Posted in Eleanor Cawley

Pushing the Birds out of the Nest

Leaving the nest copyThese opinions are my own based on my personal school-based experiences and recent postings from other therapists on social media 

When is it time to discharge?

This is always one of the biggest questions when it comes down to CSE Meetings and whether or not to recommend services for students next year. Of course, in a school-based setting, the big ‘money makers’ are handwriting and now keyboarding. Before making that decision, I think that it is important to look at the student’s level of function in a particular environment. I feel that when we report progress a rubric is very important but so is the environment or context in which the skill is performed. When I look at either handwriting or keyboarding I look at the following:

  1. Can the student perform the task automatically with my assistance in a therapy room?
  2. Can the student perform the task automatically in the therapy room without my assistance?
  3. Can the student perform the task automatically in a classroom with my assistance?
  4. Can the student perform the task automatically in a classroom without my assistance?

This is an important factor that is left out of documentation on goal progress. Anyone that knows about me, knows that I love to use rubrics. I love documentation to be clear and concise, understood without my being there to explain. So I often base my documentation on the level of self-sufficiency-does the student have the power to perform the task over a wide range of activities and settings. In other words, is the handwriting or keyboarding at the level of being automatic? The DeCoste Writing Protocol is an evidence-based tool with some very good research supporting its development. Based on this research, both handwriting and keyboarding should be at the level of automaticity. If these skills are not automatic, then the focus in on the motor components of the task and therefore the student cannot meet the cognitive demands of the writing task. Basically, we will not know what the student has absorbed because he or she cannot get it on paper.

I remember hearing somewhere that in order to do your best on a test, you should take the test in the same location that the teaching or learning took place. Could that mean that a student may hand write better if he or she is in the room where they actually learned the skill? It is certainly an interesting point and possibly one for a good research study. Our goal is to have the student generalize the skills to all handwriting or keyboarding tasks-to become proficient. The Written Language Production Standards provides us with what is expected of a student with regard to handwriting and keyboarding at a particular grade level. Does your student meet those standards? Do you think that your student is capable of meeting those standards? Why or why not? Is the student capable of meeting those standards in a variety of settings without your support? Why or why not? I feel that I am not doing my job well, if I can’t answer these questions, my student is not performing as expected within the classroom and I have not offered alternatives.

There is also something else to consider and that is the student’s expectations and preferences. Is this student so overwhelmed with handwriting or keyboarding that they have just given up? I use The Student Interview to explore the student’s preferences and understanding of their own skills, i.e., what the student thinks they can do to what the parent thinks they can to and compare that to what I and the teacher see them do. The level of anxiety and frustration that a student experiences with not being able to express themselves on paper should be considered.

So while I would always like to think that OT RULES and I have all the answers, I don’t. What I do know is this, keep the student involved with determining goal progress, assess the skill across settings and keep the student in mind when determining where to go next, if anywhere. If you think that you can discharge a student when they can type 10 words a minute and they are in the 4th grade or above, think again. That student is not ready to handle the keyboard in the classroom.

Posted in Assistive Technology, Occupational Therapy

The Challenge of Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency with or without Assistive Technology

This blog is concurrently posted on Handwriting With Katherine.  Check out Katherine for some excellent resources.  She is the Handwriting GURU!

As school districts begin to think about transitioning students with disabilities out of school and onto the next phase of life, the idea of becoming as independent or self-sufficient as possible comes to mind. I prefer to use the term self-sufficient as this term implies a sense of power and strength in addition to not requiring assistance from others.  At the age of 14 years, school districts are required to begin developing a transition plan.  Educators, therapists and parents investigate vocational as well as, social and self-care tasks.  In many high schools, Life Skills Programs concentrating on just this effort are charged with the task of fostering self-sufficiency.

Collectively, we explore both basic [BADLs] and instrumental activities of daily living [IADLs]. BADLs include basic self-care tasks, such as feeding, toileting [including maintaining continence], dressing [donning/doffing and selecting clothes], grooming/bathing, walking and transfers (such as from bed to wheelchair). These are the skills that we have begun to develop since birth. IADLs are more complex skills that we are taught as our thinking skills become more developed and include things like money management, driving/using public transportation, shopping, meal prep, communication using a telephone, computer or tablet, managing medications, housework and basic home maintenance.  The IADL and vocational skills are the focus of the Life Skills Programs.

