Learn about the Z-Vibe with Occupational Therapist Katie Zelinski
4th Apr 2022
Are you interested in learning more about the Z-Vibe? You've come to the right place! Below is the video and transcript from a live webinar we hosted featuring Occupational Therapist Katie Zelinski.
We hope you find it helpful! If you have any questions at all, please let us know. And feel free to sign up for our newsletter to know about future webinars.
Hannah: So today we have Katie Zelinski, who graduated from New York University with a Master’s in Occupational Therapy. She currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio. We’ve known Katie for a while now. She’s been using the Z-Vibe and definitely has a lot of helpful tips, so we’re super excited to have her here! We’re going to throw it over to Katie now and she’ll dive into her presentation!
Katie Zelinski: Awesome, thank you! So, I’m Katie, I am a pediatric OT. For those of you who don’t know what OT is - at its core, occupational therapy is really about working on meaningful activities and helping people be more independent in the things that are meaningful to them.
I personally work in pediatrics, so we're working on feeding and oral motor skills; we’re working on dressing; we’re working on sensory processing and regulation to help kids engage with the world around them and communicate with friends.
We work on lots and lots of fun, fun things—as I’m holding the Z-Vibe!
I’ve been an occupational therapist for eight years. I started in early intervention and then transitioned into pediatric clinics, and more recently opened up my own business, The Well Balanced OT. I’m currently providing mentorship to other occupational therapists to help them feel more confident and knowledgeable in their practice. And then, I’ll be opening up the doors soon to treat clients—which is super exciting!
The reason why we’re all here is for this super fun guy—the Z-Vibe!
If anybody has never seen one and doesn’t know what they look like, this is it! The Z-Vibe is basically a vibrating stick, or wand, with different attachments that you can screw in. It comes with the Probe Tip. I’m unscrewing it so you can see how it works. There are actually 35+ different tip attachments that you can get for the Z-Vibe, which makes it super, super versatile.
So, you can use this for oral motor skills - making sure that the tongue, the lips, and the cheeks are all working efficiently and helping us eat. You can use it for body awareness, which we’ll talk about in a little bit. It can help with regulation (there are tips for handwriting—so all of you OTs out there will love that!). And you can also use this to help promote speech skills.
One of the reasons why I love it, is because it is so sleek, small, and compact. There’s a lot of punch in a small, little tiny thing. For me at least, I know when I’m working in a school and then running to somebody’s home, or running to a clinic, I need things that are small and compact and can easily fit in my purse, or in my bag—and this is exactly that.
Prior to the Z-Vibe, I was using these animal massagers to provide vibration; but, they’re super big, they’re clunky. You put them in your bag, the back comes off and the batteries come out. It’s just not convenient. They also only provide massage and vibration, whereas you can work on so much more with the Z-Vibe.
It does come in a variety of different colors for the base, and it also comes in an aluminum version. When you’re deciding which one you want to get (whether you want the plastic colors or the aluminum metal), I want you to think about who you’re purchasing it for and what your client, or your child, looks like. So, if you have someone who is a little more under responsive to sensory information, so they need more input to register it, you might want to consider getting the aluminum one, because it’s a little bit heavier, so it's going to provide more input and the child is going to alert and register it a little bit more—and we’ll talk about all of that as well.
When you are getting this, I definitely recommend getting an extra battery. I use this in almost every one of my sessions, and luckily, I have not run out of batteries yet. But I know that if it ran out in the middle of a session as we were working, I would be so sad! So it’s always really smart, when you’re picking this up or picking up any tips, to add some batteries to your cart.
I mentioned vibration, which is one of the main components of the Z-Vibe. And I love that it can provide really targeted vibration, or very general vibration. So, targeted—when you’re thinking about oral motor skills, if I want to work on the tongue, the Probe Tip can provide vibration directly to the tongue. But, if I wanted more general input to the body, I can use the stick (handle) and run it along the arm or on a leg to get more full-body input in.
Let’s talk about the power of vibration—why is this such a special thing?
