The Importance of Knowing When to Intervene in Classroom Disputes

June 30th, 2015

How children treat each other in the classroom is equally as important as what they learn. Skills such as cooperation, assertion, responsibility and self-control are essential to their academic and social success. As you plan ahead for the 2015/16 school year, be aware that you may need to teach or reinforce these skills, along with your therapy plans and materials, during the course of the school day.

When children learn to resolve their own conflicts, the academic atmosphere becomes far more pleasant and productive for everyone. You can spend more time teaching and making progress with therapy – and your students can spend more time learning.

Steps to Take

Conflict resolution is generally best introduced around the fourth or fifth week of school, once children are familiar with their basic routines and with one another. Teach them these basic steps to address the disputes that will inevitably arise:

  • Calming down and bringing emotions into balance.
  • Explaining the nature of the upset.
  • Discussion and resolution.
  • Acknowledgement, such as a handshake or a high five.

An effective approach involves children composing an “I Statement” to help them deliver high-emotion information. The basic format reads as follows: “When you _______________________, I feel _________ because _____________________________, so what I would like is __________________.”

For example, “When you say my backpack looks weird, I feel sad because I just got it and I really like it, so I’d like you to talk about something else when I see you at school.”

It helps to generate a list of “feeling words” to help students expand their vocabulary and get their message across. A typical list would include words like “scared, sorry, sad, frustrated” and “nervous.” Display the list on a flip chart or whiteboard so children can easily refer to it.

The Dispute Resolution Meeting

Using the I Statements as the basis, your role is to facilitate a conflict resolution meeting for your students when needed. As a preview, listen to a child’s I Statement to make sure it is legitimate and that they are ready to present it.

  • The first child starts the meeting by making their I Statement.
  • The second child listens and repeats back their understanding of what was said.
  • Once the first child agrees that the second child has heard correctly, the second child may make their own I Statement.
  • This back-and-forth routine continues until both students are satisfied that an understanding has been reached and peace has been made. The meeting concludes with an acknowledgement.
  • While often a child will apologize at some point during a conflict resolution meeting, never require it.
  • As facilitator, you are there to ensure safety and protocol, but you should speak as little as possible.

Learning when to intervene in classroom disputes and how to deal with conflict is an essential life skill and as a school-based therapist, you may play a significant role in helping your students to master it.

For additional tools and resources to enhance your work, as well as current therapy career opportunities in your specialty field, read our related posts or contact the team at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today.

Noteworthy OT Tips for Homework Success

June 19th, 2015

Children and homework often don’t mix – and the challenges may be even greater with occupational therapy challenges are involved.  As you begin to think ahead to the next academic year, set your sights on work and study habits for your students that will promote academic success. These will include tactics and approaches to homework that will result in enhanced motivation, learning and confidence versus tears and frustration.

Help Students Establish Good Habits

Like virtually every aspect of a child’s education, homework success is based on a strong partnership between teachers, therapists, parents and students. Suggest these tips to eliminate homework-related stress and put regular, firm habits in place:

Set up a homework station.

It should be free of clutter and noise and away from distractions, such as TV, phones and video games. Keep it organized and supplied with pens, pencils, paper and other needed supplies – maybe even a healthy snack or two!

It’s never too early for good ergonomics.

Children should do homework while sitting in firm chairs with their feet planted on the floor or a foot rest. An office chair is a great option, as it can be adjusted to exactly the right height. A child’s back should be supported against a backrest. Good posture prevents back or neck stress and makes it easier to comfortably complete assignment.

Build in break times.

Encourage children to take a stretch break every 20 minutes. Promote active play and physical activities alternated with homework time. This reduces fatigue and boredom and enhances concentration.

Develop a plan and a schedule.

Consider your students’ sensory needs and any potential distractions, such as hunger or fatigue. Determine their preferences for the best time to complete homework assignments. Some children work best before dinner, for instance, or right afterwards. Students should be encouraged to manage their schedules using a planner. This gives them more ownership and control, which further builds motivation.

Optimize the environment.

Be sure children are working in areas with proper lighting. Limit eye strain by following the 20/20/20 rule: Take a break every 20 minutes, stop for 20 seconds, and look at least 20 feet away from the homework or computer monitor.

What other plans, resources or career advice do you need as you take a breather, enjoy the summer and at the same time, think ahead to your upcoming plans and future steps? This is a great time to reach out to a professional recruiter who specializes in school-based therapy. To learn more, read our related posts or contact the Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services team today.

