The Gift of Giving

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” -Norman Vincent Peale

I have to agree with Mr. Peale. Everything IS softer and more beautiful this time of year.  Even though it’s one of the most stressful months for teachers, parents, and therapists, it’s a wonderful season filled with reflection, giving, and spreading warmth to those around us.  It’s even more special when we see our students and children getting into the spirit of giving because it gives us hope for peace and our future.  When children give, it comes from a pure place; when they shine their light, it’s so bright.  When I think about this, I realize that so often the students we work with are on the receiving end of someone else’s help, usually an adult.  They need help with their school work, they have goals and therapy services, they need additional supports to participate successfully in their classrooms and school environment.  But here’s the thing, everyone can give something.  And students with special needs should know that while they are receivers of help, they can also be givers. This nurtures a very important piece of their self-worth, shows that they are important contributing members of society, builds character, and just plain old feels good.

I’m thrilled to say that many of our therapists have embraced the joy of giving in their therapy sessions these past few weeks and we couldn’t be more excited about it. PTS is so very proud of the hard working, creative, and dedicated professionals we are blessed to call teammates year in and year out.

One of our awesome therapists posted on Facebook about her recent therapy session:

“Working on life skills today, while making homemade dog biscuits for Diamond in the Ruff rescue! How could you not love your job when it gives you the opportunity to combine your love of dogs, kids, and baking?!”

dog-biscuits

Another therapist emailed:

“Here are some pics of making invitations and delivering them……getting ready for the Holiday Breakfast Café!”

A most fabulous Speech Therapist posted in our private PTS team page:

“Social skills activity in an Autistic Support K-2 class. We are learning about kindness and doing acts of kindness for others. So we made a Grinch face & in the smile we drew what we could do to make others smile. Then hanging on the wall was a Grinch. For each act of kindness, the students could put a heart on him. At the end of 3 weeks, we celebrated our kindness with a Grinch Party. We made ornaments & a popcorn snack!”

 

So as we wrap up 2017 with a beautiful, big and sparkly gold bow, we want to thank our team and their students for making the world softer and more beautiful.  Our gratitude is far deeper than anything I could write in this post.

From all of our families to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May 2017 be a healthy and prosperous year for you!

Many Blessings,

Candice

Ccandice-bio-picandice Donnelly-Knox, OTR/L
Director of Clinical Services & Team Capable Classroom
candice@pts-inc.net

Interested in PTS? Visit our Facebook page                                                                   Or find us here: www.capableclassroom.com  ♥  www.pts-inc.net

 

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Mindfulness

I had the opportunity to see Jenny Mills, M. ED speak last week at the Eastern PA Special Education conference. Her topic was one that’s been gaining a lot of public traction in general, but also lately in education: Mindfulness.  I’ve been reading about it for the past year and in some of my spare time I practice yoga, which definitely requires mindfulness.  I also am a runner, and if any group of people knows how to practice getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, it’s runners.  So, I’ve been seeking to be more mindful in my own life, but there’s so much to learn…and kids? How does that work? They’re hardly self-aware. Except that it’s the perfect compliment to their purest form.  Jenny defined mindfulness as paying attention to what is happening right now with kindness and curiosity.  Kindness and curiosity.  Traits and states of being that kids often bring to their world naturally.  Things that we often lose as we age… I’ll let that sit right there for a moment.

How often are we moving through the day non-judgmentally? How often are we being thoughtful in our “string of moments” called life? My guess is, if you’re anything like me, the answer is hardly to somewhat at best.  I think about almost everyone I know (my family included) and we’re all so distracted by either a screen or the “chatter” that’s in our mind (do we have enough dog food, what am I going to make for dinner, I need to get stamps) that’s we’re not showing up to and in our moments with any kindness or curiosity.  We show up critically and with all kinds of emotional reactivity because we don’t have a surfboard.  We are not mindful, we are mind full.

2-london-blog-post-image-20160314115917
www.youngandmighty.co.uk

So how do we begin to teach our children and students about mindfulness? How do we cultivate an environment of calm and focus?  It has to start with us, the adults.  Before we can ever expect for a child to know and understand “calm”, we have to show them.  We have to show them that:

  1. Nothing is permanent.   Not in a scary way, but in a way to show that feelings, thoughts, discomfort, all come and go.  Sometimes it can take a while, but they always come and go.  This can be anxiety producing, but it can also be very comforting for children to know that if they are feeling nervous or worried about a test, that the feeling will pass.

 “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

mindfulness1.jpg

   2. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing the mind. It’s about being able to notice our distractions, our discomforts, and being aware enough to come back to our anchor, whether that’s our breath during an exercise, the teacher’s voice as she’s reading, or the task at hand.

Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” ~Sylvia Boorstein

3.  It’s simple, but not easy. It takes practice.  Grown- ups and students need to practice and it’s great to share the process with each other.

Jenny summed it up best when she said that mindfulness is like giving kids a surfboard to ride the waves of emotions.  Don’t all kids need help riding the waves of emotions??? The ones I know sure do.

mindfulness2.jpg

To bring a few simple mindfulness activities to your day, your child’s day, or your classroom, check out these great articles/websites:

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-18136/7-fun-ways-to-teach-your-kids-mindfulness.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-rudell-beach-/8-ways-to-teach-mindfulness-to-kids_b_5611721.html

http://kidsrelaxation.com/?cat=17

And of course, please head over to Jenny’s website www.rootsandwingsonline.org

Wishing you a happy and healthy end of October,

Candice

candice-bio-pic

Candice Donnelly-Knox, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist

Clinical Director, Pediatric Therapeutic Services

Team Capable Classroom

 

Research Update: Early Life Stresses, Physical Activity & Families, Health Disparities & Disability

Early life stress can leave lasting impacts on the brain

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, have taken a close look at the amygdala and hippocampus of children who have experienced stressors early in life. They found that stressors such as physical abuse, neglect, and low social economic status, were associated with smaller amygdalas and hippocampi. These brain structures are believed to be related to memory and learning.

Associations between objectively assessed child and parental physical activity: a cross-sectional study of families with 5-6 year old children

This article, available in full-text from BioMedCentral Public Health, looked at physical activity levels of young children and their parents. The study found that children reached the recommended duration of physical activity less often than their parents. While 80% of adults reached the recommended level of physical activity, only 29% of boys and 47% of girls did so. This may mean that children and their parents do not have the opportunities or resources to engage in physical activity in mutually satisfying ways.

Little Progress Made in Reducing Health Disparities for People with Disabilities

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that chronic illness is much more prevalent for adults with physical disabilities, and even more so for those with physical disabilities and psychological distress. The chronic illnesses measured include arthritis, asthma, coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and stroke. Additionally, persons who had both physical disabilities and psychological distress face other barriers to health, in particular accessing health care through insurance and monetary means.

Creating Visuals For School-Based Therapies

All kids love visuals, and the more attractive and personally meaningful, the better. From picture-based communication systems, to visual cues for articulation sounds, pictures can support a wide range of children, including those with autism and learning disabilities. Pictures can make therapy goals more engaging, entertaining, and achievable!

In a previous post, we talked about how pictures can be used in a therapy session. And now we are going to share some ways to create terrific looking visuals!

Our first stop is the “Visuals Engine” from Connectability.ca. This is a free resource that includes templates for basic picture communication, with included photos and pictures, and an option to upload your own photograph. The website has tips and guides for creating tools using the picture templates, and is a great alternative to more expensive picture communication tools.

Another option for creating picture communication tools, as well as games, exercise programs, self care sequencing, and many more tools, is the iPad application “Custom Boards” by Smarty Ears. Custom Boards gives the user an incredibly easy way to take photos and import directly into the application, all using the same device, in addition to access to the built in pictures, and access to Google picture search for even more options. You can save, print, and email the boards, and change font, font size, and background color of the pictures.

*As of publication, Custom Boards is currently $19.99, available on the iTunes Store.

Check out these great visual tools created using Custom Boards!

Custom Boards Sample 1

Custom Boards Sample 3Custom Boards Sample 2

Another great tool for creating awesome pictures is PicMonkey. This is a web-based program that allows the user to a upload and edit photographs in a variety of ways, including adding text and creating collages. PicMonkey allows the user to use Instagram-like photo effects, as well as touch ups. There are many options included with a free option, and premium options are available for a fee. The website interface is user-friendly, for even those less experienced with technology.

 

We’ve shared three great resources for creating attractive visuals for our students. Are there any more that you have used and recommend? Let us know here, or on our Facebook page!

Lesson Planning (From A Therapist’s Point of View) – Occupational Therapy

Education is a complicated task, and it can take a team of professionals to help some of our students succeed, particularly when they are working to overcome learning challenges. But all students can benefit when the classroom is examined through the eyes of a developmental expert, including speech language therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. In this series of posts, we bring a few different sets of eyes to the classroom, and hope that this “x-ray” will help therapists recognize and take ownership of their specialized knowledge, as well as inform teachers about the potential benefits of partnering with their school-based related service professionals!

