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What Parents need

By Sally Millar on Monday 21st May, 2012 at 10:23am

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In the latest Newsletter of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, parents spell out how they need professionals to behave

Additional Support Needs: Supporting children, young people and their families A Plea from Parents

In the spirit of sincere partnership, we ask that you:
  • Make us feel comfortable and ensure that we know the team around our child, in name and in person
  • Look at the whole situation and the family around the child. Many different things will affect how we and our child cope with learning e.g. transport, housing, respite, other family circumstances
  • Share all the information you have about our child, in a format and in a way that we can understand, in good time for meetings or telephone discussions. Please check that we have understood it or been able to read it
  • Are clear with us about whom we should contact when we seek information, wish to raise a concern or share information about our child, and how we should do this to not cause unnecessary inconvenience
  • Allow enough time for meetings or phone calls
  • Ask us what range of times/dates would be possible for us for meetings – we may have childcare to organize, or several other appointments relating to our child
  • Are specific about the topics of discussion at meetings in advance, and ask us if we have anything we would like to talk about
  • Let us know who will be at meetings, in advance, and describe what their role is in relation to our child
  • Ask us if we would like to bring someone to support us to meetings
  • Arrange meeting rooms so that they are as informal and welcoming as possible. A row of professionals can be really scary
  • Try to understand our situation if we become upset or angry and make provision for us to have a bit of space/time/privacy. Remember it is because we want the best for our child that we may get emotional! It’s not personal!
  • Are kind and understanding of our situation – it takes us many years to come to terms with, and to understand, our child’s learning difficulties and the challenges in their lives
  • Understand that our lives change, our child’s needs change and our expectations have to be continually readjusted. Plans have to be reviewed and changed to allow for this
  • A cup of tea and a box of hankies would be really, really nice!


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Come to CALL and learn about Proloquo2Go Version 2.0, FREE training session 24 May

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 8th May, 2012 at 12:53pm

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You are invited to come to a FREE training day in CALL on Thursday 24 May, to learn more about the widely publicised App for communication, for iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone -  Proloquo2Go (the new Version 2.0)

This is a brilliant chance to learn more about this widely publicised and award-winning AAC App. The training will be done byAnne Verhulp of AssistiveWare.

Morning session - 10.30 - 12.30 is an introduction and overview of Proloquo2Go V2.00, plus a look at Pictello, and is open to anyone who wishes to attend.

Afternoon session - 1.15- 3.30 is a hands-on session (numbers limited to 12 - priority to ACiP:S and ICTSLS colleagues) for AAC specialists who are likely to be training and supporting others in their use of P2Go.

To book your place, please contact CALL as soon as possible:  (0131 651 6235) stating clearly if you want to come morning only, afternoon only, or all day. Please be understanding that there may not be places for the afternoon session for all that request them.

We are grateful to the developers, AssistiveWare and to Logan Technologies, the new UK distributor of P2Go, for making this training available, free of charge.

Refreshments will be provided by CALL. Lunch for all-day attendees will be provided by Logan Technologies.


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Practise Mouse Skills with

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 3rd April, 2012 at 12:56pm

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I've just discovered a really useful and fun web site that has lots of free games to help kids practise their mouse skills  - basic eye-hand coordination, and timing skills. It is not for 'first beginner level' users  but great for kids who are mastering the basics of moving and clicking. There are very simple games to enjoy that are just about cursor control and clicking (simple painting, popping balloons etc.), but the site also offers quite testing games bringing in very simple off-screen scrolling, challenges of speed /reaction time, and click and drag skills, and cognitive skills like planning, basic spatial reasoning, judging height and distance, estimating trajectory etc., as well as consolidating basic counting andshape/colour matching.

A comprehensive free and fun playground and training ground for the mini gameplayer, in fact. (doesn't work on iPads, though)


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Calling all Parents! Be sure to have your say!

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 13th March, 2012 at 5:26pm

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There are just a few days left before the Consultation of the Doran Review closes (Friday 16th March).  Please - Scotland only - all parents of children with complex additional support needs, and all professionals who work with such children  -   send in a response to have your say! 

Your input could have a huge effect on the kind of changes to be made to educational provision for children with complex additional support needs in Scotland, for the future.

