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Body Talk

Many years ago, I first heard that communication was more about body language than words.  As an OT who worked with children who had motor planning challenges, I was fascinated by how limiting their inability to imitate was on communication.  Ever since Albert Mehrabian’s famous study in 1967, people have quoted his formula, misquoted it and speculated about it’s validity.  (Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal Communication. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.)  His striking claim established that communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice, and 7% spoken word.  Others have stated everything from 60% body language and 40% words to 90% body language and 10 percent spoken word.  The important takeaway here is that body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and context, are all essential to being an effective communicator.

 My friend has a new baby.  It has been a blast watching this 5-month old stare at her mother’s face.  She mimics her mother’s expressions by smiling or displaying scowl marks on her little forehead.  Her miniature body moves in accord with her moods.  Excitement elicits wild arm and leg flapping and high-pitched squeals.  Sadness gives way to the pouting lower lip and tight limbs pulled close to her body.  This little one has no words but man… can she communicate! What happens when a child in school does not attend to his teachers’ face because he simply doesn’t understand that it is communicating anything?  The importance of body language, facial expressions, context and tone of voice has always been important to me – as a teacher, a mom, and an OT.  Yet, I STILL need reminders.  John, in my social cognition group flips around the room giggling and specifically NOT doing what I ask.  When I stop his body, get down to his level and say, “Look at my face.  What does this face mean?” and he doesn’t have a clue, I am still surprised.  When I say to another, “Listen to my voice.  Is this a happy or mad voice?” and Sara can’t tell me, I am still surprised.  When all the kids are assuming my favorite yoga pose, child’s pose, on the floor and Gabe is sitting in his chair and talking and I say, “Look at what the other kids are doing.  Can you make your body do the same thing?” and he simply sits on the floor, I am still surprised.   I don’t mean to imply that if I have a hard time remembering that many kids don’t use nonverbal communication well that you won’t.  I do strongly suggest that we are an incredibly verbose society and words are often our first line of action.  My go-to activity when I need reminders is to engage the kids in the STOP ‘N GO game featured in our Social Adventures App.  This game is played much like Mother May I? but without words.  It is important that the leader be an adult so that clear nonverbal communication can be provided.  When the leader looks at a child, the child needs to point to her chest to confirm that she knows she is the chosen one.  The leader then uses gestures, facial expressions, and body movements to communicate how that child should move forward:  big steps, little steps, crawling, jumping, fast, slow, backwards, etc.  After this game, the kids are primed to at least try to gain information from the teacher and peers by looking at them. Please check out our Social Adventures App for more activities addressing social interaction.  The app also includes 4, 8-week programs to be used with social cognition groups.  Most importantly, please consider the impact of non-verbal challenges when you encounter kids who seem to be acting out behaviorally.  They may want to follow your direction but just don’t have a body clue!

by Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

PHOTO copyright : Lars Plougmann



Slider Bag Game Icon

Bag Game – Pictionary Style

This is a fun way to use the Bag Game App to reinforce visual processing and motor skills.  When kids are learning how to create representational drawings (an important aspect of visualization for written and spoken communication), the Bag Game can be played Pictionary-style.  The excitement of the game and multiple opportunities for success take the stress out of drawing.

1.  Separate the group into teams with an equal number of participants.

2.  A child from team #1 chooses a picture from the themed icons in the game and “hides” it in the bag.

3.  Set a timer for a designated amount of time.  You may also choose not to set a timer at all.

4.  The child who hid the icon begins to draw it on a white board, chalkboard or paper for all to see.

5.  As the picture is drawn, teams call out what they think is being drawn.

6.  The team with the correct answer gets a point and a team member from team #2 gets a turn to choose and draw next.


  • Have the child draw for 10-20 seconds and then stop so the other children can ask questions such as “what category is it in?” or “what is it used for?” or “where would you find it?”  Then the child resumes drawing for another 10-20 seconds, when he pauses for more questions.  Continue in this manner until someone guesses the correct answer.
  • Have one child from each team draw at the same time showing their pictures only to teammates.  The team that answers correctly first wins the point.
  • When more order is needed, have each child take a turn asking a question and guessing.  This is an exercise in self-control and listening as the kids need to wait their turn, watch the drawing, and listen to the questions and answers given by peers.

