Monday, May 23, 2016

Paralyzed artist makes paintings using mouth to control brushes

Henry Fraser is an artist.  He sketches and paints with pencils and brushes, and sometimes uses photo references to create his pictures.  His process, however, is anything but ordinary.  Fraser is paralyzed, and all of his creations are made using the only part of his body he can still move: his mouth.
Around seven years ago, Fraser was vacationing in Portugal away from his home in the UK, when he dove into what he thought was a deep section of the sea.  In reality, it was a sand bank.  The impact crushed his spinal cord and displaced several of his neck vertebrae, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the shoulders down.

His life has not been easy since then, with surgeries and sicknesses becoming frequent occurrences.  About a year ago, the former rugby player was getting bored after being stuck in bed with an illness, and it was then that he discovered an app on his iPad that allowed him to draw when he held a stylus in his mouth and touched it to the screen.  He loved the app, and soon moved on to non-digital drawing, attaching brushes and pencils to a mouth stick to create his works.
Since then, he has been painting anything from animals to actors to sports champions whom he admires.  His work has attracted the attention of the public, and he counts celebrities like soccer player David Beckham among his admirers.  A pencil drawing he did of golfer Rory McIlroy for a charity golf day caught the attention of McIlroy himself, who ended up contacting Fraser and donating his own items to the charity golf day.
Several news outlets have noted the remarkably positive outlook Fraser has maintained about his life in spite of his hardships.  He has said that without the illness he had when he discovered the iPad app, he never would have rediscovered his love for drawing and painting.  And on Twitter he’s reflected that he would probably have a boring life now if not for his accident, concluding that adversity has given him a gift.

You can learn more about Henry Fraser on his website and Twitter feed, as well as from CNN, Newsweek, and The Telegraph.

Monday, May 16, 2016

MHKC camper Eli Kerr featured on KGW

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp camper Eli Kerr has been featured on local news station KGW!  The story details the teenager’s unique “promposal” to his friend Megan Schiedler.

Kerr and Schiedler met when they were just three months old, in a play group for children who have Down syndrome.  The two have been friends ever since, and they both go to Lake Oswego High School, where they have attended dances before.  But as a senior, this year would be Kerr’s last prom.

Kerr made a sign to ask Schiedler to prom, one that read “Megan, Be My Girl at Prom?”  Kerr is in choir, and a fellow singer explained that he loves the song “My Girl.”  So he asked the rest of the choir for some help with his request.

On the day of the proposal, Schiedler was brought out of her art class to find Kerr waiting for her in a suit, a line of choir singers behind him, all singing “My Girl.”

The choir made one small change to the words of the song: in later versions of the chorus, where the original song says “talking ‘bout my girl,” the Lake Oswego High School choir sang “talking ‘bout Megan.”

When the song was finished, Kerr asked Schiedler he could take her to prom, and she said “yes.”  Multiple times, onlookers report.

It was a promposal that Kerr had put a lot of time and effort into to make possible; he worked for hours with his speech therapist to be able to properly annunciate all the lyrics to “My Girl.”

The scene was meaningful not only to Kerr and Schiedler and friends.  Schiedler’s mother said that years ago, as she held her newborn baby Megan, one of her thoughts was about whether her daughter would ever go to prom.  Now, she says that not only has Megan been asked, she has been asked in a very special way.

You can read the story, and watch the full video of the promposal, on KGW here.

Monday, May 9, 2016

UK Store Implements “Quiet Hour” for shoppers with special needs

A superstore in Manchester, England has implemented a new system in the hopes of making shopping an easier experience for those with special needs.

The store, called Asda, opens one hour earlier than normal every Saturday and turns off store music, television displays, escalators, and the store’s announcement system for a “Quiet Hour.”  It’s an initiative which, store manager Simon Lea hopes, will help customers (particularly those who have autism) who experience distraction or overstimulation from the loud bustle that normally occurs in markets.

WATCH:  Asda manager Simon Lea on the quiet hour

Lea got the idea for the initiative after seeing a young boy who had autism struggle with the store’s busy environment.  Lea struggles from anxiety himself, and he’s said that for years he hated going to busy stores.  Even so, he said that six months ago he would have told shoppers to control their children.  Now, after speaking to people who have autism or other different abilities, he has instead been thinking about how to make his store a better place to shop.

And he’s not the only one to see the value of this idea.  The first quiet hour was only last week, on May 7th, but already eight other stores in Manchester have pledged to follow Asda’s example.

