Attention is a necessary component for children’s development and academic success. But helping kids maintain attention and focus has undoubtedly gotten tougher in recent years. We’re confronted with increased screen time, compelling animations and other constant distractions. It’s especially tough when the child has an additional challenge such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism and the task is something non-preferred. As our Akron occupational therapists can explain, one of the best ways to improve attention for an important task or just throughout the day is exercise!
Research over the last 30 years has boosted our understanding of the benefits of exercise, confirming that it:
- Boosts biological chemicals essential for brain cell growth.
- Stimulates the birth of new neurons.
- Mobilizes genes believed to enhance brain plasticity (the brain’s ability to alter neural pathways).
Pediatric occupational therapy is a broad discipline focused on helping children gain independence while also strengthening development of sensory motor skills, fine motor skills and visual skills needed to help kids function, socialize and participate in daily life.
Most professionals compelled to the field of occupational therapy have big hearts and desire to help people. When it comes to hiring pediatric occupational therapists, our team at Therapy and Wellness Connection prioritizes compassion and dedication to patient care above all else. Simply put: Every therapist MUST care about these kids. We can provide additional training for those newer to this evidence-based field, but genuine care for each and every client is an imperative.
If you’re searching for a pediatric occupational therapist in Cleveland, we know you have your choice of therapy clinics in Northeast Ohio. As you weigh your options, here are some of our thoughts on what we think makes a great OT.
Social skills don’t come easily to many kids with disabilities and delays. But music is a language we can all speak! Music literally moves us and brings people together. It’s uniquely its own kind of therapy, and we love using it in occupational therapy when we’re working on social skills.
At Therapy & Wellness Connection, we offer music therapy because it is a research-based practice in which we use music to actively support people working toward improvement in their health, function and well-being. And it’s so versatile! Music is powerful and a very effective way to help children with special needs meet their occupational therapy goals, including improvement of:
- Motor skills
- Speech & language skills
- Cognition/neural processing skills
- Self-regulation/reducing anxiety
It’s common knowledge in the music community that regular music lessons can help improve academic performance, increase IQ scores and reduce the risk of depression. Still, many parents aren’t aware that music – especially when used in an occupational therapy setting – can help encourage so many important life skills.
Researchers Tout Benefits of Music for Kids With ASD
One recent study specifically had the potential to improve the development of social skills among children with autism spectrum disorder. Further, researchers wanted to know if the effects were long-lasting.
Researchers noted that children with autism often have difficulties with direct social engagement, and that musical activities in the social context can provide them with valuable opportunities for interacting with their peers. They also pointed out prior studies that found even though children on the spectrum have difficulty processing and controlling their emotions, they can identify the rich emotions that are embedded in music as well as any typically-developing child.
Dozens of kids in the study were given pre- and post-music therapy social skills tests. Kids were categorized as having mild to severe autism and social scores that were ranked active to passive. What they found was that social skills was one area of distinct improvement for kids who had undergone musical therapy intervention, and that it was most effective when it was controlled in an occupational therapy setting.
Study authors said the results were encouraging, and called for more research examining the benefits for different age groups, populations, levels of ASD and skill focuses (motor skills, communication skills, etc.).
How We Use Music in Occupational Therapy
Just like a conversation, musical activities usually require body awareness and understanding of nonverbal cues. We can plan lots of fun games and activities around these goals. Specifically for social-pragmatic skills, we can target language objectives, joint attention, eye gaze and cooperative play with games like musical chairs or “musical statutes,” or animal dances.
One we’ve had a lot of fun with is “musical clothes,” where we have a pile of props/costumes in the middle and music is played and each child has to choose one prop/article and quickly don it before the music stops. In summer camps, sometimes we’ll have the kids team up, choose a theme song and create a dance routine with it – with a performance at the end (it’s SO much fun and a great team-building/communication exercise!).
