Category Archives: Occupational Therapy

Handwriting

This blog post was written by one of our outstanding occupational therapists.

writing

Occupational Therapists frequently receive referrals to work on handwriting. But why does handwriting matter? Simply put, it’s been an important method of communication for thousands of years, and continues to be important for everyday life. In school, at work, when completing application forms, and planning our days, people often pick up their pens. However, in these times of increasingly advanced technology some people wonder if handwriting is becoming obsolete. In some ways perhaps, but there are many reasons that it shouldn’t. For one thing, the simple act of writing helps with brain development. Increased brain activity occurs whenever we use this complex skill in a way that does not happen when we type. This is because writing involves fine motor skills, spatial skills, eye-hand coordination, memory, and planning. As a child, the development of neural connections through writing is incredibly important. Secondly, studies have shown that when we write things down (think classroom notes, grocery lists, and to-do lists) we are more likely to remember them. Additionally, for purposes of safety, writing can also be important. If for some reason, we become unable to communicate verbally (in incidences of injury, for example) writing can become a primary form of communication.

What does it mean to have “good” handwriting? Generally speaking, it means that the writing is legible, and there are several pieces to the puzzle when it comes to legibility, including motor skills, visual skills, and the combination of the two. Let’s take a look at this through different age groups.

Preschool and Kindergarten

At this age:

  • Kids are playing fine motor games and doing simple eye-hand coordination tasks like drawing pictures, learning to color within the lines of a shape, trace simple lines and shapes, learning to use scissors. By age 5 or 6 they are using one hand predominantly, with the other hand as a helper. In kindergarten they are learning how to write letters and draw more challenging shapes.

Things to look out for:

  • A fisted or otherwise awkward grasp on crayons or markers, from age 3 and up.
  • Difficulty copying simple shapes (lines and circles) or starting to draw features of people and common objects.

What you can work on:

  • To get little hands ready to hold a pencil (down the line), have them pick things up with tweezers, bread tongs, or clothespins; play with finger puppets; fingerpaint with a different color on each finger; play crawling games to help develop the muscles in their hands; and color with small pieces of crayon or chalk (like one-inch long).
  • To get them ready for more precise eye-hand coordination, have them put stickers onto designated spots as part of arts and crafts activities, do simple mazes, string beads with holes of different sizes, and play with constructional toys.
  • To help establish hand dominance, never force them, but have them play with games that involve using both hands together, such as toy nuts and bolts, wind up toys, and grinder or crank toys (like some play-dough toys).

Elementary school

At this stage:

  • Writing becomes an increasingly important skill, and by the upper grades the majority of the child’s work is likely to be handwritten. Kids complete worksheets, journals, answer questions about reading assignments, and later on write paragraphs on notebook paper.

Things to look out for:

  • Difficulty with letter formation, letter size, spacing between letters and words, and letters that float or sink below the baseline.
  • Messy but fast writing; or neat but slow writing.
  • Difficulty learning cursive.
  • Hands getting tired easily.

What to work on:

  • Perceptual tasks such as puzzles, spot-the-differences, and hidden pictures.
  • Precision tasks such as mazes, dot to dots, mirror image drawings, and grid drawings.
  • Adaptations to the type of paper/lines your child is using; adaptations to the pencil/writing tool

Middle school and high school

At this stage:

  • Your kids are taking notes in class, and often have worksheets to complete as well as longer written assignments.

Things to look out for:

  • All of the same signs as in the elementary age group.
  • Teachers and other people having difficulty understanding what the child has written.
  • Avoidance of work.

What you can work on:

  • Talk to an occupational therapist about adaptations that can be made to the tasks, setting, or materials used if writing is posing a significant challenge.
  • Depending on the child’s strengths and needs, it may be helpful to revisit cursive as an alternative to printing.
  • Children should start becoming more proficient with typing at this stage.

If you have concerns about your child’s writing, talk to his or her teachers about school strategies, and consider an occupational therapy screening to find out more information about what can be done to help.

References:

Handwriting Without Tears (2013). Research Review. Retrieved January 23, 2015 from http://www.hwtears.com/files/HWT%20Research%20Review.pdf

Handwriting Without Tears (n.d.). Importance of Handwriting. Retrieved January 23, 2015 from http://www.hwtears.com/hwt/why-it-works/handwriting-standards/importance-handwriting

Konnikova, M. (2014, June 2). What’s lost as handwriting fades. New York Times. Retrieved February 5, 2015 from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/science/whats-lost-as-handwriting-fades.html?_r=0

Mueller, P. A. & Oppenheimer D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168.

