Employee Spotlight: Rachel Weiser, MS, DT

What do you love most about working for PlayWorks Therapy?

I love the community PlayWorks provides. Every day I have the opportunity to learn new skills and tricks from my fellow coworkers and the families I work with.

What is your favorite children’s book?

I’m a big fan of anything by Mo Willems! I love his humor and the messages his stories provide.

What do you enjoy most about living in Chicago?

I love that there is always something to do in Chicago! Exploring new restaurants, going to a museum, I love being a tourist in my own city!

Would you rather a mountain or beach vacation?

This is tough for me! Both? My most recent favorite vacation was Grand Lake, CO featuring both a beach and mountains.

Share a proud “therapy moment” with one of your clients?

I was seeing a child with a gross motor delay. He was still learning how to walk. Through a motivating play scheme, I was able to see him take his first steps! It was a great moment!

What’s your hometown?

Deerfield, IL

What do you specialize in?

I specialize in social emotional development. I love helping families increase their child’s frustration tolerance and attention span to adult directed (structured) activities. I incorporate my knowledge from my previous teaching career to set my clients up for success for when they exit Early Intervention.

What do you do in your free time?

I love to do anything outdoors- especially when the weather is nice!

What is your favorite therapy toy?

I love Mr. Potato head! Mr. Potato encourage growth of symbolic play, concept knowledge, and turn taking!

What is your favorite Telehealth activity?

I love doing scavenger hunts! I will hold up colors or shapes and ask a child to find something in their home that is the specific color or shape I am holding up! It’s a great way to get the kids moving and work on following directions!

Share a fun fact about yourself:

I was an extra in the Muppets movie!

Rachel Weiser, MS, DT
Developmental Therapist

Teletherapy 101: What to Expect and Common Questions

PlayWorks Therapy Inc. is committed to ensuring your child receives quality services during this time of uncertainty and have transitioned to all online teletherapy sessions. We are looking forward to this virtual experience with you!

What is Teletherapy?

Teletherapy, also referred to as telehealth, is a type of therapy provided by your child’s therapist online through video chat, much like FaceTime, Skype, or Gchat. Although teletherapy is a new offering at PlayWorks Therapy, it is a model of therapy that has been used and researched in the field for several years. PlayWorks Therapy is remaining current with best practice and continuing to provide evidence-based therapy through this mode of therapy.

What can I expect from a Teletherapy appointment?

Depending on the type of therapy your child receives, the structure of the therapy session may differ slightly than the in-person appointments. The session itself may consist of the therapist reviewing goals and techniques with caregivers as well as assisting in choosing appropriate toys, games, and materials to target those goals. The therapist would then provide recommendations for how to use each material, including specific prompts to use throughout the activities. We realize that your child may not be as engaged or motivated to sit in front of a video so we require a parent or caregiver to be present or nearby for the majority of the session.

Will this really be a productive mode of therapy for my child?

Many providers have been using teletherapy as their primary mode of therapy over several years with success. Because the structure may look different than usual the in-person appointments, our expectation of what makes a “productive” or “successful” session may also change. Your child’s goals may shift slightly in this period but just know that every and any interaction your child has with their therapist informs their continued work. With a strong partnership, both the therapist and caregivers can use techniques with the child to reach targeted goals.

Won’t it be awkward that my child and the therapist are in different rooms?

At first, some children do find it slightly awkward or uncomfortable to work with therapists virtually. Below are strategies we recommend trying to increase your child’s comfort level with this new type of appointment:

  • Find a space that works for you and your child. This does not need to be the quietest or cleanest room in your home; however, be mindful of the visual distractions (e.g. toys, games) in the room as this may affect your child’s attention. We recommend that you choose a favorite place or comfortable space you usually spend time in as this may help your child with the transition.
  • Help your child settle in by allowing them to have a favorite toy or other comforting object with them.
  • With supervision, allow your child understand the technology by gently touching the screen and exploring the different functions, provided by the therapist.
  • Check in with others in your home to see if they want to be present or out of view for the session and ultimately let your child know who will be with them.

I’m not great with technology. Will this be challenging to set up?

In most cases, your teletherapy appointment will take place on a website or app platform. Your therapist will communicate with you about your child’s specific platform, and whether or not to download an app, based on what type of therapy they receive. Your therapist will then send you a confirmation email with the link and any other information you will need to access the appointment. It will be as simple as opening your email and selecting the link! You will then be directly connected to your therapist’s video chat.

I am in the appointment, but now I am experiencing a problem with the connection.

