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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Light Activities for Individuals with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities

The following is excerpted from my book From Flapping to Function: A Parent's Guide to Autism and Hand Skills 

If your child loves lights, take advantage of the following activities to encourage visual attention.
Caution: If your child has a seizure disorder check with your physician first.

Light Table or Box

You can buy or make a light table to encourage manipulating objects on a surface. To make your own, place a battery-powered light inside a clear plastic container with a lid. Cut small openings of different shapes in the lid in order to use the light box as a shape sorter. Children may be more visually engaged when looking at toys-such as pegs and pegboard-placed on top of a light table or box. In addition, they may be motivated to touch or manipulate them. The video demonstrates clients performing simple fine-motor activities placed on top of the light box. This particular box was purchased from a company that makes products for the visually impaired. 

Here are a few other ideas: 
1) Collect plastic 20-ounce or two-liter soda bottles. Place an activated glow stick inside each one. Then use a ball to bowl over the bottles. 
2) Scatter glow sticks inside a play tunnel for your child to gather. These toys remain lit for several hours after being unwrapped. You can buy a tunnel or make your own by draping blankets over chairs or tables. 
3) Play catch with balls that light up, have flashing lights or make funny sounds when squeezed. 

Light-Up Toys

Toddlers and older children who love lights may be motivated to manipulate the following types of commercially available toys:
  • ring stacks that flash lights and play music when rings are stacked on them (such as the light up Lion Stacker by Fisher Price).
  • toys that light up when a button is pushed  (such as the Light Up Princess Wand by Playmaker Toys)
  • Lite Brite pegboard (sold by Hasbro) is a lighted board or box with small pegs to push into its frame. This is appropriate for older children who no longer put objects in their mouths. 
The following video demonstrates a ring stack made out of an aquarium lamp.

Source: Sensory Lamp Ring Stack for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders by RecyclingOT

The photograph demonstrates a light up Princess Wand being used as a ring stack.

I share products that may be used to promote visual attention with  Amazon links. I make a tiny amount of money if you shop through these links.... Thanks!


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Sensory Clothespins for Sensory Processing Disorders

Children love squeeze clothespins and occupational therapists do, too.

Squeezing pins or clips is a great way to strengthen and develop coordination between fingers and thumb in order to develop the tripod pencil grasp. At the end of this post,  I list a few of the many toys, games and arts and crafts that utilize clips.

Young children may enjoy simple  activities such as attaching clothespins to

  • to a box. Color matching is optional. 
  • Attaching  doll clothing to a clothesline
  • attaching clips to food bags
  • connect matching paper of same color or design 
  • the rim of a large bowl 
The following video demonstrates how attaching clothespins or clips to a large bowl that spins may motivate clients who seek visual/vestibular stimulation. These are the individuals who flick their fingers near their eyes or twirl their bodies. Self-stimulation is fine when it is used to decrease anxiety or agitation and meet the person's sensory needs. However, we also want to encourage functional hand use that meets their sensory needs.  The spinning bowl clothespin activity is one!

Incorporating attaching clothespins to walking and/or high-low activities  helps children and adults with developmental disabilities to get a little exercise while receiving  vestibular stimulation.
The client in this photo walks across the room to retrieve clothespins in a box on the table or floor. Retrieving materials from the floor and place up high is a great way to create  a sensory rich "high-low" activity. 

The video below demonstrates how to adapt clothespins with stickers so that they can discriminate which end to squeeze.

Source: Sticker adaptation to squeeze Clothespins by RecyclingOT

Frames may also be attached to the ceiling to promote reaching while attaching or removing the clothespins. 

Adjust the height according to the needs of your clients. 

Attaching or removing clothespins during hippotherapy is a lot of fun. The clips may be attached to the horse's mane. They don't seem to hurt or bother the well trained hippotherapy horse and clients work on balance, reaching, eye-hand coordination and postural control as they reach up close to the pony's ears!

Its easy to incorporate identifying colors as the therapist directs the client to remove a named color.  
Children who have tactile challenges and really do not want to touch fur, may prefer to remove the pins from the reigns.  

Attaching or removing pins from objects that they are holding develops skills to stabilize materials. Its fun to use toys that light up and/or vibrate. The extra sensory stimulate can be very motivational when promoting hand use and engagement.

Explore using various clothespin materials/activities as the client is on a rocker, swing, trampoline or other movement apparatus.

