Monday, August 30, 2010

Selecting Toys for Children with Special Needs

Parents and therapists recognize the importance of play in children. Through play children develop physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. Children with disabilities may have limited access to play due to motor skill delays or other issues. Through guided play sessions, parents and therapists can help children to maximize their play skills. One of the most important steps in encouraging play is choosing the proper items to play with. There are many items from around the house that can facilitate play in addition to store bought toys. Here are several questions to answer to determine if a toy is appropriate for a specific child.

1. Is the child interested in the toy? The child must be motivated to actually use the toy.

2. Can the child physically use the toy (adapted if necessary)? If the child can not independently or with minimal assistance use the toy the child may not be motivated to explore the toy.

3. Is the toy appropriate for the child's cognitive level?

4. Is the play space at home or school appropriate for the toy?

5. Does the toy encourage social, speech, sensory or emotional development? Not every toy needs to accomplish this goal but it would be an added benefit.

Toys 'R Us produces a guide every year entitled Toys"R"Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. To get more information on the guide visit the Toys 'R Us website.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Including Children with Physical Disabilities

A recent research article in the Journal of Early Intervention studied 72 children in an inclusive preschool setting. The children were asked to respond to various hypothetical situations that occur during preschool. The results indicated that the preschool children were significantly more likely to include children with physical disabilities in activities that required few motor skills. The children's decisions were also influenced by prompts of fairness and equity when making decisions.

Pediatric therapists can assist in encouraging peer interaction in inclusive settings. Here are several ideas.

1. Adapt tools: During any activity, some tools, parts or pieces of a game may need adaptations to decrease the amount of motor skills necessary to use the tool. Keep a few pieces of the games adapted at all times that way the children can freely pick and choose during free play. Add scarves, velcro mitts, easy to hold balls, etc. in ball area so choices are available at all times.

2. Modify rules: Change the rules of games that require extensive motor skills. For example, instead of kick ball have the children roll the balls down a ramp. Have the children rename the games so they can choose the games with the modified rules without confusion.

3. Start off easy: If you want to have the child practice motor skills with peers, perhaps start off a group without any motor skills involved at first to engage the children. For example, perform a short puppet show on what the activity will be and then have the children participate in the actual activity.

What ideas to you use to encourage all children to play together?

Reference: Karen E. Diamond, Soo-Young Hong. Young Children’s Decisions to Include Peers With Physical Disabilities in Play Journal of Early Intervention June 2010 vol. 32 no. 3 163-177

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fine Motor Tips for Functional Skills

Found this video on You Tube. It is entitled Autism Survival Manual - Fine Motor Tips and Tricks. It is very visual with tips for activities of daily living such as using a screwdriver, pouring liquids, tying garbage bags, slicing veggies and more. Worth a look.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Video - Movement Breaks for Classroom

Here is an informative video from Edutopia found over at the Peaceful Playgrounds blog. Four exercises are demonstrated to help refocus a student or raise a student's level of alertness. Great activities to get student's ready to learn!

Mini Movement Breaks:

Download of 60+ quick
sensory motor activity cards for
school, home or therapy clinic.

Only $3.99

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Processing Sensory Information and Autism

Autism Research has published research on how children with autism process multisensory information. Using brainwave EEG recordings, the researchers were able to determine that the 17 children with autism (ages 6-16 years) did not process multisensory information (MSI) as efficiently as the control group without autism. John Foxe, PhD, one of the co-authors of the study stated:
"We saw robust MSI in the typically developing kids from 100 and 200 ms after sensory stimulation reached the brain's cortex, but in the ASD kids, MSI occurred significantly later—at about 310 ms—and at a much lower level."

Reference: Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Autism research Finds Empirical Links Between Multisensory Integration and Autism. Retrieved from the web on 8/24/10 at

Friday, August 20, 2010

US Department Survey on Developmental Disabilities

The US Department of Health and Human Services is conducting a survey on priorities for people with developmental disabilities. They are asking individuals with disabilities, family members and professionals to complete a survey to help the Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) plan how to best meet the future needs of individuals with developmental disabilities. It is a quick survey of 5 required questions regarding what types of problems or services influence individuals with disabilities. Get your voice heard. The survey is open until September 10, 2010. More information at ADD Priority Survey.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Adaptations for Daily Routines Using Arms and Hands

The Tots 'n Tech Research Institute (TnT) is an inter-university collaboration between Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia and Arizona State University. They publish information and resources on technology for infants and toddlers. In March 2010 they published a newsletter entitled Using Arms and Hands in Activities and Routines. It offers low tech solutions for 12 daily routines. It is packed with great information to share with parents and early childhood educators. Definitely worth a read! You can view the document here or below.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Grant Available for Promoting Physical Activity

Are you involved in your school's parent teacher association (PTA)? The National PTA is offering grants for up to $1000 to increase physical activity and awareness of healthy foods to families. The grant application must be submitted by a PTA in good standing by September 10, 2010. There are some criteria for eligibility such as celebrating PTA Healthy Lifestyles Month in November, promote family involvement, educate on the benefits of physical activity and academic achievement and encourage healthy lifestyles. Some ideas in the past that have won are listed on the website such as students creating exercise videos to air during the school day for movement breaks. This would be a great opportunity for a therapy department to partner up with the PTA to promote healthy lifestyles. More info on the PTA Healthy Lifestyles Grant.

