Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I was reading tonight about ipads. A number of kids with special needs have been getting funding for ipads. They are an amazing asset to the life of people with disabilities - especially when used constructively to enhance living and learning for the individual.

It made me think of this:

Our family thought the TTY or telephone typewriter was fantastic. Suddenly my sister who is profoundly deaf could phone a friend - so long as they too had a tty. The technology must have had teething issues cos I recall her tantrums and banging it on the bench when it didn't work. Still it turned out to be just the edge of it all.

If I go back even further of course there was her hearing aids. First int he 1960s the ones with a sound box that you slung around your neck, then later on the ones where the battery nestled behind the ear - and whistled driving us and its wearer crazy. I remember my sister's annoyance and embarassment about it. Still she looked pretty young and cute if I look back at our childhood photos.

Then in her mid 20s she got married. The house she and her husband (who is also hearing impaired) bought had a doorbell that was rigged up to a light - so it flashed when someone rang the bell. Ingenious we all thought. Not long after my sister had her first child - and a battery that vibrated and resembled a plastic tampon was set up - again attached to a lamp. You popped the tampon like piece under your pillow and voila - if the infant woke up crying - it started to vibrate so that you woke up too. Ingenius really but still not a patch on what was to come.

The first mobile phones were clunky and large. My sister was living her life with her husband and kids in QLD by this time so I can't recall when she got her first mobile phone - but the vibrating and texting opened up a whole new world for her - it made social engagements so much easier. We didn't have to rely on the National Relay Service all the time but could text freely - anything from important news if someone was ill to celebratory messages such as birthdays and so on.

Then the 90s came and with them the internet and email. Wonderful stuff. My sister would email Mum every day at least once often more. My sister loved ICQ (?) an early online chat site. And then less than 10 years ago comes facebook. Now my sister is very much part of the deaf community. Her culture is a deaf one. In many ways she grew up an alien in the hearing world. It wasn't easy but as I have said before she is a strong and capable and wonderful person and she managed. The impact of some of these things were though that her literacy and ability to read social cues (tones etc) was not as strong. As an adult if she had an important letter or email to send she'd get Mum or one of us to proofread and edit it for her. Computer technology has had a significant impact upon this.

My sister becomes a Granny!

My sister has never really been that involved with current affairs for example - she has felt excluded from it - even though our family loves a good political debate - she was excluded by language - she isn't comfortable reading a lot including newspapers and closed caption news is relatively new. She found out about events through the word of sign in the community and from her family. So more material was 'filtered' for her, ie she was exposed to less variety than many hearing people might be.

I noticed this more specifically just this week on facebook. My sister has a slapstick ribald sense of humour and posts things on fb that amuse her and her family. She also posts material about the deaf community such as the current campaign to nominate Auslan as primary language when the governemnt census takes place next week. She has shared a couple of my links related to disability and down syndrome. She is able to participate in social nuances in a way that I think she has been excluded from in the past. So this week she posted a link which I did not get to see. She must have taken it down but my husband told me as soon as I got home from work that he had commented on her link because he thought that it was racist. He told me straight away because I guess he was worried he'd offended her but at the same time had felt he needed to express his viewpoint. He said that a couple of her friends had already picked her up on it. And so the post was gone when I went to see what the fuss was about. And it made me think about some of the benefits of technology in helping improve our cultural literacy. Understanding the social mores and nuances is important to our sense of belonging - of not being alien. My sister at nearly 50 is learning some of these subtle things hopefully in an inclusive and positive way via the technology. She is adjusting her boundaries and expanding her world view -as we all are but in her cae I feel that it is actually a totally new experience whereas for many of us it is simply an extension of precomputer/fb communications. Amazing huh?

Before the twins were born in 2004 we had a bulky pc upstairs in our attic and dial up internet. It meant that outside of work I rarely checked the internet or emailed anyone. It must have driven my Mum crazy cos she and my sisters all communicated regularly using email but I was more recalcitrant. For Mum it was a way to keep in touch with us all - with her daughter who lived nearby but because of her deafness couldn't just ring up daily like hearing kids could and to keep in touch with me - her 'baby' who lived 1000 kms away. She used to love talking about megabytes and jpegs and even did a course at Gympie TAFE. I used to put her on to Phil for that sort of talk - it was beyond my understanding. Phil got his first mobile phone that year too -(I got mine a bit before i fell pregnant). We also bought our first digital camera when I was pregnant - and you can see from this blog how much I LOVE that piece of technology. That year we bought a laptop with wireless connection.

