Category Archives: sensory processing issues

Doing OT Telehealth? Start Cooking (And Baking)!

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Parents are looking for ways to survive the lockdown without daycare and preschool.  Even the easiest child is starting to chafe under the oppression of the COVID quarantine.  As an OT, it is my job to help parents support growth and development, but I don’t have to make it feel like work.

Enter cooking and baking as OT activities!

The simplest recipe I know has two ingredients and cannot be ruined unless you step on it:  Chocolate rolls.

You need:

  • Baking sheet, preferably non-stick or lined with parchment paper.  This dough is sticky, and the melted chips are a pain to clean off a surface.
  • Work surface: possibly another baking sheet, non-stick foil, or parchment paper.  
  • One container of crescent rolls (8 to a package, usually) Keep it cold until you are going to use it.  When it gets warm it gets very goey.  Kids either love it and mash it about, or won’t touch it.
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, separated into two small bowls.  You will need only about 1 cup, but have extra since kids will taste a few.  Or a lot.  A mom only had a chocolate bar, and she broke it up into small pieces.  I think she needed to smash something that day!   COVID has made us adaptable….

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Unroll two triangles of dough, one for the adult, and one for the child.

Demonstrate how to gently push the chips into the dough, then roll up, starting at the wider end.  Assist your child to imitate you. Don’t over-fill with chips.   If it becomes a squishy mess when they roll it up, don’t panic.  This will bake off just fine.  I promise.

Repeat with all dough triangles.

Place both rolls on the baking sheet, and once filled, place the baking sheet on the center rack of the oven.

Bake for about 8-12 minutes or just until the bottom of the rolls turns light golden brown.  You will have to check them after 8 minutes, as they bake quickly.  They keep baking a bit after you take them out of the oven, and if you overbake, you will have 8 chocolate hockey pucks.

Cool and enjoy!

NOTES:

I ALWAYS make a recipe by myself first before baking with kids.  Why?  Two reasons:

  1. I need to know what can go wrong and how my oven responds.  Every minute counts in baking.  Kids take failure personally, so I want to make mistakes and fix them before I ask a child to try a recipe out.
  2. You have a finished product to show them.  Young children cannot look at dough and chips and imagine what it will be like when it is done.  Showing them the actual, real, tasty end product makes it understandable to them.

Is your child likely to snack on the supplies?  Use an “eating bowl”.  I often tell parents to assemble a small amount of chocolate chips in a separate bowl and designate this as an “eating bowl”.  Rather than criticize a child’s desire to sample, they can eat from this bowl without altering the amount needed for the recipe.  Even Julia Child liked to snack on her supplies!!

If you want to get fancy, you can place a few raspberries at the wide end of the dough.   Toddlers and preschoolers aren’t gourmets, and they can reject things that aren’t simple, so don’t insist that they copy you.  But this is a way to expand a child’s awareness of food variety as well as make your chocolate roll tastier.

 

 

 

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Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For Sensory Processing

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I love working with gifted children.  OTs get referrals to work with gifted kids whether or not they have been tested by a psychologist.  Some have motor delays amplified by the asynchronous development, but many are sloppy at handwriting because their motor skill cannot keep up with their language skill.  Some are sensory avoiders or sensory seekers.  Or both.  They aren’t always in distress.  They are almost always out of synch with their families, peers, and teachers.  Without understanding how to manage sensory processing issues, these kids are driven by the need to handle motor demands and sensory input, often driving their teachers and parents a little bit nuts.

Some gifted kids really do need motor skill training and sensory processing treatment.  They are struggling with tolerating their world, and can’t achieve their potential in school, with peers, and at home.  While many kids are “twice exceptional”  and have a learning disability or other disorder in addition to being gifted, simply being gifted creates permanent processing challenges.  The gifted brain will always be driven, and it will always prefer intensity and complexity to an extent that exceeds people with typical skills.   Almost all younger gifted kids need help to understand that their brains will always respond this way, and they will constantly bump up against the typical world in ways that can create problems.  Knowing how to manage this conflict in daily life is our wheelhouse.  Occupational therapy is focused on function.  Always.  We don’t stop with a neurological explanation of giftedness.  We have solutions.

