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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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!

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?

AAC: Collaborating for Success!

Some of our students with special needs may have impairments in oral-motor structure or function, difficulty motor planning, or apraxia, or other conditions that impede typical communication development. When it is apparent that these client factors are impeding communication so as to result in a delay in communication development, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) should be introduced.

AAC is “any device, system or method that improves the ability of a child with a communication impairment to communicate effectively.” (Ballinger, 1999) This may include low-tech methods of communication, including: non-verbal behaviors, speech, gestures, including sign languages, picture symbols, and high-tech methods, such as switches and electronic devices. Frequently, it is appropriate to utilize more than one method of communication.

When evaluating a student’s AAC needs, and providing ongoing treatment to enhance communication and participation, it is important to work as a collaborative team, especially in the schools, where many professionals and staff members may be working with a student on a regular basis.

  • Special education teachers may take the lead in organizing the team. They may have the most contact with the student, and are aware of the academic needs that are impacted by difficulty communicating.

  • In some instances, parents and family members are the expert for a student with a history of AAC use, and can be a valuable resource for the rest of the team. For other families, it may be much more important to spend time sharing information and supporting them during initial stages of AAC use.

  • Speech and language pathologists are experts in the development of language and speech, and are key team members during both the evaluation and implementation phases for any AAC program. Some may have sought continuing education and become certified AAC specialists.

  • Occupational therapists are health care professionals who seek to ensure successful participation in meaningful activities for persons with disabilities. When AAC is considered, OTs can offer knowledge of sensory systems, body structures and functions, as well as activity analysis and adaptation to meet individual needs.

  • Assistive technology specialists can support the evaluation and implementation of high technology strategies for AAC. They may have knowledge of the pros and cons of specific systems, and devices, and can serve as the trouble-shooters when problems occur.

  • Other specialized therapists, including physical therapists, hearing therapists, vision therapists, and behaviorists, may be relevant to the individual needs presented.

  • Instructional, behavioral and personal staff are also key members. They may be familiar with the methods or equipment being used, or need support and instruction. But they have daily, personal contact with the AAC user and can be the front line for seeing barriers and reporting successes.

  • It is also especially important to consider the student as a key team member. Ensuring the strategy is a good fit for the user can help the engage in the process, and support good habits of using AAC to communicate!

When working as a team, the goal of supporting the student in his or her ability to communicate with others should remain at the forefront. For more information about collaborating with team members in the school systems, check out our “collaboration” tag, and our Pinterest board: Collaboration and Teamwork.

Classroom Integration, Part 5 – Parent Perception

In previous posts, we have talked about what classroom integration is, examples of classroom integration, collaborative consultation, and natural environments. In part 5 of this discussion on school-based practice, we take on another factor that influences successful classroom integration of related services: parent perception.

Parents are experts on their own children, and are key members of the IEP team. As such, it is very important that the relationships between therapists and families are mutually trusting and respectful. Maintaining open communication is a way to form and maintain a relationship with parents. Continue reading Classroom Integration, Part 5 – Parent Perception

Back to School Freebie

To help make the transition back to school easier for the therapists, we are sharing a schedule template! This free download contains 4 different templates:

a 5 day, 7:30-3 schedule

a 5 day, 9-3 schedule

a 3 day, 7:30-3 schedule

a 4 day, 9-3 schedule

Schedules – blank

For ease in planning and shifting students on your schedule, print and laminate the form. Then, use labeled repositionable page markers to organize your schedule. A laminated sheet keeps the page markers from losing their “sticky”!