With my thousands of photos of the twins on screensaver slideshow there was a time at our old house when those brats would be meant to be eating their meal but instead their eyes would be drawn to the laptop on the kitchen table - and the passing images of themselves! It got tot he point where i thought I might be creating two painfully vain beauty pageant kids so I used to make sure it was turned off at mealtimes!!

I can't recall exactly when it happened but it was totally by chance that one day I decided to google DS. From there I found a wonderful and amazing group of moms (literally - they were all US) who blogged about their experiences. Many of these are the women who also so generously shared their parenting experiences in the wonderful Gifts 1 book. Bits of Betsy was one of my favourites - that woman can write! One of the first of her posts that I fell in love with and still adore was a short 'medical' hitlist definition of what it means to have DS followed by her own personal description based on her daughter - the beauty of brushfield spots etc. Michelle at Blueberry Eyes featured largely then too - I had no concept of life for a military wife let alone a military brat - and her daughter truly did have the most amazing blueberry eyes - they were stunning. Then there was the 'hub' Always Chaos around here. Rebecca was a stalwart - an example of an organic hub for lots of blogs and many news items relevant to DS. I still miss reading what she and her beautiful Miss E are up to. Occassionally I stumble upon them in this virtual town and it always makes me glad to see how well they are looking. There are others as the list grew such as Jan with the so sweet Nate, the delightful Bradys Bunch and how could anyone not return to read how Emma Sage and her Mom were going? So for me I found connections and learned about other perspectives through this format. My cultural and social literacy was enriched. These days the always uptodate and user friendly NSW DSA blog is the one I check almost daily.

On April 6 2006 I began Shamptons. My online private/public life. It is my online journal. My pass to participate in blogland. And I love it. It is a place to sort out my feelings, to share our fun. One day I hope the twins will read it - it has become my gift to them. A chronicle of their childhood. So many events are recorded here. I look back on my post about Hannah's OHS and Kit getting meningitis and I can still feel some of that raw emotion. I sometimes think of editing that post now - of updating it with the gift of my current position and perspective but then I hesitate - those emotions were valid at the time and shaped the future and so I let them be. Like other posts too that I look back on... what is here reflects only that moment and not necessarily future moments at all. This little piece of the cyberworld helps keep me sane. It helps me to 'breathe'.

I joined a forum too - a US one - it is a big pond but I found it useful to go and browse through the posts. to learn the lay of the land there. Then one day I got a pm from an Aussie Mum - she was starting up a forum for us down under. I am so glad that Cas made that effort. DSDU has been like a family lounge room for me. It was where I could go to seek understanding and advice. Of course there have been some fights too - hopefully this forum will continue and go from strength to strength in bringing families together - for that way we are better able to lobby for our children and as these kids reach adulthood I am hopeful that such forums (or whatever the technology of the time will be) can be used by them to advocate for their own interests - supported by us and others.

Facebook has challenged the forum world though - DSDU is going through a bit of a lull - and fb is booming. I love the immediacy of fb. Unlike the forums it integrates elements of our worlds - so rather than discussing DS life as a separate thing when I am on fb I can include it for my relos and my friends as well as those who are part of the disability community. It is a more diverse medium. I can't be as personal on it necessarily - especially as some of my ex students are my friends on it!! For example one of my students from Kuwait volunteered at the Buddy Walk last year. She has a sister back home with DS. I thought that that was such a beautiful thing - I wished I had made it to see her but heavy rain had put us off so we didn't go in the end...still from fb I got to see her smiling and relaxed photographed with a child who has DS that I have met a couple of times through the DSAssociation - and that was a treat.

And here we are almost up to date. For his birthday last year Kit really wanted a DS. We knew Hannah would not necessarily be able to use a DS as well due to her language/reading level - so she got an ipod touch. Both brats were very happy. This year Hannah wants a DS and Kit an ipod touch - maybe we'll just get them to swap devices for 12 months!!

