Category Archives: Visual

Saturday Seminar: Brains Rule – Perceptual Learning to See Better, Learn Faster, and Work Smarter

Cathy_SternOn February 13th Dr. Cathy Stern, OD, FCOVD, FCSO, FNORA, a developmental and behavioral optometrist, shared her knowledge and passion in a Saturday seminar entitled: Brains Rule – Perceptual Learning to See Better, Learn Faster, and Work Smarter. In her private practice in Canton, MA, she has extensive experience in the diagnosis of developmental and behavioral vision problems and treatment of children and adults with vision therapy and vision rehabilitation.  The Massachusetts Society of Optometrists recently recognized her as a leader in vision therapy.

The majority of the audience was made up of occupational therapists, who absorbed the information Dr. Stern imparted with rapt attention.  Dr. Stern put a new spin on information already familiar to OTs by explaining how perceptual learning occurs and how it helps a student respond to the world around him/her more efficiently. She stated, “Perceptual learning occurs when practice-induced changes enhance the brain’s visual processing speed and accuracy.”  She suggested that if we get referrals for students with decreased attention and behavioral problems, we should take a closer look at the student’s visual processing ability. Dr. Stern noted the staggering statistic that 70-90% of special education students have vision issues, that may or may not be diagnosed.

The principles of perceptual learning dictate that a student learns to recognize features that are relevant and then apply them to new problems.  The student attends to what he/she has learned in the past, which guides him/her when tackling new problems more quickly and more accurately.  Dr. Stern gave examples of professions that require perceptual learning to be successful, i.e. a baseball batter who needs to recognize the type of pitch he’s receiving so he can adapt and swing accurately. A familiar example of perceptual learning is seen in the “Where’s Waldo?” searches.  We know we need to search for red and white stripes, stocking hat, etc. to locate Waldo. Dr. Stern explained that based on our past experience with this game, we know the salient features that make Waldo stand out.  We can decide very quickly what’s important and what is not in the scenes.  So too for a student who needs to zero in on information and not get sidetracked completely by the background (peripheral) information.  We must remember that background information is important to register, such as peripheral vision, which is essential as a “motion detector.”  If we see a student who is having difficulty navigating space, we should consider that he/she is not able to process vision accurately or quickly enough.

Perceptual learning, like motor planning, involves time and space.  With training the brain to improve processing, changes can occur in improved attention, concentration, time planning, and spatial planning.  One tool in Dr. Stern’s toolbox for addressing these issues is a metronome, but there are many tools that can be individualized to a particular student’s needs.

Collaboration between occupational therapists and behavioral/developmental optometrists appears to have great potential in optimizing a student’s classroom success.

Here is a sampling of attendees’ responses to Dr. Stern’s seminar:

“Interesting and exciting!  Good information and clearly the speaker had tremendous knowledge!!”  Anita A., Occupational Therapist

 “This was a whole new way of framing learning issues – combining vision with audition, and timing.  I never thought of learning this way!”   Robin L., Occupational Therapist

 “Excellent information.  Easy to understand.  Very useful seminar.”  Kimberley H., Occupational Therapist

 “This was wonderful information about learning from a different viewpoint.  Dr. Stern was able to integrate knowledge from many disciplines to help us understand vision.”  Michelle B., Occupational Therapist

 “So knowledgeable!  A pleasure to listen to her info, explained in easy to understand terms.  Excellent!”  Anonymous, Occupational Therapist

Thank you, Cathy!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L

Saturday Seminar: OT Rubrics for Fine Motor, Visual Motor and Handwriting Skills

Valorie_ToddWhen a group of OTs get together to brainstorm, there’s bound to be some exciting “stuff” that is the outcome. Valorie Todd, MA, OTR/L and her school-based practice colleagues in the New York and New Jersey vicinity had a goal in mind. They wanted to devise a way to monitor quarterly progress in performance skills they identified as “OT goals” or “Areas of Need” on the IEP that was based on normative data. Valorie discussed the rubrics her group developed during her Therapro Saturday Seminar Series workshop on August 22, 2015 entitled:  OT Rubrics for Fine Motor, Visual Motor and Handwriting Skills.

This seminar was the kick-off for the Fall Saturday Seminar Series and attracted about 60 attendees who listened closely, commented freely, and shared thoughts. Valorie and her colleagues were determined to conceive a way to assess a student’s performance against predetermined criteria, in which a student is measured against his own performance.

