Interview Kelly Tilley Author of Active Imagination Activity Book: 50 Sensorimotor Activities

Interview Kelly Tilley Author of Active Imagination Activity Book: 50 Sensorimotor Activities

Our Author Interview Series brings you another wonderful author, a mother of two, and an occupational therapist at a pediatric clinic. This interview is with Kelly Tilley, MCISc, OTR/L. This could not be a better combination for our readers who are special needs parents, educators, and therapists. Kelly Tilley’s unique book, Active Imagination Activity Book: 50 Sensorimotor Activities for Children to Improve Focus, Attention, Strength, and Coordination,  is the best resource for fun, effective and fuss-free movement activities I have seen.

If you have a child, student, or client who could benefit from getting exercise, or who needs specific movement activities for calming, energizing, or strengthening, Active Imagination Activity Book has to be on at arm’s length.

Lorna: Welcome, Kelly Tilley, MCISc, OTR/L, author of Active Imagination Activity Book: 50 Sensorimotor Activities for Children to Improve Focus, Attention, Strength, and Coordination. It pleased me to read you are originally from Canada! What more can you tell us about yourself?

Kelly Tilley >>  Thank you for including me in your Author Interview Series. Your website is a great resource for all! Yes, I am a fellow Canadian! I am from Sarnia Ontario. I did my undergraduate degree at The University of Toronto and then went on to The University of Western Ontario to earn a Clinical Masters in Occupational Therapy. My family is still in Canada and I get back to Sarnia whenever I can.

 Lorna: First, I must congratulate you on such a marvelous book! Active Imagination Activity Book is a real gem on all fronts, its high quality construction, its content, and its well-planned format for easy use and easy retrieval of the activities. Kelly, how did the idea to write a book come about?

<<Kelly Tilley: Thank you, I am glad you like the book. It was a lot of fun to create and I am happy that people are finding it to be a helpful resource at home and in clinic settings.

For the last decade (or so) I have worked at Arlington Pediatric Therapy, a private clinic in Arlington Heights, IL. I have worked in schools, daycares, in the home as well as within the typical clinic setting, with children who have had a variety of diagnoses. The challenges to meeting their goals (whether it was sitting up to feed themselves, tying their shoes, following directions, dressing, etc) were often similar. Upper body strength, core strength, coordination, and the ability to focus and attend, were often the barriers to progress. So, I needed a resource that I could use in a variety of settings that would address these issues and of course fit the philosophy of OT – which is helping kids meet their goals through engagement in meaningful activities – in other words through PLAY!

For many of the kids that OTs treat – the child’s functioning is impacted by Arlington Pediatric Therapy. For many of the kids, one of the most problematic symptoms of sensory issues is the decreased self regulation. This refers to their ability to maintain a functional level of arousal. For some kids they are too over aroused while others may be under aroused and appear sluggish. I wanted a resource that included activities that are playful as well as motivating to the child, and that are designed to help alert or calm their system.

I have been using many of the activities in the book for years. I had the pictures on cards and many of my colleagues have been using them with their clients and families as well. I was encouraged by my coworkers to take my drawings and activities to the publisher. It has been a fun and rewarding experience so far!>>

Lorna: Each time I have your book in my hands, I am impressed with its attractiveness and functionality. It is compact, lightweight, and spiral-bound to form an easel to display the activities. All children must be drawn to your book by its high gloss, quality paper, bright colors and the eye-catching photo of a budding superman on the cover. How did you arrive at this format?

<<Kelly Tilley:  I have to give credit to Cindy Williams and Jennifer Gilpin of Sensory World (Future Horizons Publishing) for the cool design of the book. I love the easel format as well. It is much easier to use this way. I had originally sent them my black and white drawings of all the activities and thought that they might want to make cards. Cindy and Jennifer came up with the new and innovative format.  Cindy went through and added color to all my pictures. I love it. You can actually use a dry erase maker on the pages and write in your repetitions or any treatment planning ideas etc.

At the clinic, we have been using the easel for obstacle courses…we set up stations with different activities. We have also done scavenger hunts around the hallways, so when you arrive at a certain point – you have to complete an activity from the book.  I have enjoyed getting feedback about fun ways to use the book.>>

Lorna: How has Active Imagination Activity Book been received? What comments on your book have made the writing effort and the time spent promoting your book all worthwhile?

<<Kelly Tilley:  Well I have learned that I need to do more promoting and talking about the book. I have been getting an education about the internet, blogosphere, twitter and facebook.  I am amazed at the amount of information sharing that goes on in that realm. I am a full time clinician and my daily life is hands on with children and families, problem solving, and finding real life strategies and sharing of knowledge and experience. I feel like a whole new world is opening up to me. I can direct my families to more resources and support that exist online.

With respect to my book, I have received good feedback that the book is practical and usable. I am glad to hear that parents are able to use it and kids are asking to participate in their favourite activities. Feedback from clinicians has been encouraging as well: They are able to give activities to parents and build more play into sensory diets as opposed to just passive exercise. Teachers have also commented that they are able to use the activities for whole class – movement breaks and make transitions easier between active and quiet work.>>

Lorna: What made you decide to choose your field of work? Tell us about your work as an occupational therapist at Arlington Pediatric in Arlington Heights, IL.

<<Kelly Tilley:  I chose my field of work shortly after I finished my undergrad and I was employed at an Autism program. I met an occupational therapist who worked at Children’s Rehab Centre in Windsor Ontario. She was very inspiring and she had a great connection with the kids she worked with. I really wanted to have a job where I felt that I could help make a difference and occupational therapy has been a very rewarding and fun career.

