Physical fitness is important for everyone, including children and adolescents with developmental disabilities. Running is a great weight-bearing aerobic activity. It promotes cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, bone health, lower extremity strength and endurance, symmetry of movement in both upper and lower extremities, and emotional regulation. Wheelchair racing promotes cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, upper extremity strength and endurance, and upper body symmetry. These are all areas that children with developmental delays and disabilities can improve on.
Our community program, Hustle for Your Health, helps children reach their fitness goals. Each week includes an outdoor aerobic activity in the form of running and walking or wheelchair propulsion, basic strengthening exercises, and stretching to cool-down. At the end of the program, children will be prepared to complete our Run for the Kids: Superhero Hustle to run or walk a 5k distance and are encouraged to participate in other local races too.
I have heard from countless families that are amazed at their child’s commitment to health during and after the 10-week program. Below, I share some tips to help all children grow their enthusiasm for wellness.
Growing a Child’s Love of Physical Fitness
Make it fun. Choose activities your kids like. Some kids enjoy walking, running, and biking, but others may get more out of obstacle courses, climbing trees, hopscotch, rollerblading, dancing or a game of kickball in the yard. The goal is to promote a love of movement.
Variety is the spice of life. To prevent boredom, change things up. Tour the neighborhood using different modes of transport – walking, scootering, biking, skating; you can even make a walk feel different by bringing a ball to dribble while walking or by challenging your child to run to the next tree, skip to the next fire hydrant, leap across the next driveway, etc.
When building endurance, add in activities for “active rest.” Lengthen a jog or a bike ride by bringing along a frisbee so that you can take a break in the middle of your run/ride to toss a frisbee before heading back home. Your child will have maintained being active for a longer period of time and be able to handle a longer distance with a built-in break.
Stuck inside? Get your body moving by:
Making up a dance routine.
Setting up an indoor obstacle course
Creating movement themed minute challenges. How many times can you…. in a minute?
I.E: Run up and down the stairs, do sit-ups, do jumping jacks, push a basket of laundry across a room, run laps throughout your house.
Growing your child’s fitness and love for activities like running, biking or yoga, has a positive impact on their overall body health but also improves attention, mood and more. But one of the biggest factors in growing a child’s fitness was parent modeling according to a recent study published in the Disability and Health Journal. Caregivers and parents that model physical activity helped encourage their children to be active and created a supportive environment for children with developmental delays and disabilities. The study also mentions that starting this early, around preschool age, takes advantage of the fact that younger children are already spending significant time watching and copying parents.
During the State of Illinois’ stay-at-home order, children have more opportunities to spend time with their caregivers and model their activities. There are plenty of fitness activities the family can do together. Our annual Run for the Kids: Superhero Hustle helps many children at Easterseals make a goal to cross the finish line with their first independent steps, with a walker, or after reaching a new distance. Their goals help inspire other family members to join in their training and reach new levels of health. The new Superhero Hustle date is August 1, which gives participants three months to work on a new wellness goal.
Our goal is to help you reach yours! Set your intention for the next 3 months. What will your family accomplish by August 1? Will you run a 5K for the first time? Do 100 jumping jacks? Start each day with mindfulness and yoga? Tell us! To get started:
Share your progress with family and friends and encourage their support
Make plans to “cross the finish line” on August 1
One of my personal goals as a physical therapist for children with developmental delays and disabilities is to not only help improve their physical health but the entire families. Our Run for the Kids and Bike for the Kids events are opportunities to grow our family’s fitness with a very supportive community group.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Travelers Aid Chicagois 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 ridesand 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.
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.
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!
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.
Physical therapy plays a crucial role in helping a child who is diagnosed with Down syndrome (DS) reach their highest potential. What that therapy looks like through a child’s life changes as he/she transitions from newborn to teenager. Hypotonia, weakness, cardiac and respiratory issues are some of the challenges a PT will address.
0 – 24 months: The physical therapist (PT) is one of the first healthcare professionals to work with a parent and their child to help build a strong foundation of strength and movement. Depending on the medical complications a child faces, the PT works regularly with the child to build strong muscles so he/she doesn’t develop compensation that can affect their abilities later.
The parents or caregivers will have activities to work on daily to help their child reach gross motor milestones. The child may need special braces for their feet to improve alignment so that muscles can maintain length to function efficiently.
Compression garments such as a SPIO, Benik or an abdominal binder, may be considered to aide postural alignment and respiratory function. Aquatic therapy can be beneficial if a child enjoys the water. This gives him/her an opportunity to be challenged in new and fun ways, while also building strong swimming skills and an enjoyment of water for future exercising.
