Updated DIY Adapted Stylus or Pointer

Shannon Intro Pic August
Photo property of the Molly Shannon.

Updated DIY Adapted Stylus or Pointer

by Molly Shannon, MS, OTR/L, ATP,

on the ATandOT Blog

 

 

 

Why would I need to make an adapted stylus or pointer?  Many children, students, or adults with physical limitations have difficulty holding a stylus and/or have difficulty isolating their index fingers for using technology, pointing to indicate their choices in communication, or in turning pages of a book.  These styli can be made very inexpensively as a DIY project.  As an Occupational Therapist, I have used these types of styli for operating standard computer keyboards, touch screens, augmentative communication devices, pointing for choice-making, or even to assist with turning pages in books.  There is an option to use either a standard pencil with an eraser tip or a specific stylus with tip (capacitive tip) depending upon your client’s need when making this stylus.

This project can also be a great community service project for students.  I have used this as a great hands-on DIY activity with college-level occupational therapy students.  You also could donate the extra styli that you make from the additional materials to local schools or rehabilitation centers.

The following instructions have been updated and edited from a variety of older sources to make the steps easier to understand and to encourage the use of these low-cost adaptations in cases where finances prevent purchase of expensive commercially available options.

Please use caution with any of the tools involved in making these styli.

Materials needed:  PVC pipe, cutting tool, sand paper, acetone, cotton balls, markers, fast-drying glue, drill, two-sided fastening strips, small pencil or inexpensive stylus, and pliers:

  1. Cutting PVC:  Buy a ¾” piece of PVC pipe from the hardware store.  (They are sold in about 10-foot pieces in the plumbing section.)  You can ask them to cut 4-inch-long pieces for you, otherwise proceed to a. and b. below.  Some resources recommend using 1″ diameter PVC, but this is too hard to cut with the PVC cutter.
  • Measure and mark 4-inch segments along the pipe’s length with a permanent marker.
  • You will then either cut the segments out with a handsaw or PVC pipe cutter tool. Be careful as the Shannon Cutter Toolsegments can tend to pop off once you squeeze the cutter tool very tightly. PVC/pipe cutter tools are available online or from Home Depot (from $15-30.00).

 

  1. You can perform the next steps in any order:
  • Acetone:   You will need to purchase acetone from a drug store or online since it is no longer an ingredient in gel fingernail polish used in the homes (cost from $4-10.00).  Use the acetone with a cotton ball on the piece of PVC pipe to remove markings from the manufacturer and your black marker marks.   Shannon Acetone   Be careful and wash hands afterwards as the acetone is powerful!

 

  • Sand the ends of the cut PVC pipe smooth with a medium-grade sand paper.  It is easier if you cut small pieces of sand paper.
  • Cut 11″ of double-sided fastening tape (Velcro brand is a more expensive option) to assist in holding the adapted stylus or pointer.  I ordered a roll of this product in a 5-yard roll from Amazon for $6.85 (product name:  Fastening Tape 0.75-inch Hook & Loop Fastening Tape 5 yard/roll – Black or other colors).

 

Photo property of Molly Shannon.
Photo property of Molly Shannon.

Shannon Velco 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • If making a pointer:   For typical situations, you can use a small pencil.  You can break a long pencil into a shorter pencil or use a Handwriting without Tears small pencil.  But if needed, for your client’s purposes, use a longer pencil in the stylus.   For example:  You may need to use a longer pencil for turning the pages of a book.  The eraser end will be pointing out towards the surface it is pointing at or is pressing on.
  • If making a stylus:  Use an inexpensive stylus (from the Dollar Store or get multi-packs from Amazon for example) for use with touch-sensitive technology.  You may have to use pliers to pull out the piece on the end of the stylus that is typically used to “clip-on” to a pocket or else the stylus cannot fit into the hole that you will drill.

Shannon Stylus

Shannon Tripod Grasp

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Making holes for the stylus or pencil:  You can use a ¼” drill bit for a pencil that will be used as a pointer (eraser tip pointed out to access keyboards or communication devices without touch screens) OR use a 3/8″ drill bit for use with a standard, inexpensive stylus for touch screens (capacitive screens).
  • Place a dot with the marker about 1-1 ½” from the end of the 4″ piece of PVC pipe.
  • You should score the drawn dot with a nail and hammer in order to more easily drill a hole into the PVC pipe.
  • Stabilize the PVC pipe piece with a table clamp.
  • Use the drill (cordless for the ¼” for a pencil or corded for the stylus) carefully.    Get a peer to stabilize the pipe if needed.
  • Again use the ¼” drill bit for a typical pencil and the 3/8″ drill bit for the stylus.
  • You can use the nail to clean out the hole or sand it a bit as well.
  1. You can leave a pencil in the hole without glue typically, but you would need to use a quick-drying glue, such as Gorilla Glue to stabilize the stylus.  If over time the stylus tip stops working (as they often do), you can pull/pry out the stylus and insert and glue in another.  Give the glue a few minutes to dry.

 

  1. Add the double sided fastening strap into the adapted stylus, join the ends, and it is ready for use with your client once the glue dries.

    Photo property of Molly Shannon.
    Photo property of Molly Shannon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now you are ready to begin using your DIY stylus to help your client with access to technology, turning pages of books, or indicating their choices by pointing for communication.

