Friday, February 28, 2014

'Tis a Bit o' the Irish

Oh, I can't wait for March 17th when my favorite kindergarten teacher arrives early to school to sprinkle leprechaun dust around her classroom and top off the decorations with green food coloring in the short little toilet in the tiny classroom bathroom.
We got an early start with St. Patty's Day fun this morning in a classroom for high school students with autism--Happy St. Patrick's Day cards.  Next time we're going to hunt for pots o' gold around the building so this card activity will help them be more aware of all things green.
We introduced the activity and the materials--paint, paintbrushes, heart stamps to make shamrock designs, choice of different paper colors and a green marker to write their greeting.  Then the sabotage began--they had to ask for these things.  The Speech-Language Pathologist I work with is so patient and demanding; she works it every which way to get them to ask for what they want:

Students had the choice--a heart shape with strings all over it or a heart with a smooth surface.

They asked for a paintbrush and painted all over the top of the heart.

The heartstrings made a very fun design (thank you, Pinterest person!)

After stamping four hearts to make a clover (shamrock) design, the students traced around the outside edges and added a little stem.  Then, it was time to write their greeting.

Remember to sprinkle a little leprechaun dust!

We were able to observe the students' reactions to handling the cold, messy paint, how they grasped the paintbrush and their accuracy with applying the paint to the heart shapes, their ability to adjust their grasp and wrist position as they turned the shapes around to stamp a clover pattern, their ability to supinate their wrists to receive the leprechaun dust and use a fine pinch with their dominant hand to sprinkle the same.  My SLP buddy got to observe and foster mucho communication.  The teachers asked if they could temporarily use the cards to decorate the classrooms--Score!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pink is the New Tool for Increasing Attention to Task

One of my elementary school students is trying out the word prediction software, Co-Writer.  Before she arrives in her homeroom I enter words or sentences from her recent work into the personal vocabulary under her User profile in the software.  That way, the words she has recently written in class will be included more quickly than usual in the drop-down list of predicted words.
Although she is very cooperative and willing to work hard, typing and looking for the correct predicted word does get a little tiresome as the session continues.  How to spice things up and increase alertness???
Add a little color to the mix:
How did I know that using a pink font would be of interest to her?  Well, it was easy to figure out...

...can you guess her favorite color?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Using Washi Tape to Create Roads for Matchbox Cars

My clever friend used Washi tape to create a fun driving area for her little one:

Washi Tape Roadway

My little boy had a dangerous encounter with tape in his mouth when he was a toddler, so keep your eyes peeled for possible tape tastings!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hokey Idea for Heart Health Month

Please don't laugh.

Next week is the last week of Heart Health Month, or whatever the correct name might be!  In our integrated therapy session next Wednesday (Students/Educator/OT/Speech-Language Pathologist) we will be exercising with a sturdy hula hoop (raising it overhead for a slow count of five), reviewing what is done during physical education to keep their hearts healthy and making a card about how they work on having a healthy heart at school.

I didn't know how to clearly explain the card design via e-mail to my cohorts so this silly sketch was created in Microsoft's Paint program, one of the built-in accessories that came with my work computer.
Students will use homemade "rubber" stamps to stamp a heart at either end of the barbell, then choose their photo from an array of 1 or 2 classmates to glue on the card.

I think these middle school students in a class for students with significant intellectual disabilities will have fun with the dynamic activities and making the cards to take home. 

Creative Site for Fun and Practical Templates

Looking online for a template to use to create a "Treasure Map" as part of an activity with older students with autism I came across this site:

What a treasure trove!  Templates for comic strips, storyboards, graphic organizers, to-do lists, calendars, handwriting paper, flow charts.....

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Prepping for a FWI Student

It's been a long time since I had a Fieldwork I student and she began today.  My own FWII experience with Laura Vogtle and Joan Albert at the Children's Rehab Center in Charlottesville (now Kluge Rehab) was so excellent that I want to make sure I pass along a little of their insights to this first-year OT student from MCV-VCU.
To help her observe students on her first day I made up this guide to observation, which runs in my head every time I'm in a class:

Framework for Observing Students:
Activity:  Listening to story?  Working at Desk?  Small groups of 2-3 students at different centers?

