Fine Motor Wednesdays

Today I relished in the fact that I was able to have a space of my own away from the hustle and bustle of the Chiquitines courtyard to work on fine motor skills with some of the toddlers. Trying to get one-year-olds to focus on tiny little finger and hand movements while they sit on a mat surrounded by the sights and sounds of a very busy environment is tough stuff! I’m happy to say I have found a weekly reprieve from the chaos: Wednesday!
On Wednesdays, the two psychology students completing practicums at Chiquitines are in class at their university, leaving their office gloriously empty. Even better, it has a little table and chairs just the right size for my little ones! After stumbling upon this bit of information earlier this week, I pounced on the open office today. Wednesdays will be fine motor days from now on – it’s amazing what you can get kids to do when you have their full attention!

 Working on sorting shapes

Goal: Pincer grasp. Getting closer 


Working on self-feeding counts as fine motor too, of course!

I’m thinking the office space would also be great for some sensory exploration that these same kids really lack, so we’ll see what I can come up with for next Wednesday.

Hasta luego!


Look Mom, Two Hands!

After wearing a cast for the last two months after a humerus (upper arm bone) fracture, this little guy is finally free to move about! It was big news at Chiquitines this week.

Since the cast came off on Tuesday, the little guy still holds his left arm as if it was casted and uses primarily his right arm for playing, so we’re trying to even things out a bit. At nine months old, he should be able to sit independently while playing, crawl and pass objects between hands. Because he’s a bit behind in those areas and has spent most of the last two months in a reclined position, we’re now concentrating on weight-bearing for strengthening, lots of tummy time and quite a bit of sitting balance work. He is such a happy camper and a delight to work with!

Working on propped sitting before the cast came off…

Weight bearing through the previously casted arm to build strength for crawling!

New Yorker of the Week

Gongzhan Wu, Gladney's VP and director of Asia Programs was chosen New Yorker of the Week.  Gongzhan is a true hero!

Baby Food

It’s rained in Cali today for the first time since I arrived in Colombia. While I normally abhor rain as my mood tends to coincide with it, today I was quite thankful for it. Not because it was relief for dry fields like the scarce rain has been at home this summer, but because it allowed me to have a long sleeve shirt handy to change into so I wouldn’t have to ride the bus home wearing a shirt covered in pureed vegetables…

I spent breakfast, lunch and two snack times working with kids on feeding skills today. I realize a little more each day how important those skills are and how many of my OT sessions will likely focus on self-feeding and oral-motor skills to meet the needs of the Chiquitines kids.

Some of the kids have delays in feeding themselves simply because they have never been introduced to the task.  In most institutions, caregivers lack time to allow each child to explore and learn to feed him or herself, and the little ones end up getting fed spoonful by spoonful until they’re long past the age most children attain independent feeding.

Other children have difficulty with feeding due to oral motor delays. I worked with one such little girl today. She is seven months old and consistently has trouble coordinating her mouth movements and generating enough lip closure to keep food in her mouth. With a few important pressure points to help with lip closure and lots of patience, she was able to tolerate feeding while sitting upright in a highchair today in a way that was probably much more enjoyable to her compared to the usual rushed and force-fed mealtime. This little girl happened to be the main culprit of the food-covered shirt… Good thing she was so adorable!

All in all, despite the necessary change of clothes, today was another good day. Last week I got pooped on by both a bird and a baby in the same day, so baby food was definitely a step in the right direction :)


A Day in the Life


Today as I walked out of Chiquitines at 5:00 the thought running through my head was “If everyday was like today, I might not ever leave this place.” After a week of introductions, evaluations, and rapport building with the kids, I felt like things just clicked into place today. My day went a little like this:

8:00 – Arrive at Chiquitines. Find a mat close enough to the office I work out of that I can easily grab toys for various children but not so close that I find myself with not only a baby on the small mat but three other children of various ages vying for enticing toys and a certain stranger’s attention.

8:30 – Work with Baby Number One, who is eight months old and not yet sitting independently, transitioning between sitting and laying and not purposefully reaching for toys or other objects in his environment.  Baby Number One has lots of excessive, non-purposeful movement so I stabilize his trunk and keep his arms positioned in midline so he can more easily explore his environment.