Below are technology tips to help you get the most of your therapy sessions:

  • Be sure to switch on audio and video settings at the start of the session.
  • Confirm a plan with your therapist in case the connection is abruptly ended.
  • Check the use of additional devices. Streaming or heavy use on another device at the same time as your session may slow your connection and video quality.
  • Having multiple tabs open on your device may also impact video quality.
  • If possible, try not to sit in front of a bright window or light.
  • Let your therapist know if you cannot see or hear them clearly – we want you to get the most of your session!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s eligibility for teletherapy, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Amanda Deligiannis, MSW, LSW
Licensed Social Worker

Photo Credit: GSCSNJ via photopin.com

Brush It Off! Brushing Protocol for Sensory Integration

Therapeutic brushing may be recommended for your child due to tactile defensiveness, or difficulty tolerating a variety of textures. However, engaging in a therapeutic brushing protocol may also help to ease sensory-based anxiety, promote falling asleep, increase attention to task, increase coordination, and overall self-regulation.

What is Therapeutic Brushing?

The Wilbarger Deep Pressure and Proprioceptive Technique (DPPT), also known as the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol, is often used by occupational therapists to promote sensory integration. It is typically used with children demonstrating sensory defensiveness, or children who exhibit signs of over-responsiveness in the protective responses of the nervous system. Oftentimes, it is used with children who exhibit tactile defensiveness, or difficulty being touched by people or a variety of textures.

What Does the Protocol Look Like?

DPPT begins with systematic brushing of the body, followed by joint compressions to a child’s arms, legs, hands, feet, and head. Brushing is completed using a soft surgical scrub brush, often called a Therapressure brush. The correct brush is required in this protocol, as it provides a specific type of sensation to the nerve endings in the skin. Firm, even pressure is used to sequentially brush the arms, back, legs, and feet. Areas such as the stomach and chest are always avoided, as they are particularly sensitive. Following brushing, 10 joint compressions are provided to the child’s hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, and feet using gentle pressure. This provides the child with deep pressure proprioceptive input which is calming to the nervous system. The protocol is repeated approximately every two hours while the child is awake. DPPT must always be taught by a trained therapist to ensure that it is safe, effective, and beneficial for the child.

What Does Brushing Do for Sensory Integration?

The brushing portion of DPPT stimulates the nerve endings of the skin, generally serving to “wake up” the nervous system. The joint compressions provide the body with deep pressure proprioceptive input, which typically calms nervous system. Performing the two elements of the protocol helps the central nervous system to better utilize information from the nerve endings of the peripheral nervous system more effectively. This can result in increased overall regulation, decreased anxiety to sensory triggers, and improved ability to transition between challenging tasks.

Who Would Benefit from Therapeutic Brushing?

Your child may benefit from DPPT if he or she:

  • Demonstrates difficulty being touched, wearing a variety of clothing, or tolerating a messy play.
  • Becomes reactive with grooming activities, including having his or her hair washed, or fingernails clipped.
  • Demonstrates difficulty maintaining a calm, alert, and organized state.
  • Experiences difficulty calming down and falling asleep at night.
  • Demonstrates difficulty transitioning between activities
  • Appears to have trouble noticing when he or she is hungry or needs to go to the bathroom.

Questions or concerns?

If you think your child could benefit from DPPT, please reach out to your occupational therapist or  us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Natalie Machado, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

References:

OT-Innovations.com. (2018). Therapeutic brushing techniques. Retrieved from https://www.ot-innovations.com/clinical-practice/sensory-modulation/therapeutic-brushing-techniques/.

Keep Calm and Messy Play On!

Ever wonder why most of us have a baby photo with food all over our hands and faces? An important part of processing our world is through touch, even from a young age. Our sense of touch gives us information about our environment and the characteristics of our surroundings. We are able to determine if something is hot, cold, sticky, dry, soft, smooth, and so on! Messy play is a vital part of child development as our touch processing feeds into our skills such as motor planning, body awareness, visual-motor skills, fine motor skills, and more. At the moment with our schools and businesses closed many of us may be stuck indoors as we quarantine at home. While our current focus might be keeping our hands and homes clean, we can find ways to continue promoting our tactile sensory processing and get messy safely!

Our sensory processing abilities determine how we respond to tactile input. Your child may demonstrate sensitivity or avoidance to tactile input, such as withdrawing their hands when they get messy or splaying their fingers outward when they engage with wet textures. Maybe your child craves tactile input and you have a hard time keeping their hands clean or to themselves. Either way, incorporating messy play or multi-sensory experiences into their day can help them learn to process and respond to tactile input in order to better participate in grooming, meal time, bath time, and other daily routines!

