Tag Archives: Dissociation

Are You a Trauma Survivor AND the Parent of a Special Needs Child?

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First, let me say that trauma survivors can be among the most loving and active parents I work with as a pediatric occupational therapist.

How do I know they are survivors?  Some parents share their histories openly, and some aren’t aware of what their actions and words reveal.  Occupational therapists that have worked in psychiatry are particularly attuned to patterns of behavior that suggest a history of trauma.  And after therapy has gone on for a while and the therapeutic relationship blossoms, some parents wish to share more of their personal story with me.

Trauma survivors that had complicated pregnancies Can The Parents of Pediatric Clients Have PTSD? , have children with genetic disorders, or deliver children who develop developmental delays, come in all ages and social/support situations.  Some currently have a psychotherapist for support, and some have done a tremendous amount of therapy in the past.  Others may not even recognize that what they experienced in the past was traumatic, or that there is specialized help for trauma-related issues.

What they all have in common is the (mostly) sudden stressor of having a child with special needs, the seemingly endless daily demands of care, and the constant seeking/managing of medical, educational and therapy services.  Survivors of trauma may not realize that they aren’t alone with their feelings of distress, or that their child’s therapists can help them cope.

I wrote a post on how therapists can help a child’s siblings, How an Occupational Therapist Can Help The Siblings of Special Needs Children , but parents with trauma backgrounds can ask for and receive support from their child’s therapists as well:

The simplest way therapists can help you is to validate the real demands of care and give you some perspective on what other family’s lives are really like.  We are aware that we are asking parents to do home programs and obtain equipment and toys that facilitate development.  We also know that life is messy, and it is OK if you admit that you find it hard just getting through the day.  You can ask us if other parents go through the same things that you do, and you will find out that you might be doing more than we expect.

If you are having a rough period, ask us to give you just the ONE thing that would be the easiest to incorporate into your day that would help your child this week.  We won’t be offended.  You might be surprised to find that we know what those days/weeks/months feel like too.

Some parents who are trauma survivors are less likely to ask for a review or clarification of a technique or treatment when therapists give them instructions.  This can come from fearing criticism, having been taught not to question authorities, feeling judged by therapists they perceive as punitive authorities, and even being dissociative during their child’s therapy session.  “Spacing out”, forgetting, being confused, etc. are all possible dissociative responses.  Parents who are reliving a NICU nightmare or who are triggered and recall their own medical trauma or physical abuse may have a lot of difficulty learning to do treatments on their child that involve any level of restraint or distress.  This can be managed, but only if it is addressed.

Your child’s therapists have many different ways of holding and positioning a child, and different ways of administering a treatment technique.  You can express your discomfort in general terms or you can tell us that this is a trigger for you, and you can ask us to make things easier for you without having to tell your own story.  Asking for a few reviews of home programs is seen by most therapists as indicating interest in what we do.  We aren’t offended; we are flattered.

Some survivors need to be out of the treatment room, and that is also OK.  We like to share your child’s progress, and we welcome you into the session, but we understand if you need to have some distance.  Scheduling treatment at your child’s school or in a therapy center, rather than at home, may be easier for you.  Your child will still receive excellent treatment.

Trauma survivors can be extremely distressed when their child cries in therapy, or even while witnessing their child struggle to learn new skills.  This can bring up distressing childhood memories for them, some of which they may not fully recall or even connect with their responses to their child’s therapy session.

Therapists can be healing models for actively managing a child’s distress and expressing how they handle their own feelings when children struggle.  A parent that grew up in a punitive home may not have seen adults model healthy reactions to a child’s distress.

Therapists can teach you their techniques for grading challenge and providing support that reduces your child’s level of agitation.  My favorite book to learn how to respond to young children warmly but with limits is The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp.  His techniques support healthy attachment and children respond much more quickly than parents expect.  Everyone feels better, not just the kids!  Read Teaching Children Emotional Regulation: Can Happiest Toddler on the Block Help Kids AND Adults? for more on this amazing program and how it can help both of you.  Today.

Some of the OT treatments that help children also can help their parents with regulation issues.  Read Should the PARENTS of Kids With Sensory Issues Use Quickshifts? about one easy treatment to develop a wider window of tolerance that works well for both children and adults.

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Binaural Beats and Regulation: More Than Music Therapy

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

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

The use of binaural headphones allows the ears to hear the full range of sound with as little interference or absorption from the environment.  It is important that the left and right ear are hearing the sounds separately.  The echo-y sound?  What you are hearing is the BBT; binaural beat technology.

It isn’t new.  BBT has been used and researched since the 70’s.  It is out there in many forms; you can even find it on YouTube.  There are enough studies done to prove that this technology has real effects on alertness, attention and mood.  It makes sense that therapists would like to use it to help kids with self-regulation issues.

BBT is helpful for learning and self-regulation, but only if you know what brainwave state you want, and why you want it.  And that is where therapists can help.

But which one to use?  I only use Quickshifts in my therapy sessions.  

Why do I prefer Quickshifts to deliver BBT?

  • Quickshifts entrain an alpha brainwave state.  This state is associated with calm focus and, wait for it, interoception.  Yup, the biggest new word in occupational therapy is interception, and there are some excellent studies done by neuropsych researchers that indicate that alpha brainwave states increase interoception.  Yeah!  Interoception is the ability to perceive internal states, and this includes basic physiological states such as fatigue, hunger, and the need to eliminate.  So many of our clients struggle with knowing what they feel.  Quickshifts can help.
  • Alpha brainwave states are theorized to act as a gating mechanism for anxiety, and anxiety isn’t a great state for kids with ASD, SPD, or, really, any of us.  Anxiety is a component of so many diagnoses, and it isn’t easy to do cognitive strategies like CBT or DBT with children under 10 or 11.  Works for adults too! Should the PARENTS of Kids With Sensory Issues Use Quickshifts?
  • The music used in Quickshifts is very carefully designed to enhance specific functional states, and every occupational therapist is all about functional performance.  We don’t want just relaxation; we want engagement in life.  The way that Quickshifts uses music allows BBT to address specific behavioral performance abilities.  There are albums for attention, for movement, and for regulation.  They all use BBT.  At any particular time, one functional goal will predominate.  I don’t need to induce a meditative state in a child that is working on handwriting.  I need calm focus and movement control.
  • The avoidance of pure tones means I don’t have to worry about seizure activity in most kids.  If a child has frequent seizures, I can be confident that I am not increasing them.
  • The choice of instrumentation on Quickshifts albums is often more grounding than other BBT choices.  I want kids to feel grounded, not floating on a cloud.  That state makes it harder to speak, move, etc.  Being jolted into a high level of engagement without grounding isn’t great either.  Remember:  OT is all about functioning.  That happens at that “just right” point of arousal.
  • There is a progression of instrumentation and rhythm on many Quickshift albums that guides the brain into more environmental awareness and postural activation, but it is done gently.   Getting to an alpha state is a goal, but improving functional performance with less risk of overload is most important to me.  I have to give kids a chance to leave our session in a good place.
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He picked out his perfect pumpkin!