Then the ipad came out. Our SAS case manager helped us to write an application for funding to get one to assist Hannah. Her kindy teachers supported our application. They had been fantastic with Hannah and had seen how useful the smart board in the classroom was in enabling them to more accurately assess just what Hannah knew and they saw that she was very adept at using it on her own as well. So this year she started year 1 with an ipad. It has been a trial and error path. Some of that is due to her teacher - she is no doubt still getting her head around what the smart board can do let alone the ipad for Hannah. However slowly with encouragement from myself and the ST Hannah's aids are using it a little with her and the spec ed teacher too. It opens up so many opportunities for Hannah and I am certain that as we get more familiar with it, and the staff can access more professional development on its use and even more great apps become available...well it truly is a brave new world isn't it?
One of the 'creations' Hannah has made with her ST on the ipad

My dream of modern classrooms - revolutionary places where the focus is on the child and not the teacher - where the learning environment is better able to meet the individual needs of kids like Hannah as well as the very brightest of kids is perhaps not so very far away. Of course there is always the human factor but the ability to differentiate work and to work collaboratively would be wonderful things for teachers to be able to do. In my own classroom I am very aware of how hard this can be but I am also aware of how rewarding it is when it happens. It isn't that the fundamental purpose of education is necessarily changing - it is simply that we can and should be always looking to make it better.

Back to school

I bought some tulips to decorate the house for the weekend. I was organising them in vases while the kids were eating dinner - it was only after I realised that I had a photo of my own journey to Holland with a face smeared with that Italian classic dish: spaghetti bolognese. I liked the idea so here is the pic-

On Friday night both kids decided to read a book while waiting for Masterchef to start. Hannah LOVES Mouse Mess.

On Saturday Hannah was keen for a game of soccer but first she insisted on writing 1 on her shirt...
Phil and I have met many wonderful families through the twins starting school. On saturday we had the parents from our weekend away over for a curry night, plus a couple of extras. Everyone had nominated their idea of the best and worst song of the 80s. We had an absolute blast. These are a great bunch of friends and I feel so lucky to get to know them.
Hannah loves the idea of mermaids at the moment so here she is on Sunday morning cutting and pasting a mermaid picture.
Hannah's ipad has this great app called Pictello which I use for her to show her aid each week. I put a couple of pics of what she's been doing and then we record a conversation about it - so it gives Hannah a bit of speech practice too. Kit made pasta from scratch all by himself. It is something he really wanted to do and was so proud of himself for doing so - and we had a pasta feast for dinner. I took a sequence of pics of the process and he made a story on Pictello too. Gotta love the ipad technology
The term has begun here. Both kids and I were pleased to get back into routine although we had also had a good break. We made sure we enjoyed our weekend when it came - we needed the rest.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Holidays are over

One of Kit and Hannah's old friends from school came over for the day - both kids LOVED having her visit. They had a great day. They used the play doh, jumped on the trampoline, did some paintings and decorated cupcakes and played snakes and ladders... thanks to their parents who entrusted their gorgeous girl to our care....It was interesting watching her stand up to Kit on Hannah's behalf - she is such a bright one and more than gives my loveable but bossy Kit a run for his money... no wonder she is the one I'd like him to marry - yet he does not agree! Clearly she is much too 'equal' for that!
On the weekend Phil did some gardening with a little 'help' from Hannah and a tiny effort from Kit - when he could tear himself away from his pokemon games...and they planted our lemon tree!
My friend's 'puppy' (she's 2) who came and stayed with us for a few days...she was a delight - a lovely nature.
Hannah is such a loving child. She is so well liked by her peers (who are just fantastic) but aside from her two best friends at school - it is still easier for her with slightly older kids - like her buddies at school or molly her lovely cousin...Hannah was so excited to be sharing a bed with Molly - and Molly read her her favourite book Mouse Mess - something that Hannah was very keen on repeating the second night her cousins stayed with us too.... the dog looks pretty happy with the two girls as well.
My niece who is 10 and the second of 4 got to be the adored eldest when she and her little brother (who is the same age as the twins) came to stay for a couple of nights. My guys were in love...
My gorgeous nephew turned 12. Who woulda thought? He's a great kid and a beautiful young man in the making....
Masterchef still reigns supreme here. One of the things I found most difficult in the holidays was that I couldn't nip up t the shops for groceries - I had to drag the twins with me. It doesn't feel right dragging them around supermarkets... still we need to eat! So on payday we did as much of a 'big shop' as I could make them endure... and Kit was totally engaged by grabbing a recipe card at the entrance for his favourite show - a recipe that we then made together that night....
On Thursday I totally forgot to take Hannah to Dancing HEarts - which she absolutely LOVES - I did however remember to take both brats to the park to catch up with my girlfriend and her daughter.

