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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Great Sensory Mix-Up

I found the  article The Great Sensory Mix Up - about how one sense influences another to be quite interesting. For example, one study found that if subjects watched one light flash but heard 2 beeps or were tapped twice, they reported seeing 2 lights. However, I would like to clarify a couple of points the author, Courtney Humphries made about autism and sensory integration.
She seems to think that sensory integration and sensory diet interventions are focused on using the senses together.   Here is the definition of 'sensory integration" given by A. Jean Ayres, the occupational therapist and researcher who pioneered SI theory:
"The organization of sensory, input for use. The "use"may be a perception of the body or the world, or an adaptive response, or a learning process, or the development of some neural function. Through sensory integration,the many parts of the nervous system work together so that a person can interact with the environment effectively and experience appropriate satisfaction. "
So, SI is all about the brain working to organize sensory input and use in a meaningful way.  SI treatment focuses on the movement and touch senses (tactile, vestibular, proprioceptive) and often integrate visual activities (vision is closely related to the vestibular sense). For example, an ideal and common SI activity would be to jump on a trampoline while throwing bean bags into a box. SI activities don't usually involve taste or smell, but a sensory diet might. 
 "Sensory diet"  is a term coined by occupational therapist Patricia Wilbarger who originally described its use to treat sensory defensiveness. It is also used to help children with autism (and other developmental disabilities) to regulate their nervous systems so that they are not overly excited or underattentive. A typcial sensory diet to help an overstimulated child might include:
  • slow rocking in a char
  • sitting in darkened area
  • listening to slow music or wearing head phones to block out sounds
  • wearing a weighted vest or being wrapped in a heavy blanket
 The sensory diet is designed to help the person achieve an optimal level of alertness to attend and learn. The focus is not to use the senses together. In fact, many people with autism are overwhelmed when using more than one sense which is why they may avoid looking at the teacher in a classroom. They can focus on the words better when not using their vision!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Unstrange Minds

I finished reading Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism by anthropoligist Roy Richard Grinker, a very good description of attitudes about autism around the world and changes in diagnostic criteria that help explain the rising numbers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Some interesting work and art on this blog

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Peabody Essex Museum Kid Stuff

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts has some great children's activities, often crafts using recycled materials.

The kids were dropping small objects insdie the ooblik (made of cornstarch and water) to see which would sink the fastest.

I was particularly impressed with the styrofoam pieces that come in different colors. They are made with cornstarch instead of plastic and sold in craft's stores but I hear that there is a push to have all packing peanuts made from cornstarch instead of plastic.

Check out this site

On the way home my husband discovered that the trash bin at the famous House of Seven Gables Museum held straw bales from Holloween decorations. He needed them for his strawberry patch and here are a few pics of my recycling husband....

Last but not least I want to share the awesome world renowned John and Rebecca Higby Yoyo show:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Traveling with a Child with Autism

Are We There Yet?”
Traveling with a Child with Autism
By Pamela Levac

Autism Asperger’s Digest,Nov-Dec 2007 issue (

Family vacations can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Throw a child or two with autism into the mix, and it can seem overwhelming and perhaps easier to just stay home. But more and more families who have children with autism spectrum disorders are traveling to all kinds of destinations near and far. Though vacationing with a spectrum child requires a good amount of planning, it can be a fun and rewarding experience for the whole family.
Preparation is key when traveling with a child with autism. It is essential to begin planning the vacation long before the actual date of departure. There are many things to consider, from getting the child acclimated to the idea and the destination to choosing appropriate lodging or ensuring your child will have familiar food available.
When making travel and hotel plans, take into account your child's particular sensory issues. Book rooms on the quiet side of the hotel, arrive at less-crowded hours, or bring along a kit filled with ear plugs, familiar toys, video games, snacks, comfortable clothes or whatever else might be needed to ease the transition.
Talk to your child about the upcoming trip and involve him or her in making plans. Have the family explore the destination beforehand: visit internet sites, get library books, travel brochures, and perhaps even request photos of the hotel room you'll be staying in. Some parents create story books that describe the vacation from start to finish, including each day's activities. If you are driving, map out a route for your child to follow, with all the stops (including breaks!) marked along the way. This can ease travel anxieties and make a long trip more palatable to the concrete thinking mind of the spectrum child. Be sure to talk about the vacation frequently to calm worries and rev up excitement, or read your travel story book regularly.
As every parent of a child with ASD knows, routines and predictability are like air and water for a child who doesn’t handle new situations easily. And, travel to unknown destinations can literally starve these kids of the familiarity that is their lifeblood.
Go back to your story book and be sure to emphasize things that will remain the same. We’ll still eat meals together; you’ll have your favorite T-shirt; there will be your beloved cereal for breakfast. If vacation involves a repeat destination year after year, for instance to a family condo, the transition turmoil will get better with time. Peggy, mother of Eric who has autism, says "The first few times you go someplace new, it's hard. He wants to come home so badly. But each year it gets easier."
Danielle, the mother of Pierre and William, both with autism, takes her family on an annual car trip to visit relatives at Christmas time. She offers the following advice: "Keep the events as simple as possible. They like to do the same things every year. Create new traditions."
Airports, planes and trains can be sources of fascination, distress, or both for children with autism. Peggy says, "Eric finds airports and planes to be interesting, but delays, long lines and schedule changes are difficult." Some delays are unavoidable, but traveling off-peak, bringing along books on tape, hand-held video games or puzzles can help. Scan the area for a quiet space to retreat to when you notice signs of overload. If you can talk to airport personnel ahead of time or bring a copy of your child's diagnosis, you may be able to sidestep waiting in long lines. If you must wait, one of you can take the child aside to distract her with stories or a snack.
Choosing to travel as a family alone or with other people is also an important consideration. If you do decide to vacation with others, Peggy recommends traveling with people who "get it." Pair up with friends or relatives who you know can deal with your child's need for space, regularity, simple routines and familiar food. Also make sure you travel with someone who can handle meltdowns without getting upset or offended. Somewhere, sometime, they will occur.
Danielle strongly believes that spectrum children should not be hidden away. "The world is vast and diverse. Because individuals with autism tend to not want to socialize by nature, I believe it is important to impose the reality of having to accept and deal with the fluctuations of daily life." Though it may be challenging at times, it is worth getting out there and seeing the world, both for the child with autism and for everyone he meets.

