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After many months of thinking, planning, conducting focus groups, and writing articles, I am excited to announce the launch of my new blog, Mama OT: Tips and Tricks for Those Who Care for Children.

You can check it out by going to www.MamaOT.com.

Though this means the end of OT Journey – a project that saw me through OT school — it does not mean my journey as an OT is over. In fact, it has only just begun.

So hop on over to Mama OT, a fun new place to share kid-related ideas based on experience as a mama and an OT.

Thanks so much for reading OT Journey, and I hope to see you over on Mama OT!

How many of you out there have heard of Pinterest? How many of you have used it before? How many of you use it as a place for finding OT treatment ideas?

If you (mentally) raised your hand to any of these questions, then you’re on the right track!

In case you don’t know, Pinterest is a place for sharing and organizing images and ideas that you find on the Internet. By following the “pins” that your friends share, you can create virtual pinboards that are organized any way you like and re-post your friends’ pins onto your various boards. Make sense? So, for example, I have a handful of boards that organize topics such as recipes, photography, kids’ activities (for someday when my 5-month-old grows up), do-it-yourself projects, and so on.

The pinboard that I’m MOST passionate about is my OT board. When I first joined Pinterest in the summer of 2011 (when I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of my 1st baby!), I noticed that there were all these great kids’ activities floating around and I thought to myself, I could totally use that in therapy! So I created an OT pinboard and started saving activities that I could potentially incorporate into my pediatric therapy sessions. As a new OT, this was such a breath of fresh air. I found a few ideas here and there and was content to have just a few things in my back pocket after being sleep deprived (you parents can relate!) and out of school and fieldwork for 6+ months.

Once I started working, however, I saw a flier that introduced me to a company that has put together the ULTIMATE world of OT resources: PediaStaff. I don’t work for PediaStaff and I had never heard of them before, so I’m not trying to covertly convince you to work for them. But what I am saying is that they have done something absolutely AMAZING…they have put together literally hundreds of pinboards for various topics related to pediatric therapy. I’m sorry if you’re not in peds and this doesn’t relate to you. But if you are? Oh boy, get ready! Their boards are for people who work with and teach kids — primarily OTs, SLPs, behavioral therapists, and school teachers (it’s possible there are other fields represented that I haven’t seen since there are so many pinboards). Off the top of my head, some topics of the OT boards include sensory/messy play, activities to promote hand strengthening, ways to develop and improve pencil grip, free printable visuals for visual schedules/picture exchange, picky eating, AAC, animal-assisted therapy, lots of boards related to specific diagnoses, and much, much, MUCH more. I can’t even begin to describe the depth and breadth of these boards, but once you dive in, there’s no stopping! I have been know to spend hours perusing just one board and saving articles and links that will be immensely helpful to me in my pediatric practice. Though some of the ideas I come across are things I already learned in OT school or fieldwork, many of the ideas are new to me and simply ingenious. I have also been introduced to many great blogs and articles that are written by OTs and cover a wide array of topics.

It is important to note that all of this idea sharing and pinning certainly does not serve as continuing education, as helpful as it is. But it most definitely supplements the formal education that we have already received and it can jump start our practice by giving us some new ideas for treatment and inspiring us to creative greatness.

So what about you? Have you found Pinterest to be a helpful resource to your OT practice? Are there other websites you use as a means of giving you new ideas and a fresh perspective on your profession? I would love to hear from you!

If you haven’t experienced Pinterest yet, go to http://www.pinterest.com and request an invite. You should receive an email within a few hours that will include a link that you can click on in order to set up an account. You will then be provided with suggestions for who you can follow, based primarily on your Facebook friends who are also Pinterest users. I hope it becomes as great a resource to you as it has for me!

This week I started my first job as a licensed occupational therapist! Since part of my job will be to provide OT services to children in their home (if they are between the ages of 0-3 and are funded by Regional Center), I am responsible for toting around therapy supplies in the trunk of my car everywhere I go. One staple? Playdough.

Playdough is great for so many reasons when it comes to therapy, but it can get expensive, especially if your kiddos decide to mix together several of your colors before putting them back into those tiny plastic pop-top containers. So why not just make it yourself?

