Occupational therapy focuses on improving the child’s fine motor skills and ability to function independently in areas that are essential to daily life such as hygiene and self-care, eating and swallowing, leisure activities, and vocational skills.
For many of our students, occupational therapy holds the key to eating independently and communicating using a range of non-verbal communication devices such as adaptive switches, communication boards and iPad technology. Occupational therapy gives the students a sense of their bodies, teaches them how to manipulate and use objects, and improves everyday functional independence.
Occupational therapy plays an important role throughout the students’ lives, but is especially critical during the early years when children are first exposed to a range of sensory and motor experiences. The abilities that are mastered early on become the basis of many skills that are learned at later stages of development.
Occupational therapy makes use of a diverse range of accessories based on each child’s needs, including different types of swings, board games, tools that enhance hand coordination and fine motor skills, and sensory objects. Our team uses various techniques and sensory stimulation to gently encourage children to invest the effort necessary to reach their individualized therapy goals. Some students crave exciting activities – featuring sound and light – that draw them out of their shell. Others may be more sensitive to their surroundings and benefit from a quiet corner where they can feel safe.
Some of our favorite, unique occupational therapy tools include:
Motorized jeep: adapted to young children, and operated using a simple press button, it includes a steering wheel. The jeep lets children move around the environment on their own. Being in control of their movement motivates the child, and improves their self-image, hand functionality, and understanding of cause and effect.
Motorized wheelchair: adjusted for older children, this specialized wheelchair is joystick operated and adapted to each child’s specific needs. Like the motorized jeep, it enables the child to feel in control over her or his movement in the space, and prepares them for maximum independence in the future.
Every week, Keren Or is visited by several therapy dogs and their specialist trainer. The program’s objective is to advance students’ psychological, behavioral, social and physical capabilities.
Learning through fun
Playing games with the dogs gives the children a chance to practice skills – extending their arm to throw a ball, or vocalizing a command – in a fun, experiential environment. It also teaches concepts such as cause-effect and responsibility for others.
Learning how to behave around dogs helps the children overcome their fears, develops non-verbal communication skills, and augments emotional awareness. The experience of a relationship based on unconditional love is a powerful boost to their self-confidence
Communication is the basis of our relationships with others. It enables us to express ourselves, to be understood, and to get the attention we need. By communicating, we take an active part in society.
Many students arrive at Keren Or unable to express their needs in the most basic ways. Giving our student’s a way to communicate with others is of the utmost importance, and a key component of Keren Or’s overall mission to help each child fulfill his/her potential, and to foster understanding and connection.
At Keren Or, “speech therapy” is called “communication therapy,” because our goal is to give every single child a way to unlock their inner selves and communicate with those who love them, even if they will never speak using traditional language.
A range of techniques
Communication therapists are creative and responsive. They use an impressive range of accessorized and non-accessorized communication methods, as necessary, based on each child’s visual, motor and cognitive abilities.
Non-accessorized communication uses hands, body language, and all of a child’s senses. It includes the use of smiles, voice, words, gestures, and sign language.
Accessorized communication, also known as AAC (Augmented Alternative Communication), uses communication boards containing tactile symbols, images, voice outputters, and computerized technology.
Communication therapy is carried out in close coordination with the entire multidisciplinary staff and is incorporated into the child’s comprehensive educational and rehabilitative plan. In addition to formal group and individual therapy sessions, communication therapy is integrated into the students’ lives during meals, in the classroom and during social and leisure time activities.
Above all, we are committed to helping each student find his/her own voice.
Keren Or maintains a therapeutic garden where the children work in groups facilitated by an occupational therapist who specializes in this field. Most of the plants are raised in pots or planters so that children in wheelchairs can actively participate.
Gardening offers a pleasurable and peaceful way to experience nature, activates many senses, including smell, taste, and touch, and teaches the children to differentiate between different shapes and textures. Students with partial vision also enjoy the colors. The fixed location of each plant improves spatial development and mobility among students who are ambulatory.
Enjoying the fruits of their labor
The Keren Or garden primarily grows plants that can be used to prepare food or scented sachets. Activities include seeding, planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, and finally, cooking or preparing sachets for sale. Students learn about all of the stages of the plant’s development in the most experiential way possible, and learn that they have an important role in the process, an experience that helps build self-confidence.Students learn about plant development experientially. Discovering that they have agency in the process and the capacity to shape the growth of another living thing promotes self-confidence.
The SNOEZELEN is a sensory stimulation room. Many children with disabilities have difficulty with sensory integration. Some feel overstimulated by the environment, which causes them to “tune out” or become "hyper.” Others feel under-stimulated, prompting them to self-stimulate in ways that are injurious or or adversely affect their integration into society. The SNOEZELEN room is a controlled, multisensory environment that offers each child the precise stimulation he or she needs to incorporate sensory input and self-regulate behaviors constructively.
SNOEZELEN was pioneered in the 1970s by Dutch therapists, who coined the term based on the Dutch verbs snuffelen (to seek and explore) and doezelen (to relax). As the name suggests, the dark, safely padded SNOEZELEN room has several activity stations that promote both interest/activity and a sense of calm. Since then, this innovative treatment setting has been adopted by leading therapeutic institutions around the world.
Safety and Stimulation
The SNOEZELEN room is designed to create the sense of safety while simultaneously arousing the child’s curiosity and wish to explore the environment. Special toys, equipment and accessories including a vibrating pillow, a waterbed, fiber optic lights, voice operated light boards, a heavy beanbag, and a bubble tube, allow the children to assume control of objects in the environment. The slow monotonous musical tones and variable lighting may be customized to the child's specific abilities and needs.
The SNOEZELEN facilitates adaptation to new sensations and accelerates emotional and psychological growth.
In addition to visual and cognitive impairments, every child at Keren Or has a significant motor impairment. More than 85% of our students use wheelchairs, and 100% of our students require intense, individualized physical therapy to improve gross motor skills. Our experienced therapists understand how low vision impacts mobility and orientation, and they work diligently to ensure that students can move their bodies in a safe, supportive environment.
Like all of the therapies at Keren Or, physical therapy focuses on daily functioning, improved quality of life, and the ability to join in everyday activities at home and in the community.
A typically developing infant learns from experience how to move around successfully, while a child with motor challenges experiences repeated failures. Therefore, our work with young children focuses on creating a stimulating, challenging environment with tasks that progress gradually and allow the child to experience success while expanding the range of movement.
Rewiring the brain
Research indicates that despite neurological damage, the brain is plastic and connections between nerve cells in the brain can be renewed. We encourage the movement and repetition of motor skills in ways that the child finds meaningful while causing the brain to create and repair nerve cells.
During therapy sessions, the child practices specific skills while playing in an environment that is adjusted to his/her cognitive abilities and range of vision. We use adapted gym equipment, including a treadmill, vibration machine, supported jumper, and a wide range of walkers and standers. In addition, some of Keren Or’s students need various functional supports. We adapt splints for their arms and legs (corset, Tega-togs) and employ additional techniques such as kinesiotape.