Category Archives: child safety

Should You Install a Child-Sized Potty for Your Special Needs Child?

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Affordable accessibility and no institutional appearance!

I know that some of you don’t even realize that such a thing exists:  a toilet sized for preschoolers and kindergarteners!  Well, you won’t find it in Lowe’s or Home Depot on the showroom floor, but you can buy them online, and it is an option to consider.  Here are the reasons you might put one in your child’s main bathroom:

  1. You have the space already.  Some homes are large enough to allow each bedroom to have its own bathroom.   If you have the option, it might be worth it during renovations.  It shouldn’t add considerably to the overall cost, and it should not be that difficult to swap out when your child grows.  If you have a bathroom near the playroom, that might be another good location for this potty.  Most older kids and adults can make it to another half-bath on that floor, but it might be perfect for your younger child and his friends!
  2. Your child is terrified of the standard-height potty.  Some kids are unstable, some are afraid of heights, and some have such poor proprioception and/or visual skills that they really, really need their feet on the ground, not on a footstool.
  3. Your child was a preemie, and their growth pattern indicates that they will fit on this toilet comfortably for a while.  Some preemies catch up, and some stay on the petite size.  Those children will be able to use a preschool-right potty into early elementary school.  Even if your preemie is average in size, they may have issues such as vision or sensory sensitivity that will make this potty a great idea for a shorter time.

I am just beginning to build my materials to do in-home consultations as a CAPS, but I think that an underserved population are parents of special needs kids that would benefit from universal design and adaptive design.  This toilet would come under the category of adaptive design, and it is an easily affordable solution for some children.  Having more comfort on the toilet speeds up training for many kids.  It also decreases the aggravation of training and monitoring safety for parents.  I am very committed to helping the entire family have an easier time of things like toilet training.

Think about what your family’s needs and capabilities are, and if you are planning to remodel or build a new home, consider finding a CAPS professional in your area to help you make your home as welcoming for your special needs child as possible!

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How An Aging-In-Place Specialist Can Help You Design an Accessible Home for Your Child

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I finally did it; I got my CAPS certification!  I know, you are asking yourself “What does a pediatric occupational therapist want with an Aging-In-Place certificate?”  Well, as it turns out, many of the barriers and home access problems that require redesign or better design for older adults are also issues with children dealing with developmental issues.  And they deserve the most functional home they can possibly have!

I treat children in their homes, so I see a wide variety of situations.  Here are a few of the most common problems I encounter:

  1. Entries and stairs that don’t have railings at a helpful height for children with motor control issues.  If your child is likely to struggle with stairs for a while, adding a lower railing on both sides of the stairs is very, very helpful.  They can be removed later on, but since you cannot alter the risers (the height of the steps) without major construction, do what you can to give your child a secure handhold.
  2. Slippery floors.  Tile can be treated to make it just a bit tackier, but not feel like gravel.  Online sellers will offer this, and you can apply it yourself if you are skilled, or hire a tile company to coat your tile for you.
  3. Right-height work areas.  Young children with motor issues often need the play table to be the correct height for them.  Their reach and grasp, as well as their balance, improves when they are sitting well.  But they grow.  What can you do?  I suggest buying an inexpensive wooden table and cutting the legs until they are the right height.  When your child outgrows it, buy a new table and trim the legs as needed.   You can add brackets on the leg joints to add stability to an inexpensive table.

If you are in the market for a new home, a CAPS professional can help you think about accessibility as a factor when shopping for real estate.  Although the easiest way to achieve universal access is to build a new home, there are homes that are easier to adapt, and home that are nearly impossible.  Being able to see what a house offers is more than location, location, location.

Know what the implications of your child’s diagnosis means for accessibility and function.  Children with cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy will likely do better in a ranch house or a house with an elevator.  Don’t think you have the room for an elevator?  You might, you might not, or you might install a lift instead.  Your CAPS consultant can help you look at all the options.  Improving bathing, grooming and safe play spaces is on the list of things that a CAPS professional can address.