Hannah's favourite piece of equipment in a park full of stuff she LOVES
Kit and my goddaughter enjoy a cuppa (just like a couple of old ladies... or should I say their 'dear olde Mums' lol.
For reasons that I wish I could say I have NO knowledge of, Hannah was quite taken with the idea of a wedding - and in fact played this game for ages a few times in the holidays - the event for her seemed to require flowers and a ring. She didn't seem too fussed about who she married but she did want her family there. {ok. I confess.... it's terrible.... but one of my fave apps - and one Hannah shares with one of her friends each Thursday while their twin brothers are at chess club - is the app Will and Kate - it is a FANTASTIC story - lovely interactive features... you guessed it ... all about the Royal Wedding... Oh the offences this good feminist mother is committing against her poor defenceless, intellectually disabled daughter... I can hardly bear thinking about it except that it was such a wonderful part of my own childhood (thanks Mum!) and I still turned out independent enough to call myself a feminist and keep my name when I got married!) Besides - it is such a great app - you get to dress the bride, hear them say "I Do" watch a sheep chomp on some flowers and hear the 'ker-CHING! when the ring box opens to reveal it's loot.}
Hannah with her bridal bouquet.

I got to go and watch Kit play soccer for the first time this season - because Hannah's dance doesn't start back until next week.
THey still have oranges at half time but boyo - the quantity these kids consumed has at least doubled since last year!
Hannah wasn't so keen on watching the game. I think she found seeing all those boys she knows from school a bit overwhelming after a 2 week break.
the only downside of our holiday was when the mum of Hannah's best girlfriend rang to let me know that she will be taking her daughter out of school in a few weeks time to homeschool her. Hannah loves this little girl and she is just fantastic with little brat... she, Hannah and the effervescent Zachary are a wonderful trio of friendship that has really helped Hannah this year... I hope that they will be able to maintain some level of contact but will have to wait and see... I am grateful that G's Mum rang so I have time to try and work out how to explain it to Hannah. And now... onto term 3 - baby we are half way through Year1!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Holidays begun

Well this little spot about 2 hours out of Sydney is where our holidays began. A family from school invited us and some other families down for the weekend. The house belongs to the grandparents of one of the twin's friends and they were away so we all moved in. Nestled in the forest with ocean views in the distance and a log fire burning - it was a touch of paradise. The best thing though was the company. We all had a blast. What a great way to start our 'at home' cooking and cleaning holidays! We have met some wonderful and generous people at the twin's school. And here is yet another example of their great spirit and fun...
13 kids. 11 under 7 and only 3 girls - so the dinosaur video was on more than the girls would have liked...lol

Hannah spent a lot of time drawing and writing - the other kids joined her intermittently
Dancing to Abba
Another bush walk

Jumping Jack
Ninja time

At the country fair - it isn't a holiday if Hannah doesn't swing!
Kit thought car surfing on the property was great. Hannah was very keen to tell me that she had ridden in the boot to get up to the walking track - yes how else do 5 Dads get 13 kids in one vehicle to the spot for a bushwalk? (SO glad I wasn't aware until the Mum's returned from the local beauty spa - by which time it was all done and everyone was very happy after a successful outing)
Volleyball game

Kit ran wild with the pack. I hardly saw him except when we drove into town and he was in the car with us and this rare moment when I caught him for a shot cos he was feeling a bit sad over some wee problem between the kids - oh yes - and when he came back from a walk in the rainforest with a leach on him!
The road to the property

Fish and chips by the sea
Collecting shells
and making sand castles in winter
Four free spirits
Four raucous boys on the trampoline
It was only a weekend but we all feel like we had a longer break it was such fun.