Monthly Archives: August 2014

School Supplies For Sensory Challenged Students

Sensory touch

By Maureen Karwowski

At this point most parents of school aged children have purchased their traditional school supplies.  Pencils, markers, notebooks are on everyone’s list. The parents of students with sensory challenges often overlook some less traditional supplies to buy for their children. We know that all of us need to be in the “zone” for learning, and for our students with sensory challenges, being in the “zone” can be tricky. A little detective work to find out what are helpful sensory strategies for your child will go a long way. Equipping your student with a plan and the needed supplies can get them off on the right foot for a great year.

Here are some ideas:

Fidgets: Sometimes a person’s brain works better if their hands are occupied. Think about someone you know who can knit and carry on conversations at the same time. It may be easier to stand in line, wait to be called on by the teacher, or keep control of their hands if the student has something to “fidget” with. I have worked with many students who keep a fidget in their desk, attached to a carabiner on a belt loop or backpack, or even attached to the desk with Velcro. Here is a list of just a few options, but of course you can find a fidget at many stores.

Oral sensory: For many people, oral sensory input provides a great way to keep focused. This input can be naturally included into a school day. A water bottle with a resistive straw filled with ice cold water is a great way to give some alerting input. Snacks and lunches can have chewy foods such as dried fruit, crunchy foods such as carrot sticks or apple slices. The school may allow your child to chew gum to help with attention with some guidelines. If this would help your child, it is a question worth asking.

Compression:  Athletes frequently use compression clothing to assist them with comfort and give them feedback about their body movements. This type of clothing can help our students, too. I have found that children with sensory challenges, especially those who have decreased body awareness, or who have tactile sensitivity respond well to wearing compression clothing. Compression clothing can be found at a sporting goods store and need to properly fit the child in order to be effective. They also can be ordered through companies that specialize in therapy equipment.

Aromas:  Aromas have long been used for relaxation and attention. Take a fieldtrip to your local health food store with your child to see which aroma is most appealing. Try using 1-2 drops of an essential oil on a cotton ball.   The cotton ball can be stored in your child’s pocket, pulled out and smelled when needed. I have had some students who have found this strategy especially helpful who are sensitive to smells in the cafeteria. Here is a link that outlines which aromas are appropriate for children:

Heavy Work/Resistance:  This type of sensory input is very calming for students and is easily incorporated into the school day. Chair pushups, carrying weighted objects such as the basket of lunches for the classroom, hanging on the monkey bars, folding up the gym mats, are all examples of activities that can be effective heavy work breaks for students. Another suggestion is to work with your students teachers in order to incorporate movement throughout the day. For example, a teacher may choose your student to run an errand to the office, move books, or hand out homework sheets in an effort to help your student’s regulation.

Preparing for school can be difficult enough. However, now armed with these simple and effective techniques, your student will be prepared to succeed!

Thank you to for allowing us to use your photo.

Executive Functioning and School: Tips to Help Your Child

Executive Functioning Blog

By Jennifer Tripoli

With back to school this week, both parents and kids may have mixed emotions. The school year can not only be stressful for the child attending, but also for parents of the children who “struggle” in school. Do any of the following characteristics describe your child?  If so, your child may have a deficit in executive functioning.

  • Completing homework is a daily struggle for my child
  • My child has difficulty initiating or beginning a task
  • My child is a procrastinator
  • My child is disorganized
  • My child has difficulty with time management
  • My child has difficulty multitasking
  • My child has a poor attention span or has difficulty shifting attention from task to task
  • My child is impulsive
  • My child is forgetful-often forgets to turn in homework, forgets required materials to complete homework, etc.
  • My child is very rigid
  • My child has difficulty solving a problem
  • My child has difficulty setting goals and following through
  • My child has difficulty following multistep directions or sequencing tasks
  • My child gets easily frustrated and often has a difficult time controlling his/her emotions

Executive Functioning: Has anyone heard these two words and thought what does that mean? It seems to be a hot topic right now in the world of pediatrics. I thought I would share a simple explanation and give you a few resources to explore in order to gain more knowledge about these two buzz words!

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “Executive function is the term we use to describe the mental processes that help connect past experience with present action. Activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space require that we use executive function skills”.

According to the Harvard University Center for the Developing Child, “Being able to focus, hold, and work with information in mind, filter distractions, and switch gears is like having an air traffic control system at a busy airport to manage the arrivals and departures of dozens of planes on multiple runways. In the brain, this air traffic control mechanism is called executive function, a group of skills that helps us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, and revise plans as necessary. Acquiring the early building blocks of these skills is one of the most important and challenging tasks of the early childhood years, and the opportunity to build further on these rudimentary capacities is critical to healthy development through middle childhood, adolescence, and into early adult life”.

To sum it all up, executive functioning include the following skills: attention, working memory, mental flexibility, time management, self-monitoring, planning/scheduling, organization, sequencing, emotional control, impulse control, task initiation, task persistence, and problem solving.

In order to conceptualize how important these skills are in our lives, let’s discuss an adult related example in order to better understand how we use these skills in our daily lives. Think about a typical day for you.