There is a form to fill in here or you can send in your own letter or email, with your answers and comments on the 4 key questions:

* How satisfied you are with the processes to identify your child’s care, health and learning needs.* How well informed you feel about schools and services that could help their child.* How well nurseries or schools and other services such as Health and Social Work are meeting your child's needs.* How well supported you and your child feel when he or she is preparing to leave and settling into a new school, or leaving school to go on to adult services.

Children and young people with complex additional support needs face multiple barriers to their learning and development.  These factors may relate to the learning environment, family circumstances, disability or health needs or a combination of these.  To make progress and achieve their potential, the children and young people with complex additional support needs require assistance from specialist professionals in addition to parents/carers and staff in schools and education authorities.

The Doran Review is currently looking at how best to provide for the needs of Scottish children and young people with the most complex learning needs.  Children and young people with additional support needs may attend a mainstream nursery or school in their local education authority or a specialist nursery, day or residential school, within or outside their home area.  Children and young people with complex additional support needs require individualised programmes of support from educational services and other services such as health, social work and voluntary organisations.  The Review will consider how well the assessment, support, funding and decision making processes that already exist locally and nationally are working. The Review Group will use their findings to make recommendations to the Scottish Government by Summer 2012 as to how these aspects could be improved or changed.  


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Places still available on CALL’s Switching to Excellence course, 8th March, with Ian Bean

By Sally Millar on Monday 27th February, 2012 at 1:09pm

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There is no real shortage of switch accessible software for those children with complex additional support needs - whether due to physical difficulties or learning difficulties – who are unable to use a traditional keyboard and mouse. But do we choose, introduce, teach and use the right software in the right way, at the right time, to suit each highly individual child, and to help them develop their skills and progress towards their full potential?

Maybe not. Sadly, we can still often see a child sitting in school, year–in-year-out with the same software, “practising his switch”.  If it hasn’t ’worked’ by now, we should be looking at how WE have set up the task, not blaming it all on the child! What are we missing? How could we do things differently?

These days, more and more software at the early years and complex learning difficulty level is designed only for mouse and/ or touch screen use. But many learners cannot use this effectively either. We see children in school batting ineffectually with their hands at a screen. On assessment, they often have ‘cause and effect’ understanding long established but have not been able to move on from single hit software, because of access & control issues. Switch access might reduce the physical demand and let the child move on to tasks more suited to his / her cognitive abilities.

This CALL course on 8th March 2012 aims to unpick these issues and will provide insights and, ideas, tools and resources to help us to do a better job with these learners.  We are very lucky to have secured the time of the famous Ian Bean to lead this course, in CALL. Ian is the author of the much-loved ‘Priory Woods’ switch music videos, and is now working as an independent consultant.  Ian is not  a product salesman but an experienced teacher of children with profound & multiple / or severe and complex  additional support needs. He is the author of the Switch Progression Roadmap,  and a highly recommended trainer. CALL provides laptops so that everyone can have plenty hands-on, with expert support if needed.

Lastly, there are iPads. Everyone seems to want to use them, in spite of their high ‘distractability factor’, and regardless of whether particular children can control them effectively or not!  There are many low-cost fun Apps for learners at a sensory / cause and effect level. There are a very few scanning (Bluetooth) switch operated communication Apps. We will look at these on the course (though not in huge detail as this is not the CALL course on iPads, that’s later in the year).

Do please take the time to look up the full ‘blurb about this course. There are still places available and you will get a lovely lunch and a goody-bag of resources put together by both Ian Bean and CALL. Phone 0131 651 6236 or book online here.


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Why, if and when to move to BoardMaker Studio...???

By Sally Millar on Friday 17th February, 2012 at 1:46pm

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Here's a 'changing over to the new Boardmaker Studio?' discussion that I imagine quite a few establishments will be having over the next wee while.


