Tag: occupational therapy

Simple Tips, Tools and Resources to Help Young Students Develop Basic Handwriting Skills

I recently collaborated with Help Me Grow Utah, a great Utah resource, to write a guest post, “3 Simple Ways to Prepare Your Kindergartener for Handwriting Success”

As a follow up to the Help Me Grow Utah post, I wanted to share some very simple tools, products and resources to help your young student develop basic foundational skills for good handwriting!

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links as a convenient way to find products and tools recommended.

 

ENCOURAGE THE USE OF SMALL TOOLS

The use of small tools will require the small muscles of the hand to develop important fine motor skills for handwriting. You already have perfect items in your house right now: toothpicks, beads, string, pipe cleaners, tweezers, tongs, sticks, chalk, Legos, small game pieces, clothespins, paint brushes, etc. Get these out for play time to help develop fundamental fine motor skills!

Smaller is better! Stay away from thick or chunky writing tools for your young students. Buy the regular-sized pencils, crayons and thin markers. (Remember this when buying school supplies also.) In fact, save some money! Broken crayons and short pencils are ideal to encourage a proper pencil grasp.

Add a stylus to screens to encourage better fine motor skill development than just using fingers. 

Below are examples and links to some of the small tools I use to help young students develop handwriting skills!

Crayola Chalk

Chameleon Tails Pipe Cleaners

Chameleon Tails Pipe Cleaners/Chenille Stems 12 Inch x 6mm 100-Piece, Assorted Colors

Games with Small Pieces (Hi Ho Cherry-O)

Boogie Board eWriter

Boogie Board Jot 8.5 LCD eWriter, Blue (J32220001)

Stylus Pen

 

 

ENCOURAGE AN IDEAL PENCIL GRASP


Encourage a tripod pencil grasp. Thumb, pointer and middle finger should pinch the pencil while ring and pinkie fingers are tucked into the palm.

“Let the pencil breathe!” Allow thumb, pointer and middle fingers to form an circle while the finger tips hold the pencil. If fingers or thumb are wrapped against the pencil, it is difficult for fingers to move effortlessly without getting tired.

 

 

ENCOURAGE FORMING LETTERS FROM THE TOP

Reinforce starting each capital and lowercase letter at the top with the exception of lowercase d and e (which start in the middle). Handwriting becomes more automatic when letters have a consistent starting point. Eventually, we want students to be thinking about the thoughts they are writing, not on how to write the letters.

 

I love using handwritingpractice.net to create free worksheets with correct starting points. (I recommend using the print letters with the starting point dots. I don’t recommend using the arrows from this website.)

 

Handwriting Without Tears letter formation charts are what I use to help children remember how to form their letters. (The letter formation from this program encourages more fluid letter strokes over the letter formation arrows in the previous website mentioned.)

 

You can also use Handwriting Without Tears workbooks specifically for your child’s grade level. It’s always convenient to have a workbook for them to follow. I love these products.

Happy handwriting!

 

You can read my full article with tips for handwriting here on Help Me Grow Utah’s blog: 3 Simple Ways to Prepare Your Kindergartener for Handwriting Success

Help Me Grow Utah is a great Utah-based resource to help answer any parenting and child development questions a parent or provider has by providing information and community referrals. You can contact them at no cost by dialing 211 and asking for Help Me Grow.

 

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

I’m All Right Book Review by Larry Haddock, a survivor of a Traumatic Brain Injury

I’m excited to share Larry Haddock’s book about his life and experience with a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). Larry and I met at Brigham Young University during our freshman year. He and his friends were just as Larry describes them in his book. Since I’ve known Larry, he’s always had a zany sense of humor and has no shame about it. Larry loves to make people smile and laugh. Larry and I were acquaintances during this time and I’m grateful that we knew each other well enough to remember one another when we met again 5 years later. After graduating from OT school in Colorado, I started my first job as an occupational therapist in Ogden, Utah, where I’d grown up and Larry’s family had recently moved. In that small circle of therapy in Ogden our paths have crossed many times in the past decade and a half.  I loved reading Larry’s book and recognizing his humorous optimism among the names of BYU college friends and therapy friends from Ogden. Larry has often reminded me as we’ve crossed paths, that my OT title really stands for “occupational terrorist”.

