When Moton Elementary School Speech Language Pathologist Maggie LeDoux first met one of her kindergarten students last year, she knew she would have her work cut out for her. The student has cerebral palsy, was on the Autism Spectrum and was born blind. Because of his multiple disabilities, resources that will help him learn are tough to find. “People don’t realize that there is a limited access to materials for multiple disability kids,” said LeDoux.
When LeDoux first began working with this student, she explained in regards to his verbal skills, “One word was pretty consistent but he needed a lot of modeling for 2 words. Most of this was for labeling items already in his hands (i.e. “squishy ball”). When I was giving him choices, he would have a hard time making a request because he couldn’t remember what was available to him.”
LeDoux began searching for resources that would help the child know what is in his surrounding environment so that he could express his needs. She reached out to many companies and service providers who produced materials specifically for visually impaired students, but couldn’t find exactly what her student required.
While in a meeting with the student’s mother and his vision teacher, Cynthia Dills, the idea of using a 3D printer to create tactile cards emerged. With the tactile cards, her student can feel the object on the card and associate that with a spoken word. Dills, who works with him on directionality and pre-braille communication assisted LeDoux in identifying the types of objects that would be best for him and his needs.
To create the tactile cards, Eastside Elementary School, was able to pitch in, supplying the use of a 3D printer which is part of their new makerspace. Kari Amico who runs the makerspace at Eastside has been working with LeDoux to identify the best visuals for printing.
LeDoux is creating a visual schedule as well as a communication binder for her student so that he is aware of what activities are happening throughout the day. The raised visuals help him to identify the objects in his environment and make requests- without him having to feel all of the real items around the room.
So how do the cards work?
“He has cards for major activities in his day, like going to speech or PT, as well as basic wants and needs like ‘goldfish snack,’ ‘bathroom,’ his ‘walker,’ etc. The tactile cards are in a binder and he feels across the page until he gets to what he is looking for and usually pairs it with a verbal response to make a request,” explained LeDoux.
One challenge that they have faced is just building up the number of cards since it could take 2 hours to 2 days for a single card to print. As it is, says LeDoux, “It’s hard to make a binder of everything a child might need in his day.”
But so far the 10 plus cards they have created are getting results. With the help of the cards, she is currently working with her student on two word utterances and will gradually build upon the skills he’s learning so that he will be able to know what things are just by feeling and then identify them verbally. “Long-term, I would like him to independently access his tactile cards to make requests on his own and reduce the amount of prompting and modeling I do for him to express his wants and needs,” said LeDoux.
“He’s blossomed with the visuals- I think he feels the independence,” LeDoux remarked. She said that it’s incredibly rewarding, “the moment that you see a child get it.”
“I gave him access to something and he’s a different kid,” she added.
LeDoux would like to share this resource with students across the county, state and perhaps the country. For now, she hopes to apply for grants in order to bring this resource to other visually impaired students in the school district. It would probably start with bringing a 3D printer to Hernando’s Assistive Technology (AT) Team and implementing the program through them.
“Eventually, I would like the AT team to be able to get on board with this resource. It is definitely something that could/should be done through them. The team consists of a Support Specialist who is extremely knowledgeable about all things technology and programming. It also has a Speech and Language Pathologist on the team to help guide the Support Specialist and the School Based Therapist make the best choice when it comes to type of device, type of visuals, type of medium, etc. It would be really beneficial for the county, as well as other students, to have access to this,” LeDoux stated.