Enrichment Occupational Therapy Available This Summer

Much has been written about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on K-12 students, with the sudden change to remote learning, disrupted routines, social isolation and more. For special education students, the impact of disrupted routines has been particularly difficult, as children with special needs do best in a structured environment, and their structure abruptly disappeared.

Compounding those issues, children with special needs have gone without in-person therapy services during the pandemic. As a result, these children most likely have experienced some regression in skills levels. To address this setback, at School Based Therapy Services we’ve developed a summer remediation program for our school districts to help children recover lost skills and get back up to speed, prepared for school in the fall.

We’ve designed the remedial program to develop fine motor, gross motor and visual perceptual skills, and to improve sensory processing and handwriting. We can offer this occupational therapy in a group setting for an entire class, or for a small group of children, or even on a one-to-one basis, as needed, to help the children recover the skills they may have lost. Participation is not limited to students with an IEP; general education students are welcome to enroll as well.

We will tailor the program to your district’s unique needs. Options include, but are not limited to:

  • A 30-minute integrated program twice weekly within each self-contained class;
  • Occupational therapy camp for two weeks, two hours per day; or
  • Individual compensatory sessions.

A module for a preschool disabled student might include:

  • Sensory preparation movement activities to improve academic readiness.
  • Ocular-motor skills and visual scanning activities.
  • Prewriting lines and shapes, structured OT-based handwriting program.
  • A letter of the week.
  • Homework to enhance skill acquisition.

Samples of Remedial Tools and Activities

We will employ a variety of tools and activities in our summer occupational therapy program to help children recover skills they may have lost during the pandemic shutdown. Here are some examples.

Fast-Slow-Just Right

A therapist might use this activity to help children understand the concept of self-regulation. A child is taught to compare their body to a car. If a child is too active, their engine is too fast. Or if a child is feeling too lethargic or inattentive, their engine is too slow. When a child is focused and attentive, they are ready to learn, and just right. [click here]

Sensory Diet

Here is a sample of some exercises a child might do as a warm-up before beginning table top activities like handwriting instruction. We might laminate this sheet and tape it to a child’s desktop as a reminder of steps they can take to feel “just right” and ready to learn.  [click here]

Write Start

This sample includes a pre-writing activity and an ocular-motor task, all in one. While holding the pencil in an efficient, dynamic tripod grasp, a student will accurately connect the dots, one by one. In doing so, their eyes will learn to track horizontally across a page, similar to when reading.  [click here]

If you think students in your district – general education as well as special education – would benefit from some skills remediation work this summer in preparation for school this fall, contact us and let’s discuss your specific needs.

Responding to COVID-19

The events of this spring certainly have tested us. Almost overnight, we transformed our School Based Therapy Services and Center for Children’s Therapy into a completely remote operation. At the time, we had 40 therapists working in schools in New York City and New Jersey, and with the sudden school closures, we had only a handful of days to adapt the entire company to this new normal and take everything virtual.
We quickly familiarized ourselves with Google Classroom, Google Meet and some 10 other platforms, so that we could use them to deliver therapy virtually to all of our students. It was quite a task, but we managed to accomplish the conversion over a weekend. So now our students are all getting whatever sessions they need with our therapists live, face-to-face.
One of our occupational therapists developed a one-page newsletter with functional activities for children to do throughout the day so parents don’t feel inundated. Parents select which activities they want to do based on their child’s performance area. Another of our therapists prepares a menu each week to help parents and caregivers with meal-planning. The newsletter and other useful tools can be downloaded in pdf format from my May 5, 2020, blog about how to speak with children about COVID-19.

Please note that nothing contained in these resources is intended to be therapeutic advice; these are simply suggestions for informational purposes.

