The Benefits of Weighted Blankets

By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist

Weighted blankets have become very popular in the past year, not only for children with sensory processing difficulties and Autism, but also with “neurotypical” adults. It’s hard to go online or browse the aisles of Walmart without seeing ads for weighted blankets touting an improved night’s sleep or improved mood. So what exactly is the hype around weighted blankets and why do they help children with Autism or other sensory processing issues?

What are weighted blankets?

Weighted blankets are usually big plush blankets filled with some sort of pellet to make it heavier (depending on what type of blanket you buy or make, they are usually filled with plastic, sand, steel shot beads, plastic poly pellets, micro-beads, etc.)

They can range in weight from a couple pounds to about 20 pounds and can be made out of just about any type of fabric imaginable!  Weighted blankets can be worn on the lap to help a fidgety child calm down in order to sit at the table for a meal with family, help ease anxiety during a car ride, or help lull a child to sleep.

Weighted blankets for children should not exceed 10% of their body weight for safety (weighted blankets should be a comfortable compression, not so heavy that they cannot be easily taken off by a child). These blankets are used for calming input to help a child “slow their body down,” not to be so heavy as to inhibit movement.

What’s the theory behind weighted blankets?

Weighted blankets can have a calming effect when worn over the body for the same reason that your child would seek a big hug when they are upset. This weight provides deep tactile input to the skin, joints, and muscles that tells your child’s brain to relax.

According to the American Sleep Association, deep tactile input provided from weighted blankets tells our central nervous system to switch from our “fight or flight” sympathetic state of being anxious and panicky to our “rest and recharge” parasympathetic state where our heart rates slow and we are able to calm ourselves down. Deep tactile input causes the body to release serotonin in the brain, a feel-good neurotransmitter that creates a sense of calm and well-being.

For children with Autism Spectrum Disorders or sensory processing difficulties, it is really hard to get their bodies to move from this “fight or flight” to “rest and recharge” state on their own. Occupational Therapists are trained in identifying strategies to help the central nervous system to calm through the use of movement, tactile, olfactory, visual, auditory, and proprioceptive input. Weighted blankets can be an effective modality to help accomplish this.

Store Bought vs. Homemade

There are a plethora of store-bought options for weighted blankets that range from relatively cheap to extremely pricey. Whether you purchase or make your weighted blanket should be based upon how much time you have available as well how much you want to spend. Both store bought or homemade options can have the same calming effect.

Regardless, like any other blanket, it should be washed occasionally. Make sure that the materials you purchase are conducive to being either machine or hand washed without destroying the blanket. For example, your blanket is filled with sand or rice, it would be a good idea to purchase a cover to go over the blanket so that it may be removed and washed.

Where to Shop

There are so many options for weighted blankets online and in store. Here’s a list of a couple choices that I have suggested to families in the past (ask your Occupational Therapist which companies they prefer and have had good experiences with).

  • Amazon: Amazon has a large selection of blankets that range from $50-$100. Be sure to check individual seller’s policies on returns and weight specifications.
  • Fun and Function: This therapy product website has weighted comforters, blankets, sleeping bags, and lap pads with fun designs and textures that are kid-friendly.
  • Support groups: Parent support groups on Facebook often either personally know someone who makes great blankets or knows what companies make the best ones for a fair price. (For clients at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, ask your Occupational Therapist about weighted blankets created by Easterseals families that are low to no cost!)

How to Make Homemade Weighted Blankets

Because I am always a fan of saving a few bucks and getting a little crafty, I usually tell my client’s families to try making a weighted blanket on their own. If a family is up for it, I recommend buying a duvet cover and going to a craft store such as Joann Fabrics or Michaels to purchase filler material. The duvet can then be sown shut and you can place another cover on top of the filled duvet so that the outer layer can be easily washed.

Making your own also lends itself to making a blanket that would exactly fit your child’s interests. You can purchase durable, washable fabrics with your child’s favorite characters on it. There are also online instructions for how to make your own blanket, like this one from Quality Plastic Pellets. Make sure to remember the rule for the weight of the blanket… make sure it weighs at most 10% of the child’s body weight.

Aromatherapy and Weighted Blankets

For an extra calming sensory experience, you can even add aromatherapy scents to your weighted blanket. Of course, make sure that the child enjoys the scent and is not bothered by this olfactory input prior to adding it to the blanket. Scents such as lavender, vanilla, chamomile, and bergamot can have a calming effect and can help with inducing sleep. Aromatherapy oils can be purchased at your local drug store. Click here to read more about adding aromatherapy to weighted blankets.

Whether you want to buy or make your own, weighted materials can be trialed in therapy sessions to see if the child has a positive, calming response with its use. Your Occupational Therapist will collaborate with you to consider what textures your child can tolerate in fabrics, if the sound of the material inside the blanket could be irritating, and when it would be most beneficial for the child to use the blanket.

Choosing a weighted blanket can be both an art and a science; if you are interested in trialing a weighted blanket for your child, feel free to ask your child’s Occupational Therapist about it!

For more information about Occupational Therapy services at Easter Seals, visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html

6 Strategies to Prepare for Your Child’s IEP Team Meeting

By: Kimberly Lechner, Ph.D.

About the Author: Kimberly Lechner is a School Psychologist, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, and former special education administrator. She currently runs a private practice in Wheaton called Kids First Collaborative where she provides psychoeducational evaluations, clinical counseling, and special education advocacy. Her daughter receives services at Easterseals. 

Boy getting off of school bus

It’s May, and IEP season is in full swing! As parents, we work so hard to support our children’s development, and we are so deeply invested in our children’s success at home and at school. We are thoughtful about how we collaborate with members of our kids’ school teams. We support our children’s teachers, and we hope that they recognize and value our voices as parents. Still, when it comes to the IEP process, we sometimes feel like outsiders among a team of educators who are making important decisions for our child.

