If you are looking for the perfect holiday gift for your child, here are some gift ideas that will be both enjoyable and helpful for development as recommended by our team of therapists!
Personalized gifts, including pictures of family, can be used in numerous ways and grow with children. Babies and toddlers love to look at pictures of people they know. Children can drop the images into a small slot or bucket for a simple game as they practice saying and remembering the person’s name.
As children get older, they can also use the pictures to work on language skills like describing who they see in the picture, what they are wearing, where they are, and what they are doing. You could also play a game where you describe the picture, and the child has to find the one you are talking about. Or you can use a collection of photographs and design any number of your own memory games! Shutterfly even offers customizable matching card sets to make this extremely easy!
Another option would be this photo album from Amazon, which holds up to 15 4×6 photos and is made durable for children. This is also a great product to help teach your child to recognize faces and learn family and friends’ names.
Another excellent option for an interactive gift is designing a custom book with personalized pictures for your child. PinholePress offers several different variations of custom books you can make based on it’s intended purpose and your child’s interests. Some of the custom book themes you can choose from include: Names & Faces, Healthy Habit’s, ABC’s, Colors, Emotions, and more!
Balance toys are a great mix of both functional and fun and come highly recommended by our therapists. This particular toy is a favorite for kids aged 18 months up to 5 years. The 12-inch ball is the perfect size for little ones to sit on and can be used to address areas such as balance, core and leg strength, body awareness, and proprioception. It can be used during everyday activities such as playing with a toy or watching a favorite TV show, and it keeps the core much more active than sitting on the floor or sofa. For an extra challenge, children can try bouncing on the ball while keeping their feet on the floor (with pillows around them if you are afraid they might fall) or reaching forward toward their feet for toys and returning to upright sitting.
This link below is an excellent visual clock to support understanding of time concepts. This analog clock helps children see the passage of time while using colorful graphics for those who cannot read traditional clocks yet. The minute hand has a bee on it because bees move fast, like minutes. The hour hand has a snail on it because snails move slow, like hours. When your child keeps asking when it will be time for dinner, you can tell them, “When the snail gets to the butterfly”. Setting the clock up on a stand or with magnets on the fridge can help children always have it available.
Another option is the DIY Wondertime clock, which can be printed as a pdf and then added to a standard clock from staples or target. The instructional video can be viewed below if you want to follow along!
Cooking with kids is so much fun (and maybe just a little messy)! Having children help select foods to make and participate in the cooking process frequently increases their willingness to try new foods. Cooking with kids is also an excellent opportunity to work on waiting, following directions, impulse control, math concepts, and turn-taking. Best of all, it’s sure to promote lots of smiling!
This cookbook offers some great healthy recipes for inspiring and introducing young chefs to cooking. Each recipe is easy to follow and includes pictures for every step to make the process fun and interactive.
This book all about vegetables is another great option for kids, as it introduces vegetables in a fun and approachable way with both activities and recipes. The author has over 15 years of experience as a feeding therapist and picky eating expert. Her book includes fun activities like making beet tattoos and jungles made of broccoli!
Just Ask is a WONDERFUL book to give kids and adults alike an overview of different disabilities. It teaches diversity, awareness, acceptance, and inclusion. The introduction to this essential topic will help your child become more aware and open-minded to all kinds of disabilities.
Adapted Toy Resources:
Adaptive Tech Solutions: Adaptive Tech Solutions is a therapist owned and operated company that provides adapted equipment for individuals with disabilities at affordable prices.
Beyond Play: Features switch toys which are wonderful way to teach cause and effect and can help children develop a sense of control over their environment and self-esteem.
While you complete your holiday shopping, don’t forget to checkout at smile.amazon.com with Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley as your selected charity. You can also take a look at our wishlists for therapist and teacher requested items to send to our centers. Both efforts on Amazon can provide year-round support of our services and programs. The featured items make great developmental toys and gift ideas for children of all ages too. Thank you for supporting us this holiday!
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!
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:
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.
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.
Tie a string to the basket to make this a pulling activity.