One of the most useful strategies to address a child’s aversions or sensory seeking behaviors is to create a “sensory diet”.  This can be very simple or very complex.  A sensory diet provides activities and equipment that help people tolerate sensory experiences that overwhelm them, but it also “feeds” the desire for sensory experiences that can derail them from interaction and participation.

Avoidant kids learn that more proprioception will help them tolerate noise without wearing headphones and blocking out all interaction.  Sensory seekers learn that they don’t have to kick another kid’s chair to get input; they can do wall push-ups or wall sitting quickly in the hall between classes.  Therapy that includes a sensory diet helps the child who has such pressure to speak that they interrupt everyone, and it helps the child that learned to escape bright lights and scratchy clothes through daydreaming.

Developing a sensory diet that a child can use independently is the goal of Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger’s book “How Does Your Engine Run?  Children learn about sensory modulation by thinking about their ability to perform sensory processing as an engine.  Running too fast or too slow doesn’t allow for great performance.  Running “just right” feels good internally and allows a child to learn, respond appropriately and achieve mastery.  Finding the right activities and environments that allow for “just right” processing is based on what therapists know about neuropsychology, but this program asks the client to assess what works for them, and asks them to use these strategies effectively.

This book isn’t new, and it isn’t perfect.  But it is a good place to start.  It explains behaviors using neurological strategies that work, and provides a framework for inexperienced therapists to move from prescribing to guiding.  A gifted child can begin the process of using a self-directed sensory diet far earlier than their typical peers. I have seen 4 year-olds start to master their own drives once it is explained to them.  They feel terrific when their abilities are recognized, and adults are seen as supporters instead of controllers.

The biggest problem I encounter is unlearning the behaviors that children have developed before their parents and teachers understood that giftedness is more than a big vocabulary.  Children may have learned to push a parent to exhaustion to get what they wanted.  They may have bullied adults or intentionally alienated adults to be allowed to do what they want.  They may have become extremely bossy and gotten away with it.  They may have decided that any skill that takes time to develop isn’t worth it.  They will lead with the things that they find effortless.  This will trip them up over time, but without understanding the life of the gifted child, these behaviors sprout like weeds.

Gifted children are still children, and they need guidance and support to grow into their gifts!  Occupational therapists can help them and their families do just that.

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How To Pick A High Chair For Your Special Needs Child

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My first Early Intervention home visit always involves seeing the child sitting in their high chair.  I learn a few things.  I learn how the child is handled by the parent or caregiver, including whether they use the available strapping to secure them.  Many don’t, and don’t realize that it is part of the problem.  I learn how well the child fits into the chair, and how well the child can balance and reach in this chair.  And I hear about what problems the parent or caregiver is having with using this seating system.

This post is intended to share some of what therapists know about seating, and how to pick a better chair for kids that have challenges.

Every parent reading this post should know that their child’s therapists are their best source for getting the right high chair.  Never consult Dr. Google when you have licensed professionals available.  There is a reason for that license!  The folks you meet online cannot evaluate your child and provide safe recommendations for you.  This includes me; my comments are meant to educate, not prescribe.  That would be unethical and unsafe.

Typical children need a high chair when they can maintain their head balanced in the center and can start reaching and holding a bottle or finger food.  Before that, they use a feeding seat.  Feeding seats are slightly-to-moderately reclined and do the job of a parent cradling a child while feeding.  A child in a feeding seat usually isn’t expected to independently steady their head or hold a bottle. There are usually straps that stabilize a child’s chest and shoulders as well as a strap that stabilizes their pelvis.

Again, not every adult uses these straps correctly to give a young child the best support.  I will always do some education on methods to correctly position and adjust strapping.  The adult’ reaction (relief, curiosity, resistance, disinterest) tells me a great deal about what is coming down the pike.  Some special needs kids will use a feeding chair well past 12 months of age.  The commercially-made feeding chairs aren’t large, so some kids won’t fit  into one much past 18 months.  After that happens, we have to think about either a commercial high chair or adaptive seating.

