Top Apps for Occupational Therapists: Magic Shoes

April 11th, 2014

Learning to tie their own shoes is a milestone in a child’s life. However, getting to this achievement can be a frustrating and difficult process. New Bricklyn offers a Magic Shoes app designed to provide kids with an easy and clever ways to learn to tie their shoes on their very own.

The app can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store for just $1.99.

Magic Shoes is popular with parents, students, and therapists as unlike other apps on the market that demonstrate how to tie knots and laces, it is entirely centered on teaching kids. This fun and educational app helps kids gain their independence and boost their self-esteem.

How it Works
The Magic Shoes app follows a very simple and straightforward process, including

  • Step-by-step instructions and a video collection are provided to make learning fun.
  • Classic show-tying techniques are utilized, including “rabbit ears” and “tree squirrel.”
  • Take a photo of the child when they’ve achieved their goal of tying their shoes and email it to friends and family to share the exciting news!

Customizable Interface
Magic Shoes allows you to customize the experience for each child, to help them feel more comfortable with the process. Enjoy special features including:

  • Boy/girl themed interface.
  • Easy to follow instructional videos.
  • Variety of different lacing methods to choose from.
  • Photo capture and sharing functionality.

“Using this fun visual aid worked like magic when teaching my relative how to tie his shoes! Great to see instructive applications like this around in the app store,” noted one reviewer on iTunes.

This app serves as a great teaching aid to help children gain one of their first forms of independence. Not only does Magic Shoes work, it also makes learning fun, so kids enjoy the process and want to continue developing new skills. It’s amazing to see how a child’s self-esteem can increase by having such an effective tool to assist in the learning process.

For additional resources to enhance your school-based practice and tips to advance your occupational therapy career, read our related posts or contact the expert team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Essential Occupational Therapy App: Skill Training

March 28th, 2014

“A fun and challenging visual motor activity app. Look out, you might be hooked!”

This comment came from occupational therapists at OTswithApps.com after they took a trial run of Sebastian Miedtank’s Skill Training app, priced at $2.99 for your iPhone or iPad. Miedtank also created the Skill Game OT app.

Customizable Activities and Exciting Challenges
Developed in conjunction with occupational therapists and appropriate for upper elementary and older students, Skill Training:

  • Trains skills, strategy and concentration.
  • Improves eye-hand coordination.
  • Adapts easily to users’ ages and ability levels.
  • Accommodates multiple users and tracks their progress.

Skill Training requires students to connect numbers in order without crossing or touching lines. Motor accuracy and planning are required to complete the task, which can be done using your finger or a stylus. A magnifying glass is available for an up-close look at what’s happening. This visual motor/spatial reasoning app requires drawing, motor planning and problem-solving activity.

The app offers these additional features:

  • Adjustable sizing of numbers and lines.
  • An infinite number of randomly-generated levels.
  • Simple, easy-to-read controls.
  • Automatic calculation of skill scores based on user accuracy.
  • Options to adapt tasks and skip or restart, thus enhancing student practice with improvements reflected in total scores.
  • Element choices such as turning obstacles on and off, challenging papers and one-way streets.
  • Additional settings including a left-handed mode, Magic Pen and audio.

Skill Training is a fun, engaging app that provides customizable activities for students. In addition, it’s a valuable tool for effective, accurate assessment of overall skills improvement.

For additional resources to enhance your school-based practice and tips to advance your therapy career, read our related posts or contact the expert team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Sensory Activities in the Classroom

March 21st, 2014

Children with sensory processing disorders (SPD) or related symptoms can be tricky to manage in the classroom. Because some students can be sensory seeking, their behavior can be disruptive, while hypersensitive children tend to withdraw, making it difficult to teach them at all.

The Sensory Therapies and Research Center has reported that between five and 16 percent of the population exhibits sensory symptoms. So it’s very likely that the average classroom will contain one or more sensory students.

