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occupational therapy

Meet NESCA Transition Specialist & Occupational Therapist Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

By | NESCA Notes 2022 | No Comments

By: Jane Hauser
Director of Marketing & Outreach

NESCA is thrilled to have welcomed a new Occupational Therapist who is serving as a Transition Specialist on the Transition Services Team. Learn more about Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, in my interview with her below.

How did you become interested in Occupational Therapy, specifically for transition-aged students?

Right after college, I worked in an assisted living center in an administrative role. I got to know the Occupational Therapist (OT) there, who was amazing at what she did. She helped people with the skills they needed to do on a daily basis. I asked to shadow her so I could learn more about the profession and what kind of skills she was teaching the residents to do. Energized by what I learned, I then became a Teaching Assistant (TA) in the CASE Collaborative’s high school program. This is where I started to learn about the needs of transition-aged students and how Occupational Therapy played a role in that area. Again, I was fortunate to learn so much from another talented OT, particularly around the importance of transition, with our students who are often underserved on that front. Moving into adulthood is so challenging, and it’s even harder when coupled with a disability. I found that the environments these students encountered every day just aren’t set up for them to succeed. I was able to help them move into adulthood and practice skills they would need to achieve their goals within these environments.

What made you realize that you wanted to work as a Transition Specialist?

I had already developed a passion for working with transition-aged students in the school setting both during my time as a TA and as an occupational therapist at The League School of Greater Boston. I loved working with the students on life skills, emotional regulation, and executive functioning. I found that I most enjoyed working with the students on hands-on, real-life learning. It seemed to be the most important and most effective way that, as an OT, I could help young adults and teens become more self-determined and thrive. They were able to see what they were able to do, and that was exciting!

Why did you join NESCA?

I loved working with students, but I wanted the opportunity to work with transition-aged youth out in the community. It’s often really difficult for this group to generalize what they learn in the school setting to the experiences they face in the community or even at home. I wanted to help them do just that.

I was thrilled to learn that NESCA offers Transition and Coaching services since I didn’t know anything like that existed outside of an academic setting. I initially joined NESCA as an Occupational Therapist; Executive Function and Real-life Skills Coach on a per diem basis during the summer of 2021. I got to take the skills our teens and young adults learn in school and tailor them to be put into place in the community in a hands-on way. We’re able to teach clients skills like grocery shopping, using the subway or Uber to get to where they need to go, making a deposit at the bank and any other skills they may need to succeed in real life. Having recently moved into a full-time Occupational Therapist; Transition Specialist position here, I look forward to doing much more of these kinds of activities!

What is the most rewarding part of what you do?

The most rewarding aspect of what I do is when I actually get to see the client perform the skill(s) that they have had a hard time with and that they have been working toward for so long. Watching them accomplish their goal is so gratifying. When you see that success, it’s a wonderful feeling!

I also love that I am able to do what I do – not only within the walls of a classroom or school – but in the outside world. I always wanted my students to practice the skills that we were working on in the school environment out in the real world so I knew they would be prepared for experiences they were likely to face in their daily lives. This could be anything from placing an order at Starbucks, riding the bus or refilling a prescription. I get to do that with them here at NESCA…and so much more.

What’s your specialty area? Who do you most enjoy working with?

My passion is working with those who are on their way to adulthood. I am definitely where I want to be with the transition-aged youth and young adults! When working with teens, you get to see them prosper and make monumental changes that can help them build a high quality of life, allowing them to be successful and happy for a greater portion of their lifespan.

I really enjoy working with a wide population of clients, including those with mental health challenges, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I especially find it rewarding to work with young adults with mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, to help manage those challenges and lead a fulfilling life.

Tell us a little about yourself. What do you like to do in your spare time?

I grew up in Acton, Massachusetts, and I’m a big outdoors person. I like to spend most weekends in Vermont or New Hampshire, exploring new places to hike. I also enjoy skiing, kayaking and most other outdoor activities. I also like to read, play weekly board games and dance when I get the chance!

 

About Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L

Lyndsay Wood, OTD, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist who focuses on helping students and young adults with disabilities to build meaningful skills in order to reach their goals. She has spent the majority of her career working in a private school for students with ASD. She has also spent some time working in an inpatient mental health setting. Lyndsay uses occupation-based interventions and strategies to develop life skills, executive functioning, and emotional regulation. While completely her doctoral degree at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Lyndsay worked with the Boston Center for Independent Living to evaluate transition age services. She uses the results from her research to deliver services in a way that is most beneficial for clients. Specifically, she focuses on hands-on, occupation-based learning that is tailored the client’s goals and interests.

 

To book coaching and transition services at NESCA, complete NESCA’s online intake form

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

Bringing OT Activities Home for the Holidays

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Sarah Attanasio OT/s and Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L
NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist

With the holiday season in full swing, families will soon be faced with the significant routine change that comes with school vacation. During this time, it is important to continue working on skills gained and techniques learned during school and therapy. Occupational therapy (OT) sessions often include activities to promote different skills, including visual perception, sequencing problem solving, and more! OTs also utilize movement activities to target sensory modulation, bilateral coordination, and force modulation to name a few. Here are some functional activities to do with your children at home to continue promoting skills learned in school and therapy while still getting into the holiday spirit.

Setting the table

OT skills addressed: visual perceptual skills, bilateral coordination, task sequencing, problem solving, force modulation, attention

Setting the table is an easy and functional way to promote the above  essential life skills in the home environment. First, this task requires children to problem solve and decide what items they need to set the table. Children then  scan their environment to locate and gather all necessary items. Next, children must safely carry all items to the table, which typically requires them to use both hands together. While doing this, they also scan their environment to make sure there are no obstacles in the way. Finally, children have to use an appropriate amount of force when placing items onto the table to ensure that these items do not break. They have to pay attention to the task at hand and problem solve where the correct spot on the table is for these items. To make this easier for children, try focusing on fewer skills, such as providing them with a picture of the proper place setting or laying items out on the counter already. To make this harder for children, have them carry heavy items to the table, such as a full pitcher of water or create obstacles for them to avoid on their way to the table.