What happens, though, if despite our collective very best efforts, an individual is unable to complete these tasks without some type of assistance? We begin to explore compensatory strategies and levels of assistance that are needed to increase the individual’s ability to become self-sufficient. Assistive technology is a huge area of practice that can be considered and includes both low and high tech devices. Low tech generally means that the strategy or item is simple and generally does not require any type of power source like batteries.  Low tech items can include things like a pencil grip or hand-held grabber to a paper calendar or checklist.  High tech usually involves a technology device with apps [a computer, cell phone or tablet]. Adaptive technology is another term that is used. Adaptive technology is developed specifically for persons with disabilities and is rarely used by a non-disabled person.  Adaptive technology is electronic and includes things like a personal emergency response system [PERS]. A fall detector is a good example of PERS.  The purpose of all these technologies is to help the individual develop or maintain their ability to give the individual the power to be independent for as long as possible. Without these technologies, persons with disabilities would be dependent on others to meet many of their needs.

Each and every day, we are challenged with the task of identifying ways for these students to become self-sufficient.  There are always budgetary concerns and so we begin with the least restrictive strategy. Let’s use Marty, a life skills student, as an example.  Marty is 16 years old and is exploring vocational options.  He is enrolled in a retail work experience program through his school with a job coach.  We begin to explore his work readiness skills.  Is Marty capable of completing all BADL and IADL skills to get him ready to go to and then to get him to work? We look at Marty as he comes to school each day.

Marty comes to school neat and cleanly shaved with hair combed and appears to be well organized. We interview his parents, we may learn some things about Marty that we did not know.

  • Is Marty able to prepare for school each morning?
  • Can he bathe and dress himself?
  • Does he choose his own clothing? Tie his shoes?
  • Can he groom himself?
  • Can he pack his backpack?
  • Make his own lunch or remember to bring money to buy lunch?
  • Does he require any sort of assistance?
  • If he requires assistance, how much and what type?
  • Is there anything that can be done to improve his ability to get ready for school without help from his parents?

Marty is able to shave himself using an electric razor.  Initially, he had some difficulty and shaved off part of his eye brows. Marty’s dad worked with him and helped him learn the correct way to shave.  He is able to pick out clothing appropriate for the weather but his clothing is not always coordinated in color and patterns.  Marty’s mom hangs coordinating clothes on a hanger to help him appear well dressed.  It seems that Marty’s parents have many strategies already in hand to deal with his deficits.  Marty is able to make his favorite salami sandwich, taking two slices of bread, spreading mustard and adding salami without help.  He is able to place and seal his sandwich in a plastic reusable container, add 2 napkins, a cold drink, a piece of fruit and a packaged snack in his insulated lunch bag.  Mom checks his backpack before Marty gets on the bus to make sure that he has everything that he needs to get through his day.  At the end of the day, Marty is able to empty his backpack and lunch bag.  He places the reusable container into the dishwasher and removes any trash that he did not do so when in the cafeteria.  All of this shows us that Marty is capable of following a well-established routine with just supervision.

What about taking on new and variable tasks, like those required for his work experience program? In his retail work experience, Marty has a number of tasks to complete on any one day.  He needs to take inventory, stock shelves with new merchandise, re-stock shelves when merchandise is sold, organize that merchandise [i.e., matching pairs of shoes in color, size and style] and decide which merchandise needs to be returned.  Can Marty perform all these tasks with just a verbal directive?  Can he remember the steps to each task? Can he remember when to take lunch? Can he focus on each of the tasks and complete each, meeting the demands of his job?  We explore his abilities and begin to develop strategies beginning with the least restrictive.

  • Completing job tasks with without supervision requiring only simple verbal directives and a demonstration
  • Use a checklist to complete tasks
  • Use distant supervision, requiring only someone to monitor his job performance from a distance?
  • Use close supervision, requiring someone working in the same area and prompt him to follow his checklist and to complete tasks

Once we get to the level of close supervision, we look at how many tasks is Marty capable of completing?  How much of the task is he capable of completing? Does he need to focus on only one task at a time?  For example, does Marty need to focus on only matching pairs of shoes and then go back to put the shoes in the correct location?

Here is where we begin to look at low tech strategies. Will a checklist work? Will picture prompts work? Should Marty be partnered with another worker in the store? Finally, we may arrive at high tech solutions, such as needing a tablet with a picture schedule and video modelling to help Marty complete his work with the least amount of assistance from another worker or job coach.  At this point, we need to collect data on what Marty is capable of doing, how much assistance is required and what supports have been put in place and failed to get us to the determination that a device is warranted.

Hopefully, at this point, everyone is also focusing on Marty’s abilities to complete IADL skills.

