amount of anxiety. Certain products available through Enabling Devices can help take the edge off that anxiety, helping students to calm down, focus and attend to their classwork. In turn, these products can decrease the likelihood of disruptive behaviors, and increase the likelihood of positive social interactions. Here are some suggestions for products that encourage success in school. Some are sold in classroom kits while others can be purchased individually.

According to Occupational Therapy for Children, “Fidget toys are often used to provide sensory input in a less distracting way. They can help improve concentration and attention to tasks by allowing the brain to filter out the extra sensory information (e.g. listening to a lesson in the classroom, paying attention to a book during circle time). By having a fidget toy, a child may be able to better ‘filter out’ excess sensory information in their surroundings and their own body, which is causing distraction, and encouraging this sensory information to be focused on a toy in the hands.”

Enabling Devices’ fidget kit comes with 13 different small and discrete fidget toys that help students become calm, focus and regulate their nervous systems. Students can choose from fidget toys including our Desk Buddy Sensory Bars, finger squash its, gel bead balls, pencil finger fidgets and many more.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Seven Organizations Helping Harvey Victims with Disabilities

When a catastrophe such as Hurricane Harvey strikes, the consequences are disastrous for everyone impacted. For people with physical, psychological and developmental disabilities, the situation can be even more dire. Just imagine: trying to maneuver a wheelchair through five feet of water; being blind and having to climb a ladder to safety; having autism and losing your home and the prized possessions that make you feel secure. These are just some of the challenges that people with disabilities are facing in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Amidst the devastation in Texas, nonprofits that advocate for people with disabilities are doing their best to ensure that they aren’t left behind. Here are some that are doing good work or collecting money for people with disabilities. You may wish to support them at this critically important time.

Portlight and its partner, The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies  has been working on behalf of people with disabilities “to promote inclusiveness in disaster preparedness and response plans and to demand provisions for transportation and shelter accessibility,” since 1997.   During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the organization worked with disabled hurricane survivors for 18 months, helping them to replace lost medical equipment, rebuild ramping, and more. Portlight provided similar support for disabled victims of flooding in Louisiana in 2016. Portlight also runs a program called Getting It Right which offers workshops and conferences on issues related to inclusive disaster preparedness and advocates for accessibility in housing and transportation.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Three Cheers for Inclusion

“Step,” a new documentary that won accolades at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and opened earlier this month in theaters across the nation tells the inspiring story of an inner city high school’s girls Step team that overcomes significant obstacles to win their state’s step dance championship. The skills they learn through their team membership help to prepare them for their school’s ultimate goal: To ensure that every member of the team is accepted to college. The film got us thinking: What’s available to girls (and boys) with disabilities in the realm of competitive dance and cheerleading? As it turns out, there’s a lot out there!

In fact, about a week ago, U.S.A. Today reported on a special needs cheerleading squad in Salisbury, Maryland that’s become one of the state’s most successful teams. The “Shooting Stars” is made up of athletes with disabilities ages 7-53. And its team leaders say, all it takes to join the team “is a positive attitude.”

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Six Tips for Recess Success

Ask many kids “What’s your favorite subject?” and they’ll say, “recess.” But for students with special needs, recess can be the most challenging time of day. Recess is hard for some children because they have trouble managing unstructured time. For others, delayed social skills can lead to exclusion or even bullying. Children with physical disabilities may be left out because playground facilities aren’t fully accessible, while those with sensitive nervous systems may be disturbed by loud playground voices and chaotic surroundings.

But there are steps schools can take to prevent bullying and make recess a happy, healthy and socially successful time of day for everyone. We’ve gathered some suggestions and information about what some schools are doing to address this back to school issue.

