Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sensory Processing Disorder Support Group

I've recently become the group leader for a wonderful sensory processing disorder support group at MDJunction.com. If you have SPD or have a child who struggles with this disorder, you may want to join the support group. First you'll have to join MDJunction then join the Sensory Processing Disorder Support Group. It's all free. There are lots of conversations already going on, or you can start your own. I hope that you'll check it out...it's a wonderful resource! While you are visiting MDJunction, check out the many other amazing support groups available. It's an awesome website!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Handwriting Without Tears

There are a number of different handwriting programs for children. One special needs writing program that I really like is Handwriting Without Tears (it can also be used with typical children). This handwriting program was developed by occupational therapist, Jan Olsen. It is a multi-sensory program designed to help children who have problems with legibility and fluency. I usually recommend Handwriting Without Tears if a child has moderate to severe perceptual or visual-motor problems, because of the multi-sensory nature of the program. There are various components of the program that can be purchased separately, such as a set of wood pieces that the children can use to construct letters, letter cards that can be used with putty or play dough, a slate chalk board, workbooks, as well as CDs. All of the products use the various senses to teach handwriting with a focus on positioning, directionality, spacing and sequencing, making it a great special needs writing program! Click HERE for more information about the Handwriting Without Tears Workbooks including details and pricing, etc.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Visual Perceptual Give Away!

GIVE AWAY: On my new website, I’m going to be giving away several visual perceptual workbooks, so if you would like to qualify, please click here. (The winners of the visual perceptual workbook give away have been contacted. Congratulations! Stay tuned for future give aways…be sure to “like” my Facebook page and sign up for my newsletter and you will automatically be entered when I have one!)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tactile Board

I’m excited to share this "Tactile Board" that my students and I made during our therapy sessions. Making it turned out to be tons of fun and an amazing multi-sensory experience! Here are the instructions for making a “tactile board”.

What you will need:
1 foam board, poster board or large painting canvas
Hot glue gun
Finger paints, water colors or acrylic (if you use a canvas)
Scraps of various types of fabric (make sure that they have a variety of textures)
Scraps of string/ribbon/yarn
Cotton balls
Pipe cleaners                
Aluminum Foil
You name it…get creative!

Decide on a theme for the board. We chose an ocean/Little Mermaid theme. Use your imagination and come up with something really cool. Some examples are a vegetable garden theme, a flower theme, a city theme, etc.

Paint the background on the board. You can have the children finger-paint it for a multi-sensory experience. Use the scraps of fabric, foil, sponge, etc. to create the components of the picture and glue them on using the hot glue gun. Here are some examples of what we did.
·      Cotton balls for the clouds
·      Shaggy fabric for the whale, a bead for the eye and string for the mouth
·      Silky fabric for one of the fish, corduroy fabric for the fins, a bead for the eye, and satin ribbon for the mouth.
·      Green glitter for Arial’s fin and orange string for her hair.
·      Aluminum foil for the eel and a bead for the eye
·      Sponge for the shell
·      Silky fabric for the octopus body and pipe cleaners for the tentacles
·      Rice for the sand
·      You get the idea…the final result is a sensory board that is a really cool piece of art and the best part is that the students can touch and manipulate the various textures on the board.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fun Occupational Therapy Painting Activity

This week I tried another activity that turned out to be a big hit with my students, as well as their parents! To get started, you will need a set of finger paints, a small canvas, a small paint brush, and a spray bottle of water.

Have the child finger paint on the canvas, covering as much as the surface as possible. (I placed the canvas on a vertical surface while the children painted.) This was a great tactile experience! Be sure that the child covers the edges of the canvas as well as the front. You can work on finger isolation, having the child point with their index finger to paint the narrow edges.
Once the surface is covered, have the child mist the canvas lightly with water. You can place the canvas flat, or keep it horizontal. (Squeezing the spray bottle is great for hand strength. You could also clean the blackboards while you're at it!) Allow the painting to dry completely. Once it's dry, take the paint brush and paint the child's hand completely with a contrasting color. Then have the child press their hand against the canvas. You now have a sweet piece of artwork that any parent would be excited to hang on their wall! Fun, fun!!!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Handmade Christmas Ornaments

