Sharing the LightAide

Aly has really enjoyed using the LightAide these past several days. We have used it a lot at home and I took it to her school last week. Aly attends T.K. Martin’s Project IMPACT preschool program for children with disabilities in Starkville, Mississippi. Her teacher, Christan Toney, had many great things to say about the LightAide.

Mrs. Toney said, “We really enjoyed all the different features the LightAide offered, including the movement and different patterns of lights. The different visual displays really seemed to hold Aly’s attention and that of her classmate. I was impressed with how easy it was to go to the different screens. Using the LightAide was also another way for me to work on switch access with Aly. We have used a switch before to operate classroom toys, but she really seemed to grasp the concept that she was making the light pattern change. Her accessing the switch appeared to be very intentional. It made for a wonderful classroom activity that helped with cognition, motor, langue and visual skills.”

I had the chance to show off the LightAide this past weekend after my son’s birthday party. Several of our family members came back to our house and were eager to see Aly in action. They had seen the article in the paper and my posts on Facebook about Aly trying out the new product. I showed them how easy it is to use the LightAide and go through the different activities and the different features in the settings. I showed them the visual activities that work on tracking left to right and top to bottom.

I explained how the lights are used to engage Aly and teach her everything from focusing and tracking to reading and math. I also showed them how much Aly loved using the switch to change the color and move the ball. The more she uses the LightAide the more her hand movement with the switch becomes intentional. She gets really excited when the colors change or she makes the image move. I love seeing her understand cause and effect right before my eyes.

I showed them the different activities that have moving elements such as “watch the wave, “watch the bubbles grow and pop,” and “track the snake.” Aly really gets into these activities. Her abilities to track have improved so much and I know the activities that are designed to teach children how to read from left to right will really benefit her.

The possibilities of the LightAide are endless. There are so many great activities with options such as changing the color, changing the speed of movement and changing the order of colors. The LightAide is very versatile and can be used by children of all ages and learning levels. The best thing about the LightAide for me is that it grows with the child. Although Aly may not be ready for the more advanced activities such as learning letters and numbers, she still greatly benefits from the fundamental skills the early activities offer. These activities instill important learning skills and prepares children for learning the alphabet and numbers. The activities continue into learning how to form words and consonant sounds and math skills such as learning numbers and counting. Children also learn shapes and how to compare shapes of different sizes, lines of different lengths and columns of different heights.

As the Backpacking LightAide Program comes to an end I can’t help but think how many children will benefit from this product. Children like Aly who have CVI (Cortical Visual Impairment) and those who are low vision rely on light and movement more than we know. I can see it in my daughter’s face how important lights will be in her learning because nothing else stimulates her and holds her attention as much as light. It is my hope that Aly will have a LightAide of her own very soon and that she will have access to one at school and in therapy.

To learn more about the LightAide visit http://www.perkins.org/store/lightaide/. To read about the other families’ experience with Lily LightAide visit http://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/backpacking-lightaide-program. After the six families have spent their two weeks with the LightAide voting will take place on the http://www.wonderbaby.org site to have one family selected to receive the LightAide as a gift. I will post on how to vote at the end of the program.

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New Beginnings

Aly’s journey has continued to take us in new and exciting directions. A lot has changed over the past couple months. Aly got fitted for hearing aids in June and we have been working on getting her adjusted to them and starting her with at-home hearing therapy through Magnolia Speech School located in Jackson. Over the summer we learned Aly would be able to attend the preschool program Project IMPACT at T. K. Martin Center for Technology and Disablity in Starkville on the Mississippi State University Campus. This is the first year they are having a class for children as young as one. Aly’s class started mid-August and are on Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30-12.

Through speaking with her teacher and others at the school, I learned about a pediatric therapy center in Starkville that has a specialized therapy for children with feeding problems. Starkville seemed to be the best place for Aly, so we made the decision to move in order to be closer to her school and therapies. We have been in Starkville now for almost three weeks and Aly is starting her new therapies this week. We’re still waiting to get a time for phhysical therapy. On Monday, Aly had speech therapy at 10 and occupational therapy at 1. She spent the first day in each getting to know her new therapists and having them get to know her. It will take some time to get used to this back-to-back time slot. Each therapy lasts for an hour and we have two hours in between to eat lunch and get a quick nap in if Aly is up to it.

