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ATU594 – Ange Anderson Part 1

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guest:
Ange Anderson M.Ed
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—– Transcript Starts Here —–

Ange Anderson:
Hi, this is Ange Anderson, and I’m an advisor specializing in therapeutic and technological interventions and innovations for those who are neurodiverse in schools and in families in the UK. I’m an advisor for a global VR company and writer of such books about technological and therapeutic interventions, plus articles and papers related to [inaudible 00:00:25], and I’m also a conference speaker. This is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to Episode 594 of Assistive Technology Update. It is scheduled to be released on October 14th, 2022.

Josh Anderson:
On today’s show, I am super excited to present part one of our interview with Ange Anderson. She’s on to talk about all kinds of amazing things to use different technologies with individuals with different needs in order to really maximize their learning potential, and really their potential in life. As I said, this is only part one of our interview, as it ran a little bit long and I didn’t really want to cut much out. So we will have the second part next week. So make sure to tune back in.

Josh Anderson:
As I let you know a few weeks ago, we are moving a lot of the equipment over here in the podcasting studio. Most of the stuff used in the studio, including the computer that stored all the information, was pretty much original from when the show started over 11 years ago. So some of that stuff is being updated. So if you do notice any difference in sound, anything like that, please just know that we are trying to work through that and get everything put back together here before long. Hopefully, we will have everything up and working well, but I promise to do our best to still come out every Friday, as we have for the last 594 Fridays.

Josh Anderson:
Also, along with that, listeners, do not forget that I’m always looking for new ideas for guests. In fact, Ange came as a suggestion by someone else to have as a guest, and I must admit I truly enjoyed our conversation. So if you know someone who would make a great guest, if you have a suggestion, a comment, a complaint, or really anything at all, don’t forget, reach out to us at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124, or drop us a line on Twitter at INDATA Project. Now let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Maybe you’re looking for some new podcast to listen to. Well, make sure to check out our sister podcast, Accessibility Minute, and ATFAQ, or Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. If you’re super busy and don’t have time to listen to a full podcast, be sure to check out Accessibility Minute, our one-minute-long podcast that gives you just a little taste of something assistive-technology-based so that you’re able to get your assistive technology fix without taking up the whole day. Hosted by Tracy Castillo, this show comes out weekly.

Josh Anderson:
Our other show is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, or ATFAQ. On Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, Brian Norton leads our panel of experts, including myself, Belva Smith, and our own Tracy Castillo, as we try to answer your assistive technology questions. This show does rely on you, so we’re always looking for new questions, comments, or even your answers on assistive technology questions. So remember, if you’re looking for more assistive technology podcasts to check out, you can check out our sister shows, Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ, wherever you get your podcasts now, including Spotify and Amazon Music.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners, our guest today has been in education for a while and has been using a lot of the technology we discuss on this show in their practice. We’re very excited to welcome Ange Anderson on to tell us about how she’s implemented technology to assist students with learning differences and a bunch of other cool stuff. Ange, welcome to the show.

Ange Anderson:
Hi, Josh. Thank you for having me on your show.

Josh Anderson:
Yes. I’ve been looking very, very forward to this conversation, but before we get into talking about everything else, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your background?

Ange Anderson:
Yes. Well, I was for a number of years, head of a specialist school catering for students aged from 2 to 11 with profound or severe or complex or emotional learning differences. And I led that school for 10 years and it was a brand-new school. And previous to that school, three other schools closed, because they were very, very old schools and they didn’t have any facilities and so on, and this new school had to open.

Ange Anderson:
The staff from the three previous schools weren’t knowledgeable about the different students from each of the different schools, plus we were introducing a lot more students that had been refused in those schools previously to that. So students with severe autism or students with challenging behavior and so on. The previous schools had students who had profound learning differences, although they didn’t have the resources to cater for them. So there was no hydrotherapy pool, no therapies and so on.

Ange Anderson:
And the biggest school, a very large school, was for moderate learning difficulties, and so the staff at that school didn’t have any idea of students who were maybe [inaudible 00:05:51] mobile, would have a very low cognitive functioning of maybe months, and were physically disabled, possibly. And they had no idea of how to approach those and actually weren’t very keen on that.

Ange Anderson:
So I had to interview about 150 staff and then decide on the staff that we’d be able to employ in this new school, and then on top of that, obviously, had to train all these staff in the ways of working with these students. Plus, I also wanted to introduce lots of different new technologies and innovative therapies and so on for these students because if you’re going to have a special school, there has to be a purpose in it. Otherwise, why aren’t those students in mainstream schools?

