Back to School


The start of school is always a stressful time for any student or parent if an IEP or 504 is involved. The best way to navigate this is an intro letter. I now do this every year. Teachers love this.

  • Teachers don’t always receive IEPs and 504s until the 1st day of school.
  • Often times, non-core teachers won’t receive them until much later.
  • Schools can assign 504s and IEPs without the parent, so getting intro letters like this shows you are an involved parent.
  • Having a photo and a brief description brings your child to their attention immediately in a good way.

I used to talk to the teachers at Meet the Teacher night, but sometimes they are too swamped, or lately due to COVID, aren’t there… so enter the intro letter:

I use one of the “Provider Introduction Letter Healthcare” template on Word for the letters of introduction.

I change the photo to the child, remove the logos, and where the address is above the photo, I put “Ultimate Goals” as in what they want to be when they grow up for the older kids, or hobbies/fav subjects for the younger ones.

“Ultimate Goals” examples:

Thing 2:

  • Dream: To be a professional musician
  • Realistic: To be a band director/assistant director
  • Backup: To edit videos and music while tutoring music

Thing 4:

  1. Something in Forensics
  2. Video Game Designer with Disabled Characters
from MS Word

Sample Template:

Anything in Italics is not part of the template, but my notes to you. Feel free to put the verbiage into you lingo and writing/speaking style.

[Date]

Dear Teachers (include one for each core class and extra curriculars)

My name is [child’s name]. I am a [grade here] this year. You are receiving this paper because I am taking your class. (If a younger sibling, add fluff like, “you may know my sibling so & so”).

My parents and I know the beginning of the school year is chaotic and we want to let you know I have a [504/IEP/BIP,etc], in the event you don’t receive it before school starts. I have [medical/neurological/physical/behavioral/etc] issues that can impact my learning.

[Briefly state if child is open about medical issues with adults and/or peers, or keeps it private. If they have been bullied because of them.][List some of or all the issues, can also say refer to 504/IEP/etc about more private issues.][Include anything that my affect the child on the first day of school, ie: free bathroom breaks, frequent nurse trips, wheeled backpacks, anxiety, issues with new routines, etc]

[if child is open to talking about themselves and is higher functioning, “feel free to ask me questions” or] contact my [mom/dad/guardian type][guardian name], at [phone] or [email]. (Our school system encourages special needs children to advocate for themselves if they are able to once they reach junior high.)

[positive sentence about the future year]

[closing]

[child’s name]

Short but sweet

That’s all there is to this one. I wish everyone luck! Even if your school has already started, it isn’t too late to do an intro letter if you are concerned and didn’t speak with the teachers directly. This isn’t as necessary at an Elementary level when they have 1 or 2 core teachers, plus music and PE, but comes more into play when they reach middle school and higher when they have 6-8 different classes, not counting clubs and extra curriculars.

Communication is your friend. I make an “email group” so if one of the more medically fragile kids is going to have extended absences or surgery… I can just bulk mail. I don’t do blind copy ever. This also leaves a nice paper trail if any teacher doesn’t want to work with the extended absences or says they weren’t informed. Always CYOA, cover your own “tushie”.

Catch phrase here… still don’t have one.

The unexplained explained – hidden insurance perks for your special needs kiddos.


It’s the end of the year and the holiday season, you know what that means? Insurance policies change! You thought I was going to mention something fun, didn’t you?

Bah Humbug… a majority of the plans change around the beginning of the year, as I’m sure you’ve heard/seen on tv, the radio, or any electronic device hooked up to the outside world.

Having worked in healthcare, done medical billing, and being a special needs parent, I get asked about hidden perks or things that are available that’s not well known. Let’s dive in!

Please note, if you do not live in the United States and are receiving universal healthcare, this whole article will NOT make any sense to you.

First and foremost!!!!

Legend of Zelda, owned by Nintendo

Many people don’t know that MOST insurances have caseworkers available. You can request to be assigned to a caseworker. Said individual will help you with insurance claims and getting the items/care your kiddo needs. This is also available for adults, it’s great for people with disabilities.

I do not believe Tricare offers this. I haven’t had much luck with that, however, we have a caseworker with Thing 2/4’s secondary insurance. She checks in every 4-6 months, unless we need something. She goes to bat for us with the primary insurance, directs our call to the right department if we are having issues with claims/prescriptions, and best of all… she will communicate with the doctors’ offices to obtain prescriptions for health supplies/DME and coordinate with a DME supply company.

Medicaid

  1. Medicaid is an insurance offered to children that fall into a certain tax bracket.
  2. If your child qualifies for Medicaid based on house income only, you might lose it if you get another health insurance. The income levels vary at that point. Speak with a Medicaid rep if you are thinking of getting healthcare through the marketplace or work.
  3. If you child has the special Medicaid for disabled children (there’s a list of qualifications, receiving SSI as a disabled child is the most common), you CAN have another health insurance, and is often encouraged. This may vary in some states, but please consult with someone.
Snoopy, owned by Peanuts

How does the Affordable Healthcare Act affect me:

Previously, having any one with medical issues was a nightmare for obtaining medical insurance. People would get turned away for having pre-existing medical conditions or would have to pay premiums for 3-6 months before even being allowed to use their insurance. I remember this well because my thyroid died when I was in high school. When I obtained insurance through my then job, I was not allowed (per the insurance) to use it for 6 months all because I have a pre-existing condition. Mind you, 20 years ago, levothyroxine was less than $10 a month at the time without insurance. Even now, it’s less than $20.