Commercially-made high chairs in the US are gigantic.  They could hold a 4 year-old! This is always a problem for special needs kids.  Too much room to move in the wrong way isn’t helpful.   These chairs may or may not have chest/shoulder straps, and they may not have an abductor strap (the one between a child’s legs, that prevents them from sliding under the waist belt).  The best chairs have the waist belt low enough that it sits across a child’s lower hips like a car’s seat belt.  This is always preferable to sitting at the bellybutton level.  It provides more stability.

If a special needs child collapses their posture while sitting in a high chair, when I stabilize their hips in a way that doesn’t allow them to collapse, they might complain.  They were allowed to slouch so much that this new position, with appropriate core activation, feels wrong to them.  It can take a while for a child to learn that eating and playing in a chair requires them to use their core.  I allow them to gradually build up their abilities with short periods of eating and playing.  Not every parent is comfortable finding out that they were contributing to core weakness by allowing a collapsed posture.  I don’t add to that feeling; you know more, you do better.  Simple as that. No guilt.

Some providers insist that every child, at every age and stage, have a place to put their feet.  The strongest proponents of this idea are usually not therapists but educators or speech therapists who attended a positioning lecture or inservice.  Occupational therapists know that a child that doesn’t have the hip control and emerging knee and foot control to place weight into their feet will not be able to use their feet to steady their trunk.  They will, however, figure out how to use a footplate incorrectly.  Unless a child is older than 2 and requires lower leg stabilization to avoid tightening their hamstrings (which will derail their positioning) and sliding forward, or to prevent sensory-seeking or ataxic movements, I don’t strap a child’s feet onto a footplate, or even worry about providing a footplate.  A child that is in a feeding chair, or just beginning to use a high chair, isn’t going to use a footplate correctly, and is more likely to use one to ruin previously decent positioning.  A child that is able to bench-sit or is starting to take weight into their feet?  That child can use a footplate to build sitting control.  Here is a post to help you use one well: A Simple Strategy To Improve Your Child’s Posture In A Stokke Tripp Trapp or Special Tomato Chair

Special needs kids that have very limited head and trunk control will often need an adaptive seat that gives them more support.  It can transform them!  More support can allow more freedom, not less.  These chairs are able to be customized, are obtained through DME vendors and can be paid for by insurance or EI.  They are expensive, and considered medical equipment, not chairs.  Parents need instruction in their use to avoid harming a child by too intensive strapping and incorrect adjustments.  But when done right, they can transform a child’s abilities in ways that no commercially-available chair can accomplish.  Giving a child a seating system that frees them to reach and look and eat and communicate is a wonderful feeling.  Those of us that are trained in seating evaluation know that the right chair can build skills, not substitute for them!

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How To Help Your Toddler Hold a Spoon

hal-gatewood-e3Y23rtVk8k-unsplash.jpgHolding a spoon or fork isn’t an intuitive skill for children.  Neither is assisting another person, of any age, to self-feed.  Parents really have struggled with this issue, and there must be many more out there who are struggling still.  This post is intended to help both parties be more successful.

Young children use a “gross” or fisted grasp to hold a utensil; see the photo above.  This continues until 3-4 years of age, when they have the hand strength and dexterity to use a mature grasp that incorporates the fingertips and thumb:

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Trying to force a toddler to use a mature grasp is almost impossible, and allowing a toddler to use an atypical grasp is also unacceptable.  It is inefficient and frustrating.  The amount of spillage almost always makes parents decide to feed a child that should be learning to feed themselves.