Vibration is a really powerful sensation because it has such a varied effect on the body. One of the reasons why we use it is for muscle activation. Vibration targets the proprioceptive system—and you’re going hear the word "proprioception" a lot! The proprioceptors are found in our deep muscles and our joints. When it’s activated, when the systems are activated, our muscles turn on and are more effective. So many of our kids with low tone, me included—I’m low tone—you’ll notice that we have trouble activating our muscles frequently. When I sit, for example, sometimes I'm hunched over, and my arms kind of hang. Our muscles just aren’t turned on all the time.
But when we provide vibration, our muscles are alerted because we’re turning on the proprioceptive system. We’re engaging the muscles around it, and it’s helping us be more efficient in our movement patterns and our motor skill.
Another reason why vibration is so powerful is that it can improve body awareness. Our proprioceptive system helps us understand where our body is in space. In a typically developing system, the brain and the body are working really well together and communicating strongly. For example, if I were to tap your shoulder, you’d probably look immediately and be like, “Oh, hey! What’s up?” For some of our kids, their body and their brain aren’t necessarily communicating super efficiently, which means they're going to have trouble processing that input. They might not even feel that you tapped them on their shoulder. They might feel something, but they can’t figure out where exactly on the body they’re feeling it.
So these people need more input. And vibration provides greater intensity of input, which helps the brain alert to it faster. When we provide that vibration, that signal is going to the brain, and the brain is then able to turn and look like, “Oh! Now I get it!”
When you apply it to the hand, you might notice that the client, child, or adult is watching the hand a little more. And when you provide it to the body, you’re going to notice that there might be more precision in movement.
Vibration can also be super calming. Because proprioceptors live in our deep muscles and in our joints, they’re activated by pushing and by pulling of the muscle. This system is one of the most calming systems in our body. And if you’ve heard of “heavy work”, heavy work provides that push and that pull. We’re doing it because it’s calming to the body. Vibration can provide that same input without requiring the movement. So you can get a lot of calming input just by using the Z-Vibe and providing vibration without having to swing from a swing, or hang from monkey bars, or do a wheelbarrow walk.
Next, vibration can also be really alerting. I want to talk about arousal really quickly. We all go through different stages of arousal throughout our day. When we wake up in the morning—we’re tired. We haven’t had our coffee yet. We don’t want to engage in conversation. It's probably not the best time for us to write a paper or have a big business meeting. Once you’ve had your coffee, maybe you’ve worked out, then you’re moving from that low arousal state to that "just right" state. Your body is feeling like you can engage with the world, like you can have a conversation, you can learn, you can listen, and you can retain information.
There are times when our body goes into a high arousal state. This is when we might be feeling scared, or frustrated, in fight or flight—we’re ready to run. Our body naturally moves through these different states throughout the day.
When we have someone who is in that low arousal state, who is maybe tired and sluggish and slow, and their body can’t bring itself up higher to that "just right" state, vibration provides an excitatory input to wake up their sensory system, to give them that little nudge and help them get to that "just right" state.
USING THE PREEFER TIP:
Now let’s talk about the different tip attachments now that we know why vibration is so important.
The first tip we’re going to talk about is the Preefer Tip. These are my favorites! The Preefer Tip is round with vertical edges on it. It’s a bit more gentle, and it’s perfect for oral motor skills and body work. We’ll talk about body work in a little bit—we’ll focus on oral motor skills first.
An exercise that I want to show you today is for lip activation and closure. Lip closure is really important because when we are eating, we need our lips to come together to take the food from the spoon. If our lips aren’t closing, we aren’t efficiently getting the food from the spoon.
To do this lip closure exercise:
- You're going to take the Preefer Tip and hold it above the upper lip.
- Then you're going to roll it towards your body and down towards the top of the lip. So you’re rolling from the bottom of nose to the lip. In and down. You’re going do this about 5-7 times.
- Then go to the bottom lip. You’re going to roll away from your body this time as you’re moving up towards the lip.
- This oral motor exercise is activating those muscles and helping those lips come together. It’s a perfect one to do before feeding to help prepare the lips for that food.
