AOTA Conference & Expo 2017


The AOTA Annual Conference & Expo in Philadelphia this year surpassed expectations with 14,000 therapists convening at the Convention Center!  The opportunity to celebrate the 100th birthday of Occupational Therapy drew revelers from around the world. Therapro brought a team of 5 seasoned therapists, including Karen, Ginger, Linda, and Kim, and me, who worked together like a well oiled machine setting up our huge and colorful Therapro exhibit display, and for the following three days, discussing Therapro products, problem-solving with therapists, and enjoying the constant traffic and spirited interactions at our booth.  This year, once again, we shared our booth with authors, Carolyn Murray-Slutsky, MS, OTR, C/NDT and Betty A. Paris, PT, MEd, C/NDT, along with Carolyn’s husband, Herman. Their publications: Autism Interventions, Is It Sensory or Is It Behavior?DTI: Laminated Card Series – Sensory Modulation & Positive Behavioral Strategies, and the new Sleep ‘N Sync materials flew off the shelves!

Here are a few of the exciting new products we introduced:

Therapists loved the newly revised products: Fine Motor Olympics and Drive Thru Menus. Some other HOT items included Progressive Grip Kit, Farm Sticks, Yoga Cards the Game, Fidgets and Wind Ups, Crayon Rocks, Sensory Connection books, Follow the Leader Maze and Dolphin Diving Maze, Letter Treasure Hunt Game, Chew Necklaces, and Trackit.

The Therapro team was exhausted after our Philadelphia adventures, but still had enough gas in the tank to declare – “Let’s do it again next year in Salt Lake City!”  Our commitment to occupational therapy was reinforced over and over in Philadelphia and remains unwavering!!  AOTA, we wish you continued growth and development as we begin the second hundred years!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L

Saturday Seminar: An Introduction to Yoga and Mindfulness in the Classroom

The energy at Therapro Headquarters was palpable on Saturday, April 8, in anticipation of Meg Durkin, MS, E-RYT, RCYT’s seminar: An Introduction to Yoga and Mindfulness in the Classroom: Tools to Improve Self-Regulation, Learning, and Classroom Climate. A totally different feeling in the room was achieved after Meg led a group experience of several yoga and mindfulness exercises in a sample “Morning Meeting Sequence” that included: Chime Listening/Pass the Chime which helped focus attention in the moment; Mountain, Washing Machine, King Dancer, and Imagination Vacation.

Meg is a licensed Yoga 4 Classrooms instructor, ChildLight Yoga Trainer, and founder of Yoga Magic 4 Kids. She is a registered adult and child yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. She teaches workshops to elementary school teachers about integrating yoga into the classroom. Her skills include mindful breathing, standing yoga poses, seated yoga poses at the desk, imagination vacations, be well topics, and mindful games. She has trained in Brain Gym and yoga for children with special needs.

According to Meg, increasing numbers of students lack the critical life skills of self-regulation, impulse control and focus that negatively affect their behavior, ability to learn and overall well being. In her seminar, she demonstrated how students can learn these skills. In her practice, she utilizes yoga and mindfulness techniques especially designed for the classroom that are convenient, effective and fun. Integrating yoga movement, breathing and mindfulness can be used in a variety of ways.  They can be used as an activity in and of themselves, and/or integrated in the typical class day, throughout the day. For example, she suggested that students could put their heads on their desks as they listen to Mindful Meditations read to them. The result is a positive, peaceful, and productive classroom climate for all students who are then in a better “learning-ready state.” Specifically in the Yoga for Classrooms curriculum, the focus is on providing a simple, accessible, sustainable whole child health and wellness program that includes 67 yoga and mindfulness based activities specifically designed for the “space and time-crunched classroom.”

We appreciated Meg citing research to support the use of yoga and mindfulness in the classroom setting. An interesting pilot study she discussed in which Yoga for Classrooms was used with 2nd and 3rd grade students was conducted by an Exercise Physiology Department and measured salivary cortisol levels, performance on an attention network test, and teacher surveys.  Overall results in perceived improvement occurred in a broad number of areas including social interaction, attention span, ability to stay on task, ability to deal with stress/anxiety, etc.

The classroom is a busy, bustling environment.  Meg taught us that taking “yoga breaks” is an effective way to refocus students and the energy in the classroom. Meg’s skill as a yoga instructor was apparent to all of us today who left with a more calm, focused energy to tackle the rest of our weekend.

