Tag Archives: ASD

Is Compulsive Gaming A Disorder…Or A Symptom?

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The WHO has recently classified compulsive gaming a mental illness.  I am not so sure.  What I do believe is that doing anything compulsively is a big problem for developing brains.  Is your child heading in the direction of using gaming or web surfing to deal with issues such as social anxiety or poor executive function skills?  Here is what you should be thinking about when you see your young child screaming because you have unplugged them from their tablet (or your phone, or your tablet):

  1. Have you (unintentionally) modeled this behavior for them?  I  don’t know any adult that isn’t tethered to their phone.  Whether for business or to keep track of where their spouse or children are/what they are doing, most of us have a phone that we look at repeatedly all day long.  When you are with your family, think carefully about how important it is to model the opposite and put it down as quickly as possible.  In effect, you are saying “You are more important to me than this device”.
  2. Be clear about what you are doing when you put down the phone in their presence and why.  In the spirit of The Happiest Toddler on the Block, which my readers know I adore, young children need to hear and see you explaining why you are doing what you do.  They don’t assume things the way we do.  Really.  The older they get, the more it appears that they are ignoring you, but don’t you believe it.  Parents are and always will be the most powerful models in a child’s life.  Forever.  Your teen may roll her eyes, but they are still open, and she is watching you.  So tell your child that you want to focus on them, and your phone is a distraction and you can always look at it later.  You want to be with them and pay attention to them.  I know this sounds a bit weird, even awkward and preach-y.  It isn’t if you do it with warmth and confidence.  Find your own wording, but the message is the same: I care more about you than I do about data.
  3. Look around.  Are your child’s activities, toys and games unsatisfying?  Don’t count the toys, look at them and what they offer your unique child.  An artsy child may need new paints, clay, yarn, etc.  A reader may need to go to the library or get a new book series.  Not a digital copy.  A young scientist might need a kit or a microscope.  A social kid may need more playdates or a creative class like cooking.  Their interests and needs may have changed since the last birthday or holiday.  If you want them to play instead of look at a screen, they need things that excite and inspire them, or the digital world will fill in the blanks.
  4. Does your child need help in building skills?  Shy kids, kids with ASD, or kids that don’t make friends easily can find the less-demanding digital world much easier to navigate.  Siblings sit quietly side-by-side, not fighting but also not learning how to solve interpersonal issues.  This isn’t preparing them to go out there and succeed.  The earlier you realize that your child is struggling, the faster you can stop bad habits and prevent rigid behaviors.
  5. I read a challenging piece this week on the origins of addiction to porn that might change your mind on dealing with gaming and digital devices.  The author’s suggestion was that early experiences have impressive power to wire the brain, to the diminishment of alternative methods of engagement and interaction.  I know, not exactly what you would expect me to discuss on my site.  But the problems of finding easy satisfaction through a non-challenging (and solitary) source of excitement fits this post.  Once a behavior is hard-wired into the brain’s system, it is going to be really difficult to change.   Not impossible, but really, really difficult.
  6. Should you ban all media?  You could, but you would be denying the reality that the world they live in is heavily digital.  I tell parents of the kids I treat that I use my tablet in sessions to teach kids that this is just one activity or toy, in the same way that I will eat cookies but not to the exclusion of everything else.  Putting the phone or the tablet away isn’t the end of the world, and using it is not a fabulous reward.

Looking for more on using technology with intent?  Read Want A Stronger Pencil Grasp? Use a Tablet Stylus .  To help kids engage and learn social and emotional skills, read Stop The Whining With The Fast Food Rule.  Yes, it really works!

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Make Wiping Your Child’s Nose Easier With Boogie Wipes

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It is cold and flu season here in the states, and I have already seen my share of snot-caked little faces.  Little children get more colds than older kids and adults, and they can turn into an agitated mess when you say “Honey, I need to wipe your nose”.  These wipes are going to make your job as chief booger-wiper a lot easier!

When I first saw Boogie Wipes, I will confess that I thought it was another expensive product to separate first-world parents from their money.  After all, I grew up on dry tissues and I survived.

I was wrong.  These really work.

