Category Archives: autism

Why Eating From a Pouch Isn’t Helping Your Child As Much As You Think

 

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Sucking food from a pouch has become a common way to funnel fruits, veggies and even protein into young children.  Few kids are eating them because they have oral motor or sensory processing problems that don’t allow them to eat solid food.  Most of the pouch kids are picky eaters or eating a pouch “on the fly” in between activities and locations.

I know very well what a food fight looks like with a picky eater.  All that whining, food flying onto the floor, and fears that your child will either starve or be nutritionally deprived.  It can get ugly.  I know.  But when pouches are more than an occasional emergency ration, they aren’t without some costs.

Here is what you risk when pouches replace solid food:

  1. Your child’s digestive system needs the physical fiber to learn how to handle it well. A colon that has very little fiber isn’t capable of dealing with regular food as well.  You risk constipation and then you have to treat that problem.  And your child feels awful when “backed up”.  Don’t let them suffer that belly pain when they are capable of eating foods with fiber.  Natural fiber.
  2. If your child is young enough to be still learning to speak (and some sounds, like “th” don’t fully emerge until 3.5-5 years old), eating, chewing and even swallowing still counts as exercise and motor learning for all the structures/movements that accomplish this amazing task.  Sucking on a nozzle doesn’t support learning anything unless you are under 6 months old.  Oops.
  3. Eating is a social activity, done over time and with other humans.  Not with tablets, not with screens.  With people that model language, social and feeding skills.  Sucking down a pouch is a one-and-done experience that sends a child off their chair and back to playing too fast to absorb much of anything.
  4. Eating is a fine motor activity, from finger feeding to spoon use with soup.  Miss out on all that work, and you might find that your child is the slowest writer or even hates to write and draw.  They haven’t spent the first 3 years of life refining finger movements in the most rewarding way possible.  Food in: successful hand use.  Food on the bib/table/floor?  Recalculate and refine finger use.

What do those pouches really provide?  An easy way to feed a child nutritious food ingredients without an argument.  The problem is that all that work for kids and parents when they eat real food with their fingers or utensils is actually an investment in current and future skills that too many children need today.

Looking for more information on building self-feeding skills?  Read Teaching Children To Use Utensils to Eat: Use Good Tools, Good Food, and Good Timing for some hints on how to make things easier, and Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child for the most fun and easy way to practice holding a spoon.

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Help Your Special Needs Toddler Make The Transition To School Routines

 

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Many developmentally delayed toddlers move their therapeutic and educational services to a toddler developmental group, A.K.A. special needs program, when they are between 18 and 30 months old.  Not all of them slide into the routine easily.  There can be a few tears and a lot of complaining about fitting into a schedule /leaving a fun activity because it is time for circle or therapy.

After speaking with a handful of clients and doing a few consultations, I thought it might help to provide some strategies to help parents make their child’s first school experience easier:

  1. Learn how teachers mark activity transitions, and commit to using them at home.  Some teachers sing the  “clean-up song”, some ring a bell or turn lights on and off.  Find out exactly how the staff help children, especially non-verbal children, anticipate and adjust to changes.
  2.  You don’t need to copy the exact transition strategy, but make it very similar and use it for activities at home that are the easy transitions.  Examples of easy transitions at home are getting into a bubbly tub, leaving the table once full and satisfied, putting on a coat to go outside and play, etc.  The transitions that are easiest are going to be the calmest, and children learn best when calm.  This positive spin makes the school’s routine more acceptable when a child isn’t completely on board with new situations.
  3. Find out how snack is served, and offer snacks in the same way at home.  If small cups are used for water or juice, practice cup drinking at home with the same sized cup.   If there are specific foods offered, then stock up.   Model your enjoyment of these snacks so that the food is familiar and has your seal of approval.

Good luck this year to all the toddlers that have made the leap to school!!

 

Halloween Fun When Kids Don’t or Can’t Trick-Or-Treat

 

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Kids big and little are anticipating Halloween, but this holiday isn’t always enjoyable for children with ASD, SPD, anxiety or motor issues.  Putting on a costume can be difficult for some kids to tolerate and nearly impossible for kids that have mobility issues.  Kids with endurance and mobility issues struggle to walk up to a front door and ring the bell, but they don’t want to be carried “like a baby”.  Even seeing other children in costume or decorations in their own home can be difficult for children that are very sensitive.