It’s so easy, uses regular ingredients you’d have in your cupboard (with the exception of cream of tarter) and takes no more than 10 minutes. Here’s how:

Ingredients for homemade playdough:

2 cups water

10-20 drops food coloring (I used 10 drops and wish I would have used more)

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon oil (vegetable, olive, canola…whatever you’ve got in your cupboard)

1 teaspoon cream of tartar (you can find it in the spices aisle at the store)

1 cup salt

Directions:

In a large pot, mix water and food coloring. Then add the rest of the ingredients. Cook over medium-high heat and stir with a wooden spoon (not a spatula, too flimsy) for about 5 minutes until the consistency is thick like…well…playdough.

toss 'em all in there...

...and then mix 'em all up.

The playdough will be hot, so don’t just pull it out bare handed.

warm playdough is one of life's simple pleasures...trust me.

Once your playdough has been cooked and has cooled off a little, it’s time to play!

a birthday cake?

a silly face?

Once you’re ready to put the delightful batch of dough away, you can store it either in an airtight container in the refrigerator, or simply stuff it all into a gallon-size ziploc bag at room temperature. This way it’s easy to take it along with you.

zip it up and take it on the road.

Good luck!

When I graduated from OT school this past May, my Dad offered to buy me an iPad2 as a graduation gift. He thought that maybe I would be able to use it in my work with kids with special needs as I drove to and from clients’ homes and saw them in the clinic. I decided it would be a good investment, so a few hours after I received my Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, we headed over to the Apple store and picked out my shiny new toy.

In the months since that purchase, I’ve thought to myself that one of the many things I could do with the iPad is use it in therapy. Pediatric Occupational Therapists often work with children with limitations in the areas of fine motor skills, problem solving, cognition, motor planning, handwriting, body awareness, self-care, feeding, sensory processing, and more; all of these areas can be addressed in part or whole through the use of the iPad.

As I’ve been getting ready to go back to work in a few weeks (I recently had a baby), I’ve started downloading tons of apps on my iPad that I think could be useful with my pediatric clients. I downloaded 20 or so apps and then, wouldn’t you know it, I heard that 60-Minutes was going to be airing a special on how the iPad and its apps have revolutionized the lives of people with autism. I guess I’ve been on the right track!

You can click here to watch the 13-minute piece that encouraged millions as it aired last night (October 23rd), titled, “Apps for Autism.”

I thought it might be helpful if I posted a list of useful links for tracking down apps that can help people with autism. If you’re like me, you probably want your library of information to be organized so that, in the future, you can easily find what you’re looking for. So here I present to you The List. It’s long, but I’m sure there are lots of links out there that I don’t know about (and perhaps there will be even more added to the world wide web now that 60 Minutes has put autism and the iPad in the spotlight). If you know of other links, apps, or research being done to enhance the usability of apps for people with autism, please make your contribution in the comment box below! (And since I’m a Pediatric OT, I’m very interested in apps that would be great for kids!)

*Please note that I am not endorsing the following links; I am simply sharing them. If you have positive or negative things to say about any of them, please respectfully share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

. . .

Sue’s Favorite Autism Apps: http://independentclinician.com/autism-apps/

Apps for Children with Special Needs: http://a4cwsn.com/

Proloquo2Go: http://www.proloquo2go.com/

Alphabet Zoo: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/alphabet-zoo/id416075232?mt=8

iPad Apps for Autism: A Spreadsheet of Reviews and Recommendations (VERY comprehensive, organized, and consistently updated): http://www.squidalicious.com/2011/01/ipad-apps-for-autism-spreadsheet-of.html

Inov8: There’s a Special App for That: http://www.inov8-ed.com/category/special-app-for-that/

Autism and the iPad: http://autismandtheipad.blogspot.com/

Evolve iPad Enclosure (makes your iPad nearly indestructible and allows you to lock the app you’re in so a client can’t go into and out of programs willy nilly): http://www.ipadenclosures.com/ipad_kiosk_enclosure/ipad_enclosures/evolve

SpeakinMotion: http://www.speakinmotion.com/

iTherapy: Speech Therapy for Autism: http://www.proactivespeechtherapy.com/

Smurks (expressing emotions): http://smurks.net/

Verbally Premium (a text-t0-speech app reviewed by iAutism): http://www.iautism.info/en/2011/10/08/review-verbally-premium/

Let’s join together as we continue in our work to help people with autism grow in their independence and their ability to function and THRIVE in this world!

