Helping Children With Low Muscle Tone Manage Summertime Heat

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I write a version of this post every summer.  Puzzled parents ask me about their child’s sometimes dramatic reactions to playing outside in the heat.  Kids are melting like popsicles, tripping and whining.  Time to explain the way low tone and heat interact to create less safety, less stability, and less cooperation.

Yup, low tone has behavioral consequences.  How to comprehend and manage it is one of the cornerstones of my first book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone.  When parents understand that low muscle tone is more than a motor issue, things start to improve.

Heat has predictable effects on muscles.  That is why people use heating pads on muscle spasms.  But when a child has low tone, heat isn’t helpful.  It makes it even harder to initiate and maintain a muscle contraction.  Ambient heat and internal body heat combine to create problems for kids.

What does a child with low muscle tone look like when they spend time in a very warm environment?

  • They fatigue more rapidly.  They could walk to the ice cream stand but want to be carried back.
  • They feel uncomfortable, but in a way that isn’t “sick”.  It is a combination of sluggish and unsteady.  The younger the child, the less they can express the difference between how they felt inside in the A/C and how they feel outside.
  • They become more stubborn, more contrary, or simply more irritable.  This can happen even if a child is typically the most even-tempered of kids.  Add humidity?  You might be in for a real rollercoaster ride.
  • They are often significantly less safe when they move.  They can have just enough of a delay in their ability to catch themselves when they fall, or fail to place their foot in the right spot climbing a stair.  They can even slide off the chair they are sitting on!

What can parents do?

  • Plan active fun for the cooler times of the day, or at least do active play in the shade.

  • Dress your child in breathable clothing, perhaps even tech clothes with breathable panels or special fabrics.

  • Dress them lightly and in light-colored clothing.

  • Make sure that they are well hydrated at all times.

  • Offer healthy popsicles and cool drinks frequently.

  • Have a cool place to bring your child, so that they can literally “chill out”.

  • Teach them about the effects of heat on low muscle tone so that they can understand and eventually act independently.

Looking for more information on helping children manage low tone?  

I wrote more posts for you to read: Is Your Child With Low Tone “Too Busy” to Make it to the Potty? ,  One Fun Way to Help Kids With Hypotonia Align Their Feet: Stomp-Stomp!  and How To Improve Posture In Children With Low Muscle Tone… Without a Fight!

Need more information?  I wrote three e-books for you!

Look on Amazon.com and Your Therapy Source.com for The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone,  and both volumes of The JointSmart Child.  Read more about these unique (and very practical) books here:   A Practical Guide to Helping the Hypermobile School-Age Child Succeed and The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today!

 

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Try “Rainbow Tracing” to Build Pre-Writing Skills With Creativity

delfi-de-la-rua-zolFYH_ygpw-unsplashI am not a huge fan of teaching preschool children to trace strokes.  I am very interested in the use of simple drawing to build pencil control and other pre-writing skills.  But done right, tracing can be fun and useful for both the child and the adult.  Here is one way to use tracing effectively:  Rainbow Tracing.

What is it?  The child traces the same target stroke with at least 3 different colors before moving onto the next stroke.   If needed, the adult can initiate/demonstrate first, and the child can repeat with additional colors.  It isn’t necessary for the child to be incredibly accurate, but they do have to start at the correct spot and attempt to end their stroke at the correct spot.

The target tracing line has to be sufficiently wide and simple enough to allow for reasonable expectation of success.  An example would be that a three year-old is asked to trace a curved line, not a series of diagonals.  The developmental progression assumes that most threes aren’t ready to execute diagonal lines independently.

Why is Rainbow Tracing helpful?  By repeating a traced line, a child receives more practice for stroke control and grasp.  It is colorful, and the colors are the child’s choice.  This allows some creativity and agency in an activity that might otherwise be boring and produce very little motivation in a child.

What about a child who traces over their errors?  If a child’s initial stroke is wildly off the target, they are more likely to re-trace their error.  If the adult knows that this is going to be an issue for this child, they can offer another copy of the same sheet, or the adult can be the first “tracer”.  They could also offer an easier and wider stroke to trace.

