Tag Archives: children

Understand and Boost Your Immune System

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

Better Immunity is Achievable

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

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

What Protects Us From Illness

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

The immune system

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

Physical protection from foreign invaders

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

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

What we Have Limited Control Over

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

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

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

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

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

What We Have Control Over

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

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

Reducing Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving Personal Hygiene

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

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

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

only wear it if it’s clean

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

don’t lend it to anyone

don’t borrow anyone’s

make sure it fits well

wash it after wearing

if it’s stained or torn, throw it away I

From A Chalkboard a Day

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

Improving Nutrition 

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

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

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

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

Staying Sane while Staying Home

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

Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) 

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

Routines

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

Visual Schedules

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

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

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

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

More resources at: Free Templates for Daily Visual Schedules 

Timers

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

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

Social Stories

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

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

Reducing Stress Activities

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

Physical Activities and Heavy Work

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

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

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

Family Game Night/Nightly Mealtime Tradition

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

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

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

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

Unplug

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

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

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

Tele-Therapy Services

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

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

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

Sources:

Easy Indoor Activities for Energetic Kids

By: Laura Donatello, PT, DPT

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

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

Push-Pull Activities

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

Push/Pull Activity Ideas:

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

Obstacle Course

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

Obstacle Course Ideas

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

Color Under the Table

Color Under the Table

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

Exercise Dice

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

04_Bodhi2.jpg
Photo by Patti Mendoza

Online Resources

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

10 Popular Toys on Amazon Under $20

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

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

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

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

Indoor Parks for the Winter

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

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

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

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

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

We Rock the Spectrum

OT Overview

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

General Information

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

ColorWheel Playhouse

OT Overview

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

General Information

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

Ball Factory

OT Overview

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

General Information

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

Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park (Naperville)

OT Overview

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

General Information

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

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

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

Clarifying the New Drink Guidelines for Children

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

Maybe you heard about this in the news last week, or maybe not. Either way, trying to make sense of what we should be offering our children to drink is always a dilemma. From the moment a baby is born, the question becomes, breast milk or formula. Breast milk being the optimal choice, but that’s not always possible, so formula is available.

Cabinet with baby formula options.

Children less than 12 months of age should never be offered a bottle of straight up milk, but after 1 year, it is the go to drink recommended by everyone. Juice is often offered, but it is not the same as eating the fruit or vegetable. And sometimes in infancy, prune juice is given to help with stools, but that’s not a rule. Many children do not like milk, once done with breast milk or formula, and parents begin to offer anything to help ensure their child is hydrated.

Bring in the new options available for children to drink and it can be confusing to know what is best to offer. For example, plant based milks are all the rage now for many reasons, including allergies, family preferences, cultural reasons, and last resorts for a picky eater. They are flavored, unflavored, sweetened, and unsweetened. And the selection continues to grow, including rice, almond, coconut, soy, oat, hemp, split pea, cashew, and blends to name only a few. Though these may seem like a great alternative to cows milk, each one of them can be found fortified, unfortified, with added protein, or original version. Most plant milks are going to be lacking in protein, fat, and potentially key vitamins and minerals found in cow’s milk.  Diet modifications can be made to help ensure what is lacking in a plant milk can be found in other sources in the diet. But if cow’s milk cannot is not the choice for whatever reason, plant milks with diet modification can work.

Child laying on couch drinking bottle.
Photo by tung256.

Juices have changed as well, with many companies offering non sugar sweetened fruit and/or vegetable juices. Some companies offering cold pressed and fruit/vegetable smoothies with additives, such as greens, protein and vitamins. Use of sweeteners such as grape juice or artificial sweeteners replace sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Juice is not the best option for anyone to be consuming regularly, or in quantity, when the food brings so much more nutrition to the diet that has yet to be identified or quantified.

And then there is water, but not just tap water, but bottled water, flavored water, sweetened waters, artificially sweetened waters, vitamin boost waters, and sparkling waters. As a general guideline, plain old regular water with nothing added or changed, is the best choice.

To help, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart association have made some updated recommendations.

Description of drink guidelines for children under 5.