Insurance companies MUST cover mental health. This is a huge win because many people with chronic illness or disabilities suffer from anxiety and/or depression and even medical PTSD. Caregivers can have caregiver PTSD or burnout.

Insurance plans must include at least a basic prescription plan. No more having to add on 50 million options to your basic crap plan.

Your insurance covers your child until they are 26, sometimes longer if they are disabled or special needs.

Durable Medical Equipment (DME):

What is Durable medical equipment?

Durable Medical Equipment is equipment that

  • is Durable (can withstand repeated use)
  • Used for a medical reason
  • Not usually useful to someone who isn’t sick or injured
  • Used in your home
  • Generally has an expected lifetime of at least 3 years, (some insurances require 5)
  • are ordered or prescribed by a physician

Examples of DME:

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • wheelchairs (manual and electric) and scooters
  • hospital beds
  • traction equipment
  • canes
  • crutches
  • walkers
  • kidney machines
  • ventilators
  • oxygen equipment and accessories
  • monitors
  • blood sugar meters
  • blood sugar test strips
  • continuous passive motion devices
  • continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices
  • pressure mattresses
  • lifts
  • nebulizers
  • bili blankets and bili lights
  • suction pumps
  • breast feeding pumps
  • adaptive and assistive devices/technology*

* Adaptive vs Assistive devices/technology:

Assistive technology refers to “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities”. These can be harder to obtain through insurance companies.

Where as Adaptive tech refers to items/equipment that are specifically designed for persons with disabilities and would seldom be used by non-disabled persons.

Adaptive tech examples
  • Screen readers  – allow the visually impaired to easily access electronic information
  • Braille and Braille Embossers – a printer for braille
  • Large-print and/or tactile keyboards – the large print is self explanatory, but the tactile keyboards have additional raised portions on the keys (think of the bump on keys “F”, “J”, and num pad 5 on a standard QWERTY keyboard.)
  • Amplified telephone equipment – allows users to amplify the volume and clarity of their phone calls. Some have the option to adjust the frequency/decibel for those with specific hearing loss.
assistive tech examples
  • Adaptive Cutting Equipment – Cutting aids help make working in the kitchen much easier for one-handed people or sufferers of strokes/hemiplegia.
  • Holders – peeling plates for one handed peeling, pot and pan holders to prevent spills while cooking, etc
  • Non Slip Mats – often used for writing/drawing and prevents the page from sliding around on the table
  • Dinnerware – suction plates/bowls to prevent sliding while eating, equalizing spoons/forks for individuals with tremors, etc
  • Openers – one handed bottle and jar openers
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices – one of the most requested assistive technologies, it’s a tablet or laptop that helps someone with a speech or language impairment to communicate. I will do a separate section on AAC.

How to get DME:

This part is pretty straight forward, only not. Your healthcare provider will write a prescription for said DME. Then you have to find an DME supplier that accepts your insurance. The supplier will work with you and your insurance to get the DME approved or find acceptable alternatives. (Or you can have a caseworker through the insurance company and they will do the leg work for you).

Don’t be discouraged if the insurance denies it the first time. You and your provider may have to provide additional documentation so the approval board will be happy. (Or get a caseworker….)

(Get the caseworker).

Monty Python

If insurance is a no go, there are tons of grants out there for various equipment and diagnoses. They are too numerous to add them all. I will list the ones for AAC below as it’s own topic.

Value Added Services:

What is a Value Added Service?

Dr. Mario, NES, owned by Nintendo

These are services that hardly anyone knows about that are available through your insurance and sometimes even your employer. Each insurance/employer has different services available, so you will need to specifically ask for “Value Added Services.”

These services often help patients with long term care by helping change behaviors vs throwing meds at every problem (which can be costly for the insurance and side effects can be a detrimental to the employer).

A common thought is providers don’t want to prescribe several pricy medications for something that will persist without intervention or behavior modification. (there are some outliers as you will see)

Examples of Value Added Services:

Not everything on this list is covered by every insurance or employer. I am also not listing everything that is available. You will have to request a list of what is available for you. Your caseworker can assist you with this. (How do you think I got all this info?)

  • Adherence and disease management programs – this often includes a treatment team (providers, nurses, specialists, pharmacist, dieticians, psychologists, etc) to ensure you are educated about your disease and are adhering to your treatment plan to best optimize your health with a chronic condition. Chronic medical conditions often included in this are:
    • Diabetes Mellitus
    • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
    • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
    • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
    • Asthma
    • Hypertension
  • Reimbursement assistance – they do a host of things, but most commonly are used for help covering copays and deductibles.
  • Data products for payers and manufacturers – analytics, numbers, stuff
  • Infusion therapy – simply put, home IV services
  • Physician education and support – required and bonus Continued Medical Education (CME)
  • Patient education and support – your discharge and summary papers are included under this. The staff or nurse will confirm you understand your instructions, give you a copy, and sometimes follow up with a phone call.
  • Patient lifestyle management – this can include support groups, classes, having a caseworker (not the kind I keep mentioning).
  • (my favorite) Special Needs Summer Camps – camps designed for people with disabilities or special needs. They often have specific diagnoses they take. I found out this was covered by our caseworker. I have a list of camps (that were still running summer 2021, as many shut down due to Covid).