As a school psychologist and former special education administrator, I’ve facilitated countless IEP meetings. However, as a parent of a child who receives special services, I am amazed by how overwhelming the IEP process can feel. As you prepare for your child’s upcoming IEP meeting, consider the following strategies to support effective and meaningful collaboration with your school team.

6 Strategies to Prepare for Your Child’s IEP Team Meeting

  • Proactive communication matters

Schedule a conference call with your child’s teacher or case manager to touch on any anticipated concerns in advance.

  • Request that teachers consult with outside providers in advance

This can include private tutors, therapists, physicians, or other individuals who may have valuable input. Be sure that release of information documents are signed for all parties. If necessary, ask private team members to provide a written statement regarding their impressions of your child and their recommendations for the team.

  • Review your child’s current IEP

Pay close attention to the following areas:

  1. accommodations and modifications
  2. special education and related services
  3. goals

Is your child’s IEP currently meeting his or her needs? Has your child made expected progress toward goals? Are there areas of functioning that are not meaningfully addressed in the IEP?

  • Request a draft of the proposed new IEP goals.

School districts often prepare draft goals in advance, and parents should have an opportunity to consider draft goals prior to the IEP meeting. Note that determinations around eligibility, services, and placement are ONLY made in the context of the IEP team meeting and are not determined or drafted in advance.

Review your child’s draft goals in advance. Are the goals appropriately ambitious for your child? Do you understand how your child’s progress toward goals will be measured throughout the school year? Consider sharing any questions or concerns regarding draft goals in advance with your child’s team.

  • Request copies of any evaluations of your child conducted by school team members.

You may also request any local data that will be used to support decision making (i.e. progress monitoring data and results of any district wide assessments).

  • Write your own parent input statement.

Every IEP document includes a space for “parent educational concerns.” IEP facilitators ask parents to articulate their concerns at each IEP meeting. However, parents often respond with something general such as, “We want our child to be successful in school.” Although this simple statement is important, it might not fully express your goals for your child nor might it clearly articulate your concerns. Your perspectives are better understood when you have an opportunity to thoughtfully consider your family’s concerns and provide input in written form.

My husband and I recently attended our daughter’s reevaluation and annual review meeting, and I’m still processing all that transpired. I’ve yet to make it through an IEP meeting without a tear or two (or even an ugly cry), but I’m so very thankful to share that my tears have primarily come from a place of gratitude.

I see each IEP meeting as an opportunity to celebrate the progress my daughter has made and to reflect on the wonderful therapists and teachers who have helped our daughter grow and thrive. Our Easterseals therapists have played an incredible role in our journey, and so have the amazing teachers, therapists, and administrators from our school district. When I reflect on our recent IEP meeting, what resonates most is the love and support we felt from each and every member of our daughter’s team. I am also struck by the significant commitment of time, energy, and resources that went into preparing for this meeting. I can honestly say that our family experienced what TRUE collaboration looks like, both before and during this IEP meeting, and I am so very grateful for the professionals who made that possible.

As an advocate, I have the privilege of walking alongside families who are seeking that same level of collaboration, commitment, and support from their school teams. I typically find that both educators and families are interested in developing genuinely collaborative relationships. Nevertheless, disagreements do occur, and teams sometimes need to thoughtfully examine their assumptions and reengage in a truly child-centered problem-solving process.  I believe firmly in the power of parent engagement, and I know that children do best when families play a central role in their education.

Our Parent Liaisons at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley have firsthand experience with IEP meetings and are available to answer questions or provide resources on the topic. For more information, visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/explore-resources/for-caregivers/iep-help.html

What is Tongue-Tie and How is it Treated?

SBy: Valerie Heneghan, M.A. CCC-SLP/L

The topic of tethered oral tissues or tongue/lip tie is evolving and controversial among professionals in the medical field.  The controversy often stems from first diagnosis. Is it truly a tethered oral tissue? And second the remediation. Is surgery necessary or is the child able to compensate without intervention? 

As a parent, I know it is a difficult decision as you want the best for your children.  You want to support your child’s development without unnecessary medical procedures.  My suggestion is to work with a professional who has experience in this area who can discuss these considerations and how they impact your child specifically. 

When discussing considerations regarding tethered oral tissues (e.g., tongue, lip, and cheek) it is important to include these 4 components:  

  1. Symptoms of mother/infant
  2. Mobility
  3. Function
  4. Location

The conversation on whether to move forward with medical intervention should include symptomology, structures, and function.  One child upon visual inspection may look to have a tethered oral tissue without any symptoms. While another child may have a tethered oral tissue that is not as visually apparent, however may have several symptoms impacting activities of daily living.

Below are interdisciplinary symptoms that could potentially be attributed to tethered oral tissues that you may want to consider:

  • Breastfeeding issues: Nipple pain, difficulty latching, inefficient nursing (e.g., feeding until becomes fatigued rather than full, nursing around the clock, etc.)
  • Lack of weight gain or growth
  • Difficulty moving to solid foods or won’t tolerate a variety of foods
  • Difficulty with cup, straw or bottle drinking
  • Delayed production of single words or imprecise articulation
  • Dentition (e.g., gap in front teeth) or malocclusion
  • Open mouth posture or congestion
  • Asymmetrical motor skills (e.g., preference for one side at young age) or Torticollis
  • Issues with sensory regulation, fine motor skills or vision
  • Coordination or balance issues
  • Gut Health issues or GERD
  • Sleep apnea

What are the next steps? 

It is important to find a medical professional who has experience in this area. A Pediatrician, ENT, or Dentist can diagnose a tethered oral tissue.  Often a Speech-Language Pathologist or Lactation Consultant may be referred, as these professionals work closely with oral motor skills therapeutically.

If a frenectomy (i.e., surgical cut to release the frenulum) is warranted, seek a medical professional (e.g., ENT or Dentist) who has experience in the following:

  • Has knowledge and expertise in releasing tethered oral tissues  
  • Recommends post-surgical program (i.e., stretches, therapeutic feedings, etc.)
  • Procedural experience using both scissor and laser for best possible outcome.