Not Recommended

  • Artificially sweetened beverages
  • “Low-calorie” or “Zero- calorie” drinks
  • Toddler and flavored milks
  • Sugar sweetened beverages
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Soda

Juice Recommendations

  • Less than 1 year of age: Do not offer juice
  • 1-3 years of age:                4 ounces a day or less a day
  • 4-5 years of age:                4-6 ounces a day or less a day

Milk recommendations

  • 1-2 years of age:                16-24 ounces of whole milk a day
  • 2-3 years of age:                16 ounces of skim or low fat milk a day
  • 4-5 years of age:                20 ounces of skim or low fat milk a day

Water Recommendations

  • 6-12 months of age:         4-8 ounces a day
  • 1-3 years of age:                8-32 ounces a day
  • 4-5 years of age:                12-40 ounces a day

Finally, whenever something is happening out of the ordinary with any child, and there is a struggle or question of fluids, seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to help guide what would be best. Looking at the child as a whole, their full diet, development, family choices, help with recommendations being made for fluids. This will ensure children receive optimal fluids, contributing to best growth and development.

For more information visit: eastersealsdfvr.org/nutrition or contact our Intake Coordinator at 630.261.6216.

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/

What is Tongue-Tie and How is it Treated?

By: Valerie Heneghan, M.A. CCC-SLP/L

The topic of tethered oral tissues or tongue/lip tie is evolving and controversial among professionals in the medical field.  The controversy often stems from first diagnosis. Is it truly a tethered oral tissue? And second the remediation. Is surgery necessary or is the child able to compensate without intervention? 

As a parent, I know it is a difficult decision as you want the best for your children.  You want to support your child’s development without unnecessary medical procedures.  My suggestion is to work with a professional who has experience in this area who can discuss these considerations and how they impact your child specifically. 

When discussing considerations regarding tethered oral tissues (e.g., tongue, lip, and cheek) it is important to include these 4 components:  

  1. Symptoms of mother/infant
  2. Mobility
  3. Function
  4. Location

The conversation on whether to move forward with medical intervention should include symptomology, structures, and function.  One child upon visual inspection may look to have a tethered oral tissue without any symptoms. While another child may have a tethered oral tissue that is not as visually apparent, however may have several symptoms impacting activities of daily living.

Below are interdisciplinary symptoms that could potentially be attributed to tethered oral tissues that you may want to consider:

  • Breastfeeding issues: Nipple pain, difficulty latching, inefficient nursing (e.g., feeding until becomes fatigued rather than full, nursing around the clock, etc.)
  • Lack of weight gain or growth
  • Difficulty moving to solid foods or won’t tolerate a variety of foods
  • Difficulty with cup, straw or bottle drinking
  • Delayed production of single words or imprecise articulation
  • Dentition (e.g., gap in front teeth) or malocclusion
  • Open mouth posture or congestion
  • Asymmetrical motor skills (e.g., preference for one side at young age) or Torticollis
  • Issues with sensory regulation, fine motor skills or vision
  • Coordination or balance issues
  • Gut Health issues or GERD
  • Sleep apnea

What are the next steps? 

It is important to find a medical professional who has experience in this area. A Pediatrician, ENT, or Dentist can diagnose a tethered oral tissue.  Often a Speech-Language Pathologist or Lactation Consultant may be referred, as these professionals work closely with oral motor skills therapeutically.

If a frenectomy (i.e., surgical cut to release the frenulum) is warranted, seek a medical professional (e.g., ENT or Dentist) who has experience in the following:

  • Has knowledge and expertise in releasing tethered oral tissues  
  • Recommends post-surgical program (i.e., stretches, therapeutic feedings, etc.)
  • Procedural experience using both scissor and laser for best possible outcome.

For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley Speech-Language services, including those that treat children with Tongue Tie conditions, visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/speech-language-therapy.html

Commonly Asked Questions About Down Syndrome

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

Down Syndrome, or Trisomy 21, is one of the more common genetic disorders in which children are born with 3 (instead of the normal 2) copies of chromosome 21.

There are common physical characteristics of children with Down Syndrome, such as upwardly slanted eyes, short fingers, small facial features, and a flattened nasal bridge. Children with Down Syndrome also may have varying degrees of intellectual disability, may develop heart conditions, and are at risk for visual impairments. Many children with Down’s Syndrome also have low tone (meaning that their muscles have less of a “taut” quality to them, making their joints appear “loose” or “floppy”).