What begins as a celebration and an adventure becomes a minefield.  And yet, your child may be invited to participate in many Halloween events.  You may want to have a party in your own home.  Your child may even beg to be involved in things you know they will end up hating, not realizing the challenges ahead.  Inclusion is a murky pond for some kids.

Perhaps it doesn’t have to be so difficult.  Here are a few ideas that could make this holiday less stressful and more inclusive:

  • Costumes can be anything you want them to be.  Purchased costumes can be adapted or altered for comfort and tolerance.  If you have a child with tactile sensitivity, choosing the fabric that is less irritating is worth a trip to a brick-and-mortar store, or ordering multiple sets online with easy returns.  Instead of an eye patch for a pirate, you can use makeup to create one.  Princess skirts and Batman pants can be shortened to prevent tripping.  They can be bought larger and altered to allow for braces and for sitting in a wheelchair.  Hats and headpieces are optional, and can also be switched out for more wearable choices.  They can be purchased separately or by combining two costumes.  A comfortable costume is fun; an awkward costume will cost you in time, pain and struggle much more than you can imagine.
  • Trick-or-treat is over-rated.  Choose people your child knows, a neighborhood that has flat, accessible front steps, or even an apartment building with an elevator.  The experience of trick-or-treat doesn’t have to be a marathon to be fun: in fact, “fun” is the opposite of dragging stressed children around from house to house.  Remember that children with sensory modulation issues will start out excited and happy and become overwhelmed quickly.  Monitoring and planning for this helps both of you have fun that doesn’t end badly.
  • Many children with sensitivities need to practice wearing their costume until it becomes familiar.  They may protest and initially refuse, but some practice can really help them.  Make the run-through more fun by pairing it with something like watching a halloween movie at home or putting up decorations.  The child that refuses to wear a costume can become the child who doesn’t want to take it off!
  • Choose your home decorations with your child’s tolerance in mind.  It isn’t always about whether they are scary or not, it can be the brightness, the amount of movement or the sounds that overwhelm children.  You won’t always know what will be too much, so prepare yourself and the rest of the family that you may have to substitute/remove/repurpose things that don’t work out.
  • Do fun events that your child can handle.  Bake cookies, including the buy-and-bake-off cookies that don’t require a lot of effort or time.  The end product can be given to friends and family proudly.  Decorate a Halloween cookie house.  Put up cling-on decorations in windows and storm doors that are easy to remove if they become an issue.  Watch a fun movie at home and invite friends to dress up and come over for the show.

Holidays for kids with special needs take more thought, but they don’t have to be less fun, just a bit different.  The important concept is to consider your child’s needs and aim for the essential feelings of the holiday:  fun, and sharing the fun with others!

Lining Up Toys Doesn’t Mean Your Toddler Has Autism

After head-banging, this is the other behavior that seems to terrify parents of young children.  Seeing a row of vehicles on the carpet makes parents run to Google in fear.  Well, I want all of you to take a deep breath and then exhale.  The truth is that there are other behaviors that are more indicative of autism.  Here is what I think that row of tiny toys often means:

Very young children have a natural interest in order and understanding spatial relationships.  Kids like routine and familiarity way more than most adults.  Some children are just experimenting with how lines are formed or seeing how long a row of cars they can create.  Some will even match colors or sizes.  And it is OK if Lightening McQueen has to be the first in the line.  Sometimes routines have purpose.  When your child tells you that you read Goodnight Moon wrong (you just paraphrased to end it early), he is really saying that he likes the familiarity and the orderliness of hearing those words said in that order.  Boring to you, comforting to him.  Experts in early literacy will tell you that his fondness for hearing the same story over and over is actually a developmental milestone in phonemic awareness, the cornerstone of language mastery.