 

Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATPMolly Shannon, OTR/L, AT , is an occupational Therapist with 33 years’ experience and  currently working in the public schools as a school-based Occupational Therapist in NC. She has specialized in the provision of Assistive Technology for 29 of those years and is RESNA certified as an Assistive Technology Professional. In addition, Molly is an Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in the Master’s Program teaching Therapeutic Adaptations/Assistive Technology in OT. She loves to present and train others in Assistive Technology and has been a national-level conference presenter since 1989.  She has worked with clients of all ages and with a wide range of disabilities in public/private school settings, non-profit educational/therapeutic agencies, outpatient/inpatient rehabilitation, and with the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program.  You can connect with Molly on Twitter sitePinterest Boards, or her ATandOT Facebook page.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  

Photos that are the property of the author should not be used without a link back to this blog.  All photos that include a link to an originating site should be used with a link back to that site.  

Updated DIY Adapted Stylus or Pointer

Water Fun!

Turke Title PictureWater Fun!

by Stacy M. Turke

on the On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog

 

 

It seems hard to believe, but it’s already August, which means that the new school year is just around the corner.  I am starting to see the “Back to School” section of my local stores filling up with the usual supplies such as crayons and paper, backpacks, and locker organizers.  TV ads for school uniform sales and tutoring services run all afternoon, and school parking lots are already showing signs that teachers are beginning to set up their classrooms.  I have started organizing my activities and files, getting them ready for that first week back; and I’ve begun to put important dates on the calendar for fall.  All the things I need to do to be ready when that day arrives in the not-too-distant future.  But I have this nagging thought that I’m structuring and organizing and sorting my way through these days without enjoying the slower pace and longer daylight hours that summer brings.  I can’t help but wonder, “Can’t we slow this down a bit?”  I mean, we still have a few weeks of summer left before the rush begins again!  Can’t we keep playing for a bit longer?

The answer of course is “yes, yes, we can!”  And for many of us, we should.  I believe it’s important to play and keep the slower pace of summer as long as we can to help refill our sense of well-being and energy.  And it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated play.  Think back to your own childhood, mom and dad.  Do you remember what you enjoyed doing the most in the summers when you were young?  My guess is that your favorite summer activities involved water, in some form or another.  And in the heat of this extra-hot summer, what could be better than playing with water?

Water-Play Ideas from your School OT

Swimming

Yep, tried and true.  I didn’t have to mention swimming and your mind already went there, right?  So why state the obvious?  Because I wanted to be able to share WHY swimming is so great for kids.

  • On a hot day, nothing cools a body as quickly and efficiently as a dip in the pool (or lake or ocean).
  • Swimming involves the whole body, which means the whole brain is engaged, too.
  • When kids are swimming, they are strengthen all of their muscles; and strong muscles are needed to maintain sitting positions in school.
  • Learning to swim, and playing in the water in general, helps kids develop motor planning skills, which will make learning new physical activities easier.
  • Swimming lets kids explore different sensations, such as water lapping gently on their skin or rushing past their face; the quiet of the world when underwater;  or the light of the sun dancing off the waves.
  • Kids don’t have to be expert swimmers to have fun with other kids in the water.

Turke idahoptvRunning through the Sprinkler

My family didn’t have a pool and we were not close to a swimmable lake.  But we had a sprinkler; and as kids, my brother and I took advantage of it often.  I can still remember how those first droplets of cold water felt on my skin when the sprinkler began to spin and spray, and how long our giggles lasted as we jumped through the middle to get to the other side.  So what, besides fun, did we get out of running through the sprinker?

  • A chance to cool off
  • Aerobic activity and fitness
  • Varied sensations, such as cool water, slippery grass, sunlight on the water droplets which may create rainbows, to name a few
  • Silly, goofy play, and rarely being alone.  Just try to run through a sprinkler as a solitary activity.  Friends will come out of the woodwork!

Paint with Water

I personally loved painting with water when my own kids were young.  We would take a bucket of clean water outside with a couple paintbrushes, the kind you would use to paint paintbrush 1588877 pixabaythe house.  MAKE SURE THEY ARE CLEAN (did I yell that?) or you might end up painting for real!  The water “paint” can go on any surface, but we especially enjoyed painting the driveway and garage door.  On sunny hot days, the water dried pretty quickly, so the surface could be repainted endlessly.  We painted tic-tac-toe; we painted letters and words, simple shapes, whatever we were interested in.  And while we were having fun, my kids were working on:

  • Strengthening the muscles and joints of their arms, which provided stability for those writing muscles in the fingers
  • Improving the development of their eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills
  • Being creative and sharing materials
  • Bonus:  Take sidewalk chalk outside with you; and after drawing, “paint” over your work with the water.  It will dry clean and you can write all over the driveway again!

Bathtub Playbathtub play Kaz pixabay

Inevitably, one or more of your remaining summer days will be a rain-out.  But no problems if you have a bathtub or large sink! You know all the usual water play toys, but have you ever taken a water squirter or turkey baster into the tub?  What about shaving cream?  Or the two together:  use shaving cream in the tub, then wash the designs off the bathtub wall using the squirter or baster!

 

 

I assume it goes without saying, but just in case: remember to supervise your kids when  water safety Fotomek pixabaythey are playing with or in water.  Keep eyes on swimming kids at all times and use floatation devices in addition.  Grass gets slippery when wet, so consider using water shoes to increase traction.  Use sunblock.  And most of all:  MAKE SURE YOU HAVE FUN TOO!

Yep, I yelled that also.  Never underestimate the impact of fun! 

 

 

Stacy M. Turke, OTR/L:   “On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog.”  Stacy has been a school OT for 30 years with the same school district in Michigan in what she describes as “my dream job.”  Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including those in the rural, suburban, and urban areas.  She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. She expresses her enthusiasm when she says “This career has been fulfilling, always presenting new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!”  You can connect with Stacy on Pinterest at  https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/ and on Twitter at @stacyturke.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  

Picture Credits:  

Photos are the property of the photographers or site owners and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.