Understanding Phonological Processes in Speech Therapy

June 12th, 2015

Most children make some mistakes as they begin pronouncing new words. Phonological processes are patterns of sound errors that typically developing children use to simplify speech as they learn to talk.

Articulation and speech sound disorders occur when these errors continue past a certain age. For instance:

  • If a four-year-old still uses the phonological process of reduplication (for example, saying “wawa” for “water”), this would be considered delayed, since most children stop using this phonological process by age three.
  • By age two, a child should be 50 percent intelligible to an unfamiliar listener. By age four to five, this should increase to 75 percent.
  • By age eight, children should be able to pronounce all sounds in English correctly.

When Processes Become Disorders

Since phonological and articulation disorders are both speech sound issues, it can be tricky to tell the difference. Here are tips on how to distinguish between the two:

  • An articulation disorder occurs when sound errors persist beyond what is developmentally appropriate. Generally, a child with an articulation disorder is mildly to moderately unintelligible. These children typically respond well to a traditional articulation therapy approach in which one sound at a time is targeted.
  • A speech sound issue is considered a phonological disorder when phonological processes persist beyond the typical age of development. Children are highly unintelligible as a result. Children with phonological disorders may reduce consonant clutters to a single letter; for example, saying “pane” for “plane,” or they may delete the weak syllable in a word, such as saying “nana” for “banana.” They also may substitute sounds made in the back of the mouth, such as “k” and “g,” for sounds made in the front of the mouth, like “t” and “d.” “Cup” may be pronounced “tup” or “gas” may be pronounced “das.”

What Causes Speech Sound Disorders?

Many speech sound disorders occur without a known cause. Others can result from physical problems, such as:

  • Developmental issues, including autism.
  • Genetic issues, including Down’s syndrome.
  • Hearing loss
  • Illness, including frequent ear infections when young.
  • Neurological issues, including cerebral palsy.

Treatment Options

Remediation for phonological disorders usually involves targeting the processes in error. This generally improves speech intelligibility at a faster rate.

  • You can listen to a child and use a formal articulation test to record sound errors.
  • An oral mechanism exam can determine whether the muscles of a child’s mouth are working correctly.

The Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services team of experienced speech pathologists can help you build your school-based therapy toolbox for continued growth and success in your career – or help you find your next great job. To learn more, read our related posts or contact our expert recruiters today.

4 Ways to Rejuvenate and Refocus Your Teaching Strategies Over the Summer

June 11th, 2015

School’s out – or about to be out – for the summer. Who’s more excited, you or your students? It’s probably too close to call. For you as well as the kids, summer is your time to relax, recharge and make the best of your long-awaited free time.

Use the weeks ahead to recapture your love of what you do. Choose a summer strategy that speaks to you and will have you eagerly awaiting the first day of school when the time comes.

Make the Most of It

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel or take on too much during your summer break. Choose one or two priorities that you’d like to implement or improve upon, prior to the start of the 2015/16 school year. Here are four ideas:

  1. Prepare to transform your therapy area into an active learning center. Find new ways to involve students in your plans and curriculum. Then, it will be easier to further engage them.
  2. Enhance your professional development. Take home the materials from that in-service, conference or workshop you attended this past year, but never found time to implement. Figure out how to tailor it to your needs and incorporate it into your 2015/16 therapy plans.
  3. Master a new technological tool. Explore an app or program that you’ve heard good things about, but haven’t previewed or used with your students. See related Cobb Pediatric Therapy posts for numerous speech and OT apps.
  4. Reassess your therapy management style. Be ready to set the tone the very first time you meet your students in the fall. Find innovative strategies so you can create a safer, more supportive and educationally challenging environment. Devise a clear plan and be prepared to use it consistently.

Look Out for Number One

Even if you plan to stay very busy this summer, make time for much needed rest and relaxation. For instance:

  • Plan a trip. Go somewhere outside your usual orbit. Keep it slow paced and not too ambitious. It can even be a “staycation.” You don’t have to travel far to have fun. Check out sites like Groupon, Google Offers and Living Social for deep discounts right in your area.
  • Read, purely for pleasure. This gets you out of your “real world” so you can completely de-stress.
  • Balance work and play. If you have to work, take classes, or attend conferences for professional development, schedule time for fun along with them. Maybe you can take a class with a friend and meet up beforehand or afterwards for a meal or recreational activity. If you travel for a conference, save extra time for sightseeing and fun things to do.
  • Do something you enjoy while helping others. Find a volunteer opportunity that matches your interests.
  • Practice daily self-care activities. It’s still important to do all the things you normally do to stay healthy and happy – whether it’s yoga, running, swimming, knitting or meditation. And if you don’t already have a self-care strategy, summer is a great time to start one.