The Classroom Through an OT’s Eyes Continue reading Lesson Planning (From A Therapist’s Point of View) – Occupational Therapy

Toys and Games For Attention and Focus

jigsaw puzzle

Happy Holidays! For some parents, choosing gifts for their children can be an overwhelming challenge! As occupational therapists, we know that play is the primary work of children and an important way to develop skills. And just as any tool, toys can serve a purpose in promoting healthy child development. We have put together some suggestions for toys and games that support the growth of sustained attention and focus.

  • Puzzles – Jigsaw puzzles are great toys, that can be graded, or adjusted in difficulty, easily. A clear goal, and the ability to transfer previously learned strategies to more challenging puzzles make this a toy that a child can learn to complete independently. For beginners, non-interlocking and 2 piece interlocking puzzles can be an introduction to the toy. Increasing the number of pieces adds both to the difficulty as well as the length of the task. Setting up a large puzzle in a central location lets the whole family get in on the fun!
  • Building Blocks – Legos™, wooden blocks, log building toys, magnetic blocks, oh my! All of these are great tools that children can use to develop fine and visual motor skills, imagination, and sustained attention! Following visual, step-by-step directions can be a lot of fun when you end up with a neat helicopter or log cabin!
  • Crafts -Rubber band looms are a very popular toy right now, and along with many other crafts, can help children engage with a task over an extended period of time. There are many craft kits available for children of all ages. Loom or hand knitting, crochet, or model kits all provide opportunities for children to gradually begin working independently, and can be a “just-right challenge,” with readily-available support from an adult.
  • Strategy Games – Like puzzles, board games have a clearly defined endpoint, which can help children practice sticking with a more difficult task. For games that support attention and focus, look for board games that require a slightly longer time investment, and incorporate a logical thinking or strategy component. Examples of board games that may benefit focus include checkers, chess, Monopoly. A quick search online for “strategy games for children” reveals so many more!
  • Memory Games – These games engage children and encourage focus on a single, sustained activity. Memory and Simon can be great games that progress and challenge children. Technology, including iPad and Android apps, also offer options for memory games. For a game that addresses multiple skills at once, check out Listen Close Articulation! Developed by a speech-language pathologist, this game can allow children to practice both memory and targeted speech sounds.
  • Preparatory Toys – Play that incorporates sensory input can also help more active children get ready to focus and learn. Yoga is one fun way to add movement into a child’s day! For more gift ideas, MamaOT has created a list of the “Ultimate List of Gifts for Sensory Seekers.” This list is full of great suggestions for children who are looking for extra sensory input, which can be utilized before more cognitively demanding activities!

Do you have any suggestions for other toys that develop sustained attention?

Evaluating Ourselves as Therapists

As the end of the marking period approaches, we are looking back and examining our student’s progress and performance. But just as we periodically evaluate our own students, so should we evaluate ourselves! Self-evaluation provides an opportunity for us to step back from the daily routine and examine strengths and needs, what we have learned, and what we want to learn. When we make self-evaluation a priority, yearly or biyearly, we can determine progress towards our own long term goals. And when problems and stressors arise in the workplace, examining our behavior can be important in finding solutions that benefit everyone.

Of course, looking at your own skills as a therapist can be challenging. But there are tools and strategies to help you start the process.

1) Professional Portfolio/Continuing Education Unit (CEU) Logs

Maintaining an ongoing record of courses and classes completed not only eases renewal of certifications and licenses, it can help you chart your learning, develop specialized knowledge, and set goals. It can also monitor your progress toward the goals you set through self evaluation.

2) Journaling and Professional Reflections

Not only can writing down professional experiences help you with self reflection, it can decrease stress. Write about both the positive and negative, and make sure to leave space to reread and reflect later on. Just make sure your writing is HIPPA compliant and secure. 

3) Professional Organizations

Many professional organizations offer tools that can help with assessment. For example, Springfield Public Schools has a Framework of Professional Practice for Speech and Language Pathologists that outlines competency areas and expectations. ASHA also has a comprehensive document, titled “Performance Assessment of Contributions and Effectiveness of Speech‐Language Pathologists” that includes the Performance Assessment of Contributions and Effectiveness of SLPs Matrix, another tool that can summarize the areas expected in the field.

AOTA also offers the Professional Development Tool for members, which has many resources that occupational therapists can use to assess skills and create action plans. The National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists also offers practice-specific self-assessment tools online.

The APTA also offers self-assessment tools for physical therapist members.

And of interest to all related services practitioners, the Occupational Therapy Ethics Self-Assessment Index is available for free online, and a short series of questions related to ethical behaviors can be found within this document. 

4) Character Assessment

Finally, taking a objective look at one’s own character can provide valuable insights when engaging in self-reflection. One tool that is available for free online is the Via Survey. Registration is required.

 

Do you have any terrific tools for self-assessment?