The most requested – Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices:

So, these can be hard to come by because many times insurance companies will argue there are no-tech or low-tech ways to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication. They include:

  • gestures, pointing, and facial expressions,
  • writing,
  • drawing,
  • spelling words by pointing to letters, (Ouiji bord?!)
  • pointing to photos, pictures, or written words (eg: PECS or Picture Exchange Communication System)

These of course can be issues with mobility problems, Pervasive Developmental Disorders (body language is a no go), reading difficulties, and new situations an individual is not prepared for.

High tech AAC:
  • using an app on a tablet to communicate – most common wanted is an iPad
  • using a computer with a “voice,” sometimes called a speech-generating device (SGD).
    • eye gaze devices – these are for individuals who still have their mental facilities, but have extreme physical limitations. Common brands include Tobii (I’m not crying, you’re crying), and Eyegaze.
    • portable electronic PECSLingraphica is a brand that is often approved by several insurances and is highly personalized with the words you want.

How to get an AAC:

insurance

I implore you get a caseworker. They have more pull in the insurance world than calling customer services.

The electronic PECS and SGD are easier to get because they are not used by non-disabled people. The hardest to get is a smart device, like an iPad because non-disabled people can use it. Many assume because it is less expensive than other AAC, it will be easier to get one or pay for one out of pocket, but they’re still pricey.

Most of the medical documentation is provided by the health care provider for AAC’s, however, should you fight for an iPad, you have to give clear reasons specific to your situation as to why an iPad would fit your needs. You will still have to be backed by a professional (letters of medical necessity).

  • List the cost of the iPad
  • list the apps you need and why
  • list the cost of said apps
  • attach any articles you’ve found regarding iPad and your child’s diagnosis (the more academic, the better)
  • attach any articles you find relating how the apps are beneficial (the more academic, the better)
  • educational necessity, as in the device will allow for your child to participate in a Free and Public Education (FAPE)
School

If the insurance route fails, schools can provide an assistive device. However, the device is still property of the school and you will have to receive permission to have the student remove it from the classroom/school. (Many school districts have pre-K available at age 3 for special needs children, after they age out of Early Childhood Intervention or ECI).

  • 1) request for an evaluation by a professional knowledgeable with AAC’s. They will test your child with various AAC devices and make a recommendation for which device your child was able to work well with.
  • 2) request it to be a part of therapy
  • 3) amend your child’s IEP to include said device. Specify if you are able to take it home and what apps are allowed if it is a smart device. refer to How I do it: AAC in the IEP
grants

If all else fails, grants are often available to get an AAC for your special needs kiddo. Look around, ask your caseworker and providers. Hospital affiliated social workers can also be a help. I didn’t list ones that only serve specific counties as the list would be too long. Be sure to check in your local area if these don’t work for you.

iPads

Little Bear Gives accepts applications for fully loaded iPads for children with CVI (Cortical Visual Impairment)

Different Needz does fundraising throughout the year to provide grants for DME for children.

Cerner Charitable Foundation, formally known as First Hand Foundation, offers grant funding for medical costs, equipment, vehicle modifications, or displacement.

Friends of Man helps with DME, glasses, dentures, hearing aids, etc.

Autism Care Today is a grant program specifically for children with Autism to get iPads and other assistive devices, ABA therapy, safety equipment (like GPS trackers), social skills learning, and special needs summer schools.

Danny’s Wish raises money so they can assist with children with Autism getting iPads.

National Autism Association has grants for a 32 gb iPad, extra protection plan, the Avatalker AAC app, and a protective case.

not a grant, but Apple offers a Trade in program for old devices when purchasing a new one.

speech generating device

Different Needz does fundraising throughout the year to provide grants for DME for children.

Cerner Charitable Foundation, formally known as First Hand Foundation, offers grant funding for medical costs, equipment, vehicle modifications, or displacement.

Friends of Man helps with DME, glasses, dentures, hearing aids, etc.

Small Steps in Speech offers grants for AAC excluding iPads.

AAC Funding Help lists insurances known to regularly approve SGD and other ways.

your friendly, neighborhood Charities

If all else fails, you may need to contact a local charity who may help with funding or fundraising. Another option is a service club, they are designed to serve their communities. Like Lions and Shriners and Elks. Oh my!

I’d say look in your local yellow pages to see what clubs are in the area, but that would be dating myself.

Important Update!! 12-19-21:

There is a free app available to use across all platforms. It is not customizable and requires internet access as it is via the browser, but it is a good alternative while you are working on getting an AAC device.

In closing:

I know this post was long, boring, and tedious, but I am hoping I helped in some way.

Enjoy your holidays and stay safe out there. Deal with insurance stuff next year. ~wink~

Can’t catch a break and other holiday antics.