The University of Stavanger. (2011, January 24). Better learning through handwriting. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 23, 2015 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110119095458.htm

Advertisements

What are Weighted Vests and How Do They Work?

Weighted Vests

by Capital Area Speech Therapy’s Occupational Therapists

 

If you have been attending occupational therapy sessions or learning more about sensory processing, you may have heard about weighted vests and wondered about them.

 weighted-compression-vest

So what exactly are they?

A weighted vest looks similar to a regular vest a child might wear, except that sewn into the waistline and upper back are pockets meant for holding small amounts of weight. This added weight can be a very useful tool for helping to calm and organize a child who is highly active or easily dysregulated. For these kiddos a weighted vest can provide calming input to their body that helps to keep them at just the right level of alertness and activity for learning or participating in activities.

 

How does it work?

Weighted vests provide children with proprioceptive input and touch pressure. These are essentially the same kinds of calming sensations your body receives when you get a massage, sleep under heavy blankets, or share a big squeeze with a loved one. It’s that even, calming input to your muscles. By providing this kind of input at regular intervals throughout the day, the child is better able to stay regulated and focused.

 

Getting started.

If you are interested in trying this with your child, talk to his or her occupational therapist and ask about the benefits or need for one. The therapist will discuss specific recommendations for your child, but here are some general guidelines. For starters, your child should still be able to move around freely and safely, without danger of falling over or feeling as though he or she is straining to move. Remember, the purpose of a weighted vest is not to weigh the child down, but to provide additional sensory input. Typically, the weight will start off at around 5% of the child’s body weight, and will increase only as needed. Additionally, your child will only wear the vest for a specific amount of time, then remove it, cycling through the day this way. Your OT will discuss with you how long to keep it on and off. Weighted vests are only one part of the therapeutic plan to address a child’s sensory needs, and are used best in combination with other organizational and sensory integrative techniques.

 

Summer Camps at Capital Area Speech

summer-camp1
We are very excited to offer fun, engaging summer camps for our little ones this year at our office in Austin. Our camps will be led by a speech and/or occupational therapist. While our therapists will be incorporating skills to improve specific areas of language and motor skills, these camps are intended for any child. Check out the details below.

20140221_104137
Open Gym (with Ms Farah and Ms Kelsi)
ALL AGES
Wednesdays, June 4 – August 26, 2014
10:00-11:30 am
This therapist guided play time allows your child to experience new fine and gross motor activities while exploring our new sensory gym.

20140208_122432
Cooking with Words (with Ms. Noelle and Ms. Kelsi)
AGES 5-8
June 16-19, 3:00-5:00 pm
This speech and occupational therapist led camp will inspire little minds with fun themes that involve daily cooking or food preparation activites. The therapists will work on expanding your child’s skills in the following areas:
-vocabulary
-following directions
-social skills
-sequencing
-memory

Handwriting Camp (with Ms. Farah and Ms. Kelsi)
AGES 5 and up
July 7-10, 1:00-3:00 pm
This interactive camp turns handwriting into a fun multisensory experience by focusing on the whole body. Therapists guide children through engaging activities to improve:
-gross motor skills
-fine motor skills
-eye hand coordination
-visual perceptual skills

IMG_7980
Experimenting with Language (with Ms Noelle and Ms Kelsi)
AGES 5-8
July 14-17, 10:00 am-12:00 pm
This camp will encourage curiosity with exciting science experiments. Through this camp our therapists will work on expanding your child’s skills in the following areas:
-literacy and vocabulary
-critical thinking
-following directions
-social skills

These camps do have limited availability. Call or email us today for pricing information and sign up. Ask about a sibling discount if you’d like to sign up more than one child.

512-250-8706
n_mcneil@capitalareaspeech.com

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

20140111_185700
Here’s a story about “Johnny.” It’s morning! Time to get up and get the kids ready for school. While this can be difficult for many kids, it can be especially difficult for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder. Getting out of bed is the first challenge. Mom gently shakes him, talks to him softly, pulls down the covers. But it is hard for him to get going; he does not want to leave his bed. It takes quite some time, but eventually she rouses him. In the bathroom other roadblocks occur: washing his face, brushing his teeth, getting in the bath. Often the water feels either too hot or too cold, the water splashing against his face really bothers him, and the brush feels uncomfortable. Some days the bathroom can be a bit of a battle. Getting dressed can be challenging too. Clothing with tags or tight seams really irritates him, and socks are the worst! After he is clean and dressed, it’s time for breakfast; but this is hard for Johnny too. He tries, but some foods he just can’t stand the smell of, and others he refuses on sight. Fruit, oatmeal, and eggs are out of the question. He ends up having the same thing he’s had for the last three weeks – a few bites of dry waffle. Mom doesn’t push it, because she doesn’t want him to be upset before heading to school. Eventually they leave the house and it’s off to school. Johnny is calm and happy and ready for school, but mom worries about what the day will bring, because even a slight change in his routine at school can affect his whole day.

