Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Behind the Scenes | Schoodles

Today I am so excited to introduce a new blog series, Behind the Scenes. In this series, I will be going behind the scenes with some awesome occupational therapists who are doing really cool and interesting work. Hopefully this will help answer some questions you might have, and maybe even inspire you to do bring your own OT idea to reality. To kick off the series, please welcome Marie Frank, OTR/L and Amy Wing, OTR/L, the creators of Schoodles!

Please tell me a little bit about yourselves. How long have you been an occupational therapist? What is your primary practice area?

Marie: I have been an OT for 18 years. I have worked in schools, with early intervention programs, taught at the local college and I am currently loving clinic based pediatric OT. My first degree was in horticulture. I keep asking myself if I should go get a geology degree. Animal, vegetable, mineral……….

Amy: I have been an OT for 14 years, working primarily in pediatrics both in the school and in the outpatient setting. I love the challenge and activity level of working with children. I also like helping families problem solve how to meet their child’s needs in a way that fits their parenting style and values system.

For readers who aren’t familiar with your assessment, can you tell us a little bit about Schoodles?

Schoodles is an observation based tool an occupational therapist can use to gather information about fine motor skills needed for school. It looks at both the skills themselves and the underlying skills needed to support fine motor work. If provides age levels for each of these skills and uses language teachers and parents can relate to. 

It also provides, we think, a great starting point for goal writing. It can be used on it's own for a fine motor assessment, as related services are not required to use standardized scores to 'qualify' children for services. It can be used in conjunction with standardized tools, we like the VMI, or it can be used as a screen.

We designed it for the lions share of the population we saw, children aged 3 to about 8, and we were purposeful about making it fun!  It is so easy to overlook some of the more simple observations of a child’s skill level, but is so important to really understanding a child’s abilities. This tool helps to focus all of a therapist’s observations into a streamlined report that identifies a child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Based on the observations surrounding the underlying skills needed to have good fine motor control, it is easy to target the basis of a child’s weaknesses and plan treatment activities appropriately.

How did you come up with the idea for Schoodles? Was it an “aha moment” or did it develop over time?

Marie: Schoodles was birthed from a frustration both Amy and I had at the inadequacy of the available testing tools. We 'found' each other at work and often spoke about how we would like things to be different. Using standardized tests, we were spending a lot of time gathering information that wasn't useful and was challenging for parents and teachers (and their therapists!) to associate with skills their children were struggling with in school. We decided to pull together a tool we ourselves would like to use and was easy for an itinerant therapist to lug around. We also did not want it to cost a lot of money, so we decided to put the pages in a binder and make them reproducible. Basically, we created what we wanted to use ourselves. At the time, we didn’t think a lot about marketing it or selling it, but were encouraged by other therapists to make it available as a retail item.

Once you knew there was a need for this type of assessment, how did you go from idea to reality? How long was the process? 

Marie and Amy: Haha! We thought it would take a few months. We ended up spending about 1 year and a half on pulling all of the initial pieces together. There was so much more than we realized. We had not only content, but design of the pages, fonts, artwork, banking, marketing, editing, how to receive payments, business entity issues. We also did a small scale test market by giving the tool to therapists we knew. They used the tool and gave us feedback to help us develop it into a functional assessment.

What is one thing you wish someone would have told you before you began developing Schoodles?

Marie: How much different the world of business, marketing and accounting, is from OT!! Amy and I sat with our mouths hanging open and stared blankly as the banker described our merchant account. Thank goodness our husbands are both in the business world (thank you Todd and Ged!!) We still receive help from both, but we have learned a lot and are both fairly savvy at this point.

Amy: One of the coolest things that I have learned along the way is that OT’s all over the world share the same frustrations and concerns that we had!  I have spoken to therapists from New Zealand to Egypt who look forward to using a simple assessment that gives good information that can easily be turned into functional goals and treatment activities.  

You shared with me that you are gearing up for another revision of Schoodles. What does the revision process look like and how often do you revise?

Marie and Amy: We are considering a 4th revision. We want this tool to be the best and most helpful tool it can be. Our current tool is great, we love it and we get nothing but great feedback, but we want to continue to improve. We are currently gathering information from therapists who are using Schoodles to see where additions could be made, and we are considering adding a clinical component, as we are both now clinical therapists.  

We would also like to add a sensory component to the new version. Insurance companies now want to see functional outcomes more than anything else. They want to know exactly what a child cannot do that would be a functional skill expected of their age. If therapists can show these needs and how they are able to support children gaining these skills that are critical to success in everyday routines, insurance companies seem more than willing to cover the services provided. We think this assessment tool does a good job looking at function and focusing in on increasing a child’s independence in these areas.

We revise every few years when we have new ideas we would like to include. It's really the great thing about having a product like this, we can continue to create and improve and offer something useful to our fellow OT's and the children they work with. We are guessing the revision won't be ready until 2015 given our work and play schedules.

Where can readers learn more about purchasing Schoodles? 

Check out for direct purchases. We are also in Acheivement Products and Therapro

 Amy and Marie, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your story with us! Occupational Therapists are always creating tools to make their lives easier and I love how you took Schoodles to the next level by creating an assessment that other OTs could use as well! 

Readers, Schoodles is now available as digital download! What a great option, especially for international orders. If you want to read more about how I use Schoodles, click here. I'll leave you with a photo of one of my favorite handwriting samples I received when using the Schoodles. 

P.S. Are you an OT doing something cool? If you'd like to share your story, please send me an email at AbbyPediatricOT {at} gmail {dot} com. I'd love to feature you in an upcoming post!

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