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Help autistic children manage changes to routines with TomTag visual supports

My autistic son Tom (the inspiration for TomTag visual schedules) struggles with changes to his routines. His autism means that he perceives the world differently to other people. For him, the world can often seem a strange, unpredictable, and confusing place. It is understandable why he craves the stability and predictability of repetitive routines and activities, and the comfort of familiar food.  However, as a wise man once said, the only constant in life is change. Learning how to be flexible and less rigid about routines is a crucial life skill. It is one that Tom has developed over the years, with the help of visual supports.

Visual schedules are a great tool for teaching flexibility around changes to routines.  This may seem surprising – surely a schedule means sticking to a repetitive routine? However, it’s not the visual schedule that makes changes to a routine difficult but the way it is used.⁣

In this blog, I’d like to share with you an approach you can use with TomTag visual schedules to help your child be less rigid and more tolerant of changes to their routines.

Use a schedulered tomtag button holder with symbols in sequence for morning routine

Make sure that your child understands how their schedule works and uses it regularly. If your child doesn’t  understand their schedule or use it regularly then it is unrealistic to expect them to deal with changes to it.

Need some support  introducing visual schedules ? The TomTag Show me how:Timetables and routines guide can help. 

I am flexibleGrey button holder showing buttons for change of routine activity

A TomTag I am flexible tag is a great way to introduce your child to changes to routines when used alongside their normal routine tag. Using the format ‘instead of ‘  …  ‘I am flexible’…  is a simple visual way to familarise your child with a proposed change in their routine.

Words can have a powerful effect.  I am flexible is a positive affirmation that will  give your child  a sense of achievement and boost their self esteem.

 

Start with positive changesred and grey tomTag button holders showing symbols for changes to routines

Start with something positive, for example, a change to a preferred activity or food choice.

In the examples shown- sand play instead of inside play, fish fingers instead of pizza (go with the preferred activities/ food choices for your child!)

Start with a change that is not upsetting. This also reinforces the idea that a change does not always have to be negative.

Giving initial warningsTwo purple and one grey TomTag button holders showing symbols for a morning routine with a change of activity

Although the aim is to get to a stage when you don’t have to give warnings  about changes – life is unpredictable after all – you shouldn’t expect your child to immediately accept changes without doing the necessary groundwork. 

Like all new skills, the best way to learn is to break the skill down into small sequential steps. 

  • Refer to their morning schedule tag and show them the proposed change. In this example, if their morning routine shows inside play then show them the I am flexible tag with the new play activity at the earliest opportunity e.g. before breakfast.
  •  Ask them to change the activity on their schedule to the new activity themselves. Our symbol packs include 2 copies of every symbol so you don’t have to worry about running out of symbols. Their morning schedule tag now shows the new activity.
  • Keep the I am flexible tag handy. Depending on your child’s level of understanding, a short verbal explanation of why the change has taken place would also be helpful.
  • Give another warning just before the changed activity happens. Show your child the I am flexible tag to reinforce your verbal warning. This will help them remember the change and prepare for it.

Praise and encouragementA golden star in a green box saying well done.

Praise your child specifically for handling the change well using supportive positive statements like, “I like how well you managed it when we changed the schedules” or “Change can be hard, but you are doing a great job!”

Saying “You are so brave handling that change in the schedule without getting upset!”  is particularly useful if your child is very anxious about change.

Try not to say “See it wasn’t so bad was it!” as this could belittle your child’s genuine feelings of anxiety about changes and make them feel anxious about having these feelings. 

Fade the warnings

Once your child can manage changes to their routines with warnings, start moving the warnings nearer to the time when the actual change is going to happen. 

So in the example tags  I have used above, you could move the warning about the change of play activity to later in the morning. 

Be consistent

Make sure that your child’s schedule is always accurate.

Being prepared makes changes to routines so much easier to manage. It also keeps the schedule consistent so your child knows they can rely on it.

I hope you find  this approach useful in helping your child learn to accept and manage changes to their routine.

