Monday, February 29, 2016

All You Ever Wanted to Know about LeapYear

Do you know what day of the year is the "Kalends of March?"

This site has definitely increased my vocabulary.  Be sure you're looking at the February 29th Word of the Day.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Keeping Current With Cultural Pressures on Teens

For some reason, this photo represents "too much to think about" to me, which is what I consider
to be the typical mental state of a teenager.
Yesterday morning I listened to a startling interview on the radio, about cyber-bullying and US teen girls:

American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers

Nancy Jo Sales, author of this book and mom of a teen girl, gave some very sobering examples of how social media can be used to emotionally harass teens.

Since I work with students from age two through twenty-two I try to keep up with the things they may encounter at school and the other hours of the day.  Next time I interact with a student who seems distracted or emotionally frail I better remember that s/he may be thinking about the last, horrible text, tweet or post they received.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Online Resources to Aid Learning--Especially for Students with Moderate Intellectual Disabilities

One of my middle school teachers, Ms. Parker, shared this list she compiled of online resources to help students with a wide range of academic subjects.  Some of the sites require a subscription but you may be able to "test the waters" with a trial subscription?

Check 'em out:

News2You Links:  (Ask if your school/classroom has a subscription)
Superbowl N2Y:

Black History Month N2Y:

Daytona N2Y:

Leap Year:

Twin In Space:

Songs and Videos for all content areas…      (you can sign up for a free trial)

Language Arts Games:


Nouns vs. Verbs:


Capitalization and Punctuation:

Ending Punctuation:



Math Games:

Math Manipulatives: (Select Grade 7 and then “Clock” under “Manipulatives” for completing Time worksheets)


Greater Than vs. Less Than:





Identify Coins:

Money Game:

Science Games
Cell Classification Tutorials, Game and Quiz

Food Chains

Producer, Consumer and Decomposer Game:

Herbivores, Omnivores or Carnivores?

Solids, Liquids, Gases

Social Studies Games:

World Geography:


George Washington


Thursday, February 18, 2016

When You're Happy and You Know It Tie Your Shoes

Well, yesterday was the day in the life of this first grader; he tied a floppy shoelace all by himself.

He practices quite often and he is motivated, key components in becoming independent with any task, I'd say.

This step is the most challenging:
When that loop goes "through the tunnel" it has a hard time finding its way and, oftentimes, the whole sequence crumbles apart.

Next step is tying his own shoes independently, first practicing with his shoes on a table at a comfortable height and then while he's leaning down to the floor and wearing them.  He's on the way to handling this everyday task all by himself.

2-19 Update:  This morning he tied his own shoe when he was not wearing it. Then...he put it back on his foot and tied it again!  His teacher and I witnessed the feat and congratulated him enormously.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Fundraising With Class

Last week our county had an after-school event featuring the products made by students in special education.  What a wide variety of creative class projects--a weekly potato "bar," sugar-scrubs, handmade cards, custom coffees--and my favorite--luxurious soaps.

Students run a part-time business during the school day, planning for and producing their products, then selling them by special order or in the school store during lunches.  Wouldn't you like to skip packing your lunch one day a week and count on enjoying something delicious from the in-school potato bar? (Shout out to Ms. K. Hamilton, her fellow teacher--and students-at Robious Middle School!!!)

Of course, I bought a boatload of products that afternoon and here are photos of the soaps I snarfed up before they ran out of stock:

I know I could search for soap "recipes" on the Internet and make my own, but these are so pretty and smell delightful--especially the coffee one in the center and the orange peel special on the bottom right (beautifully made by teachers and students at Falling Creek Middle School).

Monday, February 8, 2016

Using Yoga Poses in the Classroom

One of my teachers for high school students with autism has been using her background in yoga to help her students with self regulation and physical fitness.  I've been begging for photos and one of her wonderful instructional assistants, Kerry J., took these illustrative photos today:

When I perform this position as a beginning yoga student I feel quite a bit of extension in my lower back, which feels good after sitting for long periods.  Also, I remember to elongate my cervical spine so I'm not putting too much pressure on the back of my neck.  If your student has any precautions with neck flexion/extension or other vertebral precautions you will probably want to avoid this position.
Child's pose, with adaptations. All that nice weightbearing of the trunk on the upper legs and the forehead on the mat. Placing the arms alongside the body works if you have good balance and trust that no one will touch you when you're not looking.

If your student has extremely poor balance you might want to provide a sturdy chair in front of  each of them, to permit them to hold on to a stationary object (or maybe stand inside an open door frame so they can catch themselves if they wobble).  One-legged balance is great for general balance and trunk stability.  Wonderful proprioceptive activity.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Stylish and Accessible Clothing for Teens and Adults

While looking for a non-dowdy raincoat for one of my students who is headed to college next fall I came across this interesting article:

The sleeves created for accessibility look so European in design:

This is very inspiring; I need to brush up on my sewing skills.

Update 6-2-16:  One mom of a high school guy I work with has been happy with items from this manufacturer:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Enjoying the Ride?

