Bethany, a preschool special ed teacher, wrote me this GREAT letter with some helpful OT tips. I was really impressed with her. I have permission to post. I'll post her e-mail address once I get final confirmation it's okay, if you have any questions. Update: I do have permission. It is InvincibleSummer, followed by @ msn.com.
Update 2: She works in a classroom setting with eight children with special needs, and two inclusion peers.
I have been reading your blog for a while and it is very interesting and helpful. I am a preschool special education teacher, and so I frequently work with the OTs in my school. Preschool is a world unto itself, and I absolutely love it, but it requires a certain amount of creativity and flexibility. I thought you might be interested in some of the tools, tricks, and such that we have utilized in our classroom.
* Water makes anything more fun. To work on a pincer grasp we have a workbox where students fill different pipettes with colored water, transferring it from one container to another. To work on manipulation of small objects we have a tall tube that is filled with water and topped with a cap that has a slit in it. The students drop buttons through the slit one at a time and watch them fall.
* A ball pit is a lot of fun, but it is also fun when filled with more unusual substances. We have filled ours with shaving cream (about 1″ thick along the bottom), beans, and styrofoam peanuts. A lot of time is spent working with children who have sensory aversions using their hands, but we often forget that they may have the same aversions with their feet. We also frequently walk barefoot on fun textures like bubble wrap and mud, or use our feet to paint on giant pieces of paper.
* Velcro is our salvation. We hold our classroom together with it. Toys are held onto work surfaces, visual schedules are held onto the wall, picture choice cards are held onto cupboards and shelves, and it works well to help create nifty little single strap grips (a piece of fuzzy fabric sewn – of hot glued- into a tube with a slit cut into it to hold the object with velcro to close it around the hand). The best invention is velcro that has both sides on the same piece. Velcro is also great for subtle sensory input. Many of our chairs for circle time have little pieces of velcro on the arms (one arm soft, one arm rough) that the children can rub for input when they are expected to sit still.
* That rubber sticky stuff from the dollar store placed underneath the back two legs (or sometimes all four legs depending on how wiggly a child is) will keep them from being able to wiggle their chair away from the table. Building blocks make great footrests to allow a child to sit in a chair and still have their feet rest on something – the cardboard ones that look like bricks work the best because the chair legs can be pushed right into them.
* Dollar store backpacks on wheels weighted with books are great for slowing down children during transitions. They love pulling the backpacks and it prevents them from running as soon as the classroom door is opened. Obviously the weight is calculated carefully.
* Grip modifications we have used include tennis balls cut to hold a crayon, spoons and crayons inserted into fabric loops attached around a hand, velcro-closed mittens to help hold items (home-made using children's mittens and a velcro strap sewed on)
* For a child with visual impairments, we have used different textures (fabrics) to differentiate his communication switches.
* Whistles have never worked well for my children to encourage them to use oral motor skills for blowing but bubbles are magic. Nuk brushes are preferred when they are dipped in a flavor – I use the powders from the Lik-a-Stik or pudding, or the liquid candy sprays that are available depending on what each child can tolerate. Battery operated tooth brushes from the dollar store are wonderful for children to use themselves for oral motor input, and we try to brush our teeth every day after lunch using them (non-floride toothpaste and toothbrushes kept in individual drawers).
I don't know if any of that helps you, but it is some of the things I have learned over the past year or so in my class. The biggest thing that I wished that some of the OTs I have worked with would do differently would be to not pull a child out of the class activities and work with them off to one side in the corner of the classroom so much. Children do not use their skills in isolation with special toys in the corner of the classroom. They need to use these skills during their regular activities in order for them to be functional. Also, if I am supposed to carry on what is being done, then trying to leave the other children with my assistant so I can work with a child who has the direct attention of a therapist is difficult. This also poses the challenge of generalization, because some children with disabilities will master a skill in one setting but fail to generalize it to other environments or settings. Yet I must say that the OTs (and PTs and SLTs) that enter our classroom, that is in a perpetual state of controlled chaos and high-intensity, are compassionate and talented and rather brave. They never know what they are going to walk into, they have to come armed for being chew toys and art canvasses and living switch toys, and they do it with grace and humor. I have the benefit of orchestrating the chaos, while they work within it and then move on to other children who may or may not cooperate that day. All in all, we do make a good team.
Thanks for writing an interesting, informative, and enlightening Blog!
I wanted to comment on what Bethany said about wishing OTs did not pull kids out of normal class activities. It's true the OT should always consider context. Just because a child can accomplish something in a quiet room, does not mean he/she can do it in a classroom filled with distractions. The OT should carefully consider the activities being worked on, and whenever possible, should do just as Bethany said above – work with the kid “en vivo”. 🙂
Thanks Bethany for the great tips!