OT and Sensory Ideas for Home

by Dr. Rachel Timmons, OTD, OTR/L

Children with autism often present with similar delays and deficits that can lead to an occupational therapy evaluation. Some of those delays are in fine motor skills, gross motor skills, sensory processing abilities, balance and coordination, weakened core, poor postural control, and delays in self-care tasks as well as school-related tasks, all of which can be addressed during an occupational therapy session. Most children at Cornerstone receive direct occupational therapy one time a week for 45 minutes each session to work on the skills listed above. In conjunction to this direct service, programs are in place for the child’s ABA therapists to work on skills daily, leading to an increase of OT goals met in a shorter amount of time. Below are some activities and resources that you could do at home to help facilitate the skills listed above for an increase in performance throughout your child’s daily routine.

Fine Motor Skills   The focus of activities to promote increased fine motor skills should be to strengthen the tiny muscles throughout the digits and palm. Some activities to do this include:

  • Tweezer or chopstick play (I like to incorporate sensory into it and have them use the tweezers to grasp cotton balls, or small objects out of a bucket of beans or rice).
  • Squeezing putty or play dough, and making various shapes with the putty
  • Playing with Legos, small figurines, or games with small game pieces to facilitate increased grasping and grip strengthening. Focus on having your child use their thumb and index finger only (neat pincer grasp) when grasping a small item.

Gross Motor Skills   The focus of gross motor activities should be to include the whole body in the activity, the more muscle groups involved the better. Some good activities to try:

  • Any sort of ball play--catching, kicking, rolling, throwing (over and under hand) and vary the size of the ball you use.
  • Playing games in which various crawls or walks are incorporated, like crab walk, army crawl, bear walk, etc.
  • Any activity which promotoes increased jumping, running, skipping, climbing.      

Sensory Processing and Modulation   Like most areas- children with autism will show a variety of deficits and delays. Sensory processing is something that is very child specific. The activities below may be very stimulating for one child while it may be extremely aversive to another child. Feel free to contact me to discuss how your child responds to various types of sensory input. Texture play- playing with a variety of textures; rice, beans, putty, play dough, shaving cream, cooked noodles, sand, and the list goes on.

  • Vestibular stimulation- using swings in play and varying the type of motion (linear- back and forth or side to side, and rotary- spinning). Also riding bikes, being pulled in a wagon and car rides are all examples of slow linear vestibular stimulation.
  • Proprioceptive input and heavy work--playing games where the child is forced to use muscles; gross motor games, crawling, jumping, running, crashing, climbing, pushing or pulling something heavy.        
  • Deep pressure--these are activities where the input is placed upon the child (child is a passive recipient to the input), muscle massages, joint compressions, laying in a hammock or ball pit, and being smashed by pillows or cushions.

The key component to sensory modulation is to vary the input throughout the day. The more input they receive from the categories listed above, the better their bodies will be at processing the added input.

Postural Control and Core Strengthening   Weak or low muscle tone is a common factor in children with autism and without good core control, it makes fine and gross motor skills difficulty because they do not have a stable base of support to work from. Below are some activities to help strengthening the core for increased postural stability;

  • Sitting and bouncing on a therapy ball
  • Laying prone (on stomach) when completing an activity- this will force them to engage their trunk muscles to keep their head upright during the activity
  • Scooter board or bike riding activities
  • Games incorporating balance (either standing or sitting)

Self-Care and School Tasks   Many times, when the above skills are worked on, the result is improved independence and performance in self-care and school related tasks. But working on these skills can help better facilitate that independence.

  • Encouraging all dressing age-appropriate tasks to be independent--at least allow them to attempt the activity, then provide help when needed.    
  • School tasks- such as cutting, coloring, possibly handwriting. All take practice, which is typically not desireable for most children, but the key is trying to make it fun and motivating for the child. Maybe working on a therapy ball while coloring, practicing cutting skills with play dough or putty instead of just paper, or getting window markers and work on handwriting on a window, mirror or in the bath tub.

