Developing Hands-An Occupational Therapist’s Obsession

I once had the privilege of working at a private school for kids with autism. The emphasis at this facility was not only academic learning but functional skills. Some of the kids at this school had brilliant minds; however their bodies just were not cooperating. I think the cures and inventions of tomorrow lie in the minds of kids like Steven and Paul. If these children are going to be able to create what their minds envision, their hands better work.

Kid”s like Steven and Paul, often have these soft, puffy hands with flexible joints. The Occupational Therapist at this facility taught me picture, perfect, hands have lines.  The lines in the palm develop from good, old hand play.  Resistive pull toys were one of her tasks  for the  development of hand strength and forming those palmer lines.

Her resistive task of choice was pop beads. She had pop beads of ever shape and size. Come to think of it, any toy that required two hands to put together and two hands to pull apart, counted as a pop bead. I have to say, she was selective in who got what bead. If that hand did not look rounded during the task, you could bet 15 min of instructions were going to follow. I can still hear her, “How do you expect Rita’s hand to develop if she is not aligning her joints as she pulls!”

She always started with a bead the child could easily hold in his hands. It seemed his fingers and thumb almost touched as he grasped the bead. She started with the child pulling the beads apart and then worked on putting the beads together.  “Watch their hands” was her mantra. The thumb and finger hand to be rounded toward the beads. The joints, especially the thumb could not “cave in”.  If the child’s hands were not rounding toward the bead, she insisted an easier or larger bead be located.

If she could not get the hands to round, She would use what is called a Benik Thumb Splint. Now Mel, my girl, did not have Autism but because of this training, I did have Mel wear Benik Splints on both hands for about 6 months. Mel wore them when she played for several hours a day. This put her hands in the correct position so she was exercising the correct muscles as she played. Mel’s occupational therapist fitted the gloves and mimicked the words I heard years earlier at the private school.

Different pop beads I remember using,  Yes, Easter Eggs and Legos were counted as part of the “pull apart” activities.

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A link to Benik Gloves

What has your occupational therapists recommended you try?


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