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When Food goes from Foe to Friend

July 27, 2014 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Dennise Goldberg

As many of you know, over the years I have written about our son’s difficulty with food.  From the very beginning with his texture sensitivity with food, apraxia and sensory processing difficulties… food has not been a friend to him.  He is now 13 ½ years old and he finally looks at food as something to look forward to and not something to fear.

It all started a couple of months ago when he started to watch the Food network and Cooking Channel with me.  Mind you, I do cook quite a lot at home but he was never interested in watching me or tasting my dishes….trust me I asked him on many occasions to taste what I was cooking and he refused with vigor!!  I haven’t pushed food in the past several years because he’s older and that window had closed, so I secretly hoped that someday that window would re-open again.  Well sure enough, I was watching Brunch at Bobby’s one day and he was making scrambled eggs, my son looked at it and said, “That looks good!”  I was shocked to hear him say that because I’ve made it many times at home and he was never interested in trying it.  I asked him if he would like me to make some for him and he said yes.  So I made him one egg the next morning with salt a pepper and he tasted it and said, “Yuck.”  I told him to try it again and he did and after the second bite he said, “Yeah….I could eat that!”  He ended up eating half the egg that morning.  Fast forward to present day, he now eats three scrambled eggs mixed with cheddar cheese in one sitting.  Someday if I ever see Bobby Flay, I have to thank him for inspiring my son to eat scrambled eggs!!  So it began, our son’s love of food. Read the rest of this entry →

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Early Intervention: An Occupational Therapists Point of View

May 25, 2014 in Special Education Articles by Doug Goldberg

To correctly begin this article we have to start with, " ONCE UPON A TIME”. You may new be sitting with a puzzled look on your face, but let me explain. Lets look at students A, B, and C:

Student A is a 15 year old student who's teacher is ready to fail him because of his poor handwriting.

ONCE UPON A TIME.......when the same student was 4, he was unable to keep his alphabet aligned on his wide ruled paper nor was he able to complete simple mazes. His visual motor integrational skills were not addressed when he was young and is now a hindrance to his progress.  Read the rest of this entry →

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Assessing the Efficacy of Sensory Diets on Latent Responding and Frequency of Inappropriate Behavior

January 7, 2013 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Typically developing people can take in all sensory input (i.e.: visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, etc) and regulate their sensory systems to remain at a state of homeostasis (i.e.: sensory integration). However, people with Autism do not have the same ability. It has been described by people that are on the Autism Spectrum (e.g.: Temple Grandin) as an experience that leads them to seek out sensory input that allows them to regulate their behavior (i.e.: sensory seeking-squeezing themselves into small places, stereotypic behavior-hand flapping, toe walking, visual “stimming” [self-stimulation], etc.). Read the rest of this entry →

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Occupational Therapy: More than just handwriting!

July 24, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Many children who have an IEP receive Occupational Therapy (OT) as a related service to address poor handwriting.  While handwriting referrals are an appropriate use of Occupational Therapy services and OT’s are well equipped to address handwriting challenges that impact learning, illegible or sloppy handwriting can be a symptom of more significant processing or motor challenges and poor handwriting is not the only type of symptom that educators and parents should be considering when determining the need for OT services.  Occupational Therapy is an underutilized and often misunderstood discipline, that can serve as a valuable resource to address many IEP related goals.  Read the rest of this entry →

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Feeding Therapy: Treating the Whole Child

July 23, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

I have the fun of meeting a LOT of cute kids in my practice as a feeding therapist and  likewise, the honor of meeting some great parents.  Sometimes the kiddos have Down syndrome or a gastrointestinal tube for liquid tube feedings or autism or for one reason or another are just darn-picky eaters.  Know what the common denominator is among all these families, regardless of a child’s diagnosis?  STRESS.  Parenting a child who does not eat well is STRESSFUL and it’s a very unexpected problem to have in a family.  I have never met a new mom who cradled her brand new baby and said,  “Gosh, I hope he eats his broccoli.”  It never occurs to a new parent that their child will have difficulty eating.  Read the rest of this entry →

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In-Sync Activity Cards to address Sensory, Motor and Visual Skills

July 5, 2012 in Book Review by Dennise Goldberg

Now that we are in the dog days of summer, for those parents who are looking for a fun and educational way to improve your child’s sensory, motor and visual skills, the “In-Sync Activity Cards” might just be the way to go!  The Authors of “Growing an In-Sync Child” Joye Newman, MA and Carol Kranowitz, MA, have developed fun activity cards to assist parents with their child’s sensory, motor or visual processing needs. Read the rest of this entry →

