Connection and Communication Techniques for Families & Special Education with Sylvia & Jarrid Hall and Michael Nakkula, Ph.D.

Connection and Communication Techniques for Families & Special Education with Sylvia & Jarrid Hall and Michael Nakkula, Ph.D.

Hi this is Pamela worth with the encourage your Wellness podcast and today I'm so thrilled to have three different people with us Sylvia Jared and Mike you know a lot of times we focus on practitioners and today we're actually focusing on things that are practical in real life that can help families especially those with special EDS so thank you for being here and I would love to pass it off to Sylvia to talk a little bit about your background and and we'll go from there.

Sylvia : Thank you Pamela and thank you so much for having us here I'm Sylvia Hall I am co-founder of gavon and I am a mom to two teenage kids who are the inspiration behind the work we do with gavon my background is 15 plus years of marketing and when our oldest son was born and diagnosed with special education need I took some time off my career and really focused on helping him navigate the world of Education in and outside of school and so I dove into taking classes on family engagement on diagnosis and have bought the path hand in hand I think and inspiration behind and I will pass it to my co-founder and husband Jared Hall

Jared : Thanks syia yeah so my name is Jared Hall a co-founder of Gabon my background is more on the you know I've been SP I spent about 15 20 years in technology and business development and startups and large Fortune 500 companies and my connection to Gabon really became came out of a desire desperation to connect with my guy who learns differently we can go into that more but really most most of my work has been about solving problems that other people couldn't and kabon was just one of those problems that had never been solved before that we think we've come with a great solution to help families connect especially those families with special education children

Mike : Thank you Jared and and Sylvia for the for creating Gabon I'm Mike Knuck I'm an educational and developmental researcher and practitioner I'm a professor here at the University of Pennsylvania and my work focuses primarily on studying interventions that help young people connect in school connect in society connect with their families so my connection with Gabon is that I see it as a a unique tool for helping students connect with parents really across the spectrum of learning challenges whether they're high Achievers struggling with identity issues in school or younger students challenged by learning difficulties or other social difficulties Gabon serves as a a unique way for for Building Bridges across students parents and Educators.

Pamela : Thanks Mike so stepping away from from just you know we're not trying to promote Gabon as much as we are trying to promote connections and and bringing special needs and families together tell us what Gabon is and then Mike maybe you can kind of layer in kind of what that means from from practicality and research 

Sylvia : sure I'll kick it off and then and then if Jared can back me up and then and Mike can bring his expertise as he always does I think I'll just start with the Simplicity of of what we do we understand that it's all about Connections it's all about building family relationships because that is fundamental to a child's development and a child finding their way in the world and so what we do is in its most simple form is we help kids remember their day and allow them to talk about it with their parents and so those smaller conversations that start about what they do in school tend to lead to bigger conversations about social situations or peer relationships what's happening in the world around them and it helps us get to know our kids and the more we can know our kids the better parents we can be and it makes for a more connected family it gives our kids a feeling of and it can trans both in and out of school it can change the trajectory of a family so we created it for Simplicity it's simple to use but the impact is complex and tremendous Jared do you want to add a lot more to that yeah