What do you do with the results?  Celebrate it, of course!  Kids love to put their drawings in an envelope and mail them.  Scanning them isn’t as exciting to a young child.  They like doing things “old school”.  So do a lot of grandparents and great-grandparents!

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Should You Use Pre-Mixed Dough to Bake With Your Toddler?

food-photographer-jennifer-pallian-OfdDiqx8Cz8-unsplashOK; this is a trick question.

Using prepared dough is one of the easiest ways to introduce very young children (or special needs kids of any age that are functioning at the 18-36 month level) to food preparation.  With the right mindset, it is the beginning of a wonderful way to share practical skills, build sensory and motor skills, and enjoy the company of very young cooks.

The greatest objections to using prepared dough, whether pre-cut or just pre-mixed, are that these are high-carb/low nutrition foods, and that they include preservatives.  Both of these statements are true.  They are also true of most of the food I see served to young children and consumed by parents.  I can count on one hand the number of families I have worked with in 25 years that do not consume any foods containing either preservatives or sugar.

Most families limit their consumption of both, and that makes a lot of sense.  Nobody is going to make cookies of any kind every day of the week, and maybe not even every month.  These are treats.  The dough can be purchased, already made with very wholesome ingredients, in specialty stores.  Adults can also make their dough from scratch well before including the child, as you would do with “refrigerator cookies” and pre-slice it, so that a child only has to place circles of dough on a cookie sheet to bake them off.

The greatest benefit of using pre-made dough is the ability to have only a few steps in the entire process of baking, so that a child is introduced to the experience of making food in an easy and positive manner.  Beginning with many ingredients and many steps that only the adult can perform is a sure-fire way to create a huge mess and create a negative experience for both the child AND the adult.  Young children have no sense that food is prepared.  They aren’t often witness to any preparation or cleaning.  This is a wonderful way to introduce them to the process.  Of course, no child can be involved with the use of an oven or touching hot pans.  That is OK; we want children to build their patience and attention!

Most kids are quickly ready to progress to using pre-mixed dry ingredients and blending them with wet ingredients, and then helping to measure and mix all ingredients.  The use of pre-made dough is simply a first step in a long process of involving kids in the kitchen!

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Want Better Self-Regulation in Young Children? Help Them Manage Aggression

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You might think as a pediatric OTR, I would be writing a post about sensory-based treatment for self-regulation.  And I have in the past.  Not today.

But I have been an OTR for decades, and what I know about today’s children is that agitated and dysregulated kids often need help managing aggressive impulses and negative emotions first, in order for me to assess whether or not their behaviors have a sensory basis.

That’s right:  a young agitated child cannot be assumed to have sensory processing difficulties if they haven’t learned any self-management tools.  It is too easy to assign them a label, and I refuse to do that.  But I can and will use effective techniques to manage aggression before I jump in with all the bells and whistles from my sensory processing treatment bag.

What works for me?

I get a lot of mileage out of Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Toddler on the Block strategies.  Once I learned these simple techniques, I applied them to every situation in which a young child was oppositional, aggressive, defiant, or threatening/delivering a tantrum.   That could be every session!  Toddlers aren’t known for their easy-going ways.

His Patience Stretching, Fast Food Rule, and Time-Ins are my three-legged stool that supports my therapy sessions.  Read Use The Fast Food Rule For Better Attunement With Your Child and Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  Kids aren’t born with the ability to handle frustration and manage impulses.  Adults teach them how to deal with their feelings.  When they aren’t taught what to do when they are disappointed, when they want attention, or when they are angry, things can get pretty unpleasant.  The good news is that learning can begin around their first birthday.

Job number one should never be unclear to anyone, but as time has gone on, fewer and fewer parents seem to communicate it clearly:  physical violence from anyone isn’t acceptable at any time.