Want to make your own schedules, routines and I am flexible tags like the ones shown in the examples here or need more advice before getting started on introducing routines or changes to routines? Take a look at the resources below or get in touch with Clare via our contact page.

Resources

  • cover image for product sticker pack early years

    Early years activities

  • Early Years Home toolkit

  • product cover image for minikit morning & evening

    I know what to expect – morning and evening

  • cover image what to expect at home kit

    I know what to expect at home

  • cover pic for early years kit

    I know what to expect Early Years

  • Primary Home toolkit

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Games for Children with Autism – 5 Fun TomTag Activities

Plastic tags showing examples of games for children with autism

Play is one of the main ways that children learn and develop. There’s no reason why children with autism who use visual supports are any different. So why not bring play and fun games for children with autism into your visual supports too. To them they’re playing games, but you know that they’re getting some occupational therapy, speech activities and thinking skills thrown in. Games may also help children with autism engage more readily with using their visual supports. It’s a win-win!!

Here’s some of our ideas you could use to help your child engage with TomTag. 

#1  Indoor I- Spy.

Colouful plastic tags showing examples of an indoor I-Spy gameStuck indoors? Why not encourage language and memory skills with a fun indoor I -Spy game.

Instructions:

🌈Ask you child to choose a colour tag and room in the house.

👀Can they look round that room and find, name or point to items that are the same colour?

✔Click a reward button into the tag for each item found.

😊Praise them for their effort and move onto another colour and room.

In the examples shown, we used stickers (rooms and stars) from our In the house sticker pack. We drew the other symbols onto blank stickers. 

#2 Outdoor I-Spy

Colourful plasticm tags showing examples for an outdoor I-Spy gameUse your daily walk to play  I- Spy and spot things you may see in your city, town or village using a personalised TomTag checklist.

TomTag is also super portable and robust – ideal for taking with you when you’re out and about!

Instructions:

🗨Ask your child to suggest things they are likely to see on their walk – perhaps they can guess what order they will spot them in!

✍Make up the checklist together – we’ve used stickers from our Out and About sticker pack but you can just as easily draw or write on some blank stickers.

👀 On your walk, encourage your child to spot the things, find it on their tag and turn the button over. This shows  they’ve seen that thing.

🧐Praise them for keeping their eyes open and being a good detective.  

#3 Feelings & Emotions Charades

Colourful plastic tags showing images of feelings and emotions Help your child understand, recognise and express their feelings and emotions with a simple game of charades.

No Oscar winning performances required!

Instructions:

💬Talk to your child about the feelings and emotions included in the game – choose ones that your child needs some help with.

🤏 Jumble up the feelings and emotions symbol buttons and ask your child to choose one for you.

😀Act out the feeling or emotion shown. Can they guess it? If so, pop it in the tag otherwise have another go.

🔁Swap places and ask your child to act out the feeling or emotion for you to guess.

We’ve used symbol stickers from our Feelings and Emotions sticker pack but you can easily draw or write on blank stickers.

#4 Categories and Pairs

Colourful ploastic tags showing examples ot items that belong togetherDevelop vocabulary with a game of categories or matching pairs

Instructions:

▶Categories

🤏Choose a category. For example, things to wear.

🧦Ask your child to find all the symbol buttons showing things that can be worn and click them into the tag.

🚿Repeat with a different category, e.g. things I need to do in a morning.

▶Pairs

🧼💧Ask your child to find the items that go together e.g. what do I need to clean my teeth or wash my hands?

We’ve used symbol stickers from our self-care sticker pack, but you can easily draw or write on blank stickers.

#5 Sequencing skills

Colourful plastic tags showing daily activity sequencesPractice sequencing skills with a simple game of “what happens next”.

This game can also help reinforce familiar daily routines so it’s a win-win for everyone!

Here’s how to play the TomTag way.

🤏Choose an activity sequence

🤔Jumble up the symbol buttons and ask your child to find the one they think they should come first, second etc.

✔Click them into the tag into that order and ask them to check it is correct.