Thing 2 has had a setback, again. We believe it was triggered by a huge cyst in one of her sinuses, which turned into a massive sinus infection and another ear infection. Not to mention all the antibiotics and steroids. We are hoping to have it drained in the near future.

Poor thing is dealing with severe pain in her sinuses, her face swells on that side, dizziness, and constant headaches. It has affected her eating as she likes spicy foods. What happens when you eat spicy foods? Your nose will run. Hers cannot as the cyst is blocking the drainage to the nose, thus just causing more swelling. Ug.

In addition to that, she’s had neurological symptoms. Her Tourettes was out of control in October, we thought she was having seizures, she forgot how to do almost all of her school work routines and even how to play her instrument (she did regain her ability to play, but the rest is still suffering). It’s been a really rough time. She even couldn’t perform ADL’s for a couple of weeks. Doctors wanted her hospitalized, but our local children’s hospital converted half the wards into Covid wings. Because she was having neurological and psychological symptoms, they wanted her in the psych part of the hospital, but they were shut down to teen patients, sending all others to strictly psych hospitals (which doesn’t help when symptoms are caused by medical issues).

Answers, Finally:

However, on the bright side, with all these urgent appointments with specialists, we FINALLY have a diagnosis for her wax and wane symptoms. Functional Neurological Disorder. We have been looking for a diagnosis for 12.5 years.

“We know very little about the brain. We know about connections, but we don’t know how information is processed…”

Neurobiologist Lu Chen, PhD

The brief description is Functional Neurological Disorder is a disorder in the somatic nervous system, that’s the system where the brain and body communicate for sensory input (the 5 senses) and voluntary movement. They’re not sure why there is an issue on the somatic nervous system, but each person has their own triggers. Some people have this reaction in result to emotional stress, some to physical stress or illness, others to medications, some to heightened emotional states (like excitement). Thing 2’s triggers are illness and some medications. In her case, imagine that you would have pain from an infection in your ear. She often doesn’t realize there is an issue until it ruptures. While she should have a fever, she rarely has one anymore, however, she trades her normal illness symptoms for neurological symptoms and psych issues. It makes no sense, but the neurosciences is in its infancy compared to other fields.

Now, over the years it was NOT classified as a neurological disorder. Remember hearing about “female hysteria”? Current neuro specialists and those who study medical history believe it was Functional Neurological Disorder. Conversion Disorder? Also FND. The problem is because it was classified as a psychiatric disorder for so long and it is being transferred to being neurological, it still carries the negative stereotypes. Spread awareness. Remember, epilepsy was once thought to be hysteria or demon possession.

Because FND has an unknown origin, there is no treatment or cure. People will have relapses that can last from days to years. The only thing that can be done is treat each symptom individually. Therapies out the wazoo, medications for the physical, neurological, and psych symptoms, assistive devices if needed. It can be as disabling as Multiple Sclerosis and because of the stigma, very lonely.

Other news:

Thanks to autoimmune issues, I’m having to completely change my diet. So if anyone needs some tips about minimal salt, 0 saturated fats, and 0 added sugar, but NOT have your meals be depressing and taste like dogfood, I’m relearning how to cook.

This meant I was struggling for Thanksgiving. I gave up and made a buffet with tacos, burritos, and fajitas. Everything I could have except the full fat sour cream and the cheese blend. I didn’t make the cheese, sour cream, or tortillas, but I made everything else. I made the taco meat with turkey, so that counts, right? Tilapia, shrimp, mango salsa (don’t knock it), guacamole, salsa… It may be our go to Thanksgiving meal. LOL All the kids ate it.

Now, what to do for Christmas?

When is the next post?

I’ve been working on an informational post by request about health insurance (blech) and things you can get through them or via other means. The most common question is iPads. Since many insurance programs start at the beginning of the year, I’m hoping to dish the skinny in a day or two. Please leave a comment with any questions you may have and I will include it.

Just a Little Bit Longer… and reminiscing


This year, not only have we reached record lows in winter, but we are reaching record highs. Yay me. ~sarcasm~ During a season that would normally see drops in temps all the way into the… 80’s Fahrenheit, we are stuck hovering 100 daily. Except for the few times we get hit with the left over bands of the hurricanes as they pass through the Gulf. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the damage and devastation caused by said hurricanes.

School has already been in session for over a month for us, which means sick kids, or waiting for kids to get sick, so all plans are tentative. This month is the month for ARD meetings. I know many people dread them, but I look forward to seeing what is available to help the kids succeed in life. I don’t know how many people watched Ren & Stimpy, let alone remember the LOG song, but for the last several years, I started singing LOG with ARD… ~shrug~

LOG from Ren & Stimpy

Random fact: the LOG song is a parody of the Slinky song.

We had a scare that involved several trips to the ER because we thought Thing 2 had a collapsed lung. Thankfully, they figured out she was dislocating one of her ribs from over playing her horn. Yes, musicians can get injuries, too. A dislocated rib can mimic a collapsed lung. That was a month ago and she’s still recovering from it because that kid doesn’t slow down.

