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  • Writer's pictureIntercept Health

Incorporating OT strategies in your Child's Distance Learning

Ever wonder what to do with the kids on a rainy day when they need to get some energy out? What in the world do you do on pandemic days?! This is especially true for children and adults with developmental disabilities who are missing out on the specialized services that come with their school education, day programs and with the therapy appointments they are missing now.

Recently, Shelby Craig, BCBA, spoke with Wendy Atkinson, OTR/L SIPT Certified, owner of Cornerstone Therapy Associates to get some insights on how to know what to do to help our kids when we are stuck at home. Wendy described how important it is to be aware that everyone’s body systems are different, so their needs are different. We might have children and adults who engage in toe walking, poor posture, stiff moving, erratic movement and bumping into things, or difficulty with loud noises or being touched. Caregivers might notice a difficulty judging force of movement. For some this means needing more movement to meet’s their bodies needs and some need less in their environment.

Here is the Q & A:


1. What would you recommend to parents and caregivers for an amount of time per day and when to engage their children in physical activity?

Picking when in the day isn’t necessarily a specific time but should be proactive and before any learning opportunities, especially seated learning opportunities. “Prep the body to be ready to be alert and learn.” Work around requirements of the day (schoolwork, telehealth therapy, etc.) choosing 2 – 3 times per day in the sensory area that has the most needs. Try short, intense bursts of structured activities like an obstacle course that-- uses cognition and motor planning at the same time-as your physical movement input--rather than free, uncontrolled bursts of movement. Sensory happens to us all day long and the needs change throughout the day. Knowing your child's different thresholds in each sense helps you to determine and plan what to provide. Looks at what kind of opportunities happened for child on a good day & reimagine that on a daily basis. Consider what was added and what was not present--as that is your cue to sensory needs and best daily sensory input.

2. How can caregivers tell when their child needs a movement or sensory break? What should they be looking for?

“Be respectful that everyone’s needs are different, and that parents and children may have opposite needs.” Through observation we can develop awareness of what child’s sensory thresholds are and what they need added or removed. • If your child uses large movement at high intensity – be prepared to plan to meet those to help reach calm and alert state. Instead of letting them run in or around the house – put a yellow handprint on one door and a blue handprint on another door at a distance. Have them run to touch yellow and then blue, for 3 laps. Adding a focus to the activity gives a purpose and fun, without generating a frenzy of energy. • If your child cringes from loud sounds or bright lights, be prepared to reduce those in their space and have a plan when going somewhere that might have those conditions. • Wendy advocated that sensory work should be done proactively and throughout the day and not in reaction to behaviors. Provide safe and alternative ways to meet child’s needs as often as needed. For children that can answer questions – caregivers can help them label how their body feels and which activities let them feel read to go and which ones do the opposite. Ask questions when you notice calm, happy, alert and stressed to help them label what is happening with their body’s senses and movement.

3. When should caregivers contact OT or another professional about concerns?

When we observe actions that are impacting the ability to learn and their relationships with other people. Our sensory needs affect everything we do – marriage, friendships, participating in school & going out in the world.

Everyone has their own sensory profile and while some people can adjust meet their own needs, some need support. Wendy shared it’s important to understand that our sensory needs are not a choice - “this is the way this child is made.” When their needs aren’t understood or met, it can result in development of habitual behaviors that might have negative impact on the person or others around them.

4. Any advice, links or suggestions for caregivers looking for more information?

Wendy recommends reading the multiple websites and blogs on the internet about sensory information written by occupational therapists as well as looking into the many informative books available on sensory processing. It is important to understand the we need to address the five external senses, visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile and oral--these senses give us information from the outside of our body. But even more important are the internal senses, proprioception, vestibular and interocpetion that provide input from inside of our bodies.

When asked if there was anything else she would share, Wendy said:

“Sensory is the baseline, the foundation.” Once addressed, other teaching can occur and be effective. Sensory is a primary need and not within a person’s cognition. When we learn what looks like an "undesired" behavior, and attempt to understand the underlying sensory need for it, we can then learn to treat it proactively. That’s when we have the opportunity to decrease undesirable responses that interfere with the brains ability to learn and participate in daily tasks.


Speaking with Wendy Atkinson was wonderful chance to hear someone address their passion. Her agency works with children through adults across a variety of physical needs and settings. Wendy noted that the opportunities to work with other services like ABA has brought additional layers of success for their clients and looks forward to more collaboration in the future.

Check them out here online at:

Contact information: 12371 Cottage Woods Drive

Ashland, VA 23005 804-363-7214 Fax: (804) 798.5279

Currently, Intercept Health is providing ABA therapy via telehealth and in-person (with CDC guidelines in place) where appropriate. Services are available in Bristol, Wytheville, Roanoke, Richmond, Fredericksburg and the surrounding areas. Call 804-523-6202 or email for more information.

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