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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids- a book Review

I am listening to Dancing in the Kitchen as I write this book review, so I can’t help but be happy and enthusiastic like Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SPL, author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of food!
Readers will learn that a cheerful and calm approach to child rearing challenges is the first step in teaching children to try new things, including food and this all leads to developing learning, flexibility and self-esteem. Melanie’s sunny side is contagious as she guides parents who might be stressed from
• teaching a medically fragile child how to bite, chew and swallow for the first time after months or years of tube feeding
• trying to help a sensory defensive child tolerate the touch, smell and taste of food on hands, face and inside the mouth
• dreading daily emotional mealtime battles
Happy Mealtimes is a parent friendly read that packs a lot of punch in just 118 pages. Written for busy parents who don’t want to learn how to be therapists, each chapter concludes with an even quicker to swallow and digest summary of the chapter’s 3-4 major concepts.
Parents will learn the basics of
• positioning for adequate support
• type of spoon to choose
• the developmental sequence of self-feeding beginning with making a mess!
• the importance of straw drinking
• how to recognize which behaviors are being reinforced
• and lots of strategies that lead to small steady gains
I think that every first time parent should read this book just to learn the basics of behavior modification. I myself grew up with a mom who allowed me to play with my food as the rest of my family ate, then throw out the bulk of it and eat ice cream. This is how you reinforce eating junk food!
My parents cheered me on when I pretended that I was a bird eating spaghetti “worms” –reinforcing again playing with food when I was perfectly capable of eating it and what would Miss Melanie say to parents who allowed their kids to watch television during meals and only served canned vegetables? (well, this was the 1960s….) I think she would have helped my mom learn how to create a fun, social environment that reinforced eating healthy, yummy foods. In an ideal world every new parent would have a Miss Melanie teaching them child development 101. Fortunately, if they can't have the real Melanie, they can at least buy Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids….. Happy reading!

Check out Melanie's website for info on ordering books and her speaking events.

Tere Bowen-Irish Seminar

I went to a (Bureau of Education & Research) seminar today taught by occupational therapist Tere Bowen-Irish- titled  Practical Strategies for Occupational Therapists to Collaborate and Integrate Interventions as Integral School Team Members.

This was one of the best seminars I have ever been to.... Tere was extremely energetic, enthusiastic and inspiring, even as the end of the day approached- she was still smiling and sharing with the same enthusiasm she came in with at 8:30.  Tere covered my favorite topics- creative and fun gross and fine motor activities that enhance sensory processing and hand skills.  But Tere went several steps further by  explaining  how to bring these strategies into the classroom so that the entire class can benefit and children  engage in movement activities that help them focus and learn- ALL DAY LONG.

Notice that Tere's hands or feet are blurry in these photos. She is moving them during two of the many Drive -thru menu sensory motor activities.
You can read about these, see video samples and find ordering info on her web site:

The menu items are designed to focus on
  • Attention
  • Strength
  • Relaxation
The great thing about the menu posters is that they can hang in the classroom so that the teacher or students can easily pick out their favorite movement activities or games throughout the day- and integrate them into the curriculum subjects.

The seminar was much more than looking at Tere's products (although they are awesome!)  Occupational therapy is all about helping kids learn and movement is central to brain enhancement. So whether we are using Brain Gym, Infinity Walk, the Drive-Thru menus or some other program-the important concept is that integrating movement into  spelling, grammar, math facts or history lessons will make learning more successful and fun.
Here are just a handful of  tidbits I learned:
  • An ironing board can be adjusted to different heights and used as a desk while child is kneeling, half kneeling, etc.
  • kids can vary sitting positions during circle time using "side-of onions" side sitting, "French fries" long sitting or "criss cross applesauce" 
  • stretchy cloth book covers can be used as fidget tools
  • paper lunch bags can be cut and folded into basekts (every day) and used in class  

Drive-thru Menu products are available on Tere bowen-Irish's website and also at
Therapro also carries my books From Rattles to Writing: A Parent's Guide to Hand Skills
and The Recycling Occupational Therapist

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What a treat spending the day at the Future Horizons Autism& Asperger’s syndrome conference. There was a bit of a collective sigh when we learned that due to travel glitches Temple Grandin would be arriving late and not speaking until 3:00. But being the professional she is, she was graciously signing books and posing for fan photos in a cheery orange blouse by 11:00.
Meanwhile, writer, actress and mother of the most well-known individual with autism in the world-Eustacia Cutler shared her story, insights and dreams. The story begins with 20 year old Eustacia raising a toddler who was averse to touch and did not speak. How can she be a mother if the baby didn't seem to know who her mother was? So begins the journey of autism changing the entire family identity. Eustacia describes “theory of mind” as a precious gift not to be taken for granted since HER daughter didn’t know how to point to an Oreo cookie.

