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A Look at a New Children’s Book Series Featuring “Differently-Abled” Kids

In Recognition of “National Read Across America Day (3/2/15)—A Look at a New Children’s Book Series Featuring “Differently-Abled” Kids

Rick O’Brien, a chemistry teacher at the University of South Alabama, was inspired by his son Connor to write a children’s book featuring “differently-abled” kids.

The reason---- O’Brien saw other children’s reactions to 11 year-old son Connor’s wheelchair. O’Brien sensed that children seemed afraid to see people in wheelchairs, because it was unfamiliar to them and they had lots of questions. He wanted to help answer those questions and make children aware that having special needs means having unique gifts that make someone differently-abled, not disabled.

The result of Connor’s inspiration has been a series of books entitled; “CJ and the Angel Kids”. The mystery books spotlight five children; CJ who has cerebral palsy, Dee Dee who has Down Syndrome, Andy who has autism, Stu who has dyslexia and Rosie who stutters.

In each book, the children visit different camps and participate in solving mysteries.

The first book; “CJ and the Angel Kids: The Case of the Missing Cookies” was published in February 2014, and was followed by “CJ and the Angel Kids: Tale of the Talker” in November 2014. The third book in the series; “CJ and the Angel Kids: Mystery of the Medals” is expected to be published this spring. Three additional books are in also in the works as well.

O’Brien has collaborated on the books with people such as speech therapists and student illustrators. All of the proceeds from the sale of the books benefit United Cerebral Palsy of Mobile Alabama.

O’Brien’s mission has been to let kids know that children with special abilities (“angel kids”) can teach others about hope, courage, adversity and the strength to overcome obstacles. He also hopes that those angel kids themselves realize how very special they are.

For more information on the “CJ and the Angel Kids” series, or to purchase the books, please visit the CJ and the Angel Kids Facebook page.

For suggestions on other books for children and young adult books featuring differently-abled characters, check out these resources:

A Book Long Enough


Institute for Humane Education

Albert Whitman & Company

For more information on National Read Across America Day, being held on Monday, March 2, 2015, please visit the National Education Association website.


Join Us at the Los Angeles Abilities Expo March 6th-March 8th

MobilityWorks will be on-hand at the 2015 Abilities Expo-Los Angeles being held Friday, March 6th- Sunday, March 8th at the Los Angeles Convention Center, West Hall A. For more than 30 years, the Abilities Expo has been the “go-to” source for people with disabilities, their families, seniors, veterans and healthcare professionals. Every Expo spotlights new technologies, new possibilities, new solutions and new opportunities.

The Expo gives people the chance to discover ability-enhancing products and services, play a few adaptive sports, learn new dance moves, attend informative workshops and more! Register for free today!

The event hours are:

  • Friday, March 6th 11:00 AM- 5:00 PM
  • Saturday, March 7th 11:00 AM- 5:00 PM
  • Sunday, March 8th 11:00 AM- 4:00 PM

While at the Expo, be sure to stop by and meet with our local team members to discuss your vehicle needs, talk about adaptive equipment, or even just say hello.

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NJ Mom Works to Make Mainstream Clothes Accessible to Differently-Abled Kids and Teens

Runway of Dreams Design Sheets

For kids with physical challenges, including Muscular Dystrophy (MD), wearing mainstream clothes can be difficult, if not impossible.

Often times, styles like jeans do not fit well over leg braces. In addition, items such as zippers/buttons can be difficult to secure when someone has muscle weakness. The options are adaptive clothing which is functional, but not necessarily as “mainstream” as kids and teens would like.

New Jersey designer and mom of three Mindy Scheier was inspired to help find a solution for her 10-year old son (who has MD) and many others like him.

The result was the formation of Runway of Dreams, a non-profit organization which advocates for adaptive versions of mainstream apparel.  As Scheier stated to the Huffington Post; “Runway of Dreams is dedicated to making adaptive versions of mainstream clothes for kids and young adults who are ‘differently abled’”.

