As the first day of school is fast approaching I am hearing two camps of parents. The ones that are counting the days till the bus comes with the routine of school that brings a sense of normalcy and structure to their homes. The other camp, is the one that are holding onto summer with all their might, dreading the routine and busyness that the school year promises.
Whichever camp you’re in, know you’re not alone! Either way it’s time to shift gears and focus your energy on getting everyone ready for earlier bedtimes and wake ups, school lunches and getting out the door in time to catch the bus.
By now you’ve learned who your new teachers are so the kids know it’s coming. No one wants to send their child off to school frazzled so I recommend getting as organized as possible. How to prepare your child
Move bedtime back and set alarms for earlier wake ups.
Start having the kids pick out their outfits the night before so everything is together in one spot for quick dressing. If a schedule in your child’s room helps, make one that outlines the morning routine.
Have them help make lunch the night before so it’s all ready to go in the morning.
Preparations with the school before the first day
Review your child’s IEP especially the accommodations page so you can go to school and ask that things are in place before the first day of school. You don’t want to wait for the sensory diet items or special chairs to be available weeks later.
If your child has medical issues and things changed over the summer, ask to schedule with the school nurse to review any changes.
Create a one page at a glance about your child in a nut shell. So, everyone from the principal, school secretary, janitor and lunch ladies understands your child’s unique needs and abilities.
Then hang on, as the first couple of weeks might be difficult. While there may be a few bumps to work out, before you know it will be October and a nice routine will be established.
One of my favorite resources as a pediatric occupational therapist to help kids begin to understand and process emotions as well as come up with strategies for self-regulation is the Zones of Regulation curriculum developed by Leah Kuypers. The Zones of Regulation helps teach kids how to self-regulate and deal with everyday strong emotions or unexpected emotions for different social environments.
The zones can be compared to traffic signs. When we see a green light, one is ‘good to go’ and can keep proceeding forward without making any changes. A yellow light, on the other hand, means to be aware or take caution. Sometimes we can keep going and other times we need to make a change. A red light (or stop sign) means stop. Often the behavior we are demonstrating is unexpected. The blue zone is most often compared to the rest area sign where you go to rest or re-energize.
When teaching children to begin using the Zones of Regulation, I tend to follow three stages of learning.
In stage one, the child learns how to identify the terminology and sort emotions according to the physiological features of each specific zones
Frowning, yawning, crying = blue;
Happy, calm, focused= green
Upset, butterflies in stomach, Heart beating fast = yellow;
Yelling, body feels tenses = red).
In this stage, there is a lot of detective work and identifying features of body language. I like to use a variety of pictures, books, and movie clips when possible to help during stage one.
In stage two, children start to learn strategies to adjust their zone and help them manage their internal emotional feelings. Children learn a variety of sensory motor strategies (e.g. swinging, taking deep breaths, walking, squeezing something) as well as cognitive behavioral strategies (e.g. expected versus unexpected, size of the problem, inner critic versus inner coach, stop/opt/go).
In stage three, children are more independent and are beginning to select appropriate tools to help with self-regulation. Depending on the child’s age, supports might still be in place such as visuals for choosing appropriate tools.
It is important to remember that ALL of the zones are expected to occur at one time or another. At some point we may feel tired in the Blue Zone, calm in the Green Zone, worried in the Yellow Zone, and possibly furious or elated in the Red Zone.
The Zones of Regulation focuses on teaching children how to manage their zone based on the environment and the people around them. The Zones of Regulation was designed to support people in managing all the feelings they experience, without passing judgment on what people are feeling or how they are behaving.
Leah suggests four main points to keep in mind with beginning to use the Zones of Regulation with any child:
It is natural to experience all of the Zones; there is no bad zone.
Our Zone is defined by the feelings and internal states we experience on the inside.
Our behavior is a byproduct of how we manage our Zone; therefore, consequences should not be tied to a Zone.
The context we are in helps us figure out how to manage our Zone so our behavior meets the demands of the social environment, and in doing so we are able to achieve the tasks we are trying to accomplish and/or the social goals we’ve set for ourselves in that situation.
Here are some additional tips to help kids develop their emotional intelligence and emotional self-regulation:
Provide as much stability and consistency as possible. Consistent limit-setting, clear household rules, and predictable routines help children know what to expect. This is turns help them feel calmer and more secure.
Model, model, model. We cannot do this enough. How we react and deal with emotions will establish the foundation for how those around us will also respond. We usually don’t have a choice in what we feel, but we always have a choice about how we choose to act regarding our feelings. Children learn from us. When we yell, they learn to yell. If we remain calm and speak respectfully, they learn to do the same. Every time you model in front of your child how to respond to an emotion, your child is learning.