Jared : Sure thanks Sylvia you know as syia said we started this really from a family perspective to make sure that we could connect with our with our kids but a little bit more of that backstory  that goes along with that with Gabon is that you know when Austin was growing up we were very connected and very as a family but as he grew older I started to notice he was disconnecting  you know he was really trying to connect with friends he was trying to connect in school but we noticed that he really wasn't connecting in those ways and I wanted to be more involved with him as well and we thought a good medium for that was school discussions and so what we did what I did was went and talk to his one of his teachers and I asked him why he wasn't sharing more of his day with me and I think what I'm going to talk about is is is is is similar for all all a lot of kids with special education needs is the teacher looked at me and said well he doesn't share his day with you because he can't remember his day and she introduced me to the concept of working memory and I didn't know what that was and she made she the way she described DED to me was working memory is what kids use from an executive function perspective to remember what happened during the day what happened during conversations what happened in class to share later in the day with you and he can't do that so asking Austin to remember his day is like asking a blind person to try harder to see neurologically he can't remember his day so from a working memory perspective he was in the fifth percentile so when I asked him about his day he literally could not remember but this is something that's you a challenge for kids with autism add dis ala kids with executive functioning challenges in addition to working memory was processing theats so when I'd asked him about his day Not only was he trying to remember his his his speed for recalling was different than mine and so his his his time for processing was taken longer than I was understood was taking place so we had two challenges to solve for for Austin that's where G Gabon came in was we're just trying to solve give him a reminder a hint you know some some way of C capturing hints and reminders about his day that he could share with us the at the end of the day and you can do that many different ways we found that the technology we created was the most simple and the easiest way to do it what we also found was it really gave him a sense of confidence and sense of belonging in the family I think he started to disconnect from his peer group because of his working memory and processing delays he also started having real challenges in school because of those two issues as well but at home he started remembering his day he started talking about what he was doing that's so fundamental for our kids to be able to discuss and chat and share what they do to show what they're doing at school and show part of being connected with the family and we really started to see an evolution of Austin from an advocacy from his voice development and actually he made such great progress with advocacy he won the grit award in school for the progress he made and be able to advocate for himself and ask for help from teachers from his resource team and so that whole process he went through was doing so much work for his brain and for his confidence and for his advocacy and for his voice we knew nothing about this until we met Mike and Mike started to introduce us into these concepts of about belonging about mattering about voice about advocacy all we knew was our guy was sitting up straight at the dinner table he was talking more he was engaging with us and the results from schools were getting better as well that's kind of our journey

Pamela : how did he remember what was going on what what was the process for him to be able to remember what was happening during the day be able to tell you about it later

Jared : Great question so what he would do is during the day the way I set up gab on was he'd cture capture hints and reminders electronically and it would just be short three to five word hints about what took place we didn't want a sentence we didn't want a story we wanted the letters to just give him enough information so when he saw it you can say oh yeah I was in science class onion skin and lake water means we're were looking at under a microscope we're learning about microscopes looking at onion skin then we got a vial of water from the local pond found a water bug so that hint of onion skin and late water gave him a reminder of where he was what he was working on and it could tell us the story we wanted a story to come home we wanted a conversation we wanted his perspective about his day about his experience and so it was those few words that gave him a catalyst for reminding remembering it

Pamela : whose idea was it to use those particular words and does it require collaboration with the school and with the teacher?

Jared : So it was his idea for his words you know he chose onion skin L water he said that's this is what I'll be able to remember when I get home and he was working in collaboration with his with his teachers so his teachers were giving him a few minutes after sometimes after each class or at the end of the day to sit down and capture four hints of reminders that we call gabs that he would then sent that that would get sent home to us so the teacher was giving him time but it was really his work and his effort to enter what he wanted to talk about at home and

Pamela : That was easier or more fun than simply writing it in a notebook I would imagine and then asking somebody to show you the notebook or what's I you know I mean I've got a couple of teenage kids too and it's just you always ask to see their notebook and what's going on and they just

Jared : yes yeah getting the getting the paper out of a backpack yeah never really happens or really ever happens and what we're able to do now is actually send reminders about the fact to enter them to kids but also to parents hey there's gabs waiting for you we can send coaching as well so we've made an electronic just for that reminder reminder so it's simply enter it on any web enabled device a Chromebook a tablet a phone and it gets sent to an app on the on the parents phone so it's really simple and the whole idea as parents of a child with special education we know how complex the world is around us how involved we are with teachers with doctors with Specialists and the simp and for us we need it simple we need it easy and we think for the community of special ed parents we thought of them when we started to really build it out out and engineer it as simple as possible and and as quick as possible.