🗣Call out an activity and ask them to find it in the tag and turn the button over to show they have completed the activity.

Depending on your child’s ability, you could take out a few of the steps and build up to the longer 6-step sequence. We’ve used symbol stickers from our two popular mini-kits: teeth brushing and morning and evening routine.      

                                                                                                                              

Do you have any tips for games you can play with your TomTag? Please let us know in the comments below.

Useful resources

  • cover image sticker pack out & about

    Out & about

  • cover image sticker pack feelings & emotions

    Feelings & emotions

  • cover image sticker pack self care

    Self care

  • cover image sticker pack in the house

    In the house

  • cover image sticker pack blank stickers

    Blank stickers

  • Blank buttons – pack of 40

 

 

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Autism and anxiety in lockdown – sweating it out!

Exercise routine

This year’s World Autism Awareness Week takes place against the backdrop of a global pandemic. With a third of the global population under lockdown our daily lives have been dramatically changed. Forced to remain in our houses and adapt to new circumstances, many of us will be feeling bewildered, frustrated and anxious.

Sweating it out!

The anxiety many of us are now experiencing around these unprecedented changes gives us an insight into how many young people with autism, like my son Tom, experience an unwanted change of plan – it’s fraught with worry, it’s out of anything we could have predicted and it’s not what we wanted.

Our ‘new normal’ in these strange and unsettling times is very much how he feels all the time. Imagine having to deal with that level of anxiety every single day!

So, given everyone’s heightened levels of anxiety how can you manage autism and anxiety in a lockdown?

We’d like to share some daily strategies which we are using to support Tom’s mental health during this lockdown period. We’ve called it the SWEAT approach – let’s sweat this one out!

tips for good mental health
Daily SWEAT

Socialise – maintain social connections

Tom misses his dad, grandparents and college friends. Thankfully technology makes it relatively easy to keep connected. However, just as in normal social situations, we’re careful not to put demands on him to socialise virtually either.  We offer him a choice of how he stays connected and how often he wants to have contact.

Work – provide structure and routine

written timetable
Tom’s written weekly timetable

Routines and rituals help establish stability and order for children and young people with autism like Tom.

Like many young people with autism Tom struggles with flexible thinking. That means he finds it difficult to adjust and readjust to changes in his routine and this can cause him anxiety. A useful strategy has been to highlight what has stayed the same and what has changed. This reassures him that even with all the uncertainty some things, like his college work, mealtimes and bedtime routines, remain the same.

Keeping familiar routines going as much as possible is therefore important to provide structure and reassurance. Tom accesses his college work and sessions with his speech therapist, English tutor and German teacher online. A simple written visual schedule shows him what to expect each day and can help navigate these confusing times. You can also create symbol-based home visual schedules quickly and easily with TomTag.

However, it’s important not to set the bar to high! Be mindful that there will be days when the ‘home-schooling’ isn’t done and instead it is just a day of being together. An example of this was during the recent warm weather when we abandoned the schedule and went for a family walk.

Emotions – share worries and concerns

talking at table
Discussing concerns

Set aside time each day to talk about worries and concerns. Try to contain your own anxieties around the current situation because this anxiety gets transferred to our children. Now more than ever our autistic children need patience and support from the people they love.

Tom, like all of us, is naturally worried about events and this is amplified by worries about whether he is catching or spreading the disease.

We keep news coverage to a minimum and explain things in a clear and consistent manner using language appropriate to his level of understanding.

Making a wish list, where we write down all the things we want to do after the pandemic has passed, is also working well – though at the moment, it mostly revolves around football and Swiss trains!

Active – encourage physical activities

Keeping active is good for both our physical and mental well being. Tom has a daily fitness programme and he’s set up an exercise challenge with his speech therapist.

using exercise bike
Tom training hard!

Focusing on activities and encouraging him to do some chores – like washing the car and helping his sister deliver essential shopping to his self-isolating grandparents and other vulnerable members of the community – provides positive reinforcement that is so vital to keep up his self-esteem, confidence and sense of purpose.