If it doesn’t start cooling down again, I’ll do another big game or two…

In the meantime…

Spinoza Bear Project

As some of you may know, I have links to items and tools for special needs kiddos on the “Links Page”. There have been a lot of amazing advancements in the way of interactive toys to help with kids on the spectrum, anxiety, or specific medical conditions. However, before these advancements, there was a tape deck bear named Spinoza. He was much simpler than the other tape deck bear of its time, Teddy Ruxpin. Spinoza’s mouth didn’t move and you only needed to turn a nob on this chest (his heart) to turn him on and adjust the volume. This bear was ahead of its time as he was developed for children with physical and emotional issues.

There were tons of fundraisers to ensure children with chronic health conditions or those undergoing major surgeries could get one. Child therapy centers would have them for children with bereavement issues or those on the spectrum. The bear often came with a book and 9 cassette tapes. He was later upgraded to a cd player and the cassettes were transferred to cd. But, sadly, the project was ended in 2006 with no record as to why.

What made this bear so special over other toys with cassettes? He delivered stories that were relevant to cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback therapy. It had never been done before, and I don’t believe it has been done since. Details are as follows (I could only find the songs and stories for 4 of them. You have no idea how disappointed I am).

  • I’m Your Friend and My Name is Spinoza – a song and story to introduce Spinoza to children and build a relationship with them.
  • Everybody Needs a Little Tenderness – anxiety reduction techniques
  • You Are all You Need to Be – self esteem and encouragement
  • Do You Wonder? – curiosity and encourages learning
  • Dream on the Water – relaxation techniques that remind me of biofeedback therapy, and it would help promote sleep (I wore this tape out, no joke)
  • Good Friends – discuses feelings and healthy relationships
  • Hold on to Me – grief and loss/bereavement
  • Breathing Healthy, Breathing Free – was originally designed with children who have lung/breathing issues in mind. Promotes positive thinking and breathing exercises
  • New Beginnings – relaxation and making healthy choices
Spinoza’s songs by Peter Himmelman

You can read about the project direct from the voice of Spinoza himself, Peter Himmelman, here.

Alice

I went down this rabbit hold because I had a Spinoza who suffered water damage when I was an adult. However, I remembered this very special bear and his tapes and I thought it might help Thing 4, as she has chronic pain (8/10) even with meds. Thus began my journey into his history and his disappearance. Even if I can’t find the bear itself, I would be thrilled if I could find the cd, but there are none in production and I can’t find any second hand (they’re coveted items).

I wonder, if there was enough hype, would Peter Himmelman would release the Spinoza “tapes”, or if he even owns the rights to them, being the voice, singer, and the songwriter.

Let me know if you had a Spinoza or your thoughts in the comments.

#bringbackSpinoza

Video Games are… good??


(Cover image by artist Walter Newton: Gallery)

For decades, we’ve heard not to play video games because they will rot your brain, just like the “boob tube”. . Video games are harmful to a child’s development. Many of these people will sit in front of a tv show or a movie, but video games are “bad”.

What if I told you video games can encourage reading? Video games can assist with physical therapy. Video games can help develop critical thinking. Video games help to combat the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Gaming in Health Care:

Gaming affects health care
Physical changes

Studies have shown that preschool children who have played with the physically interactive systems, like a Nintendo Wii, Playstation Move, or an X-Box Kinect have improved motor skills. They are often able to kick, throw, and catch balls better than their peers who have not been exposed to said gaming systems. Many hospitals, therapy centers, and some nursing homes are using the Wii, Move and Kinect as part of their physical therapy. In a study of 20 elderly Parkinson’s patients who played for three (3) months in physical therapy, they found an improvement of 55% in gait velocity, 65% in stride, and 55% in balance. ICU’s have reported due to the lower costs of the Wii, they are able to save patients money and they still see a significant improvement in the 33-64 age range. These systems are now older and thus cheaper so families can also have them at home to encourage their child to move. (You can check online or at your local gaming store that deals in older systems). This is also great for children who have to stay indoors during certain seasons due to a medical condition or severe allergies.

I do plan on doing an article on the differences between the Wii, Move, and Kinect in the future.

Boston did a study on surgeons who use microsurgery. The results showed doctors who play video games were 27% faster than those who don’t AND made 37% fewer mistakes. So now its a good thing to have a surgeon who plays video games. In another study, they found eyesight improves with video games. (They have no idea how). In children with amblyopia (crossed or lazy eye), when they play games for a year, there was 30% significant, 60% moderate improvement to the crossed eye. In addition to sight improvement, people develop the ability to differentiate between more shades of gray. (Not a book reference). People who drive at night or are pilots benefit the most from this… and the poor people asked by their partner to pick a shade of gray to paint with. The Leap Motion combined with a VR (virtual reality) headset is often used to help with Occupational Therapy and “hands on” educational and training programs. In a study using virtual table video games (like tablets) for occupational therapy over one (1) month for children ages 3-15 with motor disabilities, they found 3x improvement in fine motor skills and range of motion, especially with manipulations over door knobs, zippers, and buttons.

