Category Archives: child safety

Tub Safety For Special Needs Children

Bathtime is usually a fun experience for young children.  Toys, splashing, bubbles.  But it’s not always fun for parents.  If your child has issues with sensory sensitivity, sensory seeking or hypermobility, you can feel like a one-armed paperhanger; juggling toys, washcloth and child!

One solution is to use a bath seat.  A word of common sense first:  never leave a child unattended in any type of bath seat.  Just because these devices improve stability, they don’t remove all the risks of bathing in a tub.  Young children need to be supervised at all times.  But a tub seat does help a special needs child remain sitting and stable, and that can really help parents during bathing.  Here are the positive effects of using a bath seat or tub insert:

Kids with sensory seeking or sensory sensitivity can find the expanse of the standard tub overstimulating, and in response, they may become agitated or fearful.  The youngest kids can’t tell you how this feels.  They just act up.  Using a bath seat or a tub insert can allow these children to stay in the tub long enough to be washed, and help them stay calm and relaxed.  Since bath time is usually before bedtime, that is a big plus!

For kids with instability, the bath seat or insert can prevent them from injuring themselves if they tip or lean too much.  They could even build their ability to sit up if the seat is well-chosen for their needs.  These kids need to acquire a sense of independence, and if they are given the right support, they can start to sit without an adult holding them.  They may be able to use both hands more freely, developing coordination for learning to wash themselves and confidence in their independence.

Selecting the correct equipment can be easy or challenging.  After determining what level of assistance your child needs, figure out if your child fits well in the seat you are looking at.  Some seats are made for very small children.  If your child is older or larger, keep looking until you find equipment for them.  Therapy catalogs and sites have equipment for children with significant difficulties in holding their head up or maintaining a sitting position.  These are more expensive than mass-market items, but they are often adaptable and you can remove parts as your child builds their sitting skills and safety.

For more information about self-care and the special needs child, check out Kids With Low Muscle Tone Can Sit For Dinner: A Multi-Course StrategyImproving Daily Life Skills for Kids With Special Needs, and OXO for Kids: Great Tableware For Older Kids With Sensory and Motor Issues.

Are you toilet training your special needs child?  Do you worry that it may never happen?  I wrote the e-book for you!  The Practical Guide To Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone is filled with readiness tips, techniques to find the best potty seat, and techniques to make learning faster and easier for both of you!  It is available on my website tranquil babies, and on Amazon and Your Therapy Source )a terrific site for parents and therapists).  Read more about this unique guide here: The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived!

 

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Teaching Safety Awareness To Special Needs Toddlers

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Parents anxiously wait for their special needs infants to sit up, crawl and walk.  That last skill can take extra months or years.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, uses walking as a benchmark for maturity and independence.

They shouldn’t.  A child with poor safety awareness isn’t safer when they acquire mobility skills.  Sometimes they are much less safe.  Yes, they may be able to move without your help, but they may need to be more highly monitored and given more assistance to learn how to be safe.  They are exploring their environment and their new skills that took them a long time to develop.  They have been wanting to climb on the couch for months.  Now they can.  Getting down the “safe” way isn’t as important to them, and maybe not as easy as sliding or rolling off.  Oops.

What can parents do to help their child be a safer (notice I didn’t say “safe”) ambulator, crawler, cruiser, etc?  

  1. Talk about safety before they are independent.  Will they understand what it means?  Probably not, but your tone and your insistence on how movement is done says that you value safety and you want them to do the same.  Kids learn from all of our actions.  Make this one familiar to them by being very obvious and explicit.
  2. Take your physical therapist seriously when she or he teaches you how to work on core strength and balance skills.  Yes, I still maintain that safety is more than a sensory-motor skill, but having the best possible sensory and motor skills is important.  Having good safety awareness and safety behaviors without these skills will make a child more vulnerable to falls and injuries.
  3. The same goes for sensory processing activities.  If your child cannot perceive the movement of falling, the tactile and proprioceptive change as they crawl or step on something, or tolerate multiple sensory inputs at once, they are much less safe, even with good strength and coordination.  Really.
  4. Know your child’s cognitive and social/emotional skills.  Impulsive children are less safe overall.  Children that cannot process your instructions or recall them without you are less safe.  Children that enjoy defying you more than they want to avoid falling are less safe.  If you know any of these things, you can gauge safety and react more appropriately.  You will be less frustrated and more helpful to them.
  5. Reward safe execution and do not reward unsafe behavior.   My favorite way to avoid punishment but also to send my safety message home?  Not providing eye contact or much at all in the way of conversation as I stop unsafe actions, and either removing a child from an unsafe situation or assisting them in using the safe method to execute their move.  They get no satisfaction from seeing me react strongly, and they get the message that I am not accepting anything but their best safety skills as they move.
  6. Stop a child that is moving in an unsafe way, and see if they can recall and initiate the safe choice before assisting.  You don’t want to teach them that only you will make them safe and they need someone to be safe out there. They have to learn how to assess, react and respond, and all children can build their skills.  Some need more teaching, and some need more motivation to begin to take responsibility for their safety.  Give them both.