For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley Speech-Language services, including those that treat children with Tongue Tie conditions, visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/speech-language-therapy.html

Commonly Asked Questions About Down Syndrome

By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist

Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21, is one of the more common genetic disorders in which children are born with 3 (instead of the normal 2) copies of chromosome 21.

There are common physical characteristics of children with Down Syndrome, such as upwardly slanted eyes, short fingers, small facial features, and a flattened nasal bridge. Children with Down Syndrome also may have varying degrees of intellectual disability, may develop heart conditions, and are at risk for visual impairments. Many children with Down’s Syndrome also have low tone (meaning that their muscles have less of a “taut” quality to them, making their joints appear “loose” or “floppy”).

Because of these physical and intellectual challenges that children with Down Syndrome live with, many children with Down Syndrome receive Occupational, Physical, and Speech therapies in order to address these concerns and make them as independent as Parker2possible.

That was the very medical analysis of Down Syndrome… but if you are a parent of a child who was recently diagnosed with Down Syndrome, you are not thinking of statistics, factoids, and medical jargon. You would be thinking, “What does this mean for my child?”

While I am not a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, nor do I pretend to be the holder of all the knowledge on Down Syndrome, I’ll try to answer common questions from my perspective as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and a person who is proud to have friends with the condition.  

What services to I need to look into for my child?

Young children with a new diagnosis of Down Syndrome (under 3 years old) can qualify through Early Intervention Services through the state of Illinois. Early Intervention brings trained specialists into the home of eligible children with disabilities or delays and provides high-quality therapeutic intervention.

To start services, a parent schedules an evaluation through a Child and Family Connections provider closest to their home (featured in the link above). After the evaluator determines a child qualifies with a 30 percent delay in development in any area, or are at risk of developmental delays, he/she will set up An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP lists child and family strengths, needs, resources, priorities, and concerns. It also identifies services to be provided to your child.  

Many Easterseals therapists are trained and credentialed by the State of Illinois Early Intervention System. Parents can request an Easterseals therapist when qualifying for services and speaking with the EI Case Manager. 

Team members could include Developmental therapists, Occupational therapists, Physical therapists, Speech therapists, Audiologists, Social Workers, Nursing, Assistive Technology, and nutritionists, just to name a few.  These therapists can help your child with global strength, communicating effectively, sensory processing issues, fine and gross motor skills, and getting around in the community.

Once a child “ages out” of Early Intervention at 3 years old, many children with Down Syndrome continue to get services as needed through schools and outpatient based clinics, such as your local Easterseals.

Why would my child with Down Syndrome need Occupational, Physical, and/or Speech therapy?

I have worked with children with Down Syndrome as an Occupational Therapist for a number of reasons and most often to address the following:

  • sensory processing difficulties Jake mom machine
  • trouble with transitions
  • behavior management
  • feeding difficulties
  • handwriting
  • dressing
  • manipulating fasteners
  • bathing
  • social skills
  • global strength
  • participating in family and school routines
  • access to community activities
  • navigating their physical environment safely

I will refer children with Down Syndrome to Physical Therapy and Speech Therapy as well. Physical Therapists can help children with Down Syndrome ambulate and have sufficient strength to be able to crawl, squat down, skip, climb stairs, propel their walkers/wheelchairs or walk.

Speech Therapists can help a child with Down Syndrome improve articulation (intelligibility of spoken language), oral motor skills for feeding and speaking, pragmatic language skills, improving receptive language skills, and accessing augmentative forms of communication (picture boards or high-tech communication devices).

Will my child be able to go to school?

Yes! Whether it’s through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan, there are federal and state laws set in place that require schools to make education accessible to children with disabilities.  These plans set specific goals and help place children in the best environment at school to support their specific needs. Just because your child has Down Syndrome does not mean that they cannot have the same educational opportunities as their peers for K-12.

Can my child go to college?

College can be in the cards for your child. Click here for a list of some Illinois universities/colleges that have programs for adults with disabilities. 

Do children with Down Syndrome have friends?

Certainly! Children with Down Syndrome are sweet, funny, kind, and loyal friends. There are organizations that help give kids with Down Syndrome more exposure to similar-aged peers in the context of fun outings and school events.

I am proud supporter of Best Buddies International, whose mission is “to end social, physical, and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” Best Buddies programs at elementary, middle and high schools pair students with intellectual or developmental disabilities with a similar aged peer and facilitate friendships between them!

My involvement in Best Buddies was one of the most positive experiences of my life and helped inspire me to become an Occupational Therapist. I am still friends with my high school buddies and we regularly keep in contact, even a decade later! Want to learn more? Visit https://www.bestbuddies.org

Do people with Down Syndrome date and get married?

Absolutely! I know people with Down Syndrome who are in long-term, committed relationships. There are even dating apps to help people with disabilities find that special someone.  Like all relationships, it’s important for people to set boundaries, expectations, and have mutual love and respect for one another, so why can’t people with Down Syndrome experience dating and marriage?

Can someone with Down Syndrome have a job and live alone?

Yes! There are job-training classes available through local community colleges and different companies that can lead to employment for people with Down Syndrome.

As for a living situation, people with Down Syndrome have a variety of options depending on their independence levels.

Options include:

  • living at home with family
  • living at a partially-independent living facilities
  • living in “shared living” arrangements in which adults with Down Syndrome can share an apartment with a roommate
  • living independently 

Additional housing resources are available through the National Down Syndrome Society.

Will my child have anyone like them to look up to in the media?

Of late, there are more actors with Down Syndrome in the media being celebrated! Some examples include:

    • Lauren Potter from “Glee” – Lauren Potter has amazing videos/PSAs and works a lot

      Lauren Potter glee
      Lauren Potter in her role as Becky on Glee.

      on advocating for people with Down Syndrome – I highly recommend following her on social media

    • Sarah Gordy from “Call the Midwife” and “Upstairs, Downstairs”
  • Born This Way – Reality show on A&E that follows the lives of young adults with Down Syndrome through their experiences in their careers, friendships, family, dating, and marriage.