9:30 – Work with Baby Number Two, who is 9 months old and has a broken arm. Because his cast wraps around his torso and arm, Baby Number Two has virtually no sitting balance and spends most of his day reclined in a baby bouncer. We work on prop sitting with his non-casted arm and rolling from his back to his belly.

10:00 – Work with Baby Number Three followed by Baby Number Four. Baby Number Three was born six weeks pre-term and Baby Number Four was born 12 weeks pre-term. Both are just past their initial due dates now and benefit from therapy focusing on midline positioning, head control while laying on their stomachs and tracking objects and sounds.

11:00 – Work with Baby Number Five, a little tike who is 16 months old and has serious delays in gross motor (walking, kicking, reaching), fine motor (grasping, releasing, pointing) and play skills. He walks with his hands held, works on stacking blocks, grasping puzzle pieces with two fingers and imitating play activities.

12:00 – Work with Baby Number Six. This guy is one of my favorites! He is 22 months old and has yet to walk, feed himself, pass toys between hands, manipulate small objects with his fingers or babble. While previous sessions have focused on exploring his environment and increasing trunk control and strength, we spend this session focusing on self-feeding. With assistance, for the first time in his life he eats his lunch without it having to be fed to him spoonful by spoonful. His accuracy, grasp and oral-motor skills are most definitely delayed but I see great potential in him.

1:00 – Staff lunch in the cafeteria, followed by a meeting with Chiquitines’ doctor. As always, lunch is delicious. Afterwards, I explain to Dr. Victoria which children I have given priority for therapy services after their evaluations (there are 11 of them) and what I would like to work on with them. She gives me input about what she has noticed in their development, adds another baby to the priority list and we discuss the possibility of caregiver training for properly positioning the preemies.

2:00 – Work with Little Girl Number 1. As I mentioned in my last post Little Girl Number 1 is three years old, has cerebral palsy and is getting ready to be adopted by an American Family through the Gladney Center for Adoption. This session we focus on self-help skills to make her more independent with her daily routines.  Boy is she a cutie!!!

4:00 – Work with Babies Numbers Seven and Eight to measure their feet and lower legs for braces that will hopefully make it easier for them to walk. When I get home, I’ll send the measurements to Keely, a physical therapist with SuperKids who worked at Chiquitines last year and will be visiting again in a few short weeks. She will try to find a good match in donated supplies and bring them with her on the trip.

4:30 – Relax after a long day’s work, soothe a crying baby and take in the sights and sounds of a place that I can tell – even after just one week’s work – will always hold a special place in my heart.


So Much to Tell

I made it to Cali safe and sound on Wednesday and I feel as though I’ve had a month’s time worth of experiences in the last 3 days! Most of my time has been spent at Chiquitines or in the home of Angelica, the psychologist from Chiquitines with whom I’m staying, but it has been so full of learning that it’s hard to describe in one post! I’ve spoken almost no English since arriving here as well, so pardon the lack of flow that you may note in my writing as a result.

After starting my day at 6:00am on Wednesday, I arrived at Angelica’s apartment around 9:00 on that night. With the exception of some confusion regarding my lack of a visa and the time Angelica was to meet me at the airport, everything went smoothly. Angelica, her parents and sister came to pick me up and were so incredibly hospitable and warm-hearted. One of the first things Angelica’s mother said to me was “Bienvenida a Colombia, bienvenida a Cali y bienvenida a nuestra familia” (welcome to Colombia, welcome to Cali and welcome to our family). They are seriously some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’m staying with Angelica and her husband Gabriel in their apartment and they are constantly helping me get accustomed to Cali, Chiquitines and Colombian Spanish. Conversation is never lacking and thus far they have welcomed me into their lives with open arms. They’ve also welcomed me into their home with bug spray and Caladryl… The windows in the apartment are kept open most of the days and the number of mosquito bites I have is seriously ridiculous.

