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Tuesday - From Kelly

Tuesday - From Kelly
Kelly Harris - Tue Jun 26, 2012 @ 06:06PM
Comments: 9

WARNING: Long email/blog.  A lot happened today!

Well, in a nutshell, our conference is turning out to be a HUGE success, or at a minimum appears to be interesting.  Yesterday there were approximately 65 attendants, and today over 90 people showed up!!!!  We keep running out of handouts.
Lori led off this morning by discussing nonverbal communication strategies. She reviewed communication development and discussed several ways to teach nonverbal children how to communicate such as through sign language or using AAC devices.  I borrowed a couple voice output devices known as Go Talks to share and use to demonstrate with during the conference and Lori brought her son's old Go Talk 9+ as well.  They seemed to enjoy learning about and interacting with the devices; however, Jason and I realized halfway through the morning that we should have purchased several of these $200 devices to donate.  Lori did donate hers, but I have to return mine to school.  We were thinking it was almost unfair to promote the qualities of this product and then not leave any for them to use.  So next time.  We'd like to be able to buy 4 or 5 and find the children that need them.  After Lori's presentations some people did come up to her and say, "You know? What you described is actually very simple, but I had NO idea!"  It's comments like that that communicate to us that we're doing pretty well; we're meeting their needs.
I followed Lori's presentation with more nonverbal communication strategies, specifically teaching them how to use the Picture Exchange Communication System.  I had some technical difficulties at the beginning of the presentation, and therefore, started later than I was supposed to so I ended up running out of time and did not get to complete my presentation, which was a little disappointing.  Many people asked about the videos I showed and plan to explore the system more on their own.  I'm hoping may be on Friday that I'll have an opportunity to finish my presentation.  I felt really good about what I was able to talk about though.  I was getting good responses from the audience.
I only had about 6 minutes to take a break, use the restroom, and inhale lunch before our afternoon sessions started.  This year we planned for the afternoon to consist of breakout sessions.  The three of us would be presenting simultaneously and the conference participants could choose which topic/presentation they attended based on their own needs and interests.  We've never done this before and I was a little anxious about how it would go, but other than a couple technical issues, it went wonderfully.  They did divide up between Lori's further discussion on nonverbal strategies and staying with me to learn more about Autism.  And a few people had appointments with Karen (more on that later).  My presentation on the red flags of autism went ok.  I saw a lot of people taking notes, but I felt like they wanted more than I was offering, meaning, they wanted to hear specific strategies or ways to work with children with autism.  Again, may be next time.  I just wasn't prepared for that this year.  My second afternoon session though went very well.  I introduced Applied Behavior Analysis, specifically discussing their methods for teaching verbal behavior such as how to request objects, label objects, imitate/repeat words.  I had some excellent videos for demonstrating each verbal behavior and it appeared like people were very engaged.  Afterwards several people asked for the videos again.
The conference ended at 3:00 and then I consulted individually with 3 mothers until 4:30.  The first mother has a daughter with Rett'sDisorder, which is apart of the autism spectrum but is very rare.  I don't know a whole lot about it nor have I ever heard of or worked with a child like this.  It's a regressive disorder so many of my suggestions would not necessarily be appropriate.  I didn't think that I was able to help her very much.  Karen is going to do some research on the disorder this evening and talk to her more about it tomorrow.  I felt better about the other two conversations.  Both mother's had children with Down syndrome and wanted to discuss behavior problems.  Now, correcting behavior I can talk about.  We discussed some strategies, which hopefully they'll find effective.
After the consultation we were invited to visit one of the local integrative Kindergartens.  In Ukraine, Kindergarten refers to what we call preschool and kindergarten age children.    Over tea, we discussed the special education programs in Ukraine vs. the US and how things are changing for the better in Ukraine.  Which brings me to the 3 1/2 hour (he may have been exaggerating) conversation Jason and Karen had with six staff members of School #8 in Khmelnytsky.  For the past three years, they have been providing inclusive education to elementary age children (6-10 years).  This year their school served 150 students, 27 of which were special needs students.  One teacher described her classroom of 17 children.  She has four special needs students (Down syndrome and CP).  I've been coming here for six years and the first year there were no special needs children in the regular schools.  More precisely, no children with special needs were invited to be at their school--they of course ended up with children with special needs, but they didn't necessarily know it when the child began school.  Over the years, I've met parent groups that are petitioning the government for support for their children, schools expanding to meet the needs of the special needs children in their community, and now schools that are teaching special needs children along with their typical peers.  It's amazing and I'm so proud to be a part of it, no matter how minute my role might be.
Please keep our team in your thoughts and prayers.  We're all hanging in there, but we are completely exhausted.  The room where we are presenting is incredibly hot despite fans and since it's summer they are doing some maintenance of the building.  Their maintenance is resulting in some pretty noxious fumes, permeating the entire building.  Several of us have ended up nauseous, dizzy, and with severe headaches from the fumes.  It also doesn't help that we're not really getting a break or eating much food.  I'm grateful that I'm not presenting tomorrow until 12:45.  I'm not giving a formal presentation.  Simply teaching some people how to use Boardmaker.  A past USNOF volunteers was able to get the Boardmaker program donated.  We'll be leaving it at the Omni Center and I truly hope that the teachers and parents use it to implement the Picture Exchange Communication System, positive behavior supports, schedules, and other visual supports that we've discussed this week.
So I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep tonight....as long as I can put down Percy Jackson.  It's book 5 and it's getting really good.  : )
Comments: 9


1. Rob   |   Wed Jun 27, 2012 @ 10:29AM

Kelly, thanks for keeping us updated. It sounds like your team is having a huge impact there. It's inspiring to read of the gains that have been made in inclusion of kids with disabilities. Praying that y'all will continue to find strength as the week progresses.

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