Sunday, May 13, 2012

Feed That Monkey!

I have learned over the last 7.5 years that for a child with special needs to master a skill, you have to break down that skill to its basic parts. It's been challenging learning how to do that for skills that I have long since mastered, can't remember learning, and have become second nature to me. However, that isn't how it is for my boys, which means that I must think about what my body is doing so that I can show them how to do something.

Take this new fine motor game that I found at Union County Smart Start. It's called "Feed the Monkey," and that is exactly what you do. The trick is that you need to use the over-sized tweezers to pick up the bananas and put them into the monkey's mouth. 

To give you an idea of the contrast between typical and special needs learning: Kate walked over, picked up the tweezers and immediately put all of the bananas in the monkey's mouth. No problem, not a challenge, really fun. I didn't have to show her how to do it. I didn't have to show her how to open and close the tweezers. Not so much for the boys.  Benjamin tried to pick the tweezers up and use them and he quickly threw the tweezers in frustration. Here is how I broke the skill down to increase independence and success:

1. First, I had Ben just pick up the tweezers with the correct hand position. We worked on that a few times just on its own. 

2. Then, I had him just practice opening and closing the tweezers with his fingers. I had to start with hand-over-hand help to get him to feel how to move his fingers. I did this with constant verbal cues... open, close, open, close. I also had him try those motions with his fingers without holding the tweezers so that he could see and feel what he needed to do.

3. Next, I had him try and pick up the banana while holding open the tweezers. The timing of the fine motor skill with the visual tracking of the object was really tough for him. He tried multiple times and failed. I decided to have him take the banana from my fingers so that it didn't move while he was figuring out the open and closing of the tweezers.

4. Then, he put the banana in the monkey's mouth and "fed" him. Success! It was really tough to let go of the banana without letting go of the tweezers, but after a few attempts, he did it!

5. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Someone once told me (and I don't know exactly how accurate this is, but it is what I tell myself and it seems to be mostly true) that if a typical child learns something after one attempt, it will take 100 attempts for a child with CP to learn it. Luckily, I have determined little boys. Benjamin really wanted to feed that monkey, and feed that monkey he did. 

It was a very slow start with feeding the monkey, but eventually Ben was able to feed the monkey using the tweezers without any help from me at all. We are going to continue to work on this skill because it will be helpful for learning the motions for cutting with scissors as well. I decided to not focus on scissor skills this school year, but would like to start again during the summer. So, it is time to build up those finger muscles and learn the movements necessary.

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