So, I’m an OT. That is short for “occupational therapist”. I work with children. I have 3 children of my own. We, as OTs, DON’T:
- Get children employment
- Get children back to work after an injury
We, as OTs, DO:
- Focus on function
- Help kids improve their self-regulation skills
- Work on improving sensory processing through sensory integration therapy
- Help discover what is meaningful to the child and help them improve skills to be able to be socially adjusted, become more independent, and therefore more confident and resilient
I am also BIG on physical activity, and plenty of it, to build better nervous system and brain function. I advocate less screen time, and more “green” (outdoor) time, day in and day out at my occupational therapy practice, AboutPlay.
I developed an emotional and self-regulation checklist over the last year to help assist children identify and quantify their emotions, and on how to learn about using strategies to become better regulated. Many children that I work with have sensory sensitivities, and have very big accompanying emotions around these sensitivities---which is why I designed the boards in the first place.
I quickly realized that all children, not just children with identified sensory sensitivities, have a real need for such a tool. The idea is to show children, at an early age, how to use healthy self-regulation strategies in an attempt to give them awareness of healthy stress reduction alternatives well before teenage years, when exposure to other, less desirable self-regulation tools present themselves.
I had them made into re-usable dry erase boards, and this new company, AboutMe, is the organic outgrowth of these efforts. All along, I had this little voice in my head (and other people’s voices, as well) talking to me about how great this would be in an app version. And I resisted it.
I resisted it because I am generally more into using physical strategies for self-regulation, versus putting a child on a screen as a soothing distraction. I resisted it because I, as a working mother, did not want to offer screens as a solution. Also, I love the physicality of the dry erase boards, and the children that use them do, too. They love the novelty of using dry erase markers, and the fact that the boards can be wiped clean—no evidence or trace of their struggles.
And then I had the trip to the ER with one of my boys. We did not grab the board on the way out of the door—we luckily did remember to bring our Buzzy Bee (makes shots and needles hurt less)—thankfully. My son has a very, very big fear of needles. He was less worried on what was going on, but extremely focused on needles. “Mom, are they going to have to give me a shot?!!”
Luckily, having written the boards, I was able to walk him through the questions from his hospital bed. It did calm him down, but if I only had an app---I would have had a tool to help him immediately calm and engage him.
With further reflection, I realized that although this app is a piece of technology, that it is not distracting children from their feelings, but actually tuning the children into their feelings. This “tuning in” helps them to become more self aware, and learn more about what types of things can help them to feel good. When we help children practice these tools repeatedly, it builds neural pathways in the brain that can lead to more ready use of healthy tools, which will promote healthier habits as they enter the teenage years and beyond. This is something that every parent should appreciate.