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Have a Child With Low Tone or a Hypermobile Baby? Pay More Attention to How You Pick Your Little One Up

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Carrying and holding kids is such a natural thing to do.  But when your child has hypermobility due to low muscle tone, joint issues or a connective tissue disorder, how you accomplish these simple tasks makes a difference.  Your actions can do more than get them from one position or location to another: they can build a child’s skills, or they can increase the risk of damage by creating excessive flexibility or even accidentally injure a child’s joints.

How could something so simple be both a problem as well as an opportunity?  Because hypermobility creates two issues that have to be addressed:  Less strength and stability at vulnerable joints, and less sensory feedback regarding pain and position sense in your child.  The ligaments, tendons, muscles and joint capsule at every hypermobile joint are more likely to be damaged when excessive force is placed on them.

Knowing how much force is too much isn’t easy without some instruction from a skilled therapist.  Depending on your child to react quickly and accurately to accidental stretch or pressure by crying or pulling away isn’t a good idea.  Their excessive flexibility reduces firing of receptors deep within all of these tissues in response to excessive force.  You may have looked at your child’s shoulders or ankles and think “That looks uncomfortable.  Why isn’t she fussing?”  This is the reason.  It means that you will have to be altering your actions to reduce the risk of harm.

As I mentioned earlier, this is also an opportunity.  It is an opportunity to teach your child about safe movement and positioning, right from the start.  Even the youngest child will pick up on your emphasis on alignment, control and safety.  They are always listening and learning from you every day, so incorporate effective movement into your handling and help your child build awareness and independence today!

Here are some strategies for you and your child:

  1. Always spread the force of your grasp over their body, and place your hands on the most stable locations, not the most flexible.  Lift a child through their trunk, not by holding their arms.  If they cannot steady their head, support it while you lift.  If you feel those little bones in their wrists and ankles moving under your grasp, support those joints instead of pulling on them.  Not sure how to do this correctly?  Ask your therapist for some instruction.
  2. Do not depend on a child’s comfort level to tell you how far a joint should stretch.   Think about typical joint movement instead.   If their hips spread very wide when you place them on your hip, think about holding them facing forward, with their knees in line with their hips, not pressed together.
  3. Give them time to move with you.  Those over-stretched muscles are at a mechanical disadvantage for contraction.  This means that when you tell a child to sit up, you have to give them time to do so before you scoop them up.  They aren’t  being defiant or lazy (I have not, in fact, ever met a lazy baby!).  This is a neuromuscular issue.
  4. Discourage unsafe movements.  Some children find that overstretching their joints gives them more sensory feedback.  It feels good to them.  This is not OK.  You will not be able to stop them every time, but they will eventually learn that their is a right way and a wrong way to move.  Knowing why isn’t necessary.  Yet.  Teach them to respect joint movement and use things like graded joint compression and vibration (your occupational therapist should be able to help you with this) to give them the sensory feedback they want.

Still concerned about safety?  Read Teaching Safety Awareness To Special Needs Toddlers to learn more methods to build independence without injury.

 

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Kids With Low Muscle Tone: The Hidden Problems With Strollers

jeremy-paige-146338-unsplashWhether you live in the city or the ‘burbs, you almost certainly use a stroller for your infant or toddler.  Even parents who use slings or carriers for “baby wearing”  find themselves needing a stroller at some point.  Why are strollers a problem for children with low muscle tone?  The answer is simple:  sling seats and ineffective safety straps.

Strollers, especially the umbrella strollers that fold up into slim spaces, have a sling seat, not a flat and firm seat.  Like a hammock or a folding lawn chair, these seats won’t give a child a solid surface that activates their trunk.  When a child sits in a sling seat, they have to work harder to hold their body in a centered and stable position.

Why is that important when you are transporting your child in a stroller?  Because without a stable and active core, your child will have to work harder to speak and look around.  A child with low muscle tone or hypermobility that is in a sling seat may be inclined to be less active and involved, even fatigued from all that work to stay stable.  It could appear that they are shy or uninterested, but they might be at a physical disadvantage instead.  A collapsed posture also encourages compensations like tilting the head and rounding the back.  Will it cause torticollis or scoliosis?  Probably not, but it is certainly going to encourage a child to fall into those asymmetrical patterns.  Kids with low tone don’t need any help to learn bad habits of movement and positioning.