1. Help students plan for transition
Students with developmental disabilities and autism spectrum disorders often have difficulty moving from one activity to the next. Preparation and roleplaying may help. “Various studies suggest that rehearsing hypothetical situations beforehand reduces anxiety and helps special needs kids cope more effectively,” say the folks at AngelSense.com. Try talking about recess beforehand or even creating a social story to help your child anticipate the transition. Teachers can help by reviewing the day’s schedule and providing special cues for children who need them.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Six Ways to Create a Welcoming Classroom

If you’re a teacher, chances are you’re already preparing to begin a brand-new school year. Perhaps you’ve been setting up your classroom, ordering supplies, and planning lessons and activities. Most likely you’re doing your best to anticipate the learning, social and emotional needs of your students. After all, the nonprofit Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) reports that “social and emotional learning [SEL] teaches children to recognize and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make decisions, and build and maintain relationships.” In fact, a 2011 meta-analysis showed that “incorporating these programs into classrooms and schools improves learning outcomes and reduces anxiety and behavioral problems among students.” A recent update to the study reinforced the findings of the 2011 study. But just hoping for a socially and emotionally positive classroom environment isn’t enough. Strategies and know-how are essential to making your classroom a place where all children, regardless of special needs, are able to thrive academically, socially and emotionally. Here are some tips to give you a head start.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How the Arts Build Skills and Bring Joy

As the summer vacation season comes to an end, many parents have begun making plans for their children’s fall schedules. If your child has special needs, his schedule may be full of therapy appointments, doctor’s visits and tutoring sessions. Though it may be challenging to find time for other extracurricular activities, making space for the creative arts is well worth it. Participation in arts programming can increase children’s self-esteem, improve cognitive, motor and social skills and provides a sense of community that is sometimes hard to find in mainstream school settings. Fortunately, more and more arts education programs across the country are offering classes for children with special needs.

In today’s post, Enabling Devices looks at the benefits of creative arts experiences for children with special needs.

Theater for children with autism spectrum disorders
In recent years, educators and parents across the country have come to recognize that participation in the theater arts are extremely beneficial to children on the autism spectrum.
In a 2016 study, Vanderbilt University professor Blythe Corbett demonstrated how children enrolled in her 10-session, 40-hour program, SENSE Theater were less anxious, more likely to recognize faces, and more capable of understanding different points of view. According to an article by Laura McKenna in The Atlantic, “kids who completed the program had brain-frequency levels that were more similar to children without autism.”

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

August Vacationing Tips

Is it August already? Where have the summer months gone? If you’re a parent of school-age children, or a teacher, August means the start of back-to-school shopping, lesson planning, carpool scheduling, doctor’s visits, haircuts and more. But not so fast— there’s still time for some late summer fun. It’s just a question of planning. For parents of children with disabilities, arranging a last-minute excursion or vacation requires a little extra planning. Here are some tips to make end-of-the season travel more manageable: 

Before setting off, do your best to provide your child with as much information as possible about your family’s travel itinerary. Some children, especially those with autism, sensory sensitivities or anxiety disorders, have difficulty coping with changes to their routines and anticipating the unknown. Social stories about travel or vacationing are a great way to lessen their anxiety. If there isn’t time to design your own story-book, look for one on the web. Here’s one created by Pam Drennen, V.P. Director of Clinical Services Speech at Kidmunicate in preparation for a trip to the beach. You can also try “photo albums, schedules and maps to help our children understand where [they]are going and whom [they] will see,” says Karen Wang, an author at the Friendship Circle. “Any type of visual support will reduce anxiety and increase interest,” says Wang.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Got Wheels?


“Wheelchair bound.” “Confined to a wheelchair.” Referencing wheelchair users like this is not only outdated and offensive, it also reflects a lack of understanding. “People are not ‘confined’ to their wheelchairs,” say the folks at the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, “they are in fact liberated by their wheels. … A wheelchair offers people access to work and shopping or any other travel outside the home.” Sadly, an estimated 100 million people in developing nations across the world who need wheelchairs, are too poor to afford them. But thanks to Dr. Don Schoendorfer and the Free Wheelchair Mission, the humanitarian, faith-based nonprofit he founded, they now have hope.

Schoendorfer’s journey began many years ago on a visit to Morocco. There, he saw a woman who was unable to walk but had no wheelchair, drag herself across a busy intersection. He was deeply impacted by what he saw, and eventually Schoendorfer, a biomedical engineer and inventor, left his successful career to pursue a higher calling: He wanted to help people like the woman in Morocco by designing a wheelchair that was “basic, inexpensive and durable,” enough to withstand the rugged topography of many developing countries.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hope for a Cure for Fragile X

July is National Fragile X Awareness Month. As we head into the last full week of this month, we dedicate this post to educating readers about Fragile X Syndrome.