Are parents committing violence against their child?  No.  It is the child that is biting, hitting, or damaging items.   “We don’t hurt people or animals in this house” isn’t always communicated clearly to a child.  I never hear a parent say that they like being smacked across the face by their child, but they also seem to struggle to clearly communicate that this behavior is unacceptable.  Resorting to responding with violence is not helpful.  Teaching how to manage aggression can be done without spanking a child or even raising their voice.  Changing their tone of voice and rapidly putting the child out of arm’s reach will make it clear to their child that they have crossed a line.  But so many parents seem hesitant to set limits, and some seem to worry that being firm will harm their child or hurt their feelings.  This is coming from,  remember, the same child that just smacked them in the face or bit them.  By not reacting clearly, parents are in fact communicating that aggression toward others isn’t a problem.

I try hard to teach parents that it is kind and loving to teach children that they can have their feelings but they cannot express them with aggression.  There are limits in the wider world, and if they act this way with people that don’t love them, the consequences aren’t going to be good.  Learning to hear “no” from someone that loves you is a lot easier.

Young children need to learn the vocabulary of negative emotions like anger, disappointment, frustration and sadness.  They need to practice waiting and need to be spoken to in a way that makes it clear that they are understood but may not get their way all the time.  Negotiation and appreciation go hand in hand.  Dr. Karp’s techniques really work for me, and they aren’t difficult to learn or use.  I wish every parent would try even one and see how easy they can be incorporated into daily life with young children!

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Is Your Child With Low Tone “Too Busy” to Make it to the Potty?

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Since writing my first e-book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, I have fielded a ton of questions about the later stages of potty training.  One stumbling block for most children appears to be “potty fatigue”.  They lose the early excitement of mastery, and they get wrapped up in whatever they are doing.  What happens when you combine the effects of low tone with the inability of a  young child to judge the consequences of delaying a bathroom run?  This can lead to delaying a visit to the bathroom until it is too late.  Oops.

Kids with low tone often have poor interoceptive processing.  What is that?  Well, interoception is how you perceive internal sensory information.  When it comes to toileting, you feel fullness in your bladder that presses on your abdominal wall, in the same way you feel a full stomach.  This is how any of us know that we have to “go”.  If you wait too long, pressure turns to a bit of pain.  Low muscle tone creates a situation in which the stretch receptors in the abdominal muscles and in the bladder wall itself don’t get triggered until there is a stronger stimulus.  There may be some difficulty in locating the source of pressure as coming from the bladder instead of bowel, or even feeling like it could be coming from their back or stomach.  This leads to bathroom accidents if the toilet is too far away,  if they can’t walk fast enough, or if they cannot pull down their pants fast enough.  You have to work on all those skills!

Add in a child’s unwillingness to recognize the importance of the weak sensory signals that he or she is receiving because they are having too much fun or are waiting for a turn in a game or on a swing.  Uh-oh.  Not being able to connect the dots is common in young children.  That is why we don’t let them cross a busy street alone until they are well over 3 or 4.  They are terrible at judging risk.  Again, this means there are skills to develop to avoid accidents.

What should parents do to help their children limit accidents arising from being “too busy to pee?”

  1. Involve kids in the process of planning and deciding.  A child that is brought to the potty without any explanations such as “I can see you wiggling and crossing your legs.  That tells me that you are ready to pee” isn’t being taught how to recognize more of their own signs of needing the potty.
  2. Allow kids to experience the consequences of poor choices.  If they refused to use the potty and had an accident, they can end up in the tub to wash up, put their wet clothes in the washer, and if they were watching a show, it is now over.  They don’t get to keep watching TV while an adult wipes them, changes them, and cleans up the mess!
  3. Create good routines.  Early.  Just as your mom insisted that you use the bathroom before leaving the house, kids with low tone need to understand that for them, there is a cost to overstretching their bladder by “holding it”  Read  Teach Kids With Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Or Low Tone: Don’t Hold It In! to learn more about this.  The best strategy is to encourage a child to urinate before their bladder is too full, make potty routines a habit very early in life, and to develop the skills of patience stretching Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!  from an early age.  Creating more patience in young children allows them to think clearly and plan better, within their expected cognitive level.

Looking for more information on managing daily life with your special needs child?

I wrote three e-books for you!

My e-book on toilet training, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, and my e-books on managing pediatric hypermobility, are available on Amazon as read-only downloads, and on Your Therapy Source as printable downloads.  The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility  Volume   One:  The Early Years and Volume Two:  The School Years are filled with strategies that parents and therapists can use immediately to improve a child’s independence and safety.

