“Hop On!” It’s Fun!

By Sherry Gurney

Can you picture a daddy saying to his child, as they romp on the floor, “Hop on!”  Most likely the little one will excitedly hop onto the back of daddy for a ride!  Laughter generally ensues and the child bounces up and down.

Does the dad say’ ‘this is a wonderful way for you to learn to balance and use your hands and fingers to hold on tight!  Also, I am so glad that you trust me enough to ‘hop on’!

No, of course not!  This all comes so naturally between a loving dad and child!

It is the same with little ones, who, for various reasons, are unwilling or unable to reach out and enjoy their environment. The difference is that the sensory deficits cause a need for extra encouragement and trust to help the child enjoy activities rather than feel overwhelmed due to no control of co-experiencing new, scary activities.

Those children who have visual or visual & auditory handicapping conditions, tend to become uncomfortable when others touch their hands, especially if they are startled by being touched before the adult has greeted them.

If we want the child to feel safe and excited about doing something with us, a good plan is to softly introduce ourselves, then come in contact with the child’s arm or leg and join our bodies by common touch!  When we want the child to feel something or manually manipulate something new, by saying ‘hop on!’ and then linking our fingers with theirs with an under the hand approach, cooperation and a wonderful co-exploring trust can begin. It is best to begin with the things the child likes or is curious about, then we become fun friends!

In a recent classroom circle time we used this method with a little girl with CVI and autism who is tactilely defensive.  The children were singing and clapping and this little student was just listening intently.  She knew her vision therapist was sitting beside and behind her and was not startled when the therapist introduced herself and slid her hand down the underside of the little girl’s arm, beginning above her elbow down to her hand.  When she slid under the little girls hand, she softly said, ’hop on’. The little girl, having developed trust with this therapist, rode the back of the VI’s hand as the therapist clapped her hands together. After the little one accepted ‘the ride’, she began to initiate the movement of the VI’s hand in the clap. Eventually, the therapist was able to withdraw her ‘hop on’ hand and the little girl continued to clap the adult’s other hand, varying the intensity of her ‘hit’!  When she pulled her hands away from the therapist’s, she clapped her own hands together once or twice!!

They were all having fun AND look at what she was learning!!!  In this activity, the child was able to access the experience of using her hands in relation to one another at mid-line, including direction of movement, amount of force, speed or tempo, and the spatial distance between her hands. This was fun for the child, the therapist, as well as being an active participant with the class activity!

Hand Under Hand


  • To provide access to the experience of how people use their hands in relation to one another, including direction of movement, amount of force, speed or tempo (without engaging the student’s startle reflex or opposition to having hands picked up)
  • To provide spatial awareness of the distance between hands, for people who are blind or have low vision
  • To involve the student in routine tasks that they cannot yet perform independently
  • To stimulate curiosity, the desire to do things themselves, and to reduce passivity and dependence

Important Points:

  • Too much touch distracts the brain
  • Too much talking distracts the brain
  • Provide the student with daily “observation” time (with their hands as their “eyes” even if they have some vision)
    • Keep both of their hands engaged on yours throughout the task. Make it a brief task.
    • Start with something the student likes!
  • This is teaching active participation and learning
  • Students with “tactile defensiveness” accept this better than your hand over their hand because they are doing the touching with their palms/fingers rather than being touched on the sensitive back of their hand or wrist.



Try positioning yourself behind or beside the student, depending on their body size and response, so that your arms and hands are positioned to operate as though they were the student’s hands and arms.

You may have to sit on a chair behind or beside them or squat to get your shoulder level down closest to their level. Young children can sit in your lap.

Position their hands on top of your fingers and hands. This can be accomplished by:

  • Tell them to do it,
  • Placing your hands under their hands and reach for the task, or
  • You may be able to lightly “clamp” their hands to yours with your thumbs in the initial stages of training them to observe with their hands.

If the child pulls his or her hands away or becomes upset with hand to hand contact, the student may need more sensory/motor awareness of their hands. Consider incorporating a hand lotion time (adult massages their hands) as part of their daily routines.

Adapted from material by:
Geraldine G. Larrington, MA,OTR/L
Arizona Schools for the Deaf & Blind

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