Tag Archives: sensory processing

Great Mechanical Pencils Can Improve Your Child’s Handwriting Skills

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Great mechanical pencils for kids !

These pencils help students with the following handwriting issues:

  1. They use too much force while writing, and the pencil tips break frequently.
  2. They need more tactile information to achieve and keep a mature pencil grasp.
  3. They rarely notice that they need to sharpen their pencil to improve legibility.
  4. Getting up to sharpen a pencil distracts or disorganizes them so much that it extends the time to complete assignments.

I usually do not recommend mechanical pencils for the earliest writers, but that changes after the first half of second grade.  Once a child is facing the volume and speed demands of later second grade or above, it is time to be creative and think outside the box.

Working on the physical skills and the sensory processing skills that cause a child to struggle with grading force, perceiving tactile input, and monitoring their performance is still important.  They would probably take away my OTR license if I didn’t say that!

The problem is that sometimes life hacks are essential to keep a child functioning and feeling like a success.  Having the right equipment is an important and easy life hack for the child that already (at 7!) thinks of himself as a bad writer.  Using this pencil can be one of those “low-hanging-fruit” situations where performance improves while skills are developing.

PaperMate hasn’t targeted the kids with low tone, sensory processing, ASD, ADHD, or any other issues, and that is actually a nice thing.  Older kids don’t want a “special” anything in the classroom or even at home.  They might reject seat cushions and pencil grips that help them because they don’t want to look different or feel different.  Well, these are easy to get at office supply stores.  There is nothing “special” about them at all, except that they really help kids write neatly.

  • The pencils have #2 leads, a good eraser, and come with both extra lead and erasers.  We all know that running out of erasers will communicate “I don’t really need to erase that mistake” to a child.
  •  The colors are appealing to kids, but not infantile.
  • Adults know that their handwriting will immediately look better with a fine point writing utensil, but kids do not.   Children that have visual-perceptual or executive functioning issues often struggle to accurately assess what is causing their handwriting to look illegible, and then take the appropriate action.  They just shrug it off and say that they are simply “bad at writing”.
  • The pencil shaft is smooth, but the thick triangular shape adds much more tactile input than a regular pencil.  Feeling an edge, rather than a cylinder, is often just enough tactile feedback to remind kids to reposition their fingers without an adult saying “Fix your grip”.  Kids get so tired of adults telling them what to do.
  • The triangular shape limits how often the pencil rolls away or rolls off the table.  For kids with ADHD, that can be enough to derail homework without any drama!
  • Finally, mechanical pencils seem more grown-up to children than standard pencils, and you can spin it as such.  What a nice opportunity to be positive about handwriting!

What happens when your child makes a mistake and needs to try again?  They need the best eraser!  Check out Problems With Handwriting? You Need The Best Eraser , because the erasers on these PaperMate pencils are good but not great.  Having the best equipment positions your child for success!

 

 

Toe Walker? Why The Problem Usually Isn’t Touch Sensitivity

Kids that toe-walk after they have fully mastered walking and running (usually 24-30 months) are often accused of avoiding the feeling of their feet on the floor.  It certainly looks that way.  The truth is usually not so simple, and the solution not so easy to achieve. Getting a toe-walker to use a heel-toe gait pattern means you have to address the reason they choose to use this pattern, and manage any loss of movement at their ankles that has developed.

The great majority of children that I have treated who toe-walk are actually seeking more sensory input, and are getting it by teetering around on the balls of their feet.  The vestibular input as they sway, and the proprioceptive input of all that joint pressure and muscle contraction is what they really crave.  Touching or not touching the floor has very little to do with it.  If a child is a true tactile avoider, it is probably not just on the soles of their feet.  Avoiders dislike the feeling of clothing on their skin, food in their mouths, even water splashing them in the bathtub.  You know if you have a tactile avoider.  Life is a real challenge.

Sensory seekers come in a few different flavors.  Some have low muscle tone and are looking for a blast of information that they don’t get when walking with flat feet.  Is Low Muscle Tone A Sensory Processing Issue? Some are more drawn to the swish and sway movement as they walk.  They love to flip upside down and spin around just for the fun of it.  A lot.

