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About eastersealsdfvr

We create limitless possibilities for infants, children and adults with developmental delays and disabilities. Every day, we go the extra mile to ensure that every child and family has the therapies and programs necessary to live, learn, work and play in their communities.

Understand and Boost Your Immune System

By: Manager of Nutrition Therapy, Cindy Baranoski MS, RDN, LDN

Better Immunity is Achievable

What better time than now to start building your defenses against illnesses? With coronavirus or COVID-19 here, there is a lot of fear and a feeling of helplessness to do anything. But you should know that there are things you can do to help protect yourself and your family’s health overall.

As a human we are bound to become ill, but how that illness manifests in us, how extreme are the symptoms, how long does it last, when does it go away, and can we get it again, can be under a bit of our control if we do the right things to keep our body’s immune system and defenses strong.

What Protects Us From Illness

Many components make up our defense system, some we can control and others we cannot. A human body contains trillions of microorganisms or microbes that outnumber our cells by 10 to 1. The term ‘microbiome’ refers to the genetic material all of these microbes contain, and their total genetic material is 200x more than the number of genes in a human body. Many of these microbes are pathogenic, or able to cause disease, but coexist with a human body never causing disease. Consider that two to six pounds of a 200-pound person would be bacteria!!

The immune system

Our immune system is made up of cells that perform the ‘immune response’ to foreign invaders, such as disease causing bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites or any other foreign matter. B cells, T cells and Memory cells are all mobilized in some manner when they determine there is an antigen – a toxin or foreign substance – that has entered the body. The response is antibodies matched to an antigen, like a key in a lock, helping to neutralize or destroy the antigen.

Physical protection from foreign invaders

Our body has many physical systems in place to keep us healthy and protect us from foreign microbe invaders, or the ones living within us, from causing disease.

  • Skin – is a physical barrier, with a pH that discourages growth of organisms, and our secretions of sweat and oil can kill many bacteria.
  • Stomach – acid in the stomach can kill organisms.
  • Tears – will wash away any foreign matter and contain enzymes that kill bacteria.
  • Saliva – helps clean microbes from our teeth, tongue and oral area.
  • Respiratory tract – including our nose, which contains fine hairs to trap foreign matter, mucous lining the system to trap invaders, and cilia to sweep away trapped organisms.
  • Large intestines – contains bacteria that help keep invaders in check. This ‘gut microbiome’ makes up 70% of our immune system.
  • Bladder – urine washes away microbes from the area leading to the outside world.

What we Have Limited Control Over

Chronic noninfectious conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, inherited genetic conditions all play a role in diminishing the defense system of the human body. Those that are most notable include the following –

Heredity – is one of the greatest factors that influence our noninfectious disease risk. Our genes play an important role in what conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, may occur in our lives. These conditions impact our immune system, and can leave us more susceptible to disease.

Age – after 40 years of age the human body is more vulnerable to chronic diseases, though very young children whose immune systems are still developing, or those over 65, are especially vulnerable.

Environment – and the ability to have clean, sanitary living conditions is key to keeping us healthy. Though our bodies need to be exposed to microorganism to help our immune systems develop resistance. Too clean doesn’t allow our systems to recognize good and bad microbes. Additionally, conditions that include the presence of drugs, chemicals, pollutants, waste in food and water, or the absence of medical care, increase risk for disease.

Microorganisms – severity of or resistance to pose challenges as well. For some, only one cell is needed to create drastic illness in the human body. Bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics from overuse by us have mutated to be able to bypass the antibiotic’s effectiveness.

What We Have Control Over

Though we cannot see most of the microbes that cause sickness, they are there, and we can create an environment within and outside of our body that prevents them from causing illness. Stress, personal hygiene, nutrition, fitness, sleep, substance use, environment, and behaviors are all under our control.

Stress, such as what we are experiencing right now diminishes our ability to fight disease. When we are stressed our body will divert its energy away from nonessential functions to those that are essential – the Fight, Flight or Freeze response. Our blood is redirected to muscles to run or fight, breathing is faster, heart rate increases, pupils dilate, and hearing is keener, ready to take on the Sabre Tooth Tiger that generally doesn’t exist. What our body prepares to fight remains invisible, but it is prepared at all times. This leaves body functions required to exist in an unstressed state diminished in their ability.

Reducing Stress

If you’ve not already received numerous emails or suggestions from friends, there are many ways to manage your stress. Any one of these should be done with care, intent, and in such a gradual manner a snail could pass you by. Safety is key, to not create an injury or situation that will cause you more stress.

Exercise is one way, and has more than just stress reduction benefits. A workout club or gym may not be available to you, but you have so much in your home that is available!

Walk out your door for 15 minutes, turn around and come home. You’ve just walked for 30 minutes.

Turn on some fun music and simply march or walk in place for 20 minutes.

If you live in a condo or apartment building, do the stairs (taking precautions with social distancing and face masks right now.)

If you don’t have weights, you can use cans, bottles, something of weight that you can use for dumbbells.

Floor exercises that are easy, safe and you do not over do such as sit ups, leg raises, push ups. You only need to do a few, or even just one.

Yoga can be done on your own, without one piece of equipment. There are recorded and live streams of yoga all over the Internet today. As a yoga instructor, I can share that anyone can do it! Yoga is not just for bendy, flexible, skinny-legged sweaty 25-year-olds.

Chair yoga is amazingly beneficial, and is done by 85-year-olds around the globe.

Restorative yoga is one of the most relaxing forms of yoga, where you are supported by props, which increases your parasympathetic nervous system, slowing your heart and relaxing your body.

The yoga many are familiar with regular upright movement, is a wonderful stress reliever-though remembering if you’ve never done yoga, it may contribute to more stress.

And if nothing else, just laying on the floor, on your back, legs and arms out on the floor (or knees bent), known as savasna, is one of the most important poses in yoga. Lay there for 10 minutes.

Meditation may sound all “woo woo,” but it is more than just crossing your legs into a pretzel, closing your eyes and chanting ‘ommmm’. Meditation is simply anything you do to direct your mind to become focused on one thing, taking you away from this world momentarily. It reduces the physical reactions to stress mentioned above, slows your breathing, quiets your organs, increases your parasympathetic nervous system, and quiets your racing mind. The benefits of meditation are not IN the meditation, but in your body’s response when not meditating. By helping to maintain the ‘quiet’ your body should be in, your immune system can work it’s best.

Reading a book, gardening in the yard, coloring, drawing or painting, and praying are all forms of meditation.

Traditional meditation takes practice, and yes, sitting quietly, not moving, eyes closed, is what many think of. Try sitting still for 1 minute with your eyes closed. You’ve just started meditating. Now, get comfortable in a supportive seated position, and try it for 5 minutes. This is how you start to meditate with intention to do so, knowing it can only help.

Numerous meditation apps exist now, with timers, streamed and recorded meditations from 1 minute to many. Examples include:

Laughter should not be discounted by any means. Laughter is the best medicine! It can decrease stress hormones, relax muscles, and decrease pain. Ten minutes of laughter is better than any drug!

Sleep is a time when our body heals, rests, and prepares for our next day. Restful sleep is often not possible when we are stressed. 7-8 hours a day for an adult, and more for children and teens. There are many activities that can impact restful sleep, including technology, alcohol, eating before bed, and stress. Helping reduce your stress will promote restful and restorative sleep. Aim to create a bedtime routine for you and your family with no technology, eating, bright lights, noise – good sleep equals less stress, and less stress equals good sleep.

Personal Hygiene is something we take for granted. We have soap, water, tooth brushes and toothpaste, showers, baths, shampoos, hand sanitizers and hand soaps. Just so many forms of how we can keep ourselves clean on a daily basis. We forget this is not available to everyone in our area or the world. But keeping ourselves clean is something we can do, easily, by washing our hands routinely – especially now.

Improving Personal Hygiene

The greatest source of infection is our hands. We touch everything, then ourselves, transmitting to someone or us, germs and potential antigens. Wash your hands – for 20 seconds – with soap and water, between the fingers, back side of the hands, under the nails and wrists.

When you cough or sneeze, cover up! Most of the time we have on shirts, right? Pull it over your nose and mouth, use your elbow and sleeve, and if you use your hands, wash them after.

