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

 

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

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

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

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

Good luck, and please share your best strategies in the comments section so other parents and therapists learn from you!

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

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

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

And She Rescues Him Right Back: An Early Reader For The Young Feminist

If you like the movie “Pretty Woman”, you will know this reference.  I have always been conflicted about this popular adult fairy tale, even though I adore the two stars and the clever screenplay.  In fact, I have wished at times that the roles were reversed.

Apparently, there is a children’s book for that (clean version).

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch is the story of a princess who rescues her prince from a dragon using intelligence, creativity, bravery, and humor.  Sort of like Nancy Drew, but in shorter book for younger children, with a dragon, and with more humor than Nancy usually displayed.

A fun book for reading/comprehension level K-2, the princess is the hero of the story for once.  In real life, we know that women are often the heroes at home and at work.  They just don’t get the recognition.  They do in this little book!  In fact, it could be the gateway to learning about Marie Curie and other real women who have done amazing things.

I think girls need to hear about themselves as heroes, and boys need to hear it too.  Kinda helps to balance out all the Grimm tales and the Marvel comics out there.  So take a look at this book and add it to your library!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Difference Between Special Needs and Typical Potty Training Approaches: Address Sensory/Behavioral Issues and Use Consistent Routines

tai-jyun-chang-270109.jpgAfter writing The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, I have been asked what was different about my book. There must be 100 books on potty training special needs kids. What did I do differently? Simple. I am an occupational therapist, so I have no choice but to use my 360 degree viewpoint to target all the skills needed to do the job. Seeing the path to independence in this way was second nature to me, but not to parents of kids with special needs. Time to offer some support!

The books I reviewed before I started writing were great, but every one lacked at least one important feature. If the authors were psychologists and teachers, they weren’t fully comprehending or directly addressing the sensory and motor aspects of a very physical skill. Oops.

OTs are always aware of the cognitive and social/behavioral components of activities of daily living, but we also have a solid background in physiology and neurology as well. That makes us your go-to folks for skills like toilet training. And that is a major reason why The Practical Guide is so helpful to the frustrated parents of children with SPD,autism, Down Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and a host of other diagnoses that result in delays or difficulties with muscle tone and potty training independence. It explains in detail how low tone creates sensory, motor, and social/behavioral problems, and how to address them. Knowledge is power, and knowledge leads to independence.

The other huge difference is that developing consistent sensory-motor-behavioral routines matter more for these kids. Tone isn’t a constant, as anyone with a child that has low tone knows all too well. Fatigue, illness, even a very warm day; these all make kids less stable and can even reduce their safety. Having a really solid routine makes movements easier to execute and more controlled when situations aren’t perfect. Kids with normal muscle tone can shift their behavior on the fly. They can quickly adjust and adapt movement in ways that children with low tone simply cannot. It isn’t a matter of being stubborn or lazy. Kids with low tone aren’t going to get the sensory feedback fast enough to adjust their motor output.

Good motor planning on a “bad day” occurs for these kids when they have well-practiced routines that support safe and smoothly executed movements. What makes the difference isn’t intelligence or attention. It is recalling a super-safe routine effortlessly. This is completely attainable for kids who have speech or cognitive issues as well as issue with low tone and instability. It may take them longer to learn the routine, but it pays them back with fewer accidents and fewer tears.

To learn more about my book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, visit my website, tranquil babies.com, or view it on Amazon.com!ferris-wheeltai-jyun-chang-270109

Teach Kids With EDS and Low Tone: Don’t Hold It In!

People who have read my blog are aware that I wrote a book on toilet training, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With low Muscle Tone. This toileting habit didn’t make it into the book, but perhaps it should have. Children that have issues with muscle tone or connective tissue integrity, or both, risk current and future issues with incontinence if they overstretch these structures too far. We teach little girls to wipe front-to-back to prevent UTIs. We need to teach all children with these issues to avoid “holding it in” in the same manner that we discourage them from w-sitting.

I am specifically speaking about kids with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Down Syndrome and all the other conditions that create pelvic weakness and control issues. But even if your child has idiopathic low tone, meaning that there is no identified cause, this can still be a current or future problem.

