Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Giving the Gift That Keeps on Giving

Hi Everyone,

Today's post is a guest post from Chris Bugaj of A.T.TIPSCAST.  Chris is the host of the award‐winning A.T.TIPSCAST, a podcast about tools and strategies that
can be used to assist students (with our without disabilities) in school.  Episodes are kept short and most try to interject some form of creative humor to spice up the experience for the listener.  The podcast is available for free from iTunes or you can listen to episodes directly from Cyberears

Check out the compendium blog at

Follow Chris on Twitter (@attipscast ) or send him an e‐mail at

Chris is also the co‐author of a book on assistive technology practice in public schools that will be coming out in the winter of published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

Today's post can also be heard at Cyberears -

Giving the Gift That Keeps on Giving

Christmases, birthdays and other occasions that lend themselves to giving gifts can be a challenging time for the relatives of people with a severe disability.  What do you get for your niece, nephew, cousin or other relation who has a severe disability that is meaningful, useful, and fun?  My wife and I found ourselves asking this very question at least 2 times a year for our nephew Jason.  Jason was diagnosed with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy at 8 months of age.  This incredibly rare disorder (estimated 1:200,000) impacted Jason in a variety of ways.  From a sensory standpoint, Jason had a complete loss of vision.  Motorically, Jason remained stationary with the majority of muscle movements coming from his face in the form of grins and smiles. A typical day for Jason found him in his wheelchair hanging around
the house or accompanying his family (Mom, Dad, and big sister—oh, and let’s not forget about the 2 cats and 2 dogs) doing what families do.   

My wife, the social coordinator of the house, makes lists of what to get our relatives for Christmas and birthdays.  Joe is into Star Wars, so he gets the Hoth Lego set.  Brayden is into Rescue Heroes, so he gets the Billy Blazes action figure.  Colleen is into hockey so she gets the Buffalo Sabres jersey.  Jason, however, presented an interesting challenge because it was impossible to tell what Jason was into.  In order to give a gift that was both meaningful and useful my wife and I examined Jason’s abilities.  Jason’s hearing was in question but, until ruled out, we decided that items that made sounds were a good choice.  Likewise, Jason’s sense of touch was intact; therefore, differently textured items or items with movement (like vibration) were also good choice.  Armed with this knowledge we hunted for items that met these parameters.  Once we made our list of potential goodies we did what all good aunts and uncles do.  We cross‐referenced our list with Jason’s parents who provided further guidance. By looking at what Jason was capable of doing (as opposed to what he couldn’t do) and really investigating what would be best suited to fit Jason’s needs my wife and I gave ourselves the gift of becoming even closer to our nephew.  From that experience, and from experiences with working with many other students with

1. Batteries
trust me when I tell you that almost every family that has a child with a severe disability has a litany of devices, toys, and materials that require all sorts of different sizes of batteries.  Become known as the “relative who gives batteries” because the family needs them and batteries are expensive.  The family probably has a box or drawer (or a box in a drawer) of various batteries of different shapes and sizes.  When they need a battery they run to this hidey hole, dig through the pile, and (if luck is with them) find what they need.  A battery tester will help them know which batteries in that maelstrom are still good and which can be retired.  Similarly, rechargeable batteries and battery chargers (Battery Charger Comparison Table ) are like gold that doesn’t have to be mined.
2. Interactive Multimedia Presentations
PowerPoint is probably the most common, but any program that allows you to integrate images, sounds, and movement will work (including free ones like Google Docs and CAST’s Book Builder ). Using these programs, an interactive slideshow can be created on any number of topics.  Maybe the student enjoys watching football with Mom and Dad on Sunday or enjoys going to the local high school football games.  Photos of the favorite team (or, better yet, if the student is a high school male, the cheerleaders of that team) can be placed into a slideshow with accompanied sounds and transitions (A word of caution: Photos of the New England Patriots will crash your computer‐ so don’t try it with that team.  Pictures of the Buffalo Bills work best).  Presentations with pictures of family outings, favorite movies, and favorite people also make excellent gifts.  In order to make it interactive, create the presentation in such a way that a single click will make the next action happen. Students have varying ways to interact with the computer, so, here again, an analysis of how the student uses the computer will help determine how best to create the show.  A good rule of thumb here is that it is always better to keep it simple and actually create the presentation than try to make a complicated one then never makes it to the student.  
3. Playlists
Just like you did back in middle school for your puppy love crush, create a “mix tape” as a gift.  Burn 15 songs onto a CD (or create a playlist). CDs can be thematic centering on a new style of music that the student may not have been exposed to before. Has niece or nephew experienced Jazz, Cyberpunk, or classic Van Halen?  Maybe it’s time they took a trip to Panama.  It might just make them Jump.  Centering the CD or playlist on a particular mood is another way of organizing the music.  Emphasizing a particular mood like “peaceful songs to sleep to” or “songs to get your body movin’” can help transport that student’s mind to a place where it needs to be.  You might feel funny making a CD of your favorites but sharing a little bit of yourself worked way back then in school (or it didn’t) and if that’s the age of the student then it will mean something to him too.
4. Time
There is no gift as good as time.  Time spent together is like spinning a roulette wheel that only has black.  Everyone is sure to win.  Any amount of time spent, from something as short as taking a walk, watching a movie, or going shopping to something as long as weekend (or even weeklong) trips away from home, camping, or to an amusement park will form bonds and \memories that will last a lifetime.

If you find that you’re truly stuck and you can’t find anything to get your relative, invite the parents to keep a list online of gift ideas and specifics. is a website where you can keep and share lists
of items.  Parents could maintain the list with specific items and specifics about items (clothing sizes, for instance) and share the list with gift‐giving friends and family.  Working like a registry, friends and family can then make informed decisions about what’s needed, what’s wanted, and what they’d like to give. Finding the right gift for a relative isn’t an easy task.  It’s difficult to sort through the abundance of coolness in the world to select the perfect gift.  Using the abilities of your relative as a guide, you can zone in on gifts to give that are personal, relevant, and, most of all fun.