 

Water Fun!

I Survived My First Year as a School OT

OT and student eommina pixabay

 

I Survived My First Year as a School OT

By  April Franco, OTR, MOT

on April the OT blog

 

 

 

 

 

I was over 30 when I figured out what to be when I grew up.  I fell in love with the work of occupational therapists after having worked in an early intervention venue in Arizona.  While I had been unsure of what to do with myself for most of my life, once I chose OT, I only wanted to do one thing:  pediatrics (with the asterisk, NOT a school OT).

Following a move last summer, I bit the bullet and took a school OT job after having worked in clinic-based and home-based early intervention settings.  I was reluctant and my supervisors seemed to worry all year that I was unhappy.  On multiple occasions, I was checked in on; and as the year grew to a close, there was frequent asking of whether or not I would return.

Why the fear?

You might be wondering why I was so against working in a school setting.  Prior to this year, I always thought that school OTs only did handwriting.  I felt that in a clinic or at home, there is a play element that would be missing in the schools.  It seemed that sensory integration was so much easier to target with swings, climbing structures, and trampolines.  Parent education seemed much more feasible in these settings, though follow through is never guaranteed any setting.

So how did it go?

As with my previous jobs in occupational therapy, I began this job without feeling fully Homework Help geralt pixabaytrained.  I read through IEP after IEP and I was right…so much handwriting to address!  I learned so much more about grasping patterns and learned about the different papers, pencil grips, weighted implements, and posturing techniques than I had ever know before.  Sure, I had students with other needs, but primarily I was helping with handwriting.

 

 

Somewhere around winter break, something occurred to me.  I really missed my students.  I had unknowingly grown accustomed to the weekly interactions.  I realized that I had inside jokes with them and looked forward to seeing them progress in their goals.  Could it be that I actually liked my new setting?

I reflected upon what a great rapport I had built with the teachers and classroom aides.  I am fortunate that I work for a district that does not micromanage my schedule.  If my minutes get met and reports are written on time, I am able to fill my days in any way that I need to.  Often, this means I am helping out in the classroom or at recess or at lunch.  The teachers and aides seem to appreciate my presence and I love to be a part of their daily routines.  Once I realized these facts, I looked at my job in a new light.

I am an occupational therapist.

It’s who I am and what I live and breathe.  I am a pediatric occupational therapist and I am at my most comfortable and efficient with this population.  What I was doing within the school setting was now a bit more challenging with minutes, VERY specific goals, daily schedules to writing cegoh pixabayrespect, and yes, LOTS of handwriting instruction.  But at heart, I’m doing what I have always done:  I am helping a child participate in an occupation.  Having a student form a legible “S” is just as exciting to me as having a reluctant child interact with shaving cream or take a bite of non-preferred food or navigate an obstacle course had once been.  I am happy to be a tool that allows each of my students to be more successful in the school environment.  I have always felt that it is a privilege to do what I do and that has not changed.

At the end of the school year when I had my annual review, my supervisor sheepishly asked if I would return next year, to which I replied, “Of course I will.”  I love that I am supporting the educational growth of my students.  I love that I work within an interdisciplinary team.  I love that I get to work closely with teachers, some of whom are very aware of the role I can play for them.  And I love my students.

Wise Advice

A parent once told me that it’s not always the therapy that works, but rather the relationship that works.  Perhaps that’s true.  I may not be strictly play-based any more, but the time, attention, and care I give to each of my students is what is most important.  And really, that’s true regardless of the setting.

 

 

April FrancoApril Franco, OTR, MOT has been a pediatric occupational therapist since 2011 and had years of early childhood education experience prior to attending OT school. She has worked within a clinic setting, as well as home-based early intervention services, and has served children from birth to 16 years of age with a wide range of developmental disabilities and diagnoses. In fall 2015, she began working within the educational setting. She considers working as an occupational therapist to be a tremendous privilege. April tweets @prilbo and is on Pinterest as missaprilotr. She can be reached at aprilotr@gmail.com.

I Survived My First Year as a School OT

Fun with Food!

 

Fun with Food!

Turke July Intro Pic

 

by Stacy M. Turke

on the On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog

 

 

 

 

 

When I was growing up, mom insisted that we could not play with our food.  I’d bet lots of you heard that growing up, too.  As a kid, I never really understood why “playing” with my food was a problem, as long as I ate it and didn’t make too much of a mess at the dinner table.  I understood that Mom didn’t want us to waste food, certainly, and she wanted to be sure that we had adequate nutrition.  But what was the problem if my carrot sticks first became a “paintbrush” to make designs in the ketchup that was inevitably on my plate?

And now I’m a School OT and I encourage playing with food!  There are so many reasons to try using food items in non-traditional ways with kids, and all of them are fun. So this month we answer the question:  Should I let my kids play with food?

The answer: Yes!  Yes you should!

 

Working With Food For Fun

This summer, I am working in a school setting that provides Extended School Year services to students from all over our county.  One group of children on the Autism Spectrum have goals that focus on visual-motor development, ranging from using both hands together to complete a task (bilateral hand skills) to writing their first names from memory.  I could grab the crayons, paints, and playdoh and create a fun task that would address the kids’ goals.   And that would be fine.  But because I know that several of the children have significant limitations in what they will eat, I decided that this summer we would address goals through the use of food items.  And so far we’ve had FUN!

