Friday, January 30, 2015

Couple Hopes to Open School for Children with Autism

A couple in Knoxville, Arizona have decided to open a school designed just for students with special needs. 

This isn't the first time Brent and Jaime Hemsley have made a push to help children with disabilities--last year they successfully campaigned to buy a three year-old boy a $30,000 power wheelchair--but it is their largest endeavor. Their school, a non-profit called Autism Achievement Academy, would be the first of its kind in Knoxville. 

"We're scared to death," says Brent. But they've already got the land picked out and a fundraising campaign underway.

Inspiration came from Brent and Jaime's four year-old son, Logan, who was diagnosed with autism just before his third birthday. With the help of two different specialists, Logan's development has seen much improvement. The couple thought they would never hear their son speak, but a couple months ago, Logan said "I love you" when being tucked in to bed.

However, the expert-recommended 40 hours of therapy per week is not covered by insurance, so costs add up. The Hemsleys know they are not the only parent who face this dilemma. So they have decided to open a school to help.

It's a huge task, but as Jaime says, "If I can help just one other person, it's all worth it,"

Check out the Autism Achievement Academy's website and their Go Fund Me page to learn more.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Expressive Prosthetics - Bringing Fashion to Function

Hey everyone! We've written a few blogs about really advanced prosthetic limbs, either in their technology or in their affordability. (Read about some of them here, here, or here.) These new advances have come a long way from the clunky prosthetics of the past that were designed more to look like natural limbs than to function like them. But there is something to be said about the appeal of the human silhouette.

Canadian company Alleles Design Studio has found a way to bring prosthetics physiologically closer to the human body without compromising their functionality. Instead of engineering a new type of prosthetic limb, Alleles founders, Ryan Palibroda and McCauley Wanner, made it their mission to provide creative, accessible covers for lower-limb prosthetics.

Wanner and Palibroda with their designs.

Taking inspiration from the evolution of eyeglasses—generic and functional to fashionable modes of self-expression—Wanner and Palibroda think of their covers as “'part of a whole', whether it is part of the body or part of an entire look.”

The covers not only emulate the shape of the human leg, they also have unique, colorful, tough, athletic, whatever-you-can-think-up designs. Alleles has a number of ready-to-wear options that come in a variety of colors, but they also give customers the option to create a customized design. Terry Oh, tattoo artist and Alleles collaborator, works with customers via email to create personalized covers. It's all about “empowering amputees through self-expression.”

New products are released in conjunction with the spring/summer and autumn/winter fashion calendar, so clients can choose covers in the same way they would choose outfits. Have a spring dress that could use some lace tights? No problem.

“We wanted to create a different experience for our clients by removing this product from the medical realm to act more as a personal statement and fashion accessory. Amputees will now have cosmetic options beyond flesh-toned foam and silicon.”

The ready-to-wear covers run around $325 - $475, depending on the design, and customs hang out in the $800s. What do you think?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lowered Expectations, Altered Abilities

Here at MHKC@PSU, we love NPR and radio-based storytelling in general. Our lovely graduate assistant, Claire LaPoma, even got to tell a story on The Moth radio show! Storytelling is a great way to share experiences and relay information to audiences who might otherwise assume disinterest before listening.

On the other hand, sometimes stories can be…lengthy. But with a good story, you don't notice the time passing, right? That's how it is with this story from This American Life, which explores whether setting expectations inhibits performance and success.

It begins with an experiment on lab rats: all the rats were deemed "average," but they had signs in front of their cages that labeled each rat as either superior or inferior in intelligence. The rats were then given to experimenters who were to send the rats through a maze. Some experimenters assumed they had highly intelligent rats and others assumed they had unintelligent rats, but all were of average intelligence. The results of the experiment were difficult for many to believe.

This led radio host, Lulu Miller, to ask the question "Could my expectations make a blind person who literally has no eyeballs, see?"

Friday, January 9, 2015

Portland Gets a Little Friendlier (To the Senses)

Throughout my time in elementary school, my classes would take field trips that were designed to be, of course, both fun and educational. We would go to the Nevada Museum of Art or the Wilbur D. May Center or, as we got older, places more connected with our local history, like Fort Churchill or Virginia City. Every so often, we got to see performances by the Reno Philharmonic, which was really swell. The large, underground theater was a dark expanse of anticipation, swinging legs that dangled from oversized seats with armrests, awaiting the moment when we would hear the fusion of more instruments than we had ever heard at one time.