Pamela : Did you find that you have to incorporate that as part of your I or 504 in order to get something like this across and done or do you feel like the education system is welcoming of different tools and techniques and

Jared : So our experience was we didn't need it part of the IEP we just talked to our special ed team that Austin was working with and they were wide open to the idea they actually loved the idea because most special ed  Educators know that however the conversations happen those consistent conversations with the parent do so much for the child neurologically and chemically that'll put that better that child in a better place for Learning and those those connections with the parents are so vital for the development and the scaffolding that teaches kids how to tell stories how to have conversations so our experience has been with ours with our with our group they loved it in it other families are finding the same experiences I can't say that for everybody because we haven't talked to to everyone that's used Gabon but that has been our experience so far

Pamela : And then Mike tell us a little bit about how how you're working in this area what what kind of research are you finding what are you doing in terms of driving more communication and helping people feel more confident and building those connections

Mike : Let me start with this Pamela just listening to Sylvia and Jared talk about the importance of communication and the impact it has on brain development neurologically and otherwise I often start my discussions around this with a very simple fact that people are interpersonal before they are individual so if you think about an infant an infant doesn't have a sense of being an individual person an infant's connected to a caregiver typically a mother and learns to be a person through all those connections with the mother or the caregiving environment as we as we age and continue to develop and learn in different ways we're always learning interp personally or through human interaction before we make that knowledge our own so we often make the mistake of thinking about individual development preceding interpersonal development whereas it's actually the reverse interpersonal or Social Development teaches us how to be individuals how to be how to be unique people in the world so the more young people can connect with a variety of communicators parents Educators peers the more they're going to learn but the greater that challenge is um dependent on the language capacities of the young person so a child on the autism spectrum for example who might be lagging behind a little bit in communication skills needs this kind of support even more than the average child every child needs Rich communication to to grow their minds and emotional development and Social Development but the greater the challenges are the more the scout Bolding is needed so as I've talked with Jared and Sylvia and our research team around this we've thought a lot about how to measure engagement uh social engagement between a child and parent between a child and teacher so we've looked at ways of um building infrastructure within the Gabon technology for capturing types of Engagement or Jared uses used the word connectedness for capturing connectedness because the there's a there's plenty of research to show that the Richer the communication opportunities are for children including children on the autism spectrum or any child with language challenges the Richer the communication the greater the learning opportunities are going to be the better the brain development is going to be so when I learned of Gabon and what Jared and Sylvia were trying to do it just struck me as an ideal modality for promoting language development learning brain development social and emotional development for young people and schools have been looking for this and struggling with it you can you can talk to any school leader pretty much and they will say one of the greatest challenges for us is figuring out how to maximize parent participation in their children's learning well Gabon allows for that even without bringing the parent into the school it kind of reverses it the student is bringing the school home to the parents and then talking about school with the parents so you have a multifold benefit there you have the communic the rich communication between the child and the parents about school you're also building parent engagement with the school through these kinds of communications so it's serving multiple purposes and I truly believe from a research perspective that the more we can use this sort of Technology the greater the benefits are going to be for for not only our students but our students our parents and the Educators who are trying to close the DOT or connect the dots and you know

Pamela: you know while you're coming at it from a special needs standpoint I think it's going to benefit the entire family by having you know a means of communicating let me ask this though as the kids go through certain periods of time in school they don't really want to be individuals they want to be you know kind of fit in or whatever do you find that everyone in the class should be doing it or do you find that some kids are kind of hesitant to you know want to use this if not everyone is or what is that look like

Mike : Yeah I think there I think there'll be some hesitation and resistance by certain  students including maybe my own children but as I've told Sylvia and Jared kids like mine really need this I was one of those parents who got the one-word answer how was school today good what' you do not much so if they could have given me words from the school day I think we'd have had richer conversations because they weren't really opposed to talking with me they couldn't even remember really what because they were more interested in their their peer interactions and sports they didn't remember much about school so the more scaffolding I could have had at that time I think the Richer our conversations would have been about school 

