Let your cape come off…every now and then

Susan EllisSo different than the laid back, uninterested parents so many of us had when we were growing up, many of us now try to be Supermom for our kids.

We try to anticipate their every want and need.   We believe that a well fed child is a happy child, so food is never served late.   Many parents can be found constantly tying their kids shoes because they’re running late for the play-date that was set up for them.

We tend to hover in our mommy helicopters.   Many of us believe there are too many crazy people in the world for them to walk home from school, so we pick them up.  We only allow them to play outside where we can see them.

Now as a parent of two children with high-functioning Autism, this methodology has been critical for most of my boys’ lives; but they’re starting to get older.  They’re now…teenagers!  And in the last couple of years, we have been focusing mostly on teaching them life skills such as laundry, cooking, shopping, etc.  I find, however, that my boys surprise me the most when I occasionally let my supermom cape…fall.    One morning, we were running late trying to get ready for school.  Before I could put my cape on,  I saw that my youngest son got his entire lunch ready without my consistent “friendly reminders” (a.k.a. nagging) of what to pack next.  He knew exactly what to do… all on his own!   Guess we can now check that off the list

supermom-capeLast week my oldest son, now in 10th grade, was being released from school earlier than I had expected.   Oops!  Guess my cape fell off!  He couldn’t find my car in the parking lot.  So after waiting a while, he began to walk home.  Of course this was the only day his phone battery completely died because we forgot to power it up the night before.  Oops #2:  my back-up cape came off!  After a complete panic, which included running through the school halls and texting the principal and teachers, I learned of his location which was about a half mile down the road.  At least he was going in the right direction–which was a big accomplishment that he knew where to go!   When I reached him, he was sweating…and smiling ear-to-ear.  He loved it!  This is a boy who never exercises despite all my prodding!  He felt so independent and proud of himself.    Now he says he wants to do it every day!   So we talked about never getting into anyone’s car, not even if his “friends” ask him.  He’s now walking a few blocks until he reaches my car.  He’s gaining his independence, and finally getting some daily exercise!

Now every child is different–especially those with special needs.  My point is simply this:  don’t assume your child is not capable of doing certain tasks.  Even if it is just letting them try to put on their own shoes and find the correct shoe for the right foot.  Take some time occasionally from your busy schedule and let your supermom cape fall off.  Hopefully, your little one will surprise you too.

For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com

Helping with Handwriting Practice

Marnie Danielson, MS OTR/L



As an occupational therapist and a parent, I find it is always difficult to get children to practice handwriting. Imagine if another adult was trying to get you to practice something you are not confident with and is difficult for you. Working with children who have special needs, I’ve often pondered how to motivate them to practice handwriting. Here are a few tips that have helped me:

  •  Keep is short – Give them exact expectations such as “let’s practice these 3 letters 10 times each and then we’re done!”
  •  Keep it fun– Play a board game and after each turn practice writing a word.
  • Give rewards If they earn 3 stickers for neat handwriting this week let them pick something from a treasure chest.
  • Try video modelingWatching letter formations on your electronic devices (like The TV Teacher) is fun and very motivating for children.

apple 2-boy and momTeaching children to write is challenging but handwriting is a fundamental skill needed for academic development. Keeping writing fun is a key element to success, particularly for children with Autism, Down Syndrome, or children with learning differences.


For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com

Preparing kids for vacations–critical visuals for Autism and Down syndrome

Susan Ellis - head shot

Having two boys on the Autism spectrum, I learned early on that visuals are a very effective way to communicate with my sons. Simple visual strategies such as a list of the day’s activities, or even a social story about what to expect in new situations has been my saving grace for over a decade.

As the summer is now upon us here in the USA, you may be planning on taking a vacation. If your children have special needs such as Autism, Down syndrome, Sensory Integration Disorder, etc., “fun vacations” could be very traumatic to them because they are out of their normal routine. There may be a lot of new sensory information to process (ie. new places to see, different smells, louder sounds, hotter weather, etc.) which can sometimes be overwhelming.

A week before you travel, take a few moments to gather some pictures of your adventure: where you will be staying, relatives you may see, places you will go, and types of transportation you may use. You may even want to include a map of where you live vs. where you will be going to give them some orientation. Providing this information at least a week in advance gives children an opportunity to feel more “in control” because they will be able to process the information, mentally prepare for it, and hopefully get excited about their trip.

Last month, we took our boys to Washington DC for a few days. I knew there would be many buildings that would look alike to them, and that there would be plenty of walking which would exhaust them. I made a small map for them and circled the places we would visit (see below). I also gave them a quick list (with pictures) of what we would see each day. As we expected, they were hot and tired, but we didn’t have any major meltdowns because they were mentally prepared for the day. I wish you safe and happy melt-free travels too!

dc map

For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com

Dough for Handwriting Development—great for those with Autism, Down Syndrome, and other special needs

Marnie headshot-2015Dough is a great way for parents, teachers, and therapists to address hand strengthening for writing. Playing with dough offers an important sensory component for children. It is resistive and requires in-hand manipulation to make different shapes. Children with Autism, Down Syndrome, and other special needs see dough as a way to create. Since creative activities are critical for a child’s development, phrase and discuss the ideas and creativity each child displays during play time with dough.

