Category Archives: autism

How To Help Your Toddler Hold a Spoon

hal-gatewood-e3Y23rtVk8k-unsplash.jpgHolding a spoon or fork isn’t an intuitive skill for children.  Neither is assisting another person, of any age, to self-feed.  Parents really have struggled with this issue, and there must be many more out there who are struggling still.  This post is intended to help both parties be more successful.

Young children use a “gross” or fisted grasp to hold a utensil; see the photo above.  This continues until 3-4 years of age, when they have the hand strength and dexterity to use a mature grasp that incorporates the fingertips and thumb:

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Trying to force a toddler to use a mature grasp is almost impossible, and allowing a toddler to use an atypical grasp is also unacceptable.  It is inefficient and frustrating.  The amount of spillage almost always makes parents decide to feed a child that should be learning to feed themselves.

Parents need to teach utensil grasp, and support it with the right tools and assistance until self-feeding becomes easy and natural to a child.  Here is how to make that happen:

  1. Have the right tools.  Once a child is old enough to try to self-feed, they need toddler utensils.  Adult utensils have thinner, longer shafts.  This makes it much more difficult to hold.  Not impossible, just harder.  Make life easier on both of you and invest in toddler spoons and forks.  Infant feeding spoons have a tiny bowl and a very long shaft.  That is because they help scoop food from a jar and reach a baby’s mouth:  adults are the intended users!  Do not give them to your toddler.  They are harder for toddlers to use.  Shallow plastic bowls with a non-skid base are very helpful.  OXO sells the best bowls for this purpose, and since they are well-designed, you don’t have to get rid of them as kids get older.  They will be attractive and useful for years to come.
  2. Provide the right assistance.  In the very beginning, I encourage parents to load a fork with a safe food such as a cooked piece of carrot.  Food on a fork doesn’t fall off as easily.  They place the fork in the child’s hand and assist them in bringing it to their mouth.  Adults need to “steer” the utensil until a child develops the motor control sequence to successfully get food on the utensil.  Parents should be holding the end of the handle so that the child can place their hand in the center of the handle shaft.  Children will grasp the end of the spoon if the parent uses any other hand placement.  Young children will not automatically hold a utensil correctly.  It is the parent’s job to know how to present the utensil for grasp.
  3. Make it fun.  Feeding shouldn’t be difficult or unpleasant.  I wrote a popular post on the best way to make learning to use utensils enjoyable Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child .   This works even with children with ASD and SPD.  In fact, it might be the best way to get kids with these diagnoses to learn to use utensils.  There is an opportunity to develop social skills and turn a daily living skill into a fun game!

CPSE or CSE Review Without a Re-Eval Because of COVID-19? Here’s What You Need To Ask For

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One of my private clients just called me for some backup.  Her son, who is on the autism spectrum, may lose some of his school OT sessions due to his increased handwriting ability (thank you; we have been very working hard on it!), but no further formal testing could be done before schools were shut down due to COVID-19.  His fine motor scores were in the average range. Everyone knows he is struggling with attention and behavior in class.  Everyone.

My strategy?  I gave her the Sensory Profile for ages 3-10 (SP) to complete.  Almost all of his scores were in either the “probable difference” or “definite difference” categories.  This means that his behavior on most of over 125 different items is between one and two standard deviations from the mean.  Even without a statistics course, you can understand that this is likely to be impacting his behavior in the classroom!

Many of the modulation sections of the SP, including “modulation of visual input affecting emotional responses” and “modulation of movement affective activity level” directly relate to observed school behaviors.  Scores in “multi sensory processing” and “auditory processing” were equally low.  Think about how teaching is done in a group:  it is visual and verbal.  Kids have to sit to learn.  They have to tolerate being challenged.

This is why OT in the schools is more than how to hold a pencil.  We address the foundational skills that allow children to build executive functioning skills.  Without these skills, all the routines, prompts, reward systems and consequences aren’t going to be very effective.

School therapists cannot test your child accurately using a standardized instrument when schools are closed due to COVID-19.  But parents can respond to a questionnaire, and it can be sent and scored remotely.  The Sensory Processing Measure is another sensory processing questionnaire able to be completed remotely.  These scores will help your therapist and your district understand the importance of OT for your child.  When school does resume, related services are going to be essential services!

For more information on how to work on OT issues at home, read Using A Vertical Easel in Preschool? WHERE You Draw on it Matters! and Does Your Older Child Hate Writing? Try HWT’s Double-Lined Paper.

