Tag Archives: Autism

Supporting Children with Sensory Disorders while Traveling

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

When a child with sensory processing disorder goes on vacation, it may be difficult for their bodies to go into that “relax and restore” mode. Children with sensory processing disorders are constantly “battling” with their environment in many of the following ways:

  • Every sound is too loud and hurts their ears
  • Smells are abrasive and can cause them to gag or vomit
  • New tactile sensations send them into a panic
  • Changes in their normal routine can make them extremely anxious
  • New sights and movement in their environment can startle them

The following are some tips that may help support a child with sensory issues during a summer vacation so they may have a relaxing experience.

Visual Schedules

An example of a visual schedule.

If your child benefits from knowing what to expect in the day, it may be useful to set up a visual schedule revolving around your vacation. This can include the steps you will need to complete going through the airport. (Travelers Aid Chicago has resources to make a visual schedule specific to O’Hare airport).

Some children may also just benefit from going over what to expect on their vacation. You can help them prepare by saying, “We are going to the airport and this is what to expect…”  or “We will be on vacation for 4 days. During those days we can do these activities…”

Long Car Rides

3 kids in the car, reading a map, eating and wearing headphones.

Children that are constantly on the move may find it extremely difficult to sit still during long car rides to their vacation destination. Often times kids who are always “on the go” benefit from heavy work activities that involve pushing, pulling, and carrying. These activities give input to the joints and muscles which can be very regulating. Here are a few heavy work ideas specifically for car rides: 

Squigs are toys that can keep children busy on long car rides.
  • Squigs on the windows: I suggest this for children who need something to keep their hands busy with push and pull component to get heavy work. These small plastic suction cups stick perfectly to car windows and to each other. Children can build and make a picture with them on the windows 
  • Pop TubesThese toys also provide an opportunity for children to push and pull when you are cooped up in the car.
  • Animal walk breaks at rest stops: Just as you need to get out and stretch your legs during a long ride, your child with sensory difficulties will need this break too! At rest stops, take advantage of the opportunity to move by doing silly activities that promote heavy work: walking like a bear, jumping like a kangaroo, playing on a playground if the rest stop has one. 

What to Pack

Girl sitting in a suitcase

Here’s a list of sensory supports that may help your child while you are on vacation. Make sure to consult your occupational therapist about which items may be most beneficial for your child.

Girl wearing headphones.
  • Noise cancelling headphones: Some children benefit from wearing headphones if they are easily overwhelmed by the loud noises of crowds. Noise canceling headphones can range anywhere from $20 to upwards of $200. These might be handy for kids that would get overwhelmed by crowds, traveling on an airplane, or seeing a firework show on the 4th of July. 
  • Comfort item: Bringing a stuffed animal or blanket that your child finds soothing may be beneficial for when they become anxious or overwhelmed while on vacation. You could even add soothing aromatherapy scents such as vanilla, lavender, or chamomile to these comfort items for an extra sensory “treat.” (Always make sure your child tolerates and likes the scent prior to adding it to their comfort item. If the smell is too bothersome to them, they may not want to be around it anymore!) 
  • Weighted blanket or stuffed animal:  Some children with sensory processing difficulties find compression comforting. A weighted blanket or stuffed animal may provide some calming input and tell their body to relax. Weighted items are now available at most stores or online. Click here to read more about the benefits of weighted blankets.
  • Fidgets:  These are small items that kids can fiddle with in their hands to keep them busy and focused when they may feel overwhelmed. Fidgets can be bracelets, putty, pop tubes, etc. 
  • Identification bracelets: Sometimes when a child is overwhelmed, they may run away from the group. Because of this, it may be a good idea to make a bracelet with your phone number on it so that you can be reached in case of an emergency. Options include beads with numbers on them, temporary tattoos that you can specially order with your phone number on it. There are even cute “Disney-themed” buttons and tattoos with emergency contact information that you can specially order. Here are some examples of number bracelets and  temporary tattoos or you can design your own ID bracelet

The Benefit of Breaks

Children are working very hard to stay regulated and calm when they are being bombarded with all this new sensory input that comes with a vacation. They may just need a little break. It is absolutely okay to take some time in your hotel room or find a quiet spot for your child to regroup. Sometimes just a quiet room with a preferred toy or sensory tool is just the break that your child needs in order to enjoy the rest of their vacation.  

You can help your child create a “calm down corner” in your hotel room or wherever you are staying. This spot does not need to be complicated – it can be a little corner of the room with pillows, blankets, and some of the items previously listed in “What to Pack.”

This can be their special area in which they can retreat to take a break if they become overwhelmed and enjoy a moment away from whatever input is overwhelming them.

This is not a punitive space to send them to when they are behaving badly or being uncooperative. This is a calm space that you can offer them a break in or they can elect to go to when needed. Just as you may go sit by the pool after a busy day on vacation to relax and recharge, your child with sensory processing difficulties may need their own unique space to do the same.

Unexpected Meltdowns

Girl who is upset hugs her mom.

Children with sensory processing difficulties can have meltdowns when they get too overwhelmed by the sensory input in their surroundings and/or if they become too fatigued. As well prepared as you may be, you can’t anticipate or prepare for every meltdown.

If your child has a meltdown while on vacation, first try to figure out what elicited the meltdown and remove them from the input that is too overwhelming for them. It may be helpful to go through all 5 senses: Was there a smell, sound, touch, sight, taste that they experienced that caused them to react? Were they in a loud, busy crowd for too long? Did the plan change too suddenly and without warning?  

Once you have removed them from whatever caused the meltdown (as best as you can), give them input to help calm them down. For some children, they like compression from big hugs or weighted blankets. Other children need to put on their noise cancelling headphones and have some quiet time. 

Sometimes children with sensory processing difficulties can meltdown because they are so tired from holding themselves together for so long in a new environment. As a clinician, I have an understanding of the experience, and know it must be exhausting to be bothered by what most people consider “normal” input, such as the sounds of people talking, the feel of your clothes on your body, or the smell of the pool on vacation.

It’s important for parents to understand that their child with a sensory processing disorder is expending a lot of energy processing input from their surroundings. They may need more patience and understanding when they are having a tough time with changes outside their normal routine. It may be helpful for parents to help children label when they are becoming agitated, by saying “It looks like you are not comfortable right now, can we take a break?”  

Summer vacation should be an opportunity for everyone in your family to rest and recharge. If you need help brainstorming what activities/preparations would be best for your child this summer, consult your occupational therapist for more insight into your child’s unique sensory needs.  

Read our previous blog on How to Plan a Sensory Friendly and Accessible Vacation

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

How to Plan a Sensory Friendly and Accessible Vacation

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

Summer vacation is in full swing, along with all the stress and planning that parents feel as they try to make a great relaxing vacation for their whole family. For parents of children with disabilities, these feelings can be very overwhelming as they have to take into account how to travel efficiently and safely while accommodating their child’s needs.

To make your trips a little easier, I’ve compiled a list of resources about air travel, cruises, and US-based destinations that are perfect for a family with a child with disabilities.

Air Travel

TSA Cares is a national program through the Department of Homeland Security that offers one-on-one assistance navigating the airport and security for people with disabilities. Services include escort by a Passenger Support Specialist who can meet you at a specific point in a chosen airport, help with baggage through security, assist in security checks, and just be another support system navigating a chaotic environment such as an airport.

Click here to learn more about TSA Cares. You can also contact them with further questions at (855) 787-2227 or TSA-ContactCenter@tsa.dhs.gov

Open Taxis is a new wheelchair accessible taxi service in Chicago. It is open 24/7, so it is perfect for quick taxi rides to the airport without parking your own accessible vehicle at the airport for the entirety of your trip. You can call to prearrange a trip or call the day of the trip. You can schedule a ride by calling 855-928-1010.

Two children wait to embark on the airplane

Travelers Aid Chicago is a service in Chicago O’Hare that provides support and protection for “vulnerable at-risk travelers who need guidance, support, or advocacy” as well as crisis intervention for passengers with cognitive or developmental disabilities. Information desks are located in terminals throughout O’Hare.

Travelers Aid Chicago provides the option to schedule an Airport Practice Experience. You can take a “practice run” through O’Hare airport including going through security and the terminals to help children know what to expect on the actual travel day. They even have visuals to provide to families so that the child can have their own visual schedule of their trip to O’Hare.

I would especially recommend this for a child who may have Autism and/or an Anxiety disorder and has not experienced anything like flying before.

To inquire about Travelers Aid Chicago’s services or to set-up a practice day, contact them at (773) 894-2427 or travelersaid@heartlandalliance.org

Cruises

A boy looks over the side of a cruise ship with binoculars

Autism on the Sea is an international organization that creates cruise experiences for children and adults with Autism, Down Syndrome, Tourrette Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and more. These experiences are currently available on well-known cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruises, Carnival Cruises, and Disney Cruises.

With this service, cruise members who are experienced and background checked can accompany you on the cruise and adapt activities in order to fit the special needs of your family. This organization will also collaborate with you in order to contact cruise lines to adapt your vacation to fit the dietary, physical, mental, and emotional needs of your child.

They even provide images of common used “cruise ship words” to be used as part of a child’s Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) so that you can create a social story to prep your child for their trip.

Click here for additional information on Autism on the Sea and their services.

Disney Cruises offers many special services for passengers with special needs, such as accessible suites, access to medical equipment, sharps containers, and a variety of other accommodations. Disney Cruises also offer American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for on-board entertainment and shows. Please contact Disney Cruises 60 days before your cruise to arrange accommodations.

For more information or to request accommodations call (407) 566-3602 or email SpecialServices@disneycruise.com

“Stay-cations” in Chicago

As Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley is based in the western suburbs of Chicago, here are some tips for exploring the Windy City!

The Chicago Children’s Museum Play for All program offers free admission for the first 250 visitors with disabilities the second Saturday every month from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. to experience exhibits via a private tour. You must pre-register in order to get this special offer. The museum also has sound reducing headphones, pictures for a visual schedule, and lap trays for wheelchairs so that children with disabilities can experience the museum.

For more information on the Play for All program, call (312) 464-8249 or email partnerships@chicagochildrensmuseum.org.

Children attending Play for All at the Chicago Children's Museum

Calm Waters at the Shedd Aquarium offers extended hours on selected days especially for children with disabilities. They have specially designed shows with novel sensory experiences, a “quiet room” for sensory breaks, and an app in which there is information about noise levels in different parts of the Aquarium to help you plan your trip.

Click here or call 312-939-2438 for additional information on Calm Waters at the Shedd Aquarium!

Sensory Saturday at the Field Museum: The Field Museum opens early on select Saturdays in which children with disabilities or sensory processing issues can enjoy the field museum without loud crowds as well as access to hands on experiences to learn through tactile play and exploration.

Click here or email to learn more about Sensory Saturdays at the Field Museum!

Want more inclusive event ideas for children with disabilities in the Chicagoland area? Click here!

Walt Disney World

It really is the happiest place on earth. Disney World offers numerous services and accommodations for children with special needs at each of Disney’s parks.

Services include:

Disney has many guides to help guests with disabilities enjoy their experience.
  • Access to Break Areas for children who need a break from the sensory overload of Disney. You can ask any cast member to help you locate a break area.
  • Sensory Guides for each park’s rides and shows that have strobe lights, scents pumped in, loud noises, have a lot of unpredictability, bumps, go fast, etc. It even lists what type of restraint is used in each ride for safety as well as how long each ride is.
    This guide can help families of children with special needs decide which attractions would be most enjoyable for their child. If you are planning to go to Disney, it may be helpful to show this list to your Occupational Therapist, as they can help you figure out which rides will best suit your child’s unique sensory system.
  • Resources for Children with Autism Spectrum disorders in booklet form. This booklet lists FAQ’s about Disney for children with Autism, what Disney recommends bringing to the parks (ID bracelet, a sensory toy, earplugs/headphones, etc.)
  • Rental wheelchairs
  • Empathetic, warm staff : Many blog posts from parents of children with disabilities rave about how warm and engaging Disney staff and characters are with their children with special needs- meeting them where they are and not overwhelming them. Click here to read our past blog, The Magic of Disney and Your Special Needs Child
  • Sign Language interpreters
  • Handheld captioning/video captioning
  • Braille guidebook

Morgan’s Wonderland

Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas is an amusement and waterpark that has 25 “ultra-accessible” attractions. Opened in 2010 by parents of a daughter with physical and cognitive disabilities, Morgan’s Wonderland is the world’s first theme park designed specifically for children with special needs. This unique theme park has a variety of amazing attractions such as the Sensory Village (which is a replica small town for children to engage in imaginative play), wheelchair swings, a large sand box, a musical playground, and more!

Morgan’s Inspiration Island is a waterpark addition to Morgan’s wonderland that provides an opportunity for guests with limited mobility to experience the fun of a waterpark. They have access to waterproof chairs and compressed air operated power wheelchairs so that all children can play in the water without having to worry about ruin their personal power wheelchairs.

There are also hotels that are partnered with the amusement and water park that offer discounts and accommodations to make the entirety of your trip accessible. Morgan’s Inspiration Island was listed as one of TIME Magazines 2018 “World’s Greatest Places.” Best of all? Admission for guests with disabilities is free.

Morgan's Wonderland and Island Inspiration

National Parks

The National Park Service has a list of the most wheelchair accessible hiking trails so that guests with limited mobility don’t have to miss out on the beauty of our national parks. There are wheelchair accessible hiking paths at the Grand Canyon, Sequoia, and Zion National Parks.

Whether you decide to go on a cruise, roadtrip, or fly somewhere this summer, bring up your vacation plans with your child’s therapists for further accessibility tips and sensory strategies that can make your trip more enjoyable for everyone involved. Happy travels!

For more information about Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley and our services, visit: https://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/

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

What is an Augmentative and Alternative Communication Evaluation?

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L

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

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

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

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

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

Neela2

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Additional resources: www.speechscience.org

The World is “Lighting Up Blue” for World Autism Month

By: Laura Bueche MOT OTR/L

Every April 2, in conjunction with the international autism community, Autism Speaks spreads awareness of autism spectrum disorder with its Light It Up Blue Campaign. Thousands of organizations around the world, such as Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley participate in this event to spread education, resources, and awareness for greater understanding and acceptance of Austism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopment disorder. It refers to a wide range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and non-verbal communication. The Term “spectrum”
reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.
https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

08_Kai_JudyThere is no known single cause of autism, but increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention and access to appropriate services/supports lead to significantly improved outcomes.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their ADDM autism prevalence report. The report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 68 births in the United States – nearly twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125 – and almost 1 in 54 boys.
http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/

Signs and Symptoms

People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life.

Children or adults with ASD might:

  • not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying overhead)
  • not look at objects when another person points at them
  • have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
  • avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they waAutism Diagnostic Clinic 2 - Richard Howent to
  • appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
  • be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
  • repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
  • have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
  • not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to feed a doll)
  • repeat actions over and over again
  • have trouble adapting when a routine changes
  • have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
  • lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using)

https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

Meet Some People With Autism

Pierre https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnCzF2JdDWM

Max https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA5FHPUeWpQ

Lesey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWPf9toT_3M

Cullen https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EryEs1gIu4s

Ellie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56VCxks8jGA

Autism Diagnostic Clinic at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley

Early detection and intervention is the best way to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental disabilities gain greater independence.  If you are concerned about your child’s development inquire about our medical diagnostic and autism diagnostic clinics.

Additional Services at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley for Children & Young Adults with Autism Include:

  • Occupational therapy to learn daily life skills and help integrate sensory processing difficulties
  • Physical therapy to improve strength, endurance, and gait
  • Speech therapy to help children with ASD improve speech, articulation, language , and interaction
  • Assistive technology to give children a way to access language through technology devices
  • Social Work services to support families and provide behavior strategies
  • Parent Liaison services also offers parents support and are full of great recourses
  • Case Management services to help coordinate this complex network of caregivers and providers
  • Feeding Clinic and Nutrition Therapy provide families with feeding, digestive, allergy, food sensitivity, GI, and sensory related issues.
  • Easter Seals also offers families a variety of community outreach programs including: social groups, physical fitness groups, feeding groups, and aquatics.

To learn more about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley’s Autism services visit our website.

A Super Sensory Summer

By: Laura Bueche MOT OTR/L

Summertime is the best time for some creative sensory play outside. Your child will have a blast learning and exploring with these sensory summer activities that won’t break the bank.

IDEAS TO INSPIRE YOUR LITTLE SPROUT

Garden Party!

Fill a tub with soil. Hide plastic bugs, coins, or dinosaurs.
Use shovels or hands to find the treasures.

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Paint pots, plant seeds and watch them grow.
Overturn rocks to search for bugs and worms… or play with fake worms. Recipe here.

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Photo Credit: Learning4kids.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is real mud a difficult texture for your little one?  Start with “ghost mud”.
Recipe here

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Photo Credit: TreeHouseTV.com

Make a Splash with these Water Activities

Water Fun!

Fill a tub with water beads and ocean animals for an awesome, hands-on aquarium.

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Freeze toy animals, foam puzzle pieces, or pretend jewelry in ice. Have your kiddos use squeeze bottles, and eye droppers of warm water to get them out. Instructions here.

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Photo Credit: LittleBinsForLittlehands.com

Green gross swamp sensory table. Recipe here.

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Photo Credit: NoTimeForFlashCards.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaving Cream Car wash. Recipe here.

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Photo Credit: TreeHouseTV.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s go to the Beach!

Feel the sand between your toes with these fun tactile activities.

Sand Slime. It’s ooey, it’s gooey…and sandy? Recipe: Here

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Photo Credit: GrowingAJeweledRose.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drawing letters in the sand, a perfect pairing of visual motor and tactile. Recipe here.

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Photo Credit: AnyGivenMoment.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kinetic Sand…semi sticky, and super moldable sand. Get it here.

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Good old sand box play…because nothing beats the classic, pale and shovel.

For more summer sensory ideas, or ways to adapt these activities to your child’s needs and goals, ask your occupational therapist at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley. For more information about occupational therapy visit our website.

Have a great summer!

 

Toe Walking in Toddlers…is it Normal?

By: Bridget Hobbs, PT, DPT

Walking on the balls of the feet or “toe-walking”, is quite common in children just learning to walk. The good news is that many children out-grow it within a few months of walking.  However, if your child is toe-walking beyond the age of 2, it is worth talking to your pediatrician about it, as there may be an underlying cause associated with this.

There are a few main reasons why children toe-walk:

  • Shortened Achilles tendon

A shortened Achilles tendon (bottom part of the calf) can cause less flexibility at the ankle, making it more difficult for a child to get his heel down when walking.  When this is thetoe walk case, physical therapy can help stretch the calf muscle group and strengthen muscles in the core and front part of the lower leg. This therapy can help the child learn to walk with a more typical “heel to toe” walking pattern.  Sometimes your therapist will recommend a brace to wear during the day and/or at night in order to help get a child’s heel down when walking and stretch the Achilles tendon at night.  In some cases, a series of casts may be used to help gain range of motion at the ankle.  Surgery may be recommended for correction in rare cases or when “toe-walking” persists into later childhood.

  • Sensory Processing

“Toe- walking” can also be a sensory-seeking behavior. Children who need more proprioceptive input will lock their knees and ankles. Children may also lock these joints to feel more stable and better prepare them for physical activities, such as running. Some children walk on their toes as they are hypersensitive to different textures or temperatures on the floor. “Toe-walking” can become a habit and if done frequently, can lead to tight Achilles tendons. This is why, if you or your pediatrician feel like your child has sensory concerns, that they are evaluated by an occupational therapist to help with strategies.

  • Underlying Medical Diagnosis

If “toe- walking” persists beyond the age of 2 or if it is accompanied by muscle stiffness, difficulty with communication or language delays, coordination problems, or if your child toe-walks just on one side, it is a good idea to speak with your pediatrician about it so you can find out if there is an under-lying cause.  Diagnoses including Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Charcot-Marie Tooth and Tethered Cord have all been linked with early “toe-walking”. Some (but not all) children with Autism and other Pervasive Development Disorders (PDD) have also been noted to toe-walk.Caroline-PE Selected Photo

  • Idiopathic “Toe-Walking”

Idiopathic “toe-walking” is used to describe a child who toe-walks without any known reason.  Children who walk on their toes may have frequent falls, lean more forward when they walk, and show more difficulty with balance. “Toe-walking” may also be hereditary, where more than one child in the family toe-walks.   Early recognition and intervention is fundamental to prevent a shortened calf muscle and help develop a normal walking pattern and balance reactions.

Many children “toe-walk” as they learn to walk, and with a proper heel-to-toe walking pattern, they learn fairly quickly. However, if you are concerned that your child is toe-walking beyond the age of 2, or is showing other difficulties with development, it is important to speak with your pediatrician.  They may refer you to a physical or occupational therapist who can further assist you and your child.

Learn more about Physical Therapy services at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley: http://eastersealsdfvr.org/physical.therapy.

Sensory Regulation, What Is It?

By Maureen Karwowski, OT

As I sit at my desk typing this blog on my laptop, I am regulated enough to focus on this task.  I am able to filter out the sounds of the lights buzzing, my coworkers typing, the feeling of my clothing, and the light coming in from the window beside me.  I will admit that some times I am able to do this, and not others.  For a child with sensory processing challenges, the interpretation and responses to the  sensory experiences I described can be ineffective.  These ineffective responses can impact a child’s overall regulation and can affect many areas of development.  It is estimated 01_Mason Esquivelthat 1 of 20 children are impacted by a sensory processing deficit (Ahn, Miller, Milberger, McIntosh, 2004).

I have worked with many children with sensory processing challenges as a pediatric occupational therapist.  I know from my work that every person presents with their own unique sensory profile.  Since every child is so unique, I am required to closely assess each client to be sure that I understand where their challenges are and what I can do to assist them.  A skilled occupational therapist will use a variety of assessments, some are standardized evaluations, and others are from observations of the child.  A thorough assessment will address three areas of sensory processing: sensory regulation, sensory modulation, and sensory discrimination.  Today’s topic is sensory regulation.

Sensory regulation refers to a person’s ability to keep their arousal at the right level for the situation.  Adequate self-regulation is essential to the development of attention, regulation of sleep/wake cycles, control of emotions, as well as the daily transitions that make up a child’s routine.  Sensory regulation is necessary for social interactions and learning.

One of my clients, who has significant challenges with this skill described a story about how at school, he loves to run around on the playground at recess.  He told me that the problem is that all of the other kids can slow down after recess, line up and then go back into school.

“I get so revved up that I can’t control myself anymore.”10_Logan

His teachers stated that he ran into the building, bumping into other kids at times, and did not respond to verbal directions.  This is a great example of how regulation issues can impact transitions and school.  This story ends well for this little boy.  His mother and I worked together and identified what were the factors that were impacting his regulation challenges.  For this boy, he was sensitive to movement and visual input.  He was correct in his statement that running around on the playground “revved” him up.  In occupational therapy sessions, and at home with his parents, we worked to address his challenges with movement and with visual input.  This in turn assisted him with his transition from running around to lining up to go back inside the school much easier.  We also worked on using some “tools” to help him with this transition, such as being given an earlier warning than the other kids from the teacher, he blew the whistle which gave him a chance to take a deep breath, and was in charge of carrying the bin of recess equipment into school which gave him some heavy work.

We all have strategies that assist us in keeping our arousal level where they need to be.  People chew gum, drink coffee, fiddle with objects, all in an effort to keep alert.  We also have strategies to calm ourselves down such as deep breaths, working out, knitting, herbal tea.  It is very important for children with sensory regulation challenges that we identify what are the regulating strategies that they can use to assist them.  Something as simple as chair pushups, sucking on a piece of candy, squeezing a stress ball, or rocking in a rocking chair can be useful.  It is important to customize these strategies to your child, as everyone responds differently.

I find that my occupational therapy sessions are the most effective when the parents and I are working together to identify the child’s sensory processing challenges and how those challenges are impacting daily life.

Stay tuned, as my next blog post will discuss sensory modulation.  Sensory modulation is the amount of sensitivity a person experiences towards a sensory experience.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.

How to Talk With Your Child About Their Disability

By: Susan Diver, MSW, LSW

I have been working with families and children with disabilities for more years than I care to admit.  It is a great job that I love very much.  The best days are when you feel like you have made just the smallest difference in the life of a child, a sibling or a parent.  I talk to parents every day about a large variety of topics dealing with their children; potty training, behavior, siblings, school, anxiety, bullying, respite, the list goes on and on.  If I was to address every topic that caused a family to be stressed, this blog would turn into a very long research project.  For today, I am going to talk about a topic that parent of children with a disability often ask me, “how do I talk to my child about their disability?”

You know your child the best; you understand their many moods and your strong personality will get you through a difficult but necessary conversation.  So put on your gym shoes and jump right in and get started.

Here are a few suggestions to remember when you have that conversation with your child about their disability:

  • Think about your child’s cognitive level, start there.
  • Be comfortable in what you are saying, rehearse, practice, talk it thru several times before talking to your child.
  • Be honest!  My Grandmother told me, if you always tell the truth, you’ll never have to remember the story you told and tell it again, stick with the truth, it’s safe, easy and there is nothing to remember. if you always tell the truth, you’ll
  • Be Consistent…….once you have decided on what to say, how to say it, always use the same story, wordage to talk to your child.
  • Be strong!  You cannot be sad, cry or talk about how bad you feel.  You are simply telling your child what is their disability.  The stronger you are, the stronger they are!  The more positive you are about who your child is, the more positive they will see themselves.
  • Check your guilt at the door!  You cannot use this as a time to relieve your guilt about your child’s disability, this is a time that it’s not about you, it is about your child!
  • Pick teachable moments; when your child brings up the topic, when a question is ask, when he’s in the back seat of the car, when something has happened at school or a party.  But make it when your child is calm, not upset or crying.  This is not a good time, when your child is upset, just like you; they won’t hear you or what you are saying.
  • Follow your child’s lead-Long before they ask you about being different, they will know they are different!  Use questions to see what they know, what they have overheard, what they understand.
  • Try to talk when your child is alone.  You will know their cognitive level, what they understand, how best to talk to them, a sibling or other family member may have a higher or lower level of understanding and they will ask too many questions that will interfere with your talk.
  • Be ready…the time will come that your child will ask, “why am I different,”  “why can’t I run like Billy?”  It’s coming, so the sooner you are ready, the better prepared you will be!

Siblings will want to know too! Use the same skills we’ve just talked about, use the same “story” you have used with your child.

For more information about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley please visit EasterSealsDFVR.org.