Sylvia : I'm gonna jump in if that's okay here and add that in our situation I actually had lovely conversations with Austin we were we spent a lot of time together we did all the therapies together he would share information that he felt was important or that was top of mind or that he could happen to remember with me from his day so I felt that I knew a lot about his day I felt like I was very connected with him but when we started Gabon I was actually wonderfully surprised at what I continued to learn about him um because there was so much that he wasn't telling me and as he as you talked about the different stages and different ages in school particularly as he got into Middle School you know it's tough for a kid who learns differently they're pulled out they're they've got push-ins they the social gaps widen the academics gaps widen they know they they're different they feel different and it it can be an unfund time and so as a parent I think it's very much our job and our privilege to to know them to to continue to know them as they age to get to know who they're becoming and then as you do that find out where they do Thrive you know we were able then to understand that school was very hard for him and he may not have had his peers in school but through gamon we've and in our conversations that open up where he found his Joy what he like to do what he was interested in we were able to find places and environments outside of school that he could spend time and do what he loved to do so met people he felt connected to he buil confidence and and car we continue to discover as he gets older you know what what that longevity long what that longterm goal for him might look like and so it it gave him um gave us just so much more insight as he went through through the different stages of growth and development and how they don't necessarily always want to be telling their parents everything you know through the high school ages but that's a time when it's really super important to be sharing so I even as someone who felt connected to him I learned so so much more about him and still do still to do.

Pamela : So Jared and Mike what ages do you find are the best for something like this and is it an immediate kind of push notification to the parent of like hey don't forget to ask about this or is it something that you just kind of check when they get home or later in the evening or yeah

Jared : I'll kick off Mike and then I'll hand it off to you you know from you know our experience has been about third grade is when kids start have the ability to actually enter in the words the Hing reminders um but as you look at the stages of growth you look at you know from third to about fifth or sixth grade kids are pretty responsive they're pretty engaged but about fifth or sixth grade they start disconnecting and what we've learned from from family they want to go hang out with their peers more they want to be part of their groups is that that that middle school age is really where our kids need it most and they actually what we found syia and I did a a little bit of a study with a local school in Providence Rhode Island and because we've been hearing the kids won't be do this kids don't want to do it they don't want to talk to their parents we sat down and did a focus group with a group of students across the board every student said they wanted to talk to their parents they just didn't know how or the parent was too busy or the parent was on their phone they wanted to find a way to have a conversation they wanted to connect with their with their families and the kids physically showed a little bit of sadness that they weren't having more conversations or more engagement with their with their families and then as you look into more high school that's when kids really need their parents the most so we it could it can be used from thir third grade through 12 and for some kids Beyond 12 who still need to connect with their parents who may need have more engagement with their families for whatever reason that is so we see a whole spectrum of kids using it.

Mike : Yeah I would I would I would agree with Jared in in a number of ways they certainly he and Sylvia have the direct experience working with parents using this tool but third grade makes a lot of sense to me as a a time in elementary school when students are more capable of communicating using this sort of Technology the desire to do that would would exist earlier the capacity to do it through writing would be harder you know as you get into first and second grade there might be ways to adjust the technology though to use pictures or even other things for for younger students we've seen that at times but what I think the main point that I would I would add to what Jared said is that not only do I find that middle schoolers and high schoolers want to talk to their parents but don't know how they're they're sometimes influenced by peer pressure in that regard they might not want to show their peers that they want to talk to their mother or their father so you know figuring out how to use this in a way that's normative within schools but even private for students so students can do this you know on their own apart from Pure observation might be helpful in some ways high school students especially this is a little bit of a a gender stereotype but it it holds true in many Social Circles anyway boys might be more challenged in communicating with their parents they might be more hyper independent some of the language that we've seen used in the development developmental literature for boys wanting to show a strong presence and not need their parents where paradoxically they may need them more than ever as as jarald alluded to so giving them a private means of reaching out can be very effective and I think of my own experience with my kids again they didn't want I also I crossed boundaries and was their hockey coach as well as their parents so they certainly didn't want to show in the locker room that they needed to talk to their father that was clear they they wanted to exercise Independence there but they even wanted to talk to me privately about their hockey game or their school so any any sort of scaffolding that gives teens especially those going toward the latter part of high school an opportunity to connect with parents I think would be valued by them as well as their parents I just want to say one additional thing related to this and we we know this based on kind of the nature of the work we're talking about here young people are so different and so teens on the autism spectrum for example might be yearning to talk with their parents even more so as they get a little older and they're experiencing the social pressures of adolescence and maybe not feeling so connected to their peer groups in some cases so having that Lifeline to parents to talk about not only educational issues but even some of the social things they're experiencing in school can be invaluable so I'll give you one quick anecdote around that going back to hockey again I had a a player who was on the autism spectrum who was probably the friendliest kid on the team but didn't have the social skills to connect with his team teammates all that well even though he desired it but he connected extremely well with the coaches and other adults so creating mechanisms for those students who have communication challenges to stay in communication with caring adults is so supportive and so important