·       Fragile X is a group of genetic disorders caused by a mutation in a single gene on the X chromosome.
·       Fragile X syndrome is the most common inherited cause of intellectual disability and autism and can range from mild to profound impairment.
·       People can be carriers of the FMRI gene that causes Fragile X without having any symptoms of the disorder. Those with Fragile X are at risk for developing:
·       Fragile X-associated Tremor/Ataxia Syndrome(FXTAS), a nervous system disorder that causes tremors, ambulatory difficulties, and trouble with balance, memory, and behaviors especially among older males.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy Independence Day!

At Enabling Devices, we’re all about helping adults and children live and play more independently. To that end, we offer over 800 products that make it possible for people with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities to enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing more for themselves.

Enabling Devices offers more than 100 different types of capability switches —the widest variety in the marketplace. From our best-selling, ergonomically designed, super-sensitive Plate Switch to our most versatile of switches—the Ultimate Switch—to our high quality dependable Gumball Switches, capability switches allow people with disabilities to interact with communication devices, therapeutic learning products, computers, appliances and toys!

The ability to express one’s thoughts and feelings and to converse with others is essential to independence. Our enormous selection of communication devices helps people with disabilities to communicate and serve as terrific teaching tools. From basic communicators such as the Big Talk which records and plays back one message to our Talkable II which records two messages and has built-in icon holders, to communicators that grow with the user’s vocabulary such as the 7-Level Communication Builder, there’s a communicator that‘s just right for you, your family member or student.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How Can We Help?

When Enabling Devices (then Toys for Special Children) was founded in 1978, the idea of adapting and creating toys and other products for people with disabilities was groundbreaking. In the nearly four decades that have elapsed, awareness of the needs of people with disabilities has increased, and the field has become more crowded. Consumers can now access our products or products made by our competitors from a variety of sources. Yet, Enabling Devices still stands out because of our longstanding commitment to providing personal, individualized and customized services to our clients.

Over the years, we have responded to clients’ unique needs by adapting and creating new products especially for them.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Happy Father’s Day!

Fathers' contributions are invaluable!
Despite significant increases in the numbers of stay-at-home fathers and dads who take active roles in the care of their children, many parenting magazines, books and blogs are geared almost exclusively toward mothers. Likewise, fathers are often overlooked at their children’s schools, by pediatricians and other clinicians. That’s unfortunate since research shows that paternal involvement is extremely important to children’s development in a myriad of ways. With Father’s Day just around the corner, this week’s blog addresses dads’ invaluable contributions to their children’s lives.

Involved fathers have smarter children
Studies have shown that engaged fathers are more likely to have children that have higher IQs and do better in school. For example, a recent study published in the Infant Mental Health Journal found that “the association between paternal interactions and cognitive outcome is evident at a very early age.”  More specifically, the study reported that babies who actively engage with their fathers, perform better on cognitive tests.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Musical Musings

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination
and life to everything.”
― Plato

The power of music and its significant healing properties are well-known.  According to psychologist David M. Greenberg, writing for Psychology Today, “Music is much more than mere entertainment. It has been a feature of every known human society—anthropologists and sociologists have yet to find a single culture throughout the course of human history that has not had music. In fact, many evolutionary psychologists today make the argument that music predated language. Primitive tribes and religious practices have used music to reach enlightened states for thousands of years, and Pythagoras used music to heal different psychological and physical ailments. Currently, cutting-edge scientific research has shown the effect that music has on the brain, the individual, and society.”

Like their non-disabled peers, people with physical and developmental disabilities can benefit tremendously from interactions with music. While listening to music improves quality of life for just about everyone, some people with disabilities can also experience profoundly positive effects from taking part in adapted music lessons and/or music therapy. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same. In this week’s post, we outline the differences between these two modalities and note the benefits of each.

What are adapted music lessons?
Adapted music lessons have the same goal as conventional music lessons: to teach the musical skills necessary to play an instrument. Yet adapted lessons are taught by teachers or music therapists skilled in providing an especially individualized approach to learning. Trained to evaluate the learning needs and styles of each student, adapted music teachers can tailor their lessons to the strengths and weaknesses of their students. They utilize a variety of strategies to help students to accomplish their goals.

According to Jennifer Hezoucky, a therapist at Life Song Therapy, adaptations for music students with physical disabilities may include: “Color-coding or large-print/chord music; learning songs using color or number codes; over-sized guitar picks; alternate tunings for guitar; adapted equipment for specific needs (such as switch-adapted instruments available through enablingdevices.com).

