Why Visual Motor Skills Are Important For Your Child’s Development

Visual motor skills are an important in helping us perform all types of activities throughout the day. For example, writing, playing catch, and constructing puzzles are all examples of visual motor skills. These skills help a person to integrate visual input and motor skills. Since these activities are comprised of several different skill sets, it is important to understand where the disconnect is coming from. A child must use visual processing skills, visual perceptual skills, and motor skills when completing visual motor tasks. A child with visual motor difficulties may have problems processing visual information; meaning how their eyes move and process visual input. These skills include convergence of the eyes, visual fixation, and visual attention. Another child with visual motor difficulties may have problems with visual perceptual skills; meaning how they make sense of visual input. These skills include visual memory, spatial relations, figure ground discrimination, and many more. Yet another child with visual motor difficulties may have problems with their motor skills, either fine or gross motor. An Occupational Therapy evaluation can help determine where the problem is stemming from and establish goals to target the area.

visual motor skills child development occupational therapists in Chicago IL.jpg

Red Flags for Visual Motor Difficulties In Children:

There are some things to look out for, when wondering if your child has visual motor difficulties. If you notice any of these, it may be beneficial to have your child evaluated by an occupational therapist. 

  • Difficulty copying shapes or block structures

  • Reversing letters

  • Poor letter formation

  • Lack of pencil control

  • Inconsistent spacing or sizing of letters

  • Difficulty copying written work

  • Trouble throwing and catching a ball

  • Clumsiness

  • Difficulty with puzzles

  • Difficulty keeping place when reading and writing

Activities to Try at Home:

Visual motor activities are more common than you may think, and very easy to incorporate into daily life. Here are a few ideas to try at home!

  • I Spy games

  • Visual mazes

  • Dot-to-dot activities

  • Puzzles

  • Color, cut, and paste activities

  • Playing catch

  • Hopscotch

  • Bozo buckets

  • Use a popsicle stick to help with tracking while reading

  • Highlight top and bottom lines on 3-lined paper to help with letter sizing

  • Search and find books

  • Building with blocks or Legos

Melissa Melnick, MOT, OTR/L 
Oak Tree Developmental Center
1640 N Wells St
Unit 103, Chicago, IL 60614
Phone: (312) 642-4300


Summertime Is A Great Time To Get In Heavy Work For Your Kids!

summer time play and heavy work activities improve proprioception in children

So what exactly is “Heavy Work”? Essentially, it is any activity that pushes or pulls against the body. It may help kids feel more regulated and can also help with their attention and arousal level. While performing these activities, our sense called proprioception, or body awareness is engaged. This form of sensory input to muscles and joints can be very calming and organizing for children. Often times, kids seek out heavy work input in order to help regulate themselves and may neglect safety doing so. Now that is it summer, it is the perfect time for kids to engage in safe, outdoor heavy work activities while enjoying the beautiful weather! 

Here are some ideas:

  • Swim

  • Push a wheel barrow 

  • Climb up a slide or playground equipment

  • Ride a bicycle or tricycle

  • Jump on a trampoline

  • Swing on monkey bars

  • Push a friend on a swing

  • Dig in the sandbox

  • Gather firewood

While correcting your child's sense of proprioception can be improved through the use of sensory integration therapy with an occupational therapist, these simple and fun outdoor activities will naturally improve proprioception as well.

Build Your Child's Self Esteem and Coping Skills with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular therapeutic approach that focuses on practical steps to address, reduce symptoms of, and treat mental disorders and psychological distress.

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Therapy and Research, CBT offers patients an opportunity to challenge limiting beliefs and modify harmful behavior patterns. This is because through CBT they become, “an active participant in a collaborative problem-solving process.”   

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be used for children and teenagers for a multitude of mental disorders or psychological distress.

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

At Oak Tree Development Center, pediatric social workers work not only with the child, but also with parents to solve pertinent issues at home or at school. The focus is on the child’s personal needs. Through positive encouragement and self-esteem building, child behavioral therapists promote success and progress.

Our staff ensures effective counseling by offering a safe environment to promote feelings of support and comfort. After getting to know the children and family, our pediatric social workers develop a treatment plan through cognitive behavioral therapy to guide positive changes.

cognitive behavioral therapy session for children in chicago il by skilled CBT therapists

Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Through CBT, children and teens learn to not accept a self-critical thought. Instead, they learn to look at their thoughts in a more realistic way. Behavioral therapists will teach your child to consider their actions before taking action, which may help prevent them from feeling worse in the long run.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, which sets and raises UK psychiatry standards while supporting practicing psychiatrists, states that during cognitive behavioral therapy, therapists help identify combined patterns in thought, behavior, and action. Our pediatric social workers assist in helping change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. They will create a plan for your child to practice on their own until their next therapy session.

