Kids at Work: What OT for kids is all about

April is National Occupational Therapy Month; a time to raise awareness of what OT is all about.  OTs work with persons with disabilities to improve functional skills and participation in daily tasks.  Pediatric occupational therapy is a specialty area of practice that addresses child development, activity participation and performance skills so that children with disabilities can achieve their highest level of independence and success in daily activities.

Occupational Therapy derived its name from the use of “occupation” to refer to the roles, routines and activities that we engage in.   A child’s primary occupations include those of family member (son/daughter, sibling, etc), student or learner, friend and player.  A child may also have occupations such as athlete, musician, artist, caregiver for a pet, babysitter and so forth.  Occupational therapists evaluate a child’s developmental skills and assess strengths/impairments related to their ability to participate in daily activities.  Treatment is designed to help develop skills, adapt the environment, educate caregivers and improve participation in daily activities through the use of purposeful activities that are related to the occupations of the child.  The goal of OT is to help the child progress developmentally and participate in daily occupations to their highest potential.

To the casual observer, a child engaged in occupational therapy may appear to be doing nothing more than playing.  This is because a child’s primary occupation is that of “player.” It is through play that young children learn about their world and develop skills for living.   An OT session might involve use of gross motor play like navigating through an obstacle course of climbing, crawling, jumping, swinging and rolling.  Play activities are chosen to address the needs of the child and could include fine motor activities (handling small game pieces), visual motor activities (doing puzzles, drawing), or social interaction (turn taking in a game, compromising to choose play activities).  An OT is trained to analyze tasks or activities and choose those that will be motivating to the client, can be adapted to the “just right challenge” and meet therapy goals for improving skills and function.

OT includes using treatment activities to improve skills, teaching family and other caregivers about the child’s needs, educating others about environmental modifications or task adaptations to support the child’s participation and empowering the child and family toward self-advocacy for future needs.  Therapy goals are always directed toward increasing independence not only in a specific task but in the child and family being able to meet their own needs when direct treatment is over.  Treatment in a clinic setting should always be focused on helping the child to attain a level of function where they are able to participate in home and community activities in a more effective manner so that natural developmental processes can take over.

While children may receive OT services in the school setting under an IEP or 504 Plan, it is important to note the differences between OT in an educational setting versus a clinical setting.  In the school, OT is provided to support the child’s participation in school related tasks and all services must relate directly to the child’s needs in the educational setting. Services in the school are likely to target specific skills such as handwriting or producing written work or regulating behaviors and social skills in the classroom.  This is in contrast to clinic based or “private” OT services which are not limited in the same manner. Many children receive school based services but also require additional OT services to address all of their needs.

At STEPS for Kids, our occupational therapists specialize in providing comprehensive developmental services focusing on a child’s strengths to support their skill development in other areas.   Focusing on functional outcomes as identified during the evaluation through assessment and parent interview, our OT staff uses developmentally appropriate activities to engage children in motivating play that encourages active participation and skill acquisition.  We provide parent education and support for understanding the child’s needs, accessing resources and empowering families for the future.

Wondering whether your child may benefit from occupational therapy? STEPS for Kids offers free screenings that will help you know whether a full evaluation is needed.  Please contact us to schedule a screening or ask about our services.  We are happy to discuss your concerns any time.

Looking for more information? The American Occupational Therapy Association has more information about OT as well as tips for many aspects of child development and daily activities.

It’s Movie Time! Saturday April 19th for Rio 2

Our Sensory Friendly film events are continuing this Saturday, April 19th with Rio 2.  Follow your friends from Rio, Blu, Jewel and their kids, as they face the wilds of the Amazon in this new release.   The movie will be shown with the lights turned up a bit and the sound turned down a bit, to make the experience more comfortable for everyone.  If your child needs to wiggle, that’s all right, too!  Come enjoy a movie with the whole family!

When: Saturday April 19, 2014;  10:00 am

Where: NCG Cinemas, 1505 N. Bridge St. Yorkville, IL

We hope you can join us for this or any of our Sensory Friendly Film events. Check out our full schedule for 2014 and mark your calendars!


Sense-Able Strategies for Every Day

Join us on Wednesday April 2nd 2014, 7:00 pm at the clinic in Yorkville, IL for an evening filled with information and strategies to help you support your child at home, school and in the community.  Debra Johnson, OTR/L will be speaking about self-regulation and sensory processing, how sensory activities and experiences influence our behaviors, and how to implement a sensory diet.

