Teaching Utensil Use Outside of the Mealtime Experience

It seems as natural as can be; use a child’s meals and snack times as opportunities to teach them how to hold and control their fork or spoon. In this atmosphere of “least restrictive environment” and push-in treatment, this sounds like a great plan for your therapy session.

Although it seems like a good idea, there are circumstances in which separating utensil use from food consumption, at least initially, can be more effective in treatment:

  • Children with tactile aversions and oral sensitivity may find combining manual and intra-oral exploration to be too overwhelming.
  • Children with both motor and sensory issues may find that they cannot work on practicing multiple skills at the same time.
  • Children with behavior issues can be faced with a difficult situation: they want to eat and they want to exert control over their body or an adult’s behavior.
  • Kids with minimal endurance or tolerance can lack the ability to complete a meal, leaving them dependent on adults or frustrated with their fatigue or a sense of failure.

Teaching utensil use without the expectation of food ingestion can solve these problems.  As skills and tolerance grow, the two experiences can be joined successfully.  Here are some suggestions to make practice effective and weave it back into functional experience as seamlessly as possible:

  • Have the child feed an adult using child-friendly utensils and foods.  A child may decide to take a bite instead of feeding the adult, so a food’s size and texture should be safe for the child’s developmental level.
Pediatric Utensil Holder
Pediatric Utensil Holder
EazyHold Universal Cuff
EazyHold Universal Cuff
Happy Bowl Silicone Feeding Mat
Happy Bowl Silicone Feeding Mat
  • Playfully scooping and piercing non-food objects such as non-edible dough with utensils and other “real” tableware may extend practice sessions while decreasing the stress of multi-sensory exposure with food.
Shape, Model, and Mold
Shape, Model, and Mold
Pizza Party
Pizza Party
Cutting Food Box
Cutting Food Box
  • Watching the therapist eat food that the child has prepared or served with utensils reinforces the social and nurturing aspects of meal preparation and eating.
  • Using strategies such as backward chaining or graded exposure, activities that begin by separating utensil use from eating can become more like a typical mealtime experience over time. When children are given a “just-right” level of challenge, they make faster progress with ease.

Cathy Collyer, OTR, LMT, PLLC

Cathy Collyer, OTR, LMT has treated children with neurological, orthopedic and sensory processing disorders for over 20 years. She is the author of The Practical Guide To Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone. Learn more about her work at tranquilbabies.com.

ASHA Conference, November 9-11, 2017

This year’s annual ASHA conference drew over 14,000 speech-language pathologists, audiologists, hearing and speech scientists, and communications sciences and disorders students to Los Angeles for three jam-packed days of educational, networking, and fun events. On Thursday we welcomed the masses into the Expo Hall when they stopped by the Therapro exhibit by asking attendees what parts of the opening session inspired them. They reported enjoying Goldie Hawn’s Keynote Address with her emphasis on mindfulness and self-regulation. She discussed her foundation, the Hawn Foundation, which focuses on a program for schools to teach children the basics of brain science. It was a great kick-off for this year’s conference!

We designed our exhibit this year to focus on various areas we thought would interest attendees. Our “Games Corner” was a beehive of activity with Karen drawing therapists to play NovenopsTrunksLetter Treasure HuntA Fistful of Coins, and Obstacles: A Game of Imaginative Solutions. One therapist loved Novenops so much that she purchased one for herself and several for gifts! The zany sentences players constructed in this game had everyone laughing.

Another area we set up was filled with wind-up toys that drew a crowd with giggles, exclamations, and stories of creative ways they used the toys in therapy sessions. Everyone exclaimed how unique our collection was, including the FirefightersCatsLovely FarmBaby Critters, and retro appliances.

Friends we had met in previous years stopped by to say hello and to see what’s new at Therapro. Our auditory processing publications were much appreciated, including Help for Auditory Processing and The Source for Processing Disorders – 2nd EditionStory Starters Write-Abouts and Silly Starter Write-Abouts were very popular flip books with which students gain valuable writing and expressive verbal practice. Therapists loved the ConversacardsQuestion Series and Question Set with beautiful photos on one side and easy teaching steps on the reverse side.

Therapists who address feeding problems were excited to meet Kelly VahnDam, MS, CCC-SLP, editor and an author of the Therapro publication Pediatric Feeding Disorders. She graciously autographed the book and took photos with admirers. Several students from North Carolina reported that her book is part of their curriculum. Feeding therapists picked up Textured SpoonsNuk Massager BrushesMr. Juice Bear, and much more. It was fun to help therapists select appropriate materials and brain storm with them on ways to use chewies for their clients. Mary Schiavoni, MS, CCC-SLP, creator of Chewy Tubes visited our booth and introduced the new Sensory Dipper she showcased at the conference. Dawn Winkelmann, MS, CCC-SLP of ezpz stopped by as well – we love their Happy Mats and Happy Bowls!

After three exciting and full days of introducing Therapro to speech and language professionals from the US, Canada, and many foreign countries, we were pleased with the dedication and thirst for knowledge expressed by those we met. We left L.A. satisfied that we had met thousands of devoted and gifted therapists who truly LOVE their profession!

We can’t wait to welcome you to Boston next Fall for the ASHA Conference 2018!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L

18th Annual Therapies in the School Conference

The 18th annual Therapies in the School Conference returned to Framingham, MA on November 16-17 and was sponsored once again by Education Resources Inc. Objectives of this popular conference focused on meeting the needs of all students, ranging from those with mild challenges to those having complex physical and medical challenges. With a distinguished faculty, topics were expertly addressed. In addition to providing 2 days of interesting workshops, a full day preconference on The Zones of Regulation was given by creator of The Zones of Regulation, Leah Kuypers, MA, Ed, OTR/L.

Therapro has been a regular exhibitor at this conference, drawing crowds to its booth to check out what’s new, pick up a new catalog, and to purchase items they love. We met many of the 250 therapists who attended the conference, engaging in lively conversations about how to use the products in creative ways. Therapists loved new products we introduced so much that they sold out! These included: Yoga Spinner Game, the publication, From Flapping to FunctionDrive Thru Menus Body ChallengeStickbotthe robot fidget, and Wristful Fidget, a spandex wristband filled with soothing beads.

Therapists left this conference energized to return to their school-based practice, eager to use the exceptional information they gained. We hope that Therapro provided innovative ideas and tools for their therapy toolboxes!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L