Asda has also been seeing positive responses to the quiet hour on Facebook, as well as from UK charity The National Autistic Society.  Mark Lever, CEO of the society, said that NAS surveyed more than 7,000 people who have autism and their families last year, and one of the most popular choices for things to become more accessible were shops.  Lever says that NAS hopes other supermarkets are inspired to follow the example that has been set by Asda.

You can learn more about Asda’s quiet hour from, Manchester Evening News, The Telegraph, the BBC, and The Guardian.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Caroline's Cart: Striving to make shopping more accessible for families with special needs

Alabama mother Drew Ann Long’s daughter Caroline has Rett Syndrome, a condition that can impair movement and that has made Caroline unable to walk.  For the first few years of Caroline’s life, Long would put her daughter in the seat of shopping carts during store trips, but she knew that it wouldn’t be long before Caroline outgrew the seat.  That’s when she came up with the idea for Caroline’s Cart.

Caroline’s Cart is designed to hold individuals with special needs who have gotten too big to sit in the child seat of a standard shopping cart.  As is shown in the video below, it functions similarly to a standard cart but has a larger and sturdier seat facing the caregiver pushing the cart.  The seat can hold up to 250 pounds.

Drew Ann Long saw the need for a cart like this when Caroline started having to use a wheelchair for shopping trips.  Long remembers a particularly hard shopping trip when she had to manage then-7-year-old Caroline, as well as her other, 9-year-old daughter, and her 2-year-old son.  She has called that trip a kind of “aha” moment for her, as she realized that there had to be a shopping cart for individuals who have special needs, and that if she needed it, other people did as well.

Now, national chain stores are seeing that need as well.  Target says the majority of its stores have at least one Caroline’s Cart as of March of this year, after one of their own employees who has a child with special needs suggested the cart.  The cart is becoming more widely available at other stores too, including Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Kroger, Publix, and Price Chopper.

Long says that she has kept Caroline updated and involved throughout the journey of making the cart, and that Caroline is aware of how much she has helped other people who have special needs.  Caroline has seen pictures, and heard emails that her mom has read to her.  Long says that while she isn’t sure how much Caroline understands, she does know that the first time they used the cart at their home Target was very special for Caroline.

You can learn more about Caroline’s Cart on its website, as well as from Today Parents, ABC, and Target’s statement about providing the carts.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Brain implant helps quadriplegic man move again

For most of us, movement is easy.  We think about an action, and our limbs instantly follow our brain’s command.  But for people like 24-year-old Ian Burkhart of Dublin, Ohio, something (often a spinal injury) has interrupted that line of communication.  That’s why Burkhart and others who have quadriplegia experience loss of motor functions: the connection between brain and limbs has been broken.

But researchers are now working on a way to bypass the need for that connection entirely, and Burkhart has been helping.  Two years ago a chip was implanted in Burkhart’s brain, and it is capable of reading the activity of several hundred neurons inside his motor cortex—the part of his brain that controls hand movement.  An external computer then interprets that activity, and in turn sends signals to a sleeve of 130 electrodes that Burkhart wore around his right arm, enabling different muscles in his arm to contract or be stimulated at his command.

It was not an instant or easy process.  The computer that interprets brain activity had to be taught to essentially interpret a kind of human thought, a complicated process that took many hours.  Burkhart had three sessions each week for 15 months of learning how to use the sleeve and how to think in a way that the computer could understand, sessions which he described as initially mentally exhausting, fatiguing, and like seven-hour exams.  To make his hand and arm move again, he noted that he had to break down each part of the motion and think about it in a more concentrated way, a process he says he took for granted before the accident that left him unable to move his arms and legs.

Still, even with all the work, Burkhart still enjoyed having some of his motor function back.  He’s been able to pour from a glass, move objects, and swipe a credit card.  A woman in 2012 was able to move a robotic arm using her thoughts, but this is the first example of so-called “limb reanimation” in a quadriplegic patient.  Burkhart believes it is more natural and intuitive, since he can see his own hand responding to his thoughts.

Doctors admit that it will be at least a decade before technology like this will be available outside of a lab.  There are several hurdles to overcome, including the need for a chip that can listen to more neurons, as well as a more portable computer to interpret the signals.  As for right now, funding for the project is set to run out later this year, forcing Burkhart to relinquish his newly gained abilities.  It will be difficult for him, he said, as he enjoyed it so much.  But he is hopeful that with enough people working on the project, he will someday be able to use it outside, which, he says, could really improve his quality of life.