More and more families are enjoying the comfort and familiarity of travel options arranged specifically for people who live with children or adults with ASD.
One such venue is a cruise run by Autism on the Seas ( Director Michael Sobbell decided to offer these cruises as a simple business venture, but he says the overwhelming positive response from parents has been heartwarming.
The cruise ships have an Autism Group Specialist on board and even cater to a child’s special dietary needs. There are opportunities to dine with other families or children with autism. Activities for the whole family, such as bingo, are adapted so everyone can have fun together. Sibling celebrations offer the brothers and sisters of spectrum children a chance to socialize and maybe share some of their highs and lows. There are social gatherings for teens with autism, and even respite time for parents. It’s a supportive environment where families can build new friendships and feel comfortable.
Sometimes it might be necessary to consider traveling without your spectrum child. Peggy has two adopted daughters from China who do not have autism. She would like to travel with them to their birth country unencumbered by the significant adaptations they would need to make for Eric. Peggy fears the long distance, the very unfamiliar sights, sounds and food of China will be too much for Eric to handle. She doesn't want her girls to be stuck in a hotel room watching TV on a once in a lifetime trip. So, even though it is a difficult decision to divide the family, she and her husband will travel to China with their daughters. As for Eric, he’ll spend time with favorite relatives while they are away, and Peggy plans to take him on a special train trip to Vancouver when they return from China.
Finally, if at all possible, don't skimp on those fundamental things that will make or break your vacation. It's worth paying a few extra dollars for a seat in first class or a nicer hotel room with free movies, if this will make your child’s (and therefore your family’s) trip easier and more enjoyable. Anticipating vacations is often half the fun. With spectrum children, a month or two (or three) of anticipation, careful planning and preparation can make all the difference. Bon voyage!

Travel Tips
  • create a story book about your trip to read to your child beforehand
  • choose an appropriate destination (quiet, somewhat familiar)
  • call ahead to ask about special services, meals and accommodations
  • consider a vacation rental instead of a hotel, so you can prepare your own meals
  • if you are driving, map out stops ahead of time, and prepare for delays
  • carry with you a “sensory pack” containing plenty of familiar food, toys and other essentials
  • brainstorm possible problems and create a contingency plan
  • talk to other families who have traveled for real-world ideas and advice
  • plan structured activities for every day; don’t abandon using visual schedules just because it’s vacation!
  • make sure to include some activities for everyone, including parents and other siblings
  • travel at quieter times of the year
  • bring a copy of your child's diagnosis to show personnel if necessary
  • be flexible, and try to keep your sense of humor
 Helpful Resources
Making Peace with Autism: One family's story of struggle, discovery and unexpected gifts by Susan Senator. Trumpeter Books, December 2006.
"How to Plan a Vacation with Your Autistic Loved One" by’s autism guide, Lisa Jo Rudy.
UK Guardian’s website has a helpful travel section:


Pamela Levac lives in Canada where she writes, paints and mothers her children. She is fascinated by the workings of the brain and has a keen interest in Autism Spectrum Disorders. She welcomes email at

Monday, November 7, 2011

Card or Name Holder

I think that there can be many uses for this card holder to teach:
  • spelling words
  • math concepts
  • name identification
  • Matching activities
Ask your kids to make name tags to place at your holiday dinner table!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Detergent and Water Bottle Turkey stencil

 Here's what I made with my extra daylight savings hour this sunday while hubby is away hiking a mountain (with a group of guys who love beer and racy jokes). 
I am not sure if it looks like a turkey but when you make crafts for kids that is not as important as the fine motor skills involved and having fun.

I cut the turkey's body out of a detergent bottle. The head and flabby neck thing are cut from the top of a spring water bottle. It fit inside the handle opening nicely.

Press down on paper to use as a stencil. Kids can color inside the cut out shapes and around the border to make a basic turkey shape and then add details and colors. Some kids will prefer free form coloring but others might be encouraged by having a model to work from.

Children can also wrap yarn around the openings to decorate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Recycling OT HOlloween

Most of these decorations were recycled from last year's decorations or other OT projects. But I did buy the red wig for the skeleton lady. The small hanging  ghosts were lacing boards I made last year out of white juice containers. I gave some out to trick or treaters and had some extras left over.  The large ghost's head is made out of the pouring spout of a detergent bottle and his ears are made from the bottle handles.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More Lindsey Biel Tips

Autism Asperger’s Digest March-April 2011 issue
Column: Sensory Smarts

How To Diversify a Diet When A Child Has a Significantly Limited Food Repertoire

Do not withhold the few foods that are acceptable. If you take away that one brand of mac n’ cheese, you’re taking away one of the few sources of nutrition for your child, even if it is a poor one. Pizza can be healthy if you buy or make it with high-quality ingredients.

I start by identifying one food the parent would like to add to a child’s diet, typically a fruit or vegetable. If possible, the child selects the particular fruit or vegetable.