Your Therapy Source has bundled my books together for a great value.  On their site, you can buy both the toilet training and the Early Years books together, or buy both hypermobility books together at a significant discount!

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The Preschool Water Arcade Game You Need This Summer If Camp is Cancelled (and maybe even if it isn’t)

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I cannot BELIEVE how much fun this Step 2 Waterpark Arcade toy could be!  You hook it up to your outdoor garden hose and play.  As an occupational therapist, I want all of my older toddler and all my preschool clients to get one of these arcade games to work on visual-motor coordination and hand strength.

What kid isn’t right for this toy?

  • This isn’t a toy for a child that cannot resist the impulse to spray others, as the water flow could be pretty strong.   Almost every child is going to have some experimentation with controlling the hose.  That isn’t the same as intentionally nailing their baby brother in the face.
  • Nor is it a good choice for a child that is really unsteady on their feet.  It won’t be easy to handle a hose while sitting down, and too much failure is really hard on kids that are already stressed because of missing camp.
  • They have to have enough hand strength, even with two hands together, as shown, to squeeze the trigger while aiming.  Older kids can stand farther back from the toy and use one hand.
  • Kids with significant problems with strabismus may not be able to aim from a distance.  Strabismus will force them to use one eye to avoid “seeing double” at a distance.  Again, failure isn’t fun.  Weakening one eye isn’t a great idea either.  If this motivates a child to wear their special glasses or eye patch, on the other hand, it could help you get some compliance.

Can You Incorporate This Toy Into Fine Motor or Handwriting Practice?  SURE!!!!

  1. Parents can come up with a score sheet on the sidewalk with chalk, on a white board with a marker, or use a bucket with pebbles.  Every time a child hits the mark, they get a point.
  2. They can write a hash mark or erase the previous score and write the new one, which is great for preschoolers and kindergarteners to practice writing numbers over the summer.
  3. Of course, they have to write their names and their opponent’s name as well.
  4. Counting the pebbles without writing them could be great practice for younger kids.

Looking for more outdoor fun this summer?  Read Doing Preschool Camp at Home This Summer? This is the Water Table You Want!  Worried about rainy day fun?  Read Doing OT Telehealth? Start Cooking (And Baking)!

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Doing Preschool Camp at Home This Summer? This is the Water Table You Want!

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I just found this online after a parent asked me for recommendations for equipment.  She isn’t sending her two kids under 5 to camp this year, and needs some ideas to turn her backyard into a fun place to spend the summer.  This is the Little Tikes Magic Flower water table.

Why do I love this one?

Watch their video on Amazon and you will understand!  But before you do, here are my reasons, as an occupational therapist, for recommending this water table:

  • Multiple levels mean that children of different ages can both have fun.
  • Multiple ways to explore helps kids take turns without having to choose between “the fun thing” and the “barely OK things” on the water table.
  • The animal theme works for lots of kids.  Not everyone likes pirates.  Or even understands pirates.
  • It is big enough to have at least 2 kids playing at the same time, maybe 3.
  • They include 2 duckies (who doesn’t love duckies?), 2 frogs, 3 turtles, a fish, and three pouring choices.  I hate tables where you STILL have to go out and buy stuff to make it fun.  This table is “one-and-done”.
  •  All of my clients with low tone and hypermobility that can stand will be motivated to do so; there isn’t really any way to lean on this water table.  They can stabilize by holding an edge, but they cannot drape themselves over it.  They will be bending and reaching.  A lot.  That is a good thing.  But be mindful of the heat Helping Children With Low Muscle Tone Manage Summertime Heat
  • Kids that use a wheelchair or need to sit while playing due to mobility issues will still be able to have fun with their friends and siblings that can stand and bend.  This water table is inclusive.

I really hate sand tables.  You would think that as an OTR, I would love them.

Nope.  Sand gets everywhere.  In clothes, in body folds, everywhere.  Kids get sand in their mouth and in their eyes.  It tracks into the house unless you shower your kid outside, and maybe it will be found inside even then.  Sand is a pain in the neck.