If your child is hypermobile, you will need my newest e-book, out on Amazon right now!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume Two:  The School Years, is designed to address the challenges and needs of the school-aged child 6-12.  It has plenty of add-ons in the appendix to help you at home and at school. Learn how to pick the right chair, the right spoon, the right desk and even the right bike!  It gives you ideas to build ADL skills like dressing and independent bathing, and ways to build your confidence when speaking to doctors and teachers!

My earlier book, The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years, is also available on Amazon and at  Your Therapy Source.  It addresses development from birth to age 5.  It provides parents with all the ADL strategies to build independence AND safety, plus ways to teach your family    and babysitters how to work with your child more effectively.  Parents start feeling empowered, not overwhelmed, right away!

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Is this recess in your house during the COVID crisis?

Sensory Processing and Colds: Nothing to Sneeze At!

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Here in the US, it is cold and flu season.  Most of my day is spend with kids recovering from some upper respiratory virus.  A few seem to have a continuous runny nose and cough.  They also have an increase in their sensory processing issues.  Is this connected, and if so, what can be done?

  1. Anything that affects health will make sensory processing harder.  Anyone, at any age, will struggle more when they don’t feel well.  If a child is super-sensitive, feeling ill will make them edgier and more avoidant.  If a child is a sensory seeker, that funny feeling in their head that changes when they flip upside down will probably make them do it more.  If a child is a poor modulator, and goes from 0-60 mph easily, they will have more difficulty staying in their seat and staying calm.
  2. Colds often create fluid in the ears.  This is a problem for hearing.  This is often a problem for speech and mealtimes.  It is also a problem for vestibular processing.  Fluid in the ear means that children are hearing you as if they are underwater.  Their speech may be directly affected.  They probably realize that biting and chewing open the eustacian tubes from the mouth to the ear, so they may want to chew more.  On everything.  They may also be unable to handle car rides without throwing up.  They may refuse to do any vestibular activities in therapy.
  3. Children sleep poorly when ill.  Anyone with sensory processing issues will struggle more when they are tired.  Young children cannot get the sleep they need and don’t understand why they feel the way they do.  Enough said.
  4. Spatial processing problems will get worse.  Being unable to use hearing to orient to the space and the people and objects in the room, children will roam around more, touch things more, startle more, stand still and look disoriented, and may refuse to go into spaces that are hard to process, like gyms or big box stores.  Uh-oh.

So what can you do as a parent or a therapist?

  • Understand that this is happening.  It is real.  It may not be a personality issue, a deterioration in their ABA program, or a problem with therapy.
  • Ask your pediatrician for more help.  There are nasal sprays and inhaled medications that can help, and some, like steroids, that can create more behavioral issues.  If your child needs steroids, you need to understand what effects they can have.  Saline sprays, cold mist humidifiers, soups and honey for coughs, if your pediatrician approves, are low-tech ways to help a child suffer less.
  • Alter your daily routine if needed.  Making less appointments, fewer challenges, and more rest could help.  Kids can be over-scheduled and under-rested.  Therapy sessions may have to be adjusted to both be less stressful and more helpful.
  • Your child may benefit from vestibular movement if they do not have an untreated ear infection.  Your OT can help you craft a sensory diet that moves fluid, but not if there is an infection.

Read more about sensory processing here: Does Your Child Hate Big Spaces? There is a Sensory-Based Explanation and Spatial Awareness and Sound: “Hearing” The Space Around You

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How Using Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule Transforms Kids With Special Needs

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Yes, I said the word transform.  I know that hyperbole isn’t always appropriate when you are a therapist (we try to hedge our bets with predictions), but I am willing to go out on a limb in this instance and say that learning this single Happiest Toddler on the Block technique will make a difference with any child with special needs that functions with over a 12-15 month cognitive level.  Will it work with older children?  Absolutely.  Done right, it will also work on spouses and co-workers!

What is the Fast Food Rule?  You can read more about it here Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation With Happiest Toddler On The Block but the simplest way to explain it is that when you have an upset person, they get to express themselves first, then the adult paraphrases the upset person’s expression with about 1/3 of the emotion that was used.  The paraphrasing is done at the level of comprehension of the upset person.  This means that someone who has a very low language level and is very upset may only hear “You say NO NO NO”.  Remember that any degree of agitation immediately lowers language comprehension IN EVERYONE.  Even you.