Controlling their environment and creating patterns is another reason to line up those cars.  Young children do not create complex play schemes about races or adventures.  Lining them up is developmentally correct play for very young children, and it can easily expand with a little demonstration and engagement with you.  Build a garage from Megablox and see if your child will enjoy driving each one into the garage to “sleep at night”.  Don’t mention that in real life we all use our garages as storage units!  Typically-developing children may even repeat your game later the same day, having learned a new way to play with their toys.

When does lining up toys become troublesome?  When it is the ONLY way that your child interacts with those toys, or with any toys. And when you try to expand their play as above, they lose their lunch because it is all about rigid routines, not object exploration.  That line of cars is part of their environmental adaptation for security and stability; it’s not actually play at all.  There isn’t a sense of playfulness about changing things around.

A lack of developmentally appropriate play skills is a concern to a child development specialist, but it still doesn’t translate into autism.  Here are a few behaviors in 1-2 year-olds that concern me much more:

  • little or no eye contact when requesting something from you.  They look at the object or the container, not you.
  • no response when her name is called, or looking toward people when the name of family members is mentioned.
  • using an adult’s hand as a “tool” to obtain objects rather than gesturing, pointing or making eye contact to engage an adult for assistance.

Always discuss your concerns with your pediatrician, and consider an evaluation through your local Early Intervention service if you continue to see behaviors that keep you up at night.  They can help you!

The Difference Between Special Needs and Typical Potty Training Approaches: Address Sensory/Behavioral Issues and Use Consistent Routines

tai-jyun-chang-270109.jpgAfter writing The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, I have been asked what was different about my book. There must be 100 books on potty training special needs kids. What did I do differently? Simple. I am an occupational therapist, so I have no choice but to use my 360 degree viewpoint to target all the skills needed to do the job. Seeing the path to independence in this way was second nature to me, but not to parents of kids with special needs. Time to offer some support!

The books I reviewed before I started writing were great, but every one lacked at least one important feature. If the authors were psychologists and teachers, they weren’t fully comprehending or directly addressing the sensory and motor aspects of a very physical skill. Oops.

OTs are always aware of the cognitive and social/behavioral components of activities of daily living, but we also have a solid background in physiology and neurology as well. That makes us your go-to folks for skills like toilet training. And that is a major reason why The Practical Guide is so helpful to the frustrated parents of children with SPD,autism, Down Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and a host of other diagnoses that result in delays or difficulties with muscle tone and potty training independence. It explains in detail how low tone creates sensory, motor, and social/behavioral problems, and how to address them. Knowledge is power, and knowledge leads to independence.

The other huge difference is that developing consistent sensory-motor-behavioral routines matter more for these kids. Tone isn’t a constant, as anyone with a child that has low tone knows all too well. Fatigue, illness, even a very warm day; these all make kids less stable and can even reduce their safety. Having a really solid routine makes movements easier to execute and more controlled when situations aren’t perfect. Kids with normal muscle tone can shift their behavior on the fly. They can quickly adjust and adapt movement in ways that children with low tone simply cannot. It isn’t a matter of being stubborn or lazy. Kids with low tone aren’t going to get the sensory feedback fast enough to adjust their motor output.

Good motor planning on a “bad day” occurs for these kids when they have well-practiced routines that support safe and smoothly executed movements. What makes the difference isn’t intelligence or attention. It is recalling a super-safe routine effortlessly. This is completely attainable for kids who have speech or cognitive issues as well as issue with low tone and instability. It may take them longer to learn the routine, but it pays them back with fewer accidents and fewer tears.

To learn more about my book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, visit my website, tranquil babies.com, or view it on Amazon.com!ferris-wheeltai-jyun-chang-270109

Child Writing Too Lightly on Paper? It Might Not Be Hand Strength Holding Him Back

If your child barely makes a mark when he scribbles or writes, most adults assume that grasp is an issue. Today’s post suggests that something else could be the real reason for those faint lines.

Limitations in postural and bilateral control contribute far more to lack of pressure when writing  than most parents and teachers realize.  For every child in occupational therapy that is struggling to achieve good grasp, I see three whose poor sitting posture and inability to get a stable midline orientation are the real issues.