Here are some comments from attendees:

“It’s very practical in today’s fast paced world – I have integrated both breath work and yoga asanas into my classroom and have seen the improvement in my students.” Kristine P., Teacher

“I learned great activities to help my students to focus and concentrate.” Anonymous, SLP

“Interesting. I like the positive attitude and incremental approach offered; not a ‘do it all or nothing’ message.” Maura, Teacher

“Great way to get additional ideas to incorporate into OT sessions (groups & classroom). Definitely could see incorporating “count down to calm” & “imagination vacation” into sessions that typically only include Zones of Regulation. I like the emphasis on movement at accessible level.”  Meredith, Occupational Therapist

Thank you, Meg!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L

Getting Creative with Sweatshirts and Seat Cushions!

Guest post by Barbara A. Smith.

Sensory Processing disorders (SPD) impact how children and adults respond to sensory stimulation such as sound, touch, what they see and movement. One basic principle of occupational therapy for individuals with SPD is to provide controlled, graded and individualized sensory stimulation to promote functional skills such as playing catch or writing one’s name. This means that activities such as tossing bean bags into containers while the child is suspended on a swing can be:

  • Controlled – as the therapist responds to the child’s reactions. For example, the therapist might push the swing faster, slower or in a different direction,
  • Graded- as the therapist chooses the type of swing used, how long the activity lasts, how heavy the bean bags are and how far away the container is positioned, and
  • Individualized – according to the child’s sensory, emotional and motor needs. For example, the child may wear a squeeze vest during the activity, name an animal each time the bean bag is thrown or have a special friend hold the container.

What is a Sensory Diet?

Parents can implement individualized sensory strategies at home in what is called a “Sensory Diet”. This is like a recipe book of activities and adaptations that the therapist designs for parents to carryover at home, school or in the community. It is important to frequently discuss with the therapist how these strategies are working out since children grow and change rapidly along with their sensory needs in different settings.

In my book From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills, I describe the 6 different subtypes of SPD and some general strategies to use with children who have each type. These strategies usually impact the following 3 sensory systems:

  1. Tactile – uses sensory receptors in the skin to interpret sensations, such as light and heavy touch.
  2. Proprioception – uses receptors in joints and muscles to tell us where the body is and how it is moving in relation to objects and space.
  3. Vestibular – tells our body how to respond to the pull of gravity and movement of the head. It is also called the balance system.

Now for the fun part…

Many children with or without SPD LOVE deep, heavy pressure experiences and movement. This includes children on the autism spectrum or those with other types of developmental disabilities. One very simple strategy is to provide some type of “dynamic seating”. This simply means that the child can bounce, wiggle, rock or move around in some other way while seated. Many teachers incorporate seat cushions and ball chairs in the classroom to help students focus. The Disco Seat is one popular product. An inexpensive alternative is to sit on a deflated ball, as I am doing in the photo. Don’t have one available while eating out or sitting in the movie theater? Consider rolling up a sweatshirt for the child to sit on or curl up inside of to get a full body squeeze.


Speaking of sweatshirts, I have had great success in helping a young lady named Judy to be more focused and less agitated by placing a Disco Seat cushion inside the body of a sweatshirt. The photo shows Judy sitting on the cushion, enjoying some gentle bounces with the sleeves slung over her lap.


The sleeves are heavy because I put bags filled with sand inside of them. Next I sewed the wrist and shoulder ends of the sleeves closed so that the bags wouldn’t fall out. This adaptation can be used in a various of ways. The sweater may be placed over the back of a chair so that the heavy sleeves are draped over the child’s shoulders and body. Placing the cushion inside the sweater is optional.


A young man named Eddy, craves extreme movement and is typically agitated unless in a rocking chair, bungee seat or swing. You can see in the photograph that his chair is adapted to not tip over given all of his body rocking. He LOVED when I attached the sweatshirt with enclosed seat cushion to the back of his chair so that he could slam his back into it while rocking. I know that he enjoyed the deep pressure bouncy sensation because he became calmer, quieter and smiled. The heavy sweatshirt sleeves are draped over his lap. I did my best to capture how I set this up in the following video while maintaining his privacy.

Seat cushions and lap bags that are a lot nicer than the ones I make with a deflated ball, sand and plastic bags are sold by Therapro, Inc. Whether you are reading this blog post as a caregiver, therapist or other type of professional, I hope that adding these simple sensory strategies to your tool box helps the people you love or work with improve their quality of life. This is why I love being an occupational therapist!


Barbara A. Smith has worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities for over 40 years! She is the author of the Recycling Occupational Therapist, From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills and From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills. Learn more about her work at