It is important to point out that while we are using food as the medium, the actual “eating” of the food for this group of students is a secondary goal.  In fact,  we do not even mention eating with them unless they indicate in some way that they want to munch on the materials.  We want to reduce anxiety around food for our students who are very limited in their food tolerances, and we stress the process rather than the product.  While it’s not always possible, I try to avoid working in the same area where the kids normally eat to differentiate this from snack or mealtime.  We fully allow tasting the materials; and if any of the students want to eat more than a taste, we keep handy a visual that says “First work then eat” so they know that actual snacking can happen when the work part of the task is finished.

Fun Food Projects To Try

 

Fruit Kabobs

Fruit Kabobs

 

Last week, we created Fruit Kabobs with a 4th of July slant.  I found the idea on Pinterest.  (How did we ever function before Pinterest?)  We loaded bamboo skewers with blueberries and added a watermelon star at the top.  After making these cute kabobs, we recreated them on paper. This was a really simple process for the students, all of whom could participate with minimal adult support.  In advance, I prepped the watermelon by slicing it into thin slices so that each child could have their own piece.  I made one sample skewer, giving my students a visual prompt they could use as their model.  The kids used star-shaped cookie cutters and pressed them into the watermelon slice to make the stars.  And then we put them together. Really that simple.

And what therapeutic benefits did the students receive?  Well, for starters…

  • Great sensory input including tactile, olfactory (smell), visual, and taste (for those who braved tasting!)
  • Motor planning while completing the observed tasks
  • Completing multi-step tasks from a model
  • Bilateral hand practice when placing the blueberries onto the skewer
  • Eye-hand coordination, not only while placing the blueberries onto the skewer, but also when we recreated them on paper
  • Visual tracking and eye-gaze shift while “stringing” and referencing the model

 

Pretzel/Pudding Painting

Another task we completed this summer was Pudding Painting.  As a group, we made pudding from an instant pudding mix and added blue food color to make it resemble the color someone might use to paint a water scene.  We used a little more milk than the recipe called for so that the texture was closer to paint.  Wow, did we have fun!  While the pudding set in the refrigerator, the kids glued a pre-cut yellow circle onto the top of a piece of paper then added vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines around the “sun” to resemble sun rays.  And then we “painted” the blue water on the bottom of the page using fingers or pretzels as our “paintbrushes” and a simple paper plate as their paint palette.  Such a simple task, yet so many therapeutic benefits!

Pretzel Painting1

Pretzel Painting2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adaptations For Making Messy Play Fun

Playing with food can be messy, and for many kids that is half the fun!  But what can you do if your child doesn’t tolerate messy play?  Well, just offer some simple tools and accommodations!  For example,

  • If finger-painting is the focus but your child won’t get his or her hands into the pudding, grab a painting tool.  You might need to start with a long-handled paint brush so the child can see that there is almost no chance of getting his or her fingers messy.  Move to a shorter handled tool once the longer one is easily tolerated.  Maybe even introduce a small truck or car to make wheel marks on paper or across a cookie sheet.  Or how cute would it be to make footprints with small plastic animals?!
  • A specific example of an accommodation made with this summer’s group of children allowed a child to work slowly toward tolerating portions of the task.   One of my students did NOT want to hold the blueberry at first, so loading them onto the skewer was frustrating for him.  Instead of making this a frustrating bilateral task, we allowed him to stab the blueberry on the plate and then an adult helped him move it down the skewer.  After doing a bunch that way, this little guy eventually tried to move a couple down the skewer himself using one hand to hold the stick and the other to hold the blueberry.  (Hint:  that made it a bilateral task!)  He was still addressing so many therapeutic goals by stabbing the blueberries, and eventually was able to tolerate the whole task.
  • Allow the child to wear plastic gloves if those are tolerated but messes are not.
  • Keep paper towels or wipes handy, and reassure your students that washing hands is always an option.

 

Other Considerations

Before you begin using foods as a medium for therapy, it is important that you know if your students have any food allergies or restrictions.  Even if you believe you know for sure that a child won’t try eating whatever you are using, you must be sensitive to cultural or religious food exclusions, and certainly stay away from any food items to which your students are sensitive or allergic.  If you are unsure, communicate with the families of your students before embarking on fun with food.

However you play, make sure it is a fun and no-pressure environment, and you will ALL have a good time!

 

 

Stacy M. Turke, OTR/L:   “On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog.”  Stacy has been a school OT for 30 years with the same school district in Michigan in what she describes as “my dream job.”  Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including those in the rural, suburban, and urban areas.  She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. She expresses her enthusiasm when she says “This career has been fulfilling, always presenting new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!”  You can connect with Stacy on Pinterest at  https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/ and on Twitter at @stacyturke.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  

Picture Credits:  

Photos are the property of the author or site owners and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.

Fun with Food!

Handwriting Development Apps

Symbaloo

Handwriting Development Apps

by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP,

on the ATandOT Blog

 

This blog post highlights handwriting development apps and it continues as the second in my series of three posts elaborating on apps for pre-writing, handwriting development, and writing.  Here is a link to the first in the series for pre-writing apps:

Old Time Fun Therpay Shannon May Blog Intro

 

The use of apps is a very hot topic within therapy and education arenas, with many opposing voices and research on each side of the discussion.  I am a firm believer that what our grandparents told us remains true today in that wise saying about “everything in moderation”.  As a mother, grandmother, and OT with over 30 years’ experience and a specialization in assistive technology, I still think there is a definite time and place when using technology to augment developmental/educational skills, for rewards, and for leisure skills.

