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April is Occupational Therapy Month


It’s time to reflect on the myriad of skills that occupational therapists (OTs) address in their sessions, and to celebrate the progress our kiddos have made as a result! In honor of OT Month 2023, the Boston Ability Center team of hardworking, compassionate, and dedicated OTs came together to showcase what this profession is all about. Keep reading to learn more about the countless creative ideas these OTs hide in their wacky hair!



What Will OT Inspire YOU To Do?



Fine Motor & Visual Motor Integration Skills

Fine motor skills require the precise & dexterous coordination of the small muscle groups within the forearms, wrists, hands, and fingers in order to complete tasks like holding a pencil or buttoning a shirt. Visual motor integration is the ability to interpret visual information and respond with a motor action; in other words, visual motor skills allow us to use our eyes and our hands in a coordinated way.


Shanna: I want to thank the creative and awesome kids who helped design this lovely hairstyle. I chose stickers as a medium for my hair because it’s a material that I use often in my sessions for many different reasons. In addition to strengthening fine motor skills, play or crafts involving stickers can promote improved visual motor integration. For this project, I drew a few bolded lines (straight and curly) for my hair that required kids to visually locate the target (the line) and use their motor skills to place the stickers onto the target. Stickers allow for great opportunities for self expression! My favorite part of this craft was seeing the different types of stickers each one of the kids chose and how they correlated with their personalities. Another benefit to using stickers is that it allows for kids to grade the amount of force or pressure that they should use to peel stickers off and place on a surface. If too much force, the stickers might rip, if not enough force the stickers won’t peel off! Did you know that changing the surface you do a project on can also make an impact on their posture? For example, when placing paper on the wall or another vertical surface you can help promote your child’s core and shoulder stability as they reach at or above their eye level to place the stickers onto the paper! There are so many ways to get creative with stickers. I encourage you to use them in your next craft project!


Jenna: I chose my hair to be made out of cut-up tie-dye coffee filters. It is a simple creative craft that can be made with household materials, and it is one of my favorite crafts to do in sessions! Aside from children being able to express their creativity, kids are working on a variety of skills including visual motor skills (drawing/coloring and using scissors), fine motor coordination (using a pipette to drop water onto the coffee filter), and force gradation (controlling the amount of water dropped onto the coffee filter). I loved how one of my kids dyed the coffee filter brown to match my hair, while my other kid was excited to give me rainbow hair! One of my kids took her creativity a step further and used glitter and glue to give me sparkly eyeshadow! Some other ways to do this craft is to cut the coffee filters into snowflakes or make them into sun catchers and hang them on the window!


Mackenzie M: To celebrate OT month, I chose to make my hair using a common household material, tissue paper! Using our hands to simply rip, pinch, and squish the tissue paper encompasses a variety of skills to promote fine motor development including hand strength, bilateral coordination, and grasp development just to name a few. OT has inspired me to think outside of the box to explore different avenues and get creative with using everyday items to promote the development of fine motor skills. Can you think of any new items or materials you’d like to include in your next craft or project?


Liz H: As an OT, I find grasp development fascinating! At an early age of 6 to 8 weeks, a baby can start noticing they have hands by reaching for objects, touching the floor in front of them, and even grasping someone’s finger. From that point, exploring objects and textures is important for development overall, especially for grasp development. Grasp developmental assists with forming arches of the hands for fine motor skills of pinching small objects (e.g. beads, food) to using a functional grasp for writing. Initially, I was going back and forth as to how I was going to transfer the pom poms to the paper with different ideas that could help with increasing grasp development including crawling, tweezers, or just using their hands by pinching the small pom poms. I then came across clothespins and I knew it would be a great fit! Clothespins are not only helpful for holding items on string, but they can be used to assist with grasp development due to the force needed to pinch the clothespins open. The force of clothespins can increase intrinsic muscles in the hand which assist with creating the arches of the hand, making your child stronger in skills of playing, self-care and fine motor development!



Praxis

Praxis refers to the process of coming up with an idea of what you want to do (ideation), figuring out how you are going to do it (motor planning), and then actually doing it (execution).