What organizations are there out there to support my child?

There are a wealth of organizations in the Chicago area that are designed to help children with Down Syndrome, both medically and socially. Here are just a few!

How can I show my support for children with Down Syndrome?

In addition to getting involved with the organizations mentioned above, the simplest way to show your support is to wear mismatched socks on World Down Syndrome Day which is March 21, 2019! 

The goal of World Down Syndrome day is to raise public awareness and create a single global voice for advocating for the rights, inclusion and well being of people with Down syndrome

world down syndrome day

While it’s impossible to depict the complexities and life experiences of people with Down Syndrome as someone without the condition, I hope I gave a brief peek into what a child with Down Syndrome’s future could look like. The road ahead may seem daunting once a child receives the initial diagnosis, but parents should take comfort in knowing that there are many resources available to help during every step. The parents I work with have told me of both the amazing successes and the difficult days their child has experienced. 

When it comes down to it, a child with Down Syndrome is still a child who wants the same things in life as anyone else: to be loved and accepted. So let’s show our love and acceptance of people with Down Syndrome by wearing mismatched socks on March 21!

I think that actress Lauren Potter puts it best, “Someone once told me that different isn’t bad – different is just different!”

For more information on the services Easterseals provides for children with Down Syndrome, visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/downsyndrome.html

March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month

By: Jack McGraw, Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley client

jack1While many wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, you can wear green all month long to honor Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. Why green? The color was chosen to reflect youthfulness and new growth, as well as hope for advancements in treatment and acceptance.

Cerebral Palsy is a disability that is caused by damage to the brain before or at birth. It mostly affects movement and fine motor skills but can have a large range of severity for children. Some children with cerebral palsy can walk or talk, while some may use a wheelchair or assistive technology device to speak like me.

Honestly, living life with a disability can be very challenging but I don’t let it stop me from having an awesome life! I have a lot of friends, a great family and have been a successful student. I graduated from St. Charles North High School in 2017 and am now a proud honors student at Elgin Community College. My communication device uses eye gaze technology and helps me type up essays and lecture notes.

I also love sports. I really, really love sports. While my disability has kept me from participating on teams with my friends, it hasn’t stopped me from being a huge fan. I had the privilege  of being a team manager for football, basketball and volleyball while in school and those were very special experiences. I really felt like a part of the team and got close to some of my teammates.

jack2I have been going to Easterseals since I was a little boy. I have done Physical, Occupational and Speech therapies. Easter Seals has helped me to be as independent as I can be and my therapists have always listened to me and asked me what I want to be working towards in therapy. They have been a great support to me and an asset in my life.

People with disabilities aren’t really very different from people that don’t have disabilities. We enjoy a lot of the same things and want to be treated fairly like everyone else! Having a disability is hard, but I haven’t let it stop me yet! Life is good!

Editor’s Note: Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley offers many resources for children with spastic and non-spastic cerebral palsy and their families including physical therapy, occupation therapy, speech-language therapy, assistive technology, inclusive day care and parent-to-parent support.

Treatments and therapies can benefit a child with cerebral palsy by helping him or her gain the strength and mobility needed to take first steps, speak first words and maximize their independence.

For more information on cerebral palsy and therapy service at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/cerebralpalsy.html.

Indoor Play Activities for Toddlers

By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist

These cold wintry months make us want to bundle up and stay indoors. It’s so hard to keep adventurous little ones entertained on a beautiful day where you can go to the park, let alone a day when you’re stuck inside. It can be especially hard for children with sensory processing difficulties to not go outside and get the necessary input their bodies need to stay calm and focused through climbing, jumping, and tactile exploration. But you don’t have to sacrifice a fun day with your toddlers and young children just because it’s freezing out!

When it comes down to it, a child will love any game in which they have special playtime with a parent or caregiver. But if you’re having a little trouble thinking of some ideas to get you started on a fun indoor day, here are a few activities for your toddler that will help them get the sensory input they crave while having a whole lot of fun!

  1. Build a fort

Make a princess castle, bear cave, dragons lair, or just a creative hideout. You can use whatever material is around the house (cardboard boxes, blankets, pillows, comforters, sheets draped over furniture) to make a fort. Help the younger toddlers (1 year olds) assemble the fort and play games like peek-a-boo as they climb in and out of their fort.
Young toddlers can also take child-safe flashlights into their fort as part of their peek-a-boo game or to play hide and seek with parents.

22_Zach and Amelia Judson

Older toddlers (2-3 year olds) can help you construct the fort as a great way to express their creativity and imagination. Encourage them to play house with their dolls/stuffed animals in their own little home. Or maybe you can join in an imaginative game with them (Be a dragon that is “attacking” the castle that your valiant knight defends with pillows, be a neighbor that brings a snack to your little one’s “home,” or pretend to be the Big Bad Wolf who blows their house down and create a pillow pile for the Little Pigs to dig out of).

Benefits of the Activity: I love having kids build a fort because it gives their body tactile input (input to their skin about the texture and pressure of the pillows and blankets). Also this type of activity helps them build visual perceptual skills needed to stack pillows to get them to stay up and not fall. Finally, children get proprioceptive input (pressure into their joints and muscles as they pick up heavy pillows and push them around). OT’s frequently call this type of input “heavy work.” Proprioceptive input is calming input that helps children who are always “on the go” slow their bodies down and have a better understanding of where their bodies are in space.

  1. Painter’s tape mazes/hopscotch

Jimmy2Use painter’s tape to make shapes on hardwood, tile, or linoleum floor. Older kids can pretend that the circles out of tape are stepping stones in the river that they have to jump between without falling in the water. Kids may even enjoy making a little maze on the floor that they can walk on top of. You can even make squares to make a hopscotch pattern on the floor and practice jumping and balancing on one foot. Finally, make a path on the ground to use as a road for toy cars or animals!