Previous blog post on grant writing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sewing Adapted Clothes

Here is a great blog about sewing clothes for children with special needs. It is called Something Sew Special. There are tutorials on sewing specific items i.e. large onesies, seatbelt covers. There are also extensive photos and directions on adapting pants. She has written directions to create wheelchair capes and these cool hidden bibs in t-shirts. There are even directions to make an iPad cover. Worth a look!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Be Organized this School Year

The start of the school year is approaching or here for some of you. Start the year off right with these tips to get organized:
  1. Create an organized caseload list of your students. Include all information such as teacher's names, parents' names, emails, phone numbers, addresses, frequency and duration of therapy sessions. If you have all the information on one handy list it will make it much easier to contact the team members throughout the school year.
  2. Check your caseload versus workload. It can be very difficult to stay organized if there is not enough hours in the day to complete your daily job. Try filling out this caseload/workload calculator to determine if your workload is appropriate. This calculator helps you to determine exactly how many minutes per week you are spending on different services including paperwork.
  3. Use forms to streamline paperwork. It is much easier to stay on top of mounting paperwork with pre-made forms. Check out School Based OT Forms or School Based PT Forms.
  4. Be prepared with data collection. Create different forms or use retail data collection tools to follow students closely regarding attaining goals. You can create free forms using Google Docs for goals. Check out this blog post, Collecting Data in the School, Home or Clinic, for more information on using Google Docs. Try The Scale of Sensory Strategies (S.O.S.S.) Tool Kit™ for data collection for sensory diets.
  5. Leave time for paperwork. Don't forget to schedule paperwork time into your schedule. Perhaps the last few minutes of a therapy session you can jot down a quick note. Use a voice recorder following each session that transmits to text for you. Make it routine so it does not pile up on you.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Feeding Patterns of Autistic Children

Pediatrics published research on young children with autism and their feeding habits. Questionnaire data was compiled on 79 children with autism at 6, 15, 24, 38 and 54 months of age. Results indicated the following for the children with autism compared to control group:

  • late introduction of solids after 6 months with slow feeding characteristics
  • children were reported to be "very choosy" and "difficult to feed" from 15-54 months
  • at 15 months their diet was less varied
  • at 24 months they were more likely to eat different meals than their mothers
  • 8% at 54 months had a special "allergy" diet
  • overall ate less vegetables, salad, fresh fruit and fizzy drinks
  • at 38 months consumption of Vitamins C and D were less
  • no differences were seen in body mass index, weight or height at 18 months or 7 years
  • no differences in energy intake or growth

Reference: Emond, Alan, Emmett, Pauline, Steer, Colin, Golding, Jean
Feeding Symptoms, Dietary Patterns, and Growth in Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders Pediatrics 2010 126: e337-e342

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Need to Reduce Stress? Walk to School

Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise published research on the benefits of children walking to school. Twenty girls and twenty boys, ages 10-14 years old, were randomly assigned to two groups - simulated walking to school or simulated driving to school. The walking group walked 1.6 km while on treadmill viewing neighborhood pictures and finally picture of school. The driving to school group sat in a chair and viewed the same pictures. Following the simulations, cardiovascular stressors were measured during the Stroop task (identify colors written on the wrong color name). The results indicated the following for the children in the walking group:

  • lower systolic blood pressure
  • lower pulse pressure
  • lower perceived stress reactivities to cognitive stress.

The researchers suggest that walking to school may reduce stress throughout stressful moments during the school day. In addition, it is recommended that parents and teachers should foster physical activity throughout the school day since it is not known how long stress reduction will last following active play.

If the children are unable to walk to school, perhaps start a walking group before school starts. Children can come and walk on treadmills or outdoors before the school day begins. No time in the morning, schedule a 15 minute morning break for children to walk at a self selected pace outdoors. Still can not make the time? Try our Mini Movement Breaks for quick sensory motor activity ideas to complete in the classroom.

Mini Movement Breaks: Download of 60+ quick sensory motor activity ideas for school, home and clinic use.

Price: $3.99

Reference: LAMBIASE, MAYA J.; BARRY, HEATHER M.; ROEMMICH, JAMES N Effect of a Simulated Active Commute to School on Cardiovascular Stress Reactivity Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: August 2010 - Volume 42 - Issue 8 - pp 1609-1616
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181d0c77b

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Negative Stereotypes

A recent study from Indiana University revealed that women who were reminded of the negative stereotypes about math and visual processing for females did not display actual learning of the material presented to them. The researchers stated that the women who were under threat of the stereotype appeared to try too hard in a non focused and unproductive manner.

