Introducing Letter Treasure Hunt

Attention parents, educators and therapists! Letter Treasure Hunt (Therapro, inc. 2014) combines exercise and handwriting practice in a motivating and fun game to get kids moving and to develop important handwriting skills. It can be used in home settings, school environments, occupational therapy sessions, etc.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From its humble origins as an idea to encourage handwriting activities for my son, this handwriting game was played on an existing game board covered with white contact paper, then adding stickers to decorate with my son’s favorite sports mascot. This idea then transformed into a prototype with a pirate graphic design, and finally into a more creative and fun finished product for children to develop their handwriting skills.

Letter Treasure Hunt game also provides children opportunities to develop social interaction skills by taking turns

  1. First you spin the spinner.
  2. Then you move your ‘ship’ (game piece) to the island of that letter.
  3. Then you take a ‘Captain’s Order card’ and perform the exercise indicated.
  4. Then you write the letter and the treasure collected on the alphabet island on your captains log.

Depending on how much time you have to play the game, you can take short adventures or much more extensive ones.  The Captain’s Log shows four variations.

If you are looking for a graduation gift for your child, consider getting her/him Letter Treasure Hunt to work on handwriting through the summer as a family activity. You can learn more at my website, and on Facebook.

Here is a testimonial:

Ayden super excited for his end of school gift. A great summer game created by his wonderful OT. Ayden loves it. Jenny's Kids

Ayden super excited for his end of school gift. A great summer game created by his wonderful OT. Ayden loves it. Jenny’s Kids

Letter Treasure hunt is a great game for all ages.  My son, who dislikes writing loves to write out letters and words while playing treasure hunt.  There are many different play options in terms of how much play time you have.  This game has the perfect balance of focusing on writing technique and physical activity.  It keeps them active yet focused.

The perfect gift to keep kids writing during the summer or to play on a rainy day.

Ayden:  I love this game.  I get to learn and have fun while I play treasure hunt. I love seeing what letter I will land on or what pirate activity I will have to do to move on.

Ayden’s mother

Special thanks to Tracy Rasmussen, Insight Photography, Inc

Posted in Educational Products | Tagged , ,

Every brain is different

I had the pleasure to attend and present a short lecture on Sensory Processing Disorder at Every Brain is Different Conference held Saturday March 29, 2014 at Apache Elementary in Overland Park, KS.  SPD is a neurological condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or “sensory integration.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sponsored by Tikitum, it was a lively day for adults to devote to sensory learning. There was a good turnout and I met many parents and professionals in the field of special education and sensory integration. All people, especially those with neurological differences, have an increased need for early and imaginative interventions. In this conference, we were able to:

  • Explore how the inborn curiosity of all children is learning potential.
  • Pursue a-typical topics for those a-typical learning needs
  • Engage our expert panel
  • Get our hands messy during interactive workshops
  • Network with special needs parents, professionals, and educators.
  • Gain resources from local supporters of the special needs community

Sensory experiences are the foundation of cognitive development and for all developing minds. Increased sensory learning results in maximized intellectual potential and greater abilities for self expression, confidence, and self-regulation.

In the morning session, Dr. Peter Smith gave a lecture on NeuroScience: The Final Frontier. Transforming ideas into reality. Translating research into cures. Transcending suffering and heartbreak associated with neurological disorders.

Then Brianne Bongiovanni gave a lecture on Emilia Reggio Approach where the key features of Reggio Emilia’s early childhood program:

  • the role of the environment as the ‘third’ teacher;
  • children’s multiple symbolic languages;
  • documentation as assessment and advocacy;
  • long-term projects; the teacher as researcher and the home-school relationships.

In the afternoon session, Warren Fried gave a lecture on Understanding Dyspraxia, a neurological disorder throughout the brain that results in life-long impaired motor, memory, judgment, processing, and other cognitive skills. Dyspraxia also impacts the immune and central nervous systems.

My lecture on Sensory Processing Disorder followed Warren Fried.

There were also workshops by:

  • Olga Pitenko of Tikitum Lab on Sensory Learning is Easy!
  • Kimberly Lay on Allergy-free baking,
  • Horizon Academy on Learning Disability Simulation to learn what it feels like to have a learning disability.

Following the lectures and workshops, there was a panel discussion where the audience asked questions and sparked lively discussions with our speakers.

Special thanks to for the wonderful photographs.