Time alone – relax with special interests

reading book
Spending time alone

Build in lots of down time, together with time to indulge special interests. With all the family thrust together it’s important for mental well being that we all carve out some time for ourselves.

It’s a difficult time for all of us particularly for children with autism and anxiety. Hopefully by following these strategies we can sweat out this lockdown period.

What tips can you share that make this lockdown period more manageable and less stressful in your house?

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Home visual schedules for children with autism -TomTag tips

At the present time, we’re all facing unprecedented uncertainty. Now that schools are closed and we are stuck at home, families like ours are under a lot of stress. For children with autism, like Tom, this is a highly confusing and anxious time. Using a visual schedule at home will help to build a sense of consistency, predictability and security for him. In this blog we discuss the reasons why home visual schedules can help children with autism and how you can get started with using them.

Why should you use visual schedules at home?

Visual schedules at home can help you to communicate to your child when activities or events will happen throughout their day.

They use a sequence of drawings, symbols, text or pictures to show what a child is expected to do.

The more children can anticipate what is happening, the safer and more secure they will feel in these rapidly changing times.

Tips for creating home visual schedules

Here are some of our tips which we have taken from our Show me guide – visual timetables, Schedules and Routines.

We call it the TomTag 4 P’s approach!

Plan

Notebook and pencil for planning schedules
Planning is key

Depending on your child’s developmental age, sit down each evening and try and plan out a rough schedule for the next day. Decide which activities for the day or part of the day you want to show. Choose the length of the schedule that you think will be appropriate for your child and adjust as necessary.

A simple daily visual schedule could include some education, fun activities and chill time (for them and you!) to help give some meaning and purpose to the day. If you’re interested in creating or using educational resources have a look at Twinkl and Education.com.

Try to replicate some elements of your child’s typical day. For example, encourage them to get dressed, brush their teeth, eat breakfast, etc. You could use a mini schedule to target these specific skills by breaking down a single activity into smaller steps.

Symbols showing a bedtime routine
Example of an evening routine using Widgit symbols

Make sure the schedule includes things like bedtime, time for exercise and meals. You could also consider giving children a chore or job to do to help them feel useful. This could be as simple as clearing the table or putting away their clothes.

Setting aside time every day to do a family activity that you know helps everyone in times of stress is also important. This could be watching a movie or playing a game.

Worried about challenging behaviour?

Try starting with activities that your child usually does willingly. It makes sense to structure the day so that harder tasks are done first when children are likely to be more rested. After schoolwork or chores are complete you can follow with easier tasks as a reward for accomplishing the harder tasks.

Prepare

Boy playing with lego as shown on his visual schedule

A home visual timetable or schedule doesn’t have to be complicated– a simple written, maybe colour-coded, chart pinned on the wall so your children can see it and refer to it will do the trick. 

There’s lots of examples of visual schedules and timetables online to copy or download. For a quick and easy way to create home visual schedules our TomTag Primary Home toolkit or Early Years Home toolkit are great options.

Prompt

Most children will be used to seeing a visual timetable and prompts at school to show them what to expect during the day. Introduce a visual schedule at home using the following steps:

  • Cue your child with a brief verbal instruction when its time for an activity to begin e.g. “check your schedule”
  • Gently guide them to look at it or place it in their hands and prompt them to look at the next activity picture
  • Using the least amount of words, describe the activity e.g. get dressed
  • Help them do the activity or model how to do it.
  • Praise them for completing the activity
  • Cue them to check their schedule again so they can move smoothly onto the next activity.
  • Fade the prompts one your child learns how to follow the schedule

Patience

Keep prompting, praising and be patient!

It may take some time but it’s also important to acknowledge the pressure we’re all under. If the schedule goes pear-shaped, take a break and try again another time.

 

Helpful resources

Widgit Online offers a free 21 day trial that would be perfect for creating your own visual schedules for kids to use at home.

Five Minute Mum is a great blog offering lots of ideas for keeping children occupied during the day.