Stay tuned each week as we introduce more fun ways to use the Bag Game App.  We’d love to hear your ideas, too!!

by Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L


Re-Boot with Some Classroom OT!

Imagine that it is the middle of the school day.  You are tired and have a million different things floating around your mind.  What’s for dinner? I need to pay a bill tonight.  Will I ever catch up on emails?  You are trying to concentrate on one thing at a time but we all know that is impossible.

Now imagine that you are a child.  You have all the same tired feelings and the same number of worries floating through your brain but you have one tenth of the coping skills to manage your day.  You don’t know that you need help much less how to ask for it and you feel like you may shut down or crash at any moment.

Being Proactive

As educators we need to be in tune to our own feelings as well as those of our students so that we can anticipate these moments and be prepared to deal with them.   I am fortunate enough to have worked with some wonderful OTs who have helped me try to be the teacher with the never-ending toolbox.  I have come to learn that every student has a different way to deal with their stresses and fatigue.  I realize now that when it comes to OT one size does NOT fit all!

OT Strategies

Throughout the school year we have taught students many different coping strategies.  We practiced breathing and yoga.  We worked on chair pulls and wall pushes.  We have provided silly putty and encourage students to get a drink from water bottles.  We created a reading nook and a break space.  We have provided journals and have access to iPads.  Our students identified which strategies help them relax and we provide them as an option on a daily basis.  We thought we were all set.  We slowly started to realize that without prompting, most students continued to internalize their feelings and they were crashing despite our efforts.  The question moved from what should we have them do to how are we going to get them to do it?

We Have to Re-Boot

Finally one day in the midst of a classroom breakdown, I had a breakthrough.  I turned off the lights and yelled FREEEZE!!!  They froze.  I asked them to close their eyes.  All eyes were closed.  Next, I asked them to imagine a computer with a lot of windows open.  The computer is trying to do too many things at one time and is becoming slower and slower.  Maybe your computer totally froze and you lost everything.  We have only one choice.  We have to Re-boot! I told them to click out of each program just like a computer would.  Click out of worrying about that math test or that argument at recess.   Click out of thinking about that birthday party or field trip.  Slowly and quietly one by one click out and shut down.  Shutting down a computer takes a minute or two.  It might even be a physical motion when the students lie down and close their eyes.  I ask them to stay shut down for a moment or two.  Totally clear and turned off.  Now we can reboot.  Turn the power buttons on one at a time slowly.  It takes a while for a computer to re-boot; it will take a while for their bodies and minds to do the same.  Once their “desktop” is restored, every program they were in, every worry or thought they had is gone.  They are a clear screen, a blank canvass.

Kids Begin to Self-Advocate

We have done this a few times as a class activity.  I have even done it one on one with a student who was really struggling.  We have started asking students if they need to “re-boot” and if they say “yes” they have all of those strategies and interventions I mentioned earlier at their disposal.  A few students have even started using the phrase “I need to re-boot or re-start” followed up with a request to do wall pushes or grab some silly putty.  Our goal as educators is always to help the students self regulate their emotions and their behavior.  Our classroom re-boot has slowly started that process and we hope that they continue to use any strategy they need to refresh.

Maybe one of your students can get a drink and feel better but another needs some pressure in their shoulders or fingers to successfully move on.  Teaching them to re-boot helps them to recognize the need while helping you to individualize the strategies making OT applicable and successful in the classroom.  Who knows, you may be re-booting just as much if not more than your students! Happy OT Month!

by Meghan O’Hara, M.Ed.

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I Didn’t Mean it!


