Friday, December 25, 2015

A Joyful Christmas to All

My "50% off after Christmas" metal tree decorated with homemade, white Sculpey ornaments
and very old, tatted (not tattered!) snowflakes.
A little story for Christmas:

All is bright

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Gifts That Matter

This beautiful photo my friend took of her daughter speaks to the importance of giving children the gifts of your time and attention:

See more by this talented mom, photographer and writer at:

And, to read my latest rant about giving priceless gifts to your children:

My Latest Rant

Friday, December 18, 2015

Indoor Snowball Fun Alert

At my first school this morning one of the instructional assistants showed me the indoor snowballs she had recently purchased at a local CVS drugstore--they feel wonderfully squishy, in a resistive/crunchy sort of way.

So, I looked for them on the way to my next stop and--Voila!  The snowballs are now happily settled in my trunk.

Here's a link to a photo of them:

Indoor Snowball Photo & info

No, they don't need to be kept in the freezer and, no, they aren't icy in the center--no worries! 

I did see a warning that they are a choking hazard for young children.

Speaking of no worries, Christmas break starts at 4 PM today--two weeks off--all you hospital/clinic/home health OTs out need to come work in public schools!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cutting Up the Christmas Tree

Erica, one of our abundantly-creative OTs on staff, sent along this activity for scissor practice and assembling a little holiday tree:

I saw this idea online and decided to do it as a session with one of my students IN his K class with his classmates. A substitute and L.D. teacher were present to assist with the other children. My student was max A for most of the tasks, but a lot of his classmates required assistance, too. To complete, they had to cut a paper plate into thirds, thread ribbons through hole-punched holes, and squeeze glitter glue. Quite the fine-motor challenge! 

Here are some of the finished products: 
Here are more of Erica's recent activities:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tacky Sweater Submission

This morning started off with my walking into one of my high school classes and seeing the teacher for students with autism dressed in her "tacky sweater" outfit.  O v e r   t h e   t o p ! ! !

 Her shoulder drape and her skirt are Christmas tree skirts.  She hot glued the fringe to her sleeves and borders of the tree skirts.  Ornaments on hangers are hung from the edge of her green sweater.
  Did the bling upset her students?  Not at all.

Non-Live Turtle Gives Birth

Before our staff meeting/holiday luncheon today, one of our handy OTs, Michelle, showed us the critters she had created in an ocean theme.  You won't believe how imaginative this is:

I told her I would come over and clean her bathrooms if she taught me how to make these. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Sculpey Clay and Diamond Dust--Essential for N'Little Ornament Cuteness

My SLP buddy and I carefully considered which material to choose for making tiny ornaments with our high schoolers with autism.  I wanted resistant material so they would have to exercise their fingers, she wanted something that was easy to spread into a pancake and would be easy to use with the variety of cookie cutters.  The frugal therapist in me wanted to make it from scratch, but bread dough would have to be painted since it isn't exactly a pretty color.  After going through my personal n'little homemade ornaments this weekend I decided that the baking soda/corn starch recipe  that I used a few years ago might be too brittle to make it home successfully with the students.  Alas and alack, I used the Walmart gift card graciously given to us by the school's PTA/PTSO to spend $6 on a l lb. pack of white Sculpey.
Now, when you buy a pack of Sculpey you have to make sure it's sufficiently squishy to allow seldom-worked fingers to manage it independently.  There I stood, in the crafts aisle, squeezing the Sculpey through the little cellophane window of its box.  I found one that was just right.

Students washed their post-snack hands, formed the ball of clay into a thick pancake, then rolled it to about 1/8-1/4" thick with a mini rolling pin.  Many students were unable to flatten it without lots of physical prompting.  It worked best if they used a flat hand instead of trying to push down on the handles.

Students asked for the design of cookie cutter they wanted to use and figured out how to put two cookie cutters on one "pancake"--a little spatial relations challenge.  Then, they asked for the color glitter they wanted and bored a little hole in the top of the shape for a string to later be passed through.  My SLP always is watching me to make sure that I wait until the students use words to ask for what they want to use; I always forget to keep a firm grasp on the items until the students make their requests.
There were a couple of students who did not like the feel of glitter in their palms, so we shook some from the bottle onto the parchment paper for them to pinch and sprinkle over their ornaments.  No, we do not just shake it from the bottle, that is way too easy.
When I was searching at home for glitter to use in this project I came across this little jar of "Diamond Dust," leftover from the 1980's when my personal children spent many snowy days making n'little ornaments of their own.  It has such a magical feel to it, like icy, blue fairy dust sprinkled over the white ornaments.