Recommended TomTag products

  • cover image for product sticker pack early years

    Early years activities

  • Early Years Home toolkit

  • product cover image for minikit morning & evening

    I know what to expect – morning and evening

  • cover image what to expect at home kit

    I know what to expect at home

  • cover pic for early years kit

    I know what to expect Early Years

  • Primary Home toolkit

Maybe you have a tip on how best to use visual schedules at home? Please get in touch or leave a comment below.

 

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Visual schedules at home – making sure they work

If you’ve been following our mini-series of posts for Autism Awareness Week, you’ll already know what a visual schedule is and how it might benefit your child (Visual schedules – what, who and why) and you’ll have thought about what type you’re going to try (Visual schedules at home – choosing the right one).

Now none of that is any use unless you’re able to make it work effectively for you and your child so we’re finishing off with some top tips to making visual schedules work for you.

Start small

You might start with a daily schedule that shows the major events in your child’s day but then you can add a number of mini schedules to target particular tasks or events. Breaking activities or parts of the day down into smaller sections avoids having one schedule that is too long or difficult for your child to follow.

bedtime routineFor example, if you are having difficulty with a particular routine then try a mini schedule just for that activity. A simple way is to make up a sequence of pictures showing the individual steps in the routine and the sequence of them such as this example for a bedtime routine.

Get your child involved

FULL IMAGE FUNThe extent to which you can do this will obviously depend on the age and ability of your child but the more you can involve them in helping to make their own schedules, the more likely they are to take ownership and be committed and motivated towards using them.

This was an important consideration for us when we designed TomTag and we chose bright colours for our tags to encourage children to want to use them. We have also found that TomTag is very tactile and children really enjoy applying the stickers and clicking the buttons into place.

Be consistent – use it every day

It may take a little more effort in the beginning but using a schedule consistently and integrating it into your normal routines is a key factor to success. Have your schedules prominently displayed so that your child can see them in the places they need to use them. Use the schedule to guide your child back to an activity if he wanders away.

Encourage your child to use their schedule by using it as a reference when talking with them about what they have just experienced, what is happening now or what is coming next.

Make sure that the language you use to talk about the schedule matches your child’s level of understanding and, if appropriate, model how to use it by performing the steps yourself.

Review and adapt

SUCCESS!Just because a schedule is working now unfortunately doesn’t mean you can put your feet up and relax! Remember that the aim at the end of the day is more independence so change is a necessary (and welcome) part of the process.

Monitor how your child is using their schedules. If after a few weeks of use they no longer need the same prompts to complete the activity then congratulations! Move on and target another routine or area of difficulty. If on the other hand there’s been no progress with independence, try changing the format of your schedule or reducing the number of steps in it. Do bear in mind any other factors that may be holding things back eg. illness or problems at school and if necessary, wait and try again with the same schedule another time.

Remember to keep schedules up to date and be consistent in showing all the child’s activities especially if there are frequent changes.

Long term benefits

There are many advantages to using visual schedules at home for a child with autism/ASD and their family. As well as the more obvious immediate benefits you will gain, time and effort invested now will bear dividends in later life so be persistent – it is worth it!

The ability to follow a schedule independently is a universal skill that makes many areas of life more accessible, impacting on education (attending school, completing homework, etc), daily living tasks and ultimately employment.

We value the use of schedules at home very much and so we’re delighted that we’ve been able to add a set to our range specifically for this purpose – our I know what to expect at home pack.

 

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Visual schedules at home – choosing the right one

Now that you’ve read about the benefits of using visual schedules at home – what, who and why, you’re ready to move on to finding out more about how to choose the right kind of schedule for your child.

Keep it simple!

keep it simple The most important thing to think about when deciding which type of schedule will best suit your child is that it has to work when they are having a really bad day as well as a good one. That’s the time when you and your child are going to be the most stressed and probably need the support provided by a schedule even more than when things are going well.

Most of us don’t perform to our best when we’re stressed so why would your child? Consider choosing a visual schedule that is easier than you think your child can handle. More complex is not necessarily better – keep your focus on the goal of independent usage.