The Joys of Homeschooling

Meanwhile, I, too, am homeschooling my own children, like every other frazzled parent, therapist and teacher out there! I have a daughter who is a high school freshman and does six hours of instruction daily, Monday through Friday. A competitive dancer, she is now doing all of her lessons and auditions remotely. She was supposed to spend the summer at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, and she has been accepted into Barnard’s pre-college program – and is doing all of that remotely.
I also have a 3-year-old son in pre-K. Even though he has live instruction with teachers, I have to sit with him. Preschool has breaks throughout the day, a half-hour of circle time, story time one day, Spanish another, or gym, or computers.
So I’m managing my company while simultaneously managing homeschooling. It’s quite a juggling act! In our Zoom conferences and classroom meetings, all my occupational therapists get to see my 3-year-old on my lap – as do the clients I’m working with remotely.
Through it all, we have managed to establish a nice routine for everyone, and routine is the key to surviving and even thriving in this environment. We schedule homeschooling, homework, time outside every day and, of course, mealtimes. That is how we’ve adapted. But I have to say I feel tired just looking back at what we’ve had to do to get to this point.

And now I can’t wait to see everybody live, the old-fashioned way. As great as technology is, enabling us to do all that we do, it just doesn’t replace human interaction, face-to-face.

Looking Ahead

Now that we’ve nailed it with virtual teaching and therapy, we’re also prepping for summer school – even if our summer programs, too, must be delivered remotely. We’re also looking ahead to September, whether that will be face-to-face, or remote, or a combination of the two. Either way, we’re well-prepared for whatever comes because we’ve already been operating this way.
We will be ready with staff to handle the backlog of makeup sessions or compensatory sessions for those children who are too involved to benefit from remote sessions and have to make them up face-to-face when they return to school. We’re also prepared to manage all the evaluations that have been missed or put on hold through this pandemic.
Please be thinking ahead to services you might want to include in your fall programming. We make those staffing arrangements over the summer, as summer months are the best times to find top-quality professionals. So please get in touch with us so that we’re able address your needs come fall. Just give us a call.

How to Speak with Children about COVID-19

By Anna Lupinacci, MS, OTR/L

Although children generally are adapting to coronavirus-related changes in their day-to-day lives, this new way of living continues to be a challenge for many youngsters with special needs – and for their caregivers. Changes in routine can generate anxiety, especially when fear of illness is added to the equation.

To help children and their families cope, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a helpful web page at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/talking-with-children.html with guidance for speaking with children. CDC recommends that parents and caregivers:

Remain calm and reassuring, both in what you say and how you say it.

Make yourself available to listen and to talk. Make time to talk and be clear that they can come to you with questions any time.

Avoid blaming language. Viruses can come from anywhere and can make anyone sick.

Pay attention to what children see or hear about COVID-19 on TV, radio, or online. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.

Provide information that is honest and accurate. Be truthful. Give children age-appropriate information.

Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs. Wash hands often, for 20 seconds, with warm water and soap. Sneeze into a tissue or their elbow; throw the tissue in the trash. Avoid people who are coughing or sneezing. Use hand sanitizer (supervised).

To the CDC recommendations, I would add that we should:

  • Limit the number of conversations we have with our children to what’s developmentally appropriate for them.
  • Keep your messages positive, e.g., we’re wearing the mask to keep ourselves healthy. We’re washing our hands to make sure they stay clean to be healthy. Make the message positive and light.

From an occupational therapy perspective, now is a good time to go back to our meditation, breathing and sensory exercises to calm down and de-stress. Rather than trying to acquire new therapy skills, like handwriting or arithmetic, pause and work on stress management with mindfulness, yoga, aerobic exercises and other techniques outlined in my recent blog on anxiety.

Attached are some useful tools. One is a social story that explains to children in picture form the importance of washing their hands and wearing a mask out in the community, and perhaps when they go back to school; this might be particularly useful with children with autism.

Also attached are two occupational therapy schedules for children. Developed by Christina Fischer, OTR, these are examples of the activity schedules our therapists follow when we go into schools virtually. One is for pre-K and the other for elementary school-age youngsters.