Wondering why the bottle of glycerin is on the table in the first photo?  Years ago my good, arteest buddy, Angie, told me that she rubs a little drop of glycerin on her palms and fingers prior to working with Sculpey, since the material seems to leech the oil from the skin.  I don't know if she still does this when she makes her beautiful designs, but I think the clay stays more pliable when I use glycerin on my hands.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

December Sky

One of the advantages of keeping my little camera with me during the day for photographing student progress is that I also have it handy for taking photos of unexpected sights:

This is the view of the late afternoon clouds over one of my high schools.  I'm sure all the teachers heading for home yesterday thought I was really strange, standing in the parking lot and taking pictures of the sky, or maybe waiting for my drone delivery.  I kept trying to head over to my car but the clouds mesmerized me and I couldn't move from the spot for quite a while.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Thumbprint Ornaments

At an IEP meeting last week one student's mom showed us a photo of ornaments her son had made, with the help of his after-school caregiver:
These start out with thumbprints and, with added details, turn into familiar holiday images.  You can customize them by changing the colors to all blue & silver, or other colors that appeal to your students and their families.

My student was fully assisted to place his thumbprint on the ornament and the details were painted by his caregiver; his mom considers the gifts to be very special.

Friday, December 4, 2015

NEWSELA--a Resource for Readers at Differing Levels

A high school teacher for students with learning disabilities told me about this free, online resource:

The reader can choose articles based on their reading level, or not.  Look into it!

Disclaimer:  I haven't signed up myself so I don't know what info is required to do so--always proceed with caution!  The teacher who told me about it has been using it for some time.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Fine Motor Stocking Stuffers

Just read this post about 10 great ideas for stocking stuffers which are not only fun but might just help develop fine motor skills--thanks Mama OT!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fall Cookies

Our high schoolers with autism made fall cookies this morning.  My SLP buddy and I had planned to have the students blend the food coloring gel into the dough themselves, but after seeing the deep red color all over my hands we switched gears, since it looked an awful lot like blood.  Call me neurotic and overly-cautious but some folks get freaked out pretty easily.

This was our recipe and guide:  Fall Leaves Sugar Cookies

Now, our plan was to make well-blended dough in yellow, orange and red.  The yellow gel blended evenly into the dough but the red and orange maintained a marbleized look, which ended up being kinda pretty.  Thanks to Ms. H for the excellent photos!

Remember, red and yellow make orange...
My SLP buddy drizzled the gel on the dough, then mixed it in with her hands.

We floured the surface and rolling "pin" and rolled the dough about 1/8" thick before cutting it with either a maple leaf or a turkey cookie cutter.  Several students required hand-over-hand guidance to press down firmly on the rolling pin and one student did not enjoy having pressure applied to her hands, not in the least bit.

We used a firm plastic tumbler instead of a rolling pin, since that's all we had.

Students chose coarse, white crystal sprinkles or fine orange sprinkles to dust the cookies before baking.  My SLP buddy is enamored with cinnamon sugar and kept asking the students if they'd like to sprinkle it on, as well.  It probably adds to the taste but it made the top of the cookies look dull beige.

Students used hot pads to safely place the tray in/out of the little toaster oven in the classroom.  I stood next to them with my own hot pads to assist, but it wasn't necessary.
Of course, the SLP and I "sabotaged" the location of the materials and kept ingredients and tools out of the students' reach, so they would have to ask each other to pass something. 

It was an excellent activity for practicing thorough hand washing...

Friday, November 20, 2015

Strategy for Improving Scissor Accuracy

This may not work for everyone but with this 1st grader yesterday we tried it to improve her ability to maintain corner integrity when cutting angular geometric shapes.

Like so many students she has a very difficult time cutting around corners and changing directions without cutting off a large portion of the paper.  So...we tried extending the cutting lines a half-inch or so past each corner to see if "driving" the scissors past the corners and then turning around to change directions might keep the corners intact.   For 2 of the 3 corners of this triangle it worked!  This is a major improvement for this student.

It wouldn't be practical to draw extended lines for every cutting activity she might encounter but it is easy to do during a practice session.  Will have to test it out and see if the strategy works again with her and if it will also help other students.

