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.


About Emily Lauren

Jenny Clark, OTR/L, BCP (AOTA Board Certification in Pediatrics), is a licensed pediatric occupational therapist with over 22 years experience working as a school-based occupational therapist, independent contractor for early intervention services, private practitioner, speaker, consultant, author, and inventor. Jenny currently owns a pediatric therapy private practice, Jenny’s Kids, Inc. Jenny Clark Jenny is the author of the best-selling book on sensory processing entitled Learn to Move, Move to Learn: Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes(AAPC 2004), (Starter Kit available) More recently Ms Clark has written a sequel Learn to Move, Moving Up! Sensorimotor Elementary School Activity Themes (AAPC 2009). In addition, she has published two DVD’s Learn to Move: Dinosaurs (AAPC 2005), a companion to her first book, and Sensory Processing Disorder Kit: Simulations and Solutions for Parents, Teachers, and Therapists (AAPC 2006), which won the 2007 media in excellence video award from Autism Society of America. Jenny’s newest publication is a music CD, Sing, Move, Learn (AAPC 2010), which accompanies the songs in her first book. Ms. Clark is a contributing author for the book Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals (Greenwood Publishing Group 2007), as well as a chapter author for Autism Spectrum Disorders: Foundations, Characteristics, and Effective Strategies. (Pearson Publishing 2011 by Boutot & Myles). Jenny is the inventor of the Patent-Pending “Weigh” Cool Bracelet. Jenny has spoken both nationally and internationally on a variety of topics, including sensory integration/processing. She received her bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy and graduated with distinction from the University of Kansas.
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