Category Archives: child safety

Should Hypermobile Kids Use Backpacks?

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It is back-to-school season here in the US.  One of the items on many parent’s shopping lists is a new backpack.  But for kids with low muscle tone or hypermobility, backpacks can be more than a way to carry books and water bottles.  They can be a source of pain, headaches, even numbness in hands and fingers.  The important question isn’t how to lighten the load of a heavy backpack.  It is whether these kids should be using them at all.

The standard recommendations from occupational therapists and orthopedists regarding backpacks is simple:  lighten the load, use both straps (select wide straps), and make sure the heaviest items are placed close to the body.  All good suggestions.  But if a child already has pain or weakness around the spine and shoulder joints, less stability and endurance, and less ability to judge posture and force, then the picture changes.  Using a backpack may be a significant physical risk, no matter how well designed or used.

Here are some suggestions that further minimize injury but can be acceptable to older kids who may be sensitive to being perceived as different:

  • Request a set of the heaviest books for home use.  This can be part of an IEP or a 504 plan, or the school may be willing to do so without anything formal on paper.
  • Select the smallest size backpack possible.  Stores like Land’s End and L.L. Bean here in the US are great sources for a variety of backpack sizes.
  •  Have your child use their backpack only for lighter items.  Pick the smallest water bottles and travel sizes of anything they need.  Think “weekend in Paris on a shoestring” not “trekking the Himalayas”.  At least they have a backpack like the other kids.
  • Teach your child to carry their pack in their arms, close to their chest, instead of wearing it.  I know, that sounds weird.  But if it is small, this is the smartest way to carry anything while reducing strain on backs and necks.  And they still have a backpack like the other kids.  A long shot, but some kids can be reminded of how awful neck and back pain really is, and how not being able to sleep or play sports is worse than carrying that pack in their arms.
  • Considering a rolling case?  Not so fast.  The twisting of the back and the use of one arm to drag a rolling case may be worse than using a backpack.  Then there is the lifting and lugging up non-ADA stairs.  Out of the frying pan……

Looking for more information about hypermobility, low tone and back-to-school planning?  Check out Does An Atypical Pencil Grasp Damage Joints or Support Function In Kids With Hypermobility? and Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills.  There are pencil grips that can really help, so read The Pencil Grip That Strengthens Your Child’s Fingers As They Write.

 

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Hypermobile Toddlers: It’s What Not To Do That Matters Most

 

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Do you pick up your toddler and feel that shoulder or those wrist bones moving a lot under your touch?  Does your child do a “downward dog” and her elbows look like they are bending backward?  Does it seem that his ankles are rolling over toward the floor when he stands up?  That is hypermobility, or excessive joint movement.

Barring direct injury to a joint, ligament laxity and/or low muscle tone are the usual culprits that create hypermobility.  This can be noticed in one joint, a few, or in many joints throughout the body.  While some excessive flexibility is quite normal for kids, other children are very, very flexible.  This isn’t usually painful for the youngest children, and may never create pain for your child at any point in their lifetime.  That doesn’t mean that you should ignore it.  Hypermobility rarely goes away, even though it often decreases a bit with age in some children.  It can be managed effectively with good OT and PT treatment.   And what you avoid doing at this early stage can prevent accidental joint injury and teach good habits that last a lifetime.

  1. Avoid over-stretching joints, and I mean all of them.  This means that you pick a child up with your hands on their ribcage and under their hips, not by their arms or wrists.  Instruct your babysitter and your daycare providers, demonstrating clearly to illustrate the moves you’d prefer them to use. Don’t just tell them over the phone or in a text.  Your child’s perception of pain is not always accurate when joint sensory aren’t stimulated (how many times have they smacked into something hard and not cried at all?) so you will always want to use a lift that produces the least amount of force on the most vulnerable joints.  Yes, ribs can be dislocated too, but not nearly as easily as shoulders, elbows or wrists.  For all but the most vulnerable children, simply changing to this lift instead of pulling on a limb is a safe bet.
  2. Actively discourage sitting, lying or leaning on joints that bend backward.  This includes “W” sitting.   I have lost count of the number of toddlers I see who lean on the BACK  of their hands in sitting or lying on their stomach.  This is too much stretch for those ligaments.  Don’t sit idly by.  Teach them how to position their joints.  If they ask why, explaining that it will cause a “booboo” inside their wrist or arm should be enough.  If they persist, think of another position all together.  Sitting on a little bench instead of the floor, perhaps?
  3. Monitor and respect fatigue.  Once the muscles surrounding a loose joint have fatigued and don’t support it, that joint is more vulnerable to injury.  Ask your child to change her position or her activity before she is completely exhausted.  This doesn’t necessarily mean stopping the fun, just altering it.  But sometimes it does mean a full-on break.  If she balks, sweeten the deal and offer something desirable while you explain that her knees or her wrists need to take a rest.  They are tired.  They may not want to rest either, but it is their rest time.  Toddlers can relate.