We all use sensory based experiences to help us with self regulation throughout the day.  When your energy lags in the middle of a business meeting you might wiggle in your chair and reposition your body,  fidget with your pen or a paperclip or take a drink of cold water to rouse your energy level and increase your attentiveness.  When you are stressed after a long day you might choose to relax with soothing music, take a walk outdoors or enjoy your favorite food for dinner.   This, in essence, is a sensory diet. We choose different experiences throughout the day that help us regulate our responsiveness and allow us to complete daily tasks more efficiently.

We help young children learn how to use different strategies to calm themselves for sleep, to relax when worried, to focus attention for safety by modeling and redirecting them when necessary.  Some children will pick up on these strategies quickly, innately. You may see even a small child choose to briefly separate from others during play as if taking a rest break before returning to active play within a group.  Older children may choose to be either physically active after school or seek out quiet time for relaxation.  We as parents learn how to follow the rhythms of these needs and notice that one child needs “down time” while another requires more movement. For typically developing children we don’t think twice about this naturally occurring phenomena.

For children who have sensory processing disorders (SPD) the ability to regulate responses to sensory information is skewed. There may be over-responsiveness to some stimuli and under-responsiveness to other types of input.  The use of sensory strategies is not as clear cut or easily acquired during growing up. Children with SPD often benefit from increased structure and assistance in using sensory strategies, learning how their bodies respond and developing independence in using strategies effectively.  Used this way, a sensory diet is an invaluable tool that empowers parents and child.

Sense-Able Strategies for Every Day will provide you with tips, strategies and tools that you can put to use immediately to help your child (or yourself!) to manage daily activities and self-regulation.  We hope you can join us!  You can also print off a flyer to share this information with others.

Sense-Able Strategies for Every Day                                                                    Presented by Debra Johnson, MS, OTR/L

Wednesday April 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm

STEPS for Kids, 1555 Sycamore Rd. Yorkville, IL

Please call or email to reserve your space today. Registration is FREE but space is limited!

630-552-9890  OR

Getting More Nutrition Out of a Sensory Diet

If you  have a child with a sensory processing disorder, no doubt you have heard of using a “sensory diet” to help with regulating behaviors and responses during daily activities.  The term gets thrown around a lot in SPD circles and many parents are hopeful that the right sensory diet will change everything.  Using an appropriate array of sensory strategies can indeed be very helpful for anyone who struggles with regulating their arousal level during activities (too active or too under-responsive).  The trick, when the person has difficulty processing sensory information, is to establish the correct “diet” and then apply it efficiently to get the most benefit or nutrition, if you will, out of the sensory diet.

“Sensory Diet” is a term that was coined by OT Patricia Wilbarger (creator of the Therapressure technique, aka “Brushing”) to refer to the therapeutic intervention of using specific sensory activities throughout the day to achieve and sustain a calm, organized state of alertness.  The concept has since been expanded to include the use of sensory activities that are both calming and alerting to help individuals maintain an appropriate state of alertness and behavioral responses during the day.  The Alert Program (“How Does Your Engine Run”) is perhaps one of the best known protocols for understanding and designing sensory diets.  The word “diet” as used in this context refers to the idea that as sensory beings people need a balance of sensory activities with variety in the content of activities much like we do in our nutritional diet.  You need the right combination of foods, in the right amounts, to maintain a balanced physical state.  The sensory diet relies on the use of the right amount and intensity of sensory input to regulate arousal and behaviors.

There are many places to find lists of sensory activities. I always recommend Raising A Sensory Smart ChildHenry OT “Tools For” books,  and The Alert Program.  Of course, Pinterest is practically exploding with them. But having a list of activities isn’t what a sensory diet is all about.   Using a sensory diet means applying knowledge of the child’s unique sensory needs and responses to the process of choosing appropriate sensory based activities and environmental adaptations to support the child’s behaviors and self-regulation in a pro-active manner.

While fidget toys and trampolines, wall push-ups and therapy balls play a big part in many sensory diets, a sensory diet is so much more.  Just as current nutritional research says that food diets don’t work, neither do sensory diets.  What works is a change of lifestyle; with a better understanding of what sensory needs exist and how to meet them.   To that end, here are my tips for making the most of sensory strategies to help your child.

1) Seek advice from an OT or other professional who is trained in sensory integration and sensory processing disorders.  When looking for an OT to advise you or work with your child ask about their background in developing home programs that include sensory based strategies.  With a skilled OT to help you understand the sensory systems and guide your choice of activities that fit your family’s needs you won’t have to stumble in the dark or reinvent the wheel.

