Author Archives: Tranquil Babies

About Tranquil Babies

I am a nationally certified Happiest Baby on the Block educator, a licensed pediatric occupational therapist in private practice, and a licensed massage therapist with a specialization in infant massage and special needs massage. I provide services privately in the NYC area, and I contract my services to Early Intervention agencies. Although I have worked in hospitals and outpatient centers, my passion is working with children in their homes. Home is where the most change can happen, where parents feel most comfortable asking questions, and where children can use their own toys and equipment in treatment. Learning about Happiest Baby and Happiest Toddler techniques transformed my ability to connect with babies and both respect young children and set limits that did not crush their spirits. Massage has been a powerful way to treat neuromuscular issues in children, but it also helps me to connect with those that have difficulty communicating. Finding Handwriting Without Tears totally changed my ability to evaluate and help children write legibly with ease. I want to share everything I have learned in these domains over the years, and give you the best strategies for success. Every child deserves to be the best that they can be, but that is only possible if the adults around them create a supportive environment. By offering ideas and insights, I hope to give families, teachers and therapists new ways to create that magic space.

The Subtle Ways Chronic Medical Care Affects Infant and Toddler Development

 

hannah-tasker-333889-unsplashThe good news:  more and more extremely premature and medically complex babies are surviving.  The bad news: there is a cost to the extended and complex treatment that saves their lives and helps them to thrive.  This post is an effort to put out in the open what pediatric therapists know only too well goes on after the medical crisis (or crises) are over.   Only when you know what you are seeing can you change it.

This is not an exhaustive list; it is a list of the major complications of a complex medical course of treatment on behavior:

  1. Your child is likely aware that their coughing, crying, or other reactions will stop parents and even some medical professionals in their tracks.  I have had kids who didn’t get what they wanted learn to hold their breath until they turned blue.  If you have worked in medicine, you should know that if a child does this and faints, they will immediately begin breathing again.  It doesn’t scare me.  But it can terrify family members, teachers, and other caregivers.  They will stop whatever they were doing and may give in to any demand right away.  Many kids learn who will take the bait impressively fast.  It is very damaging to a child’s relationships and destroys their ability to handle frustration.
  2. Invasive treatments have been done while distracting your child and often without involving your child in any way.  This has taught your child not to attend to an adult’s actions or words in the same way a typically developing child will do naturally.  Since learning language and fine motor skills are highly dependent on observation, these skills are directly impacted by this consequence.  This pattern can be reversed, but it is highly resistant and has to be addressed directly.  Don’t think it will simply go away as your child recovers medically.  It doesn’t.  As soon as your child can be involved in self-care any way (holding a diaper, etc) you need to engage your chid and demonstrate the expectation that they respond and interact to the degree that they can manage.  All the time.
  3. Typical toddler attitudes are ignored because “He has been through so much already”  If your child is kicking you while you change his diaper ( a real question to me by a private duty nurse) then you react the same way you would if your child didn’t have a G-tube or a tracheostomy.  The answer is “NO; we don’t kick in this house”.  You don’t get into why, or what is bothering them right away.  The immediate answer is “no kicking”.  Not now, not ever.  Aggression isn’t unusual or abnormal, but it has to be addressed.  With understanding and as little anger as you can manage as your beloved child is aiming for your face with his foot.
  4. Children who are unable to speak to engage you or able to move around their home will come up with other methods to gain and hold your attention.  Some children throw things they don’t want and HOPE that you make it into a big deal.  Or they throw to gain attention when they should be using eye contact, vocalization or signing.  They wanted your attention, and they got it.  Without speaking, signing or any other appropriate method of communication.  This is not play, this is not healthy interaction.  This is atypical past 10-12 months, and should be dealt with by ignoring or removing the items, and teaching “all done” or “no” in whatever method the child can use.  And then teaching the correct methods of gaining attention and rewarding it immediately.  The biggest roadblock is that if one caregiver takes the “throwing” bait, the child will dig in and keep using that method.  Adults have to act as team managers, and if they fail, the behavior keeps on going.
  5. Children can request being carried when they don’t need the assistance, but they want the attention.  This can delay their advancement of mobility skills.  One of my clients has learned which adults will hold his hand even though he can walk unaided.  He likes the attention.  The clinic PT doesn’t know this is happening, even though the family brings him to therapy.  Like a game of telephone, each caregiver assumes that the child needs the help he is requesting.  He is not developing confidence in his own home, which should be the first place to feel safe and independent.  He depends on adults to feel safe.  Oops.

