Thursday, February 9, 2017

20 Simple Ways to Resist!!!


Many children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities  have poor body awareness and decreased motivation to engage in hand activities. They may not stabilize materials with the non-dominant hand and have decreased strength and/or muscle tone. 

They don't quite know how to move their bodies effectively. They may walk on their toes with the head leading and look like they are about to topple over. Some people move fast when given the opportunity because it takes more motor control to move slowly and deliberately. In addition, moving fast gives them the sensory stimulation they crave (i.e. vestibular stimulation).

Children may tire quickly, slide down their seats and their palms may look  flat because they don't spend a lot of time using their muscles to squeeze, pull  or push objects. These individuals often love weighted blankets, vests, collars and objects because muscles and joints are getting heavy pressure sensory stimulation (proprioception).

Resistive hand activities also provide proprioceptive sensory stimulation.  "Resistance" means that the activities require FORCE to perform them. Many children find resistive activities and materials calming, as well as strengthening and they become more motivated to use their hands.
1) Popping bubble wrap strengthens the fingers as children PUSH or SQUEEZE IT. Provide lots of squirt bottles to squeeze during bath time, too.

2) Velcro- lots of toys are made with parts attached with Velcro that are ripped off and then re-attached. Many children love that sound.

The photo shows some Velcro backed shapes  that are ripped off the ball  and then attached to a Velcro board on book stand.
You can also use Velcro to  attach toys to a detergent bottle so that children can rip them off before inserting. This is developmentally perfect for the typically developing  18 month old toddler and older children and adults with delays often love it, too. (Be sure to use larger toys and closely supervise to avoid ingesting objects) I also like to attach toys from the commercial shape sorter with Velcro so that they need to rip before inserting shapes.

Placing and ripping off the red and yellow strips that form railroad tracks teaches children how vertical lines can fit between horizontal lines.

This helps prepare children for handwriting!!

3) Writing- using crayons or chalk requires much more force than markers. (that is GOOD) .

Working on a vertical surface also strengthens shoulders and puts the wrist in the best anatomical  position to grasp a writing tool. Coloring on top of sand paper or fabric also requires using a lot of force.

Many children love to press into a gel pad to form shapes. Drawing in thick pudding or wet corn meal is more resistive than finger paint, although they are all great sensory activities.

 4) Toys that involve pushing strengthen fingers. I like the foam puzzles and mushroom shaped pegs that are pushed into foam boards.

5) Children can push Lotto cards or pieces of plastic into slot openings in bottles. You can also use folded cardboard cut out of boxes or plastic from containers. Folding them first strengthens fingers and teaches the motions used to fold paper.

6)Everybody enjoys pushing a whoopee cushion!

7) Squeezing the Hungry Harry tennis ball to open his mouth is very resistive. This person is feeding him pennies. Mix the "food" items inside putty so that they have to remove it before feeding Harry. VERY RESISTIVE AND VERY FUN!
(Make Hungry Harry by drawing a face on the tennis ball and cutting the slit for the mouth.)

8) Opening up  slap bracelets to wrap around a tube or inserting them into a container slot provides a special and weird sensation to fingers as they push and pull them.

9) I cut these apples and worms out of detergent and juice bottles. It take a lot of resistive pushing and pulling to insert or remove them!

10) Ordinary ring stacks become resistive when the rings or donut shapes must be pushed downward with force. The one shown on the left happens to be made by  inserting a vibrating pen into a swimming noodle wedged inside a bottle.

11) One young lady I work with  avoids using her left hand but she will do so in order to pull the lids off of the fabric while grasping the red handle

12) Opening knots in thick cord or pulling cord out of the horseshoe lacing board is very resistive

13) There are lots of sensory toys sold that feel great to pull. The photo shows me pulling some stretchy fabric that I tied onto bottle handles.

14)  I tell my clients to smack the golf balls into the bucket opening. They really enjoy it and it helps them to be calmer.

15) Stretching elastics or rubber bands over objects is resistive. The photo shows bands stretched over a ball with fun texture, but of course use any object that your child enjoys.   Elastics can be stretched over lots of things including the backs of chairs and your 2 feet....

16) Here is an example of a toy horse that has limbs to pull. When you pull one through the holes, another is shortened.....

17) Cutting: Using thick paper provides more resistance and makes it easier to control. Ripping paper or fabric is also very resistive. I recommend doing this during an arts and crafts group.

 Some of my clients love to  rip paper or crush it into balls and then push it into bottle openings.

 18) There's lots of fun balls that can be purchased. These can be pushed into container openings or try filling socks with sand, marbles, foam or other items.

 19) The lady in the pink shirt is stringing large rings. but  first she has to push them over the squeeze ball  (filled with putty)that I attached to the end of the string.