2) Take time to do your research and be a detective.  Watch your child’s responses and behaviors closely, track behaviors and look for patterns, monitor what happens before and after use of different sensory activities.  You have to know your child well in order to choose the correct activity in any given situation.  Finding patterns of responses through the day will help with establishing routines that include beneficial sensory activities and help you know what strategies to use when you notice changes in behaviors.

3) Pack your toolbox to the top!  It isn’t enough to have just one or two calming activities and one or two alerting activities in your bag.  A sensory diet is not like using a recipe where you use the same ingredients, same amounts and get the same result. It is more like a menu when eating out. It’s important to have activities that can serve as “snacks” as well as “meals” and to have enough variety to meet your child’s needs.

4) Be Prepared! Sensory tools work best when used proactively to prepare a child for what is coming up and to sustain a level of alertness or behavioral response.  While calming activities can be used as a child starts to escalate there comes a point where the meltdown will have progressed too far for anything to truly “work” other than time.  Your goal in using a sensory diet is to avoid those escalations with the savvy use of sensory strategies.  That comes from being vigilant (see #2) and having a well-stocked toolbox (see #3).

5)  Cut yourself some slack when it doesn’t work.  No matter how hard you try to use a sensory diet to control your child’s responses, the truth is that at times it will not work. A child isn’t some inanimate object you can control.  You will sometimes misread his cues, fail to anticipate that a situation could be upsetting for her or simply be too stressed out yourself to implement activities.  It’s okay. Forgive yourself and move on. Pretty soon you’ll have another chance to try again. Learn from the situation, add to your toolbox and keep going.

Want to know more about how to implement the use of sensory strategies into your child’s day? Join us at 7:00pm on Wednesday April 2, 2014 for “Sense-able Strategies for Every Day” where I will talk about sensory diets, sensory based activities for self-regulation, The Alert Program and more.  RSVP now by email at or by phone at 630-552-9890


It’s Movie Time!

Saturday February 15th at 10:00 am is our special Sensory Friendly screening of The Lego Movie!   Lights up, sound down, no previews before the movie starts and freedom to wiggle, giggle and sing!   Check out the trailer and then get yourself down to NCG Cinemas in Yorkville for this event.

Special screening at 10:00 am Saturday February 15th

NCG Cinemas   1505 N. Bridge St. Yorkville, IL

Brought to you by your friends at STEPS for Kids.  We hope to see you there!

Check out our full schedule of film events and all the details or contact us by phone (630-552-9890) or email (



Snow Day? ‘Sno problem! (Tips and activities for when it’s cold outside)

The sun did not shine. It was too cold to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, snowy day (to paraphrase Dr. Seuss).  If you have read The Cat in the Hat, then you know how that day turned out! Don’t let your home get turned upside down when the weather doesn’t cooperate with heading outside.  Here are some suggestions for enjoying your forced retreat indoors.

Getting through the day

1.  If your child is accustomed to using schedules at home and school don’t forget to put one in place for an unexpected day at home.  A child who benefits from structure can need it even more on a day when everything is topsy turvy and the usual schedule doesn’t apply. Having the comfort of a picture schedule, the reassuring routines and familiar activities to rely on can make the difference between a meltdown and smooth transitions.

2.  If your child is able to handle a less structured atmosphere then let your routine relax a bit.  Stay in pajamas longer – or even make it a pajama day!  When snow days start piling up you can put some routine back in to the day. While an occasional lazy day with not much of a routine can be a mini stay-cation, too many days without routine can wear on everyone.  Just keeping a list of things that must be done every day can help keep enough structure to help some children stay on track.

3. When making a schedule for the day be sure to allow time for free play (child’s choice), parent time, family time and alone time. When everyone is cooped up together it’s important to remember that even the littlest ones need a little time to retreat and re-energize on their own.  Provide a list of “approved activities” for children to choose from or ask your kids what they want to do. You might be surprised with the ideas they come up with!

4. Relax your expectations for the day.  It’s perfectly fine if you spend the day playing and the laundry doesn’t get done or if your child just can’t focus on the homework due next week.  When there’s novelty in the air (or snow drifting past the window!) it can be hard to stick with what “should” be done.  Relax. It will get done tomorrow.