 

In many ways, my job as an OTR is to alter some of these behaviors to allow normal development to take place.  Long after those medical crises are terrible memories, the consequences of those days, weeks, months and sometimes years can have significant effects on learning and independence.

Looking for more ideas to help children grow and develop?  Read Need to Support A Child’s Independence? Offer to Help Them! and The Not-So-Secret Solution for Your Child With Motor And Sensory Issues: Dycem.  Do you have issues with your child’s siblings?  Read Are Your Other Children Resentful of Your Special Needs Child?

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Does Your Special Needs Child Have a “Two-tude”? Its Not Just the Age; its the Circumstances

 

patrick-fore-557736I spend a lot of my work week with toddlers, and they can be a challenge.  One minute sunny, the next screaming because their cookie broke.  Special needs toddlers can have a “tude as well, but many professionals sweep it under the rug.  They tell parents that this is normal, and that they should be grateful that their child is going through a completely normal stage of development.

Except that many parents who have already raised typically-developing kids KNOW that there is a difference with this child.  It could be the intensity of the ‘tude, or the frequency of the meltdowns, or the types of events that trigger the tantrums.  OR ALL OF THEM!  Parents know that this doesn’t feel the same, but they often shut up when they are told that it is so normal.  Perhaps their eyes and ears and memory isn’t correct.

They aren’t wrong.  Their perception that something is a bit different can be totally correct.  And the reason(s) are quite obvious to me.

Special needs kids come in an almost endless combination of needs.  Some are physical, some are communication needs, and some are cognitive or social skill needs.  Some are all of these.  Having challenges in moving, speaking, comprehending language and/or concepts or struggling to interact will create more frustration for every single day of a child’s life.  That’s the reality of disability.

The image of the placid and sweet special needs child, patiently waiting to be assisted and supported is just that: an image.  Most kids bump into frustrating barriers every day.  The toddler that has just learned to walk but can’t run, the toddler that is talking or signing but still isn’t understood by their older brother, the toddler that cannot handle a change in routines…it goes on and on.

Typical toddlers spend less time frustrated that they are unable to accomplish simple skills.  The typical 14 month-old that can’t tell you what he wants becomes the 18-month old that can say “cakker, pease” for “cracker please”.  A special needs child could be 4 years old and still struggling to explain that he wants another cracker.  That is a long time to be frustrated.  The typical 26 month-old that can’t run after their brother in the backyard becomes a runner at 30 months.  A special needs child may not run for years.  That is a long time to be left in the dust when everyone is running.  Is there any wonder that parents see more frustration, more tears, more stubbornness?

My saddest story of failed inclusion is when a family placed their special needs child in a toddler development group with mobile kids.  Even though this child had a personal aide, he still watched as his peers got up from the snack table and ran outside.  They left him with the aide, who then carried him outside so he could WATCH his peers climb and run.  He became distraught at home when he was left alone in a room.  A puddle of tears.  It was so sad to see.  No one had thought of the emotional cost of inclusion to this toddler, only the social and academic benefits.

What can be done?

I teach families the Happiest Toddler on the Block strategies as soon as they are appropriate.  Dr. Karp’s techniques build a child’s skills while enhancing interpersonal connections.  Yes, sometimes you have to provide consequences for aggression, but mostly it is about building frustration tolerance and emotional intelligence.  For everyone.  I use these techniques all day long.  I could never handle so many toddlers for so many years without them!

Looking for more information on special needs toddlers?  Read Need to Support A Child’s Independence? Offer to Help Them! and Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing.

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Need to Support A Child’s Independence? Offer to Help Them!

 

irina-blok-192240-unsplashI know; it sounds like I am being sarcastic.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Instead of telling children to “Give it another try” or “I know you can do it”, offering help to a young child can have the paradoxical effect of eliciting more perseverance and attention.

It really isn’t all that complicated:  think of your own responses for a moment.  If you were trying to fill out your tax forms, and ran into difficulties, you might call an accountant for help.  If their response was “Just keep trying; I know you can figure it out!” you probably wouldn’t be excited to try again.  You might feel even more agitated.  I know what I would be thinking:”If I knew what to do, I wouldn’t have called you int he first place!”