As long as you empty your water table and hit it regularly with some soap or a diluted bleach solution to keep it clean, it is much easier on everyone to have a water table rather than a sand table.  This one is going to be a lot of fun!

Need more ideas for fun this summer?  Read The Preschool Water Arcade Game You Need This Summer If Camp is Cancelled (and maybe even if it isn’t) and Doing OT Telehealth? Start Cooking (And Baking)!

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Doing OT Telehealth? Start Cooking (And Baking)!

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

Enter cooking and baking as OT activities!

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

You need:

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

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

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

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

Repeat with all dough triangles.

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

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

Cool and enjoy!

NOTES:

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for more information on helping your gifted child?  

I am writing an e-book on this topic, but you can also call me for a consult as well.  Visit my website Tranquil Babies  and use my contact information to set things up today!

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Child Struggling With Pencil Grasp During COVID-19? Flip Crayons Restore Skills

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All of my kindergarten clients and some of my preschool clients are using them.  None of them are backtracking into a fisted grasp with pre-writing or early handwriting.  Flip crayons from Learning Without Tears (formerly Handwriting Without Tears) are one of those simple grasp development strategies that keep on giving.

Why?  Their design does all the work for me.  Well, almost all the work.

Flip crayons have the same diameter of a standard school crayon, not a toddler crayon, or those ridiculous and useless egg/fingertip crayons Egg Crayons or Fingertip Crayons: When Good Marketing Slows Down Fine Motor Skill Development  .  They are shorter, so they do not allow a fisted grasp or even a palmer pronate grasp.  The crayon demands finer grasp, not the adult.

Selling an item to a child is important. They have to want to try these out.   I “sell” them as kindergarten crayons.  Every preschooler wants access to something they think is for older kids.  Their unique appearance is almost always appealing to kids.  I have met very few rigid kids, even with ASD, that are unwilling to give them a try.  Within a month of regular use, I see huge improvements in grasp without manhandling a child, begging them to “fix your fingers”,  or any of the other methods to address grasp issues.

COVID-19 is dragging us all down.  Why work harder than you have to?  I need children’s parents to see me as a problem solver, not someone asking them to work harder.  Flip crayons are an easy answer to a challenging problem.  I have another huge box of them sitting in my office to drop off as “gift baggies” at the end of the month!

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How To Pick A High Chair For Your Special Needs Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for a chair for play, not feeding?  Read The Cube Chair: Your Special Needs Toddler’s New Favorite Seat! or Like The Cube Chair? Here Is a Table and Chairs Set For Younger Toddlers!  for two good choices for younger toddlers.

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Want Your Child to Show Hand Preference (Righty/Lefty?) Where You Place Their Spoon Matters

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I get a lot of questions about this issue, based on my experience as a pediatric OTR.  Starting at 12 months, some children show a strong hand preference and never look back.  Other kids are switching hand use long after 4.  Without the existence of disorders that directly affect hand dominance such as orthopedic disorders, cerebral palsy, or untreated torticollis, hand dominance is hard-wired and emerges naturally.  But there are situations in which it is delayed or incomplete long after the typical window of skill development.

Here is what can be happening, and here is what you can do as a parent or a therapist:

Hand dominance only emerges with the development of refined hand control and the child’s awareness that they need more skilled control for an activity.  I tell parents that I can pick up my coffee cup with either hand to drink, but that doesn’t make me a lefty.  If you paid me $100, I probably couldn’t thread a needle with my left hand.

Children that aren’t practicing refined skills like feeding or assembling blocks, or even intent on picking up every darn piece of lint on the carpet…they don’t need refined grasp, and they probably will not demonstrate hand dominance on time.  Kids that are scribbling wildly but haven’t tried to draw a circle with closure ( a 36-month skill, BTW) also have no need to develop dominance.  The self-starter, the baby and toddler that watches you intently and decides to learn all these skills?  They won’t need much help.  But the child who avoids challenge or gets help because it is easier and faster for an adult to feed them or help them build a tower?  They may lag behind in hand development.