Ange Anderson:
Now, my argument is I’m all for inclusion to a certain degree, but if that student is being held back by being in a mainstream school, where you’ve sat them in a wheelchair and you are thinking, “Oh, this is great, they’re here and they’re with other children who are very capable, and they’re sitting there and enjoying themselves,” well, actually no. They might not be, because they may need to go in a hydrotherapy pool or they may need vibroacoustic therapy or they may need music therapy, or they may need 101 different kinds of therapeutic and technological interventions to help them to be able to contribute and to help them to be in the right frame of mind in the first place to contribute.

Ange Anderson:
So I needed to train these new staff in all these different therapeutic and technological interventions so that our students would have the very best education. And that may be alongside a mainstream school, and certainly some of our students would go into a mainstream school for certain lessons if it was appropriate, or else sometimes they may be based completely in a specialist school that caters for all the different therapies and technologies that they need straight away, and that enables them to be out of that darn wheelchair.

Ange Anderson:
A wheelchair’s very, very good for them to be able to move about and get about in. But it’s not the be-all and end-all. In fact, they need to be able to go and do things that they want to do. And I can tell you that in their old situation, where they may just have been taken out of class for physiotherapy, you would see the look on those children’s faces and they were dreading it, because there’s not many students, or adults actually, who like having physiotherapy. But you show them a sign that’s saying that they’re going to the hydrotherapy pool, and their face lights up. You show them a picture that they’re going to have some music therapy; again, their face lights up. So it’s all about ensuring that our students have what they want to do and what enables them to have a good quality of life.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, definitely. And you brought up some great points there that I feel like we could probably talk about the whole time, and we will definitely run out of time. But yeah, just the specialized program for folks and being able to give them the most help that they can possibly have. And I know here in the States as well, there’s always a big push for integration and having everyone in the same school, but as you said, just having someone sitting in the classroom with their peers is not actually giving them everything that they completely and totally need.

Josh Anderson:
So Ange, we talk a lot on this show about the technology piece, and today I’m really excited because we get to focus on the practice of implementing the technology, and in your work, and as you mentioned there, you introduced a lot of different therapeutic and technological interventions to support the pupils that you serve. I want to get into talking about some of these, and probably about as many as we can get in, but I thought we’d talk, just because I know there’s a big push in a lot of places, with VR and just all the different things it can do. So you’ve done some pretty neat stuff with VR with your students. Can you tell us about that?

Ange Anderson:
Yes, yes. I would say that our own private inner world could be full of anxieties, hopes and desires that may not be met by traditional education, which is designed to meet the needs of the economy and the outside world. The traditional way of learning is often based on memorizing certain facts and formulas and regurgitating them for exams. But in this technological age, we can access more information from the internet in an instant than we could ever memorize in a lifetime.

Ange Anderson:
In my many years as head teacher of a special school, a major concern for myself and staff were the communication difficulties and the mental health challenges students suffered as a result of their conditions and also because of the neurotypical world outside of themselves that they have to contend with. So what I suggested is that we use technology to help neurodivergents gain control in a neurotypical world.

Ange Anderson:
Students with learning differences, in my experience, have shown high levels of comfort with technology, for many reasons. Computer programs are predictable, logical, and can provide an intellectual outlet for those with specialized interests. We found that our students born into the fourth industrial revolution were comfortable with technology. What they did find uncomfortable, though, was actual real-life situations. I wanted to find out how we could use technology to make life easier for parents and staff, but more importantly for the students. How could we use the technology they seem to enjoy to make real-life situations easier for students with learning differences?

Ange Anderson:
I wanted a room that children with learning differences could enter, press a switch, and the room becomes an interactive version of a place that gives them concerns and may send them into a meltdown. The local crossing, for instance. The local supermarket, the train station, the dentist, et cetera. Safe and secure with a trusted experienced teaching assistant, the student could play back the scene as much as they needed to until they felt comfortable enough to visit its real-life counterpart.

Ange Anderson:
VR gives us the concept of presence, the feeling of being somewhere, our brain’s way of telling us and experience is real. VR activates the motor cortex in our sensory system in a way that’s similar to real-life experience. We found that majority of our students couldn’t tolerate wearing a VR headset, either from sensory or physical impairments or sensory processing issues. This restricted them for doing so, although we did use it with some students and that was more for general subjects, but hence, we needed the use of a multisensory room.

Ange Anderson:
Handheld controls and haptics can determine the level of vibrations used, so that students who are blind can actually experience VR, because VR doesn’t stand for visual reality, but virtual reality. And so it’s possible to create a virtual reality of what some students have to encounter on a daily basis, perhaps, if required, using auditory input and haptic input more.

Ange Anderson:
In the spring of 2016, I asked the innovative technology firm in the UK, OMi, O-M-I, to install their 360-degree multi-sensory room, but I wanted it with a difference. I didn’t need the maths and literacy backgrounds they had. We had whiteboards in the classroom that would do that, interactive whiteboards. I did want the relaxing beach scenes that they had and similar scenes that all students can benefit from and meditate on. But I also wanted the background scenes that parents have requested.