Posted in OT Profession | Tagged , , ,

OT and Social Skills

Children learning social skills at day camp

Children learning social skills at day camp

The dream of every parent of a child with a developmental disability is to raise her so that she will fit in with society and be happy. Occupational Therapy improves sensory integration, motor skills and cognitive ability, but OT also addresses development of emotional and social well being. It is our fundamental approach at Jenny’s Kids, Inc., to help the whole child in all her complexity by working with the child, her parents and teachers, in order to give her the best treatment program possible.

There are many factors that influence a child’s ability to learn social skills. Below are a few items that have proven beneficial to the social and emotional development in children with special needs.

Evidence-based practice

Occupational therapy, itself has improved social skills for children on the Autism Spectrum or who have sensory integration issues. In a study published last November (Adaptive and social skills improve with motor skills in children with autism), Children who were treated with occupational therapy for gross motor skills and other sensory integration issues also improved in adaptive and social skills compared to the usual behavioristic therapies.

The fine and gross motor skills are significantly related to adaptive behavior skills in young children with autism spectrum disorder. There is more to focus on and new avenues to explore in the realm of discovering how to implement early intervention and rehabilitation for young children with autism and motor skills need to be a part of the discussion

Inclusive Classrooms

Inclusive classrooms mean that children with developmental disabilities sit side-by-side with typically developing peers in the hopes that the one will learn social skills, while the other will learn acceptance of children who are different. Recent bloggers have begun to question inclusive classrooms for their special needs children.

The Play Factor

Another study done at New York University followed a group of children to observe their choices of playground experiences at a museum. Kathy Ralabate Doody, assistant professor of exceptional education at SUNY Buffalo State, observed different play options to determine those most likely to appeal to children with ASD. She found that the ones that provided the best sensory experiences were most popular.

Play is the foundation of Pediatric Occupational Therapy.(see Fidelity-The OT Report Card) There is no better way to motivate a child to perform what is needed than through playful activities.

Social Story and Social Skills Training

Social Stories™ were developed by Carol Gray, President of The Gray Center.

There are many resources to directly teach children age and gender appropriate social behaviors.  They include simple social story cards and pictures, actual video presentations as well asIpad apps. Summer camps and day camps also focus on teaching social skills to children. Children on the autism spectrum find it hard to read emotional expressions in people’s faces and social cues in body language.

Animals and Fine Arts

Autistic child with dog

Autistic child with dog

From simple pets like dogs and cats, to equine therapy, animals can play a big part in a child’s social and emotional development. A dog can ‘break the ice’ in new social encounters.  Children can express themselves without becoming self conscious when there is a ‘prop’.  Also their love for their animal finds expression in their social exchange.

Just as there is no specific causes as to the reason or rhyme of autism, there is no definite reason ‘why’ therapeutic horseback riding is so beneficial to those children with autism, but it is.  We know the motion of the horse helps the body physically, but there is just something very special in the connection between a rider and the horse that improves everything else!(The Therapeutic Value of Horseback Riding)

Do not neglect the fine arts.  Whether it is painting, photography, music, dance or other activities, a child can develop self esteem and social grace through the arts. For example, Barry Kolman, clarinetist and music professor at Washington and Lee University
taught his daughter, who has autism, clarinet to help her cope with bullying. She started playing in her middle school band last fall. Her parents say it’s given her a social outlet and a way to express her feelings (Watch out, bullies: She’s got the band behind her)

One dad helped reach his son on the Autism Spectrum by becoming the Disney character he loved.

The Next Step

In an effort to improve social skills for children with developmental disabilities, there has sprung up a new kind of school/clinic. Sensory Parenting has initiated The Next Step Learning Center. Situated in Thousand Oaks, California, this revolutionary new clinic addresses the social and emotional development of children.

We focus on all aspects of development with an emphasis on communication and social-emotional development.  We believe that communication and peer engagement are two tools that catapult a child into a successful and social life.  Every activity we do is designed to extract language and encourage peer interactions.

Time will tell if this model for education and therapy has promise. If successful it will provide many children opportunities to improve their social skills.

Learn to Move Curriculum

Learn to Move Move to Learn

Learn to Move Move to Learn

Learn to Move, Move to Learn program, was developed by me as an early childhood educational program for schools.  Many of the above items that engage a child in social and expressive activities are included in this curriculum.  It implements activities to stimulate the sensory systems in a developmentally organized manner, thus improving sensory integration over time. This is an evidenced-based curriculum that provides for constructive therapeutic activities within the school environment that is easy to implement and fun for peer models. If your special needs child were in this program, you would not be questioning the value of inclusive classrooms, because you would see the improvements in your child.