Baking cookies

OT skills addressed: meal prep skills, task sequencing, direction following, tool usage, bilateral coordination, force modulation, sensory integration

Baking cookies is not only an entertaining activity for children, but it also promotes many important life skills! Making cookies requires children to follow the directions of a recipe. It also requires children to pay attention and appropriately measure the correct amounts of ingredients. They also have to explore how to appropriately and safely utilize various tools, such as a measuring cup, whisk, spatula, cookie cutters, a hot baking tray, etc. Cookie dough may be an unpleasant texture for some children since it is gooey or sticky. This activity gives children the opportunity to explore an unpleasant texture and trial strategies, such as wearing gloves, taking deep breaths, taking turns manipulating dough, etc., to better tolerate interacting with various unpleasant textures. Rolling the dough using both hands together and utilizing cookie cutters are two great ways to encourage bilateral coordination and increase hand strength. To incorporate more skills into this activity, such as visual perceptual skills, have your child decorate the cookies with icing and/or sprinkles making sure they stay within the boundaries of the cookie.

Decorating with paper snowflakes

OT skills addressed: task sequencing, visual perceptual/motor skills, bilateral coordination, scissor skills, coloring skills, hand eye coordination, hand strengthening

Paper snowflakes are a holiday decoration staple, and the process of making them promotes various  life skills. First, this task requires children to problem solve what kind of design they want their snowflake to be and fold the paper accordingly. They then are required  to use their hands together to cut out their desired design while holding the paper in one hand and the scissors properly in the other hand. Try having your child draw a pattern on the snowflake for them to follow while cutting or coloring in their snowflake within the boundaries. This can be done once it is cut out to further promote visual perceptual/motor skills and hand eye coordination.

Writing cards 

OT skills addressed: handwriting skills (grasp, letter formation/line placement/sizing/spacing/legibility, writing utensil usage, handwriting posture)

A handwritten note is a simple gesture that is always appreciated by all. Writing cards allows children to practice their handwriting skills in a functional way at home. First, it is important to maintain proper posture when doing any handwriting activity. Proper handwriting posture follows the 90-90-90 rule: feet are flat on the floor with ankles forming a 90-degree angle with the floor. Knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, and the hips and torso form a 90-degree angle. Using an elevated/slanted surface is also helpful in placing children in the optimal 15 degrees of wrist extension for handwriting activities. To promote proper grasp, have your child use broken crayons or a grip on their writing utensil. Provide your child with lined paper so they have a visual of where to place letters. The addition of a “worm line” underneath the bottom line is sometimes helpful for placing letters, such as g, j, p, q, and y. If handwriting is too high of a skill for your child, have them draw a picture including shapes, such as squares, triangles, and circles as these are necessary pre-writing skills to master.

Playing family games

OT skills addressed: rule following, turn taking, cooperative play

What better way to bond as a family than a family game night?! Games are great for children as they require rule following, tolerating an occasional change of rules, tolerating winning/losing, and turn taking. Many games also incorporate essential fine motor skills in terms of functional grasp, such as hi ho cherry-o, candy land, mancala, etc. and gross motor skills, including   balance and coordination with games like twister, yoga games, ring tosses, etc.

Play in the snow

OT skills addressed: sensory modulation, force modulation, gross motor skills, proprioceptive input for body awareness

If we are lucky enough to get snow this holiday season, playing in the snow is a great, versatile activity for children. Have children engage in a friendly snowball fight or throw snowballs at targets. This will promote hand eye coordination and force modulation ensuring that they aren’t throwing snowballs too hard to the point where they hurt someone or break something. Have children make snow angels to promote bilateral coordination and body awareness. Ask them questions like: Does the snow feel cold or hot on your body? Where do you feel the snow on your body? Is the snow wet or dry? Does the snow smell/taste/sound like anything? This line of questioning promotes body awareness and sensory modulation. Shoveling snow is also a great functional (and helpful!) heavy work activity that provides children with proprioceptive input (pressure on their joints) to help them better understand where their body is in space and promote overall body/spatial awareness. Another great heavy work activity is making a snowman, as it requires children to use both of their arms together to push large, heavy balls of snow along the snow-covered ground. The possibilities of functional activities involving snow are endless!

This list offers just  a few ideas of the many activities you can do with your children over school vacation. Many activities and games can be therapeutic and easily graded to any child. The trick is to find the just-right challenge to work on the skill area desired through fun and motivating means. We recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist for more activity ideas to motivate your child over break!

 

About the Author

Lauren Zeitler is a licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatric occupational and feeding therapy. Ms. Zeitler joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2020 to offer occupational therapy assessment and treatment for children of all ages, as well as to work in conjunction with Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, on the feeding team.

 

 

 

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Occupational Therapists and Transition Assessment, A Natural Fit!

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach, NESCA

Being an occupational therapist (OT) often means working in a profession that many people do not have extensive experience with or knowledge about. It can be hard to give one definition of this profession when OTs are at hospitals and schools, working on advocacy in DC, running mental health groups, and in some cases even responding to natural disasters. We are all around! Despite the broad range of settings, OTs are all guided by the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process (AOTA, 2020), an ever-evolving framework that describes the central concepts, foundational views, and basic tenets of the profession. As an occupational therapist who has worked in schools with a huge focus on access to the curriculum, functional skill building, and increasing students’ overall participation, I frequently reference the document to ensure I am staying true to my profession and using my lens to help support clients’ goals in the most effective ways possible. As a member of the transition team here at NESCA, I have been fascinated by the natural fit between occupational therapy and transition assessment. Both of these require a holistic lens, consideration for the client as well as their environment, and an ability to focus on multiple different aspects of a person’s life simultaneously.