Jared : Yeah and Pamela if I could add one pie build on what Mike was just talking about from a another parents perspective about something that she said this was a mother of a high functioning autistic child and she talked about he was quite quiet as Mike just outlined you know didn't communicate a whole lot when they started to find this consistent conversations and allowing it really student l so we talk about student L is the students creating the Gap they're leading the conversation and she talked about how these conversations were the key to unlock the door that she so desperately wanted to unlock to better understand her child so she could be a better parent you're collecting you know one of our jobs as a parent is collect all these data points to understand who who are our our children what are they interested in what motivates them where's their flywheel where's their energy coming from and when as Sylvia said talked about earlier we have we understand what that is we can get them closer to the peeps that they really want to connect with and so it really unlocks that door and the communication as Mike talked about it really starts putting it into a package for us that we can start understand because so many of these kids are so different from us the parents so getting to know them better helps so much yeah.

Pamela : For sure do you find that most of the communication is onetoone or do you create kind of like Community Centric circles if you will for let's say it's you know for school or it's for the the sports activity or whatever might be going on

Jared : yeah so we have a web of support is what we call it so let's just say for example Sylvia when syvia set up the account for us as a family she can invite the grandparents the aunts the uncles other people in that child's life speech language U Pathologists therapists  whatever that person that kid Universe looks like she can invite all these different people and to have conversations with them because they all received the gaps so it might be once a week with a grandparent or speech language pathologist or the therapist can check in as well about what's going on in that child's life so we can create a web of support for that child

Pamela : yeah I like that you know and I don't know if you've thought about this too it wouldn't necessarily hold as the kids get older but I would imagine that this could potentially be an alternative to those that want be on on Snapchat or some of the other channels where they want to connect with friends  but you don't necessarily want them on those channels but you do want to allow them to have those circles and so you know potentially as they're younger that could be another alternative too a great idea

Mike : And Pamela if I might let me ask I wanted to ask Jared and Sylvia a question that parents often ask because you just mentioned other types of social media Snapchat and what have you so I'll throw this out to Jared what differentiates Gabon from from other platforms like why wouldn't you just text a parent for example thanks

Jared : Mike yeah so we we actually thought about doing it via text but what we found was it wasn't really creating a community or safe space for the child to create their own environment they're they're comfortable in what we found what we've heard from other parents is that when kids are sending the gabs home and then they're leading the conversations they're finding a safe space where they can communicate with a family that they create and they operate and they run for themselves standard texting kind of gets boiled into the rest of the texts that come home about homework or you know getting things from school or Sports this is really a world that the child can control have some control over that's really the advocacy that Mike's talk you know taught us all about was the child has advocacy in this situation and they have a bit of power about what's going on in their lives and that really helps we saw that with Austin his confidence really came out his ability to communicate really developed because he knew when he was using gab on this was his time it was his world he literally ran the conversation and the other thing I'd say from a social media perspective is social media although kids are you know my my daughter talks about talking with kids they they're texting they're snapping but they're still isolated it's not face to face whether we're talking face to face right now we're seeing eye we have eye contact we see body language and person's even better but with that interpersonal commun iations and that interpersonal engagement that really gives the feedback the child needs and can build a relationship with somebody and learn that scaffolding Mike talked about using other social media means they're still lonely in this world whereas we think we've created a safe space where we can actually connect and have engagement that's so rich that every child every person's I don't know desperate might be a long a big word for it but really longing for it