Adaptations for students with developmental or intellectual disabilities may include the use of “visual aids to structure the lesson and reduce frustration; non-verbal communication; a focus on preferred songs and music genres; communication devices; [the incorporation of] music games, rhythm instruments, movement and singing to maintain and maximize learning,” says Hezoucky.

What is music therapy?

In music therapy, music proficiency isn’t the goal. Rather, music is a means to achieving other goals. According the American Music Therapy Association “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.”

For example, notes music therapist Geoffrey Keith of Success Music Studio, “a music therapist may teach a student a song to help him to remember how to tie his shoes, or sing a song with him so he can work on saying a particular consonant that he struggles to say more clearly, or to help get out strong feelings attached to a traumatic experience.”

For more information about music therapy, visit musictherapy.org.
For more information about adapted music lessons, visit successmusicstudio.com.




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Five Strategies for Raising Graduation Rates for Students with Disabilities

Recent data shows that high school graduation rates in the United States are higher than in any other time in history. According to the 2017 Building a Grad Nation Report by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, in 2015, “about half of all states reported high school graduation rates of 85 percent or more.” By 2020 those states are poised to graduate 90 percent of their high school seniors.  
But sadly, the data on students with disabilities tells a very different story. The same Grad Nation report also found that “Thirty-three states reported high school graduation rates for special education students below 70 percent, and nearly half of those 33 had graduation rates for students with disabilities below 60 percent.  Four states—South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi and Nevada—graduated half of their special education students.” Unless the graduation rates of students with disabilities, poor and minority students improve, the Grad Nation report concludes that the country won’t meet the 90 percent graduation mark.

In an article for Nonprofit Quarterly, Noreen Ohlrich, calls the gap in graduation rates between those with disabilities and without them “scandalously wide.” So, what if anything can be done to level the playing field? Here’s what some of the experts recommend.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Five Tips for Accessible Gardening

Though it happens every year, the arrival of spring is always a source of joy. For many of us, spring is the time for tending lawns, planting flowers, and beautifying decks, patios and window sills. The benefits of being out in nature are well known but bear repeating. According to the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley, spending time out of doors in natural spaces reduces stress … makes you happier … relieves attention fatigue, increases creativity … may help you to be kinder and more generous and make you feel more alive.”

Like everyone else, people with disabilities reap tremendous benefits from experiencing nature. Yet, they may face greater challenges when it comes to creating and maintaining their outdoor spaces. Thanks to adaptive gardening tools, and thoughtful landscaping design, the challenges are surmountable. Here are some tips for making gardening accessible to all.

1. Make room for a wheelchair
Make sure paths are flat, hard, and at least three feet wide to accommodate a wheelchair. Paved paths are ideal for wheelchair users but if that’s not possible in your garden, keep grass well-mowed and dirt paths even and well-maintained. If there are stairs in your garden, replace them with a ramp.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Happy Mother's Day - Take a Break!

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, many of us are buying cards or gifts and planning meals or excursions to pay tribute to the mothers in our lives. Those of us who are mothers ourselves may be contemplating the joys of motherhood, while also looking forward to some TLC from our children, spouses or partners. Despite our love for our families, sometimes Mother’s Day TLC means getting away from the people we love most. Like the old TV commercial with the mom in the bath tub who asks her Calgon bath oil to “take her away,” sometimes mom just needs a break, some time to herself, and a chance to let go of both personal and professional responsibilities.

Getting away from it all is hard enough when your child doesn’t have significant disabilities. It’s a whole lot more complicated when your child has special emotional, behavioral or physical needs. It can also be even more essential to your health, the health of your family and ultimately, the health of your special needs child.

Finding care for a child with special needs is not as simple as calling the teenager down the street, or asking a grandparent to pitch in. When a child has complicated health issues, it’s essential that whomever is in charge, has the skills or training to keep them safe and contented.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Enabling Devices Book Shelf

A year has passed since we last surveyed some of the newest books on topics related to disabilities. As the weather warms, and many of us look forward to reading by the pool, on the porch, or while on summer vacations, we’ve compiled a list of five notable books published or released in paperback or E-book within the past year.