At Arlington Pediatric, my clients range between the ages of 0 – 21y. I have been able to learn from some great therapists over the years and I have had opportunities to build my skills. I have learned a lot from the kids and the families I have worked with as well. They have helped me to see what is important and how to work together as a team, creating meaningful goals that will lead to progress.

I would say that 60 – 70 % of my case load over the last decade has been kids who are struggling with Sensory Processing Dysfunction. So I have been somewhat obsessed with learning more about treatment, management, strategies, and parenting issues that surround this diagnosis. Active Imagination Activity Book really stemmed from wanting to create active strategies to improve sensory regulation that was play based instead of simply passive techniques to improve kids’ state of organization and well being. I wanted to give them control when they most needed it.>>

Lorna: Let’s say you are a parent of a toddler and you think he is not meeting his developmental milestones. What are the steps this parent should take to help his child?

<<Kelly Tilley:  Talk to your paediatrician or family doctor. If they don’t seem to address your concerns – go to another one!  In Illinois we have an Early Intervention Program (as do many other states).  They have case coordinators who will set up evaluations for your child if they are 0-3 years. You can have a speech therapy, physical therapist, occupational therapist, developmental therapist do an evaluation at your home. They are there to listen to your concerns, discuss developmental milestones, and development a service plan that may include therapeutic intervention or other recommendations. If your child is older than 3 years, they have state wide early childhood programs where your child also receives an evaluation through local school district preschools. Similarly, the evaluators will help address your concerns and determine a plan for services.>>

Lorna: When a child is referred to you, an occupational therapist, can you summarize what happens on the initial visit and subsequent appointments? What is the parents’ role throughout his occupational therapy sessions?

<<Kelly Tilley:  After a child is referred for occupational therapy, we set up an initial evaluation. The evaluation in a pediatric setting is generally tailored to the needs of the child.  The occupational therapist wants to chat with the parents about their concerns and gather important information about how their child is functioning on a daily basis.

We also will gather information about birth history and medical history. Some of the questions we will ask: How is your child sleeping, eating, managing new situations? We will ask about their ability to make transitions and interact with other people. Often we will ask about sensory issues…such as the child’s ability to tolerate noisy environments, or visual stimulation. We will ask about how they tolerate clothing, bathing, grooming, and getting their hair or nails cut. Often we will use questionnaires such as Sensory Processing Dysfunction to help us gather information.

We will also observe and ask questions about how your child plays and moves…such as Do they enjoy the playground? What do they like/avoid? Does your child seem like they are on the move or do they seem to prefer sedentary activities?  Often we will observe the child in our sensory gym that has suspended swings, ramps and incline to observe how the child moves through this environment or if they want to avoid it altogether. We are looking at how the child interacts with parents and how they communicate their needs/wants. We also observe attention, focus, direction following etc.

As OTs we are also looking at fine motor and gross motor skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, self care, and daily functioning. We use a variety of standardized tests to compare the child’s performance to that of their peers and to help determine goals with the parents concerns in mind.

If therapy is recommended, then goals are determined that help address the child’s daily functioning and skill development. Goals also include development of home program and sensory diet (a plan for daily activities to help improve the child’s level of arousal). Parent education regarding sensory processing issues and ways to build parenting skills and strategies is also addressed if appropriate.

What does Occupational Therapy look like? It looks like play! Sessions focus on finding the just right challenge for each child – so that they are incorporating many skills together to achieve success…for example, creating a fun way to move over piles of cushions, swinging on a trapeze to knock over a tower they made with oversized blocks, using shaving cream to uncover hidden treasures or write their name, etc.  Occupational therapists pride themselves on being the experts of sensorimotor fun that helps promote growth in skills and confidence.

Parents are partners in occupational therapy intervention. They are the experts with regards to their child. I try to encourage parents to share their concerns with me. I want them to tell me if strategies are working – I want them to communicate what is working and what is not. I want parents to help me measure the child’s success through participation in daily activities. I do want them to recognize that they will be active participants in many of the strategies for change.>>

Lorna: In closing, what are your two best tips for parents raising special needs children?

<<Kelly Tilley: 1. Although I have worked with many fabulous dads…the truth of special needs issues….Moms are often  the ones who are advocating, implementing therapeutic activities, managing behaviour, home programs, day to day parenting etc.

I worry for my Moms; I have seen many Moms who are struggling with the isolation of parenting special needs kids, as well as other mental health issues that often come along with dealing with the stress of special needs families. I would encourage Moms to seek out help from counsellors if you are not feeling good, talk to your spouse, and find support groups with other moms.  Check out what is in your area and take the time for yourself so that you are not struggling emotionally or physically.

2. Take time for fun. It does not have to be scheduled…. What makes your child laugh? Do it. What makes you laugh? Do it.  Make silly faces in the mirror, wrestle in the living room, blow bubbles in the tub, use shaving cream on a baking tray, finger-paint with pudding, whatever. Life’s short, have fun. The benefits are endless.>>

Lorna: What different ways can we track you down and see what’s going on with you?

<<Kelly Tilley:

Facebook: Active Imagination Activity Book

My email is

Thanks for taking the time to review my book.>>

Lorna: Amazing answers about an amazing book and career. I am so thankful to all the authors, today, to Kelley Tilley, for these profound answers. 

  Buy  Future Horizon 

Folks at Special Needs Book Review congratulate Kelly Tilley on winning a Silver Award at the 5th Annual Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in the  Category Activity Book 2 – Educational, Science, History, etc.

This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.