USING THE POPETTE TIP:
Another tip attachment that I absolutely love is the Popette Tip. As you can see, I have a lollipop on here! So you show kids this lollipop and they’re like, “Um, yes please! Let’s do that!” You can also put a few other things on here (DentaSwabs or Toothettes), but the lollipop is typically my go-to. The Popette Tip is ideal for working on oral motor skills.
Tongue lateralization is one of them, which is the ability to move your tongue from one side of the mouth to the other side. Tongue lateralization helps with feeding and manipulating food inside your mouth. If your tongue isn’t moving, then you’re not moving food from side to side, and you’re not chewing it efficiently, which might lead to a little bit more tongue thrust and inefficient chewing patterns.
For an example tongue lateralization exercise then:
- If a kid sees the lollipop, they’re automatically probably going to say, “I wanna lick it!” and I’m like, “Okay!” and I'll hold it to the side of their lip and say, “Okay, I want you to see if you can lick it.”
- Some kids might try to move their heads so they can put it to the center of their mouth, but you’re going to encourage them to stay straight and just stick their tongue out and lick to the side.
- You’re going to have them lick to the right, then you’re going to move it to the left, and lick to the left!
- So, you’re going to go back and forth between right and left, working on that tongue’s mobility to move from side to side.
- Sometimes while you’re there, I will say, “Oh no! You have a little lollipop on your chin, can you lick it?” So we're using this as an opportunity to work on that tongue coming out and licking the lips as well. It’s a great one to do, and I’ll usually hand it over and let them lick it for a little bit, and then we’ll work on it again.
**Something to note with all of these exercises: when you notice that the child is a little more resistant or nervous about doing it, we might turn the Z-Vibe off so there’s no vibration. Or you can come back to the exercise at another point in time. You want the child to feel safe and secure when you are doing these and you want to pay attention to their cues.
USING THE ANIMAL TIPS:
Okay, next up is the Animal Tips. There are three of them. They come individually or in a set of all three - the cat, mouse, and dog. They all can be used for oral motor and general input.
- One of the exercises that I love with the Cat Tip is tongue lateralization - you use the tongue to lick along the top of the cat's ears. So you’re moving the tongue from side to side, again getting that left-right movement pattern in.
- The Mouse Tip is great for feeding and working on spoon skills, because they have those big ears. And all of these are great for tactile exploration and oral motor exploration for some of your younger ones. This is usually what I will start out with when I am just introducing the Z-Vibe, because kids think that they are so, so cute!
- I’ll usually introduce the Dog Tip and I’ll say, “Aww, isn’t the doggie so cute? Don’t you just want to give him a kiss?” And you can see if they’ll give it a kiss. You can each have your own ones so you can model it and they can do it as well. To add in some extra work with cheek activation—if you have a child that is a little bit more low-tone, and their cheeks need a little bit more waking up, we might start with a kiss. Then I say, “Okay, now the doggie’s going to give you a kiss!” And the dog kisses them right at their TMJ and it comes down and slides down their cheek to the lips and they can give it a kiss. So, you’re building in that cheek awareness, we are waking up those cheeks, and then you’re also getting in some of that lip puckering and lip activation.They have a lot of fun with this one!
USING THE SPOON TIPS:
Next up are the Spoon Tips, which come in a bunch of different sizes and textures. There's a smaller one, which is good for your younger babies, and a bigger one which is going to be good for your toddlers.
You might have noticed when I was rotating them that the backsides have different textures. There’s a smooth texture—this can be ideal for anyone, but if you have a child who is over-responsive (who responds really quickly to sensory input), the smooth one is going to be better for them. If you have a child who is under-responsive to sensory input, the textured one is going to be better for them because it’s providing your mouth with more input to help the brain register that there’s food and there’s a spoon.
There is also a Flat Spoon Tip. This tip is ideal for those kids whose lips aren’t quite closing yet. It’s flatter, so you’re going to use this one with purées. It’s going to be much easier for that child to get the food and the purées off of that spoon.