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
Lay out couch cushions on the floor for your child to step on, jump over, or climb through. Maybe even jump from cushion to cushion.
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.
Crawl or squat under a string tied across two chairs.
Walk on a bubble wrap road, walk across a taped line, or both!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Beads are a great multi use toy you can take practically anywhere with your imagination.
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.
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.
Spinning Toy is a fun way to work on gross motor and fine motor to spin the gears around the pipe.
Pop Tubes are a fun, noise making, resistance toy your child can practice pulling in a variety of positions.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Phone: Naperville (630-640-2020), Mount Prospect (224) 244-9580
Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park (Naperville)
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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 possible.
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
trouble with transitions
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.
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
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
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!”
Cerebral Palsy is a disability that is caused by damage to the brain before or at birth. It mostly affects movement and fine motor skills but can have a large range of severity for children. Some children with cerebral palsy can walk or talk, while some may use a wheelchair or assistive technology device to speak like me.
Honestly, living life with a disability can be very challenging but I don’t let it stop me from having an awesome life! I have a lot of friends, a great family and have been a successful student. I graduated from St. Charles North High School in 2017 and am now a proud honors student at Elgin Community College. My communication device uses eye gaze technology and helps me type up essays and lecture notes.
I also love sports. I really, really love sports. While my disability has kept me from participating on teams with my friends, it hasn’t stopped me from being a huge fan. I had the privilege of being a team manager for football, basketball and volleyball while in school and those were very special experiences. I really felt like a part of the team and got close to some of my teammates.
I have been going to Easterseals since I was a little boy. I have done Physical, Occupational and Speech therapies. Easter Seals has helped me to be as independent as I can be and my therapists have always listened to me and asked me what I want to be working towards in therapy. They have been a great support to me and an asset in my life.
People with disabilities aren’t really very different from people that don’t have disabilities. We enjoy a lot of the same things and want to be treated fairly like everyone else! Having a disability is hard, but I haven’t let it stop me yet! Life is good!
Editor’s Note: Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley offers many resources for children with spastic and non-spastic cerebral palsy and their families including physical therapy, occupation therapy, speech-language therapy, assistive technology, inclusive day care and parent-to-parent support.
Treatments and therapies can benefit a child with cerebral palsy by helping him or her gain the strength and mobility needed to take first steps, speak first words and maximize their independence.
By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist
These cold wintry months make us want to bundle up and stay indoors. It’s so hard to keep adventurous little ones entertained on a beautiful day where you can go to the park, let alone a day when you’re stuck inside. It can be especially hard for children with sensory processing difficulties to not go outside and get the necessary input their bodies need to stay calm and focused through climbing, jumping, and tactile exploration. But you don’t have to sacrifice a fun day with your toddlers and young children just because it’s freezing out!
When it comes down to it, a child will love any game in which they have special playtime with a parent or caregiver. But if you’re having a little trouble thinking of some ideas to get you started on a fun indoor day, here are a few activities for your toddler that will help them get the sensory input they crave while having a whole lot of fun!
Build a fort
Make a princess castle, bear cave, dragons lair, or just a creative hideout. You can use whatever material is around the house (cardboard boxes, blankets, pillows, comforters, sheets draped over furniture) to make a fort. Help the younger toddlers (1 year olds) assemble the fort and play games like peek-a-boo as they climb in and out of their fort.
Young toddlers can also take child-safe flashlights into their fort as part of their peek-a-boo game or to play hide and seek with parents.
Older toddlers (2-3 year olds) can help you construct the fort as a great way to express their creativity and imagination. Encourage them to play house with their dolls/stuffed animals in their own little home. Or maybe you can join in an imaginative game with them (Be a dragon that is “attacking” the castle that your valiant knight defends with pillows, be a neighbor that brings a snack to your little one’s “home,” or pretend to be the Big Bad Wolf who blows their house down and create a pillow pile for the Little Pigs to dig out of).