Parents need to teach utensil grasp, and support it with the right tools and assistance until self-feeding becomes easy and natural to a child.  Here is how to make that happen:

  1. Have the right tools.  Once a child is old enough to try to self-feed, they need toddler utensils.  Adult utensils have thinner, longer shafts.  This makes it much more difficult to hold.  Not impossible, just harder.  Make life easier on both of you and invest in toddler spoons and forks.  Infant feeding spoons have a tiny bowl and a very long shaft.  That is because they help scoop food from a jar and reach a baby’s mouth:  adults are the intended users!  Do not give them to your toddler.  They are harder for toddlers to use.  Shallow plastic bowls with a non-skid base are very helpful.  OXO sells the best bowls for this purpose, and since they are well-designed, you don’t have to get rid of them as kids get older.  They will be attractive and useful for years to come.
  2. Provide the right assistance.  In the very beginning, I encourage parents to load a fork with a safe food such as a cooked piece of carrot.  Food on a fork doesn’t fall off as easily.  They place the fork in the child’s hand and assist them in bringing it to their mouth.  Adults need to “steer” the utensil until a child develops the motor control sequence to successfully get food on the utensil.  Parents should be holding the end of the handle so that the child can place their hand in the center of the handle shaft.  Children will grasp the end of the spoon if the parent uses any other hand placement.  Young children will not automatically hold a utensil correctly.  It is the parent’s job to know how to present the utensil for grasp.
  3. Make it fun.  Feeding shouldn’t be difficult or unpleasant.  I wrote a popular post on the best way to make learning to use utensils enjoyable Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child .   This works even with children with ASD and SPD.  In fact, it might be the best way to get kids with these diagnoses to learn to use utensils.  There is an opportunity to develop social skills and turn a daily living skill into a fun game!

How Therapeutic Listening Enhances Motor Skills

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My readers know that I am a huge fan of Quickshifts in treatment.  I have had some amazing successes with Quickshifts for regulation and modulation.  Their focus on combining binaural beat technology with instrumentation, rhythm, melody and tone makes these albums effective, and it eliminates the challenges of modulated music for very young or fragile kids.  But many parents (and a few therapists!) think that if a child doesn’t have severe sensory processing issues, then therapeutic listening isn’t going to be helpful.

That indicates that they don’t understand the principles and the rationale for the use of therapeutic listening.

Since every movement pattern has rhythm and sequence, it is completely logical that enhancing brain function with an emphasis on a calm-alert state with music will affect movement quality.  (This includes speech.  Speech is a highly skilled series of very small movements in a precise sequence! )

I am currently treating a toddler who experienced encephalopathy in infancy.  A virus affected the functioning of his brain.  The residual low muscle tone and praxis issues are directly improved by using Gravitational Grape in sessions.  He is safer and shows more postural activation while listening.  Endurance while standing and walking is significantly improved.

Another client with low tone has Prader-Willi syndrome.  Her movements are so much more sequenced with the Bilateral Control album.  Her ability to shift her weight while moving is significantly better during and immediately after listening.

All of us are more skilled when we are in the calm-alert (alpha brainwave) state that Qucikshifts entrain.  For people without motor or sensory issues, alpha states can help us think clearly and organize our thought and movement for higher level performance.  For children with movement control issues, it can improve their safety and stability.  They move with greater ease.  Therapy sessions are more productive, and play or school functioning is less work.

Due to COVID-19, I have been forced to do telehealth and use therapeutic listening with more children, rather than rely on equipment or complex sensory processing activities.  The silver lining is that parents are more involved in my sessions and can see what benefits this treatment is having on their children.   When social distancing retreats, I hope that therapeutic listening will be seen for the powerful treatment it most definitely can be!

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How To Improve Posture In Children With Low Muscle Tone… Without a Fight!

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With pediatric occupational therapy going on at home using parents as surrogate therapists, it isn’t helpful to ask a parent to do too much repositioning of children with low tone.  First of all, kids don’t like it.  Second, kids really don’t like it.

I have never met a child that enjoys therapeutic handling, no matter how skilled I am, and I don’t think I ever will.  They don’t know why we are placing their hands or legs somewhere, and they tend not to like to be told what to do and how to do it.  The best you can hope for at times is that they tolerate it and learn that therapists are going to be helping them do what they want to do For Kids With Sensory Issues and Low Tone, Add Resistance Instead of Hand-Over-Hand Assistance.

Leaving a child in an awkward and unstable position isn’t the right choice either.  They are going to struggle more and fail more when out of alignment and unsteady.  If you know this is going to happen, you can’t let them stay that way because you also know that this will blow back in your face in the form of frustration, short attention span, and children developing a sense that whatever they are doing or whomever they are doing it with is a drag.  A real drag.