Larry survived a car accident after he had recently returned home from a mission in Spain for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and was attending Brigham Young University. His book shares his life story, highlighting important experiences and people before and after that have kept him strong through his life-altering traumatic brain injury.

I am inspired by the picture of Larry’s determination in the rehab gym, wearing a sweat-soaked t-shirt, walking on a treadmill while an uneven thump of his left foot is heard in the background. Larry’s friend, Hope, describes this scene so perfectly in the forward of the book. Larry inspires me to keep pushing through life’s challenges, even at a slow pace and in my sweaty mess.

Larry and I started out on similar life paths. Our paths look quite different now. I’ve often pondered this. But as I read his book, I realize that our life’s missions are still the same. We are still striving for the same purposes: serving others with Christ-like love,  enjoying and caring for our spouses and families, and continuing to progress personally and professionally. Larry and I (and many others) are all still very much the same in our purpose despite the difference in our life’s circumstances. Larry gives me hope and inspiration to keep going despite my challenges, with a smile on my face.

This book is quite an accomplishment for Larry and I only expect more from him in the future. He not only inspires, but gives a realistic picture of life after a TBI. Anyone in the Utah area who reads this will also be introduced to a variety of community resources that Larry has found to support his quality of life to continue to participate in fulfilling his life roles.

Larry truly has a gift of optimism to inspire others. Larry’s voice in this book is the real, authentic Larry. He’s been blessed with such a wonderful support system of family, friends and professionals who have made possible his determination to reap the rewards of accomplishment. All will be inspired as you read Larry’s story.

You can buy Larry’s book at lulu.com. He also did a short interview about his book on Good Things Utah.

Toys and Activities to Keep Kids Active and Meet Their Sensory Needs in a Small Home

Have you ever seen an occupational therapy sensory integration room? (You’ll be jealous of my OT job if you have.) It is a fabulous, big gym with swings, balls, trampolines, mats, bolsters, crash pads and looks like a child’s dream room. If you have a child with sensory processing or sensory integration difficulties and have received therapy in one of these rooms, you’ve wished you could take this room home to help regulate your child’s sensory system each day! And if any child with or without sensory difficulties has been in a sensory room, they’ve begged their parents for a room like one of these in their own home (my own children included)!

Some families are fortunate enough to be able to replicate a big sensory room in their own home, but many simply do not have the space. Parks and outdoor play are the best sensory input in good weather, but snow, rain or even extreme heat may keep you and your child with high sensory needs inside for days at a time. Families can create environments in their own small homes to support their child’s sensory processing needs! Be inspired by this family of 5 who lives in a small home (2 1/2 small bedrooms) and has used their small amount of space wisely.

For about the past 2 years on and off, this family and I have worked together to create the appropriate environment with the right equipment and key activities to help their children regulate their sensory systems at home. They wish more than anything that they had a designated sensory room, but for now while space is very limited, they’ve incorporated important pieces throughout their home. They’ve slowly added equipment throughout the last 2 years so the expense wasn’t so big to start. I’ve asked them to share what the most important equipment and activities they use to help their children regulate their sensory systems and stay active. Even if you don’t have a child with a sensory diagnosis, be sure to look at these ideas, because any child can benefit from being active and having fun in their own home! (And any parent’s sanity can benefit from non-screen activities and equipment like this when their children are cooped up inside!)

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This family actually bought much of their equipment from Amazon. I’m hoping this post is informative, but also that these links will help families save time and energy if interested in using some of these ideas in their own home.