And now we have face masks. So treat your face mask like you do your underwear

only wear it if it’s clean

don’t touch it or adjust it – especially in public

don’t lend it to anyone

don’t borrow anyone’s

make sure it fits well

wash it after wearing

if it’s stained or torn, throw it away

Nutrition is one of the key contributors to the immune system. Remember, we are built on what we consume and do with our bodies. The ingredients for a great body include what we consume, and if all we eat and drink is lacking in nutrients, then that is who we become. Under nutrition or malnutrition is not reserved exclusively for poor families and children who are skinny and wasting away. Malnutrition is found in obese individuals as well as healthy weight ones too. http://www.MyPlate.gov shared by the USDA gives a basic outline of what should be consumed for variety of all the nutrients, including Carbohydrate, Protein, Fat, Calories, Fluid and 29 known vitamins and minerals. We are what we eat! To learn more about helping a child with nutrition or feeding issues, visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/nutritional-therapy.html.

Improving Nutrition 

  • A balanced diet containing of all the different food groups is the starting place. Review your family’s diet, and see if you have foods representing Fruits, Vegetables, Protein, Dairy (animal or plant), Grains (whole) as well as fat. Is there enough fluid each day? Are there vitamin/mineral supplements taken already. Are there nutritional drinks being consumed each day, and what might these be replacing or supplementing if they are used regularly. What about processed foods, high sugar, fat and salty foods that are being consumed more than they should be. Are fresh foods represented well? And is one food group consumed in a much greater quantity than it should be? You need to review your diet before you know what to change to make it better.
  • Protein is one of the most important nutrients, helping make antibodies of the immune system. We all need varying amounts of protein, but we also don’t need as much as we think we need. An average adult needs about 50 grams of protein a day, and consumes about 100 grams a day in the US. Children need less than this, yet often consume more than they need as well. Main food sources include meat, fish, poultry, egg, legumes, dairy.
  • Malnutrition and under nutrition exists in this country, and includes lack of calories and protein, but often times our society consumes more than enough of these two nutrients, however, lack many vitamins and minerals. A recent government study shows potassium, calcium, Vitamin E, C, A, D and magnesium are all less than optimal in our diets. All vitamins and minerals are ingredients of our immune system.
  • A few nutrients identified in research as key to the immune system and it’s response, that you should be sure you are receiving adequate amounts of, include the following –
    •  Zinc – found in tuna, beef, poultry, pumpkin and hemp seeds and dairy. Caution, over consumption of zinc, or taking large supplements, can interfere with copper balance in the body.
    • Selenium – found in Brazil nuts, tuna, sardines, salmon, chicken egg, brown rice.
    • Vitamin C – found in acerola extract, rose hips, camu camu, black currents, guava, lemons, limes, oranges, strawberries. Though higher doses can cause loose stools.
    • Vitamin D – does not have many great food sources. Fortified animal and plant milks will contribute when consumed in the right portions. Short periods of exposure to the sun without sunblock allows for production of Vitamin D beginning in the skin. However, with the concerns for skin cancer, sun exposure is limited. Supplementation of Vitamin D3 is the most reliable source.
  • Probiotics are beneficial for the human body. Studies have shown their benefit to the digestive tract, and ultimately the immune system, by ensuring the line of defense in the gut microbiome is balanced and working well. They are found naturally in some foods, and more common are manufactured supplements taken orally. ‘Prebiotics’ are food for the probiotics and are found naturally in our gut through consumption of fiber, but can also be found along with probiotic supplements.
    Important Note on Vitamins, Minerals and Probiotics – Taking large amounts of any supplements, or consumption in large amounts of any individual or multivitamin/mineral supplement is not advised. If you are choosing to do this for you or your child, you are directed here to speak to a physician or dietitian.

Environment and Behaviors could be discussed in so much more detail than this post can provide. But know your behaviors are under your control. What you do impacts anyone and everyone, including our world. The environment is not just something that happens, but is changed by everything we do. Being thoughtful of ourselves is so important, but if we become so self absorbed and focused in the long run, our world will become more skewed from what it should be, which ultimately comes back to our ability to be healthy in this world.

In summary
Creating a place in your world that is safe, clean, nutritive, and supportive of your immune system is totally within your reach, taking time and attention. The scary world of viruses and diseases that are out of your control can be managed, and the impact it has on health – yours, your family’s, friends, and society – is pretty significant. There is so much more, but I hope some of the thoughts and ideas mentioned here might stir you to rethinking your role in this world of immunity.

I wish you and your family the best health. For more information on our nutrition services, please visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/nutritional-therapy.html.

Short Stories to Explain the Coronavirus to Children

By: Yvonne D. Anderson, LCSW, CADC, CODP II, Bilingual Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The current pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a difficult time for everyone and leaves a lot of unanswered questions, especially for children. The following short stories are great resources to bring some clarity and comfort to young children while their normal routines are disrupted. The stories below vary in length and detail ranging from very short to slightly more detailed. I hope you find a story or two that will be helpful for your specific child’s needs!

Caroline Conquers her Corona Fears

By: Kellie Camelford, Krystal Vaughn, & Erin Dugan

This short story answers some of the many questions young children may be having about Covid-19 and why their normal routines are so different. A simple breakdown of social distancing and safety procedures are talked about to help young children understand why certain actions are in place. Overall the story is informative, positive, easy to read, and is a great resource to calm uncertainty and confusion for children. When printed out, the book doubles as a coloring book and includes a page for parent’s and children to write out a simple schedule.

Story Link: https://alliedhealth.lsuhsc.edu/clinics/docs/CarolineConquersherCoronoaFears31820.pdf

Coronavirus: A book for children

By: Elizabeth Jenner, Kate Wilson & Nia Roberts

What is the coronavirus, and why is everyone talking about it?

Engagingly illustrated by Axel Scheffler, this approachable and timely book helps answer these questions and many more, providing children aged 5-10 and their parents with clear and accessible explanations about COVID-19 and its effects – both from a health perspective and the impact it has on a family’s day-to-day life.

With input from expert consultant Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as well as advice from teachers and child psychologists, this is a practical and informative resource to help explain the changes we are currently all experiencing.

Story Link: https://nosycrow.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Coronavirus-A-Book-for-Children.pdf

Dave the Dog is Worried About Coronavirus

By: Nurse Dotty

A book for children about coronavirus that aims to give information without fear.

With everything that is going on at the moment; big changes to children’s routines and lots of stories on the news it can be a really scary time for children.

This book opens up the conversation about coronavirus and some of the things they might be hearing about it and provide truthful information in a reassuring and child friendly manner.

Story Link: https://nursedottybooks.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/dave-the-dog-coronavirus-1-1.pdf

Hello! My name is Corona Virus

By: Manuela Molina

Summary from the author: I have created this short book to support and reassure our children, under the age of 7, regarding COVID-19. This book is an invitation for families to discuss the full range of emotions arising from the current situation. It is important to point out that this resource does not seek to be a source of scientific information, but rather a tool based on fantasy. My recommendation is to print this material so children can draw on it. Remember that emotions are processed through repetitive play and stories read multiple times. Share COVIBOOK and help ease kiddo’s anxiety all over the world. 

Story Link: https://660919d3-b85b-43c3-a3ad-3de6a9d37099.filesusr.com/ugd/64c685_0a595408de2e4bfcbf1539dcf6ba4b89.pdf

I’d rather go out!

By: Deborah Woods

This short illustrated story highlights the use of imagination as a means of dealing with stressful times.

Story Link: https://www.magneticmoms.com/userfiles/481350/file/I%20would%20rather%20go%20out%20story%20(2).pdf

My Hero is You

This book was a project developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (IASC MHPSS RG). The project was supported by global, regional and country based experts from Member Agencies of the IASC MHPSS RG, in addition to parents, caregivers, teach-ers and children in 104 countries. A global survey was distributed in Arabic, English, Italian, French and Spanish to assess children’s mental health and psychosocial needs during the COVID-19 outbreak. A framework of topics to be addressed through the story was developed using the survey results. The book was shared through storytelling to children in several countries affected by COVID-19. Feedback from children, parents and caregivers was then used to review and update the story.

Over 1,700 children, parents, caregivers and teachers from around the world took the time to share how they were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. A big thank you to these children, their parents, caregivers and teachers for completing the surveys and influencing this story. This is a story developed for and by children around the world.