Music can also be used before an occupational therapy session to help prepare the patient emotionally/induce the appropriate amount of arousal (or calming/regulation). It can also be used at the end of a session to help prepare for a transition.
Often in OT, music can be used to help keep kids focused and on-task. Sometimes we’ll listen to a combination of binaural (two-tone frequencies) and classical music, either on headphones or from a speaker. This has been shown to promote alpha brain wave and keep kids calm. For some kids, this music combo or ambient music helps improve dizziness during vestibular training.
If you have questions about occupational therapy or music therapy, our team at Therapy & Wellness Connection can help.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, tutoring, vocational services and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Using Music Activities to Teach Social Skills to Children with Autism, April 17, 2018, ASHA
More Blog Entries:
Best Occupational Therapy Board Games for Kids, Oct. 15, 2020, Cleveland Occupational Therapy Blog
Kids love board games. (So do a lot of grownups!) They’re a great way for kids to challenge their mind, practice turn-taking and test out their math skills. We use them a lot in our Northeast Ohio occupational therapy clinic not only because they’re excellent motivators, but they can also help us target things like hand strength, sensory input, bilateral coordination, visual discernment and other fine motor skills.
In short: Board games can make the “work” of occupational therapy a lot more fun! And kids learn better when they’re having fun.
Plus, with so much online schooling, virtual therapy, etc. this year, many parents are encouraging their kids to find other outlets for fun. Board games are a great alternative!
Occupational therapy helps children when they have difficulties in day-to-day activities in their home, school and community.
It’s a very broad discipline, and many parents who come to Therapy & Wellness Connection have never really heard of it or understand why it’s so helpful for so many kids.
Occupational therapy has always been integral to our clinic, but we’re highlighting it now because the impact of the pandemic has left many kids falling even more behind when it comes to developmental milestones. Maybe they are on track with their speech and language, but they struggle with holding a crayon or pencil correctly. They’re getting ready for preschool, but have a tough time with things like using scissors or tracing lines. They have a very difficult time dressing themselves. Maybe they have no desire to even start potty training – even though it’s well past time.
They may have struggled with these things before schools and daycare centers closed, but now they’ve been home for months, with parents who are overwhelmed and no children their age to help motivate them, make it fun. The good news is these are all things with which occupational therapy can help-and it’s not just for kids with disabilities.
Most people are familiar with the terms fine motor skills and gross motor skills. Fewer understand what motor planning is – or more importantly, why it matters. As our Cleveland occupational therapists can explain, motor planning is a skill that helps us remember and perform the steps that make movement possible.
Motor planning is critical to being able to carry out movements. It’s what we use to know, recall and perform all the little steps that allow us to complete a particular movement or task.
It’s necessary for pretty much all the physical activities in which we engage – from speaking to writing to throwing a ball. Our Cleveland occupational therapists know that a child with motor planning challenges will take longer to learn how to complete physical tasks as well as carry them out. Motor planning is a vital skill that we often target in occupational therapy.
Chores have many benefits for kids of all ages and abilities. In addition to help with learning personal responsibility, perseverance, teamwork, improved life skills and self care, chores can be a great way for your child to work on their occupational therapy goals.
Chores can be great for targeting things like:
- Gross motor skills. These are are abilities that allow children to do things that involve using the large muscles in the torso, arms and legs to complete whole-body movements
- Fine motor skills. These are the skills that allow coordination between small muscles, like those used for grasping small objects, writing and fastening buttons.
- Upper body strength. These are skills like shoulder girdle stability, which allows surrounding muscles to support the body structure and allow accurate hand functions.
- Bilateral coordination. This is the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a manner that is controlled and organized.
- Proprioceptive input. These are the sensations we get from our joints, connective tissues and muscles that allow us to have body awareness.
Therapy and Wellness Connection in Brecksville has teamed with Cleveland-based virtual therapy provider, Augment Therapy to provide our patients with high-quality speech, occupational, ABA and physical therapy online.