 

GORILLA GYM

One of the hardest pieces of equipment to replicate at home from a full sensory gym is a swing. Yet, a swing is also one of the most powerful pieces of equipment to help regulate a child’s sensory system and ask any of the kids, it’s also the most fun! The Gorilla Gym is a fantastic way to get a swing into your home without a big price tag, large space or expert installation. The Gorilla Gym has a pull-up bar that can be installed onto a door frame without drilling and comes with attachments that can hang from the bar. The Gorilla Gym Kids Deluxe Package includes a pull-up bar, swing, trapeze bar, rings, rope ladder and rope that attach to the pull-up bar and can be used in an open doorway. The Gorilla Gym Kids Package includes the pull-up bar with a swing, rings and rope ladder. Or there’s the Gorilla Gym’s Children’s Package with the pull-up bar and swing only. I LOVE the Gorilla Gym, so do the kids who live in AND the kids who visit this small home!

 

ROCK CLIMBING WALL

Climbers need a place to climb! Rock walls are perfect for a small home because you already have all the space you need! Dad built this wall fairly easily. He used some extra backer board leftover from a tile remodeling project. Although, he says most people typically use plywood on the walls. He used these Rocky Mountain Climbing Gear’s kids’ rock climbing wall holds with hardware. (Be sure to order child-sized holds for small hands.) The mounting hardware is easily screwed into the wall through the center of each hold. Really, rock climbing walls can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. And there’s no reason you can’t add onto it later and let it continue to grow or shrink as needed.

 

 

MINI TRAMPOLINE  

Big or small trampolines will be great investments for your child’s sensory needs. I love the handle bars on the mini trampolines for stability and more sensory input into the child’s arms as they lean into it while jumping. A trampoline helps give great input in one contained spot in your house. This family bought this Little Tikes mini trampoline from Amazon. I’ve also had good experiences with the Fold n Go mini trampoline. For bigger kids, the Pure Fun mini rebounder trampoline is a good option.

 

 

POP-UP TENT AND TUNNELS

Small, enclosed spaces can create a sense of safety for an overwhelmed child needing to calm down. Pop-up tents and tunnels are great for this purpose. Tunnels are great to crawl, hide and play inside because moving inside a small space gives more proprioceptive (muscle and joint) input and creates a higher demand on the body to move than a wide, open space. If space is a concern, buy tents and tunnels that can be folded up and stored in small spaces, like this package of 2 pop-up tents and 2 pop-up tunnels or this set of one tent and one tunnel.

 

 

KIDOOZIE SUPER SKIPPER

Mom happened to find this toy in a small toy store on the clearance shelf in Wyoming. This was a great find and she says they use it every day at their house. The toy is placed on the ground and when turned on, the sticks spin and the kids jump over it again and again and again. We haven’t seen this exact toy again, but found this similar KidSource Musical Hop Skipper on Amazon.

 

 

AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL PRODUCTS’ GONGE CAROUSEL 

Spinning is intense vestibular (movement) input and is great for children who have a hard time keeping their bodies still. Spinning will meet movement needs quicker than back and forth movement. This family used an old office chair to spin until little baby brother’s arrival and they had to replace their desk and office chair for a crib. Now they use this fun Gonge Carousel! The Gonge Carousel spins easily without a constant push. Its uneven mounting causes spinning with the body weight of even small children. It’s also low enough to the ground that a child can stop quickly by putting their foot down. If you have a small home and a child who loves spinning, you need this!

 

 

POOL NOODLE SWORDS

A couple of years ago, I happened to see these pool noodle swords at a farmers’ market in North Logan, Utah made from PVC pipe, pool noodles and duct tape. They were a great price, so I also bought some larger batons (think ninja warrior equipment) for my own older kids at the same time (and they STILL love them). These pool noodle swords have proven to be perfect for this family to help regulate their sensory systems. The pool noodle is soft enough to not cause injury. The design with pool noodles on both sides seems to keep them from falling apart after almost 2 years of play. Visit Kid’s Armory Facebook page for contact info if you’d like to try these fun pool noodle swords and batons also. (In case Utah is too far away, I found this package of 4 pool noodle swords on Amazon. I’ve not used them, but wanted to give a link to find something similar.)