  • Is he capable of handling money? Can he create a shopping list? Does he know what a recipe is? Can he differentiate a recipe from a shopping list and can he develop a shopping list by looking at the recipe, determine what he already has in the pantry or refrigerator and what he needs?
  • Does Marty take medication? Is Marty able to remember what medication he takes and when he needs to take it consistently? Does Marty know when he needs to order new medication? Does he know when he has to return to the doctor to get a new prescription? Can Marty keep track of his doctor’s appointments? Can he arrange transportation to get to the doctor’s office? Does Marty need a medication reminder?
  • Is Marty capable of making plans to organize his schedule? Does he know when others are available to drive him or accompany him on public transportation? Is Marty capable of using a cell phone and Google to navigate from one location to the next? Does Marty need to review a family or group schedule to figure out if, when and who is available to help him?

Many of the questions asked above can be addressed using simple, free or low cost and easily available apps that are available on either Apple or Android devices.  Highly structure training and data collection is required to determine if Marty will be capable of using this technology to become self-sufficient.  If it were not for technology, Marty may be dependent on others for all his needs and be independent in none.

For more information, please feel free to contact me.

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Creating Digital Notebooks

Reduce frustration for you and your child

Organization Group NewsIt is difficult for some students to get through school well organized.  Parents, teacher and even students become frustrated with missing homework assignments, notes out of order torn or even missing altogether.  When frustration ensues, it is easy to become argumentative, which is counter-productive to getting work done.

It is my goal to support your efforts to help your child by taking that task over. Creating digital notebooks with your child, there is little worry about losing important work.

Children with Executive Function Disorder have difficulty performing “activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. ”

Using technology I can help your child manage all that paperwork and not feel so frustrated.  Just think, once a document is loaded into the correct digital notebook, it will never be lost.  If your child loses a paper document that has been uploaded, all he or she needs to do is print out the document.

When teachers request that the student present a notebook, the notebook can be e-mailed to the teacher.  If the teacher will not accept a digital form of this notebook, the notebook can be printed.

Notebooks will be available, in real-time, on the web allowing access in any location with an internet connection by simply using a log-on and password.

Less frustration for all makes home and school life smoother. Please feel free to call for further information.  631-629-4699

 

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Imagine the Life of a Student with an Executive Function Disorder…..

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If you click on the photo above, you can read the infographic on a student, named Josh, who happens to have an executive function disorder.  This is all too common for many parents and teachers–the student unintentionally comes to school without ……. Homework is one of those things that is typically forgotten. Imagine how the student feels when the teacher asks for the homework and it’s not there.  There has to be a solution and there is.  There are a number of ways that the forgotten homework problem can be resolved through technology.

A great way to resolve this problem is by using Microsoft OneNote.  Microsoft OneNote comes with all Microsoft Office Suites–from the least expensive to the most expensive suite.  If you have purchased Microsoft Office then you have OneNote.  Most school districts use Microsoft Office so that they already have it as well.  A student’s homework notebook can be stored in a number of ways:  1.  The school district may allow access to the district server with a student log in from home.  2.  The district can allow access to a Windows Live account from a school computer or iPad.  The OneNote iPad app is free!

So now, the student, through whatever means, is able to access his or her homework assignment in their OneNote notebook.  As soon as the student enters any response to the assignment, it is instantaneously updated on any device that the student or teacher has access to.  So that means when the teacher says, “Josh do you have your homework?” Josh can say yes I do!  If it is not the paper version [easily printed from OneNote], at least Josh would be able to retrieve his assignment from OneNote.  This problem is then eliminated thus helping Josh feel more secure in his abilities.

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Remember that this is only a very basic rubric and will need to be modified to meet the individual needs of each student

It is very helpful to use rubrics to help a student see progress.  This rubric can be saved as a template within OneNote and be completed immediately after the homework is complete.  An additional rubric can be used to demonstrate Josh’s progress in locating his homework at school. In my opinion, we have to stop sweating the small stuff and find ways to help students with Executive Function Disorder be more successful in school.  If we can eliminate minor problems by using technology then that’s what we need to do.