Does any part of this sound familiar? Kiddos with Sensory Processing Disorder have difficulty registering or tolerating different kinds of sensory information, such as touch/textures, sounds, smells, light/visual stimuli, movement, and even information from their own bodies telling them where they are in relation to others. Because of these challenges, they may seek and/or avoid different kinds of sensory input. For example, one child may be overly sensitive when it comes to textures, avoiding certain materials and messier activities, while another may constantly touch things, to the point of being inappropriate or irritating to others. Some children become extremely and inconsolably distressed by certain sounds, such as a car horn, vacuum, or even other children playing, while others (or even the same child) may not register typical sounds such as his/her name being called repeatedly. Some children may seek out lots of movement by running or spinning or constantly moving around the room, while others may be afraid to sit on a swing or climb on a play structure. Because they are working overtime trying to manage their sensory needs throughout the day, these children can often become very easily frustrated or sad, as they exhaust their resources for tolerating life’s occurrences much faster than children who do not have these challenges.

If you notice any of these challenges in your little ones, an occupational therapist can work with you and your children to figure out their specific sensory needs, and how to help them integrate these sensations and tolerate experiences more easily.

Take a look at these websites for some great information about SPD:
www.spdfoundation.net/about-sensory-processing-disorder.html
www.sensory-processing-disorder.com
lemonlimeadventures.com/sensory-processing/#_a5y_p=1260983

written by the occupational therapists at Capital Area Speech

What Does An Occupational Therapist Do?

Our OTs Miss Farah and Miss Kelsi put together this informative brochure about occupational therapy.
Occupational Therapy Services
Thank you Farah and Kelsi!

What Can OT and a Sensory Gym Do For Your Child?

Occupational Therapy in the Sensory Gym
written by Kelsi Knife, M.S., OTR (Occupational Therapist)
20140221_104137
We are extremely excited about our new sensory gym. It is big, bright, and full of fun equipment! What’s not to love? However, you might be wondering how all of this will help your child meet their occupational therapy goals.
20140221_104233
In therapy, we use the gym equipment to improve the fundamental skills that children need to be successful in their everyday lives. With a little bit of creativity, we can use the same activity to address many, many skill areas! Below, I have given some examples of how the sensory gym can help your child reach their OT goals.
Kelsi and M on swing
Swings: With so many swings to choose from, the therapeutic possibilities are endless! The movement of the swing provides input to the vestibular system, which can be calming or alerting, depending on the child. This can help your child to focus on fine motor activities during therapy. The swings can also be used to build upper body and core strength, improve balance skills, and encourage your child to use both sides of the body in a coordinated manner.

Slide: Like the swings, the slide is wonderful for providing vestibular input. It can also be helpful for children with a fear of heights. Sometimes, we like to change things a little and climb up the slide! This is great for improving full body strength and coordination.

Monkey bars and rings: The monkey bars and rings are great for building upper body strength, endurance, and coordination which are very important skills for fine motor and handwriting development. By having a child pull up their legs while hanging from the bars (to kick over objects, for example) we can also address core strength and, as a result, improve balance and posture.
20140221_105442
Zip line: Like the monkey bars, the zip line is awesome for building strength and endurance in the upper body and core. It also helps us teach children to be aware of and regulate their strength and speed.

Rock wall: The rock wall is perfect for working the entire body at the one time! It also requires your child to think about their end goal and create a plan to achieve it. This really exercises their sequencing and problem solving skills.

Obstacle Courses: By combining several pieces of gym equipment we can create an obstacle course that works on a ton of skills at once! Obstacle courses are also great for teaching your child to plan and sequence motor activities. Participating in this type of activity can really improve your child’s self-esteem and enable them to approach new activities with confidence!

These are just a few of the ways that our sensory gym can benefit your child. We look forward to helping them learn and grow, all while having a blast!