Tag Archives: anxiety

Best Children’s Books on Disability

By: Sarah Peabody, Physical Therapist

According to the Center of Disease Control, developmental disabilities affect 1 in 7 kids in the U.S. and 1 out of 9 children under the age of 18 receive special education services. Explaining a disability to children can be difficult for many reasons. The children’s books below each have a unique way of illustrating what really matters. These books are a great addition to any home, school, library, or waiting room.

With inspiring messages and an emphasis on strengths, they help all children understand kids with different needs. These powerful messages share stories and celebrate victories of all kids in spite of a range of different disabilities. If you are struggling to find a way to start a conversation with a child or a child’s sibling, friend, classmates, or family, these are a great way to start conversations about disability and inclusion!

Books about kids with physical disabilities:

  • Hip, Hop, Hooray for Brooklynn Bunny: This book is great for encouraging children to persist in achieving long-term goals and to cooperate with wearing an orthopedic brace. This book focuses on the whole child working toward a positive outcome over time. Whether it’s jumping rope, or wearing a brace, the message of this book is to keep trying.
  • Danny and the Merry-Go-Round: One day while watching kids play and ride a carousel, Danny becomes frustrated by his inability to participate. It’s not easy to join in because he is living with cerebral palsy. Luckily, a little girl befriends him and they embark on an adventure. It’s a touching story, made more powerful for its way of showing children with disabilities that they are valuable people.
  • Meet ClaraBelle Blue (The ClaraBelle Series): Written by a mother of a child with cerebral palsy, this book celebrates differences by illustrating how much we all share in common. ClaraBelle’s favorite line is “I’m ClaraBelle Blue and I’m just like YOU!”
  • My Belly Has Two Buttons: This book was written for children who use feeding tubes, and the main character is excited to show and teach everyone he knows about it.
  • Ben’s Adventures: This series was written by a parent with a son with cerebral palsy. Ben shows that despite his disability, he can dream, he can play, and he can interact and have meaningful experiences.

Books about kids with autism:

  • Looking After Louis: The story of Louis, a boy with autism in a general education class, is told from the perspective of one particular classmate. This is a great book to explain to young children how autism can affect behavior and promotes understanding of others.
  • Andy and His Yellow Frisbee: When a girl notices that Andy spends most of his recess spinning a frisbee by himself, she befriends him despite his trouble connecting with others. It’s a great story, told through the shoes of Andy’s older sister, providing a great perspective on Autism that even the youngest kids can understand.
  • Ian’s Walk: Ian is nonverbal.  His older sister Tara takes him on a walk and is embarrassed that he does things out of the ordinary including staring at the ceiling fan in the drugstore and putting his nose against the bricks by the post office. But when he wanders off on his own, she must try to see the world through his eyes in order to find him.

Books with a focus on inclusion and coping with a disability:

  • We’re All Wonders: This story shows how one child copes with his own differences, and other’s reactions to them. The reader will find comfort in Auggie’s imaginative tactics and his positivity about being able to change the way others see him.
  • Susan Laughs: This book celebrates the similarities and differences between children with and without disabilities, and encourages acceptance and tolerance of differences. It’s not until the end of the book that Willis reveals Susan uses a wheelchair. It’s a simple, yet powerful, way to show how people aren’t defined by the barriers they face.
  • My Sister, Alecia May: This book is written from the perspective of a younger sister of a child with Down Syndrome. Although Alecia May can be hard to be around, she is a lot like other 6-year-olds. Rachel appreciates the unique qualities of her sister and learns to stand up for her when others tease her. A great book about inclusion!

Books about kids with a learning disability, anxieties/worries, and more:

  • Hudson Hates School: This book is a useful introduction to dyslexia for children. It reassures children that dyslexia should not be a barrier to success if it is properly recognized and managed.
  • Eagle Eyes: This book focuses on a child who has ADD/ADHD and learning difficulties.  It acknowledges the difficulties that Ben experiences at home and school because he has trouble controlling how he moves and thinks. The hallmarks of ADHD are discussed as well as ways to cope with them.
  • When My Worries Get Too Big: This is a great book that makes it easy for kids who struggle with anxieties to not feel so alone. The included stories are fun, engaging, and filled with encouragement to help kids come up with their own calming methods when anxiety issues arise.
  • I’m Not Weird, I Have Sensory Processing Disorder: If you have a child that struggles with sensory processing disorder (SPD), this book will help your child relate to the main character as she describes what it is like for her each and every day. This is a great resource to explain to others what it feels like living with sensory issues that affect them constantly throughout the day.
  • Whole Body Listening Larry at School: This is an excellent book to teach the concept of whole body listening and following directions. The story begins with two new students attending school who have trouble listening and following along with the class schedule, social cues, etc. Larry helps them by teaching them how to listen with “their whole body”.

Books geared towards siblings:

  • Sara’s Secret: This book explains the story of a grade school-aged child that has a brother with a severe disability. The main character struggles with not wanting her classmates at her new school to find out about her brother in fear of being teased. It is a beautiful message of acceptance and inclusion as the main character delves into her emotions and realizes the bond between she and her brother despite his difficulties, which is not any secret to hide.
  • We’ll Paint the Octopus Red: A great resource for those who are awaiting the arrival of a new baby brother/sister who has a disability (this book specifically geared towards Down Syndrome). It also has a great message that with help and patience, their sibling will be able to overcome any obstacle.
  • Leah’s Voice: Parents and educators can use this book as a great resource for teaching siblings, friends, and classmates about autism, inclusion, and acceptance. Although the focus is on a sibling with autism, its important message on the acceptance of differences and treating everyone with kindness is for all children.
  • Views from Our Shoes: This book includes numerous stories of siblings that share their experiences as the brother or sister of someone with a disability with a wide range of various difficulties. Their personal stories introduce young siblings to others like them and allow them to compare experiences.

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

The Benefits of Weighted Blankets

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

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

What are weighted blankets?

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

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

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

What’s the theory behind weighted blankets?

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

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

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

Store Bought vs. Homemade

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

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

Where to Shop

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

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

How to Make Homemade Weighted Blankets

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

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

Aromatherapy and Weighted Blankets

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

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

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

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