Benefits of the Activity: I love having kids build a fort because it gives their body tactile input (input to their skin about the texture and pressure of the pillows and blankets). Also this type of activity helps them build visual perceptual skills needed to stack pillows to get them to stay up and not fall. Finally, children get proprioceptive input (pressure into their joints and muscles as they pick up heavy pillows and push them around). OT’s frequently call this type of input “heavy work.” Proprioceptive input is calming input that helps children who are always “on the go” slow their bodies down and have a better understanding of where their bodies are in space.
Painter’s tape mazes/hopscotch
Use painter’s tape to make shapes on hardwood, tile, or linoleum floor. Older kids can pretend that the circles out of tape are stepping stones in the river that they have to jump between without falling in the water. Kids may even enjoy making a little maze on the floor that they can walk on top of. You can even make squares to make a hopscotch pattern on the floor and practice jumping and balancing on one foot. Finally, make a path on the ground to use as a road for toy cars or animals!
Benefits of the Activity: This activity helps children build gross motor skills through coordinating their body movements to jump in/out of the hopscotch squares and develop visual tracking skills as they have their cars “follow the road” in a tape maze.
Pile pillows in a laundry hamper and place a blanket underneath to make the laundry hamper slippery on hardwood, tile, or linoleum floors. Your child could then climb in and enjoy a fun sleigh or car ride as you pull them around. Make a game out of it by stopping at the “grocery store” and picking up pretend food as you pull them around. Need your child to burn off a little energy? Have them push a basket around and pick up toys or push around a sibling, if they are able to.
Benefits of the Activity: This game gives their body tactile input (as they are squished by textured pillows in the laundry hamper) and some vestibular input (movement input and understanding of where they are in space) as they are pulled around. Once again, this activity provides proprioceptive input if the child pushes the hamper around the house!
Sensory Bin Hunt
Sensory bins can be made out of just about any material and is a fun way to help your child explore different textures. Take any large Tubberware or small to medium sized storage bin and fill with whatever sensory materials you child might like exploring (uncooked bowtie pasta, macaroni, beans, and cereal are a few of my favorite not-too-messy options). Don’t want a huge mess to clean-up? Put a fitted sheet underneath the sensory bin that will catch all the little pieces that might spill out during play. That way you can just bunch up the fitted sheet and throw pieces in it away when your child is done playing. Hide little cars inside the sensory bin and help your child dig through to find it. Pretend to give Barbies a bath in this pretend bathtub, play puppies and dig to hide a bone in the bin, or just allow your kid to play with funnels, tubberware, and serving spoons in the sensory bin.
Benefits of the Activity: This activity is a great way to introduce tactile input to the hands as they feel the different shapes, sizes, and textures of the items in the sensory bin. Want to add an extra challenge that OT’s would love? Have your child close their eyes and search around the bin with their hands to find a hidden treasure. OT’s describe the ability to distinguish between the properties of different items with the skin as tactile discrimination. See if your child can feel the difference between the macaroni you filled the bin with and the pennies you hid for them! If they have their eyes open and are searching the bin for their treasures, this activity helps children develop good visual scanning skills.
Note: Children should be supervised during sensory bin play to prevent choking if children place small pieces in their mouth.
Bath time Painting
Have a fun water day indoors by playing in the tub! Encourage some creativity and early fine motor fun with fingerpaint soap or bathtub crayons that are easily washed away with water. I found fingerpaint soap at the Dollar Store or in the dollar section at Target.
Benefits of the Activity: This activity promotes tactile exploration as children feel the different textures of the fingerpaint, the temperature of the tub, the pressure of the water around their bodies, and the splashes of the water as they play. Bathtub crayons also provide a play-based opportunity to practice developing an age-appropriate grasp and fine motor development.
**Note: Children should be supervised at all times in the bathtub. Check that fingerpaint soaps are non-toxic and safe.
Use premade puppets or make your own puppets with socks. Show your young toddlers how to play with a puppet (make the puppet say “hi” or give your little one kisses). See if they can imitate what you do! Help set up a little “stage” for a puppet show by draping a sheet over 2 chairs and encourage your older toddlers to put on a show for family and friends!
