I’m sure that I am different from many people in that I have spent a good deal of time thinking about a skill that children usually pick up early on – being able to blow air out of their mouth. This skill usually comes naturally as parents model and teach their children to blow on their food when it is too hot. Well, this was a skill that was very difficult for Andrew and no matter how much it was modeled and practiced he couldn’t get it. I’m sure those of you out there with children who also have apraxia of speech can relate to this! I could tell that he was trying to figure out how to get his mouth to do it but the air always came out of his nose. He would cheer because he figured if he was making the same noise that we did when we were blowing, he was doing it.
His speech therapists worked on building this skill and since I was always on the lookout for ways to reinforce what they were doing, they told me to have him blow tissues or cotton balls across a table. Great idea but it was too random. Once I began doing My Obstacle Courses with him, I incorporated this activity in almost all of them and it became one of his favorites – something about the puffs falling over the counter’s edge cracked him up!
A Tool To Help
Since it was difficult for him to get his mouth in the correct “o-shaped” position, we began with a straw. This gave him a structure to put his lips around and the air he did blow through was aimed directly at what he was trying to move. This is the same concept as using a pencil grip to help position the fingers where they need to be until the muscle memory is there. I am all for tools like this! We used a straw to blow out birthday candles and it gave him such confidence knowing that he could do it on his own.
This Is Just One Of My Favorite Things (I Can Hear Julie Andrews Singing!)
On my first shopping trip to find things to use in My Obstacle Courses, I found a package of multi-colored puff balls. Now, most people would walk on by but not me! They were and still are some of my favorite things to use because they were inexpensive but oh so durable and versatile. I will do more posts on them because they can be used for many different activities. Since they come in a variety of colors and shapes, I knew I could incorporate lots of language and vocabulary building with questions like, “What color is that puff? What color do you want to blow next? What size is the easiest? Which size is more difficult? How many red puffs? How many in all?”
Puff Blowing Station:
- I would select the number of puffs I wanted him to blow
- I would provide either a cup/bowl/container for him to blow them into if we were at the counter or I would create a “finish line” out of tape, string or pipe cleaner that the puffs would have to cross.
- He would use the straw to blow the puffs. I would ask him to blow specific colors or sizes to see if he understood and see if he could select the right one. He didn’t need to speak to show he understood!
I love hiding station materials in bags or containers to add a bit of mystery as well as to work on fine motor skills like unzipping, pulling apart or prying open. I found an old glasses case in a drawer and thought it would be the perfect house for my Puff Blowing station. This is what it looked like open but when closed it could hold anything!
By setting it up like this within the structure of My Obstacle Course, it became a purposeful task with clear instructions (“Use the straw to blow the puffs into the cup or across the finish line.”), part of the whole and in order to move on, he had to complete that task.
Eventually he got to the point where he could blow the puffs without the straw, so that part could be removed.
Engage, Encourage and Empower!