Category Archives: sensory processing issues

Young Children, Sensory Modulation, and the Automatic “NO!”

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Kids as young as 18 months can express their sensory processing issues with one word: “NO!!”  What appears to be a budding attitude issue or even oppositional defiant disorder can be a sensory modulation issue instead.

How could you possibly tell?

Well, if your child has already been diagnosed with sensory sensitivity or sensory modulation problems, you know that these issues won’t just make it harder to wear clothes with seams or touch Play-Doh.  These issues affect all aspects of daily living and create emotional regulation and biological over-activation issues as well.  Young children are learning how to express their opinions and separate physically and emotionally from their caregivers.  Saying “NO!” isn’t unusual for young kids (and a lot of older ones too!).  But refusals that make no sense can have a different origin.

So what is the giveaway?

When a child has an almost immediate “NO”, perhaps even before you have finished your sentence, and the reaction is to something you know they have liked or almost certainly would like, you have to suspect that sensory modulation is at play.  You usually sense when your child is trying to get your attention or get you activated.  This should feel different.

What do I do next?

You also need to respond in a specific way to test your theory that sensory issues are the root of the ‘tude.  Your response should be as vocally neutral and emotionally curious as you can manage.   “Oh, really….you said no…” is a good template.  Whether it is “no” to their fave food, show, toy or an activity.  You remove all criticism and encouragement from your voice.  You don’t want to fuel the refusal fire; you want to shut it off and see what is left in the embers of “NO”.

Now you need to wait for them to neurologically calm down.  Little brains are like old computers.  They take a while to reboot.  Look at the floor, wipe your hands, etc and wait a minimum of 15 seconds, probably 30, then ask again if they want a cookie, want to go out, want to play, to eat, or whatever.  The child who needed the primitive defensive part of their brain to go offline to allow them to use their budding frontal lobes may sweetly ask for what they just refused, or respond to your exactly identical request with a cheery “YES”.

Please try to have compassion for them.

It can seem maddening to do this all day long, and in truth, if you are, you need to learn how to work with an occupational therapist in order to learn powerful sensory treatment strategies that can get your child out of this pattern.  But your child isn’t jerking your chain when their behavior fits this pattern.  They are more likely a captive of their brain wiring.   Don’t let yourself react as if they are intentionally being difficult.  That day will come…..13 is just around the corner!

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How Using Dr. Karp’s Fast Food Rule Transforms Kids With Special Needs

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Yes, I said the word transform.  I know that hyperbole isn’t always appropriate when you are a therapist (we try to hedge our bets with predictions), but I am willing to go out on a limb in this instance and say that learning this single Happiest Toddler on the Block technique will make a difference with any child with special needs that functions with over a 12-15 month cognitive level.  Will it work with older children?  Absolutely.  Done right, it will also work on spouses and co-workers!

What is the Fast Food Rule?  You can read more about it here Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation With Happiest Toddler On The Block but the simplest way to explain it is that when you have an upset person, they get to express themselves first, then the adult paraphrases the upset person’s expression with about 1/3 of the emotion that was used.  The paraphrasing is done at the level of comprehension of the upset person.  This means that someone who has a very low language level and is very upset may only hear “You say NO NO NO”.  Remember that any degree of agitation immediately lowers language comprehension IN EVERYONE.  Even you.

That’s it.  The phrase may have to be repeated a few times until the adult observes signs that the upset person’s agitation is decreasing (not necessarily over).  What are those signs?  A decrease in screaming volume or intensity, more eye contact, stillness of the body, turning to the adult rather than turning away, etc.  If the problem isn’t clear, altering the phrase is OK.  No harm done if you get it wrong; try again to state what their problem is.

ONLY WHEN THE UPSET PERSON HAS DECREASED THEIR AGITATION IS IT PERMISSIBLE TO OFFER A SOLUTION, OR EVEN CONSOLATION.

Why?  Because until the upset person REGISTERS that the adult understands the nature and the degree of stress, they will continue to protest to make their point.  It doesn’t matter if the point is pointless.  All the better.  Being understood is more important than being corrected.  Always.

Because young children’s brains are immature, their agitation may start up again after the problem is solved.  This is neurological, not psychological.  Rinse and repeat the FFR, and come out on the other side calmer.

Why does this transform the life of a special needs child?

Kids with special needs often need to be more regulated than the average child.  They can be unsteady, difficult to understand even when calm, have medical issues that get worse when they are agitated, and fatigue rapidly on a good day.  Being upset makes safety, endurance, sensitivity and sensory seeking worse.  Sometimes much worse.

If your child or your client has any of these issues (and I have yet to work with a child with special needs that doesn’t have ONE or more of them), then you need to learn the FFR today and use it consistently.

  • Kids with cerebral palsy can move with better safety awareness and expend less energy.
  • Kids with hyper mobility are also safer, less fatigued and can focus on movement quality.
  • Children with sensory processing issues are more modulated, less aversive or sensory seeking.
  • Kids with ASD do less self-stimulation and have less aggressive behaviors.

 

The biggest obstacle for me?  Fear of using Dr. Karp’s Toddler- Ese language strategy, which sounds infantile to the ears of an adult, because I thought that I sounded like an idiot in front of parents (who were paying me a lot of money to treat their child).  It turns out that not being able to calm a child makes me look much more like an idiot, and effectively getting a child calm and focused makes me look like a skilled professional.

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Should the PARENTS of Kids With Sensory Issues Use Quickshifts?

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My clients and my blog readers know that I started using a therapeutic sound treatment called Quckshifts earlier this year Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Regulation, Attention, and Postural Activation.  I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for this treatment.  It has made easy sessions more effective, and difficult sessions workable.  Kids that are struggling get a boost, and kids that needed a lot of preparatory sensory activity to regulate and engage rapidly find their footing.

Could this be useful for parents too?

There is no age limit on the use of Quickshifts, and the creators at Vital Links write and speak about treating adults using this program in their training materials.  But thus far I haven’t heard them talk about the use of Quickshifts with the parents of their clients.  I wonder why.

If you have a child with sensory issues, even one who attends mainstreamed programs and is doing fairly well in social activities, your days have a certain level of stress in them.  Sensory diets work, but they also take work to use and monitor.  Children aren’t crockpots, so you are actively administering or at least setting up the activities the comprise a sensory diet.  Kids reach bumps in the road, and kids with sensory issues can have bigger meltdowns over smaller bumps.  Parents have to help them manage things that other kids shrug off.  And parents always are thinking ahead, wondering what effect a new summer camp or new school with have on their child.  Even when things are going well, parents can feel some stress about all of these things.

It is well known that if you are a therapist treating children with sensory processing issues, at least one parent could say to you “Wow; I used to have the same problems, and everyone told me I was just being difficult/stubborn/picky, etc.”  Treatment options picked up in the early 90s, so we do hear this less and less.  But not in every community  or school system.  And if a parent’s parents refused to “believe” in sensory treatment, then these kids got nothing.  Or perhaps they were sent to a psychologist.  When I describe their child’s experiences using sensory processing terms, some parents recognize that their responses are very similar.  They have been told, or they have assumed, that they are reacting psychologically to events or stimuli.  They now are thinking differently about themselves as well as their children.

Finally, in this era of #MeToo, there is growing awareness that many of the parents of the children we work with bring their own trauma with them into parenting  Are You a Trauma Survivor AND the Parent of a Special Needs Child?.  I just did a presentation in FL (Feb2020) on using sensory processing treatment to help adults with traumatic dissociation.  The dysregulation that accompanies trauma doesn’t disappear after delivering a child.  At times, having a child can bring past traumas up to the surface and create problems that seems to have been handled or forgotten.  These parents need our support and assistance.

Which brings us to the question:  Should the parents of kids with sensory processing issues, especially the parents that have problems with self-regulation, use Quickshifts as well?

My strong opinion is that since there isn’t a downside, they should give the Regulation albums a try, and see how they navigate a typical day after listening.  The changes in adults are more subtle because their lives are more complex.  Parents need to know what changes to look for: usually the ability to remain calm with transitions, to focus on a task or to think a process through more easily.