I love Ms. Cutler’s use of metaphors as she built her daughter’s life one Lego piece at a time until a structure was created- a structure which although recognizable is never quite the real thing. The young mother practices Bach on the piano as her daughter hums and crumples paper nearby. They are in their separate worlds despite her attempts to engage her pretty baby, but the baby continues humming. She hums Bach. Don't we  all find that subtle connection at the most unexpected times?
The beauty of Eustacia Cutlers speech and writings is that she wants to help today’s parents of children with autism to avoid the pitfalls of misinformed doctors, the father’s shame and society’s reluctance to spend money so that families of all socioeconomic classes receive the services that can help their children's lives achieve meaning. These services might be family counseling, career training, social skills training, speech therapy, art or drama classes. Temple Grandin’s mother was bold, educated, resourceful and wealthy and could give her daughter the benefit of a private education. These helped make Temple Grandin the success she is today. Don’t all children deserve these opportunities? I clearly sat amidst an audience that shared these values…….

Paula Aquilla-occupational therapist and co-author of Building Bridges Through Sensory Integration spoke about our sensory systems, neuroplasticity, processing disorders, anxiety and the benefits of a sensory diet. I am sure that this lecture was hugely informative for parents and educators. As a seasoned occupational therapist myself I focused on the many excellent analogies used to simplify concepts. For example:

  • Kids who toe walk are seeking extra proprioceptive input. Compare touch pressure when pressing your fingers into your arm vs. pressing your palm onto the arm. In the same way, the smaller surface areas of the toes receives greater sensory input than when using the flat foot.
  • Hand flapping may serve the purpose of stimulating the peripheral field, helping to drown out the other visual sensations. At the same time, don't we all flap when excited and the more excited, the more we flap?
  • Smearing feces may serve to block out other smells…..then again, it may be something else...

The point of Paula’s many anecdotes is that parents, teachers and therapists need to be detectives and find out what is behind behaviors. Then they need to find strategies that work for the individual. One clever parent realized that her child hated the sound of hand driers. So she placed “out of order”signs on public bathroom doors to keep others out until her daughter finished. Another important point is communication between home and school because if , for example, the school administration does not know that the child has an extremely high threshold for pain and as a result is easily bruised or burned- the school might suspect abuse. Future conference attendees will appreciate Paula’s wisdom, wit and frequent movement breaks.   

 I missed the lunchtime speaker, Dr. Roya Ostovar, but you may learn about her work at her website: Dr. Ostovar is a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, director of The Center for Neurodevelopmental Services at McLean Hospital and Director of Neuropsychology Services at the Lurie Family Autism Center.  

As we digested our lunches and pinched our arms to stay alert-the audience was treated to a lively Hollywoodesque introduction to Temple Grandin’s star-studded career. Voila, Temple arrived with a bang and enthusiastically spoke for 90 minutes on her views including

  • How to adapt the environment to meet sensory needs and learning
  • Signs and interventions for visual processing problems
  • The importance of categorizing behavioral problems- are they biological or behavioral?

I have frequently read and heard Dr. Grandin speak about her dismay at changing values. When she (and I since I am only 7 years younger) was growing up television sit-coms taught positive values such as friendship, neighborhood moms looked out for one another’s kids, manners were expected and children played OUTSIDE! Dr. Grandin gave an example of modern day failing values seen on a magazine cover showing two mating airplanes. The heading reads-“Let’s Get it On”. You be the judge on this one- Regardless of your thoughts I am happy to report Dr. Grandin’s satisfying small act of defiance in leaving this magazine on board an airplane.  

 The day ended with the poignant question-If Einstein had been born into today’s world what type of education would he have been given.?Would this strange man with no socks and mismatched clothing, unkempt hair, late speech and odd manners been given opportunities to daydream or been stymied by bullies and standardized tests?  Society benefits when the Einsteins and Temple Grandins of the world are given ample opportunity to grow into who they are meant to be.

This is me standing at the Challenge Unlimited/Ironstone therapies booth.

