Tag Archives: special needs therapy

Not Your Everyday Magic Show

Who doesn’t love a good magic show? Maybe it’s the funny magician, or the challenge of figuring out how exactly he managed to get out of that chained box in under three minutes. For magician Kevin Spencer, the magic he produces on stage has been adapted to be used for an audience utilizing magic for a different purpose. Hocus Focus, Kevin Spencer’s brain child helps children with disabilities learn new skills.

The idea is to incorporate magic tricks into the learning process; in order to garner the interest of the children and encourage them to develop their abilities in areas like fine motor skills, memory skills, planning, and communication. Magic seems to open up certain individuals with disabilities to a new talent. Practicing magic often requires an audience, this encourages children to develop their social and communication skills, while having fun at the same time. The program is used at various camps, one being The Flint Hills Summer Fun Camp, located in Manhattan, Kansas.

On the website of Hocus Focus there are many resources for both students and teachers who hope to learn more about what magic can do to enrich their lives. The teacher workshop is designed to teach both general and special education teachers how to teach through magic tricks with specific tools. For student workshops, it’s just the opposite. They’re shown how to create the illusions, then how to plan them out and implement them in front of an audience of their peers. For some individuals this can be a real turning point in how they communicate to others. Magic finds a way to touch their lives that other methods of teaching might not.

The Hocus Focus Project and the Healing of Magic program, both founded by Kevin Spencer, are registered with the National Board for Certification in Occupation Therapy and have the Approved Provider Status of the American Occupational Therapy Association. While recognized as an approved program, Healing of Magic, is still making modifications. Falling back on visual improvements isn’t what the team can rely on to move the Hocus Focus project forward, according to Spencer, it’s also taking down this information “empirically and statistically” in order to further develop it. The organization has recently partnered with Kansas State University, and build upon its achievements with more rigorous therapeutic data.

What is a Weighted Blanket?

Weighted blankets are often used to provide an additional sensory input for a special needs child and tends to be used as a soothing tool for sleep.  They are also useful for teens and adults prone to stress.  The theory behind the product is that the blanket provokes the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine much the way a hug would.  They have shown benefits to people experiencing sensory integration disorder, anxiety, Asperger’s Syndrome and other similar conditions.  The concept is broad enough that even those people who have no special needs can benefit from improved sleep quality or a decrease in stress.

Weights tend to scale with a person’s weight and height; there are products for infants at 20lbs (a 3lb blanket) to a 40 lb Queen weighted blanket for an individual of 200lbs or more.  Manufacturers recommend that a blanket be measured by 10% of the person’s body weight plus 1lb – 5lbs.

Naturally, weighted blankets tend to run higher in price than standard quilts or bed covers because of the fill.  Look for blankets made with polypropylene filler (small plastic beads or pellets) that are non-hypo-allergenic with evenly distributed weight.  Many Occupational Therapists are familiar with such products and it would do well to consult with one before purchasing.

There are a surprising number of manufacturers that sell weighted blankets and other similar sensory products including the following:

small weighted blanket
Photo provided by SensaCalm



DreamCatcher Originals:

Sensory Goods:

Mosaic Weighted Blankets:

Therapeutic Horse Riding Choices

Photos by Yvette Janvier

On any Saturday afternoon at centers around the Delaware Valley and the nation, children with disabilities are learning to ride a horse. Therapeutic horseback riding is an enjoyable, educational activity that develops skills and builds friendships.

Therapeutic riding programs vary in their programs, riding styles and even the size of their horses. Riders can be found in an indoor ring or out on the trail. Some children take lessons alone, others in pairs or larger groups.

In most area programs, an instructor closely accompanies beginners and at least one volunteer “sidewalker” walks or jogs alongside the horse and supports the rider. More experienced students can trot and canter on their own. Programs also range in price, from free of charge to $50 or more per lesson.

Find a Therapeutic Riding Center

Delaware   |   New Jersey   |   Pennsylvania
NARHA, the national organization for equine-assisted activities and therapies, offers information and a member list.
Click here for Philadelphia-area farms and stables offering horseback riding and lessons.

At most riding centers, time in the saddle is just the beginning. Students participate in a variety of equine activities, such as grooming, feeding,attaching the lead rope and walking the horse. In addition to weekly instruction, many stables offer special events, as well as specialty and summer camp programs. Here are examples of the varied horse therapy activities offered by area riding centers. Continue reading "Therapeutic Horse Riding Choices"

Gathering Drum

Group & Private Music Therapy for Individuals with Special Needs

Phone Number: 215 570 9421
Serving Montgomery, Bucks, Philadelphia Counties

SERVICES:  Music therapy is a valuable addition to the armamentarium of therapy/instruction for individuals with special needs. It enhances social interaction and has myriad developmental benefits.

Founder and opera singer, Elizabeth Collins Cook

Gathering Drum is unique among music therapy providers it was founded by a professional opera singer, Elizabeth Collins Cook. While raising her family of four, Elizabeth observed how learning to play the piano increased the social opportunities and skills of one of her students diagnosed with Autism and PDD. She was so impressed that Elizabeth decided to change careers. She obtained her Master’s degree in Creative Arts Therapies. She is now a board certified music therapist providing music therapy to families and agencies caring for individuals with special needs.

Making music and participating in a conversation require the same skill set: listening, responding, and awareness of others, reading non-verbal cues, impulse control and frustration management, modulation of energy, self-expression, self-assertion and creative thinking. For individuals facing social challenges, music therapy sessions are opportunities to safely practice these skills. Skills strengthened in music transfer over time to non-music settings. Continue reading "Gathering Drum"