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In Home Sensory Items You Can Create or Find for Cheap

May 6, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, the thought may have crossed your mind as to how you could create a fun, effective and sensory rich environment in your home. Space and budget are often reasons that may hinder families from doing so.  The great news is that there are so many creative and affordable sensory solutions to bring much needed sensory input into your home.  The suggestions provided below can help your child with sensory processing and modulation difficulties to better regulate their arousal state and activity level. Read the rest of this entry →

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Pencil Picks for Sensory Kids

February 15, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Handwriting is a complex skill that can be very difficult for children with sensory processing challenges. Consequently, these children tend to avoid writing because it can be quite frustrating for them. There are different types of writing tools that offer sensory solutions for these children to help make writing an easier task. Here are some tools that may be helpful in exploring ways to best suit your child’s writing & sensory needs.

Mechanical pencils

Children with proprioception problems often have difficulty modulating the pressure they use on items. If a child presses too hard when writing their hands fatigue quicker, mistakes are harder to clear away when erasing, and they are more apt to rip the paper (very frustrating!). Mechanical pencils can aid to teach modulation of pressure, as the lead will break if too much pressure is applied. Each time the lead breaks it will give the child feedback and the desired result is to help them monitor the pressure they are using.

Weighted pencils

While some children with proprioception difficulties press too hard, others press too light when writing making their strokes very hard to decipher. A weighted pencil can help to make their pencil steadier and give them the extra weight they need to press more firmly resulting in darker strokes. There are pencil weight kits that you can purchase or you can easily make one from using rubber washers and rod shaped coupling nuts found in a hardware store for a few dollars.

Vibrating Pencils

Children with low muscle tone generally have poor fine motor strength and have difficulties sustaining their grasp on a pencil, which impacts their written production. Vibration is a sensory technique that can be used to “wake up” or stimulate muscles and allow for more efficient muscle use. The vibration pencil also seems to entice children with sensory seeking behaviors, as it gives them sensory feedback to their fingers and helps to keep them focused on the task. Based on my experience, the vibration pencil, more specifically the Ark Z-Vibe*, has been so useful in motivating so many children to write. I often recommend using for homework, as the slight buzz can be distracting to classmates. On the flip side, the constant light hum (like white noise) can be somewhat soothing to the writer. I have noted that children with tactile sensitivity have said it “tickles” their fingers and they do not prefer to use it.

Tactile Writing Tools

Tactile seekers love textures. The three options below can help offer sensory feedback to satiate tactile needs during writing tasks by giving them textures right there on their own pencil.

Gel Squish Grips

Musgrave Pencil Fidgets


Faber-Castell GRIP Writing Pencils


Pencil Toppers

Some children seek intense oral input. These are the children that chew on the collars or sleeves of their shirts, suck on their fingers, or bite off the eraser tips of their pencils. The mouth is a powerful organizing center, just think of how a baby soothes himself by sucking on a pacifier. The actions of chewing, biting, and sucking are excellent ways to help increase focus and concentration and often decrease anxiety. CHEW STIXX PENCIL TOPPERS (BPA and Phathalate free) fit right on the top of the pencil and are an excellent sensory strategy to use in the classroom.

Considerations: Using writing tools that give sensory feedback can be very beneficial to a child with sensory needs. It is, however, important to remember that physically holding a pencil properly with a comfortable, efficient grasp is fundamental to developing good handwriting skills.

Sari Ockner, OTR/L received her degree in Occupational Therapy at from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1998, in their extended Occupational Therapy program with an emphasis in her fieldwork studies in the scope of pediatrics. Sari began her practice in New York City and is currently living and practicing in the Los Angeles area. She has over 13 years of experience working with children with a variety of special needs in school, clinic, and home-based settings. Sari is certified in Sensory Integration Theory and Practice (SIPT) and specializes in handwriting and child development.

Follow Sari on Facebook at Kidz Occupational Therapy or on Twitter at Sari_KidzOT for on-going information to support children in school, at home, and in the community. For further information visit : www.KidzOccupationalTherapy.com

* Please note that in addition to the Z-vibe you need to purchase the pencil attachment pack and batteries.


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STOP Playing with Your Food and Just EAT IT!