Brain functions

Gaming affects a variety of parts of the brain. Games can help people with decision making. RPGs (role playing games) are some of the best ones that encourage the player to make decisions, whether it’s based on strategy for gameplay or options that will change the story line. Studies show that people who play games make decisions 25% faster than those who don’t play, and they do not lose accuracy. They also found that gamers can often make 6 separate decisions and act on them within one (1) second, which is apparently four (4) times faster than the average person. (This means the non gamer makes 1.5 decisions and acts them out within a second.

The University of Rochester, New York, found that gamers are able to multitask more than six (6) separate tasks at the same time and not get confused; the average non-gamer can focus on up to four (4) tasks.

RPGs, text adventure games (old school) which are like a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, and reading game guides are excellent ways to boost reading skills. Commodore 64 had tons of the text games that are still popular to this day. Classic Reload has them available to play online.

Off topic…

Interesting fact, a popular text based game called Jewels of Darkness was involved in a lawsuit. The game is actually a series of three (3) games that were based on stories by Tolkien (Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, Simarillion, and Tales from Middle Earth). Because of this, the game was originally released as the Middle Earth Trilogy. Needless to say, they didn’t have rights to his estate and so they had to change the name.

Psychological

The University in Auckland, New Zealand, had 94 young people play a computer/mobile RPG called SPARX, designed for ages 12-19 to teach skills that are often taught in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). In many cases, the game reduced symptoms of depression more than traditional treatments. There have been other studies with others young people and the total tested is 187 to date and they have found it also helps with anxiety and anger. 44% of players recovered completely from depression, compared to 26% who have standard treatments. 60% showed a reduction of symptoms by at least 30%. Unfortunately the game is currently only available in New Zealand. I hope it is more widely available in the future.

Oxford University found that people who play Tetris right after a traumatic experience can help reduce the chance of flash backs or PTSD.

The downside to this is individuals, especially males, who only play violent video games are foundto have a decreased activity in the prefrontal lobe, which can lead to altered mood states and aggression. It can also lower their empathetic response. It’s been found that those who only play excessively violent games have more anxiety than other gamers. Also, video game addiction can lead to decreased activity in the frontal lobe.

Photo by ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.com
Gamification in Health care

These are games that encourage patients to make healthy choices. A very common version of this is apps that link to your fitness watch and such. Some are literal games that will let you trade in the steps you take for gear for your game, some are audio books that will read about an apocalypse or adventure. These often have “action scenes” that encourage you to run just like the characters in the stories do. Some are using games for behavior modification to combat childhood obesity. This has been particularly effective in the preteen range. They get more game time in trade for eating 2-3 more servings of fruits and veggies a day and less junk food. Results are typically seen within 2 months.

Zen games are becoming increasingly popular, these often have techniques that are taught in Bio Feedback Therapy. Some biofeedback centers use games to encourage children to relax. For example, we’ve seen some that are linked to the child’s heartrate and breathing that had a butterfly or a bunny come out and move when the child was relaxed.

There are some amazing innovations in electronics to help children, whether for education, calming, communication, or tracking.

Jerry the Bear is designed for children ages 4-9+ with Type 1 diabetes. He has lots of features so he children can relate. He is available for purchase (and donation) here.
My Special Aflac Duck is amazing. It is designed for children with cancer, although it is gaining popularity for those being treated with sickle-cell anemia.
Sidekicks was designed to he a holographic personal assistant. He’s been found to be helpful with individuals with Autism, Alzheimer’s, STEM education, and just plain fun. The Kickstarter is scheduled to start this month…
Purrble was launched late 2020 and it’s been an amazing tool in helping children with anxiety. It’s technically an interactive toy rather than a video game. There is not an app for it yet.
Gululu may be pricy, but they help children who actively refuse to drink water. Their water intake directly affects their virtual pet .
Jennie, although not a video game aspect, is an awesome interactive toy. It was designed with people suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, however, they are exploring it’s use for other people with disabilities who cannot care for an animal, but still crave the interaction. It was brought to life by Tombot and the Jim Henson Creature Shop.

Education:

In this day in age, many people have heard about educational games. Some commonly known ones are:

The Oregon Trail (Link will let you play online version. Oregon Trail has had many updates and expansions.) 1992 Remastered version.

Tinybop offers a wide array of STEM games for mobile platforms. We have several of them. Thing 2’s favorite was the human body. The apps explore anatomy, physics, nature, space, and engineering.

Note: the human anatomy doesn’t show the urogenital system unless you purchase it.

Toca Boca apps… when my kids were younger, they had all of the older ones. Toca Boca designs apps for younger children, or those with special needs. Many of these apps encourage human interaction so children who have social issues can learn from it (examples include Toca Store, Toca Birthday Party, Toca Tea Party). They designed a whole Toca Hair Salon series (I think there’s 5 games total) that can help with children who experience anxiety from the hair dresser. Tons of imaginative games, and even science games like Toca Lab, which is based on the periodic table of elements, and Toca Lab 2: Plants, which explores cross germination. (Update: I just got word they have also started releasing a box like Sago Mini.)

Sago Mini was also a favorite in our house. They design apps for toddlers and preschoolers that help them explore their world and emotions. They also introduced the Sago Mini Box which include playsets and activities that relate to the Sago Mini world. Sago Mini is a subsidiary of Toca Boca, so you know the quality is there, and it’s easy to transition to the next stage of play with Toca Boca.