While occupation is sometimes considered a synonym for “job,” OTs focus on the broader definition of occupations as, “the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families, and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. Occupations include things people need to, want to, and are expected to do” (WFOT, 2012). We consider nine separate “areas of occupation,” which include: Activities of Daily Living (bathing, showering toileting, etc.), Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (driving, financial management, meal preparation, etc.), Health Management (medication management, social and emotional health promotion, physical activity, etc.), Rest and Sleep, Education, Work, Play, Leisure, and Social Participation. We want to make sure that individuals have balance, are meeting their personal goals, and feel fulfilled by the activities of life. OTs both assess and provide direct intervention around all of these areas.

Similar to occupational therapy, transition assessment is complex and broad, and it is best thought of as an ongoing process incorporating a wide range of formal and informal assessment of a student’s strengths, interests, and preferences. When developing recommendations for transition assessments, we work in accordance with the federal law (as well as the Massachusetts Student-Driven Transition Model core areas of transition planning) to relate our findings to the demands of transition planning areas: Education/Training, Employment, Independent Living, and Community Participation. Each of these areas needs to be considered as a part of the transition planning process and plays a substantial role in putting together a comprehensive vision for a student.

As I compare the areas of occupation with the core areas of transition planning, I am struck by the similarities and constant overlap. There is an emphasis on functional independence, especially in daily living skills. There is the belief that connection and community are integral parts of life. There is also a need for purposeful activity, whether that be through work, continuing education, play, or all of the above. Each of the areas that OTs so passionately feel guide our work are areas that should be assessed and considered during transition assessment and planning. The lens through which OTs are taught to assess and evaluate clients lends itself perfectly to assessing students as they plan for their futures and transition out of high school. While there are many different ways that I could have applied my OT training, I am glad to be able to apply my expertise to transition assessment at NESCA as one of the ways we help youth and young adults achieve their goals and carry out fulfilling lives.

References

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2020). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (4th ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy74(Suppl. 2), Article 7412410010. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2020.74S2001

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2021). Massachusetts student-driven transition model. Retrieved from https://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/secondary-transition/resources-materials.html.

World Federation of Occupational Therapy. (2012) Definition of occupational therapy. Retrieved from https://wfot.org/about/about-occupational-therapy

 

About the Author
Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Therapeutic Toy Guide to Promote Skill-building

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jessica Hanna MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

It’s that time of year when parents and loved ones are looking for the perfect gift. As pediatric occupational therapists, we are often asked about our recommendations for the best toys and activities that encourage learning and the development of specific skills. During an occupational therapy session, toys and games are used with people across the life span for many reasons. The biggest reason is to bring joy and develop confidence while simultaneously working on skill-building in areas that require getting and maintaining attention in an effort to improve and develop independence in functional tasks.

Play and exploration of games and toys are for those of all ages. The right toy and game can be used to develop new skills and strengthen and refine learned skills.

Skills addressed through play and active exploration:

  • Attention and concentration
  • Balance
  • Coordination skills
  • Core strength
  • Executive functioning
  • Emotional regulation
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Handwriting
  • Imaginative play
  • Motor planning
  • Sensory motor needs
  • Visual perceptual skills

How many times have you endlessly scrolled online looking for the best-fit gift, wondering if it will be one more item that ends up collecting dust on a shelf? How often do you wish a toy store existed like when we were kids, instead of walking down the same small toy aisle at the local department store and leaving with nothing? Or having to weed through page after page of online stores and catalogs?

Below is a helpful guide to therapeutic games and toys that focus on a couple of specific skill areas. Most of the games included can fall into more than one skill area, depending on how it’s used.

Coordination Skills – Skills that help develop body control and awareness. Bilateral coordination is the ability to use both sides of your body together in a coordinated way, and hand-eye coordination is when the eyes guide the hands in movement.

3 + years

  • EleFun (Hasbro)
  • Feed the Woozle
  • Kids Magnetic Fishing Games (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Instrument toys
  • Marble Run
  • Target activities
  • The Yoga Garden Game
  • Wooden Balance Board
  • Zoom Ball

6 + years

  • Bob it
  • BucketBall
  • Kan Jam
  • Klask
  • Rev balance board
  • Ring Toss
  • Simon
  • Spike Ball
  • Throw the Burrito
  • Twister

Executive Functioning Skills The ability to sustain attention, organize and plan, initiate and complete, problem solve and regulate emotions.

3 + years

  • Bee Genius (MUKIKIM)
  • Bunny Hop (Educational Insights)
  • Cootie
  • Create-A-Burger (Lakeshore)
  • Dino Escape
  • Don’t Break the Ice
  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • iPlay, iLearn Kids Magnetic Fishing Games
  • Hoot Owl Hoot
  • Movement Memory

 6+ years

  • Battleship
  • Checkers
  • Chess
  • DogPile
  • Distraction
  • Gravity Maze
  • Life Junior
  • Monopoly
  • Outfoxed
  • Rush Hour (Think Fun)

Fine Motor Skills – The ability to control the small muscles of the hands and fingers. Fine motor development contains many components. Some of those areas include pincer and pre-writing grasp development, hand strength, wrist stability, motor control, and separation of the sides of the hand.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Learning Locks
  • Bee Genius
  • Duplo Sets
  • Forest Friends Playset (Lakeshore)
  • Light table pegs and pegboard (Lakeshore)
  • Magnet Alphabet Maze
  • Noodle Knockout!
  • Pegcasso Build and Drill
  • Poke-a-Dot: Old MacDonald’s Farm
  • Pop the Pig
  • Woodpecker feeding game (iPlay, iLearn)
  • Snap Dinos (Lakeshore)

6+ years

  • Frankie’s Food Truck Fiasco Game
  • LEGOs
  • Light Brite
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)
  • Mancala
  • Kanoodle
  • Operation
  • Perfection
  • Pictionary
  • Scratch Art
  • Shelby’s Snack Shack Game
  • Trouble

Sensory Play – The opportunity to receive sensory input through play. It can foster listening skills and body awareness, encourage tactile exploration and risk-taking, and promote a calming and alert state of being.