Benefits of the Activity: This activity promotes imitation through play. A child’s ability to imitate actions is a function of motor planning. Motor planning is the ability of the child to have an idea of what to do, plan the steps needed to accomplish this task, and successfully execute this plan. This activity also promotes imaginative play and helps children receive tactile input as they put sock puppets over their hands and move their hands to make the puppet talk.
Food Stamps or Food Necklaces
Make stamps out of fruit and veggies and make some artwork! Help prep vegetables and fruits you have around the house by cutting them in half. Apples, potatoes, bottoms of celery stalks, and broccoli make great stamps. Set up an area where your kids can get messy (maybe roll out wrapping paper on the kitchen table or floor and place paper on top to make clean-up easy). Provide some non-toxic finger paint or maybe shaving cream with food coloring and get stamping! This activity not only helps little ones express their creativity, but it also exposes them to new foods in tactile exploration.
Older toddlers might also enjoy making food necklaces. Use yarn or other types of string and help your child string on Cheerios, Fruit Loops, or macaroni onto their necklace.
Benefits of the Activity: Not only does your child receive tactile input through the different textures of food, but it’s a perfect opportunity for your child to play with foods that they usually don’t eat (if your child hates broccoli, it’s helpful for them to just be exposed to it in a context in which they don’t have to eat it, just play with it!)
An Occupational Therapist will tell you that repeated exposures to non-preferred foods helps children become more comfortable with different foods. Finally, children who string Cheerios/Fruit Loops onto string have the opportunity to practice their fine motor skills as well as visual motor skills (can the child identify where the hole in the cereal is and thread the food onto it?)
Silly Instrument Play
Lay a blanket on the kitchen floor and lay out pots and pans. Have your little one use wooden or metal spoons to play on their instruments. (Adults may need earplugs during this game!) Join in the silliness and be the leader of a parade around the house. Sing songs with your little one and practice marching.
Benefits of the Activity: This game provides your child with proprioceptive input as they bang on pots and pans. Your child also works coordinating movements (can they swing their arms to hit the pot). Older toddlers can work on gradation, which is the ability to grade force of movements (can your child hit the pan softly so a quiet song, then hit the pan really hard to produce a loud sound?)
Obstacle Course Adventure
Make a climbing obstacle course around the house using pillows, blankets, and sofa cushions. Help your child climb a pillow mountain or make a “garbage pile” of pillows in which you can hide a toy that your child can climb around to find.
Benefits of the Activity: Similar to a fort activity, obstacle courses provide a great opportunity for tactile input as they move around the cushions and blankets and proprioceptive input as they push/pull pieces to crawl through the obstacle course. This activity also works on body awareness, the ability of the child to feel where they are in space in order to effectively move their body around obstacles. The more a child is allowed to crash and push equipment around, they develop a better sense of where their body is in space.
Pull out old clothes, hats, shoes, sunglasses, socks, and scarves from way back in your closet and have a dress-up day. Older toddlers may enjoy having a fashion or talent show in your living room.
Benefits of the Activity: Not only do kids get to use this as a way to pretend to be just like their heroes (you), they also get practice dressing skills they will need when they are older. Young toddlers may have difficulty putting on different pieces of clothing (which is pretty age-appropriate), but they can work on pulling off pieces that they are all done with playing, such as pulling off a t-shirt, socks, shoes, and pants/skirt.
Make a tent out of sheets and chairs and drag in a sleeping bag or pillows to make your tent cozy. You can bring in flashlights, story books, toys, and/or some homemade s’mores made in the oven (recipe link below). See if your little one can use their flashlight to find different pictures in the story you read to them.
Benefits of the Activity: Making a small space out of pillows and sheets creates a great opportunity for children to receive tactile input. Some children find small spaces calming because they get “squished” between pillows. Getting “squishes” is a form of deep tactile input, which is very calming for some (think of a big hug or being swaddled). If this sounds like your child, use the tent as a safe retreat in which they can bring their favorite story and get a big hug from a loved one. Finding pictures with a flashlight while reading a story promotes visual scanning. Best of all, reading a story together gives you both the perfect opportunity to bond and spend quality time together.