Story Link: https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/system/files/2020-04/My%20Hero%20is%20You%2C%20Storybook%20for%20Children%20on%20COVID-19.pdf

Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone in our Social Services department if you and/ or your family need support, resources, etc. We are happy to help. Our staff completes comprehensive assessments to pinpoint what a child and family need to be able to succeed. Working with the entire family, our staff can identify each child’s unique strengths and challenges and then tailor a treatment plan to meet those needs.

Our Social Work and Counseling services can help children and their families learn to grow together. Contact us at socialservices@eastersealsdfvr.org or 630.620.4433.

Staying Sane while Staying Home

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

Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) 

Kids are finishing up the school year, you are still going to work/working remotely, running your home, and keeping your kids entertained during their summer! All this change can be very disorienting and stressful for everyone.  I wanted to put together a list of some suggestions that are “occupational therapist-approved” to help you navigate staying sane, keeping a good routine, carving out “family time”, and receiving therapy services remotely while being stuck inside the house! 

Routines

Probably the largest disruption to all of us at this time is that all of our daily routines are completely changed! Daily routines help provide structure to our lives, whether you are a child or an adult. Research by Ruth Segal, OTD and Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at New York University, reports that daily routines give families as sense of identity, organization, and provide socialization opportunities (Segal, 2004). Our kids are used to having a predictable day involving school, extra curriculars, play dates, and therapy appointments which help them organize their days and have meaningful interactions with family and friends. With this change to e-learning and staying home, it’s completely understandable that kids may feel stressed, anxious, and aimless without their routines. This stress may be more exacerbated for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Children with ASD can be heavily reliant upon predictability and routine, which have been thrown off because of the Coronavirus. For both neurotypical and children with ASD alike, using visual schedules, timers, and social stories may be good techniques to help your child cope with a new routine. 

Visual Schedules

Visual schedules can be as complex or simple as you need; they can be simple drawings on a piece of paper, an excel spreadsheet, or printed words/pictures from an online generator. For some of my clients, they are comforted and reassured when I draw 3 pictures of activities we are going to do in OT.

Honestly, whatever works for your kid and helps them feel organized is correct.  Whatever way you decide to create a visual schedule, it’s important to build in both structured and unstructured time for your children. They should have time built in for their academic work for school as well as a few hours for play time that is completely unstructured. Some kids may want to put a sticker next to an activity they completed, erase it on the whiteboard, cross it out, or just put a checkmark next to it. The sky’s the limit! Below are some examples of visual schedules and who it may be appropriate for:  

(Written schedule with times, appropriate for older elementary children who can tell time) 

(visual picture or words, as they are able to read. You can draw your own pictures or just print some off for younger children who cannot read.)  

More resources at: Free Templates for Daily Visual Schedules 

Timers

In conjunction with visual schedules, it can be helpful to utilize timers (sandtimers, timer on the microwave, on your iPhone, etc.) to help your children keep organized. The timer you use will have to be dependent upon your own child’s level of development as well as what they personally need to feel supported. Apps you can use: 

  1. Children’s Countdown App: Great, free time app on smart phones that shows a picture countdown on the screen. The coundtown clock can be set for any amount of time and children do not need to understand how to tell time or have understanding of numbers to comprehend it.
  2. Timed It! App: App for older children in which you can put in personalized tasks in minute increments and the app will help the child count down until they need to move on to the next task.
  3. Timer on smart phone: just about all smart phones have a “clock” application in which there are capabilities for setting a timer. This would be good for older children who have a better sense of what an hour, minute, second is. Although, some younger children will understand the concept that they are only “all done” when the timer makes a sound.

Social Stories

For some children with ASD, social stories are a good way to help explain why their routine has changed or what the “story” of their day. Social stories are third person stories in which the child is the main character and different themes can be explored. Ask an Occupational or Speech therapists for help creating a social story, if needed. 

Here’s a link to example social stories and one of the final links on this page has a social story template: https://www.andnextcomesl.com/2018/07/free-social-stories-about-transitions.html.  

Reducing Stress Activities

 In this uncertain time, it’s important to have some outlets for both you and your children to decompress and still have fun together. Building in sensory activities into your daily routine will help your child remain calm and regulated throughout the day.  

Physical Activities and Heavy Work

Taking movement breaks throughout your day will help both you and your child stay sane while you are cooped up at the house.  Occupational therapists often discuss the benefits of heavy work and how this push, pull, or carry input (or proprioceptive input) to the muscles and joints has a regulating and calming affect. There are a multitude of heavy work activities you can do indoors. Such as:

  1. Build a pillow fort with blankets, pillows & stuffed animals
  2. Pull siblings on the hardwood floor while they are sitting or laying on a blanket
  3. Do animal walk races across the room (bear walk, frog hop, crab walk, etc. Make up your own silly walk!)
  4. Jumping Jacks or jump on a trampoline
  5. Pull siblings in the wagon around the block
  6. Have a wall push-up competition and find out who is the strongest in your house
  7. Play towel tug-of-war
  8. Plant flowers in the backyard or help with yard work (using little shovel, pull weeds, dig in the dirt)

My helpful tip to parents is, if the activity includes pushing, pulling, or carrying something; that’s heavy work! Get creative and come up with your own ideas!

Family Game Night/Nightly Mealtime Tradition

Keeping special family routines will be important to make sure kids feel safe and supported when everyone is kind of stressed. Set aside time in your routine where you can all sit down and have a meal together with the television off. A family tradition at my house growing up was to play “Pot Boils Over” where one member of the family starts a silly story and after a few sentences says “pot boils over” and “passes” the story-telling to another family member to add on as they please. It’s a simple game that gets all family members involved, laughing, and thinking creatively.

Another mealtime routine I have heard of, is going around and saying one thing each family member is thankful for, what the best part of their day was, share a good joke, etc. This is also a great time for families to all sit down together and have game nights. You are going to be all home together, why not build some special memories and encourage social learning. Here are a few favorite games that can be played with multiple people, for different ages:

  1. Games for younger children: Shoots and Ladders, Simon Says, Twister (help them with right and left), Follow the Leader, Go fish, Memory (match pictures by turning over cards), Jenga, Kerplunk
  2. Games for Older children: Twister, Uno (each color you play can correspond to a fun activity such as “Make up your Own Dance Move” or “Do 2 Pushups”), Clue, Scrabble and Scrabble Junior, Telestrations (like telephone, but with drawing pictures), Apples to Apples, do a 200+ piece puzzle as a family, Guess Who?

Here’s another resource with more games: Our Favorite Board Games for Kids

Unplug

I am personally feeling inundated by COVID-19 news and I can get overwhelmed quickly, so I can imagine you and your children are feeling the same. I think it’s healthy to be aware of the evolving situation and current precautions, however it’s beneficial to “unplug” every once and a while when you are at home with your kids. Your children are very perceptive and can pick up on your stress and anxiety as they read your non-verbal cues and affect. Young children especially need their parents to “co regulate,” meaning they read your affect, mood, facial expressions and adjust their own regulation accordingly. If you exude a calm, cool, collected attitude when they are anxious, this will help them calm down and feel secure.

Therefore it’s important to turn off the news at some point and focus on having quality and uninterrupted play time with your kids. Do finger painting, make a fort out of blankets, play board games, read stories by flashlight, sit together and do a puzzle or color! Even just being available to your children, not distracted by technology or work, can be extremely beneficial to your kids.

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the CDC also recommends to take time to pause and breath during stress. Notice How you Feel. Take Breaks. Make time to sleep and exercise. Reach out and stay connected. Seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed or feeling unsafe. If you or your child needs help, our social work team can help.

Tele-Therapy Services

COVID-19 does not have to stop your child’s progress toward their goals! Your child can still receive therapy services remotely via tele-therapy.  Tele-therapy is a unique service delivery method in which your friendly Easterseals therapist will arrange a time and will send you a link via the Microsoft Teams app. From there, you just click on the link at your pre-arranged appointment time and you can have a video call with your therapist. Your therapist can then work on therapy goals with your child with you, the parent, being the therapist’s “hands” in the session. An occupational therapist will help coach you through appropriate handling techniques, sensory strategies, exercises, fine motor activities, feeding session and more remotely!  

All our therapists adopted this technology so your child will continually receive services with minimal interruption. It is our hope to keep providing exceptional therapy services to all of our clients during this difficult time. If you have any questions or concerns regarding tele-therapy, please reach out to one of your therapists or contact us at 630.620.4433.

Also stay tuned to our blog for more resources and tips from our therapists on helping families cope with increased time at home during COVID especially during the summer.

Sources:

Growing A Family’s Health

By: Laura Basi, PT, MPT

Physical fitness is important for everyone, including children and adolescents with developmental disabilities.  Running is a great weight-bearing aerobic activity. It promotes cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, bone health, lower extremity strength and endurance, symmetry of movement in both upper and lower extremities, and emotional regulation.  Wheelchair racing promotes cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, upper extremity strength and endurance, and upper body symmetry.  These are all areas that children with developmental delays and disabilities can improve on. 

“Gross motor skills like jumping and running, and object control skills like throwing and catching, are the building blocks upon which more complex physical activity can be learned as children grow, so the sooner kids work on being active, the better.” From parents modeling physical activity help kids with developmental disabilities improve motor skills).

Our community program, Hustle for Your Health, helps children reach their fitness goals. Each week includes an outdoor aerobic activity in the form of running and walking or wheelchair propulsion, basic strengthening exercises, and stretching to cool-down. At the end of the program, children will be prepared to complete our Run for the Kids: Superhero Hustle to run or walk a 5k distance and are encouraged to participate in other local races too.

I have heard from countless families that are amazed at their child’s commitment to health during and after the 10-week program. Below, I share some tips to help all children grow their enthusiasm for wellness.

Growing a Child’s Love of Physical Fitness

  1. Make it fun. Choose activities your kids like. Some kids enjoy walking, running, and biking, but others may get more out of obstacle courses, climbing trees, hopscotch, rollerblading, dancing or a game of kickball in the yard.  The goal is to promote a love of movement.
  2. Variety is the spice of life. To prevent boredom, change things up. Tour the neighborhood using different modes of transport – walking, scootering, biking, skating; you can even make a walk feel different by bringing a ball to dribble while walking or by challenging your child to run to the next tree, skip to the next fire hydrant, leap across the next driveway, etc.
  3. When building endurance, add in activities for “active rest.” Lengthen a jog or a bike ride by bringing along a frisbee so that you can take a break in the middle of your run/ride to toss a frisbee before heading back home. Your child will have maintained being active for a longer period of time and be able to handle a longer distance with a built-in break.
  4. Stuck inside?  Get your body moving by:
    • Making up a dance routine.
    • Setting up an indoor obstacle course
    • Creating movement themed minute challenges. How many times can you…. in a minute? 
      • I.E: Run up and down the stairs, do sit-ups, do jumping jacks, push a basket of laundry across a room, run laps throughout your house.

Growing your child’s fitness and love for activities like running, biking or yoga, has a positive impact on their overall body health but also improves attention, mood and more. But one of the biggest factors in growing a child’s fitness was parent modeling according to a recent study published in the Disability and Health Journal. Caregivers and parents that model physical activity helped encourage their children to be active and created a supportive environment for children with developmental delays and disabilities. The study also mentions that starting this early, around preschool age, takes advantage of the fact that younger children are already spending significant time watching and copying parents.

During the State of Illinois’ stay-at-home order, children have more opportunities to spend time with their caregivers and model their activities. There are plenty of fitness activities the family can do together. Our annual Run for the Kids: Superhero Hustle helps many children at Easterseals make a goal to cross the finish line with their first independent steps, with a walker, or after reaching a new distance. Their goals help inspire other family members to join in their training and reach new levels of health. The new Superhero Hustle date is August 1, which gives participants three months to work on a new wellness goal.

Our goal is to help you reach yours! Set your intention for the next 3 months. What will your family accomplish by August 1? Will you run a 5K for the first time? Do 100 jumping jacks? Start each day with mindfulness and yoga? Tell us! To get started: 

  1. Register today at eastersealsdfvr.org/runforthekids.
  2. Set your wellness and fundraising goals.
  3. Share your progress with family and friends and encourage their support
  4. Make plans to “cross the finish line” on August 1 

One of my personal goals as a physical therapist for children with developmental delays and disabilities is to not only help improve their physical health but the entire families. Our Run for the Kids and Bike for the Kids events are opportunities to grow our family’s fitness with a very supportive community group.

Chores and Executive Functioning

By: Jessica Drake-Simmons, M.S. CCC-SLP

People are not leaving their houses right now and you know what that is resulting in?  A need for lots of cleaning and organizing!  This doesn’t have to be a solo effort though!  Maybe we can embrace this unique opportunity, where we are being asked to be our children’s teachers, to show our children some new things we don’t normally have time for in everyday life.

Research has found that one of the best predictors of a young adults’ success was whether one participated in household tasks when they were young.  Chores help kids have a “pitch-in” mindset, which is an invaluable skill throughout the lifetime.  In the book, 50 Tips to Help Students Succeed, Marydee Sklar describes the executive functioning skills that are developed when completing chores including:

  • Time management
  • Delaying gratification
  • Planning
  • Prioritizing
  • Problem-solving
  • Focus and goal-directed behavior

Here is an idea of some of the chores your child might be ready to do by age.  The level of assistance a child may need will vary.

Age 2-3: This is a magical age in which your child is so enthusiastic in their desire to  “help”! The problem is that “help” feels like anything but help!  However, it appears that cultures that embrace and expect children in this age group to participate in household work raise children that are willing and proud contributors to household chores.

  • Put toys away
  • Throw garbage away
  • Put dishes in sink
  • Help set the table
  • Put dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Dust the baseboards
  • Fold rags, washcloths and dishcloths

Ages 4-5:

  • Make the bed
  • Feed the pets
  • Pick up toys
  • Water the plants
  • Wipe cabinets
  • Put away dishes they can reach
  • Clear and clean table after dinner
  • Make easy snacks
  • Wipe down doorknobs
  • Match socks

Ages 6-7

  • Sweep the kitchen floor
  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Sweep the hallways
  • Mop the kitchen floor
  • Organize the mudroom storage area
  • Make a simple salad

Ages 8-9

  • Clean room
  • Bring in the empty garbage cans
  • Put groceries away
  • Clean out the car
  • Clean room
  • Wipe bathroom sink and counters
  • Sweep the porch
  • Hang, fold and put away clean clothes
  • Make scrambled eggs
  • Bake cookies

Ages 10-11

  • Clean the toilets (inside and outside)
  • Wash your own laundry
  • Vacuum
  • Sweep the garage and driveway
  • Wipe down the counters
  • Clean the kitchen
  • Make a simple meal

Ages 12+: For this age group, help them be proactive in recognizing what needs to be done and initiating a plan for how and when to do it.  Work side-by-side on house projects with them. 

  • Clean the garage
  • Mow the lawn
  • Wash the car
  • Mop the floors
  • Wash windows
  • Clean bathroom
  • Help with simple home repairs
  • Cook a complete meal

Tips for success:

  • Teach the skills- Don’t expect them to learn it on their own.  Break down the task into small steps.
  • Help them come up with organizational systems for their belongings that they can maintain with little help from you.  Have written labels or pictures to assist in sorting items in different boxes.
  • Take a picture of what their clean room (or other designated) area looks like.  Encourage them to match the picture when their chore is complete.
  • Give them some control, even if that means it’s not done the way you would prefer. 
  • Assist them in thinking through when they will have time in their schedule to do their chores. 
  • Help implement designated chores into daily routines. 
  • Schedule work time and break time.
  • Help them recognize how long a chore should take to complete in order to maintain their focus to the task and motivation for completing it in a timely manner. 
  • Make it fun! 
    • Play music
    • Make it a race or competition
    • Create a chore chart or list which will assist experiencing a sense of accomplishment as they complete their chores
    • Sometimes incentives might help!
    • Have everyone completing chores together

Stay home, stay well, embrace the ones you are socially isolated with and relish in those chores! For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit eastersealsdfvr.org.

Heavy Work and Movement Activities for Sensory Regulation

By: Anna Bieschke Midwestern University Occupational Therapy Doctoral student and Linda Merry, OTR/L

Being stuck inside for this long of a time is certainly not fun, especially for little ones who are used to spending their day going to school, seeing their friends, playing at the park, or venturing out into the community with their families. When your child is cooped up indoors, they may not get as many opportunities to climb, jump, lift, pull, or move as much as they typically would. For many children, especially those with sensory processing difficulties, this heavy work and movement helps them to remain calm and alert throughout the day.

Your child’s ability to remain calm and focused during their daily activities is known as sensory regulation. This occurs when your child can respond appropriately to the information they take in from the environment through their senses (tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing, etc.). When a child is presented with too much or too little sensory input (like in the case of being stuck indoors with little exercise and movement), they may have a difficult time managing their emotions and behaviors.  This is called sensory dysregulation.

Some Signs Your Child is Dysregulated

  • Becomes distressed when required to sit still
  • Is easily distracted by objects or people in the environment
  • Reacts defensively to certain textures, smells, sounds, or foods in their mouth
  • Repeatedly and vigorously shakes their head, rocks back and forth, or jumps up and down
  • Becomes frightened when they are in close contact with other children
  • Runs away or becomes aggressive towards sensory input that makes them uncomfortable
  • Hides or retreats to a quiet spot
  • Appears extremely wild and/or engages in dangerous behavior

Why is Sensory Regulation so Important?

Helping your child stay regulated is important because it lays the foundation for the child to grow and develop new skills. As seen in the house diagram below, all the senses make up the base of the house. Without a stable base, your child’s coordination, language, attention, engagement in daily activities, and academic learning, among other skills, can be impacted. Just think how difficult it would be to sit and pay attention to an at-home school lesson if your distracted by the need to move around or are visually distracted by objects in the room.

Image Retrieved from: https://www.pinterest.com.mx/pin/75294624990224433/

Sensory Breaks with Heavy Work and Movement

One way to support your child’s sensory regulation while limited to being inside is to provide your child with sensory breaks, particularly with heavy work and movement. Heavy work is a form of proprioceptive input. Your proprioceptive sense lets you know where your body is in space and involves any activity that requires pushing, pulling, lifting, or squeezing. Proprioceptive and heavy work activities help ground the child and slow their bodies down to make them feel organized and calm. Movement activities can also be incorporated to help break up seated activities to support your child’s alertness and attention. Here are some fun ideas for heavy work and movement activities:

  1. Indoor Obstacle Course
    • This activity is great because it allows you and your child to get creative. Use everyday items throughout your house to build an obstacle course that allows your child to jump on, climb over, crawl through and crash down. Pots and pans can serve as cones, pillows can be crash pads, and chairs can serve as tunnels or hurdles. Get your child more involved by having them help you choose objects and set it up. Remember, any lifting or pushing of objects can add an extra heavy work component to this activity.
  1. Build a Fort
    • Take whatever theme your child loves and run with it! Whether it’s a princess castle or a lion’s cage, have the child use their imagination to make a playful space. Help your child push furniture together, grab heavy blankets or pillows, and lift boxes or baskets to really provide them with that organizing and calming input. When the fort is made, it can also serve as a quiet and secluded place for your child to take a break if needed.
  1. Catch Bubbles
  • It’s pretty safe to say that many kids love bubbles. For this activity, blow bubbles towards the child and have them pop them by clapping both their hands together. Encourage the child to press their hands firmly together when clapping to increase the proprioceptive input to their joints. Blow the bubbles high to encourage your child to jump or low to encourage your child to squat down. Try to provide as many opportunities for different movements as possible.
  1. Play a Movement Video
    • YouTube has many great movement videos for yoga, dancing, and animal walks that can engage your child in movement form the confines of your home. Clear some place in the living room and use your electronic devices to stream the videos. With this activity, it’s more about getting your child moving instead of making sure they are doing the movements perfectly.
      • Cosmic Kids Yoga (https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga): This is a YouTube channel that provides yoga and mindfulness activities specifically designed for kids. This one is especially fun because many of the yoga themes follow along to your child’s favorite movies.
  1. Putty Play
    • Whether it’s play-doh, resistive putty, or thick cookie dough, have your child smash, pound, pull, and press the putty into various shapes. Use cookie cutters or other tools that encourage your child to press firmly down to make different shapes and cuts. To add an extra movement component, have them form the putty into balls and roll the putty to others at the table or toss it into a wide container. You can also hide small objects (beads, marbles, coins, etc.) into the putty for the child to pull out. All this pulling, pressing, and pounding will provide some heavy work to the arms and hands.
  1. Push-O-War
    • This game follows the same concept of tug-o-war except now the children will be pushing objects instead of pulling. To play, place a piece of masking tape or painter’s tape in the middle between your child and another child to create the center line on the floor. Put an object in between the two children (could be a garbage can on its side, a large pillow, big ball, etc.) and have them both push the object at the same time to see who can push it over the center line first.
  1. Wagon Rides
    • Have the child pull their smaller sibling or favorite toys in a makeshift wagon. Place a laundry basket or larger bin on a blanket and have the child fill the basket with their favorite toys (large stuffed animals, dolls, action fingers, etc.). The child can pull onto one side the blanket to slide the basket across the floor. A smaller sibling or friend can also sit in the basket to add some extra fun for all the kiddos in the house.
  1. Involve the Child in Household Chores
    • What’s better than getting some household chores done while also providing your child with heavy work? Even though you’re cooped up inside, there is still work to be done. Have your child help carry and fill laundry baskets, bring the garbage down to the street, vacuum, sweep, or carry in bags from the grocery store. Cooking activities like stirring batter, tearing lettuce, and kneading dough can also be great options for heavy work and movement.
  1. Other Movement Games
    • Other games including Simon Says, Ring Around the Rosie, Red Light Green Light, and Freeze Dance are also some games that can be played to promote movement when stuck at home. On nice days, take the child out onto the driveway or backyard to give them more space to run around and move.

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

References:

Bazyk, S. (2020). Sensory and self-regulation strategies. Every Moment Counts. https://everymomentcounts.org/view.php?nav_id=204

Pfeiffer, B., Frolek Clark, G., & Arbesman, M. (2018). Effectiveness of cognitive and occupation-based interventions for children with challenges in sensory processing and integration: A systematic review. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72, 7201190020. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.028233

Boy with Speech Language Pathologist in Tele-Therapy

Tele-therapy at Easterseals

By: Valerie Heneghan, M.A., CCC-SLP/L, Director of Speech-Language, Feeding, and Assistive Technology

Tele-therapy for All! 

Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley has been at the forefront of serving children and their families in a way that meets their current needs through clinical expertise, a team-based approach and integrating technology to ensure maximum independence. As an organization, we have been offering tele-therapy opportunities for the past 10 years as a service delivery model to those it would serve optimally (i.e., a generalization of skills to home environment, transportation issues, medically fragile or at-risk health, to accommodate busy schedules, etc.). 

In response to COVID-19, all 87 therapists were trained to transition to tele-therapy services within two days with support from experienced tele-therapists within the agency.  

How Does Tele-Therapy Work? 

Once evaluated to determine eligibility for skilled therapy services, your therapist would follow up to plan your child’s tele-therapy session and schedule a time to meet. They will work with you to review treatment plans and establish your priorities. 

Laptops or desktop computers are preferred for best overall experience. But tablets, iPhones and Android phones can work too as long as the device has a working microphone and camera. A stable internet connection is needed via a hard-line/Ethernet cord, WiFi or using your cellular plan (your standard data rates may apply). Screen sharing is available to increase participation, engagement and utilization of resources throughout the session. 

Boy in Physical Therapy with Tele-Therapy

Tips for Making the Most out of Online Therapy

  1. Get comfortable with the technology: Immerse yourself in the platform you are using. There are often a lot of features available such as audio adjustments and visual displays, screen sharing, chat features, etc. The more comfortable you are with these features the easier it may be to modify or troubleshoot if a technical problem occurs.
  2. Make a plan: Plan out a time and a designated space in your home that would work best for your child. Have the computer, phone or other device propped up on books or a stand that has a wide view of the room. If possible, the therapy time should be away from other family members or pets. Work with your therapist ahead of time to prepare a few materials or resources like balls, pillows, mats, or games. 
    • Ex: For a young child, find a space where the child can sit comfortably to view the screen but also has space nearby for movement breaks. Bring your child’s favorite toy to show to their therapist and board game to keep their engagement with the parent between exercises. 
  3. Be flexible: When plan A doesn’t go accordingly, be willing to change course.  
    • Take the child’s lead and adapt as necessary. Let the therapist guide you in facilitating therapy strategies through real-life reactions and experiences. 
    • Use items in your home to replicate therapy equipment. Ex: Use couch cushions and pillows to create new surfaces for climbing and crashing. 
  4. Make it fun: Be creative and try new things! You may be surprised by new interests and breaking from the same routines. See how much your child can do! 
  5. Make it matter: Use this as an opportunity for your therapist to see your child in your home to incorporate therapy strategies and techniques in your daily routine. Let your therapist see what is important to your child and how to motivate them to achieve their treatment goals. 
    • Ex: A child is experiencing difficulty with mealtime; let the therapist observe seating and position at the table, mealtime structure, and how you communicate to your child during a typical mealtime. Pick a food that is important to your family and ask about strategies to incorporate it into your child’s diet. 
  6. Give your therapist feedback: It may be more difficult to pick up on social cues, be direct about what went well and what could be improved. Share ideas and problem-solve together to plan for the next session.   