Sensory Materials from Home:

You can always try to repurpose materials that you already have in your home to promote messy play. Try filling up a plastic bin at home with any of the following. You can switch out the material weekly to continue providing a range of tactile sensory experiences.

  • Cotton balls or pom poms
  • Feathers
  • Dried foods: pasta, rice, beans, oats, corn, seeds, coffee beans
  • Wet media: shaving cream, frosting, whipped cream
  • Slime, Gak, Flarp
  • Kinetic sand
  • Beach sand
  • Potting soil
  • Beads
  • Small rocks
  • Shredded paper
  • Water with ice cubes
  • Packing peanuts

Messy Play Activities at Home:

  • Have your child help you cook or bake
    • Roll dough, wash vegetables, mix batter
  • Art
    • Finger paint! Paint your child’s hand and make hand prints on paper
    • If your child has a hard time using their fingers use cotton balls, Q-tip, or a paint brush
    • Use halved apples, peppers, or celery to make vegetable stamps with paint
  • Homemade PlayDoh
    • Add essential oils for a multi-sensory experience
  • Hide puzzles or activities inside of a sensory bin
  • Make a mess with shaving cream in the tub during bath time
  • Practice letter formation in wet messy play such as whipped cream
  • Have your child help you garden by planting seeds or flowers in soil
  • Have your child wash their toys in soapy water
  • Hide beads inside of Theraputty or PlayDoh
  • Play barefoot in grass or sand
  • Blow bubbles and encourage your child to pop them with their fingers or toes
  • Make spaghetti or pasta and color with food coloring for edible messy play
  • Make clough dough or moon sand at home
  • Make homemade gak or slime
  • Go on a nature hunt and collect leaves, sticks, rocks for a nature sensory bin

Make messy play part of your child’s daily routine by adding it to their sensory diet activities or designating a day for messy food play at meal time. Increasing your child’s experience with messy play will help them learn how to process and respond to tactile input and tolerate a variety of textures and materials. It can also be a motivating way to engage children when you are stuck indoors.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to tactile or sensory input, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Robyn Geist, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Photo Credit: JBryson via istockphoto.com

Reuse and Recycle for Reclaimed Fun

Bottles, boxes, and bins…oh my! With everyone quarantined at home for COVID-19, recyclable materials are likely piling up! You may be thinking, “what can I do with all these toilet paper rolls?” Here are a few fun ideas using commonly recycled items. These projects will not only keep children entertained, but also target important developmental skills.

 

Toilet Paper Rolls

With all the toilet paper rolls around the house now, try making binoculars with tape, paper, and string. Play I Spy, and find objects of a particular color or shape to target those early categorization skills. You can also create a bowling set for turn-taking and eye-hand coordination. Decorating the tubes in any way will require plenty of precision and coordination as well!

 

Cardboard Boxes

Round up all of those food boxes and make some new puzzles! If you have older children, have them practice their cutting skills by creating the pieces. The thickness of the cardboard requires a greater amount of strength and coordination to cut. Have your little ones complete the puzzles. You can also use these boxes for imaginative play, like this fun car parking garage.

 

Plastic Bottles

The possibilities are endless with plastic bottles. Put raw beans or rice inside of them for homemade maracas, make a science experiment lava lamp, or use them during bath time for pouring and filling. You can also create animals for container play for young ones to practice fine motor skills. Or have your older children get creative for some cute spring planters.

 

Questions?

If you have questions about how to use other materials or how to adapt an activity specifically for your child, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Kristen McManus, MOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Don’t Overlook Visual Development in Infants

Parents often look forward to important milestones in their child’s development such as their first steps or first word. They work to encourage their baby to crawl, sit up, or roll over. What parents may not realize is that many of the foundational skills needed to reach these milestones are visual in nature. Visual skills are an essential part of an infant’s early development.

Why do visual skills matter?

Visual skills are important for learning in all areas, as babies frequently learn from imitation. Age-appropriate visual abilities are necessary for a child to see parents or siblings doing something and want to try it out for themselves. Visual skills also provide the motivation for motor milestones like walking or crawling. Babies are usually motivated to move by looking at a favorite toy or seeing a parent waiting with outstretched arms. Without being enticed by what they see, infants are less likely to explore their environment and develop important motor and coordination skills as they do.

Visual skills are closely related to motor skills in other ways, as they allow babies to see and discover their own bodies. Babies then use this connection between their eyes and their bodies to do important things like picking up and holding objects, planning movements, and developing body awareness. New movements allow a child to be in different positions, which in turn causes a change in perspective that further develops visual skills and provides new sensory experiences. Visual and motor skills continually build on each other and connect in important ways throughout early development.