Take Your Career to the Next Step

Summer is a great time to partner with a recruiter and begin building a relationship. Whether you make a job change or not, this will be a lifelong source of resources, contacts and networking opportunities. Contact Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today for more information.

How to Understand and Support Tic Disorders in the School Setting

May 29th, 2015

Children with tics or Tourette syndrome (TS) don’t want to be ticcing – especially at school, in front of their peers, teachers, coaches, and others who matter so much in the social picture of their lives.

A tic is a no-fault neurological symptom. Students with tics can’t help it and may not even be aware that they’re doing it. Yet it can be frustrating at best, and the source of teasing and/or physical pain in worst cases. Your most powerful tool in helping your students to live with tics is understanding. From there, you can help ease their suffering and enhance their academic experience.

Transient Tics versus TS

A tic is an abrupt, uncontrollable movement or sound that does not relate to a person’s normal gestures. Examples include rapid, repeated blinking, shoulder shrugging, and knee slapping or clearing of the throat. Often confused with nervous behavior, tics affect about 10 percent of school-aged children, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Children with transient tic disorder have noticeable physical or vocal tics. In youngsters with TS, they occur at the same time, making the disorder all the more noticeable and challenging to manage.

How to Help Your Students Cope

Here are some tips as you work with students who suffer from tic disorders, to help them optimize their learning potential:

  • Help relieve stress. Research has shown that keeping stress at a minimum can help alleviate tic triggers.
  • Develop alternatives to tic behaviors. Help your students to master more socially appropriate actions when their tics kick in. For instance, if a child feels the urge to punch, have them clinch their fist in their pocket. If they feel the urge to whistle out loud, work with them to take deep breaths. Afterwards, reward their efforts.
  • Listen carefully to what your students tell you about their tics. If the tics aren’t bothering them, it’s probably best to leave them alone instead of asking questions or drawing more attention to the situation. However, if students are experiencing embarrassment, frustration, or even pain as a result of their tics, let them know that there are ways to help them gain control.

Having a tic disorder should not prevent a child from doing what they want to in their lives – including functioning normally and succeeding in school. Living with tics is a complex challenge, but it would be so much easier if there were greater understanding and acceptance of this reality.

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

How Can a Weighted Pen Help Students Master Writing?

May 22nd, 2015

Handwriting – a skill that most people take for granted – can be an overwhelming struggle for students who lack the right fine motor skills.

Children with autism, certain learning disabilities and related challenges are among those who have the greatest difficulty mastering the process of handwriting. Adapted writing utensils such as weighted pens and pencils can help alleviate this barrier to their academic success and overall well-being.

How a Weighted Pen Helps

A weighted writing utensil is a simple and effective solution to numerous challenges that stand in the way of students making progress on a day-to-day basis. The related advantages include:

  • Relief from fatigue, as children don’t have to use as much strength when writing. For those with poor sensory feedback, a weighted pen can actually help to build this strength.
  • Steadiness for hand tremors. The heavy weight helps to steady the hand so students can write properly and legibly.

Extra weight in a writing utensil provides added proprioceptive input, which alerts students to the fact that they are holding something and gives them extra input about where the pen or pencil is in their hand.

An Easy Fix

Occupational therapists who have successfully worked with weighted pens and pencils note that they can be easy and inexpensive to make. They suggest using colorful gummy grips in students’ favorite colors, along with metal nuts or plumbers’ O rings, which are an inexpensive purchase at local dollar and hardware stores, respectively.

Are you looking for additional tools, ideas and resources to enhance your school-based therapy career – or seeking your next job move?

Consider partnering with the Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services team. We’re not just recruiters and career coaches; we’re therapists ourselves. Read our related posts or contact us today for more information.

4 Tips to Pass on to Parents to Continue Speech Therapy over the Summer

May 12th, 2015

Working on children’s speech and language progress is a year-round priority. Just because the school year is ending doesn’t mean that your students’ therapy comes to a halt for three months. Instead, by collaborating with parents, you can use summer break as an opportunity to advance children’s communication skills.

Here are four tips to help parents build speech and language practice into summer activities:

Keep it Simple

Simplicity is important no matter what the season, but it takes on a new meaning during vacation or travel periods. Remember, the most powerful things in life – and in therapy – often are the simplest. Children don’t have to be seated for hours in a classroom or at a table piled with papers and worksheets.