You can learn more about Ian Burkhart and this limb reanimation technology from the original study in the journal Nature, as well as from The New York Times,  the Los Angeles Times, and the BBC.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kiwanis Memories: An interview with former capstone student and current CLAS adviser Laura Marsh

Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp

Welcome to Week 4!  Those of you in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) may already know Laura Marsh, a pre-health adviser.  We recently sat down with Ms. Marsh to talk about her own experience as a student enrolled in the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp capstone, and to see what advice she has for future counselors.

Please note that camper names have been changed.

Why did you decide to take the Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp Capstone?
    Yes, that’s a good question.  I was working at Portland State full time, so I was actually attending here part time.  I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, but I was lucky enough to be working in an office of advisors who were able to talk to me about different options.  And as soon as I heard about Kiwanis Camp, I knew that this was the right capstone for me.
    I think in part because, when I first started college in California I was at a community college, and they had a program called Transition to Independent Living, which allowed students with different needs to be integrated into the campus community.  It was a relatively small program, but I had a work study with the program, so it was my job to do Friday night fun stuff.  It was a really great opportunity for me to be able to work with that population, and they were my peers, and it was exciting.  So when I heard about camp I knew that I didn’t have a bunch of experience, but that I had some, and I knew I enjoyed it. 
    And I also love the outdoors, and growing up here in Oregon, you know, we camped a lot, and so I knew I would be okay with the outdoor part of camp as well.  The fact that it was a camp, and it was over the summer, and it would be done in two weeks…all of those things were very appealing to me.  I was able to take off vacation time and worked it that way with my job, which was very nice.  Of course I had supportive people, so that was also wonderful.  And then I signed up, and the rest is history.

How did you feel in the weeks leading up to the capstone?  Were you excited, nervous…?
    I remember being very nervous.  We had a great orientation that happened in spring, and I don’t remember how long it was, but it was a nice chunk of time where they kind of allowed the soon-to-be-counselors to get a sense of what camp was going to be like.  I remember they had a couple of parents [of the campers] come in, and share their experiences about what camp meant to their kids.  So I think that helped to settle my nerves a little bit, or at least give me a good idea of what it was going to be like and the structure of it.
    Obviously it was a very structured and supportive environment, but leading up to the days of starting camp?  That’s when the nerves really hit, and I had just a mix of emotions from excitement to just pure nervousness to “oh my gosh, do I really want to do this?”  So yeah, it was definitely kind of a roller coaster of emotions.

Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp
Can you tell us a little about what the interactions were like between yourself and the campers?

    Once we got there, they have a time for just the counselors to get to know each other.  And that to me was such a critical piece, because we all were very nervous, and we really were feeling a lot of the same emotions.  So I think that put us all at ease, and it allowed us to really get to know our group members that we were going to be with for the two weeks.  So that was really exciting.
    Leading up to it, where I think I got a little nervous was just—the first week we were going to have boys, and [I was] a little concerned about some of the personal care and if I was going to be comfortable doing that.  And I was able to express that with my assistant counselor supervisor and counselor supervisor, and then what we decided was that week I would get a camper that was maybe a little bit more independent, and that way I could ease into that.  And it worked out beautifully. 
    So the very first week we had a group of boys (well, they were young adults), and my camper was Joe.  And he was amazing.  And he actually was more of an expert than I would ever claim to be about Kiwanis Camp, and many other things.  He was also into martial arts, which was amazing.  So Joe actually knew, because he had been going for such a long time to camp, he knew more about camp than I ever did.  So he was truly more of my partner than I felt like I was his counselor.  It was really cool.  And he was just a really great way for me to ease into things a little bit, and then I was able to, throughout the week, help my group members as needed.  You know, if they needed breaks or help with anything.  Joe was so, so independent and fabulous that it allowed me to do that on my own schedule and my own comfort level, which was nice. 