 

WEIGHTED PILLOWS AND BLANKETS

Weighted pillows and blankets are great way to help children to settle and calm for a midday nap or after a long day of play. My favorite local Utah company, Comfort Weighted Blankets, is where I usually recommend buying weighted blankets. (Not only do I like to support local companies, but I’ve found that buying from local companies can decrease the shipping cost on weighted items.) You can also find other companies or you can make your own. This family loves Minky Couture blankets, also a local Utah company. These aren’t as heavy as weighted blankets, but use a super soft material that is quite heavy. Because this family has so many, they usually pile several minkies on top of their kids for deep pressure, especially when it’s time to calm and settle.

This little guy has a very favorite old throw pillow and loves to chew on the corner of it. Mom decided to make it into a weighted pillow to help him calm at night with deep pressure. She sewed pockets of rice into old fabric, unstitched the side seam of the pillow, put the rice pockets inside and then stitched it back up. It was easy for even a mom who claims she doesn’t sew. He uses it every night and asks for it when he needs to calm down as he sets it on his lap and chews on the corner. You can always add weight into pillows, blankets or stuffed animals on your own with rice, rocks, or plastic pellet stuffing, etc.

 

EASY OR NO-EQUIPMENT-NEEDED ACTIVITIES

DANCE PARTIES : Only music needed to get your dance moves on!

BALLOON TOSS: Blow up a balloon and try to keep it in the air! (Easy activity for kids to do while parents are occupied.)

CLIMB, JUMP, CRASH: Jump from the couch, stairs or beds into blankets, pillows, cushions, bean bags or stuffed animals. You can always buy a crash pad or make a crash pad, but a pile of blankets, pillows and stuffed animals on the floor to crash works well also. Your children will incorporate more intensity on their own if they need it with somersaults, flips, etc. (Bunk beds are the preferred jumping spot in this house.)

WRESTLING: A great way to keep kids and adults active! (P.S. Dads and uncles are wrestling all-stars!)

TWISTER: A classic game that can be fun for all ages!

Please share if you have great equipment and activities you use to meet your children’s sensory needs and keep them active in your home!

 

*Be sure to follow all product safety recommendations. Always supervise your children to help them stay safe with all equipment and activities.

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

How to be a Friend to Someone with Autism

Happy Autism Awareness month and Happy Occupational Therapy month this April! What better way to celebrate than by sharing some tips on how to be a friend to someone with Autism from an OT!

Most likely, you know someone with Autism. Most likely, you want to be kind and friendly with them, but are not quite sure how to interact and go about building a friendship. They may act differently from you, but they share a similar desire to have a friend with whom they feel safe. They and their families appreciate when someone will take the time to really get to know them and build a friendship. Over many years, I’ve been able to enjoy many friendships with people who have Autism. My Autistic friends make me smile! I’m grateful for the many lessons they’ve taught me and the memorable moments we’ve shared.

CHARACTERISTICS OF AUTISM

When interacting with someone with Autism, it’s important to recognize the basic defining characteristics of Autism. As you’ll notice, these defining characteristics listed below make social interactions especially difficult for them. Recognize that all these characteristics may make the Autistic person uneasy with a new person initiating social interaction, but does not mean people with Autism do not want friends!

  • Social Skill Difficulties
  • Communication Difficulties
  • Repetitive Behaviors, Routines and Isolated Interests
  • Sensory Processing Difficulties

“THE SPECTRUM”

“Autism Spectrum Disorder” is the official name of the Autism diagnosis. “Spectrum” is used to define a very wide variety of behaviors that encompasses the above characteristics. Each person with Autism will exhibit these characteristics very differently. Each person with Autism is unique and building a friendship with them will mean you must get to know each individually. Below are some clusters of behavior you may see from people on the Autism Spectrum.