Benefits of the Activity: This activity helps children build gross motor skills through coordinating their body movements to jump in/out of the hopscotch squares and develop visual tracking skills as they have their cars “follow the road” in a tape maze.

  1. Sleigh Rides

Pile pillows in a laundry hamper and place a blanket underneath to make the laundry hamper slippery on hardwood, tile, or linoleum floors. Your child could then climb in and enjoy a fun sleigh or car ride as you pull them around. Make a game out of it by stopping at the “grocery store” and picking up pretend food as you pull them around.  Need your child to burn off a little energy? Have them push a basket around and pick up toys or push around a sibling, if they are able to.

Benefits of the Activity: This game gives their body tactile input (as they are squished by textured pillows in the laundry hamper) and some vestibular input (movement input and understanding of where they are in space) as they are pulled around. Once again, this activity provides proprioceptive input if the child pushes the hamper around the house!

  1. Sensory Bin Hunt

shockSensory bins can be made out of just about any material and is a fun way to help your child explore different textures. Take any large Tubberware or small to medium sized storage bin and fill with whatever sensory materials you child might like exploring (uncooked bowtie pasta, macaroni, beans, and cereal are a few of my favorite not-too-messy options). Don’t want a huge mess to clean-up? Put a fitted sheet underneath the sensory bin that will catch all the little pieces that might spill out during play. That way you can just bunch up the fitted sheet and throw pieces in it away when your child is done playing. Hide little cars inside the sensory bin and help your child dig through to find it. Pretend to give Barbies a bath in this pretend bathtub, play puppies and dig to hide a bone in the bin, or just allow your kid to play with funnels, tubberware, and serving spoons in the sensory bin.

Benefits of the Activity: This activity is a great way to introduce tactile input to the hands as they feel the different shapes, sizes, and textures of the items in the sensory bin. Want to add an extra challenge that OT’s would love? Have your child close their eyes and search around the bin with their hands to find a hidden treasure. OT’s describe the ability to distinguish between the properties of different items with the skin as tactile discrimination. See if your child can feel the difference between the macaroni you filled the bin with and the pennies you hid for them! If they have their eyes open and are searching the bin for their treasures, this activity helps children develop good visual scanning skills.

Note: Children should be supervised during sensory bin play to prevent choking if children place small pieces in their mouth.

  1. Bath time Painting

bathtub crayonsHave a fun water day indoors by playing in the tub! Encourage some creativity and early fine motor fun with fingerpaint soap or bathtub crayons that are easily washed away with water. I found fingerpaint soap at the Dollar Store or in the dollar section at Target.

Benefits of the Activity: This activity promotes tactile exploration as children feel the different textures of the fingerpaint, the temperature of the tub, the pressure of the water around their bodies, and the splashes of the water as they play. Bathtub crayons also provide a play-based opportunity to practice developing an age-appropriate grasp and fine motor development.

**Note: Children should be supervised at all times in the bathtub. Check that fingerpaint soaps are non-toxic and safe.

  1. Puppet show

Use premade puppets or make your own puppets with socks. Show your young toddlers how to play with a puppet (make the puppet say “hi” or give your little one kisses). See if they can imitate what you do! Help set up a little “stage” for a puppet show by draping a sheet over 2 chairs and encourage your older toddlers to put on a show for family and friends!

Benefits of the Activity: This activity promotes imitation through play. A child’s ability to imitate actions is a function of motor planning. Motor planning is the ability of the child to have an idea of what to do, plan the steps needed to accomplish this task, and successfully execute this plan. This activity also promotes imaginative play and helps children receive tactile input as they put sock puppets over their hands and move their hands to make the puppet talk.

  1. Food Stamps or Food Necklaces

orange stamping
Photo from: https://mom.me/toddler/11835-toddler-talk-orange-stamping/

Make stamps out of fruit and veggies and make some artwork! Help prep vegetables and fruits you have around the house by cutting them in half. Apples, potatoes, bottoms of celery stalks, and broccoli make great stamps. Set up an area where your kids can get messy (maybe roll out wrapping paper on the kitchen table or floor and place paper on top to make clean-up easy). Provide some non-toxic finger paint or maybe shaving cream with food coloring and get stamping! This activity not only helps little ones express their creativity, but it also exposes them to new foods in tactile exploration.

Older toddlers might also enjoy making food necklaces. Use yarn or other types of string and help your child string on Cheerios, Fruit Loops, or macaroni onto their necklace.

Benefits of the Activity: Not only does your child receive tactile input through the different textures of food, but it’s a perfect opportunity for your child to play with foods that they usually don’t eat (if your child hates broccoli, it’s helpful for them to just be exposed to it in a context in which they don’t have to eat it, just play with it!)

An Occupational Therapist will tell you that repeated exposures to non-preferred foods helps children become more comfortable with different foods. Finally, children who string Cheerios/Fruit Loops onto string have the opportunity to practice their fine motor skills as well as visual motor skills (can the child identify where the hole in the cereal is and thread the food onto it?)

  1. Silly Instrument Play

Lay a blanket on the kitchen floor and lay out pots and pans. Have your little one use wooden or metal spoons to play on their instruments. (Adults may need earplugs during this game!) Join in the silliness and be the leader of a parade around the house. Sing songs with your little one and practice marching.

Benefits of the Activity: This game provides your child with proprioceptive input as they bang on pots and pans. Your child also works coordinating movements (can they swing their arms to hit the pot). Older toddlers can work on gradation, which is the ability to grade force of movements (can your child hit the pan softly so a quiet song, then hit the pan really hard to produce a loud sound?)

  1. Obstacle Course Adventure

Make a climbing obstacle course around the house using pillows, blankets, and sofa cushions. Help your child climb a pillow mountain or make a “garbage pile” of pillows in which you can hide a toy that your child can climb around to find.