Activities for Indoor Fun With the Kids

1. Snuggle on the couch and watch a movie you’ve not had time for.

2. Read out loud, share picture books, listen to audio books together.

3. Put on music and sing, dance, jump and shout!  Share the music you grew up with, listen to different kinds of music, make your own music with homemade instruments or just bang on a pot, clang some pan lids or tap spoons together!

4. Write a silly story: One person starts with an opening sentence. Everyone takes turns adding a sentence until the story is complete. Do this out loud with Mom or Dad acting as scribe for the story. When it’s finished the kids can draw illustrations to go with the story!

5. Have an indoor picnic: Involve the kids in making a menu and packing the food up to take it to another part of the house for a picnic.  Pretend you are on a hike and walk around the whole house to find the perfect picnic spot. Spread a blanket and enjoy!

6. Make an obstacle course, play outdoor games indoors, do Olympic training.  Use furniture, cushions, painters tape on the floor, blankets over chairs or tables, to make an obstacle course for the kids to maneuver.  Use the tape to make hopscotch on the floor and use beanbags or checkers for stones. Do strength and balance training with some simple exercises or your video game console.

7. Build a fort! Use your chairs, blankets, clothespins or tape to create a tent. Add tunnels by putting chairs in a line.  If you plan ahead and save some big boxes you can cut out windows and let the kids decorate the boxes then put them together to build a hide out, connecting to make tunnels and separate rooms if you have enough boxes!

8. Make a craft.  Cut out snowflakes, make cards for each other, make placecards for the dinner table, make a collage picture,

9. Play a game. Go through the closet and pull out those board games you haven’t played in years or maybe haven’t opened. Teach your children a simple card game like War.  Show older children how to play old fashioned solitaire.

10. Involve the kids in meal preparation. Take time to let your children participate in making meals at whatever level they are able. Let them experiment in the kitchen; taste raw ingredients, use measuring tools, mix foods together, decorate baked goods, and sample finished products. Find a new recipe and make a new treat or meal.

11.  Play on the internet with new websites, games and activities. There are so many options, many of them free. Take a little time to find something new, research a topic your child is passionate about and find new resources, find the answer to one of your child’s tough questions or play a game together.

12. Skype! Use Skype to connect with family and friends when you can’t get there yourself! My children love to use Skype to chat with their friends and family, sharing conversation, showing things they have made and talking about not much of anything at all. The “face time” is great for staying connected when cold and/or distance keeps you apart.

Sensory Friendly Films come to Yorkville!

Join us on Saturday February 15, 2014 as we kick off our Sensory Friendly Film events with The Lego Movie at NCG Cinema in Yorkville.  We’ll be hosting film events all year long and look forward to helping families share the joy of attending a movie at a theater together.

For children (and adults) with sensory processing differences or disorders, attending a film at a theater can be difficult or even impossible. A “Sensory Friendly Film” is a wonderful event that welcomes everyone into the theater with understanding and accommodations to make watching a movie fun!  STEPS for Kids is now partnering with NCG Cinema in Yorkville, IL to host regular Sensory Friendly showings of first run family films. Our Sensory Friendly Films will be shown with the lights turned up, the sound turned down, the opportunity for everyone to move around and no previews prior to the movie’s start. We hope that you will be able to take advantage of these special events to share a great movie experience with your whole family!

STEPS for Kids Sensory Friendly Film Events 

Where:  NCG Cinema  1505 N. Bridge St. Yorkville, IL  (on Route 47 just north of Route 34/Veteran’s Parkway).

When: 10:00 am on select Saturdays (showtimes subject to change so check back to confirm time for each film)

Cost:  $6 per person;  Concessions will be available at the group discount price of $2.75 for a soft drink and popcorn combo or Kid’s combo (drink, popcorn and treat in a self contained tray) with free refills on all drinks and popcorn.

Sensory Friendly Screenings for 2014

Saturday February 15: The Lego Movie

Saturday March 29: Muppets Most Wanted

Saturday April 19: Rio 2

Saturday May 31: Maleficent

Saturday June 21: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Saturday July 26: Planes: Fire and Rescue

Saturday September 20: Dolphin Tale 2

Saturday October 18: Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Saturday November 29: Home

Saturday December 13:  Paddington

(All films, screening dates and prices are subject to change)

Please let us know if there is a film you would like to see! Check out this list of upcoming releases and let us know which films your family is interested in. We would be happy to schedule additional sensory friendly screenings of other movies based on your feedback and the films available at NCG Yorkville.

