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
Box of Crayons
Mini Pencil Sharpener
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.
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
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 4: Geocaching with Kids
Geocaching is a modern-day treasure hunting activity using a GPS-enabled device. Geocaching gets kids moving outdoors in fresh air and sunshine, which is vital to their health and well-being. Geocaching helps kids increase endurance, build muscle strength, integrate their senses, facilitate creative imagination, and improve their self-esteem. Learn all about Geocaching with Kids in Jenny’s audio podcast.
Geocaching is a modern-day treasure hunting activity using a GPS-enabled device, typically a smart phone. It’s a fun way to get kids outside exploring local parks and walking on nature trails. Giving kids a mission of finding treasure is motivating, which helps increase their ability to stay focused.
Geocaching gets kids moving outdoors, in fresh air and sunshine which is vital to their health and well-being. The physical activity in nature involved in geocaching helps kids increase endurance, build muscle strength, integrate their senses, facilitate creative imagination, and improve their self-esteem. Geocaching has another therapeutic benefit for children, it helps them to develop visual perceptual skills such as visual discrimination and visual figure-ground, directional orientation for learning left/right/north and south, and how to read a map.
To get started, log onto www.geocaching.com and create an account with a geocache log name. Next download the free basic Geocaching app to your smart device. To prepare, collect the following items to bring with you when you geocache; water to drink (important to stay hydrated), bug spray, sunscreen, tweezers (to retrieve tiny paper logs from tiny geocaches), a pen to write your geocache name on the paper log, and items to trade.
Begin by opening the geocache app and select the map, which will display nearby geocaches on the screen. Once you have decided which geocache you want to find, click ‘Navigate’ on the app and it will provide you with specific coordinates. Then you can attempt to locate the hidden treasure. Geocaches come in all different sizes and shapes. From the size of a small pill bottle to a large ammo container. All geocache containers have a paper log inside. When you find the geocache, write your name and the date you found it on the paper log. Next, click ‘Log’ then ‘Found It’ on the geocaching app to virtually log it on the app. You can write a note about your find if you wish. If you have difficulty finding the geocache, the app provides a description as well as a hint to help you out. The larger containers typically have treasures inside, such as miniature toys and stickers, which are fun for kids to find. If you take an item, it is courteous to leave an item in its place.
If you get lucky, you might discover a trackable inside a geocache. A trackable is a special treasure with its own tracking number. It typically looks like a dog tag with something attached to it, such as a small plastic toy. If you find a trackable, you can log it in your geocaching app and read about where it came from and where it wants to go. There is a special place to log a trackable on the geocache app. You can view its log online and read about the adventure it has already been on. The purpose of a trackable is to travel to other geocaches, so remember to place it in another geocache some time.
Safety is the top priority, especially when geocaching with small children. Since geocaches have a difficulty rating, be sure to find geocaches on your app that have an easy to find rating. Also consider the location. Look for geocaches that are in easy to access spots. Some geocaches are far off the beaten path, so stick to the ones close to public sidewalks, trails, parks, etc.
Enjoy the adventures of geocaching with kids.
Getting Kids Outside for a Therapeutic Experience Part 3: Painted Rocks
In Part 3 of getting kids outside for a therapeutic experience, Jenny introduces you to ‘Painted Rocks’, another way to get kids outside connected to nature. Rock Painting is artwork painted on the surface of a smooth stone, then placed in an easy access location outside such as a park or a trail for someone to find and keep or hide again. Painting the rocks develops a child’s fine motor skills and hiding the rocks or finding a painted rock provides opportunity for physical activity and a sensory rich experience in the great outdoors.
In parts 1 and 2 of getting kids outside for a therapeutic experience, we discovered how important fresh air and physical activity is for a child’s physical, mental and emotional health. Part 1 we explored fun activities to connect children to nature in their own back yard. Part 2 we explored therapeutic gardening as a way to connect children to nature. In Part 3 of this series I am introducing you to ‘Painted Rocks’, another way to get kids outside connected to nature. What is it and how does it benefit our children’s health and well-being?
Rock Painting is artwork painted on the surface of a smooth stone, then placed in an easy access location outside such as a park or a trail for someone to find and keep or hide again. Painting the rocks develops a child’s fine motor skills and hiding the rocks or finding a painted rock provides opportunity for physical activity and a sensory rich experience in the great outdoors.