Parents with more anxious tendencies might use Gentle Focus successfully, and parents that need to up-regulate would love Synching Up or Rockin’ Surf.  The decision to use Quickshifts and how to select albums really is easier when you consult an OT.  Wasting money and time buying and using the wrong album is unnecessary!  I love working with adults that have regulation issues or sensory sensitivities.  The relief in their faces tells me that they are getting the help they need to be their best.

 

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How Dr. Harvey Karp Helps Kids AND Adults with Regulation Issues

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Can you do DBT with toddlers?  Well, Marsha Linehan probably would say no, but the Fast Food Rule and Patience Stretching come as close as you ever could!

Many child psychologists and psychotherapists are focusing on attachment theory and the problems of poor emotional regulation in children.  The rise of self-harm behaviors in teens and aggression in children as young as 3 can be related to difficulties handling emotions and experiences that increase arousal levels but never get resolved.

Not every child who throws their book down in frustration or slams their bedroom door needs to see a therapist.  But I do wonder how many of those teens that cut themselves, starve themselves or get suspended for putting their hands on a teacher or fellow student, actually needed Dr. Karp’s techniques when they were 3 or 4.  Maybe, just maybe, if they had been helped with Patience Stretching when they wanted that toy, or if someone had used the Fast Food Rule with them when they had a tantrum Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child, maybe they would be in better shape at 13.

Why?

Because these techniques don’t just work on the child.  They work on the adult using them as well.  And adults who can self-regulate raise kids who learn to do it too.

When I use Patience Stretching( Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! ) with a toddler that wants one toy while I want them to work a bit longer on a therapy task, I am actually receiving the benefits of the technique as well.  I am both teaching and experiencing the reduction in frustration and the decrease in agitation as this strategy calms down the whole situation.  Oxytocin gets released when we calm down with a child, and adults need that hit as much as children do.  If we “go there” with an agitated child, we feel worse, even if we think we won because we have the power to deny or punish.  It doesn’t feel good to do either, but it also doesn’t feel good to give into a screaming child.  Not really.  Even the most permissive adult will say no to something dangerous, and then the child who is unfamiliar with hearing “no” will really explode.

The good news is that you don’t have to get an advanced degree to use Dr. Karp’s strategies.  You have to practice them so that your delivery is flexible and confident, but anyone can do it, not just therapists.  In fact, if these techniques don’t work well once you improve your delivery, that could be one way to decide that you need to consult a child specialist.

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When Should You Tell A Child NOT to Erase Their Mistake?

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I wrote a post on erasing Teach Your Kindergartener How To Erase Like a Big Kid and one on erasers Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser , but there are a few situations in which you don’t want a child to run for the eraser.

  1. The child who stalls for time.  Some kids want to run down the clock on their therapy session or on their homework time, and realize that erasing can help them do just that.  The fun of rubbing the eraser on the paper exceeds the fun of struggling to write or struggling to answer a question.
  2. The kid that gets upset when they make a mistake.  Some children are oblivious, but some are distressed when they write poorly.  So upset that they lose some of their focus and ability to listen to your suggestions/instructions.
  3. The child who persistently traces over their original mistake.  These kids were taught with a lot of tracing in pre-K and K, and their brains have been trained to trace.  When they see the faint outline of their mistake, they have to struggle NOT to trace it.  Oops.

What SHOULD you do?

These strategies assume that an adult is helping a child directly.  You may not need to remain there for the entire homework assignment, but adult assistance is needed to get this train turned around:

  • Ask them to write the word again.  You may need to fold the paper so that their mistake is not visible, but a correct model is visible.  You may have to write a new visual model in the margins or above their work space.
  • Use Handwriting Without Tears pages.  Their workbook pages are designed to be simple but offer visual models across the page, not just at the left margin.
  • Erase the mistake yourself.  Adults can use more force and erase more effectively.
  • Make a copy (or 2) of your child’s homework so that you can ask them to start over again, but only if it is a short assignment.  No one wants to rewrite a long page.
  • Provide more instruction before they begin their word or sentence.  A reminder that certain letters are tricky or that they need to space words out How Do You Teach Word Spacing? can prevent errors.

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How an Occupational Therapist Can Help The Siblings of Special Needs Children

 

joao-rafael-662575-unsplashThe parent of one of my clients recently returned from a conference related to her youngest child’s genetic disorder, and she told me that the presentation on helping the siblings of special needs kids really only offered one niblet of advice: “Try to give each sibling 10 minutes a day of “just us” time.”

My shoulders, and my heart, fell.  Telling exhausted and worried parents that they need to find more time in their day, every day, isn’t fair.  This mom could have used so many more specific strategies.  She didn’t need another way to feel inadequate to the challenge.  When you have a special needs child, you don’t have extra time.  Some days you aren’t sure you will be able to shower and shampoo.  Even if you could carve out some time by delegating and hiring help, the truth is that living with constant worry about the present and the future, running chronically short on sleep, and perhaps still recovering from a NICU nightmare…this doesn’t lend itself to stellar time management.

There are things that really do help.  Among them are getting the right kind of assistance and support, sharing the knowledge you receive from specialists, and handling everybody’s feelings with compassion (including self-compassion) and honesty.    Occupational therapists are out there helping families deal with life, since we have a solid background in the science of occupational demands and the psychological responses to illness, injury and trauma.  We aren’t psychotherapists, but we study the science of healthy life routines and behaviors.  We also spend a lot of time learning what special needs kids need to thrive, and this includes supporting the siblings and parents of our clients.

Here are some of the things I wish that the presenters had suggested:

  1. Ask your child’s therapists to train more of your family members and caregivers.  This means the partner that isn’t the primary caregiver for a special needs child, but it also could be the grandparent or the babysitter that is the backup emergency caregiver.  There are parents who feel they can never take a break because a half-spa day would mean that no one knows how to prevent their child from falling down the steps or how to know when a child is going in the direction of a meltdown that will derail the day.  If you have a medically fragile child, more people need to know how to keep them safe and healthy.  Your child’s therapists are skilled in providing training in their area of specialization.  They may not offer it to your other family  members unless you ask for it to be done.  This is an investment in your peace of mind.  Make it happen.
  2. Find out if your child’s siblings can enter a therapy session and learn more about how to help or encourage their special needs sibling.  Therapists can teach your child’s siblings, and because they are seen as authorities and not parents, this can work well to foster understanding and interest.  Even preschool kids can learn why the baby isn’t playing with them( but she is watching) and that means “I like you”.  Your therapists are pediatric specialists and are good at helping children of all ages, even if your social needs child is an infant.
  3. Learn methods to spread your warmth and concern without promising time commitments you may not be able to keep.  Something so simple (and explained in more detail in my new book below) is to talk with your child’s siblings about your feelings of anticipation before some fun event, even if it is reading a chapter in Harry Potter.  Telling them, days ahead, that you can’t wait to be with them can feel so good.  Later, you can remind them how much fun you had.  Don’t require them to reciprocate.  You are speaking about your feelings, and if they brush it off then don’t take it personally.  Tweens especially struggle with how to respond.  They still need to hear your warmth.
  4. Express your frustrations honestly, but mindfully, to your child’s siblings.  You will both feel better for it.  You don’t have to wail and keen, and in fact I would discourage that.  You can do that with your partner or your counselor.  But your other children need to know that feeling less than blissfully grateful for their special needs sibling is normal and not shameful.  When some feelings are perceived as unacceptable, they grow in importance and sprout little behavioral problems of their own.  Start by speaking about how tired you are.  It is honest and it is probably already visible.  Mention that you feel both things; love and frustration.  You have to adjust for your other children’s age and emotional tolerance, but I promise you:  this is going to really help.
  5. Ask for help.  And accept it when it is offered.  Some people don’t think they need help, and some don’t think they deserve it.  Some think that it will be seen as weakness or laziness.  Some ask for help and get a casserole instead of babysitting.  Some get advice instead of a casserole.  And some turn down help to avoid feeling as tired and frightened as they really feel deep inside.  Think carefully about how and why you don’t have or accept help, and try doing what doesn’t feel natural or easy.  It could be the best move you make this week.
  6. Reconsider the amount of therapy and tutoring you are doing.  I know; what therapist thinks you can overdo their own treatment?  Me.  Overscheduling therapies can backfire when you, your special needs child, and the rest of your family suffer from the demands.  The time demands, the loss of participation in real life fun like hayrides and playgrounds, etc.  The downtime that any normal person needs and so few parents and special needs kids get.  That affects siblings too, in lost time with parents and exhausted parents trying to wedge “me time” into a free moment.
  7. Make choices about what your priorities are, but allow yourself to have a priority that is not all about your child.  For example, you may have to accept that your house isn’t going to be spotless, and that you may be buying rather than making most of the holiday cookies.  But if making a few batches of a precious family recipe (my best friend from college always makes her Scottish grandmother’s recipe for fruit squares) will make you feel like a million bucks, then go ahead.  Yes, life with a special needs child is different from what you expected.  But you get to have some things from your previous life that bring joy!