Being a Kennedy has always meant being in the public eye. Yet, due to the intellectual and physical disabilities she sustained during her birth, Rosemary Kennedy, the third child of Joe and Rose Kennedy, was kept out of the limelight. In this 2015 biography, now available in paperback, Kate Clifford Larson explores Rosemary’s tragic life.

Despite her vivacious personality and beauty, Rosemary’s parents were ashamed of her limitations and feared that the family’s image and social status would be diminished, if those outside the Kennedy clan knew about Rosemary’s disabilities. Thus, they pushed Rosemary beyond her capabilities, sent her away to schools and tried all sorts of questionable therapies including a traumatic and debilitating lobotomy in her 20s, in ill-fated attempts to “cure” her.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Six Tips for Preventing Wandering in People with Autism

As Autism Awareness Month 2017 comes to an end, we were heartened to learn of a new study which found that wandering, a common behavior among people with autism and other developmental disabilities, may be treatable with behavioral interventions. 

The study, “Clinical Outcomes of Behavioral Treatments for Elopement in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities,” provides hope in the face of the deeply disturbing conclusions of another more recent study, “Injury Mortality in Individuals with Autism,” that found children and teens with autism are 40 times as likely to die from injuries as those without ASDs. Additionally, and equally as shocking, the study found the average age of death for those with ASDs was only 36 years old as opposed to 72 in the non-autistic population. Clearly, it is imperative that we find effective ways of preventing senseless injuries and deaths that result from wandering. Here are some tips and resources that will help keep more people with autism safe.

1. Swimming lessons
According to Guohua Li, MD, DrPH,  professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, and the senior author of the study on injury mortality, “Once a child is diagnosed with autism, usually between two years and three years of age, pediatricians and parents should immediately help enroll the child in swimming classes, before any behavioral therapy, speech therapy, or occupational therapy. Swimming ability for kids with autism is an imperative survival skill,” Dr Li said. In addition to their tendency for wandering, Li also noted that children and teens with autism often gravitate toward water. “With impaired communication and social skills, autistic kids tend to seek relief of their heightened anxiety from the serenity of water bodies. Unfortunately, this behavior too often leads to tragedies,” said Li.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Happy OT Month!

Hooray! It’s Occupational Therapy Awareness Month! Here at Enabling Devices, we’re all about celebrating the amazing work of these dedicated professionals. We thought we’d take this opportunity to explore the field and learn more about what makes these very special people tick. What are the qualities necessary to have a successful career as an OT? What training is involved? To get some answers, we talked with pediatric occupational therapist Jennifer Wingrat, OTR-L, ScD, who works in the acclaimed Child and Family Support Program (CFSD) at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

Enabling Devices: What made you decide to go into this field?

Jennifer Wingrat: I fell into it when I was a senior in high school. I was doing my senior project at an OT hand clinic. I liked working with the patients, making splints, helping people to live to their potential. I’ve been practicing for at least 20 years! In the past I’ve worked with different [populations]—people with spinal cord injuries, general pediatrics and others.

Nowadays you work with children. What’s that like?
I’ve always liked working with kids and I took that track in OT school. Now, I work in an early intervention program and most of the treatment is done in the patients’ homes. It’s a lot of fun.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Gotta Look Sharp

There’s good news for differently abled fashion mavens or even people who simply want dressing with disabilities to be a little bit easier—the 20 percent of Americans with disabilities are finally feeling the love from designers on Madison Avenue and beyond.

From big names like Tommy Hilfiger and Nike to niche designers like Lucy Jones, Maura Horton and Stephanie Alves (who was previously featured in Enabling’s blog), there’s a growing recognition that consumers with disabilities represent a large and growing market for the fashion industry. What took them so long???
Accessible Runway
Launched in 2016, Tommy Hilfiger’s adaptive collection was created in collaboration with a nonprofit called Runway of Dreams.  The nonprofit, founded by fashion designer, Mindy Scheier, was a labor of love. Scheier created it for her son Oliver who has a rare form of muscular dystrophy and wanted to dress like his peers.  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

What’s New in Autism Research?

According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “One in 68 school-age kids across the country are estimated to have autism.” Such alarming statistics demand answers and researchers are busy studying the developmental disorder and its significant ramifications, not only for the people who have autism and their families, but for our society as well. In commemoration of National Autism Awareness Month, we’ve scoured the internet, to uncover the latest research findings on topics related to autism spectrum disorders.  Here’s what we found.