I love using these spoons with the Z-Vibe because not only are you providing vibration to the mouth during feeding, but you’re also providing it to the hand at the same time. If the mouth is low-tone, most likely the rest of the body is too. So when you’re using this spoon, you’re feeding yourself and getting that vibration; you’re alerting the mouth and waking up the mouth, but you’re also waking up the hand. So you might notice greater attention to the hand. And you might notice that they're using a better grasp. It really is a nice way to target two different areas and connect the hand, the mouth, and the brain all together.
USING THE BRICK TIP:
Continuing on, for our biters and our chewers we have the Brick Tip. If you're familiar with any of the chewies from ARK, they have this Brick Tip in a chewy necklace. But bonus, they’ve added it for the Z-Vibe! So if you have a child who is seeking out lots of input—they’re biting everything, they’re chewing everything, everything’s going in their mouth—you’ve got a super nice biting material and you have added vibration. You’re increasing the intensity of input to help that child register the information and ideally, it’s helping them decrease the amount that they’re then seeking. So they’re going to need to chew less.
The nice thing about these Brick Tips is that just like the chewies, they come in different strengths. The red one is a little bit more malleable, the teal one is firmer, and the blue one is the hardest. For all of them - there are large bumps on one side, smooth on the other, and small bumps on the other side. This variety of texture is great for tactile exploration and also great for those kids who need more input. It’s targeting tactile and it’s targeting proprioceptive—everything!For a lot of our kids who are seeking out that biting, the input that they’re seeking is in that TMJ joint. Their jaw needs the input. The long shape to this is nice, because you can really push it far back—you’re going to let them put it in their mouth—but you’re going place it so that it can reach that back jaw and hit all their molars so they really have a lot to chew on. They can bite it horizontally as well with their front teeth, whatever their preference is, but whenever you have it longways at the back molars, you’re stimulating a lot more.
USING THE BITE TUBE TIPS:
Continuing with biting and chewing, we have our Bite Tube Tips, which come in different textures - smooth or textured. These are excellent for kids who are working on chewing and biting skills and developing a more mature biting pattern.
The Bite Tube Tips are hollow, so the reason I like these is because you can fill them with purées. Let’s say you attach it to your Z-Vibe. First, I fill it with puree—you can freeze it a little bit if you want to give it a colder texture that alerts the mouth a little bit more. Then you're going to apply it to the molars. For those kids who are having trouble lateralizing that tongue - they’re not bringing their tongue to the sides of the molars to manipulate food. But if we place food there, their tongue is naturally going to come over, which is going to encourage them to move their tongue over to start to manipulate that food. With the purée inside, it’s also going to be encouraging for them to bite down so they can get some of that purée out. So, it’s an awesome exercise to work on chewing with your kids.
If you are just trying to work on jaw strength and stability, you can leave it empty and they can just chew on it that way as well.
USING THE HANDWRITING TIPS:
Okay, last up is of my favorites—definitely not the least favorite! I use this one all the time - the handwriting tools. These are available all together in a writing kit, or you can buy them individually. There’s an attachment for crayons, there’s one for pens, and then there is one for pencils.
I use the handwriting attachments, the Pencil Tip especially, with my kids who maybe need more hand awareness. They might have a very loose grasp, or they might push too hard on the paper, or maybe they don’t look at their hand and their paper when they’re doing anything in terms of handwriting. The vibration can help wake up those hand muscles, and it can also help turn them on so they’re not pushing as hard.
We talked a lot about the proprioceptive system earlier. That system also helps us grade the amount of force that we’re using. If our proprioceptors aren’t turned on, then we’re not sure how much force we need, so we end up with a loose grasp or a really tight one. Once we’ve turned those proprioceptors on, you’re going to be more efficient.
I also love using this with our kids who just need more general input throughout the day. They are those kids who really benefit from heavy work, but maybe there’s not the opportunity for them to get up and move from their desk as frequently as they would like to do. So instead of moving around, we can use this Z-Vibe Writing Kit with them—it’s called the Tran-Quill Writing Kit, by the way—they can use this pen for writing purposes and get that vibration in every time they pick up their pencil. Also, they don’t need to just be using it as their writing tool. If they’re sitting there like, “Oh, my body really needs some help,” they can turn it on and put it on their arms, or rub it on their legs. It’s really discreet, and it’s less noticeable.