3+ years

  • Bean bags
  • Kinetic Sand
  • Monkey Noodle
  • What’s in Ned’s Head?
  • Playdoh
  • Pop Fidgets
  • Squishmellos
  • Scooter boards
  • Sit and Spin
  • Trampoline

6 + years

  • Aromatherapy
  • Bubble tubes
  • Color mix sensory tubes
  • Doorway Sensory Swing Kit (DreamGym Store)
  • Thinking Putty (scented/glow in the dark)
  • Tent
  • Tunnel
  • Water Beads
  • Weighted blanket
  • LiquiPen (Yoya Toys)

Visual Perception Skills – The ability to make sense of what is being seen. Skills are used to copy information from a board, manipulate items, identify, read, recall info, visually locate things, and write.

3 + years

  • Alphabet Bingo
  • CandyLand
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Fox in the Box
  • Honeybee Tree
  • Magnatiles
  • Spot-it
  • Pete the Cat- I Love My Buttons Game
  • Puzzles
  • Zingo (Think Fun)

6+ years

  • Connect Four
  • DogPile
  • Guess Who
  • Jenga
  • Kanoodle
  • Klask
  • Let’s Go Code
  • Mancala
  • Perfection
  • Pixy Cubes

This list is just the tip of the iceberg of the many toys and games you will come across. Many toys and games can be therapeutically and easily graded to any individual, no matter the age. The trick is to find the just-right challenge to work on the skill area desired through fun and motivating means. We recommend reaching out to your occupational therapist if you require assistance with either new or older games and toys and how to create the just-right challenge for your child.

 

About the Author

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Buyer’s Guide 101: How to Shop for a Pediatric Occupational Therapist

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

As a parent of a child who has just been referred for Occupational Therapy (OT) services, the prospect of what to do next and where to go can be quite confusing. With so many providers in the area, it can be difficult to know who would be the right fit for your family. Typically, when you reach out to express interest in OT services at NESCA, Julie Robinson, OT, our department director, will have a personal phone call with you to help you through the process. As you conduct your search for the right fit for your child and family, here are some good questions you might ask to help you determine what works best. We’ve offered answers regarding NESCA’s services to let you know more about how we provide OT services.

What type of insurance do you take for occupational therapy?

Here at NESCA, we are in-network for BCBS and Allways, and we bill them directly on behalf of our patients.

How long are your OT sessions?

We spend 45 minutes directly with a child and another 5 – 10 minutes at the end of the session to consult with the caregiver. Other practices provide 30 or 38 minute sessions to compensate for decreases in insurance payments since the outset of Covid-19.

How long do we have to wait for an OT session? 

We can initiate an evaluation within 2 – 3 weeks of initial contact. If you have availability to bring your child in for treatment during the school day, there is no waitlist at this time. If you require sessions in the afterschool hours, there is a very small waitlist.

How many patients does a clinician typically see per week?

Some practices require their clinicians to perform as many as 30 or 32 patient hours per week to maximize their income. Here at NESCA, we cap patient hours at 26 per week. It is very important for us to focus on providing excellent clinical care to our clients with staff who are not burnt out or struggling to manage paperwork, treatment planning, and administrative activities, such as phone calls and emails to support our families. We are proud to offer research-backed services and want to provide our clinicians with ample time for continued opportunities for learning, allowing them to reach their highest level of potential and skill as a therapist – which they then pass on that knowledge and skill to our families.

What does your OT practice focus on?

At NESCA, our focus of therapy is based on a holistic view of a child to encourage life-long functional skill acquisition. We use a combination of sensory motor, sensory integration, developmental, and trauma-informed techniques, as well as practice and repetition of those techniques. We offer coaching on daily living skills to address weaknesses across a variety of areas: self-regulation, executive functions, self-care skills, such as dressing and bathing, handwriting and fine motor development, feeding, academic readiness, organization and attention. Other practices may utilize sensory integration or applied behavioral analysis as the basis for their program, for example.

Does the practice provide OT services in a clinical setting, remotely, at home, in school, or in the community?

Our primary service provision at NESCA is in the office or over teletherapy. In some instances, where schedules can be accommodated, we will provide services in the home, schools, or in the community. There may be additional travel fees involved for services outside of the office.

Does your OT practice offer comprehensive or second opinion evaluations for academic programming if needed?

NESCA does provide this service.

Will your practice consult with teachers or other caregivers if needed?

Yes. Sometimes additional fees are required, as insurance does not cover this service. We believe that consultation with outside providers is a critical part of our success!

Does your practice provide any specific programs outside of traditional sensory-motor based Occupational Therapy services?

At NESCA, we provide several specialty services in addition to traditional OT:

  • Feeding therapy
  • Safe and Sound Protocol for auditory sensitivity and self-regulation
  • Handwriting Without Tears
  • Trauma-informed Sensory Integration

What makes our clinicians so special?

One of the things that makes our occupational therapists an ideal match for your family is our love for children, the work we do, and our commitment to lifelong learning and the development of our clinical skills. Our entire OT department has known each other for at least four years, and we all came together as a team from another practice, with clinicians that are hand-picked by our director. We meet together on a weekly basis to share ideas and information, as well as to support each other in our clinical development.

For more information about NESCA’s Pediatric Occupational Therapy services, please visit: http://nesca-newton.com/occupational_therapy/ or submit an online Intake Form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

A Halloween for Those with Sensory Challenges

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

Halloween – a holiday full of tricks and treats. For some children, getting in the Halloween spirit by getting dressed up, carving pumpkins, and going trick-or-treating with friends is what they look forward to all year. For others, dressing up in an itchy costume, not being able to see someone’s face because they are wearing a spooky mask, being out in the dark with crowds of noisy trick-or-treaters, carving pumpkins and having to touch the oooey goooey insides of a pumpkin, and seeing decorations that make sudden noises or movements may make this holiday overwhelming for these children. Halloween can be tricky for families with children living with sensory processing difficulties, but with some creativity and planning ahead, families can build their toolboxes with their own tricks to combat the challenges that come with Halloween so their child can enjoy the treats that Halloween has to offer.