Although we as therapists will be big players in your child’s development, parents are and always will be the single greatest force in shaping a child’s behavior and outlook.  It is possible to raise a hypermobile child that is active, happy, and aware of their body in a nonjudgmental way.    It starts with parents understanding these simple concepts and acting on them in daily activities.

Wondering about your child’s speech and feeding development?  Take a look at Can Hypermobility Cause Speech Problems? to learn more about the effects of hypermobility on communication and oral motor skills.

Looking for information on toilet training your child with Ehlers Danlos, generalized ligament laxity, or low muscle tone?  My e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, gives you detailed strategies for success, not philosophy or blanket statements.  I include readiness checklists, discuss issues that derail training such as constipation, and explain the sensory, motor, and social/emotional components of training children that struggle to gain the awareness and stability needed to get the job done.  You will start making progress right away!

My book is available on my website tranquil babies, at Amazon, and at yourtherapysource.com.

How to Teach Your Child to Cut Food With a Knife…Safely!

ksenia-makagonova-274699After a child scoops with a spoon and pierces food with a fork, time seems to stand still. No one wants to hand a young child a knife. But they should (sort of). Here are some ideas to safely explore knife skills without holding your breath or end up still buttering their toast when they are in middle school!

1. Don’t use a knife. Use a spreader instead. Yes, those little things you put out next to the brie when you have a few adults over for wine and cheese. You can find handles that fit nicely in a child’s hand, improving their control. The spreaders that have a sculptured handle add even more texture for a secure grip. With a rounded blade, these are less dangerous in the hands of young children. Butter knives and plastic disposable knives are actually capable of cutting a child’s fingers. Not a good thing. Save them for Stage 2, where your child has already developed some skills.

2. Pick the right foods for cutting practice. Children who are learning to cut will usually provide too much downward pressure. They aren’t comfortable using a sawing motion at the same time as slight downward pressure, so adding more pressure is often the output you see in the initial stages of learning. Choose foods that can safely handle their initial awkward movements. Soft solids that are familiar to them, such as bananas and firmly cooked sweet potatoes, can be sliced easily. Avocados that aren’t totally ripe or whole carrots that have been cooked in the microwave are other good choices.

3. Demonstrate cutting while cooking dinner. Children really do need to see your demonstration and hear your comments, but they may find pretend play less motivating than watching the real deal. You can absolutely let them practice with you, cutting the same or similar foods if it is safe. Even if you have to come up with a creative way to use the smashed bananas or carrots resulting from their practice, your food should go into a family meal.

4. Take this opportunity to teach good hygiene. Everybody washes their hands before and after cooking. It’s just what we do. It’s the price of admission to the fun of food preparation.

5. Create a “recipe” that allows your child to be the chef. Young children love to spread their bread or sturdy crackers with softened butter, nut butter, cream cheese, or Nutella. They can prepare some for others int he family as well. We all love to see people enjoy our cooking, right? But be creative and remember to initially use foods that they know and love. Would you be excited to cook a meal with foods that you have never eaten? Possibly not.

This is an opportunity to teach a skill while enjoying time with your child. Have fun using these strategies for beginning knife skills!

Help Your Newborn Adjust to Daycare By Using Happiest Baby on the Block Strategies

ID-100108085.jpgReturning to work soon after delivery can mean putting your 3-month old in daycare.  As challenging as this can be emotionally, it can also be a struggle for your baby, especially if her only self-calming strategy has been nursing.  Should you (or could you) quit your job or just tough it out?  There is another alternative:  teach your little one to respond to  a wider variety of self-calming cues.