I will be exploring all of my options for consulting as a CAPS, but my training as an OTR and my background in adult and pediatric home care means that I will be as excited to help young families as to help older people.  Who knows: I may decide to offer a multi-generational package of services!  Stay tuned for more information and suggestions for accessibility!

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Is Your Hypermobile Child Frequently In An Awkward Position? No, She Really DOESN’T Feel Any Pain From Sitting That Way

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I don’t have a good photo to illustrate this point, but if you or your child are hypermobile, you know exactly what I am talking about.  It can be any part of the body; shoulders that allow an arm to fold under the body and the child lies on top of the arm, crawling on the backs of the hands instead of the palms, standing on the sides of the feet, not the soles.

The mom of a child I currently treat told me that this topic is frequently appearing on her online parent’s group.  Mostly innocent questions of “Does your child do this too?”  and responses like “At least she is finally moving on her own”  When I met her child, she was rolling her head backward to such a degree that it was clearly a risk to her cervical (neck) spine.  We gradually decreased, and have almost eliminated, this behavior.  This child is now using it to get attention when she is frustrated, not to explore movement or propel herself around the room.

Because of their extreme flexibility and the additional gradual stretching effects of these positions, most children will not register or report pain in these positions.  Those of us with typical levels of flexibility can’t quite imagine that they aren’t in pain.  Unfortunately, because of their decreased proprioception Hypermobility and Proprioception: Why Loose Joints Create Sensory Processing Problems for Children and decreased sense of stability, many hypermobile kids will intentionally get into these awkward postures as they seek more sensory input.  It can actually feel good to them to feel something!

The fact that your child isn’t in pain at the moment doesn’t mean that there isn’t damage occurring as you watch them contort their bodies, but the underlying inflammation and injury may only be perceived later, and sometimes not for years.  Possibly not until tissue is seriously damaged, or a joint structure is injured.  Nobody wants that to happen. If you think that there is a chance that your child is more than just loose-limbed, ask your therapist to read Could Your Pediatric Therapy Patient Have a Heritable Disorder of Connective Tissue? and get their opinion on whether to pursue more evaluations.  Some causes of hypermobility have effects on other parts of the body.  An informed parent is the best defense.

Here is what you can do about all those awkward postures:

  • Discuss this behavior with your OT or PT, or with both of them.  If they haven’t seen a particular behavior, take a photo or video on your phone.
  • Your professional team should be able to explain the risks, and help you come up with a plan.  For the child I mentioned above, we placed her on a cushion in a position where she could not initiate this extreme cervical hyperextension.  Then we used Dr. Harvey Karp’s “kind ignoring” strategy.  We turned away from her for a few seconds, and as soon as she stopped fussing, we offered a smile and a fun activity.  After a few tries, she got the message and the fussing was only seconds.  And it happens very infrequently now, not multiple times per day.
  • Inform everyone that cares for your child about your plan to respond to these behaviors, to ensure consistency.  Even nonverbal children learn routines and read body language.  Just one adult who ignores the behavior will make getting rid of a behavior much, much harder.
  • Find out as much as you can about safe positioning and movement.  Your therapists are experts in this area.  Their ideas may not be complicated, and they will have practical suggestions for you.  I will admit that not all therapists will approach you on this subject.  You may have to initiate this discussion and request their help.  There are posts on this blog that could help you start a conversation.  Read Three Ways To Reduce W-Sitting (And Why It Matters) and Kids With Low Muscle Tone: The Hidden Problems With Strollers .  Educate yourself so that you know how to respond when your child develops a new movement pattern that creates a new risk.  Kids are creative, but proactive parents can respond effectively!!joshua-coleman-655076-unsplash

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!

 

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  and  Is Your Hypermobile Child Frequently In An Awkward Position? No, She Really DOESN’T Feel Any Pain From Sitting That Way 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!

Looking for more information that could make things easier for your child and for yourself?  Parents of children with special needs often neglect their own bodies in service of their children.  This is a shame, and there are things you can do to make your life easier while caring for your child.  Read How An Aging-In-Place Specialist Can Help You Design an Accessible Home for Your Child and Universal Design For Parents of Special Needs Kids: It’s Important for You Too!.

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