Some sensory seekers toe-walk and then intentionally crash into furniture or people.  They can use this pattern as a two-fer.  They get both the fun of the proprioceptive input and they avoid the challenge of controlling their deceleration as they arrive at their destination.  I have worked with toddlers that simply cannot walk to a chair, turn around and sit without ending up on the floor.  You can almost see the wheels in their head turning as they decide ” I usually fall anyway.  How about just crashing intentionally and making it a game? She will just catch me and I get a hug!”

Because toe-walking is normal (yes, normal!) for very young children just learning to walk and run, it can be ignored long enough to result in shortening of the ankle tendons and weakening of the muscles that move the toes up toward the knee.  At this point, a child may not be able to achieve full range of movement easily.  Enter the physical therapist for stretching and strengthening.

Here are some simple strategies to address toe walking in it’s early stages, before the Achilles tendon has shortened significantly.

Duck walking:  everybody likes ducks.  Pretending to be a duck, pointing toes up and out to the side while quacking, is a cute and fun exercise.

Squats:  Yes, squats.  You can go mega and have a child stand on a 1-3 inch thick book then squat down to pick something up.  Big stretch, plus some vestibular action as their head dips down.

Jumping:  They have to land on a flat foot with heel contact, and jumping along a path made by tape can be a really fun game.

Choose a high-topped shoe:  Go old-school and try a high top sneaker (trainers, tennis shoes, or whatever you call them in your area).   First of all, it looks seriously cute on little kids, and it will act as a soft brace to prevent some of the toe-walking.  The hard core toe-walkers may actually need an orthotic, so if you still see a lot of pronounced toe walking, consult your pediatrician and see a physiatrist.  They can recommend corrective inserts that do more than prevent a child from coming up on their toes.  A good orthotic can help a child strengthen the muscles that he wasn’t using while toe-walking.

Give them more vestibular and proprioceptive input:  If a child really needs does more sensory information, then there are fun ways to deliver the goods.  Swinging, rolling down a hill, climbing walls, yoga, and other absolutely fun activities should be available to them.  Of course, a targeted sensory “diet” is a great idea.  Well thought-out and intensive activities created by an occupational therapist to satisfy a child’s interests and needs can result in hours of typical movement and positioning for school and play.

Parents and therapists:  please submit a comment and add activities that have worked for your children!

 

 

 

 

Is Low Muscle Tone A Sensory Processing Issue?

Only if you think that sensing your body’s position and being able to perceive the degree/quality of your movement is sensory-based.  I’m being silly; of course low tone creates sensory processing issues.

It isn’t the same sensory profile as the child who can’t pay attention when long sleeves brush his skin, nor the child who cannot tolerate the bright lights and noise at his brother’s basketball games.  Having difficulty perceiving your foot position on a step, or not knowing how much force you are using on a pencil can make life a challenge.  Sensory processing issues mean that the brain isn’t interpreting the sensory information it receives, or that the information it receives is inadequate.

That is the situation with low muscle tone.  Low tone reduces the amount of joint and muscle receptor firing because these receptors need either pressure or stretch to activate.  If it is not in a sufficient quantity, the receptors will not fire in time or in large enough numbers to alert the brain that a change has occurred. Therefore, the brain cannot create an appropriate response to the situation.   What does this look like?  Your child slowly sliding off the side of a chair but not noticing it, or your child grinding her crayon into the paper until it rips, then crying because she has ruined another Rapunzel picture.

Muscle tone is a tricky thing to change, since it is mediated by the lower parts of the brain.  That means it is not under conscious control.  You cannot meditate your way to normal tone, and you can’t strengthen your way there either.  Strength and tone are entirely different.  Getting and keeping strength around joints is a very important goal for anyone with low tone, and protecting ligaments from injury is too.  Stronger muscles will provide more active contraction and therefore pressure, but when at rest, they are not going to respond any differently.

Therapists have some strategies to improve tone for functional activities, but they have not been proven to alter the essential cause of low muscle tone.  Even vestibular activities, the big guns of the sensory gym, can only alter the level of tone for a short period during and after their use.   The concept of a sensory diet is an appropriate image, as it feeds the brain with some of the information that doesn’t get transmitted from joints and muscles.    Sensory diets require some effort and thought, just like food diets.  Just bouncing on a therapy ball and jumping up and down probably will not do very much for any specific child.  Think of a sensory diet like a diabetic diet. It doesn’t make the pancreas start producing insulin, but it helps the system regulate blood glucose more effectively.