Benefits of the Activity: Similar to a fort activity, obstacle courses provide a great opportunity for tactile input as they move around the cushions and blankets and proprioceptive input as they push/pull pieces to crawl through the obstacle course. This activity also works on body awareness, the ability of the child to feel where they are in space in order to effectively move their body around obstacles. The more a child is allowed to crash and push equipment around, they develop a better sense of where their body is in space.

  1. Dress-Up Play

Pull out old clothes, hats, shoes, sunglasses, socks, and scarves from way back in your closet and have a dress-up day. Older toddlers may enjoy having a fashion or talent show in your living room.

Benefits of the Activity: Not only do kids get to use this as a way to pretend to be just like their heroes (you), they also get practice dressing skills they will need when they are older. Young toddlers may have difficulty putting on different pieces of clothing (which is pretty age-appropriate), but they can work on pulling off pieces that they are all done with playing, such as pulling off a t-shirt, socks, shoes, and pants/skirt.

  1. Indoor “Camping”

Make a tent out of sheets and chairs and drag in a sleeping bag or pillows to make your tent cozy. You can bring in flashlights, story books, toys, and/or some homemade s’mores made in the oven (recipe link below).  See if your little one can use their flashlight to find different pictures in the story you read to them.

Oven S’mores Recipe: https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-baked-smores-3052398

Benefits of the Activity: Making a small space out of pillows and sheets creates a great opportunity for children to receive tactile input. Some children find small spaces calming because they get “squished” between pillows. Getting “squishes” is a form of deep tactile input, which is very calming for some (think of a big hug or being swaddled). If this sounds like your child, use the tent as a safe retreat in which they can bring their favorite story and get a big hug from a loved one. Finding pictures with a flashlight while reading a story promotes visual scanning. Best of all, reading a story together gives you both the perfect opportunity to bond and spend quality time together.

There are limitless activities you can do inside that can help support sensory play and help children with sensory processing difficulties get the input they need. Feel free to use the ideas above or come up with your own play ideas!

For more information on occupational therapy at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html. 

Top Developmental Toy Ideas

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L and Sarah Peabody, Physical Therapist

Play is an essential piece to optimal child development as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. Walking through the toy aisle can be overwhelming, but it is important to choose a toy that is age-appropriate, promotes healthy development, and encourages positive behavior. View our favorite holiday toy selections below!

babyGifts for Infants:

  • Activity mat – Activity mats are great for promoting tummy time. Some have mirrors attached which helps the infant to lift his or her head up and engage in the mirror. Tummy time should start as early as possible for 3-5 minutes a couple times a day, building up the length and duration as the baby grows. Tummy time is essential to help your baby build the strength needed for rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and walking.
  • Black and white toys – For young infants (birth – 3 months), toys with high contrast are the most appealing, as their vision has not adapted to seeing colors yet. Around 5-6 months of age, bright and colorful toys are appropriate as infants will likely be able to see the full spectrum of colors.
  • Mirrors – These are a great resource for visual engagement.
  • Colorful rattles, O-ball, a textured toy – Toys that children can reach for and grasp are great to promote fine motor development. Toys that appeal to multiple senses are ideal for infants and promote positive sensory development. Infants enjoy exploring the feeling of new textures.

Gifts for Toddlers – The toys listed below help kids learn to understand patterns, problem solve, and develop competence and confidence.

  • Push toys – Ideal for the early toddler/young walking stage (bonus – with the one linked here, you can put objects into the push toy to weigh it down. Heavy work is great for building core strength!)
  • Sorting and Nesting Toys
  • Blocks, LEGOS, Magnetic Sets – Open-ended toys like these can be used in a variety of ways. Kids love to take things apart and add to structures at this age, and these toys will extend into the preschool years and beyond. This is also a great way to incorporate problem solving skills and provide opportunities for adult interaction into play.
  • Hand puppets – These are a great way to encourage interaction and communication in the young child.
  • Shape Sorters and Simple Puzzles– Shape sorters and early inset puzzles are great for toddlers. Interlocking puzzles of various sizes can be a great interactive toy for learning about all kinds of things. Look for puzzles that have large knobs for younger children or those that struggle with fine motor skills.  Puzzles are also great to help children develop their visual perceptual skills and become better problem solvers.

Gifts for Preschool Age Children:

  • doctorPlay sets – Play sets with little people, dolls, animals, etc can expand a child’s language and communication skills and help them make sense of the world by imitating adult behavior and encourages imagination.
  • Mini trampoline, scooter, tricycle – Improve a child’s gross motor skills and helps release their boundless energy.
  • Easel, markers & crayons – These are another great way for a child to use their imaginations and develop their fine motor skills.
  • Floor puzzles
  • Simple dress-up costumes – When kids play dress up, their imaginations really get to blossom. Instead of buying a specific cartoon/movie character dress up costume, buy a generic tutu or princess dress where a child can be multiple different characters all in one outfit.
  • Games- The nice thing about games is you can play them in a variety of ways. You don’t have to be stuck to the traditional rules. You can even use the games in pretend play. Here are just a few names of popular games used in therapy sessions: Pop the Pirate, Pop The Pig, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Scatterpillar, Jenga, Spot It, Hullabaloo, I Can Do That, Connect Four, Thumbs Up, Tricky Fingers, Boggle, Rush Hour, Gravity Maze, Quirkle, Blokus, Go Fish, Chutes and Ladders, and Dragon Dash.

Gifts for Elementary Age Children:

  • Dolls
  • Books – Reading will help advance a child’s language, vocabulary,  and social skills, while helping build coping feelings, and building their self-confidence levels.
  • Adventure/Building Toys – These are great for problem solving, critical thinking, and imagination.
  • Board Games – Don’t forget about the classic board games such as Sorry or Trouble that promote social interaction, turn-taking, and inclusion!
  • Bike

Never forget, a trip to the museum, theater, or special exhibit is a great gift too! Experiences can never be replaced with toys and the trip will stay with a child for a long time. Capture them with your phone or camera and you can pull them out to talk about and connect on a later date.