And the list keeps going. There are online games that mimic school curriculums, games for subjects, games for typing.

One of the ways we help with education on “non educational games” is to have the kids design their own cheat sheets for the game. This is something my parents started with me. So I have PRIMA guides (which encourages reading and following directions) and tons of guides and maps I made myself.

In not so short, video games can be beneficial when used in the right way. If you are looking for ways to download games to your computer, our favorites are GOG and Steam for more modern games and indie games. Our favorite for puzzle games, including match 3, hidden object games, literal puzzles, and word games is Big Fish Games.

Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or recommendations for types of games.

I’m now headed off to see if I die from dysentery again.

School’s out! … or is it?


School is out for the summer, but it doesn’t feel like it yet. LOL. This first week of summer, I have spent more time running back and forth between schools than I did when school was in session. We have camp for the extracurriculars, summer school because oops, testing because we all noticed a decline in the functioning in one kiddo…

So I’ll put some randomness up here for entertainment until we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming. (click on photos to enlarge them.)

Boring….

Boring stuff first, one of the things I get asked a lot is how I organize medications for a large house… off brand Tupperware. Everything is clearly labeled. We have an entire cabinet in the kitchen dedicated to meds, no joke. They are the ones that are used regularly, so it makes since to have them in the kitchen so they can be taken with food or drink or however they are supposed to be given. We have another cabinet in the bathroom with the emergency kits: glucometer, extensive first aid past bandaids (bandages, wraps, splints, oh my!), nebulizers, etc.

Ooooh, Shiny!

Something fun!

So my husband and I decided to back the expansion for MixTape Massacre before Covid hit. The game was supposed to release right before Halloween. We were stoked becausze we have a Halloween gathering every year and once the kids go to bed, we often game. (NOTE: This game is NOT ok for kids. I can do a review on it another time). Needless to say, it never happened… but we got the game, got some goodies like a character, a pin, and our names in the instruction book.

Goals…

During the forever quarantine, I came across this gem. It’s a canvas print of Atari games. I’ve played most of these listed. Have you played any of these? What is your favorite Atari game?

Patience is a virtue. And nothing teaching a child patience like having them wait for a video game to load on the Commodore 64. the photo on the left says, “Loading time is approximately two and one half minutes.” LMAO. I remember there were some games that we had time enough to make a sandwich, eat it, come back, and it might be loaded.

Educational:

If you have a science nut or someone who is struggling in science (middle school or higher), Theodore Gray writes awesome books about subjects in science and makes it easier to learn. The layout is aesthetically pleasing. We have the first two books in his series, Molecules and Elements. He has since come out with Reactions and How Things Work. Surprisingly, on his website, you can get autographed copies of these books for $30. Holy Toledo! He even has board books for an intro to science for kids. I love it. Not to mention the clear acrylic model kits, and other randomness you can get. The gif on the right and at the top are models from his site. So cool!

It’s been said English is the hardest language to learn… and Mandarin Chinese. This book makes fun of the language while helping kids remember how to pronounce words that are outliers or exceptions to the rules. P is for Pterodactyl by Raj Halder and Chris Carpenter.

Have a child that’s not interested in books unless there are pictures? We had several. The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak helped greatly. Mind you, you have to introduce this book by reading it out loud to them. After a few reads, our book haters were reading this out loud to each other, to us, to their stuffed animals, anyone who would listen.

I guess, stay tuned. I may say something brilliant at any moment.

The Mimic


Quick background story, I took what was supposed to be a short break from doing game reviews because I was prepping for a data transfer between computers:

Curse you!!

I have been delaying the inevitable for a while as my desktop computer slowly tries to die. It was top of the line for its time, but its time was 10 years ago. In recent years, my computer has started throwing “no boot disc” errors. usually in the middle of the night, sometimes while I’m in the middle of something. I’ve found workarounds to make my computer work again, but I suspect this won’t work forever (as is the case with my mom’s computer, the exact same model and it ate itself last year… however, I wasn’t there to do the resurrecting.) I didn’t want to get another computer until I could get one comparable to the quality of mine back in the day. I have things to do!

So the new computer came… and it had no hard drive. For the computer illiterate, it is the memory storage. It would be like buying a really good smart phone with an excellent camera, speakers, beautiful display screen, but there is no memory storage. No room for photos, no room for apps, and it can’t even function. But it looks pretty!

So off it went to the manufacturer’s and that phone call took my husband over 2 hours just to reach the right person. We are still waiting on the “repair”.

While we waited… we hatched a plan

We decided we wanted a fun way to store our specialty dice (meaning the dice outside your typical six sided dice with pips/dots on them), so we decided to make a mimic.

I have worked with pottery and ceramics before, even took a pottery class in college. My professor disliked everything I did involving the pottery wheel. His disapproval was delivered softly, “Hey, that’s pretty not bad. Put a hole in it and make it a planter because it’s not good for anything else.” This went on for months until we were allowed to sculpt. I sculpted a koi fish and his approval was worse than his disapproval. “Woah! Who made this?” I told him I did. “No, seriously, who made it?” I had to sculpt a few more pieces before he believed it was my work.