Posture & Positioning:  Sitting at desk, on floor, standing?  Starting with the head, note if posture is symmetrical?  Good endurance for sitting or standing (back stays erect or slumps?)?  Puts head in hand while writing or reading?  Lays head on desk? 

Peer Relationships:  Student working at desk and sharing materials with peers?  Student sitting close or far away from peers on rug during story?  Quietly talking to peers?  Working together in small group at centers or each student doing own thing?

Behavioral Strategies by Teacher:  Standing in one spot while giving instructions?  Moving around room while giving instructions?  Showing how to do steps of making project?  Directing some students to sit close to teacher during story time on rug?  Calling on students to answer rather than correcting behavior directly?  Actively ignoring some distracting behaviors?  Complimenting students for specific behaviors or work?

Student Abilities During Fine Motor Tasks:  Organized approach to task?  Has own materials on hand?  Frequently asking peers for materials or clarification?  How does control of pencil, crayon or scissors compare to peers nearby?  Talking quietly about task or other topics?  Completes work at same rate as peers?

Environment of Room:  Easy to move around between desks/furniture?  Creatively messy or very structured?  How many adults enter/exit during session?  Brightness?  Noise level?

What positive comment would you give to teacher or instructional assistant, based on what you saw during the session?  Clear presentation of activity?  Subtle verbal prompting to keep students on task?  Accommodations made for the student receiving OT services?

What suggestion to help your student receiving OT services would you share with the teacher or instructional assistant following the observation (or at a better time in the future?)  Changes to desk or chair positioning?  Presentation of materials?  Using an item available in the classroom to provide extra practice for fine motor or self help skills?  Encourage different grasp of pencil/scissors?     

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mystery Shapes and Functional Fine Motor Practice

Want to entice students to write words?  Keep your eye on the giveaway pile in the teachers' lounge until you find a cool, velvety sack and then plop in a few cute critters:
Have the student dive into the sack and tell you, without using their eyes, which critters you've hidden in the bag.  Start with just one or two. 

When you can tear the student away from looking at the fun critters or exploring the soft bag, start a table on a sheet of paper taped to the wall to keep track of which critters you both will find.

Writing on a vertical plane helps the student use just the thumb and first two fingers to grasp the pencil.  It doesn't cure an inefficient grasp, but it provides practice using a more efficient grasp.

It's also a good opportunity to gently demonstrate more efficient letter formation.  Not many teachers have the luxury of observing each student in class during writing times and lots of poor letter formation habits are practiced over and over.

Practice a little spatial relations/body position in space while picking up the runaway critters and then...

put 'em away in their critter nest and practice closing the zip top bag, which is what students need to do for themselves countless times every day in class and at home.  Seems like so many students use zip top bags instead of pencil boxes this year.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day Card--Homemade, of Course

I gave my DH his V-Day card a day late, but it still was welcomed.  Such a patient guy.
Months ago I scarfed up an unwanted gift bag in the teachers' lounge and saved it for a future project.  Last week two students and I cut apart the artsy letters and made V-Day cards for family.  Hey--I've got a family, too!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Inexpensive Ideas for Restless Personal Children on Snow Days

Want to feel like a good OT-mommy when your personal darlings are home on snow days from school?  Pull out one or two fine motor/sequencing/bilateral coordination activities (AKA Crafts).

This blog has some goodies to try:

Crafts, Crafts, Crafts

One I like a lot is:
Cut cardboard into heart shapes and use it in place of the wooden blocks pictured in the tutorial.  Notching the perimeter will help the string stay in place.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What Do School-Based OTs Do on Snow Days?

Well, if the OT has little kiddos at home...nothing gets done.  But, if your personal children are long grown and gone then you get to do anything you want!

Unfortunately at my house, that isn't very exciting.  Wait, it's exciting to me--I get to organize my bathroom!!!
Start with a mess.

Remove everything and clean the counter and sinks.  Add back the stuff you use everyday--do not add back the stuff you use now and then.
Recycle things from around the house to make custom containers (gallon milk jug), and
grab some of those free totes you got from stores and use them to hold items frequently used together (hair dryer and flat iron, moisturizers and hair creams).  Both of these cute pink totes fit on the top of the toilet tank; they even look cheerful at 5:30 a.m. when I'm trying to achieve some level of alertness.

The cabinets under the sink were purged and cleaned today, too.  I'm not showing you that--gross and yucky caution area since it hadn't been tackled for 10+ years.