Did you notice the date and notes?  I try to date each work sample while I'm still with the student and write notes on the back about how much assistance (verbal/physical prompting) was required to produce it.  On late afternoons when I have little brain power left in the day I tape or staple selected samples to a 8.5 x 11" piece of recycled paper and file it in their OT folder, so I can easily show teachers and parents how their students have improved over time.

Usually, many days later, I find these samples shoved into little pockets in my tote bag or even my purse and it's very helpful to have the student's initials and date of the session already written on them.

Use Your Schmartphone to Dictate Progress Notes

My schmart PT buddy, Lisa, recently demonstrated her method of dictating progress notes on the fly, using her smartphone:

Here is the process:
  • Open up Google Calendar on the smart phone and click on the event that you have created to schedule that student for therapy.
  • Click on Edit, and scroll down to the bottom of the screen where you will see "Notes" 
  • Touch the "notes" spot and a keyboard will pop up. 
  • Touch the microphone and begin to dictate your note. When you are finished, press "Done".
Then when you get to a place where you can open your computer, open up Google Calendar.
  • Click on that same event on the calendar.
  • Under "Description" you should see your note.  It may take a little time to sync the phone with the computer or you may need to refresh the page if the note is not showing up.
  • Then copy your note and paste it into Accelify*!  And there you have it!

*This is the online software program for billing Medicaid that is used by our county.

Even though it takes extra time to transfer the note from the Calendar description to the online billing system daily note my PT buddy carries her smartphone with her everywhere and is using it for her scheduling of students anyway, so it is quick and easy for her to dictate notes soon after she sees her students.

In order to use her work calendar on her personal device she has to initially go through a set-up with our technology and make sure it works in all of the buildings she visits.

Lisa luvs technology and she's helping us all use it to decrease our admin time and free us up to work with the kids!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Savoring Beauty, Savoring Life

Not especially OT-ish, but heartfelt:

This is a very trivial post on a day full of images of devastated Paris in the papers. However, it is about bringing a little bit of beauty into and savoring life, which is what I hear the people of France are so good at doing.
A few weeks ago a work friend gave me a very antique power cord for a refurbished computer, thus saving me about $80. When I drove to her home to pick up this gift I spent a few minutes in her kitchen, which had been renovated by her science teacher husband--Paul. Entering her home was what I imagine an Italian home to be like. All the colors were earth-tones or vibrant, like jewels, and her kitchen--her kitchen was a place where you could imagine making homemade sauces and crushing fresh basil every evening for enhancing your mother's and grandmother's recipes.
Her husband had designed and built a coffee bar where her kitchen "desk" used to be. It had an archway of tile, highlighting a high counter of marble where her box-like coffee/espresso/other things people do with coffee machine sat amongst coffee-ish accessories and tools--each one somehow related to the business of making coffee so delicious you spent time relishing it.
I left Italy and came back to my no-frills home. Plopping my purse down on the 2'x2' counter where I keep my Sunbeam drip coffee maker I suddenly felt hungry for texture and color in my life. Over the last three weeks I've tried to figure out how to regain that sense of richness that I felt when I was in my friend's kitchen, yet be true to my personal guide to home decor--only fill space, especially horizontal surfaces, with what is beautiful or functional and, preferably, both.

Scouring my cabinets I pulled out everything related to coffee that I occasionally use and arranged it all around my coffee maker. Yesterday I realized that the Couroc tray What is Couroc? I'd found at Goodwill so long ago might be a decent substitute for the Italian tiles I did not have on hand, so I added it as a backdrop to the coffee scene.

Having these extra items on the tiny counter has pushed me to keep my purse and going-out-the-door stuff somewhere else, which hasn't been easy to get used to. 
I confess that I haven't used any of the unearthed equipment since I've put them out on the counter.
No, wait. I did use the french press that #1 son gave me a few years ago. I know he likes using one himself because when he left RVA to move to his job far, far away he took Uncle Grumpy and me out to brunch at CanCan just before he left town. I remember the server bringing #1 son's coffee to the table, the boy waiting the allotted number of minutes for it to sufficiently brew and then depressing the plunger to separate the grounds from the thick, dark liquid. He savored every minute of the waiting and the drinking, along with his pear-imbued beignet. Where did he learn to appreciate food and drink like that?

Enjoy these photos of my little slice of Italy, with a nod to France. I've never been to either country, but don't we all feel like a little part of our hearts are there today.