Because of these physical and intellectual challenges that children with Down Syndrome live with, many children with Down Syndrome receive Occupational, Physical, and Speech therapies in order to address these concerns and make them as independent as Parker2possible.

That was the very medical analysis of Down Syndrome… but if you are a parent of a child who was recently diagnosed with Down Syndrome, you are not thinking of statistics, factoids, and medical jargon. You would be thinking, “What does this mean for my child?”

While I am not a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, nor do I pretend to be the holder of all the knowledge on Down Syndrome, I’ll try to answer common questions from my perspective as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and a person who is proud to have friends with the condition.  

What services to I need to look into for my child?

Young children with a new diagnosis of Down Syndrome (under 3 years old) can qualify through Early Intervention Services through the state of Illinois. Early Intervention brings trained specialists into the home of eligible children with disabilities or delays and provides high-quality therapeutic intervention.

To start services, a parent schedules an evaluation through a Child and Family Connections provider closest to their home (featured in the link above). After the evaluator determines a child qualifies with a 30 percent delay in development in any area, or are at risk of developmental delays, he/she will set up An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP lists child and family strengths, needs, resources, priorities, and concerns. It also identifies services to be provided to your child.  

Many Easterseals therapists are trained and credentialed by the State of Illinois Early Intervention System. Parents can request an Easterseals therapist when qualifying for services and speaking with the EI Case Manager. 

Team members could include Developmental therapists, Occupational therapists, Physical therapists, Speech therapists, Audiologists, Social Workers, Nursing, Assistive Technology, and nutritionists, just to name a few.  These therapists can help your child with global strength, communicating effectively, sensory processing issues, fine and gross motor skills, and getting around in the community.

Once a child “ages out” of Early Intervention at 3 years old, many children with Down Syndrome continue to get services as needed through schools and outpatient based clinics, such as your local Easterseals.

Why would my child with Down Syndrome need Occupational, Physical, and/or Speech therapy?

I have worked with children with Down Syndrome as an Occupational Therapist for a number of reasons and most often to address the following:

  • sensory processing difficulties Jake mom machine
  • trouble with transitions
  • behavior management
  • feeding difficulties
  • handwriting
  • dressing
  • manipulating fasteners
  • bathing
  • social skills
  • global strength
  • participating in family and school routines
  • access to community activities
  • navigating their physical environment safely

I will refer children with Down Syndrome to Physical Therapy and Speech Therapy as well. Physical Therapists can help children with Down Syndrome ambulate and have sufficient strength to be able to crawl, squat down, skip, climb stairs, propel their walkers/wheelchairs or walk.

Speech Therapists can help a child with Down Syndrome improve articulation (intelligibility of spoken language), oral motor skills for feeding and speaking, pragmatic language skills, improving receptive language skills, and accessing augmentative forms of communication (picture boards or high-tech communication devices).

Will my child be able to go to school?

Yes! Whether it’s through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan, there are federal and state laws set in place that require schools to make education accessible to children with disabilities.  These plans set specific goals and help place children in the best environment at school to support their specific needs. Just because your child has Down Syndrome does not mean that they cannot have the same educational opportunities as their peers for K-12.

Can my child go to college?

College can be in the cards for your child. Click here for a list of some Illinois universities/colleges that have programs for adults with disabilities. 

Do children with Down Syndrome have friends?

Certainly! Children with Down Syndrome are sweet, funny, kind, and loyal friends. There are organizations that help give kids with Down Syndrome more exposure to similar-aged peers in the context of fun outings and school events.

I am proud supporter of Best Buddies International, whose mission is “to end social, physical, and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” Best Buddies programs at elementary, middle and high schools pair students with intellectual or developmental disabilities with a similar aged peer and facilitate friendships between them!

My involvement in Best Buddies was one of the most positive experiences of my life and helped inspire me to become an Occupational Therapist. I am still friends with my high school buddies and we regularly keep in contact, even a decade later! Want to learn more? Visit https://www.bestbuddies.org

Do people with Down Syndrome date and get married?