J is wild!  He flips his body around the gym with abandon.  He understands the rules of safety, but upon entering the gym, he’s like a bull in a pen seeing red!  We review the rules of the gym regularly.  We play impulse games in the gym so J can experience stopping his body and then going again.  We work on visually scanning the environment at all times to register any possibility of danger toward himself or others.  And we see improvement.  J is beginning to be able to modulate his movement better on his own, without an adult reminder… but sometimes he doesn’t.

When a friend began crying in the gym, rather than offering words of comfort, J continued playing in sort of an expressionless manner.  The crying child was not clear about what happened so my co-leader stayed in the gym to console and work out the problem, while I took the other kids back to the classroom.  I quietly heard J remark, “I didn’t mean it.”  When I asked, he said, “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

As Karen and I processed what happened, it turned out that J didn’t hurt the child.  The friend was crying because he wasn’t able to do what he wanted in the gym.  This had nothing at all to do with J!  So, we talked about how J got to the place of feeling guilty.  Did this happen often?  Did he go around thinking it was always his fault when he heard kids cry on the playground?  Does he not comfort friends because he feels responsible and can’t face them?

Now we know what to work on with J in the empathy department.  We will tell him, kids cry sometimes and it is not his fault.  It is always a good idea to go to a friend who is crying.  Even if it is his fault, asking if a friend is OK is the kind thing to do.  If he does hurt someone, saying “sorry, I didn’t mean it” are fine words to use.  Then, it is time to learn and let it go.  Don’t carry around the guilt and perception of yourself as one who hurts.  We all make mistakes; you are forgiven, J.  Now go play!

Submitted by: Jill Perry M.S. MHA OTR/L

image by Ben Francis


Laugh, Move, and Ask

B is one of the most lovable 6 year olds I know.  Let me describe him.  B can’t sit in his seat more than 2 minutes without falling out of his chair or swinging his head and body back and forth for vestibular stimulation.  When called to sit on the floor, he is soon found positioned in such a way that the top of his head is pressed against the floor while he gazes at me with his beautiful, blue eyes…upside down.  As the kids line up to get ready for the gym, B paces in a circle looking at the pattern on the rug.

What makes B so lovable?  His middle name could be “earnest”.  B desperately wants to do the right thing, but his body simply won’t cooperate. He can answer any question we ask, proving that he processed every word.  There is anxiety evident in my little friend.   He knows he will be called on 20+ times a day to sit in his seat, pay attention, look at the teacher, stop moving his body; all the time aware of the fact that he just can’t do it.   He WANTS to do what is asked but his body won’t allow it.  So, B cries easily, responds defensively, and often states, “I know, I KNOW!” when corrected.  Sadly, at this point in time all the sensory diets in the world are not helping.  B needs intensive occupational therapy to address an underlying sensory processing disorder (which he will be receiving soon).  However, B also needs to be in school, needs to learn, needs to not disrupt his peers and teachers.  This is a real dilemma for everyone.  So here are 3 bits of help I have found in our group:

  1. Humor works.  When he is treated respectfully, with humor, B’s anxiety decreases and he can adjust briefly.  For example, “B, why are your eyes where your mouth should be?” when he is lying down on the rug rather than sitting.
  2. Movement helps.  Given the opportunity to move as needed, calms B’s nervous system and doesn’t interfere with his learning though we adults cannot understand HOW.  We certainly couldn’t process while moving like that!  But B can and does.
  3. Ask the question.  When we ask, “What will help your body stay in the seat?” B actually comes up with some reasonable suggestions!  He feels respected and understood.  He appreciates that we are on his side and he is more invested in making the accommodation work.

Unfortunately, I feel the need to mentioned what doesn’t work.  Punitive correction does not help.  Remember, B KNOWS what he did “wrong”.  He just can’t do anything about it in the moment.  Finally, I must add that I am not advocating free reign without consequences for actions that clearly disrupt, offend, hurt, or destroy property.  Like all children and adults, B must learn to be held accountable for his actions.  But doing so from a position of understanding and respect makes all the difference in the world!

by Jill Perry, MHA, MS, OTR/L

image by: Kasey Eriksen

If these activities sound intriguing, more details and others like them are available in our Social Adventures app!