There are limitless activities you can do inside that can help support sensory play and help children with sensory processing difficulties get the input they need. Feel free to use the ideas above or come up with your own play ideas!
By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L and Sarah Peabody, Physical Therapist
Play is an essential piece to optimal child development as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. Walking through the toy aisle can be overwhelming, but it is important to choose a toy that is age-appropriate, promotes healthy development, and encourages positive behavior. View our favorite holiday toy selections below!
Gifts for Infants:
Activity mat – Activity mats are great for promoting tummy time. Some have mirrors attached which helps the infant to lift his or her head up and engage in the mirror. Tummy time should start as early as possible for 3-5 minutes a couple times a day, building up the length and duration as the baby grows. Tummy time is essential to help your baby build the strength needed for rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and walking.
Black and white toys – For young infants (birth – 3 months), toys with high contrast are the most appealing, as their vision has not adapted to seeing colors yet. Around 5-6 months of age, bright and colorful toys are appropriate as infants will likely be able to see the full spectrum of colors.
Mirrors – These are a great resource for visual engagement.
Colorful rattles, O-ball, a textured toy – Toys that children can reach for and grasp are great to promote fine motor development. Toys that appeal to multiple senses are ideal for infants and promote positive sensory development. Infants enjoy exploring the feeling of new textures.
Gifts for Toddlers – The toys listed below help kids learn to understand patterns, problem solve, and develop competence and confidence.
Push toys – Ideal for the early toddler/young walking stage (bonus – with the one linked here, you can put objects into the push toy to weigh it down. Heavy work is great for building core strength!)
Blocks, LEGOS, Magnetic Sets – Open-ended toys like these can be used in a variety of ways. Kids love to take things apart and add to structures at this age, and these toys will extend into the preschool years and beyond. This is also a great way to incorporate problem solving skills and provide opportunities for adult interaction into play.
Hand puppets – These are a great way to encourage interaction and communication in the young child.
Shape Sorters and Simple Puzzles– Shape sorters and early inset puzzles are great for toddlers. Interlocking puzzles of various sizes can be a great interactive toy for learning about all kinds of things. Look for puzzles that have large knobs for younger children or those that struggle with fine motor skills. Puzzles are also great to help children develop their visual perceptual skills and become better problem solvers.
Gifts for Preschool Age Children:
Play sets – Play sets with little people, dolls, animals, etc can expand a child’s language and communication skills and help them make sense of the world by imitating adult behavior and encourages imagination.
Simple dress-up costumes – When kids play dress up, their imaginations really get to blossom. Instead of buying a specific cartoon/movie character dress up costume, buy a generic tutu or princess dress where a child can be multiple different characters all in one outfit.
Games- The nice thing about games is you can play them in a variety of ways. You don’t have to be stuck to the traditional rules. You can even use the games in pretend play. Here are just a few names of popular games used in therapy sessions: Pop the Pirate, Pop The Pig, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, Scatterpillar, Jenga, Spot It, Hullabaloo, I Can Do That, Connect Four, Thumbs Up, Tricky Fingers, Boggle, Rush Hour, Gravity Maze, Quirkle, Blokus, Go Fish, Chutes and Ladders, and Dragon Dash.
Never forget, a trip to the museum, theater, or special exhibit is a great gift too! Experiences can never be replaced with toys and the trip will stay with a child for a long time. Capture them with your phone or camera and you can pull them out to talk about and connect on a later date.
For more ideas, visit our Amazon wishlist that shares suggestions for multiple age range and child need. Most of the toys listed can be adapted in some way or used by children of all abilities.
If shopping online, remember AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon with the same products, prices, and shopping features as Amazon, but the difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice. Please choose Easterseals Dupage & Fox Valley to help support our cause.