Here’s how we approached a similar situation with a client your daughter’s age. She and her mom identified bananas as a food she would consider eating “when she is older.” For about 10-20 minutes each session, we worked on bananas. Session 1: We made a collage of banana pictures. Real bananas were within sight. Sessions 2-4: she learned to slice bananas and fed them to her mother, in a playful, unpressured interaction. She smelled and felt the banana and observed her mother enjoying it. Sessions 5-8: She touched one banana slice to her lips before either feeding it to her mom or throwing it away. Sessions 9-12: She touched the banana slice with her tongue and threw it away. Sessions 13-14: She nibbled on the banana slice and then spit it onto a napkin. On the 15th session, she swallowed the nibble. Sessions 16-17: She ate one slice of banana. Session 18: She ate half a banana. Now she loves bananas and has selected sweet peas as a vegetable she will eat when she is older.

While you do want to “work on” just one food at a time, don’t give up introducing new foods. When it’s dinner time, go ahead and serve her favorite food but also make other food available on the table. One exception is if your child cannot bear the smell of a food such as brussel sprouts, which may be so nauseating that she will be unable to eat at all. Remember that it may take dozens of introductions before a food becomes familiar enough to try. Here are a few other ideas:

* Combine acceptable foods with new foods. While your sensitive child will immediately detect when you’ve snuck some peas into her mac n’ cheese, you may be able to get her to dip a “tree” (broccoli) in the cheese sauce. Many kids are willing to try new foods if they can dip them into a favorite sauce such as ketchup, tahini, or salad dressing.
* Try introducing a food that is similar to another food the child already eats, such as a different and healthier brand of frozen pizza or chicken nuggets. Remember, you may have to introduce the new food dozens of times. Change accepted foods slightly to present new textures, shapes, and colors. Break crackers into four pieces instead of two, cut bread into a funny shape. Experiment with food temperatures. A child might try frozen blueberries or snow peas for the novelty of it.
* Avoid empty calories. Don’t let your child fill up on high-sugar fruit juice during the day or snack on high-calorie junk foods like chips. Keep treat portions small. Rather than give a full bag of Veggie Booty (which doesn’t count as a vegetable), serve a small
* Provide “oral comforts” that help normalize mouth sensation. These nonfood items are safe to suck and chew on and come in a variety of shapes and textures. Some favorites include: Chewy Tubes, Chew-Eaze, Dr. Bloom’s Chewable Jewels, and Kid’s Companion Jewelry. You can find these in most therapy catalogs and on the website under Toys & Equipment/Oral Comforts.

Above all, avoid food battles. Mealtimes are social time, not therapy time. Serve food you know your child will eat when your family sits down for a meal and focus on having a pleasurable family experience.

You may need to work with a feeding specialist (usually an occupational therapist or speech language pathologist) especially if your child has significant oral sensory issues, oral motor weakness, muscle tone problems, or extreme reactions to food. The feeding therapist will evaluate your child’s issues and implement a therapeutic program with a home component. Also investigate supplements such as multivitamins and essential fatty acids to make sure your child is getting the nutrients he or she needs to stay healthy.

Find more on eating difficulties and other sensory challenges in Raising a Sensory Smart Child and at You may also want to check out these books: Just Take a Bite (by Lori Ernsperger, available in bookstores and online) and Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids (by Melanie Potock, available at

Got a question? I’d love to hear from you. Please email questions to

Reposting Lindsey Biel's Autism Digest article

Autism Asperger’s Digest March-April 2011 issue
Column: Sensory Smarts
Happy Mouths, Happy Meals

Sensory Problems Usually Are the Problem with Difficult Eaters
Dear Sensory Smarts,
My five-year-old is such a picky eater! There are only a few foods she’ll eat: pasta, pizza, and ice cream. She wants to eat macaroni n’ cheese almost every meal, but it has to be one particular brand. If the store is out, she will not eat another brand. My parents and in-laws think it’s because I spoil her. They all say I should serve her what everyone else is having and if she doesn’t eat, then tough. I did try it once and she simply did not eat. Help!
Mac n’ Cheese Maven’s Mom

Dear Maven’s Mom,
Kids with oral sensory issues and food aversions will not eat foods they find repulsive and may wind up with nutritional deficiencies. Your child did not become an extremely selective eater because of something you did. It may help to consider the underlying factors that may be impacting your child’s inability to tolerate a wider variety of foods.

Oral Sensory Problems
Kids with sensory challenges, especially those on the autism spectrum, often have sensory issues in and around the mouth. Remember that the lips, tongue, inside cheeks, and throat are lined with skin. A child may be exquisitely sensitive to textures, and unable to tolerate foods that are lumpy, slippery, chewy, crunchy, or a combination of textures, like yogurt with granola. Some kids are particular about flavors, and may only eat foods that are bland, sweet, or even highly spiced. Some kids are particular about temperatures and insist on or refuse foods that are cold, hot, or lukewarm. Some kids stuff their mouths to feel there’s something in there. Other kids object to the way food looks or when items touch each other on a plate.

Some problem feeders have oral-motor weakness, and lack strength and stability in the lips, tongue, and jaw for nursing and later for eating solid foods. Jaw weakness makes chewing difficult while tongue weakness makes it hard to form a bolus (round food mass) to swallow. High or low muscle tone in the mouth can also be an issue. A child may have a hyperactive gag reflex and avoids eating and gagging. At its most extreme, a child may throw up when an offending food is tasted, smelled, or simply mentioned.

Most kids on the spectrum crave predictability. Your daughter may insist on exactly the same brand of mac n’ cheese cooked exactly the same way as a form of control in a world that sometimes feels out of control. If she has successfully eaten that one type of mac n’ cheese in the past, it’s got to be the very same kind in the future.

