Jenny Clark

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OT Services From a Distance for Students with Autism and Other Special Needs

When COVID 19 hit last Spring, education moved to an online format with all OT students getting teletherapy. There were many families who did not have internet access, a computer, or even basic school items at home. Listen to Jenny’s audio podcast to get ideas for a teletherapy ‘OT Home Kit’ that can start your school year off with assurance that students will get effective teletherapy. If you are interested in ideas for therapy activities using the items in the OT Home Kit, click on Jenny’s Facebook post for her July monthly newsletter ‘Clark Comments’.

As a pediatric occupational therapist working in schools, my priority is to provide best practice occupational therapy services to the students who have OT services on their IEP’s. When COVID 19 hit last Spring and 4th quarter learning and therapy was all online, I discovered that there were many families who did not have internet access, a computer, or even basic resources at home such as scissors and glue. So, for the start of this school year and online therapy, I created a list of items for an ‘OT Home Kit’ with a variety of reusable items that can be used for tele OT sessions and home activities. Here is a list of items in each kit. All kit items fit nicely inside a zippered pencil bag.

OT Home Kit Supply List

  • Wikki Stix
  • Silly Putty
  • Play Dough
  • Scissors
  • Box of Crayons
  • Markers
  • Glue stick
  • Pencils
  • Pencil grip
  • Mini Pencil Sharpener
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Pony beads
  • Buttons
  • Clothes pins
  • Tongs
  • Pom poms
  • Plastic pennies
  • Dice
  • Stencils
  • Deck of mini playing cards
  • Calming Sensory Strategies Cards
  • Yoga Brain Break Cards
  • Breathing Exercise Cards

If you are interested in ideas for learning and therapy activities using these items, click on my Facebook post for my July monthly newsletter ‘Clark Comments’.

More Than Meets the Eye: Sensory Integration and Visual Processing

Vision is a complex neurological process involving the integration of multiple sensory systems. Therapeutic activities that integrate visual, vestibular, and proprioception input are effective interventions to help alleviate visual processing challenges. Listen to Jenny’s audio podcast as she talks about engaging therapy activities that address visual integration in children with sensory processing disorder.

The visual pathway is a neural pathway where visual input travels from the eyes to the central nervous system and integrates in the cerebellum. The cerebellum plays an especially important role in this process as it is the grand central train station where sensory signals from visual, vestibular, proprioceptive and auditory input communicate with each other.  There are many symptoms that a child may demonstrate which could indicate a visual processing deficit. Some of these may surprise you. These can include idiopathic toe walking, motion sickness, balance issues, eye-hand coordination delays, ocular tracking problems, and learning difficulties such as reading, math and handwriting. Therapeutic activities that integrate visual, vestibular, and proprioception input are effective interventions to help alleviate visual processing challenges. Here are some engaging therapy activities I have incorporated in my OT practice over the years to address visual processing in children.

  • Trampoline Activities
    • Coordinate vis.-vest.-prop. in graded sequence, such as:
    • Have child visually fixate on you while they bounce
    • Have child visually track your moving hand while bouncing
    • Play catch with child using large ball while they bounce
    • Draw visual targets on trampoline with chalk, such as clock face or square grid with numbers, then jump in a pattern
    • Have child toss and catch bean bag to self while bouncing
  • Swing Activities
    • Rescue the animals: while prone on a swing, reach to pick up a plush animal on mat and place it in a box
    • Prone in swing, assemble puzzle on mat
    • Prone in swing, engage in ring toss activity
    • Sit on swing and pick up a bean bag with feet (supine flexion)
    • Sit and swing while tracking a light-up toy
  • Alphabet Twister Games
    • Jump and spell
    • Upper-and lowercase letter discrimination
    • Right-left directionality – e.g., right hand on letter Z
    • Balance one foot on a letter
    • Visual perceptual skills – VSR, VM, VSM, VFG
    • Ocular tracking skills – Find the…
    • Midline crossing – Traditional Twister with hands/feet
  • Ball Pit Activities
    • Jump into (vestibular) and catch a plush animal
    • Climb out for proprioception and motor planning – Add VP and set up puzzle pieces to assemble
    • Throw the balls at stationary and moving targets
    • Toss and catch a beanbag
    • Pop bubbles while in ball pit
    • Look at light-up toys while in ball pit
    • Search for hidden objects in balls
  • Ocular Motor Activities
    • Catch bubbles on wand
    • Balloon volley: write letters/numbers on balloon; choose a letter/number to track while bopping the balloon
    • Zoom ball (ocular convergence): spell words
    • Beanbag toss while on balance board
    • Scoop Ball: name ice cream flavors
    • Hasbro Elefun game: catch pretend butterflies with net
    • Velcro ball game
    • Juggling with scarves
    • Dribbling a playground ball