Classroom Solutions

Students diagnosed with SPD should follow the sensory plan outlined by their occupational therapists. But any child who is sensory seeking or avoiding can benefit from these suggestions for adapting classrooms to best accommodate everyone:

  • Create a crash/quiet corner. Sensory-seeking students need a place to escape to where they can expend some pent-up energy. A corner with large pillows, heavy blankets and even weighted lap pads can be just the place. On the other hand, an overstimulated student can find relief in the same corner. Consider providing hearing protection and sunglasses for those who are sensory avoiding.
  • Assign some “heavy work.” Large muscle exercise can help meet the needs of sensory seekers. This can be as simple as moving a desk or a stack of books. You may want to have sensory-craving students help put chairs up at the end of the day or partner with another teacher so they can carry items from one classroom to another as needed. At the same time, a sensory-avoiding student may need a break from such large body movement.
  • Provide time and space. A hypersensitive child may be overwhelmed by the everyday sights, sounds and even smells of a busy classroom. If this is the case, give them a special spot that maximizes their personal space. Consider their visual environment as well. While most kids love a brightly-colored classroom, those who are particularly sensitive may need a less stimulating view.
  • Take advantage of recess. Encourage hyposensitive children to run and swing. These movements will help them balance their sensory need for a calm body in the classroom. Allow hypersensitive students to withdraw from playground noise and activity and stay inside to read or relax.
  • Manage fidgeting. Sensory students tend to have roaming hands – so keep them busy. Arm them with stress balls or apply small strips of rough Velcro to the bottom of their desks. Some enjoy wearing rubber-band bracelets or have special pencil holders that give them the input they crave.
  • Modify seating. A large rubber band or exercise band around a student’s desk legs can provide sensory seekers opportunity to bounce, push or pull, reducing alternative movements that would be highly disruptive. Some respond well to the sensory input of a bumpy seat cushion or an exercise ball in place of their chair.

A few well-placed tactics can enhance classroom management and enrich students’ learning environment and the overall satisfaction of their school day. And by recognizing when a child needs a break, educators can help each one learn to read their unique body cues.

Contact the expert team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services to learn more about the specialized needs of sensory students and how to make a genuinely positive difference in their school experience.

Behavioral or Sensory Problems? How to Tell the Difference

March 17th, 2014

Every child misbehaves now and then. How can you tell whether a student’s inappropriate behavior stems from behavioral issues or sensory dysfunction that can cause inexplicable reactions to everyday happenings to be confusing and even heartbreaking to endure?

 About Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory integration (SI) is the organization of sensory input and sensations to produce appropriate responses to situations, events, emotions and expectations. SI involves not only the five commonly-known senses, but also the vestibular and proprioceptive systems. The former relates to movement sensations, such as swinging or going down a playground slide, while the latter provides critical information to the muscles and joints. For instance, the proprioceptive system directs a person’s legs to apply more pressure when climbing stairs versus walking on flat ground.

The brain takes information from the body’s sensory systems and arranges so that the body can make sense of its surroundings and react properly to them. SI needs to be processed, organized and acted upon in order for a person to behave appropriately and learn efficiently. If sensations can be well managed, the brain can form perceptions, then concepts, and then deliver meanings. SI provides a crucial foundation for normal learning and behavior.

For most children, SI occurs automatically and effortlessly. But for some, the process is inefficient and is called sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory integration dysfunction.

Signs That It’s SPD

In children with SPD, extensive effort and attention are required for SI to occur; in fact, it may not occur at all. The result is inappropriate behavior and for SPD sufferers, goals that most people take for granted often are out of reach.

SPD is a neurological problem which impacts motor skills, social skills, and other abilities critical to basic academic success and childhood accomplishments. Daily functioning does not come naturally. Children with SPD must expend vast amounts of energy just to pay attention to their teachers, follow directions, acclimate to their environment, or focus on the task at hand. What should be a routine function becomes the source of severe exhaustion and frustration.