Object schedules

object schedulesThis is the simplest type of schedule and works well for children with few language skills or who are mostly non-verbal. Tangible objects are chosen to represent activities; for example, a cup for snacktime, a spoon for meals or a shopping bag for trips to the supermarket.

Hand the object to the child to indicate the activity they are moving or transitioning to next. It’s important to make a list of which objects you are going to use to represent each activity and above all, be consistent. Pinterest is a fabulous resource for ideas!

Picture schedules

A child is ready for a picture or photograph schedule when they can consistently match pictures in the same way you would in a simple lotto game. Some children find photographs easier to recognise whilst others can use drawings.

shower TomTag For my own son I started by laminating photographs of real objects and built up a series of activity cards he could follow. I included images of household items such as his clothes and toys as well as places we visited regularly like the park and shops. When he was ready to recognise drawings I used printable pictures from websites such as do2learn.com.

TomTag is a form of picture schedule. From my own experiences of late nights spent printing, cutting and laminating pictures and symbols, I knew when designing TomTag that it had to be an easy to use system where none of that would be necessary. 

Written schedules

written schedule exampleWe use these often in our daily lives although we may not recognise them as such. Diaries, organisers, shopping and task lists are all forms of written schedules. They obviously work best for children who can read but you can transition from picture to visual schedules by adding words alongside the pictures and then gradually work towards replacing them completely.

You might start with a basic written list and cross off items as they are done. As skills emerge, you can move on to more complex written schedules such as day planners and electronic organisers.

 

These are the three main types of schedule you will come across although there are obviously many variations you can create for each type. Sometimes it’s a matter of experimenting with different ones until you find something that’s right for you.

In part 3 Visual schedules at home – making sure they work we’ll share some top tips for using schedules and how best to make them work effectively. 

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Visual schedules at home – what, who and why?

Have you been advised by your child’s school or therapist to use a visual schedule at home and you’re not sure where to start or indeed if it’s really worth the effort?

To coincide with Autism Awareness Week we’re featuring a series of blogs in which we’ll look at the benefits of using visual schedules at home, the different types of schedules you can use and how to get the most out of them. We’ll start by looking at what a visual schedule actually is and why you’d want to use one.

What is a visual schedule?

what is a visual scheduleIn simple terms, any series of pictures, photographs, drawings, words or numbers which depict a sequence of events or activities can be described as a visual schedule or support.

Most of us rely on some form of schedule to help us organise our lives. Think about your calendar, to-do list or a recipe you recently followed; these are all examples of visual schedules that help us remember what we’ll be doing and when things will happen.

We rely on these supports to help us navigate our day-to-day lives and can quickly get anxious if we don’t have them. Think of a time when you’ve misplaced your diary or mobile phone and missed an important meeting or turned up late as a result.

A visual schedule (sometimes referred to as a visual timetable or timeline) for an autistic child is a way of showing them information about daily activities, objects or events using pictures, photographs, symbols or written words.

Who uses visual schedules?

As you can see, in some form or other we all do! In most cases though, we don’t need to use the same sort of visual reminders for the regular and predictable parts of our daily lives.

However, children with autism/ASD often have difficulties dealing with unstructured time and benefit from the increased structure and reassurance provided by a visual schedule. They can feel lost or anxious if daily activities aren’t clearly indicated or a sequence of events is not understood.

Imagine being totally dependent on family and friends to remind you of your daily activities and the frustration you might feel if the information they gave you was inconsistent or difficult to understand. A physical visual support provides consistency and avoids the transiency of verbal instructions.

Why use visual schedules at home?

Research has shown that many children with ASD have strong visual skills and that visual schedules are one of the most effective interventions for these children. Visual learners are more likely to remember and understand what they see than what they hear and a visual schedule can also reinforce verbal instructions that may have been missed or forgotten.

Most children will be used to seeing visual timetables and prompts at school that show the class what to expect during the school day and how to navigate around the classroom.

I know what at home collage OU smaller

For children with autism and other learning difficulties, it can be even more important to use visual schedules at home than at school. Whilst the school day is largely based on routine the same structure doesn’t usually happen at home and this can often lead to tantrums and meltdowns.