Now consider children with learning disabilities, developmental disabilities or any type of disability. Does the negative stereotypes of the labels effect their learning in addition to their self esteem? Unfortunately there are definitely teachers who never forget a child's label and it effects a child's ability to learn. Do children work too hard at times ultimately ignoring the strategies they were taught to learn in the first place? What differences do you notice when children are reminded of negative stereotypes?

As therapists, do we predict motor behaviors based on negative stereotypes? Here are several ways to avoid negativity:

1. Always be positive. Instead of stating this might be difficult of challenging, assure the child that they can complete the skill or task.

2. Create goals that are attainable. Make sure that during every therapy session a child achieves at least one goal.

3. Reinforce positive qualities. Capitalize on a child's strengths to achieve other goals.

4. Review simple learning strategies.
If you notice a child is trying too hard, review the task in simple steps to reinforce that they know how to accomplish the task.

Positive Affirmation
Posters and Cards
for Children

Download: $8.99

Reference: Negative stereotypes shown to affect learning, not just performance. Retrieved from web on 8/10/2010 from

Monday, August 9, 2010

Watch Out Pediatric Therapists... Robots May Take Over Our Jobs

Two researchers at the University of Connecticut received a large grant ($404,639 to be exact) to study whether robots can improve the motor skills of children with autism. They are developing a robot that can gradually increase the complexity of motor movements. The researchers hypothesize that the robots are simpler and more predictable therefore easier for children with autism to interact with. The goal is to create the robot to deliver more standardized interventions to assist the clinicians.

In my opinion, there should be a better way to achieve the goal of improving motor skills in children with autism. First and foremost, it is called early intervention and identification of autism. I am a big supporter of people interaction. Just like therapeutic massage works significantly better when delivered by a human versus a massage chair, in my opinion socialization improves with human contact. I understand the theory that the robot is more predictable and perhaps more motivating at first, but at after awhile this would get boring. In addition, aren't many Wii games predictable and motivating? Can't someone develop this as a Wii game for much less money? Is this robot going to jump, hop and skip? Perform fine motor tasks to copy? Currently the robot can shake hands, take a bow and do Tai Chi. I know the grant is to create a much more complex robot, very curious to see the end result.

Is this just one more electronic device to add to children's lives to take away from everyday play?

Reference: Krane, B. Robots Speaks the Language of Kids. Retrieved from the web on 8/9/10 from

Friday, August 6, 2010

Self Injurious Behavior in Children with Developmental Disabilities

The Journal of Pediatrics completed a retrospective chart review on 196 children less than 6 years of age with various developmental disabilities. Sixty three of the children (32%) were reported to exhibit self injurious behaviors. When comparing the children with self injurious behaviors and those without no differences were seen between the two groups regarding "developmental level, expressive or receptive language level, mobility status or sensory functioning, or in rates of identification with cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, or autism". Differences were seen in the self injurious group regarding higher parental report of "destructive behaviors, hurting others or unusual habits".

Reference: William E. MacLean, Raymond C. Tervo, John Hoch, Mark Tervo, Frank J. Symons Self-Injury among a Community Cohort of Young Children at Risk for Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities The Journal of Pediatrics
DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.05.052

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Unhealthy Diet Linked to ADHD

Recent research in the Journal of Attention Disorders states that a Western diet may be linked to ADHD. A Western diet was described as high in take out food, confectioneries, processed, fried and refined foods. A healthy diet was described as a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish. Almost 1800 adolescents' dietary patterns were studied. One hundred fifteen of the adolescents had a diagnosis of ADHD. A higher score for a Western diet was associated with an ADHD diagnosis. Healthy dietary patterns were not associated with ADHD. The researchers were unable to conclude whether the Western diet leads to ADHD or having ADHD results in poor dietary choices.

Reference: Western diet link to ADHD. Retreived from on 8/4/2010 at

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Free Head Mouse Via Webcam

This is super cool! Enable Viacam (eViacam) is a free download that allows your webcam to become a head mouse. All you have to do is download the software and open up the webcam. After testing it myself, it seems to work great. Once downloaded, the program allows you to use your head just as you would a mouse. When you dwell on a link it will automatically click that link. It only took less than 5 minutes to get set up and running. Give it a try! You can get all the information at

Monday, August 2, 2010

Signs of Autism at 1 Month

The August issue of Pediatrics reports on a retrospective study over 11 years of over 2100 NICU newborns. The researchers discovered that the infants who later received a diagnosis of autism had a higher incidence of persistant neurobehavioral abnormalities such as increased upper extremity muscle tone and asymmetrical visual tracking at one month of age. The children who were identified with autism were 4 times more likely to be male and 2 weeks younger at birth. By the time the infants were 4 months of age, a preference for increased visual stimulation was observed. In addition, by 7 months of age a decrease in motor performance was observed. At 10 months of age, a decrease in cognitive performance was seen.

Reference: Todd Neale. Deficits in Early Infancy May Point to Autism. Retrieved from MedPage Today on 8/2/10 at
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