Behaviors exhibited by children with SPD include:

  • Inattentiveness and distractibility.
  • Non-compliance and lack of cooperation.
  • “Out of control” behavior.
  • Hyperactivity or constant motion.
  • Signs of tiredness, fatigue or disengagement.
  • Over or under-responsiveness.
  • Squirming or fidgeting.
  • Difficulty stabilizing the body when sitting, i.e., leaning on others, laying down or moving around.
  • Crashing to the ground or into walls or other people.
  • Aggressiveness or poor impulse control.
  • Clumsiness.
  • Nervousness or anxiety.
  • Irritability, inflexibility or tantrums.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Withdrawal, especially when feeling challenged.
  • Disorganization or wandering.
  • Sensitivity to sounds or visual stimulation.
  • Difficulty in making transitions, making friends, standing in line or interacting with peers.
  • Speaking in an inappropriately loud voice.

Recent studies show that SPD may impact as many as five to 10 percent of children. These children are not intentionally misbehaving. They need the adults in their lives to advocate for them and help with strategies and accommodations so they can be successful – and enjoy something as simple as a birthday party, a reading lesson or a trip down the playground slide.

To learn more about techniques and developments to enhance your school-based therapy career, read our related posts or contact the experts at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Essential Speech Pathology Apps: Prepositions Journey

March 7th, 2014

Learning prepositions is key for students to develop their abilities to complete tasks and follow directions. A child may struggle with mastering prepositions because their meanings change depending on context or because prepositions are not tangible enough that they can be identified via spontaneous or connected speech.

The Prepositions Journey app by Virtual Speech Center, Inc., lives up to its name as it takes students on an enjoyable and beneficial trip towards learning early and common prepositions.

Receptive and Expressive Tasks

Developed by a certified speech and language pathologist, Prepositions Journey includes skills development in:

  • Receptive tasks: Children are asked to identify animals (rabbits, squirrels and foxes) in three different locations (a lakeside campsite, an island and a cityscape); for instance, “Show me the bunny in the basket.”
  • Expressive tasks: Students verbally respond to “where” questions; for instance, “Where is the bunny?”
  • Students respond and you mark whether or not answers are correct. The app tracks student progress and allows you to email or print it for your records.

Prepositions covered include “in, out, under, next to, in front of, behind, in the back, between, above, below, beside, in the middle, outside, out, over, near, far, on the side” and “on the left/right.”

Easy and User Friendly

Prepositions Journey offers easy set-up and numerous options for you to use, according to your preference.

  • Settings can be adjusted. You have the option to turn off the sound, alternate how many questions each student gets, and active an automatic page-turning feature.
  • Set up is simple. All you need to do is enter a student’s name and you’re ready to go. After entering names and selecting players, you choose target learning goals for each student.

SLPs Rate This App Favorably

Priced at $9.99 for download on your App Store, Prepositions Journey has been ruled a good investment by numerous speech-language pathologists.

“This is a fun app for kids to practice and learn prepositions,” says Maureen Wilson, M.S., of The Speech Bubble. “The background settings are engaging without being distracting and the animals are so much fun. What kid wouldn’t get a giggle out of a bunny dressed up at the beach? I really liked how you could target prepositions in expressive and receptive activities. The data tracking is straightforward and clear … I would definitely recommend this to my fellow SLPs if they were looking for resources.”

Nikki Heyman, SLP and remedial therapist at Talking Talk, likes Preposition Journey because it offers:

  • A variety of context and scenes, which provide the added advantage of working on vocabulary.
  • The ability to use expressive and receptive tasks together.
  • A “record” feature that can be used during both expressive and receptive tasks.
  • A large number of examples for each preposition.
  • Its value with preliterate students, since no reading is involved.

To learn about more of the latest tools and tips to build your therapy career, read our related posts or contact the career coach experts at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Essential Occupational Therapy App: Handwriting without Tears

February 27th, 2014

Research has shown that writing by hand, versus using a keyboard, enhances students’ fine motor skills and creative thinking abilities. Elementary students have been found to write more and faster by hand and, with the adoption of new state standards, greater emphasis than ever is placed on classroom note taking.

The Handwriting Without Tears ® curriculum by No Tears Learning, Inc., makes handwriting mastery enjoyable for therapists, teachers, parents and – last but not least – students. Geared toward children in kindergarten through fifth grade, No Tears Learning also offers Get Set for School to promote academic readiness in preschoolers.

Version 1.2 of Handwriting without Tears, released Nov. 1, 2013, is available for purchase in iTunes for $6.99. Designed to be intuitive, engaging and developmentally progressive, it helps youngsters achieve handwriting success by making the process fun.

A Multisensory Approach
Utilizing basic facets of the Handwriting Without Tears® Wet-Dry-Try Suite app, students learn by practicing the correct formation and habits for writing capitals, numbers and lower-case letters. Features of Version 1.2 include:

  • A proven multisensory approach to teach children to write letters and numbers without reversals.
  • The option for students to practice letters in any order they choose or follow the Handwriting Without Tears® developmental teaching order.
  • A personal coach who helps children via friendly audio cues to learn formation steps and correct mistakes.

Each letter has three levels of difficulty, so skills can be progressively built. If a child masters a level, they win a star. If they earn three stars, they win a letter card. When they collect a complete set of cards, they win a Grand Prize. There are two options for sensitivity, so you can adjust writing tolerance based on each student’s individual needs.

“I Wish He Had Been Started on This Earlier”
Reviews from parents have been highly positive as they witness their children benefiting from Handwriting without Tears.

One parent noted that “my second grader still has many reversals and struggles to write as he seems unsure about the direction the letters go. I purchased this two weeks ago and it is very helpful. I can see that he is gaining confidence in his writing and he is already beginning to use their method rather than his haphazard one. I wish he had been started on this earlier, because the method prevents reversals and many letters are built from the ‘magic c’ hence cutting down on how many different strokes a child has to remember to write letters. I highly recommend this app!”

Drawing from years of experience, it appears that Handwriting Without Tears® has scored another hit with its latest version of this innovative therapy app.

To learn more about tools and resources to develop your school therapy career, read our related articles on mobile applications or contact the expert team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Techniques to Enhance Children’s Handwriting

February 21st, 2014

When a child struggles with handwriting, life can become very difficult, very quickly. Consequences may include falling behind in school and losing out on the ability to communicate or interact with peers using letters and words. Fortunately, through therapy and practice, youngsters who struggle with handwriting can make significant progress towards removing these lifestyle barriers.

Let’s take a look at three key areas of focus when it comes to enhancing children’s handwriting abilities.

Visual Motor Skills  
A child’s ability to control hand movement is guided by his vision. If students struggle to coordinate body movements in response to what they see, their handwriting ability can be severely impaired.

  • Start with scribbling, using all types of media including crayons, pencils, markers and chalk. Then have students draw strokes within context. For instance, draw a picket fence minus the pickets and have youngsters fill them in.
  • Have students draw within large wall spaces such as a chalk or dry erase board. This helps them master the movements involved in shapes and strokes, the basis of forming letter.
  • Use a variety of activities to hone visual motor skills. With Popsicle sticks, have students make various shapes before they practice drawing them and incorporating them into handwriting.  

Fine Motor Skills
There are numerous techniques for improving students’ fine motor skills:

  • Squeezing, pushing, pulling and molding: Use clay, Silly Putty, Play-Doh, bread dough or modeling foam. Hide small objects in it and have students pull them out.
  • Interlocking construction toys: For preschoolers, use Mega Blocks or Bristle blocks. Legos, Tinker Toys and K’nex work well for older students. Pop beads and linking chains also are effective.
  • Hole punchers for building pincer strength: Have children punch holes along the edges of a sheet of paper or a paper plate. Grip-style pincers are easier than smaller ones that require a stronger pinch to operate.
  • Hand strength and endurance also can be developed using dress-up dolls, bubble pack, and squeeze toys and materials. For a craft activity, work with squeeze-bottle glitter, glue and puffy paint.