The key component to occupational therapy is keeping the sessions and activities “child-directed.” This means I allow the child to pick what we do but I manipulate it into being therapeutic and to work on the goals I have set for the child. This way, it is always motivating, and they child does not realize that they are doing “work.” When working at home, I encourage you to be playful and imaginative with the activities, this will yield the best results. Below are some websites that may be useful resources for activities to do at home.



Dear Ellen DeGeneres

In an effort to promote Autism Awareness, Cornerstone Autism Center has created a Happy Video and One of our employees wrote a letter to Ellen DeGeneres in the hopes that she would help promote our video. Here is what Haleigh Schoon wrote to Ellen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released new data on the prevalence of autism.  It suggests that today in the United States, an estimated 1 in 68 children are living with autism spectrum disorder.  With these prevalence statistics on the rise over the last several years, there has been a great increase in the discussion about this disorder.  While this open dialogue has been positive in many ways, there has also been an increase in questions, misconceptions, and confusion surrounding ASD.  It seems as though there is a widespread perception that all children on the spectrum look a certain way, act a certain way, and have the same behaviors. Every child with autism also has his or her own struggles.  No two children are alike, so there is no “one size fits all” intervention strategy.  Thankfully, there is a very special organization in Indiana that I am blessed to work for that has one central goal: to make a positive impact on the autism community.

Cornerstone Autism Center is dedicated to helping children with autism reach developmental milestones.  Through intensive, 1 on 1 applied behavior analysis therapy, our staff achieves progress with children of varying functioning levels on the spectrum.  Programming is designed for each child based off of their individual needs.  Social skills, daily living skills, self-care, verbal skills, feeding, and behavioral support are among the many areas we focus on every day in order to help our kiddos achieve their maximum potential.  Our goal is always to transition our kiddos to the least restrictive environment possible.  They are capable of success, independence, and social relationships.  We just help to get them past the barriers that stand in their way of achieving these things. 

Cornerstone’s founders, David and Debbie Ide, were personally affected by this disorder when one of their twins was diagnosed with autism in 1999.  After seven years of countless evaluations, assessments, doctor visits, and therapy sessions, David left his 20 year sales career and moved his family from Orange County, California to Zionsville, Indiana.  Indiana was and still is on the forefront of progress made in the world of autism, as it was one of the first states to have an insurance mandate allowing children with autism access to necessary, intensive therapy services.  After living here for several years and establishing connections in the autism community, David and Debbie met a Board Certified Behavior Analyst named Ken Weadick and something clicked.  They recognized Ken’s clinical knowledge and expertise and decided to partner with him to start a new center.  On July 9, 2010 Cornerstone Autism Center opened the doors to clients at their first center in Greenwood.  Nine months later, the West Lafayette Center was born.  We are currently serving 83 children across both centers and counting!

One of the countless reasons I love Cornerstone is the strong emphasis put on employee and family fulfillment.  Coming from a business background, David and Debbie knew that when employees feel valued in the workplace, performance and morale will be higher.  They also knew as parents of a child with autism that when families are supported and empowered their child will be more likely to progress.  Out of that came our three legged mission statement: “Maximize those who struggle.  Embrace those who love.  Fulfill those who serve.”  Through our dream manager program, educational reimbursement program, continuous trainings, social events, and other countless acts of generosity by David, Debbie, and Ken, our staff members have been enabled to reach goals that would have otherwise been difficult to achieve.  Pounds have been lost, miles have been run, loans have been paid off, homes and cars have been purchased, degrees have been earned, and the list goes on and on.  With parent trainings and consultations, our clients’ families have been able to equip themselves with the skills necessary to utilize effective strategies in their own homes.  No longer do our clients’ parents have to feel as though they cannot take their child into the community for fear of losing control of a behavior.  A typical part of life hindered by sensory difficulties is haircuts.  We have solicited the services of a stylist to come and provide haircuts to clients that need them every six weeks.  We prepare them for this through desensitization programs.  On the day of the haircut, our clinical staff helps the child work through anxiety and they are able to get a haircut in a judgment-free environment.  People who have limited exposure to autism do not often realize the amount of stress that can accompany situations that most consider routine.

When David passed away unexpectedly last March, his friends and family, as well as the Cornerstone family, were shaken to the core. Many concerns and uncertainties surrounded his death.  His passion for this field and his drive to make a difference was unprecedented.  Many wondered if the loss of one of our leaders would negatively affect the work we do.  While the loss of David Ide was devastating for the people of our organization and the autism community as a whole, we feel that the truest way to honor his memory is to carry out his dream of helping as many children as we possibly can.  We continue to grow and explore new ways to make the lives of our clients easier. 

David was proud of the effect we were having on the autism community, but his vision was bigger.  In December of 2009, Cornerstone Autism Foundation was developed.  Through this foundation we have been able to donate iPads, build a sensory room, and provide funds to not-for-profit agencies serving individuals on the spectrum. Cornerstone has also collaborated with a local movie theater to provide viewings of popular children’s movies once a month with the lights in the theater turned up and the sound of the movie turned down.  Because many children with autism have issues with certain sensory stimuli, it is difficult for them to watch a movie in a dark, loud theater.  This a luxury many neurotypical people take for granted.  We call this program “Lights Up, Sound Down” and it is funded by the foundation.  The project funded by the foundation that we hold nearest to our hearts is the “Splash Pad” built in Greenwood, Indiana in memory of David.  This is an area in the town park where children can come engage in water play.  There is a tree planted in his honor and a bench for people to sit and enjoy time with their families, like David always did.

We, as an organization, do not believe that one “picture of autism” exists.  Every child on the spectrum has his or her own personality and spirit.  They each have their own individual dreams, talents, and goals.  Every family affected by autism has its own needs and concerns. Their journey is a bumpy one but it is not all negative.  Cornerstone’s goal in making this video is to give the world a glimpse of the fascinating and unique children we get to work with every day.  We hope that releasing this video will raise awareness and shed light on the beautiful side of autism.  To accompany the video, we have also created a website ( to show anyone who visits it that children with autism have a lot about which to be happy.  Many of the things that our clients love are common things that make most any child happy.  When you look into the smiling faces all over that website, it is easy to see they are not much different from their neurotypical peers.

Cornerstone Autism Center is a remarkable place.  It has been a blessing to our clients, families, and staff.  While we are only located in Indiana, there are resources all over the country offering services and support for families affected by autism spectrum disorder.  With more research and awareness about autism, even more resources will become available and more people can be helped sooner.  April is National Autism Awareness Month.  Please help us spread the word about autism.  Every child deserves to be “happy.”


11 Autism Awareness Events to Attend this April

   April is Autism Awareness month, and our local communities are working hard to provide autism friendly events. The Centers for Disease Control just released the latest rates for Autism; 1 in 68 individuals are now diagnosed with Autism. 

We want to encourage everyone to get involved in Autism Awareness month. In fact, we have created a video and to highlight why our kiddos are HAPPY and to raise awareness this month.  

 Cornerstone Autism Center and other organizations are hosting events throughout the month to create awareness for autism. See below for a list of events that are promoting Autism Awareness this month. If you know of any other events please comment below or contact Megan DeYoung.

April 5th and 12th: Autism Awareness Days at Conner Prairie


Conner Prairie will offer free EARLY admission for visitors with autism or sensory or developmental challenges on April 5 & 12. The doors will open at 9 a.m. and free admission will be offered from 9 a.m.-10 a.m. to those families, who may choose to stay during the day during normal operating hours. These early hours are designed to respect the needs of those with sensory challenges who benefit from a quieter experience. They are also designed to provide these visitors a way to experience the fun of Conner Prairie in a supportive environment. 

April 12th: Lights Up Sound Down


Watching a movie during prime time hours can be challenging for families and children with Autism and sensory issues. Goodrich Quality Theaters is proud to present Lights Up, Sound Down (LUSD), a monthly program open to everyone, but specifically giving families and children with Autism and sensory issues the opportunity to enjoy their favorite movies in a comfortable, sensory - friendly setting with the lights turned up and volume turned down in the auditorium.

Cornerstone Autism Center of West Lafayette provides free tickets to the first 100 RSVPs!

April 13th: South Bend Easter Egg Hunt 

Bring your Easter baskets and help us find where the Easter Bunny has hidden all of the eggs! You want to be quick - I heard that some of the Easter Eggs have some pretty cool surprises in them!

April 19th: Autism Awareness and Fun Day 

Region 7 is having an Autism Awareness and Fun Day on April 19, 2014 at the Posey County 4-H Fair Grounds located at 111 Harmony Township Rd., New Harmony, Indiana.     This event will begin at 8:00 AM and end at 3:00 PM.

Autism Society of Indiana (ASI) Region #7 includes the counties of : Dubois, Daviess, Gibson, Knox, Martin, Perry, Pike, Posey, Spencer, Vanderburgh, Warrick.  

There will be activities for children and adults and a corn hole tournament.  Also we will have a themed basket silent auction and agencies that provide service to families with loved ones that are autistic.  There will also be a walk as a fundraiser.  There will be an Easter egg hunt for the kids as well!

April 19th: Open Gym Night 

Join us for a FUN evening of bouncing, jumping, and activities. PowerKids Special Needs Gymnastics is proud to bring this Open Gym opportunity to special needs families in Indiana to benefit the Autism Society of Indiana and Noble of Indiana in recognition of Autism Awareness month. 

April 21st 7pm and 22nd 9:30am: Celebrate Calm with Kirk Martin

This event is FREE and guarantees that you will laugh and leave with 10 practical strategies that will work in your home or classroom immediately.

April 22nd: Answers in Autism Awareness Dinner and Silent Auction

Join Answers for Autism at Stone Creek Dining Company for a Four Course Wine Dinner and Silent Auction to honor Autism Awareness Month and raise funds for Answers for Autism.

April 22nd: Autism Awareness Concert at Purdue University

Musical   savant   Tony  DeBlois  will   be   performing  at  Purdue  University  this   April  during  Autism  Awareness  month.   Despite  being  both  blind  and  autistic,   Tony  has  been  able  to perform  all  across   the  world  spreading  his  message  that   you  should  always  believe  in   yourself   and  never  give  up  on  your  dreams.  Tony   has  inspired  thousands  to  change their   views  on  Autism  and  other   developmental  disorders  and  will   continue  to  do  so for  many  years  to   come.  Join  us  for  this  amazing  event  and   help   us  to  raise awareness  and  funding   for  the  Autism  Community!

April 25th: Family Fun Night in Evansville

Bring the whole family to enjoy an evening together in a safe, fun environment. Volunteers from around the community oversee activities such as rock wall climbing, corn hole, foosball, parachute, Legos, wooden trains, sensory area, face painting, and balloons.

April 26th: It’s An Autism Thing with comedian Scott Long



Nationally known comedian and SOHC parent, Scott Long, is hosting a comedy show/fundraiser, It's an Autism Thing, on Saturday, April 26th to raise funds for both SOHC and Noble of Indiana.  The event will feature comedy by Scott Long and others, a silent auction, t-shirt sales and more.



April 27th: Sensory Friendly Roller Skating


NO loud music or flashing lights. Skating, dancing, sensory and motor skill center, and more!



Frontline Focus: Julia Touloukian


This week’s Frontline Focus introduces us to Julia Touloukian. Julia is a therapist at our West Lafayette center. See what she has to say about her role as an ABA Therapist:

Julia with her husband at our Christmas party. My name is Julia and I started doing ABA therapy at Cornerstone a year and a half ago.  What impressed me the most about Cornerstone is how we get to work directly with the parents and families to accomplish goals that are important to them.  I love how therapy can be quickly customized to individual issues and obstacles without having to go through a ton of red tape and paperwork.  We can identify a problem and work through it so fast, giving the families the tools they need to function better, whether it's having their child being potty trained, not being afraid of something like a vacuum cleaner, or eating regular family meals without having to make something different for their child.  I love that we can make their lives a little bit simpler in these ways.  The main thing that I've learned about ABA is that every little thing you do or say can give the child a message, and you always have to be aware of what that message is saying.  It can be so easy to inadvertently encourage the wrong thing for a child, so I have to keep wondering what they are processing when I make a move.  My favorite thing about Cornerstone is building a relationship with these kids and seeing their personalities come out.


A Note from our Social Coordinator

Stephanie Dille has been heading up our social activities in Greenwood for quite some time. I asked her to share with us why this is important to Cornerstone and what kind of activities she plans. Check it out below:

YAY SOCIAL!!! This is the phrase that has kind of become my ‘tag-line’ here at Cornerstone & is the way I begin every social announcement at every team meeting on Wednesdays! I started my journey at Cornerstone in April of 2011. I say journey because ABA is more than a job to me, it is a way to improve the quality of lives of those around me on a daily basis! Coming to Cornerstone was my first exposure to ABA therapy. I was fresh out of college (hey Ball State! Chirp Chirp!) and with the faltering economy, I was lucky to even get an interview for a job in the field in which I studied while in undergrad, which was psychological science. I interviewed with Cornerstone and fell in love. I knew that this was the place I needed to be. When the call came from Debbie Ide extending me an offer to come to work for them I had no idea that she would be offering me the experience of a lifetime!

            When I first started at Cornerstone the thing that drew me in and impressed me the most was the passion that David, Debbie, Ken, and the staff had for the kids. This passion that I immediately recognized included the facility and resources that Cornerstone had, as well as the family atmosphere that had been created at the center. Cornerstone was unlike anything I had ever seen before! It was these components that set Cornerstone apart from all the rest and what continues to set us apart. With the growth of our company came a tremendous growth in building and expanding our center, increasing our resources, while still maintaining that family atmosphere that we all hold so dear to our hearts.


Stephanie and Fred enjoying our 2011 Christmas party!

            Our little social chair position started with Anesa Doyle several months after I started at Cornerstone. It began with small events at the center and created a way for us to connect outside of the center from time to time. When Anesa found out she was expecting her first child she asked me if I would be interested in taking over the position, which I graciously accepted. I knew that the role of social chair was bigger than just planning outings from time to time, it was going to be a way to keep our family atmosphere going no matter how big Cornerstone was becoming. It was a responsibility I was ready to take on! Cornerstone encouraged me to take this position to the next level because they too appreciated how the social aspect contributes to more than just hanging out with co-workers. Our social events allow us to connect with one another, talk about our daily experiences, bounce ideas off one another, meet each other’s boyfriends/girlfriends/significant others, and wear something besides scrubs!   As rewarding as our jobs are, it can be challenging at times to help a client through a breakthrough. We as staff are our best support system. We understand each other better than anyone else does and we are able to relate at almost every level with one another. By having social events we are able to continue to nurture these important relationships between us staff.

            As social chair I orchestrate several themed pitch-ins over the year (our biggest one included ‘friends-giving’ at Thanksgiving time), baseball outings to Indian’s games during the spring/summer, jewelry parties, movie outings, dinner outings, haunted house and apple-picking events during the fall, Pacer game outings, and I find neat events going on around the Indianapolis area throughout the year and plan outings for our center to attend those events as well. I am currently working with some independent companies in the Indianapolis area to plan social events at their venues to support local businesses such as ours! I like to plan events where we are able to just let loose and have fun, as well as plan events that are family friendly so our staff are able to include their children as well. This spring I will be planning an event at Skyzone in Fishers (an indoor trampoline park) as one of our family friendly events! I find that our outings are most successful when I am able to pick a day or weekend that is flexible for people (not planning events around major holidays or during busy times of the year) and is local. I tend to keep all our events to the south-side/downtown Indianapolis area. So many of us staff are spread out all over the greater Indianapolis area that it really helps to keep things local! I also find that events are the most successful when people are in need to connect with others and are willing to encourage others who may not regularly attend events to come! Things also run a lot more smoothly when other staff volunteer to help me out with the details of my big ideas!

Thank you so much for taking time to read about one of my positions here at Cornerstone!


Wine and Canvas in Greenwood.