I developed this program because I saw a need to establish a program for best practice occupational therapy services in preschool and early childhood settings that would dovetail with children’s OT clinical experiences. I wanted to provide a structure that can be implemented by special education teachers and helpers without extensive retraining, allow for open-ended adaptation for expressing creativity, while assuring that concept goals are met. This acknowledges the trend to implement inclusive classrooms to improve socialization without hampering academic progress while promoting holistic and trans-disciplinary learning.  Read more . . . . Special Needs Book Review.

Posted in Social | Tagged , ,

Fidelity-OT Report Card

Therapist following fidelity protocol in session with a child

Therapist following fidelity protocol in session with a child

Pediatric Occupational Therapy has a specific purpose and system for treating children experiencing Sensory Integration dysfunction.  Over the years since A. Jean Ayres advanced the field of Occupational Therapy with her theory of Sensory Integration, there have been gradual deviations from her original work to the extent that it has become necessary to clearly define and crystallize research practices and therapeutic protocols that can be endorsed by the American Occupational Therapy Association and the Sensory Integration Global Network.  Fidelity to these practices and protocols lends legitimacy to research and treatment practitioners and excludes pretenders and hangers-on who do not adhere to the Ayres Model of Sensory Integration. Fidelity in research provides a baseline for scientific progress and research breakthroughs.  Fidelity in therapy (read ‘Sensory Integration Intervention Process’) provides reliability of outcomes based on research, Evidence Based Practice.

The therapeutic approach of sensory integration was originally developed by A. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR, and is formally known as Ayres Sensory Integration® (ASI; Ayres, 1989). ASI® includes:

Table 1. Core Elements of Sensory Integration Intervention Process
Core Process Elements Description of Therapist’s Behavior and Attitude
Provide sensory opportunities Presents the child with opportunities for various sensory experiences, which include tactile, vestibular, and/or proprioceptive experiences; intervention involves more than one sensory modality.
Provide just-right challenges Tailors activities so as to present challenges to the child that are neither too difficult nor too easy, to evoke the child’s adaptive responses to sensory and praxis challenges.
Collaborate on activity choice Treats the child as an active collaborator in the therapy process, allowing the child to actively exert some control over activity choice; does not predetermine a schedule of activities independently of the child.
Guide self-organization Supports and guides the child’s self-organization of behavior to make choices and plan own behavior to the extent the child is capable; encourages the child to initiate and develop ideas and plans for activities.
Support optimal arousal Ensures that the therapy situation is conducive to attaining or sustaining the child’s optimal level of arousal by making changes to environment or activity to support the child’s attention, engagement, and comfort.
Create play context Creates a context of play by building on the child’s intrinsic motivation and enjoyment of activities; facilitates or expands on social, motor, imaginative, or object play.
Maximize child’s success Presents or modifies activities so that the child can experience success in doing part or all of an activity that involves a response to a challenge.
Ensure physical safety Ensures that the child is physically safe either through placement of protective and therapeutic equipment or through the therapist’s physical proximity and actions.
Arrange room to engage child Arranges the room and equipment in the room to motivate the child to choose and engage in an activity.
Foster therapeutic alliance Respects the child’s emotions, conveys positive regard toward the child, seems to connect with the child, and creates a climate of trust and emotional safety
March/April 2007, Volume 61, Number 2 Fidelity in Sensory Integration Intervention Research

What does fidelity mean for you?

As a parent, fidelity means you can understand and confirm that the therapeutic treatment your child is getting is backed by research and meets official standards and will produce the results based on that research. As an OT, fidelity means you can rely on its protocols and practices and that certification confirms your knowledge of fidelity.  As a researcher, fidelity means your work will further the knowledge and understanding of Sensory Integration Theory and your results build on A. Jean Ayres model.


Posted in OT Profession | Tagged , ,

Dyspraxia Diagnosis and Treatment

Hand-writing and Dyspraxia

Hand-writing and Dyspraxia

Last year Prof. Sara Rosenblum of the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Haifa performed a study on 40 children to determine if there is a way to scientifically diagnose Dyspraxia from objective measurements of handwriting. Using a special electronic pen and pad, the students were asked to perform three different handwriting tasks.  The results were promising in showing that those students with Dyspraxia took three times longer writing each letter, held the pen in the air between letters longer, and pressed down harder than the control group.