In our Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions here in Chicago, clients learn practical skills they can use in their everyday lives. If a child or teen experiences additional behavioral symptoms, they can use the skills they learned in therapy to aid in changing the unwanted behavioral patterns.  These life skills are beneficial for all areas of development and growth—tools your child, and your family as a whole, can continue to use for years to come.

Is cognitive behavioral therapy right for you?

Our cognitive behavioral therapists are here to help you and your family. They can be beneficial for children with various issues such as, ADHD, behavioral disorders, aggression, anger management, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, life events such as divorce, death or new siblings, OCD, separation disorder, tantrums and more.

If you’re interested in learning more or if cognitive behavioral therapy is right for your child or teen, please reach out today to see if we can help.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2019, from: https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/treatments-and-wellbeing/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-(cbt)

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, which supports practicing psychiatrists while setting and raising UK psychiatry standards.

Hofmann, S., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I., Sawyer, A., & Fang, A. (2012, October 1). The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-analyses. Retrieved January 26, 2019.

Using Books to Elicit Language with your Toddler

Reading with your child is one of the best ways to improve your child’s speech and language skills.

This post will highlight a few books that are age-appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers that can be used at home to increase your child’s speech and language skills—even if they don’t have any speech or language related problems.

Brown Bear What Do You See - reading books to children elicits language

Brown Bear, Brown Bear - by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle

Appropriate for children ages 2-5, toddlers - kindergarten.
This book is full of repeating lines, and that’s an opportunity for your child to predict and interact with the story. Encourage them to help you finish that repeating phrase (ex: Looking at me!) by pausing and allowing them time to complete the phrase. This book is a great opportunity to engage your child by allowing them to be silly and make animal noises and act out the animal movements!

Dear Zoo - Book reading with children improves speech and language skills

Dear Zoo - by Rod Campbell

Appropriate for children ages 1-4, toddlers - preschool.
This is a lift-the-flap book that encourages your child to engage with the book! It has a repeated line (“I sent him back”), which encourages your child to predict the words! It’s also a great opportunity to practice animal noises and teach animal vocabulary.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar book - reading for  increasing your child’s speech and language skills

The Very Hungry Caterpillar - by Eric Carle

Appropriate children 3 and up.
This is a great book to teach vocabulary and sequencing. As with our other books, this encourages your child to interact with the story. Have them look at the pictures and help you tell all the food the caterpillar is eating!

thats not my puppy - reading childrens books to your child will help speech or language related problems.

That’s not my Puppy (or any Usborne touchy-feely books) - by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells

Appropriate for children ages 0-5, toddlers - preschool

This is a touch and feel book that has a puppy on every page with a different texture. Encourage your child to interact with the book. Practice answering yes/ no questions (ex: do you like how that feels) and use descriptive vocabulary to talk about how each puppy feels! There is a mouse on each page that you can find and show with a pointed finger!

Click here to contact Oak Tree Development Center.

Blog Written By: Katherine Reynolds MA CCC-SLP/L

Improve your Child’s Speech And Language Skills

The Importance of Play in Childhood Development

Play has a beneficial role in every child’s growth and development. Play allows a child to be able to use their creative senses in order to connect with the world around them. Playful interactions can foster new skills such as fine motor, gross motor, and executive functioning skills. Certain play can increase a child’s physical activity, making it an important part of a healthy lifestyle while combating unhealthy choices and building healthy bodies. Play also enables children to develop emotional regulation skills such as coping mechanisms, impulse control, and sharing skills.

Through play a child is able to master their world while conquering their fears. Children learn how to work with peers while negotiating and resolving conflicts. When a child is able to direct the play, he or she can practice important life making decisions that will carry over into their adult years.


Play Improves The Therapeutic Relationship
Play is a key component to the therapeutic relationship between a child and the occupational or behavioral therapist. Play in therapy allows a child to enhance learning readiness, attention span, and problem solving skills. In fact, according to research by Dr. Karyn Purvis, scientists have discovered that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play, in which case it only takes 10 to 20 repetitions. Whether it be board games, crafts, puzzles, or imaginative games, a child is always learning. For learning to occur in play, it should be done in a stress-free environment and it should be meaningful for the child. It is important to foster the development of skills in play in order to help children reach their full potential.