 

Places to find Handwriting Apps and Print Resources

For those of you on Facebook that are OT practitioners, there is an excellent (closed) group “Pediatric Occupational Therapists” you may wish to explore and a wide variety of apps are frequently discussed in this group. (To join, enter your email address to request membership on their page.)  A unique website for app review via videos is “Apps for Children with Special Needs” was developed by a father of a child with autism.   Another great OT resource is the blog/website “OTs with Apps and Technology” by Carol Leynse Harold,   My new website, AT and OT, is also a resource for technology.   My friend and mentor, Katherine Collmer of “Handwriting with Katherine,”  shares handwriting development research and strategies on her site and has written a book, “Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation:  A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, available on her site.

An App Review

Remember that no two therapists, teachers, or parents will agree on all apps for every educational or therapeutic purpose.  It is important to note that these apps can benefit all children (with or without special needs) to assist in developing and practicing the letter and number formation skills required for handwriting.  The use of these apps are meant to be used in conjunction with typical hands-on materials in the home, educational, or therapeutic settings.

I have tried to include both free and paid apps for your potential use.  As there are over 200 handwriting apps on the Apple App Store, I am only including those that are of a higher quality, which means no ads, some ability to “grade” the accuracy of the student’s handwriting attempts, adjustable settings, and/or some data collection option.  I have included them in two methods: one, using a list format and another via a Symbaloo chart. (Click introductory graphic above or here).  If you are not familiar with Symbaloo, it is an awesome method of visually organizing lots of links and references for ease of use.  Each of the icons will take you to the correct app store for review and possible purchase from iTunes for IOS or Google Play for Android.   Each app icon tile has a title indicating parameters regarding cost and platform (space permitting).

Free Apps:   Free versions of apps often do not include all letters/numbers/options or data collection.  For descriptions of paid versions, see the list below.

  1. Little Writer (shapes, letters, numbers, words), IOS:   many therapists like this one
  2. Ollie’s Handwriting and Phonics, iPad:   really nice app for free with some ability to grade difficulty, can turn sound on/off, includes phonics
  3. iTrace Free, IOS:  limited set of letters (6), numbers (2), name, words(1) for one player and does some stroke history
  4. iWriteWords Lite, iOS:   (only 3 letters and 3 words)
  5. Kizzu Letter Workbook, IOS:  (12 letters free) can be difficult as the child has to practice each letter 12 times
  6. Blobble Write, iPad and Android:  all upper and lowercase letters trace letter on top and copy on bottom of screen, options: can show errors/strokes, easy mode, baseline, audio.
  7. ABC Pocket Phonics Lite, IOS:  includes 6 letters
  8. Letter School, IOS:  subset of numbers and letters
  9. Handwriitng Wizard,: IOS,  does keep user stats which is rare in a free app

 

Paid Apps:  These types of apps provide the entire alphabet (some include numbers or words), with full options, more choices for handwriting letter styles, or possibly data collection.

  1. Write my Name, $3.99 iPad, by Injini:  one of my all-time favorite early handwriting support apps for developmentally young students. It is a very user-Shannon June Blog Write My Namefriendly app in that if the student makes an error, there is not a loud noise or negative reaction. You can upload their picture which is very motivating for them to see and students often want to write their peer’s names in addition to their own! No data collection. Also works on letters and words.

 

  1. Ready to Print, $9.99 IOS and Android: $9.99 IOS and Android:  developed by an OT and may be the closest to that ONE app that does have the pre-writing and letter/number formation components that are helpful in handwriting development in one app.  It also has data collection (paths, shapes, letters, numbers).  A must-have in my opinion!

Shannon June Blog Ready to Print

  1. Writing Wizard, $4.99 and Cursive Writing Wizard, $4.99, both IOS, and Android: tracing various visual motor designs, plus letters, numbers and words.  Another fairly all-inclusive app that is highly motivating and collects data.  It is one of my all-time favorites due to this versatility.
  1. Touch and Write, $2.99 and Cursive Touch and Write, $2.99, both IOS:   Very popular apps with many of my students on the autism spectrum as they seemed to connect to the structure and appreciated the audio and visual feedback in this app.  No data collection is available, but you can import your own word lists in addition to using their pre-made choices.
  1. Handwriting without Tears-Wet Dry Try Suite, $4.99 iPad:  data collection, pay per student
  1. Letter School, $4.99 IOS, $3.96 Android:  4-step process for learning letters/numbers of introduction, tap to learn starting points, tracing, and then writing from memory.  Three Handwriting styles: Zaner Bloser, Handwriting without Tears, and D’Nealian.   It only keeps data depending on whether or not the students have performed the letter or number yet.   For 3 users.
  1. iTrace, $3.99, iPad:   3 Handwriting styles:  Zaner Bloser, Handwriting without Tears, and D’Nealian;  data collection; includes visual perceptual rewards after stroke formation
  1. iWriteWords $2.99, iOS:   saves user progress, can adapt contrast/difficulty
  1. Kizzu Letter Workbook, $2.99, IOS:   Student has to trace the letter 12 times to move onto the next letter which would make it too challenging for many students.
  1. Yum-Yum Letters, $2.99, IOS and $1.99, Android:   New app with lots of great features, data collection.  Very cute app and says was developed with input from OTs and teachers.