Safety strap location and use in many strollers is less than optimal.  There are usually hip and chest straps on a stroller.  Some parents opt to keep them loose or not use them at all, thinking that kids are being unnecessarily restrained.  I think this is a mistake for kids with low tone.

Good support at the hips is essential when a child with low tone sits in a sling seat.  It is their best chance to be given some support.  Chest straps are often not adjusted as the child grows.  I see two patterns:  Straps too low for an older child, and straps too high for a younger one.  The latter issue usually occurs when parents never adjusted the straps after purchase.  They left them in the position they were in from the factory.  Make sure that the straps are tight enough to give support but not so tight that a child is unable to move at all.  A child that is used to sliding forward may complain about having their hips secured so that they can’t slouch, but they will get used to it.

You may have to reposition a child with low tone from time to time you go about your errands or adventures.  They often don’t have the strength or body awareness to do so themselves.  They could be in a very awkward position and not complain at all.  Check their sitting position as you stroll along.  Good positioning isn’t “one and done” with these kids, but doing it right will benefit them while they are in the stroller, and also when they get out!

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Picking The Best Trikes, Scooters, Etc. For Kids With Low Tone and Hypermobility

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Welcome to the world of faster (and faster) movement!  After mastering walking and possibly even running, older toddlers and preschoolers are often eager to jump on a ride-on toy and get moving.  If a child has had motor delays and has had to wait to develop the strength and balance needed to use a trike or another ride-on toy, they may be a bit afraid or they may throw caution to the wind and try it all as soon as possible!

Selecting the best equipment for kids that have low tone or hypermobility doesn’t end with picking a color or a branded character ( Thanks, Frozen, for bringing up my Disney stock almost single-handedly!).  In order to find the right choice for your child, here are some simple guidelines that could make things both easier and safer:

  1. Fit matters. A lot.  Hypermobile children are by definition more flexible than their peers.  They stretch.  This doesn’t mean that they should be encouraged to use pedals so far away from their bodies that their legs are fully extended, or use handlebars that reach their chins.  In general, muscles have their greatest strength and joints have their greatest stability and control in mid-range.  Fit the device to the child, not the other way ’round. Choose equipment that fits them well now,  while they are learning, and ideally it can be adjusted as they grow.
  2. Seats, pedals and handlebars that have some texture and even some padding give your child more sensory information for control and safety.  These features provide more tactile and proprioceptive information about grip, body positions and body movements.  You may be able to find equipment with these features, or you can go the aftermarket route and do it yourself.  A quick hack would be using electrical tape for some extra texture and to secure padding.  Some equipment can handle mix-and-match additions as well.  Explore your local shops for expert advice (and shop local to support your local merchants in town!)
  3. Maintain your child’s equipment, and replace it when it no longer fits them or works well.  Although it is more affordable to receive second-hand items or pass things down through the family, hypermobile kids often find that when ball bearings or wheels wear down, the extra effort required to use a device makes it harder to have fun.  The additional effort can create fatigue, disinterest in using the equipment, or awkward/asymmetrical patterns of movement that aren’t ergonomically sound.  Repair or replace either than force your child to work harder or move poorly.

Looking for more information about low tone and hypermobility?  Read The Hypermobile Hand: More Than A Strength Problem and How Hypermobility Affects Self-Image, Behavior and Activity Levels in Children.  My new e-book on living and thriving with hypermobility is coming soon on Amazon.com!

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How Parents Can Teach Healthy Body Boundaries To Young Children

 

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One of the greatest horrors of the Larry Nasser story is that parents were often mere feet away from these girls while they were being molested.  The people most invested in a child’s safety had no idea that anything violent was occurring, and these girls did not reveal their discomfort at the time.  These parents are beyond distraught now, and often filled with guilt.  I do not blame them for what happened.  They were deceived by Nasser and their children weren’t able to communicate their distress or confusion.

Parents who read these news reports are wondering how they would react; would they recognize abuse?  And they are wondering what to say and do to prevent this from ever happening to their own children.

My strong belief is that there will always be people like Larry Nasser in the world, and that children who have experience with being touched with respect could be more likely to recognize and report abusive touch, even when it comes from an authority or a family member.