Social Skill Difficulties: 

  • May not make eye contact; may be uncomfortable being close in proximity to new people; may find different ways to get your attention, such as throwing objects.
  • May not recognize social cues as to when to stop talking; may not recognize how to enter a group to socialize; may have difficulty learning to share with others.

Communication Difficulties:

  • May not speak, but understands many words or phrases; may only repeat words or phrases; may use alternative ways to communicate, such as pictures or hand gestures.
  • May speak and understand well, but very literally; may not communicate tactfully; may talk excessively.

Repetitive Behaviors, Routines and Isolated Interests:

  • May use movements, such as flapping hands or rocking back and forth, when excited or nervous; may enjoy playing with the same objects or doing the same activities over and over, such as lining up cars or watching fans spin; may get nervous and upset when going to new places, getting new shoes, having furniture moved out of their familiar spot or having new people in their safe environments at home or school.
  • May want to talk about the same topic in detail all the time, such as Minecraft, Pokemon or dinosaurs; may not recognize subtle social cues that you are ready to change subjects or stop talking; may get stressed or not function well through seemingly small changes, such as a new haircut, long holiday weekends or an assembly that changes the school schedule.

Sensory Processing Difficulties:

  • May be over-sensitive to normal amounts of sensory input around us: such as lights seeming to be too bright; noises seeming to be too loud and needing to cover his/her ears; being startled and seeming to over-react to accidental bumps or a pat on the back;  refusing to touch or wear certain textures; being bothered or distracted by smells; being unable to tolerate tasting a variety of foods; being scared of movement activities, such as swinging.
  • May be under-sensitive to normal amounts of sensory input around us: intensely staring or watching others or objects, such as spinning fans or wheels; frequently humming or making his/her own noises; craving hugs, always fidgeting or seeking out certain textures to touch; smelling people and objects; licking, mouthing and chewing on many different objects, not just food; craving movement, such as spinning, jumping and rocking.

HELP THEM FEEL SAFE

When you approach someone with Autism, address them by name in a pleasant, non-intrusive way. Be calm, avoid light touches and loud entrances so you don’t startle them until you become familiar with their sensory processing preferences. Be sure to be predictable or tell them what you’re doing so they know what to expect.

Watch and observe to see if they have a toy, a book or maybe a shirt that they may have an interest in. How can you find a way to interact over something that feels safe or enjoyable to them? With people who speak, you can discuss the subject, listen and ask questions and share their interest. With people who don’t speak, how can you enjoy an activity together? Maybe you can hand them cars from a pile as they line them up, careful not to interfere in their routine. Maybe you can both hit balloons up into the air together.

LET THEM SET THE PACE

Some people with Autism may need to take your interaction slower than you’re used to. They may not be ready to look at you, respond to you or answer your questions. These behaviors don’t mean they’re not listening. You can tell them, “That’s ok. We can talk more in a while. I can wait.” Try again later. It may be that you have to do this over several encounters until they are comfortable with you. They might be willing to give high fives or fist bumps before they are ready to talk.

Don’t give up! And don’t ignore them! Most people with Autism understand more than you realize and feel the effects of being ignored. Be patient and keep trying to be friends with them.

Some Autistic people will be overly excited and want all your attention. When you’re first making friends with them, share that excitement and give them attention. After your friendship is built and you learn to trust each other, you can start to change the pace slowly to also meet your needs by talking frankly, but politely. “Hey, how about you spend a few more minutes talking about Minecraft and then I can tell you about the new things I did yesterday?!”

DON’T BE OFFENDED BY THEIR BEHAVIOR AND COMMUNICATION

Don’t assume that people with Autism are being rude, disrespectful or selfish as they interact with you or others. If you find yourself thinking that their behavior or communication is any of these things, remember they inherently process information and think differently than you, especially social communication. Quickly forgive any offense and be patient as they learn. Just as you are learning how to interact with them, they are learning how to interact with you.