Another snow day tomorrow.  If I still have power I might even do some ironing--radical thought.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Look Better Than You Feel

Yesterday my friend, Kim Newlen, lost her battle against cancer, but gained access to her heavenly home.   Knowing firsthand the needs of women who have undergone surgery for breast cancer, she designed at least two products related to post surgical recovery, one of which is now provided at discharge to patients at several teaching hospitals in Virginia.

I didn't know until yesterday that Kim was not only a general education teacher but also received a Master's degree in special education from Clemson University.  No wonder she was so nice and understanding to me, her friend who is an occupational therapist.  Special education teachers accept everyone, no matter how quirky they act.

I look forward to seeing her again.

Friday, February 7, 2014

I Think It's a Book About Chocolate...

One of my elementary schools has the students across several grade levels reading, "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."  Classroom doors are decorated in chocolatey themes and each class is thinking of cool projects to celebrate this classic book.

This particular 5th grade class went all out with their hall decorations:

Probably the cutest little mushrooms I've ever seen.

The white strips holding the lollipops to the wall are made from sturdy paper, not metal.

When you're trudging down those long school hallways with all the OT stuff we seem to carry, it's wonderful to stop and smell the chocolate...and appreciate the creativity of students and staff. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Recycled Paper Snowman Design

Thanks to a creative early childhood special education teacher, Donna Deprato, and her OT buddy, Lynn Kitchens, for sharing this great activity idea:

Shredded Paper Snowman

Wouldn't it be cool to make a heart out of shredded red and pink paper, along with colorful comics???

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Of course, it's a little easier to focus when there's a yummy treat in view.

My DD's n'little puppy is wild and crazy when tearing around the house in search of fun, but can settle down quickly when the training treats are within whiffing distance.

I've found a CD to use at work that helps me focus when I have to write reports in a noisy background.  It's a nature CD like the others I've tried, but this one combines the sound of a gurgling stream and birdies chirping intermittently.  Works better than the steady pace of ocean waves on the beach or rain falling on a large stone.  If you have difficulty focusing when you're in a noisy work space, check out YouTube until you find one you like.  Some of them run for 10 hours!

Now, if you want to lower your blood pressure, go find yourself a warm puppy to snuggle with...

More! I Want More! Building Vestibular Opps into the School Day

Well, lots of the students we know in schools wouldn't tolerate this position, on purpose, EVER.

One of my teachers for high school students with autism told me that it was a little tricky to convince one of her students to bend over, like the quirky detective on Law and Order, to retrieve his snack and lunch from cabinets placed low to the floor.  The mean OT had asked the teacher to find "naturally-occurring" opps for the students to change head positions throughout the day and the teacher figured that food was a natural motivator.  She told me that about mid-year the student became more comfortable leaning over long enough to open his locker and pick out what he wanted to eat.  However, he had been very reluctant at first.

When we do groups with students who appear timid about active movement or challenges to their balance, we incorporate multiple opportunities for them to turn around to a table behind the work area to select materials for the activity, look up at the adult then down to their work, draw high and low on a huge sheet of paper taped to the wall and pick up dropped items from the floor.  Most of the students I see in middle and high schools sit at their desks a good amount of the day, although they do have active times when walking in the halls, during PE and vocational tasks in the school.  At home they primarily lounge and watch TV or play video games.

Sometimes these students are very timid about losing their balance and remain immobile unless encouraged by an adult to perform a dynamic activity.  Building in vestibular activities, cloaked as classroom responsibilities, or via adjusting the classroom environment (personal lockers close to the floor), can gently nudge them into more head and body movement into unaccustomed planes.

And, what about this great little guy in the photo?  Well, he's a wonderful, "typical" kid.  Look at him for a minute--what does your therapist eye tell you about his comfort level in this position?

I hope you see his sheer delight in being in that bucket swing, despite the ground being parallel with his cute, little face.  He's looking at the photographer, so easily rotating his head to do so.  One hand is flexed and holding his partially-munched cracker; his thumb is visible and not tightly drawn into his palm.  His left hand is open and mostly relaxed.  And that smile; you know he's loving it.  More!  I want more, Mom!

We might not get our students to the same level of comfort with the unpredictable world all around them, but we can make life better for them.  Especially when we work with teachers to build just-right challenges into the school day.