Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April is National Autism Awareness and National OT Month.

This was my guest post on BlueOrange Games' blog.  I just wanted to share it on this as well because much of what I do as an OT is work with amazing children with autism.

It makes sense that these two things are together since Occupational Therapists are often an integral part of the educational and clinical treatment team for a child with Autism.  Now that I have had the pleasure of working with children who are on the spectrum for some time now, I would like to share the top 5 things I have learned from these amazing kids.

5. Just because I am not looking at you, does not I do not see you.
Children with autism often look at people through their peripheral vision. It is difficult to look at a person directly and take the infinite number of muscle combinations AND listen to what they are saying. So if someone with Autism does not look at you in the eyes while talking, please understand you are a visual complex piece of art, and it is sometimes hard for someone to look and listen at the same time.

4. That clock ticking in the background is making my head explode.
Things you and I may be able to force to the background, like the clock ticking, a fan humming, a light flickering, may not be the case for someone with autism.  Many times a person with autism is on high alert to the things in their environment.  Their threshold for tolerating the smells, sounds, sights, tastes, and touches of the environment they are in can send their bodies into flight or fight mode. 

3. Show me, don’t tell me.
Visual supports help many people with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder. I love my checklists; it helps me organize my day. But breaking down tasks and expectations with visuals, either words or pictures, can help ease anxiety and help someone with autism be successful at home, school and work.

2. Give me a minute, will ya?
When I first transitioned to school based therapy from geriatrics, I had the pleasure of attending The Autism Project of Rhode Island’s A Starting Point, which was a multi week learning experience that touched on many aspects of Autism. But one of the most poignant statements was regarding giving time to process auditory requests.  Picture a rotary phone (if you don’t know what a rotary phone is, ask someone at least in their 30s); every time you verbally request something it sets the dial back all the way.  Give time for the dial (aka person) to process it or they will not be make the call.

1.  I am awesome.

There is an amazing person stuck inside that little body, just waiting for someone to make a connection and “get” them.  Sometimes it takes getting them on a swing or blowing some bubbles to get that little smile or laugh.  Then before you know it, that little person is requesting more with signs, gestures, pictures, or words.  Other times, you have to take a sledgehammer to open the door to functional communication just a little crack. But keep working, because there is an awesome little being in there, wanting someone to play with them.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rory's Story Cubes: an interactive and playful approach to graphic organizers and language development

Mudge received a package of Rory's Story Cubes for his birthday, and of course therapeutic and educational ideas flooded my head.

Developed by The Creativity Hub 10 years ago, each set of Story Cubes comes with a variety of nine dice with pictures upon them.  The player rolls the dice, then creates a story based on the picture cues.  There are also 3 dice accessory packs to increase or guide creativity.
Here are some ways to incorporate Story Cubes into the therapeutic, educational, or home based repertoire.

1.  Build language:  If you know a Speech and Language Pathologist, then you may have heard the acronym M.L.U. which is Mean Length Utterance (a way to calculate language productivity in children).  By prompting story telling in a semi-structured setting using Story Cubes, a therapist, parent or educator could support the increase of a child's M.L.U.

2. Guided Writing: You could modify the dice with color coded dots or coloring the dice themselves, assigning them to different parts of the sentence.  The Red Dice = subject; Green Dice= predicate; or Puprple = Noun; Blue = Verb; etc….  Now place a strip of color coded paper on the student's desk.  Now the traditional graphic organizer has turned into an interactive and playful approach.  Just roll, build a sentence and write. 

3. Modify and Accommodate as needed. By limiting the number of dice used, changes the expectations of the story or sentence. Rory's Story Cubes even come in a MAX version in which the cubes are larger for easier grasp.

Now if you don't have Rory's Story Cubes, be creative and make your own.  Using building blocks you probably already have in the play room, glue pictures of familiar people, places, and objects to ignite imaginative language. Or if you have access to Boardmaker or another picture support system, print out the concepts and words you want the children to work on, and voila, an easy, playful approach to language development.

I also found another way to enjoy the story building.  Rory's Story Cubes are even more on-the-go as an app available in the iTunes store for $1.99.  I haven't played with it yet, but I think it is in my phone's future.

Rory's Story Cubes are available on Amazon, but I have also seen them at Target and other specialty toy shops.  They come in the 4 main varieties which include Original, Actions, Voyages, and MAX.  It's a quick and easy take along, that can fit into the purse or therapy bag.  Definitely a good size bang for the buck.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Never Buy Pancake Mix Again!

I found a great recipe from Nigella Lawson one day when I ran out of the good ole' Aunt Jemima.  And it was completely worth it.  Not only did it create fluffy and delicious pancakes, I knew what went into them and could modify as I like, specifically using a whole wheat flour. And I haven't calculated it yet, but I am sure I am saving money instead of dishing out $4.29 a box.  I used a stand mixer to blend the dry ingredients to ensure good distribution, but you don't have to.

In a large bowl combine:
4 cups flour ( I used King Arthur's White Whole Wheat)
3 tbsp Baking Powder
2 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
Store in air tight container.  I happened to have a click-top lidded Sterilite.  Then, for easy reference, I taped on the instructions for how to make the pancakes so I don't have to look it up every time.

When ready to use:
Combine
1 cup dry mix
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp melted butter
1/4 cup mini choc chips, dried fruit, or fresh fruit (optional)
Just with any pancakes, on a hot griddle or in my case Buzz Lightyear Pancake Maker (which apparently cannot be found anymore), scoop, pour, let mixture bubble, flip, and enjoy.  Each batch makes about 25 small pancakes, using a tablespoon as the scoop.