I am so excited to report that my newest e-book is finally done!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years is designed to empower the parents of hypermobile kids ages 0-5.  There are chapters on picking the right high chair, toys, even pajamas!  One section is just on improving communication with your family (including siblings), teachers, therapists and even doctors.  No other book answers questions that parents have about finding good eating utensils and how to navigate playdates and social events more successfully.

It is available on Amazon as a read-only download and on Your Therapy Source as a printable and click-able download.  Look for more information and a sneak peek at the ways every parent can learn what therapists know about positioning here:The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today!

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Binaural Beats and Regulation: More Than Music Therapy

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When you have so much to choose from, how do you pick the right one?

Binaural beat technology isn’t new.  But it is powerful.  This post is designed to answer some questions about how it works, why it works, and how I use it effectively in the treatment of sensory processing issues.

For people who have read about or tried Quickshifts  Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Processing, Attention and Postural Activation, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about listening on headphones versus speakers, and why the music has that echo-y tone.

The use of binaural headphones or speakers placed close to the child allows the ears to hear the full range of sound with as little interference or absorption from the environment.  It is important that the left and right ear are hearing the sounds separately.  The echo-y sound?  What you are hearing is the BBT; binaural beat technology.  The slight alteration in sound frequency between what the brain hears from the left and right speakers forces the brain to synch up at a frequency that matches this level of difference.

BBT isn’t new.  BBT has been used and researched since the 70’s.  It is out there in many forms; you can even find recorded BBT music on YouTube.  There are enough studies done to prove that this technology has real effects on alertness, attention and mood.  It makes sense that therapists would like to use it to help kids with self-regulation issues.  BBT is helpful for learning and self-regulation, but only if you know what brainwave state you want, and why you want it.  And that is where skilled therapists can help.

But which one to use?

 I only use Quickshifts in my therapy sessions.

 

Why do I prefer Quickshifts to deliver BBT?

  • Quickshifts entrain an alpha brainwave state.  This state is associated with calm focus the ability to move to a more powerful focus or downshift into sleep, and, wait for it, interoception.  Yup, the biggest new word in occupational therapy is interoception, and there are some excellent studies done by neuropsych researchers that indicate that alpha brainwave states increase interoception.  Yeah!  Interoception is the ability to perceive internal states, and this includes basic physiological states such as fatigue, hunger, and the need to eliminate.  So many of our clients struggle with knowing what they feel.  Quickshifts can help.
  • Alpha brainwave states are theorized to act as a gating mechanism for anxiety, which means they help kids block anxiety.  Anxiety isn’t a great state for kids with ASD, SPD, or any of us.  Anxiety is a component of so many diagnoses, and it isn’t easy to do cognitive behavioral strategies like CBT or DBT with children under 10 or 11.  Quickshifts also work well for adults with anxiety as well! Should the PARENTS of Kids With Sensory Issues Use Quickshifts?
  • The music used in Quickshifts is very carefully designed to enhance specific functional states, and every occupational therapist is all about functional performance.  We don’t want just relaxation; we want engagement in life.  The way that Quickshifts uses music allows BBT to address specific behavioral performance abilities.  There are albums for attention, for movement, and for regulation.  They all use BBT.  For each particular album, one functional goal will predominate.  I don’t need to induce a meditative state in a child that is working on handwriting.  I need calm focus and better movement control.
  • The avoidance of pure tones means I don’t have to worry about seizure activity in kids with a seizure disorder.  The use of pure tones is a risk for seizures, so if a child has frequent seizures, I can be confident that I am not increasing them if I use Quickshifts.
  • The choice of instrumentation on Quickshifts albums is often more grounding than other BBT choices.  I want kids to feel grounded, not floating on a cloud.  That state makes it harder to pay attention, to speak, move, etc.  Being jolted into a high level of engagement without grounding isn’t great either.  Remember:  OT is all about functioning.  This happens at that “just right” point of arousal.  I really like the way Quickshifts address anxiety and trauma.  Even if a child’s trauma reactions are based on their difficulties managing school with sensory processing or autonomic disorders, not abuse.  Not all trauma reactions are from profound abuse.  But when trauma IS the issue, Quickshifts have the edge over the Safe And Sound protocol.  Dr. Porges dropped the ball on understanding the HPA axis and how sound treatment can overwhelm a system that is biased for fear.  The key is the way the brainstem responds to sound novelty.  People with a high level of anxiety and fear will have an automatic aversion unless you deal with this problem first!
  • There is a progression of instrumentation and rhythm on many Quickshift albums that guides the brain into more environmental awareness and postural activation, but it is done gently.   Getting to an alpha state is a goal, but improving functional performance with less risk of overload is most important to me.  I have to give kids the ability to leave our session in a great state of mind.

Get the right headphones!  I just wrote Doing Therapeutic Listening? Get These Affordable, Comfortable, Kid-Size Bluetooth Headphones From PURO!  because the right headphones deliver the best results.  Don’t think you can use expensive headphones that cancel outside sounds; they destroy the binaural beats!

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He picked out his perfect pumpkin!

The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today!

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My first e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, was a wonderful experience to write and share.  The number of daily hits on one of my most popular blog posts  Hypermobility and Proprioception: Why Loose Joints Create Sensory Processing Problems for Children helped me figure out what my next e-book topic should be: hypermobility.

Hypermobility is a symptom that affects almost every aspect of a family’s life.  Unlike autism or cerebral palsy, online resources for parents are so limited and so generic that it was obvious that what was needed was solid practical information using everyday language.  Being empowered starts with knowledge and confidence.

The result?  My new e-book:  The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility.  Volume One:  The Early Years.

What makes this book unique?

  • This manual explains how and why joint instability creates challenges in the simplest tasks of everyday life.
  • The sensory and behavioral consequences of hypermobility aren’t ignored; they are fully examined, and strategies to manage them are discussed in detail.
  • Busy parents can quickly spot the chapter that answers their questions by reading the short summaries at the beginning and end of each chapter.
  • This book emphasizes practical solutions over theories and medical jargon.
  • Parents learn how to create greater safety at home and in the community.
  • The appendices are forms that parents can use to improve communication with babysitters, family, teachers and doctors.

Who should read this book?

  1. Parents of hypermobile children ages 0-6, or children functioning in this developmental range.
  2. Therapists looking for new ideas for treatment or home programs.
  3. New therapists, or therapists who are entering pediatrics from another area of practice.
  4. Special educators, and educators that have hypermobile children mainstreamed into their classroom.

