Category: Helpful Tips

Craft Projects with Purpose

By Tina M
April 11th

Graphic with paint brush and scissorsBy Alicia Zielke, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at Mayo

Each week students at Chileda participate in various Occupational Therapy groups. From an outside lens, some of these groups may appear to be a simple arts & crafts project for children with special needs, but these activities are so much more.

Arts & crafts projects include many components that allow our students to further develop their fine motor coordination, executive functioning and social skills. Within a project children have the opportunity to practice scissor skills, lacing, drawing/writing and sequencing skills. Actions such as squeezing a glue bottle and pasting pieces together can increase hand strength while also providing sensory input. Sharing materials with others may require waiting and turn taking.

For some projects each “part” of the final product can be created by a different individual, allowing students to work together to create something great! However, if presented with a project too challenging a child may become frustrated, behaviors may occur or possibly refusal to participate. For this reason it is important to provide each child with the “just right” challenge.

Here are some tips to adapt your craft projects to help your child with special needs learn while optimizing success and fun at home.

  • Use Supplies with a Variety of Sizes
    Use crayons, markers, paint brushes etc. with a variety of sizes. For children who are still developing their grasp and hand strength, a larger utensil may be easier to use.
  • Incorporate Your Child’s Interests
    Incorporate your child’s interest, choose crafts or materials with their favorite animal, color, movie or superhero.
  • Decrease the Number of Steps
    For example, if a project requires 3 circles to be cut out, try cutting out 2 and asking your child to cut out 1.
  • Limit Wait Time
    Try to have materials and supplies available & prepared before starting a project.
  • Limit Choices
    For example, only present 2-3 options of colors or materials at a time. Being offered too many options can be overwhelming.
  • Ask Questions
    Allow your child to develop problem solving and creativity by asking questions throughout the task. For example, “do you think we will need more paint?” versus “we’re out of paint, let’s use more.”

Taking Children with Special Needs Out to Eat

By Tina M
February 13th

Tips for eating out with children with autism and other special needs

By Terri Gowey, MS, BCBA, LBA
Chief Operating Officer at Chileda

Going out to eat at a restaurant for any family can be challenging. Having a child with Autism, ADHD, and other special needs can add extra challenges. Eating out at a restaurant requires many skills including waiting, choosing and communicating the meal choice, sitting through a meal, appropriate voice volume, and general table manners. Some children may also have sensory aversions to foods, crowded environments, and noises.

Tip 1 – Practice at Home

  • Eat together as a family during meal times.
  • Sit a few minutes before the meal to practice waiting.
  • Wait to leave the table until everyone is finished eating.
  • Use communication tools at home that will be used in the community for ordering. Helpful tools are Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS), iPad communication systems such as Proloquo2go or Tech Talk, Voice Output Devices, and Choice Boards.
  • Have a “restaurant night” at home and create a menu to practice ordering. Using a visual schedule that includes each step may be helpful for some children. For example: stand in line, order meal, sit down, wait for meal, eat meal, throw garbage on trays away, go to vehicle.

Tip 2 – Plan Ahead

  • Call the restaurant ahead of time for a reservation or to identify times that aren’t as busy.
  • Pick a day and time that is less busy, especially if this is your first time to the restaurant.
  • Start at a restaurant that your child will have the most success at based on their skills. Some children may do best starting at fast food restaurants because of the shorter wait times.
  • Let the manager know if you need any special accommodations (special diet, seating to avoid sensory aversions, etc.).
  • Become familiar with the restaurant (e.g. bathrooms & exits) prior to visits.

Tip 3 – Go Prepared

  • Bring items that will help decrease sensory overload and keep your child busy while waiting. Examples include sound muffling headphones, favorite toys, puzzles, iPads, etc.
  • Bring any communication tools or schedules that your child has practiced using at home.
  • Review expectations prior to going to the restaurant. Pictures of the restaurant and visuals of another child or character ordering, waiting, and eating at the restaurant can be used to create a booklet to read to your child, also called a social story. At Chileda, social stories are used to introduce changes, teach skills, and prepare for upcoming events.
  • Provide specific praise when your child is doing what is expected, for example, “You are doing a great job sitting nicely and waiting for your food.” Bring preferred items or small rewards (reinforcers) if needed.

Even with the best preparation and planning things don’t always go as expected. You may need to go take a break in a quiet environment or be prepared to leave quickly. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t go as expected. With more exposure and practice your child will gain the skills to eat out. If you are a restaurant owner, waitress, waiter, or eating out with your own family and a child yells loudly, paces the room, stands up and spins, or takes food off your plate, please be patient. This child is working on learning these skills. A smile, offering a helping hand, and just being understanding can make a world of difference for the families, caregivers and child.

This article was featured in the Winter 2019 issue of
Coulee Parenting Magazine.

chief operating officer at ChiledaTerri Gowey is a mother to three children, the Chief Operating Officer at Chileda in La Crosse, and an expert in planning ahead. She holds a Master of Science degree in psychology with an emphasis in Applied Behavior Analysis and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and Licensed Behavior Analyst in Wisconsin. She has over 18 years of experience working with children with cognitive challenges and extraordinary behavioral needs. (more…)

Quick Tips for Safe & Successful Community Outings

By Tina M
November 14th

Submitted by Terri Gowey, Chief Operating Officer

Going into the community with a child with behavioral challenges can be anxiety producing. Here are some helpful tips to assist you when going into the community:

Be aware of the environment in which you are going and potential sensory aversions.

  • Bring items, such as sound muffling headphones, sun glasses, their favorite hat, etc., that will help your child if they may experience sensory overload
  • Pick a time when the environment is less likely to be crowded.
  • Prior to visits, become familiar with where exits and bathrooms are.

Be aware of environmental risks such as water that is close by, a busy street, a preferred item your child might dart toward.

Review expectations with your child prior to going into the community.

  • If your child is a visual learner, using visuals to go over those expectations and provide visual cues while in the community are helpful.

Have preferred items or small rewards (reinforcers) available for community activities.

  • Provide behavior specific verbal praise when your child is doing what is expected, for example, “You are doing such a nice job pushing the shopping cart.”

Plan for behavioral challenges.

    • You may need to leave a cart of groceries or other items behind to exit the store quickly.

If it is a new or less preferred community activity, it may be helpful to slowly introduce your child to the community activity.

  • Practice at home by simulating the environment you will be going to.
  • Take pictures of a child engaging in the community activity and make a booklet to go over with your child beforehand.
  • Start by driving by the location, another day go up to the door and look around, the next day go into the office, etc.
  • This has been helpful for doctor or dentist visits, it is best to communicate with the provider ahead of time to come up with a plan that works for you, your child, and the practitioner.

Playing with Playdoh

By Tina M
November 7th

Sensory Tip
Brought to you by Alicia Zielke, COTA

Playdoh is a great “tool” for so many reasons. The playdoh itself has a “gooey” and “sticky” texture, and in this case a strong pumpkin smell, which is fun for kids to explore (especially students who are sensory seeking).

When playing with the playdoh, kids are able to learn and expand on many skills. We can “push” or “squish” the playdoh together and roll the playdoh into snakes providing sensory input to the joints while also strengthening the muscles needed for fine motor activities. We can use the playdoh to form letters, numbers and shapes, turning learning into play. Lastly, this fun pumpkin playdoh can serve as an opportunity to engage in imaginative play and can help our students expand on their creativity!

Recipe: 1 can of pumpkin, then gradually add cornstarch to reach your desired consistency