Self-calming at 3 months?  Well, yes and no.  Babies at this age are learning to respond to messages that we send.  This is the very beginning of self-regulation.  Actions and sensory inputs that tell their nervous system ” You are safe”, “It’s time to sleep” and “I get it; you need a little more help to calm down and I know what to do”.  They aren’t able to devise  their own solutions yet, but they can begin to self-calm if we read their behavior correctly and understand what they need developmentally and neurologically.  This is where Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block strategies, and his other great sleep solutions, can save your sanity and your child’s sleep.  Many of the 5 S’s that worked so well in the first 12 weeks of life can be adjusted to support this transition into daycare.

The weeks between 3 months and 6 months are almost the 5th trimester (Dr. Karp refers to the first 3 months of life as the “4th trimester”).   I think it is a bridge period in which babies need more help to calm down than many realize.  At this age, they suck their fingers to self-soothe while awake.   But… they aren’t strong enough to keep their hands or their thumbs in their mouth when they are lying down and falling asleep.  Gravity pulls those heavy hands down to the crib mattress. They don’t babble their way to sleep the way a 6 month-old does, and they are barely ready to listen to lullabies. So what can you do?  Be creative and use the 5 S’s as a launching point for your new routines.

Swaddling may not be as effective, or even safe, at this stage.  Babies who are rolling could be strong enough to roll onto their bellies.  With their arms swaddled, they are at risk for suffocation.  Once your baby is in that “I’m gonna practice this rolling thing all day” stage, swaddling becomes more of a risk than a solution.

There are swaddle garments that convert to safer solutions for this stage.  The garments that still give firm pressure over the chest but leave legs and arms free are specifically designed to keep that nice calm feeling going.  They allow your child to roll freely.  Dr. Karp also suggests that swaddling in an infant swing is another safe choice for those babies that are experimenting with rolling but still need swaddling to pull it all together.  REMEMBER:  your baby needs to be put into the swing calm, and securely strapped in.  If she is too big for the swing, then don’t use it.  Just because it is calming for her is not a reason to use a too-small swaddling blanket or a tiny infant swing.

Pacifiers are recommended by both Dr. Karp and the American Academy of Pediatrics, but some babies don’t love them, and some parents are afraid of creating a paci addict.  For those nervous parents, I wrote a special post: Prevent Pacifier Addiction With A Focus on Building Self-Calming Without Plastic.  The truth is that sucking is a normal developmentally-appropriate self-calming behavior, and addiction really doesn’t become an issue until your child has nothing else that works at all.

Between 3-6 months, your little one is still benefitting from sucking, and she can learn to use a paci in daycare.  She isn’t at risk of nipple confusion, unlike a 2 week-old, and she won’t reject your breast because of paci use.  Nursing is the total package of love, warmth and nutrition.  If she says “no more” to nursing, it is likely that she would have done so without the paci.  Some babies are just ready to be done early.  Use Dr. Karp’s paci learning technique to teach a baby how to handle a paci and keep it in her mouth.  By 3 months, she has strong oral muscles, so it is a matter of practice and helping her to realize how handy pacis can be to calm a bit for sleep.  If she spits it out while asleep….well, mission accomplished!

White noise is the one HBOTB strategy that never needs to end.  But for these little guys, the new noises of daycare are so different from home that this may be the secret weapon.  Dr. Karp sells his carefully designed white noise CD.  It can be loaded onto a phone as well from iTunes. Select the track that matches your child’s state (crying, drowsy  and calm, etc.) and watch the magic begin.  Encourage your daycare to use this totally safe method of soothing.

Rocking a baby in your arms can replace the infant swing, and some older newborns still calm down when held on their sides or stomach.  Again, this is never a sleep position, just a calming position.  But if it works for your baby, feel free to use it when you hold her.

Once you have created an updated HBOTB routine that works, share it with the daycare staff.  You may find that they have rules and regulations, and some staff aren’t open to new ideas.  My suggestion is to emphasize how easily you can get her calm.  Even the most rigid care provider’s ears perk up when she thinks that there is a way to make her job easier.  These people work long hours and work hard.  Think of this as helping her and your little one have a better day!

