Q&A with Lisa Domican of Grace App

Why did you decide to create the Grace App?

I discovered that picture exchange communication was the best way to prompt and reward independent communication for both my children with Autism. I could observe their interests and needs, then create a picture with which I could prompt them to communicate their wishes and get the reward.

With my son, I could model speech with the images which he imitated and within three months, he started talking independently.
With my daughter, it took longer, and I had to create and store over 400 pictures in her vocabulary file before she began trying to imitate the words.

I wanted to keep encouraging communication but needed to make it easier to bring the pictures everywhere. In 2008, I had the idea to create what became the Grace App.

What is the concept behind the Grace App?

Picture exchange communication is a very effective way to develop independent language as with practice; the user learns to attempt their vocalizations with the images.
The goal of the Grace App is to keep building social interaction with the user taking control of what they want to say.
The App does not work unless the user finds and engages with a listener, to share the picture-sentence they have created.
The App ensures the user engages with his or her listener to have the sentence “read” and then gives the user the opportunity to model the words hence rewarding the user’s communication attempts.
This is an important feature of the Gracie App that Talking Apps don’t do!

Q&A with Lisa Domican of Grace App mom and daughter

photo credit Lisa Dominican

I understand your kids use the Grace App.

Gracie goes to a special school, where they do cook once a week. Gracie likes making the rice crispy buns because they are made of chocolate.
However, the idea is that the children will learn to try new foods, so the recipe changes every week.
One day they were making chocolate brownies in the classroom, and the tutor working with Gracie was surprised to find that Gracie did not want to co-operate with measuring out the ingredients, as she usually likes to do.

She kept trying to prompt her, but Gracie picked up her i-Phone and asked for “kitchen” where the breakfast foods were kept.
The tutor thought it would help to see what she wanted, so together they went downstairs to the kitchen. Gracie opened the Grace App,  took a photograph of the Rice Crispie breakfast cereal then put it on her sentence, “I want, Rice Crispies, Chocolate, Bowl” – She wanted to make rice crispies buns AGAIN! The tutor thought the communication was very effective, and let her make them, and EAT them of course.

How can the Grace App help non-verbal travelers with autism communicate?

Grace App is intended to be the “voice” of the user so they can control it to say what they want.
The App can be totally customised using the camera or by searching and saving images from the internet so the user can request whatever they want, wherever they are.
So if they are in a restaurant, they can request exactly the food they want.

The places folder, in particular, has pictures to make travel less stressful such as Airport Security, Drive-thru and Beach.
Caregivers can use these to explain where they are going and what will happen first or next to reduce anxiety.
If the person is unwell and needs to visit a doctor – they can use the “My Body” folder to say where they have pain. This can be helpful if the Doctor does not speak your language.
And of course, it has the most important picture for traveling “I want a toilet”!
Q&A with Lisa Domican of Grace App kids

Photo credit Lisa Dominican

Any plans to add features and make it available in other languages?

Currently, the Grace App is used in over 40 countries around the world.
Picture exchange is universal, and I have used it myself to go shopping for clothes in Spain; I just showed the shop-assistant the photo of a dress, and the number “12” for the size I wanted.

As of February 28th, 2013, the App was updated to be used in 7 languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Danish, Arabic or Brazilian Portuguese. Now with the upgraded version the App can be switched back and forth to each language without losing any saved content.

Q&A with Lisa Domican of Grace App ad

photo credit Lisa Dominican

Lisa Domican is an Australian born, Ireland-based mother of two children with autism. Liam, 15 and Grace  13 1/2  are witty, charming and very challenging, so they keep her busy. She developed a simple picture communication App in collaboration with a successful Games Developer that allows non-verbal people with Autism and other disabilities to communicate effectively, by building semantic sequences from relevant images to form sentences. 
Lisa and The Grace App have been awarded some international awards including the United Nations World Summit Award for Moblie Learning and Education and the David Manley Award for Best Social Entrepreneur in 2012. Lisa was also recognised as 1 of “100 unseen women who change the world” by One World Action in 2011.


Review of Candy Harrington’s “22 Accessible Road Trips” book

Candy Harrington’s new book “22 Accessible Road Trips”, is a treasure trove of valuable information for all the special needs travelers seeking to revive the glory days of the great American road trip.

Though it mainly focuses on the wheelchair and slow walkers travel; the book’s basic concept that road trips can be a better option to travel easily translates to many families with kids on the autism spectrum mainly because provides the flexibility to stop anywhere at any time.
Moreover, I find her lodging and dining recommendations useful since like many of my readers, I ‘m always grateful to discover the existence of businesses accommodating special-needs patrons in and around destinations I plan to visit.