Blog Post By:
Stephanie Nereppil, MSOT, OTR/L

Attributed Resources:

Occupational Therapy Can Target Many Important Skills While Teaching Children To Bake!

In need of something to do with your children in the cold winter months? Warm up your ovens and do some baking! Occupational therapists are always stressing the importance of carry-over of skills in the home, as well as increasing a child’s ability to function as independently as possible.

OT Skills Development
Baking is an activity that addresses many “OT skills” in ways you may not have thought of. For example, your child will be working on their problem solving skills, bilateral coordination (using two hands together), sequencing skills, manipulating tactile input, hand strengthening, hand-eye coordination, and simple math. All of these skills can be practiced while making long lasting memories of baking with your child. Bonus, there is a yummy treat waiting at the end!

Problem solving skills: You can address this skill by having your child pick out the ingredients at the grocery store. Have them first look in cabinets and decide what ingredients are already in the house, and which ingredients need to be bought. Bonus handwriting task: have your child write a list of ingredients to buy at the store.

Bilateral coordination skills: Using a rolling pin, holding a bowl with one hand and stirring with the other, even rolling dough into balls are all ways your child will be using both hands together to complete a task.

Sequencing skills: Baking is a special kind of science; a recipe must be followed in the correct order, or your treat might not turn out right. Create a checklist for your child to follow step-by-step directions.

Manipulating tactile input: Have your child use their hands instead of a wooden spoon to mix together dry ingredients. Using your hands to knead dough is gooey texture that children are not exposed to on a daily basis. If your child is sensitive to tactile input, ensure then they are able to wash their hands as soon as they are done. Feel free to use latex-free gloves for those that are extra sensitive.

Hand strengthening skills: Hand strengthening does not always have to be tedious and boring. Using a fork/whisk to whisk eggs, using a spoon to mix wet and dry ingredients together, and kneading dough are all ways to make hand strengthening a bit more fun.

Hand-eye coordination: Having to pour ingredients or batter takes more skill than you think; if you miss you may have a big mess to clean up! Using icing to decorate cookies is another great way to practice hand-eye coordination.

Math Skills Also Improved
Simple math skills: I bet you never thought about using math while baking! Using measuring cups and measuring spoons, as well as counting are simple ways to incorporate math into your baking experience.

One of the best benefits of using baking as a way to incorporate OT skills into your daily routine is having that reward of eating what you created. Now go find your favorite recipe, or try out a new one!

Sources: https://www.ot-mom-learning-activities.com/baking-with-kids.html#SpatialPerceptionPlanning

Written by: Melissa Melnick, MOT, OTR/L

What is Speech Therapy?

There are many facets to speech therapy.  This can range from babies developing sounds to children communicating effectively with peers and adults.  Does your child have difficulty understanding words or using words to communicate? Does your child have difficulty with social communication skills that allow one to interact with friends?  Is your child’s speech difficult to understand? If so, your child may benefit from speech therapy.

Speech therapy is provided by a licensed speech pathologist.  Speech Pathologists are professionals who specialize in communication.  They work with children of all ages to improve their ability to communicate.  Therapy may be provided in the clinic, home, or school. Children receive either individual therapy or therapy within a group.  There are benefits to both!


Speech Pathologists focus on:

Articulation:  How we make speech sounds with our mouth, tongue or lips.  How we pronounce specific sounds or words so that we speak clearly and others can understand us.

Receptive Language:  How we understand what others say and follow directions.

Expressive Language:  How we communicate using words to request wants and needs and share ideas and thoughts.

Social Communication:  Social communication is often called “pragmatics.”  This includes greeting peers, taking turns when talking and staying on topic when conversing.  Pragmatics also include using appropriate facial expressions and eye contact and using appropriate body language.    

Fluency:  Fluency is also called “stuttering” and is how well our speech flows.  Children who stutter may repeat sounds, words or phrases. They may pause when they are talking.  Some children may stutter for a period of time but then outgrow it.

Voice:  How our voice sounds to others and how we use our vocal folds to make sounds.  If we are speaking too softly others may not be able to hear or understand us. If we are speaking too loudly and yelling too much we may hurt our vocal folds and our voice may be raspy or hoarse.