The first step in the formation of Runway of Dreams was the development of a clothing challenges survey. The feedback from the survey showed that there were three main clothing challenges to overcome; closures (buttons, zippers and snaps), adjustability (with waistbands, pant and sleeve lengths), and alternative means of getting into the clothing (i.e. putting the clothing on from the back rather than putting it on over the head).

Scheier’s suggested modifications include using magnets instead of buttons on shirts and using longer flies on pants to allow alternate ways to take the clothing on and off.

With the survey feedback and her own ideas, Scheier began working with a technical designer at a major children’s wear retailer to create clothing samples for focus groups, and for display recently at a local fashion show. She has since been meeting with various brands, manufacturers and potential supporters and partners.

One of the biggest challenges has been in convincing people that there is a viable need for products of this type. She has remained steadfast in her determination though, as she understands the need kids and young adults have to “fit in” with their peers. Statistics show that 1 in 20 children between the ages of 5 and 18 are differently-abled—and those kids want to wear the current styles and trends too.

On a positive note, Scheier reports that she has arranged several meetings with apparel designers who are as interested as she is in making fashion “inclusive for all”. She hopes to convince retailers that there is a huge opportunity for them to help an under-served market, and most importantly, to help kids feel good about themselves.

For more information, check out the Runway of Dreams website.



A Young Musician with Muscle Atrophy and His Teacher Discover App to Play the Drums

Photo Credit: KARE 11 TV Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

“I Don’t Believe In I Can’t……” A Young Musician with Muscle Atrophy and His Dedicated Teacher Discover App to Play the Drums in the School Band

Some teachers leave an indelible mark on our lives. Gina Christopherson of Minnesota is one such teacher…

When Ethan Och, a young man with spinal muscular atrophy, was in the fifth grade he joined the band. He chose to play the drums because his teacher was able to find a pair of lightweight drum sticks to make drumming less tiring for him.

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a recessive disease caused by a genetic defect. The disease affects the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, resulting in a wasting away of the muscles and impaired mobility. Eventually SMA takes away a person’s ability to walk, eat and breathe.

Ethan’s SMA began to cause extreme arm weakness, balance issues and fatigue, so much so that even his lightweight drumsticks became too difficult to use. Ethan tried to maintain a positive attitude and play through. In the eighth grade, Ethan went with a heavy heart to his music teacher and told her that he would have to quit the band.  His body could just not do it any longer.

Mrs.Christopherson would not allow Ethan to quit. “I don’t believe in I can’t” she told him.

With that, Mrs. Christopherson set out to find a way to help Ethan continue to play in the band. The solution came as a result of a drum app Ethan had his smartphone.  Mrs. Christopherson began to research other drum apps---finding approximately 75 initial options! Unfortunately, the one that she felt would work the best was not compatible with his phone, so during class she lent him her phone.

With the smartphone hooked up to a sound system, Ethan could play along with the rest of the band through the Cowbell Plus and Shaker (now Pocket Shaker) apps.  With just the tap of a finger on one of the images on his screen, Ethan could select his percussion instrument. The speed with which he tapped would control the tempo and the volume.

Through time and the efforts of his parents, Ethan was able to get an Ipad2 as part of his Individualized Education Program (IEP). The Ipad2 gave him access to even more apps and allowed him to practice at home. Since the Ipad2 has a much larger screen, Ethan can use the app Garage Band, which allows him access to an entire drum set.

Since no one had ever used an Ipad2 as part of a high school band, Mrs. Christopherson worked with the Minnesota State High School League to get approval for Ethan to participate in concerts and band competitions. The league initially had reservations, but ultimately approved the request.

To enable Ethan to participate in marching band events, Mrs. Christopherson straps her smartphone to his leg with Velcro so that it does not shift. The smartphone is connected to a guitar amplifier powered by a car battery attached to a power inverter so that his percussion instruments can be heard loudly. All of the amplifier equipment is contained within a stroller that another student pushes alongside Ethan. Ethan then controls his wheelchair while playing the drums on his Ipad2.

