Health Professions

OT professor shares study findings for helping children reduce stress at school

Dr. Mei-Ling Lin, OTR, PhD

By Kate Hunger

Something as simple as focusing on glitter falling gently in a sensory bottle can soothe children who experience anxiety and stress, said Mei-Ling Lin, OTR, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy.

Making sensory bottles and slime, practicing yoga, performing deep-breathing exercises and coloring mandalas were among the therapeutic activities shared with elementary school children in a social-emotional learning program as part of a school-based, student-led project Dr. Lin supervised while on faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso. The goal of the project, which ran from spring 2019 to spring 2020, was to help elementary students find ways to calm their stress and alleviate test anxiety.

“We taught them about keeping a feelings diary,” Dr. Lin said. “They were able to see the fluctuations of their feelings during the day.”

Based on that project, Dr. Lin presented “Preliminary Outcomes of an Evidenced-Based Social Emotional Learning Program on Older Elementary Schoolers” at the American Occupational Therapy Association 2021 Specialty Conference: Children & Youth on Dec. 11.

The program’s early findings reveal a need for more research to establish the relationship of social-emotional learning programs and improved occupational performance, Dr. Lin said. OTs can most efficiently train teachers how to implement a social-emotional learning program for general education students during in-services, she added.

“We need more school-based research in the natural environment,” she said. “This kind of program implementation needs a team. OTs never do things alone. That’s why we collaborate with the whole school — principals, counselors, nurses and teachers. We introduce these therapeutic activities they can do.”

The project was cut short because of the pandemic. Even still, Dr. Lin learned that the school’s counselor has continued activities with students virtually.

“Those calming strategies have been reinforced in those students’ lives, I think,” she said. “The learning didn’t stop.”

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