That’s it.  The phrase may have to be repeated a few times until the adult observes signs that the upset person’s agitation is decreasing (not necessarily over).  What are those signs?  A decrease in screaming volume or intensity, more eye contact, stillness of the body, turning to the adult rather than turning away, etc.  If the problem isn’t clear, altering the phrase is OK.  No harm done if you get it wrong; try again to state what their problem is.

ONLY WHEN THE UPSET PERSON HAS DECREASED THEIR AGITATION IS IT PERMISSIBLE TO OFFER A SOLUTION, OR EVEN CONSOLATION.

Why?  Because until the upset person REGISTERS that the adult understands the nature and the degree of stress, they will continue to protest to make their point.  It doesn’t matter if the point is pointless.  All the better.  Being understood is more important than being corrected.  Always.

Because young children’s brains are immature, their agitation may start up again after the problem is solved.  This is neurological, not psychological.  Rinse and repeat the FFR, and come out on the other side calmer.

Why does this transform the life of a special needs child?

Kids with special needs often need to be more regulated than the average child.  They can be unsteady, difficult to understand even when calm, have medical issues that get worse when they are agitated, and fatigue rapidly on a good day.  Being upset makes safety, endurance, sensitivity and sensory seeking worse.  Sometimes much worse.

If your child or your client has any of these issues (and I have yet to work with a child with special needs that doesn’t have ONE or more of them), then you need to learn the FFR today and use it consistently.

  • Kids with cerebral palsy can move with better safety awareness and expend less energy.
  • Kids with hyper mobility are also safer, less fatigued and can focus on movement quality.
  • Children with sensory processing issues are more modulated, less aversive or sensory seeking.
  • Kids with ASD do less self-stimulation and have less aggressive behaviors.

 

The biggest obstacle for me?  Fear of using Dr. Karp’s Toddler- Ese language strategy, which sounds infantile to the ears of an adult, because I thought that I sounded like an idiot in front of parents (who were paying me a lot of money to treat their child).  It turns out that not being able to calm a child makes me look much more like an idiot, and effectively getting a child calm and focused makes me look like a skilled professional.

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How an Occupational Therapist Can Help The Siblings of Special Needs Children

 

joao-rafael-662575-unsplashThe parent of one of my clients recently returned from a conference related to her youngest child’s genetic disorder, and she told me that the presentation on helping the siblings of special needs kids really only offered one niblet of advice: “Try to give each sibling 10 minutes a day of “just us” time.”

My shoulders, and my heart, fell.  Telling exhausted and worried parents that they need to find more time in their day, every day, isn’t fair.  This mom could have used so many more specific strategies.  She didn’t need another way to feel inadequate to the challenge.  When you have a special needs child, you don’t have extra time.  Some days you aren’t sure you will be able to shower and shampoo.  Even if you could carve out some time by delegating and hiring help, the truth is that living with constant worry about the present and the future, running chronically short on sleep, and perhaps still recovering from a NICU nightmare…this doesn’t lend itself to stellar time management.

There are things that really do help.  Among them are getting the right kind of assistance and support, sharing the knowledge you receive from specialists, and handling everybody’s feelings with compassion (including self-compassion) and honesty.    Occupational therapists are out there helping families deal with life, since we have a solid background in the science of occupational demands and the psychological responses to illness, injury and trauma.  We aren’t psychotherapists, but we study the science of healthy life routines and behaviors.  We also spend a lot of time learning what special needs kids need to thrive, and this includes supporting the siblings and parents of our clients.

Here are some of the things I wish that the presenters had suggested:

  1. Ask your child’s therapists to train more of your family members and caregivers.  This means the partner that isn’t the primary caregiver for a special needs child, but it also could be the grandparent or the babysitter that is the backup emergency caregiver.  There are parents who feel they can never take a break because a half-spa day would mean that no one knows how to prevent their child from falling down the steps or how to know when a child is going in the direction of a meltdown that will derail the day.  If you have a medically fragile child, more people need to know how to keep them safe and healthy.  Your child’s therapists are skilled in providing training in their area of specialization.  They may not offer it to your other family  members unless you ask for it to be done.  This is an investment in your peace of mind.  Make it happen.
  2. Find out if your child’s siblings can enter a therapy session and learn more about how to help or encourage their special needs sibling.  Therapists can teach your child’s siblings, and because they are seen as authorities and not parents, this can work well to foster understanding and interest.  Even preschool kids can learn why the baby isn’t playing with them( but she is watching) and that means “I like you”.  Your therapists are pediatric specialists and are good at helping children of all ages, even if your social needs child is an infant.
  3. Learn methods to spread your warmth and concern without promising time commitments you may not be able to keep.  Something so simple (and explained in more detail in my new book below) is to talk with your child’s siblings about your feelings of anticipation before some fun event, even if it is reading a chapter in Harry Potter.  Telling them, days ahead, that you can’t wait to be with them can feel so good.  Later, you can remind them how much fun you had.  Don’t require them to reciprocate.  You are speaking about your feelings, and if they brush it off then don’t take it personally.  Tweens especially struggle with how to respond.  They still need to hear your warmth.
  4. Express your frustrations honestly, but mindfully, to your child’s siblings.  You will both feel better for it.  You don’t have to wail and keen, and in fact I would discourage that.  You can do that with your partner or your counselor.  But your other children need to know that feeling less than blissfully grateful for their special needs sibling is normal and not shameful.  When some feelings are perceived as unacceptable, they grow in importance and sprout little behavioral problems of their own.  Start by speaking about how tired you are.  It is honest and it is probably already visible.  Mention that you feel both things; love and frustration.  You have to adjust for your other children’s age and emotional tolerance, but I promise you:  this is going to really help.
  5. Ask for help.  And accept it when it is offered.  Some people don’t think they need help, and some don’t think they deserve it.  Some think that it will be seen as weakness or laziness.  Some ask for help and get a casserole instead of babysitting.  Some get advice instead of a casserole.  And some turn down help to avoid feeling as tired and frightened as they really feel deep inside.  Think carefully about how and why you don’t have or accept help, and try doing what doesn’t feel natural or easy.  It could be the best move you make this week.
  6. Reconsider the amount of therapy and tutoring you are doing.  I know; what therapist thinks you can overdo their own treatment?  Me.  Overscheduling therapies can backfire when you, your special needs child, and the rest of your family suffer from the demands.  The time demands, the loss of participation in real life fun like hayrides and playgrounds, etc.  The downtime that any normal person needs and so few parents and special needs kids get.  That affects siblings too, in lost time with parents and exhausted parents trying to wedge “me time” into a free moment.
  7. Make choices about what your priorities are, but allow yourself to have a priority that is not all about your child.  For example, you may have to accept that your house isn’t going to be spotless, and that you may be buying rather than making most of the holiday cookies.  But if making a few batches of a precious family recipe (my best friend from college always makes her Scottish grandmother’s recipe for fruit squares) will make you feel like a million bucks, then go ahead.  Yes, life with a special needs child is different from what you expected.  But you get to have some things from your previous life that bring joy!

I am so excited to report that my newest e-book is finally done!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years is designed to empower the parents of hypermobile kids ages 0-5.  There are chapters on picking the right high chair, toys, even pajamas!  One section is just on improving communication with your family (including siblings), teachers, therapists and even doctors.  No other book answers questions that parents have about finding good eating utensils and how to navigate playdates and social events more successfully.

It is available on Amazon as a read-only download and on Your Therapy Source as a printable and click-able download.  Look for more information and a sneak peek at the ways every parent can learn what therapists know about positioning here:The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today!

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Binaural Beats and Regulation: More Than Music Therapy

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When you have so much to choose from, how do you pick the right one?

Binaural beat technology isn’t new.  But it is powerful.  This post is designed to answer some questions about how it works, why it works, and how I use it effectively in the treatment of sensory processing issues.

For people who have read about or tried Quickshifts  Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Processing, Attention and Postural Activation, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about listening on headphones versus speakers, and why the music has that echo-y tone.

The use of binaural headphones or speakers placed close to the child allows the ears to hear the full range of sound with as little interference or absorption from the environment.  It is important that the left and right ear are hearing the sounds separately.  The echo-y sound?  What you are hearing is the BBT; binaural beat technology.  The slight alteration in sound frequency between what the brain hears from the left and right speakers forces the brain to synch up at a frequency that matches this level of difference.

BBT isn’t new.  BBT has been used and researched since the 70’s.  It is out there in many forms; you can even find recorded BBT music on YouTube.  There are enough studies done to prove that this technology has real effects on alertness, attention and mood.  It makes sense that therapists would like to use it to help kids with self-regulation issues.  BBT is helpful for learning and self-regulation, but only if you know what brainwave state you want, and why you want it.  And that is where skilled therapists can help.

But which one to use?

 I only use Quickshifts in my therapy sessions.

 

Why do I prefer Quickshifts to deliver BBT?