For more ideas, visit our Amazon wishlist that shares suggestions for multiple age range and child need. Most of the toys listed can be adapted in some way or used by children of all abilities.

If shopping online, remember AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon with the same products, prices, and shopping features as Amazon, but the difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice. Please choose Easterseals Dupage & Fox Valley to help support our cause.

We wish you a Happy Holiday and New Year!

General Tips for Selecting Developmental Toys for Children

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L and Sarah Peabody, Physical Therapist

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time to decorate your home with seasonal decorations, listen to cheerful holiday music, start baking lots of yummy goodies, spend time with friends and family, and shop for the perfect holiday gifts. This time of year can bring merriment and stress! Especially when considering gift ideas for children.

If you are buying a toy for a child, it’s important to select something that is based on his/her individual need. Every child is unique. Purchasing a toy for a child with special needs involves taking into consideration the child’s unique developmental profile.

IMG_2343Children who lack fine motor skills often have trouble doing things with their hands, like holding a crayon, so they might enjoy toys with large knobs or big levers that will enable them to grasp them more easily. Children with social learning difficulties or sensory processing difficulties might prefer toys that offer movement or heavy work.

Children with physical disabilities might enjoy toys that have buttons and don’t require a lot of fine motor manipulation. They might also enjoy more arts and crafts that allow them to just move their arms without having to worry about holding onto something.

Choosing a toy that is age-appropriate, promotes healthy development, and encourages positive behavior works best. Use these tips below to help guide you for buying gifts for your child, a niece or nephew or other child:

General Tips for Selecting Developmental Toys for Children:

  1. Spanning multiple age ranges

Finding a multipurpose toy that spans multiple age ranges is a great investment. Toys that are meant for several ages and stages of childhood will be kept around and cherished for a long time.  For example, this Shape Sorter, can be used in late infancy as you place the shapes in and out of the box with the lid open. As your child grows into the toddler stage and enhances their fine motor skills, he or she will learn how to manipulate the shapes and place them in the appropriate spot. You can then incorporate colors, shapes, etc. all into one piece as they advance even more. Another example is magnetic letters. A child can use these at a young age to learn letters and sounds and as they grow into elementary years use them together to make words.

2. Be cautious of age recommendations

Many toys have a suggested age range based on the safety and developmental appropriateness for a child. These recommendations are based on the developmental abilities of an average child and may serve as a starting point for you when selecting a toy for your child. A toy should be challenging, but not frustrating. Likewise, if a toy is too simplistic and beyond your child’s abilities, he or she will quickly lose interest. Children learn and grow at various paces, and what might be an appropriate toy for one two-year-old child may not be for the next.

3. Promoting Exploration and Imagination

17_LilyPennyMaddy2.jpgResearch has found that toys that do “too much” don’t encourage children to use their imaginations. Stuffed animals that talk and sing only prompt the child to press a specific button which takes charge of the play scheme. Instead, look for a toy like blocks. Blocks can be stacked up to build a tower, knocked down by a dragon, lined up to make a city, the list goes on and on. The more your child has to problem solve and use his or her imagination, the more your child will learn through play.

4. Think, Move, and Interact

This generation loves to be entertained with screens. Instead of getting that Ipad or other video console, look for toys that provide opportunities for cooperative play that encourage the development of social skills and positive behaviors like taking turns. Board games are a great example!

5. Sensory Considerations

Toys that are tactile or visual can often help improve how a child processes the information. Music, varying textures, flashing lights, and colors can all improve the sensory appeal to your child. It is important to know the needs of your child because what is appealing for one child may be overstimulating for the next.

6. Promoting Inclusion

Toys that promote groupwork and peer interaction with other children are great to promote social skills and improve self-esteem and overall quality of life.

7. Think outside the box.

Toys don’t always have to be used in the conventional manner. For example, that food puzzle might be a little hard for your child to sit still and focus to complete, however, maybe your child would be motivated to find the pieces hidden in a tactile bin or exploring the house on a gross motor adventure to find the food. For children with physical disabilities, many battery operated toys can be adapted for switches. Check out this blog for directions and this link for purchasing battery interrupters.

If you child is younger, can you use that ring stacker to look through the circles together at each other. Or maybe the rings fit on different body parts. If your child is older, think about using the toys within movement activities.

8. Will the child make memories with it?

Giving experiences is becoming a new, more popular trend (for multiple reasons!). Taking time to explore local attractions can create long lasting memories and even new post-holiday traditions. Most businesses and even public libraries offer gift certificates to local attractions. This is a great way to really personalize a gift for your child.

9. Fun!

Last but not least, make sure the toys are engaging and fun. Do not force a toy upon a child. If they appear not interested in a certain toy, leave it for a few days and re-introduce it at another time. Keeping the toys fun will ultimately make the learning fun for your child.

Visit this blog next week, for more of our specific toy recommendations! You can also search our previous blogs for each year’s toy recommendations like here and here. Happy Holidays! For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley visit eastersealsdfvr.org.

 

What is an Augmentative and Alternative Communication Evaluation?

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L

Did you know October was National Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) month? AAC is a specialized area of clinical services. Here at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, we are very lucky to have several therapists who specialize in helping individuals find their voice through AAC. We have both Occupational Therapists (OT)  and Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) involved in a multidisciplinary team evaluation to determine the best strategies and/or communication systems to help a child learn to communicate.

As an OT, I first became interested in AAC when I was working with a little boy with autism who received a high tech speech output device. It was amazing to see how having his new voice provided so many new opportunities for him. It helped with his overall regulation as he now had a system to share his wants, desires, and needs.

assist-with-communicationAAC looks different from person to person and varies from low tech options, light/mid tech and high tech systems. If you think your child might benefit from AAC, our team evaluative approach may be helpful. Below is more information on what each team member does to best help your child.

