Dan the Mailman

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In this digital age, an actual letter in the letterbox is a rare occurrence. Most of our mail is announced with a ping in the inbox rather than the roar of a motorbike. Yet every day we still trek out to the letterbox, just in case there is something to retrieve. However, apart from the occasional bill that still comes by snail mail,  it seems that Birthdays and Christmas are the only high points in the mail delivery year.

Dan has always liked opening the mail. Which isn’t a problem, unless it is mail I am yet to post. He likes opening parcels even better (don’t we all!). One time we caught him opening the gifts at his cousin’s 21st birthday party. Fortunately she was very kind hearted and didn’t seem to mind. But it did mean that at Christmas time we could only put the gifts under the Christmas tree just before we opened them – otherwise there would have been nothing to open on Christmas Day.

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Dan likes posting things too. When he was very young, he liked to post all sorts of things – paper, lego, apple cores – into the combustion heater (when it wasn’t going, of course!), so we would always have to check very carefully before lighting it. Even today he still likes to post the letters through the slot of the big red mailbox whenever we do go to the post office. 

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At Yellow Bridge, Dan is part of a small group that does a mail run. Every morning they go to the main post office in Toowoomba, collect the mail for a number of businesses around town and sort it into bags before going around to deliver it to the businesses. I think it is a great initiative which shows businesses and employers that people with disabilities are very capable. Instead of hiding them away in a sheltered workshop, they are out in the community providing a valued service.

One day when I was doing the grocery shopping with Dan, the lady in front of me at the check out recognised Dan because he delivers the mail to her workplace. She said he was always very quiet when they delivered the mail. Quiet? Doesn’t sound like Dan at all, but it was nice to hear people recognise the job they are doing.

Dan can even play mailman at home.

Speech therapy has been an integral part of Dan’s intervention even before he was diagnosed with autism. As an ongoing support, it’s important to find ways of making it fun and the therapists always do an excellent job of using games to practise communication skills.  One of Dan’s therapists had this really cool mailbox, where Dan could post a card in the top and it would pop out the bottom. There was a myriad of ways this activity could be used, from practising sight words, matching words and pictures, or constructing sentences. Dan really enjoyed it, so I thought it would be a good idea to have one at home.

Now we could have made a mailbox with a cardboard box – but that wouldn’t have lasted very long.  However, I remembered seeing a mailbox craft kit at our local Kaisercraft store, so we bought the kit, collected some supplies and got to work. 

 

And here it is – Dan’s mailbox…

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The cards don’t pop out the bottom, but Dan just opens the lid at the top and pulls them out – just like a real letterbox. We use it to play all sorts of games to help Dan develop his communication skills.

Despite all the whizz bang things we can do with technology, there is still much pleasure to be had with a simple red mailbox.

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I Love a Good Story

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In the Age of Technology there are champions and nay-sayers. Some praise the wonderful advantages of technology in the modern life, while others voice concerns about failing eyesight, bad posture and poor social and communication skills. I’m inclined to think that both sides have a point. Technology is a major part of our lives today and it is quite easy for it to become the master rather than the tool. How often do we hear the story about people working in the same room, eyes glued to their screens, e-mailing or texting each other, rather than actually getting off their seat and walking just a few steps to talk to someone in person. On the other hand, technology can be a great tool for sourcing information, locating services and connecting people. Especially when you move to a new place.

A few months ago I needed to find a new dentist. In the old days I would have just flicked through the yellow pages, picked a number out and hoped for the best. Not anymore. Now, we just Google it!  I scanned through the list, checked out a few websites, and made an appointment. All without leaving the comfort of my own computer screen.  It wasn’t  just about efficiency and time-saving. I wasn’t just finding a good dentist for me – I was also looking for a good dentist for Dan.

A good story can be the beginning of a long-lasting relationship

Anybody with a child on the spectrum knows how difficult trips to the doctor, hairdresser or dentist can be. They can be an absolute nightmare, so it’s very important to find the right person. A good website doesn’t just give me the facts about a service provider: it tells me a story about them – their values, their experience, their goals. You don’t get second chances with Dan. I have to be the guinea pig and check them out first. A good story can lead to a long-lasting relationship.

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I love a good story. No doubt that explains my ever expanding book and DVD collection. Stories have a way of connecting people over time, space, and the tyranny of distance. Here too, like never before, technology connects readers with writers, and readers with other readers, and so on. I must admit that I have been somewhat slow in my uptake of the digital world. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. However, as an avid reader, I like to meet other avid readers too, and so I have joined the Goodreads community. And it’s funny how joining an online community has actually led to the discovery of a local book club that meets in real life.

There is nothing quite like meeting people face to face

Through my study at USQ, I have slowly become more comfortable with participating in online forums, and with students across Australia and the world, it is the only way to foster a learning community. But still, there is nothing quite like meeting people face to face. Conversation flows more naturally, especially with a glass of good red wine, and there is an immediacy of response, an ebb and flow in the natural rhythm of conversation that is difficult to achieve online. It can be hard to meet new people when you’re the newbie in town, so it is quite exciting to discover a group of like-minded people who enjoy devouring books as much as I do.

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I think it’s important that we don’t throw the good out with the bad. We do need to ensure we find a good balance in the way we use technology in our lives but we can also savour the good stories that make us laugh, inspire hope and help us connect with real people.