Thursday, August 25, 2011

Songify for Instant Musical Social Stories?!

I just finished a digital social story for one of the students I work with who has autism, and I was thinking about ways I could add some music into his story...and the idea occurred to me that something like the Songify app might be just the thing I needed.   

What is Songify?  It is sort of like a reverse Karaoke.  Whatever you speak into your iPad or iPhone's microphone is immediately transformed by the app into a song.   Key phrases are repeated and integrated into the melody.   The free app comes with a few songs, stripped of the words/singing.  (There is an option to purchase additional songs through the App store.)

My first few attempts using Songify with students was to create personalized "All About Me" story-songs, in real time, during group activities in the classroom, with input from the students.  I also created a few story-songs that focused on positive behaviors - following the rules, listening to the teacher, kind hands,  waiting patiently,  calming down, etc.

Although Songify was designed to transform the spoken word into music, I found that it worked nicely with I spoke in "sing-song".   I experimented with variations of the following story/song:

"name" likes  to go to school, he/she likes to go to school, get on the bus and go to school...
"name" is so cool, "name" is so cool...
"name" likes to see my friends at school..
"name" likes to........   "name" likes to..  (play with friends at recess, learn about animals and their habitats,  go to music class... wear cool shoes... etc.)
"name" likes to go to school 

The students had a chance to share information about what they like, what they like about school, and so forth. Most had no problem participating for a 30 minute session!  


I can see quite a few uses for the app:
  • Use students' Songify creations as the narrative to digital social stories. This might be impressive on the SmartBoards - with the music coming from nice speakers rather than the small iPad.
  • Use the Songify creations as part of other group or class digital projects.  (Remember School House Rock?) 
  • Use Songify to create digital social stories for "on-the-job" routines and social skills.

The beauty of Songify is that it is simple to use- and it provides immediate, awesome feedback to the students.  I have a hunch that if Songify is used in a variety of ways, the novelty effect might be sustained

Cautions: If you work with students with significant special needs, you know how difficult it is to find activities and interventions that are effective - and also based on sound research.  The reality is that with budget cuts, it is difficult to implement interventions designed for classrooms with a higher adult-to-student ratio.  Technology can help, but iPad technology is  new.   It is highly unlikely that someone is researching the use of applications like Songify with students with special needs!

Reflection: I'm happy to have all of this technology at my fingertips.  Unfortunately, my digital life in my role as a school psychologist is far from seamless or "integrated".  Even the iPad2 requires a lot of work to create, move, share, and display content.  Mark Weiser would rolling in his grave.

Digital Stories in Schools and for Special Needs Children
LIS 5315 Course Wiki
SmartApps for Kids: a Dad's quest to find the best applications for the iPad and iPhone, 8/4/11 Intelligent Music Applications
"Khush Inc. develops intelligent music applications for mobile phones. The company was founded by music technology enthusiasts at the Georgia Tech Music Intelligence Lab."
Songify makes your speech into song, sort of

Rafe Needleman, Rafe's Radar, CNET News, 7/7/11


Mark Weiser, Scientific American, 9/1991
Note:  My school district has not ventured into the iPad world, so I'm using my personal iPad2 at work, along with a speech and language therapist.  The district purchased two Dell multi-touch tablet PCs for the school, but alas, there isn't an "App" system for Windows 7.  We'll be using multi-touch applications from the Open Autism Software Project with the Dells.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Quick Link and Video: InfoVis of Social Interactions of Children at School

Stehlé J, Voirin N, Barrat A, Cattuto C, Isella L, et al. 2011 High-Resolution Measurements of Face-to-Face Contact Patterns in a Primary School. PLoS ONE 6(8): e23176. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023176

The article that explains it all:
Brandon Keim, Wired Science, 8/19/11 

The video: Contact patterns between the students. (Barrat et al./PLoS One)

Thanks to George Siemens for sharing this video!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Awesome Videoclip: AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) Technology at Summer Camp (via Kate Ahern)

This following video clip is an awesome example of how AAC technology (augmentative and alternative communication) can be integrated into a range of activities- learning, social, leisure, and creative, when everyone makes an effort to make it work- and not give up.  Thanks to Kate Ahern for sharing this!
The song in the background is "Talk", by Coldplay, a perfect fit for the theme. 
"This year's AAC Summer Camp students taught us a lot. This video highlights some important things to think about when it comes to augmentative and alternative communication." -Communicare LLC
Let's Go To AAC Camp! (Includes a list of AAC camps around the U.S.)

Communicare: Speech-language pathologist specializing in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
Communicare's resource page

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Resources for Transition and Job/Employment Supports for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (work in-progress)

I'm on a quest for more information about transition supports for young adults with autism spectrum disorders after they "age out" of the public school system. In NC, this usually takes place at age 21-22. Parents and guardians must piece together solutions after years of support from the "safe haven" of the school.  

There are many challenges.  From what I can tell, community programs designed to support young adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have not been established at the level required to serve the upcoming "boomlet" that will no longer be eligible for support from public school systems.    There is a need for more vocational rehabilitation counselors and job coaches who have extensive training and experience working with young people with ASD.  

If this is a topic that interests you, take the time to read the following paper:

Scott Standifer, Ph.D.    This document, in my opinion, is must-read for parents, educators, community job support professionals, VR counselors, etc.

The reality?  

Most existing programs and services for adults with significant disabilities were established when the numbers of youngsters with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) were low. At the same time,  funding for existing programs has been reduced in many communities across the U.S.   Job-skills training and employment opportunities are rare, given our current economic climate and the fact that a high percentage of non-disabled adults are unemployed.