If you are interested in attending a conference please visit Future Horizons and use code "Pedia" to get a 15% discount (books and conferences. ) 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Feel and Find the Shape

Children learn to identify and discriminate shapes by fitting them inside shape sorter openings and form boards, matching them to pictures and naming them in picture books. Its also important that children learn to identify shapes and objects by touch. This develops the perceptual skill called "stereognosis" or the ability to know by our tactile (touch) sense. Developing tactile awareness helps children to develop manipulation skills.

There are games on the market that involve searching by feel for a shape or object in a bag. Then the child can
  • name it
  • describe it
  • find the named shape or one that fits into a form board (such as the one shown below)
  • find the shape or object that matches a picture or an identical one shown to the child
Its easy to make your own shapes and form board by cutting them out of container lids. I usually use leather shears to cut plastic, but this plastic is pretty thin and regular scissors may also work.

I cut the letter C out of the lid to a yogurt container. Try putting the letters to the child's name in a bag and have her feel to find the needed letters in sequence to fill in the form boards-spelling the name.

 The following products work on similar skills

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tripod Activities

There are many activities children can do that use a tripod pencil grasp but don't actually involve writing. They enable a child to develop the coordination between the "tripod fingers"- thumb, index and middle fingers while strengthening them as they control a tool.
Examples are
  • magic pads- scribble away with a stylus, pull the plastic up and work disappears
  • Magnadoodle- these come with different shaped tools including one that is used with a tripod grasp to create pictures on a magnetic surface. The child turns it upside down and shakes to "erase" and start over. 
  • scratch art- you can purchase or a child can make her own by coloring a page with lots of crayon colors. Next color over the surface with black crayon. When the top layer is scratched with a tool, a colorful design appears.
  • rubbings- can be done with small pieces of crayon to strengthen the tripod fingers. Purchase plates with raised pictures or make your own 3 dimensional surface with sandpaper shapes taped to the table. Next tape paper on top. When the child rubs the crayon the shapes or picture below will appear.
The following video shows how to make developing a tripod pencil grasp fun while using a spinner....

Source: Recycling Occupational Therapist demonstrates Fidget Spinner by RecyclingOT on Rumble

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thinking Person's Guide to Autism

I finally finished reading Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. It took several months to read 1 or 2 essays in the morning-then digesting them along with my breakfast. The reading is not light and the editors did a fantastic job of finding diversified, sometimes controversial viewpoints including those of teachers, therapists, parents and adult voices with autism. The writers come from various stages of autism involvement ranging from parents of young children who recently  received the  diagnosis, the perspective of a mom with a young adult moving into a community residence and an adult who didn’t receive the autism diagnosis until age 50.  

Since as the expression goes-you meet one reader of an autism book……. you’ve met one reader of an autism book… (you know what I mean….), we readers will react according to our unique backgrounds and experiences. As an occupational therapist working with young children on the spectrum and mother of a college student with Asperger’s syndrome-the goal of eliminating or at least decreasing the stigma of being neurologically and socially different very much touches home. I loved the strategies that included- educating the teachers and classmates, forgiving neighbors, family and others who don’t “get it” and building a support network.

I appreciated the perspectives on autism “cults” that pried on vulnerable parents who will do anything to find a cure. Since I have always recognized the genetic traits passed down to my son who was sensory fussy since birth and as a therapist who wants to use evidence-based treatment strategies, I  want to see the evidence before “buying hope” and hope that reading these perspectives will persuade others to do the same.

It is a challenge to write a book review after reading an overwhelming amount of information and viewpoints-but the editors organize the content so that readers can easily jump right to their relevant topics-whether it be day to day solutions such as how to cope with a picky eater, finding emotional support after receiving the diagnosis or how to advocate in the school and work settings.

 The essay that stood out for me was written anonymously with the ominous title of ‘Why I Can’t Breathe Tonight”.  A professional felt compelled to share her panic and anger over her treatment as school therapist.  A handful (maybe 5%) of the parents assumed her to be incompetent and was quick to bring in the lawyers and “experts” to prove her wrong. She described how this occurred despite working in an excellent school district and that the stress that created high special education turnover didn’t benefit the students. This was a voice I don’t typically hear when reading blogs, articles or essays. With that said- some of the essays in this book are controversial and will hit nerves but that’s what a thinking person’s guide is all about. If you are a thinking person and autism touches your life- I highly recommend this book!