Original Enquiry

I have a bit of a predicament and would really appreciate your help! In this city, we are about to refresh all our current computers...There are bound to be issues at refresh with new software and resources being required. The biggest issue for us is Boardmaker. In this special school, we are (I think!) advanced users of Boardmaker Plus!, using it to its fullest potential with lots of interactive activities and creating individualised resources for our children. We even make our communication passports using Boardmaker. However, we are using Mac versions and we need to move over to PC versions come refresh. The burning question is - Boardmaker 6 Plus! for PC or Boardmaker Studio? I have been trialling Boardmaker Studio, and I'm finding it hard to change the mindset of starting from scratch every time, to now using templates and adapting someone else's work / idea. Some of the interactive things I do currently can't be done without actual programming, or importing from the current version. I know you noted some reservations in your blog, and I was wondering if you had  any further thoughts about this?

Boardmaker is a wonderful resource, I could not teach without it, but I don't want to move to a version which is going to be a source of frustration at a time when there are lots of other changes happening.

Thanks in anticipation!

Kind regards

Principal Teacher, Special School


Answer from Sally at CALL

Yes this is a big dilemma for you, I understand.  There is no 'right answer' of course, as you already realise - it's a judgement call. And your school is perhaps a bit of a special case, as an 'advanced symbol-using special school'.

If you and your colleagues are finding that you can do everything you want to already with BM Plus, I think on balance I'd advise you to stick with it. Especially if you have cracked the whole interactive speaking, draggable IWB classroom resources bit (which is the sticking point for many others, who still only use BM for printable materials).  And also especially if, as you say, there are going to be lots of other difficult changes to cope with at the same time, concerning the refresh.

CALL has just heard from a PT at another Special School who says that they are sticking with BM 6 Plus! - no plans to change to Studio. Maybe partly money and partly a positive choice.  Indeed, there seem to be people here and in the USA that still use the decades-old original or very early versions of BM  (Mac and PC) quite happily, so there is no obvious need to rush to change to the newest version.

The only thing I can see that you'd lose out on with BM Plus! rather than Studio, is the possibility that more and more of the shared resources available on BoardMaker Share may start to be in Studio not Plus (and the complicated interactive ones are not usually 'backwards compatible') but to be honest I think it will be a long time before that starts to happen, and maybe your school materials are so specialised anyway that that wouldn't affect you unduly anyway. Interestingly, the new add-on 'Pre-Made Activities' (pretty cheap) coming out, see   - and these may well increase as time goes on - apparently run on their own, and don' t need BM Plus or BM Studio to run.

However, this is really a whole school / authority strategy issue, not just a choice for you as an individual teacher (or do you have designated responsibility for ICT, overall)?

I think Mayer Johnson's plan is to market BM Studio into schools that have never used symbols before, including Secondary schools, and to push the 'inclusive classroom/school' concept. I believe BM Studio was designed to make things easier for new users (especially teachers wanting interactive materials for IWB use). If a school or a member of staff is just starting out and thinking of using symbols for the first time, I am starting to point them to BM Studio, and they seem to recognise it as being 'like PowerPoint' or 'like Clicker' - and can also see that it could actually replace both of those as well, to streamline down to one single package (which might make it more likely to be used well than staff trying to use three or more packages).

For you, relevant considerations are perhaps (1) the 'user demographic' (sorry!) in the school . Do ALL the staff know and use BM Plus as well as you do? Is there training in it at this 'advanced' level for new staff coming in? Or are there just you / one or two 'experts' and all the others leave you to make all the material for the school?  And if the latter - what happens if/when you and your 'advanced' colleagues leave the school?  You should perhaps consider also what support other than from Mayer-Johnson you and other staff currently use / need / benefit from.  If you share materials with other schools and or have materials made for you by external specialists, then you might want to also consult them on this issue (probably you already have) and think about agreeing an overall strategy rather than potentially going off in separate directions.

And (2) the other software used in the school - and how widely and how well this other software is used?  If the school already has whizzo advanced expert users of Clicker and  Powerpoint then maybe there is no need for another package that does this kind of thing (with symbols inbuilt) but if these are under-used and you you think that some of these functions might enhance teaching and learning opportunities then BMStudio might have something to offer.


Finally there are always compromise solutions. I know it sounds a bit mad, but there might be a case to be made for buying a copy  (or some licences) of EACH version, so that different staff who might be at different points of expertise and experience, and might have pupils who are very different, could use the one that suits them best, and also have the opportunity to plan and build a kind of 'Boardmaker Transition Strategy' for the school / authority (for I fear that BM 6 Plus! may be set to disappear completely in a few years time….)