  1. Many parents often have questions about whether or not a device will hinder their children’s ability to speak. This is absolutely not the case. Research demonstrates that AAC does not keep children from learning to speak.  In fact, users will make gains in language AND speech because AAC helps a child connect with others, produce successful communication, and provides consistent speech models. The child I described above, went on to learn a ton of new words after he got his device! When we begin to use AAC with toddlers, it doesn’t mean we believe they are never going to talk; instead, it often means, we believe they need a way to have a meaningful connection to others through a common language which helps serve as a bridge to spoken language.
  2.  Do try and introduce forms of AAC early. Using AAC can be very helpful for a toddler who is beginning to make gestures, eye contact or sounds to communicate messages, but isn’t yet using spoken language. Often these toddlers are frustrated they can’t communicate certain thoughts and messages. Once they start to see and learn the power of communication through signs, pictures, or more formal AAC apps/devices, they begin to feel a little less frustrated.

blog_visual3. Model, model, model. When using any type of AAC, we can never model enough. This means that everyone in a child’s life should use AAC too! As with all language learning, AAC is learned because those around the child speak the same language. If you think about it, early communication development (between birth – 12 months) is only modeling – caregivers communicating without any expectation while being connected with their baby using a common language. I love it when my clients bring their devices to therapy. If your child is already receiving therapy services, ask the therapist to use your child’s communication system during sessions to connect and engage with your child. When using AAC, continue to use verbal speech to model and help children understand the pictorial representation of language and develop the words.

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4. When you schedule an evaluation, you will see both an occupational therapist and a speech therapist trained in AAC. Both therapists are knowledgeable in a variety of access methods such as hand access, switch scanning, and eye gaze technology. The occupational therapist will specifically look at:

  • the child’s overall posture and strength to allow for upper extremity (or any other extremity) use while accessing the communication system
  • determine optimal positioning of both the child and the device to ensure the most efficient method of access
  • the child’s vision, auditory, and sensory processing needs
  • the child’s visual and/or auditory scanning ability
  • the child’s visual/auditory tolerance
  • any adaptations to engage different sensory systems, as well as monitor for sensory overload and/or assist in sensory regulation for device access.

The speech therapist is extremely knowledgeable in the vast array of AAC communication systems and AAC strategies available. They will help determine the communication system and language page best suited to bridge the gap between the child’s receptive and expressive communication skills. The evaluations are done in a play based manner to help the child feel comfortable. And play is how children learn!

DSC_1Here at Easterseals we offer a team approach for evaluating children for AAC needs. For children that could additionally benefit from AAC, we will see them for co-treats to help expand their language within play based therapy sessions.

When the child’s specific goal is to assist in overall regulation and play to support device access, then a co-treat can be extremely valuable between Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. OTs are trained in setting up sensory rich environments to support regulation and drive play. These activities can be very motivating for your child’s communication. There are endless opportunities to model language depending on your child’s unique development.

To learn more about Assistive Technology at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, click here. 

 

Additional resources: www.speechscience.org

How Physical Therapy Supports Children with Down Syndrome

By: Joanne Pygon, PT, MS, PCS

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in helping a child who is diagnosed with Down syndrome (DS) reach their highest potential.  What that therapy looks like through a child’s life changes as he/she transitions from newborn to teenager.  Hypotonia, weakness, cardiac and respiratory issues are some of the challenges a PT will address.

0 – 24 months:  The physical therapist (PT) is one of the first healthcare professionals to work with a parent and their child to help build a strong foundation of strength and movement.  Depending on the medical complications a child faces, the PT works regularly with the child to build strong muscles so he/she doesn’t develop compensation that can affect their abilities later.

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The parents or caregivers will have activities to work on daily to help their child reach gross motor milestones.  The child may need special braces for their feet to improve alignment so that muscles can maintain length to function efficiently.

Compression garments such as a SPIO, Benik or an abdominal binder, may be considered to aide postural alignment and respiratory function.  Aquatic therapy can be beneficial if a child enjoys the water.  This gives him/her an opportunity to be challenged in new and fun ways, while also building strong swimming skills and an enjoyment of water for future exercising.

2 years – 5 years:  During the preschool years physical therapy continues to address higher level gross motor skills.  It may be appropriate for a child to be involved in group therapy sessions where peers motivate each other, along with providing social and communication opportunities.

Easterseals has groups like Mighty Movers, Build Your Muscles, Build Your Brain (TAAP), Get in the Game and more that enhance a child’s gross-motor skills. Most children start in a school program upon turning 3 years old.  PT is provided in the school to address issues that interfere with academic success.  This might be enough therapy for a child or the parent may choose to continue private therapy depending on the child’s needs and goals.  If the child has orthotics (foot braces), then a PT should be following the child periodically to check for fit and continued need.  During this time, families can explore park district programs in their area, especially gymnastics classes or swimming in order to build balance, strength and coordination.

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5 – 10 years:  Throughout these years, a child involved in community-based programs could seek PT consultations.  Some children may enjoy a summer PT group to build strength and confidence such as our rock climbing group.  Biking can also be a great opportunity for fitness and socializing.  There are several “learn to bike” programs in the community and a PT can help a child develop this skill.  Many children become involved in swimming and this becomes their life long fitness.

Jake mom machine.jpgTeenage years:  Encourage physical fitness, which is important for any teenager or young adult. Hopefully as the child faces the challenges of being a teenager, they have confidence in their abilities and can continue to be a part of a sport community, like a swim team, running group, or special rec team.  The child may need to check in with their PT a bit more to update home programs, as growth may affect their posture.  While braces may not be needed anymore, foot inserts may be necessary to support his/her feet in the best possible position.

 

Most importantly, set high expectations and enjoy all the gifts children bring to families!

For more information on our Down Syndrome services, visit http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/downsyndrome.html.  To get started or learn more, call us at 630.282.2022.