By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L and Sarah Peabody, Physical Therapist
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time to decorate your home with seasonal decorations, listen to cheerful holiday music, start baking lots of yummy goodies, spend time with friends and family, and shop for the perfect holiday gifts. This time of year can bring merriment and stress! Especially when considering gift ideas for children.
If you are buying a toy for a child, it’s important to select something that is based on his/her individual need. Every child is unique. Purchasing a toy for a child with special needs involves taking into consideration the child’s unique developmental profile.
Children who lack fine motor skills often have trouble doing things with their hands, like holding a crayon, so they might enjoy toys with large knobs or big levers that will enable them to grasp them more easily. Children with social learning difficulties or sensory processing difficulties might prefer toys that offer movement or heavy work.
Children with physical disabilities might enjoy toys that have buttons and don’t require a lot of fine motor manipulation. They might also enjoy more arts and crafts that allow them to just move their arms without having to worry about holding onto something.
Choosing a toy that is age-appropriate, promotes healthy development, and encourages positive behavior works best. Use these tips below to help guide you for buying gifts for your child, a niece or nephew or other child:
General Tips for Selecting Developmental Toys for Children:
Spanning multiple age ranges
Finding a multipurpose toy that spans multiple age ranges is a great investment. Toys that are meant for several ages and stages of childhood will be kept around and cherished for a long time. For example, this Shape Sorter, can be used in late infancy as you place the shapes in and out of the box with the lid open. As your child grows into the toddler stage and enhances their fine motor skills, he or she will learn how to manipulate the shapes and place them in the appropriate spot. You can then incorporate colors, shapes, etc. all into one piece as they advance even more. Another example is magnetic letters. A child can use these at a young age to learn letters and sounds and as they grow into elementary years use them together to make words.
2. Be cautious of age recommendations
Many toys have a suggested age range based on the safety and developmental appropriateness for a child. These recommendations are based on the developmental abilities of an average child and may serve as a starting point for you when selecting a toy for your child. A toy should be challenging, but not frustrating. Likewise, if a toy is too simplistic and beyond your child’s abilities, he or she will quickly lose interest. Children learn and grow at various paces, and what might be an appropriate toy for one two-year-old child may not be for the next.
3. Promoting Exploration and Imagination
Research has found that toys that do “too much” don’t encourage children to use their imaginations. Stuffed animals that talk and sing only prompt the child to press a specific button which takes charge of the play scheme. Instead, look for a toy like blocks. Blocks can be stacked up to build a tower, knocked down by a dragon, lined up to make a city, the list goes on and on. The more your child has to problem solve and use his or her imagination, the more your child will learn through play.
4. Think, Move, and Interact
This generation loves to be entertained with screens. Instead of getting that Ipad or other video console, look for toys that provide opportunities for cooperative play that encourage the development of social skills and positive behaviors like taking turns. Board games are a great example!
5. Sensory Considerations
Toys that are tactile or visual can often help improve how a child processes the information. Music, varying textures, flashing lights, and colors can all improve the sensory appeal to your child. It is important to know the needs of your child because what is appealing for one child may be overstimulating for the next.
6. Promoting Inclusion
Toys that promote groupwork and peer interaction with other children are great to promote social skills and improve self-esteem and overall quality of life.
7. Think outside the box.
Toys don’t always have to be used in the conventional manner. For example, that food puzzle might be a little hard for your child to sit still and focus to complete, however, maybe your child would be motivated to find the pieces hidden in a tactile bin or exploring the house on a gross motor adventure to find the food. For children with physical disabilities, many battery operated toys can be adapted for switches. Check out this blog for directions and this link for purchasing battery interrupters.
If you child is younger, can you use that ring stacker to look through the circles together at each other. Or maybe the rings fit on different body parts. If your child is older, think about using the toys within movement activities.
8. Will the child make memories with it?
Giving experiences is becoming a new, more popular trend (for multiple reasons!). Taking time to explore local attractions can create long lasting memories and even new post-holiday traditions. Most businesses and even public libraries offer gift certificates to local attractions. This is a great way to really personalize a gift for your child.
Last but not least, make sure the toys are engaging and fun. Do not force a toy upon a child. If they appear not interested in a certain toy, leave it for a few days and re-introduce it at another time. Keeping the toys fun will ultimately make the learning fun for your child.
Visit this blog next week, for more of our specific toy recommendations! You can also search our previous blogs for each year’s toy recommendations like here and here. Happy Holidays! For more information on Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley visit eastersealsdfvr.org.
Did you know October was National Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) month? AAC is a specialized area of clinical services. Here at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, we are very lucky to have several therapists who specialize in helping individuals find their voice through AAC. We have both Occupational Therapists (OT) and Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) involved in a multidisciplinary team evaluation to determine the best strategies and/or communication systems to help a child learn to communicate.
As an OT, I first became interested in AAC when I was working with a little boy with autism who received a high tech speech output device. It was amazing to see how having his new voice provided so many new opportunities for him. It helped with his overall regulation as he now had a system to share his wants, desires, and needs.
AAC looks different from person to person and varies from low tech options, light/mid tech and high tech systems. If you think your child might benefit from AAC, our team evaluative approach may be helpful. Below is more information on what each team member does to best help your child.
Many parents often have questions about whether or not a device will hinder their children’s ability to speak. This is absolutely not the case. Research demonstrates that AAC does not keep children from learning to speak. In fact, users will make gains in language AND speech because AAC helps a child connect with others, produce successful communication, and provides consistent speech models. The child I described above, went on to learn a ton of new words after he got his device! When we begin to use AAC with toddlers, it doesn’t mean we believe they are never going to talk; instead, it often means, we believe they need a way to have a meaningful connection to others through a common language which helps serve as a bridge to spoken language.
Do try and introduce forms of AAC early. Using AAC can be very helpful for a toddler who is beginning to make gestures, eye contact or sounds to communicate messages, but isn’t yet using spoken language. Often these toddlers are frustrated they can’t communicate certain thoughts and messages. Once they start to see and learn the power of communication through signs, pictures, or more formal AAC apps/devices, they begin to feel a little less frustrated.
3. Model, model, model. When using any type of AAC, we can never model enough. This means that everyone in a child’s life should use AAC too! As with all language learning, AAC is learned because those around the child speak the same language. If you think about it, early communication development (between birth – 12 months) is only modeling – caregivers communicating without any expectation while being connected with their baby using a common language. I love it when my clients bring their devices to therapy. If your child is already receiving therapy services, ask the therapist to use your child’s communication system during sessions to connect and engage with your child. When using AAC, continue to use verbal speech to model and help children understand the pictorial representation of language and develop the words.
4. When you schedule an evaluation, you will see both an occupational therapist and a speech therapist trained in AAC. Both therapists are knowledgeable in a variety of access methods such as hand access, switch scanning, and eye gaze technology. The occupational therapist will specifically look at:
the child’s overall posture and strength to allow for upper extremity (or any other extremity) use while accessing the communication system
determine optimal positioning of both the child and the device to ensure the most efficient method of access
the child’s vision, auditory, and sensory processing needs
the child’s visual and/or auditory scanning ability
the child’s visual/auditory tolerance
any adaptations to engage different sensory systems, as well as monitor for sensory overload and/or assist in sensory regulation for device access.
The speech therapist is extremely knowledgeable in the vast array of AAC communication systems and AAC strategies available. They will help determine the communication system and language page best suited to bridge the gap between the child’s receptive and expressive communication skills. The evaluations are done in a play based manner to help the child feel comfortable. And play is how children learn!
Here at Easterseals we offer a team approach for evaluating children for AAC needs. For children that could additionally benefit from AAC, we will see them for co-treats to help expand their language within play based therapy sessions.
When the child’s specific goal is to assist in overall regulation and play to support device access, then a co-treat can be extremely valuable between Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy. OTs are trained in setting up sensory rich environments to support regulation and drive play. These activities can be very motivating for your child’s communication. There are endless opportunities to model language depending on your child’s unique development.
To learn more about Assistive Technology at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, click here.