Monthly Archives: September 2019

Can Your Pediatric Patient’s Parents Have PTSD?

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I wrote a post about the common complications seen with long-term neonatal medical issues The Subtle Ways Chronic Medical Care Affects Infant and Toddler Development, but the rest of the family isn’t immune to trauma reactions.  A difficult pregnancy or delivery, the shock of a unexpected genetic disorder diagnosis, or the crises that arise in the NICU all weigh heavily on parents too.

Most pediatric therapists aren’t seeing children in the NICU or the hospital.  We are in the home, the clinic or the school.  Acute medical issues are few and far between in these settings.  But the effects of trauma can continue to color treatment long after a child is medically stable.  What looks like a personality problem or a poor fit between therapist and a family can really be PTSD that hasn’t been acknowledged and treated.  Many parents are so focused on therapy for their child that they won’t even consider that they need to help themselves as well.  This should change.

The following are only a few of the common scenarios that can be the result of untreated parental PTSD:

  1. Parents who ask for a therapist’s guidance and then question the recommendations repeatedly.  When the medical picture changes rapidly in a crisis, and multiple doctors give conflicting recommendations or predictions, parents become gun-shy about anything any professional tells them later on.  Even though their experience with therapists may have been positive, the stain spreads around.
  2.  Families that withhold information from therapists, and may even resist open communication between team members.  See #1.  “Splitting” is a common response from people who are convinced that controlling other people protects them in some way.  It also sustains drama and focuses attention away from issues that are painful, such as the lack of a child’s progress or the final diagnosis.
  3. Signs of common illnesses create high levels of anxiety and agitation.  Parents that have witnessed resuscitation and emergency surgeries can become absolutely distraught over a URI.  The memory of a child gasping for breath or being unresponsive is so painful that a common cold brings it all back.
  4. Parents who are developing addictions or whose addictions are increasing in severity.  A mother who is anorexic, a father who is using prescription drugs or alcohol more frequently, or a parent who is spending more time online than is healthy may be responding to their pain in ways that are dangerous for them and their family.

Parents are essential allies in therapy, and it is important to support them as well as our pediatric patients.  Some kind and compassionate words can go a long way, and even sharing this post with a parent may help them think about finding support to address the pain that they are holding onto, long after they have left the hospital.

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Targeted Toilet Training Strategies to Help The Child With A Receptive Language Delay

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After writing my first e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived! ,I continue to think of additional issues that can complicate (but not derail)  training.  One of these issues is a receptive language delay.  This is when a child’s ability to comprehend language is not age appropriate.  It may be accompanied by a delay in expressive language as well.  I don’t think it is a hard stop to training, but there are some strategies that improve the experience.  Not all of them are obvious.

When a child is unable to easily and quickly understand what you are saying during toilet training, you will need to do a few things differently:

  1. Expect to need established routines to support your verbal instruction.  This can include very regular trips to the potty rather than happening randomly.  Routines are essential for all children, but these kids really need them to shore up the language you are using.  Think about buying something in another language.  The routine or presenting the item, finding out the fee, offering payment and leaving with your item helps you get over the fact that you have forgotten most of your high school level French.  When they always sit on the potty right before a specific show, they know why and what you are saying more easily because they know the context.
  2. Use clear and consistent gestures and facial expressions as additional messaging while teaching and encouraging performance.  Gestures and facial expressions clarify your words and help kids respond quickly.  If they have too many accidents because they were confused, they could decide to stop cooperating.
  3. Monitor your language complexity, and consider simplifying it for ease of comprehension under stress.  As in the Fast Food Rule’s use of Toddler-ese, shorten phrases and emphasize important words.  This is not the time to lengthen your statements.  Repeat if necessary, but don’t elaborate.  Read Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing for more details on TFFR.
  4. Assume that you will need to be more enthusiastic, more positive, and spend more time on training in general.  Your child is probably already someone with a short fuse.  Struggling to understand what people are saying makes that easy.  Now you are trying to teach a new skill, possibly one that they aren’t 100% excited to learn.  That doesn’t mean never teach it.  It means have a good plan, with lots of optimism and patience on your part.

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Pillowfort at Target: Should You Ask Your OT Before You Click “Buy”?