The book is well written and organized into 22 chapters; each one is describing a  detailed mapped road trip that the readers could follow. Moreover, each chapter is divided into sub-sections describing what you should expect to see (with what not to miss) on that particular route along with personal recommendations of lodging and eateries.

But Candy’s real talent lies in locating those unknown almost hidden spots most visitors will pass over unaware of what they’ve  missed. She and her husband, Charles Pannell (whose magnificent photographs accompany the descriptions)  make a point of visiting everything in their way and mentioning it as an option in their book, whether it is a rodeo show, an ethnic art gallery or a factory tour.
In fact, Candy and her husband, Charles, made a point of dedicating a chapter, filled with pictures and useful tips to the first inclusive theme park in the world called Morgan’s Wonderland that was built in San Antonio, Texas.By doing such meticulous legwork, they not only should be commended but trusted as outstanding travel experts by readers with special needs.

I especially liked that “22 Accessible road trips” included maps and web links to historical attractions, lodging, and restaurants, which is helpful for busy travelers that can’t explore destinations in depth and plan every aspect of their trip.Even in today’s day and age when many use mobile applications on our mobile devices, reading a physical is a delightful treat!

After reading this book, I, for one,  am happy to say I will be spending less time planning my trips and start enjoying the views out of the car’s window more.

Review of Candy Harrington's "22 Accessible Road Trips" book cover

22 Accessible Road Trips
Driving Vacations for Wheelers and Slow Walkers
by: Candy B.Harrington
photographs by C harles Pannell
Published by demosHEALTH
ISBN 978-1-9363-0326-7
On Amazon(physical copy)
(e-book download)


Review of Laura Vickers “Flying to see Janet’ book

Review of Laura Vickers "Flying to see Janet' book

Laura Vickers’  book ‘Flying to see Janet’ is by far the best book I have seen about travel written for younger kids with autism.

Over the past decade, I have seen multiple books that have tried to address the topic of autism and travel some more successful than others but most didn’t  manage to describe the airport experience in a simple language easy for most to comprehend.

This well-organized book chronicles the various steps of airline travel in a fun and engaging way that is sure to delight children and their parents alike.

What  you’ll find in ‘Flying to see Janet.’

The soft cover book serves as a ”go to’ manual for parents; answering all those WH questions the kids might have before flying.
Interwoven in the book are concepts that might seem like common sense to many but might be needed to be reiterated to those on the autism spectrum.
Like the notion that there are things you can’t say out loud in today’s day and age described on p.17.”…Even though you might think of a hilarious joke about security, it’s important not to say it out loud because someone might think you are serious” and the useful tips to cope with unpleasant situations – p.25 “Sometimes my ears can feel funny during takeoff and landing …I chew gum or yawn a lot to get them back to normal…”

The book’s storyline starts at the home with the packing stage and continues with the drive to the airport.
It continues with the check-in process, TSA inspection, and the actual flight. The book ends with the passengers’ arrival at the baggage claim.
I liked the fact the book is written in a clear and humorous language suitable for many families with autism; both those who have never flown before as well as for those who could use a quick refresher course.

The eye-catching illustrations add particular value in describing thoughts and feelings that can help prepare the travelers with autism face unexpected events like turbulence and lessen their ‘anxiety levels as described on page p.29.
“…Fun! I feel like I am on a school bus traveling on a bumpy dirt road” as well as maintain their interest reading the paperback book…”

The book highlights

My particular favorites were the different visual techniques mentioned to occupy bored kids; like looking out for the art in airports (p.15) as well as Peggy Wargelin’s (the book’s illustrator and parent to an autistic daughter) tips for parents at the end of the book that many readers will find quite practical.

Review of ‘Around the World in 80 Ways’ Activity Book for Kids



Review of 'Around the World in 80 Ways' Activity Book for Kids book
Australian born, Jane Tara created a winner travel entertainment book for families to enjoy while waiting patiently or less patiently in airports, train stations and beyond.If you are a parent, you know how difficult it can be to entertain kids while traveling and how easily they end up being bored with everything.
Whether you are stuck on an airplane for hours or in a restaurant waiting for your meal; kids are in continued need to do something.As a mother of a son with autism, I  admit I have to carry around several activities to entertain our son since he gets bored with doing the same thing over and over again.
Of course, like other boys his age he loves his I -pad games and watching movies.
However, he still enjoys word puzzles and coloring activities.