Check out these simple ornaments! They are so easy to make and you can incorporate all sorts of therapeutic techniques while making them. Start with Crayola Air Dry Clay. Take out as much as you think you'll need and have the child use both hands to squeeze the clay and roll it into a large round ball. (This is a great sensory experience and also works on hand strength!) Then use a rolling pin or smooth drinking cup to roll the clay out to about 1/4-inch thickness. (Working on bilateral skills!)
Then use your favorite cookie cutters to cut the clay into different forms/designs. If the child's manipulation skills are pretty good, they can even form the clay into their own preferred shape or design. Be sure to use the tip of a pen or paperclip to poke a hole in the top of the ornament for the hooks! Now allow the ornaments to dry for 24 hours.
Now all you have left to do is paint them! You can put them on an easel to work on wrist extension during painting. You can make them as fancy or simple as you'd like. We kept ours pretty basic...with just the date, but they turned out pretty cute!

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Guest Post: What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

This past year I wrote a guest post for Our Journey Thru Autism, titled What Exactly is Sensory Processing Disorder? I just found out that it was ranked in the top 10 articles for 2011...it was #3! Here is a link to the article if you want to check it out!
                                   What Exactly is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Transition Strategies for Children with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Students who are diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s syndrome frequently deal with anxiety when there are changes in routine, at home or school. This is because this syndrome influences the frontal lobes of the brain, which controls executive functioning. Executive functioning controls the ability to alter one’s mental mindset, or transition from one task or place to another. This area of the brain also sends a message to wait. Today, I am going to share some suggestions that will help prepare these children for transitions.
When a student struggles with transitions between activities due to anxiety related to changes in routine, this can sometimes lead to tantrums and emotional meltdowns. Here are several techniques that can help transitions go more smoothly for autism and Asperger’s students.
·      Timers can also be helpful when dealing with transitions. The timer is set, giving the student a visual of how much time is left until their present activity has to end.
·      Picture Charts/Visual Schedules- A chart that plainly show each activity that occurs during the school day. It is best to have an individual picture for each task or activity. These pictures can be attached or removed by using Velco. Every time a task ends, the picture can be removed. It can be easier for the students to deal with transition if preferred and non-preferred activities are alternated.

·      Verbal prompts- these work with will older students who understand the concept of time. For example, as statement such as "Reading ends in five minutes, then it will be time for lunch." Student should be informed when an unpredictable events like a fire drill or assembly can is to take place. Such activities can be added to the visual schedule, or the teacher can write the information about the event on the board.

·      Natural ending times- provide reminders that a transition is eminent. For example, "when the classroom lesion is over, it's time for us to get ready for lunch."

Try some of these strategies and be willing to work with the unique needs of these students when it comes to transitions.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fun Fine Motor Activity

Today I tried an activity that turned out to be great fun, and I'm excited to share it with you. Here's what you'll need:
1)  Construction paper
2)  A 3-hole punch
3) A blank piece of paper or paper with designs, shapes, or letters on it
4) A glue stick or bottle of glue

  • Begin by having the child use both hands to punch holes in various colors of construction paper using the 3-hole punch. This is great for arm and hand strengthening. 
  • Remove the construction paper "dots" from the hole punch.
  • Take the paper with the design, shape, letter or number and have the child outline the design by gluing the "dots" onto it. This is great for fine motor skills, and especially addresses the child's pincer grasp.

  • You can also have the child use blank paper and form their own letters, shapes, numbers, or designs. Just use your imagination!
  • Have Fun!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pull-Out vs. Inclusive O.T. in the School Setting

To all school-based OT's,
I had a great question from a fellow OT, Jackie, that I'd like to share with you all. Jackie is dealing with some challenges that many of us as school therapists face. (see below) If you have any input or suggestions, please comment below, or email your responses to me @ anne_ot (at) hotmail (dot) com and I'll post them. Thanks! 