Sorry it's so complicated but hope this helps.

Best wishes, Sally



Response from Enquirer

Thank you so much for taking the time to give such a detailed response! I am happy for you to publish this on your blog or elsewhere, as it is a problem others will be facing.

I have a dual role in this is as ICT co-ordinator for my own school, but also as the special schools "champion" (unnecessarily grand title!) on the refresh team. There are 3 of us across the city trialling Boardmaker Studio over the next 6 months, and Mayer Johnson are keen to get some kind of package in place for refresh.

I would say that most staff have a good grounding in Boardmaker, and all classes are using interactive resources. There's probably an "expert" in each class, either teacher or member of support staff.

We don't use Clicker perhaps as much as we should, and are moving towards using Boardmaker for most things, including presentations.

I think your suggestion of using both versions to allow a period of transition is probably the best way forward.

Thanks again for your time and your support.

Principal Teacher, Special School


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Stand Up comedian with iPad communication aid

By Sally Millar on Friday 17th February, 2012 at 1:07pm

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 Here's a first! Lee Ridley is a young chap with CP and severe motor speech impairment using an iPad as an AAC system, to deliver his stand-up comedy routine.

Brilliant, good luck to him!


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Orang utans and iPads

By Sally Millar on Tuesday 17th January, 2012 at 12:18pm

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Well - the iPad is truly everywhere these days. Watch these fascinating videos - turns out that orangutans also like iPads!

They like to watch videos, paint, play kids' Apps, watch other orang utans via Skype, ebooks etc.

I have always been very interested in primate language studies and I'm now intrigued by how the situation has evolved. It started with  having the primate brought up as child in a psychologist's home with the careful teaching of sign language over many years - with interminable Behaviourist teaching & analysis of language 'performance'.  Now people are just using technology as a day to day tool for stimulation  - and the animals don't get ANY 'rewards', just the pleasure of intercting and playing with the device (take that, Skinner!)

And for communication, now just sticking photos on an iPad under its nose and saying "show me the 'x' "(hang on to the end to see iPad use).

Not too sure what to make of it all, though. Next step, it seems,  may be social networking?...(I can only fantasise about orang utans themselves signing up to Avaaz and all the online petitions against habitat-grabbing for palm oil plantations!)


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New text-based communication aid from Toby Churchill

By Sally Millar on Monday 28th November, 2011 at 1:45pm

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Toby Churchill Ltd. are preparing to launch a new communication aid, the Lightwriter Swift  - a pocket sized dedicated text-to-speech communication device - reportedly the smallest device of its type in the world.

You can see the new device on it's UK Launch Tour, in Edinburgh, at the Corn Exchange on 7th February 2012. Get the date in your diary now.

Sign up ASAP for a free morning, afternoon or evening (6pm) seminar - or just drop in to the 'Swift Cafe' between 10 am and 8 pm.


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Games and Toys for Christmas?

By Sally Millar on Monday 28th November, 2011 at 11:38am

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At this time of year, therapists and teachers often get asked by parents and grandparents for ideas about toys, gadgets or software that might make a suitable Christmas present for their family member who has access or communication support needs.

Without wanting to promote one supplier above any others, and with no commercial interest, we note that Liberator Ltd. has recently added some nice switch toys to their range, is selling a switch operated digital camera cheaper than some competitors, and also has just opened their 'Christmas Store' with a range of toys, switches and low tech communication aids, many at special 'Sale' prices.

For professional use, I liked the 3 for 2 low tech communication books


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iPads and specialised communication aids

By Sally Millar on Thursday 17th November, 2011 at 11:06am

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Words of wisdom from the wonderful Jane Farrall, SLT at Spectronics in Oz. Everyone needs to read this. Keep reading into the second half of this short article. In summary, the iPad is fabulous but it is NOT necessarily the miracle answer to every aspect of all children's communication needs. Thanks Jane!

Jane's words reflects my own experience. It's really not an 'either / or' scenario. These days I often find myself recommending a complex specialised communication aid for school and as the 'main' resource for developing language and communication AND - yes!, why not? - a lovely iPod / iPad  (which often parents have already bought or are happy to buy themselves) for use at home/ for fun / in social situations/ out and about / when travelling etc.