Shannon June Blog Yum Yum Letters

  1. Blobble Write, $2.99 IOS, .99, Android:  shows errors, easy mode, audio feedback
  1. ABC Pocket Phonics, IOS, $6.99:   data collection, phonics, Zaner Bloser/Handwriting without Tears/D’Nealian AND cursive are all included as options within this one app.
  1. Zaner Bloser Handwriting, Manuscript or Cursive, $1.99 for each, IOS:  shows Shannon June Blog Zaner Bloservideos of letter formations, very clean/uncluttered screens, can trace letters/numbers and practice without lines (have visual cues for starting point), and can press the “check it” button to see if performed correctly, no data collection.

 

 

While these are some of mine and other OT’s favorite apps, each of us undoubtedly will have our own particular “must haves.”  These apps can assist with handwriting development.  Technology can never replace the need for using crayons and markers for coloring, drawing, or tracing with pre-writing and early letter/number formation tasks, but the judicious use of apps can be a great motivator for some children or clients as another tool in our OT toolbox.  Let me know if you have discovered other handwriting apps that you are using!

 

 

Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATPMolly Shannon, OTR/L, AT , is an occupational Therapist with 33 years’ experience and  currently working in the public schools as a school-based Occupational Therapist in NC. She has specialized in the provision of Assistive Technology for 29 of those years and is RESNA certified as an Assistive Technology Professional. In addition, Molly is an Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in the Master’s Program teaching Therapeutic Adaptations/Assistive Technology in OT. She loves to present and train others in Assistive Technology and has been a national-level conference presenter since 1989.  She has worked with clients of all ages and with a wide range of disabilities in public/private school settings, non-profit educational/therapeutic agencies, outpatient/inpatient rehabilitation, and with the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program.  You can connect with Molly on Twitter sitePinterest Boards, or her ATandOT Facebook page.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  

Photos are the property of the originating sites and should not be used without a link back to that site.  

Handwriting Development Apps

Using Bubbles to Support Handwriting? Really?

Using Bubbles to Support Handwriting? Really?

by Stacy M. Turke

on the On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog

 

soap bubble platinumportfolio pixabay

Another amazing school year is about to come to a close in my county, and staff and students are looking forward to some well-deserved time off. We will spend the summer wrapping up year-end paperwork, planning for the next school year, and hopefully getting a few moments off with our families to refresh and reconnect.  Some of us have to-do lists longer than there are days in the summer, which we will tackle with various levels of intensity and focus.  All of us will find the time flying by too quickly without a doubt!

At this point in the year, parents are asking School OTs what they can do over the summer to support their children’s handwriting and fine motor growth and successes so that they don’t lose too much of their skill during this down time.  I  know most are expecting to be provided with a list of “homework” looking activities, such as practicing grasp patterns using tongs to sort tiny objects, hunting for seasonal words in Word Search puzzles, and using handwriting books to practice correct letter formation. These are certainly favorites of mine and are important components to include in a summer program designed to support improved visual motor skills.  But I don’t like to ask families to do these kinds of things exclusively.  Summer is a time off from the usual demands of the school year and busy families often find it challenging to get their kids to do the more “schooly” looking tasks.  I remember well trying to get my own kids to use the practice materials their teachers sent home at the end of the school year in an effort to reduce lost skills…and it wasn’t pretty!  So when parents ask “What should I do with my children to help improve their visual motor skills this summer?”, I suggest the tongs and the letter formation practice, and I add this sure fire way to get kids engaged:

Play with bubbles! Seriously!

Bubbles

 

I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t love bubbles, so this will be an easy one for you. There are so many benefits of bubbles, all of which contribute to improved focus, visual tracking, and eye-hand coordination. First, let’s talk about the more standard types of bubbles, the ones in which children hold the bubble bottle (of various sizes and shapes) in their non-dominant hand, Bubble Wandsthen dip the bubble wand carefully into the bottle to load it with the bubble solution using their dominant hand. To begin, the children use fine motor skills to grasp and twist open the top of the bottles, which requires strength and coordination of the shoulders (for stability) and hands. Kids have to dip carefully or the solution will spill, and in order to do that they are using eye-hand coordination and bilateral hand skills. Bringing the loaded wand to their mouth involves visual-motor coordination using both eyes together and good visual tracking so that they don’t stick the wand over their noses or in their mouths (which I’ve done on many occasions…yuck!).  Kids must grade and control their breath to gently and continuously blow to allow for as many bubbles as possible to come out of that wand.  And then the visual tracking that happens when they watch (and chase!) the bubbles as they move away is where the magic happens, right?

 

So think about this.  When kids are using standard bubbles, they are working on or getting:

 

  • Upper extremity strength and coordination
  • Bilateral hand skills
  • Motor planning
  • Grading of movement
  • Grasping skills
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Visual tracking
  • Convergence (eyes working together)
  • Focus and attention
  • Focused breathing
  • Aerobic exercise (as they chase the bubbles)
  • Tactile and olfactory input from the bubble solution

 

I love using different kinds of bottles of bubbles with kids, even in the same session.  I’ve used the more typical bottles, that hold 4 ounces or so of the bubble solution, but I also enjoy bringing out the tiny bubbles that you find in the party section of discount stores because the fine motor and visual motor skills needed are different. And who doesn’t love the bubble wands that look like long, colorful tubes and have really large bubble openings? These are especially great for bilateral control.

 

But if my students love standard bubbles, they ADORE this next method of bubble delivery (to sound scientific!). This is so simple, you probably have all of the materials needed for this bubble process in your house already. There may be a more official name, but we call them Bubble Cups because, well, we make them out of cups!  For each child, you will need:

 

  • 1 Disposable plastic cup
  • 1 (or more) Straw
  • 1 piece of an old towel or wash cloth, just large enough to completely cover the top of the cup
  • 1 rubber band
  • 1 pie pan (or similar dish for dispensing the bubbles)
  • Bubble solution

 

Bubble Cup1

Bubble Cup2

To make the cup, simply make a hole approximately 1 to 1-1/2 inches from the top of the cup using a sharp scissor.  (Please do this for your child in advance of the activity so they don’t hurt themselves).  Cover the opening of the cup with the piece of washcloth and use the rubber band to secure it so that it’s snug across the top.  Invert the cup and dip it into the bubble solution (in your pie pan) until the cloth is soaked, then lift and allow the extra to drip back into the pan.  Invert the cup again so that it is right side up and insert the straw into the hole.  Blow into the straw (making sure that it is not pressed against the side of the cup or nothing will happen) and you will see the coolest bubble rope develop. Your child will be amazed as will you, especially when you look at your watch and notice all the time that has gone by!

 

 

 Bubbles3

 

Using bubbles can be a great precursor to a more traditional handwriting practice activity because you will have helped your children prepare their minds and bodies for the focused work that comes with writing or coloring. The whole body will have been engaged by way of motor skills, visual processing and visual tracking, and self-regulation support.  And the child will have had a chance to enjoy and wonder at the beauty and simplicity of bubbles while getting fresh air outside. This will be the kind of “homework” that everyone wants to complete!

 

A hint about bubble solutions:  Add a little bit of glycerin (available at most pharmacies in the diabetic supplies section) to make the bubbles super bubbly!  I add a teaspoon or so to the large bubble wands and maybe that much to the pie pan when I add the solution for the bubble cups. You’ll notice that the bubbles coming from the wands and cups have greater staying power and your child will likely have greater success blowing lots of bubbles.

 

Do you have a favorite way to play with bubbles? Please share in the comments section!

 

 

Stacy M. Turke, OTR/L:   “On the Road with @stacyturke OTR blog.”  Stacy has been a school OT for 30 years with the same school district in Michigan in what she describes as “my dream job.”  Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private schools throughout the county, including those in the rural, suburban, and urban areas.  She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, Autism Spectrum Disorder, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. She expresses her enthusiasm when she says “This career has been fulfilling, always presenting new and interesting challenges, and is NEVER boring!”  You can connect with Stacy on Pinterest at  https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/ and on Twitter at @stacyturke.

Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  

Picture Credits:  

Photos are the property of the author or site owners and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.

 

Using Bubbles to Support Handwriting? Really?

OTR-OTA Relationships: Grow and Learn Together

pinky-swear cherylholt pixabayOTR-OTA Relationships:  Grow and Learn Together

by Marie Toole, MS, OTR/L

on the School Tools From Your Pediatric   Occupational Therapist Blog

 

 

One of the joys of working in the schools is the relationships you make with the teachers and other staff members.  One of the more important relationships to feather is that with the custodian as he or she will be your go-to person for a myriad of reasons.  Another person is the tech teacher for all things computer, keyboard, or technology related.   BUT…..the most important relationship there is in school-based occupational therapy is that between the Registered Occupational Therapist (OTR) and the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA).   I have been working with COTA’s (Certified OTR’s) for many years, first in the hospital setting and for the past 21 years in the schools.  I have learned a thing or two in that time about fostering that relationship and I wanted to share my perspective as an OTR who is supervising two COTA’s with more experience than me!

Although these suggestions can help all OTRs who are supervising COTA’s, they can be especially beneficial to those of you who are new graduates and will supervising COTA’s for the first time or someone who has transitioned into the school setting.   Here are a few of my suggestions:

Know your state guidelines for supervision.  As the OTR, it is your responsibility to know and understand your state guidelines for supervising COTA’s.  The American Occupational Therapy Association shares an informative outline for state-by-state guidelines.  Your license is on the line each and every time a treatment session commences between your COTA and the students on your caseload.  You are responsible even if your COTA carries her own caseload.  You need to know what is happening with those students. office-upsplash pixabay Your state licensing act will be very specific about how much supervision time is required.  My COTA’s have almost 30 years of experience each.  We have been working together a long time.  We have a formal sit-down time of one hour per week but have lots of more informal time to catch up and discuss cases.  I spend half my week at each school so there is plenty of face time at each building.  Make sure you both are comfortable with the amount of formal and informal supervision time you spend together.  You should always err on the side of caution and use your best judgement when deciding how and when supervision should occur.  Does it need to be sit down time? Do you attend IEP/evaluation meetings together?   Do you meet each morning over coffee?  Whatever works for you and meets the letter of the law is good.  If it doesn’t work or you find yourself skipping it…you need a different system.  Try different methods, meeting times, and scheduling.  Make it work so you both feel comfortable and ethical.

Understand each other’s role.  It is very important to understand the scope of practice for the COTA and OTR.  See the Standards of Practice for OT at this link, as well as the AOTA Guidelines for OTA Supervision for specific details.  The OTR performs most of the evaluations but there is a role that the COTAs can play as well.  Although the COTAs cannot interpret results, sometimes they have more time with the students and have a better relationship with them.  In this light, they can perform portions of evaluations under the direction of the OTR or complete classroom observations to add anecdotal information.  That is valuable information that will assist in making meaningful and appropriate treatment sessions.

diversity-ambroochizafer pixabayHave Mutual Respect.  I think this is probably the most important aspect of the OTA/OTR relationship.  It needs to be a true partnership in every sense.  Trust needs to be there as does open lines of communication.  When I first left the hospital setting and was transitioning to the schools for work,  the COTA I was to supervise had been working in the schools for years.  She had vast experience and knowledge that I soaked up and used to better myself.  I was coming from a medical model background and it took time to make the transition to the education/related service delivery model instead.  She helped me navigate the intricacies of IEP’s and school-based OT evaluations.  She schooled me on the timelines and regulations that go along with all things school related.  She was and still is a wealth of knowledge to this day.  I could not have done this job without her.   Yes I was her supervisor, but I was never her superior, nor will I ever be.  We have a wonderful working relationship and enjoy each other’s company on the occasional social events outside of the school day.  We have presented several workshops together and we often finish each other’s sentences.  Years of working together with both of my COTAs has shown me what mutual respect can look like.    Knowing your limits and what each can bring to the table will greatly enhance your relationship.