Looking for a preview?  Here is a sample from Chapter Three:  Positioning and Seating:

Some Basic Principles of Positioning:

Therapists learn the basics of positioning in school, and take advanced certification courses to be able to evaluate and prescribe equipment for their clients.  Parents can learn the basics too, and I feel strongly that it is essential to impart at least some of this information to every caregiver I meet.  A child’s therapists can help parents learn to use the equipment they have and help them select new equipment for their home.  The following principle are the easiest and most important principles of positioning for parents to learn:

  • The simplest rule I teach is “If it looks bad, it probably IS bad.”  Even without knowing the principles of positioning, or knowing what to do to fix things, parents can see that their child looks awkward or unsteady.  Once they recognize that their child isn’t in a stable or aligned position, they can try to improve the situation.  If they don’t know what to do, they can ask their child’s therapist for their professional advice.
  • The visual target is to achieve symmetrical alignment: a position in which a straight line is drawn through the center of a child”s face, down thorough the center of their chest and through the center of their pelvis.  Another visual target is to see that the natural curves of the spine (based on age) are supported.  Children will move out of alignment of course, but they should start form this symmetrical position.  Good movements occurs around this centered position.
  • Good positioning allows a child a balance of support and mobility.  Adults need to provide enough support, but also want to allow as much independent movement as possible.
  • The beginning of positioning is to achieve a stable pelvis.  Without a stable pelvis, stability at the feet, shoulders and head will be more difficult to achieve.  This can be accomplished by a combination of a waist or seatbelt, a cushion, and placing a child’s feet flat on a stable surface.
  • Anticipate the effects of activity and fatigue on positioning.  A child’s posture will shift as they move around in a chair, and this will make it harder for them to maintain a stable position.
  • Once a child is positioned as well as possible, monitor and adjust their position as needed.  Children aren’t crockpots; it isn’t possible to “set it and forget it.”  A child that is leaning too far to the side or too far forward, or whose hips have slid forward toward the front of the seat, isn’t necessarily tired.  They may simple need repositioning.
  • Equipment needs can change over time, even if a child is in a therapeutic seating system.  Children row physically and develop new skills that create new positioning needs.  If a child is unable to achieve a reasonable level of postural stability, they may need adjustments or new equipment.  This isn’t a failure; positioning hypermobile children is a fluid experience.

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility  Volume One:  The Early Years is now available as a read-only download on Amazon.com

It is available as a click-through and printable download  on Your Therapy Source!  

NEW:  Your Therapy Source is selling my new book along with The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone as a bundle, saving you money and giving you a complete resource for the early years!

Already bought the book?  Please share your comments and suggestions for the next two books!  Volume Two is coming out in spring 2020, and will address the challenges of raising the school-aged child, and Volume Three focuses on the tween, teen, and young adult with hypermobility!

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Why Injuries to Hypermobile Joints Hurt Twice

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My new e-book, The JointSmart Child: Living and Thriving With Hypermobility, Volume I, is just about ready to launch.  One of the book’s major themes is that safety awareness is something that parents need to actively teach hypermobile young children.  Of course, physical and occupational therapists need to educate their parents first.  And they shouldn’t wait until things go off the rails to do so.

Hypermobile kids end up falling, tripping, and dropping things so often that most therapists have the “safety talk” with their parents on a regular basis.  What they don’t speak about as often are the long-term physical, emotional and social impacts of those injuries.

Yes, injuries have more than immediate physical effects on hypermobile kids.  Here is how this plays out:

  • The loss of mobility or function after an injury creates more dependency in a little person who is either striving for freedom or unsure that they want to be independent.  Needing to be carried, dressed or assisted with toileting when they were previously independent can alter a child’s motivation to the point where they may lose their enthusiasm for autonomy.  A child can decide that they would rather use the stroller than walk around the zoo or the mall.  They may avoid activities where they were injured, or fear going to therapy sessions.
  • A parent’s fear of a repeated injury can be perceived by a child as a message that the world is not a safe place, or that they aren’t capable in the world.  Instilling anxiety in a young child accidentally is all too easy.  A fearful look or a gasp may be all it takes.  Children look to adults to tell them about the world, and they don’t always parse our responses.  There is a name for fear of movement, whether it is fear of falling, pain or injury: kineseophobia.  This is rarely discussed, but the real-life impact can be significant.
  • Repeated injuries produce cumulative damage.  Even without a genetic connective tissue disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, the ligaments, tendons, skin and joint capsules of hypermobile children don’t bounce back perfectly from repeated damage.  In fact, a cascade of problems can result.  Greaster instability in one area can create spasm and more force on another region.  Increased use of one limb can produce an overuse injury in the originally non-injured limb.  The choice to move less or restrict a child’s activity level can produce unwanted sedentary behavior such as a demand for more screen time or overeating.  Read more about how to prevent injuries here: Why Joint Protection Solutions for Hypermobility Aren’t Your Granny’s Joint Protection Strategies  
  • Being seen as “clumsy” or “careless” rather than hypermobile can affect a child’s self-image long after childhood is over.  Hypermobile kids grow up, but they don’t easily forget the names they were called or how they were described by others.  With or without a diagnosis, children are aware of how other people view them.  The exasperated look on a parent’s face when a child lands on the pavement isn’t ignored even if nothing is said.

Do you have a hyper mobile child under 6?  

I wrote an e-book for you!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility  Volume One:  The Early Years is a totally unique book.  It is both a manual for finding the right equipment and using the right techniques as well as an educational book for parents who are trying to figure out why loose joints create so many difficulties in daily life.  It even has chapters on building relationships with babysitters, family members, teachers and medical professionals!

Visit Amazon to buy a read-only copy, or Your Therapy Source for a click-able and printable version.

 

In this new book, I provide parents with a roadmap for daily life that supports healthy movement and ADL independence while weaving in safety awareness.  Hypermobility has wide-reaching affects on young children, but it doesn’t have to be one major problem after another.  Practical strategies, combined with more understanding of the condition, regardless of the diagnosis, can make life joyful and full for every child!

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Pillowfort at Target: Should You Ask Your Child’s OT Before You Click “Buy”?

 

There are so many families out there that need great equipment for their sensory kids.  Pillowfort materials are on sale at Target, one of my favorite big box stores.  The items are affordable and stylish.  But are they what you really need?  In order to get the products that serve your child’s needs, you may want to think beyond color and style.  The key to good equipment is having a big picture plan.  The wrong item for the wrong kid is worse than not hitting “send”.

Some good examples are their crash pad and their chair.  If you have a sensory-seeking kid, you know what abuse your couch and bed can take.  Kids tend to dive bomb them and little by little, destroy them.  Pillowfort will sell you a nice crash pad, and they use a smiling child lying prone on one of their pads in their display on Target.com.

You might want to look at the dimensions.  In my professional experience, most of my clients are looking for way more square footage to crash into.  And when they are dysregulated, which is often, they aren’t going to be able to land squarely on such a small pad.  Therapists use pad the size of a thick full mattress in their clinics for a reason.  We are all safety, all the time.  And we know what works to keep kids from cracking their heads on the floor.

Their rocking desk chair is another nice chair that will serve a small number of kids.  It looks pretty sturdy, but the big sensory seekers can wear out hinges really easily.  A chair that rocks is a chair that can become tippy with the right (or wrong) user.  Choose this chair only if you have a child that isn’t one of THOSE kids.

There are other choices for kids that seek movement, and they aren’t chairs.  They are sensory diets, created by therapists with years of experience in evaluating and treating your child.  Your OTR can give you simple activities you can do at home that target your child’s needs.  I just taught a family  how to do a vestibular input activity through telehealth.  We can help you!  Read Sensory Stimulation is not Sensory Treatment and Halloween With Sensory Sensitive Kids: The (Sensory) Tricks of the Holiday for more information on how Good OT treatment can help your child.

Looking for information to help your hypermobile child with Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome?

I wrote 2 e-books for you!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years and Volume Two:  The School Years are now available on Amazon as  read-only downloads and at Your Therapy Source as printable and click-able downloads!

These books answer all the questions you want to ask about finding the right high chairs, clothes, toilet seats, bikes, desk chairs and even which crayons and pencils help your hypermobile child make faster progress.  It has checklists and forms to help you communicate with your babysitters, your child’s teachers, even forms to improve your appointments with doctors.

Chapters on communication give you practical ideas to improve your family’s understanding of hypermobility and guide you when speaking with doctors and therapists to provide you with real support that improves everyday life.  Get your book today, and start feeling more confident and empowered as a parent!

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Hypermobility Or Low Tone? Three Solutions to Mealtime Problems

 

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Many young hypermobile kids, with and without low muscle tone, struggle at mealtimes. Even after they have received skilled feeding therapy and can chew and swallow safely, they may continue to slide off their chair, spill food on the table (and on their body!) and refuse to use utensils.