At first, I thought that the use of moisture was the key to their success.  Not so.  Parents told me that using a regular baby wipe didn’t “do the deal” the way a Boogie Wipe took care of the snot problem and made kids calm down about nose-wiping.  I had to find out what really made this product better.

  1. Boogie Wipes have a few important ingredients that separate them from the standard baby wipes.  The first ingredient is water.  The second ingredient is sodium chloride; good old salt.  Saline is a combo of these two ingredients, and saline softens the gluey crud that is dried-on snot.  It also thins the still-wet snot so you can wipe it away without pressing so hard on tender skin.  Yeah!
  2. The next four ingredients are aloe leaf juice, chamomile flower extract, vitamin E and glycerin.  All gentle and (to most children) non-irritating skin conditioners.  I am a huge fan of Puffs Plus tissues, but these wipes are gentler than my fave tissues.  Children’s skin is so much more delicate than ours, and the ingredients in snot are so irritating.  That is even before it becomes a dried-on coating.  Boogie Wipes leave a thin coating of skin conditioners after you wipe your child’s face.  This coating acts as a slight skin barrier for the next drip of snot.  Brilliant!

The remaining ingredients are preservatives that prevent your open container of Boogie Wipes from becoming a source of germs instead of a source of relief.  I am sure that there are children who react to these preservatives, but I haven’t yet met any families that report problems over the years that this product has been available in NY.

Unless you know your child will react to these specific preservatives, I recommend trying the unscented version first (they come in fresh and lavender scents too) and using them before your child gets a cold.  It is kinder to find out that they are sensitive to any ingredients before their skin is already irritated by all that snot from an illness.  Kids whose skin is going to react will likely do so when well, but their skin can recover from any irritation more quickly when their immune system is not also fighting a bad cold.

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The Boogie folks do sell a saline spray as well as wipes, and I am all for using saline spray to loosen up internal nose crud.  The problem with sprays isn’t that they don’t work.  They do, and they work well.

The problem is that children are naturally avoidant of us sticking things up their noses, and they are really bad at controlling the “sniff” in order to efficiently suck the spray up into their sinuses.  I teach children how to blow their noses and how to handle sprays.  It is part of my job as an OTR.  Not the best part, but nevertheless, a part of teaching ADLs.  I haven’t had much success teaching children under 3 to use nose sprays.  They just get more frightened and upset.  If you have an older child or a child that seems less afraid of nose examinations at the pediatrician, then go ahead and give sprays a try.  It can really loosen up a clogged nose.

Good luck trying Boogie Wipes, or try the generic versions that I am starting to see on store shelves.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so manufacturers are telling us that they also know that these products really work!

How to Help Sensitive Kids Handle Greeting People (Including Their Own Parents!)

 

Many kids with ASD and SPD struggle with agitation and even tantrums when people enter their homes.  It can happen when their parent returns home from work, eager to scoop them up.  These kids become shy, run away, even hit!

Many, even most parents, believe that this is “bad behavior”, being defiant, or expressing anger at having people entering their space.  As an OT, I think about it differently.  Here is what I think is happening, and how to help your child handle this experience more effectively.

Sensitive children, which includes but isn’t limited to kids with sensory processing disorders, experience transitions as big charges of energy.  We all register a charge when events end or we switch locations, and when people come into our space, but those of us with less sensitivity do not react as intensely, and we return to our baseline level of arousal very quickly.  So quickly that it isn’t even on our radar.  You would have to hook yourself up to a device that measures symptoms of arousal such as galvanic skin resistance to see the small reaction from a person without sensory sensitivity.

Not so for the sensitive person.  They are super-charged by transitions, and with little kids, it often is expressed as outsized and socially inappropriate aversion or agitation.  Thus, the scream, the withdrawal, the running away.  This response is often followed with agitation as the adult walks away and the child is now sad to lose the connection.  It can all seem a bit strange.

The long-term answer?  A good treatment plan that reduces overall, everyday arousal levels.  The short-term answer?  Here is my protocol that helps kids avoid getting so out-of-sorts with greetings, and builds social skills.  The nicest thing about this protocol is that it looks normal, not clinical, and it does indeed lower the brain’s level of arousal.  Keeping calm, but staying in the game socially, trains the brain to handle more interaction, not to flee.