Ange Anderson:
Omi agreed to try, and in the summer recess, they installed a multisensory room and some 3D interactive background scenes, but they were a German shopping mall, a European underground, and we felt we needed scenes to be more personalized for our locality and our students. So Omi agreed to train our staff in producing our own 360-degree scenes, which they did.

Ange Anderson:
I studied research on the use of VR and I produced risk-assessments policies, a protocol for the use of the room, consent forms, recording forms, and all the necessary documentation to ensure we were covered as a school to deliver what could be regarded as exposure therapy, but we named it VR therapy.

Ange Anderson:
The staff and parents voted for learning to a cross local road as their first VR experience, and our students had experienced difficulties when they were expected to wait at the local pedestrian crossing, because it had a waiting time of three minutes. Now, three minutes is quite a long time to wait for students who were already anxious.

Ange Anderson:
One of our HLTAs, higher-level teaching assistants, Helen, visited the local crossing, took 360-degree photos, and made recordings of all the sounds encountered there. Samantha, our technology lead at the school, transferred these onto a program on the VR computer that was connected to the rest of the VR equipment in the multisensory room. This produced a seamless 3D version of the crossing, with relevant sounds and actions projected onto the three walls of the room, so that students were surrounded by a real-life situation, but in the safety of school.

Ange Anderson:
It was decided that 30 students aged from 7 to 11 would benefit from this opportunity, and consent forms plus useful information was sent on to the parents, and all the parents consented to the trial. The panoramic view of the junction was projected onto the three walls, the colored spots on the floor were beams of light projected from the ceiling, and each had an image attached, a moving image, along with an accompanying sound where relevant. These were activated by the student, with or without support, by passing a handheld controller across the appropriate color beam to break the beam.

Ange Anderson:
Each student was offered an individual session of 10 to 15 minutes in length once a week, spanning a period of eight weeks. These sessions were split into three stages, and during this time, each student was encouraged to act out crossing the road in that room. They were required to listen out for all the sights and sounds, they learned how to press the button to control and activate the traffic-light system, and they learned to wait patiently as they looked and listened continually.

Ange Anderson:
At the third stage, students were taken to the actual crossing to see whether the VR session had been successful or not in helping them to cross the road in a safe and timely manner. During one week, each student was taken to the crossing with staff and the success or failure of the program was observed, and we had 100% success rate.

Ange Anderson:
The VR room has been used to create many scenarios since. For instance, one of our boys was always late for school because his parents had to do a two-mile detour to avoid any traffic lights on the way to school. If they tried to drive that route to school, he would have a behavioral meltdown that was dangerous in the confined space of a car. Helen joined them on a couple of school runs to assess the problem and it took us just two weeks of daily 20-minute use of the VR room where he completed the VR journey to school operating the traffic lights. He was given control of the situation that he had previously felt unable to control. From that day onwards, they were able to use the short route to school, and Sam entered the school a very happy and relaxed boy.

Ange Anderson:
I have supported other schools in the setting up of a VR room. An assistive technology means that all students can access the VR room. It may be they use it to prepare them for a visit to somewhere they usually find stressful, such as the dentist, or it may be used for meditation purposes. I know of a specialist college who uses their new VR room to prepare their students for work experience, and VR is also supporting their employability curriculum, with them being able to film workplaces prior to students leaving the school site for them to explore in the safety of the classroom, therefore supporting the anxiety of new environments and demands.

Ange Anderson:
Another school partnered with a company called VR Therapy, strangely enough, which is run by [inaudible 00:18:08] disability nurse. In conjunction with them, they had their first group of students access a six-week program, which had a significant impact on anxiety reduction, social confidence, and one of their students overcoming a lifelong fear.

Ange Anderson:
There are now many such companies as the VR Therapy that are springing up on the internet. These are all in recent years now. Breathetherapies.co.uk is one of them, but of course, it’s best to use the search engine to find such companies in your own country, or do it yourself as we did, because you have got the expertise within the school. And you do know yourselves, and the parents know their own children the best; you do know where the areas of concern are for those students. And you have got staff who hopefully you have trained, and I appreciate it takes a lot of training, but you have trained in all of these different conditions that our students have, and that is where a lot of money goes, or should go, I believe, in school. The best thing you can spend your money on in school is CPD for staff on training them in all these different innovations and interventions.

Ange Anderson:
So the NHS over in Great Britain has also jumped on the bandwagon now and is providing a therapy service designed help patients overcome anxious social avoidance. And they use that across the NHS in Great Britain now, and their vision is to turn the tide on life-interrupting mental illnesses, pushing the boundaries of clinical excellence and new technology to transform lives. I know it works. It worked in my school, and I’m quite confident the NHS will have success with it.