Congratulations to Cheryl Crow, an OT student at Samuel Merritt University in the Bay Area! Her video was played in front of 6,000 people at the 2011 AOTA Conference in Philadelphia. It was chosen out of several videos promoting the field of occupational therapy that were submitted by OT and OTA programs across the country.

As you watch this video, imagine what it would be like to watch it in a room with 5,999 other people who are pumped about your profession as the images flash across a giant screen and the sound booms over the entire room.

It gave me chills.

Before I applied to OT school, I was a therapy aide at a pediatric clinic in Carlsbad. In the course of working with various therapists, one OT told me something that has since stuck with me: When you start having kids of your own, it can make you a better pediatric therapist.

As someone who wants to be able to give my full effort and attention to the things that I do, this made me feel a lot better about going into OT school at the age of 25. I knew that I wanted to start having kids in my late 20s, but I was afraid that by me going to grad school, I was essentially acknowledging the fact that I wouldn’t be able to start having kids until I got into my 30s. It only seemed logical that if I started grad school at age 25, then I would finish at age 27 and work for a few years before having kids so that I could earn some money and get used to the whole new career thing. Right? But when this OT — who has 2 young boys of her own — told me in 2008 that you don’t necessarily have to put off starting a family in order to still be a good therapist…that totally changed my perspective. And, clearly, I have come to embrace this perspective, as my husband and I will be welcoming our first baby into the world just 3 months after I graduate from OT school.

Why might having kids of my own actually help me become a better pediatric therapist? When the OT first mentioned this concept to me, she said that she found that she could relate better to the parents (a HUGE part of working in pediatric OT) and seemed to develop this uncanny ability to somehow understand her pediatric clients in a more complete way. It seems that, once you have kids of your own, you can more fully understand the realities of living with and raising children. While every family’s situation and experience is different, having kids of your own gives you the ability to be more realistic in the things that you ask of your kiddos’ parents. Things like home programs, community outings, and environmental modifications.

And not only may having kids of my own improve the technical aspects of my pediatric practice, it may also boost the potential for parent-therapist rapport. One of the things I’ve always fixated on when working with kids is my ability to gain respect from parents because, well, I look like I’m 14 years old even though I’m in my late 20s. That doesn’t mean that parents don’t come to respect me through the work that I do with their kids. But I sometimes envy those who don’t have to work to gain parents’ respect — they just have that look about them that says, Don’t worry, I’m old enough to handle this.Issues…

I should also add that just because you don’t have kids of your own, it doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be a good pediatric therapist. And just because you do have kids of your own, it doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically become a superstar therapist either. It’s just another dimension of life that has the potential to improve your practice. I hope people don’t think I’m saying that my situation is the best, because it certainly isn’t. I mean, who really wants to have to worry about pumping schedules, how long your milk will last on ice during the workday, and the potential for leakage while working with crying children, all while looking for a first job as a pediatric OT? Not many people, I’d imagine. It’s a whole new set of factors to consider.

Anyway…

I bring this all up now because as I’ve been looking through potential pediatricians in the Santa Barbara area, I have found myself drawn to those doctors who have kids of their own. And, specifically, who have boys of their own. Maybe it’s a petty factor to consider, but I’m finding that it really does make a big difference to me. It sets those doctors apart because, whether they are male or female, I know that they’ve been through this before.

That being said, I’m excited about the pediatrician that we’re scheduled to meet with at the end of May. Not only is he a Bruin (!!!!!) who’s a strong advocate of breastfeeding and has 2 boys of his own, but he’s also a Santa Barbara native who is super involved in the community, both locally and nationally. He writes a healthcare column in the local newspaper as well as in national publications, is involved with the local AYSO soccer league and Little League, is a distance runner, and is a medical consultant for the show Burn Notice. And although he does all of that stuff and provides a ton of parent resources on his website, my favorite thing about him (without having actually met him yet) is the fact that he has an entire page of his site devoted to kid-related things that his 2 boys and his wife enjoy in Santa Barbara. From local activities to baby accessories/toys to wife-recommended breastfeeding supplies, he really seems to understand the need to be able to relate to the parents of the kids he works with. It appears that he recognizes the fact that the kids and families he treats are more than just his patients. They are people. And although it’s nice to put together a list of local resources and recommendations (something we’ve done as an assignment for one of our pediatrics classes in OT school), it means a lot more when the person making the recommendations has some personal experience with them rather than simply looking things up online and throwing together a list of resources.