It sounds like your daughter sticks to “the white diet,” consisting of carbs and cheese, a common diet among kids with sensory issues. These foods are relatively soft and have an easy “mouth feel.” Unfortunately, these foods consist of gluten and dairy, which many kids with autism do
not tolerate well. Gluten is the main protein in wheat and other grains and casein is a protein in cheese and other dairy products. The theory is that these proteins trigger immune responses in some kids, resulting in a pleasurable, druglike response. Gluten and casein sensitivities are worth exploring with a nutritionist or allergist.

When a child has a significantly limited food repertoire, do not withhold the few foods that are acceptable. If you take away that one brand of mac n’ cheese, you’re taking away one of the few sources of nutrition for your child, even if it is a poor one. Pizza can be healthy if you buy or make it with high-quality ingredients.

I start by identifying one food the parent would like to add to a child’s diet, typically a fruit or vegetable. If possible, the child selects the particular fruit or vegetable.
Find more on eating difficulties and other sensory challenges in Raising a Sensory Smart Child and at You may also want to check out these books: Just Take a Bite (by Lori Ernsperger, available in bookstores and online) and Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids (by Melanie Potock, available at

Got a question? I’d love to hear from you. Please email questions to

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pincer Grasp Craft

 You can create any shape you want from colorful plastic containers to make this fine motor activity - in this case I cut an apple shape. But try a white ghost from a milk bottle or an evergreen tree from a green dishwasher soap bottle.  Use a heavy duty hole puncher to punch out the little colorful circles. Press the plastic shape onto contact paper so that when the circles are pushed in they stick into place. Some children will be able to trace the shape onto the contact paper and perhaps cut the paper.  Young children can work on their pincer grasp by pushing the small plastic circles inside the holes. 
Watch the following video to see how to make the pincer apple craft.....

Source: Make Your Own Apple Toys for Preschoolers by RecyclingOT

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Manipulating buckles

I love the Melissa and Doug Basic Skills board with fasteners. It teaches functional manipulation skills that are carried out in other areas of the child's daily life- like opening/closing buckles on belts and helmets.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Basket Ball

I am soooo lucky. While taking a walk on beautiful Saturday I came across a yard sale, mentioned my hippotherapy work and learned that the seller has a 15 year old daughter who owns 2 horses and a son who has autism and loves to ride. She gave me this old basketball stand and a few balls. The basket that I knit  last year out of supermarket trash bags is a perfect fit.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Birthday Party Memories
Reading Stephanie Ingersoll's article critiquing birthday parties brought back memories of our only child's desire to be invited and the extravaganzas we provided. As a child with social and sensory challenges we were thrilled when any child invited him to any event even if it was because the entire class was invited. We knew that chucky cheese type venues were overwhelming so we were always at his side providing support. These were not always pleasant events but our own parties were memorable, big on planning, preparation and creativity and low on cost.
One year we had a space theme where the children crawled through play tunnels into an empty shed. The floor was covered with a large metal sheet and children were provided with "space boots' made out of detergent bottles with magnets taped to the bottom so that they could experience space walking on a heavier planet.
The small plastic pool was filled with plastic stars cut out of food container lids with paper clips attached so that they could fish for them with sticks and magnets.
Unrelated to the space theme but very fun for 5 and 6 year olds back in the mid 90's was throwing water balloons at the Barney towel hung on the side of the shed. For some reason they decided that they were old enough to be done with Barney and he deserved to be soaked.
The grand finale involved the two buckets balanced on the ceiling. One needed to be weighted with tossed bean bags to get tipped over and out came packages consisting of a battery, wire with battery holder and a buzzer (all from radio shack) . Then the kids made the connections to create buzzers. These were their goody bag prizes.
We told each child to say their thank you upon leaving, no need for spending on postage....  somehow we earned a reputation for throwing great parties and this contributed to my struggling child's self-esteem.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Recycling OT's Husband Recycles his Childhood Bed

My husband's father built the house he grew up in and much of the furniture. He and his 3 brothers slept in this 3/4 size bed (my husband was the youngest of 7). We slept in it until giving it to my son who used it until buying a full size bed last year. Here is my husband's childhood bed as it transitioned from bed to bedboard for our queen sized bed.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

I'll Tell You Why

I recently came across this book series. I haven't read it yet, but it looks very helpful since the author shares from a child's perspective as she experiences tactile defensiveness. According to author, Noreen O'Sullivan....

Combining my education in English, Art and Early Childhood Education, I launch my series of children's books:
 I'll Tell You Why...
•Having worked for many years as a teacher in Manhattan and Stockholm, my experience ignites my true passion for understanding seemingly unexplained behaviors in the classroom and in the home.
•My intention is to provide emotional advocacy for children with a variety of developmental delays.
•It is my extensive exploration of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) that inspires the basis for the current book series.
•My first hand experience, as a mother of daughters with various sensory issues, provides me with insightful views into the thoughts and emotions of these children.
•A native New Yorker, I now live in Denmark with my husband and three daughters- sharing a love of animals and nature.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New AA DIGEST article- Cooking together