Of course, this requires trial and error and clinical judgment because some clients will find some materials aversive.   

The fun, educational and therapeutic use of clothespins and clips are only limited by your imagination!



Friday, January 11, 2019

Hoola Hoop Ring Stack Activity to Develop Hand Skills

  I have a reputation for recycling and upcycling items so was not surprised to find a broken hoola hoop on my desk. After looking at it for a few days, the idea came to use the broken ends as ring stacks. Children or adults with or without developmental disabilities may benefit from this adaptation because
  1. they need stabilize the hoop with one hand in order to place the ring on top
  2. reaching for rings spread out in a large container or the table will involve crossing midline and awareness of one's hand preference 
  3. the hoop may be positioned on the floor as shown in the video, on the person's lap or on a table so that the user must reach to eye level or higher. Reaching promotes an upright posture, shoulder strength and visual attention
  4. only your imagination limits the types of rings to use since they can vary in size, texture, weight, sound produced and even temperature  (i.e. cold teething rings). Consider attaching a motorized toothbrush to the hoop to make the hoop vibrate!  

Children or adults with decreased coordination may be most successful using large rings such as the ones in the photo. These were cut from the pouring spouts of bottles. 

Clients with good motor control may enjoy using smaller rings so that some force is used to make the ring go on and down. Use of force stimulates the muscles and joints (proprioceptive stimulation) and this, in turn helps with body awareness and coordination. 

If you place the hoop under the seat as shown in the video, consider attaching a flat or weighted object to the center to help stabilize the hoop in place. 
The photo below shows a close up of a container used. I cut holes on each side near the bottom so that the hoop could be threaded through.  

Place a bag of beads, sand or some dried beans inside the container to add weight. Tape or tie the materials in place. 

Add cognitive challenge by teaching how to sort rings by color,  size weight or tactile qualities onto the 2 curvy ring stack tops.  

Source: Recycling OT Hoola Hoop Ring Stack by RecyclingOT

The fitness hoop is made up of sections that come apart. This creates size/shape/color options when you choose which ones to use for your "hoola hoop ring stack".

Products such as hoses, medical, aquarium or other types of tubing may be sliced up to make rings. Or cut ring shapes out of plastic containers.  


Friday, December 28, 2018

Fidget Tools for Sensory Processing and Anxiety Disorders

Excerpted from my book: From Flapping to Function: A Parent's Guide to Autism and Hand Skills

Many children and adults focus better when fidgeting with something; for example, jingling coins in one's pocket, pulling a zipper up and down, or tapping a pencil. Grasping and manipulating objects in these ways may be calming, alerting, or both. Many commercial "sensory" products are available to provide this kind of hand stimulation.
Fidget tools may be considered primarily a
 1) sensory fidget or
 2) quiet fidget tool.

The following video demonstrates both "sensory" and "quiet" fidget tools. At the bottom of this post, I share Associate Amazon links to products .....

Sensory Fidget Tools

Sensory fidget tools provide deep pressure stimulation to muscles and joints as they are pulled, squeezed, or pushed. Choosing sensory fidget tools requires individualization and some trial and error-one child may quietly pull on a stretchy toy while another might shoot it at peers.

Possible sensory fidget tools include these:
  1. Stretchy book covers, socks, coiled bracelets or key chains, rubber bands, or elastic hair bands. Children may enjoy stretching elastics around a ball or crunched-up paper to make a rubber-band ball. 
  2. Squeezing putty, modeling clay, or stress balls. You can make your own squeeze ball by pushing play dough inside a large, strong balloon (or plastic glove). Knot the balloon, then double its strength by inserting it inside a second balloon. This is easier to do if you cut the knot end off of the second balloon. (see picture below)
  3.   A kneadable eraser is enjoyable to mold and use, and may appeal to older children who do not want to look different than their peers. 
  4. Attach  a strip of Velcro or loop fastener to a table or desk. Then attach pieces of Velcro fastener to a couple of blocks or similar objects. The child can repeatedly attach and remove them while working. (see Velcro Railroad tracks photo below)
  5. Toys that make sounds, light up, or vibrate when squeezed, pulled, or pushed may be especially fun and stimulating. 

Quiet Fidget Tools

Quiet fidget toys fill the sensory needs of children who focus better while quietly moving their fingers. A quiet fidget tool might be a smooth stone, pen cap, marble, strand of beads or a paper clip. Advantages of quiet fidget tools are that they are generally not disruptive to other children and can be easily replaced when lost. A child can easily put the object down when engaged in a hand activity, or may be able to tuck it under the ring and pinky fingers while doing puzzles or even writing.