It doesn’t have to be such a challenge.  In my new e-book coming out this year, I will address mealtime struggles.  But before the book is out there, I want to share three general solutions that can make self-feeding a lot easier for everyone:

  1. Teach self-feeding skills early and with optimism.  Even the youngest child can be taught that their hands must be near the bottle or cup, even when an adult is doing most of the work of holding it.  Allowing your infant to look around, play with your hair, etc. is telling them “This isn’t something you need to pay attention to.  This is my job, not yours.”  If your child has developmental delays for any reason, then I can assure you that they need to be more involved, not less.  It is going to take more effort for them to learn feeding skills, and they need your help to become interested and involved.  Right now.  That doesn’t mean you expect too much from them.  It means that you expect them to be part of the experience.  With a lot of positivity and good training from your OT or SLP, you will feel confident that you are asking for the right amount of involvement. Read Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child and Teach Utensil Grasp and Control…Without the Food! for some good strategies to get things going.
  2. Use excellent positioning.  Your child needs a balance of stability and mobility.  Too much restriction means not enough movement for reach and grasp.  Too much movement would be like eating a steak while sitting in the back seat of your car doing 90 mph.  This may mean that they need a special booster seat, but more likely it means that they need to be sitting better in whatever seat they are in.  Read Kids With Low Muscle Tone Can Sit For Dinner: A Multi-Course Strategy for more ideas on this subject.  Chairs with footplates are a big fave with therapists, but only if a child has enough stability to sit in one without sliding about and can actively use their lower legs and hips for stabilization.  Again, ask your therapist so that you know that you have the right seat for the right stage of development.
  3. Use good tableware and utensils.  If your child is well trained and well supported, but their plates are sliding and their cups and utensils slide out of their hands, you still have a problem.  Picking out the best table tools is important and can be easier than you think.  Items that increase surface texture and fill the child’s grasping hand well are easiest to hold.  Read The Not-So-Secret Solution for Your Child With Motor And Sensory Issues: Dycem and OXO for Kids: Great Tableware For Older Kids With Sensory and Motor Issues for some good sources.  Getting branded tableware can be appealing to young children, and even picking out their favorite color will improve their cooperation.  Finally, using these tools for food preparation can be very motivating.  Children over 18 months of age can get excited about tearing lettuce leaves and pouring cereal from a small plastic pitcher.  Be creative and have fun!

 

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How To Correctly Reposition Your Child’s Legs When They “W-Sit”

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Hypermobile kids, kids with low muscle tone, and kids with sensory processing issues are champion “W-sitters”.  What’s that?  If your child sits with their thighs rotated inward, knees bent, and their feet rotated so their toes point outward, you have a W-sitter.   This sitting pattern isn’t abnormal if it is only one of many positions your child uses while playing on the floor.  It really isn’t.  But if it is the ONLY  way they like to sit, the only way they are able to sit without falling over, or the only way they are comfortable sitting on the floor, you may have a problem.

What kind of problems?

Persistent W-sitting can tighten hip and leg muscles to the point at which walking is negatively affected.  It also overstretches and discourages the development of the muscles needed for good walking and postural control.  It can loosen important hip and knee ligaments that are also essential for walking.  W-sitting inhibits active trunk muscle activation (that core thing again!).  We all know that having a weak core is a problem for good quality movement.  And finally…poor gait quality is a safety issue.  More falls, more tripping, more leaning on things and people.  Read Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing for a deeper dive into safety awareness.

There is a sensory impact as well.

What isn’t always so obvious is that having a weak core and only using a sitting position that locks the lower body into a collapsed position tells a sensory-sensitive kid that their brain is telling the truth; they are vulnerable and it is not that easy or safe to move.  This inhibits movement exploration and opportunities to build balance, strength, etc.

So….What is the best way to reposition your child’s legs?

  1. Don’t pull their feet out and around.  If your kid has issues such as hypermobility, you may be contributing to more joint problems if you place force on delicate tissue.
  2. You can demonstrate alternate sitting patterns and see if they will copy your position.  This requires the language, cognitive and motor skills to do so, and the willingness to comply.  Young children and special needs kids may not be able to follow your directions.  Some parents tell their child “Legs out” or “Fix your feet” and they slowly learn what that means.
  3. Try practicing regularly and rewarding other sitting patterns.  Praise will work for some kids but not all kids.  You know if you have a child that will take the bait.
  4. Tilt their trunk to one side, and wait for their brain to elicit a “righting reaction”; kicking the opposite leg out and forward.  Repeat on the other side.  A child with CP may not be able to overcome their spasticity to perform this, but you certainly can try it with any child.  If your child fights you on this, tip them to the side faster so that the reflexive response happens before they realize it, and use all your Happiest Toddler techniques Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child to decrease the oppositional behavior.
  5. Think of other more dynamic positions for play.  Read Three Ways To Reduce W-Sitting (And Why It Matters)

 

Looking for more help with your hypermobile child?

I wrote an e-book for you!  The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years is finally available!  It helps parents understand how hypermobility affects behavior, safety, attention and learning.  Filled with practical strategies, this book gives parents the confidence to pick out the best high chairs, trikes, desks, and even pajamas to build their child’s safety and independence.  Read more, and see a short preview of chapter three, here:The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today!

 It is available on Amazon as a read-only download or on Your Therapy Source as a printable and clickable download.

Does Your Older Child Hate Writing? Try HWT’s Double-Lined Paper

 

This paper has been more useful to older kids (6+) that I see for handwriting help than any other paper on the market, and almost any other tool Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser , Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills .  Why?  Regular lined paper, and almost all worksheets, are usually jam-packed with lines.  Red lines, green lines, lines with airplanes and worms.  There are papers designed by occupational therapists that are even more complex than the mass-market choices.

All this is often visual noise to kids with sensory processing issues and ocular or visual-perceptual issues.  These problems are sometimes subtle and appear to be behavioral.  The kids who “hate to write”.  The kids who look away when you are demonstrating how to write a letter or spell a word.  The kids who cannot seem to remember where to start a letter, even after repeated practice.  These children often do much better with HWT’s double-lined paper.

Let’s drill down into the design of this unique paper:

  • Double-lined paper provides just two lines; the baseline and the midline.  Knowing where to start uppercase letters and tall lowercase letters is important, and this paper encourages practice and awareness while still giving some structure to writing.
  • There is a wide empty space between sets of lines.  This is intentional; children have room to place the tails of lowercase “y” and “j”, for example, without blocking the uppercase or tall lowercase letters of the next line of writing.  For many kids, not knowing what to do about crowding and spacing is a good reason to stop trying to write well, or sometimes even write at all.
  • This sturdy paper is pre-punched to be used in a 3-ring binder.  The quality of the paper is very high, which means that it doesn’t tear easily when a child erases a mistake.  Most schools provide the thinnest paper for teachers to use as handouts, creating the potential for a disaster when given to a child that struggles with grading their force on an eraser, or makes multiple errors in a word.
  • Brains get practice in sizing and proportion.  Once kids have a pattern of letter formation, it is easier to accomplish without the extra midline.  But so many kids need that “training wheel” effect much longer than scrolls recognize.  Many kids need a day or two of double-lined paper use to start understanding the way a letter “h” is twice as tall as a letter “a” and the same size but aligned differently than the letter “y”.  Of course, pointing it out is important, and so is working on other writing qualities such as letter and word spacing.
  • Kids write faster.  Because they are guided to proportion and start letters correctly, they don’t waste time thinking about it or erasing incorrect letters.  Again, this doesn’t mean their brain isn’t taking it all in.  If that were true, we would start every kid on single-lined paper in preschool.
  • There are three line sizes, so you don’t have to abandon the double-lines when your kid enter middle school.  I will admit that I wish the pre-k/K paper were thicker.  But it is still fairly sturdy.
  • You can alternate using this paper with single-lined paper to see when to “take the training wheels off” and stop using double-lined paper.  Kids should always have a chance to practice with standard paper, but when the choice is between fighting and crying, and quickly executing a homework assignment, it is no contest.