Hi Anne,
I love your blog!  I am a school based OT for a district that is inclusive.  We are not supposed to be pulling students out of the classroom for special education services.  I am struggling with feeling productive while I'm in the classrooms.  A lot of times, I help my students with their writing assignments/center time, etc but I feel more like a teacher's aide vs an OT...  Are you struggling with this in your district?  Any suggestions for improving my effectiveness for handwriting/fine motor skills in the classroom?  I would also love any suggestions for sensory activities (alerting and calming) for both the classroom and the sensory room. 
Looking forward to hearing from you!

Response from Abby Brayton:
I think this is a very common experience for school-based OTs. In my experience, it takes some time to figure out the scheduling to make sure you're in the classroom at a time when you can work on something productive with the student. It also takes some time to establish rapport with the teachers and to get them on board with your suggestions.

With that said, I think teachers are more likely to follow through with something you recommend if they see it in action (this is especially true with pencil grips and adapted paper). For younger students, you can help the teachers set up fine motor centers. I've found teachers are often open to group handwriting lessons, using a curriculum such as Handwriting Without Tears. You might find out that the more time you spend in the classroom empowering the teacher, the less time students need direct OT services.

I found AOTA's self-paced clinical course "Collaborating for Student Success" to be helpful. If the course is too expensive, you can purchase only the book, for much less (you just don't get CEUs).
Good luck!

Another Response:
I got a little smile on my face in reading your reader's comments about feeling like an aide. I recently had a very similar conversation with a colleague. What I decided to do, was come into class when the students are already writing one week and the next I plan a craft that focuses on the foundational skills needed for adequate handwriting skills. This way I get to see how the students are accessing activities involving written work and then offer any advice or suggestions that I have. Then the next week, we work on improving handwriting skills through more fun, play-based and motivational activities.

What Abby said about rapport building is the most important thing we can do in our practice, with both teachers and students. When you have good rapport, there is more "buy-in" from the teachers and generally more active participation with the students. If you are successful in building rapport, it will make your job easier.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Parenting Website

Hi Everyone!
    I have a new website that contains a collection of all of my articles, along with additional resources, and parenting tips. Be sure to check it out when you have a minute! :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Assistive Technology for Special Needs Students

  This afternoon I was excited to be a guest of Dr. Kari Miller on Blog TalkRadio.com. The name of the radio show is Special Kid School Talk, and the topic today was technology. Click here to listen to the broadcast and be sure to read all about  Dr. Kari's show @ http://www.blogtalkradio.com/specialkidschooltalk.
     When it comes to technology for special needs students, there are low-tech and high-tech solutions that can meet an individual’s particular needs. The high-tech solutions can be really cool, but they are not necessarily always work out best for the child. On the show, I hope to provide several examples of low-tech options that have helped students be successful, such as pencil grips, splints, and picture exchange systems. I will also talk about several app that I really like:

Model Me Going Places- (the basic app is free but the layout can’t be changed)-iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad- You can build social story slide shows for the ipad, about going to the mall, the grocery store, the doctor, and getting a haircut.

Social Skills- ($6.99...it can be modified)- iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad- includes 6 social stories that deal with reciprocal play, task avoidance, turn taking, gestures, recess, and school rules.

Proloquo2go- ($189.99)- iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad-Has a vocabulary of over 7000 items; provides a full-featured augmentative and alternative communication solution for people who have difficulty speaking; provides natural sounding text-to-speech voices; high resolution up-to-date symbols.

iCommunicate- ($49.99)- iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad- Creates pictures, flashcards, storyboards, and visual schedules includes. 100+ pictures, and you can add your own. It includes a task completion component. You can actually put a check mark on top of each picture when completed.

Tap to Talk-(Free)-iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad-The app is free but has only one communication board comes with and it cannot be altered. If you subscribe to their online site for 99.95 you can alter boards and customize it.

Smart Pens-Basically a computer in a pen. Go to their website for more info. The site has nice informational tutorials. Also available on Amazon.

Speech-to-Text- Dragon Naturally Speaking- Go to their website for more info. Also available on Amazon.
Alphasmart & Fusion- Cool portable word processing devices. Go to their website for more info and see my earlier post
    Technology can open so many doors for students with special needs. There are many different products available on the market, some that are reasonably priced, and some that are extremely expensive. Please understand that it is critical to have your child's individual needs assessed by an assistive technology team before making decisions about which technology is most appropriate for your child. 