January 29, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

When I try to explain what I do for a living, I often say “I play in food.” Hopefully, that phrase doesn’t conjure up images of Jello™ wrestling, although I have certainly been elbow deep in Jello™ many times in my career. As a speech language pathologist who specializes in “feeding”, I work exclusively with kids from birth to ten years of age, helping with everything from breast and bottle feeding to learning to eat Brussels sprouts. I’m all about encouraging kids to try new foods in order to become adventurous eaters! True, it’s tempting for parents to say “Stop playing with your food and just eat it”, but playing in food is often the first step to tasting new foods.

Before I expound upon the joys of pudding painting and building towers of cream cheese and crackers, I want you to consider the human brain. Moment to moment, our brain receives information from all of our senses, sorts it and organizes it, decides what input is important and what can be ignored for the time being and then, asks the ultimate question: “What is the most vital piece of information that applies to what I am doing at this very moment?” It requires a very well organized brain to answer that question efficiently and effectively and the entire process is nothing short of amazing.

Over 40 years ago, Dr. A. Jean Ayres introduced the theory of sensory integration or the study of how the brain processes information from our entire sensory system. She was not just talking about the five senses commonly referred to as taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight but also the vestibular system (a function of the middle ear) and the proprioceptive system, which interprets the meaning behind a muscle contraction and movement in our joints. Thank goodness for proprioceptive input: It’s how we know how much pressure we need to peel that banana without squishing it. And where would we be without a fine tuned vestibular system? Without it, every time we leaned forward for a sip of soup, we would lose our balance and do a face plant directly in our chicken noodle!

Dr. Ayres explained it this way in her book, Sensory Integration and the Child: “Sensory integration puts it all together. Imagine peeling and eating an orange. You sense the orange through your eyes, nose, mouth, the skin of your hands and fingers, and also the muscles and joints inside your fingers, hands, arms and mouth…All the sensations from the orange and all the sensations from your hands and fingers somehow come together in one place in your brain” which allows you to make the decision on how to peel and eat the orange.

So, the next time you see your kids playing in their food, join in! If the best your little munch bug can do that day is roll a Brussels sprout across his plate, have a roller derby and make some ramps. Then, he has to PICK UP the Brussels sprout and place it at the top of the highest ramp. Then, when a leaf dangles and slows down the race, he has to PEEL it off. What happens if you LICK that Brussels sprout? Will it roll faster? The more your child interacts with a new food, the more likely he will decide on his own that he likes it. You can probably convince him to bite into it, but that won’t make him like it. Tasting food over and over is how we learn to enjoy new sensations in our mouth, but making that autonomous decision to taste something for the very first time is what builds confidence to do it again. Our role as parents is to present the food in a joyful and healthy manner and set our children up for success. And, if that means a few weeks of Brussels sprout roller derby or Yogurt Car Wash, then that’s half the fun of the exploration!

Learning to eat new foods is a process and requires all of our senses to join in on the journey! Keep in mind that we all have good and bad sensory days and your child may not be able to tolerate certain tastes, temperatures or textures if his sensory system is not organized and ready to accept new input. Take it step by step and keep it creative and fun. It’s not about the bite – he will get there – it’s about the memories your family creates in the kitchen, at the dining room table or in the backyard spitting watermelon seeds. Enjoy!

(Ayers, AJ. Sensory Integration and the Child. Los Angeles, CA: WPS: 1994. 5-6.)

About the author: Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is a certified speech language pathologist and national speaker on the topic of picky eating. She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of Food! and the executive producer of the acclaimed children’s CD, Dancing in the Kitchen. Mel’s tips to help your child be a more adventurous eater can be found on her My Munch Bug facebook page or on her website www.mymunchbug.com.


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Five Practical Sensory Strategies for the Classroom

January 25, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Children with special needs very often present with sensory integration difficulties, where their neurological systems are not organizing and responding appropriately to the multitude of sensory information that is entering their system. Intact sensory integration is important for all activities a child does, especially participating and being available for learning in a classroom environment. When a child’s sensory system is dysregulated we may see behaviors such as hyperactivity, poor attention, low arousal/energy, emotional outbursts, or inappropriate social interactions. Many of these children are in classrooms of twenty-five students (or likely more ) with one teacher. How can we support these children in school to better ensure their sensory needs are met in order to be successful students? Working in collaboration with teachers I have found these strategies to be effective and practical in general education settings.  Read the rest of this entry →

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