Thursday, February 25, 2016

Therapy Tip: Buttons, Zippers

Happy Therapy Tip Thursday!

This is the day that I share a tip based upon my experiences as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and a mother of a child with special needs.

Today, let's talk about buttons and zippers.

Teaching my daughter with Down syndrome and hypotonia to button and zip was very difficult. Fine motor has always been a hard area for her since the beginning. Truth be told, at age 10 she still struggles with buttoning and zipping. We're still trying to master it.

Here's some ways I have worked on buttoning and zipping with Jaycee over the years. Her little brother grew up with these things too and happily used them to learn these skills as well.

1. The Basic Skills Board from Melissa & Doug
I was so excited when I found this puzzle. All the pieces come out for a regular puzzle plus there's the bonus on each piece to work on zipping, snapping, buckling, buttoning, and tying. This puzzle was extremely hard for Jaycee as a pre-school student. I had to help her complete it hand-over-hand. My son had better success with this puzzle without needing help.

2.  A Dress Up Doll

Jaycee had a few dolls similar to this one with buttons, zippers, buckles, and Velcro. Again, I found my son had an easier time with this doll compared to Jaycee. The small zipper and buttons were very difficult for Jaycee to get a hold of and complete. However, it was good to have more than one method to try to teach this skill.

3. The Dexterity Vest

This vest is probably the most successful thing I found with Jaycee. She did better with life-sized buttons and zippers. These buttons are actually a little bigger than most helping her have more success. To me, it was more helpful for her to practice an item she could wear too. This item was purchased from School Specialty.  They sell a variety of these vest but this is a combination one that she eventually learned to do.

Learning to button and zip takes time, patience, and practice. These are just some of the specific things we tried to help Jaycee learn these skills. Improving overall fine motor skills will also help children be ready to learn how to zip and button.

Come back next Thursday for another therapy trick!

This information is provided for educational purposes and not intended for therapeutic advice.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An I-phone & A Minimally Verbal Child

How good is the camera?
How much memory does it have?
Is there a warranty?

These are all questions I didn't ask a few months ago when I got a new phone.
I knew what I wanted. No, what I needed. I needed an I-phone.

The only thing I was interested in was the FaceTime feature on an Apple phone.

Sure, I had tried Skype with some success with my old phone. But, many of my family members had I-phones or I-pads now which meant that FaceTime would be a good option for us.

Here's the thing: Jaycee is a very social person. She will sometimes bring me the phone and sign to call grandma or her cousin. I sometimes felt bad as I told the person answering the phone that Jaycee wanted to talk to them. I knew they would have to carry the conversation since Jaycee's verbal speech is extremely limited. She will babble at times and often sign or gesture responses to the person on the other end of phone who of course couldn't see what she was communicating. I would interject things like: Jaycee's smiling. She just signed play. She shook her head no. This method didn't work well for anyone!

A shot of Jaycee on FaceTime with her cousins
Enter the I-phone (and later an I-Pad) and the FaceTime feature. With a simple push of a button, we could connect with someone she wanted to talk to on the phone.

This is exactly what Jaycee, a child who is minimally verbal, needed. The conversations are no longer 1 sided. Jaycee can sign or gesture or make a facial expression that the other person can see. This has been a great way for her to communicate with those she loves. I don't have to be her interpreter any longer, since most of the time the people talking to her know what her mannerisms mean.

Since having these devices a few months, Jaycee has learned how to open FaceTime and can click on the name she wants to call. Sometimes, she does this without me knowing! But, she is gaining some independence this way as she doesn't have to rely on me to initiate a call.

Although I am sure the good people at Apple made this form of video chatting for a variety of reasons, I wonder if children who were like my daughter were initially one of them. Either way, I'm grateful for this feature!

Jaycee showing her cousin her new dolls on FaceTime

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Therapy Tip: A New Way to Store Crayons

Happy Therapy Tip Thursday!

Today is the day that I use my experience as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and a mother of a child with special needs to share a tip with you.

Today's trick is: Parmesan Bottle Crayon Holder

This idea is credited to Cari Ebert and her Power of Play seminar.

This trick is easy, but I love it! The toddlers I work with absolutely love it too.

Prep: Use up a parmesan cheese bottle, clean it, and remove the wrapper.


You are ready for the next simple step.

Put some crayons in the empty bottle. Now, you have a new way to store crayons for art or craft projects.

Using this for therapy:
1. Requesting: For toddlers, I hand them the bottle to get the crayons out. Generally, they can't do it. This gives them a chance to ask for "help."

2. Fine Motor: Dropping each crayon into the small circles challenges fine motor skills of toddlers.

3. Counting: The circles give the perfect prompt to count to 3.

4. Colors: Instead of counting crayons as you drop them in, you can label colors as you drop them in one at a time.

The next time you use up a bottle of parmesean cheese, don't throw it away! Put it to good use!

Come back next Thursday for another trick!