Thanks to technology, and most importantly, dedicated and caring teachers like Mrs. Christopherson children of all abilities are now being allowed the opportunity to experience great experiences they might otherwise have thought were out of their reach.

To learn more about Ethan and Mrs. Christopherson, visit USA Today.


Stem Cell Therapy and Immune Markers: Key Advancements in the Research and Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis

When nerves have barren patches without myelin, they can no longer properly conduct electrical signals... the therapy involves the harvesting of stem cells from bone marrow.

Over 400,000 Americans are affected by Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a degenerative neurological disease that causes an erosion of the insulating fat (myelin) that surrounds nerves. When someone is affected by the disease, it is because white blood cells (T lymphocytes) have crossed the usually impermeable blood-brain barrier, and have eaten away at the myelin, leading to barren patches.

When nerves have barren patches without myelin, they can no longer properly conduct electrical signals; leading to neurological issues and physical symptoms including numbness, loss of balance, tingling, weakness in the extremities and/or a general lack of physical coordination.

Stem Cell Therapy

Some patients with MS are trying new, aggressive therapies, including stem cell therapy treatment. The pioneer of the stem cell therapy treatment is Dr. Saud A. Sadiq of the Tisch MS Research Center of New York. While still in its early stages, the therapy involves the harvesting of stem cells from patients’ bone marrow. The stem cells are then transformed in a laboratory into “neural progenitors”. The neural progenitors are then injected into the patient’s spinal fluid. The intent is that the neural progenitors could eventually lead to the repair of the myelin sheaths in the brain.

Stem cell therapy treatment is just one part of a broader push to understand the neurological disorders that affect the structure of the brain. As the baby boomer generation ages, more and more people within that age group may become affected by disorders such as MS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

A commitment has been made by the White House to allocate $100 million in federal research funds for initiatives geared at understanding the brain. In addition, organizations such as the Ann Romney (wife of Mitt Romney) Center for Neurologic Diseases are also working towards understanding the brain and its neurological disorders, in an effort to find treatments, and ultimately cures.

Pinpointing an Immune Marker: The Next Frontier

Many doctors and researchers have questioned that if MS is an immune disease, then there should be something known as an immune marker. For this reason, finding a biomarker that could be identified through a blood test would represent one of the next major frontiers in MS research. Potential biomarkers that could signal the presence of MS have already been identified in some studies. In addition, it has been discovered that MS patients have an elevated level of a protein called serpin A3 in their tears---another possible clue to early detection.

While previous breakthroughs have found ways to slow the progress of MS and perhaps lessen the severity of symptoms, the breakthrough that everyone most wants to find is the one that may heal the brain, not just seal it off from future attacks.

Reversing the Damage Through Cell Stimulation

Dr. Ari J. Green of the University of California at San Francisco, is a researcher working to find a way to heal the brain. His mission isn’t just to stop the disease, but to also reverse it by finding a way to stimulate cells called oligodendrocytes, which make myelin, to repair the nerves stripped by MS. Instead of injecting stem cells like in Dr. Sadiq’s therapy, Dr. Green is trying to strengthen the body to do the repairs itself.

While research and testing continue, there are factors/symptoms that people should be aware of.

Risk Factors

Research has shown that while MS does not have a high rate of inheritability, there is a genetic component rooted principally in a family of immune genes called the major histocompatibility complex. Other risk factors are environment, including a lack of Vitamin D, and smoking.

Be Aware of the Early Symptoms

Many people feel numbness in their arm or leg or a tingling in their spine and simply dismiss it as a pinched nerve. Or, they may feel off-balance or fatigued, and think they are just coming down with something. Early intervention could have a very significant effect in shaping the outcome of MS treatment, so alerting your physician to these conditions and/or being tested is critical. Often, by the time a person seeks out a physician and is diagnosed, a significant amount of damage may have already been done to their brain.

For more information on multiple sclerosis, check out the Newsweek article; On the Hunt for a Multiple Sclerosis Cure.