As a therapist, I try to structure the time I work with children to always address hand development for better handwriting. I like to take pictures of the dough we are using and have the children copy the image they see. This may require them to make a “birthday cake” or “3 pancakes”. I like to demonstrate with two hands (using bilateral coordination) how to roll a ball to build a “snowman”. Using cookie cutters and rolling pins is a fantastic way to address hand strengthening.   Another idea in the classroom or at home is to roll out the dough into “snakes” and make letters out of them. I hope you find your own creative ways to address handwriting development through the use of this fun and effective product.

rolling dough

For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.tvteachervideos.com

Parent and teacher teamwork–a must for your child with special needs!

Susan Ellis - head shot

Having two boys on the Autism Spectrum, I am reminded on a daily basis that they have difficulty understanding things the first time being presented. As with most children with Autism (as well as those with Down syndrome, ADHD, or other special needs), visuals and repetition are the best keys to helping them learn.

My boys always have a hard time with auditory processing and giving their complete focus in a typical “gen-ed” classroom.   Even if the teacher presents items visually, all the classroom activity can be overwhelming and lessons don’t “sink in” the first time.

In 2nd grade, subjects like social studies and science tend to become more abstract. This can be very difficult for children with special needs who are typically “concrete” thinkers. I have found great success when I can take just 15 minutes to pre-teach them new material over the weekend.   Reviewing a new concept by reading the chapter together in a quiet room, doing a quick reinforcing activity, or even finding a short video about it online, can make a big difference in their confidence and attentiveness in class on Monday. The repetition of hearing the material again, and in a different way, will also help children better retain this knowledge.

Having an extra copy of your child’s textbooks at home is very helpful for pre-teaching and reviewing throughout the week. Talk with your teachers and ask them to give you the topic and chapter they will be covering the following week. It will be a win-win for everyone.

NOTE: When using our TV Teacher handwriting program, make a copy of the auditory chants we use (located inside the DVD case) and share them among your parent/teacher team. This way, both team members are able to help reinforce the language and correct formation as the child learns to write his letters.

reading with childFor more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com

“Out and About” Handwriting Development at Home

Marnie headshot-2015

As a parent of two and a therapist I am always thinking about better ways to help children develop. One idea I recommend and carry out in my own home I call, “Out and About”. This is the idea that opportunities to develop fine motor skills should always be available and “out” rather than put away in a tidy cabinet. I have 2 kids’ craft tables in my home; one upstairs and one down stairs. Every week or so, I rotate the activities on the tables. Some weeks it’s crayons on coloring books; some weeks it’s beading bins with fishing string; and some weeks it’s duct tape. Keeping fresh fine motor activities available and ready for kids fosters motivation to work on their fine motor skills.

As my kids have grown older, they often rotate the activities for me. They notice when the watercolors have sat on the craft table for a week and want a change. I love seeing them come up with new ideas too. Paper flowers, drawing a mural, creating pop-up cards for family members’ birthdays. It is truly amazing to see how creative they can be when left to their own devices. Children with special needs, Autism, and Down Syndrome all benefit from novelty. Some creativity requires demonstration on the parents’ or therapists’ part…but when the “wheels start turning”, prepare to be amazed.

kid-painting For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com

Using motivators to help those with Autism or Down syndrome succeed

As a mother of two Susan Ellis - head shotchildren with Autism, I have used many ways to motivate my children to stay on task, complete their homework, and behave appropriately.   One thing that always works is finding out what THEY are wanting on that day. Finding their “carrot” is always a more fun and positive path to accomplishment.

Traditional motivators could be something like stickers, food “treats”, or even a trip to the “treasure chest” filled with items from a dollar store. You could also extend the reward slightly by making a visual chart. For instance, place a check mark for each time they correctly go to the bathroom. Three check marks = their reward. I recently even used this extended reward system for my son (high functioning Autism) in middle school when we were trying to motivate him to stay on task in class (see chart below).

My friend has a child with Down syndrome who loves to simply spend time with mommy. There is your reward and motivator! Help him through his homework using this idea. Reward him for practicing his spelling words by offering to dance with him to his favorite music, or do a quick puzzle.

  • Choose the reward or motivator to be something they really want to work for.
  • Make a visual of this “offer” so they see exactly what they need to do to earn it.
  • Make it attainable in a reasonable amount of time. (Note: younger children need a reward more immediately; older children are better able to handle a slightly extended reward system.)

Using motivators also works well with teaching children handwriting–especially those with special needs that need…an extra carrot.

img015For more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com

Handedness for writing

Marnie headshot-2015


As an occupational therapist, I frequently get asked about handedness, or hand preference for young children. Some children will show a hand preference as early as 1 year old. Others will switch hands frequently at 5 or 6 years old. Developing a hand preference is critical to handwriting development. Children with Autism, Down Syndrome, and other special needs often have difficulty establishing hand dominance. Here are some ideas that may help parents and teachers.

  • Take note of which hand the child starts an activity with; encourage them to continue using that hand throughout the activity.
  • Present scissors, spoons, pencils (any utensil or manipulative) at mid-line or in the middle of a child’s body (think belly button) and see which hand he uses to grab that utensil
  • Verbalize to your child or students “you are using your right hand” so they learn the name of the hand they have chosen.

Establishing hand dominance is not only a frequent issue with parents, but one that teachers and therapists address as well. Parents and teachers will need to work closely with children when helping with this issue. Therefore, communication between school and home is a critical piece for maintaining consistency. Happy writing!

pens left and rightFor more information about The TV Teacher’s award-winning handwriting programs, please visit our website: www.thetvteacher.com