Valorie’s group identified 7 areas for assessment including:

  • Postural Control
  • Sensory Modulation
  • Ocular Motor Skills
  • Object Manipulation: Fine Motor/Hand Skills
  • Controlled Tool Use: Color, Trace, Cut
  • Design Copy: Graphics/Objects, and
  • Handwriting.

In her seminar, Valorie discussed Object Manipulation, Controlled Tool Use, Design Copy, and Handwriting. Rubrics for Kindergarten and Grade 1 were identified.

Valorie offered a thoroughly researched plan on how to assess function and address the skill through worksheets that acknowledged how a student was expected to progress sequentially in each area.  She made clear distinctions in skills expected of a kindergartner versus a first grader.  For example, when assessing “Tracing,” specifically Pencil Control:

kindergartner would receive a score of 4 if he:

  • “Controls lines with min. errors 90-100%”
  • “Stops/turns at corners (angles/arcs)”

A first grader would receive a score of 4 if he

  • “Has good control within/on lines in all directions (90-100%)”
  • “Starts/stops on dots with 1-2 errors”

Valorie’s rubrics were well-defined and can be easily replicated. She was very enthused about sharing her work, including worksheets, and encouraged therapists to use her rubrics and provide her with feedback so that the rubrics can further be developed with input and use over time. As a result, a meaningful assessment of quarterly progress can be obtained and insufficient areas can be addressed systematically and meaningfully before the student is due for the next standardized evaluation.

Attendees comments were very positive and encouraging:

“It was excellent! So much info, well related to school based OTs. This will be helpful in writing goals, tracking progress, presenting at meetings, and for my Teachpoint eval.”  Amanda B., Occupational Therapist

“It helps so much to have these rubrics to support our clinical observations when IEPs are moving toward data driven/measurable goals and objectives. It will help with tracking and also guide thinking when working on skills.”  Anonymous, Occupational Therapist

“Love the practicality of the Rubrics.  Anything we can take away & use is terrific!”  Amanda H., Occupational Therapist

“Looks at detail of task performance and observation of foundational skills which students have or need to build on.”  Anonymous,  Occupational Therapist

“I would recommend this seminar to a colleague because it was well researched and the information was very comprehensive.  The material is very current and I can readily apply this information.”  Anonymous, Occupational Therapist

Thank you, Val!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L

February 28 Seminar – Therapro’s Assessments Series I: Visual Processing/Visual Perception

Selecting the best assessment in order to gain the information we seek about a client’s functioning is vital for the occupational therapist, the client, and the team. It’s a jumping off point that helps us design a treatment plan that is meaningful and helps the client achieve goals. On Saturday, February 28th, Therapro’s President, Karen Conrad Weihrauch, PhD, OTR/L, tackled the task of examining 14 standardized visual motor and visual perception assessments as part of the Saturday Seminar Series.

Having the opportunity hear a comparison of the assessments, discuss them, and provide personal experience with administration of the assessments helped therapists and educators identify tests that they might like to use in their work settings. In addition, being able to actually examine and manipulate the tools was a valuable experience not typically available to us.

Karen provided a succinct description of each test, including ages for which the test was designed, time required to administer, and interpretation information. Included were new editions of old standards such as the Beery VMI, DTVP-3, and DTVP-A. She presented tests that include useful or unique features. For example, the Spatial Awareness Skills Program (SASP) includes a curriculum manual, the Wide Range Assessment of Visual Motor Abilities (WRAVMA) is the only test available that includes a pegboard for testing dexterity, and the Preschool Visual Motor Integration Assessment (PVMIA) includes two Behavioral Observation Checklists in addition to the two subtests. The PVMIA is unique because its authors are OTs.

Attendees shared their comments regarding this valuable seminar:

“A great review of all available v.p. tests that should be shown to all school system OTs so that they can choose what they want to use.” Beth H.

“As an outpt therapist, I have very limited access to updated assessments. This seminar was very helpful with regard to: easy, wide-range tests that I could use for children and adults in a non-academic setting.” Joanne T.

“Good overview of potential VP/VM tests including quite a few I had never heard of.” Lynne H.

Thank you, Karen!

Filomena Connor, MS, OTR/L

February 28, 2015