The effects of low tone and poor tissue integrity on toilet training are legion. Many of them are sensory-based, a situation that gets very little acknowledgment from pediatricians. These children simply don’t feel the pressure of their full bladder or even a full rectum with the same intensity or discomfort that other children experience. This is known as poor interception, a sensory-based issue that is rarely discussed, even by Its that are all over other sensory processing issues.  These kids are “camels” sometimes, with no urge to pee, and have to be reminded to void. It can be convenient for the busy child to keep playing rather than go to the bathroom, or it can save embarrassment for the shy child who prefers to wait until she returns home to “go”.

This is not a good idea. The bladder is a muscle that can be overstretched in the same manner as the hip muscles that are the concern of children who “W-sit”. Don’t overstretch muscles and then expect them to work well. The ligaments that support the bladder are subject to the same sensory-based issues that affect other ligaments in the body: once stretched, they don’t bounce back. A weak pelvic floor is nothing to ignore, and age doesn’t help anyone. Ask older women who have had a few pregnancies how that is going for them. The stretch receptors in the abdomen that should be telling a child with low tone that it is time to tinkle just don’t get enough stretch stimulation to do so when they have been extended too far. The time to prevent problems is when a child is developing toileting habits, not when problems have developed.

So….an essential part of toileting education for children is when to head to the bathroom. If your child has low muscle tone or a connective tissue disorder that creates less sensory-based information for them, the easiest solution is a routine or a schedule. They use the bathroom whether they feel they need to or not. The older ones can notice how much they are voiding, and that tells them that they really did need to “go”. Understanding that the kidneys will fill up a bladder after a large drink in about 35-45 minutes is helpful. But it can be a trip after a meal, before leaving the house, or when returning home. As long as it is routine and relatively frequent, it may not matter how a toileting schedule is created. Just make sure that as they grow up, they are told why this is important. A continent child may not believe that this could prevent accidents, but a child who has a history of accidents may be your best student.

For little girls who are at a higher risk of UTIs, I tell parents to teach wiping after urination as a “pat-pat” rather than the standard recommendation of front-to-back wiping.  Why?  Because children aren’t really good at remember that, and even if you are standing right their reminding her, she may just wipe back-to-front because that is easier and more natural.  “Pat-pat” is equally easy and reduces her risk of fecal contamination.  Cannot tell you I have done hard research on this, but then, I have common sense.  It is the smarter move.

The good news in all of this? Perceiving sensory feedback can be improved. There are higher-tech solutions like biofeedback, but children can also become more aware without tech. There are physical therapists that work on pelvic and core control, but some children will do well with junior Kegel practice and some education and building awareness of the internal sensations of fullness and urgency.

Good luck, and please share your best strategies here for other parents!!

If you are interested in purchasing my book, please visit my website, tranquil babies.com, and click on “e-book” at the top ribbon. You can also buy it on Amazon.com. My e-book is designed to help parents, not just offer statements like “Don’t push your child” and “Look for signs of readiness”. That doesn’t help anyone! The book has useful readiness checklists and detailed strategies for every stage of training!

Prevent the Summer Slide in Handwriting By Making It Fun To Write

“The Summer Slide” is the phenomenon of losing academic skills during summer vacation. With the exception of the children who insist on you buying them workbooks and those that read a book a day by choice, all summer long, summer slide will happen to most children.

Here are some strategies to limit it’s effect on your child’s handwriting skills by using fun activities, not rigid homework:

* If you must use a book, use Handwriting Without Tears workbooks and limit practice to one page a day. Five minutes of work is better than 30 minutes of stalling and avoiding a page filled with poorly designed assignments. HTW’s pages are so targeted and organized that they get the job done fast.

* Think beyond workbooks. Write a book with your child on a topic they love. Use drawings and photos to illustrate it. Pretend play may need restaurant menus or store signs. Pretend garages or hair salons need price lists or bills-of-sale filled out. Be imaginative and have fun.

