From Our Print Archives

Pirates of the CariBootin'

Following the map to shoe-tying success

Vol. 25 • Issue 7 • Page 29

Many children with developmental or fine-motor delays, coordination difficulties and sensory frustrations are challenged daily by a task that, to most children and adults, comes so naturally-shoe tying.

Some of the many techniques that help such children learn this skill include stories of bunny ears, squirrels running around trees, using bi-colored laces and using cardboard cutouts of shoes. But does a story about bunnies and loops really motivate children to tie their shoes? For many children, yes, but for some, it might not be enough. Why not make shoe tying more interactive and fun by turning this activity of daily living into an adventure for children?

I work with many children diagnosed with Asperger's or on the autism spectrum at the Schreiber Pediatric Rehab Center (SPRC) in central Pennsylvania. By combining a social story within a fine-motor task, such as tying shoes, we are able to implement a top-down strategy to better facilitate visualization of steps and independent completion of shoe tying. This technique is also beneficial for children who are easily distracted, have visual-perceptual difficulties and may have general problems when trying to understand and process the concept of shoe tying.

When working with a 6-year-old boy at SPRC, I developed an idea to make an "X" with the laces: "X marks the spot." From that simple imitation, a whole pirate story unfolded as I completed shoe tying with this child diagnosed with DAMP (disorder of attention, motor and processing/planning). He appeared to become more interested in the task and also was not as distracted by environmental stimuli. He started to focus on hearing and learning how the Pirates of the CariBOOTin adventure ended.

To learn more about the Schreiber Center, please visit,

Bethanie R. Steese, OTR, is a staff therapist at Schreiber Pediatric Rehab Center, a non-profit organization that provides OT, PT and SLP to children from birth to 21 with congenital and acquired disabilities and developmental delays. Readers may contact her at


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