That brings me to the fruit… (yes, I’ll get to the babies soon). The variety of fresh produce available in Cali is amazing! While I could survive on avocados, lime juice and cilantro alone (which there is a plethora of here), that doesn’t even begin the list of fresh fruits and veggies I’ve tried. At least twice a day, either at home or in Chiquitines, we have fresh squeezed juice. Delicioso! However, I’ve never even heard of most of the fruits, so today I had a fruit lesson in the supermarket. Twice. I seriously must have seen 20 types of fruits that I’ve never seen in the U.S. I can now name five of them.
On to the babies! I spent all of Thursday and Friday conducting informal evaluations of nearly 30 babies age two and under. Oh my goodness was I in heaven! I started Thursday by sitting down with the doctor at Chiquitines, a woman not much older than myself who is incredibly energetic while working with kids and incredibly patient when working with occupational therapists with little medical Spanish experience. Did I mention I also completed nearly 30 Spanish chart reviews? Ufta. The doctor went through her list of babies with me to discuss their histories and tell me which ones she would like evaluated for therapy services. Out of the 39 babies there, 30 made the list with developmental delays resulting from health problems (many mild) and/or more need of stimulation. They ranged from six weeks old to 22 months. I spent about 30 minutes with each over the last two days observing their play, motor and social/cognitive skills before comparing them with skills typical of their ages. I’ll review my findings next week before sitting down with the doctor again to prioritize who will receive therapy and with what frequency therapy will occur. My interventions will focus on meeting each child’s needs, be they oral motor, core stability, fine motor, play, self help, etc. There is so much work to do but I can’t wait to get started!

I should also mention that yesterday I got to meet a little girl who is being adopted by an American family in a few weeks. She is three years old and has cerebral palsy. I finished evaluating the babies on Friday afternoon and decided to find her so I could get to know her. She was in the open courtyard with other children her age dancing to music played by her teacher on the guitar. It may have been the most adorable thing I have ever seen! Imagine 15 brown-eyed three-year-olds dancing around with each other in the sunshine as they act out the words to a silly Spanish song. The smile on this little girl’s face as she crawled around playing the part of a lizard to the song’s lyrics like the rest of her peers made my heart melt. I can’t wait to work with her more!
That’s all I have for now. If I tried to pack in all my experiences from the last three days, I’d be up all night. I hope to blog again next week with some pictures of Chiquitines and the adorable little ones there.

Hasta luego!

New Yorker of the Week


We are very excited to announce that Gladney's own Gongzhan Wu will be featured in an upcoming segment of "New Yorker of the Week," which runs on NY1 weekly and also online. The show profiles New York's unsung heroes, who, through their careers or their volunteer activities, are making a positive difference on the world around them. Gongzhan will be recognized for the difference he has made in the lives of hundreds of children and their parents through his dedication to helping orphans in China find a permanent family.
The show was taped don July 27th and will air soon.  We will have a link to the segment once it airs.

Gongzhan with 7 1/2 year old You You who was recently matched with a Gladney family.



By this time tomorrow, I will be in Cali, Colombia. I can’t believe it! When I first found out I would be traveling to Colombia with Superkids earlier this spring, it seemed like forever away. Now it’s less than 24 hours away. Crazy. The month of July was so busy with family gatherings, interviews, weddings, etc. I hardly had time to think about Colombia. Now that all of that is over, it’s very real and very here and I’m incredibly excited for it! There are so many unknowns attached to my upcoming travels right now – so many things I don’t know and won’t know until I’m there. However, there is a handful of things I do know about my trip.

1.I leave Chicago at 9:09 tomorrow morning, land in Panama City for a two hour layover then arrive in Cali at 5:25 tomorrow evening.

2.My suitcases are going to be pushing the 50 pound limit. Fingers crossed.

3.I am going to miss my family and friends like crazy while I’m gone.

4.I will make new friends. (Hopefully not new family. My mother is legitimately afraid that I will come back home with a newly adopted child.)

5.My Spanish will be at least moderately improved by the time I return to the U.S. in eight weeks.

6.As Cali is considered the Salsa dancing capital of the world, I will most certainly make a fool of myself should I try my hand at it.

7.Due to the hot and humid climate in Colombia, my hair will be one giant frizz ball for the next two months. Prepare yourself.

8. I will gain more than I give.

9. .I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to do this. To learn, to give, to grow.

I don’t know when I’ll have internet access again, but I will try to blog again as soon as I get settled. Hasta luego!