Materials needed for Painted Rocks:
Smooth flat rocks – these can be purchased or found outside easily, just keep your eyes open
Acrylic paint – I like Apple Barrel brand or Martha Stewert
Paint brushes – Look for brushes that don’t shed bristles
Paint pens – Artistro or POSCA are good quality brands
Chalk Markers – these are great for younger children
Sealer – I use Modpodge for outdoors. You can use paint on sealer or spray on sealer. The sealer is an important step because it keeps the paint on the rock if it gets rained on before someone finds it.
What to do:
Wash the rocks and let them dry completely
Paint a smooth flat rock using acrylic paint. Allow the paint to dry
Decorate the rock using paint pens, small paint brush, or chalk markers
You can choose to skip the acrylic paint step and go right to decorating the natural surface of the rock
Seal it with Modpodge or other sealer of your choice
Remember to label the back of the rock if you have a Rock Painting Facebook page or if you belong to a Rock Painting Facebook page community – there are several to choose from. In most cases, you will need to request permission to be admitted to join the group
Take a photo of the painted rock and post the pic to a Facebook page
Hide the rock in a park, family-friendly hiking trail, or at a playground
Your job is complete. Now time for someone to find the precious treasure!
With older children and teens, you can take rock painting to the next level and paint an inspirational message on your rock. Whoever finds this rock, well, it will make their day! I found a rock with a kind message one day when I was out mountain biking. The timing was serendipitous, as I needed to read that message on that day to help me resolve a conflict I was experiencing.
There is national movement called ‘The Kindness Rocks Project’. A woman by the name of Megan Murphy is the creator of this movement. The Kindness Rocks Project encourages people to leave rocks painted with inspiring messages along the path of life. Check it out at www.thekindnessrocksproject.com
There are tons of ideas on Pinterest for painted rock designs and inspirational messages to write on the rocks.
Some of my favorite inspirational quotes I have painted on my rocks include:
I have my own Painted Rock Facebook page called ‘Dolphin65’. It is open to anyone. If you find a painted rock with that label on the back, then you found one of the painted rocks I created! I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to post a pic of anyone’s painted rock you and your child find on my Facebook page and let’s share the joy!
Getting Kids Outside for a Therapeutic Experience, Part 2: Therapeutic Gardening
Therapeutic gardening is a wonderful way to get kids outside and learn about nature while developing sensory processing, motor skills, language, and social skills. In this podcast, Jenny explains the benefits of therapeutic gardening and offers practical suggestions for ways therapists and parents can help children get outside and garden!
In part 1 we learned that getting outside exposes us to sunlight, which is vital for our bodies to make vitamin D and making vitamin D balances our immune system. A recent study looking at global data from COVID19 found that there is a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and increased susceptibility to the repercussions of this novel virus. Another recent study revealed that people are less likely to get coronavirus while outside, because indoor air spreads the virus more quickly.
This is just more evidence to validate the importance of getting kids outside.
Therapeutic gardening is a wonderful way to get kids outside and learn about nature while developing sensory processing, motor skills, language, and social skills.
What are the benefits of therapeutic gardening?
Exposure to the elements of nature is very healing. Studies reveal that exposure to nature reduces blood pressure, eases muscle tension, decreases the production of stress hormones, and enhances immune function. And of course, they are exposed to sunlight, which will help vitamin D production.
Gardening facilitates emotional regulation. Research shows that exposure to the outdoors improves mood and reduces anxiety. This is very good news for parents with children who have developmental disabilities such as sensory processing disorder and autism because these children have an increased risk of mental and physical health issues.
Studies show that children with ADHD improve attention from exposure to green spaces, including just looking at a plant.
Gardening develops fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, balance, postural stability, and muscle strength.
There are always new things to learn about gardening. Learning a new skill contributes to growth and development helping a child feel a sense of independence and self-worth.
Kids can grow a vegetable garden, herb garden, flower garden and/or make a fairy garden.
Growing a vegetable garden contributes to a child’s nutrition. When children grow their own vegetables, they are more likely to eat them. (example of child who grew green beans). Summer is a good time in most places to plant tomatoes, summer squash, green beans, and peppers just to name a few. Start by selecting vegetables that you know your child likes to eat.