Seasonal Pudding Cups

Found this interesting blog today:

This recipe sounds good, although I personally think it's pretty funny to choose organic milk when  you are also using pudding mix and food coloring...but maybe the ingredients balance out???

Let's see---orange for Thanksgiving, red/green swirl for Christmas, pastels for Easter?  Looks like a great way to use up those non-organic cupcake sprinkles I bought years ago in such vast quantities.

Next week my SLP buddy and I plan to make "Fall Leaf Cookies" with our highschoolers, so stay tuned for adorable photos coming up!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Simple Glare Reduction Idea for Laptop Users

Yesterday, one of our hard-working PTs was having quite an issue with the glare from the overhead lights while working on her laptop.  Even with her golf visor on she was squinting and straining her eyes to clearly see the screen while writing her progress notes.

Angling the screen backward from 90 degrees wasn't possible for her, due to her need to keep her forearms resting on the desk surface; there just wasn't enough room on our "landing strip" countertop for her to achieve a comfortable position for working.  What to do???

Aha!  Nesting the laptop inside an empty paper box solved the problem.  The glare was decreased and there was enough room in front of the keyboard now for her long forearms.  Plus, it's super easy to locate empty paper boxes in every building we work.

The air vents on the sides and bottom of the laptop do put out a lot of heat and she knows to monitor it for safety.  I think a spacer could be used to lift the computer slightly off the surface, if needed for improved ventilation.  She'll only use the box when she's directly working on her computer.  Use your own judgement regarding safety.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Standing Work Stations for On-the-Go OTs

Since our OT Dept. was moved to a renovated high school at the end of last year my new digs consist of a "landing zone" (honestly, that's what it's called) and a good number of pull-out horizontal file drawers for my files and toys.  When you add in the storage space available in the back of my car, it's more than enough for an itinerant therapist's needs.

Between visits the space is to be cleared of personal items, but it's super easy to shuttle my office-size pictures back to the file cabinet just a few steps away.

Steps, hmmm...I'm trying to spend more time on my feet this year so I realized that there was an excellent spot to use in the room for a standing desk.

The computer power cord can be snaked over top of a nearby work cubicle and the occasional person sitting there is always happy to share energy.  I cart over one of my pictures to keep me cheerful and, if I look to the right, I can gaze outside and appreciate the pretty fall leaves past the 200+ cars parked in the lot.  Of course, I can't see my car since my PT buddy and I have an ongoing contest to see who can park the farthest away.  You'd think I'd be thinner by now.

What about all the standing and walking--doesn't it cause too much wear and tear on the old legs?  Well, I'm head over heels about the benefits of wearing support hose--especially when they are this cute:  Crazy Socks

And, no, I don't make any $$ from telling you about this website.  Except for the cute patterned socks I like so much it's just a regular independent living aids company.

Wouldn't it be great if our workplaces experimented with standing desks for employees and even treadmill work stations???  We know it's great for most of our students, why not us?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

One Kindergarten Activity, So Many Grasps

Went to observe a Kindergarten class early last Friday morning and saw so many interesting crayon grasps I didn't know where to start photographing first!  These are all "typically developing" students:

All four students used their non-dominant hand to stabilize the paper.

I really wanted to try on this paracord wristband.
They all demo'd good precision in their coloring.

No classic tripod grasp in this bunch, but some of the other kindergartners in class did demo that typical grasp.  Interesting to note that their fine motor control for coloring was WNL and not affected by the grasps seen in these photos.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Stationery Central--the Abundance of Donations

One of my high schools has students with autism in classes that are more self help, pre-vocational and self-regulation centered than solely academic.  The two teachers have decided to try the "business" of creating and selling stationery to the other pre-vocational activities that the students have performed in the past.
Beauties created by a generous donor mom.
The stationery will be sold in the "School Store" during lunch periods and online.  What marketing wizardry this is, to add an online store.   We live in the age of convenience, in my yuppie neck of the woods, and being able to order from your comfy sofa at home or during a rushed planning period will certainly increase sales volume, don't you think?

A mom who has a student in the class brought in her stash of card-making supplies and tools and probably also her extra scrapbooking materials for the teachers to view and also keep some to get the business started.  Prepare to be amazed at her abundance:

The mom showed us how to make the repeating border designs flow along perfectly, even though you have to move the paper pretty often.