Getting Kids Outside for a Therapeutic Experience: Part 1

COVID19 quarantine is causing many of us to feel a bit of cabin fever. The good news is that we can experience the great outdoors while staying safe and healthy. As a matter of fact, getting outside in fresh air and sunlight helps boost the immune system. In this pod-cast, Jenny suggests different ways to connect children with nature. In part 1 of this series, since many children are still at home due to COVID19, Jenny starts with ideas that allow children to connect with nature in their own backyard.

COVID19 quarantine is causing many of us to feel a bit of cabin fever. The good news is that we can experience the great outdoors while staying safe and healthy. As a matter of fact, getting outside in fresh air and sunlight helps boost the immune system. Sunlight energizes T-cells in the immune system which are key to the body’s ability to fight infections. In addition, when skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D, an essential vitamin for healthy bones and a strong immune system.

Sunlight increases serotonin, a neurochemical that helps our mood so that we can feel calm, focused, and positive. This can help keep anxiety at bay, which is especially important during these uncertain times.

Exposure to sunlight improves sleep. Cells in our eyes need sunlight to adjust our internal body clock. Quality sleep can make all the difference in a child’s physical and mental health.

Studies show that being around green space, such as trees and grass, and blue space, like creeks, streams, or ponds, improves self-esteem and focusing.

Let’s explore different ways to connect children with nature. In part 1 of this series, since many children are still at home due to COVID19, we will start with ideas that allow children to connect with nature in their own backyard.

Well, let’s get started, the adventures await us!

An important note before we start, be safe and remember to wear sunscreen outside to protect from harmful UV rays.

Here are some fun activities for children to get outside, and you don’t have to go very far, just your own backyard!

OT’s, PT’s and Speech therapists can integrate these activities into a therapy session, or they can be implemented as a home program. These activities develop fine motor skills, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills, gross motor skills, social skills, auditory processing skills, and sensory self-regulation.

  • Sidewalk chalk: draw a hopscotch pattern, write letters and numbers, draw pictures, play tic, tac, toe.
  • Bubbles: blow bubbles, pop bubbles, catch bubbles on the wand, stomp on bubbles before they pop on the ground.
  • Water play: fill up balloons and have a water balloon fight, use a spray bottle to water plants or grass outside, fill a bowl of water and squeeze sponges into an empty bowl, paint with water on the sidewalk.
  • Birds: Watch for birds and locate them. Close your eyes and try to find where the bird sound is coming from. This is good for auditory localization skills. Take a photo then look up the type of bird. Listen for the bird sound and record it, then try to match the sound with the photo. You can use a smart phone for this.
  • Trees: Hug a tree and feel the texture of the bark for a tactile sensory game. If you can climb a tree be safe and go for it! Stand in the shade of a tree and then in the sun, notice the difference in temperature. This develops interoception awareness. Pick a leaf from a tree and do a crayon rubbing. Find a stick from a tree and jump over it.
  • Insects: Look for insects and count how many you see. Listen for the sound of the insect and locate where it is flying. Learn 3 fun facts about that insect. Write about it to work on handwriting skills.
  • Go on a nature scavenger hunt. Make a list of fun outside nature items to safely and easily find. Have at least 1 item for each sensory system. Something to smell, something to feel, something to see, something to hear, etc. For example: smell a flower, feel a rock, see a butterfly, listen for a bird’s song, and other items such as a bug, feather, a cloud and so on. Have the child check off each item as they find it. They can work on reading skills too. This is a great activity for visual perception.
  • Pick flowers and smell them. Create a bouquet. Make a paper cone flower holder. Press the flowers between wax paper and place inside a heavy book so they flatten. Then glue the flowers to paper and write a label to name each flower.
  • Make an obstacle course out of available materials. Such as a hula hoop, baseball glove, a tree in the yard, and so on.
  • Sandbox play. Work on scooping and pouring. Bury a toy and feel and find it. Great tactile activity.
  • Paint rocks with watercolors, then wash it off with a hose. Great proprioception with holding the hose full of water.
  • Make a birdhouse out of a milk carton. Make a bird feeder. You can make a bird feeder out of a pinecone, a toilet paper roll, a bagel, cereal, an orange, or a milk carton. There are many ideas on Pinterest on how to make these. Hang the bird house and the bird feeder in your backyard and watch the birds arrive.
  • Engage in a pretend car wash: Wash toy cars with shaving cream and a toothbrush, then rinse off with the hose because it’s super heavy.
  • Collect nature items and glue them on paper to make a nature collage. Talk about interesting facts of each item.  Older children can work on handwriting skills and label the items and write down some fun facts.
  • Go on a sound safari in your neighborhood. Create a list of sounds that you may commonly hear, such as a fire engine siren, a dog barking, a car passing by, the wind blowing, and any other sounds that you want to add. This is great for auditory processing skills.
  • Find a buried treasure in your own backyard. The therapist will need to coordinate with parents ahead of time. Have them bury an object somewhere in the back yard. The object could be pennies inside a container. Make a treasure map on a piece of paper. Follow the map engaging in gross motor actions along the way to find the buried treasure.