Connect. Spend time everyday unplugging and connecting with your child. Young children first learn how to regulate by being soothed by their parents. When you notice your child getting dysregulated, the most important thing you can do is try to reconnect.
Name it and Accept It. Calling attention to your child’s feelings helps them understand what is going on inside them and learn that it isn’t okay to feel different emotions. Your child will know that someone understands, which might make him or her feel a little better.
I’ve been an occupational therapist for seven years and it’s taken a long time to perfect the answer to the question “What is OT?” from people I just met. Today, I think I finally have a good answer.
To begin, occupational therapists see individuals across their lifespan and in a variety of different settings. We work closely with medical staff, parents, and educators. Typically there is some underlying problem that has initiated a meeting with an occupational therapist.
Depending on their training, there are a number of different approaches an OT may take to solve the problem. One approach is the “Person, Environment, Occupation” (PEO) model. The PEO model (Law et al., 1996) is a well-known and established conceptual model of practice within occupational therapy. It offers a foundation for guiding assessment and intervention across all practice settings and client populations.
This model of practice helps an OT consider the whole child…their roles, activities, where their performance may need help, areas of strength, and more. Since I work with children, I am going to define the person as a child. The environments are the places a child interacts (e.g. home, school, community) and the occupations are the things he/she does in those places (e.g. get dressed, feed themselves, learn to write/color/draw, play). It is an occupational therapist’s job to evaluate a child and determine what makes it hard for those occupations in all his/her environments. It could be strength, sensory, visual, etc. or a combination of all those areas. It could also require a team approach, short term services, or long term services.
Let’s look at an overview of the assessment process with a simple case study to make it easier to understand:
ASSESSMENT PROCESS (Person, Environment, Occupation)
Referral: A 7-year-old is referred by a doctor for occupational therapy services based on her parents’ concerns with difficulty sitting still at home and completing homework tasks. She also has difficulty focusing and getting ready for the morning.
An OT would consider the child’s role as both a developing child, sibling, daughter, student, and friend. What is preventing her from participating fully in those roles? We would also consider the family’s values, interests and daily roles. We try to look at the client’s pattern of engagement in occupations (i.e. getting ready) and how they changed over time.
In the example above, we would consider the entire family. This child has many roles. She is not only a child of a two parent working family, but she is also a sibling with a younger brother. She is also a first-grade student. In further conversations, we discover she also participates in gymnastics after school. In order to best support this child and her family, we would need to consider each of those roles and how they contribute to the overall profile of this child.
Occupational Performance Areas:
Then we consider the areas of occupational performance (e.g. activities of daily living, instrumental activities of daily living, rest and sleep, education, play and leisure, and social participation).
In the example above, this child is possibly presenting concerns with activities of daily living. Specifically, we might look at her ability to dress herself and completing grooming/hygiene tasks. Her mother, also mentions the child is having difficulties with staying focused and managing her assignments in school. Is this also impacting her social participation both at home, school and community where she does gymnastics?
Occupational Performance Components:
What components need to be addressed that may explain underlying difficulties?
Body Structure and Function– This may include muscle tone, range of motion, posture and alignment, postural control, strength, joint stability, endurance, fine motor skills, manipulation and dexterity, gross motor skills, coordination, bilateral coordination, etc. We may also evaluate her nutrition, respiration and gastrointestinal background to make referrals.
Sensory motor – This may include a child’s under or over responsiveness to touch, movement, sight, sound, taste and smell as well as their visual perceptual skills and body awareness. This may also include a child’s behavioral responses to activities.
Cognitive – This may include perceiving, understanding concepts, learning, and executive function skills (initiating, planning, organizing, sustaining, sequencing, flexibility, problem solving, managing emotions, etc.). We may make referrals to further understand the role cognition plays in your child’s abilities.
Social-Emotional – This may include self-regulation, self-esteem, as well as inner drive and motivation to participate in activities. It could also include the ability to relate to other children and adults.
In the example referral above, we would need to determine what areas of occupational performance are making it difficult for her to participate to the best of her abilities. We could evaluate her strength by having her climb to see how she manages her body in space and uses her arms to support her body weight. We might also look at her core strength to see if she is weak and if that is causing her to feel unstable while sitting which impacts focus (e.g. if she is having to concentrate hard on keeping her body upright to be able to use her eyes and hands, then it will be hard for her to also concentrate on math facts).
We will also look at her hand skills. There might be concerns with weakness, grasp, manipulation, etc. that make it hard for her to use writing tools to complete tasks.