  • You plan out your day. Get up, get the kids out of bed, start breakfast, make lunches, go off to work, take the kids to after school activities, etc. (planning/scheduling/organizing)
  • You figure out what you need to get done and come up with a plan /goals for conquering your day (goal setting)
  • You get the kids up, start on breakfast and simultaneously pack lunches (multitasking)
  • On the way to work there is a major accident on the highway, so you must take an alternate route (mental flexibility)
  • You feel very agitated, but you are able to control your emotions and continue to work (emotional control/regulation)
  • When you arrive at work, you create a to do list for the day (scheduling/planning)
  • You decide how long each task will take and plan your day accordingly (time management)
  • You are able to initiate each task, persist through it in order to successfully complete it (task initiation/sustained attention/task persistence)
  • While you are typing a report, you get interrupted with a phone call. When the phone call is completed, you are able to remember where you left off with your report (working memory)
  • In the afternoon you attend a presentation that requires you to shift your attention between a PowerPoint presentation, the speaker, and a handout (attention shifting)
  • After work, you realize both of your daughters need to be at different after school activities at the same time, so you come up with a solution: call your husband to help with the driving (problem solving)
  • After dinner is cooked, you must set up table and chairs for your daughter’s birthday tomorrow so you follow multistep directions from the manual and appropriately sequence the steps for completion (sequencing)

See that? Look at all the executive functions YOU are using just to complete your daily tasks. Imagine having a deficit in one or many of these skills. Would you be able to get through your day successfully, efficiently, and without frustration? Probably not. Now let’s think about your child’s daily tasks. A large portion of a child’s day/life is school. Research has shown these skills are directly related to a child’s ability to excel in school. Here are a few school related tasks that require on point executive functioning skills:

  • Complete assignments in a timely manner (plan how long each assignment will take)
  • Plan out multistep projects
  • Prioritize weekly tasks/homework assignments (e.g. what needs to be completed tomorrow, by next week, etc.)
  • Initiate homework assignments
  • Complete homework assignments without distraction
  • Follow directions to complete a task
  • Keep school desk/backpack organized
  • Control emotions during difficult homework assignments or school tasks
  • Remember/retain important information
  • Self-monitor/self-check school work
  • Shift attention from teacher to note taking
  • Remember to turn in assignments
  • Ask for help when needed
  • Problem solve through difficult tasks (e.g. science project/experiment)

Are you beginning to see the importance of strong executive functioning skills for daily functioning? As the demands of the later grades increase and school becomes more difficult, children with executive functioning deficits may slip through the cracks and struggle tremendously. They often become frustrated and begin to resent school. So what can you do? Children with executive functioning deficits require strategies that help them compensate for their areas of weakness. Here are a few quick strategies/tips you can implement into your child’s daily life.

  • Have an area of the house or desk where homework is completed (should be kept clean, organized, and have all the materials needed to complete homework)
  • Help your child create an organization system for their backpack or school desk (e.g. take a trip to an organization store for ideas!)
  • Help your child keep a planner or schedule of tasks they must complete. Make it visible!
  • Implement the use of checklists (e.g. can practice by making a grocery list and having your child check off items as you pick them up)
  • Use a timer/clock to help your child understand time/how long tasks take to complete (improve time management skills)
  • Help your child set very specific goals and come up with ways to break them down or make them more achievable
  • Have your child use graphic organizers/webs or outlines to organize thoughts for projects
  • Help your child figure out fun ways to remember pieces of information (associations, acronyms, fun/silly sentences/songs, etc.)
  • Help your child figure out a way to implement a self-correcting checklist before they turn in assignments

Executive functioning is a large area that may be overwhelming for a parent. This blog by no means has even scratched the surface of this extremely important area of development. Hopefully I have shed some light on this subject and can help you make this school year less stressful for not only your child, but yourself as well!

Here is a list of resources/web links that talk more about what executive functioning is and offer advice on how to help your child!–smart-but-scattered-strategies-to-improve-executi885808bc5d

Want more ideas for executive functioning ideas for kids? Check out our Pinterest page!

Interested in having your child participate in a group that focuses on improving executive functioning skills? Check out our executive functioning group here at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley!

List of suggested games that target executive functioning skills: 

Suggested reading for parents of children with executive functioning deficits

Smart but Scattered:

Unstuck and On Target:

Executive Functioning skills in Children and Adolescents: Second/dp/1606235710/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407254239&sr=1-1&keywords=executive+functioning+in+children+and+adolescents

The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Executive Function Disorder:

Resources used for this blog:

Jenn Tripoli

Jennifer Tripoli, M.S., CCC-SLP is a licensed and ASHA certified Speech Language Pathologist who enjoys working with the pediatric population. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Language Pathology from Marquette University in 2008 and her Masters of Science degree in Speech Language Pathology at Rush University Medical Center in 2010. Jenn has been working with the pediatric population at Easter Seals DuPage since 2010 where she has learned to work with children with a variety of different diagnoses. Areas of interest include: Childhood Apraxia of Speech, expressive language delays, language processing, articulation/phonological disorders, orofacial myofunctional disorders, sensory based feeding, Autism, and use of technology (ipad applications) within therapy sessions. Jenn’s continuing education experience include training in: Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Sequential Oral Sensory Approach (SOS), the Overland SensoriMotor approach to feeding, auditory processing, executive dysfunction, respiration, and use of Ipad Applications within therapy sessions. Jenn has her Early Intervention credential for treating children birth to 3 years of age and is a part of the Speech and Language Evaluation team at Easter Seals DuPage.