* Find or make notecards to send mail to relatives. It is often more fun to get mail back from them, so make sure grandparents have something fun to send back, even if it is a blank coloring page. Even though we are a digital society, everybody loves receiving personal mail, and children really love seeing their name on an envelope.

* Arts and crafts projects aren’t cop-out activities; they have real value. While creative craft play teaches many pre-writing skills for the younger kids, they can also preserve or develop skills in older kids. Look for fun kits, such as building a rubber band racing car or rhinestone mosaic picture kits, if your child isn’t the kind that grabs your empty egg carton and a glue stick and emerges with a masterpiece. Buy colorful writing tools, decorative craft scissors, and definitely make something crafty yourself. Seeing parents writing and creating is probably the best motivator for children to engage in these activities that prevent the summer skills slide!

Sensitivity and Gifted Children: The Mind That Floods With Feeling

Gifted children are often the most emotional and empathic toddlers in the room.  They are the kids who cry when the ASPCA runs those tearjerker commercials.   They are the teens who want to develop an NGO to provide clean water in developing countries.  Gifted children don’t do this to get a boost on a college application, but because it physically hurts them to think of another’s suffering.  Your gifted child’s mind cannot help but to feel strongly and care deeply.  

How can you help your child navigate these feelings without crushing their altruism and energy? The first step in helping these children to handle their sensitive social and emotional nature starts with adults understanding that this isn’t a personality quirk; it’s a neurological bias that accompanies an impressively active and intense brain that doesn’t “turn off”.

Sensory Sensitivity, Autism, and Gifted Sensitivity
When OTs usually refer to sensitivity, we usually speak about the physical sensitivity that our clients may experience.  We know that sensory sensitivity can lead to avoidance of sensory input and poor modulation of arousal.  The poor modulator is the child who has a hard time staying in an optimal state of calm, struggling to focus attention on accomplishing their daily activities.  This can be true with gifted children, but is not always a feature of giftedness.

We also know that children with ASD find it difficult to connect with another’s emotional experience due to their neurological wiring.  It is not that they choose to misinterpret other’s emotions.  They may long to know what others are thinking and what to do and say in interpersonal relationships.  Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison have written about their difficulties and discomfort in understanding how friends and family feel.

The gifted client is swimming at the other end of this pool:  they have profound emotional connections to people (and sometimes feelings for objects as well!),  even strong connections with the imagined emotional experiences of strangers!  Again, this is not just their temperament or their personality; the emotional flood is coming from their brain wiring that generates deep connections between profound concepts and expansive comprehension of situations. Gifted kids see very clearly how the human race is all one, how affecting a part results in affecting the whole, etc. It can be overwhelming for them to know this at 4. Or 14. Gifted children are not little adults, even when testing indicates amazingly advanced mental abilities. Their asynchronous development means that they may understand concepts but still cry when they lose a game. They are still children.

There is some science behind the idea that gifted children are emotionally advanced as well as academically advanced.  Researchers on giftedness are eager to display their fMRI views of the gifted brain as it thinks, showing it humming along at warp speed, lighting up like a Christmas tree in areas that are mostly quiet for other people.  I would guess that those mirror neurons (proposed to support empathy and interpersonal skills) that seem inactive in ASD are probably switched on 24/7 in gifted individuals.  

Parents get their first taste of this quality when they see how attuned their baby is to their speech and their movements.  “She would just watch our faces all day long!” is a familiar report when asked about early development.  Toddlers begin to be aware of their own emotions and the emotions of others, and the gifted toddler can be quite a handful as she sorts this out. The gifted child may want to volunteer, may become upset when reading news stories, and may insist that the family participate in activities for social causes. On the other hand, a gifted child may become sad and overwhelmed by situations that other children are unable to comprehend. It can lead to feelings of powerlessness and anger when the adults in their world don’t respond in kind or disregard their concerns.

My message to parents and teachers of gifted children, and those who work with children showing strong emotions and advanced skills without a gifted label is to consider that the strong reactions that you see may be a brain effect, not a personality defect. Your next step: supporting a child to handle the flood of emotion, and help them channel their feelings into productive actions and interactions that build social skills, not isolation and a negative self-image.
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