  • Quickshifts entrain an alpha brainwave state.  This state is associated with calm focus the ability to move to a more powerful focus or downshift into sleep, and, wait for it, interoception.  Yup, the biggest new word in occupational therapy is interoception, and there are some excellent studies done by neuropsych researchers that indicate that alpha brainwave states increase interoception.  Yeah!  Interoception is the ability to perceive internal states, and this includes basic physiological states such as fatigue, hunger, and the need to eliminate.  So many of our clients struggle with knowing what they feel.  Quickshifts can help.
  • Alpha brainwave states are theorized to act as a gating mechanism for anxiety, which means they help kids block anxiety.  Anxiety isn’t a great state for kids with ASD, SPD, or any of us.  Anxiety is a component of so many diagnoses, and it isn’t easy to do cognitive behavioral strategies like CBT or DBT with children under 10 or 11.  Quickshifts also work well for adults with anxiety as well! Should the PARENTS of Kids With Sensory Issues Use Quickshifts?
  • The music used in Quickshifts is very carefully designed to enhance specific functional states, and every occupational therapist is all about functional performance.  We don’t want just relaxation; we want engagement in life.  The way that Quickshifts uses music allows BBT to address specific behavioral performance abilities.  There are albums for attention, for movement, and for regulation.  They all use BBT.  For each particular album, one functional goal will predominate.  I don’t need to induce a meditative state in a child that is working on handwriting.  I need calm focus and better movement control.
  • The avoidance of pure tones means I don’t have to worry about seizure activity in kids with a seizure disorder.  The use of pure tones is a risk for seizures, so if a child has frequent seizures, I can be confident that I am not increasing them with this treatment.
  • The choice of instrumentation on Quickshifts albums is often more grounding than other BBT choices.  I want kids to feel grounded, not floating on a cloud.  That state makes it harder to pay attention, to speak, move, etc.  Being jolted into a high level of engagement without grounding isn’t great either.  Remember:  OT is all about functioning.  This happens at that “just right” point of arousal.
  • There is a progression of instrumentation and rhythm on many Quickshift albums that guides the brain into more environmental awareness and postural activation, but it is done gently.   Getting to an alpha state is a goal, but improving functional performance with less risk of overload is most important to me.  I have to give kids the ability to leave our session in a great state of mind.
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He picked out his perfect pumpkin!

Does Your Child Hate Big Spaces? There is a Sensory-Based Explanation

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Space; the final frontier?

When you see it, it looks like Helen Keller crossed with a Roomba.  A child enters a space, even a familiar space, and runs the perimeter without stopping to play or examine things.  They may trace the room with their fingers, or repeat this process many times before they “land” and engage in some kind of purposeful activity.  If they get upset or challenged, they may resume this behavior.

One explanation for this behavior is that it is a solution to spatial processing difficulties.  When a typical child over the age of, let’s say 14 months, enters a room, they use their visual and auditory skills to tell them about the shape, height, and contents of the room.  As we mature, we use higher-order sensory input to inform our awareness and thinking.  We use sound in particular to tell us about the space to our sides and behind us that we cannot see.  Kids with ASD and SPD are stuck using immature types of information, and need to use them more often and more intensely to get the same knowledge.

How does this feel for them? Think of Notre Dame cathedral (before that awful fire).  The soaring ceilings and the long aisles create an other-worldly feeling you cannot escape.  Your brain knows you are not in your living room, or even in your own place of worship back home.  The medieval architects knew this too.  That was exactly the effect their were aiming for.  To set you back on your heels with the wonders of G-d.  How?  By making the spatial characteristics very unfamiliar and difficult to square with everyday experience.  To have you feel smaller and less in control in the presence of the almighty.

Now imagine that every space you inhabit gives you that feeling.  You enter a room and your eyes go everywhere.  You want to walk around to give yourself more information about where you are.  You don’t, but your nervous system is suggesting it.  You feel off balance and vulnerable.  Sound familiar?

What can you do?  Treating spatial processing issues isn’t easy.  Addressing limitations in vestibular and visual processing can really help, but I think that sound-based treatments are some of the easiest and most effective.  I use Quickshifts effectively to address spatial processing issues  Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Processing, Attention and Postural Activation.  Of course, it is best to address all the sensory processing issues any child has to get the best results.  You want to cement in the skills of better sensory processing by achieving good functioning in multiple situations.  But spatial processing problems have to be addressed to achieve a calmer and more organized state.  You want every child to feel safe and supported wherever they go!

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Effective sensory processing treatment helps kids feel safe in big spaces