Unlike various illnesses or trauma, says Prof. Rosenblum, this disorder is expressed in the inability to control the process of carrying out a particular motor task, consolidate it in memory and repeat the same task automatically. “Simple tasks, such as closing buttons, tying laces, writing or riding a bicycle, which for healthy people become automatic, are difficult to carry out for people with DCD.

child tying shoes

child tying shoes

Frequently described as “clumsy” or “awkward” by their parents and teachers, children with DCD have difficulty mastering simple motor activities, such as tying shoes or going down stairs, and are unable to perform age-appropriate academic and self-care tasks. Some children may experience difficulties in a variety of areas while others may have problems only with specific activities. The condition does not go away with maturity, but continues into adulthood.

If you think your child may have Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder, download this flyer from CanChild and bring it with you to your next well child visit with your pediatrician.

child fell from bike

child fell from bike

There are strategies to cope with Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder.  Education is key.  Adaptive tools and practices help each child to achieve and feel a sense of accomplishment.  Download this flyer(Children with Developmental Coordination Disorder: At home, at school, and in the community) for a more comprehensive list of strategies and definitions.

So what is the role of the Occupational Therapist in treating Dyspraxia?

The occupational therapist can provide assessment and therapy for children suffering from Dyspraxia.  Also there may be other conditions (co-morbid) such as Sensory Processing Disorder, or Autism which will also need to be assessed and treated. The OT can also educate school personnel and parents for accommodating children with DCD or Dyspraxia.

We now know from research evidence that the child’s underlying motor impairment does not change regardless of the type of treatment used. However, we also know that the child can learn to do what they need to do to be successful and participate more fully. Education is a very powerful intervention tool: helping the child and those around him to understand why he struggles with certain activities can make a big difference. Learning or cognitive approaches have been shown to be effective in helping children to learn to do specific activities and then generalize that learning across tasks and situations. Accommodations, adapted equipment and environmental modifications at home and school are essential. Empowering parents so they can continue to advocate effectively for their child, maximize his/her strengths and steer them towards activities where they can be successful can help to reduce the risk of secondary emotional and physical health consequences.


Posted in Uncategorized

Love your canine assistant

Jennifer Arnold, founder of Canine Assistants teaches us that pure love motivates a trained service dog to perform tasks for his person.  Dogs depend on humans for their survival.  The loving relationship between dog and person is key to all other benefits that derive from that relationship.

Canine Assistants are dogs, bred at the farm and trained for 18 months.  Twice a month, Canine Assistants holds ‘dog camp’ to pair up each trained dog with a person/recipient.  Matching a dog to a person is much like courtship.  The dog actually chooses the person.  For two weeks the person learns about his dog as the loving bond is formed.

Little girl in wheel chair with her canine assistant

Little girl in wheel chair with her canine assistant

If you are a parent with a child who has special needs, you might consider getting her a service dog.  The child/dog relationship extends beyond just meeting physical needs.  Consider emotional, and social benefits as well.  A person who treats a dog with loving care generally will extend that behavior and attitude towards other people.

If you have a story about a dog and a special child, I would love to hear from you to share your story here.

Posted in service dogs | Tagged , ,

Lullaby and Goodnight (part 2)

baby sleeping

baby sleeping

If your child is experiencing difficulties sleeping, she may have a sleep disorder.In Part 1 of this article, I discussed symptoms and approaches to identifying sleep disorders in your child. Once you have identified the causes of your child’s sleep problems, you may want to implement some of the following remedies and suggestions.

Suggestions to promote good sleep hygiene.

(Most of this information is also available in the book Pediatric Disorders of Regulation in Affect and Behavior: A Therapist’s Guide to Assessment and Treatment (Practical Resources for the Mental Health Professional) by Georgia A. DeGangi)