So even though I am sort of (sort of???) terrified of the idea of having my first baby and then immediately starting a new career, I know that it has the potential to make me better at what I do, both as a new parent and a new therapist. It’s a lot to handle, I know. I realize that being a new mom and a new therapist will be anything but a cakewalk. But I truly believe that God will be able to use each of my new roles to strengthen each other, as well as to draw me closer to him. Praying for peace and encouragement as each of these milestones quickly approach!

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd. I love learning, and I love things that are cheesy and silly. So it should be no surprise to me that, as I’m finishing up my last semester of grad school, I am now relating my pregnancy to things I’m learning in school…in my research methods class.

In occupational therapy we talk about EBP: Evidence-Based Practice. We want to make sure that the interventions that we use with our clients are backed up by evidence. And not just heartwarming stories of things that people did that made them feel better after a stroke or an unexpected life-changing accident. Real, solid evidence with good study designs, limited confounders, and generalizable results. We’ve learned that RCT’s (randomized control trials) are the gold standard in experimental research, and that systematic reviews are at the top of the research hierarchy, pooling and examining lots of studies in order to make a strong case with a collective result.

So, I started thinking. What if I had an evidence-based pregnancy? What if I actually looked into the evidence myself? I mean, there are always pregnancy books and blogs and random internet news articles to tell you what’s good and bad during pregnancy. But why not just go to the source of the evidence? I mean, I basically have unlimited access to any kind of evidence I want since I’m currently a student and USC pays subscription fees in order for their library (and, consequently, their students) to have access to tens of thousands of research journals. 

What would I want to start with? I’m a student. Caffeine it is.

So I looked up a systematic review evaluating caffeine use and pregnancy. What I found shocked me, actually. Most pregnancy resources I’ve read have advised that pregnant women stick to between 100-200 milligrams a day of caffeine, if they’re going to consume any at all. That’s like 1-2 cups of average-strength coffee per day. This review, though, basically found that up to 400 milligrams a day was fine. Interesting. Not that I’m going to start drinking 4 cups of coffee per day. But still.

So what next? I miss my occasional glass of wine. So let’s do alcohol and pregnancy. Of course, we all know the common rule of thumb when it comes to drinking while you’re pregnant — don’t do it. But in the past few years, it seems that all of my pregnant friends’ doctors have told them that an occasional glass of wine with dinner is just fine. Maybe even encouraged, depending on the person and her specific medical situation. This shocked me when I first heard about it, and I thought there was no way this could be true. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to find when I looked up a systematic review of mild to moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The review said that it’s basically fine, but that there are some mixed results, it depends on the person’s specific case, and we need more research. Not too surprising there.

My third and most recent search related to something I’ve been doing a lot this semester: sitting with my laptop. I have always secretly reasoned to myself that, reproductively speaking, it’s probably not the healthiest thing for women to sit with computers on their laps. I know research has shown that lap-based laptop use has been linked to decreased fertility in men (due to increasing the temperature of their…yeah), but I wanted to know if anything has been studied about women. I mean, aren’t there some sort of invisible, harmful, computer vibes that emanate in coordination with that low humming noise? To my chagrin, I didn’t find anything about pregnant women and laptop use. But I did find a study about prenatal and postnatal exposure to cell phones. This study found that with increased cell phone exposure, both prenatally and postnatally, children were more likely to later develop hyperactivity and learning disorders during the preschool years. But it is important to explicitly state the age-old research mantra (as they did at the end of the article): CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION. There are several reasons why the results may have turned out this way, most of which I’m sure you could come up with on your own.

So that’s it thus far. Caffeine, alcohol, and cell phones. Straight from the horse’s mouth. What else should I look into to further my evidence-based pregnancy? Suggestions welcome.

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