Here are some tricks for some common challenges that Halloween brings up:

Prepare for the day

Have an open discussion with your child about the traditions and activities associated with Halloween. You can read Halloween-themed books or watch Halloween movies (perhaps not the really scary ones!) to prepare your child for what to expect, because the anticipation of a new routine or anticipation of participating in unfamiliar activities can cause stress on a child. Discuss the plan for Halloween regarding decorations, attending parties, going trick-or-treating, etc., ahead of time so the child knows what to expect when celebrating the holiday. Consider the use of a visual picture schedule with activities that may be added into your typical routine. Provide ample warnings for transitions, when possible, to give your child time to move from one activity to another.

Be creative and imaginative with your child’s costume

The most important aspect of a costume for a child with sensory processing difficulties is ensuring that the costume is comfortable. Certain costume material may be itchy or scratchy, costumes with masks may occlude a child’s vision or be too tight on their head, or make-up may smell off-putting to a child. Children should have the opportunity to try on their costume when walking, sitting, and reaching for things before wearing it for real to make sure they are comfortable moving around in it. It is important to remember the idea of “less is more” and to use your imagination when coming up with costume ideas. For example, if a child wants to be a superhero, consider attaching a superhero logo to the front of a shirt they wear regularly rather than having your child wear a full superhero one-piece costume that may be itchy, tight, and hot.

Choose activities that best fit your child’s sensory needs

Meaningful participation in Halloween festivities doesn’t just include carving pumpkins and going trick-or-treating. Halloween activities can include roasting pumpkin seeds, setting out the candy bowl for trick-or-treaters, doing Halloween-themed crafts, etc. It is important for you to pick activities that best fit your child’s sensory needs. For example, if your child dislikes carving pumpkins because they have to touch the messy pumpkin insides, consider having your child paint their pumpkin or decorate it with stickers instead or make a pumpkin out of paper to decorate. If you and your child really want to go trick-or-treating but your child becomes overwhelmed with noisy crowds, consider trick-or-treating on only quiet side streets, or limit your time, allowing for breaks in between. If your child becomes overwhelmed with flashing lights, loud noises, or scary decorations, consider doing a drive-by of the neighborhood before taking your child out for trick-or-treating so you know which houses to avoid. For some children who crave a great deal of movement, it may be useful to engage in some heavy work activity before participating in a Halloween activity: wall push-ups, yoga poses, carrying weighty objects, for example. It may also be useful to engage in calming sensory activity to ease the transition from a busy setting back into the house: tactile materials like playdough or putty, water play, or a sensory table may be worth trying, or consider making a play tent or fort with quiet books or puzzles, or drawing to smooth the transition.

Monitor for overstimulation

Knowing when your child has had enough of Halloween festivities is just as important as knowing how to get your child engaged in them. A child may not be overstimulated at first, but may become overwhelmed minutes later. It is important to give your child choices of activities and next steps they can take as well as alerting your child about the sequence of events and the timeframe of events so that they know what to expect. If possible, help your child learn to advocate for themselves by saying things like, “please don’t touch me,” or “no thank you, I don’t want wear that,” in order to give them some autonomy over the activities that they participate in. However, in situations where this isn’t possible, it is important as the parent to know when to stop or disengage from festivities when sensory overload occurs and return home or to a quieter, more familiar space to give the child time to decompress.

Resources:

Enjoying Halloween With Sensory Challenges. (2021). Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Patients-Clients/ChildrenAndYouth/halloween-sensory.aspx?fbclid=IwAR23ux4OKqJmXEZdnCIzb2_Uh0of55YKuCf8ek97UEAc1jZflndR_ZEBRwM

Morin, A. (2019, August 5). Halloween Challenges for Kids With Sensory Processing Issues and How to Help. Understood.org; Understood. https://www.understood.org/articles/en/halloween-challenges-for-kids-with-sensory-processing-issues-and-how-to-help

5 Ways to Help Children with Sensory Challenges Participate in Halloween Festivities. (2021). Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/Publications-News/ForTheMedia/PressReleases/2019/102419-Halloween-Tips-Sensory-Challenges.aspx

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

The Benefits of Working on a Vertical Surface

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

What do you mean by a vertical surface?

If you think about it, most of the activities children do day to day are completed on a horizontal surface, where toys and tools remain static, in one position. Picture a vertical surface, whether it be a wall, window, or an easel. Working in this anti-gravity position activates new muscles and makes activities more challenging for kids. Think “tummy time,” but for our elementary-aged kids.

What are the benefits of working on a vertical surface?

  • Shoulder, wrist, and elbow stability – These activities require a child to practice bigger arm movements that may not be utilized on a traditional, flat surface. These movements promote both strength and flexibility in the joints and muscles of the upper extremities.
  • Core strength & postural control – If a child is completing vertical work in standing, he or she must reach outside of their base of support, activating those core muscles. Further increase the demands of the task by having the child complete the task in kneeling or while sitting on a therapy ball. This promotes balance and use of the stomach and leg muscles. Building this solid ‘core’ foundation is extremely important so that a child can develop more controlled movements in the upper extremities.
  • Hand strength – Working against gravity requires a child to exert increased effort while building hand strength and endurance with a utensil.
  • Visual spatial awareness & crossing midline – Working on a large vertical surface means more space to cover. This requires a child to visually scan a greater distance left to right, reaching across the imaginary “midline” of our body. Crossing midline is essential for developing bilateral coordination skills.
  • Wrist extension for pencil grasp – This is a big one! Writing on a vertical surface naturally puts the wrist in extension, the ideal position for handwriting. In contrast, a flexed wrist limits finger mobility and control.
  • Proprioception & force modulation – When performing a task on a vertical surface – think stickers or drawing – the child is required to practice grading movements so that he or she can apply the right amount of pressure for success (Boitano, 2020; Drobnjak, 2015).