GFCF Cooking Together: Learning Can be Fun!
AADigest Exclusive
Reprinted with permission from a 2011 column on “GFCF Cooking Together with Kids” offered by the Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine. This selection is featured in the July/August 2011 issue. Find previous GFCF Cooking Together articles at the Article Library page of the AADigest website,
The kitchen is a natural learning environment. From organizing ingredients, to creating lists, and teaching basic math concepts, it’s not hard to imagine turning time spent cooking together into an incredibly fun learning experience.
Lay the Foundation
While any time spent cooking together can become a learning opportunity, do not introduce your child to cooking for the sole purpose of teaching. The key word is “fun!” Your child needs to be comfortable being together in the kitchen with you first, so if you haven’t begun the process, take steps to gradually introduce him to food, cooking, and sharing time in the kitchen. (Check out our earlier GFCF Cooking Together articles for some great tips!)
Don’t Forget the Food
It sounds silly to say “don’t forget the food,” but the point is simply this: There is no greater motivation to learn in the kitchen than for the end product to be the reward. This means making sure you choose foods your child loves to eat.
Basic Skills
One of the best things about using cooking to teach skills to our children with autism, is that it’s so easy to tailor the information and level of difficulty to meet their needs.
·       Organization and Sequencing. Write each step of the recipe on a separate card, or list them on a dry erase board in simple terms so you and your child have a visual sequence of steps to follow. Make a list of ingredients and utensils you will need, then collect them and organize everything on the counter in the order in which it will be used. The extent of your child’s participation depends entirely on her ability and comfort level in the kitchen. If necessary, begin by asking her to find just one utensil and make it her “assigned” utensil. For example, her utensil could be a spoon and when that step is reached in the recipe, she has responsibility for stirring. Put a star next to the steps that she will complete.
·      Sharing Together. This is a great time to implement strategies like turn taking and synchronizing actions together. Examples might be: “I’ll pour this, then you’ll pour that,” “I’ll get the mixing bowl, you get the spoon,” or “I’ll add eggs while you stir.”
·    Verbal Communication. Keep a happy, chatty conversation going, even if you’re delivering a monologue. Remember that the idea is for you to model the steps and teach while you’re in the cooking process, whether your child is watching or actively participating. Every now and then ask a simple question and give him sufficient time to respond.
·       Descriptive Language. While you’re talking, use as much descriptive language as possible to define colors, textures, tastes, and smell. Pause to let her experience and absorb the similarities and differences in ingredients.
  Math in the Kitchen
Could there be a better place to teach essential math than the kitchen? This is the perfect opportunity to give real-world substance to abstract concepts. Depending on your child’s academic level, you can work fractions, measurements, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and even weight (if you have a kitchen scale) into any simple recipe.
·       Counting. Count the number of times you stir, every time you add an ingredient, the number of steps in the recipe, the number of ingredients, etc. Make it a game by taking turns counting or by pretending you can’t remember the next number so your child can pitch in and help.
·        Double the Recipe. Create the opportunity to teach addition or multiplication by doubling the recipe. Your child can count out loud, and physically measure and pour each ingredient twice, which gives you multiples chances to reinforce the concept. Make it more complicated by increasing the recipe by 1 1/2.
·        Reduce the Recipe. On the flip side, teach subtraction or division by cutting the recipe in half.
·        Fractions. Measure one cup of flour (or other ingredient), then measure again using half cup, third cup, and quarter cup measures. Talk about how they’re different. Demonstrate that you can pour two half-cup measures into one cup to equal the same amount. Another great visual method is to choose a food item that your child likes, whether several carrots or slices of bread, then lay one item out whole, cut another one in half and place it under the whole one, cut another one in thirds and place it directly underneath, etc.
TIP: You’ll need more than one set of measuring cups to show the relationships. You’ll need two half cups, three third cups, and four quarter cups.
  Shapes, Sorting and Fine Motor Skills had a great lesson plan for teaching shapes and sorting. Complete directions can be found by going to their web site and searching for “fruit-shape kebabs,” but here’s the idea:
·        Cut different fruits into shapes. Use any type of fresh or canned fruit and cut each one into a variety of shapes. For optimum sorting, you’ll need enough of the fruit to cut each one into the same shapes. Ultimately, the fruit will be made into kebabs, so plan to have enough pieces cut to make several kebabs.
·       Sort by type of fruit. Talk about their different colors, textures, tastes and uses in cooking.
·       Sort by shape. This gives you the opportunity to teach different shapes. You can also compare the cut shapes to the original shape of the fruit.
·       Separate the fruit into piles. Decide how many kebabs you’re making and create a pile of fruit for each one. Count as you divide the fruit into separate piles.
·        Slide each pile of fruit onto a bamboo skewer to make kebabs. Be careful about safety issues if the skewers have sharp points, but if it’s appropriate for your child, placing fruit on the skewer helps fine motor skills.
·       Enjoy the snack! Serve with a GFCF yogurt for dipping, sprinkled with some raw sugar on top. De-licious!
Spending time in the kitchen together offers all sorts of opportunities for learning, from academics like math, history (origins of food), or geography (when using ethnic foods), to working on sensory issues or social skills. The key here – and everywhere – is to make learning fun for the child!
Read More Online! Our companion e-article (available only to subscribers during July & August) focuses on converting recipes to GFCF. Plus, look for a delicious, nutritious warm-weather recipe to try out with your child.
Copyright © 2011 Autism Asperger’s Digest. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 29, 2011

From Rattles to Writing: A Parent's guide to Hand Skills

Rotary Occupational therapy Speech

I spoke yesterday at the beautiful Emerson Inn in Rockport, Mass. It was a fun group and I loved how the members spent about 15 minutes sharing happy thoughts! I spoke about how hippotherapy helps children with developmental disabilties, how I discovered my talent for making therapeutic activities out of recycled materials and my experiences helping my mom when she had alzheimers disease.

I enjoy speaking about my professional and personal experiences, but especially in such a stunning environment.....
I don't know why blogger won't let me use the rotated photo!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guest blog: Britt Collins, M.S., OTR/L

Compliments to our Blogger Network, from Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine.

Sensory Savvy Parenting!

By Britt Collins, M.S., OTR/L

Reprinted with permission from a featured article that appears in the just-released July/August issue of Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine. Learn more,

Your first child. What an exciting, wonderful, and anxious time it is! When you found out you were pregnant, you probably read stacks of baby books, and read even more as your baby grew into a toddler. When you discovered your child was on the autism spectrum, you undoubtedly searched out any and every book you could find that would help you understand your child better.