The Many Adventures of Telehealth in Pediatric Therapy

Telehealth is an adventure in which therapists encounter many new opportunities and challenges. It requires flexibility, creativity, and open-mindedness. In this podcast, Jenny offers some ready-to-implement activity ideas from her experience in telehealth to help make the telehealth adventure easier to navigate.

I know it is very scary to tackle teletherapy for the first time. I was nervous when I started practicing teletherapy 3 years ago. I needed confidence that I could navigate the technology pieces. I needed reassurance that I could be creative with limited resources. I learned a lot about how to effectively implement teletherapy, but it took courage and a sense of adventure.

So I ask you, what would Winnie The Pooh do during this time of COVID-19? Pooh bear is a simple bear with a childlike personality, full of wonder and exploration. He takes things as they come and lives life in a fun and spontaneous manner. And when he lives his life this way, it always turns out just fine. Remember to be like Winnie the Pooh so you don’t get stuck in the mud like Eeyore!

Telehealth truly is an adventure! You will encounter many new opportunities when using telehealth service delivery model for pediatric therapy. You will develop resiliency, just as the children with multiple challenges do in their lives daily. Be flexible, creative, open-minded and expect the unexpected.

Here are some ready-to-implement activity ideas to help make your telehealth adventure a little easier to navigate.

Ready-to-Implement-Activity Ideas

Activity ideas using a paper bag and crayons

  • Tear edges of bag to make fringe
  • Go on a scavenger hunt with paper bag
  • Locomotor actions – pick up a crayon and move across room to place in bag
  • Trace hand on paper bag with crayon
  • Identify objects inside bag without looking

Activity ideas using a couch, pillows, chairs

Good for proprioception input, motor planning and following directions.

  • Hop over a pillow
  • Jump & stop activity on couch
  • Bear walk, crab walk over pillows
  • Pretend turtle with pillow on back while crawling
  • Imitate Ninja moves with pillow

Activity ideas using pipe cleaners

  • String cereal
  • Twist together and jump over
  • Copy design for visual perception
  • Wrap around finger
  • Minute to win it, how many can you pick up in 1 minute

Activity ideas using a playground ball

  • Roll over bowling pins (could be empty plastic bottles)
  • Ball wall walk, don’t let it fall
  • Crab kick
  • Spell words for each catch
  • Over under game with adult assistant

Activity ideas using cotton balls

  • Draw a sheep or cloud on paper and glue cotton balls
  • Sponge painting with cotton balls
  • Pretend feed cotton balls to plush animal
  • While supine, pick up cotton ball with toes and bring to hands
  • Throw and catch cotton ball

Tools to Help Children Develop Visual Perception

In this audio-cast, Jenny discusses tools that can be used by teachers, therapists, and parents to help children develop visual perception.

Jenny offers presentations, webinars, and workshops for teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists. If you are planning a conference and you are looking for a speaker on SPD, please contact Jenny today.

Visual perceptual skills are the foundation skills necessary for reading, writing, and math. There are seven visual perceptual skills that impact learning. A student can have deficits in one or more of these subskills. I would like to share with you a description of these visual perceptual skills, how they might impact children in school, and activities to help improve each area of visual perception to enrich learning ability.  

