Category Archives: preschoolers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If your child is hypermobile, you will need my newest e-book, coming out on Amazon next week!

Designed for the school-aged child, it has plenty of add-ons in the appendix to help you at home and at school.  It gives you ideas to build ADL skills like dressing and independent bathing, and ways to build your confidence when speaking to doctors and teachers!

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Is this recess in your house during the COVID crisis?

Using A Vertical Easel in Preschool? WHERE You Draw on it Matters!

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There are a few equipment and toy recommendations that every home-based pediatric OTR makes to a child’s parents:  Play-Doh, puzzles, tunnels, …and a vertical easel.  Found in every preschool, children from 18 months on can build their reach and proximal (upper body) control while coloring and scribbling on a vertical surface, rather than a tabletop.

But WHERE a child is directed to aim their stroke matters.  Here is why:

  • Grasp and reach have a range of efficiency.  I tell adults to imagine that they are writing on a whiteboard for a work presentation.  Your boss is watching.  Where will your writing/drawing be the most controlled?  Everyone immediately knows.  It is between your upper ribs and your forehead, within the width of your body or a few inches to either side.  Beyond that range, you have less stability and control.  Its an anatomy thing.  If you are an OTR, you know why.  If you are a parent, ask your child’s OTR for a physiology and ergonomics lesson.
  • Visual acuity (clarity of focus) is best in the center of your visual field (the view looking directly forward with your head centered).  Looking at something placed in this range is called using your “central vision”.  Your eyes see more accurately in that location, children can see an adult’s demonstration more clearly,  and therefore they can copy models and movements more accurately.  Kids with ASD like to use their peripheral (side) vision because it is cloudy, and the distortion is interesting to them.  This is not good for accomplishing a visual-motor task or maintaining social eye contact, but they find this is a way to perform sensory self-stimulation and avoid the intensity of direct eye contact with others.
  • Young children have little self-awareness of how their environment impacts them.  Until they fail.  Then they think it is probably their fault.  The self-centeredness that is completely normal in children gets turned around, and a child can feel that they are the problem.  Telling children where to place their work on an easel gives them the chance to do their best work and feel great about it.
  • Children move on when a task is too hard, or when an adult doesn’t provide enough supportive strategies.  Telling a child to try again, or telling them that their results weren’t too bad” isn’t nearly as helpful as starting them off where they have the best chance of success.
  • Using the non-dominant hand to support the body while standing is an important part of easel use.  For kids with low muscle tone or hypermobility, it is very important.  Standing to the side or draping the body on the surface to write are both poor choices that OTRs see a lot in kids with these issues.  Make the easel a piece of therapy equipment and teach a child to place their non-coloring/painting hand on the side of the easel in the “yes zone”.  Look at the picture of the older boy at the beginning of this post, then at the gentleman below.  Note each person’s posture and try to embody it.  Which posture provides  more ease, more control? 

 

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Here is a graph of where an adult should place their demonstration on a page or board for optimal vision and motor control, and where adults should encourage a child to draw.  “NO” and “YES” refer to the child’s optimal location for drawing or writing.

The exception is for height.  A very tall child will need to draw higher on the chart, and a smaller child will only reach the lowest third of the easel.  This should still allow them to use their central vision and optimal reach.  If the easel doesn’t fit the child, place paper on a wall at the correct height.

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Think Using Dot Markers Is Therapy for Kids in Preschool? Think Again!

 

S495361_2I had to look twice.  A private client showed me the picture her 4 year-old made in his school OT session (not the picture above!).  A picture decorated using a dot marker.  He can copy a vertical cross and a circle using a pencil.  I showed him how to draw a triangle in less than 4 minutes during that session.  He is very risk-averse and is probably intellectually gifted.   He has lots of sensory issues and mildly limited fine motor skills.

Why was he using a dot marker for anything?

I know his therapist isn’t very experienced, and I am sure the supplies budget isn’t huge.  But neither are good excuses for using tools that don’t raise the skill level of a child that is so hesitant to be challenged.  Those markers are great for toddlers under 2 or older children with motor skills under a 24-month level, especially kids with neurological or orthopedic issues that don’t allow them to easily grasp and control crayons.  Dot markers get children excited to make a mark on paper (an 11-month fine motor skill) and can be the first step to holding a tool to develop early pre-writing.