1. Brain scans can help predict development of autism in siblings
In February 2017, scientists at the University of Minnesota published findings of a 12-year-long study in the journal Nature, that could result in earlier detection of autism in children who have a genetic predisposition to developing the disorder. Basing their research on science from the 1990s that found children with autism had larger brain volume than children without autism, scientists took brain scans of more than 100 siblings of children with autism, at 6, 12 and 24 months of age. The researchers discovered that some siblings who later developed autism, experienced a rapid expansion of brain surface between the ages of 6-12 months. Using a computer program built for the study, scientists compared the brain scans of the siblings to the scans of children in a separate study group and could predict with 80 percent accuracy, which children would go on to develop autism. That’s a major development since early detection and intervention can make a huge difference when it comes to treatment efficacy.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New in the Neighborhood!

April is Autism month, and the beloved public television show, Sesame Street, will celebrate the occasion with the TV debut of a brand-new character named Julia!

Though Julia, an adorable four-year-old Muppet with autism was first introduced in 2015, as part of nonprofit educational organization, Sesame Workshop’s online autism initiative, her prior appearances were limited to Sesame Street’s website, e-books, app and videos. On April 10, viewers of Sesame Street will meet Julia— the first new character to join the furry Muppet clan in ten years—for the first time.

According to a press release, Julia’s debut evidences the start of a “rich new phase of the [autism] initiative,” known as Sesame Street and Autism: See the Amazing in All Children … and signals “a strong, continuing commitment to the autism community.” Julia’s role has expanded because her creators realize that she can have reach more people and have a greater impact if the show’s viewers get to know her.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Happy Trails!

Well, folks, we’ve made it. We’ve reached the first day of spring. Regardless of what the weather is like in your area, you’re probably looking forward to a time very soon, when you’ll be able to go out and enjoy nature. That’s a good thing! According to the National Wildlife Association’s Be Out There campaign, spending time outdoors has substantial benefits to our physical, psychological and spiritual health and well-being. For children with disabilities, those benefits are even greater says Kathy Ambrosini, director of education at the Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz, N.Y.  In addition to her professional credentials, Ambrosini is also the mother of a child with autism.

“For these kids,” says Ambrosini, “time spent in natural settings can offer relief from their symptoms and an environment that helps them to think differently as they begin to craft new strategies for managing their disabilities.”

But, if you or someone you love has a disability, finding safe and accessible places for a hike, bird-watching outing or picnic isn’t necessarily a given. Making the issue more complex is the fact that what’s accessible to one person may not be accessible to another.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Karen and Marie Killilea: Trailblazers in CP Awareness

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month and at Enabling Devices, we believe that one of the best ways of raising awareness is through books! Few books did more to raise awareness about CP and the potential of people with CP than the 1952 best-seller, “Karen” by Marie Killilea. Killilea also published a sequel called, “With Love from Karen” in 1963 and “Wren,” a children’s version of Karen’s story published in 1968.

Written long before the Americans with Disabilities Act and decades before people with disabilities had the benefits of technology, at a time when doctors routinely told parents whose children were born with CP to institutionalize and forget about them, “Karen,” which tells the true story of Karen Killilea, was nothing short of groundbreaking.

When she was born in 1940, Karen Killilea was three months early and weighed less than two pounds. As she failed to reach developmental milestones, Karen’s parents consulted with doctors who were unable to provide a clear diagnosis but were overwhelmingly pessimistic about the little girl’s prognosis. According to Marie Killileas’ 1991 obituary, doctors told her and her husband James that their daughter’s “case was hopeless”. They said that “Karen had no intellect, could never learn to walk or communicate with others.” But Marie knew they were wrong.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

How Horses Heal

Courtesy of PATH International
With only a couple of weeks until the official beginning of spring, many of us are raring to get outside. And when the weather’s fine, indoor therapy sessions may be the last thing you, your child or your clients want to do. Fortunately, some types of therapy are meant to take place out of doors. In fact, early spring is a great time to saddle up. For children and adults with special needs, spending time on and around horses can be great fun, as well as therapeutic.