If your accountant said “Let me take a look.  Oh, I underlined some of the important numbers.  You got stuck with line 32b, right?” you could see the issue in a new light, and be able to come to a solution without having to walk away or tear up the form.  Your accountant used their advanced knowledge to set you up for success.

We need to do the same thing for children.  Telling them we have faith in them, or insisting that they need to try again when they clearly don’t know how to alter their actions, is not kind or even very educational.  It leaves them feeling abandoned under stress.  Even if we know they can solve for X, they aren’t doing it now.

For the very youngest kids, I have a special solution.  You “wiggle it”.  Young children don’t know how we understand how to do so many things well.  When they get stuck opening containers or assembling objects, I offer to “wiggle it”.  By demonstrating that the container does indeed open, or that the bead will fit on the string, I am assuring them that they could be successful.  More importantly, I am demonstrating the correct grasp pattern and stabilization method.  And finally, I am rebooting their motor plan and their frustration level.  Just handing the object over to me reduces their agitation.  When children aren’t so frustrated, they can think and create better motor patterns.’

All this from a little “wiggling”.

To read more about building confidence and coordination, read For Kids With Sensory Issues and Low Tone, Add Resistance Instead of Hand-Over-Hand Assistance and Why Telling Your Child “It’s OK” Doesn’t Calm Him Down (And What To Do Instead)

When Writing Hurts: The Hypermobile Hand

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Many children resist doing their homework, but most kids say “Its so BORING!” not “My hand hurts too much”.  If a child is complaining of pain, and they don’t have a joint disease such as JRA, the first thought is hypermobility.  The good news is that there are a few fast fixes that can decrease or even eliminate hand pain.

It is rare that hypermobility in the hand is directly addressed at the preschool level unless it is generalized throughout the body or severely reduces pencil grasp.  Many children have atypical grasp patterns when they cannot achieve the required stability for a standard pencil grasp.  Children with mild instability and no other developmental issues may still be able to write legibly and even fast enough to complete assignments in the early grades.  It is when the volume of work increases or the joint stability decreases that therapists get a request for service.

Here are a few strategies that can support hypermobile kids to write with less pain:

  1. Use a tabletop easel.  These can be foldable or static.  They support not just the wrist and forearm, but also the shoulder and trunk.  The angle of an easel both supports correct wrist positioning and decreases strain on the wrist and hand.  Some easels come with clips that hold the paper, but they should be placed on an angle to mirror the natural arm position.  This will require more table space, so be aware that the size of the easel could be an issue.  Simple hack:  use a three-ring binder as an easel.
  2. Enlarge the width of the pencil shaft.  My favorite pencils for grades 1+ (see photo above) have a standard #2 lead, but a wider shaft. Joint protection principles tell us that avoiding a closed joint position should lead to less strain on joints and supporting ligament structures.  You could use some of the adaptive pens available, but I find kids reject these as looking strange.  Of course, if you enlarge the shaft oo much you will find that it is more awkward, not less.  Think of those novelty pencils you buy in gift stores on vacation.  Cute but useless.  Nobody really writes with anything that thick.  Match the child’s hand size to the pencil.
  3. Increase the texture of the pencil shaft for easier grip, less pain, and more endurance.   Everyone has seen the rubbery grips you slip onto a pencil.  You can slide 3-4 onto the entire shaft, or add some tape to create a non-slip surface.  I have been adding kineseotape or Dycem to handles this year, with good results.  You are battling grasp stability, but also fatigue.  A hand that is tired is a hand that experiences more pain.  Adding texture reduces the amount of force needed for proprioceptive registration (a fancy way of saying that kids need to squeeze to fully feel what is in their hand).  Reducing force reduces pain and fatigue.
  4. Teach pacing.  Kids think that the faster they write, the faster they will be out of pain.  Breaking up the work can have better results, but it isn’t natural for children to pace themselves.  In fact, I have never seen a young child do so.  You have to teach this to kids who likely will have joint instability throughout their school years.  A schedule, a timer, organizing assignments and breaking them down into heavy writing choices and light writing choices all help.
  5. Splinting can be a real option.  Not a heavy plastic or metal splint (usually).  A neoprene splint can be a lightweight supportive choice.  These splints are comfortable and washable.  These are affordable without insurance for most families, and your OT can help you decide if this is a worthwhile pursuit.  They are durable but easily lost by younger children, so not all families send one to school.  But the support is real, and kids that have been told for years to “fix your fingers” can feel relieved that they can now focus on writing and composing on the paper.