2 years – 5 years: During the preschool years physical therapy continues to address higher level gross motor skills. It may be appropriate for a child to be involved in group therapy sessions where peers motivate each other, along with providing social and communication opportunities.
5 – 10 years: Throughout these years, a child involved in community-based programs could seek PT consultations. Some children may enjoy a summer PT group to build strength and confidence such as our rock climbing group. Biking can also be a great opportunity for fitness and socializing. There are several “learn to bike” programs in the community and a PT can help a child develop this skill. Many children become involved in swimming and this becomes their life long fitness.
Teenage years: Encourage physical fitness, which is important for any teenager or young adult. Hopefully as the child faces the challenges of being a teenager, they have confidence in their abilities and can continue to be a part of a sport community, like a swim team, running group, or special rec team. The child may need to check in with their PT a bit more to update home programs, as growth may affect their posture. While braces may not be needed anymore, foot inserts may be necessary to support his/her feet in the best possible position.
Most importantly, set high expectations and enjoy all the gifts children bring to families!
Halloween is right around the corner! Most kids can’t wait to put on their costumes and make their way through the neighborhood. No child wants to be left out of the fun of trick or treating or holiday parties. Unfortunately for some children this often happen.s However, with some planning and preparation, children with sensory issues or other special needs, don’t have to be left out and can enjoy this exciting time of year.
Create a schedule for special activities. Tailor the schedule to your child’s needs. Whether it’s a picture schedule or written schedule, using a schedule will help your child be able to anticipate what is coming up and feel calmer. Discuss the schedule regularly and provide information for each transition. Sometimes just knowing what’s next can help children with extra needs feel less anxiety.
Try using a social story that includes a pictures for your children to help visualize the day and better predict what will happen. You can click here for some sample stories.
Try having a code word your child can use if he or she feels overwhelmed and needs a break. When your child uses the code word, help them leave the situation for a few moments and discuss coping skills. Again, giving children some control during activities that may be overstimulating will reduce anxiety and enhance the fun.
Decorations like fake cobwebs, scary jack-o-lanterns, hanging ghosts, and mist from fog machines can bother kids with special needs.
Consider taking your child to explore the Halloween section of a local big-box store. You can help your child get used to the various sounds and sights by pressing the different buttons on the various machines. You can also help them get used to the different sensations by touching the variety of decorations. This can be helpful to figure out which ones to avoid during the festivities.
If your child doesn’t like the smell or slimy texture of pumpkin insides, there are a ton of different ways to decorate pumpkins. You can use paint or permanent markers and stickers to decorate your pumpkins. Pinterest has a ton of ideas like using playdough, coloring with crayons, or using decorations.
Costumes can be really tricky for our kids. Remember, costumes don’t have to be expensive to be fun and enjoyable for the holiday. When trying to decide on the just right costume, it is important to think not only about the theme but also about how it will feel, fit, and even smell.
When you find the just right costume, some kids will benefit from washing it a few times to soften the fabric before wearing it the first time.
Some children might benefit from practicing wearing their costume before the big deal. This will allow your child to problem solve anything that doesn’t feel comfortable. You should practice walking and sitting while wearing the costume.
It might be helpful to wear comfortable clothes or pajamas under the costume.
Don’t overlook simple costume ideas. With pinterest now there are a ton of creative ideas that don’t have to involve store bought costumes. You can involve the whole family with themed costumes (this year my family is doing Rock, Paper, Scissors with our regular clothes and few adaptations).
For trick-or-treaters who use a wheelchair or need help walking long distances, you can get creative and decorate their equipment or wagon.
For parents who want help in designing or making costumes, there are several resources in bookstores and on the web. Some sites, such as Family Education, provide costume making instructions. Also, organizations, such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and The Bridge School, offer tips and examples of costume ideas. Charities, like Costumes for Kids, collects used costumes and offers them to physically disabled kids too.
Trick or Treating Tips
Trick-or-treating can also be hard. Noisy crowds of kids and flashing decorations. Walking around the neighborhood. Walking at doors. Talking to unfamiliar people. Food sensitivities. Food allergies.
Do you know about the teal pumpkin? The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to raise awareness of food allergies and promotes inclusion of all children by offering an alternative treat for whom candy is not an option.
Go out at dusk or before the streets get very dark and crowded.
Only treat or trick at houses you know.
Map out and practice the route with your child ahead of time so it feels familiar.
Pull your child in a wagon or let your older child ride a bike to avoid having other kids crowd/bump into him or her.
Program a special Halloween message into a communication device for kids who need help with language.
Have some favorite calm down activities or toys ready in case it gets too much for your child.