There are two types of horseback riding especially for people with disabilities—hippotherapy and therapeutic or adaptive horseback riding. One of these therapeutic activities may be right for you, your child or a client.

Hippotherapy
Derived from the Greek word for horse “hippo,” hippotherapy is a medical treatment modality that utilizes the natural movements and unique qualities of horses to produce neurological changes that may result in improved posture, increased strength and coordination and sensory integration. Hippotherapy can be beneficial to individuals with neuro-musculoskeletal disabilities such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, neuromuscular disorders, post-traumatic brain injury, autism, ADHD and cognitive disorders. The therapy is prescribed by a physician and conducted by an occupational, physical or speech and language therapist who has received training and is certified in hippotherapy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Another Honor for Matlin

It’s hard not to feel like an underachiever when you read about people like Marlee Matlin. Perhaps best known for her Oscar-winning performance in the 1986 film, “Children of a Lesser God,” Matlin was just 21 in 1987, when she became the youngest actress in history to receive the award for Best Actress in a debut film performance. In addition, Matlin was and still is, the only deaf actor ever to receive the award. Thirty years later, Matlin will receive another award—this time for her activism on behalf of people with disabilities.

After her Oscar win, Matlin went on to perform in many films and held major roles in television shows such as “The West Wing,” “Picket Fences,” “The L Word,” “Switched at Birth,” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Matlin is also an author, having published three children’s novels and a New York Times best-selling autobiography, “I’ll Scream Later,” in 2009. Matlin even has an app in which she teaches American Sign Language!

Though widely admired for her work in the arts, many fans are less knowledgeable about Matlin’s philanthropic work. That may have changed last week when multiple news outlets announced that Matlin, a spokeswoman for the National Association for the Deaf, will be honored in June with the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion for her activism on behalf of people with disabilities.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Supporting Siblings


It’s not always easy being the sibling of a child with disabilities. Even when parents are extremely sensitive to their typically developing children’s needs, these siblings face unique challenges that are sometimes overlooked because they may pale in comparison to the many challenges faced by a brother or sister with disabilities. 

Some of these may include:
      ·   Guilt about not having a disability
      ·   Worries about the medical status of their sibling
      ·    Resentment that their sibling gets so much attention 
      ·    Embarrassment about their sibling’s appearance or behavior
      ·   Feelings of isolation because their family situation is different from their peers’
      ·    Feeling obligated to take a parenting role in relation to their sibling

Fortunately, there are things parents can do

Monday, February 13, 2017

Seven Ways to have a Happy and Inclusive Valentine’s Day

It’s easy to dismiss Valentine’s Day as just a “Hallmark holiday,” but for many children, February 14 is a special date with great significance. Though children with profound cognitive disabilities may not be aware of the holiday, children with more moderate challenges, especially those who attend school alongside typically developing peers, are at least somewhat tuned into to the Valentine’s Day festivities. As a teacher, therapist or parent, how can you make Valentine’s Day a happy time for your child, students or clients? Here are some tips to make the kids in your life feel loved.

1.                  Focus on friendship
Valentine’s Day is a great time to discuss love, friendship and kindness. Ask children to reflect on what it means to be a good friend and how we show love and kindness. Can they describe a time when they felt loved by a friend or family member?

2.                  Have a love-themed story-time
Read developmentally appropriate books about love and friendship and then discuss them with your child or students. Some good choices for younger children include:  “Love Monster” by Rachel Bright, “Be a Friend” by Salina Yoon and “If You’ll be My Valentine,” by Cynthia Rylant.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Award Season and the Disabilities Community

It’s that time of year again. In the past several weeks, the People’s Choice Awards, The Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Directors Guild Awards and the American Cinematographer Awards have all taken place. The Grammys, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards will all air later this month. Though it’s been a great year for film and TV overall, when it comes to the representation of people with disabilities it left a lot to be desired.

Despite the fact that one in five Americans has some sort of disability, it’s rare to find a realistic, three dimensional major character with a disability on TV or in film. Even when a TV show or movie does feature a character with a disability, the role is seldom played by an actor with a disability. In fact, the Ruderman White Pages Report on Employment Of Actors With Disabilities In Television recently found that, “Ninety-five percent of characters with disabilities … are played by able-bodied actors.”

That said, in the past year, a number of TV programs and films featuring main characters with disabilities have drawn praise from critics. “Speechless” an ABC sitcom that airs on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. is especially groundbreaking.