We can create a sensory profile, by asking questions, having a parent fill out questionnaires, and observing a child during activities. We would use our background in sensory integration too during our observations. For example, perhaps the feeling of clothing is too irritable to this child and she is having trouble focusing because she is needs to move to readjust how her clothing feels on her skin. We can evaluate vision to determine if we need to make a referral to another doctor. By planning some activities to do together, we can look at how her sequencing and planning behavior.
Finally, occupational therapists are mindful of the social-emotional development of children and how difficult things impact his/her daily function. We might ask the parent further questions if we notice that she is getting frustrated easily during a task and has trouble managing her frustration.
There are many hats that an OT wears in this therapeutic relationship….another adult, parent, teacher, friend, etc. When we begin, we often know very little about each other. However, we work together and figure out plans that best help a family address their wants for their child. In the process, we may not know all the answers yet and it may take time to figure them out. That is one of the hard parts of an OT’s job but also a fun aspect too. Wearing these different hats while at the core serving as an occupational therapist, is what I love about my job. To learn more about Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley’s occupational therapy services visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html.
As one of the Parent Liaisons at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley, I have experienced many years of not only my own children’s IEP’s, but countless families from our centers. Here are some strategies that have helped our families feel like a true member of the team and confident that this year’s IEP is a well written plan that will meet their child’s needs.
Prepare for the meeting
Make a list of your child’s strengths and needs. Bring it with you to review during the meeting to insure they are covering things that are important to your child’s success in school. Think about and write down strategies that work at home and with your private therapist to share with the staff.
Know what the law requires. Section 614 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets out the process and elements of what needs to be explored to develop and revise and IEP. States and local school districts add their own policies on top of what is required under the federal law. That being said it doesn’t mean you need to know the letter of the law. Bottom line… the more you know and understand the easier the process is.
Never attend this meeting alone. It’s important that you and your spouse attend if possible. If not then ask a grandparent or a friend. Their role is to be support for you and another set of ears! Often at these meetings we can get stuck on something one member of the staff said and miss important information. Make sure you inform the school that you are bringing someone with.
Start the meeting with a positive statement about your child even if you’ve had a difficult period there is ALWAYS something positive to say… he has the best smile, she is caring and kind, he loves other children!
When talking to the team, focus on your child’s needs and NOT your wants! Take the I out of IEP. Avoid, I want him to work on, I want her to be in this class, I think she needs…. Rephrase everything. He needs to have these supports in order to be successful. She needs to have sensory break before being expected to do table top activities, as it helps her focus. The goal of special education is to meet the child’s needs, not the needs of us parents.
Placement is not the first decision. This is determined after the team has decided what services and supports are needed. This is hard; as it is often the first thing you want to know!
Trust your gut. If a piece of the IEP doesn’t feel right, and you can’t reach an agreement with the school, make sure it is documented that you do not agree. Remember, just because you disagree doesn’t mean it will be changed. The whole team has to agree to change it. But I always say, ask for the moon and hope for the stars!
Think about your child’s future! Aim HIGH. Don’t wait until high school to start planning for what your child can do as an adult. Every skill your child achieves in elementary school will help him or her be an independent adult.
Establish a clear and reasonable communication plan with the school and your child’s teacher. Stick to the plan. You and the school are partners in your child’s development and learning.
Remember the IEP is a fluid document and can be amended at any time by requesting another IEP meeting.
After the IEP meeting
Pat yourself on the back for another successful IEP under your belt.
Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley Family Services provide information, education and support that address the concerns and stressors which may accompany having a child with special needs. Our parent liaisons are highly trained parents of children with special needs. They provide parents and caregivers with support from the unique perspective of someone “who has been there” in both informal one-on-one and group settings. For more resources and information click here.
We hope you have had a happy and easy transition back to school! As school ramps up so does your child’s homework. This means heavier and heavier backpacks are being lugged to and from school. We want to make sure you and your kids avoid injury and pain by giving you tips of how to properly pack, lift and carry a backpack.
Follow these tips on how to make you and your child’s backpack safer this school year:
It is recommended that a loaded backpack should never weight more than 10% of the student’s total body weight (for a student weighing 100 pounds, this means that the backpack should weight no more than 10 pounds).(2)
Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back
Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around in the backpack.
Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary for the day’s activities.
Distribute weight evenly by using both straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.
Select a pack with well-padded shoulder straps. Shoulders and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied.
Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backwards and strain muscles.
Wear the waist belt if the backpack has one. This helps distribute the pack’s weight more evenly.
The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the child’s waistline.