Using a visual schedule at home can help to:

  • establish clear expectations and prevent behaviour problems
  • reduce anxiety about what is happening next
  • increase self-help skills
  • develop independence which fosters self-esteem
  • reduce the amount of time spent leading an over-dependent child through activities

Sounds like a lot of effort – is it worth it?

There are clearly many advantages to using visual schedules but we know from experience that getting started and persevering can be a daunting and time consuming task.

These days there’s certainly plenty of information and resources available online and elsewhere but finding the right thing for you and your child amongst it all can be a challenge. Where do you start?

In part 2 Visual schedules at home – choosing the right one we’ll be looking at different types of visual schedules and how to choose the most suitable one for you and your child. 

In part 3 Visual schedules at home – making sure they work we’ll share some top tips for using your schedule and how best to make it work effectively.

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10 ways to have fun with occupational therapy

Occupational Therapy Week took place last week and it prompted me to reflect on the occupational therapy (OT) my son has received over the past few years. Gulp… it’s also focused my mind on the amount of money I’ve spent on buying OT resources!

The main emphasis for my son has been Sensory Integration Therapy  to help him cope with his sensory difficulties, with activities focusing on developing gross and fine motor skills and his sensory perception (i.e. touch, body awareness, balance, auditory & visual skills).

Naturally some activities and resources have proved more successful than others so we thought it would be helpful to select our TOP 10 to share with you.

1. HUG & TUG

hug and tug

This simple exercise can calm anxiety, increase concentration and help develop fine motor skills. Just needs two hands and can be done at any time!

Visit the Handle Institute page for details of the exercise.

 2. SCOOTER BOARD

At his last school my son cut quite a dash scooting along the corridor propelled by his arms! Great for building up shoulder stability and core strength.

Sensory Direct have some reasonably priced boards.

3. ANIMAL ACTION CARDS

card exercise  1

Make a set of cards showing different animal walks then take it in turns to choose a card and complete the exercise shown on it. Try dog walks, bunny hops, kangaroo jumps, crab walks – whatever takes your fancy. Great for building upper body strength and a sense of humour!

This is a good activity to do with siblings and as a rainy day or birthday party game.

Stuck for ideas? Pop over to the blog Pinning With Purpose for some good tips on how to make your own animal exercise cards.

4. TIME SHOCK

time shock puzzle

Have you got a steady hand? This frantic beat-the-clock game is great for developing fine motor skills and also uses visual memory.

The aim of the game is to place the shapes in the matching slot before the time runs out. Need nerves of steel though and can get competitive!

5. POP-UP TUNNEL

play tunnel

Crawling helps develop shoulder stability which is important for writing skills. This simple item also offers hours of fun playing peek-a-boo which encourages eye contact.

IKEA, Tesco, ELC and the like all have similar versions.

6. PUTTY

Great for developing hand muscle strength. You could even try making your own putty.

Fledglings have are some lovely reasonably-priced Rainbow Putty which comes in a variety of different colours and is colour-coded to indicate the level of resistance.

7. HIDDEN TREASURE

sensory bean box

Fill a tub with rice or another pulse and hide small objects such as toy cars, figurines or sweets. Great to develop fine motor skills and another fun party game.

8. SWING

cuddle swing

Swinging is good for vestibular movement. My son particularly liked this cuddle swing.

They can be expensive to buy so here’s some tips on how to make your own cuddle swing and there’s even some ideas for versions that don’t need attaching to the ceiling.

9. CRAFT ACTIVITY

There are plenty of options here – we chose to make our own dominoe game using card, craft foam, marker pens and stickers.

There were lots of opportunities to practice fine motor skills with all that cutting, sticking and drawing and we all enjoyed playing the finished result.

10. CHEWY TUBE

chewy aid

Our bright red T-shaped Chewy Tube saved many a shirt cuff and tie being shredded! Very resilient and helps develop chewing skills as well as reducing anxiety. Fledglings and Rosy & Bo  both have a good range of oral motor aids to choose from.