Sign up for our newsletter, follow our blog or “Like” our page on Facebook  for updates and more information as movie time approaches!

Questions? Give us a call (630-552-9890) or drop us a note (

Childhood Anxiety: Taking the right STEPS

Do you know a child who seems worried, struggles with perfectionism  or relies heavily on routines and rituals throughout the day?  These behaviors could be a sign of anxiety.  Anxiety is a normal part of child development and is typically present at different stages during a temporary phase (think of stranger anxiety or separation anxiety).  Knowing how to navigate these normal phases is hard for parents but the situation is even more difficult when the child suffers from an anxiety disorder.  Please join us on Wednesday November 13th at 7:00 pm to discuss this very important issue and learn how you can support your child through anxiety.

Veronica Lickfelt, LCSW will be at our clinic in Yorkville to talk about the signs and symptoms of anxiety, what constitutes a disorder and what treatments are available for children.  She will present her own approach of taking STEPS to Stop, Think, Evaluate, Plan and Solve the issue.  Veronica is the co-founder of Innovative Behavioral Health in Oswego and Naperville.  She works as a clinician with both children and adults and has an extensive background working with children and teens in both community and school based programs. Veronica’s approach incorporates interventions from a variety of sources and she tailors her services to meet the needs of the child and family.  Veronica understands the needs of children, including those with autism and sensory processing disorders or sensory sensitivities.

Childhood anxiety can be present in many different forms and understanding when troubling behaviors are signs of anxiety is the first step toward getting help for your child and for the family.  Children who suffer from anxiety struggle with participating in daily activities and their behaviors can be disruptive for the whole family.  Sorting out what behaviors might be the result of anxiety and what might be the cause of the anxiety are the first steps to finding workable solutions for coping with anxiety and related disorders. Once you understand how anxiety can be impacting your child then you can take the next steps to provide support and help your child be successful.  Veronica will help to sort through some of these questions and provide some guidelines for how you can help your child at home and school.

Please join us for this last Community Education program of the Fall 2013 series.  The program is FREE but registration is required.  Please contact us by phone (630-552-9890) or email ( to reserve your spot today for this very important evening!

Happy PT Month! Meet our staff: Julia

October is National Physical Therapy Month! Please take a moment to meet our very own pediatric physical therapist: Julia Slocik.  Julia has been with STEPS for Kids for 2 years.  She is a very valuable member of our staff who brings experience, knowledge and fun to her therapy programs.  Julia is passionate about working with kids and families and especially enjoys working with infants and toddlers!

Julia, PT brings smiles to Physical Therapy at STEPS for Kids

Julia, PT brings smiles to Physical Therapy at STEPS for Kids

Julia graduated from Marquette University with a BS in Physical Therapy in 1992.  Over the last 20 years, Julia has worked in a variety of settings with both children and adults in the fields of orthopedic and neurological rehabilitation.  She has specialized in pediatric rehabilitation for over 5 years and has focused her interests especially in working with infants and toddlers.  She has advanced training in treating the conditions of torticollis and plagiocephaly in infants and is a Certified Infant Massage Instructor.  Her expertise is well utilized when working with young children who have congenital anomalies, birth related orthopedic conditions and generalized developmental delays related to physical development.

Julia’s practice is not limited to babies and toddlers as she also enjoys working with older children who have both orthopedic and neurological conditions.  She has experience working with children who toe walk, have cerebral palsy, show signs of balance and coordination disorders or have hypotonia.  Whether the child was born with a condition that limits physical function or has an acquired limitation due to illness or injury, Julia is able to thoroughly assess performance and address the underlying issues limiting the child’s success.

Julia believes that physical therapy can improve a child’s quality of life by treating the conditions contributing to developmental delays and impeding functional independence. She uses treatment approaches that facilitate full recovery when possible with a goal of returning the child to full activities when there has been an injury or illness.  Her treatment focuses on maximizing abilities within limitations due to chronic illness or condition while helping the family and the child learn how to be proactive in offsetting future issues in physical skills and development.

When working with children, Julia recognizes the importance of treatment designed to meet the needs of both the child and the family. This includes therapy activities that are age appropriate and play based, home activities that are manageable and adapted as needed, referrals to community based services when appropriate and support for concerns that may arise after the child has been released from PT.

If you have concerns about your child’s physical development you can contact your child’s physician and discuss a PT evaluation or contact the clinic to schedule a screening.  We can be reached by phone (630-552-9890) or email ( and we look forward to working with you and your child!