How to "wash" the stamps when you want to change color?  Rinse them with water.  Eek--I've never tried that before!

Hope everyone has a joyful Reformation Day tomorrow, followed by a mildly-frightening Halloween tomorrow night and a lovely All Saints' Day on Sunday.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Mummy Toast

We had quite a variety of mummy faces created as part of our Mummy Toast project this morning.  Had to admit that the faces with olives for eyes were a whole lot cuter than the ones with huge pepperoni slices for eyes.

Our highschoolers in a class for students with autism were enthusiastic when we described the toast as "Mummy Pizza," so if that works better for you, go for it.
Gather ingredients:  plain bread, pizza sauce, sliced mozzarella cheese, sliced black olives and pepperoni slices.  Students had the opportunity to twist open the jar, use a manual can opener on the olive can & grasp and pull apart the teensy-weensy sides of the cheese package.
Since we sent home very specific food preference/allergy questionnaires the first week of school we knew that one student was allergic to peanuts but everyone could eat anything on today's menu they wished to. 

My SLP buddy and I really like students to do all the steps of our activities, but for the sake of time we pre-toasted the bread.

Bad therapist.

If using a knife to slice the mozzarella was too difficult we cut with a bowl scraper instead.

One tbsp. of pizza sauce is spread over the toasted bread.

Cut up the cheese any which way you choose and place on top of the sauce.

Use black olives or cut-up pepperoni slices to make mummy facial features.  Broil for a few minutes, let it cool on the plate a couple of minutes and gobble down your Mummy Toast/Pizza.

We encouraged students to open the flip-down door of the toaster oven, using a hot pad if needed, but the oven was so hot that we decided to have just the adults place the food in and out, using tongs and a spatula. 

Our level of heightened safety precautions really depend on the self-regulation of the students on a particular day, and today there were several "engines" running on  high...

Want to know more about self-regulation and "engines?"  Here's a link:


Strategies to Aid Students Who Chew and Pick

Sorry for the awkward title for this post--how else do you say it?  Here's a helpful article I found via The Sensory Spectrum blog:

Credit goes to

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Mmmmmm... Mummy Toast

My SLP buddy found this great idea for our cooking group next week--Mummy Toast:

Instead of sliced black olives I think we'll use pepperoni slices with the centers cut or stamped out.  We'll make the mummy wrap by slicing strips of mozzeralla cheese and placing them diagonally across the bread.

Will take photos next week!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sneaky Snacks--a Motivating FM and Self-Help Activity

Leave it to Erica to write up another DIY sheet for a great activity, based on an idea from one of her teachers for students with cognitive disabilities:

Sneaky Fine Motor Snack
SUPPLIESVery clean egg carton or ice cube tray, favorite snacks that fit into the little sections & a Hungry Student!
Egg container.jpg
  • Cut the egg container’s top off with scissors. Recycle if possible!
  • Cut the egg container in half, so there are 6 spaces for food rather than 12.
  • Clean, clean, clean!  Let it dry. Then you’re ready to use it.  
  • Place 1-2 bites of food in each compartment for kiddos to grasp, pick up, and feed themselves independently. .
Egg container w food.jpg

Provides lots of opps to practice a fine pincer grasp, in a fun-ctional way.

Thanks to Erica White, MS, OTR/L, for the "How To."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Make It, Take It--Session #2

Yesterday we enjoyed our 2nd Make It, Take It session for OTs on our staff.  Goal:  Complete at least two of the fidget items we planned--Fidget Ball, Fidget Mat (with or without maze) and Fidget Wristband.

Making the Fidget Mat took the majority of the time, but the other two items went lickety-split.  Here are some photos of our fun inservice:
We sliced up and braided donated t-shirts and it just so happened that two of them perfectly coordinated with Lauren's top!

Susan helps Lauren with fabricating a fidget mat maze.

Playdough, ziplock bag and cute socks--all you need for a Fidget ball.

Lauren claimed she couldn't sew but she was just kidding.

One of our OTs thought she couldn't remember how to braid, but she never really forgot.

Susan demonstrates the "whip" stitch to secure the edges of the Fidget Mat.

You can probably figure out that one of our OTs is crazy about flamingos and the color pink.
And, just for grins, here's my "grand dog" assisting with our first attempt at chalk painting this past weekend.  He wanted the paint to match his chewey and we did pretty well, don't you think?