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?!”


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,


Ccandice-bio-picandice Donnelly-Knox, OTR/L
Director of Clinical Services & Team Capable Classroom

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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 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) – Speech and Language Therapy

In our previous post we looked at a classroom through an occupational therapist’s point of view. In our second post, we will look at the classroom through a new set of eyes – in this case, the speech and language therapist! Speech and language pathologists work to support children who are experiencing difficulties with communication. The areas that a speech and language pathologist may address include: articulation, language, voice, fluency,  and swallowing. Per the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), children with a speech and/or language impairment may struggle with participating in classroom activities, interacting with others, developing literacy, and learning.

Continue reading Lesson Planning (From a Therapist’s Point of View) – Speech and Language Therapy

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

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?

Increasing Our Impact: Related Services Breaking Out of the Therapy Room!

As we all know, engineering change in our students in the confines of 30 minutes a week can be an uphill battle! How can we share our knowledge and achieve better incomes for all students in our schools?

Collaborative consultation is one way to work with other staff to both provide information and learn more in a meeting of equals. Pros include: specific, individualized contact to an individual child or classroom. Barriers are limits on time and availability, especially with therapists who may travel among schools. Working around these barriers may require therapists to “break out of the therapy room” and devise creative strategies to achieve a greater presence in the school setting.

The November issue of the “Related Services Review,” a Teachers Pay Teachers download from the Organizing OT is available for free. This monthly newsletter, sent to teachers and staff, is an example of one way to reach staff and share therapist knowledge in a deadline free, non confrontational way.

Setting up a table in the faculty lounge can be a way to engage staff members too! Displaying variety of therapy toys or fidget tools, games or materials to support language development, or engaging adults in activities such as quizzes or self-reflection on sensory learning styles can all be ways to share our expertise and engage staff in discussions about student development.

Get physical! Organize a walk or adult-sized obstacle course to start a conversation about incorporating movement into the classroom routine.

Talk to teachers about incorporating an one-time speech, occupational therapy, or physical therapy center to facilitate screening processes. What a great way to see how the students perform in the classroom.

Please share with us! How have you increased your impact in the school setting?