But the parents of one of my classmates knew this experience would be too much for their child. He has autism, and the loud noises, unfamiliar environment, and the need to sit still for an extended period of time made the theater essentially untouchable.

Here in Portland, however, this inaccessibility to music and theater for kids on the spectrum—and their parents—is waning, thanks to people like local jazz musician and composer, Ezra Weiss, and organizations like the Northwest Children's Theater.

Along with being a musician and composer (and professor at Portland State University), Ezra Weiss is also a father of two sons. It's important to him that his children have weekend experiences that stem beyond the television, which is why he scheduled the monthly show he presents at Cedar Hills United Church of Christ on Saturdays at 3 p.m—just after nap time. It is this sort of parent-children-friendly logic, galvanized not only by his experience as a parent, but also through his work as an educator and work with the Northwest Children's Theater, that prompted him to make these afternoon concerts welcoming for those on the autism spectrum or with any sort of restlessness or sensitivities. These concerts are “sensory-friendly.”

Weiss notes that the theater is probably the largest room a little kid has been in, and in that room, they're surrounded by more people than ever before. Sometimes the transition from everyday life to this...large world can be daunting. So organizers do what they can to smooth things out, like keeping lighting and volume levels even, making sure there is plenty of room for movement, and keeping performances about an hour long.

If you've ever heard Weiss and his bands perform and you're thinking, “I'm not sure that jazz, with all it's energy the best way to keep kiddos calm and relaxed,” you're right, and don't worry. 

Weiss knows his own group is “too fiery” for what he's trying to accomplish, but he is starting with jazz, since he knows musicians to fit the bill, and then he hopes to expand out to other styles.

“I'm looking for musicians who come from a very heartfelt place,” Weiss says, “not so much a cerebral approach. Not a lot of bashing, nothing abrasive, but some nice, swingin' music.”

And what parents seem to appreciate most is knowing that they and their children are welcome.

“If you go to a symphony concert, your kid had better be quiet,” says Weiss. But it's not like that here. These concerts are meant to be welcoming and flexible, and they are designed knowing that children aren't always going to sit still with their mouths closed. That's just not how it works.

Pretty neat, right?

Please, please, for more information about this and about the FREE sensory plays put on by the Northwest Children's Theater that are coming up, check out the original article from Artslandia, where I came across this story.

Friday, January 2, 2015

"Story of a Dreamer" - Linnea Goranson

Hey everyone! We hope everyone's 2015 is off to a nice start. Do you all remember Linnea Goranson?  Last month, we shared one of Linnea's stories about her life. This week, we are featuring another of her stories, this time written in the first-person. Linnea talks about being a dreamer, letting go of people who cannot remain in our lives, and finding things to live for. Enjoy!

Story of a Dreamer 
When I first noticed that I was a dreamer, it was later in life because it felt like I was different from anyone else but I still feel that way throughout my life. In my reflection of my childhood and teenage years, no one thought that I could dream big and turn out to be a more positive person that I wanted to be! I did that all by myself, but I had a lot of help from my parents and brothers, especially the people who already touched and enriched in my life.  
You can’t explain or describe in words of how to dream, but you can keep your heart open to everything around you and always keep your eyes wide open every day to see things that other people don’t see. When you start to dream, you see what happens, how they evolve in time by changing who you really are from the inside and make you feel that there is something there to believe in even though no one could see it!

You have to believe in yourself, just like me, to bring out your inner rock star into reality. I learned that hiding my true self from the people that I love and trying to keep it a secret does not work, so I tried to show it off and found out that I can have it all and make sure I don’t go overboard and not to forget other people in my life! I am starting to feel that sometimes I want something more than I could see, but it is very hard to pursue it even though my life has to move on! Also, my inner rock star always shows me how to see things differently and I always need to know how to follow my heart every way I go! In life, it feels like everything looks different but I still follow my heart even though I see myself like a rock star from the inside. It makes me feel that I can dream about anything! 
Sometimes, when I have to face the hardest truth of being a rock star and life, it feels like there is no way out but to accept the possibilities of letting go the people who are forced to move on, and I was taught that way but to show respect and their desires. Then I felt like this isn’t me, the real me and I realized, why do I need to accept this? In my heart, I felt that I do not accept this but to focus on being myself and try to let go and not get obsessed about it, what do you think? I think maybe we all cannot get obsessed about learning how to let go when people decide to move on in life even though sometimes they don’t want to move on or being forced out because of something like a job for an example. I guess the love and compassion of having a job is something to live for and also learning how to face the truth of not looking back if you worked so many years at the same job!