Families can set up this service through their television. It uses augmented reality programming (think Pokemon GO) to make exercise and engagement fun. The software is equipped with a camera that can capture not only the child’s image but movements too. These games on screen can be used to help children interact with cartoon characters and other features, allowing them to earn badges for reaching certain goals.
It’s a prime tool in any circumstance, but especially effective as social distancing guidelines remain in place. With the tools and software provided by Augment Therapy, we’re able to continue teaching social and emotional regulation and participation in one of our many social skills groups.
Inspired by the way Pokemon GO motivated so many kids to become active, she began brainstorming a similar program that could motivate her patients to move, communicate and push themselves to their highest potential.
Supplement to In-Clinic Speech, ABA, Occupational and Physical Therapy
Augment Therapy has been valuable at a time when teletherapy services have become a necessity due to the ongoing pandemic. But long-term, it will be an excellent supplement to our in-clinic and therapy services Therapy and Wellness Connection.
When kids are having fun, they’re motivated to stay the course. Virtual, interactive games can accomplish this. For them, it’s not “doing therapy.” It’s playing a game. Yet it keeps them engaged with the therapist and other children and focused on their goals. Ultimately, allows them to achieve faster results that are more likely to “stick.”
Some of the benefits as outlined by Augment Therapy:
- Improves adherence. This refers to how closely a child follows the prescribed moves with good frequency and consistency.
- Use in home and in clinic. It has applications not just for therapists but teachers and parents too.
- Ease of use. Basically, you just plug in the software and play it. The setup time is minimal.
- Portable technology. The hardware itself is small, so even if you’re traveling or otherwise not at home, it can still be used.
- Does not require wearable devices. Lots of our patients have sensory issues, so wearing a technology device isn’t comfortable or practical. The Augment Therapy technology does not require it.
- Encourages social interaction. It can be played by more than one child at a time, promoting social skills as well as physical movement.
- Makes therapy and exercising fun! What kid doesn’t love video games? The difference between this and other movement games is that it focuses on engagement as much as movement.
Pilot programs were launched at the Cleveland Clinic and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. The technology also earned a sponsorship from MetroHealth after securing an award at the Medical Capital Innovation Competition.
Anything that can improve accessibility, participation and progress for children with special needs is something we’re eager to utilize, and we’re excited to offer this new service to our patients.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech, occupational, ABA and physical therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Cleveland-based Augment Therapy is making physical therapy fun for kids via augmented reality, Aug. 24, 2019, By Ilona Westfall, FreshWaterCleveland.com
More Blog Entries:
5 Ways Our Akron Physical Therapy Helps Children With Down Syndrome, Sept. 28, 2019, Cleveland Physical Therapy Blog
With Ohio schools closed for the remainder of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Therapy and Wellness Connection has continued to provide therapy and virtual learning to children with special needs and learning disabilities in the Cleveland metro area.
Since schools have shuttered, many of these students have lost access to the critical services and programs offered by school districts and some outside providers. These students receive a combination of speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, behavior therapy and community integration services.
Although we very much look forward (when it’s safe) to resuming the daily, in-person interaction that is so vital to students with autism, Down syndrome and other special needs, we are proud to have quickly on-boarded our teletherapy and virtual learning services as well as online social groups and functional fitness courses.
Children of all abilities all over the globe aren’t getting enough exercise. The problem is even greater for children with special needs, who by some research estimates get just 17 minutes of physical activity in school – a day. As Akron pediatric occupational therapy professionals, this is problematic not only from a position of physical health but also of cognitive development and academic success.
Brain Benefits of Physical Activity
It’s our goal during sessions to get kids moving as much as we can, but parents who want to see their children thrive cannot overlook this component. One study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports & Exercise found that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is directly associated with better reading fluency and arithmetic skills.
As reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Physical activity can have an impact on cognitive skills and attitudes and academic behavior, all of which are important components of improved academic performance. These include enhanced concentration and attention as well as improved classroom behavior.”