Along the way you may – or may not – have read about sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory processing problems in spectrum kids. Recent studies report that approximately 5-10% of all children experience sensory symptoms significant enough to affect their everyday life functions. Within the ASD population that number can be as high as 95%! (Tomchek, 2007) Sensory issues may have resonated with you to some degree; you grasped what sensory sensitivities might feel like to your child. But, noticing them – before your child is in sensory overload – well, perhaps you’re a little lost there. No worries! I’m here to help you become a more sensory savvy parent! Jackie Olson (a mom) and I co-wrote Sensory Parenting: From Newborns to Toddlers (Sensory World, 2010) to reach out to new and pregnant moms with information about our sensory systems and how they work. For many new parents, this is foreign territory!

So, let’s assume you know the basics: there’s not five senses (touch, taste, hearing, smell, sight) but seven (add in vestibular and proprioception) and some experts say there are lots more! Our kids can be hypo (under) sensitive or hyper (over) sensitive in any area. And, that sensitivity level can vary sense to sense and day to day, or even hour to hour depending on the conditions at hand! You understand this is biology at work within your child: it’s not something he can control at will. And, that sensory issues cause very real problems in your child’s life that interfere tremendously with her ability to be calm, focused, attentive, and happy.

But - how do you know when your child is in sensory overload? Are there early warning signs, behaviors to look for that tell you something is amiss? Yes there are, and as a parent you have to play detective to figure out your child’s specific sensory sensitivities and recognize the red flags. Your goal is to help your child avoid sensory overload (it’s no fun!) or offer strategies to calm down afterwards.

I believe almost everyone has some sort of sensory issue. Maybe you buy tag-less t-shirts because the tag drives you crazy, or you prefer a certain type of comfortable clothing (I prefer anything cozy, like a large sweatshirt and warm socks). It’s really irritating when strangers keep bumping into you in a crowded subway, and you never go to loud concerts because they hurt your ears. Rides at Disneyland that go up and down or round and round? Forget it; you’d be nauseous in under a minute! All that is sensory based.

And so is the flip side. You love deep pressure massage; it’s so calming to your system. You go to the gym to release the frustrations of the day. You relax in a warm bath, scented with your favorite aromatherapy products – ah, how good they make you feel! And there’s nothing better than the smooth, creamy texture of good ice cream. That’s all sensory-based, too!

I’ve met scores of parents who start to realize their own sensory issues when they begin to educate themselves about their children’s sensory challenges. When they feel, first hand, what it’s like, they start better understanding what their child may be experiencing on a daily basis when the world is too loud, too bright, too fast – too intense!

Everyday sensory sensitivities become a problem when we are so affected by them we can no longer function as we should. This is what happens with our kids, and they express this through their behavior – the only way they know how to tell us! And yet, many parents attribute behavior problems to “something else” and don’t realize how much of an impact sensory issues have. They put their children in uncomfortable situations every day: the grocery store, the mall, the playground, loud birthday parties, restaurants, and the like – and they expect the kids to “behave.” More often than not these situations are way too overwhelming and a meltdown or shut down results.

As a sensory savvy parent you learn to look for the signs of sensory overload. Every child is different and you’ll need to learn to read your own child’s warning signs. That said, let me give you some things to look for. If your child covers her ears, she is more than likely trying to shut out disturbing auditory sounds. If he blinks a lot, averts his eyes, or his eyes water frequently, he could be bothered by too-bright lights (to him!) or the sun. If she pushes away certain foods, and you notice a pattern (they’re all soft or all crunchy) it’s probably a tactile issue. As sensory overload approaches, kids can have different reactions. She may begin to get quiet or disengage if before she was talking to you. You may notice he’s starting to verbally stim or fidget or whine, or grind his teeth. All of these things can be signs of sensory stress. Other signs you might notice:

* singing or talking really loudly to drown out other uncomfortable sounds

* crying or screaming because something touching her doesn’t feel right or hurts

* pulling away from you because he’s scared or anxious to go where you want him to. He may remember last time, when someone dropped a jar of pickles on the floor and the smell was so bad.

You may be wondering: is it all sensory related or is some of it just plain “behavior?” Good question! The difference between sensory and behavior is an article in itself, but you can look for cues from your child and the environment to know what’s what. Is he throwing a tantrum because you told him he cannot have ice cream for breakfast? That’s behavior. Or is it because you washed his favorite shirt with a new detergent and now it smells terrible? That’s sensory. Is she shutting down because you’re asking her to write her spelling words (behavior)? Or is it because you’re frying fish for dinner in the kitchen, the smell makes her gag, and she can’t focus on the task (sensory)? If it’s sensory, remember your child can’t control this – so you need to be proactive, stop and think about what’s going on and what might be causing the behavior. If it’s a sensory issue, it’s your job to step in and help your child. That means you change your behavior and adapt the environment to alleviate your child’s sensory issue at hand and help her regain sensory equilibrium.

Sometimes sensory issues are obvious; at other times they’re not. I work with a child who has impaired hearing. When an adult puts his hearing aid in, he gets upset and grinds his teeth. He is not used to hearing so many sounds and all of a sudden the world is probably like a rock concert to him. I work with another child who begins to physically shake when a peer approaches her to talk. She walks up on her toes and begins to grimace. She will eventually engage and we encourage her to interact, but do so with plenty of breaks so it doesn’t become too overwhelming. One parent I know couldn’t figure out why her son wouldn’t stay in his bed at night. She eventually discovered their cat had deposited a “gift” right under the middle of his bed while they were away on vacation. Her son’s sensitive smell detected the lingering odor when she could not.