Trunk, Shoulder and Core Stability
A stable core provides a solid base of support from which a child’s arms are free to move with precision and control. Postural control is key to maintaining the proper sitting position for handwriting.

  • To develop shoulder strength, use wheelchair walking or crawling on all fours, changing direction on command. Outside, students can shoot baskets, play tug of war or Zoom Ball, or work on monkey bar swinging, trapeze bars or playground ladders.
  • Use play to enhance wrist stability. Have students walk or race while holding a tennis ball on a large spoon. Or, have them play with a yoyo or Lite Brite, which is excellent for encouraging wrist extension while using the fingers.

There are myriad tools for improving a child’s handwriting skills by sharpening their strength and dexterity. As a therapist, you can collaborate with parents so your students practice these skills at home as well as in school.

To learn more about resources to enhance your therapy career, read our related posts or contact the experts at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Autism Research and Effective Treatment Strategies

February 18th, 2014

Autism spectrum disorder affects one in every 88 school children – crossing all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic boundaries. There have been a wide range of attempts to develop a drug that effectively treats ASD and for the first time, a research team in France hopes to improve the core characteristics of autism with a medication commonly used to treat high blood pressure.

The theory behind a clinical study of dozens of European children is that the diuretic drug bumetanide flips a chemical switch during or near birth, which changes the chemical GABA from stimulating electrical activity in the brain to tamping it down. If this switch is not flipped in time, a child’s brain fails to develop normally, leading to ASD.

Research Progress
The team led by Yehezkel Bon Ari of the French Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherché Medicale, based in Marseilles, is seeking to progress beyond previous autism drug studies, which have either failed or also remain experimental. While there are medications to treat some autism symptoms, there are none that address the underlying social and communication difficulties or repetitive behaviors that earmark the condition.

  • Bon Ari’s team has found that if given during pregnancy, bumetanide could reverse autism symptoms in newborn mice bred with a genetic condition that often causes ASD in humans. The same results were found in rats exposed to the epilepsy drug valporic acid, which is known to trigger autism.
  • Bon Ari and his colleagues have patented a version of bumetanide and formed a company, Neurochlore, to test the drug in humans. Clinical trials have been conducted on 30 children to date.
  • The lead researcher says the drug should not be given to pregnant women, despite its success with rodents, because it’s impossible to determine which children will go on to develop autism and unethical to test on healthy ones.

“Pretty Incredible”
Andrew Zimmerman, pediatric neurologist and autism expert at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, noted that while findings are preliminary, Bon Ari’s research amounts to a “pretty incredible finding and really great.”

However, Zimmerman and other experts add that it’s too early for humans to try bumetanide as an autism treatment, outside of carefully-watched clinical trials like the one in France. There are just too many unknowns, Zimmerman says, from what the drug will do to the developing brain to when and how much to administer.

Drug Would Augment other Treatment Modalities
Bon Ari concedes with Zimmerman, adding that while he is hopeful that bumetanide will show benefits across the broad spectrum of children with ASD, behavioral therapy and possibly other pharmaceutical treatments also will likely be needed.

“It’s important for people to understand there is no drug to cure a medical disease as complicated as autism,” Bon Ari concludes.

To stay ahead of research and market trends on issues pertinent to your school-based therapy career, read our related posts or contact the expert team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Essential Speech Pathology App: Syntax Workout

February 11th, 2014

For your fitness program to be effective, you need a series of good workouts. And for your speech/language therapy sessions to succeed, the same is true. Virtual Speech Center, Inc., offers another addition to its auditory and sentence workout series with Syntax Workout, created by a certified SLP for preschool and elementary-aged children who struggle with grammar.