Coordinate your Professional Development.  One area that we work on is continuing education and professional development.  We almost never go to the same workshops.  Going to different workshops or conferences brings more knowledge into the working relationship.  We share what we learned and try out new ideas or treatment methods and have an honest and true discussion about merits and pitfalls.  You have to be able to give and take and at times agree to ditch something that is not working for something better.  Bettering yourself professionally only enhances that relationship.

businessman-ravadosa pixabayHave a Way to Communicate quickly.  Sometimes I am in one building and something happens at the other building that needs immediate or quick attention.  Sharing schedules and telephone contact information only enhances your communication.  We use text messaging as well as phone messages and email as ways of communicating quickly.  The school secretary can always find me if it is a true emergency.  Sometimes, if there are snow days or holidays, I may not get to one of the buildings for several days.  Things come up.  So have a way of communicating that works for both of you.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!   Speaking of communicating…do it often!  Open lines of communication are a MUST in this job.  Do not let things fester or boil over.  We need to work as a team to get the best from our students.  The best and easiest way to do that is to talk, and talk, and talk some more.  We often bounce ideas off each other or ask questions and even think out loud.  Often I am typing evals or writing IEP’s if I am not working directly with students.  My favorite thing is when my COTAs say “When you have a minute, I need advice/have a question/want to try something, etc.”  It lets me know they need something but gives me a chance to finish up what I am working on to shift gears and give them the full attention the request deserves.  Do not be checking email or your phone while doing this.  Listen attentively and actively; and if you need time to digest or think about their request, let them know.  Sometimes I don’t have all the answers…actually more often than not I don’t.  It is okay to say that and to gather the information and report back.  It is not okay to guess and make a mistake because you thought you had to have an answer right then and there.  “Let me get back to you on that” is a great phrase to use.  Sticky notes are my absolute favorite things ever (why didn’t I think of that invention?).  My COTAs leave me sticky notes so they won’t forget to ask me something the next time they see me.  Have a spot where they can leave you notes/messages/forms that need signing, etc., and that they do not want to forget.  I have a mailbox and share a desk at each building.  It is the first place I check when I arrive at each building.    My COTAs know it is the place to leave all important things that need my attention.  Make sure you have a place that is safe and secure so that wandering eyes do not necessarily see information that is private or sensitive.

Know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  This goes back to communication.  You must share and acknowledge the areas that are challenging for each of you.  One of my COTAs is “technologically challenged” and she readily admits it.  I help her with all things team geralt pixabaycomputer and she balances my impulsiveness.  When the ebb and flow of the school year gets crazy and there are all kinds of evals to complete, this is when you need to be able to say “Can you shift something to help me with this?”  When you understand each other’s strengths and challenges ,you can play off each other and complement services to fit both people’s needs.   It is a give and take and with time this should be a comfortable arrangement.  When you both share the same drive and passion for working with children, this is easy.  When you are out of sync it takes work.

Understand that life happens.  I think this is the best piece of advice I can give you.  Personal issues come up, there are weddings and  graduations to attend, babies and grandchildren are born,  kids or parents get sick, loved ones die….all these things need to be put into perspective.  As I tell my COTA’s (and anyone who will listen), “They are not going to name the school after you!”  Giving each other the needed time off to attend to family needs is a must.  Family comes first and when a crisis hits, you want to know that your school family will be there to support you.  Being flexible and understanding goes a long way in building trust and respect.  Allowing each other the room tolive life to the fullest  will guarantee a mutually respected, complementary, trusting OTR-OTA relationship that others will be envious of.

 

**This blog is dedicated to the two amazing COTA’s I work with.  Penny and Judy …I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the helping me to grow as a supervising OTR and for the trusting, caring, mutually respectful relationship we have.  You Rock!  I will miss you as I start my new adventures in life!

 

 

Marie TooleMarie L. Toole, MS, OTR/ L, is a pediatric occupational therapist with 28 years experience in NICU, Early Intervention, and private practice with the last 20 years spent working in public schools. She is NBCOT and SIPT certified as well as a member of AOTA and NHOTA.  She lives in southern New Hampshire and can be reached at marietoole320@gmail.com.  Follow her on Twitter @MarieTooleOTNH, on Pinterest marietooleNHOT, and on School Tools for Pediatric Occupational Therapists  where she tweets, pins, and posts about OT, education, autism, and sensory integration, as well as other school related topics.

 

 Disclaimer: The information shared on the Go-To-For-OT Blog or affiliated Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest sites, and shared on social or public media or as links on other sites is for general informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice or evaluation and care from your physician/medical team or any other qualified health care providers. Therefore, the authors and administrator of these posts take no responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk taken by individuals as a result of applying the ideas or resources.  
Photos are the property of the photographers at Pixabay and their use should include the link provided to the contributor’s source.  

 

 

OTR-OTA Relationships: Grow and Learn Together