Do you have any favorite memories from your time in the capstone that you’d like to share with us?
    Yes, I do.  So, second week I had a little bit more of a challenging camper in a good way.  They were like, “Well Laura, you did great the first week, now we’re gonna put you to the test,” so I actually had probably one of the more challenging campers I think for the whole session.  She was amazing, and she was nonverbal so it was a little bit challenging in that way, and I learned a lot during that time about patience and really putting somebody else’s needs before my own.  At that time I wasn’t a parent, and hadn’t really ever had to do that before, so that was a great experience.
    Favorite memories?  You know, I think one of my favorite memories was with Joe.  So Joe was determined to climb the wall.  I don’t know what they call it, just the rock climbing wall.  But it was relatively new at camp I think at the time, and so campers had to get invited to it.  And so all week I was trying to drop his name and do what we needed so that Joe could get his invitation to the wall.  He was not making it a secret at all; everybody knew he wanted to tackle that wall.
    So he got the invitation and we went to go do the wall, and I just was so excited and so happy for him because it was something he wanted to do so bad.  And it was an interesting time.  Joe tackled the wall, he made it partially up the wall before he decided he was done, so he came back down and he turned to me and he was like, “your turn!”  And I was like “Wait.  Whoa!  This was your thing, Joe!”  Like, I’m cheering you on.  And so the tables were a little bit turned because I was there cheering him on and trying to get him to go a little higher, and then all of a sudden I found myself climbing this wall, which I had no intention…had not prepared, was NOT excited about.  But I did it!  And I didn’t make it to the top, but Joe was there coaching me.
    Like I said, in many ways he was like my buddy more than I was—you know.  I think that was something that I didn’t really realize going in: how beneficial it was going to be for me personally.  I thought I was going to be there to help them have a good time, which we did, but at the same time I was able to learn to challenge myself in ways.  It was a fun time. 

And finally, what advice do you have for future counselors?
    As an adviser I do get to talk a lot about camp.  I try to promote it a little bit in a way because I think it's such a wonderful experience, and like I said before, I think in ways that we don’t always know it’s going to be.  Like, really what it’s like to put somebody else’s needs before our own, and then also to just be in a truly authentic situation where nerves end up going away, and you break your barriers down of being nervous and unsure of yourself.  For me it was a real confidence builder.
    So advice going in, I think I would tell students “it sounds like its going to be really easy—two weeks!—but it’s really not.”  And not in a bad way.  But the purpose of your being there is to make sure that that camper’s experience is the best that it could possibly be.  And that’s that whole putting somebody else’s needs above your own and before yourself.  So I think going into it that way, but also advice…Knowing that you have a lot of support.  Kiwanis Camp is extremely well-structured, there’s a ton of support there, and things are very well scheduled, and they run really smoothly.  And there’s always going to be bumps in the road, but there’s always a lot of support.  So, I think going into it with an open mind, and just willing to have fun and be silly and sing camp songs and enjoy the beautiful camp.  I mean, the camp is amazing, and so to go out on a canoe which I had never done before, and have this amazing view of Mt. Hood and those types of memories…I will never forget.
    So advice: just be open to new experiences.  The nerves will be there—I always tell students you’ll get nervous—but power through it, because it will be well worth it in the end.

Photo Courtesy of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp

Special thanks to Laura Marsh for providing us with this interview.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Local high school basketball team breaks down barriers

Unified Sports, a Special Olympics program, aims to promote the social inclusion of people with intellectual different abilities through the creation of inclusive sports teams.  Now, the program is making a local impact with a Unified basketball team at Washougal High School.

The team is made up of both general education and special education students, and they practice together three days a week.  During the season they have games every Saturday, and they compete in division one, which is considered to be a competitive category.  Participants have been vocal in their support for the program—sophomore general education student Jessie Larson says that she is a better person because of the experience, and special education student Michael Neketuk says he loves the school’s support.

A few of the participants already had some experience with the Unified program: they volunteered in the Unified soccer program last spring.  Larson is one such student, as is senior Brennan Guiles.  It was Guiles love for soccer that brought him to the program, but he soon found he liked the special education participants too, and he says he loves seeing how happy they are about life.

KGW covers the Unified Sports team at Washougal High School.

Coach Dani Allen notes some of the benefits for the special education students: they have to remember to bring their shoes and practice clothes to school, and have their uniforms washed for games.  Being on a team is a big self-esteem booster, Allen continues, saying that the team as a whole has great camaraderie and that individuals are able to build friendships in a way that’s not possible to do in the classroom.

Volunteer coaches advise the team.  Funding comes partly from the WHS special education program, and partly from a $2,000 grant from the Special Olympics for uniforms and equipment.  The games in Unified tournaments are free to attend.

You can learn more about the Washougal High School Unified Sports team from the Camas Post Record, The Columbian, and from KGW.  Learn more about the Unified Sports program and find coaching resources on the Special Olympics website here.