Being a sensory savvy parent is one part curiosity, one part sleuth skills, and one part perspective. Be open to seeing the world through your child’s senses and at first, adapting the environment to make it more conducive to your child’s needs. Over time, and with the help of a good OT, you can set up a sensory plan that will help your child learn to self-regulate and deal with the sensory issues. And finally, forgive yourself for those moments we all experience. Here’s a common one: you’re getting three kids ready for school in the morning and you’re running late for work. Your child with ASD/SPD begins to melt down because in the rush you put on the socks that have little tiny strings inside that drive him crazy. Now one child is screaming, another is telling you she forgot to do her homework the night before and the teacher will be mad, and the third child is telling you to pick him up from soccer practice after school! You notice your own meltdown meter skyrocketing! It’s okay, you are not alone – it happens to all of us. Stop, take a deep breath, and play detective to find out why your spectrum child is upset. Retrace your steps and once you figure out it’s the socks, go find the seamless ones, switch them out, and then everyone can calm down. Just toss one of those little chocolate Dove bars into your purse for the ride to work… you know, the kind that make you sigh with a sense of pleasure? Now you understand what it means to be a sensory savvy parent!


Britt Collins is a pediatric occupational therapist who lives in Salem, Oregon. She has an award-winning OT DVD series ( and a newly released book, Sensory Parenting. For more information visit

Recommended Reading

Growing an In-Sync Child: Simple, Fun Activities to Help Every Child Develop, Learn, and Grow. Carol Kranowitz, MA, and Joye Newman, MA

Parenting a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder: A Family Guide to Understanding & Supporting Your Sensory-Sensitive Child. Christopher R. Auer, MA, with Susan Blumberg, PhD

Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues. Lindsey Biel, OTR/L and Nancy Peske

Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder. Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR/L and Doris Fuller

Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to do if You are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World. Sharon Heller

Copyright © 2011 Autism Asperger’s Digest. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Understanding the Five Types of Pervasive Developmental Disorders

Pockets from old pants used to teach manipulation skills

I used the pockets from my son's old pants in this activity. They have zipper or Velcro closures. I placed small plastic animals in each one and then placed each in a detergent bottle that has the handle cut so that I can attach it to hang over a fence. During hippotherapy this little girl pulled the reins to stop at a bottle, removed the pocket, opened it to remove the toy and then put the toy in a bag attached to the tack. I Loved how this involved sequencing several steps and she loved seeing the animals. I realized after doing 3 of these that she is pretty good at feeling the animal while it is inside the bag and identifying what it is just by touch. This works on tactile discrimination. I will next build on these skills by asking her to do this while facing backwards (which she is not too fond of doing) or while on her belly in superman position.    

My client did a really nice job of using her hands together while opening and closing the zipper or velcro.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Daily Living Skills Worksheets: A Book Review

Occupational therapist and author, Linda Harrison asked if I would write a review for her new book “Daily Living Skills Worksheets”. I said yes because I love learning about new resources, but didn’t see how an entire book could be devoted to reproducible forms.

I don’t work in settings where I would need these types of daily living skills forms. But I am pleased to report that if you work with adolescents or adults with mental health conditions such as depression or manic depression, memory impairments, neurologically- based communication disorders such as asperger's syndrome or are just plain disorganized due to ADD or poor parenting experiences while growing up –this book has every form you might conceive of to help clients function in our ever increasingly complex world.

I love how the graphics are attractive, easy to read, yet attention is paid to keeping a mature appearance- the illustrator avoids being “cutesy”. Linda Harrison demonstrates a wealth of experience as she shares the types of daily skills she has learned are essential for clients who are getting ready to or already moved into the community. She has the hindsight to know where the pitfalls are and the worksheets are designed to avoid them.

Every worksheet has a description on the back – explaining the purpose, when to use, directions and specific tips such as “avoid focusing on too many goals” or “encourage your client to practice each step until she is comfortable with it before moving on to the next step”.

The forms cover a huge number of daily living skills areas-in fact, I can’t think of any that she left out. They include:

• Goal-setting

• Time management

• Money management

• Household management

• Personal care

• Memory/safety

• Leisure/productivity

• Communication

• Meetings

• Problem-solving/reflection

• Recording thoughts and feelings

This book is perfect for occupational therapists who might be new to working with these relatively high functioning clients. But even the more seasoned therapists will find this comprehensive resoruce beneficial and will surely come across some new ideas. It’s a must for other staff-perhaps counselors, teachers and even parents eager to push the little chick out of the nest. Happy launching!

Daily Living Skills Worksheets will be available soon on the website and costs $44.95.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Father's Day Story

Compliments from the Blogger Network, from Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine. Just in time for Father’s Day!

A Father's Moment

By Patrick Paulitz

Reprinted with permission from a featured article that appeared in the September/October 2005 issue of Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine. Learn more,

All of us make daily choices in life. Most of these choices are trivial, like what to have for dinner or what color socks to wear. Other choices are more life-changing, like whom to marry, where to live, or what house to buy. Sometimes, choices are made which at the time seem to be in error, but allow us, if our ears, eyes, and mind are open, to learn about life, our children, ourselves. Sometimes a wrong turn can lead to nothing less than a miracle.

It was a spring Saturday in the Bay Area. There was nothing exceptional about the day, except that it wasn't raining. Not bad for a weekend in the wettest year California had experienced in decades. The sky was blue with white puffy clouds, and it was on the cool side - a great day for a picnic.