Vision also plays an essential role in the development of cognitive and social skills. Concepts like object permanence (understanding that objects are still there even when they can’t be seen) come from being able to look at and play with objects. Social skills begin to develop when a child can see that there is someone who they want to interact with in his or her environment.

How can I support my child’s visual development?

Infants need opportunities to explore the world around them and practice the visual skills they are trying to develop. The chart below outlines the visual milestones that you should see at each age and activities that you can do to encourage visual development.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s visual or visual motor development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Aubrey Day, Occupational Therapy Student Intern

 

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2009). Babies should sleep on their backs, play on stomachs.

American Optometric Association. (2020a). Infant vision: Birth to 24 months of age.

American Optometric Association. (2020b) Ways to help infant vision development.

Folio, M.R. and Fewell, R.R. (2002). Peabody Motor Development Chart.

The Urban Child Institute. (2012). Seeing the importance of visual development.

 

Photo credit: allaboutvision.com

Make a Silly Face! Oral Motor Imitation: What Is It and Why Should You Target It?

Do you remember the first time your child made that cute little “raspberry” sound? What about the first time he or she blew a kiss of stuck out his or her tongue?  Did you know that these seemingly small (yet adorable) moments are actually important building blocks towards your child’s speech, language, and feeding development?

What are oral motor movements?

Just as we develop gross motor movements (e.g., walking) and fine motor movements (e.g., grasping), we also develop oral motor movements that impact our ability to speak and eat. While any movement made by your lips, tongue, or oral structures are considered an oral motor movement, the following are some specific movements that are beneficial for development as well as highly visual, thus increasing your child’s ability to imitate.

  • Opening mouth: The basis of speech, opening the jaw is imperative for both articulation (speech sounds) and feeding.
  • Lip pucker: “Kissy face.” Lip pucker strengthens lips, which helps with producing bilabial sounds (i.e., /p, b/) as well as controlling food and saliva.
  • Tongue protrusion: Sticking the tongue out helps with a variety of speech sounds (specifically lingual sounds).
  • Tongue lateralization: Moving the tongue from side-to-side helps with a variety of speech sounds, as well as chewing and swallowing food.

How does imitation of these movements impact development?

Imitation of movements, including oral motor movements, is a skill that toddlers master before words emerge. Some children are able to produce specific oral motor movements independently, but have difficulty imitating them on command. While oral motor imitation varies among children, once a child is able to consistently produce the movement independently, we would expect them to imitate it fairly consistently. Continuing to provide repetitive models of the movement you’re eliciting will go a long way in encouraging your child to imitate. If your child consistently has difficulty imitating movements that he or she can produce spontaneously and demonstrates difficulty with speech and language skills, an evaluation could be warranted to determine if he or she is demonstrating some difficulties with motor planning.

How can I target oral motor imitation?

It can actually be quite simple to practice oral motor imitation! The only two things you really need are you and your child; however, there are some tips and tricks to eliciting imitation. If your child is very young, simply engaging with your child by making silly faces is perfect! You can also add oral motor movements to books (e.g., pucker face when reading about a duck, etc.). If your child is an older baby, toddler, or school-aged, the mirror can be a wonderful teaching tool. While I typically prefer low-tech modes of practice, taking silly “selfies” or using apps with photo filters can also be a motivating tool!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s ability to imitate oral motor movements, reduced oral motor movement, or concerns regarding speech, language, or feeding development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Sarah Lydon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Chayene Rafaela on Unsplash

Employee Spotlight: Ana Burgoon

What do you love most about working for PlayWorks Therapy?

PlayWorks places such an emphasis on caring for the whole child, not just teaching a particular skill, which I have found to be critical in the field of speech and language therapy. Also, you can’t beat working with a team of competent, supportive, and compassionate individuals, such as the team here at PlayWorks.

What is your favorite children’s book?

Miss Spider’s Tea Party, by David Kirk.

What do you enjoy most about living in Chicago?
My favorite thing about Chicago is living close to Lake Michigan. I also love the big buildings, being able to walk so many places, and never running out of things to do.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

I have many favorite memories related to spending time with my grandma and grandpa. One that came to mind involved attempting ballet to the sounds of a wind-up music box in my grandma’s living room. I now have the music box on my dresser and think of those memories affectionately and often. My grandpa did a series of stretches every morning and when he came to visit, I would always do them by his side.

Would you rather a mountain or beach vacation?

I do sincerely enjoy hiking, but I have to go with beach overall. I recently enjoyed a trip to California, where I was lucky enough to do both!

A proud “therapy moment”:

On my third session with a child with autism, they spontaneously gave me the biggest hug! I believe it was because they felt supported and understood that I was going to help them communicate.