End of first semester, beginnng of second.  About this time of year I ask myself--am I "enjoying the ride?"

Is my schedule working out well?  Am I spending as much time as possible with students and helping teachers rather than spending too much time traveling between schools or doing paperwork?  Do my teachers seem like they are more comfortable trying interventions we've discussed?  Am I getting appropriate OT referrals, out-of-the-blue referrals or no referrals to speak of?

Every so often during the school year I look at my schedule, analyze where I've seen students in their school environments so far (all classroom? no time spent in resource, lunch or on/off buses?) and figure out how I can expand the service I provide.  Do they also need me to see them during Art once a month to ensure that they are able to manipulate all the brushes, pastels and sculpture material?  Or, should I just make a point of speaking with the Art teacher to ask about any needs. 

When I make a point of speaking to the range of staff members who work with the student I always learn about at least one area of need.  One year the computer resource teacher let me know that the student was seated at the most accessible workstation to accommodate his wheelchair, but this prevented him from sitting close to peers at the other, crowded part of the class.  During our discussion we figured out that he could sit at a space on a different row, which was easy to "drive" to and yet be surrounded by classmates.  It's more fun to sit with your friends, don't you agree?

In the photo below my "grand-dog,"  Mr. T, is clearly enjoying the ride.  Of course, he's a fun kind of guy.

If things aren't always the way we want them to be at work, there's usually some little way or another of changing it up and making it better.  I'm thinking about that now and I wonder if you'd like to do the same?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cutting Paper with Confidence

What factors contribute to accurate, efficient scissor skills?

Fitting the task to the student's ability:  Students pay attention pretty well at the onset of a task but their attention often dwindles as the task proceeds.  This elementary school student's teacher has trimmed off the outside borders of the worksheet so the student only needs to cut the boxes of pictures apart.  As the year goes on and the students are able to cut accurately at a quicker speed, the teacher will have the students cut away the outside borders as well.
Hand Position:  This little girl's forearm and "helper" hand are positioned so that her thumbnail is almost parallel to the ceiling.  The thumb holding the scissors has the thumbnail almost facing the ceiling, too. This allows the scissor blades to hit the thin paper at a right angle, which permits a clean, straight slice.  If the palm is in a prone position (because the forearm is internally rotated) and the thumbnails are facing to the right or left or (eek) down toward the floor, the scissors will strike the paper at an angle and it will be more difficult to cut in a straight line since the paper may curl.  Also, the student can see the cutting line more easily when the paper and scissors are held as shown in the photo.

Work Station:  Note that the student's desk is fairly clear, leaving her space to rest her hands on the surface and room to sort her cut pictures into "word families."
Position in Space:  Note the change in her grasp of the paper.  She might be unsure of how far her fingers were extending along the back of the paper; were they far enough away from the blade to be safe?  I don't expect a student to demonstrate a "classic" grasp every time they pick up an item.
Placement of Fingers in Openings of Scissors:  Most students cut best when their thumbs are in the small opening of the scissors and their other fingers (all or just a few) are in the larger opening.  As the student matures in their skill you often see the index finger "leave home" and rest in the outer portion between the larger opening and the blade.  I call the index finger "the driver."

and, most importantly,

The Teacher:  This little girl has made remarkable gains in her accuracy with using scissors over the last year and I attribute it to the consistent, daily direction of her classroom teacher. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Prepping for Real Life Money Skills

When I first saw this homemade debit credit card reader I thought it was the real deal:

Used in the classroom store, in Ms. Parker's class for middle school students with moderate intellectual disabilities.
Students in our elementary, middle and high schools purchase lunch by depositing funds into their student accounts and then swiping their lunch cards at the debit card readers next to the cashier.
So many skills to work on to independently perform this everyday task:
  1. Finding your name from the column of lunch cards posted outside the cafeteria line.
  2. Keeping track of the lunch card while moving through the line, grabbing milk/juice from the deep, refrigerated bin, deciding which entree looks good and saying or indicating your choice to the lunch lady, not minding everyone shoving your tray (or you) along while you wait in line to pay.
  3. Placing your card into the debit card reader with the correct side up and the correct edge going into the port of the card reader.
  4. Entering your PIN.  Oh, the confusion the first few days of school when everyone has to enter a PIN and you're so nervous that you'll mess up!  It's sorta like the feeling I had when I had to learn to open my locker...the dreaded locker combination...
I spend a lot of time in cafeterias, helping students learn adapted methods for opening milk cartons and cellophane wrappers, not to mention self feeding skills.  It's an excellent school environment for observing a student's response to overwhelming noise and action, as well as their ease with interpersonal relationships.  My PT buddies find it invaluable for observing the student's physical ability to navigate through an unpredictable, constantly changing pathway, all while balancing a wobbly tray in their hands.

If you're not hanging out with your students at lunch, music, recess, art and PE you're missing out on the fun--and valuable information.  And, as a personal note, if you're as sensitive to loud noise as I am remember to bring along some earplugs.