What pediatric population benefits from this?

All kids would benefit from participating in these kinds of activities! Working on a vertical surface work can particularly help children to further develop the essential fine, visual, and gross motor skills. Sensory integration can also be targeted, as these kinds of activities allow a child to explore and develop proprioceptive, tactile, and visual processing skills.

Activities that can be done on a vertical or slanted surface (Boitano, 2020; Drobnjak, 2015)

  • Writing
  • Drawing/coloring
  • Tracing (stencil) activities
  • Stickers
  • Painting (finger painting or with brush)
  • Magnets
  • Spray bottle activities
  • Squigz or suction cup games
  • Felt or Velcro boards
  • Chalkboard, easel, or whiteboard activities
  • Shaving cream
  • LEGO wall
  • Window or wall washing using sponge

 

Resources

Boitano, C. (2020, April 20). The benefits of writing and working on a vertical surface! OT Outside. Retrieved October 6, 2021 from https://www.otoutside.com/news/2020/4/19/the-benefits-of-writing-and-working-on-a-vertical-surface.

Drobnjak, L. (2015, June 27). Why Kids Should Work on a Vertical Surface. The Inspired Treehouse. Retrieved October 6, 2021 from https://theinspiredtreehouse.com/motor-skills-and-more-working-on-a-vertical-surface/

 

About the Author
Madelyn (Maddie) Girardi is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts with experience in both school-based and outpatient pediatric settings. Maddie received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science/Kinesiology at The College of Charleston in South Carolina and  earned her Doctorate degree in Occupational Therapy from The MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston.

Maddie is a passionate therapist with professional interest in working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, fine and gross motor delays and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

What’s the Big Deal about a Pencil Grip?

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Jessica Hanna MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, NESCA

With kids back in school, drawings, coloring pages, and written work will make their way from the classroom to backpacks and eventually to the fridge for everyone to admire.

From infancy to adulthood, we all hit many milestones in life. Some milestones stand out more than others, but the little ones are no less important. The ability to hold a writing tool is a milestone that moves through various stages from infancy through adulthood. If you get the chance to view and capture each stage along a child’s development, it’s genuinely fascinating!

So, what’s the big deal about the stages involved in holding a writing tool, such as a crayon, marker, or pencil? These stages are the foundation for developing the tiny muscles and arches of the human hand, creating strength and endurance during a writing/drawing activity, and developing stability to manipulate the writing tool to use it the intended way. As humans, we all move through these stages at one point. The progression through each stage is not uniform or standard. The ultimate goal is to reach the ability to hold a writing tool with a functional grasp pattern that promotes adequate speed, accuracy, and legibility without it being the cause of pain or fatigue.

For many kids, achieving fine motor precision and the skill for written output is challenging. However, as NESCA Occupational Therapist Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L, reminds us in her recent post, “Handwriting vs. Typing: Where do we draw the line?,” handwriting is still a valuable life tool.

So, what does the progression of pencil grasp development actually look like?

Primitive Stages – Observed between 12 and 36 months. The art of drawing and coloring is often the first exposure and gateway to children learning how to hold a writing tool. There is all the freedom, no pressure of writing, and no right and wrong to their drawing.

  • Radial Cross Palmer Grasp (Fig a.) – Full arm and shoulder movement is used to move the writing tool. The writing tool is positioned across the palm of the hand, held with a fisted hand, and the forearm is fully pronated with elbow winged high out to the side.
  • Palmer Supinate Grasp (Fig b.) – Full arm and shoulder movement is used to move the writing tool. The writing tool is positioned across the palm of the hand, held with a fisted hand, with slight flexion of the wrist, and the elbow slightly lowered out to the side.
  • Digital Pronate Grasp (Fig c.) – Full arm and shoulder movement used to move the writing tool. Arm and wrist are floating in the air, and only the index finger extends along the writing tool toward the tip.

Schneck, CM, and Henderson (1990)

Children will begin to shift between the various pencil grips as their shoulder and arm muscles become stronger and steadier.

Immature grasp or transitional grip phase – This grip has been observed as young as 2.7 years of age through 6.6 years of age as stated through research (Schneck, CM, and Henderson (1990)).

  • Static Tripod grasp (Fig g.) – The child will use their forearm and wrist movements only keeping fingers stationery and wrists slightly bent. Movement of the hand can be observed as not graceful. The thumb, index and middle finger will work together as the shaft of the pencil is stabilized by the 4th finger.

Ann-Sofie Selin (2003)

Mature grips – There is so much talk about what looks right and what looks wrong. Traditional pencil grips have evolved through time. There have been four pencil grips now classified as a mature grasp pattern. All mature grips use precise finger movement to manipulate a writing tool while keeping the forearm stabilized.

  • Dynamic Tripod Grip (Fig 1) – Previously known as the golden standard of all grips, where the thumb, index, and middle finger function together, while the pencil shaft rests on the middle finger.
  • Dynamic Quadrupod Grip (Fig 2) –The thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers function together while the pencil shaft rests on the ring finger.
  • Lateral Tripod Grip (Fig 3) – The pencil shaft is stabilized by the inner (lateral) side of the thumb and index finger while resting on the middle finger.
  • Lateral Quadrupod Grip (Fig 4) – The pencil shaft is stabilized by the inner (lateral) side of the thumb, index, and middle finger while resting on the ring finger.

Koziatek SM, Powell NJ (2003)

Pencil grips are generally believed to affect handwriting, and awkward pencil grips become the most commonly assumed cause as to why that is (Ann-Sofie Selin, 2003). However, the production of untidy or illegible handwriting does not always correlate to an unusual pencil grip. The most efficient pencil grip for a child is the one that will help them write with speed and legibility, without pain for an extended period of time.

When should a parent, caregiver or educator be concerned?