  1. Greet the child from a distance.  This may be 5-15 feet.  Use a warm but not over the top tone.  Keep it short but friendly.  Don’t linger on eye contact.
  2. The child has been provided with an object to handoff to the greeting adult.  It doesn’t have to be meaningful, especially if the child is under 2.  Anything will do.  The idea is that it is a meaningful interaction that the child controls.  They release it to the adult.  You may have to repeat it with two objects.  The adult’s grateful response is also warm but not effusive.
  3. Now is the time to offer a hug or a kiss.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not.  With older kids that have language, I use “Handshake, hug or high-five?”.  I offer the child a choice of contact, and this alone can get them from feeling imposed upon to empowered.
  4. If the child is still protesting, the adult sits near the child, engaged in something that could be fun for the child.  A book, scribbling, something appealing.  No offer or invite; the position and the activity are the invitation.  The child may come over and begin to engage.  Connection accomplished!

Grandparents and others can think that this is coddling, or too much work.  After all, why doesn’t she greet me warmly like other children?  It is hard to parent a child with sensitivities, but your primary focus is on helping the child feel calm and comforted.  Explain that this is helpful and that the child really does love them.  He just needs a bit of help to express it.

We should be able to get out of the way emotionally for the sake of little people.  If a family member cannot wrap their head around the need to support instead of impose themselves on a clearly agitated child, then they need more help to understand sensitivity.

 

 

Child Writing Too Lightly on Paper? It Might Not Be Hand Strength Holding Him Back

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If your child barely makes a mark when he scribbles or writes, most adults assume that grasp is an issue. Today’s post suggests that something else could be the real reason for those faint lines.

Limitations in postural and bilateral control contribute far more to lack of pressure when writing  than most parents and teachers realize.  For every child in occupational therapy that is struggling to achieve good grasp, I see three whose poor sitting posture and inability to get a stable midline orientation are the real issues.

Think about it for a minute:  if you sat with your non-dominant (not the writing hand) hand off to the side and you shifted your body weight backward in your chair, how would you be able to use sufficient force on a pencil or a crayon?  Try this right now.  Really.  You would have to focus on pressing harder while you write and hope your paper doesn’t slip around.  That would require your awareness and some assessment of your performance.  Children don’t do “awareness and assessment” very well.  That ability comes from frontal lobe functions that aren’t fully developed in young children.  But they can learn where to place their “helper hand”, and that sitting straight and shifting forward is the correct way to sit when you scribble or write.

If a child has sensory processing or neuromuscular issues such as cerebral palsy, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome or Down Syndrome, achieving adequate postural stability may take some effort on the part of the therapists and the teacher.  Well worth it, in my experience.  There are easy hacks that help kids; good equipment and good seating that won’t cost a fortune or inconvenience the class.  Every child can learn that posture is important for writing.  But the adults have to learn it first.  Kids take their cues from what adults appear to value, and if they figure out that they are allowed to slump or lean, they almost always will.

I am doing a lecture on pre-writing next week, and I intend to make this point, even though the emphasis of my lecture is on the use of fun drawing activities to prepare children to write and read.  Why?  Because it may be the only time these preschool teachers hear from a pediatric occupational therapist this year, and I want to make a difference.  Understanding the importance of postural control in pre-writing and handwriting could help struggling kids, and make decent writers into stars!

 

For more information, take a look at For Kids With Sensory Issues and Low Tone, Add Resistance Instead of Hand-Over-Hand Assistance and Better Posture and More Legible Writing With A “Helper Hand”.

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Low Tone and Constipation: Why This Issue Delays Toilet Training Progress

Kids with low tone and sensory processing disorders are not the only children who struggle with constipation, but it is more common for them.  The reasons are many:  low abdominal and oral tone, less use of available musculature because they use compensatory sitting and standing (the schlump, the lean, the swayback) patterns, and even food choices that have less fiber.  If you struggle to chew and swallow, you probably aren’t drinking enough and eating those fruits and veggies that have fiber.  Sucking applesauce packets may get you Vitamin C, but it has pulverized all that fiber.  Now add discomfort with the sensory experience: the smells, feelings, sounds of bathrooms and using the potty.  It can all be too much!

Without fluids, fiber and intra-abdominal pressure to support peristalsis (the automatic contraction of the intestines), children with low tone are at a huge risk for constipation.  And constipation makes pooping harder and even painful.  Sensory overload makes kids agitated, distracted, and sometimes even aggressive.  Not good for learning or letting it go into the toilet.  Hence, resistance and even fear of pooping, and therefore more stress and withholding of stool.  A really big problem, one that you may have to get your pediatrician’s assistance to solve.

It can change.  Here is your secret weapon: your child’s occupational therapist.  If you haven’t been involved in your child’s therapy before, this might be the time.  Research has shown that sensory-based issues can contribute to toileting problems, and OTs are capable of evaluating all the sensory and motor-based contributors.  While  your pediatrician gives you recommendations on diet, laxatives and more, your OT can help your child stay in the alert-but-calm zone where digestion is relaxed, get better core stability to help push that poop along, and adapt the toileting experience for minimal sensory aversion and maximal sensory perception.  Take a look at Low Tone and Toilet Training: How Your Child’s Therapists Can Help You and Low Tone and Toilet Training: The Importance of Dry Runs (Pun Totally Intended).

Update:  Many of my clients have been successful with a creative combo approach:  they use stool softeners, they limit refined carbs (sorry, Goldfish crackers are cheese plus refined carbs!), ensure lots of fluids and then add some tasty fiber.  Prunes covered with chocolate have been popular, but beware the results of too much of a good thing!  They use abdominal massage and make sure that their physical and occupational therapists are working those core stabilizers.

There are medications that improve gastric motility, but they aren’t always tolerated or even prescribed for small children.  Pediatricians are very hesitant to be aggressive with a small child that could dehydrate in a few hours of diarrhea.  Find a doctor that listens to you and is creative.  My suggestion?  Think outside the box and consider an osteopath.  They are “real” doctors, but they have more training in alternative and manual treatment approaches.

Good news!

My book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, is done and available at  Your Therapy Source ( a terrific site for parents and therapists!) as well as on my website, tranquil babies !!  Just click on the “e-book” section, and start making progress with your child today!

I include detailed readiness checklists and a full explanation of how to train your child in all aspects of toilet training.  You will know how to get the right equipment, what clothes to use so that dressing doesn’t derail your child’s best efforts, and how to deal with defiance and distress.  And yes, constipation is addressed in more detail than in this blog post.  It may turn out to be only one of the issues that you have to confront.  Don’t worry, help has arrived!

If you want a hard copy, contact me through my site and request a mailing address for your payment.

            As I say in my book:  be prepared, be consistent, expect to practice, and be positive that you and your child can do this!

 

 

 

 

Use The Fast Food Rule to Help ASD Toddlers Handle Change

Kids With ASD can react strongly to changes in their routines or environments.  Even changing the location of furniture they don’t even use can create screaming and aggression.  Why?  Often they use their external concept of home and environment to provide internal consistency, structure, and spatial comprehension.  We all do, in reality.  Ask anyone who travels for business how nice it is to come home and wake up knowing where things are without searching for them. It is not just exhaustion from travel, but the constant reorientation to new places and looking for needed things that make business travel hard.  Kids with ASD just depend on the familiarity of their external world and their routines much more.  When faced with disruption, they don’t have a wider range of coping skills to fall back on.  They can fall into chaos.

The Fast Food Rule, Dr. Harvey Karp’s fabulous strategy for communicating with agitated toddlers, works well with kids whose ASD issues make them rigid and upset when small changes occur.  The technique is to use simple statements with slightly exaggerated emotional tone and gestures to first express what you think the child is thinking, wait for a sign of lower agitation, and then provide an explanation, alternative, or both.

Toddlers are usually not good at reading subtle language and other cues.  They need explicit interaction that says “I understand why you are upset.  I really do.  Here is what is happening, and here is what we can do.”  All upset toddlers benefit from the Fast Food Rule.  Toddlers with ASD need this kind of support throughout the day, every day.  Their world is so much harder for them to understand and handle without stress.

I worked with a family this week, and saw what can happen when an adult fails to communicate effectively.  A 2.5 year old’s trike was brought into the kitchen entry hall instead of being left in the mudroom.  It wasn’t blocking anything.  It just was not where it  is usually stored.  They were doing some repairs later that day in the mudroom, so it had to be moved.  He went ballistic.

Screaming, hanging on it but not trying to ride it, absolutely beside himself that it was out of place.  The mom tried to tell him that they would “go to the park later”, thinking that he wanted to use it.  This was not the case, as he wasn’t mounting it or doing anything that would suggest he was interesting in riding it at the moment. He screamed louder when she told him that “everything was OK”.  It was not OK to him!    She turned on the TV briefly, and then took out the tablet.  That distracted him and he quieted down.  This ended the drama but it didn’t solve the problem.  In fact, she has been trying to limit screen time because he prefers to use these devices rather than engage in social/communication/ fine motor play.  Now she would have to decide when to announce that his turn was over, face that complaint, and the trike was still sitting in the hallway instead of the mudroom.

If she had used the Fast Food Rule, she could have had a chance to explain and support him in accepting that the trike was there until work was done in the mudroom.  Is this a guarantee that he’d be perfectly calm?  Not at all.  But it would have been an opportunity to use language and emotional connection to develop self-calming, methods of communication that he needs for success in school, at home, well, everywhere.  It would have acknowledged his feelings and his perspective while helping him to accept a change in the routine/environment.

If you have tried the Fast Food Rule with your Toddler, please write a comment and share your success or your struggle!

 

 

Why Cutting Nails Is Such a Challenge for Autistic and Sensory Kids

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Most children resist nail trimming.  If you are begging or struggling with your child, you are not alone.  Kids on the autism spectrum, kids with sensory sensitivity, and children with significant language delays can turn this simple grooming task into an epic contest of wills.  There are some good reasons why cutting your child’s nails can be so difficult for them.  If you can identify the “why”, you can adapt some of this stressful experience to help your child handle this grooming task.  Even if your child doesn’t immediately calm down, you may be calmer and more compassionate when they squirm.  And a calmer parent can inspire calmness in their child.

BTW, even though some of my links are to previous posts with the word “toddler”, these techniques work equally well for older kids on the spectrum or with SPD.  In fact, they work well with any child who is upset or demanding during grooming, haircuts, etc.

  • Most typically developing young children do not enjoy nail trimming.  They put up with it because they have the following abilities:  they understand your explanation, they tolerate the frustration of sitting passively, and they tolerate the awkwardness of having their finger held by another person and don’t mind the pressure applied to each nail.  In addition, they do not see the nail as an essential part of themselves, and they do not fear that you will injure them by accident.  If your child doesn’t yet have some of these skills, then you are going to have problems when you want to trim your child’s nails.
  • Children with ASD,SPD, global developmental delay, or significant language delays do not have most or all of the above skills.  They may genuinely find your touch irritating, and they often have very little frustration tolerance for the things that they do not want to do or struggle to understand.
  • Nail trimming is usually an occasional event, not a daily part of a familiar routine.  Rare events are almost always seen as unwelcome or even threatening.

There are some things that parents can do to make nail trimming less aggravating.  Here are my most successful strategies:

  • Build your child’s frustration tolerance for other small events and annoyances with Patience Stretching, Dr. Harvey Karp’s wonderful technique from Happiest Toddler on the Block.  I wrote a post on this technique, Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today!, and it gives you some insight into the how and why of this simple strategy.
  • Use Dr. Karp’s “toddler-ese” language and Fast Food Rule techniques when you get some push back; see  Taming Toddler Tantrums Using Sympathetic Reframing.  Simplifying what you say, and empathizing but not agreeing with a toddler who balks at nail trimming can reduce the resistance.  Children will then understand that you get their point of view: they don’t want to do this.  Most kids are well aware that they will be asked to do things they do not want to do.  Diaper changes, clothing changes, tooth brushing (see my series of toothbrushing posts for specifics on that subject.)  Just hearing that you know they don’t like it is sometimes enough to help them allow you to trim their nails.  They feel heard.  Most kids will not assume that you understand them by reading your tone and body language alone, and ASD kids struggle with this more than the average child.  You are giving them information about your mindset that they cannot understand unless you spell it out in this manner.
  • Choose a comfortable position for both of you.  Some kids really like beanbag chairs as they feel cradled while the chairs also supporting them.   All that deep pressure helps them stay calmer and they can’t squirm as much.  Some prefer to be lying down, and some want to be watching Paw Patrol.  I don’t know that using distraction is so terrible.  You might sweeten the deal with a special DVD like home movies that feature them!
  • Use good technique and equipment.  There are nail cutters that protect children’s fingers better than the standard clippers you buy for yourself.  Buy them now.
  • Make it clear why their nails need attention.  One of my clients had a great idea to show her child that his nails were too long:  she asked him to run his nails along his upper thigh and see if they were “scratchy”.  Scratchy nails need to be trimmed.
  • Try a little hand massage.  Nothing too hard, but never use light, flighty touch.  Light touch is always stimulating to the nervous system, and light moving touch is even more stimulating.  Use firm grasp that doesn’t roam on-and-off their hand during nail trimming.  If you don’t believe me that light touch is irritating, imagine getting a massage of flighty fingers running up and down your back. Can you feel that?  It is alerting, and a bit annoying, right?  Certainly more stimulating than relaxing.  Well, when you hold a child’s fingers loosely, and then grasp/release their hand over and over….their brain perceives it as light touch. Oops.  I use my skills as a licensed massage therapist with my OT skills to create a calming pattern of hand and finger massage either prior to or after nail grooming.  Usually after, as I can use lotion then (lotion before trimming creates slippery hands for both of you!)
  • Pair the experience of nail trimming with something your child enjoys.  You could try offering a healthy but tasty snack right after nail trimming.  Read a beloved book after nail trimming.  Something that they like and can look forward to.  My trick: have it visible but out of reach, so that an upset child who is more literal and less likely to understand your words will see evidence of the positive experience he will have immediately after nail trimming.  You might be surprised that even though your child is calm enough to speak, his response to nail trimming is so much better with the visual cue of the actual treat.
  • Some children need to do nail filing before they can tolerate trimming.  Daily filing can be less scary and still keep things well groomed.  This really works!  Once filing is well tolerated, you may be able to move to clipping.  If not, a calm child that can handle filing every other day is a lot happier than a squirming, screaming child who learns to fear your grooming routines.  i like the foam filing rectangles rather than the emery boards.  If a child suddenly becomes agitated, I am not as worried about accidental eye injuries.
  • I will use a distraction such as a video on a tablet at times while I do nail filing/cutting and massage.  I try to pick really short videos and definitely move back and forth between letting them watch and bringing their attention to their hands.  I directly discuss a child’s nails and hands with them, naming the fingers and talking about whether their nails are smooth or bumpy.  Why?  Zoning out totally doesn’t reduce overall anxiety over time, but being able to toggle back and forth between targets of attention is active use of the frontal lobes, the ones that can stay calm and think things out….!
  • Try to do a small trim on a weekly basis (or even more frequently) so that it can be expected and part of a routine.  Familiarity really helps all of us.  That is why tax time can be stressful.  It only comes once a year.  And here in the U.S., we are about to enter into the least happy time of the year!

And remember to be patient with yourself as well. The challenges of parenting a child with sensory sensitivity and modulation issues can really affect how you see the world.  It is important to acknowledge how you feel, as well as how your child feels.  If you feel angry or hopeless, talk to your partner, a friend or a counselor that can help you maintain your focus and positivity about caring for your child.

Looking for ideas on helping your child with other grooming skills?  Read What Helps Kids Handle Haircuts? for ideas that work!  Want to see what equipment can help you with self-care activities?  I wrote a guest blog post for a terrific site, Therapro: Improving Daily Life Tasks for Kids With Special Needs that gives you lots of equipment ideas that really work!

Are you looking for ideas to help your child with toilet training?  Well, I wrote a book that can help you make progress today!  My e-book, The Practical Guide To Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, also helps children with sensory processing issues and ASD.  Take a look at The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived! to learn more about how pre-training will help your child speed up potty training, and why understanding how low tone impacts your child’s sensory, motor, and social skills will make a huge difference for both of you.  To purchase my e-book, visit my website tranquil babies , Your Therapy Source, or Amazon .

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