Low Tone In The Summer: Why The Heat Affects Your Child’s Safety

If you have a child with low muscle tone, you may have seen them wilt like flowers in the sun.  Even if they are well-hydrated, even if they are having fun, they just can’t run as fast or sit as steadily when they are warm.  Add a SPIO vest or other compression garment, and the tripping and falling seems to happen more often.  What gives?

Just like a warm bath relaxes your tight shoulders after a long day, heat relaxes muscles.  It doesn’t matter if the heat is environmental or neutral warmth, the kind that is generated by your child’s own body and is held in by the SPIO or her clothes.  It is still heat.  And some kids with low tone don’t sweat efficiently, using the body’s natural method of heat reduction.  This isn’t a minor concern if you have a child that is pretty unsteady on a cool day.  Kids with low tone that are out and about in the heat can become so floppy that they stumble and get injured.  That is a problem.

What can you do?  Well, you may not be able to wear that SPIO in the heat.  Try kineseotaping instead.  (ask your OT or PT if they have been trained in it’s use).  Alternate time in air conditioning and time outside.  Offer cold drinks and ice pops if they can lick and swallow an ice pop safely.  Dress lightly and choose clothes with fabrics that evaporate body heat.  Choose shoes that offer more support, not Crocs or sandals.  This is not the time to pick the least-supportive footwear.

Most importantly, monitor them for safety and be aware that children really cannot judge whether or not they should come in and cool off.  They are counting on you to keep them safe!

Low Tone and Toilet Training: How Your Child’s Therapists Can Help You

Over the years as an occupational therapist, I have been giving parents hints here and there.  Writing my e-book  this fall, and preparing an e-course (coming soon) to support families makes me realize that some clients did not ask me very many questions while they were toilet training their child.

So….Are there aspects of therapy that can help you with toilet training?  Yes indeed!  Does getting more therapy mean that your child will automatically be trained earlier and more easily?  Unfortunately, not really.

When it comes to potty training, you can bring a child to the potty, but you can’t make him “make”.  Toilet training is a complex skill, and even the best therapy will still only prepare all of you and develop important skills needed for this skill.  Bringing it all together is still the job of the parent or the full-time caregiver that creates and executes the plan. Waiting for readiness?  Read Waiting for Toilet Training Readiness? Create It Instead!  to understand what you can do today to inspire interest and build skills. Thinking that it’s too soon?   How Early Can You Start Toilet Training?  will shad some light on what is really important when you are wondering if your child is old enough.  If you are wondering if your child’s diagnosis is part of the issue, take a look at Why Do Some Kids With ASD and SPD Refuse Toilet Training?  And finally, if you are eager to move into night-time training, read Why is Staying Dry at Night So Challenging For Some Children? for support at the finish line of toilet training.

Here is a list of what therapy can do to support you and your child for toilet training.  If you haven’t heard your therapists discussing these treatment goals/approaches, you might want to share this post with them.  They may be more focused on other very important skills right now, but always keep your discussions open and inform them that you are planning on training.  Most therapists are very eager to support families whenever they can with whatever goals the family has.

  1. Core stability for balance, abdominal strength and safety on the toilet.  Most kids with low tone do not have great core stability, and this is where the rubber meets the road.  A weak core will put a child at greater risk of falling or feeling like he will fall.  It is harder to relax and pee/poop if you are afraid you will land on the floor.
  2. Clothing management and hand washing.  No child is really independent in using the toilet if someone else has to pull clothing up and down.  Washing hands is a hygiene essential.  Time to learn.
  3.   Good abdominal tone.  See #1.  Helps with intestinal motility as well.  That is the contraction of smooth muscle that moves the poop through the colon and on out.  My favorite hack is the use of kineseotape in the classic abdominal facilitation pattern.  All but one of my clients have had a nice big bowel movement the next day after taping; no pain, no fuss.  Regular taping along with strengthening can improve proprioceptive awareness internally (interoception, for those of you who need a new word for the week!)
  4. Transfers and equipment assessment/recommendations.  Therapists can teach your child how to get on/off, up and down safely from a toilet or potty seat.  They can teach you what to say and do to practice transfers and how to guard them while they practice.  They can also take a look at what you already own and what you might need to obtain.  Children with significant motor issues may need an adaptive toileting seat, but most mildly to moderately low-toned kids do not need that level of support.  What they do need is safe and correctly-sized equipment.
  5. Proprioceptive awareness for balance and stability.  Some therapists use balance discs or boards, some use other equipment.  Swings, climbing, jumping, etc.  More body awareness= more independence.
  6. Sensory tolerance for the feeling of clothing, using wipes/TP, the smells and the small enclosure of a bathroom.  If your child has sensory sensitivity issues in daily life, you have to know that they are going to be issues with toilet training.
  7. Effective vestibular processing.  Children that have to turn around, bend and look down then behind their bodies to get TP or pull up their pants need efficient vestibular systems.  Vestibular processing isn’t just for walking and sitting at a table for school.
  8. Practicing working as a team and following directions.  Your child needs to be responsive to either your praise, your rewards or both.  Therapists that support independence (all of us!) and develop in your child the sense that the she is a part of the therapy plan will make it easier for your child to work with you on toileting!