  • There is pain and excessive pressure on the writing tool by holding on too tight
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Writing speed is compromised
  • Complaint of hand fatigue during writing and coloring activities
  • Holding the pencil with a primitive grasp (e.g., full fist) after 4 years of age
  • White knuckles or hyperextended joints in fingers holding a writing tool
  • Visible flexed wrist and forearm lifted off the writing surface
  • Inability to choose a clear hand preference between ages 4 and 6 years of age
  • Complete avoidance of all drawing or writing activities

If you are concerned about your child’s pencil grip and/or handwriting, an Occupational Therapist can work with you to identify challenging areas and determine next steps. Let us know if we can help support your child.

References

Koziatek SM, Powell NJ. Pencil grips, legibility, and speed of fourth-graders’ writing in cursive. Am J Occup Ther. 2003 May-Jun;57(3):284-8.

Schneck, CM, and Henderson (1990) Descriptive analysis of the developmental progression of grip position for pencil and crayon control in nondysfunctional children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 44, (10) 893 – 900

Ann-Sofie Selin (2003). Pencil Grip: A Descriptive Model and Four Empirical Studies. Åbo Akademi University Press.

 

About the Author

Jessica Hanna has over 10 years of pediatric OT experience in conducting assessments and providing treatment of children and adolescents with a broad range of challenges and disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, visual impairments, cerebral palsy, executive function deficits and developmental disorders of motor function. Prior to joining NESCA, Jessica trained and worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, private practice, schools and homes. She has served on interdisciplinary treatment teams and worked closely with schools, medical staff and other service providers in coordinating care. In addition, Jessica provided occupational therapy services at Perkins School for the Blind and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital pediatric inpatient unit, where she conducted comprehensive evaluations and interventions for children with a broad range of presentations.

 

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

The Safe and Sound Protocol: Increase Self-regulation and Decrease Sound Sensitivity

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Julie Robinson, OT
Director of Clinical Services; Occupational Therapist, NESCA

NESCA is excited to announce that we now offer our clients the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP)—a therapeutic listening program, designed to increase self-regulation and decrease sensitivity to sound. This new service is provided through our occupational therapy (OT) department and is facilitated by either Julie Robinson or Maddie Girardi, both of whom have been trained and certified in its administration. The process begins with an initial phone intake with Julie, who will help you determine if the program is a good fit for you as an adult, or your child. For new patients, we always initiate the program in the office for two to three visits. After this point, (if it seems feasible), you can transition to a home program. If not, we can continue through direct office visits until the program has been completed. In addition, we can offer the program as part of an existing OT treatment protocol.

Who is SSP appropriate for?

SSP is appropriate for anyone over two years of age through adulthood, who has the capacity to listen to music with over-the-ear headphones. It is ideal for patients on the autism spectrum, or individuals with sound sensitivity, sensory processing disorders, or difficulty with self-regulation. It can be used to facilitate more frequent calm and settled states of arousal for those under stress, or who have experienced trauma. It has been also observed to improve sleep and even feeding patterns in some of our clients who have difficulty in those areas. We have seen this carry over into improved behavioral control, independence, and focus in completing daily routines and academic work, as well as more availability for social interactions.

What if my child cannot tolerate wearing headphones?

Your OT will work with you to find an appropriate pair. In our experience, most children can learn to wear headphones with a bit of gentle coaxing and positive reinforcement. Sometimes we need to start with music, outside of the listening program, that a child is already interested in. Other times, we can start right in with the program and, bit by bit, build up increased tolerance.

What type of music is played in the program?

All programs are offered with both children’s music (common tunes from TV or movies, such as Disney programming) as well as adult-oriented songs (pop music or classical music).

NESCA offers two programs, each described below:

  • SSP CORE—This is the basic listening program, appropriate for most patients who are program, and what most individuals are ready to start with. This program has been used since 2017 as a mechanism to reduce stress and auditory sensitivity. It consists of a five-hour long listening protocol, that can be done ideally across five one-hour or 10 half-hour sessions, depending on tolerance levels. For some of our clients who cannot tolerate it as easily, listening sessions can be even shorter in duration. For clients who tolerate it well, and would be compliant, it can also be delivered as a home program after initial set-up through a clinician. It presents music that has been acoustically modified based on a specific algorithm that triggers physiological states of safety and trust. Calming the physiological state helps to promote social engagement and self-regulation, and further therapy can be enhanced or even accelerated. It has music with high frequency sounds gradually filtered in, allowing for slow and steady desensitization to auditory stimuli. It is suited for those who are accustomed to listening to music with headphones, those with subtle sound sensitivities, or those with general difficulties with self-regulation.
  • SSP CONNECT—SSP CONNECT is intended to be used as a less demanding introduction and foundation to the SSP CORE program, specifically for those who are not yet used to headphones, or who do not tolerate filtered sounds well. There is a classical music playlist—one for adults and another for children. It can be used for individuals who are highly sound sensitive, or very young listeners without high frequency filtering to get them ready for the CORE program. It also has five hours of listening time and is intended for use before the SSP CORE program, therefore resulting in a total of 10 hours of active listening time. The SSP CONNECT program should yield a sense of safety with the listening process and expectancy of what is to come next. It is important for the therapist and client to establish a strong rapport, with since there is a good deal of support from the clinician.

If you are interested in talking with a clinician who can determine if this would be a good fit for you or your child, please contact Julie Robinson, OT, Director of Clinical Services, at: jrobinson@nesca-newton.com.

 

About the Author

Julie Robinson is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience as a clinician. The work Julie does is integral to human development, wellness and a solid family unit. She particularly enjoys supporting families through the process of adoption and in working with children who are victims of trauma. Julie has extensive experience working with children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or who have learning or emotional disabilities. She provides services that address Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and self-regulation challenges, as well as development of motor and executive functioning skills.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services or other clinical therapies, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Back to School: Tips for the Sensory-savvy Parent

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By Lauren Zeitler, MSOT, OTR/L
NESCA Occupational Therapist; Feeding Specialist

Just like that, summer is over and it is finally time for children to head back to school! This year might look a little different as we move from remote learning and ease back into the school building full time. For children with sensory processing issues, the school building poses a great deal of anxiety as they try to deal with various sensory stimuli. The noisy bus, smells of the cafeteria, and visually overwhelming classroom are just a few examples of the daily overstimulating experiences a student with sensory processing issues encounters. Don’t fret! We will break down the school day and the core sensory systems that are impacted along with strategies to help your student succeed.