COVID Response

As we try to be one step ahead of the COVID-19 crisis and care of your child, we are committed to keeping our programs running. Our tele-therapy services are available to maintain your child’s therapy schedule, help your family navigate this new routine and manage the difficult emotions that may come with it.  We can also help parents that have a concern about their infant or toddler’s development now. There is no need to wait, as the early stages of a child’s life are the most important in their development.

We are pleased that tele-therapy has already helped many children eat a new food, stay active, and improve their regulation and play skills while building a stronger relationship with their caregiver. 

We understand the immense stress of balancing your child’s needs with the demands of work and school while also keeping your family healthy. We are here to ensure that each child and their caregivers have the support they need to adopt this technology and continue therapy progress. 

While much has changed, our commitment to you remains. If you have any needs, we are actively monitoring our main phone number, 630.620.4433 and info@eastersealsdfvr.org. Contact us at any time (please include your full name, child’s name, phone number and email) and a member of our team will return the response within one business day. 

Easy Indoor Activities for Energetic Kids

By: Laura Donatello, PT, DPT

Update: With a stay-at-home order for all of Illinois in effect, I know parents and caregivers could use some ideas for energetic children more than ever. I updated my previous blog with some new ideas.

I know it is hard to balance the need for work and for child care at the same time, so just know you are doing your best!

Push-Pull Activities

This total body strengthening activity targets shoulder stability as a child pushes an object at or below shoulder height with straight arms, core to change direction, and lower extremities to power forward.

Push/Pull Activity Ideas:

child and laundry
Image from 3.bp.blogspot.com
  1. Hide some of your child’s favorite toys in a large open room. Have your child push a laundry basket around the room, and fill up the cart with toys. You can place toys at various heights, encouraging your child to stand on their toes, climb a couch cushion, or squat down to retrieve a toy. Pay attention to the type of flooring in the room. When using a plastic laundry basket, carpet will generally be more challenging to push against, and hardwood/tile will be easier.
  2. Have a race to see how fast he/she can push the basket to the end of the hall to retrieve a toy, and back. Races can be against siblings or parents, or be in the form of a relay race.
  3. Tie a string to the basket to make this a pulling activity.

Obstacle Course

The possibilities are endless with obstacle courses. You can encourage your child to help create, set up, and clean up the course. Maybe incorporate your child’s favorite play scheme; he/she has to navigate the course to place a puzzle piece in the puzzle, feed their favorite doll, or animal. You can add multiple activities together, or just focus on a few. There are many gross motor skills that can be incorporated such as walking, jumping, balancing on one foot, and hopping.

Obstacle Course Ideas

  1. olympics.jpgLay out couch cushions on the floor for your child to step on, jump over, or climb through. Maybe even jump from cushion to cushion.
  2. Navigate a hopscotch course made out of tape on the floor. This can be modified into many different patterns such as a few boxes in a row, column, diagonal, or in a traditional hopscotch pattern. Your child can walk, jump, or hop from square to square.
  3. Crawl or squat under a string tied across two chairs.
  4. Walk on a bubble wrap road, walk across a taped line, or both!
  5. Crumple up old newspapers and grab a laundry basket to play newspaper basketball. For a balance challenge, have your child stand on a cushion or one leg to make a basket.
  6. Cut a pool noodle into 26 pieces, put a letter of the alphabet on each piece and grab some string. Kids can practice putting words together, squat to pick up a piece, and go up on their toes to thread the noodle through the string.

Color Under the Table

Color Under the Table

Tape a piece of paper or coloring book to the underside of a kid’s table. Your child can color up from laying on the floor to work on strengthening their shoulder and trunk muscles!

Exercise Dice

Create a six-sided dice out of cardboard and tape. On each side draw or print out a picture of a different activity such as clapping, jumping jacks, running in place, jumping, heel raises, and dancing. You can also create another dice with numbers on each side to determine how many times or seconds to complete an activity for.

04_Bodhi2.jpg
Photo by Patti Mendoza

Online Resources

  1. Cosmic Kids Yoga is a website, app, and free YouTube channel where a narrator demonstrates popular yoga poses in the form of stories. Kids can follow along with the instructor on the screen as they narrate their favorite stories or movies in the form of yoga poses. You can access a free 2 week trial if you download the app, or type in “Cosmic Kids Yoga” into the YouTube search bar to access free videos!
  • Go Noodle is another great free online resource to get kids moving! The website is full of videos including dance parties, yoga sessions, and games. The resources span a variety of ages, abilities, interests, and can be interactive to include siblings.  Access Go Noodle for Families website through the link.

10 Popular Toys on Amazon Under $20

Here are some of my favorite entertaining, therapeutic toys used with a variety of ages.

  1. Beads are a great multi use toy you can take practically anywhere with your imagination.
  2. Bubbles are another perfect activity to incorporate into obstacle courses, pop in a variety of positions such as sitting or standing, or work on blowing them to control your breath. “Fubbles” are a personal favorite because they don’t spill.
  3. Paint in a Bag is a great sensory activity. Grab your favorite paint colors and squeeze them into a zip lock bag. Tape the bag to a table or the floor and watch your child be entertained with pushing the colors around.
  4. Spinning Toy is a fun way to work on gross motor and fine motor to spin the gears around the pipe.
  5. Pop Tubes are a fun, noise making, resistance toy your child can practice pulling in a variety of positions.
  6. Zoom Ball is a partner game to propel the ball along the string by moving your arms. It’s a great shoulder exercise even adults can feel the burn from!
  7. Squigz are little suckers that stick to a variety of surfaces. They’re great for sticking on mirrors and pulling off against resistance. The company Fat Brain Toys also makes Whirly Squigz that spin.
  8. Get ready to make cookies with the Melissa and Doug Slice and Bake Cookie Set. This pretend play set is the perfect toy for obstacle courses. The cookies come on a Velcro tray making this toy the perfect resistance activity. The frosting also Velcros to the cookie. Hide the cookies in an obstacle course or navigate over couch cushions to put the cookie on the tray.
  9. Top Bright Bird Feeding Game is a great fine motor activity. Play this game laying down on your side to use different muscles to feed the bird!
  10. Spike the Fine Motor Hedgehog is another great fine motor toy to pull his spikes out and push them back in.

Whatever activity you choose, be sure to have fun with it!

For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley services, visit eastersealsdfvr.org.

Nutrition/Feeding Clinic at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley –The Comprehensive Approach

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L & Pediatric Nutrition Therapist Cindy Baranoski MS, RDN, LDN

In January 2019 a groundbreaking article was published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition describing children challenged with feeding problems and their care. Pediatric Feeding Disorders (PFD) is the term the expert team of authors define as “impaired oral intake that is not age-appropriate, and is associated with medical, nutrition, feeding skill, and/or psycho-social dysfunction.” It goes on to establish the basis for creation and implementation of a medical diagnosis code that would support children identified as having problems in any of these four areas, which are impaired by or impairing a child’s ability to eat a diet that is expected for age.

It concludes with the primary need for children to be identified early, and receive interdisciplinary evaluations and interventions, as opposed to seeing one practitioner alone to try and help all areas. Interdisciplinary thinking, evaluations, and treatment have been the core practice of Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley’s Feeding Clinic the past 20 years, since its inception in 2000.