Be sure to clearly tell them what behaviors you appreciate in your friendship, such as, “I like when you smile at me when you see me! It makes me feel like we are friends!” or “Thank you for sharing your toys with me! I have fun playing with you!”

POLITELY ASK SINCERE QUESTIONS

If you ever have questions about how to be a friend to someone with Autism, be sure to ask parents, teachers or friends who know him/her well. They will have insight into their interests, comforts and unique ways of socializing and communicating with others. Many parents and teachers are very happy to help others willing to take the time to understand and get to know their child/student.

If you are in a teaching capacity for someone with Autism, recognize that maintaining a safe and trusting relationship with these principles will create a crucial foundation before you can help them stretch outside their comfort zone.

Enjoy the journey of friendship with your unique friends with Autism!

 

“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” –Henry David Thoreau

Every Minute of Every Recess for Every Student!

Recess is a critical part of every student’s day! As an occupational therapist who has treated children with sensory processing and other special needs in outpatient clinics, schools and as a mom of children whose favorite part of the school day is recess, I will always advocate for every minute of every recess for every student! I’ve shared my professional opinion of the importance of recess for all children with many parents, teachers and administrators. Recess that includes physical activity, unstructured play and socialization with peers improves student behavior, attention and academic performance, as well as the more commonly known physical benefits.

Several years ago, the local schools in my community began cutting recess time to give more time to academics. Although my children did not attend these schools, I felt passionate about raising concern about this trend. At this same time, I was treating many children with sensory processing or sensory integration disorders who had high needs for vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (muscle and joint) input who were also losing recess time through school policies to give more classroom instruction time or as a result of poor behavior or academic performance in the classroom. These children struggled even more in every aspect of their day when their recess time was cut. If only the school staff understood that increased movement and physical activity would improve their behavior, attention and learning while in the classroom! And also understand that student behavior, attention and learning suffers when recess time is cut for any reason!

I want to share some good resources to help advocate for every minute of every recess for every student. Share this with other parents, teachers, administrators and policy makers so best practices for our children’s recesses are put into practice at every school in every classroom for every student!

A new document, Strategies for Recess in Schools, from the CDC and SHAPE America, was recently released in January 2017 with evidence-based recommendations given from experts about recess! The document references 41 other research studies and documents on the importance and benefits of recess. The website also includes links for a Recess Toolkit with ideas and resources for parents and schools to advocate and plan for successful recesses at their school and in their communities.

BENEFITS OF RECESS (pg 4)

  • Increased physical activity
  • Improved memory, attention and concentration
  • Improved on-task behavior in the classroom
  • Reduced disruptive behavior in the classroom
  • Improved social and emotional development

RECOMMENDED GUIDELINES FOR RECESS (pg. 5)

  • Recess time and physical education time should be separate and should not be used to replace each other.
  • Schools and students should be provided with adequate spaces, facilities, equipment, and supplies for recess.
  • Spaces and facilities for recess should meet or exceed recommended safety standards.
  • Recess time should not be taken away for disciplinary reasons or academic performance in the classroom.
  • Required physical activity during recess should not be used as punishment.
  • Recess time should be scheduled before lunch.
  • Staff members who lead or supervise recess should be provided with ongoing professional development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also issued a policy statement in January 2013 on The Crucial Role of Recess in School with 47 reference documents.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.” (pg. 1)

“Ironically, minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance.” (pg. 4)

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR RECESS: (pg. 4) 

  • Recess is a necessary break in the day and should be considered a child’s personal time. It should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.
  • Cognitive processing and academic performance depend on regular breaks from concentrated classroom work. The frequency and duration of breaks should be sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress.
  • Recess is a complement to, but not a replacement for physical education.
  • Recess serves as a counterbalance to sedentary time and contributes to the AAP’s recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day.
  • Recess should be safe and well supervised.
  • Peer interactions during recess are a unique complement to the classroom and build skills for a foundation for healthy development.

Any questions? Now go and play!