  • Provide a comfortable sleep setting. Suggestions for room and bedding decor to assist your child’s ability to relax at bedtime.
    • Is your child is too hot or too cold?
      • Check the temperature of the room,
      • type and amount of bedding and sleep clothes to decide what combination is best for your child.
      • Remember that your child’s sense of temperature may be different than your own.
      • Recall what temperature your child seems to prefer and/or seek during the day, and consider when making decisions.
    • Is your child sensitive to touch (tactile sensitivity)?
      • Certain textures can relax or arouse your child.
      • Look at bedding and pajama textures.
      • Your child may prefer his/her feet covered or uncovered with footed pajamas, socks and or even the covers themselves.
      • How tight or loose the clothing fits, and whether or not there are elastic, seams, or clothing tags can be an issue for some children.
      • Also bedding should provide the optimum level of pressure.  Consider using a weighted blanket if your child is sensory seeking.
    • Are noises and other sounds affecting your child? At night, when trying to relax and fall asleep, the noises your child hears may be over powering and impossible for him to filter out. These noises, such as water running or an animal scratching may not affect you or other household members but can be disrupting for a child with a developmental disorder such as Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder. Sometimes a fan, air filter, TV or soft music in the child’s room can help mask other noises and provide a consistent sound that is comforting and/or soothing.
    • Is your child sensitive to light?
      • Is your child afraid of the dark?
      • Some children with autism spectrum disorders may seem to prefer dark places during the day but may need some minimum amount of light at night.
      • Streetlights, the moon, or car lights shining in the room at intermittent intervals may be affecting your child’s sleep.
      • Providing a room that is consistently light or dark may be very important, depending on your child’s needs.
      • Consider installing blackout curtains over the windows.
  • Establish a regular bedtime routine Bedtime routines and rituals are very important for most children in establishing positive sleep patterns, but are extremely critical for children who suffer sleep disorders.
    • Set Time Pick a time for bed that is reasonable for your child and which you can consistently provide.
    • Provide predictability and a comforting, familiar pattern. For further understanding and structure, a visual bedtime schedule can help. A visual schedule can provide reminders and consistency for the whole family.
    • Choose calming activities A good bedtime routine will help teach a child to calm down, relax and get ready to sleep. For example, if bathing is stimulating or frightening for your child, even though you may want him/her to bathe before bed, it may be best to bathe at a completely different time of the day. Likewise, there may be sensory integration activities that have proven to be relaxing to your child during the day that you can also use as part of the bedtime routine.
    • Routine means the same everyday and should include activities that are pleasant and relaxing as well as special and individualized to fit your child’s needs and interests. A bedtime routine should realistically consist of 4 to 6 steps that do not take more time than is reasonable to accomplish on a nightly basis.
    • Example activities to consider as part of a bedtime routine or ritual include:
      • looking at the same book or story each night,
      • saying good night to favorite objects,
      • toileting,
      • bathing,
      • getting pajamas on,
      • brushing teeth,
      • having a glass of water,
      • singing a favorite song or prayer,
      • listening to calming music that the child enjoys,
      • hugging and kissing family members
      • engaging in a calming sensory integration activity.
    • Variations are inevitable. There come times when you are not able to perform the exact routine/ritual.  You can shorten each step significantly and potentially eliminate nightlong frustrations due to the change. If your child is away from home for a night or two you may see old sleeping patterns emerge. Even in a temporary new environment, routines may help. Upon returning home the bedtime routine will continue to be effective, though the excitement from the change may take a night or more to fade depending on your child and how long you have been away.
  • Teach your child to fall asleep alone
    • Children and adults naturally wake up several times each night. Each time we wake up, we check out our sleep environment and then quickly go back to sleep. These wakings are so brief that we often do not remember
      them in the morning.
    • If your child cannot fall asleep alone, then each time he/she wakes up, it is hard to fall back asleep without your help. If your child learns to fall asleep alone, then he/she will also be able to learn to fall back asleep at times of natural night waking, and wake more rested in the morning.
  • Promote healthy daytime behaviors
    • Physical Activity
      • Exercise during the day helps your child sleep better at night. Children and adults who exercise find it easier to fall asleep at night and have deeper sleep.
      • If your child does not get regular exercise at school, try to schedule this at home. Make sure the time for exercise is early in the day, as stimulating exercise close to bedtime may make it harder to fall asleep. Be sure all hard or tiring activity ends two to three hours prior to bedtime.
    • Caffeinated Foods & Beverages
      • Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause an ‘alerting effect’ and keep your child awake at night.
      • The effect of caffeine stays in the body for 3 to 5 hours and up to 12 hours.
      • If your child has caffeinated foods or beverages (e.g., chocolate, coffee, tea, and soda) in the afternoon or evening they may have difficulty sleeping.
      • Some children sleep best when these products are taken
        completely out of their diet.

Alternative approaches

Many of the experts approve the above remedies and sometimes offer the following experimental approaches in extreme cases.

  • Address Food allergies and other digestive issues like lactose intolerance
  • Use of sedatives at night only if other methods have not worked.
    • Must be prescribed by a pediatrician
    • Supplemental melatonin has been used successfully under physician guidance as a means of treating serious and chronic sleep disorders


Posted in Occupations Rx, Sleep