Using Microsoft OneNote for Homework Assignments for Students with Special Needs

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As you may or may not know by now, I love using Microsoft OneNote with all my students.  There is an iPad app for OneNote  as well as computer applications.  As of this date, the app is free.  Since there is an iPad app, iPads do not need to be sent home with students.  Parents can access the app for their own iPad.  With the Notebook stored on Windows Live, the parent, the student and the teacher can access the notebook.  OneNote comes with any Microsoft Office Suite.  It is more cost effective to buy the suite than just OneNote alone as you then have access to other programs.  If you click on the image, you can enlarge it to see all the notes that I have written.  If this assignment is going to a number of students, you can e-mail the page so that it can be opened in each student’s notebook.  This is my notetaking program of choice for all my students.

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

-Using OneNote for Daily Tasks in an Alternately Assessed Classroom

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One of the daily tasks that a student in an alternately assessed class can do is to take attendance.  Many students can recognize classmates names, even though he or she is unable to read.  By using OneNote, the daily attendance can become an activity that is easily mastered in a short period of time.

In the screen shot above, I have added a number of fictitious names with a check box next to each name.  I have enlarged the font making the requisite eye hand coordination a bit easier.  The student in charge of attendance merely needs to either click on the box, or if using a tablet, tap it to check the box to indicate that the student was in attendance.  You can make the template a bit more challenging by adding additional responses, such, absent, and even add related services, i.e., OT, PT, Speech, etc.

The Attendance form is saved as a template so that there is no need to recreate the form each time.  The form is easily modified to add or subtract additional students.  A space for a student to sign can also be added and completed with with a pen tablet on a PC or with a stylus on the iPad or tablet.

Attendance 2

This is another, more advanced version of taking attendance.  The template saved on OneNote can be modified as your students abilities improve.  The student responsible for taking attendance will need to interact with each student in the room to obtain his or her initials on the form.  This can be accomplished using a pen tablet with a PC or a stylus using an iPad.  Learning how to write initials is another skill that will become useful in vocational training.

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

-Taking Notes from an Occupational Therapist’s Perspective

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http://1stopbrainshop.com/study-skills/making-notes-on-books-or-handouts/951/

Taking notes is a very complex skill rooted in abilities developed in infancy.  While sitting in a classroom, a student is expected to have appropriate cognitive and motor responses to the teacher providing the lecture.  That is easier said than done!

As an infant, we are supposed to alert to a sound, respond to that sound with head turning in that direction, differentiate pleasant sounds from unpleasant sound and learn to express pleasure or displeasure.  Visually, we are expected to respond in a similar way: alert to a visual stimulus, respond by following that stimulus by turning our head to follow it, differentiate pleasurable from displeasing.  Infants are expected to demonstrate a motor response to the stimulus, i.e., eye opening, finger splaying, and activation of limbs.

Just as an infant is expected to display a motor response to stimuli, a student is also expected to respond motorically to stimuli provided by the teacher.  Students learn to respond to certain cues, i.e., “This is important,” “Conversely,” repetition of the information, etc.  It is very difficult for student to respond if he or she lacks the prerequisite skills.  Alternatives for taking notes should be offered to the student.  The least invasive is to have the student copy notes from the board (far point).  Some students have difficulty with visual skills such as pursuits and saccades (visual tracking and changing fixation from one target to another) making this difficult.  First a slant board (often a binder) can be used to address this issue.  If that doesn’t work then maybe copying from near point will work.

The next more invasive intervention might be providing the student with some form of prepared notes, i.e., Cloze Notes.  Cloze notes are fill-in the blank notes.  Students are only required to add one or two words to a statement rather than copy the entire statement.  The next level might be providing the student with a copy of teacher generated notes prior to the class for the student to highlight during class.  The next level might be having the student attempt whatever he or she is able then giving a copy of notes to the student, usually a copy from another student who takes very good notes.

Another strategy is to use on-line notes for a site like www.studyblue.com.  You may be lucky enough to find course notes similar to class notes with flash cards.  Kno.com is a site where you can buy electronic textbooks (usually at a reduced cost), this site also provides lecture (from the book), study materials and social networking for studying.  Kno.com is iPad friendly.  Along with programs like Evernote with Penultimate, this maybe all the student needs to be in class.  A student could photograph handouts and never have to carry another piece of paper.  Assignments could be entered into Everstudent (a digital assignment book/agenda).

One of the last options would be to type notes on a laptop or a computer.  If the student lacks the prerequisite skills for note taking, they cannot be expected to be successful if you give them something to type on even though they can type at a good speed with good accuracy.  A sixth grader is expected to type at a speed of 25-30 words per minute with 93% accuracy.  If a student has only handwriting concerns, is able to meet all the prerequisite skills for note taking, can type 25-30 words per minute with 93% accuracy then maybe the option for using a keyboard or laptop is the answer.