Wednesday, 14 March 2018

"Success-Only Activities" Help Develop Hand Skills

I describe in my book From Flapping to Function: A Parent's Guide to Autism and Hand Skills, a teaching strategy that I call "Success-Only Activities".  This means that the activity will work only when done correctly. Many years ago, I started a position at a day program training adults with developmental disabilities and noticed that some of the clients had goals such as naming or matching colors.... for years if not decades!!!! I immediately set about creating realistic goals given the client's cognitive level and sensory motor skills.
I designed the ring stacks shown above so that the red rectangular shapes only fit over the red rectangular stack and the blue triangular shapes only fit over the blue triangular stack. This is a 'success only activity" because the shapes will only fit and go down when the shapes are matched AND the colors will automatically be correct. The user may or may not learn color matching, but this is a great way to introduce the concept.  This illustration and a more detailed description is found in my book: The Recycling Occupational Therapist. 

Here are a few more example of easy to make shape sorters and ring stacks that require the child or adult to correctly orient the pieces to fit. Notice that the little boy is only working at orienting the blocks rather than using a traditional baby shape sorter. He has visual-perceptual delays and the shape sorters sold for babies have too many shapes and openings to match up. It was challenging enough to work on only the square shape.  Next he worked on fitting dominoes into a rectangular opening. This was a bit more challenging than inserting a cube shape.

The little boy in the photo below must orient the rectangular rings to fit over the sword. I cut the rings out of detergent bottles. I bought the sword at the dollar store. Notice how he has such nice visual attention while using his hands together to stabilize the sword.


The ring stack with the triangular shape was made by using triangular shaped cardboard packaging and covering it with contact paper. I cut out lots of red circular and blue square shaped rings but only the yellow triangular rings will fit on the stack. Therefore, children will be automatically correctly matching yellow if they are able to push the yellow rings down the yellow stack.

The coin insertion bottle shown below is designed to teach coin discrimination. I provided a pile of quarters, pennies and nickels. The slot in the bottle is large enough for the pennies to fit inside. The quarters and nickels are too large to fit and there are no dimes since they are  small enough to fit. This is a great way to teach children to think about the size of the coin before attempting to fit them into the slot and to discriminate pennies- the only coins that are a coppery color. After children learn to select and hopefully identify pennies, try providing only nickels and quarters with an opening just large enough for the nickels to fit through.


I have used this "success only" adaptation with a woman with developmental disabilities who rapidly pushes objects into openings without considering size, shape or color.

The picture at the bottom of this post shows a pile of pennies and little green plastic rings. I punched holes in the rings. The green rings can be strung onto the cord and are too large to fit inside the slit in the bottle. The pennies obviously cannot be strung!

I used this "success only task" to teach the client to slow down and think about whether to push the round object into the container slot or string it onto the cord.

 I provided enough assistance with point cues so that she would not get frustrated during the learning process. then she was able to work on this independently, allowing the activity rather than me to give feedback on what works and what needs to be tried a different way. This nonverbal aspect of using success only activities is often very appealing to individuals on the autism spectrum who perhaps prefer visual cues.  

We can also set up situations to teach cognitive concepts. For example,  provide an egg carton with 12 egg sections. Provide a large bowl of plastic Easter eggs or other objects. Then ask the child to count out 12 objects while placing each in a section. The child may have difficulty counting correctly to 12 but after filling each section, will automatically be successful at counting out 12 objects.  Provide lots of praise for this success!


Now its video time! The children in the video must position the cones correctly in order to succeed in stacking them......










Source: Occupational Therapy Cone Activities * by RecyclingOT


Source: Occupational Therapy Cone Activities * by RecyclingOT              

The child must choose the correct shape opening in order for the shapes to fit. Notice how effect it is to use with a motor inside!

Source: Velcro Bottles for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities by RecyclingOT

After unscrewing the covers, the individual must match the sizes correctly in order to insert them in the round and oblong slots.

Source: Matching Lids Sensory Activity by RecyclingOT


Source: Matching Lids Sensory Activity by RecyclingOT


The clients are matching pictures, but they also have the physical cues to help them. The pictures will only fit inside the matching rectangular, round or square form board openings. This is a fun way to teach picture matching.


Source: Form Board Picture Activity for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities by RecyclingOT












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