This client grasps small, smooth rocks between her fingers In each hand- all the time, including while eating, washing and inserting objects into containers. She finds it calming and becomes upset if they are removed! 

I try to create activities that meet the person's sensory needs while at the same time developing hand skills and having fun. For me that includes kneading dough to make bread or knitting. The following videos demonstrate activities that meet the sensory needs of my adult clients with   developmental disabilities.

Source: Adapting Velcro Activity for Sensory Processing Disorders by RecyclingOT

Pulling, shaking and squeezing materials at the "sensory table" help decrease hands in mouth behaviors.

Source: Sensory Table for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities by RecyclingOT

Source: Busy Bottles for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities by RecyclingOT
Source: Stretchy Ring and Ball Activity for Children with Sensory Processing Disorders by RecyclingOT


Friday, December 21, 2018

Animal Holiday Cheer

I love seeing wild life when I vacation at Myakka River Park in Florida.

I hope that these videos bring a smile to your face!!!

urce: Birds and Alligators at Myakka River Park by RecyclingOT

Source: Woody Wood Pecker at Myakka River Park by RecyclingOT

Source: Hungry Begging Bird! by RecyclingOT

Source: Oh..... Dear! by RecyclingOT

Monday, November 26, 2018

Children with Sensory Processing Disorders and Hand Preference

Excerpt from From Flapping to Function: A Parent's Guide to Autism and Hand Skills. 

Most typically developing children show a preference for one hand or the other by the time they enter kindergarten, although it is not abnormal to develop hand dominance as late as six or seven years of age.
  •     Hand dominance is the result of brain specialization so that the hand opposite the dominant brain hemisphere develops great skill. 
  Children develop coordination between the right and left sides of the body when the right and left halves of their brain- called the brain hemispheres- are communicating efficiently.  Many children with Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD), especially those with dyspraxia, have difficulty with coordinating the two sides of their body, especially to perform complex tasks such as braiding hair or knitting. Because the right and left halves of their brain may not communicate well, these children may develop hand dominance (right-or left-handedness) at an older age than is typical, or not at all.  

Let's take a brief look at the relationship between brain hemispheres and hand dominance. Each hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body-the left hemisphere controls the right side, and vice versa. One hemisphere of the brain is typically dominant and people develop greater skill on the body side opposite the dominant hemisphere. Thus, someone with a dominant right hemisphere is typically left-handed. Most people are right-handed, have greater skill on the right side of the body and have a dominant left hemisphere. 

The person reaching for pictures in the top photograph demonstrates a  right hand preference because she consistently uses it to reach across her midline and to perform skilled tasks such as fitting shapes into form boards.  She also tends to avoid using her non-dominant left hand unless she really must-another characteristic sometimes seen in people with SPD. 

  • Midline  is an imaginary line that runs down the center of the body, dividing it into left and right halves or sides.  
The term hand preference is sometimes used to mean hand dominance. However, hand dominance is the result of brain specialization. This means that certain skills- like language- develop in one hemisphere rather than the other and that one hemisphere becomes dominant with the opposite side of the body becoming more skilled. 

  • The term hand preference is sometimes used to mean hand dominance. 

The preferred or dominant hand is often stronger, as well as more skilled at performing tasks such as controlling pens, scissors, tweezers or a sewing needle. 

There are other reasons why a child may prefer one hand over the other. For example, Thomas may be left-handed but use his right hand to cut because he was given right-handed scissors or he imitated his right-handed teacher.  Some children switch hands when one hand gets tired or when they are searching for a more comfortable way to grasp a tool. Modifying tasks may help them to use their dominant hand consistently. For example a fat piece of chalk that is easier to grasp may reduce hand switching due to fatigue.  

It is important to develop hand dominance because using the same hand consistently for specific  tasks helps develop proficiency. Try writing with your non-preferred hand and you can see what I mean! 

Some children develop what is called crossed or mixed dominance. This means that they use different hands for specific skills. For example, Claude became adept at using his right hand to write and his left hand to throw a ball. This was not a problem because he practiced each skill consistently with the same hand. Thus, he became very good at throwing with the left hand and writing with the right.  