They aren’t good at all to develop any kind of mature pencil grasp due to their large diameter and large tip.  It would be like writing your name with a broom!

The ink tends to splatter with heavy quick contact with paper (fun to make a mess, but not therapeutic!), and doesn’t dry quickly enough.  Repeated contact bleeds colors together, and it is hard to keep within the borders of a design unless the target is very large.  I can assure you that the design above was done by an adult, an adult with some art training.

Dot markers aren’t building pre-writing skills for this child I treat.  There are so many options for activities that do build skills in kids at his ability level.  Their use can discourage a risk-averse child from working on pencil grasp.  Whatever the activity it was that they were doing, unless he was swinging on his belly on a platform swing or going down a ramp on a scooter (I don’t think he was doing anything nearly that intense) while using a dot marker, there were other, better choices to make.

Read Using A Vertical Easel in Preschool? WHERE You Draw on it Matters! and Deluxe Water Wow Pads Offer More Challenge And More Fun To Preschoolers and Kindergarteners for more good ideas on fun at home that builds pre-writing skills.

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Is Your Toddler Home From School Because of COVID-19? Save Your Sanity With Fun Routines

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Many families have toddlers that are not attending daycare or preschool now.  They are at home.  All day.  They are off their schedules, and sometimes seem off their rockers!  Here are some ideas to help their parents retain their sanity:

  1. Create a routine for them.  This means that they get snacks at a certain time, outdoor play at a certain time, look at books, take a nap, listen to music, etc.  all in a predictable sequence.  Paint rocks, tear up scrap paper and glue it onto a bigger piece of paper, etc.  Crafts are fun and they can be cheap.  You don’t have to reproduce the school routine, you just have to be consistent about your home routine.  They will learn to anticipate what comes next, with all the calmness that consistency provides.
  2. Have some emergency items/activities.  Bake off some pre-made cookie dough, open up some new toy you saved for a special time.  It is special now!  Root through the back of the gift closet or the toy box and find something that is new or seems new.
  3. Turn on music and calm everyone down.  Music is powerful, and these days we need it.  Sing out and be silly.  You probably could blow off some steam too.
  4. Make sure they get to move.  Every day.  Even if all you do is dance around the room, make it active.  Jump on pillows, log roll around safely, etc.  I treated kids in tiny NYC apartments, so I know it can be done.  It isn’t about having a lot of space.
  5. Reconsider the use of screens as rewards.  I know it works, but there is a price to pay after that initial quiet time.  Think carefully about what will happen when time is up, or when meals of bedtime come.  It could get ugly.  I have used screen activities in treatment, but NEVER EVER a reward, or even a consistent activity every session.  It is another fun thing we do that isn’t always available, and certainly not received by howling for it.

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Joint Protection And Hypermobility: Investing in Your Child’s Future

 

allen-taylor-dAMvcGb8Vog-unsplash.jpgParents of hypermobile kids are taught early on not to pull on limbs while dressing them or picking them up.  It is less common to teach children how to protect their own joints.

In fact, parents may be encouraged by their child’s doctors to let them be “as active as they want to be, in order to build their strength”.  Without adding in education about  good joint protection, this is not good advice.  This post is an attempt to fill in the space between “don’t pull on their limbs” and “get them to be more active”.

Why?  Because hypermobile joints are more vulnerable to immediate injury and also to progressive damage over time.  Once joint surfaces are damaged, and tendons and ligaments are overstretched, there are very few treatments that can repair those situations.  Since children often do not experience pain with poor joint stability, teaching good habits early is essential.  It is always preferable to prevent damage and injuries rather than have to repair damage.  Always.  And it is not as complicated as it sounds.

The basic principles of joint protection are simple.  It is the application that can become complex.  The more joints involved in a movement or that have pre-existing pain or damage, the more complex the solution.  That is why some children need to be seen by an occupational or physical therapist for guidance.  We are trained in the assessment and prescription of strategies based on clinical information, not after taking a weekend course or after reading a book.  I am thinking of writing an e-book on this subject, since there really is nothing much out there for hypermobile people at any age….

