From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills – A book review
by Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L
on the Handwriting is Fun! Blog
From Flapping to Function: A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Hand Skills advances the work of Barbara Smith, M.S., OTR/L, on the development of hand skills to a broader level and will serve as a relevant and worthy resource to both her profession and parents worldwide. Barbara’s landmark book, From Rattles to Writing: A Parent’s Guide to Hand Skills, won the National Association of Parenting Publications Award in 2011 and proved to be a valuable guide to parents and occupational therapists alike. In her continued drive to enhance family education, she has organized her newest contribution to serve as an excellent companion tool aimed toward understanding sensory processing disorders and their impact on hand skill development.
A journey through Barbara’s book reveals the caring and insightful manner in which she carries out her practice of occupational therapy. She has transformed what can be a perplexing disorder into a concise and parent-friendly outline of facts and definitions, linking them to the development of hand skills, and most importantly, providing easy-to-implement strategies to enhance the development of those skills. The concise introduction provides the basics in a clear and understandable breakdown of the medical definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) including the other conditions that commonly occur with it. Barbara provides a list of key acronyms that will serve as a guide throughout the book. Part I dives right into the uniqueness of each individual with autism and defines the developmental factors that may impact their hand skills – sensory processing, functional vision and visual perception, and executive functioning. This section focuses on Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and defines the symptoms of the disorder itself, as well as three primary SPD types: sensory modulation, sensory-based motor, and sensory discrimination disorders. Each disorder is discussed relative to its symptoms and impact on the development of hand skills and is matched to a multitude of strategies that have been found beneficial to enhance hand skill development.
Perhaps my favorite chapter of the book is “Chapter 3: Functional Vision, Visual Perception, and Hand Skills.” Barbara provides not only the essential information about vision and its link to learning but also the critical red flags that can alert parents to the need for a vision assessment conducted by a developmental optometrist. The greatest asset of this chapter, however, is her link between the visual symptoms of ASD and the adaptations and activities that can stimulate the visual system. Very well done!
In Chapter 4, Barbara discusses executive functioning skills and their link to hand skills, providing adaptations that encourage and provide the “just right challenge” for “Getting Things Done!” One of the most critical and confusing aspects of any remedial program is the implementation of appropriate reinforcement strategies that will promote learning and generalization. Barbara does an excellent job of explaining positive reinforcers that use movement and sensory input to produce the desired response while meeting the child’s needs. Of course, the discussion of each type of reinforcement comes with its own list of possible interventions.
Part II focuses on Interventions and can best be described as the “go-to source” for teaching strategies. The book stays true to the occupational therapy perspective of linking the strategies utilized in skill development to the eventual functionality of a skill, defining generalization with familiar examples. Barbara provides parents (and therapists, too) with approaches for self-regulation, methods for grading tasks, the concept of “The 80-20 Rule” used in education (you must read the book to find out!), the effective use of nonverbal directions and “success-only adaptations,” and the backward and forward chaining strategies for breaking tasks into steps. Forever true to her Recycling Occupational Therapist’s mission, Barbara provides a treasure trove of activities that are created from items found in every home and that address the enhancement of skills in the most functional ways. And for many of them, she includes pictures!
The most important element of any book is the reader’s ability to understand the content and to reflect on its meaning. Barbara has achieved that goal by providing her readers with the opportunity to do that with Summary outlines at the end of each section. These bulleted reviews reinforce the key facets of the chapter and ensure the readers’ understanding of what they have just read while they guide them toward the next section.
Once again, Barbara Smith has delved into her vast bank of experience, both professional and personal, to present us with a guide that will become frayed at the edges and littered with yellow highlights as we put it to use in our family and therapy lives. Thank you, Barabara!
Katherine J. Collmer, M.Ed., OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in the assessment and remediation of handwriting skills. In her current book, Handwriting Development Assessment and Remediation: A Practice Model for Occupational Therapists, she shares a comprehensive guide and consistent tool for addressing handwriting development needs. She can be contacted via her website, Handwriting With Katherine.