I do want say - this does not impact the legibility of your handwriting at all. I was an 80s baby, and I definitely loved the Squiggle Pen, but the Squiggle Pen did nothing for your handwriting. When you’re using the Z-Vibe + Pencil Tip, you cannot tell the difference, in terms of how well you can read what is written from this compared to a regular pencil. So teachers won’t have any legibility issues with it. It’s going to be super fun for the kid, and super effective for their body.
So I have some “hacks” you could call them that I’ve used over the years that I want to share with you guys!
1. The first exercise that I’m going to show you is a form of hand mapping:
- This activity can help children who benefit from greater hand awareness—maybe they have low-tone, maybe they’re not visually attending to their hands, or not using them as effectively as possible.
- So, you’re going have the child, or your client, hold their hand out.
- Turning your Z-Vibe on, you’re going to start at the palm and stroke down the fingertips (here I'm using the Preefer Tip).
- You’re starting with the pinky finger, because developmentally, the pinky is what comes first in infant development. We first pick up with the pinky side of our hand, and as we age, we become more efficient with our thumb and index finger. So, you’re going to stroke down the pinky, then you’re going to go to the ring finger, then the middle finger, and so on.
- As you go, you may notice a child might start looking at their hand a little bit more and they're getting really interested in what you’re doing. This is showing that the brain is connecting to that hand, and that wiring, that connection, is firing. This is a great exercise to do before a handwriting task or a fine motor task—anything where they’re going to need their hands to be super efficient.
2. Another kind of “hack” I’ve come up with is, when we’re first introducing that Z-Vibe and the child isn’t quite sure about it yet - we turn it into a magic wand! And we talk about how the magic wand only works when the Z-Vibe is on. If the child doesn’t want it to be on, that’s fine, we don’t do this one. But if they’re like, “Hmm, show me more!” then we turn it on, and I go, “Abracadabra, I’m going to turn you into…an elephant!” And that child then acts like an elephant. Or, “Abracadabra, I’m going to turn you into…a mouse!” and they can act like a mouse.
Now it’s their turn! So, they hold the Z-Vibe, and they’re going to turn YOU into something. Again, it only works if the Z-Vibe is on. So, you don’t have to turn into anything if the Z-Vibe is off, but they then get the chance to hold it and get that input in and have a fun, positive experience with the Z-Vibe before you start working on the mouth.
3. Another activity for our kids who are working on pre-writing skills or just learning to write our letters - I really like to use a multi-sensory approach to doing this. That means that we’re targeting more than one sensory system at a time. So instead of picking up a pencil and having the child write a “K”, I’m going to have them use Wikki Stix or use blocks, or use those reusable ice cubes. We might also use a peg board. We’re going to write out the letter, and we’re going trace it with the Z-Vibe—I’ll show you.
To demonstrate, here’s my peg board spelling out the letter “K”. You can see when we’re doing this, we’re still focusing on formation, starting point, making sure we’re sequencing the letter correctly. For a “K”, the big line comes first, so you can see I did that line in blue, and I did the second part in orange. Now we’re going turn the Z-Vibe on, and I’m going to trace the letter. So, we’re getting vibration and tactile input to the hand. We’re also getting auditory input each time you touch the dot (peg) as you’re tracing the letter. You’re targeting those multiple systems which is going to help that child remember the sequence. It's going to transfer it over to handwriting and help them be more efficient and help them remember that pattern.
4. My last tip is—you always want to have more than one Z-Vibe in your purse! If you have used this before, you have probably had this happen, where you go and are like, “Alright, we’re going to work on this exercise,” and they're like, “Oh! I wanna hold that!” And so, they take it from you—which is great, we want them to hold it. You pull out another one, and I’m like, “Okay! Well, let’s do it, “and they’re like, “Wait! I want that one too, I have another hand! I’m going to hold two!” So, while they’re holding the two, I have another one I can use, and then we can work on our exercises. It will make things go a little bit smoother and more efficiently, but super helpful to have multiples in your bag.