 

The best paper wins.

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Does Your Child Hate Big Spaces? There is a Sensory-Based Explanation

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Space; the final frontier?

When you see it, it looks like Helen Keller crossed with a Roomba.  A child enters a space, even a familiar space, and runs the perimeter without stopping to play or examine things.  They may trace the room with their fingers, or repeat this process many times before they “land” and engage in some kind of purposeful activity.  If they get upset or challenged, they may resume this behavior.

One explanation for this behavior is that it is a solution to spatial processing difficulties.  When a typical child over the age of, let’s say 14 months, enters a room, they use their visual and auditory skills to tell them about the shape, height, and contents of the room.  As we mature, we use higher-order sensory input to inform our awareness and thinking.  We use sound in particular to tell us about the space to our sides and behind us that we cannot see.  Kids with ASD and SPD are stuck using immature types of information, and need to use them more often and more intensely to get the same knowledge.

How does this feel for them? Think of Notre Dame cathedral (before that awful fire).  The soaring ceilings and the long aisles create an other-worldly feeling you cannot escape.  Your brain knows you are not in your living room, or even in your own place of worship back home.  The medieval architects knew this too.  That was exactly the effect their were aiming for.  To set you back on your heels with the wonders of G-d.  How?  By making the spatial characteristics very unfamiliar and difficult to square with everyday experience.  To have you feel smaller and less in control in the presence of the almighty.

Now imagine that every space you inhabit gives you that feeling.  You enter a room and your eyes go everywhere.  You want to walk around to give yourself more information about where you are.  You don’t, but your nervous system is suggesting it.  You feel off balance and vulnerable.  Sound familiar?

What can you do?  Treating spatial processing issues isn’t easy.  Addressing limitations in vestibular and visual processing can really help, but I think that sound-based treatments are some of the easiest and most effective.  I use Quickshifts effectively to address spatial processing issues  Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Processing, Attention and Postural Activation.  Of course, it is best to address all the sensory processing issues any child has to get the best results.  You want to cement in the skills of better sensory processing by achieving good functioning in multiple situations.  But spatial processing problems have to be addressed to achieve a calmer and more organized state.  You want every child to feel safe and supported wherever they go!

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Effective sensory processing treatment helps kids feel safe in big spaces

Quickshifts: A Simple, Successful, and Easy to Use Treatment For Regulation, Attention, and Postural Activation

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Every child loves music, but not every music is therapy!

What if you could add a sensory-based treatment that targets specific sensory, motor, and behavioral goals, doesn’t require expensive equipment or a large therapy space, and you could see the effects within a very short time?

Since adding Quickshifts to my therapy sessions, I have been able to successfully address some of the more difficult behaviors and sensory processing issues I encounter.  Very young children are often afraid of being on therapy balls and swings, and they don’t always tolerate the Wilbarger or Astronaut protocols Why Is The Wilbarger Protocol So Hard To Get Right?.  But everyone can listen to music.  Enter Quickshifts.

I am primarily using them over speakers, since even older kids are struggling with wearing headphones.  I find that this isn’t preventing progress, and I periodically try to reintroduce headphones with children over 2.  They change so quickly that I never know when “NO” will turn into “maybe”.

Every Quickshift album uses brainwave entrainment.  The use of binaural beat technology (BBT) for entrainment of an alpha brainwave state has made a difference with the kids who display predominantly anxious or dysregulated states, but it is also very helpful to entrain better attention and postural activation.  Read more about the science behind BBT in Binaural Beats and Regulation; More Than Music Therapy.  It is great for parents too: Stress Relief in the Time of Coronavirus: Enter Quickshifts.

Quickshift albums are intended to rapidly bring the brain into this alpha state, with a focus on reducing anxiety and building affective modulation.  Yes; this form of therapeutic listening has the ability to decrease, not increase, anxiety.  But there are a wide range of albums.  Some emphasize postural activation, some work on sensory modulation and sensitivity, and some improve attentional focus or social interaction.  Why would music affect posture or anxiety?  Because these albums use specific rhythms and melodies, as well as binaural beat technology.  OTs know a lot about how sound affects brain function, and this isn’t about “liking” the music, although kids do.  It is about creating differences in the brain.

I am particularly fond of the regulation albums and the social interaction albums, as my clients inevitably struggle with these issues.  I can see a shift (not a pun:  the shift is real) about 5-7 minutes into the 14-17 minute albums.  This is helpful in a session.  If I only have 30-45 minutes, I cannot do 15 minutes of sensory input to achieve regulation.  I need more time for treatment goals.  This gives me precious minutes, and helps kids see that regulation is possible.

Why Modulated Music Wasn’t Working For Me

I stopped using Modulated music a long time ago.  I rarely use it with children under 5 now.  Not because I don’t think it was an effective treatment.  Because I couldn’t get any compliance at home, and I saw very little progress with use only in my therapy sessions.  There was often a learning phase, in which I had to adjust the amount of listening time to prevent overwhelming young or very challenged children.  Parents start to question my clinical skills and I risk losing their confidence.  Families were resistant; even the families that really wanted to use this music.

The way Modulated music needed to be scheduled and used (two daily 30-minute sessions, 2-3 hour wait before sleep times and between listening times) made it almost impossible to use with very young children at home, regardless of how willing parents seemed to be.  And very few parents were that willing.  Maybe they would be able to do insulin injections on a schedule, but not therapeutic music. Everyone is so over-scheduled and busy.   I hated begging, so I had to find something easier that also worked well.

Quickshifts:  More Flexible, More Easily Tolerated, More Effective in EI

Quickshifts have been much more flexible, but just as successful.  Maybe more!  They can be used often throughout the day, any time of the day.  I haven’t seen one small child react in a way that indicated that they were overwhelmed.  The ability to target specific types of sensory-based goals means I can deliver results the parents can see.  the emphasis on alpha brainwave states seems to deliver an extra layer of calmness.

Gearshifters are similar to Qucikshifts, but they do not have the targeted immediacy that I find so helpful.  When are Gearshifters better to use?  When I need a longer-lasting modulation effect and I don’t have concerns about spatial awareness or need to reduce agitation.  Some kids need a Quickshift album followed by a Gearshifter to have a few hours of really good sensory modulation time.

Use the best headphones!  Read  Doing Therapeutic Listening? Get These Affordable, Comfortable, Kid-Size Bluetooth Headphones From PURO!  to learn what equipment is going to make this work for you.

Parents are happy to be able to download the albums onto their phones and use them to improve transitions, sleep, attention and more. The use of technology to entrain an alpha brainwave state means that if the album isn’t a perfect fit, I don’t get an overwhelmed child; there is always some degree of improvement in regulation and arousal.  But when I have seen kids generate more postural activation, calm down and even laugh, or tune into their environments in ways they never have before Quickshifts, I wonder why I waited so long to get this treatment on board.  It isn’t just for sensory sensitivity or modulation problems; read more about how it can help kids with motor control issues here: Therapeutic Listening Can Enhance Motor Skills….Really!

Wondering if adults can use Quickshifts too?  Read  Should the PARENTS of Kids With Sensory Issues Use Quickshifts? for more about how this music can help everybody in the family.

If you are tempted to go out and buy these albums without the guidance of an OTR that is trained in sound therapy, please reconsider.  The reason that I have had such success with Quickshifts is not just because this treatment works.  It works because I use it as part of a whole sensory-based protocol, in which I can select and prescribe the right music to be used at the right time.  There really is a reason to have an OTR help you.  You will get better results, avoid problems, save time and money, and have someone trained in treatment guiding you.  Not Dr. Google.  I do phone consultations to help people decide on a sensory processing treatment plan that saves them time and money.  Visit my website tranquil babies to book a session!

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Does Your Special Needs Child Have a “Two-tude”? Its Not Just the Age; Its Cumulative Frustration Minus Skills

 

patrick-fore-557736I spend a lot of my work week with toddlers, and they can be a challenge.  One minute sunny, the next screaming because their cookie broke.  Special needs toddlers can have a ‘tude as well, but many professionals sweep it under the rug.  They tell parents that this is normal, and that they should be grateful that their child is going through a completely normal stage of development.

