Why Is A Full Occupational Therapy Evaluation Beneficial When My Child’s Only Difficulty is Handwriting?

Child practicing handwriting

Handwriting is a complex task that involves many prerequisite skills, including visual skills, ocular motor control, body awareness, fine motor planning, shoulder stability, and hand and finger strength. Each prerequisite skill contributes to efficient and fluid handwriting:

  • Visual skills are needed to accurately distinguish and interpret letters and shapes on a page, essential for writing. Ocular motor control is needed to move one’s eyes across the paper to write in an organized manner.
  • Body awareness is required to accurately move the hands for writing, as well as knowing how much force is needed to make marks on the paper with the pencil or pen.
  • Fine motor planning is needed so that your child can easily identify, plan and execute the task of writing letters, words and sentences.
  • Shoulder stability is required to control the pencil.
  • Hand and finger strength is required for endurance that is needed to write many letters to form words and sentences. Hand strength is also needed for an appropriate grasp on the pencil.

In order to address handwriting in therapy, it is imperative for the occupational therapist to assess your child’s current level of functioning in each of the above areas. The root cause of your child’s handwriting difficulties may be his or her struggle in either one area or multiple areas. A full occupational therapy evaluation is very comprehensive; it allows the therapist to get a baseline level of performance to identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses in the prerequisite skill areas, and unveil the source of your child’s difficulty with handwriting.

Following the evaluation, your therapist will develop goals based on your child’s performance and design a treatment program that concentrates on improving these foundational skills, and ultimately improve his or her handwriting organization and legibility.

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5 Major Differences between an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan

Your child has been identified to be falling behind in school in some way. Perhaps they are scoring below expected levels on iep and 504achievement tests or maybe they are exhibiting symptoms of inattention or become easily distracted. These symptoms may be keeping them from learning up to their potential. In another case, they may have an identified medical or emotional disorder that impacts them academically. Children can have a number of challenges that may impact them in the school environment. What can be done about these challenges? There are two formal plans that can be implemented: Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. Below are five differences between the two plans:

IEP versus 504 Plan:

  1. An IEP is for children who qualify for special education services. To qualify, your child must have a documented learning disability, developmental delay, speech impairment or significant behavioral disturbance. Special education is education that offers an individualized learning format (e.g., small group, pull out, one-on-one). In contrast, a 504 Plan does not include special education services. Instead, a 504 Plan involves classroom accommodations, such as behavioral modification and environmental supports.
  2. An IEP requires a formal evaluation process as well as a multi-person team meeting to construct. A 504 Plan is less formal and usually involves a meeting with the parents and teacher(s). Both plans are documented and recorded.
  3. An IEP outlines specific, measurable goals for each child. These goals are monitored to ensure appropriate gains. A 504 Plan does not contain explicit goals.
  4. An IEP requires more regularly occurring reviews of progress, approximately every 3 months. A 504 Plan is usually reviewed at the beginning of each school year.
  5. A 504 Plan does not cost the school or district any additional money to provide. On the other hand, an IEP requires school funds to construct and execute.

To watch a webinar called: Getting the Most out of an I.E.P, click here.

 

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Signs That Your Child May Need Occupational Therapy

Young Girl Writing in Her Exercise Book in the ClassroomAt school, you or your child’s teacher may be noticing difficulties in your child’s school performance. Although you may not be able to see your child work in the classroom, there are some things that you can look for outside of school that  suggest your child could benefit from occupational therapy services.

  1. Difficulty Focusing – If your child is having trouble focusing on her homework, it may be a sign that she’s also having trouble focusing in class. If she gets distracted by noises or people moving about at home, she might also have difficulty paying attention at school and may not be getting the most out of her education.
  2. Difficulty Starting Homework – Your child may have trouble with task initiation if she needs help from you to start her homework or if she   can’t start without having someone present.  Occupational therapists (OT), can help your child work on task initiation so she can be independent with her schoolwork.
  3. Math Problems Don’t Line Up – If your child is consistently getting the wrong answers with math problems, it may be because she has a hard time lining up the numbers correctly. This may be an issue with organization or spatial organization.
  4. Typing Difficulties – Does your child have trouble remembering where the letters are on the keyboard, moving her fingers, typing quickly (in comparison to her peers), or staying error-free when typing? These are all components of manual dexterity and visual memory, which occupational therapists can help improve.
  5. Handwriting Issues – If your child has a hard time writing quickly and neatly, reverses letters, doesn’t form letters correctly, adds too little or too much space between words, or confuses upper and lower case letters, she may need OT to improve her handwriting skills.
  6. Messy Backpack or Folders – This may be a sign that your child has decreased organizational skills, which can affect her ability to complete the correct homework each day.
  7. Forgotten Homework – Your child may benefit from using a planner or calendar system to help keep track of when her homework and projects are due, as well as dates of tests and quizzes. An occupational therapist can help assess her organization and planning deficits and find specific strategies to help her manage her homework.
  8. Lack of Time Management – Does your child have difficulty scheduling her time? Does she spend the majority of her time on leisure activities, while not leaving enough time for homework and getting to bed at a decent hour? If your child is in middle school or older, she should be able to manage her time with little help from her parents.
  9. Poor Fine Motor Skills and Coordination – If your child has difficulty holding a pencil correctly, erasing completely, cutting, folding, or coloring, this may be an indication that your child could benefit from OT. Read our blog addressing daily activities for fine motor strength

These are just a few of the things that may indicate your child could benefit from occupational therapy. Occupational therapists can work on fine motor skills and handwriting, time management, manual dexterity, organization, spatial relationships, memory, and more. By improving these skills, your child will have a greater chance of succeeding in school!

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Executive Functioning Tricks for High School Students

High school students are often faced with ever-increasing demands for organizational skills, planning longer-term school projects andhighschool boy managing busy daily schedules. When there are challenges in meeting these demands, the student’s performance and confidence may be negatively affected. Because this developmental stage is focused on increasing autonomy, the goal is to equip your teenager with strategies that they can carry out independently and internalize as they continue to mature. The best way to do this is to have them practice in their everyday life as well as receive consistent feedback from the adults around them. In addition, giving the teen opportunities to say what is working for them and what is not provides them with a sense of control and teaches essential self-monitoring skills. Below are strategies for some of the biggest challenges that your teen may be facing.

Tips for getting teens started on tasks:

  • Develop a schedule with start times
  • Use prompts that will remind the teen (e.g., written plan/schedule and/or use of timers, alarms)
  • Adults can reinforce the use of these strategies by offering positive feedback

Tips for planning and organizing:

  • Develop time lines for long-term projects
  • Explicitly teach the problem-solving process (i.e., identify goal, identify possible strategies, select the best one, develop sequential steps and gather what is needed, begin, monitor, and modify as necessary). Model this process a few times and have the teen carry out the process while verbalizing the steps
  • Create a specific and protected “study time” every day that focuses on planning and prioritizing assignments
  • Have the teen make use of a planner to track assignments, due dates and study time
  • Parents and teachers can monitor the effectiveness of these strategies and modify them as necessary

Tips for decreasing impulsiveness:

  • Teach the teen self-monitoring strategies to check work for careless mistakes
  • Have the teen develop internal self-talk that reminds them to stop and think prior to responding
  • Reinforce the teen when careful and conscientious behavior is observed

Tips for working memory:

  • Teach the teen how to preview new material for greater comprehension
  • Daily practice and review of information
  • Encourage active listening skills (e.g., asking questions) and playing with the material in meaningful ways

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