Many children with SPD  also avoid reaching across midline, or even bringing their hands together at midline.  Learn why this is an important skill to develop in my post...  The Importance of Crossing Midline for Children with Sensory Processing Disorders

Children with poor coordination between the right and left sides of the body may also have difficulty using their hands together to stabilize materials and to discriminate right from left.

The following videos demonstrate a few strategies to
  • promote right left side coordination
  • promote crossing midline
  • learn to discriminate right and left  
  • develop an awareness of which hand feels stronger, more coordinated and comfortable  
Velcro bottles are difficult to use unless stabilized with one hand, usually the non-preferred hand.  Pulling Velcro objects off backings requires force and using force provides proprioceptive sensory stimulation to muscles and joints. Encourage your child to use the same hand consistently to remove the objects and the other hand to stabilize.

Source: Velcro Bottles for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities by RecyclingOT

As this video demonstrates, children pull using force and using force provides sensory stimulation. Ask your child to think about which hand is stronger while pulling and which hand gets tired more quickly.

Source: Sensory Pull Bottle Helps Children with Autism or sensory Processing Disorders by RecyclingOT

Talk to your child about the "worker hand" and the "helper hand" and refer to them as either right or left respectively. Position materials so that they cross midline to retrieve them with the hand identified as the more comfortable "worker hand".  

Don't forget to make Developing Hand Skills Fun !

Source: Recycling Occupational Therapist demonstrates Fidget Spinner by RecyclingOT

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Screw Cover matching Activities that Develop Fine-Motor Skills

Screwing and unscrewing covers to bottles and other containers is a great way to develop manipulation skills!

There is an unlimited supply of plastic containers from detergent, dishwasher soap and juice bottles available to make these activities.

I cut around the threaded pouring spouts and saved the lids so that young children with or without disabilities or adults with developmental disabilities can match by size and then screw the pieces together.

The yellow covers shown in the photo screw onto white threaded  containers used for Thick-it. Many of my clients have their drinks thickened with this product. Sometimes the threaded pieces are the same color as the caps so that children can match both size and color at the same time.


This activity may be used as a simple single- step matching cover to threaded piece activity without inserting them into containers.

 It is generally easier to motor plan the motions to unscrew than to screw the pieces together. So you may set the activity up to separate them before teaching how to screw them together.

Create a 2 step task by requiring the child to insert the covers into container openings.  The threaded pieces may function as rings to stack on a ring stack. .

At first, choose larger materials that are easier to manipulate. As skill develops use smaller caps and threaded pieces... perhaps from juice bottles.

You may choose to have only 2 or 3 different types of  sizes to match and then increase the challenge as skill develops.

The client removing the yellow covers has limited visual perceptual skills, so I provided a container with only one opening and all of the yellow covers can fit inside.

 In the following video, there are so many different sizes that even I found it a challenge to match them! So I numbered the covers to match the threaded pieces and it turned out to be a hit!

I discovered that my clients really enjoyed having the threaded pieces organized on a long strand of fabric or cord.

Cut 2 holes in the threaded pieces to string these in sequence. Children can work on matching and sequencing skills as they develop eye-hand coordination.

You may choose to match and sequence these in alphabetical rather than numerical order. Some children or clients m ay best match simple shapes or pictures drawn or glued onto materials.

Source: Matching Numbers Screw Cap Activity to Develop Fine- Motor Skills by RecyclingOT

This activity may also be adapted to be performed while sitting, standing or moving across the room to retrieve materials. Moving from high to low and back provides not only aerobic exercise but vestibular sensory stimulation. Many children or adults with sensory processing disorders will appreciate the movement sensory stimulation that may decrease anxiety or agitation.

Reaching high up is great for developing posture and visual attention since the materials are right in front of the person's face.

The individual in the green shirt has cerebral palsy and avoids using his left hand. However, he was so motivated to work on matching and unscrewing - he stabilized the threaded pieces - and worked with a smile!

Source: Unscrewing Bottle Caps to Insert or Stack by RecyclingOT

This gentleman is blind and enjoyed working on a book stand that has the threaded pieces attached. A maintenance man at work drilled holes into the bookstand so that I could attach string to tie pieces onto.

A container with  2 different shape openings turns this into a simple shape sorter after the covers are unscrewed.....

Another option is two attach materials to the sides of a large container used for cat litter a bucket.

Source: Matching Lids Sensory Activity by RecyclingOT

I share the links to demonstrate the products that come in the containers I like. If you shop on Amazon through any of these links, I earn a few pennies.....

However, obviously, I prefer to recycle!