Sometimes, I attach a vibrating toothbrush to the end of the cord. If you use very thick cord or just tie a bunch of knots in it, the person will need to use a lot of force to make the rings go down.


 20) I tied a heavy bag of sand to the bottom of this green watering hose. My client stands on it to keep it stable. Then he pulls the coil upward to make rings go down. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sensory Adaptations

The sleeves of my sweatshirt are filled with bags of sand. Many children enjoy feeling the weight of the sleeves slung over their shoulders. You can also put a cushion inside the body of the sweater so that the person sits on it and can drape the sleeves over her or his lap. The young man in the video has a lot of anxiety and is always moving. He is calmer having the cushion to bounce his back against with the weighted sleeves over his legs. I tied the back of the sweater to his chair.

Many of my clients engage better when I adapt activities to provide sensory stimulation. I found this wooden circle at work. It was part of some type of game and had holes along the perimeter. I tied stretchy cord to the holes and the other end to plastic shapes that I cut out of detergent bottles.  I attached the end of an electric toothbrush to a hole in the center of the board and covered the board with some fur that I found in a clothing bin at work.

Some individuals who typically don't use their hands at all were able to lift the rings off the center peg. The vibration helped alert some of the more lethargic clients and for others  it helped them to focus and be calmer.

The higher functioning individuals were able to press the on/off button on the toothbrush. They thought that was cool....


Saturday, January 7, 2017

From Flapping to Function: Scissors Tips

There are many strategies described in my book FROM FLAPPING TO FUNCTION:  A PARENT'S GUIDE TO AUTISM AND HAND SKILLS that help children engage, focus and successful in performing fine-motor tasks such as cutting on a line.

Explore use of sensory strategies that your child enjoys and save them for special times when working on a relatively challenging skill such as cutting. Your child may develop a positive association with using scissors if he or she  likes to:
  • chew gum, each crunchy foods or suck from a water bottle
  • wear a weighted vest, lap bag, collar or wrist weights
  • listens to favorite music either in the room or using headphones
  • smells pleasant scents such as vanilla or peppermint provided by a spray, cotton balls soaked in extract, candles or aroma therapy diffuser.
  • sits on a dynamic surface such as ball chair or cushion
Explore use of a visual or auditory timer so that the child knows the session will be brief and when it will be over and then offer a reward or reinforcer. My favorite ones involve movement such as time on a swing, rocking chair, scooter board or bungee chair.

Positioning the child to sit on a chair facing backwards (as I am doing in the photo) enables the child to stabilize arms on the back of the chair. I am also getting some deep pressure sensory stimulation by wrapping my legs around the chair legs. Children with autism often have low muscle tone and this can help them maintain their posture while manipulating materials. 

Explore use of different types of scissors to see which works best. Preschool age children with little hands should learn using small scissors  such as the "learning Scissors" designed by occupational therapist Mary Benbow. Some children will find it easier to begin learning the squeeze release motions by using adapted loop scissors (see links below).

Sturdy paper such as index cards or a manila folder are easier to control than flimsy paper. Children should begin by learning to snip on thin strips of paper before learning how to cut across longer pieces and then on lines.

Cutting uphill as shown in the picture puts the child's wrist in the best anatomical position for controlling scissors with the thumb facing upward. simply tape the paper to the wall.

Some children find it difficult to move the helper hand grasping the paper while the worker hand is cutting. I have found it helpful if they can learn to follow verbal or point cues to move the thumb to cover named stickers. For example, the child in the photo below is told to cover the bird sticker and as she cuts she is told to move her helper hand to cover the elephant sticker. She will be able to best control the paper if she is grasping it close to where she is cutting. 

Occupational therapists love activities such as using tongs and scoopers because they help children learn the open and close motions used when using scissors.  Many more "pre-cutting" strategies are described in my book FROM RATTLES TO WRITING: A PARENT'S GUIDE TO HAND SKILLS.

These are just a few of the strategies that may help children with or without autism to develop hand skills, specifically cutting skills.

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Developing skills to Screw and Unscrew covers as part of Ring Stack Activity

My clients love using the curvy "snake" ring stack that is made from a bird mister. I came across one at a yard sale and have bought several on Amazon (see Affiliate link below) because it requires reaching, using both hands, an upright posture, promotes visual attention and is visually stimulating to watch as the rings twirl down. I use rings that have small openings and  therefore, require force to push on with individuals who have good motor control and seek deep pressure sensory stimulation.  I use very large rings such as the ones shown when the person has decreased eye hand coordination and it needs to be easy to use.

In this situation I turned the activity into a 2 step process so that they have to unscrew the covers and learn that only the open rings go on the stack and the yellow covers go into the bag.  This activity meets the needs of people with different skills. Some individuals are great at screwing them together tightly and some are better at unscrewing the covers. 