For more information on hypermobility, read The Hypermobile Hand: More Than A Strength Problem and For Kids With Hypermobility, “Listen To Your Body” Doesn’t Teach Them To Pace Themselves. Here’s What Really Helps.

Looking for more assistance with hypermobility?  My new e-book is coming out this summer, and it will address the issues of the early years (0-5).  The series will continue with school age kids and teens.  But you don’t have to wait; visit my website tranquil babies and request a consultation to discuss your child’s treatment plan and make a better plan that works for everyone…today!

Why Is The Wilbarger Protocol So Hard To Get Right?

 

michael-mims-134037-unsplashThe Wilbarger Protocol has been a staple of therapeutic treatment of sensory processing disorder for decades.  I will reveal my age, and admit that I learned directly from Pat Wilbarger.  She was an amazing teacher and a highly skilled clinician to see in action.  But I have lost count of the number of times parents have shown me how they have been instructed to administer deep pressure brushing and joint compression, and I had to decide exactly how to respond in a professional manner.  My initial internal reaction is often something akin to “STOP!”

So many parents have been incorrectly taught.  They are wondering why this technique hasn’t worked very well for their child.  Internet-savvy parents have consulted “Dr. Google” and heard both positive and critical remarks about the Wilbarger Protocol from other parents.  They are discouraged; concerned that their child is too impaired for it to work, or they are just not coordinated enough to be successful.

Well, I can tell them that the Wilbarger Protocol won’t work well if you don’t do it right.  And you won’t do it right if you weren’t shown correctly.  I suspect that, like a child’s game of “telephone”, their former therapist learned the method from her supervisor, and her supervisor learned the technique from HER boss or teacher.  And THAT therapist learned from her clinical director.  On and on, until there is no understanding of the concepts that form the basis for the technique, such as Gate Theory, or that Pat left the cranial compressions behind in the early to mid-90’s due to the risk of cervical injury.

This technique isn’t easy to do on toddlers or children with ASD.  Being comfortable with  manual treatment helps.  Understanding what not to do helps.  Knowing how to create a receptive state in a special needs child helps.  It takes a level of confidence, experience, and the ability to understand how to adapt it to the specific client without losing the benefit we are seeking:  neuromodulation.  It is possible to do it wrong and unfortunately increase sensory sensitivity or put a child into overarousal.  It is also possible to create joint or tissue damage (likely small, but still possible) with too-vigorous force.

Pat used to have her teaching assistants assess every participant in her training courses to ensure that therapists left knowing what to do and what not to do.  She couldn’t control what happened in anyone’s clinic or school.  If therapists or parents find that they aren’t getting the desired results from this treatment technique, I would encourage them to do some research and find older therapists that may have had direct contact with the inventor of this protocol, or at least a therapist that learned from someone that had the good fortune to learn directly from Pat Wilbarger.

Looking for more information about the Wilbarger Protocol?  Read Can You Use The Wilbarger Protocol With Kids That Have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome? for some methods to adapt this brilliant technique for children with connective tissue disorders.

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Why Parents Used The Fisher-Price Rock and Play Sleeper: Desperation and Confusion

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As a Happiest Baby on the Block (HBOTB) educator, I was thrilled to hear about the product’s recall, and horrified at the number of deaths attributed to this device.  The media spent a lot of time pointing out that the company’s marketing included clear messaging that suggested that children could sleep in it, in defiance of the national pediatrician’s association’s recommendations that children sleep on a flat surface without padding or bedding until they are old enough to move to prevent suffocation.

Many of the stories online made it sound like the company must be out of their mind, or the parents must be idiots.  I don’t think that either thing is true.   I think I know why well-meaning parents listened to the printing on the box and not the hurried message/tri-fold handout from their child’s doctor:  they simply want some sleep.  They see how calm their child is in this device, and don’t know what else to do to get some peace and quiet.  Fisher-Price knew what I know; parents can be desperate and want a convenient solution to their struggles.  Their packaging mentioned both the warning and showed sleeping children in the device.

Babies are amazing, but babies don’t sleep through the night right away.  They often don'[t sleep through the night in the first 6 months.  That is a long time for parents to deal with their own chronic sleeplessness.  Many families are dual-earners, and many parents today are over 30.  Losing a night’s sleep at 23 and losing a night’s sleep at 39 are completely different.  One makes you sluggish.  The other makes you feel like you were hit by a truck.  Have that happen to you for a week, and you cannot handle screaming or exhaustion very well.  Really.  Do that for 6 months, and you might agree to almost anything anyone suggests to get a little more sleep.  When your child is so peaceful in that carrier or infant positioner, you may not want to risk waking them.  Do it anyway.  And learn how to get them back to sleep more easily.

