Tag Archives: ASD

Halloween is Coming: For Children Who Get Spooked Easily, It’s No Celebration

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I wonder what the little girl with the sparkler is really thinking?

I love Halloween, but not everyone does.  Kids with sensory sensitivity top THAT list!  The strange transformation of their classrooms, homes and yards aren’t exciting; they are disorienting.  The masks and loose costumes?  Pure Hell.  But at least here in America, it often seems like it is almost unpatriotic to shun this holiday unless you have a religious objection.  What can you do?

I am re-blogging this post since I think it is worth another look: Have More Halloween Fun When Kids Don’t or Can’t Trick-Or-Treat , and because even if you DO take your child out for treats, the ideas could help them handle things more easily.

In this climate of diversity challenge, I sincerely hope that there is room for all of the people, young and old, who don’t really have fun with Halloween in it’s traditional forms.  I would like to think that holidays could be what you make them.

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Just because the squash on the left aren’t orange, that shouldn’t mean they aren’t great symbols of the season!

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Spatial Awareness and Sound: “Hearing” The Space Around You

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Just floating along in a big ocean……..

I hear a lot about kids who aren’t comfortable in big spaces: cafeterias, churches, gyms. Many parents, and even some therapists, attribute it to lack of familiarity: these are places they use inconsistently and are filled with more strangers.  Or they mention noise intolerance:  to music, to shouting, and to sounds like balls bouncing or people clapping.

But how about spatial issues?  We use our hearing to know where we are in a space, and to monitor our position in relation to people and objects as we move through space.  Kids who are poor at orientation to sound (I hear it, and I know where it is coming from) are usually also fair to poor at discriminating sound (I know what that sound is like and what it is or could be).  They may have a diagnosable hearing issue, or they may have a processing issue with no organ limitation.  Or they have both.

As sounds bounce off surfaces, we hear them and determine, like RADAR, how close we are to that surface.  We might turn our heads slightly, but we can hear in both ears, giving us stereo comparisons that tell us about what is behind us, above us and even below us.

In large spaces, sounds are “swallowed up” and give us less information.  This is part of the design of gothic cathedrals; you have a different sense inside them, a sense of being a bit “lost”, of how small you are in the face of the almighty. Not just luck.  Our ancestors understood the effect of altering spatial awareness on our sense of safety and stability.  But for people with spatial issues, they feel uncomfortably lost, very off kilter in environments that make them struggle to get a sense of their position in these types of locations.  For kids with poor sensory processing, it can happen in a grocery store or a new classroom.

What other sense is involved in spatial awareness?  Vision.  Vision is only helpful for about the 180 degrees in front of us, and not all of that vision is acute.  Our peripheral vision is fuzzy but still gives us some information about things going on to our extreme right and left.

The kids with poor auditory skills will use their vision excessively, and the kids with poor vision will try to use their auditory skills to shore up what they can’t see.  What does this look like?  Kids who are turning their heads constantly as they move, trying to get a sense of their location as they move, when their auditory system should be telling them about the distance between them and the boundaries of the room and it’s contents.  Kids who seem to hear everything, and yet not your voice telling them not to step on their brother’s LEGO car, which they don’t seem to see on the floor.

Poor spatial awareness often makes kids anxious.  This can sometimes be interpreted as a psychological issue, but CBT and drugs will never make it better.  That is a hint that perhaps it is a sensory issue.  Spatial issues can also make kids rigid about where they will go.  They may refuse unfamiliar parks, pools, playgrounds and new classrooms.

What can you do to help kids?  Work on auditory and visual skills, and always use vestibular and proprioceptive input as modulators and regulators.  I especially like the Therapeutic Listening Spatial series.   Spatial skills are important, and they can be improved!

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Teaching Safety Awareness To Special Needs Toddlers

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Parents anxiously wait for their special needs infants to sit up, crawl and walk.  That last skill can take extra months or years.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, uses walking as a benchmark for maturity and independence.

They shouldn’t.  A child with poor safety awareness isn’t safer when they acquire mobility skills.  Sometimes they are much less safe.  Yes, they may be able to move without your help, but they may need to be more highly monitored and given more assistance to learn how to be safe.  They are exploring their environment and their new skills that took them a long time to develop.  They have been wanting to climb on the couch for months.  Now they can.  Getting down the “safe” way isn’t as important to them, and maybe not as easy as sliding or rolling off.  Oops.

What can parents do to help their child be a safer (notice I didn’t say “safe”) ambulator, crawler, cruiser, etc?  

  1. Talk about safety before they are independent.  Will they understand what it means?  Probably not, but your tone and your insistence on how movement is done says that you value safety and you want them to do the same.  Kids learn from all of our actions.  Make this one familiar to them by being very obvious and explicit.
  2. Take your physical therapist seriously when she or he teaches you how to work on core strength and balance skills.  Yes, I still maintain that safety is more than a sensory-motor skill, but having the best possible sensory and motor skills is important.  Having good safety awareness and safety behaviors without these skills will make a child more vulnerable to falls and injuries.
  3. The same goes for sensory processing activities.  If your child cannot perceive the movement of falling, the tactile and proprioceptive change as they crawl or step on something, or tolerate multiple sensory inputs at once, they are much less safe, even with good strength and coordination.  Really.
  4. Know your child’s cognitive and social/emotional skills.  Impulsive children are less safe overall.  Children that cannot process your instructions or recall them without you are less safe.  Children that enjoy defying you more than they want to avoid falling are less safe.  If you know any of these things, you can gauge safety and react more appropriately.  You will be less frustrated and more helpful to them.
  5. Reward safe execution and do not reward unsafe behavior.   My favorite way to avoid punishment but also to send my safety message home?  Not providing eye contact or much at all in the way of conversation as I stop unsafe actions, and either removing a child from an unsafe situation or assisting them in using the safe method to execute their move.  They get no satisfaction from seeing me react strongly, and they get the message that I am not accepting anything but their best safety skills as they move.
  6. Stop a child that is moving in an unsafe way, and see if they can recall and initiate the safe choice before assisting.  You don’t want to teach them that only you will make them safe and they need someone to be safe out there. They have to learn how to assess, react and respond, and all children can build their skills.  Some need more teaching, and some need more motivation to begin to take responsibility for their safety.  Give them both.

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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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