Some of the basics of joint protection are:

  • Joints should be positioned in anatomical alignment while at rest and as much as possible, while in use.  Knowing the correct alignment doesn’t always require a therapist.  Bending a foot on it’s side isn’t correct alignment.  Placing a wrist in a straight versus an angled position is.
  • Larger joints should execute forceful movements whenever possible.  That means that pushing a heavy door open with an arm or the side of your body is better joint protection than flattening your hand on it.  The exception is if there is damage to those larger structures.  See below.
  • Placing a joint in mid-range while moving protects joint structures.  As an example, therapists often pad and thicken handles to place finger joints in a less clenched position and allow force to dissipate through the padding.  We discourage carrying heavy loads with arms held straight down or with one arm/hand.

Remember:  once joints are damaged, if joints are painful, or the muscles are too weak to execute a movement, activity adaptations have to be considered.  There is no benefit to straining a weak or damaged joint structure.

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How to Get Children to Wash Their Hands

 

phil-goodwin-TxP44VIqlA8-unsplashThis season’s flu and viruses have parents and teachers wondering how to raise their game regarding infection control.  Washing your hands is one of the most important things anyone at any age can do to protect their health.  But small children aren’t always cooperative.  Getting them to wash their hands can be tough.

The families I work with know that I will not begin a session in their home, and especially that I won’t touch their child, without washing my hands first.  Not only is this to protect them, it is to model good practice for the kids.  Some children will ask me why I am washing my hands.  I always answer them by naming two things familiar to them.   I tell them that when I touch the outside of my car, my hands get dirty, and I don’t want to put dirt on our toys.

Cars and toys.  Most kids over 2 know what those two things are, and they know that one is not so clean, and the other one shouldn’t have dirt on it.  They get it.

But only a few parents insist that their child wash their hands before they begin working with me.  Some children want to share my sanitizer spray, and if a parent agrees, I will show them how to use it.

Now that we are facing both a serious flu season and a new virus, it seems like a good idea to provide suggestions to help parents out with hand washing:

  1.   Model good hand washing practices with a bit of drama.  You have to be a bit of a ham, and remember that kids need simple but dramatic explanations for information to sink in.  Something along the lines of “Oops, I FORGOT to wash my hands!  I will be RIGHT back as soon as I find some soap and water.  Do you know where it is?  Raise your vocal inflection, and use some gestures like stretching out your fingers.  Now say “That is SOOOOO much better.  My hands feel good and clean”.  Interrupt lots of things you are doing with a calm departure to wash your hands.  But make sure they hear you say where you are going and why.
  2. Get soap that they like.  Whether it smells good to them, has a character they love on the bottle, or is foamy or even tinted, soap they like is soap they will use.  Liquid soap is so much easier for young children to handle than bar soap.
  3. Make it easy.  They should be able to reach the water by using a spout extension, and possibly help you get the soap on their hands.  Paper towels that pop out of their holder ready to dry hands are easy to hold and the best way to avoid spreading germs.  Unless a cloth towel is changed very very frequently, it isn’t the cleanest choice. I treat a child whose mom is a cardio-thoracic surgeon.  There is a hands-free soap dispenser and a box of pop-up towels in her main floor powder room.  Enough said.
  4. Ask your partner and other people in the house if they have washed their hands when your child is paying attention to you and watching them respond.  Young children don’t take notice of these practices of others unless you point them out.  Hearing about who washed their hands, and hearing their enthusiastic replies, sends home the message that everyone washes their hands.  It is what we ALL do.
  5. Spin it positively.  Some children really become frightened if you message things about getting sick.  The message is to stay healthy.  Keep it that way.
  6. Make a habit of it.  Infection control staff know that making actions into habits is the best way to ensure safety.  Create new rules about washing hands throughout the day, and gently insist on them.  They will become habits.  Good ones.

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Sensory Processing and Colds: Nothing to Sneeze At!

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

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

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

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

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

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