In my opinion, advocacy is part of the solution. Parents, caregivers, guardians, and educators to become better-informed about what transition resources are currently available in their own communities. Perhaps more important is to learn about successful programs in other counties, regions, or states.    How was the program established?  How is the program funded?   If the program was established in collaboration with a university or community college,  find out about it and share the information with university/community college leaders in your area.   

The power of the web and digital media:
Although the number of "hands-on" programs might be disappearing, the Internet has the potential to provide a wealth of resources and a means for parents of young adults with disabilities to connect and share across regions.

To do my part for advocacy, I've started collecting resources related to transition for students with significant disabilities, including autism.  I will post these resources in a couple of months and welcome input from my readers.

In the meantime, I'd like to share a couple of website that I'm adding to my resource list. 

Do2Learn's JobTips
The folks from Do2Learn have created the Job Tips website, "designed to help individuals with disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder explore career interests, seek and obtain employment, and successfully maintain employment"

Although I found the site a bit difficult to navigate, it was worth taking the time to explore.  It includes extensive information about various jobs and careers, an on-line interest survey, social skills assessments, examples of job-specific environmental demands, and strategies for getting and keeping a job.  

Although some of the material is suitable for higher-functioning students with disabilities, there is plenty that can be used with students who have developed some basic job-task skills but have not yet developed the appropriate communication, coping, or social skills required for most workplaces.

On the site, I found a good number of video modeling clips for "on-the job" social and coping skills, something that I'm focusing on during group activities with the students I work with at Wolfe school.  I used some of the activities on the SMARTBoard with students last week, with success.   What I really would like is a "serious game" related to on-the-job social, coping, and conversation/ communication skills.  (It is possible that this wish might come true - stay posted for more information!)

The following information was taken from the Jobs4Autism website, a "resource of job success and job failure stories for individuals with autism, their family members, job coaches and caregivers. It allows everyone to share job ideas and help find long-term employment opportunities for those with autism."

Job4Autism was initially a collaborative project among four undergraduate students at the University of Notre Dame, guided by Professor Khalil Matta.  The project was taken over by NameStormers, as one of the company's founders is the parent of a young adult with ASD.

Posted for your convenience is a list of some of the links related to Jobs4Autism, from the NameStormers website. I've added some descriptive information for some of the resources. Below this section are other related resources.

Autism Transition Handbook (Online)
Jobs4Autism Facebook Page
CNN: 10 sites worth checking out if your child has autism
Jennifer Bixler, John Bonifield, CNN, 4/1/10

Temple Grandin's TED Talk: The world needs all kinds of minds 

"Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, talks about how her mind works -- sharing her ability to "think in pictures," which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss. She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids." 

Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children (Maryland)

"...a non-profit organization with a mission to provide a path for higher-functioning individuals on the Autism Spectrum to realize their potential through gainful employment"
Susan Senator, Author, Consultant, Mother of a young adult with ASD
Amelia Starr, Author, Consultant, Mother of a young adult with ASD
Lettuce Work Foundation (Ohio)
"The Lettuce Work Foundation is a non-profit 501c3 charity dedicated to serving young adults with autism and training them for the future. Our goal is to build a fully-operational, self-sustaining commercial greenhouse business that provides school-to-work transition services, job training and employment opportunities for young autistic adults in a professional work environment."

Autism Society of North Carolina
Autism Society's Transition to Adulthood Guidelines (pdf)
ASMC Supported Employment, Mecklenburg County, NC
TEACCH Supported Employment for Adults with Autism
TEACCH Types of Supported Employment Jobs
TEACCH Supported Employment Models
The Arc of North Carolina: Supported Employment Info
The Arc of Union County: Employment Services

Vocational Rehabilitation Service Models for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders Project
Current Trends in Autism Employment (pdf)
Scott Standifer, MU Disability Policy & Studies
Autism Works National Conference, March 3 & 4, 2011
"Nationally, the number of people with Autism applying for vocational rehabilitation services increased 300% from 2003 to 2008."

More to come!

Friday, August 05, 2011

BlogHer '11: Topics include technology& parenting, moms as chief home CTOs, social media for social good, and more!

The BlogHer '11 conference is full swing in San Diego, California. If you haven't heard of BlogHer, it is a "participatory news, entertainment and information network for women online", with a directory of over 22,000 blogs and a publishing network.

If I was at the BlogHer '11, I'd probably attend the track sponsored by Verizon, Parenting Magazine, and BlogHer:  "The Tie that Binds Parents and Child",  a topic that explores the use of technology by mom and kids.  

Here is the conference track description:
"Technology has revolutionized parenting. According to BlogHer's research, it's an incredible boon to most parents... helping them feel like they're in close contact with their children. In this session, Lynne Fleck-Seitz from TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. will moderate a discussion with Carrie Jacobson from Verizon, Catherine McManus from Parenting Magazine, and Jane Collins from BlogHer, who together will introduce their latest research on how moms feel about technology's role in their own lives, and in their relationship with their kids. Come find out if you're on the cutting edge of modern parenting!"

Below is a slide presentation from the BlogHer '11 conference:

E moms blogher and parenting 8 2, jkc  View more presentations from BlogHer

Tara Egan, blogger and fellow school psychologist, is the author of  the humorous blog, "Do These Kids Make Me Look Crazy".  I'm sure she's having a great time at BlogHer '11. 

The following chart is from an AdAge article about the above presentation:
"Start of the Day:  25% of Toddlers Have Used a SmartPhone"   Matt Carmichael, AdAgeStat, 8/4/11