 

 My e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone is now available at Amazon.com as well as Your Therapy Source ( a terrific site for parents and therapists)  and on my website,  tranquil babies .  Families are telling me that they have made progress in potty training right away after reading my book!

Read The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Help Has Arrived!  to learn how my book will help you and your child move forward today!

 

 

Vestibular Fun For Infants With Motor Delays

Picture this:  a dad swings his 6 month-old upside down, and she giggles and smiles from ear to ear.  What doesn’t daddy know?  He is stimulating her developing balance system and teaching her to love movement while they play.

When babies have motor delays, whether due to prematurity, illness, or a brain injury such as cerebral palsy, parents just don’t swing them around much.  No wonder; if your child is on a feeding tube or has seizures, you feel very protective and a bit worried about what all the movement could do that isn’t healthy.  Here is why these parents should make an effort to craft a safe but substantial vestibular program for their babies.

Every child needs movement to grow, and typically-developing babies start moving right away.  By 4 months they have figured out how to roll, and by 8 months they are crawling or creeping away from us.  This is great for mobility skills, but it also great for the vestibular system, which gives us a sense of balance and body/spatial awareness.  In fact, it is really difficult to move if you don’t have a functioning vestibular system.  Kids with motor issues  aren’t moving themselves around the house all day long.  They need adults to make a plan to be given more movement opportunities.

If all you are doing is working on exercises for mobility, and you haven’t thought about the sensory base of movement, then you haven’t given your little one everything she needs to make progress.  Let’s talk about how to create your plan.

Safety is first, so any plan has to respect the fact that a child who isn’t used to moving much can be overwhelmed by a large increase in head movement out of a neutral, vertical position.  Take it easy at first and watch for signs of neurological shutdown or overstimulation.  A child who gets red-faced, or whose skin blanches, who avoids your gaze or becomes too quiet/cries, is probably overstimulated.  Of course, some will just vomit on you.  Message received.

Your pediatrician can tell you if you should support their neck even more than you would normally at their age.  Discuss this idea with your pediatrician if you are very concerned about adding any movement to your plan.  Children with Down Syndrome need to avoid extreme head/neck rotation unless your pediatrician is certain that their neck ligaments are not vulnerable.  I treat all kids with DS as if they need that extra protection.  Kids with brain injuries of any kind can be vulnerable to seizure activity, so I start off with slow movements and avoid any too-fast movement or a lot of position switches in one play time.  Play doesn’t have to be long or intense to deliver more vestibular input.  You aren’t going for the moon.  Just add a little more vestibular input to their day than they normally receive.

What kids of movement?  This is where you need to ask your OT about a plan.  Rotary movement and inverted positions (upside down) are the most powerful.  That means the most stimulating and the most difficult to handle easily.  Linear movement, like swinging in an infant swing, is the easiest.  I cannot tell you what your child needs, but I can tell you that is worth asking your therapist about what you can do in play to build vestibular processing.

When do you stop?  I like to stop before I see signs of distress, then see if they ask for more fun with their vocalizations or facial expressions.   I will give them more movement later if they seem to be doing well.  Delayed signs that they got too much  stimulation?  Negative changes in feeding and sleeping, more fussiness.  Babies will tell you what they think if you know how they communicate.

Good luck, and feed that vestibular system!