What Brings You Here

From the moment we are born, feeding and eating is something that is supposed to come naturally to everyone. When a baby is born, we feel an overwhelming sense of love and a strong desire to watch over, protect, and nourish to grow. When it’s time for feeding, our bodies are already preparing the necessary tools to breakdown and process what is provided. Feeding involves more than just our mouths. At play are the sights (color, shape, size), feelings (warm, hot, cold, crunchy, chewy, soft, sticky), smells (sweet, stinky), sounds (loud, quiet), and most especially, the way our body works. From how our muscles work together to align our trunk in sitting, allowing our arms to reach, grasp, and explore, to coordination of suck, swallow, and breathe, and manipulating the food in our mouths, everything sets the foundation for a good relationship with mealtimes and foods. Our past and current experiences all shape our belief around feeding and nutrition. Your body must work all together to receive and process nourishment.

For some children, however, this process isn’t easy and doesn’t always come naturally. Many children struggle to coordinate their bodies to eat or drink, have GI systems that don’t process the foods well leading to constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, GE reflux, which leads to poor growth, frustrations, fear, and worry. For children with respiratory conditions, poor coordination of breathing, overall weakness, eating a meal like other children their age is nearly impossible. Yet, they still need what other children need – nourishment, socialization, variety, scheduled mealtimes, and interaction with foods. For these children, who may be fed through a tube, eating may not be the primary mode of nourishment, but all the other factors play into what promotes development, health, and good growth.

As a parent, nothing is more important than watching your child grow and thrive, and nothing is more heart wrenching than watching them struggle. When a child doesn’t eat, parents feel blame and guilt. We ask ourselves why? Did I do this? What could have I done differently? We try a host of different strategies. We Google and seek advice from family, friends, and medical providers. We fall back to what we know, which may or may not work.

Who We Are

Our Feeding Clinic at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley consists of a team of individuals who have a passion for helping kids with feeding, mealtimes, tolerance, health, and growth. Our team assesses the many different reasons why a child might be struggling. We are not just looking at their ‘behavior’, but dig deeper and aim to understand the core source of the behavior and what it is communicating. Eating is so much more than bringing food to the mouth, chewing, and swallowing.

Our Clinic consists of a pediatric gastroenterologist/integrative medical practitioner, registered dietitian nutritionist, speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist, and parent liaison. The team has over 230+ years of combined expertise, and have gone on for extensive training in many areas, such as NeuroDevelopmental Therapy (NDT), Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) Approach, DIR/Floortime, Respiratory and Rib Cage Development, Homeopathy, and Chinese medicine.

As a team, we review your child’s birth and developmental history prior to the appointment, with a thorough analysis of the diet record you submit. We ask you to let us know your expectations of the evaluation when filling out the paperwork, both online and written forms. Our goal is to meet these expectations. During the actual meeting we are looking and listening for red flags that clue us into issues driving the challenges your child is having. A list of possible reasons why your child might be seen by our feeding clinic is found in Table 1.

Table 1

What Happens, What We Do, and What’s Next

During the interdisciplinary evaluation, the full team meets with the family. Engaging with and helping your child feel comfortable in the room, the speech and language pathologist and occupational therapist are also listening while beginning to perform a physical assessment.

Medical & Nutrition

First the team reviews and establishes your child’s medical health and overall nutrition status. Many medical complications from birth can impact a child. Undiagnosed medical and gastrointestinal (GI) problems often come to light in clinic.

Think of your child’s health like the foundation to your house. If your foundation is weak, then the floors above it will compensate for weakness. If your child is struggling from constipation, diarrhea, motility, gagging, GE reflux, then most likely they are subconsciously learning to connect food to feeling poorly. Additionally understanding your child’s nutrition, assists the team in understanding what might be contributing to what is not medical, allowing the team to make appropriate recommendations to ensure for growth and health. Analysis of current nutrition includes what is expected for your child, balance, timing of meals/snacks, calories, protein, fluid, hydration, vitamins/minerals, route of nutrition and growth. An understanding of both medical health and nutrition status, allows for changes from the foundation first and foremost.

Speech and Language Pathology & Occupational Therapy

Observing how your child interacts and engages during the evaluation can help the speech and language pathologist as well as occupational therapist, before they move on to assess the physical portion of eating and drinking. Our goal, no matter where your child is in their journey with food and feeding, is to have a positive relationship during the process. While observing your child, both therapists are also looking at their underlying motor skills and evaluating if any postural supports might be beneficial. Mary Massery, a well-known physical therapist, has said “breathing always wins”, and she is not wrong. Breathing dominates. Where your body is in space and stability is its second priority. Swallowing and feeding behavior must continually adapt to changing respiratory and postural systems.

When your child sits down with the therapists, it is about getting a better sense of your child’s oral motor skills from the speech and language pathologist. The occupational therapist is observing potential underlying sensory processing difficulties and relationship issues with food. Anxiety around meals and feeding can increase adrenaline which suppresses our desire to eat. Assisting with overall regulation is important for comfort at mealtimes.

Social Services

The emotion with feeding and nutrition difficulties can be overwhelming for both the parents and child. Many times, a child’s survival from birth and medical health is the primary focus, as it should be. When a child becomes more stable, a parent can start to see beyond the medical fears and begin to focus on other things such as independent feeding. With this new focus, the emotions, fear, concerns, and hope are still there. Whether your child is struggling to be an oral eater or being fed by tube, the emotions can be immobilizing. Our parent liaison is a vital team member in our clinic, helping every parent know they are not alone. She provides support, empathy and connections to any resources.

By the end of the evaluation, the team confers together within the same space as your family, and immediate and long-term recommendations are made. Often, these recommendations focus on gut health, breathing, positioning, or establishing improved nutrition, before working on some of the more therapeutic needs such as oral motor skills or sensory processing/relationship interactions. Sometimes recommendations are made to work on several key things simultaneously to help your child be more clinically stable, or a single recommendation that may be central to all other concerns identified. Returning to our 90 minute clinic for a follow up visit, may be one of the recommendations made.

Final Thoughts

Wherever you are at in your child’s journey, there are many aspects to feeding disorders in the pediatric population. Therefore identifying and addressing all of them is a priority that should not be overlooked. Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley’s Feeding Clinic has been and continues to view your child and his care from this interdisciplinary “Pediatric Feeding Disorders” approach, involving a skilled and expert team of professionals. Nutrition issues is an area that brings an enormous amount of stress and anxiety to a child and caregivers. Our team is uniquely qualified and experienced to assist children at all levels of feeding, instilling hope and helping them be their very best.

Each child is unique, and each intervention is tailored to fit your child and family. While you research options you have, consider the following –

  • Aim to help your child feel their best. They need to feel well – this is key for success in any area.
  • Ensure your child is receiving sound nutrition, regardless of what they are currently receiving. There are many ways around getting your child good nutrition.
  • Assess their positioning with mealtimes and feeding to be sure they are fully supported. Positioning is key. Seated on a firm surface with feet flat on the floor or chair rail, with head and shoulders aligned over hips, equal weight bearing, is the most optimal positioning. Allow her arms to rest on her tray or table with shoulders down.
  • Ensure a regular schedule. Regardless if your child is orally fed or through a tube, a mealtime plan is essential, and helps your child learn hunger and fullness, allows their bodies to sustain through the day, can improve their overall tolerance, and should have a positive beginning and end.
  • Patience – feeding therapy is a journey with bumps and curves along the road. Share your compassion and empathy. Learning to eat and mealtimes, after a rough beginning, might involve reshaping many memories. You might have to start over to build trust. Remember even the tortoise finished the race with the hare.
  • Expose, expose, expose and don’t limit opportunities for exposure. Have fun and play with food. Model appropriate food reactions – don’t “yuck someone else’s yum.” Continue to find way to present food to your child even if he/she is not ready to taste them. You can read books together about food, visit different grocery stores and markets, and find ways to get them involved in mealtime preparation without eating.

To learn more on our Nutritional Feeding Clinic visit our website at: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/specialized-clinics/feeding-clinic.html. And contact our Intake Coordinator at 630.261.6287 or mscholtes@eastersealsdfvr.org to ask questions or schedule an appointment for a feeding evaluation. 

Indoor Parks for the Winter

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

As the winter creeps up, my client families have been worried about their children not getting “their energy out.” It is a time when recess is moving from outdoors to indoors and fun trips to the park are being replaced with play at home. Not to mention with the sun setting after 4:30 PM, parents are a little weary of having kids play outside in the dark. 

So how do we make sure that our kids get the needed movement, play, and sensory input when the days are too short and invariably too cold to go outside? 