Ange Anderson:
The immersive nature of VR provides powerful new ways to engage users and help them to regain confidence, feel safe and overcome trigger situations. Virtual reality offers a safe and controlled environment where they can try out new things without any risk of harm. That is what virtual reality is about. Also, at the moment, I’m having a meeting in a couple of days’ time with some students for America, actually, from university in America, who want to help their neurodivergent students within the college. So they’re doing a project and they just want to chat to me about how they can develop it at the university. So that’s quite an exciting one to look at as well.

Josh Anderson:
No, and I can just see so many uses, and you mentioned so many of them, just the anxiety of a new place, learning new skills. I mean, you brought up jobs, you brought up the college wanting to look at it as well, the university, and just navigating a new school is stressful for anyone. But yeah, you add in a mental illness or disability, anything like that, and it can become almost debilitating, actually, trying to be able to do that.

Josh Anderson:
So I can see where this can help, especially in that controlled environment. I love the stories that you use for some of the folks that you were able to help as well. That is really great, and I never knew, so I always love learning something new, that you can actually do all that yourself with the cameras and everything. That is absolutely great. Was there anything that you used it for that was maybe a surprise, maybe something that you weren’t really thinking of to be able to use the virtual reality for that was maybe a little bit surprising for you?

Ange Anderson:
We were a primary-aged special school for 2 to 11, and by the time the children have been there a number of years, they’re very, very happy there. They don’t really want to move, and some of our staff have always been concerned about them moving on to the next school. And one of the staff said, “Why don’t we do a virtual reality of the new school, meeting the teachers, all that thing, but through virtual reality?”

Ange Anderson:
And we had had difficulty, as lots of schools do, with the transition. Transition is always difficult for students who are neurodivergent. And so we did do that. We recreated the secondary school they were going to. The staff were all on there, waving to them and so on as they went into each class, and saying hello and introducing the class and all this kind of thing. The trip to the school and all these things that they would find difficult were all on that.

Ange Anderson:
I went to the secondary school then in the September, the first day they started the school and we had 100% success of all those students going smoothly into their new classes. No problems at all. I mean, that had been unheard of before.

Ange Anderson:
And then again, one of my staff had said some of the children had difficulty with actually going to see Father Christmas, and the parents said they’re quite scared of Father Christmas, and one of the staff had, could we go and film the Father Christmas that a lot of our children go to see and put that in there? And we did it, and again, that was a great success.

Ange Anderson:
The dentist, even the dental colleges and all the rest, wrote up about it, because our children have always had problems with going to the dentist. And that again, was 100% success rate by recreating exactly the same as the dental surgeries that they go to. Whichever ones the children go to is the ones we filmed, and then we reproduce them in the room, and from then onwards, they were successful in going to the dentist.

Ange Anderson:
So it doesn’t really matter what it is you are recreating, it’s just ensuring that you make sure the staff are trained in it. Now, as I said earlier, there are companies springing up everywhere now who’ll deliver it for you, but obviously, I’m always looking at ways to raise funds, or I did when I was in that job, raise funds from charities and all the rest of it, and you’re constantly trying to find money to do all these things. But as well as that, train all the staff.

Ange Anderson:
Now, I firmly believe in giving the staff another string to their bows at work by giving them these qualifications in all these different things. It gives them confidence. It makes them feel good about themselves. They can do things that some of us can’t do now, because they’ve been trained in it and maybe other people haven’t been. So it’s all about ensuring that you’ve trained the staff to deliver, to do a damn good job, and you don’t really need to go out of house, but you can, if you want to. If you can’t invest in your staff for whatever reasons, because there are loads of reasons why some schools can’t do that, if you can’t do that and you can’t do it through your own staff, then there are companies that will do it for you. But I tend to think that you’re then spending even more money when you could be investing that in a different therapy yet again.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners, unfortunately, that is all the time we have for our interview with Ange Anderson today, but I do promise to have the rest of our exciting interview next week. So if you want to listen to the rest of our interview with Ange Anderson, please tune in next week to our show. And if you’d like to learn more about Ange, about her books or speaking and everything else, you can check that out at angeandersontherapeutic.co.uk. We’ll put a link to that down in the show notes so that you can easily click on it. But again, if you’d like to find out more about Ange Anderson, first of all, tune in next week for our conclusion to this interview. But also check out angeandersontherapeutic.co.uk. That’s A-N-G-E-A-N-D-E-R-S-O-N-T-H-E-R-A-P-E-U-T-I-C.co.uk. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you back here next week.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124, send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject. Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation, or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com. A special thanks to Nicole Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners or this host. This was your Assistive Technology Update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

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