There are so many families out there that need great equipment for their sensory kids.  Pillowfort materials are on sale at Target, one of my favorite big box stores.  The items are affordable and stylish.  But are they what you really need?  In order to get the products that serve your child’s needs, you may want to think beyond color and style.  The key to good equipment is having a big picture plan.  The wrong item for the wrong kid is worse than not hitting “send”.

Some good examples are their crash pad and their chair.  If you have a sensory-seeking kid, you know what abuse your couch and bed can take.  Kids tend to dive bomb them and little by little, destroy them.  Pillowfort will sell you a nice crash pad, and they use a smiling child lying prone on one of their pads in their display on Target.com.

You might want to look at the dimensions.  In my professional experience, most of my clients are looking for way more square footage to crash into.  And when they are dysregulated, which is often, they aren’t going to be able to land squarely on such a small pad.  Therapists use pad the size of a thick full mattress for a reason.  We are all safety, all the time.  And we know what works.

The rocking desk chair is another nice chair that will serve a small number of kids.  It looks pretty sturdy, but the big sensory seekers can wear out hinges really easily.  A chair that rocks is a chair that can become tippy with the right (or wrong) user.  Choose this chair only if you have a child that isn’t one of THOSE kids.

There are other choices for kids that seek movement, and they aren’t chairs.  They are sensory diets, created by therapists with years of experience in evaluating and treating your child.  Read Sensory Stimulation is not Sensory Treatment and Halloween With Sensory Sensitive Kids: The (Sensory) Tricks of the Holiday for more information on hoe Good OT treatment can help your child.

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Is Benign Joint Hypermobility Syndrome (BJHS) All That Benign?

 

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Throwing the bathwater out and keeping the baby

Many of the children I treat every year have some degree of hypermobility.  Some of them arrive on my caseload with diagnoses such as Prader-Willi syndrome or Down syndrome.  Their low muscle tone is understandable, and their hypermobility has been easily observable since birth.

There are always a few children that have been given the BJHS diagnosis.  Most of them have issues with delayed gross and fine motor development.  Many of them are already wearing orthotics.  Many of them struggle to communicate, demonstrating a level of instability and difficulty controlling their trunk, neck and mouth.  Few of them are complaining of pain, but most have low endurance, poor stability in dynamic positions, and use compensatory patterns to move.

So is this all that benign?  I don’t think so.  These kids are at huge risk for cumulative and progressive joint, ligament, and muscle issues.  They are also at risk for social and emotional issues that arise from their inability to keep up with their peers and the difficulty of fulfilling the expectations of school, friends and family, as well as struggling to handle their own desire to move and grow while fighting hypermobility.  Almost all of the children I have treated with BJHS have average to above average intelligence and display sensory-based issues; sensory seeking, sensory aversion or sensory modulation.

Since therapists don’t provide a diagnosis, and doctors don’t provide most of the treatment these kids need, it appears to me that the only reason a doctor would use the word “benign” is that there is no disease process and there isn’t anything much that the standard ammunition doctors use (surgery and medication) can do for these kids.  It is easier than saying “I don’t have anything to offer your child except to refer to therapists and monitor until a problem that I CAN treat comes up”.

If your child has been given the diagnosis of BHJS, read more on this site about the effects of hypermobility, such as How To Correctly Reposition Your Child’s Legs When They “W-Sit” and Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing.  There are a number of additional or alternative diagnoses that these kids eventually receive, including EDS.  If you are a parent, learn as much as you can about related diagnoses and discuss these with your therapists and doctors.  But don’t assume that what your child is experiencing is benign.

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How To Get Your Kid To Share (Hint: The Fast Food Rule Will Be Used)

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Not a week goes by that a parent or nanny asks me how to get a young child, usually under 3, to share.  I get it; it is embarrassing when a toddler rips a toy away from another child, or has a death grip on a toy car while growling at their playdate friend.

Sharing isn’t something that comes naturally to most kids.  The rare child that hands over a toy when asked isn’t the average child.  You have to teach this behavior, and you have a couple of choices.  Only one is going to give you any peace:

  1. Threats:  Telling your child that if he doesn’t share that he will lose his valued toy.  This may work in the short run, but like spanking, you teach a child that violence or the threat of violence is the way to power.  We have too much of that already.
  2. Shame:  Telling a child that they are not nice people because they don’t want to share isn’t any better.  It doesn’t make it much kinder to say “You aren’t being nice right now”  because you still haven’t acknowledged the child’s feelings. Don’t we all carry around more shame than we can handle?  I know no one thinks they are shaming their child by saying this.  Stop now.  Make a better choice.
  3. Empathy followed by reality:  Using the Fast Food Rule, you tell the child what you think they are thinking “You don’t want to share; you want that car only for you” or an even simpler version “You say NO SHARE”.  When the child nods or in some physical or verbal way indicates that they understand you and agree that this is their opinion, you add sympathy to your voice and say something like “I am SO sorry, but it is XXX’s turn now.  You will get another turn later”.  Many times the child will hand over the car.  Sometimes you will have to take it, but they might not flip out.  Your empathy and their intelligence (if they are over 18 months old, they have had experience with sharing) will help them accept the reality.  Read Stop The Whining With The Fast Food Rule for more details on Dr. Harvey Karp’s excellent strategy.

Of course, if your child is exhausted, hungry, ill, or going through a change in routine, home, caregivers, new sibling, etc. all bets are off.  They are living on the edge, and thing could fall apart.  What do you do then?  You feed, give a nap, a hug, and remember that asking a stressed child to share isn’t going to go very well.  But you also use all Dr. Karp’s positive strategies, the ones he calls Time-Ins.  Things like Patience Stretching Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! and Gossiping Let Your Toddler Hear You Gossiping (About Him!).

The altruism that gives birth to sharing should not be expected in children under 2.  We ask them to follow our sharing rules, and have to help them grow to an age and a place in which they can comprehend what sharing is really about.  You may have to wait until 4 or 5 to see your child really understand how the other child is feeling and why sharing with them works better than being selfish.  At a very young age, it is enough that they know we understand where they are coming from and we will help them follow this important social rule.

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Hypermobility Or Low Tone? Three Solutions to Mealtime Problems

 

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Many young hypermobile kids, with and without low muscle tone, struggle at mealtimes. Even after they have received skilled feeding therapy and can chew and swallow safely, they may continue to slide off their chair, spill food on the table (and on their body!) and refuse to use utensils.

It doesn’t have to be such a challenge.  In my new e-book coming out this year, I will address mealtime struggles.  But before the book is out there, I want to share three general solutions that can make self-feeding a lot easier for everyone:

  1. Teach self-feeding skills early and with optimism.  Even the youngest child can be taught that their hands must be near the bottle or cup, even when an adult is doing most of the work of holding it.  Allowing your infant to look around, play with your hair, etc. is telling them “This isn’t something you need to pay attention to.  This is my job, not yours.”  If your child has developmental delays for any reason, then I can assure you that they need to be more involved, not less.  It is going to take more effort for them to learn feeding skills, and they need your help to become interested and involved.  Right now.  That doesn’t mean you expect too much from them.  It means that you expect them to be part of the experience.  With a lot of positivity and good training from your OT or SLP, you will feel confident that you are asking for the right amount of involvement. Read Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child and Teach Utensil Grasp and Control…Without the Food! for some good strategies to get things going.
  2. Use excellent positioning.  Your child needs a balance of stability and mobility.  Too much restriction means not enough movement for reach and grasp.  Too much movement would be like eating a steak while sitting in the back seat of your car doing 90 mph.  This may mean that they need a special booster seat, but more likely it means that they need to be sitting better in whatever seat they are in.  Read Kids With Low Muscle Tone Can Sit For Dinner: A Multi-Course Strategy for more ideas on this subject.  Chairs with footplates are a big fave with therapists, but only if a child has enough stability to sit in one without sliding about and can actively use their lower legs and hips for stabilization.  Again, ask your therapist so that you know that you have the right seat for the right stage of development.
  3. Use good tableware and utensils.  If your child is well trained and well supported, but their plates are sliding and their cups and utensils slide out of their hands, you still have a problem.  Picking out the best table tools is important and can be easier than you think.  Items that increase surface texture and fill the child’s grasping hand well are easiest to hold.  Read The Not-So-Secret Solution for Your Child With Motor And Sensory Issues: Dycem and OXO for Kids: Great Tableware For Older Kids With Sensory and Motor Issues for some good sources.  Getting branded tableware can be appealing to young children, and even picking out their favorite color will improve their cooperation.  Finally, using these tools for food preparation can be very motivating.  Children over 18 months of age can get excited about tearing lettuce leaves and pouring cereal from a small plastic pitcher.  Be creative and have fun!

 

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