Besides indoor sensory activities that you can do at home (see previous post on Indoor Toddler Activities), here are a collection of indoor sensory parks in the Chicagoland area. These gyms have indoor swings, equipment, and sensory play that can help support your child in the winter months (or year round) when playing outside may not be possible.

These recommendations are based upon input from other therapists, clients, and online research. Sites have not been individually inspected on-site by the author.

We Rock the Spectrum

OT Overview

  • What is it?: A “gym for all kids” that  “is committed to providing a safe, nurturing, and fun environment to foster learning, exploration and safe sensory experiences.” We Rock the Spectrum is owned by a speech pathologist whose mission is to provide a safe space for all children to play and explore. We Rock the Spectrum is a large gym facility that hosts both open play times, respite care, birthday parties, and classes. We Rock the Spectrum is specifically designed for children with special needs, especially those on the Autism Spectrum! Open for children in infancy to 13 years old. All children must be accompanied by an adult and wear socks. 
  • Why an OT likes it: We Rock the Spectrum has a handy graphic of all their pieces of equipment and what sensory input they provide! 

General Information

  • Where: 553 East Dundee Road Palatine, IL
  • Hours: Open gym typically runs 10am-7pm during weekdays, but hours may vary, please check website for details. 
  • Amenities: This gym has a lot of the same swings and equipment seen in therapy gyms- There is a zip line, swings, crash pit, weighted blankets, trampoline, tunnel, platform swing, hammock swing, monkey bars, and bolster swing. 
  • Pricing: There are drop in prices as well as memberships. $14/child, $12/siblings for open play. You can get membership cards (5 visits for $60, 12 visits for $120, etc.) See website for full conditions and price listings. Unlimited monthly packages are available too.
  • Contact

ColorWheel Playhouse

OT Overview

  • What is it?: Owned by parents of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ColorWheel Playhouse aims to be “a place where kids with all ranges of abilities could come together and find joy and smiles on our Color Wheel of happiness.” ColorWheel playhouse is a facility that has a large gym, can host classes and birthday parties. Classes include a variety of topics such as bully prevention, CPR, karate demonstrations, fire safety, and much more. This facility is specifically designed for children with special needs! 
  • Why an OT likes it: ColorWheel Playhouse has various different areas in which your child can choose what kind of input they are needing; there is an “Action Room,” designed to get your child the heavy work (push, pull, carry, climb, etc.) types of input to their muscles and joints that has a calming effect. There are various types of swings so your child can get the needed vestibular input (movement input from swinging back and forth, spinning, and jumping). Also there are arts and crafts/sensory bins available if your child needs a quiet moment to themselves. I also enjoy that the owners have a child with Autism, so the staff understands a child on the Spectrum and all potential needs and challenges. If birthday parties are challenging for a child, ColorWheel Playhouse offers themed birthday party packages at their facility. 

General Information

  • Where: Sandpiper Plaza, 2000 Army Trail Road, Hanover Park, IL
  • Hours: Open play hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10am-6pm, Closed Sunday and Monday.
  • Amenities: This facility has a rock wall, ball pit, monkey bars, log swings, rope climbing wall, cacoon swing, trampoline, zip line, an arts and crafts table, and sensory bins.
  • Pricing: Open gym: $10/child, $9/addition child. Punch cards and monthly memberships are available as well; See website for full conditions and price listings.
  • Contact: 

Ball Factory

OT Overview

  • What is it?: Ball Factory is an indoor gym that has specified areas for babies, toddlers, and young kids to explore and play. Children up to 12 years old are permitted to play with their parents present. Ball Factory aims to make play comfortable for all ages, they have equipment and toys suited for babies to 12 year old kids, as well as comfortable seating for parents and senior discounts available for when grandma and grandpa want to visit! There is even a cafe inside where you can grab a bite. This facility is designed for all children, of all ages and abilities. 
  • Why an OT likes it: I personally love the variety of equipment available at this facility- everything from ball bits, climbing structures, to push toys. I would recommend this facility for my clients that cannot get enough pretend play with cars and other vehicles, since there are kid-sized vehicles to drive around (and get vestibular and heavy work input as they pedal and push their cars around). I also love that this facility encourages family members not to just sit on the sidelines and watch their children play- but to get in on the action! Adults are allowed in all the play areas and there are comfortable seating options so that moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas can play with their children, then rest and recharge. After all, a place with fun equipment is great, but made into an amazing experience for a child when their loved ones join in play with them. 

General Information

  • Where: (there are 2 sites!)
    • Naperville: 864 S Route 59
    • Mount Prospect: 1042 S Elmhurst Road
  • Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10am-7pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-9pm
  • Amenities: Ball Factory has many fun areas for your child to explore that is age and abilities appropriate:The “Imagination Playground” has large soft blocks for children to play with, the “Tot Area” has padded equipment, cushioned toys, balls, and a small play structure with large, soft, Lego blocks. Based upon pictures from the website, there does not appear to be any indoor swings. However, there is a “Pedal Tractor Area” with pedal tractors with loaders, trailers, tractors, and fire trucks. There is also a pretend play gas station for all of the vehicles to refuel! Other pieces of equipment include a ball pit, maze, multi-story playground, ball blasting area (soft balls shot out of air-cannons), baby slides, interactive play floor, and super slides!
  • Pricing:  
    • Children over 12 months (Monday-Friday) are $12.95, Weekends are $15.95. Children 6-12 months (Monday-Friday) are $10, weekends are $12. 
    • Children under 6 months are free. 
    • The Ball Factory also offers 5 visit passes that are $55. 
    • They also have fun discounts such as “PJ Play” in which children cost $8 for the last hour of the day and “Happy Hour Play”, in which children are $10 after 3pm  (Monday-Thursday).See website for full conditions and price listings.
  • Contact:

Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park (Naperville)

OT Overview

  • What is it?: This massive facility has all kinds of activities such as go-karts, “Wipe Out” styled obstacles, ropes course, etc. This facility offers Open Play hours where you can explore the building’s fun activities- such as an indoor trampoline park and climbing gym. There are so many activities available for open gym play as well as special events such as birthday parties. This facility is not specifically tailored to children with special needs, but may be suitable for these children with adult supervision and support. 
  • Why an OT likes it: This facility would be perfect for some of my clients who love coming to OT to get intense crashing, pushing, pulling, and are “thrill seekers!” Some of my clients are obsessed with Wipeout and American Ninja Warrior- and Urban Air looks like a place where those “adrenaline junkies” could pretend they are competing in American Ninja Warrior themselves. 
  • Special Note: Some activities at Urban Air may be a little more intense than the previously mentioned indoor playgrounds. I think this facility would best suit children who are more independent in their play and need just supervisory support to engage in novel gross motor activities. While these activities certainly do offer opportunities for heavy work and vestibular input (especially trampoline course, ropes course, zip line, climbing structures, rock walls, etc.), children with motor delays and/or are sensitive to intense movement input may have difficulty engaging in all of the activities offered. That being said, there are so many activities at this facility, that you are bound to find something for kids of all abilities to be able to participate in.  Please see the website for pictures to make your own assessment if these activities would be fun for your child. Consult your child’s Occupational Therapist if you are unsure if they would enjoy a certain activity. 

General Information

  • Where: (3 Illinois Locations)
    • 1955 Glacier Park Avenue, Naperville, IL
    • 67 Ludwig Drive, Fairview Heights, IL
    • 19800 South La Grange Road, Mokena, IL
  • Hours: (Varies by location, please see website for site specific hours)
    • Naperville Open Play hours:
      • Sunday-Wednesday (10am-8pm)
      • Thursday (No Open Play hours)
      • Friday and Saturday (10am-11pm)
  • Amenities: Urban Air definitely offers the widest variety of obstacle courses (rope wall, Wipe Out course, tubes playground, dodgeball, warrior course, ropes course, strapped-in zip line), bumper cars, go-karts, trampolines, and much more!  There is a Kids Under 7 area with little-kid appropriate trampolines. 
  • Pricing: Endless Play Memberships are available as well as birthday party prices. See website for full conditions and price listings.
  • Contact

I hope these ideas will help jump-start your planning for outings for the winter months! If you have any questions or concerns about any of the aforementioned facilities, please contact the facility. Also, ask your child’s Occupational Therapist about what types of activities would be most beneficial.

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