Wrapping Up Another Successful Beat NF Session!

Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz

Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz

The fall Beat NF session wrapped up this past Wednesday with our toddler participants, both new and seasoned veterans to the program, enjoying five weeks of play-based motor-music therapy in the Centene Education Center classroom on the top floor of the Harold and Dorothy Steward Center for Jazz.

A typical Beat NF class begins with the children picking a spot in a circle while Skyler Brussee, Master of Music Therapy Program at Maryville University Student, starts the class by leading our “Hello Song,” one of the many program elements focusing on development of appropriate social skills. During this song, the group welcomes our friends and leaders: Pops on the piano, St. Louis Children’s Hospital Physical Therapists Courtney Dunn and Sarah Hickey, and our mystery musical guest (a local musician who accompanies the piano). Throughout a series of songs and carefully planned fine and gross motor activities, our team then leads the children on a journey of play, planned social interactions, motor therapy work and music education.

The therapeutic goals of the program are so carefully woven throughout each 75 minute class that the children are all smiles even when being challenged and pushed to their limits by the physical therapists. When St. Louis Children’s Hospital Physical Therapist Courtney Dunn, PT, DPT asks a participant to walk across a balance beam on tip toes, it might be more difficult for a child with NF1 for a variety of reasons, including decreased muscle tone throughout the body, balance issues or a bone abnormality within the leg. Each child with NF1 presents their own expression of this genetic disorder, and each child has his or her own set of struggles. By integrating therapeutic goals into a new song or game and frequently redirecting the class to focus on new activities, the kids stay focused and engaged.

Resting after the musical thunderstorm

Resting after the musical thunderstorm

The children also learn about a variety of musical instruments, getting the chance to pluck an upright bass string, push the valves of a trumpet and bang on a drum. During our last class, Skyler led the children in creating a musical thunderstorm, producing the sounds of howling wind, pounding rain and blasts of thunder on their own individual drums.

No one ever leaves a Beat NF class without a smile on their face. That’s the common feature we all share on our way out the door after each class. Every activity is thoughtfully woven into a song, and every song is fun and catchy, easy to learn but updated for each class by switching out various motor movements.

Our long-term plan is to grow this program by adding new activities, songs, instruments and friends! Please join us for our Spring 2016 Beat NF session (specific dates in March-April 2016 to be determined). To learn more about Beat NF, check out our informational video introduction to the program.

– Written by Kirsten Brouillet, Team NF Coordinator

Beat NF is a play-based, motor-music therapy program for toddlers with NF1. NF1 is a set of complex genetic disorders that affects almost every organ system, causing a predisposition for tumors to grow on nerves in the brain and throughout the body. Kirsten Brouillet is the Team NF Coordinator at the Washington University Neurofibromatosis Center and has been involved with Beat NF since its inception in 2013. Contact Kirsten at brouilletk@neuro.wustl.edu for more information about this and other Washington University NF Center complementary care programs.

Nicole’s Nook: Handwriting Made Easier

Handwriting can be difficult, fatiguing, and frustrating for many children, especially in children with NF1. Often times it adversely affects their schoolwork and overall academic performance. While handwriting is a very functional skill, minimizing such fine motor demands can be a reasonable accommodation to increase productivity and success. The iPad features several options to ease handwriting struggles, many of which are even built into iOS8 and can be found in SETTINGS, GENERAL, KEYBOARDS.

  • Dictation:  As long as you are able to connect to Wi-Fi, you can dictate any time your keyboard comes up. Just hit the microphone key on the bottom left and start talking!
  • Predictive Text:  This is a word prediction feature that will minimize typing.
  • Auto Capitalization, Auto Correction and Enabling Caps Lock will also make for quicker typing and fewer keystrokes.
  • Shortcuts:  Create custom phrases by using abbreviations or acronyms to type the full phrase or sentence.

There are also a variety of apps out there that can benefit children who have a hard time with handwriting by encouraging them to work on skills such as directionality, letter formation and overall accuracy:

  • Handwriting Without Tears
  • Dexteria
  • iWrite Words
  • LetterSchool

    Dexteria iPad App

    Dexteria iPad App

  • abc PocketPhonics

Other apps can convert handwriting to more legible text:

  • MyScript Memo
  • MyScript Calculator
  • MyScript Smart Note
  • MyScript Stylus
  • MyScript MathPad
  • MyScript Stack
  • WritePad

So, while handwriting is a very important skill, it does not have to be a source of frustration, nor become a penalty in the classroom. Utilizing these features and apps can contribute to more efficient and productive students.

– Nicole Weckherlin, OTR/L