This information is provided for educational purposes and not therapeutic advice.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

What I Learned From A Sweater

Sometimes I get it all wrong.

When Jaycee is refusing to leave the van because I have parked somewhere different at church, I don't always know what to do.

When she drops to the floor and won't move because she's done shopping, I feel myself getting red with embarrassment.

As a speech-language pathologist, I know that all behavior is communication. This is especially true for Jaycee as her verbal speech is extremely limited. I know what some of her behaviors say but other times I am just at a loss.

Recently, I took a short professional developmental course on analyzing behaviors for their communicative intent. The next day, I had a chance to practice my skills.


Jaycee is not a morning person (like me). She has 1 goal in the morning: Stay in bed as long as possible.

I have 1 goal in the morning: Get Jaycee dressed as fast as I can to get her 50 minute medicine regime done before the bus arrives.

We have conflicting goals. See the problem?

Some mornings are worse than others. This particular day was one of them. As I tried to help her pull her polka dot sweater on, she kept fighting against me. Usually, I wrestle the thing on her. It's very cold outside, she needs to wear a sweater, and this sweater is fine.

"Just put this sweater on!" I plead.

But on this day, I think about her behavior as communication. I walk to the closet and select another sweater. I then hold the two sweaters up and say, "It's cold. You have to wear a sweater. Which one do you want to wear?"

The poor unwanted black and white sweater

She points to the unicorn sweater and proceeds to promptly put it on. That was easy!

Hooray! I got something right!! She wasn't being combative. She just didn't want that sweater.

That led me to think about my conversations with my 6 year old son. He and I negotiate all the time. I don't think about how often it happens. I tell him to do something and he asks why before complying. I tell him to get dressed; he says he will in a minute. I give him applesauce and he asks for oranges. There's a give and take happening all the time. He can ask for things or for more information if he doesn't like what I say or do.

Jaycee doesn't quite have this ability. She has behaviors. I tell her to get dressed. She could shake her head "no" but instead fights my efforts to tell me no. She can't ask for a different sweater because that spoken vocabulary isn't there.

I learned something from the sweater incident. Instead of getting frustrated with behaviors, I need to look harder for their intent. We'll both be happier for it!

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Therapy Tip- Flashcards

It's therapy tip Thursday here at Special Purposed Life.

On Thursdays, I have begun to share an activity idea or advice based upon my experience as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and having a child with special needs.

Today I'd like to discuss flashcards.

I will be honest--I love flashcards for vocabulary building and articulation work. Many therapists despise them saying that pictures of objects are poor substitutes for the real thing. I do agree with that, but I do feel they can be useful. Using flashcards for a few minutes in a therapy session can be productive.

Flashcards are great for building expressing vocabulary by allowing children to work on naming pictures of objects. Using 2 or more flashcards at once, you can ask the child to identify a picture to work on receptive language. Targeting words in flashcards with specific sounds allows us to work on speech clarity (articulation).

So let's talk about how I choose flashcards.

I prefer flashcards of pictures of real objects, especially when teaching vocabulary. I occasionally use cartoon or drawn cards, but these are not my preference. Photographs are more accurate of the real thing than the drawn cards. I buy my cards at dollar stores, big box chain stores, and online at educational or therapy websites. These are some of my favorite sets:

Now that you have your flashcards, the next step is engaging the child.

There are some small children that will happily sit through naming and looking at each picture. Most children need some extra motivation to go through a short set of cards.

Here's my favorite 3 things to use with flashcards.
1. A Basket: When the child says the word, they can drop the flashcard in the basket. Simple, I know, but this little trick works. It also teaches the child to focus on one picture at a time.

2. The Magic Box: This is a shoebox that I covered in wrapping paper. I made a small slit in the top of the box for a flashcard to slide through. Toddlers and preschool children tend to love this one. They say the word, then they get to put the card into the magic box.

3. Finally, this is a flashcard holder that I purchased through a therapy website. This holder is a little difficult for the toddlers I work with to do on their own. But, it is still a good way to change up flashcard work. The flashcards in this holder are ones that I made myself using my digital camera and laminating machine.

Flashcards have their purpose in therapy and in academic work. I hope this helps you think of a new way to engage children in this work.

Find your way back here next week on Thursday for another tip.

This information is provided for educational purposes and not intended for therapeutic advice.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why I Give Blood

As a teenager, the idea of giving blood frightened me. Perhaps, it was the needle. Perhaps, it was a few horror stories friends shared with me. Whatever it was, I never, ever considered donating blood.

After Jaycee was born, my mind changed. Like many other people, I became motivated for personal reasons. When Jaycee was just 3 months old, she had her first open heart surgery. After the surgery, she needed a blood transfusion.