But I get scared and angry when I hear about someone who has apparently recently 'advised' Scottish Government and local authorities that nobody needs an expensive communication aid any more, because an iPad and free or cheap Apps can do it all. This is an over-simplified and dangerously misleading approach that is not in the best interest of vulnerable children and adults who cannot easily speak up for themselves. People with complex communication support needs require the most appropriate and the best solution(s), not just the cheapest / most fashionable.



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Tarheel Reader Books on iPad

By Sally Millar on Thursday 17th November, 2011 at 10:32am

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Jane Farrall in Melbourne Australia has just published on her blog a really useful step by step instructions for how to get a free book from the Tarheel Reader site into an iPad. Good way to make appropriate materials available without having to make them yourself. (You could also run the book online, which would be even quicker and easier, but downloading it as a powerpoint into iBooks means it can be always available and stay there for the child to enjoy again and again.

If you don't know about the TarheelReader site, go and have a look. There are many short and very simple stories there, freely useable and downloadable, made in Powerpoint, all with picture and speech support, one line of text, ideal for our emergent readers and learners with complex additional support needs. For example , see here, 'my cat is fat' (choose a voice on top left and off you go). (The quality can be a bit variable, so you do need to check before you select a book for a pupil. Some are a bit too 'American- mind you, there's nothing to stop us uploading our own books to the site, good idea!)


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Story Sequencer

By Sally Millar on Monday 14th November, 2011 at 7:17pm

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Haven't tried it yet, but this NASEN Award winning product, the Story Sequencer, looks like a usefully flexible (and pretty cheap) tool.


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Copying from BoardMaker Studio

By Sally Millar on Monday 14th November, 2011 at 6:32pm

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I have been weaning myself  - slowly  - off BoardMaker 6 and on to BoardMaker Studio. I love many of the clever new 'gadgets' for interactive use, though it's taking me a while to get to grips with some of the more complicated ones. I'll post a more comprehensive evaluation soon.

BUT the most annoying thing is how hard it's getting to simply copy and paste a symbol!

•  In BoardMaker 5 you just did a straight COPY from the Symbol Finder, and then PASTE into another document (nice transparent background)

• In BoardMaker 6, you have to click the symbol out of the Symbol Finder and then, from the drawing screen, Copy and then Paste it elsewhere. In the process, you lost the transparent background and acquired a white square background.

• But in Studio, you have to do all of the following:

File Menu > SetUp and Options > Symbols & Language > Symbol Manager > find the symbol you want > Edit in Image Editor (Paint) > select all > Copy. then Paste (or Save As) elsewhere (again, no transparent background).

(Or has anyone else found a better  / quicker way to do it??? Please tell me!)

Having to follow so many steps means it's a real pain to try and share visual information to communicate with parents or colleagues about which symbols are being taught and used etc.  and to adapt existing materials (eg. in Word) to be more Communication Friendly and Inclusive.

You have to wonder if Mayer Johnson have done this on purpose - they can't just have forgotten to include a Copy & Paste option!

Mind you - frustrated beyond words with this - on another occasion I ended up making my 'presentation in BM Studio instead of in Powerpoint, and it was very nice because it was actually quicker and easier to populate with symbols and other images, and also spoke (in the Scottish voice). So I learned to change my mindset (creak!) at least for that activity.

Which I suppose is the kind of solution that Mayer Johnson are aiming at.....  (But doing 'everything' in BM Studio will be hard for staff in schools that maybe only have one or two computers with it on.)

So  - I'd say Yes  - buy BoardMaker Studio and go for it!  Newcomers to BoardMaker certainly seem to love it. But don't upgrade ALL your copies - keep a secret copy of BM 6 somewhere in school. I'll be sticking with BM V6 for any graphic intensive work, for fast, detailed and fully independent symbol editing control.


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Cartoon Video introducing Assistive Technology

By Sally Millar on Monday 3rd October, 2011 at 10:08am

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This fun little cartoon video explains much of what is important about assistive technology for disabled users, in a clear and pretty cool way.


I should clarify. The CALL Scotland team did not make this video, though I would be very proud if we had. We are just passing it on for wider appreciation. It was made by a team led by Jim Tobias of Inclusive Technologies. You can view the original at



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