Mike : Not even sure desperate a stretch Jared I think there there are in many cases desperate needs to connect es you know we've seen more and more of this in the Co in quasi postco era where there was a lot of isolation for young people and for people of all ages so we're seeing the need to connect being greater now maybe than ever before and in many cases there is a desperate need to do that Sylvia I know you wanted to follow up on some of Jared's comments do you want to follow up on that ?

Sylvia : I went I'm so sorry because I went to jump in a couple of times and I feel like I'm back in Co because the dogs are barking like crazy so I apologize if there's some background noise right now  but I think Jared hit on the point I was going to jump in on and that was I think the main difference is you know G it's an intentional time for kids to think about what they want to talk to their parents about and and then that conversation has to ensue it's not a back and forth texting it's really a a one way this is what I really want to share share with you today and I really want you to know it and and so they're able to have the conversations and and then as a parent we're able to share our stories with our children in the moment eye to eye face to face and where those conversations can then go from I think I touched on the beginning from smaller stories to the bigger conversations that need to happen and and it does not lead it it leads to the opposite of isolation you know it least that sense of belonging and so we often say that Gabon is the antisocial media  because they they feel like they're in the moment they feel like they have someone on their side they feel connected and they're not feeling as as our kids have often felt on social media they're not feeling left out they're not feeling that they're behind unincluded all of those things that you know unfortunately social media can have such a detrimental impact on them and

Jared : if I could just throw in One More Story family about kind of how that evolved for us Austin had sent home a g  and it was robot Consciousness and he and I were driving one of the things that he and I did together as Hobbies was we used to weld and he create characters of that he wanted to create and we're driving to the welding facility where we where we work together and I he read out you know robot Consciousness and I said what is that all about and he said I want to bring Consciousness and emotions to robots I want them to be able to bring feeling and understanding and connection with humans as much as possible and it was something I never heard him talk about before and that led us into the conversation about how we wanted to create simulators for people and to be able to connect with with machines so that as they're working together there's a better relationship between the two now he's very early in his his school career but he is studying this concept about how to bring Consciousness into robots and Technology I would have never known this was an interest of his until he brought it up It's that kind of insight for many stories like that along the way but it really changes how you see what your child wants to study what they're interested in what they're passionate about

Pamela : Well definitely sounds like a gift in terms of how to communicate and bring bring families closer together anything left in closing we've just got about a minute or so that you want to share how people can find out more Mike if you've got some areas where you want to share more about research anything particular you want to share

Mike :  Jared you want to go first about upcoming development

Jared : yeah so Gabon is available you can go to our website which is Gaben we're in the App Store as well and so you can come to the website you can go download the app we'd love to hear about experiences you have with Gabon we're actually beginning to create a community of intentional parents who are engaging with with Gabon not just to use it but to share their experiences and we can share those in the community that's larger about how to weave it how to weave this concept into the the culture and the the fabric of the families.

Mike : I would add Pamela that  clearly the focus for Gabon is is student parent communication but the more I learn about it and the more I see the value in it the more I see other possibilities for using it including mentors communicating with mentees because mentors often have this concern how do I follow up with the students I'm mentoring in between our sessions think if they had access to to gab on that would be a one answer to that dilemma or that question in fact I told Jared and Sylvia I was going to purchase the app recently and I haven't done that yet but I need to do it and see if it can enhance my communication with my wife because we often get so busy in our lives we don't have we forget what we did during the day so I think I'm going to try it and see how it works for parent parent or spouse spouse communication.

Pamela : Super well thank you all so much for being here and look forward to learning more about the communication and families and how to improve all of our connectedness

Mike : Thanks for having us.



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