Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Outsourcing for special needs services

The NTY has a review of outsourcing service tasks to India:
Adrianne Yamaki, a 32-year-old management consultant in New York, travels constantly and logs 80-hour workweeks. So to eke out more time for herself, she routinely farms out the administrative chores of her life — making travel arrangements, hair appointments and restaurant reservations and buying theater tickets — to a personal assistant service, in India.
I'd wondered when these services would catch on. I'd particularly like to outsource entering my expenses at work. It takes me four hours to enter a batch of expenses in our ridiculous corporate accounting system. If I were to outsource the chore I could work three hours, take an hour off, and everyone would win.

More seriously, many persons with special needs can function quite well in the world -- with some supervision. Every so often though things get tougher, and a vulnerable person can hit the wall.

That's when it would be nice to have a personal assistant on call 24x7. Pick up the video/camera/GPS phone, and the remote assistant would come on. Their computer screen would display the video image, the geographic location and all relevant data at hand.

I've wondered about starting that business myself. The software alone would be interesting.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Twin Cities: Groves Academy lecture on teaching reading to special needs children

Groves Academy is a fabulously expensive private school in the twin cities area for children with "learning, attention and language disorders". That list obviously omits autism spectrum disorders; my understanding is that they only take children with pretty good behavioral abilities and a 25 percentile or better IQ.

Their hosting a workshop on teaching reading to the "struggling reader". We'll find a way to be there:
John Alexander, Head of School at Groves Academy, will discuss what the latest research reveals about the teaching of reading, particularly with respect to the struggling reader. He will also discuss his participation on the state reading task force and the movement to change the core competencies of teachers who teach reading.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007, 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm at Groves Academy.

This workshop is open to the public at no charge. Continuing education credits will be provided. Please register in advance: call 952-920-6377 or email

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fast ForWord reading software

I'm not a fan of computer software as a tool for teaching my elder son. We've tried a lot of different packages over the years, but I think the cognitive burden of interacting with the software steals cycles from the key tasks. He does best when engaged with a teacher or therapist who genuinely likes him (he's very good at telling who likes him). He does less well learning with his parents, which I think is not unusual for any child.

On the other hand, we're stuck.

He's not making progress on his reading. I don't expect him to start reading Kant anytime soon, but I'd like to get to 4th grade level. At this rate we won't make it before adolescence hits.

So I'm ready to try something different. I like his school, but I think we've run through every trick in their books. We contacted a friend who occupies a chair in developmental pediatrics at some place in Boston, and he connected us up with a physician researcher with a particular interest in reading. She suggested a look at "Fast ForWord®". No, it's not "Fast ForWard". The very name is an exercise in phonetic reading. I misread it a dozen times before I parsed the letters.

We looked over the videos and I was not exactly thrilled. "Construction Pig" and the other cartoon characters are just right for a six year old who's having trouble keeping up with first grade, but they're pretty misplaced for a 10 yo who really wants to see Count Dooku being decapitated (no, he's not allowed to watch Star Wars II and III, but I think they show the damned movies at his after school program).

Unfortunately there's not much hope for improvement on that front -- my very generous de facto consultant talked with the scientist who created the program and she basically said it's "construction pig" or nothing -- until a student graduates to a high school level.

In other words, the social context for the software is matched to the reading level. The target group is obviously children who are falling behind (no child left behind), but who have not left the train completely. In other words, it's not designed for special needs children, it's designed for mainstream kids whose age level won't be too discordant from their reading level.


In one of my real lives I'm a software geek, and in another real life I'm a business guy. I think given a combination of grant money and business funding I could peel off the language engine from the presentation layer and, instead of having a moose spray paint food I could have a generic golfer (ok, he'd be asian-african but wouldn't look too much like anyone you know) whack the ball -- the better the reading, the longer the drive.

Unfortunately I'm still otherwise employed. Did I mention we're getting desperate?

We'll give a try. Maybe a promise to allow a viewing of Star Wars II will offset the demoralizing cartoons. The web site lists several providers in the Saint Paul area in 5-6 businesses:

Janet Jacobs, CCC-SLP
Associated Speech & Language Specialists

Sarah C Hanson M.A., CCC-SLP
Associated Speech and Language Specialists

Ms.Susan Imhoff, MA, CCC-SLP
Children's Hospitals and Clinics-Roseville

Diane Sineps
Partners for Effective Communication

Jessica Chamberlain MA CCC SLP
Family Achievement Center, Inc.

Shiloh Ricker MS,CCC-SLP & Jennifer Jensen MA,CCC-SLP
Family Achievement Center, Inc.

Jennifer Jensen MA. CCC SLP

I have heard about the Children's Hospital program but I think the waiting list is pretty severe. Any success will require a lot of chemistry, flexibility and inventiveness, so we'll do some visits to learn more.

I'll post on what we learn.

Update 12/18/08: We didn't pursue this one, but I've gotten a positive review from a trusted parent source. So we're looking again.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Shade Of Grey: a geeky autism blog

A Shade Of Grey is Ian Parker's blog about his experiences as the parent of a child who has autism. I'll add it to my bloglist.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

PCA: Beware the agency's recertification process

I'm hoping to persuade my wife to write up the relevant material, but I wanted to get something out quickly. It if can save one person some hassle ...

Earlier I wrote about: The Personal Care Attendant: things I wish I'd known. We've learned some other things which I'm going to summarize quickly here:
  1. The agencies that manage PCA services for the state have to recertify yearly. It turns out some agencies are very bad at doing this. If they fail to recertify on time the best thing that happens is you lose your services instantly -- without warning. The worst thing that happens is you find out 6 months later that the agency didn't recertify. In this case the family may owe the state the money. Lesson: Assume the worst, track the recertification process.
  2. The state of Minnesota provides free legal services for disability related work. Isn't that nice to know? This is very valuable in the case of #1.
We'll see how this goes. Fortunately we can work with lawyers and we have an excellent state representative, who's office we will engage if we need to.

Years ago I considered retaining a special needs attorney simply as an expert consultant. The attorney I interviewed was excellent, but quite expensive. I suspect I probably should have spent the money, but I'm looking forward to learning what the state funded disability law services are like.

The curse of special needs reading: BORING books

Recently we ordered a set of the readers our 5th grader's teacher uses. We figured we could structure some work around them that would extend what the teacher has time to do, but be consistent with his plans.

There's only one problem. The material is boring. Dull. Tedious.

I assume it's what's left when anything that might offend anyone has been removed, but I was sedated just reviewing the titles. I dread trying to get my son to read this stuff.

Admittedly he doesn't have the widest range of interests, but there's enough. Exploration, construction, coast guard, rescue, natural disasters, mountain climbing, surgery, animal adventures, airplanes, submarines, aircraft carriers, bicycles, football, baseball, hockey, George Washington, bowling, archery, horses ...

You know, I bet it might even be possible to craft something that would be both non-sedating and non-threatening.

I get a bit batty with this sort of thing. It's hard enough to teach reading when it's an exhausting exercise for the reader, but adding boredom to the mix is fatal. Evidently exciting material doesn't sell, but that doesn't mean I have to like the situation.