The covers and screwing pieces are made from the abundant thick- It containers I find at work ....

Notice that the ring stack is positioned  according to the person's needs (in the video) and you see it on the table, on a chair and on the person's lap.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Deep Pressure Sensory Rings

Make "sensory rings" by filling socks or sleeves of an old fleece shirt with plastic bags and sew ends. Size to be tight when child puts them over the head and pulls down to the waist. It creates nice deep pressure and motor activity when they put it on and off. The client in the photo has a big smile on her face after putting three of these on and wearing a weighted bag on her lap.   

The sensory ring I demonstrate in the video is fairly large and loose so that it can be used in motor activities such as pull down the body and stepping out of it.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Functional Vision, Visual Perception, and Hand Skills

In my book From Flapping to Function: A Parent's Guide to Hand Skills I describe some of the factors that impact functional vision. Functional vision is not the same as acuity but rather the ability to use visual information to perform functional tasks such as reading, writing and catching a ball. Of course, acuity or focusing power are important for functional vision but there are several other skills that are important in order to scan the environment, follow moving objects and persist at longer visual tasks.

Children with autism may have difficulties with one or more of what is called " the 7 Fs. "These are:
1) Following a moving target using smooth, coordinated eye movements
2) Fixation to gaze at a stationary object
3)Focus to see clearly
4) fusion to use the eyes together to see in 3 dimensions
5) Flexibility to look back and forth between different things
6) Field or the breadth of what the eyes can see while staring straight ahead. For example, people with glaucoma may have extremely diminished visual fields to the point of using "tunnel vision". Children with autism may not seem to be aware of what is in their visual field.
8) Fatigue- is eye strain from the effort put into using the eyes. Also some people with autism tend to use side or peripheral vision and using peripheral is more tiring than using the direct central gaze.

My son discovered that he was a very slow reader and was exhausted after reading for 15 minutes due to his eyes not working together. A developmental optometrist gave him helpful exercises to do .

Parents and others may notice that their child with autism does not look directly at objects or may look briefly directly and then look away while picking them up. Other atypical behaviors include stimulating the visual system by flicking fingers or an object near the eyes (often from the side of the eyes) or staring at lights.
  •  They may be particularly bothered by fluorescent lights
  •  seek out darkened areas, perhaps play in a tent or large cardboard box to avoid lights 
  •  have difficulty using the eyes together or
  •  moving the gaze back and forth between distances or from vertical to horizontal planes.

My son avoids sunlight when possible, and can only sleep in a very darkened room while wearing eye covers. He can do a Rubiks cube in under 2 minutes !

Here are a couple of adaptations that I describe in my book in greater detail.


  • Use Velcro to attach puzzle pieces to the top of the box lid. (see photo above) 
  • Attach puzzle board to the bottom of the box with tape or Velcro

Children will need to use one hand to stabilize the box lid while removing the puzzle piece. The child will need to repeatedly switch gaze back and forth between the vertical and horizontal planes. This is a type of visual flexibility, number 5 in the above list.

The skill of being able to look back and forth between distances and planes is also called  Accommodation . It is used when students look back and forth between the board and desk to copy from board to paper.  It may be difficult to fixate on the word on the board, find the last word on the paper to continue writing and then go back to the board to again find where one left off reading.
There are some compensatory strategies that teachers can implement to help students such as allowing them to sit closer to the board or have a copy at the desk to copy from instead of copying from the board.

Here is a visual activity that parents can do at home......


Tape cards, words or pictures on the wall  and provide identical cards at the table or desk.  Start out with 2-3 cards that are fairly close together on the wall and gradually increase the number used and spread them further apart. As you can see in the photo I then looked back and forth in order to arrange the cards to be in the same sequence.


Try this activity using simple pictures or photos. Try using number or letter cards to teach some numerical or alphabetical  sequencing at the same time.

I hope that these tips, adaptations and activities are helpful. If you have any questions about your child's functional vision please check with a developmental optometrist who specializes in working with children with these types of challenges.   Check out this website to find one...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Helping Your Child learn about letter Size and Spacing

Here is one of the strategies I share in From Flapping to Function: A Parent's Guide to Autism and Hand Skills.

 Attach 3 Velcro Strips to a plastic backing. I used a see through envelope so that I could store the plastic pieces. I cut these out of a white orange juice bottle.

Cut smaller shapes to write the lower case letters and larger shapes to write the taller letters, upper case letters and the letters that dip below the writing line.

Show your child how to choose which size shape to write the letter and then place on the Velcro strips as shown in the photo. Be sure to use a dry erase marker so that children can wipe them clean- receiving great deep pressure stimulation to hand muscles and joints in the process ....