What is your hometown?

Grand Rapids, Michigan!

What do you like to do in your free time?
I love exploring Chicago with my husband, heading up to Michigan to spend time with my family, taking pictures, and anything related to being outside (when it is warm enough).

What is your favorite therapy toy?
I always enjoy doing crafts with the kids – glitter pens, stickers, markers. The possibilities are endless. You can scaffold the activities to target a variety of skill levels and treatment objectives.

A fun fact about me:

I am a certified small boat sailor!

 

Ana Thrall Burgoon, M.S., CCC – SLP 

Speech-Language Pathologist

Chill-dren: Calming Strategies For Your Child At Home

Picture this: You’ve had a long day at work, reprimanded by your boss and had a disagreement with that one co-worker who always gets under your skin. All you can think of is how much you want to get home! You already have in mind exactly what will help you let the stress of the day go.

Children and Stress

Although our children do not have bosses or coworkers, they do experience daily stress and share your feelings of wanting time to relax. The only thing is, they often do not know exactly what will help them de-stress and calm down in the moment. You can help your child by having a conversation about quiet activities they enjoy and items or experiences that make them feel better when they are upset. Discussing and practicing their calming strategies while they are feeling happy and relaxed will be important so your child knows how to use them during frustrating moments. Below are ideas to get you and your child started with their own relaxation routine.

Calming Ideas for Children

  1. Calm Down Corner
  • Different from a time-out spot, the calm down corner is a place your child can go when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. It can be any spot around the house that they always have access to and can leave set up. Encourage your child to put blankets, pillows, and anything comfortable to cuddle with. Let them know that this is their special spot they can come to whenever they need a break.
  1. Deep Breaths
  • Deep breaths are a great tool for calming because once your child masters them at home, they can use them anywhere! Together with your child, practice taking three to five slow, controlled breaths. You can prompt your child to pretend their body is balloon and to watch their midsection fill up while they inhale, and see it deflate while they exhale. Modeling with your own body is a great way to show them exactly how their air should move and sound when they breathe.
  1. Yoga
  1. Calm down kit
  • The calm down kit is a bucket or bin full of items and pictures that is easily accessible to your child when they are feeling upset. It might include crayons and paper, something to squeeze, play-doh, snacks, bubbles, stickers, a book, and/or a feelings chart. You can also fill it with pictures of any of the ideas above!

What else can I do?

If your child is demonstrating continued difficulty calming themselves at home, consider contacting our office, as our social workers can provide your family with helpful tools and supports to help your child move from angry, sad, and/or scared back to the loving, happy child you know them to be.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Amanda Deligiannis, MSW, LSW
Licensed Social Worker
Photo Credit: Photo by Anissa Thompson from FreeImages

Employee Spotlight: Kristen McManus

What do you love most about being an Occupational Therapist?

I love that occupational therapy is all about cultivating success in everyday activities. Occupations for us mean anything a person needs or wants to do in his or her daily life. For kids, their most important occupation is play! There is no better job than playing with children to help them learn and have fun!

What is your favorite children’s book?

My favorite would have to be The Giving Tree. I think it has such a beautiful lesson, and Shel Silverstein’s illustrations are so unique.

What do you enjoy most about living in Chicago?

As a Texan born and raised, Chicago was quite the change for me! I love the views of Chicago most, especially those of the skyline or river. It is such a beautiful city, whether covered in sunshine or snow.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

I fondly remember playing board games with my grandmother. She played harder games with me, such as Scattergories or Scrabble, and she always had so much patience. I certainly think this is why I love incorporating games into my sessions, and why I use that same patience with the kids I work with in therapy.

Would you rather a mountain or beach vacation?

I would pick a beach vacation without a doubt. I am a fan of warm weather, and I think the sights and sounds of the ocean are wonderful.

Share a proud “therapy moment” with one of your clients.

I am a strong proponent of learning the child’s own goals. One little girl with cerebral palsy wanted to learn how to brush her own hair. One little boy on the autism spectrum wanted to learn how to make himself a snack. Some of my clients on the autism spectrum want to have a best friend. Nothing makes me more proud than to help these children achieve what is important to them.

What is your hometown?

I was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I like exploring the city. My fiancé and I will often go to a new neighborhood and walk around for hours, trying new restaurants and shops. I also enjoy reading novels, taking boxing classes, scrapbooking and crafting, and playing board games.

What is your favorite therapy toy?

I love using pretend play food or picnic sets. They encourage great imaginative play skills, along with social skills and fine motor skills.

Share a fun fact about yourself.

I can play the alto saxophone.

Kristen McManus, MOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist