Captain Me Kids held a self-determination workshop for occupational and physical therapy educators at the Adria Hotel and Conference Center in Bayside on March 27. The workshop, titled Evidence Informed Strategies to Build Children’s Autonomy, was designed to help the 70 educators in being more equipped to assist kids with disabilities.
The workshop helped the educators learn how to make puppets, write songs and role play with kids in order to help them better express themselves. The puppets are meant to be used for role play to help children work on their problem-solving and decision-making skills. The songs are meant to help them remember solutions to their problems when the going gets tough.
The participants also developed personal strategic plans to embed the strategies into their daily sessions to promote children’s progress. Each attendee also received the Captain Me interactive video-based musical self-determination program, which is meant to help young children learn how to solve their own problems and take charge of their lives.
According to Captain Me founder Dr. Amy Coopersmith, her goal was to introduce the educators to evidence-informed strategies to prevent learned helplessness in children with disabilities. She introduced her children’s self-determination program and the research study that supports its strategies before showing several Captain Me interactive musical videos meant to enhance children’s understanding of self-determination skills.
Participants also created choice boards and self-monitoring charts to maximize children’s ability to take charge of their learning.
“I was extremely pleased with [the workshop],” Coopersmith said. “I’ve been working on promoting self-determination for children with disabilities for quite a number of years. When I got my doctorate last year, I decided it was time to devote myself full-time to promoting this concept. I’m so passionate about my belief that this is necessary for the welfare of the children to help them prepare for their futures and it’s something that’s not happening in schools right now.”
By working on a grassroots level with occupational and physical therapists, educators and speech and language therapists, Coopersmith feels they can help make a change right away through this workshop. The Captain Me program doesn’t rely upon government programs or grants.
Much of the workshop drew upon Coopersmith’s own experience as a health and physical education teacher before she became an occupational therapist. According to Coopersmith, she used puppets to teach children safety information, which became very enjoyable motivating for them.
“There’s something about the approach [of acting out a scene] that’s much less threatening to a child,” Coopersmith said. “Rather than saying directly to a child ‘What can you do to fix your problem?,’ because that could be very intimidating to a child, so instead you say ‘What can the puppet do to fix their problem?,’ and they’re ready to jump in with all their ideas.”
When discussing how the songs help the children to better remember how to solve their problems, Coopersmith noted that extra attention on this matter should be paid to children with disabilities. With so many other challenges to deal with, they may need extra support because sometimes it may be hard for them to remember the words within these songs meant to help them in their daily lives. She had each of the participants write a song meant specifically for one of the children they work with in order to help them know what to do when in a difficult spot.
Coopersmith pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic may have been especially hard on children with disabilities, as they were limited in socially interacting with their peers. Additionally, some may have been limited in their ability to take part in therapy sessions.
“These types of approaches are very helpful, now that kids are coming back into the schools, to remind kids that they can make a difference in their own lives,” Coopersmith said. “It’s not just about somebody doing something for them, it’s that they can do a lot of things for themselves.”