Sometime after this, I decided I would try to donate blood at a local drive. I was nervous. I was afraid I would pass out in front of everyone. My mind came up with any excuse not to do it. But, ultimately my need to "pay back" the donation that my daughter received trumped my fears.
I walked in to the church hosting the blood drive. I went through the initial health screenings. I flinched when my finger was poked for the iron check. I answered a large amount of personal questions. Before long, I found myself in the chair, reclined back ready to begin. During the blood donation, I felt slightly nauseous, but it seemed to go by quickly. Then I was led to a table where I received juice and a cookie. Yum! I felt tired afterwards and slightly lightheaded. But, I survived my first donation.

After that first time, I realized that I could easily do it again. So, I did a few more times. Each time, I became more at ease with the donation process.

Caring for two small children limited my ability to donate for a few years. There was a time when Jaycee's medical conditions required all my spare time and energy, so I did not feel I could donate and keep up my responsibilities.

Last year, I started donating blood again. After all, I'm healthy and able to do it. The American Red Cross estimates that 38% of people in the United States are eligible to donate blood but less than 10% do so. One blood donation can save the lives of up to 3 people. The need is real.

Every time I donate, I think of my sweet baby in the hospital who received blood years ago. Fortunately, she never needed blood again. But, I know that there are other children and adults benefiting from blood donation everyday.

To learn more about blood donation, visit the American Red Cross website.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Therapy Trick Thursday

This month, I am kicking off something new on Thursdays. As a pediatric speech-language pathologist and a mother of a child with special needs, I have tried a variety of therapy techniques both professionally and personally.

On Thursdays, I will be featuring one little therapy technique or trick that I have found successful. By sharing, I hope that other parents or professionals can find something new and useful here.

Here's the trick for today:

Bottle Lid-Sticker Drop
This idea was featured in Cari Ebert's Power of Play seminar. (I highly recommend her seminars for professionals! They are so great!)

This idea is very simple, easy for parents to replicate, and is highly motivating for children.

Steps to do this yourself:
1. Collect a variety of plastic lids. I used milk jug lids, juice caps, or lids from a gallon water jug. It took me a few weeks to get the right amount collected.
2. After cleaning off any of the lids that may need it, choose one sticker to place on each lid.
More on how to choose stickers in a bit.
3. Recycle an empty plastic wipe container. You are ready!

Working with children for over 10 years, I have amassed a large collection of stickers. I have purchased some online or at dollar or craft stores. Stickers are easy to find, but I choose with purpose. When I look at stickers, I focus on the types of words or sounds that I can elicit from a sticker.

My target audience for this activity has been  2-4 year olds. This is used under supervision only due to the possibility that a child may put these in their mouth. With this age range in mind, the stickers I chose are some common words or sounds. In the picture above, my target words are: pig/oink, horse/neigh, choo-choo/train, drink/milk, butterfly/fly.

If a child is working on a specific sound, I select stickers to target the sound. These three lids are targeting the /b/ sound (bug, bock, bee). I try to collect 10-15 lids for a specific set of words or sounds.

Implementing this activity:
1. With toddlers, I hold on to all the bottle lids for safety purposes. The wipe container is placed by the child.
2. I hold up one bottle lid and either let the child tell me what the picture is or I model the word for the child to say.
3. When the child says the word or makes any attempt at the word, the child gets the lid and drops it in the wipe container.

This is very simple, but the children seem to love it! I hope that you give it a try and end up loving it too!

Come back next Thursday for another trick!
This information is for educational purposes only and is not therapeutic advice.  
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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Groundhog Day for Caregivers

-Do the laundry
-Do Jaycee's medications (morning and night).
-See my speech therapy clients.
-Make dinner.
-Pick up the house.
-Do some writing.
-Do housework.
-Help the kids with their homework.

Sometimes, I feel like I'm doing the same thing every day. And then I think of Groundhog Day.

When I was a teenager, I remember my dad enthusiastically loving the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. He loved the message and symbolism in the movie as Bill's character relived the same day over and over and over again. His character experienced all sorts of emotions as he experienced the same day repeated. Eventually, he learns to embrace the life he has been given.

All these years later, the message of that movie applies to me. I have many tasks to do everyday as a wife and a mother. Being a caregiver to a child with special and complex medical needs requires more from me day after day.

The laundry never stops.
Jaycee's medications need to be done twice daily.
Jaycee's bi-pap has to be turned on nightly.
The house won't magically stay picked up.
My to-do list is rarely completed.

One day recently, I felt distressed as I finished up Jaycee's evening medication run, which consists of inhalers, a nebulizer treatment, and 20 minutes of airway clearance. The medications were done for the day but tomorrow she and I would be at it again.

Sometimes, it feels like it will never stop.

Being a caregiver is a continual lesson in serving someone other than yourself. It requires regular attitude checks. It gives opportunity for the most rewarding and the most draining moments.

There are times when I have to pray for my attitude. I don't want to waste time dreading tomorrow because it's full of similar tasks that I just finished today.

I want to embrace the day I have been given. So, I pray. I ask God to help me. I ask Him to help me look only at today without being overwhelmed.

It may be Groundhog Day today, but tomorrow is a brand new day for me! And that is something to look forward to!

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