Alright, so we are ready for some Q&A!
Hannah: Thank you Katie! Definitely great information. I think some people are curious to know how many times should you do an exercise, or how long should you use the Z-Vibe for? For example, when you’re stroking the cheeks, how long would you recommend?
Katie: For that specific one, I would typically do three strokes on each side. For most of the exercises that you do, you can do anywhere between 5-10 repetitions. With the hand mapping exercise, you’re only going to do one repetition on each side, and you can do it multiple times a day if you want to.
So it does vary a little bit, and you can also base how many reps you do off of what that child is saying or what you’re reading about that child and how much they can tolerate. That may mean you're only doing one repetition the first time and that’s all that they’re willing to do, and then they’ll build up that tolerance. Most of the time, kids have fun with it, but sometimes it just takes a little bit more time to warm up to it.
Hannah: Alright, let’s see here. I think it might be helpful if you could show how you twist on each tip attachment—how you remove it and put it on—and some are curious to know how the inside parts go in.
Katie: So, here’s what the Z-Vibe looks like when it’s put together. For the tips, you can unscrew it—you can see that there’s some ridges right there so it screws in nice and tight, and I never have a problem with it coming loose. There’s nothing really inside this part (the tip end of the Z-Vibe).
At the opposite end is the Switch Tip, which is the tip that you screw on to turn it the Z-Vibe on. You unscrew the Switch Tip to get to the insides and the battery. This piece (the Switch Tip) never wants to be submerged, but you can take the pieces out and you can sanitize the outside. So, here are all the pieces that are inside. There’s the motor, the which the battery fits right next to, and there is another coil. So, they all slide right in—make sure we put it in the right way! And, then the Switch Tip goes right back on. When you’re turning it on, you only have to turn it on the slightest bit until you hear the vibration. You don’t need to, like, crank it all the way. Hopefully that’s helpful!
For cleaning: if you’re thinking about multiple kids, or if you’re a clinician, I would usually put the Z-Vibe in a plastic glove so that they’re more sanitary. But you can also take all of these tips off and you can wash them in the dishwasher.
Hannah: Do you have any other recommendations for when parents are wondering how long they should do an exercise, do you have any other suggestions for parents out there with that?
Katie: I don’t really have a timeframe of “yes or no” in terms of like, “Okay, five minutes, that’s your max.” For some of our kids, especially my clients who find the Z-Vibe really regulating for them, after five minutes, I’m not going to be like, “Okay, you’re done with that!” If this is a tool that’s calming their body and organizing their body, I’m going to let them hold onto it. They’re naturally going to drop it when their body is done with it—and then we’ll turn it off.
So I don’t have a, “Use it for two minutes,” rule. It’s really about reading that child and figuring out, “Okay, is this regulating them? Is this dysregulating them right now? Is this effective? Is this not effective? What else can we do that might be more effective?”
For feeding prep, we’re going to use it for just a few minutes before we’re doing feeding. I might spend anywhere from 1 minute to 5 minutes doing oral motor prep before a feeding activity. But really, ultimately, it’s about reading that child and seeing what those cues are.
Hannah: Definitely! Alright, well, Katie do you have anything else you’d like to say?
Katie: No, thanks just for everyone coming! It was fun, it was my first webinar too!
Hannah: Well, thank you everyone, and we really appreciate it, again! And if you have questions feel free to contact us! Aw, and everyone is saying thank you to Katie because she did wonderful! But yes, we are here, you can email us on our website—use the Contact Us page. We will see you guys next time!
Katie: Have a great night everyone!
Hannah: Bye guys!
Katie Zelinski graduated from New York University with a Masters in Occupational Therapy. She currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio. She has additional training in Ayres Sensory Integration, S.O.S., feeding, reflex integration, and iLs programs.
Follow Katie on Instagram @the.well.balanced.OT or visit her website at www.TheWellBalancedOT.com.