Feeding and Swallowing:  How we suck, chew and swallow food and liquid.   

If you have concerns in any of these areas, speech therapy may be appropriate for your child.

Blog Posted By:  
Oak Tree Developmental Center

Attributed Sources:

ASHA: Who Are Speech-Language Pathologists, and What Do They Do?

ASHA:  What is Speech?  What is Language

What is Behavioral Therapy?

behavioral therapist for children in chicago il

Behavioral Therapy

A child’s environment influences the way they behave. Often, problematic and unhealthy behaviors are unintentionally rewarded. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps parents gain the skills and knowledge to help redirect unwanted behaviors. Behavior therapies can be applied to a wide range of psychological symptoms among adolescents and children.

Although behavioral therapies can vary substantially from disorder to disorder, a common thread is that behavioral therapists encourage children and adolescents to try new behaviors, reward desired behaviors, and to allow unwanted behaviors to “extinguish” (that is, ignore unwanted behaviors).

In behavior therapy, parents and children learn to promote desirable behaviors and reduce unwanted behaviors. 

One common trap that families fall into is unintentionally rewarding the wrong behavior. For example, take the teen who has not finished his homework, but really wants to take the car. Despite initial objections, the teen persists, and becomes angry, irritable, and disobedient towards his parents. Following a tantrum, the parents decide they cannot take the hassle anymore and allow him to borrow the car. In this way, the parents unintentionally reward, or reinforce, the teen’s oppositional behavior. The best way to handle these situations is to planfully ignore acting out behavior and to reinforce wanted behavior (homework attempts) as much as possible. Behavioral therapists seek to understand such links between behaviors, rewards, and learning, and to help youth and parents shape their own behaviors to meet individual and family goals.

Behavioral Parent Training
Behavioral parent training was developed to teach parents how to reinforce desirable behaviors in their children, discourage unwanted behaviors, and improve parent-child interactions. In this form of therapy, the parents play a significant role in treating their children’s behavior problems. During the therapy sessions, parents learn how to carefully observe their children’s behaviors at home and are taught skills to reward their children’s positive behaviors by using praise, positive attention, and rewards. They are also taught to use rule-setting, time-out, and ignoring to discourage bad behaviors.

Blog Post By:

Sarah Irvine, LCSW

Oak Tree Developmental Center

Attributed Source(s):


Steven W. Evans, Julie Sarno Owens, & Nora Bunford (2013). Evidence-Based Psychosocial Treatments for Children and Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology Vol. 43 Issue 4, 527-551. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2013.850700

Charmaine K. Higa-McMillan, Sarah E. Francis, Leslie Rith-Najarian, & Bruce F. Chopita (2016). Evidence Base Update: 50 Years of Research on Treatment for Child and Adolescent Anxiety, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 45:2, 91-113, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2015.1046177

How An Occupational Therapist Can Help With Sensory Processing Disorder

A sensory processing disorder in therapist Chicago IL

What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. The sensory system is comprised of our sense of smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing. In addition we have two more "unknown senses". These are our sense of proprioception and vestibular sense. Proprioception and vestibular, which are a part of the sensory system, are often referred to as the “unknown senses”. The proprioceptive sense helps your body understand where it is in space, as well as how much force is needed to move your body within your environment. The vestibular sense refers to your body’s ability to understand how fast it is moving and helps to maintain balance. SPD can cause a person to be either over responsive or under responsive to sensory stimuli.

Sensory Diet For SPD

A sensory diet can be useful to help a child with SPD stay in a regulated state throughout the day, as well as cope when they become dysregulated. A child who is over responsive to touch may find certain clothing fabrics to be uncomfortable. A child who is sensitive to noises may be seen to cover their ears to noises that seem novel to others. Those with food aversions may be over responsive to taste or smell. Those who are under responsive to proprioceptive input may enjoy crashing or falling. Finally, those with difficulty regulating vestibular input may be seen to have “on the go” tendencies, or prefer to not move very much at all.

OT Support For SPD Parents

To accommodate SPD, an occupational therapist will work alongside parents and children to develop a tailored sensory diet to each child’s specific needs. No two children have the same sensory needs; therefore, no two sensory diets will look the same.

Blog Post By: Melissa Melnick, MOT, OTR/L

Attributed Resource: Super Duper Publications: Using a “Sensory Diet” with Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) by Amber Swearingen, MOT, OTR/L

.Please watch the insight video below, to experience a child's view of sensory processing disorder: