Cerebral Palsy is a disability that is caused by damage to the brain before or at birth. It mostly affects movement and fine motor skills but can have a large range of severity for children. Some children with cerebral palsy can walk or talk, while some may use a wheelchair or assistive technology device to speak like me.
Honestly, living life with a disability can be very challenging but I don’t let it stop me from having an awesome life! I have a lot of friends, a great family and have been a successful student. I graduated from St. Charles North High School in 2017 and am now a proud honors student at Elgin Community College. My communication device uses eye gaze technology and helps me type up essays and lecture notes.
I also love sports. I really, really love sports. While my disability has kept me from participating on teams with my friends, it hasn’t stopped me from being a huge fan. I had the privilege of being a team manager for football, basketball and volleyball while in school and those were very special experiences. I really felt like a part of the team and got close to some of my teammates.
I have been going to Easterseals since I was a little boy. I have done Physical, Occupational and Speech therapies. Easter Seals has helped me to be as independent as I can be and my therapists have always listened to me and asked me what I want to be working towards in therapy. They have been a great support to me and an asset in my life.
People with disabilities aren’t really very different from people that don’t have disabilities. We enjoy a lot of the same things and want to be treated fairly like everyone else! Having a disability is hard, but I haven’t let it stop me yet! Life is good!
Editor’s Note: Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley offers many resources for children with spastic and non-spastic cerebral palsy and their families including physical therapy, occupation therapy, speech-language therapy, assistive technology, inclusive day care and parent-to-parent support.
Treatments and therapies can benefit a child with cerebral palsy by helping him or her gain the strength and mobility needed to take first steps, speak first words and maximize their independence.
By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist
These cold wintry months make us want to bundle up and stay indoors. It’s so hard to keep adventurous little ones entertained on a beautiful day where you can go to the park, let alone a day when you’re stuck inside. It can be especially hard for children with sensory processing difficulties to not go outside and get the necessary input their bodies need to stay calm and focused through climbing, jumping, and tactile exploration. But you don’t have to sacrifice a fun day with your toddlers and young children just because it’s freezing out!
When it comes down to it, a child will love any game in which they have special playtime with a parent or caregiver. But if you’re having a little trouble thinking of some ideas to get you started on a fun indoor day, here are a few activities for your toddler that will help them get the sensory input they crave while having a whole lot of fun!
Build a fort
Make a princess castle, bear cave, dragons lair, or just a creative hideout. You can use whatever material is around the house (cardboard boxes, blankets, pillows, comforters, sheets draped over furniture) to make a fort. Help the younger toddlers (1 year olds) assemble the fort and play games like peek-a-boo as they climb in and out of their fort.
Young toddlers can also take child-safe flashlights into their fort as part of their peek-a-boo game or to play hide and seek with parents.
Older toddlers (2-3 year olds) can help you construct the fort as a great way to express their creativity and imagination. Encourage them to play house with their dolls/stuffed animals in their own little home. Or maybe you can join in an imaginative game with them (Be a dragon that is “attacking” the castle that your valiant knight defends with pillows, be a neighbor that brings a snack to your little one’s “home,” or pretend to be the Big Bad Wolf who blows their house down and create a pillow pile for the Little Pigs to dig out of).
Benefits of the Activity: I love having kids build a fort because it gives their body tactile input (input to their skin about the texture and pressure of the pillows and blankets). Also this type of activity helps them build visual perceptual skills needed to stack pillows to get them to stay up and not fall. Finally, children get proprioceptive input (pressure into their joints and muscles as they pick up heavy pillows and push them around). OT’s frequently call this type of input “heavy work.” Proprioceptive input is calming input that helps children who are always “on the go” slow their bodies down and have a better understanding of where their bodies are in space.
Painter’s tape mazes/hopscotch
Use painter’s tape to make shapes on hardwood, tile, or linoleum floor. Older kids can pretend that the circles out of tape are stepping stones in the river that they have to jump between without falling in the water. Kids may even enjoy making a little maze on the floor that they can walk on top of. You can even make squares to make a hopscotch pattern on the floor and practice jumping and balancing on one foot. Finally, make a path on the ground to use as a road for toy cars or animals!
Benefits of the Activity: This activity helps children build gross motor skills through coordinating their body movements to jump in/out of the hopscotch squares and develop visual tracking skills as they have their cars “follow the road” in a tape maze.
Pile pillows in a laundry hamper and place a blanket underneath to make the laundry hamper slippery on hardwood, tile, or linoleum floors. Your child could then climb in and enjoy a fun sleigh or car ride as you pull them around. Make a game out of it by stopping at the “grocery store” and picking up pretend food as you pull them around. Need your child to burn off a little energy? Have them push a basket around and pick up toys or push around a sibling, if they are able to.
Benefits of the Activity: This game gives their body tactile input (as they are squished by textured pillows in the laundry hamper) and some vestibular input (movement input and understanding of where they are in space) as they are pulled around. Once again, this activity provides proprioceptive input if the child pushes the hamper around the house!
Sensory Bin Hunt
Sensory bins can be made out of just about any material and is a fun way to help your child explore different textures. Take any large Tubberware or small to medium sized storage bin and fill with whatever sensory materials you child might like exploring (uncooked bowtie pasta, macaroni, beans, and cereal are a few of my favorite not-too-messy options). Don’t want a huge mess to clean-up? Put a fitted sheet underneath the sensory bin that will catch all the little pieces that might spill out during play. That way you can just bunch up the fitted sheet and throw pieces in it away when your child is done playing. Hide little cars inside the sensory bin and help your child dig through to find it. Pretend to give Barbies a bath in this pretend bathtub, play puppies and dig to hide a bone in the bin, or just allow your kid to play with funnels, tubberware, and serving spoons in the sensory bin.
Benefits of the Activity: This activity is a great way to introduce tactile input to the hands as they feel the different shapes, sizes, and textures of the items in the sensory bin. Want to add an extra challenge that OT’s would love? Have your child close their eyes and search around the bin with their hands to find a hidden treasure. OT’s describe the ability to distinguish between the properties of different items with the skin as tactile discrimination. See if your child can feel the difference between the macaroni you filled the bin with and the pennies you hid for them! If they have their eyes open and are searching the bin for their treasures, this activity helps children develop good visual scanning skills.
Note: Children should be supervised during sensory bin play to prevent choking if children place small pieces in their mouth.
Bath time Painting
Have a fun water day indoors by playing in the tub! Encourage some creativity and early fine motor fun with fingerpaint soap or bathtub crayons that are easily washed away with water. I found fingerpaint soap at the Dollar Store or in the dollar section at Target.
Benefits of the Activity: This activity promotes tactile exploration as children feel the different textures of the fingerpaint, the temperature of the tub, the pressure of the water around their bodies, and the splashes of the water as they play. Bathtub crayons also provide a play-based opportunity to practice developing an age-appropriate grasp and fine motor development.
**Note: Children should be supervised at all times in the bathtub. Check that fingerpaint soaps are non-toxic and safe.
Use premade puppets or make your own puppets with socks. Show your young toddlers how to play with a puppet (make the puppet say “hi” or give your little one kisses). See if they can imitate what you do! Help set up a little “stage” for a puppet show by draping a sheet over 2 chairs and encourage your older toddlers to put on a show for family and friends!
Benefits of the Activity: This activity promotes imitation through play. A child’s ability to imitate actions is a function of motor planning. Motor planning is the ability of the child to have an idea of what to do, plan the steps needed to accomplish this task, and successfully execute this plan. This activity also promotes imaginative play and helps children receive tactile input as they put sock puppets over their hands and move their hands to make the puppet talk.
Food Stamps or Food Necklaces
Make stamps out of fruit and veggies and make some artwork! Help prep vegetables and fruits you have around the house by cutting them in half. Apples, potatoes, bottoms of celery stalks, and broccoli make great stamps. Set up an area where your kids can get messy (maybe roll out wrapping paper on the kitchen table or floor and place paper on top to make clean-up easy). Provide some non-toxic finger paint or maybe shaving cream with food coloring and get stamping! This activity not only helps little ones express their creativity, but it also exposes them to new foods in tactile exploration.
Older toddlers might also enjoy making food necklaces. Use yarn or other types of string and help your child string on Cheerios, Fruit Loops, or macaroni onto their necklace.
Benefits of the Activity: Not only does your child receive tactile input through the different textures of food, but it’s a perfect opportunity for your child to play with foods that they usually don’t eat (if your child hates broccoli, it’s helpful for them to just be exposed to it in a context in which they don’t have to eat it, just play with it!)
An Occupational Therapist will tell you that repeated exposures to non-preferred foods helps children become more comfortable with different foods. Finally, children who string Cheerios/Fruit Loops onto string have the opportunity to practice their fine motor skills as well as visual motor skills (can the child identify where the hole in the cereal is and thread the food onto it?)
Silly Instrument Play
Lay a blanket on the kitchen floor and lay out pots and pans. Have your little one use wooden or metal spoons to play on their instruments. (Adults may need earplugs during this game!) Join in the silliness and be the leader of a parade around the house. Sing songs with your little one and practice marching.
Benefits of the Activity: This game provides your child with proprioceptive input as they bang on pots and pans. Your child also works coordinating movements (can they swing their arms to hit the pot). Older toddlers can work on gradation, which is the ability to grade force of movements (can your child hit the pan softly so a quiet song, then hit the pan really hard to produce a loud sound?)
Obstacle Course Adventure
Make a climbing obstacle course around the house using pillows, blankets, and sofa cushions. Help your child climb a pillow mountain or make a “garbage pile” of pillows in which you can hide a toy that your child can climb around to find.
Benefits of the Activity: Similar to a fort activity, obstacle courses provide a great opportunity for tactile input as they move around the cushions and blankets and proprioceptive input as they push/pull pieces to crawl through the obstacle course. This activity also works on body awareness, the ability of the child to feel where they are in space in order to effectively move their body around obstacles. The more a child is allowed to crash and push equipment around, they develop a better sense of where their body is in space.
Pull out old clothes, hats, shoes, sunglasses, socks, and scarves from way back in your closet and have a dress-up day. Older toddlers may enjoy having a fashion or talent show in your living room.
Benefits of the Activity: Not only do kids get to use this as a way to pretend to be just like their heroes (you), they also get practice dressing skills they will need when they are older. Young toddlers may have difficulty putting on different pieces of clothing (which is pretty age-appropriate), but they can work on pulling off pieces that they are all done with playing, such as pulling off a t-shirt, socks, shoes, and pants/skirt.
Make a tent out of sheets and chairs and drag in a sleeping bag or pillows to make your tent cozy. You can bring in flashlights, story books, toys, and/or some homemade s’mores made in the oven (recipe link below). See if your little one can use their flashlight to find different pictures in the story you read to them.
Benefits of the Activity: Making a small space out of pillows and sheets creates a great opportunity for children to receive tactile input. Some children find small spaces calming because they get “squished” between pillows. Getting “squishes” is a form of deep tactile input, which is very calming for some (think of a big hug or being swaddled). If this sounds like your child, use the tent as a safe retreat in which they can bring their favorite story and get a big hug from a loved one. Finding pictures with a flashlight while reading a story promotes visual scanning. Best of all, reading a story together gives you both the perfect opportunity to bond and spend quality time together.
There are limitless activities you can do inside that can help support sensory play and help children with sensory processing difficulties get the input they need. Feel free to use the ideas above or come up with your own play ideas!
By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L and Sarah Peabody, Physical Therapist
Play is an essential piece to optimal child development as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. Walking through the toy aisle can be overwhelming, but it is important to choose a toy that is age-appropriate, promotes healthy development, and encourages positive behavior. View our favorite holiday toy selections below!
Gifts for Infants:
Activity mat – Activity mats are great for promoting tummy time. Some have mirrors attached which helps the infant to lift his or her head up and engage in the mirror. Tummy time should start as early as possible for 3-5 minutes a couple times a day, building up the length and duration as the baby grows. Tummy time is essential to help your baby build the strength needed for rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and walking.
Black and white toys – For young infants (birth – 3 months), toys with high contrast are the most appealing, as their vision has not adapted to seeing colors yet. Around 5-6 months of age, bright and colorful toys are appropriate as infants will likely be able to see the full spectrum of colors.
Mirrors – These are a great resource for visual engagement.
Colorful rattles, O-ball, a textured toy – Toys that children can reach for and grasp are great to promote fine motor development. Toys that appeal to multiple senses are ideal for infants and promote positive sensory development. Infants enjoy exploring the feeling of new textures.
Gifts for Toddlers – The toys listed below help kids learn to understand patterns, problem solve, and develop competence and confidence.
Push toys – Ideal for the early toddler/young walking stage (bonus – with the one linked here, you can put objects into the push toy to weigh it down. Heavy work is great for building core strength!)
Blocks, LEGOS, Magnetic Sets – Open-ended toys like these can be used in a variety of ways. Kids love to take things apart and add to structures at this age, and these toys will extend into the preschool years and beyond. This is also a great way to incorporate problem solving skills and provide opportunities for adult interaction into play.
Hand puppets – These are a great way to encourage interaction and communication in the young child.
Shape Sorters and Simple Puzzles– Shape sorters and early inset puzzles are great for toddlers. Interlocking puzzles of various sizes can be a great interactive toy for learning about all kinds of things. Look for puzzles that have large knobs for younger children or those that struggle with fine motor skills. Puzzles are also great to help children develop their visual perceptual skills and become better problem solvers.
Gifts for Preschool Age Children:
Play sets – Play sets with little people, dolls, animals, etc can expand a child’s language and communication skills and help them make sense of the world by imitating adult behavior and encourages imagination.
Simple dress-up costumes – When kids play dress up, their imaginations really get to blossom. Instead of buying a specific cartoon/movie character dress up costume, buy a generic tutu or princess dress where a child can be multiple different characters all in one outfit.
Games- The nice thing about games is you can play them in a variety of ways. You don’t have to be stuck to the traditional rules. You can even use the games in pretend play. Here are just a few names of popular games used in therapy sessions: Pop the Pirate, Pop The Pig, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Scatterpillar, Jenga, Spot It, Hullabaloo, I Can Do That, Connect Four, Thumbs Up, Tricky Fingers, Boggle, Rush Hour, Gravity Maze, Quirkle, Blokus, Go Fish, Chutes and Ladders, and Dragon Dash.
Never forget, a trip to the museum, theater, or special exhibit is a great gift too! Experiences can never be replaced with toys and the trip will stay with a child for a long time. Capture them with your phone or camera and you can pull them out to talk about and connect on a later date.
For more ideas, visit our Amazon wishlist that shares suggestions for multiple age range and child need. Most of the toys listed can be adapted in some way or used by children of all abilities.
If shopping online, remember AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon with the same products, prices, and shopping features as Amazon, but the difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice. Please choose Easterseals Dupage & Fox Valley to help support our cause.
By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L and Sarah Peabody, Physical Therapist
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time to decorate your home with seasonal decorations, listen to cheerful holiday music, start baking lots of yummy goodies, spend time with friends and family, and shop for the perfect holiday gifts. This time of year can bring merriment and stress! Especially when considering gift ideas for children.
If you are buying a toy for a child, it’s important to select something that is based on his/her individual need. Every child is unique. Purchasing a toy for a child with special needs involves taking into consideration the child’s unique developmental profile.
Children who lack fine motor skills often have trouble doing things with their hands, like holding a crayon, so they might enjoy toys with large knobs or big levers that will enable them to grasp them more easily. Children with social learning difficulties or sensory processing difficulties might prefer toys that offer movement or heavy work.
Children with physical disabilities might enjoy toys that have buttons and don’t require a lot of fine motor manipulation. They might also enjoy more arts and crafts that allow them to just move their arms without having to worry about holding onto something.
Choosing a toy that is age-appropriate, promotes healthy development, and encourages positive behavior works best. Use these tips below to help guide you for buying gifts for your child, a niece or nephew or other child:
General Tips for Selecting Developmental Toys for Children:
Spanning multiple age ranges
Finding a multipurpose toy that spans multiple age ranges is a great investment. Toys that are meant for several ages and stages of childhood will be kept around and cherished for a long time. For example, this Shape Sorter, can be used in late infancy as you place the shapes in and out of the box with the lid open. As your child grows into the toddler stage and enhances their fine motor skills, he or she will learn how to manipulate the shapes and place them in the appropriate spot. You can then incorporate colors, shapes, etc. all into one piece as they advance even more. Another example is magnetic letters. A child can use these at a young age to learn letters and sounds and as they grow into elementary years use them together to make words.
2. Be cautious of age recommendations
Many toys have a suggested age range based on the safety and developmental appropriateness for a child. These recommendations are based on the developmental abilities of an average child and may serve as a starting point for you when selecting a toy for your child. A toy should be challenging, but not frustrating. Likewise, if a toy is too simplistic and beyond your child’s abilities, he or she will quickly lose interest. Children learn and grow at various paces, and what might be an appropriate toy for one two-year-old child may not be for the next.
3. Promoting Exploration and Imagination
Research has found that toys that do “too much” don’t encourage children to use their imaginations. Stuffed animals that talk and sing only prompt the child to press a specific button which takes charge of the play scheme. Instead, look for a toy like blocks. Blocks can be stacked up to build a tower, knocked down by a dragon, lined up to make a city, the list goes on and on. The more your child has to problem solve and use his or her imagination, the more your child will learn through play.
4. Think, Move, and Interact
This generation loves to be entertained with screens. Instead of getting that Ipad or other video console, look for toys that provide opportunities for cooperative play that encourage the development of social skills and positive behaviors like taking turns. Board games are a great example!
5. Sensory Considerations
Toys that are tactile or visual can often help improve how a child processes the information. Music, varying textures, flashing lights, and colors can all improve the sensory appeal to your child. It is important to know the needs of your child because what is appealing for one child may be overstimulating for the next.
6. Promoting Inclusion
Toys that promote groupwork and peer interaction with other children are great to promote social skills and improve self-esteem and overall quality of life.
7. Think outside the box.
Toys don’t always have to be used in the conventional manner. For example, that food puzzle might be a little hard for your child to sit still and focus to complete, however, maybe your child would be motivated to find the pieces hidden in a tactile bin or exploring the house on a gross motor adventure to find the food. For children with physical disabilities, many battery operated toys can be adapted for switches. Check out this blog for directions and this link for purchasing battery interrupters.
If you child is younger, can you use that ring stacker to look through the circles together at each other. Or maybe the rings fit on different body parts. If your child is older, think about using the toys within movement activities.
8. Will the child make memories with it?
Giving experiences is becoming a new, more popular trend (for multiple reasons!). Taking time to explore local attractions can create long lasting memories and even new post-holiday traditions. Most businesses and even public libraries offer gift certificates to local attractions. This is a great way to really personalize a gift for your child.
Last but not least, make sure the toys are engaging and fun. Do not force a toy upon a child. If they appear not interested in a certain toy, leave it for a few days and re-introduce it at another time. Keeping the toys fun will ultimately make the learning fun for your child.
Visit this blog next week, for more of our specific toy recommendations! You can also search our previous blogs for each year’s toy recommendations like here and here. Happy Holidays! For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley visit eastersealsdfvr.org.
Did you know October was National Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) month? AAC is a specialized area of clinical services. Here at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, we are very lucky to have several therapists who specialize in helping individuals find their voice through AAC. We have both Occupational Therapists (OT) and Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) involved in a multidisciplinary team evaluation to determine the best strategies and/or communication systems to help a child learn to communicate.
As an OT, I first became interested in AAC when I was working with a little boy with autism who received a high tech speech output device. It was amazing to see how having his new voice provided so many new opportunities for him. It helped with his overall regulation as he now had a system to share his wants, desires, and needs.
AAC looks different from person to person and varies from low tech options, light/mid tech and high tech systems. If you think your child might benefit from AAC, our team evaluative approach may be helpful. Below is more information on what each team member does to best help your child.
Many parents often have questions about whether or not a device will hinder their children’s ability to speak. This is absolutely not the case. Research demonstrates that AAC does not keep children from learning to speak. In fact, users will make gains in language AND speech because AAC helps a child connect with others, produce successful communication, and provides consistent speech models. The child I described above, went on to learn a ton of new words after he got his device! When we begin to use AAC with toddlers, it doesn’t mean we believe they are never going to talk; instead, it often means, we believe they need a way to have a meaningful connection to others through a common language which helps serve as a bridge to spoken language.
Do try and introduce forms of AAC early. Using AAC can be very helpful for a toddler who is beginning to make gestures, eye contact or sounds to communicate messages, but isn’t yet using spoken language. Often these toddlers are frustrated they can’t communicate certain thoughts and messages. Once they start to see and learn the power of communication through signs, pictures, or more formal AAC apps/devices, they begin to feel a little less frustrated.
3. Model, model, model. When using any type of AAC, we can never model enough. This means that everyone in a child’s life should use AAC too! As with all language learning, AAC is learned because those around the child speak the same language. If you think about it, early communication development (between birth – 12 months) is only modeling – caregivers communicating without any expectation while being connected with their baby using a common language. I love it when my clients bring their devices to therapy. If your child is already receiving therapy services, ask the therapist to use your child’s communication system during sessions to connect and engage with your child. When using AAC, continue to use verbal speech to model and help children understand the pictorial representation of language and develop the words.
4. When you schedule an evaluation, you will see both an occupational therapist and a speech therapist trained in AAC. Both therapists are knowledgeable in a variety of access methods such as hand access, switch scanning, and eye gaze technology. The occupational therapist will specifically look at:
the child’s overall posture and strength to allow for upper extremity (or any other extremity) use while accessing the communication system
determine optimal positioning of both the child and the device to ensure the most efficient method of access
the child’s vision, auditory, and sensory processing needs
the child’s visual and/or auditory scanning ability
the child’s visual/auditory tolerance
any adaptations to engage different sensory systems, as well as monitor for sensory overload and/or assist in sensory regulation for device access.
The speech therapist is extremely knowledgeable in the vast array of AAC communication systems and AAC strategies available. They will help determine the communication system and language page best suited to bridge the gap between the child’s receptive and expressive communication skills. The evaluations are done in a play based manner to help the child feel comfortable. And play is how children learn!
Here at Easterseals we offer a team approach for evaluating children for AAC needs. For children that could additionally benefit from AAC, we will see them for co-treats to help expand their language within play based therapy sessions.
When the child’s specific goal is to assist in overall regulation and play to support device access, then a co-treat can be extremely valuable between Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. OTs are trained in setting up sensory rich environments to support regulation and drive play. These activities can be very motivating for your child’s communication. There are endless opportunities to model language depending on your child’s unique development.
To learn more about Assistive Technology at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, click here.
Physical therapy plays a crucial role in helping a child who is diagnosed with Down syndrome (DS) reach their highest potential. What that therapy looks like through a child’s life changes as he/she transitions from newborn to teenager. Hypotonia, weakness, cardiac and respiratory issues are some of the challenges a PT will address.
0 – 24 months: The physical therapist (PT) is one of the first healthcare professionals to work with a parent and their child to help build a strong foundation of strength and movement. Depending on the medical complications a child faces, the PT works regularly with the child to build strong muscles so he/she doesn’t develop compensation that can affect their abilities later.
The parents or caregivers will have activities to work on daily to help their child reach gross motor milestones. The child may need special braces for their feet to improve alignment so that muscles can maintain length to function efficiently.
Compression garments such as a SPIO, Benik or an abdominal binder, may be considered to aide postural alignment and respiratory function. Aquatic therapy can be beneficial if a child enjoys the water. This gives him/her an opportunity to be challenged in new and fun ways, while also building strong swimming skills and an enjoyment of water for future exercising.
2 years – 5 years: During the preschool years physical therapy continues to address higher level gross motor skills. It may be appropriate for a child to be involved in group therapy sessions where peers motivate each other, along with providing social and communication opportunities.
5 – 10 years: Throughout these years, a child involved in community-based programs could seek PT consultations. Some children may enjoy a summer PT group to build strength and confidence such as our rock climbing group. Biking can also be a great opportunity for fitness and socializing. There are several “learn to bike” programs in the community and a PT can help a child develop this skill. Many children become involved in swimming and this becomes their life long fitness.
Teenage years: Encourage physical fitness, which is important for any teenager or young adult. Hopefully as the child faces the challenges of being a teenager, they have confidence in their abilities and can continue to be a part of a sport community, like a swim team, running group, or special rec team. The child may need to check in with their PT a bit more to update home programs, as growth may affect their posture. While braces may not be needed anymore, foot inserts may be necessary to support his/her feet in the best possible position.
Most importantly, set high expectations and enjoy all the gifts children bring to families!
Halloween is right around the corner! Most kids can’t wait to put on their costumes and make their way through the neighborhood. No child wants to be left out of the fun of trick or treating or holiday parties. Unfortunately for some children this often happen.s However, with some planning and preparation, children with sensory issues or other special needs, don’t have to be left out and can enjoy this exciting time of year.
Create a schedule for special activities. Tailor the schedule to your child’s needs. Whether it’s a picture schedule or written schedule, using a schedule will help your child be able to anticipate what is coming up and feel calmer. Discuss the schedule regularly and provide information for each transition. Sometimes just knowing what’s next can help children with extra needs feel less anxiety.
Try using a social story that includes a pictures for your children to help visualize the day and better predict what will happen. You can click here for some sample stories.
Try having a code word your child can use if he or she feels overwhelmed and needs a break. When your child uses the code word, help them leave the situation for a few moments and discuss coping skills. Again, giving children some control during activities that may be overstimulating will reduce anxiety and enhance the fun.
Decorations like fake cobwebs, scary jack-o-lanterns, hanging ghosts, and mist from fog machines can bother kids with special needs.
Consider taking your child to explore the Halloween section of a local big-box store. You can help your child get used to the various sounds and sights by pressing the different buttons on the various machines. You can also help them get used to the different sensations by touching the variety of decorations. This can be helpful to figure out which ones to avoid during the festivities.
If your child doesn’t like the smell or slimy texture of pumpkin insides, there are a ton of different ways to decorate pumpkins. You can use paint or permanent markers and stickers to decorate your pumpkins. Pinterest has a ton of ideas like using playdough, coloring with crayons, or using decorations.
Costumes can be really tricky for our kids. Remember, costumes don’t have to be expensive to be fun and enjoyable for the holiday. When trying to decide on the just right costume, it is important to think not only about the theme but also about how it will feel, fit, and even smell.
When you find the just right costume, some kids will benefit from washing it a few times to soften the fabric before wearing it the first time.
Some children might benefit from practicing wearing their costume before the big deal. This will allow your child to problem solve anything that doesn’t feel comfortable. You should practice walking and sitting while wearing the costume.
It might be helpful to wear comfortable clothes or pajamas under the costume.
Don’t overlook simple costume ideas. With pinterest now there are a ton of creative ideas that don’t have to involve store bought costumes. You can involve the whole family with themed costumes (this year my family is doing Rock, Paper, Scissors with our regular clothes and few adaptations).
For trick-or-treaters who use a wheelchair or need help walking long distances, you can get creative and decorate their equipment or wagon.
For parents who want help in designing or making costumes, there are several resources in bookstores and on the web. Some sites, such as Family Education, provide costume making instructions. Also, organizations, such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and The Bridge School, offer tips and examples of costume ideas. Charities, like Costumes for Kids, collects used costumes and offers them to physically disabled kids too.
Trick or Treating Tips
Trick-or-treating can also be hard. Noisy crowds of kids and flashing decorations. Walking around the neighborhood. Walking at doors. Talking to unfamiliar people. Food sensitivities. Food allergies.
Do you know about the teal pumpkin? The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to raise awareness of food allergies and promotes inclusion of all children by offering an alternative treat for whom candy is not an option.
Go out at dusk or before the streets get very dark and crowded.
Only treat or trick at houses you know.
Map out and practice the route with your child ahead of time so it feels familiar.
Pull your child in a wagon or let your older child ride a bike to avoid having other kids crowd/bump into him or her.
Program a special Halloween message into a communication device for kids who need help with language.
Have some favorite calm down activities or toys ready in case it gets too much for your child.
Most parents know it is important for children to eat a balanced diet. What exactly does a balanced diet mean? Generally, it means eating a variety of foods and getting enough of each food group. The five food groups are fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy. Although every food group is important, it seems as though protein foods and vegetables receive the most attention. You may be wondering why these two food groups are so important, how much of each is needed, and how to get your child to meet the recommendations. We will cover all this, but let’s start with how much food your child needs.
Protein is a key nutrient for everyone from growing babies to elite athletes. It is necessary to build, maintain, and repair tissue. We need protein to form healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and nails, as well as to make enzymes, hormones, and other chemicals. Protein foods are also important sources of nutrients such as iron, niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, riboflavin, selenium, choline, phosphorous, zinc, copper, vitamin D, and Vitamin E. These vitamins and minerals offer a myriad of benefits to a growing child.
A common misconception is that protein is only found in animal-based foods, like meat. However, protein can also come from plant-based foods, like beans (example: pinto, black, kidney beans) and soy products (example: tofu, tempeh, edamame). The protein food group includes meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds. Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese will also provide your child with protein. Your child’s protein needs vary based on age, sex, and activity level. (Please see Table 1 above for recommended intake amounts.)
A serving from the protein food group, also referred to as an ounce-equivalent, is 1 ounce of meat, poultry, or fish, 1 egg, ¼ cup cooked beans or peas, ¼ cup tofu, 1 ounce of tempeh, 1 falafel patty, 2 tablespoons of hummus, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds. Please see Table 2 for common protein food portions.
Table 2. Common Portions and Servings of Protein Foods*
Common Portion and Servings
1 small steak = 3.5 to 4 servings
1 small hamburger = 2 to 3 servings
1 small chicken breast half = 3 servings
½ Cornish game hen = 4 servings
1 can of tuna, drained = 3 to 4 servings
1 salmon steak = 4 to 6 servings
A couple examples of convenient and kid-friendly protein foods are hamburger patties (examples: McDonald’s, White Castle [yes, fast food is okay]), fish sticks, chicken nuggets, Boca vegan burgers, and milk (examples: cow’s milk, Ripple milk, hemp milk). If your child prefers to drink rather than eat, try supplementing with a nutritious drink (examples: Kate Farms, Vega, Orgain, PediaSure). If your child does not eat solid foods, you can puree meat, poultry, seafood, and tofu, mash beans and peas, and provide foods like creamy nut butters, hummus, blended soups, and smooth yogurt. If your child relies on formula given through a feeding tube or drinking a supplement for most or all of his/her daily nutrition intake, s/he may be getting enough protein if s/he is consuming enough. Make sure to speak to a registered dietitian if you have any concerns about your child meeting his/her protein needs.
QUICK RECIPE: Black Bean Quesadilla*
¾ cup pico de gallo
1 can (15.5 oz) black beans (great protein source!)
½ cup shredded Colby and Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
4 eight-inch flour tortillas
½ teaspoon olive oil
1. Using small-hole strainer, drain liquid from Pico de Gallo; discard liquid. Transfer leftover tomato mixture to medium bowl. Mix in black beans, cheese and cilantro until combined.
2. Divide black bean mixture evenly over half of each tortilla (about ½ cup each). Fold tortillas in half.
3. Heat large griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with oil. Place filled tortillas on griddle. Cook, carefully flipping once, until tortillas are golden brown and crisp and cheese filling melts, about 5 minutes. Cut quesadillas into wedges. Makes 8 servings.
Optional: For additional protein, add chicken or your favorite meat!
Vegetables are full of nutrients including dietary fiber, potassium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, copper, magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin B6, manganese, thiamin, niacin, and choline. These nutrients can help your child build healthy bones, heal cuts and wounds, protect against infection, support heart health, promote healthy aging, and maintain healthy eyes, skin, teeth and gums.
The vegetable food group is made up of vegetables and 100% vegetable juice. Vegetables come in a variety of forms to fit any diet. They can be raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, dried/dehydrated, whole, sliced, mashed, pureed, or juiced. Please see Table 1 above for recommended intake amounts.
A serving, or cup-equivalent, from the vegetable group can be 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens. There are some great brands out there that sell kid-friendly, veggie-containing foods. Two examples of brands are Dr. Praeger’s Purely Sensible Foods and Happy Family. Dr. Praeger’s line of foods includes a variety of “Puffs”, “Cakes”, and “Littles” (these are shaped liked stars, dinosaurs, and bears!) that are made with ingredients like broccoli, spinach, kale, and carrots. Happy Family sells everything from bars, to squeeze pouches, to puffs (some of these are also shaped like dinos!). These foods can have veggies like tomato, kale, spinach, and carrots. Their foods are appropriate for all ages, from infants to adults.
You can also try incorporating vegetables into other foods at home. Combine leafy green vegetables, celery, carrots, or beets with fruit to make a juice or smoothie. Store-bought, single serving vegetable juices and smoothies (example: Bolthouse Farms or Naked Juice) are also an option if you are on-the-go. You can also try blending pureed cooked cauliflower in mashed potatoes and mixing pureed cooked sweet potato or carrot into a cheese or pasta sauce. Blending cooked pumpkin, carrot, squash, or sweet potato into a tomato or vegetable soup can also increase your child’s vegetable intake. These ideas are also appropriate for children who do not eat solids.
If your child relies on a tube feeding formula or an oral supplement, s/he may be meeting all vitamin and mineral needs if s/he is consuming enough. If not, your child may benefit from a multivitamin. A registered dietitian can help you plan on the best way to get more nutrients into your child. If you are interested in adding blended vegetables to your child’s tube feeding regimen, a registered dietitian can also help you get started with blenderized tube feedings.
QUICK RECIPE: Pineapple and Spinach Smoothie*
2 cups pineapple
1 cup baby spinach (great way to consume veggies!)
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup ice
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Combinepineapple, spinach, banana, almond milk, ice and cinnamon in blender. Cover; blend until smooth. Makes 2 servings.
Young children go through many developmental stages before they begin talking. One of the first stages of development is shared attention. In a baby, shared attention looks like the baby turning her head toward mom when she hears mom’s voice or a baby looking into dad’s eyes when dad talks to the baby. As children get a little older, shared attention looks like mom holding up a toy, the child looking at the toy, then looking back at mom and smiling. The next step in developing shared attention is dad looking at or pointing to a toy, the child looks where dad looks or points, then he looks back to dad. These steps towards developing shared attention typically happen within the first 12 months of a child’s life.
When a young child reaches a stage of shared attention where they can follow a caregiver’s point and they can shift their gaze between the caregiver and the object, they start to develop back-and-forth communication. At first, this looks like a child reaching for an object to tell the caregiver “I want that.”
As back-and-forth communication with gestures continues to develop, the child starts to vocalize. In the beginning, these vocalizations are mostly babbling. As parents talk back when the child babbles, these vocalizations turn into jargon where a child sounds like they are speaking in sentences but not actually saying words. Some parents comment that it sounds like the child is speaking in another language. Over time, the child’s vocalizations are shaped into short, simple words, such as mama, dada, and baba for bottle. Children with speech delays often demonstrate limited shared attention. Working to develop strong shared attention will help a child learning to communicate.
If a child is focused on seeking sensory input, they may not have the ability to focus on social interactions, developing shared attention and speech with caregivers. Occupational therapy can help figure out activities and ways we can include these activities in everyday life so that a child can remain in a calm, regulated state so that she is available for social interactions. This may look like a child with limited eye contact running away and looking back to see if you are chasing him or a child who is quiet asking for “more” when you stop pushing the swing.
When a child stays regulated for longer periods of time, she will be available for interactions so that she can continue to develop strong shared attention, and move on to using gestures and speech to communicate. By working together, speech-language therapists and occupational therapists can help a family find activities, such as climbing, playing chase, swinging, and swimming or others that help a child with speech delays stay regulated and available to develop shared attention and communication skills.