One reason why I became a HBOTB educator was my sympathy for the parents I worked with as an occupational therapist.  These are kind people, intelligent people, but people who were not given great strategies by their pediatricians.  They were told what to do, but not HOW to do it.  Pediatricians aren’t given the time to walk parents through good techniques, even if they know them.  And a lot don’t know how to calm babies.  They know how to cure babies.  Dr. Karp’s techniques tell parents  how.

Since the arrival of the SNOO, things have become a bit simpler.  The need for education hasn’t ended, because unless you intend to spend the first 12 weeks at home each and every day, parents need to know how to calm their babies without a device.  Read Why You Still Need the 5S’s, Even If You Bought a SNOO   if you would like to know more about how HBOTB will save your sanity during the day.

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Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing

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Therapists always try hard to be optimistic when discussing their pediatric client’s future.  Why not?  Kids have amazing potential, and we aren’t fortune tellers; there are so many things that can go right.

As therapists, we also should share the reality of how bad choices create unfortunate consequences.  Among them are the long-term results of falls, especially head injuries.  Kids fall, kids trip, kids walk into things.  All kids, and for much of early childhood.  The hypermobile child will have more episodes of injury, often has greater injury occurring in each episode, and frequently experiences a slower or less complete recovery from injury.  This isn’t a criticism of parents, kids, or even acute medical care.  It is the reality of living with a condition, often a syndrome, that has effects beyond just loose joints.

This can include connective tissue disorders that create weak skin, ligaments, and tendons, decreased pain registration, delayed protective reactions when falling, and cognitive or behavioral complications that make learning and controlling actions more difficult.  Hypermobile kids often spend more years in an unstable state in which they need assistance and supervision.  And more years when they are vulnerable to serious injury.  A head injury or a spine injury isn’t an “unfortunate” event.  It is frequently a life-changing event.  The course of education and employment can be forever altered.  For the worse.

In a clinic or school setting, your therapist is bound to guidelines that indemnify them and the facility. While they cannot control what happens at home, you should know what to do to make your home safer for a child with hypermobility.  It begins with your environment, then you change your responses, then your build  your child’s ability to incorporate safety awareness into their day.

  • Create a safe but accessible home.  This expands on “baby proofing” to include railings set at a height that allow your child to push up rather than hang on them.  Removal of loose rugs and adding padded floor surfaces in common areas, especially areas where they are climbing or running.  Bathrooms are the location for many injuries once children become independent in toileting or bathing.  Instead of supervising them forever, create a safe place with hidden grab bars (there are toilet paper holders and towel racks that are actually grab bars) and non-slip flooring.  Place needed items within easy reach without climbing.
  • Teach safe movement from the start.  Children that learn how to move versus children that are passively moved will have more safety awareness.  For children that still need a lot of help, narrate your moves and weave in safety messages.  It will sink in.  Finally, don’t allow unsafe moves, even if they didn’t hurt themselves.  Tell them to try it again the safe way.  Children are unable to anticipate the results of their actions.  This is why we don’t let 12 year-olds drive or let 5 year-olds cross the street alone.  Sometimes the reason they do things our way is because we said so.  Until they are old enough to understand the “why”.
  • Share your thought processes with children as soon as they can wrap their heads around things.  Even kids in preschool can follow along with the idea that too many “boo-boos” will stop them from being able to play.  Older kids can learn that the right chair helps them stave off fatigue until they finish a game.
  • Ask your therapists for specific safety advice, and then carefully think through their answers.  The truth is that some therapists are more safety-aware than others.  I have been told that I am one of the most vocal therapists on a team when regarding safety issues.  Perhaps it is because I spent 10 years working in adult rehab, treating patients for problems that started decades before I met them.  I have seen what overuse and poor design has cost people.  By then it is often too late to do much more than compensation and adaptation.  I am committed to prevention with my pediatric clients.  The cost is too high not to say something and say it loud.

For more information and ideas about helping your child with hypermobility, read Is Your Hypermobile Child Frequently In An Awkward Position? No, She Really DOESN’T Feel Any Pain From Sitting That Way and Should Your Hypermobile Child Play Sports?

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