I would like to share my best suggestions to teach children the difference between healthy touch and invasive touch, drawn from my practice as a pediatric occupational therapist who treats children with ASD and sensory processing disorders.  I would also like to say very clearly that there is never any reason for any occupational therapist to make contact with a child’s genital area.  Ever.  But since parents and caregivers perform diaper changes, dress children, and provide bathroom assistance, it is important to me to teach the following strategies for respectful contact in therapy so that children have a sense of what type of touch is unacceptable:

With non-verbal children of any age, I use a combination of observation, use of my own body language before I begin physical contact in therapy.  If children can make eye contact, I use visual regard to establish a connection, and I do not initiate physical contact quickly.  If they cannot meet my gaze, I read their cues, and often wait for them to come closer to me and reach out.  I use intermittent touch that avoids hands, face and feet initially.   Deep pressure is less alerting to the nervous system than light touch, so my contact is stable, slow and steady.  I will describe what I am doing therapeutically, in simple statements with calm tones, even if I am not sure that they will understand me.   I remove my contact when I see any indication of agitation, and before a child protests strongly.  What I am communicating is “I get you.  I see you and I respect you.  I will not force you, but I will invite you to engage with me”.

With children that can communicate verbally, I do all of the above strategies, and I ask permission.  Not always in complete sentences, and not always using the word “touch”.  I constantly tell them what I am going to do or what movement I am going to help them to accomplish.  It doesn’t matter if they fully comprehend my words; they can read the tone in my voice.  If they protest, I will voice their protest without criticism “You want no more _______; no more __________.  OK.”  I reconsider my approach, adjust, and either begin contact again or shift activities to build more tolerance and trust.

With slightly older children that can understand my question and can respond clearly, I will teach them that they have a choice about greetings.  I teach “Handshake, Hug or High-Five?“.  Children get to choose what kind of physical contact they wish to have when greeting me or other adults.  I must agree to their choice.  I encourage parents to teach their family members to offer this choice and to never force a child to kiss/hug or accept a kiss or a hug from anyone.  Children need to feel that they have agency over their bodies without criticism.

Anyone who remembers enduring a sloppy smooch or a crushing hug from a relative can relate.  You may or may not have actively protested.  It doesn’t matter.  Allowing an adult to have this form of contact with a child is not just an irritating experience for them.  It is a serious message that children of all genders are given:  The people that are in power have the right to do things to your body that you don’t like, and you have no right to complain.

Is this the message that parents intend?  Of course not, but that doesn’t make it any less a clear communication.  Larry Nasser and his kind depend on a combination of authority, status and compliance to perpetrate abuse, even if the child’s parents are in the room.  I believe that children who know that any uncomfortable touch from any adult, even those closest to them, can be refused, they are more likely to recognize and report abuse. They will be believed and they will not be shamed.

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Hypermobile Kids, Sleep, And The Hidden Problem With Blankets

 

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Everyone knows that sleep is important.  Research in sleep science (yes, that is a thing) tells us that our brains are working to digest the day’s learning, the immune system is active during sleep, and our bodies are repairing and renewing tissues and organs while we slumber.  As much as we need sleep, kids need it more.  They are building the brains and bodies they will carry into their future.  Children need good quality sleep as much as they need healthy food.

Helping children to sleep well is usually a combination of creating good and consistent bedtime routines, giving them a full day of physical action and warm social interaction, and developing a healthy sleep environment.  This means providing a sleep-positive environment and removing any barriers to sleeping well.  But giving kids the chance to get a good night’s sleep can be harder when a child has hypermobility.

Some of the challenges to sleep for hypermobile kids are sensory-based, some are related to activity during the day, and some are orthopedic.  Here is a list of things that make sleep more challenging for these kids:

  • Children with limited proprioception and kinesthesia due to low tone or excessive joint mobility can have difficulty shifting down into a quiet state for sleep.  They spend their day seeking sensory input;  not moving reduces the sensory information that makes them feel calm and organized.  Being still is a bit similar to being in a sensory deprivation tank, and it’s not always calming.  To understand more about the sensory concerns of hypermobility, take a look at Hypermobility and Proprioception: Why Loose Joints Create Sensory Processing Problems for Children.
  • Some hypermobile kids have joint or muscle pain that keeps them up or wakes them up in the middle of the night.  Pain also makes kids more restless sleepers.  Restless sleepers thrash around a bit under the covers, becoming trapped in multiple layers of bed linens, or they can fall asleep in awkward positions that result in pain.
  • Children that are sedentary during the day for any reason (preference for tablet or video play, fatigue, pain, etc) may not be physically tired enough at night.  They may also be staying up too late at night.  Good sleep hygiene includes enough daytime activity combined with a conscious wind-down hours before bedtime occurs.
  • Some children with generalized low tone or joint hypermobility (especially with a connective tissue disorder) have issues with the partial collapse of their airway during sleep.  They snore or gasp in their sleep, and appear exhausted even after a full night’s sleep.  This is a serious issue.  Sleep apnea should be evaluated and addressed by a professional.
  • Hypermobile kids can get arms and legs caught in their bedclothes or between crib slats and mattresses.  Any layer can be a potential problem, from the sheet to the decorative afghan that Granny sent for his birthday.
  • Limbs can slide off the mattress during deep sleep and create strain on ligaments and tendons.   You and I depend on our brain to perceive an awkward position and take corrective action by waking us slightly.  The same child who “w” sits and slides off a chair without noticing is not going to wake up when her arm is hanging off the bed during sleep, even though the tissues are stretching beyond their typical range of motion.
  • Waking up to go to the bathroom or having to clean up a nighttime accident ruins sleep.  It isn’t uncommon to have older kids wear protective garments well past 5 at night, and some children need to practice holding in their urine to expand the bladder’s ability to hold it all night long.  This is something to discuss with your child’s urologist or pediatrician, since “holding it in” can be it’s own problem.  Read Teach Kids With EDS Or Low Tone: Don’t Hold It In! to learn more about the pitfalls of too much “holding”.