Some kids are very tuned into adult actions, and copy the hand that a parent or teacher uses.  These are the children that are great mimics.  They can see that you are using your right hand, and even if they naturally grab with their left hand, they transfer objects into the same hand you are using.  Adults are naturally inclined to assume dominance as well.  I cannot count the number of times I absent-mindedly handed a pen to a left-handed parent into their right hand.  If you do that to a child under 5 , they assume that you want them to use that hand, and will struggle on.  This is where spoon placement matters.  I encourage parents to place the utensil in the center of the placement or tray, and watch which hand (both of the child’s hands must be free) their child chooses over many trials.

If a child is inconsistent but clearly uses their left hand more often, placing their spoon on that side of the tray should boost use, and with skilled use comes more skill and awareness.  I never pull objects out of a child’s hand.  I don’t need to.  They will drop their crayon or spoon frequently enough for me to have another chance to offer it back to them.

What if I (or a parent) picked wrong?

Dominance isn’t that easy to alter.  Ask your grandmother what the nuns in Catholic school did to alter dominance in lefties (it was considered “the devil’s hand”, and what they did wasn’t pretty).  Children will eventually simply transfer their spoon over to the other hand.

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How To Help Your Toddler Hold a Spoon

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

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

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

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

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

How Therapeutic Listening Enhances Motor Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Does Your Gifted Child Interrupt You Constantly? Respond This Way For Better Results

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Gifted kids of all ages like to ask questions.  Most of the time, they have an intensity that means they frequently interrupt people.  It is one reason why they like books and online media.  They can turn the page, scroll fast, and toggle back and forth without waiting for you!

As understandable as this behavior is, it is still impolite and annoying.  This is a problem.  Gifted kids aren’t always the kids with the most friends, and highly gifted kids are so far off the developmental path of their typical friends that sometimes they have only one friend.  Or none.

Teaching a gifted child how to behave socially is important for their long-term and short-term mental health.  They aren’t trying to be difficult or rude.  They need adults to help them manage their gifts.  Here is a suggestion to manage the chronic interruptor:

Give them MORE information than they asked for, using technical terms that you think they don’t know, and more details than you would offer another child of the same age.

Why?

The gifted brain looks for three things:  intensity, complexity, and satisfaction of the drive for learning, novelty and perfection.  Giving a gifted child an answer in this way, rather than shutting them down, is like giving a thirsty man a bottle of water.

If your child sits back and thinks about your complex answer, their shoulders relax, and their tone softens, you know you hit pay dirt.  You got it right.

What if they become more aggravating?

The child that, instead, is being a real PITA, who wanted your attention but not your information, the child that wanted to jerk your chain?  They won’t react this way.  They may even get more aggravating.  When your child draws a line in the sand and baits you, that has nothing to do with being gifted.  They are defying you.  Different problem.

But the gifted child, who was simply expressing that drive, intensity and complexity?  They should be much happier, and they could even smile at you.  You understood them, you got them.  Responding this way to my clients  and getting a positive result is one way I know I could have a gifted child in front of me.  Giftedness is rarely formally tested under 5, but it emerges early.

Not sure if your child is bright or gifted?  Read Is Your Child Bright or Gifted? Spot the Differences

For more information on helping gifted children thrive, read  Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….  and  Raising a Gifted Child? Read “A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children” For Successful Strategies To Navigate the Waters  .  One of my new posts, Gifted Child? Try “How Does Your Engine Run” For More Peace at Home and School , describes a program occupational therapists use that teaches a gifted child how to manage their drives in a positive way.

If you want to ask me questions about managing your gifted child, visit my website,  Tranquil Babies , and buy a consultation session.  You will be able to have more of an understanding of why you and your child struggle so much when they are so smart!!

Why Gifted Children Aren’t Their Teacher’s Favorite Students….

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Parents of bright children often want to have their child in programs for the gifted and talented.  Parents of gifted children want their child to make more friends and spend less time in the principle’s office.

Why?