“Speechless”
Starring Minnie Driver as headstrong mom Maya DiMeo, “Speechless” is a typical sit-com about a typical family with one important difference. JJ, Maya’s eldest son, has cerebral palsy, is nonverbal and uses an augmentative alternative communication device to express himself. “Speechless” deserves credit for casting a young actor who actually has cerebral palsy to play the role of JJ. The actor, Micah Fowler and his realistic depiction of the teen boy with disabilities has received high praise from James Poniewozik of the New York Times.

“JJ DiMeo (Micah Fowler) is no angel. He’s sarcastic; he’s a little devious; he can be rude. In other words, he’s a teenager...That JJ has cerebral palsy, which keeps him from speaking, as well as limits his obscene gestures, is what makes ABC’s “Speechless” distinctive. That he’s a flawed kid with a flawed family in a reasonably funny sitcom is what makes ‘Speechless’ good, rather than simply worthy.”

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Five Inclusive Warm Weather Resorts

By the time February rolls around, many of us have had more than enough of wintry weather. And while the calendar tells us that spring is just around the corner, “Old Man Winter” doesn’t always cooperate. That’s why many families choose to get away to warm weather destinations during March and April.

A successful family vacation takes careful research and planning. For families with children with special needs, choosing the right vacation spot is especially crucial. If you’re planning a spring break getaway, now’s the time to book it. But no worries. We’ve scoured the Internet to find an up-to-date list of the best warm-weather vacation resorts for families whose children have special needs.

Traveling with a kid on the spectrum can be challenging. Waiting on long lines, bright lights, loud noise, unfamiliar foods, and stressful social situations aren’t exactly conducive to relaxation and fun. Autism On The Seas to the rescue! Founded in 2007, the company works with cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line to provide individualized services for cruise guests with special needs. And don’t be fooled by the company’s name. Autism On The Seas is not just for children on the spectrum. The company’s staff members, all trained to work with children with special needs and to anticipate the needs of their families, are also able to accommodate children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and a range of developmental and cognitive disabilities. Families who travel as part of the Autism On The Seas charter don’t wait on lines, can request special diets and take part in activities especially designed for them. In addition to enjoying activities together, families have opportunities to socialize with other families whose children have special needs. Since staff members are able to manage all kinds of behavioral challenges, parents are free to have some much needed alone time to refresh and rejuvenate.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Make the New Year Sense-ational!

2016 was a sensational year for the team at Enabling Devices. Why, you might ask? In addition to making great strides with our rebranding project and brand new soon-to-launch website, we also designed 18 sensory rooms for centers that serve people with disabilities. We feel especially proud of this accomplishment because all of our design services were provided to clients entirely free of charge.

For the uninitiated, Sensory rooms are spaces where children and adults can explore their environments through visual, auditory and tactile experiences,” explains Karen O’Brien, Product Development Specialist at Enabling Devices. “They offer highly individualized experiences and serve individuals with a variety of disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, developmental disabilities, post traumatic stress disorders, cerebral palsy and sensory processing disorders.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Winter Fun Made Accessible

iSkate founded by Dorothy Hamill

Few recreational activities can rival the thrill of winter sports. Thanks to a growing number of adaptive winter sports programs, children (and adults) with disabilities can enjoy skiing, skating, ice hockey and sleigh riding.  We’ve compiled this brief guide to adaptive winter sports so you’re prepared to hit the ice or the slopes, just in time for the season’s first big freeze or snowfall.



Ice Skating
Founded by Olympic gold medalist and figure skater, Dorothy Hamill, Kennedy Krieger Institute’s I-Skate program in Baltimore, Md. is an example of a program that gives children with disabilities including cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, cancer and amputated limbs and paralysis the chance to ice skate. Adaptive ice-skating makes use of equipment such as adaptive ice skates, walkers, ice sleds and helmets to make it possible for skaters to participate safely.

“When I learned to skate,” Hamill told the folks at the KKI, “the motion of gliding on the ice and the fresh air on my face felt like heaven. And learning to handle yourself on the ice, mastering something difficult gives you a sense of pride. I want to give that experience to these children so they will be able to say ‘I can skate.’” 


For information about adaptive ice skating programs in your area, visit Gliding Stars.org