April and I decided to spend the day in Sausalito, a trendy upscale town on the waterfront just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We packed a lunch and ate hot dogs, chips, and sodas with a spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline. The pigeons and sea gulls, we discovered, are only your friends when you're eating. They're not one of God's more loyal creatures, to say the least. Later that afternoon we blew bubbles with Shamus, our four- year-old autistic son, in a local park before starting the drive back to our home on the Peninsula.

On the way home I took a minor detour; I wanted to show April some nice places to have a picnic another time, with a great view of the San Francisco Bay. As luck would have it, despite our best efforts to follow the signs to the freeway we somehow took a wrong turn. Or was it a wrong turn?

We soon found ourselves among green rolling hills that we could see eventually led to the Pacific Ocean. We were debating whether to turn around, or just keep going and enjoy the ride. It was so beautiful, we decided to venture on. By the time we arrived at the ocean, April had no interest in making the short trek to the water. I parked the van and walked to the beach by myself, staying only a few minutes. It was no fun being there without my wife and son. That's just not the way God intended it.

Before maneuvering home, we knew Shamus needed a potty stop. Even though the restroom building was not more than a few hundred feet across the parking lot, we figured the less walking our boy did here, the better. Parked cars are a real distraction for Shamus. Once “business” was done, I turned to Shamus and said, "Shamus, do you want to go to the beach?" He was never a beach-lover before, but I thought I’d give him the option. Surprisingly, he said "yes." Kids, even autistic ones, do change sometimes, I guess…

We watched the waves tumble in, leaving the hissing, white-green foam behind. Shamus seemed to be enjoying it so much - the sound of the ocean, the frothy surf, the big sky overhead.

Now, Shamus is a native Californian and our home is only 10 miles from the ocean. He had been to the beach many times before and had never been too interested in exploring beyond the blanket he was sitting on. But today was different; he wanted to get his feet wet.

San Francisco is not a “beach” town, despite its physical proximity to the ocean. The water is cold, and summer weather along the coast is usually cold and foggy the entire day. Bay Area residents, especially coastal residents, don't wear shorts and don't keep beach towels in their car. Extra blankets and jackets are a far more practical item to have on hand.

But here was my son wanting – for the first time - to get his feet wet. So, we rolled up his pants, took off his socks and shoes, and I did the same. Shamus got his feet wet. He was ecstatic. As for me, the water felt like ice, my feet were frozen, my rolled-up pant legs soon unraveled, and in no time, both our pants were soaked - and we had no dry clothes. And yet, I wouldn't have traded that moment for anything in the world. It was our moment - father and son - playing in the surf. Nothing else in the world mattered to either of us. For most four-year-olds, such a moment would be routine. With our dear Shamus, however, I take nothing for granted.

April is such a “Mom.” Even today my own mother, who is 82 years old, often tells me to put on a sweater when she is cold. A mother's nurturing nature transcends generations and crosses cultural lines. As April motioned for us to come out of the water, even trying to bribe Shamus with a bag of potato chips, I shook my head. I laughed and laughed and shook my head. “No way,” I was thinking to myself. This is our special moment in time. I knew what she was thinking. We were cold and wet - more specifically, Shamus was cold and wet. Dad can take care of himself. And I knew that I would allow nothing - not even a loving Mom waving a bag of potato chips - to spoil this moment. Potato chips and a warm minivan could wait.

After we came out of the water, April drove home as I sat in the passenger seat, stripped down to my T-shirt and underwear. Shamus wore only a shirt and a towel – and a big smile on his face. As we drove south across the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought about what a miracle God had given me that day - and all because of a wrong turn.


Patrick Paulitz, a freelance writer, lives with his wife April and son Shamus in San Mateo, California.

Copyright © 2011 Autism Asperger’s Digest. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Plastic Flowers in Real Gardens

After a recent visit to an art exhibit I was inspired to spend a couple of hours making a plastic sunflower out of detergent bottles and laced with strands made out of trash bags. I punched holes in the yellow and orange petals and laced them to attach to the green center of the flower. The tricky part (I am not sure I can explain this) is attaching the flower to the green piece (shown left) this is the top of a dishwasher soap bottle. I took a second bottle and inserted the spout through the spout of the small green piece and screwed the cap to hold in place. The piece shown in my hand had holes punched in it and I sewed the sunflower onto this by lacing through all the holes.   I think it is fun to integrate flowers crafted out of plastic with real ones in this way since children may be involved in lacing simple flower shapes and there are many creative options in the designing process.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Here is a video of my hippotherapy clients using the suspended bottles....

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cut and paste picture puzzles

These are easy but a bit time consuming to make-however, a great activity to develop fine motor and visual perceptual skills. I first printed out a large photo to fit the size of a sheet of printing paper. Next I cut the picture into 6 squares and numbered them. I glued them to paper and photocopied so that I can use this activity repeatedly.  I made the corresponding graph with the 6 numbers. the student needs to match the numbers in order to create the finished picture shown below. then paste in place for the finished prodcut. See if they can guess what the picture is before completing the puzzle.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Having fun with clothespins

Squeezing clothespins is a great activity to strengthen fingers and develop coordination between the index and middle fingers and thumb. Pulling the pins off the mane is a fun way to engage in squeezing pins and it doesn't hurt the horse! Notice all the postural control my almost six year old client is demosntrating as he reaches for the pins.
Lots of arena designing this week at DivinityFarm as I attached my home made (knit out of trash bags) basket for tossing activities. I have a bag of weirdly textured balls (i.e. koosh, squishy etc)  all ready to use.

I made this stop sign out of a red manilla folder. I figure the octagon red shape with the word STOP is pretty basic in terms of learning to read, learn about danger and follow directions to pull/reins and stop. It will be interesting to see if our work during hippotherapy helps one of my clients learn to recognize and respond to the word STOP.