Archives for posts with tag: Arts and crafts

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Gillian and Mark Kohn not only make a great team as owners of popular Italian restaurant Al Di La in Charleston, South Carolina, but they’re also notably wonderful parents to two sons, Aksel and Alistair. The eldest is Aksel, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 20 months old. Ever since he began school, Gillian has been busy illustrating some very creative social stories for Aksel, placing them in his lunchbox every day as a way of reaching out to him while he’s away. Now she’s creating Lunchbox Artwork as a business so that any parent can place these thoughtful drawings with their kids’ meals. We recently got a chance to chat with Gillian about Aksel, social stories, and Lunchbox Artwork. Here’s what she had to say:

Special Needs Essentials: Tell us about Aksel.

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Gillian: Aksel is bright, intuitive, melodic to his core. He’s witty, interested in the stock market, and a great big brother. He’s almost six, but wise beyond his words. And handsome, too. He’s changed me in ways I never thought possible. He’s made me wiser – a more empathetic, patient person. He’s taught me about kindness, and hardship — how to be still, present in the moment, and so very appreciative of the small (but really big) things in life. I only hope he’ll learn as much from me, as I do from him. I doubt it highly!

Special Needs Essentials: But he made you uncover a talent…

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Gillian:  He did. I started drawing lunchbox notes for Aksel two years ago. Prior to that, I’d never really spent any time “drawing.” Although I knew I was OK at it, ever the artist, I much rather preferred to write or sing. Two years ago though, when Aksel officially started school, I knew, given his diagnosis, that he needed a little extra. By that, I mean visual supports and social stories. Not that he wouldn’t get them from school — he just needed them from home, too. In a hard copy. From mom. So, I started drawing. (Or really, maybe I did it for myself? To somehow “reach out” and understand my sweet little boy. My child, that didn’t at the time, talk or connect to anyone or thing.)

lunchbox artwork - Special Needs Essentials

In starting though, I never really thought my “notes” would eventuate into anything more than a Ziploc bag of peanut butter-stained keepsakes. But I now see the potential and “need” for it. All children need visual reminders, little loving notes from home that say they’re special, loved, and irreplaceable. Hence this small business that’s taking shape … I couldn’t be more excited or fulfilled.

Special Needs Essentials: How do you find inspiration for your lunchbox notes?

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Gillian: I use social stories, a concept that was conceived in the ’90s by the special education teacher Carol Gray. They are short stories used to praise and prepare children on the autism spectrum to social interaction. Personally, we’ve been using social stories with Aksel for years now and have found them to be very beneficial. There are generalized social stories for purchase — that we have in our collection, ones that have helped — but most of our social stories are specific to Aksel and his development — written by his team of therapists. The topics range from potty training and self-help skills, to starting a new school, going on a family vacation, and celebrating birthdays. We’ve also targeted issues like sharing, hitting, and expressing his emotions.

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Special Needs Essentials: Now, how are you going to keep this adventure going?

Gillian: At the moment, Lunchbox Artwork is available for purchase at Tin Can Paper Boutique in Hartsville, SC, or can be ordered directly from me at lunchboxartwork@gmail.com or through Lunchbox Artwork’s Facebook page

And it’s definitely a personal goal to create a packet of “social stories” for children on the autism spectrum — a special lunchbox collection that hits on generalized issues and assists as a visual reminder throughout the school day.

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Are you a creative parent like Gillian? Let us know! 

KatiaToday we are thrilled to share the experience of Katia Y. González, OTR/L with crafts! Katia is a recently graduated Occupational Therapist living in Puerto Rico. She started documenting the experiences and life lessons of her OT journey while taking her first courses as an OT student and continues now that she is a pediatric OT.

When I was a little girl, I used to spend a big part of my free time doing crafts. My grandmother and aunt loved them, so they will always include me and my little sister in their projects. For Christmas, my parents and other family members used to get us all kinds of craft kits. Back then they were just fun activities, but now than I’m an Occupational Therapist, I realize how many important life skills I was learning through those projects.

Crafts help kids develop fine-motor and eye-hand coordination skills as well as tolerance, problem solving and learning to follow instructions. They are also a good opportunity to bond with your child and to work on communication and social skills (such as sharing). Even though today kids seem more interested in electronic devices, I’ve noticed in my practice 3561_2that most kids still love arts and crafts. It’s up to us to provide them with opportunities to participate in such activities.

A couple of weeks ago I received this Sand Art craft kit from Special Needs Essentials to try it out with my kids. It’s a fun craft that can be adapted to kids with different skills.

I used this kit with patients from 4-18 years old. It consists of gradually peeling small pieces of paper from a sticky surface and then applying colored sand to fill the space and form the picture. While doing this activity, we worked on fine-motor skills such as pinch grasp for peeling the papers (a task that was difficult to most of my patients). You can adapt it by starting to peel one corner and letting the kids do the rest.

Katia's pictures 1   Katia's pictures 2

Cutting the tubes (or similar things such as straws) is a great way to introduce scissors skills to little ones, that’s because they are easier to manage than paper and also help to strengthen the small hand muscles.

Katia's pictures 3   Katia's pictures 4 cropped

We also worked on developing a tripod grasp (like the one used in writing) while holding the sand tubes. The following little fella had trouble at first, but with some OT help he did much better.

Katia's pictures 5 Katia's pictures 6 Katia's pictures 7

Applying the sand in the right place works on hand-eye coordination skills. If you put it in a bigger container, it requires more motor coordination to be able to pour it without dumping the whole amount at once.

Katia's pictures 8   Katia's pictures 9

The sand also provides an extra sensory input to this activity. It is important that children get the opportunity to play with different textures to help them develop tactile sensory modulation and discrimination. The boy in the picture below doesn’t like the feel of sand or other similar textures, but because the activity is engaging to him, he is able to compromise so he will be able to see the end product. This is one of the big reasons why crafts are so effective: they provide a great motivation that helps kids work in skills they usually don’t want to.

Katia's pictures 10   Katia's pictures 11

This activity requires to be done one spot at a time, which is great for working on tolerance and following instructions. It is important that the kids are also responsible for the cleanup, which is an independent life skill.

Here two of the end products:

Katia's pictures 12 cropped   Katia's pictures 13 cropped

You can make the activity easier by peeling the paper yourself and letting the child just fill the spaces with sand or by peeling larger amounts of paper at once to decrease the steps and time in finishing the activity.

Let me know if you have done something similar with your kids. You can also share crafts ideas in the comments below!

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