So, when we got Jane Tara’s ‘ Around the World in Eighty Ways’ he picked it up and started filling the pages without any prompting on my part, which frankly surprised me.
In fact, he insisted on carrying the book wherever we went: airport, plane, theme park, hotel and didn’t let go until he completed the entire thing! The good news is the soft cover endured quite a bit of abuse and being carried in less than ideal condition, EVERYWHERE. The bad news is that it only took him three days to finish it which made me sorry I didn’t have a second one to occupy him longer.

How we liked ‘Around the World in Eighty Ways.’

When I  finally got a chance to look at the book myself, I understood why my son enjoyed it so much.

Each of the book’s pages bursts with ideas for creative and interactive activities to explore! The compact pocket-sized paperback is divided into sections such as train travel, flight time and even toddler taming; engaging all age groups in its fun activities.

The pages are visually pleasing, and the tidbits information and stories make it easy for kids to learn about geography, history and culture in a fun environment.

Take page 30 for example; titled Nutty National Holidays  which starts by teaching children about holidays celebrated in different countries and then proceeds to ask them to create their ‘nutty’ holiday with guiding questions or the moneybag game that teaches kids how to keep their coins abundant and their ‘are we there yet?’ and whining to a minimum.

Where you can buy it.

Around the World in 80 Ways-80 fun things to do with little travelers on long trips is currently available  for purchase on Amazon or  at itchy feet

Q&A with Rose Niehaus Morris of the ‘Safety Sleeper Bed’



Q&A with Rose Niehaus Morris of the 'Safety Sleeper Bed' warehouse

photo credit Rose Morris

How you came up with the idea of the Safe Sleeper?.

We first thought of the concept during a visit to a friend’s house in Dallas (we live in Pa)  when we were experiencing sleeping issues with my youngest at the time, Abram. He had autism and didn’t sleep a lot, but getting him to sleep was the worst.
On top of that, he could climb out of anything!
We had previously tried to use a pack-n-play for Abram to sleep in, but he would continually rise out of it.
We did attempt to put an afghan over the top, and secure it with bungee cords, but that would only slow Abram down for a few minutes. Some of the moms I  spoke with had dealt with these issues by letting the child sleep in bed with them; we knew we needed a different solution, as, Abram would not lie down and sleep if he had the opportunity to get up and keep playing.

So, at that point, we sat with our friends and talked about what would ‘work’ for our needs. Later, we designed,  and our friend manufactured what we now call ‘Abram’s Bed’ or ‘ The Safety Sleeper.’

Q&A with Rose Niehaus Morris of the 'Safety Sleeper Bed' room

photo credit Rose Morris


 Is the bed considered as checked luggage by the airlines and charged as an extra bag?

When we fly, we check ‘The Safety Sleeper’ as luggage. We usually have to take it to the oversized luggage department similar to what guys do with their golf bags.

I did learn that if you are flying an airline that charges for bags, all you need to do is notify them this is medical equipment for a special needs child/person, and they will not charge for that bag.

If you come across someone who doesn’t understand or is unfamiliar with this and tries to charge you- ASK FOR A SUPERVISOR. I got our charges refunded plus a future charge credit, after being charged by someone less knowledgeable.

How easy is it for people to pack and unpack the ‘Safe Sleeper’ in a hotel room?

The Safety Sleeper is as easy to set up as most pack-n-plays. It is about twice the length of a pack ‘s play but fits comfortably in every hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. The frame breaks down into six sections: the base splits into four parts during the top into two halves.

All sections slide together and lock in place. The top connects to base with pull pins, so no tools are required. Then the canvas screen pouch zips onto the frame. Parents can assemble the entire system in a few minutes.

How has your invention enhanced your family travel?

For us, we were at a crossroads when we designed the bed. We realized that if something drastic didn’t happen, we would not be traveling for quite some time and that just wasn’t an option.

For us, it was a scary and daunting prospect, to be stuck at home and never travel again. We now use the bed on a weekly basis, like going to a friend’s house to watch a hockey game that may go late. We just set the bed up and put our son to bed. Typical families do this sort of thing all the time, but when you have an individual sleeping situation, it becomes a whole new level of stress.


Do you have any plans to offer a ‘Safe Sleeper’ rental option to hotels and cruise ships in the future?

Q&A with Rose Niehaus Morris of the 'Safety Sleeper Bed' fair

Photo credit Rose Morris

I would love to form a business relationship with a hotel chain or cruise ship. At this point, I do not have anything in the works, and this has proven harder to do than I anticipated. Most hotel chains- although large- are independently owned or operated. If any of your readers have a Hilton or Marriott connection, please introduce me.