Here are some simple strategies that may improve your child’s sleep:

  • Try a duvet or a flannel sheet set to minimize the number of layers of bedclothes.
  • Use a rashguard suit instead of pajamas.  I am particularly fond of the zip-front style so that less force is needed to get arms in and out while dressing.  You can peel it off more easily.  The lycra creates sensory feedback that can support body awareness while keeping them cozy.  An all-in-one suit also gives a bit of support so that limbs don’t easily overstretch.  A little bit of proprioceptive input in a breathable fabric that can also generate a bit of neutral warmth (from body heat) to keep tissues from getting too stiff.
  • Avoid footie sleepers that are too short.  Too-small footie sleepers create compressive forces on joints and could even encourage spinal torque.  Hypermobile kids will be the last ones to complain since they often don’t feel discomfort right away.  My preference is not to use these sleepers at all with hypermobile kids or kids with low tone.  See the next suggestion for another reason why I feel this way.
  • Make them take off those footie sleepers when they wake up and walk around.  As fabric twists and children stand/walk on the fabric, not the soles, it creates a safety risk underfoot.  Less sensory feedback and slippery soles!!  Get them dressed once they wake up.
  • Address sleep apnea, lack of daytime activity, and toilet training/scheduling rather than waiting for things to improve.  Not all young children achieve night time dryness on pace with other children, but ignoring the impact isn’t going to help things.
  • Carefully consider the issues before you try a weighted blanket.  Originally sold for kids on the autistic spectrum and for kids with sensory processing disorders without muscular or orthopedic issues, these blankets have become popular with other groups.  The biggest concern for hypermobile kids is that placing weight (meaning force) on an unstable joint over time without conscious awareness or adult monitoring is a safety issue.  It is possible to create ligament injury or even subluxation of a joint with weights, depending on limb position, length of time weight is applied, and the amount of force placed on a joint.  Talk the idea of a weighted blanket over with your OTR or PT before you order one of these blankets.
  • Consider aromatherapy, gentle massage, white noise machines, and other gentler sleep strategies to help your child sleep well.  consider techniques like gentle joint compression and/or deep pressure brushing, but ask your therapists how to adapt it for your child’s specific  needs  Can You Use The Wilbarger Protocol With Kids That Have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?.  For kids who sleep well but wake up stiff, learn how to use gentle massage and possibly heat to help them get going.  do not ignore pain at bedtime, or complaints of pain on awakening.  These are important clues that you need to address.   Ask your occupational therapist or your pediatrician for ideas to adapt your bedtime routine (OT)  or your pain plan (MD) to handle nighttime pain.
  • Try K-Taping or Hip Helpers for stability.  Kineseotape stays on for days and gives joint support and sensory input while your child sleeps.  Hip Helpers are snug lycra bike shorts that limit extreme hip abduction for the littlest kids ( when legs rotate out to the sides excessively).  They gently help your child align hip joints correctly.  As with weighted blankets, I strongly recommend consulting with your therapists to learn about how to use both of these strategies.  When used incorrectly, both can create more problems for your child.

Looking for more information about managing hypermobility in children?  Take a look at Should Your Hypermobile Child Play Sports? , Teaching Safety Awareness To Special Needs Toddlers and Hypermobility and ADHD? Take Stability, Proprioception, Pain and Fatigue Into Account Before Labeling Behavior.

 

Looking for more personal assistance in addressing bedtime issues?  Visit my website and purchase a consultation session to ask questions, get resources, and even make a sleep plan that works!

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