Visual Discrimination: The ability to discern slight differences between letter shapes, sizes and fonts. This can affect reading comprehension.

Activities: Matching game such as Old Maid, Go Fish, scrabble.

Visual Memory: Important skill for copying from the chalkboard or spelling.

Activities: Memory card game, practice spelling words using a scented marker, then smell the marker just before the test. The olfactory system is linked to memory.

Visual Spatial Relationship: Enables discerning between b-d-p-q. It is important in preventing letter reversals and manipulating columns of numbers.

Activities: Puzzles, parquetry, tanograms.

Visual Form Constancy: It is important in discriminating similar font styles when reading. Can lead to poor reading comprehension and recall.

Activities: Find and circle all of the letter “a’s”  on a magazine or newspaper page. Then find all of the letter “b’s” etc.

Visual Sequential Memory: Affects reading comprehension and spelling. It is important in written organizational skills for creative writing. VSM difficulties may mean that class performance exceeds exam responses.

Activities: Use a hand-held electronic speller. Spell words using magnetic letters. Spell words in modeling clay.

Visual Figure-Ground: Difficult to focus on tasks without being distracted by extraneous input. May lose things easily in desk and would therefore benefit from organizational aids. May lose place on page when reading.

Activities: Use a window guide when reading. Here is one example (Reading Helper 954-752-3692). Hidden picture activity pages such as Highlights magazine, Where’s Waldo or I-Spy books.

Visual Closure: Difficulties may affect word identification, seeing words “spl-it”, or omitting letters when reading.

Activities: Finish the picture activity books, dot-to-dot (ask child what the picture is before completing it).

Therapeutic Fun with Wikki Stix

Wikki Stix is a product made of wax coated yarn. Parents, teachers, and pediatric occupational therapists can all use Wikki Stix with children. Touching Wikki Stix wax coated yarn stimulates the tactile system. Wikki Stix  are fun and motivating.  Give a listen to this short podcast to see how children with tactile sensitivity benefit from Wikki Stix fun.

For more information on Wikki Stix go to wikkistix.com

Wikki Stix is a product made of wax coated yarn. Parents, teachers, and pediatric occupational therapists can all use Wikki Stix with children.

Touching Wikki Stix wax coated yarn stimulates the tactile system. Some children have tactile sensitivity, some are tactile seeking, and some are tactile underresponive. Wikki Stix benefits all 3 sensory modulation subtypes.

The fun and motivating Wikki Stix may encourage children with tactile sensitivity to tolerate touching the Wikki Stix, thereby increasing exposure to noxious tactile input. This may carry over to other tactile challenges, such as tolerating hands in messy art material. 

Children who are tactile seeking benefit from engaging with Wikki Stix because the stickiness may satiate their neurological need for tactile input.  This may carry over to helping these children decrease their excessive need to touch objects in the classroom.

Tactile sensory underresponsive children gain increased tactile input while engaging with Wikki Stix. The increased tactile input these children experience, may help them to feel a pencil in their hand with increased sensory awareness, thereby helping them with improved pencil control for handwriting.

Manipulating Wikki Stix to create designs helps children developing important fine motor foundation skills such as pincer grasp, bilateral coordination, in-hand manipulation, and prehension. These can carry over to functional skills such as manipulating scissors, holding a crayon or pencil with correct grasp, and successful use of math manipulatives.

Using Wikki Stix to copy designs helps to build important visual motor and visual perceptual skills, the foundation skills necessary for reading, math, and handwriting.  

Wikki Stix can be used for visual accommodations in the classroom.

  • Stick on handwriting paper to give a tactile cue for baseline letters
  • Stick around coloring picture to teach children coloring inside boundary lines
  • Use for visual cue to mark reading line to help children keep from visually skipping lines
  • Roll a Wikki Stix into a small ball and place on larger numbers for Touch Math
  • Use Wikki Stix for a hand fidget
  • Wrap a Wikki Stix at base of pencil for an instant pencil grip
  • Stick to paper to stabilize it on desk

Here are some fun activity ideas with Wikki Stix. You can find more ideas at: www.Wikkistix.com

3 Deep Relaxed Breathing Exercises to Help Children with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism

Deep relaxed breathing has many neurophysiological benefits for children, especially those with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism.   These children experience ‘fight, flight, freeze’ stress response frequently throughout their daily activities. Listen to this short podcast that outlines the benefits of deep breathing that can help children experience life with more joy and laughter.