School backpacks come in different sizes for different ages. Choose the right size pack for your child as well as one with enough room for necessary school items.
School is right around the corner if it isn’t already here for many of you. With school starting again, gone are the lazy days of summer and once again the hustle and bustle of getting you kids out the door and getting them to do their homework is resuming. Whether your child is just starting school or is nearing the end of his/her K-12 educational career, here are some tips to help ease the transition back to school. You won’t be able to avoid the business at the beginning of your day, but you can try to ease the morning stress to make the day go smoother.
1. Decide when you have to get up. It will be much easier to decide what time your child needs to go to bed if you know what time they have to get up in the morning. Most experts agree children need between 9 and 10 hours of sleep each night to be at their best. If you know your child must be up at 6 a.m. in order to be ready for school by 7:30 a.m., you would want your child to begin getting ready for bed around 7:30 p.m.
You may want to explain to your child the importance of a good night’s sleep. Getting enough sleep is important for the body to heal itself and allow ourselves to have enough energy to stay awake during the day. It also helps us focus and be less cranky when we have to do tasks we are not particularly interested.
2. Call a family meeting and decide who will be responsible for which tasks each morning. For example, dad will make sure the kids are dressed and their teeth are brushed while mom will take care of breakfast and lunches. Don’t forget to assign these tasks or similar tasks to your children too! This will not only help ease the stress of the morning but it will also help develop their executive function skills which will help serve your child well throughout all grade levels in school. For developmentally appropriate ideas for your children click here.
3. Draw up a schedule or start a family calendar. Designate a spot if possible within your home that is consistent for the family calendar. The family spot can also be used to help make returning back from school easier. If you have young children include photos or illustrations representing the task they need to do. Clipboards are an excellent resource for individual family members to have to list his/her own chores.
4. Do what you can the night before. The more you do before you go to bed, the less frantic you are likely to feel in the morning cramming in as much as possible.
Run the dishes overnight (bonuses this sometimes can save money!) or run the dryer to have clean clothes. Lay out tomorrow’s clothing.
Maintain a steady supply of quick breakfast foods for this days when it just happens and you are running late. Kid’s growing bodies and developing brains need regular refueling. When kids skip breakfast, they don’t get what they need to perform their best.
Hang complete outfits together in your closet or put outfits in bins to quickly grab. Keep your children’s matching shirts and pants in the same drawer or on the same hanger so they can find them easily without help.
Gather everything that you will take with you the next day and assemble them in one place near the door your exit from in the morning.
Teach your children to get everything ready for the next day before they got to bed. Make lunches, distribute lunch money, and pack backpacks. Take a picture of a completed backpack and attach to a luggage tag so all your child has to do is “match the picture” to make sure everything is included.
“Match the Picture” is a concept taught by Sarah Ward where the adult can take a picture of the desired end product and assists the child in breaking down the steps to create both a written and visual to match when completing a goal. This concept can be very helpful in eliminating the need to “nag” your child though every step as well as support independence.
5. Ease the transition back from a full day of school to home by allowing your children a break to move and be active. Go for quality, not quantity with after school programs. Your child will benefit most from one or two activities that are fun, reinforce social development, and teach new skills. Remember children need movement. After sitting for an extended period of time during a school day, giving your kids an opportunity to need can be extremely beneficial.
Regular movement has been shown to increase focus in children of all ages. Movement also helps all children regulate (i.e. adjust their energy) and lower rates of behavioral problems. Research shows that physical exercise influences the central dopaminergic, noradrenergic, and serotonergic systems. Together those systems help manage our mood, appetite, sleep, learning, as well as alertness, focus, and motivation.
Ideas for active play might include tossing a ball/back and forth with a peer, playing tag outside, going for a bike ride on the sidewalk, exploring how your body moves by climbing/cartwheeling/summersaulting/etc., or just taking a short walk. Other active play ideas include exploring different textures or drawing with sidewalk chalk. Here is a link to some fantastic indoor play ideas.
6. Set up a time and place for homework. Having a set place to study and complete homework helps send the signal to your children that learning is important. As much as possible, try to make yourself available during homework time….even if that means you still might be cooking dinner or doing the laundry.
Wherever your homework station is in your house and whatever your homework station looks like in your house, make sure you have all the essentials readily available. This will help avoid time robbers (e.g. getting up to find stuff) and help eliminate any headaches over missing supplies. Pinterest has many great ideas for creating a homework station. Right now the bargain bin section in Target also has great supplies for organization. Purchasing a tri-fold poster at Staples is another fantastic idea to eliminate visual clutter and help your child focus.