Except that many parents who have already raised typically-developing kids KNOW that there is a difference with THIS child.  It could be the intensity of the ‘tude, or the frequency of the meltdowns, or the types of events that trigger the tantrums.  OR ALL OF THEM!  Parents know that this behavior doesn’t feel the same, but they often shut up when they are told that it is so normal.  Perhaps their eyes, and ears, and memory, aren’t telling them the truth.

They aren’t wrong.

Their perception that something is a bit different can be totally correct.  And the reason(s) are quite obvious to me.

Special needs kids come in an almost endless combination of needs.  Some are physical, some are communication needs, and some are cognitive or social skill needs.  Some kids have all of these.  Having challenges in moving, speaking, comprehending language and/or understanding concepts, or struggling to interact, will create more frustration in every single day of a child’s life.  That’s the reality of disability.

The image of the placid and sweet special needs child, patiently waiting to be assisted and supported is just that: an image.  Most kids bump into frustrating barriers every day.  The toddler that has just learned to walk but can’t run, the toddler that is talking or signing but still isn’t understood by their older brother, the toddler that cannot handle a change in routines…it goes on and on.

Typical toddlers spend less time frustrated that they are unable to accomplish simple skills.  The typical 14 month-old that can’t tell you what he wants becomes the 18-month old that can say “cakker, pease” for “cracker, please”.  A special needs child could be 2 1/2 years old and still struggling to explain that he wants another cracker.  That is a long time to be frustrated over getting another cracker.

The typical 26 month-old that can’t run after their big brother in the backyard becomes a runner at 30 months.  A special needs child may not run for years.  That is a long time to be left in the dust when everyone else is running.  Is there any wonder that parents see more frustration, more tears, more stubbornness?

My saddest story of failed inclusion is when a family placed their special needs child in a toddler development group with mobile kids.  Even though this child had a personal aide, he still watched as his peers got up from the snack table and ran outside.  They left him with the aide, who then carried him outside so he could WATCH his peers climb and run.  He became distraught at home when he was left alone in a room.  A puddle of tears.  It was so sad to see.  No one (that made the decision to mainstream him) had thought of the emotional cost of inclusion to this toddler, only the social and academic benefits.

What can be done?

I teach families the Happiest Toddler on the Block strategies as soon as they are appropriate.  Dr. Karp’s techniques build a child’s skills while enhancing interpersonal connections Teaching Children Emotional Regulation: Can Happiest Toddler on the Block Help Kids AND Adults?.  Yes, sometimes you have to provide consequences for physical aggression, but mostly you focus on building frustration tolerance and emotional intelligence.  For everyone.  I use these techniques all day long.  I could never handle so many toddlers for so many years without them!

Looking for more information on special needs toddlers?  Read Need to Support A Child’s Independence? Offer to Help Them! and Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing.

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When Writing Hurts: The Hypermobile Hand

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Many children resist doing their homework, but most kids say “Its so BORING!” not “My hand hurts too much”.  If a child is complaining of pain, and they don’t have a joint disease such as JRA, the first thought is hypermobility.  The good news is that there are a few fast fixes that can decrease or even eliminate hand pain.

It is rare that hypermobility in the hand is directly addressed at the preschool level unless it is generalized throughout the body or severely reduces pencil grasp.  Many children have atypical grasp patterns when they cannot achieve the required stability for a standard pencil grasp.  Children with mild instability and no other developmental issues may still be able to write legibly and even fast enough to complete assignments in the early grades.  It is when the volume of work increases or the joint stability decreases that therapists get a request for service.

Here are a few strategies that can support hypermobile kids to write with less pain:

  1. Use a tabletop easel.  These can be foldable or static.  They support not just the wrist and forearm, but also the shoulder and trunk.  The angle of an easel both supports correct wrist positioning and decreases strain on the wrist and hand.  Some easels come with clips that hold the paper, but they should be placed on an angle to mirror the natural arm position.  This will require more table space, so be aware that the size of the easel could be an issue.  Simple hack:  use a three-ring binder as an easel.
  2. Enlarge the width of the pencil shaft.  My favorite pencils for grades 1+ (see photo above) have a standard #2 lead, but a wider shaft. Joint protection principles tell us that avoiding a closed joint position should lead to less strain on joints and supporting ligament structures.  You could use some of the adaptive pens available, but I find kids reject these as looking strange.  Of course, if you enlarge the shaft oo much you will find that it is more awkward, not less.  Think of those novelty pencils you buy in gift stores on vacation.  Cute but useless.  Nobody really writes with anything that thick.  Match the child’s hand size to the pencil.
  3. Increase the texture of the pencil shaft for easier grip, less pain, and more endurance.   Everyone has seen the rubbery grips you slip onto a pencil.  You can slide 3-4 onto the entire shaft, or add some tape to create a non-slip surface.  I have been adding kineseotape or Dycem to handles this year, with good results.  You are battling grasp stability, but also fatigue.  A hand that is tired is a hand that experiences more pain.  Adding texture reduces the amount of force needed for proprioceptive registration (a fancy way of saying that kids need to squeeze to fully feel what is in their hand).  Reducing force reduces pain and fatigue.
  4. Teach pacing.  Kids think that the faster they write, the faster they will be out of pain.  Breaking up the work can have better results, but it isn’t natural for children to pace themselves.  In fact, I have never seen a young child do so.  You have to teach this to kids who likely will have joint instability throughout their school years.  A schedule, a timer, organizing assignments and breaking them down into heavy writing choices and light writing choices all help.
  5. Splinting can be a real option.  Not a heavy plastic or metal splint (usually).  A neoprene splint can be a lightweight supportive choice.  These splints are comfortable and washable.  These are affordable without insurance for most families, and your OT can help you decide if this is a worthwhile pursuit.  They are durable but easily lost by younger children, so not all families send one to school.  But the support is real, and kids that have been told for years to “fix your fingers” can feel relieved that they can now focus on writing and composing on the paper.

For more information on hypermobility, read The Hypermobile Hand: More Than A Strength Problem and For Kids With Hypermobility, “Listen To Your Body” Doesn’t Teach Them To Pace Themselves. Here’s What Really Helps.

Looking for more assistance with hypermobility?  My new e-book is coming out this summer, and it will address the issues of the early years (0-5).  The series will continue with school age kids and teens.  But you don’t have to wait; visit my website tranquil babies and request a consultation to discuss your child’s treatment plan and make a better plan that works for everyone…today!

Why Is The Wilbarger Protocol So Hard To Get Right?

 

michael-mims-134037-unsplashThe Wilbarger Protocol has been a staple of therapeutic treatment of sensory processing disorder for decades.  I will reveal my age, and admit that I learned directly from Pat Wilbarger.  She was an amazing teacher and a highly skilled clinician to see in action.  But I have lost count of the number of times parents have shown me how they have been instructed to administer deep pressure brushing and joint compression, and I had to decide exactly how to respond in a professional manner.  My initial internal reaction is often something akin to “STOP!”

So many parents have been incorrectly taught.  They are wondering why this technique hasn’t worked very well for their child.  Internet-savvy parents have consulted “Dr. Google” and heard both positive and critical remarks about the Wilbarger Protocol from other parents.  They are discouraged; concerned that their child is too impaired for it to work, or they are just not coordinated enough to be successful.

Well, I can tell them that the Wilbarger Protocol won’t work well if you don’t do it right.  And you won’t do it right if you weren’t shown correctly.  I suspect that, like a child’s game of “telephone”, their former therapist learned the method from her supervisor, and her supervisor learned the technique from HER boss or teacher.  And THAT therapist learned from her clinical director.  On and on, until there is no understanding of the concepts that form the basis for the technique, such as Gate Theory, or that Pat left the cranial compressions behind in the early to mid-90’s due to the risk of cervical injury.

This technique isn’t easy to do on toddlers or children with ASD.  Being comfortable with  manual treatment helps.  Understanding what not to do helps.  Knowing how to create a receptive state in a special needs child helps.  It takes a level of confidence, experience, and the ability to understand how to adapt it to the specific client without losing the benefit we are seeking:  neuromodulation.  It is possible to do it wrong and unfortunately increase sensory sensitivity or put a child into overarousal.  It is also possible to create joint or tissue damage (likely small, but still possible) with too-vigorous force.

Pat used to have her teaching assistants assess every participant in her training courses to ensure that therapists left knowing what to do and what not to do.  She couldn’t control what happened in anyone’s clinic or school.  If therapists or parents find that they aren’t getting the desired results from this treatment technique, I would encourage them to do some research and find older therapists that may have had direct contact with the inventor of this protocol, or at least a therapist that learned from someone that had the good fortune to learn directly from Pat Wilbarger.

Looking for more information about the Wilbarger Protocol?  Read Can You Use The Wilbarger Protocol With Kids That Have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome? for some methods to adapt this brilliant technique for children with connective tissue disorders.

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Safety Awareness With Your Hypermobile Child? Its Not a Big Thing, Its the Biggest Thing

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Therapists always try hard to be optimistic when discussing their pediatric client’s future.  Why not?  Kids have amazing potential, and we aren’t fortune tellers; there are so many things that can go right.

As therapists, we also should share the reality of how bad choices create unfortunate consequences.  Among them are the long-term results of falls, especially head injuries.  Kids fall, kids trip, kids walk into things.  All kids, and for much of early childhood.  The hypermobile child will have more episodes of injury, often has greater injury occurring in each episode, and frequently experiences a slower or less complete recovery from injury.  This isn’t a criticism of parents, kids, or even acute medical care.  It is the reality of living with a condition, often a syndrome, that has effects beyond just loose joints.

This can include connective tissue disorders that create weak skin, ligaments, and tendons, decreased pain registration, delayed protective reactions when falling, and cognitive or behavioral complications that make learning and controlling actions more difficult.  Hypermobile kids often spend more years in an unstable state in which they need assistance and supervision.  And more years when they are vulnerable to serious injury.  A head injury or a spine injury isn’t an “unfortunate” event.  It is frequently a life-changing event.  The course of education and employment can be forever altered.  For the worse.

In a clinic or school setting, your therapist is bound to guidelines that indemnify them and the facility. While they cannot control what happens at home, you should know what to do to make your home safer for a child with hypermobility.  It begins with your environment, then you change your responses, then your build  your child’s ability to incorporate safety awareness into their day.

  • Create a safe but accessible home.  This expands on “baby proofing” to include railings set at a height that allow your child to push up rather than hang on them.  Removal of loose rugs and adding padded floor surfaces in common areas, especially areas where they are climbing or running.  Bathrooms are the location for many injuries once children become independent in toileting or bathing.  Instead of supervising them forever, create a safe place with hidden grab bars (there are toilet paper holders and towel racks that are actually grab bars) and non-slip flooring.  Place needed items within easy reach without climbing.
  • Teach safe movement from the start.  Children that learn how to move versus children that are passively moved will have more safety awareness.  For children that still need a lot of help, narrate your moves and weave in safety messages.  It will sink in.  Finally, don’t allow unsafe moves, even if they didn’t hurt themselves.  Tell them to try it again the safe way.  Read Joint Protection And Hypermobility: Investing in Your Child’s Future to learn what to teach them.  Children are unable to anticipate the results of their actions.  This is why we don’t let 12 year-olds drive or let 5 year-olds cross the street alone.  Sometimes the reason they do things our way is because we said so.  Until they are old enough to understand the “why”.
  • Share your thought processes with children as soon as they can wrap their heads around things.  Even kids in preschool can follow along with the idea that too many “boo-boos” will stop them from being able to play.  Older kids can learn that the right chair helps them stave off fatigue until they finish a game.  Children don’t pick up on subtle cues, so don’t be subtle.  Be direct.
  • Ask your therapists for specific safety advice, and then carefully think through their answers.  The truth is that some therapists are more safety-aware than others.  I have been told that I am one of the most vocal therapists on a team when regarding safety issues.  Perhaps it is because I spent 10 years working in adult rehab, treating patients for problems that started decades before I met them.  I have seen what overuse and poor design has cost people.  By then it is often too late to do much more than compensation and adaptation.  I am committed to prevention with my pediatric clients.  The cost is too high not to say something and say it loud.

Looking for more practical information on raising your hypermobile child?

I wrote an e-book for YOU!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One The Early Years is my newest e-book, filled with strategies to empower parents with useful knowledge written in plain English.  Learn about correct positioning to improve control and how to make your home safer for your child.  Learn how to pick out the best seating, clothing, and even tricycles to maximize independence.

This unique book is available as a read-only download on Amazon or as a click-able and printable e-book on Your Therapy Source.  Don’t have a Kindle?  Don’t worry; Amazon’s downloads are easy to read on any tablet or phone.

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Afraid to Toilet Train? Prepare Your Child… and Prepare Yourself

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I spend an extra 30 minutes at the end of a session this week helping a mom build her courage and confidence so that she felt ready to start toilet training soon.  Her child is over 3, has sensory and motor issues, but shows tons of signs for readiness:  dry diapers for increasingly long periods, tells adults when he needs to “go”, able to manage clothing, etc.  He also has no confidence in his abilities, rarely likes change or challenge, and is super-sensitive to altering routines and using new environments.  This isn’t going to be seamless.

It isn’t clear who is the more prepared individual, but I think it could be the child.

This mom read my favorite marketplace book on training “Oh Crap”, and she needs to re-read it with an eye to the many ways in which her child fits the picture of a child that could NEVER be fully ready to train.  This species is so averse to novelty and challenge that no treat or toy is a great enough reward.  Nothing is more frightening to them than failure, and you simply cannot miss the diaper.  It is familiar, fail-proof, and allows children to never have to monitor their body signals or stop watching Paw Patrol to go to the potty.  Ever.

This child is likely to be experiencing the normal sensations of fullness and pressure (as the bladder and rectum fill) as uncomfortable and a little scary.  This interoceptive input can be one that children are sensitive to in the same way that the find seams on clothes or lying down for a diaper change unpleasant.  He requires a lot of support to tolerate and process tactile input and vestibular input, so it isn’t exactly surprising that he would find interoceptive sensation difficult to handle.  Adding a new routine for dealing with elimination, placing it in a room he rarely uses (the bathroom) and being old enough to know that he could “fail” and old enough to absorb outside comments about being “dirty” is more than enough to make this harder than it should be.

My suggestions to this mom included:

  • Adding more vocabulary to her discussions about toilet training.  Speaking about the feelings of pressure and fullness, the actions of pushing the poop out gently, and cleaning/wiping with clear messaging that this is a learning experience that nobody does perfectly.  Hearing that his parents had “accidents” when they were little, and that every child will have accidents, well, this could really help both of them.
  • Dressing him lightly, or choosing to go naked or just underpants (I like two layers of training pants if they still fit his tiny heine!) so that there are fewer barriers to making it to the potty means she may need to shop for training garments.
  • Planning the environment if she is going to let him go naked.  All living events except sleeping need to happen in places where accidents can be cleaned up easily.  She isn’t averse to staining the carpet, but I assured her that her child knows not to spill things on that carpet.  He is too old not to interpret soiling it as a failure.  When she runs to clean it up, he will feel badly.  If she doesn’t have to rush and shows no stress, he will relax about the almost inevitable accident.  He NEEDS  the confidence to move forward.
  • Consider more media about toileting and the arc of learning.  Most children don’t like to talk about things that distress them.  But they LOVE to read about others who are going through the same things.  I suggested that she weave in some new books about characters who are learning to use the toilet, and add comments about their feelings as they learn.  This would include how excited and proud the character is.  Proud can be a new word in his vocabulary!

 

Training a child that has low tone?  I wrote an e-book for you!

The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone is filled with preparation ideas, strategies to address the common issues of sensory processing limitations and the behavioral effects of low tone, and even includes a guide to building readiness instead of waiting for it to arrive!  You can find it on my website Tranquil Babies,  on Amazon  , and on a terrific site for occupational therapy materials, Your Therapy Source

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