Finally, I’ve attached a flyer of occupational therapy ideas by Lindy Litos, COTA.

As always, please note that ideas in the OT flyer are just a sample of one creative and functional treatment plan we have devised for our students during home instruction or remote learning. This is to be used in addition to live virtual sessions; it is not a replacement for medical or therapeutic advice. Parents should always consult with their doctor and therapist regarding their child’s care.

Occupational Therapy by Lindy Litos.pdf
PreK OT Suggestions
Bee Well OT Suggestions

Occupational Therapy Helps Children Cope With Holiday Stress


The holiday season is supposed to be one of joy, yet the holidays also produce tremendous stress and anxiety in many adults. In children, that stress is heightened because of their particular sensibilities – and it can be an even more difficult time for children with autism or sensory processing disorders.

Parents often don’t realize what is actually happening with their children during the holidays when the children resort to negative behaviors. They might try to avoid social situations, appear irritable, withdraw, and even have meltdowns and tantrums.

Continue reading Occupational Therapy Helps Children Cope With Holiday Stress

Using Mindfulness Tools to Cope with Sensory Overload

When children who have autism or sensory processing disorder come into my office for therapy, I frequently use meditation and breathing techniques to help them calm and regulate themselves. I’ve found these self-calming techniques to be very effective in easing their stress – and research is starting to show that these techniques also are an effective modality for treatment.

Mindfulness is generally defined as maintaining a state of nonjudgmental focus on, and awareness of, the present moment. Increasingly, professional journal articles are pointing to successes in teaching such mindfulness techniques as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to ease anxiety and stress – both in school settings and at home.

Continue reading Using Mindfulness Tools to Cope with Sensory Overload

Collaborating with School Districts for the Best Outcomes

A collaborative approach is key to helping children with disabilities overcome barriers to accessing education and perform to the best of their abilities.
In our work with school districts throughout northern New Jersey, we’ve found consistently that the best results are achieved when our professionals (e.g., speech therapists, physical therapists, board-certified behavioral analysts, etc.) work as integral parts of a trans-disciplinary team of teachers and paraprofessionals, all focused on each child’s unique developmental needs.

Continue reading Collaborating with School Districts for the Best Outcomes

Apps with a Purpose for Children

Like most parents, I struggle with “device time.” Is an hour on the IPAD too much? Will the prolonged time spent staring at a lit screen cause eye strain, interrupt sleep patterns, reduce social skills, take away from real family time, etc.

As with anything in life, balance and moderation are key. Since the kids are on a device, maybe we can steer them toward an educational app. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) complied a list of some favorite Apps used by School Based OT Practitioners (link to full article cited here provided below).

Continue reading Apps with a Purpose for Children

Sensory Diets

Several blogs ago we discussed sensory processing disorder.  We described our various senses, particularly the lesser known vestibular, tactile, and proprioceptive senses.  We also discussed common symptoms that may be present in children with sensory processing disorder.  Now, lets take a look at some common treatment options for children.

Continue reading Sensory Diets

Parental Involvement

When school is back in session and students transition to a new classroom, with unfamiliar faces and routines we see an uptick in the number of occupational therapy referrals. This is true in both school referrals and clinic referrals. Family schedules quickly get jammed with after school activities. Often time one parent shuttles one child and the other parent shuttles a sibling somewhere else. As a parent and therapist, I understand very well that our lives are very full. So, how do I manage to get parents involved in their child’s therapy sessions? And, why do I want parents involved in treatment sessions?

Continue reading Parental Involvement


One of the most common referrals for occupational therapy is “messy handwriting.” Teachers will often report this concern to parents and child study teams. Teachers and parents alike will have children complete handwriting books, worksheets, redo messy assignments, give constant reminders to write neatly, type assignments, etc. etc.

So is poor handwriting something a parent needs to be worried about? Should it be addressed with an evaluation and intervention? Let’s discuss.

Continue reading Handwriting