  • Play games. Travel games can be great oral language activities while riding in a car, on a plane, or dining in a restaurant. (And yes, they have the added benefit of keeping young children busy.) Guessing games like 20 Questions involve asking and answering questions, giving directions or descriptions, and even rhyming. These are all excellent means of stimulating language skills.

Keep it Brief

It’s not necessary to devote long blocks of time every day to complicated speech and language drills. A few minutes here and there – like physical exercise – all add up to success.

  • Take a short walk once or twice a week. Work on areas of speech where children need to improve. For instance, if they struggle with their “b” sounds, point out birds, butterflies, or beach balls and blankets.
  • Set aside ten-minute periods. Parents can plan to do speech activities with their children right after they brush their teeth or take their baths.

Make it Fun

Speech practice shouldn’t be a power struggle or a time a child dreads. It certainly shouldn’t be punishment. Motivation is important to effective therapy, both in school and at home – or on the road.

  • Keep it relaxed and engaged. Make speech practice a friendly competition. At the zoo, park or playground, who can name the most words with the “r” sound? Who can name 10 things they like about the lake house? Use a timer or hourglass to really make children feel like it’s a challenge. Offer prizes, such as staying up a half hour later, choosing the family movie to watch, or sitting in the front seat on the way home.
  • One speech language pathologist gives her students summer therapy gift bags. Inside are colored pencils, a new box of crayons, a couple of books, a journal, and a CD of sing-along songs. Be creative.
  • See if parents want to collaborate on a summer therapy camp or group. They may be interested in getting a group of children together to engage in fun learning activities with a private SLP. Google speech therapy summer camps to provide additional resources.

Use Technology

Technology is very appealing to children of all ages. Encourage parents to download language, reading and vocabulary apps on their mobile devices. If they have a Kindle or Nook, they can let their child pick a book to download so they can read it together.

  • Encourage parents to visit the Reading Rockets website or see our related Cobb posts for more ideas on language-building apps.

Spring, summer, fall or winter – the Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services team of experts is a resource for you as you build your school-based therapy career. Contact us today for more information.

3 Strategies to Keep Children Focused as Spring Heats Up

May 8th, 2015

You can tell it’s nearing the end of the school year, just by glancing into a classroom as you pass by. Chances are, students are a little more distracted and rambunctious than usual, or perhaps they’re in a happy daze as they stare out the window instead of at the white board.

This can be a challenging time for students, teachers and therapists, as they begin to lose steam and feel disenchanted as summer break approaches. You probably can’t alter your syllabus significantly, but there are simple measures you can take to overcome these roadblocks.

Use these pointers to keep your students on track and achieving their full potential:

Set a Good Example

Be a good role model by continuing to take full responsibility for your own work – by showing up regularly, staying engaged, and sticking to deadlines.

  • If your students see you neglecting your own tasks in favor of fun activities and plans, they may feel that it’s okay for them to do the same thing.

Offer Incentives

While making children aware of any undesirable consequences of not completing their work, be sure to emphasize the positive aspects and satisfaction of a job well done, followed by an entire summer of fun.

  • Use outdoor activities as incentives. For instance, let youngsters know that you’ve planned a trip out to the playground or a walk to a nearby park, as soon as their work is done.
  • Also discuss the consequences. What would happen if they didn’t complete their work? Would they risk failing or having to repeat work during their vacation? Without being overly dramatic or threatening, simply state the facts and be sure they understand.

Cut Big Assignments Down to Size

Do you have material to complete before the end of the year that looks and feels pretty daunting right about now? Sit down with your students and brainstorm how to break it up into manageable chunks.

  • Assign target completion dates for each chunk. Alert students when these deadlines are approaching. If they become overwhelmed, remind them to take things one step at a time.
  • Post a checklist so children can track their progress. Reinforce milestones with colorful stickers, small rewards and a healthy dose of verbal praise and other positive feedback.

As you look to finish the school year on a high note, turn to the Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services team for additional resources, tips and ideas. If the upcoming summer break may signal the next step in your career, it’s a great time to explore our database and network of professional opportunities. Contact us today to learn more.

Understanding Melatonin Imbalance & Sleep Disorders in Children with Autism

April 29th, 2015

Many children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience irregular sleep patterns, commonly in the form of delayed sleep onset, frequent nighttime awakenings and reduced sleep duration. These problems occur in 40 to 80 percent of children with ASD, compared with 10 to 20 percent of typically developing children.

Because many children with autism cannot maintain sleep during the night, they experience impaired alertness, behavioral issues and exacerbation of their ASD symptoms during daytime hours. Not surprisingly, the result often is a high level of parental stress and impaired parent-child relationships.