So how can you improve the posture of a child with low tone without forcing them physically into a better position?

  • Use good seating and other equipment that facilitates postural control.  A chair that is too small, a slippery floor and footie pajamas….try not to make stabilization too hard unless you are a licensed therapist and you know how to juggle all the variables.  If you are a parent, ask your child’s therapist what kind of seating, tables, ride-on toys, etc are the right ones.  Don’t think your therapist knows what you need?  My e-books can help you and your therapist because they have guidelines and checklists to learn about selecting all of these things.  They are part of The JointSmart Child series! Read more here The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today!   and here: Parents and Therapists of Hypermobile School-Age Kids Finally Have a Practical Guidebook!
  • Respect fatigue.  A mom told me today that her daughter’s telehealth PT sessions end in tears at least half the time due to exhaustion.  That is simply unacceptable.  Great therapists don’t leave kids that upset for parents to deal with after the session.  They taper the session demands, and end on a good note.  There are always other positions to play in or other things to do when a child has fatigued postural muscles.  You know they are fried because if you present them with a fun activity and they simply cannot manage it, you aren’t being played.  They are tired.
  • Create routines that incorporate postural control.  My little clients over 2 know that their non-dominant hand had a job to do and what it is.  They know that we place feet in a certain way, and that specific games call for specific positions.  When good posture is a habit, there fights are fewer going forward.  They know what to do and what I expect and I know that they will be successful if they follow our routines.  Read How To Correctly Reposition Your Child’s Legs When They “W-Sit” and Is Your Hypermobile Child Frequently In An Awkward Position? No, She Really DOESN’T Feel Any Pain From Sitting That Way for more information on this subject.

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Parents and Therapists of Hypermobile School-Age Kids Finally Have a Practical Guidebook!

 

The Joint Smart Child.inddThe JointSmart Child series started off in 2019 with Volume One:  The Early Years.  It is finally time for the school-age child to have their needs addressed!

Volume Two:  The School Years is available now on Amazon as an e-book, filled with information to make life at home and at school easier and safer.  This book is equally at home on a parent’s or a pediatric therapist’s shelf.   Filled with clear explanations for the daily struggles hypermobile children encounter, it answers the need for a practical reference guide for daily living.

Section I reviews the basics:  understanding the many ways that hypermobility can affect motor, sensory and social/emotional development.  General principles for positioning and safety are presented in easy-to-follow language.

Section II addresses daily living skills such as dressing, bathing and mealtime.  School-age kids may not be fully independent in these areas, and they need targeted strategies to improve their skills while boosting their confidence.

Section III looks at school and recreational activities.  It covers handwriting and keyboarding, playing sports and playing musical instruments with less fatigue, less pain, and more control.  When parents and therapists know how to select the best equipment and use optimal ergonomics and safety guidelines, kids with hypermobility really can thrive!

Section IV reviews the communication skills in Volume One, and then expands them to address the more complex relationships within and outside the family.  Older children can have more complex medical needs such as pain management, and knowing how to communicate with medical professionals empowers parents.

The extensive appendix provides informational forms for parents to use with babysitters and teachers, and checklists for chairs and sports equipment such as bikes.  There is a checklist parents can use during IEP meetings to ensure that their child’s goals include issues such as optimal positioning, access, and endurance in school.  Therapists can use the same materials as part of their home program or in professional presentations to parent groups.  There are even simple recipes to use cooking as a fun activity that develops sensory and motor skills!

I believe that this e-book has so much to offer parents and therapists that have been looking for practical information, but find they have to search around the internet only to rely on other parents for guidance instead of health care professionals.  This is the book that answers so many of their questions and empowers children to reach their highest potential!

for more information on how to help your hypermobile child, read Need a Desk Chair for Your Hypermobile School-Age Child? Check out the Giantex Chair and Should Hypermobile Kids Sit On Therapy Balls For Schoolwork? plus Should Hypermobile Kids Use Backpacks?

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