 

Find out more about what occupational therapsits do and how occupational therapy can hep by visiting the British Association of Occupatinal Therapists website www.cot.co.uk

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Fine motor skills

Fumbling in my purse for loose change today, I’m reminded how important fine motor skills are for daily life.

What are ‘fine motor skills’?

Fine motor skills are the small muscle movements in the body. They enable activities such as writing, grasping small objects and fastening clothes. Children who have a weakness in fine motor skills struggle to develop strong muscles in their fingers, hands and wrists. They may also have poor eye-hand coordination.

Why are fine motor skills important?

Problems with fine motor skills can have a detrimental effect on education and impact on life in general. For example, the ability to hold a fork and eat, write legibly and complete personal self care tasks such as washing and dressing all depend on the coordination of small actions.

My own son still struggles with pen & paper tasks, his ability to tie shoe laces remains a work in progress, not to mention the hours of frustration spent battling with fiddly zips!

What can I do if my child needs help?

There are lots of inexpensive resources and ideas to help strengthen fine motor skills.

Drawing, colouring and craft activities can all help build these skills in a fun, informal way.

We’re lucky to have Star Tree Studio nearby who host a range of craft and creative classes (as well as art & craft birthday parties) where kids can ‘play-create-learn’ without messing up the house! Check out your local free papers and family magazines to find something similar in your area.

The imagination tree has a great blog post ’40 fine motor skills activities’

OT Mom Learning Activities has some useful suggestions for fine motor activities for older kids

Make it fun

Kids learn best when they don’t realise they’re learning! For example, we always recommend that children are involved with putting together their own TomTag ready to use. As well as helping them to understand their own routine it is a very tactile and fun activity that can help strengthen fine motor skills. Peeling off and sticking stickers onto buttons requires hand-eye coordination and pincher grip – both important for writing. Hand and finger muscles come into play too when clicking buttons into tags and removing them.

Zip it up!

Getting hold of a zipper to fasten up a jacket, bag or pencil case can be incredibly difficult for children with fine motor difficulties. We’ve now got funky zip pulls to help with those fiddly zips!

We’re giving them away free right now to anyone who recommends TomTag to a friend who then places an order.

We’d also recommend Zipz by MERU – colourful, ergonomically designed zip pulls which are also great for glove wearers: skiers, bikers, winter & outdoor activities lovers.

 

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Let’s celebrate occupational therapy!

This week – 3rd to 9th Nov – the UK’s 30,000 occupational therapists are celebrating Occupational Therapy Week 2013.

love OTOccupational therapy enables people to live more independent and rewarding lives and occupational therapists are the skilled professionals who help people achieve this goal.

Occupational Therapy Week has made me reflect on the huge difference occupational therapy has made to the life of my autistic son Tom over the last 6 years. For Tom, ‘occupation’ refers to daily occupation i.e. the ability to participate in everyday life. Like many children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Tom has a sensory processing disorder which can make everyday tasks overwhelming, such as coping with classroom noise, the feel of certain fabrics or standing in a queue for lunch. He also has difficulties with both gross motor and fine motor activities such as handwriting.
OT steps
We have worked closely with an occupational therapist (OT) to identify strategies and interventions to help Tom. Activities to improve his motor skills development and reduce his sensory processing disorder have been built into a daily programme and we are very lucky that Tomas is able to follow this programme at school before lessons start. His teachers report that he is able to learn and concentrate better after his occupational therapy sessions. He also follows a ‘Chill Out’ programme devised by his OT to help him overcome any anxiety he faces throughout the school day.

 

Six years on and I’m very proud of the progress Tom has made and hugely grateful to the occupational therapists who have helped him to carry out activities he needs or wants to do. Now I just need to dig out that ‘Chill Out’ programme for myself!

OT-Week-2013-lozenge-carousFind out more about what occupational therapists do and how occupational therapy can help by visiting the British Association of Occupational Therapists’ website www.cot.co.uk.