Category Archives: Sensory

Saturday Seminar: Ready, Set, Learn: Tools to Build Self Regulation

A captive audience representing a broad range of disciplines attended Therapro’s September Saturday Seminar featuring Lise Gerard Faulise, MS, OTR/L, BCP. Lise is the founder of Rehab New England, a private sensory integration-oriented practice in Rhode Island, and co-founder of the Wolf School in East Providence, Rhode Island, designed for K-8 children with learning differences. Her presentation, Ready, Set, Learn: Tools to Build Self Regulation, provided a clear view of how self regulation develops from in utero and beyond, how dysregulation might occur, and how treatment can affect function.

Lise’s discussion of foundational skills that impact somatosensory experiences of a child before, during, and after birth was comprehensive. She led us through the developmental process where sensory and motor development are intimately linked, and showed how they help develop cognitive skills efficiently from the “bottom up.” She referred to the “Pyramid of Learning,” developed by Occupational Therapists MarySue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger, authors of the Alert Program – How Does Your Engine Run?, which teaches children how to identify and change self regulation using the analogy of an engine.

When there is a problem with self regulation, where the child either seeks or avoids sensory input, we may see behavioral changes in the child, which should raise red flags and further questions. Lise recommended the book, Is It Sensory or Is It Behavior? to help us examine if the behavior is intentional or whether it is a by-product. She suggested observing the timing of the behavior and whether it is limited to specific environments. For a child who experiences sensory modulation issues, Lise suggested providing the child with a large dose of sensory input activities so that behaviors don’t escalate and/or the child doesn’t feel threatened. For a child who experiences sensory overload, she suggested a quiet area or space at home and in the classroom that has things available that comfort the child, like a Cozy Caterpillar Sock, and comfortable clothing like Compression Clothing. She noted that oral or hand fidgets can help with self regulation as well. In addition, Lise identified somatosensory activities that involve deep tactile pressure, heavy work, rhythmical movement, music, breathing, and mindfulness as research-supported activities that are calming. Treatment materials to use may include scooter boardsDeluxe Peanut BallsRainy Day Playground: 2 in 1 Rotary Platform SwingHeavy Work Bands, to name a few. When a child is self regulated he/she is ready to tackle higher level function.

We were engaged fully in Lise’s seminar and wanted to hear more as the two hours of her presentation evaporated. Her skills as a clinician, researcher, and lecturer in the area of sensory processing disorders were evident from her solid and inspiring presentation.

Attendees offered these positive remarks:

“What a pleasure! Great presenter and excellent information.” – Beth B., Occupational Therapist

“So much information that I can really use in my classroom. Clarified a lot! Could have been 2-3 classes!” – R. B., Teacher

“All educators should be equipped with tools to help children with self-regulation.” – Anonymous, Teacher

“Very informative and relatable to all disciplines.” – Amanda S., Behavior Analyst (ABA)

“Great seminar – loved the specific examples, backed by evidence-based practice.” – Marianne T., Occupational Therapist

Thank you, Lise!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L
September 9, 2017

Saturday Seminar: From Flapping to Function: How to Promote Hand Skills

We’re off and running with a full roster of exceptional speaker for the 2017 Fall Saturday Seminar Series! Barbara Smith, MS, OTR/L welcomed the new season with her presentation: From Flapping to Function: How to Promote Hand Skills by Meeting a Child’s Sensory Needs. She discussed how challenges in sensory processing, functional vision, executive functioning and behavior impact developing functional hand skills. In addition, she demonstrated how to adapt activities so that they are motivating, calming and successful for children of all ages.

Barbara has a wealth of experience as an occupational therapist! She has primarily worked with children and adults with developmental disabilities over the past 40 years. She is the author of The Recycling Occupational TherapistFrom Rattles to Writing, and Still Giving Kisses, as well as numerous articles, blogs, and YouTube training videos. Barbara holds certification in sensory integration and hippotherapy.

Seminar attendees received a comprehensive review of the DSM5 – Autism Spectrum Disorder criteria and frequently co-existing disorders. Barbara discussed the impact of how sensory processing, vision deficits, executive function, and social/emotional/behavioral challenges can present challenges those diagnosed with ASD.

Barbara outlined10 ways to adapt activities and provide teaching strategies to ensure success for those with ASD. She demonstrated a variety of creative activities for children using recycled and easily obtainable materials throughout her presentation. To achieve optimal alertness, she discussed the use of weighted vests, lap pads and shoulder wraps; the importance of positioning such as a dynamic cushion, beanbag, swing, and a ball chair; and the use of vibration. Barbara has a number of favorite sensory fidget tools including soft, rubbery Panic Pete, whose eyes, ears, and nose pop out when squeezed. To promote success with activities, Barbara offered suggestions for simple adaptations such as enlarging or decreasing the size of materials, simplifying them, or providing stabilization for them. She displayed a variety of homemade shape sorters that were easily graded with one, two, and more openings to make insertion motivating and successful. Many adaptations were suggested to promote functional vision, including easel surfaces for materials so that the head and top of the easel are oriented in the same way, improved lighting, and using reading guides.