Herb gardens are a wonderful sensory experience. Kids can get immediate sensory input through their olfactory system, the sense of smell, simply by pinching off a small piece of the herb and rubbing it between their finger and thumb. This also is great for developing pincer grasp and in-hand manipulation skills. There are a variety of herbs kids can grow; Basal, thyme, sage, rosemary, peppermint, parsley, dill, and cilantro, just to name a few.
Flower gardens are full of beauty. Select flowers that are hearty for your climate so they can be enjoyed all through the summer months. Some flowers have more fragrance than others. Have the child select which colors and smells they like the most. Get a pot, some soil, and teach the child how to plant the flower. The child will develop responsibility by learning how to continue to take care of the flowers such as regularly watering it and pinching off any dead flowers or leaves to help facilitate new growth.
Fairy gardens help to develop a child’s imagination, creativity, and pretend play. You can commercially purchase some fairy garden items, but it is much more fun and creative to make a fairy garden out of nature items. Kids can go on a nature scavenger hunt and collect twigs, leaves, acorns, and unique rocks. Use any container to put the fairy garden into. It can be an old broken pot, the base of a pot, a basket with a plastic liner, or a small spot in the backyard. Start by filling the container with soil, next place the plants where you want them, and finish by arranging the nature items to create a one-of-a-kind fairy garden. Children can even make their own fairies out of craft material. Fairy houses can be made from sticks, string, glue, leaves and moss. There are many more ideas on Pinterest. This is excellent for fine motor skills, motor planning, and sequencing. Creating a theme can be fun. Here are a few examples; a beach theme, desert theme, woodland theme, English garden theme, camping theme, and so the list goes on… It is only limited to your imagination!
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.
Integrating the Senses: Valentine’s Day Theme Activities
In this podcast, Jenny shares some fun Valentine’s Day activities that help to integrate the senses. Activities that incorporate the seven senses, especially vestibular and proprioception, help to facilitate sensory integration, which contributes to a child’s ability to concentrate, organize, have self-confidence, and good academic ability.
We have seven sensory systems which coordinate in synchrony to help with developing a child’s motor skills, language, emotional regulation, and cognitive functioning. The sensory systems include two hidden sensory systems; the vestibular system and the proprioception system and the basic five; touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing. The vestibular system registers head movement in space and has several functions, including facilitating balance and helping a child with maintaining posture. The proprioception system is stimulated during heavy work that causes the muscles to contract or stretch. When a child’s nervous system gets enough proprioception input, the brain sends out neurochemicals called endorphins, which produce an overall calm alertness, helping the child to focus and feel emotional well-being. Activities that incorporate the seven senses, especially vestibular and proprioception, will help to facilitate sensory integration, which contributes to a child’s ability to concentrate, organize, have self-confidence, and good academic ability.
I would like to share with you some fun Valentine’s Day activities that help to integrate the senses.
For Vestibular and proprioception input: Cut out red or pink paper hearts. On each heart, write a locomotor action, such as gallop, march, bear walk, crab walk, jumping jacks. Have the child pick a heart and perform the action. Older children can practice reading skills. You can also work on directional concepts and prepositions by having objects the children move around/under/between/over.
Add other senses to the activity.
For the sense of smell have scratch and sniff stickers on the hearts for the children to smell
For the sense of touch glue different textures to the paper hearts, such as sandpaper, bubble wrap, Velcro, and fabric
For the sense of sight, dim the lights in the room and turn on a glow lamp during the activity to create a calmer space.
For the sense of hearing play music in the background. The children can practice following directions by moving when the music plays and stopping when the music stops, then moving again when the music starts again. This also helps with impulse control.
Let’s finish with a simple and fun fine motor activity for Valentine’s Day. Draw a heart shape about 10” on a piece of aluminum foil. Have the child trace over the heart shape with a marker. If the child can draw a heart shape, have them draw the heart on the aluminum foil. Using either red or pink construction paper or tissue paper, have the child tear small pieces about 1” and glue inside the heart shape on the aluminum foil. This activity develops finger strength, pincer grasp, bilateral coordination skills, and visual motor skills.
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!
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
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)
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