Although it is not necessary to have an AT evaluation conducted by certified professional, you may want to see if there are any in your area. To see if there are any certified assistive technology personnel in your area through RESNA click HERE

Here are a few more references from the radio show:
Daily Living Aids
Computer Access Aids
Environmental Aids
Prentke Romich Devices 

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sensory Writing Group is a Great Success

I just had an article published in our profession's trade magazine, OT Practice, titled "Sensory Writing, A Team Approach to Handwriting Instruction". The article describes a multi-sensory writing group that we hold in a classroom once a week. The special-needs students, teachers, paraprofessionals, and even peer-tutors are all involved. Oh, and I lead the group! :)  The group has been a great success and so much fun!

If you get a chance, check out the article. Just click on the link below:
                                    Sensory Writing Article

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Interactive Social Story

I recently made several interactive social story booklets for a student and I liked the way they turned out, so I decided to share one on my blog! As you can see in the photo, I typed the story, but where certain words should go, I typed blanks and also inserted small photos. I then laminated the pages and attached small pieces of sticky hook Velcro just above the blanks. (See photo) 

      Finally, I typed the words that belonged in the blanks, pairing them with the photos, cut them into small rectangles, laminated them, and put small pieces of sticky loop Velcro on the back. I took the pages to Kinko’s and had them bound and voila, I had a social story booklet! As I read the story, my student likes to find the correct word/photo and Velcro it onto the corresponding space. For a child with a limited attention span, this is a fun way to keep them attending to the story!  
      Social stories were developed by Carol Gray and they provide a way to teach social skills to children with autism and other disabilities. These stories provide information about certain situations that a child may find challenging that he would not understand naturally. The story describes the situation in detail and teaches basic social skills by describing the appropriate responses that would occur in that situation.

How to write a social story
  • The special needs child should be the main character.
  • Make the setting of the story familiar to the child.
  • Specifically describe the other characters in the story, making them familiar if possible.
  • Make the dialog realistic and appropriate child’s ability-level.
  • The important story points should be repeated.
  • If possible, use photographs of the child or his peers.
  • Read the story to the child as frequently as possible.
 Carol Cray recommends at least two descriptive sentences for every directive sentence in the story. Good luck!

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Recycling Occupational Therapist: An Awesome Book!

As therapists (and parents), we frequently work with children on bilateral upper extremity skills. In many situations we request that a child stabilize an object or container while performing an activity. Handles are great for making grasping easier and for encouraging stabilization.

Here is a cool “recycled” adaptation for adding a handle to your object of choice. This idea comes from Barbara Smith’s wonderful book “The Recycling Occupational Therapist”. (Click here to check out the book)

Just cut a handle from a detergent or dishwasher soap bottle and attach it to your item of choice. To increase the proprioceptive (deep pressure) feedback, enclose sandbags inside the flaps created on either side of the handles.

Thoroughly wash and dry the detergent, dishwasher soap, or bleach bottle. Labels usually can be removed by soaking the container in hot water and scraping.

1.     Cut around the top and bottom of the bottle.
2.     Create flaps by cutting along the vertical line on each side.
Optional: Insert a sandbag inside the handle before folding and securing the two overlapping flaps. Enclose both ends with Contact adhesive vinyl or duct tape.
      3. Fold the back flap over the front flap. Secure with duct tape.
Click here for more information or to purchase "The Recycling Occupational Therapist" by Barbara Smith.
You may also want to check out her newest release "From Rattles to Writing"

Tip: I added a handle to a shoe box to which students attach clothespins for finger strengthening. Prior to having the handle on the box, it would just sit on the table and the kids would place the clothespins on it with one hand. Now I require them to hold the shoebox by the handle with one hand, and place the clothespins with the other, turning the activity into a bilateral upper extremity task! Voila!! Thanks Barbara :)

Dear Readers, If you have found my blog to be interesting or helpful, please click here and "like" my facebook page...I'm trying to get my book published and this would be a great help! Thanks :)