Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Rebecca Moyes Library

The title of this article is misleading because I have only read 2 out of  5 of  Rebecca Moyes’ books. However, if all the books are as insightful, wise and packed with practical strategies as Building Sensory Friendly Classrooms and Visual Techniques for Developing Social Skills then I recommend reading them all.   

Moyes’s ability to zero in on what the child on the autism spectrum needs-seems to stem from her extensive classroom experience as well as being a parent of two children, one of whom has Asperger’s syndrome. Her approach is eclectic as she examines the sensory accommodations children need in order to  tolerate daily sensory challenges, use of a positive reinforcement behavioral programs and specific group training to learn about social expectations and build social skills (i.e. not touch other’s belongings).

Building Sensory Friendly Classrooms starts out with an explanation of the sensory systems and what happens when they are not working very well. Moyes next explains that the sheer number of students with sensory processing disorders (SPD) makes it impossible for an occupational therapist to treat each child. Therefore, it is critical that the classroom be “sensory friendly”. This may entail:

·        Preferential seating

·        A sensory diet packed with movement and heavy pressure input

·        Compensatory strategies such as head phones or transitioning to the next class 5 minutes early  to avoid a noisy crowded hallway.

I like how Moyes emphasizes the importance of data collection to share with the IEP team in order to design the best accommodations/ modifications integrated into a positive behavioral support plan. Data may indicate whether or not supports such as movement breaks, fidget tools or wearing a pressure vest decrease interfering behaviors such as outbursts or increase positive behaviors such as attention. Data may validate strategy carryover into other classrooms or indicate the need for modification.  Other beneficial strategies include:

·        Use of visual schedules

·        Deep breathing relaxation techniques

·        Guided imagery

·        Replacing socially unacceptable self-stimulatory behaviors (i.e. rocking or spinning) with a stress reduction object such as Velcro to rub under the desk.

·        Being a detective-for example, finding out that an offensive air freshener as the cause of aggressive behavior.

·        Creating a sensory diet, including respite spaces

Moyes describes how students can relax by  breathing in and out while watching the objects in the bottle slowly glide from end to end. It is filled 1/4 way with Karo syrup and whatever bright small objects I could find.

Some teachers need to be in-serviced and provided ongoing consultation in order to understand, create and successfully implement sensory strategies that level the playing field for students who would otherwise likely fail. Moyes’ continues with this theme in her newest book Visual Techniques for Developing Social Skills. This book is packed with specific group lessons designed to develop awareness of social expectations such as:

·        Maintaining personal space

·        Using or approximating eye contact (i.e. by looking between the eyes)

·        Turn taking

·        Controlling voice volume

·        Understanding privacy

·        Learning the difference between “helping words” and “hurting words”

Lessons  are designed to include reinforcement (such as praise or earning tokens) and further illustrated by using social stories. Teachers use visual/physical props such as a speedometer that illustrates voice volume and hoola hoops that demonstrate personal space.

Visual techniques used to develop social skills builds on the visual strengths students with autism often have-helping to develop self esteem and a foundation for friendships. The important lesson readers walk away with is that meeting the sensory and social needs of these students should be part of the educational plan so that students can grow up to lead both satisfying and productive lives. I recommend Rebecca Moyes’ books to educators, therapists, psychologists and parents.

Receive 15% off books purchased at Future Horizons by using code "Pedia".

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Teaching the Moving Child: A Book Review

Teaching the Moving Child by occupational therapist Sybil M. Berkey is not an easy read but it is an essential resource for therapists and educators seeking an in-depth look at the research that supports the movement-learning connection and the OT interventions that address it. The traditional model based on OTs treating only students identified to have disabilities is transitioning into a teacher-OT relationship based on early collaborative problem-solving that includes Response To Intervention (RIT) and positive behavioral supports. In other words, the role of OT is expanding in general education to meet the needs of students who struggle in school.

Berkey beautifully articulates the stress created when young students are expect to read and write when not yet developmentally ready for prolonged sitting, attending and complex motor tasks. As a result, referrals pour in for OT services and to no surprise they are usually for boys.

Teaching the Moving Child is written to spread awareness that young children can only succeed when taught in a developmentally appropriate fashion. Berkey includes research that indicates:

·        Children are not ready to form letters until the second half of the kindergarten year.

·        Young children learn best using the near senses (proprioceptive, tactile, vestibular) as opposed to the distant senses (sight and hearing)

·        Evaluations need to be dynamic meaning that the therapist not only looks at what skills a child demonstrates, but how scaffolding (supports that enable success) helps the child to perform at a higher level.

·      Following a curriculum sacrifices opportunities to practice basic skills. For example, expectations to generate and spell words prevent children from spending time forming letters until they become automatic.

·        The focus on academic achievement  replaces  movement and play with  instructional  methodologies (i.e. sitting and listening) that should be reserved for older students

I learned that cognition (i.e. IQ scores) is modifiable and sensitive to changes in the environment and that stress caused by shrinking education dollars and growing classroom size impacts  learning and behaviors to the point where children are sometimes referred for OT evaluation because they refuse to write.  

Berkey provides the neuroscience behind movement beginning with the connection between cognitive and motor functions. Simply standing increases blood flow and additional flow produced by movement stimulates brain function. There is also the evidence-based good news that dynamic seating promotes attention- this might involve sitting on a ball, seat cushion, T-stool or rocking chair. Berkey describes many other environmental adaptation strategies (i.e. fidget tools, respite spaces) to support young learners.

Berkey provides an excellent lesson for teachers (and review for OTs) on the in-hand manipulation skills children must develop and shapes they need to be able to form (i.e. X and triangle) before being expected to form letters. Other aspects of this book I enjoyed were

·        Tips for teaching cutting skills (including how to make your own self-opening scissors)

·         learning the sequence involved in developing drawing skills and the importance of unimpeded and non-directed scribbling.

·        A variety of strategies to be used based on the students subtype of  sensory processing disorder

·        The appendix packed with strategies, rationales and benefits of various modifications such as an uneven chair with one leg shorter so that the child can rock.

·        A list of activities to “write” without “writing”, such as playing Red Light, Green Light with letters. Children advance when the target letter is flashed.  

Much of the material about the reading process was unfamiliar to me as an OT but will be review for teachers as Berkey describes terminology such as- orthographic knowledge, phonology, semantics, syntax, graphemic buffer and allographs.  This is where I wished there was a glossary as well as a page to look up the acronyms I had forgotten.  Another piece of interesting information concerned the importance of  Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) of letters as a precursor to reading success and that children who struggle with RAN will struggle with printing automaticity.

I believe that this book should be beneficial for any school-based professional and that parents well versed in educational lingo will also appreciate the information. I realize that this is a long review for a book of only 186 pages including the index. But Berkey packs a lot of meat into this carefully crafted, detailed and insightful resource. I only hope that this book review does it justice.