Do you have plans to create other products? 

I didn’t plan on creating or marketing this. I wasn’t looking for a business to start, so no, I probably won’t be building anything else in the future.
However, if  I were so lucky as to be involved in something else, I would do it because giving back feels so rewarding!
I felt so blessed that I had a friend who could build a concept that we came up with, that I felt I was led to share this bed with everyone. I do honestly feel like this was a moment when God spoke to me, and this was an opportunity to do good for others.


Q&A with Lou Giuffre of LifePROTEKT alert system

Please tell our readers about your product.

LifePROTEKT is not about one product but about a bunch of safety products that represent the category of Personal Location Based GPS and Wandering Prevention Devices. Our products also fit into the fall detection PERS (Personal Emergency Response System) space.

The solutions we provide come from manufacturers like Securatrac, Amber Alert GPS, Gps Connect, Lok8u, Pocket finder, Laipac, and Harbor Technologies to name a few. We provide the latest GPS and remote health monitoring technologies to help find and care for those that can easily get lost or want to live independent lives.

When did you first think of the product and what lead to its development.

 Four years ago, LifePROTEKT was created to show our appreciation to those families, individuals and organizations who are patrons of wandering prevention and GPS  location technology.

The LifePROTEKT website was conceived to serve as an informational site presenting topics of interest to those in the autism, Alzheimer’s and special needs communities. Our primary concern is to try to remedy the one symptom that these communities have in common– wandering! Our management team has a long history of involvement with the autism, Alzheimer’s and special needs communities.
We have worked with various autism organizations promoting awareness for over a decade. We are dedicated to educating others, as 1 out of every 91 children born today is born on the autism spectrum. We believe it is paramount to draw attention to this epidemic, which is growing in mass proportion.

It is LifePROTEKT’s intention to contribute financially to education and research efforts as we to present information and solutions that can give special needs families a better sense of security and can be used as another tool to help keep their loved ones safe.

How can your product improve autistic travel?

With many wandering-related instances in the autism community, our products can be used as a safeguard to an accidental or unlawful situation from occurring. For example, the technology we provide can allow a parent or caregiver to set up a predefined perimeter or geofence around the vacation resort, theme park, or relative’s house or neighborhood.

If the individual wearing one of our devices breaks the boundary or geofence, the caregiver or parent will receive an immediate SMS alert or email to their smart or cell phone. If the caregiver or parent has a smartphone a Google map can be pulled up showing the exact location of the individual wearing the device.

Knowing that these devices create a safety net or peace of mind for the caregivers should improve travel for anyone concerned about wandering loved ones as it related to anyone one that may have the propensity to wander. There are GPS products that we have that will work in over 120 different countries around the world and work using the AT&T Network, so additional service related charges are not incurred. A list of countries can be provided if necessary.

Have you approached any hotel chains or cruise ship companies that wanted to use your product?

Although currently we are not working with any direct hotel chains or cruise ship companies we have been approached by many. Right now our vertical focus is on the individual needs, home health care, and law enforcement communities with some emphasis on recreational and theme park resorts.

We have been working with some of the world’s largest theme parks to define further how are solutions will help prevent children from getting lost. We believe that by 2011 we will have a contract with one of the largest theme parks in the world as we have been engaged for well over one year.

 Does your company have any new ideas that would help autistic travel brewing in the pipeline?

Autistic travel is becoming more adaptable as large organizations see the increase of population in this community. Over the past few years, we have seen specialized theme parks and hotel chains adapting to the needs of the sensory issues of our special needs loved ones. LifePROTEKT wants the caregivers and parents of these special loved ones to know that the technologies we represent our cutting edge and represent the latest and greatest solutions to protect the individuals that have the propensity to wander.
In one of our products, there is a feature that identifies the location of the residence of known sex offenders and will send out an alert to the caregiver or parent that will notify them if the child comes within a particular predetermined footage of the registered sex offender.

Many of our devices are also two-way voice cell phones and have S.O.S panic buttons that allow the parent or caregiver to have instant contact via voice to communicate to the individual.

This is a great feature for a child who is unable to carry a cell phone but needs that ability to stay in touch in case of an emergency. Other additional services LifePROTEKT now provides tie directly into a 24/7 emergency call center operation. In case the caregiver or parent does not have access to the alerts sent by the wearer, the notification will go to an authorized call center monitoring station that ties right into the 911 call center. The benefit of this solution is not only that someone at all times knows there is a problem with the person in need, and they will also know the location of that individual.





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