Aly’s older brother Triston, who will be three on Halloween, is also having to adjust to a new schedule. He gets into everything at her therapy, but there are times he can be a big help by participating. Like I tell her therapists, having big brother running around, making noises and playing with her is what she is used to at home, so it only makes sense that he would participate in her therapy. Triston has been a trooper and really seems to like his new house. Going to doctor appointments and therapies has been a part of his life for so long it has become the norm.

One of the most exciting things about Aly’s new therapy center is that her occupational therapist specializes in Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). Aly was diagnosed with the neurological visual impairment through an MRI at five months old. Her vision has gone from appearing to be totally blind (having no light perception and no tracking or focusing) to now she can focus and track and see with better ease and understanding. It has taken a long time to get to where she is now and there is still much area to be improved on, but having a therapist who is familiar with lightbox therapy and CVI will make a huge difference. Her therapist is also going to be working with Jonathan and I on modifying Aly’s room and our house to be better suited for Aly’s learning needs. One thing I am hoping to gain from her new therapist is an at-home program that will focus on vision. Her other therapists (hearing, feeding) have already started her on programs and I have weekly goals/homework that I work on with her. The job of a parent with a child who has special needs never ends!

Aly’s occupational therapist will be doing paperwork to try to get Aly a lightbox and lightbox supplies for home use. I believe having a lightbox and a program to follow will take Aly to the next level. Through my frequent online research I came across a new product called the LightAide. “Bright and engaging, the LightAide creates a variety of interactive displays of color that support core learning goals and help instill the building blocks of literacy and mathematical concepts in learners with low vision, cognitive disablities and other special needs.” WonderBaby.org is hosting the Backpacking LightAide Program. Six families will be visited by Lily LightAide. Each family will get to hold on to the LightAide for two weeks to play with it and find out if it’s right for them. When the two weeks are up they’ll send it off to the next family. Each family will tell the world about the LightAide through blog posts, video uploads and socail media. At the end of the event all WonderBaby.org readers will get a chance to vote for one of the six families to receive the LightAide as a gift.

If our family is selected to participate in Backpacking LightAide Program it will be a great opportunity to experience a new piece of equipment and bring new readers to my blog and CVI website. This could be the push I need to finish my website and start working on my blog more. I am also making great connections locally in the CVI world and hope to find some partners for the Alyssa Greer CVI Foundation. Because of funding, partnering with an existing non-profit agency may be my best bet to get the foundation off the ground. I am hoping to be able to attend a conference at The University of Southern Mississippi on October 4. The main points of the conference are Understanding Cortical Visual Impairment, Hearing Loss and Dual Sensory Impairment, Increasing Participation Through Positioning and Tactile Input and Feeding Challenges in the Special Needs Population. I couldn’t have put together a better conference covering all areas of Aly’s needs if I tried! I will be able to learn so much and make even more connections by attending this conference.

I told you a lot has happened in a short amount of time! And that’s not all. I’m working very closely with Aly’s Early Intervention Coordinator to make sure Aly has every service available to her. After moving to Starkville, I started hearing about the Children’s Medical Program. Aly’s nurse at her new pediatrician’s office asked if Aly was enrolled in the program. I told her I had never even heard of it. Of course I went home and researched it myself and it appears to be another resource Aly qualifies for. According to the website, The Children’s Medical Program provides medical and surgical care to children with chronic or disabling conditions. The service is available to state residence free of charge under 21 years of age. “If your child was born with a disabling condition, or developed a disability or chronic illness, the program may be right for your family. CMP can organize care for your child’s condition, provide some equipment and medicaitons, and arrange for physical, occupational and other therapies.”

I’m also having Aly’s coordinator look into getting her services through the Deaf-Blind Project based out of Hattiesburg. I’m not very familiar with what services they offer, but I’m hoping they will be able to provide at-home therapy or family training in the area of deaf-blindness. Because Aly has visual and hearing impairments combined, it creates such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accomodated in special education programs soley for children with deafness or children with blindness, according to the website. I still get blown away by how many services are available to families of children with special needs in the state. And all of these services are provided free of charge!

As a mother, it is my job to make sure my children are taken care of, and because my daughter has special needs, I must take on a new role as an advocate. Being a proactive advocate and providing Aly with every opportunity availabe is the best thing I can do for her. Aly’s journey is just beginning. We have already come such a long way and when I think about where she will be this time next year in her progress it brings me to tears because I have seen first-hand what early intervention has done in my child’s life. She has gone from only having therapy once a week for an hour and a half to now having an hour of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, feeding therapy, hearing therapy and school twice a week. She has something to do every day during the week, and she is only 15 months old. She is my inspiration and my motivaiton.

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