Starting the Day: Auditory Processing

As the day starts, many children hop on the bus and ride to school. This means they are encountering a noisy, chaotic vehicle filled with many other children. You might see kids respond negatively by running away, crying, or holding hands over their ears to block out the noise. Startling easily, the bus ride can be a stressful start that will set the tone for the rest of the day for students with sensory issues. It is important to utilize different strategies to prepare your child for the bus. Try these ideas to help with auditory processing:

  • Provide over the ear noise canceling headphones to wear on the bus ride
  • Provide calming music on an iPod, etc. to listen to during bus ride
  • Wear a weighted vest or lap pad during bus ride
  • Provide heavy work input to the student’s body in the morning before entering the bus

Learning in the Classroom: Visual Processing

Walking into the classroom, there are bookcases lined up, posters on the walls, desks in rows, and lots of bright lights. When it comes to visual processing, children respond in different ways. Some children avoid these stimuli, while others seek out visual input. Squinting, blinking, and covering their eyes are just some of the quick fix responses to the bothersome lights. Some kids have trouble paying attention if there are too many things to look at. To some children, the flickering lightbulb in the corner of the ceiling is much more interesting than whatever the teacher has to say. It is very easy to become distracted and overwhelmed in the visually overstimulating classroom environment. Teachers: try these strategies to help with visual processing:

  • Remove distracting posters, pictures, etc. from the walls
  • Place busy bookcases, lockers, etc. in the back of the room
  • Have easily visually distracted children sit in the front of the room closest to the board
  • Provide a calming corner with a sensory bin filled with items, such as noise cancelling headphones, stuffed animals, lavender lotion, books, etc.

Time for Art Class: Tactile Processing

It is time for art class, and your child freezes at the doorway refusing to enter the room. Glitter and glue are everywhere, and the fear of being dirty strikes again. The feeling of touching messy media can send some children into panic fight or flight mode. This goes well beyond art class’s requirement to interact with different media, often branching out and impacting their ability to participate in social experiences, such as playing on the playground. To avoid overstimulation, prepare your child’s body with these strategies:

  • Prepare the student before art class by reviewing the schedule
  • Provide heavy work breaks, such as wall push-ups before entering the art room
  • Provide a weighted vest or lap pad to use during art class
  • Find adaptations to the art project to decrease interaction with sticky substances (i.e., using glue sticks, spoons to spread glitter, etc.)

Lunch in the Cafeteria: Olfactory and Gustatory Processing

It is now time for lunch. As your child walks into the cafeteria, they look around to find their friends and are greeted with a really strong smell. What is that?! Your child is no longer looking for their friends; instead, they are trying to find a way out because the smell is too overwhelming. Try these strategies to help kids with sensitive noses:

  • Find a place in the cafeteria that your child can eat away from the food serving area (where the smells are the strongest)
  • Provide an essential oil patch or roller ball that the student can smell to calm their body and move their focus away from the cafeteria smell
  • Use essential oils, such as lavender or eucalyptus, which help calm
  • Provide heavy work opportunities before entering the cafeteria to help organize the body

Once your child has gathered their food and found the best place to eat, they sit down and look at their meal. Oh gosh – why does it look so squishy? This sandwich is slimy – that is a big no! The gustatory – or taste system – kicks in, and it does not appear happy. What can we do to help kids with sensitive taste systems? Try these strategies to help make mealtime easier:

  • Provide lunch from home to help control what options the child has to eat during the day
  • Provide crunchy food items, such as pretzels, raw veggies (carrots, peppers, cucumbers, etc.), or popcorn to promote “heavy, organizing input” to the mouth and jaw
  • Provide thick drinks, such as smoothies, to drink through a straw
  • Promote drinking water through a water bottle with a mouth piece, such as those from Camelbak
  • Provide a special treat, such as licorice, Twizzlers, or sucker candy to provide alerting and organizing input

Gym Class Makes Me Nervous: Vestibular and Proprioceptive Processing

Afternoon gym class has arrived, and your student is too afraid to participate. Bumping into the wall, being hit by a ball, or playing in a coordinated group activity is hard for some children. Echoing voices and shoes squeaking on the floor, bright colors and moving objects are enough to overstimulate anyone. With the right environment, gym class can be fun for everyone! Here are some strategies to help with vestibular and proprioceptive processing in gym class:

  • Provide the opportunity for the student to leave the gym. Let them know that if the class becomes too overwhelming they can ask the teacher for a break. Going for a walk to the bathroom or grabbing water is a great, brief break.
  • Adapt games or activities as necessary. Students will be at different skill levels, and physical activity can present unique challenges. Provide simpler options when possible.
  • Create space boundaries. Using visual cues for personal space, and working in small groups can relieve anxiety. Visual cues may also be helpful in showing children where they should position themselves for games and exercises.
  • Provide activities that promote consistent, linear movements instead of sporadic, rotational movements, to help keep these sensory systems organized.

Remember to keep school fun! The school day is where kids spend most of their week, and we want to ensure they have the best experiences possible. Recognize that not all students with sensory processing issues will have the same strengths and difficulties. Meeting a student where they’re at and discovering their specific strengths is the greatest way to set them up for a successful school year! If you have any questions or to learn more about occupational therapy services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

About the Author

Lauren Zeitler is a licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in pediatric occupational and feeding therapy. Ms. Zeitler joined NESCA full-time in the fall of 2020 to offer occupational therapy assessment and treatment for children of all ages, as well as to work in conjunction with Abigael Gray, MS, CCC-SLP, on the feeding team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.