Carrie: Did you know that you can use arts and crafts to practice different exercises and movement patterns? By strategically placing craft materials and toys, you can target SO many skills! You can use different equipment, (like a swing, a balance board, or a couch cushion!) or change your child’s position (try standing, sitting, or lying down). Changing the way we set-up a task allows us to target specific skills, such as core strength, midline crossing, balance, primitive reflexes, vestibular processing, and so much more. It also takes an exercise that is challenging or ‘boring’, and makes it fun


In these pictures, my friends are working hard and having fun painting. Sitting on a peanut ball, we’re working on keeping our balance upright on a ball while reaching across our body (midline crossing) to get paint. This reaching also changes our head position, making the core work a little harder and activating the vestibular system! Painting on a vertical surface increases visual attention and promotes hand-eye coordination, while standing in a side stance encourages midline crossing and integration of an ATNR reflex! Laying on our belly, we’re activating core, neck, arm and shoulder muscles simultaneously.



These are just a few examples of the “invisible” skills your child may be working on in their OT sessions. Behind every craft, game, and activity, there’s a list of skills and goal areas that an OT is addressing. So, while it may look like just a painting, a lot of work was done behind the scenes. Try changing the way you craft and play at home to add the “just right challenge” to your day!




Executive Functioning Skills

No description here - Colleen has the definition + examples covered below!


Colleen: Executive function skills are the mental processes that facilitate, organize, and integrate other functions, acting as the "management system" of our brains that allows us to make and achieve goals. These fundamental skills include, but are not limited to, working memory, flexibility of thought, impulse control, frustration tolerance, time management, and organization. Executive function skills begin to develop in early childhood, and continue to grow with experience and positive support.

“My name is Griffin and I have been working on organizing and planning multi-step activities.” Here is the plan that Griffin made to complete this craft:

  1. Cut out a photo of your teachers face

  2. Glue it on a piece of paper

  3. Cut the twine

  4. Glue down the hair


Katie M: I chose to make my hair out of feelings and flowers - two of my favorite things! Well, feelings haven't always been my favorite. Some feelings can seem embarrassing or even scary when you forget that your feelings are NOT the only thing that makes you YOU. Just like your hair, your feelings are just a part of you. And just like your hair can change, your feelings can change, too! Sometimes my hair is tangled or shiny or curly or it's up in a ponytail. Sometimes my feelings are excited and scared and tired and goofy. The truth is: just like your hair, feelings don't usually stay the same forever. While they're here, they can serve as important messengers that give us clues about how best to take care of our brains, bodies, and hearts. When we ask children (or even grown-ups!), "How are you feeling?" their response can be very brief. "I'm fine." "I don't know." Working together on a creative activity can serve as an ice-breaker to initiate a deeper conversation about the vulnerable topic of feelings. Try it at home!


MacKenzie R: For my OT month portrait, I chose to make my hair using blow painting! Place blobs of paint on a piece of paper, grab a straw, point it at the blobs of paint, and blow! Use this strategy to spread the paint around the page however you would like. Try combining colors, experimenting with different thicknesses of paint, different types of straws, etc! This activity is a great way to practice deep breathing - take a slow deep breath in through your nose, then slowly breathe out through pursed lips around the straw. If you blow too hard the paint will splatter, which provides visual feedback and encourages long, slow breaths. You can even pair this craft with something active to promote increased awareness of changes that might occur in your body during periods of frustration, anger, etc. Run a few laps around the house or do jumping jacks for a minute. Notice how your heart and breathing feel. Next, do a few turns of blow painting and notice any changes in your body as a result of deep breathing. How fast is your heart beating? How do your lungs feel?


Arielle: Ever heard the phrase throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks? When my first idea for “pasta hair” didn’t go as planned, I realized this was a situation no different than what can happen in an OT session at the BAC. An idea happens, problems arise along the way, we notice these problems and our feelings, and then we find a way through! As it turns out, threading pasta on a lanyard (so perfect for fine and visual motor skill building!) is harder than it looks. Problem after problem came up. The lanyard was too thick, the pasta too curly, and stringing it was too frustrating. So we tried something new, and just like that…something amazing came from an unexpected situation! More than 10 kids helped dye the pasta of all ages and stages! We poured vinegar into small cups and each child chose their colors. With 5+ drops of food coloring stirred in, they then added pasta. Let soak for an hour, then strain and dry. The kids practiced bilateral integration when pouring, hand strengthening when squeezing the food coloring, sensory/food exploration when smelling the vinegar and touching the pasta, executive functions when following multi-step directions, and self-regulation because the pasta they put in the cups wouldn’t be drained until later. All the pasta was mixed together once it was dry, so each person’s individual contributions to the project became a part of the whole. As an OT, I actually love it when the process doesn’t go as planned because then I have a chance to practice self-regulation and problem-solving skills with kids in the moment. When things don’t go the way you planned, how do you react? How do you stay calm or return to calm? How do you solve the problem? When we narrate our process, kids learn how to do it themselves.


Janine: Ready for a fun fact? The largest producer of rubber bands in the United States since 1923, is Alliance Rubber Bands. Their slogan “Holding the world together”, puts a lot of stake in the rubber band! The entire world? Are you sure? This slogan sounded very familiar to a famous phrase among occupational therapists that we as a profession are guided by the belief that when working with clients we “Reach for the heart as well as hands”. Meaning, we stretch beyond just having a client complete a task, but we help them find joy and meaning through it. Originally, I thought I would be able to put the rubber bands on my picture still together. However, they just wouldn’t stick as a whole! So my school patients at the Jewish Community Day School were big helpers and helped me cut them into small pieces and glue them on my hair. The result? A beautiful head of rubber band hair, all from tiny pieces. All this to say, I agree that rubber bands can help hold things together, but needing to snip them with scissors definitely changed the plan. This activity was a good reminder that sometimes, the best way to keep the world together, we have to take things apart and make something new.



Feeding

Feeding therapy can support your child in learning to eat a variety of foods by exploring different textures, tastes, smells, sights, and sounds! OTs may also help to address underlying oral-motor delays by helping your child learn to chew & swallow food safely.


Maddie: My hair was made by painting with forks (and of course adding some glitter!) Playing with messy media can be a great way to become more comfortable with different textures and sensory experiences. This can help increase independence in self-care as well as facilitate being more comfortable interacting with new foods. Holding and using a fork also involves fine motor skills, grasp development, and motor planning. Multiple kids helped me with this project throughout the week and it was so fun to see everyone’s creativity and flexibility to use a fork as their paint brush. Painting “practicing” foods with a fork can be a great way to incorporate food/messy play, as well as practice using utensils at home!



Stephanie K: When considering the OT month activity for this year at BAC, it was unsurprising, especially to those who know me well, that I focused on the skill of feeding and all the intricacies associated with this essential activity of daily living. Most people know that food is essential, but did you know that eating is the 3rd most challenging function a human completes? We have the capability and will continue to adjust the plan of care to fulfill the particular desires and requirements of the child and their family.


Considering feeding as a comprehensive task, there are numerous skills required for achieving mealtime independence. We often receive requests related to several eating and feeding abilities, including self-feeding with utensils or by hand, sitting at the table with family, trying a variety of foods, dining outside the home, safely chewing and swallowing food, and having an overall positive mealtime experience. However, these skills involve many intricate sub-skills, such as fine motor coordination, visual perception, motor planning, postural control, gross motor skills, oral-motor abilities, and sensory processing. Additionally, the child must be able to tolerate and manage the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of food, as well as the various sensory aspects of their eating environment.


Pictured here are two smiling kids engaging in a messy media and food play experience. Food therapy at BAC aims to be FUN while simultaneously creating the "just right challenge." Throughout the week, I customized this activity for each child, with some children opting to pretend that they were using tongue glue ( i.e. licking the food) to attach the food to the paper, while others preferred touching the food with their bare hands or a napkin. Additionally, some children focused on developing the ability to remain seated at the table in close proximity to non-preferred foods, while others worked on tolerating the food from a distance across the room. A few children even demonstrated great courage and took bites of their "practice" foods. These interventions are child-led and supported with assistance, modification, and adaptations as needed. Witnessing the ongoing progress and development of the children I work with fills me with joy. I am grateful for my role as a pediatric occupational therapist and for the chance to collaborate with my colleagues and all the families under my care.



Happy OT Month!

How will you celebrate an OT today?!






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