Think about it for a minute:  if you sat with your non-dominant (not the writing hand) hand off to the side and you shifted your body weight backward in your chair, how would you be able to use sufficient force on a pencil or a crayon?  Try this right now.  Really.  You would have to focus on pressing harder while you write and hope your paper doesn’t slip around.  That would require your awareness and some assessment of your performance.  Children don’t do “awareness and assessment” very well.  That ability comes from frontal lobe functions that aren’t fully developed in young children.  But they can learn where to place their “helper hand”, and that sitting straight and shifting forward is the correct way to sit when you scribble or write.

If a child has sensory processing or neuromuscular issues such as cerebral palsy, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome or Down Syndrome, achieving adequate postural stability may take some effort on the part of the therapists and the teacher.  Well worth it, in my experience.  There are easy hacks that help kids; good equipment and good seating that won’t cost a fortune or inconvenience the class.  Every child can learn that posture is important for writing.  But the adults have to learn it first.  Kids take their cues from what adults appear to value, and if they figure out that they are allowed to slump or lean, they almost always will.

I am doing a lecture on pre-writing next week, and I intend to make this point, even though the emphasis of my lecture is on the use of fun drawing activities to prepare children to write and read.  Why?  Because it may be the only time these preschool teachers hear from a pediatric occupational therapist this year, and I want to make a difference.  Understanding the importance of postural control in pre-writing and handwriting could help struggling kids, and make decent writers into stars!

Is Your Gifted Child Also Your Most Strong Willed Child ?

Parents of some gifted children know that this gift comes with more than a quick intellect.  It can come with a will of iron and incredible emotional range.  Gifted children can be expansively happy one moment, and intensely sad the next.  No, it isn’t bipolar disorder, and it probably isn’t ADD (these kids are misdiagnosed at an alarming rate).  Gifted children have an emotional capacity that often matches or exceeds their intellect.  Here is why.

Their brains are different.  They are qualitatively different, meaning that they notice, synthesize, and experience information differently, not just “more” or “more like an older child” than other children.  Their brains work differently, but they are trying to comprehend how others understand it and why they behave as they do.  When they cannot or when they insist on the world working their way, things can get explosive.

Yes, the same brain that allows a 4 year-old to read chapter books to her preschool class without having been taught to read is also feeling and connecting emotional information differently from her peers as well.  She can’t “get over it” when arbitrary rules do not allow her to take materials out of the reference section of the library, or when she isn’t allowed to finish watching a documentary on sea creatures because you have to take her brother to swim practice.  Functional imaging studies have been reported to see much more diverse brain activity in gifted individuals during simple tasks.  They light up like Christmas trees because they are incredible thinkers.  All that thinking can get them in trouble with the day-to-day world of rules and behavior.

The amazing brains of gifted children are understood to have what one researcher calls “overexcitabilities”.  Only one is intellectual excitability.  The others include motor and sensory excitability.  This can lend itself to some explosive tantrums in toddlerhood and even disabling complaints of clothing or lights being far too irritating and distracting.  The same child that can explain to you how the electoral college works can be sidelined by the scratchy tag in his shirt!

Gifted children with strong wills aren’t always appreciated for their determination and their energy.  They balk at instructions, refuse assistance when they need it, and aren’t easily distracted from their desires.  I think that the first step in handling the emotional over excitability of a gifted child is to accept how difficult it is as a parent or a teacher, and then learn about how this aspect of giftedness works.  From there it is a matter of building skills in self-control and social/communication skills.  Children do not have to get their way because their IQ is in the stratosphere.  They still have to avoid aggression, including verbal aggression (something teenage gifted kids are virtual masters of).

My perspective is that gifted children need more help with social skills since they often have such disparity between their cognitive capacity and their emotional abilities.  Feeling responsible for the world’s troubles doesn’t mean that you are, and knowing that the rules are arbitrary doesn’t mean you have the authority to change them.  Parents who teach their children how to navigate these problems will give a huge gift to their children.  Children need to understand that they aren’t bad, but they are different.  And their behavior is connected to the way their brain works and always will work.  They need to navigate their path within the wider world, making friends and dealing with authorities that do not see things in the same way.  The world may not always understand gifted people, but if gifted people understand themselves, it could be a happier and calmer place for everyone.