I dedicate this piece to my old professor who didn’t believe I did the work… said half jokingly.

Details:

We got some inexpensive wooden chests from the craft store and some air dry clay. I didn’t feel comfortable using the polymer clay with wood… I know it can be done at low temps over a long period of time, but I don’t feel like monopolizing an oven all day for that yet and it is getting too warm to have the oven on all day. I don’t own a kiln to use traditional clay, nor would the wood survive temps over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (over 1000 degrees Celsius).

So I made the conscious decision to take longer and do air dry, without fully being prepared for everything that it would entail.

this is a backdraft, btw

I sculpted directly into the chest after disassembling it. Good thing is it has a firm grip on the wood. Bad thing: the moisture was now sealed between the clay and the wood. Drying time for 1 cm of clay is approx 24 hours. Of course this is a lot more than 1 cm and this dumb dumb put one side of it against wood.

For those unfamiliar with pottery and ceramics, natural clay has to be dry before being able to do anything else. If it isn’t, you will end up sealing in the moisture and the clay will essentially rot from the inside out.

It thoroughly gave Thing 1 the creeps.

bacteria and mold growth on wet clay

After four days of the mimic’s eyes taunting me every time I walked by, I took a hair dryer to it.

Side note:

I asked Thing 1 to model her frenulum for me as my hands were covered in clay and I couldn’t look in a mirror. Thing one told me to “Stop being weird and go look it up.” I asked Thing 2 and she gladly modeled. So yes, the tongue is so creepy in thanks to Thing 2.

Anterior view of open mouth showing underside of tongue. SOURCE: Original art. Fairview.org

The moisture in the box caused the wood to crack and the clay drying causes shrinkage… causing cracks. It was an endless cycle of repairs and hair dryer for a little while.

Bob Ross was amazing

Finally!!!! I was able to paint! Now, painting with acrylics on natural clay is very different from using a glaze and firing it and also different from painting polymer clay. It was being absorbed into the clay as I painted thus drying almost instantaneously. There was no room for error. Blending was a nightmare.

Adjusting shadows and highlights often took several tries. “Oops, too dark, now it’s too light. Great, now it looks cartoony.”

I used a polyurethane seal in multiple layers (thicker on the bottom) to a) seal the clay from exposure to moisture in the future b) to make a protective shell c) used a high gloss formula to make the inside of the mimic perpetually moist. It turned out great.

Did you know?

An upwards of 20% of the American population have a word aversion to the word “moist”. Word aversion is also known as Logomisia. Greek – ‘logos’ = word and ‘misia’ = hatred or disgust for.

Top words in Logomisia: moist, drool, cheese, suck, squab, cornucopia, navel/naval, brainchild, crud, slacks, crevice, fudge, and ointment
Lily from How I Met Your Mother, also hates the word “moist”

I had already stained the wood by this point along with using a gold leaf paint (far easier than using gold leaf foil). However, I had planned ahead by using the painters tape to make sure everything was safe while I worked on the inside… I did not take into consideration that the gold leaf would be even too delicate for the painters tape. When I peeled off the the tape, the gold leaf came off in chunks and what was left flapped in the breeze. (Remember when I had just said it was sooooo much easier than using gold leaf foil?)

After re-doing the gold leaf, I painted the fixtures to make them look oxidized (since this chest was supposed to be a water chest). I reassembled the chest and found that the drying process shifted the way the two pieces fit together. The frenulum ended up rubbing on the upper gum and the paint wore off a little (I’ll fix that another day) and the chest ended up with a gape between its… teeth. I had to adjust where I put the closure so I could latch it. And then I sprayed it with a clear, non gloss acrylic sealer and am calling it done. (Please watch the video for the final results. It’s a short video, I promise).

My thoughts

I would not recommend this for anyone who has never done handicrafts. If you are learning any of the techniques I used, this is not a beginner project.

Was it difficult? Yes it was. Do I plan on making more even more grotesque in some way? I sure do.

Fact:

The first mimic appeared in D&D in 1974, but wasn’t fully “fleshed out” until 1977 in the Monster Manual.

That’s right, the mimic is older than Star Wars.
Discussion

Please answer in the comments, on our Facebook page, or Twitter.

Where did you see your first mimic?

Where is your favorite mimic?

The Handeater

Q: Where did you see your first mimic?

A: My first encounter with a mimic was in the 1991 Sega Game: Shining in the Darkness. It was known as a Handeater. It was probably the creepiest compared to the others in the 90’s from the Dragon Quest series, Azure Dreams (which was never a chest), etc. There were some other dungeon crawlers I played with my dad that were under the D&D franchise (on the Commodore 64 and Amiga 2000) although I don’t remember their names nor did I personally encounter them.

Q: Where is your favorite mimic?

A: I honestly don’t have a favorite. I do like the old school style ones because I like old school games. I think my least exciting mimic is from the Breath of Fire series, even though it’s one of my favorite game series.

I’ve been told by several little ones to list the Mimic Queen from World of Final Fantasy because she’s pretty.

Mimic Queen – World of Final Fantasy