The app can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store at a price of $16.99, but has been available at a sale price of $8.99.

Syntax Workout is a hit among therapists and student as it provides engaging artwork and photography along with 1,500 stimuli for practicing syntax activities. In doing so, it motivates children with positive reinforcement in the form of a fun game of bowling.

How it Works
Syntax Workout is easy to navigate and can be used with one or multiple students.

  • When you open the app, you select your student(s) and the syntax system you want to address; for instance, singular/plural versions of verbs or subjective, possessive or demonstrative pronouns.
  • After being welcomed by a friendly bowling coach, students are shown pictures with two choices, as a narrator reads a sentence and leaves a pause for them to fill in a word. For example, a photo of a girl working on a snowman comes with the narrative that “Sally build – or builds – a snowman every winter.”
  • After students select their answer, there is an opportunity to record the sentence.
  • Students earn a bowling ball for each correct response and when they accumulate enough points, they are rewarded with a game of bowling.
  • When a student completes a session, you get a report card and can access data by activity or date. Report cards can be emailed.

User Friendly
As a Syntax user, you can perform these tasks:

  • Turn audio on and off.
  • Select auto scoring and alternate counts for multiple students.
  • Enable or disable the reward system and randomization feature.
  • Track correct and incorrect responses.

“I have been using this app for a few months now and it has been a hit with every student,” noted a reviewer from Simply Speech.

Experts at Carrie’s Speech Center echoed praise for the app as it “provides a fun way to target many different grammatical constructs. Every child who has tried the app has requested using it again during the next therapy session. They love the reinforcement activity! The option to target receptive/expressive syntax in one app is a huge plus as well.”

Want to learn more about tools and resources to enhance your speech pathology practice and career plans? Read our related posts or contact the specialized team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Essential Occupational Therapy App: Decide Now!

January 31st, 2014

Are you looking for a creative and engaging new tool to assist students with decision-making abilities? Then decide now to try Decide Now! It’s a $.99 app by Catforce Studio, available at the iTunes store.

Decide Now! enables students to quickly decide their next steps in different situations through use of a highly visual spinning wheel. It’s a bit like your own little game show – fun and all – as it facilitates decision making and resultant activities.

  • Decide Now! features 10 predefined wheel templates tailored to such daily lifestyle decisions as what kind of restaurant to visit and where to go on a trip.  Even better: You can design an unlimited number of templates just for you and your students.
  • There are eight different color schemes to keep things interesting as you choose among your own design ideas. Catchy audio can be turned on and off.

One satisfied therapist reported that “I absolutely adore this app – the fluidity with sounds, the colors, the ability to personalize it … I’ve already added over 100 different wheels to my app in two weeks! No kidding! It’s great for kids (making choices, more objective activities and creativity), for parents, for couples, for teachers, for anyone … I checked out a lot of the other wheels before deciding on this one.”

Making up Your Mind
Decide Now! is a highly beneficial tool to assist students who struggle to make decisions, especially in situations where all the options look equal. It’s for all those times in life when so many choices look good, it’s hard to settle on one. Or maybe even more critical, those times when there seems to be no choice, period.

Another recent Decide Now! user noted that “children love this app! (So do grownups!) Spinning a dial and waiting to see the outcome is a thrill … And the app has wonderful visuals and sound effects to heighten the fun. I use it to create games for kids to play … For example, they spin the dial and it tells them what animal they should pretend to be or what emotion they should act out. And I use it to let kids spin the dial to decide whose turn it is to go first.”

Remove Barriers
As you help your students improve their abilities and enhance their confidence and independence, decision making is a basic stepping stone to functionality in school, on the playground, and in life. Decide Now! is an effective tool to help make that happen.

Work with the team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services to stay current on the tools and resources available to enhance your school therapy career. Read our related posts or contact us today.