Barbara shared a wealth of clever ideas for promoting hand skills by incorporating sensory strategies into treatment. Her guide for using adaptations and teaching strategies to promote success in all areas of function at home, in the community, or at school was comprehensive and fun!

Attendees had terrific things to say about Barbara’s seminar:

“Great creative ideas for treatment. Got me thinking of items in my class & at home to incorporate into treatment – thanks!” – Tracy H., Occupational Therapist

“Great practical knowledge. Loved her passion. I would love this training to be brought to schools so OT/PT/S/L are understood & supported in the schools by teachers and administrators” – Ingrid J., Parent

“Very informative, concrete suggestions” – Linda M., Occupational Therapist

“Excellent information and great examples! What a way to incorporate everyday items to functional use.” – Beth M., Occupational Therapist

Thank you, Barbara!

August 26, 2017
Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L

Dyspraxia: Tips for Treating and Teaching Children with Coordination Challenges

Guest post by Barbara A. Smith.

Dyspraxia is one type of sensory processing disorder (SPD) that makes it difficult for children to plan and perform motor tasks such as stringing beads or riding a bicycle. Children with dyspraxia may

  • Appear clumsy
  • easily break things because they use too much force or
  • struggle to fit their arms into sleeves or sequence steps to shoe tying

Children with SPD often have more than one of the 6 subtypes that impact how their brains interpret and respond to what they see, hear, feel, smell, taste and how they move. They may seem extra active or lethargic, super sensitive or oblivious, have difficulty controlling their body while using their hands or can’t discriminate what part of their body was touched or is in pain.  Let’s take a look at a few strategies that may help children with dyspraxia and other types of SPD as well as children who are typically developing.

Simplify for Success

Nobody likes failure; especially young children who have poor coordination to stack rings, string beads or lace boards.  Consider purchasing, making or adapting these types of activities to make success easy and frequent. Try using

  • an extra large tube as a ring stack and rings to stack. The one shown in the photo is made by wedging a swimming noodle into a juice container and has a motorized pen inserted on top to make it vibrate.  Vibration helps children to focus on what their hands are doing.
  • thick cord and shower curtain rings for stringing instead of offering string and beads. Many toddlers will find this an easier introduction to stringing.
  • lacing boards with a few extra big  holes and thick cord. I attached the photo of a horse to this lacing board that I used with clients during Hippotherapy (therapy using a horse as a therapeutic tool).
Vibrating Ring StackLacing Board

Practice Makes Perfect

Design activities to require repetition. When a child closes a jacket there is usually only one zipper to connect or a few buttons. Many children benefit from the repetition of closing several button squares. As I describe in my book From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills, these are made by sewing a large button or round plastic piece (see photo) to fabric. Then cut a slit into another piece.  As your child develops skill, offer button squares with smaller buttons.

Button Squares

ZippersMany children are able to close a zipper once the slider is connected.  But connecting the slider onto the zipper is very tricky. In the photograph you see me wearing an old jacket and attaching several zipper sliders.  The sliders are sold in zipper repair kits or you can remove nice big ones from broken backpacks and suitcases. I have taught adults with developmental disabilities to zip their own jackets after practicing connecting and pulling up several slider every day.

Let’s Take Apart

Button BoardOpening buttons, screw caps, zippers and knots seems to be a lot easier than closing them.  One of the strategies I describe in my book From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills is to teach children to “ take- apart” before teaching them to “put-together”. In this way they will become familiar and successful with the materials before learning the more challenging motor skills of tying, buttoning, snapping, screwing lids etc. It is much easier to remove the fabric pieces from the “buttoning board” shown below and children will have many opportunities to practice. This board was made by drilling holes into a book stand and tying the “buttons” onto cord that is knotted through the holes.

Manipulation BoxIn my book The Recycling Occupational Therapist I describe how to make activities that are perfect for opening and taking apart. The Manipulation Box shown in the photograph has screw covers, Velcro strips, pull lids, and magnets attached to a cookie sheet so that children can remove a variety of objects to drop inside.

Keeping It Fun

Yes, practice is important but we need variation and to add sensory stimulation to keep it fun. That’s why I love

  • form boards and ring stacks that make music
  • adding a motorized pen inside containers to make insertion tasks vibrate
  • using materials such as Velcro and elastic cord that feel good to pull
  • toy animals with clothing fasteners to manipulate
  • using pretend play toys such as “Feed the Bunny”

Bunny Insertion TaskI covered an oatmeal container with fur, attached a face to the lid and photocopied some food items. Now “Feed the Bunny” is more than a plain old shape sorter. This great for working on choice making (i.e. shall we feed bunny a carrot or tomato?), identifying pictures, counting and of course promoting a healthy diet.  I hope that you have fun implementing some of these strategies!

Here are some great Therapro products I recommend that you might use in addition to the activities I’ve discussed:

Squiggle Wiggle Writer Pen
Squiggle Wiggle Writer Pen
Sound Puzzles
Sound Puzzles
Giant Plastic Nuts and Bolts
Giant Plastic Nuts and Bolts
Learn to Dress Monkey
Learn to Dress Monkey

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