Absolutely! I know people with Down Syndrome who are in long-term, committed relationships. There are even dating apps to help people with disabilities find that special someone.  Like all relationships, it’s important for people to set boundaries, expectations, and have mutual love and respect for one another, so why can’t people with Down Syndrome experience dating and marriage?

Can someone with Down Syndrome have a job and live alone?

Yes! There are job-training classes available through local community colleges and different companies that can lead to employment for people with Down Syndrome.

As for a living situation, people with Down Syndrome have a variety of options depending on their independence levels.

Options include:

  • living at home with family
  • living at a partially-independent living facilities
  • living in “shared living” arrangements in which adults with Down Syndrome can share an apartment with a roommate
  • living independently 

Additional housing resources are available through the National Down Syndrome Society.

Will my child have anyone like them to look up to in the media?

Of late, there are more actors with Down Syndrome in the media being celebrated! Some examples include:

    • Lauren Potter from “Glee” – Lauren Potter has amazing videos/PSAs and works a lot

      Lauren Potter glee
      Lauren Potter in her role as Becky on Glee.

      on advocating for people with Down Syndrome – I highly recommend following her on social media

    • Sarah Gordy from “Call the Midwife” and “Upstairs, Downstairs”
  • Born This Way – Reality show on A&E that follows the lives of young adults with Down Syndrome through their experiences in their careers, friendships, family, dating, and marriage.

What organizations are there out there to support my child?

There are a wealth of organizations in the Chicago area that are designed to help children with Down Syndrome, both medically and socially. Here are just a few!

How can I show my support for children with Down Syndrome?

In addition to getting involved with the organizations mentioned above, the simplest way to show your support is to wear mismatched socks on World Down Syndrome Day which is March 21, 2019! 

The goal of World Down Syndrome day is to raise public awareness and create a single global voice for advocating for the rights, inclusion and well being of people with Down syndrome

world down syndrome day

While it’s impossible to depict the complexities and life experiences of people with Down Syndrome as someone without the condition, I hope I gave a brief peek into what a child with Down Syndrome’s future could look like. The road ahead may seem daunting once a child receives the initial diagnosis, but parents should take comfort in knowing that there are many resources available to help during every step. The parents I work with have told me of both the amazing successes and the difficult days their child has experienced. 

When it comes down to it, a child with Down Syndrome is still a child who wants the same things in life as anyone else: to be loved and accepted. So let’s show our love and acceptance of people with Down Syndrome by wearing mismatched socks on March 21!

I think that actress Lauren Potter puts it best, “Someone once told me that different isn’t bad – different is just different!”

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

Indoor Play Activities for Toddlers

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!

  1. 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.

22_Zach and Amelia Judson

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.

  1. Painter’s tape mazes/hopscotch

Jimmy2Use 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.

  1. Sleigh Rides

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!

  1. Sensory Bin Hunt

shockSensory 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.

  1. Bath time Painting

bathtub crayonsHave 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.

  1. Puppet show

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.

  1. Food Stamps or Food Necklaces

orange stamping
Photo from: https://mom.me/toddler/11835-toddler-talk-orange-stamping/

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?)

  1. 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?)

  1. 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.

  1. Dress-Up Play

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.

  1. Indoor “Camping”

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.

Oven S’mores Recipe: https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-baked-smores-3052398

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!

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

Top Developmental Toy 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!

babyGifts 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!)
  • Sorting and Nesting Toys
  • 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:

  • doctorPlay 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.
  • Mini trampoline, scooter, tricycle – Improve a child’s gross motor skills and helps release their boundless energy.
  • Easel, markers & crayons – These are another great way for a child to use their imaginations and develop their fine motor skills.
  • Floor puzzles
  • 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.

Gifts for Elementary Age Children:

  • Dolls
  • Books – Reading will help advance a child’s language, vocabulary,  and social skills, while helping build coping feelings, and building their self-confidence levels.
  • Adventure/Building Toys – These are great for problem solving, critical thinking, and imagination.
  • Board Games – Don’t forget about the classic board games such as Sorry or Trouble that promote social interaction, turn-taking, and inclusion!
  • Bike

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.

We wish you a Happy Holiday and New Year!