Managing low muscle tone for better movement, safety and function is complicated.  Step one is to understand that it is more than a child’s rounded back when sitting, or a preschooler that chews his shirtsleeve.  Step two is to make a multifocal plan to improve daily life.

For more information on life hacks for toilet training, dressing and play with children that have low muscle tone, please look in the archives section of my blog for targeted ideas! My post and are new posts that go into more details regarding life with kids that have sensory processing issues.

For personalized recommendations on equipment and methods to improve a child’s functional skills, visit my website and buy a 30-minute consult.  We can chat, do FaceTime, and you get the personal connection you need to make your decisions for your family!

 

 

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

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Most children resist nail trimming.  But 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.  Understanding why they fight you is the first step in solving this problem.

There are some good reasons why cutting your child’s nails can be so difficult for them to handle.  If you can identify the “why”, you can adapt the experience to help a 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 with ASD or with SPD.  In fact, they work well with any child who is upset or demanding during grooming, haircuts, etc.

Here are some good reasons why your child is so distressed:

  • Most typically-developing young children do not enjoy nail trimming.  They don’t see the need for it, and they really don’t like leaving a fun activity to do a not-fun activity.  A child with ASD or SPD may not be so unlike their sibling or cousin.
  • Typical kids put up with nail care 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 still 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.  Sometimes they have only one or two. 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.  Parents of children who fight nail trimming often leave this task until it is unavoidable,  Rare events are almost always seen as unwelcome or even threatening.

There are practical and simple things that parents can do to make nail trimming less aggravating:

  • 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.
  • Don’t go wild when they ARE cooperative.  I know you are excited to see progress.  Keep most of it to yourself.  Sensitive kids need some finessing when it comes to praise.  Here’s how to handle it so it doesn’t backfire on you: Sensitive Child? Be Careful How You Deliver Praise
  • 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 such a terrible idea.  You might even 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.  Clippers that are easy for you to hols steady are essential.  Buy them today!
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Hammacher Schlemmer sells these well-designed clippers.  Expensive…but worth it!

  • 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 own upper thigh and see if they were “scratchy”.  Scratchy nails need to be trimmed.
  • Try a little hand massage.  Nothing too hard, but never ever use light, flighty touch.  Light touch is always stimulating to the nervous system, and light moving touch is even more stimulating.  Don’t add fuel to the fire.  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.  It’s not a bribe.  Really,  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 every other day) 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!  So make nail trimming part of a routine and it could be less of a surprise.

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.

Need more information to make things like nail trimming, bath time, dressing and mealtime easier?

I wrote 2 e-books just for you!  The JointSmart Child:  Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One: The Early Years and Volume Two: The School Years give you strategies that you can use TODAY! Even if your child’s hypermobility isn’t their biggest issue, my strategies will make life easier for you and your child…I promise! My books provide simple guidelines for picking the best equipment like chairs and strollers, building independent dressing and grooming, making bedtime easier, and even how to communicate better with your family, teachers, and even doctors!

Knowing how to help your child develop independence and safety awareness isn’t intuitive; parents deserve skilled guidance.  These books are filled with practical information and insights from my 25 years as a pediatric occupational therapist.  It is time that parents know all the tricks and techniques that therapists use to find good equipment and select the right strategies for success.  Parents need to feel empowered…today!

Read more about these books: The JointSmart Child Series: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children Can Feel More Empowered and Confident Today! and A Practical Guide to Helping the Hypermobile School-Age Child Succeed

They are available on Amazon as read-only downloads, and on Your Therapy Source as  printable and clickable downloads.  Your Therapy Source also sells my other books (see below) bundled for an amazing deal!

  My e-book, The Practical Guide To Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, also helps children with sensory processing issues and ASD make faster progress with potty training.  

Read  The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived! to learn more about how the pre-training strategies in The Practical Guide will help your child speed up potty training at any age, 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 Your Therapy Source or Amazon .

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