What’s the Root Cause?

Recent research suggests that circadian rhythms – internally generated activity cycles based on 24-hour intervals – appear to be abnormal in children diagnosed with autism. This has been linked to irregular levels of melatonin, a neuro-hormone synthesized from serotonin and located in the pineal gland, the endocrine gland that produces melatonin.

  • Normally, melatonin levels rise at night and return to baseline in the morning, during daylight hours. In children with ASD, however, it appears that diminished melatonin secretion occurs. This impairs the natural biological tendency for sleepiness during the night and wakefulness during the day.

Sleep irregularities are very common in children with ASD. The most common related issue appears to have a behavioral basis, as in the case of children who have not learned appropriate ways to get to sleep or stay asleep. They may stall or refuse to go to bed or complain of sleeplessness. The second most common issue seems to be related to circadian patterns; for instance, delayed sleep, the inability to fall asleep or wake at a desired time, or irregular sleep/wake patterns.

Final critiques of research on this issue indicate that behavioral sleep problems in children with ASD may be the result of the related challenges of impaired circadian systems and/or irregular melatonin levels.

  • Studies have tested melatonin levels in the blood of children during 24-hour cycles. Results showed that children with autism demonstrated profound sleep disturbances compared with typically developing children. Researchers conclude that the pineal gland may be damaged in children with ASD.

Implications for School Psychologists

As a school psychologist, you can take a lead role in working with children and families who face melatonin-related sleep disorders. It has been found that these youngsters may experience impaired cognitive abilities, as well as low adaptive skills. Thus, they may exhibit a decline in perceptual and verbal competencies or deficits in typical activities such as eating, toileting or practicing good hygiene – all of which are essential to healthy functioning in a school environment.

  • Be aware of the issue. With consistent teacher feedback, screen students for sleep problems and provide the right support. Ongoing teacher/psychologist collaboration is critical.
  • Psychological interventions will vary based on individual manifestations of sleep dysfunction. Behavioral modification strategies, parent education and medications are more commonly used with elementary aged students. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and emphasis on relaxation techniques may be more appropriate for adolescents.

The Cobb Pediatric Therapy team is made up of experienced therapists who can provide you with the latest developments and updates to enhance your school-based psychologist career – as well as employment opportunities in the Atlanta area and beyond. Contact us today to learn more.

Happy Occupational Therapy Month!

April 21st, 2015

April is National Occupational Therapy Month, an observance that was begun in 1980 and corresponds with the timing of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Annual Conference & Expo. This year’s conference was held April 16 – 19 in Nashville.

What are you doing to celebrate your career and showcase your profession – not just this month but throughout the year? You’re part of an impressive team of occupational therapists in the United States: more than 100,000 strong and growing. It’s estimated that this number will increase by 29 percent, or about 32,800, between now and 2022.

Be creative as you live the theme of Occupational Therapy Month: “OT: Living Life to its Fullest” all 12 months of the year.

Share the Message

Use traditional and social media to promote occupational therapy and how it helps people of all ages to live life to the fullest.

  • Raise awareness at school. Post updates on bulletin boards, in your school newsletter and on its website and social media platforms. Include photos, which as the old saying goes, are worth a thousand words. Check with school administration to make sure children’s photos can be used for media purposes. Offer to do a presentation on school-based OT at a faculty retreat or PTA meeting.
  • On social media, link to the AOTA Times Square video on YouTube. In a series of billboard images, it tells the compelling story of how “OT helps me.” For instance, a young student is portrayed, noting that “OT helps me succeed in school.”

Hold a Backpack Educational Event

As the school year winds down, spring is the perfect season for an event to educate students, parents and school personnel on backpack safety. As lockers and classrooms are cleaned out for summer vacation, everyone from the tiniest preschooler to the principal and varsity coaches will be lugging their stuff home. Help them to do it safely – and take this lesson with them as they plan for future years.

  • Have a weigh-in. You need at least one scale, a weigh-in sheet, handouts, and charts illustrating the suggested maximum backpack weights for different body weights. (No more than 10 percent is the general guideline.) Remember, the same principle can be applied to heavy purses and briefcases, so parents and other staff members also can benefit.

If you’re looking for more ideas to promote your profession or advance your school-based OT career, contact the experts at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services today. We’re experienced recruiters, but we’re also therapists. We offer this unique skillset and experience to helping you achieve your lifelong career goals.

Happy Occupational Therapy Month!