My S2C journey as a parent and S2C Practitioner has been full of pleasant surprises. I am most amused by discovering those things that make such perfect sense yet none of the many professionals working with my son had ever thought of them before – and neither had I! One such thing is the discovery of the body engager. What’s this, you say?
While it’s true that there is a science behind it, “body engager” is an S2C term that can be described as a relatively small, purposeful motor activity that occupies and calms a person’s body in a learning environment, leaving the mind available for learning. Many people doodle or knit in order to stay focused, and spellers that have developed the required motor skills may also do these things; others might draw lines with a ruler using a writing instrument that is easy to grasp or hold, or organize desk supplies by stuffing them into a small box. Environments where a speller may benefit from having a body engager are an individual or group S2C lesson, while watching a movie or tv show, during a church service, or at a seminar or conference presentation. Ideally, keeping the body busy with some volitional movement decreases involuntary or impulsive actions that overtake the body, and eventually the brain, during a time of learning. For example, if you give my son a bag of popcorn to snack on, he can enjoy a feature film. Without the popcorn, his restless body will take over by singing, hollering, and leaving to seek other things to do, and he’ll miss the movie he wanted to see. Ultimately he may get angry for not being able to watch the movie. While many body engagers that work for other kids don’t work for my son, the ones that do, really have been game changers. We have accumulated so many that they have literally invaded our home!
As an S2C Practitioner, it didn’t take long for me to see that not all kids are interested in, or physically capable of completing the motor functions for, the same body engagers. If a speller is interested in an activity but they have not yet been able to complete it with some degree of comfort, why not turn it into a goal the speller and their family can practice regularly in hopes that the action can one day become “automatic” (much like spelling)! Parents, speak to your speller and S2C Practitioner about choosing a suitable goal and creating a task analysis to break down the steps to achieve the goal! It is not essential that the speller engages in the activity independently, but the less they need to concentrate on the motor action, the better.
If you are a speller whose body is excellent at being impulsive, tolerating body engagers can be tough but, with creativity, you and your family or S2C Practitioner may be able to gradually build your body’s tolerance for them. I find that age-appropriate Khan Academy lessons are useful in creating the ideal “learning environment” at home to practice building tolerance for a body engager. If your body can only manage to engage in a certain activity for a few seconds at first before becoming too consumed or overly-aroused by it, the learning videos can be stopped, and you can restart the video and pick up where you left off later on. However you go about it, even if you don’t practice within a learning environment, just begin with a realistic time goal and try to increase it.
Body engagers were introduced in my son’s IEP as accommodations for self-regulation and have contributed immensely to his success in staying focused and participating in academic lessons in a regular classroom. The body engagers also give his neurotypical classmates the opportunity to see him complete small motor tasks at his desk. Professionally, body engagers have often saved my S2C sessions with dysregulated spellers. When they discover one that is intriguing enough to compete with whatever matter or stimuli is pre-occupying them – often these activities bring my “movers and shakers” back to the table! I therefore recommend them as useful school accommodations for S2C Spellers, including beginners, that may not be fluent enough to spell at school, but are looking for ways to support their bodies in the classroom.
Be mindful that there are many useful actions or tools that engage the body and are often needed and super useful for our Spellers, but for use in the learning environments listed above, let’s rule out what doesn’t make the cut as a body engager:
- Although we love them – fidget and stim toys are not body engagers. If the object or activity does not encourage controlled, volitional movement, it is not purposeful and therefore, not a body engager. Stimulation from some fidget toys can escalate to dysregulation, and a speller can usually identify which of their fidgets have that effect on them and may be willing to replace them with a purposeful tool. If a body engager causes an individual in a learning environment to be overly consumed by it, it loses its status.
- Sensory/motor tools, are absolutely necessary for some individuals and specific tools are often prescribed as required accommodations in IEPs for students in school, but for the purposes of our classification, they are not body engagers. Oral motor tools, exercise balls and other disability-related supports tailored to specific Spellers’ needs can be used together with body engagers.
- Large-scale fine motor and gross motor activities are not body engagers. Certainly those with neuromotor challenges are encouraged to do purposeful things like build a tall tower or take a break for jumping jacks, but these do not fall under the category of body engagers suitable for the types of learning environments we’ve described. A body engager is portable and meant for personal use only when needed. Besides, one’s body engager should not cause another’s distraction or dysregulation.
Since we covered many things that a body engager is not, Click Here for a list of great body engagers you can make or buy! Spellers, please comment below with your favorite body engager. There is a body engager for every body. If you are a Speller who is an overachiever in the impulsivity department, work with your S2C Practitioner and family to determine what might work best for you. Even better, try designing your own DIY body engager and be sure to share those results with us in the comments!
Written by Giorgena Sarantopoulos
Giorgena Sarantopoulos is an S2C Practitioner and a member of the I-ASC Leadership Cadre living in Toronto, Canada.