Gifted children of any age are rarely the teacher’s pet.  Here are a few reasons:

  1. Bright kids are a joy to teach.  Gifted kids are usually the children that disrupt and challenge teachers.  Bright children learn quickly and can answer all the questions.  A gifted child learns amazingly quickly and asks more questions than the teacher raises.  They can grasp a concept or an action after 1-2 repetitions.  And then they are done with that topic.  Really done.  Bored stiff or wanting to drill deeper.   This makes them out of step with their peers in a typical classroom.  Teachers have to work harder to make their lessons effective for the gifted child while staying on the lesson plan and managing the kids who struggle to keep up.
  2. Gifted kids are passionate: passionately opposed to rigidity, passionate about fairness, and addicted to logic.  They are not fond of following baseless rules, or sometimes any rules.  In fact, pointless rules are like poison to a gifted child.  Bright kids know these rules are pointless, but they care more about the consequences of disobeying, so they go along.  Gifted kids find the illogical and often capricious nature of these rules offensive to their very spirit, and will even bait teachers to get them to admit that their rules make no sense.  This won’t endear a gifted kid to educational staff, even the teachers that initially liked the challenge of teaching an intensely inquisitive child.
  3.  Bright kids learn the correct answers and rattle them off as requested.  Gifted kids believe that there are no correct answers.  The gifted child sees all the gray areas and can see the many sides of a situation.  They can even see that math questions could have more than one answer.   For teachers that are linear thinkers, this can be maddening.  For gifted kids, it is how they see…everything!

I love working with gifted children.  They can be the most fun I have in a day!  I love helping them handle their sensitivities and helping their parents understand their needs.

Looking for more ways to help your gifted child?

If you are the parent of a gifted child and would like to learn more about how to approach everyday issues with confidence and compassion, visit my website Tranquil Babies and purchase a consultation session under Happiest Toddler on the Block.  Even if your gifted child isn’t a toddler, that will be OK.  You will get a 30-minute session focused on you and your child!

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Screen Time for Preschoolers? If You Choose to Offer Screen Time, Make it Count With These Apps

Parents have to make the decision to offer or restrict screen use to their youngest kids.  I won’t take sides on this, as it is a decision that is made by knowing the child, the family    dynamics and the risk/rewards at the moment.  I believe that if young children are going to use screens, that they should be using them with an adult and they should have well-designed apps that build skills rather than simply entertain.  Easier said than done.  There is a lot of poor material out there.  It may keep a child quiet for a time, but it isn’t teaching them anything except that if they protest loudly enough, their parents might cave.

Two app designers that I can strongly recommend are Tiny Hands and Duck Duck Moose.  Both have fun apps that require a child to think and listen.  Nothing happens by randomly tapping a screen.  The graphics are fun but not so intense that they are overwhelming for kids with visual processing issues.  Tiny Hands has apps for younger toddlers and older toddlers, and Duck Duck Moose starts out with simple games and progresses to math and reading apps.

For older toddlers and preschoolers, THUP has Monkey Preschool Explorers, Monkey Preschool Lunchbox and Monkey Math Scholastic Sunshine.  All very well designed and impossible to play without paying attention.   Filling the aquarium with sharks is totally fun!!

My readers may know that I like to pair screen use with a tablet stylus to build pencil grasp and control.  Want A Stronger Pencil Grasp? Use a Tablet Stylus Make sure that it is a stylus that doesn’t have any metal, or your glass screen will not survive.  Young children can break off the rubber tip, so they need some initial supervision and instruction.  Since I highly recommend that screen time is done with an adult, that shouldn’t be a problem!

A Practical Guide to Helping the Hypermobile School-Age Child Succeed

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If your child is hypermobile, you will need my newest e-book, out on Amazon right now!

The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume Two:  The School Years, is designed to address the challenges and needs of the school-aged child 6-12.  It has plenty of add-ons in the appendix to help you at home and at school. Learn how to pick the right chair, the right spoon, the right desk and even the right bike!  It gives you ideas to build ADL skills like dressing and independent bathing, and ways to build your confidence when speaking to doctors and teachers!

My earlier book, The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One:  The Early Years, is also available on Amazon and at  Your Therapy Source.  It addresses development from birth to age 5.  It provides parents with all the ADL strategies to build independence AND safety, plus ways to teach your family    and babysitters how to work with your child more effectively.  Parents start feeling empowered, not overwhelmed, right away!

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Is this recess in your house during the COVID crisis?