Deep relaxed breathing has many neurophysiological benefits for children, especially those with Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism.   These children experience ‘fight, flight, freeze’ stress response frequently throughout their daily activities. Here are some of the benefits of deep breathing that can help children experience life with more joy and laughter.  

  • Deep breathing facilitates the ANS to attain and maintain parasympathetic function – the ‘rest & digest’ system
  • Has a modulating effect creating a calm alertness
  • Increases oxygen helping to ‘wake up’ the brain
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Enables healthier sleep patterns
  • Modulates appetite
  • Decreases fatigue
  • Improves emotional regulation

Children need to be taught deep diaphragmatic breathing patterns, so they can learn to control their breathing for slow, deep, relaxed breaths.

3 Deep Relaxed Breathing Exercises for Children

  1. Feather Breathing

This is my signature technique from my Learn to Move, Move to Learn book and program.  Use craft feathers. These provide a tactile and a visual cue to teach children good diaphragmatic breathing patterns.

Sit in a comfortable position, hold a craft feather in the palm of your hand close to your face, then cue the children “Breath in slowly through your nose like you’re smelling a flower, blow out slowly, don’t let you feather fall”. Note: Demonstrate this to show the children if you breathe out slowly the feather will stay in your hand, and if you blow too hard, the feather will fall.  Repeat at least 3 times.

  • Balloon Breath

Have children sit in a comfortable position and place their hands around their mouth, to pretend they are getting ready to blow up a balloon. Demonstrate and teach children to breathe slowly in through your nose and breathe slowly out through your mouth, moving hands outward as if you are blowing up a balloon on each exhalation. Repeat 3 times moving hands slightly farther apart on each exhalation until the balloon is as big as it can get. Pretend to tie it closed and let it float away in the air.

  • Belly Breathing with Beanbag Animal

Have children lie on the floor and place a small beanbag animal on their stomach. Cue the children “Breathe in slowly though your nose and feel the stuffed animal rise, breathe out slowly through your mouth and then feel the animal lower.  Repeat at least 3 times. Play quiet music for increased relaxation.

Props & Extras:

  • Blowing bubbles or Blowing streamers

Halloween Sensory Tips for Parents and Teachers

Halloween can be overwhelming for children with Sensory Processing Disorder. Have a listen to this short podcast where we’ll explore some sensory tips to consider, and help children with SPD and Autism feel included and enjoy this fun Holiday!

Halloween can be overwhelming for children with Sensory Processing Disorder. Let’s explore some sensory tips to consider, and help children with SPD and Autism feel included and enjoy this fun Holiday!

  • Halloween costumes
    • Tactile issues with fabric, too itchy, too tight, too stiff, too crunchy – have child try on costume test comfort level
    • Wash a costume several times to soften the fabric before wearing it
    • Temperature depending –  too hot, too cold
    • Poor motor planning – Practice putting the costume on at home before taking it to school party
  • Masks & Face paint – AVOID these
    • Tactile sensitivity
    • Difficulty seeing
    • Smell overwhelming can cause nausea and headaches
  • School Halloween parties overwhelming
    • Sounds – play quiet music in background or have child wear headphones or earplugs
    • Sights – Limit Halloween decorations especially moving objects
    • Smells – Have modulating scents available to sniff if smells are offensive (coffee beans)
  • Halloween activities
    • Carving a pumpkin – tactile defensive with scraping out gooey innards of a pumpkin, instead have child decorate a pumpkin using Fun Foam stickers
    • Instead of bobbing for apples, have child paint with sliced apples
  • Consider alternative ways to participate in Halloween rather than ‘Trick or Treating’
    • Passing out candy
    • Cooking Halloween treats at home
    • Watch Halloween shows that are family friendly
  • Trick or Treating
    • Practice ahead of time the sequence to decrease anxiety about what to expect
    • Limit number of houses to your child’s sensory needs (i.e. 10 houses)
    • Map out and practice the Trick or Treating route ahead of time
    • Candy givers – Don’t demand children say “Trick or Treat”
    • Offer 2 choices of candy rather than an entire basket
  • Trick or Treating locations
    • Avoid houses with elaborate lawn decorations can seem real to children with SPD
    • Quiet neighborhoods
    • Churches Trick or Trunk
    • Local shops giving out candy in your hometown