With many of our children returning back to school, I thought this would be a good time to review some strategies to help with school organization. Kids need organization skills in order to function during their school day as well as to get their homework done efficiently at home. If your child struggles with a messy desk, overstuffed backpack, keeping homework and classroom assignments organized, or lost and missing parent/teacher communication slips then hopefully you can find some tips and tricks in this blog. Remember every child is different and what works well for you or another child may not necessarily work well for your own child.
Most importantly develop routines and stick to them as closely as possible. Some children might benefit from additional support to help learn the routine such as checklists, picture schedules, and/or social stories. Younger children might also benefit from turning the routine into a fun song.
Create backpack organization systems. Look for backpacks that offer multiple compartments to denote separate spaces. A backpack with at least two compartments is highly recommended. Use a zippered pouch (clear is the best) for pencils, erasers, calculators, etc. in the backpack.
Go through the backpack on a regular basis with your child until he/she gets the hang of keeping it organized. Gradually give your child more responsibility and continue to check in even when you have turned in all the responsibility to your child.
Create a simple schoolwork folder system. A simple 2 pocket folder often works best. Use a bright sticker to place on one side for “KEEP AT HOME” and another bright sticker for the opposite pocket for “BRING BACK”. If your children are older, you can create a color coded system that corresponds to each class. Books and notebooks can use prefabricated book covers or you can use colored paper to create book covers in a variety of colors.
Depending on the age of your child you might start to create a really good binder system. The best ones have a locking rig. Some binders have a clear plastic cover which can be used to create large labels on the outside for different subjects (if you are using a different binder for each subject) or you can use it to hold assignment sheets.
If you are going to start a binder system, then you should invest in a few more organization assistants. Things like subject dividers, a zippered pencil pouch, sheet protectors, two pocket three-hold punched folders, and a portable three-hold punch are really helpful. You can organize each subject section the same. Label each subject divider tab and then include an empty sheet protector immediately behind for important handouts. Behind the sheet protector you can include a folder which follows the same simple schoolwork folder system idea above.
A different option could also be to continue to use the subject divers, zippered pencil pouch, sheet protectors, two pocket three-hold punched folders, and a portable three-hold punch; however, instead of using the simple schoolwork folder system idea above with the two pocket folders, you can create one global folder that is in front of the binder where your child put homework for each class in front. At the end of the day, when at home, you can then sit with your child and help organize their homework when completed back into each individual subject folder.
Some children might do also better with an accordion file based system. One suggestion for organized would be using the front section to keep your child’s homework planner or global two-pocket folder homework folder. Each additional pocket would be labelled with the different subjects and might include a separate pad of paper for that subject. I like to avoid loose sheets of paper as much as possible with an accordion system as I find they tend to slide down.
Create an organization system for lockers. Some children like to create a container system where they use separate containers for different belongings which are labeled with pictures on the outside to know what goes inside each bin. You can also add a picture to the locker for a visual cue for where each item belongs which the locker to further help keep things organized. Shelves are also helpful to better divide the space.
To help you and your child determine the most logical and efficient way to organize the locker and backpack, here are some helpful questions (source: The Organized Student)
What is your child’s schedule like? If the schedule is consistent, you can probably just separate the locker into two sections, morning and afternoon. If it changes every day, you might want to organize differently
What extracurricular activities does your child participate in and what supplies/equipment is needed?
Does your child keep supplies and equipment in a locker at school or do they travel back/forth between school and home on a regular basis?
How many books is your child required to keep track of throughout the day
Does your child’s school offer a second set of textbooks on loan?
What type of storage and accessories does the locker already contain?
Does your child have time to go back to his/her locker between classes?
Create a homework station at home. Include all necessary school supplies such as pencils, pens, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, paper, etc. You can use everyday items (mason jars, muffin tin) to help organize items. Containers available at any office/home good are great ways to help organize. You can attach labels made from a label marker or also just use post-its and adhere using clear tape. Every item has its own place and it is easy to spot. Ask your child’s school if it is possible to get a second set of textbooks to eliminate the need to bring books back and forth between school and home. Mark off spaces for items like books and pencil box using painter’s tape. If your child is older, you might think about creating a “desktop file box” which is described in a lot more detailed in The Organized Student book.
Help your child learn to breakdown assignments into manageable chunks. One example includes folding worksheets into sections that can be completed before moving onto the next section.
Invest in some telling time systems. It is often helpful to breakdown into the concept of telling time, daily time, weekly time, and monthly time. I prefer to use analog’s watches or timers for this as you can see the passage of time which is missing from digital systems. When first learning to tell time and gauge time, create from fun activities to experiment with by guessing how long it will take and then compare guess to actual. It might be useful to have several timers. One for the global amount of time your child/you think he/she needs to complete the assignments and an individual one to break down individual assignments into manageable chunks and to add a spot for a quick break. If you can find an analog clock that also allows for a quick glance to see the time digitally, that might also help.
Finally, if you have read any of our previous posts on executive functions or attended our executive function client group, then you might be familiar with the group Cognitive Connections. They developed an app that allows users to create a time marker to get ready for work, a timer marker to check in during work, and a marker when the work is planned to end. There are tones activities when the time reaches each marker. This could also be a good choice for some children.
The key to any organization system is be flexible to your child’s unique organizational style and needs as well as be consistent and offer check-ins until your child has mastered the system. Even when your child has mastered the system, continue to offer periodic support.References and Helpful Resources: