Tag Archives: Tips

Preparing for Halloween

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L

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.

article-calendarGeneral Tips

  • 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

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.

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Costume Tips

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.

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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.

Please comment below with any suggestions or strategies that have worked well for you. For more information on Occupational Therapy at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley and helping children with sensory needs visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html. 

 

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Back to School Organization

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L

With many of our children returning back to school, I thought this would be a good time to review some strategies to help with school organization. Kids need organization skills in order to function during their school day as well as to get their homework done efficiently at home. If your child struggles with a messy desk, overstuffed backpack, keeping homework and classroom assignments organized, or lost and missing parent/teacher communication slips then hopefully you can find some tips and tricks in this blog. Remember every child is different and what works well for you or another child may not necessarily work well for your own child.backpack

  • Most importantly develop routines and stick to them as closely as possible. Some children might benefit from additional support to help learn the routine such as checklists, picture schedules, and/or social stories. Younger children might also benefit from turning the routine into a fun song.
  • Create backpack organization systems. Look for backpacks that offer multiple compartments to denote separate spaces. A backpack with at least two compartments is highly recommended. Use a zippered pouch (clear is the best) for pencils, erasers, calculators, etc. in the backpack.
    1. Please check out my previous post on backpack safety.
  • Place a laminated checklist clipped to your child’s backpack zipper that lists what needs to be brought home each day. This one from Understood.org is great. 
  • Go through the backpack on a regular basis with your child until he/she gets the hang of keeping it organized. Gradually give your child more responsibility and continue to check in even when you have turned in all the responsibility to your child.
  • Create a simple schoolwork folder system. A simple 2 pocket folder often works best. Use a bright sticker to place on one side for “KEEP AT HOME” and another bright sticker for the opposite pocket for “BRING BACK”. If your children are older, you can create a color coded system that corresponds to each class. Books and notebooks can use prefabricated book covers or you can use colored paper to create book covers in a variety of colors.
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Picture from caffeinatedconclusions.blogspot
  • Depending on the age of your child you might start to create a really good binder system. The best ones have a locking rig. Some binders have a clear plastic cover which can be used to create large labels on the outside for different subjects (if you are using a different binder for each subject) or you can use it to hold assignment sheets.
    1. If you are going to start a binder system, then you should invest in a few more organization assistants. Things like subject dividers, a zippered pencil pouch, sheet protectors, two pocket three-hold punched folders, and a portable three-hold punch are really helpful. You can organize each subject section the same. Label each subject divider tab and then include an empty sheet protector immediately behind for important handouts. Behind the sheet protector you can include a folder which follows the same simple schoolwork folder system idea above.
    2. A different option could also be to continue to use the subject divers, zippered pencil pouch, sheet protectors, two pocket three-hold punched folders, and a portable three-hold punch; however, instead of using the simple schoolwork folder system idea above with the two pocket folders, you can create one global folder that is in front of the binder where your child put homework for each class in front. At the end of the day, when at home, you can then sit with your child and help organize their homework when completed back into each individual subject folder.

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  • Some children might do also better with an accordion file based system. One suggestion for organized would be using the front section to keep your child’s homework planner or global two-pocket folder homework folder. Each additional pocket would be labelled with the different subjects and might include a separate pad of paper for that subject. I like to avoid loose sheets of paper as much as possible with an accordion system as I find they tend to slide down.
  • Create an organization system for lockers. Some children like to create a container system where they use separate containers for different belongings which are labeled with pictures on the outside to know what goes inside each bin. You can also add a picture to the locker for a visual cue for where each item belongs which the locker to further help keep things organized. Shelves are also helpful to better divide the space.
    1. lockerTo help you and your child determine the most logical and efficient way to organize the locker and backpack, here are some helpful questions (source: The Organized Student)
    2. What is your child’s schedule like? If the schedule is consistent, you can probably just separate the locker into two sections, morning and afternoon. If it changes every day, you might want to organize differently
    3. What extracurricular activities does your child participate in and what supplies/equipment is needed?
    4. Does your child keep supplies and equipment in a locker at school or do they travel back/forth between school and home on a regular basis?
    5. How many books is your child required to keep track of throughout the day
    6. Does your child’s school offer a second set of textbooks on loan?
    7. What type of storage and accessories does the locker already contain?
    8. Does your child have time to go back to his/her locker between classes?

 

  • Create a homework station at home. Include all necessary school supplies such as pencils, pens, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, paper, etc. You can use everyday items (mason jars, muffin tin) to help organize items. Containers available at any office/home good are great ways to help organize. You can attach labels made from a label marker or also just use post-its and adhere using clear tape. Every item has its own place and it is easy to spot. Ask your child’s school if it is possible to get a second set of textbooks to eliminate the need to bring books back and forth between school and home. Mark off spaces for items like books and pencil box using painter’s tape. If your child is older, you might think about creating a “desktop file box” which is described in a lot more detailed in The Organized Student book.

 

  • Help your child learn to breakdown assignments into manageable chunks. One example includes folding worksheets into sections that can be completed before moving onto the next section.
  • Invest in some telling time systems. It is often helpful to breakdown into the concept of telling time, daily time, weekly time, and monthly time. I prefer to use analog’s watches or timers for this as you can see the passage of time which is missing from digital systems. When first learning to tell time and gauge time, create from fun activities to experiment with by guessing how long it will take and then compare guess to actual. It might be useful to have several timers. One for the global amount of time your child/you think he/she needs to complete the assignments and an individual one to break down individual assignments into manageable chunks and to add a spot for a quick break. If you can find an analog clock that also allows for a quick glance to see the time digitally, that might also help.clock
  • Finally, if you have read any of our previous posts on executive functions or attended our executive function client group, then you might be familiar with the group Cognitive Connections. They developed an app that allows users to create a time marker to get ready for work, a timer marker to check in during work, and a marker when the work is planned to end. There are tones activities when the time reaches each marker. This could also be a good choice for some children.
  • The key to any organization system is be flexible to your child’s unique organizational style and needs as well as be consistent and offer check-ins until your child has mastered the system. Even when your child has mastered the system, continue to offer periodic support.References and Helpful Resources:

Routines and Why They Can Help

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L

Routines are very important for all children, but they can be particularly important for children with developmental delays. Routines help provide a sense of certainty and security for children by offering them a predictable pattern that allows them to know what to expect, which will result in less frustration as well as fewer tantrums or meltdowns.

Certain routines are almost universal, such as morning and bedtime routines, but others may exist for specific circumstances or stages of life, such as your family’s weekend morning or school or summer routine.

A great place to start a routine is having a set bedtime. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 3-5 should get 10-13 hours of sleep a day (including naps) and children ages 6-12 should get 9-12 hours of sleep each night. The benefits of getting enough sleep are numerous and include mental/physical health, attention, memory, learning, behavior, and more. The AAP also recommends no screen time 30 minutes prior to bed, no electronics in children’s bedrooms, and having a set bedtime routine.

Setting up a bedtime routine:

Ryan - web
Photo from Take Three Photography

Bedtime routines can be anything you want them to be, as long as they are familiar and predictable. For my infant son, he takes a bath every other day. After his bath (or mom and dad quiet playtime on non-bath days), he gets a nice massage and we read a couple goodnight books. When he shows us signs of being tired, we turn off the bedside lamp, swaddle, and turn on the white noise machine.

This routine is something I hope to keep as he gets older. For an older child, you can do a similar routine but you will need to add in time for personal hygiene and perhaps next day activities such as pick out your clothes, pack your backpack, etc. You can use a similar routine for naps, except they would just be shorter.

Aside from bedtime, morning routines, can also be beneficial. Some families have different weekday and weekend morning routines, but other children may need to have one routine that stays the same regardless of the day.

Mealtime can also present an important routine. An easy place to start is to try to have meals around the same time each day. I know this isn’t always possible- but getting as close to a specific time each day can be beneficial and having everyone sit together to eat.

Additionally, having chores to do in family routines helps children develop a sense of responsibility and some basic skills, like the ability to manage time. These are skills children can use for later in life that you can begin at a young age. One great example is singing the “clean up” song when it’s time to finish an activity and move onto something different.

“Clean up clean up
everybody everywhere.
Clean up clean up
everybody do your share.

Clean up clean up
everybody everywhere.
Clean up clean up
everybody do your share.”

Routines can also be great for teaching personal hygiene. Ever heard a parent sing the ABC song while their child washes their hands? This is just one great example.

Here are some tips if you are looking to introduce routines into your daily life:

  1. Only change one part of the day at a time.

2. Come up with your basic non-negotiables and then give your children some                    choices (bedtime stories together or separate?).

3. Make a poster with the routine, including photos in the right order, to allow for              self-monitoring. In a good routine, everyone understands their roles, knows what              they need to do and sees their roles as reasonable and fair.blog_visual

4. Follow the same routine every single day for at least one month, after which it will         become habit and your older kids should be able to keep themselves on schedule for         the easy routines.

Establishing routines has lots of great benefits that can help both you and your child develop scheduling abilities, and increase the likelihood that your family will have a smooth day.

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

Through my Parenting Eyes

By: Theresa Forthofer, CEO & President of Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley

While I am the President and CEO of Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley, I also happen to be the mother of three children.  Two of my children have Myotonic Muscular Dystrophy and Autism. My oldest, Ryan, was diagnosed when he was 7 years old.  He is now 24 years old. My youngest was diagnosed with the Congenital form of Muscular Dystrophy within days of his birth and he is now 18.

forthofer family

Having two boys with Muscular Dystrophy, meant lots of doctor visits and hours of therapy every week.  Throughout the years we had several different therapists and we liked them all.  They were all very nice and the boys were making progress.  Therefore, we assumed everything was great and the boys were doing the best they could.  Looking back, I sincerely wish I knew then, what I know now.  While they were progressing, they were not reaching their full potential.

I may be biased, but what I have learned since becoming President and CEO isn’t as significant as what I have learned about raising two boys with disabilities.  I share my story to help at least one other family find their child’s true potential.

For nearly 7 years, my son had (unsuccessfully) worked on putting his shoes and socks on independently.  His Early Intervention therapist worked on it, his private therapists from a nearby clinic worked on it, and his school therapists worked on it.  Over and over again we were told, he doesn’t have the strength.

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Photo by Alexi Procopos

However, when I came to Easter Seals, I asked about Occupational Therapy for Justin.  I wanted him to put his shoes and socks on independently.  In just two sessions, his therapist asked me what our next goal was because he was putting his shoes and socks on independently.  I didn’t believe her and made her show me.  He did it and is still doing it!  His therapist explained it was a motor planning issue not a strength issue for Justin.  For years, I dreaded leaving the house because putting his shoes and socks on became something to battle over. Now those days are long behind us.  No more excuses for being late!

Occupational therapy worked so well, I signed Justin up for the feeding clinic.  At 12 years old, he weighed 40 pounds and we had tried everything.  We saw an endocrinologist, feeding therapists, nutritionists, etc.  The best solution was growth hormones, but Myotonic Dystrophy has cardiac complications, so this was not advised.

After attending the feeding clinic and starting a few relatively small changes, he gained 10 pounds in three months – 25% of his body weight!  He will likely always be small for his age, but we wish it hadn’t taken us so long to figure out these needs and find the experts at Easter Seals.  They imagined a future beyond what we had been told to expect by other professionals and without any limitations.

leadership meetingI hear these same stories like mine, nearly every week.  Children who have been seen for years and aren’t reaching their fullest potential.  When they find their way to Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley they often can’t believe what they have missed out on.  The progress their children are making so quickly surprises their families, their doctors and sometimes even us.

If you are looking for a therapy center or therapist for your child, here are the top 10 questions to ask:

  1. Is the center CARF Accredited and have a Medical Advisory Board?
  2. Is the center directly affiliated with any major research hospital systems?
  3. Who are your primary referral sources?
  4. What are the published results of your satisfaction survey and where can I find them?
  5. Is the therapist NDT (Neuro-Developmental Treatment) trained?
  6. What diagnoses has the therapist personally treated?
  7. What is the average level of experience of the therapists at the center?
  8. How many children do you treat annually?
  9. What training do you receive on a regular basis?
  10. How do you support parents and siblings?

As parents, we all want the absolute best for our kids. I found it here at Easter Seals and you can too!

Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley is a CARF accredited facility with a medical advisory board and affiliations with University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University and RIC (Shirley Ryan Ability Lab). With 87 therapists and professional staff with an average tenure of 19 years, the majority of therapists are NDT trained and are required to receive on-going training. The therapists are specialized in many specific areas including feeding, motor, sensory needs and more.

Easter Seals serves more than 1,000 families a week with locations in Naperville, Villa Park and Elgin.  Through an annual client survey, 99% of families report satisfaction with the services they receive and 98% of families report progress. The parent liaisons and social workers on staff provide support and family activities for all members of the family. Learn more at eastersealsdfvr.org. 

How Loud is Too Loud?

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month!

By: Cindy Erdos, Au.D., CCC-A

The Stanley Cup playoffs are underway, and the finals start next week.  I love watching hockey and I am an audiologist, so when I came across an article titled “Can hockey playoffs harm your hearing?”  I had to read it.  The research says,  “YES,”  the level of “leisure” noise present during a hockey game is loud enough to damage your ears and hearing.  If you are lucky enough to get tickets to the Stanley Cup, or any hockey game, you should consider getting some ear plugs or earmuffs for your children.

Most people tend to think that hearing loss caused by noise only happens to adults who work in noisy environments or those who attend lots of rock concerts or elderly adults who have had a life-time of noise exposure.  Exposure to loud noise without proper protection can cause hearing damage to anyone, at any age.  There is a growing concern about noise-induced hearing loss in our children.  We need to protect our children’s ears from noise-induced hearing loss and we need to teach them to continue protecting their hearing throughout their lives.

Our Noisy World

Do you remember that last time you “heard” silence?  We live in a very noisy world.  We encounter sounds every day, all day long.  Traffic, sirens, machinery, lawn equipment, concerts, movie theaters, sporting events are just some of the sounds we encounter on a daily basis. Sound Sense points out that a lot of our children’s activities involve some degree of noise: school lunchrooms, sports and sporting arenas, movies, and electronic media.  As you look around you are likely to see children, and adults, listening to some type of personal listening devices.

Even some children’s toys produce high levels of sound.  The Sight and Hearing Association publishes the Noisy Toys List annually and recommends downloading a sound meter app on your smartphone to help measure noise.  Their rule of thumb is, “if a toy sounds too loud to you, it is too loud for the child.”

Top 3 Noisiest Toys via Sight & Hearing Associations Noisy Toy List 2016

WWE

 

WWE 3-Count Crushers: Roman Reigns
Ages 6+
104.4 dB(A)

 

roadripper

 

Road Rippers Rush & Rescue
Ages 3+
103.9 dB(A)

 

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My First Tonka Wobble Wheels
Ages 1+
103.2 dB(A)

 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently published an article titled, “Too Loud!  For Too Long!” The article reports that hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition and a major cause of hearing damage is noise exposure.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that a billion-young people worldwide could be at risk of hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices.

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How Loud is Too Loud?

First thing to keep in mind is noise does not need to be unpleasant, or even physically uncomfortable to cause damage to your ears or hearing.   The intensity (loudness) of the sound and the time spent (duration) listening to the sound are critical. Intensity of sound is measured in decibels (dB).  Conversational speech is around 60 dB; a soft whisper is around 30 dB and a shouting directly into someone’s ear can be as high as 110 dB.  Your dishwasher probably runs about 70 dB and the sound of your hair dryer is around 90 dB.  City traffic (inside your car) is around 80-85 dB, but when riding a motorcycle, you are listening to around 95 dB of noise.  Watching your favorite sports team live may expose you to as much as 100 to 120 dB – depending on if your team is winning.

So how much is too much and how long is too long?  85 dB is the “magical” number. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends any employee who is exposed to 85 dB of noise be included in a noise conservation program to ensure their hearing is monitored and they are instructed on hearing protection practices.  The American Academy of Audiology recommends any time you are exposed to 85 dB or louder you should use hearing protection.   In addition to how loud the sound, you need to be concerned about the length of time you spend listening to the sound.

The chart below gives more examples of typical sounds and the maximum recommended duration:

Leaf blower:                                       90 dB (2 hours can cause damage)

Sporting event:                                 100 dB (14 minutes can cause damage)

Rock concert:                                     110 dB (2 minutes can cause damage)

Siren:                                                    120 dB (1 minute can cause damage)

SOURCE: CDC Vital Signs, February 2017

Unless you have a sound level meter app on your phone, you may not know if a sound is 85 dB, 70 dB, or 110 dB.  Here are some signs that a noise may be too loud:

  • You need to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby
  • The noise hurts your ears
  • You have a buzzing or ringing in your ears, even temporarily
  • You don’t hear as well as you normally do until several hours after you get away from the noise
  • When listening to music through your headphones you cannot carry on a conversation without shouting

Prevention & Protection

Most of us rely on hearing to communicate and stay connected to others.  As we know hearing is critical to speech and language development, speech and language are critical for learning and academic progress.  Even mild hearing loss can affect a child’s academic success.  The damage from noise not only causes hearing loss, but it can cause tinnitus (buzzing or ringing in the ears) and/or hyperacusis (increased sensitivity to sounds).

The good news is ear damage due to noise exposure is almost completely preventable.  With a little knowledge, you can protect your child’s ears, as well as your own.  You can also teach your child to recognize when sounds are dangerously loud and how to protect their ears and hearing for a lifetime.  It’s a Noisy Planet has activities and suggestions for encouraging children to protect their ears.

More tips for safer listening are:

1) Turn the noise down

2) Walk away or avoid the noise

3) Take breaks from the noise

4) Block the noise or use hearing protection

5) Use the 60:60 Rule:  listen to music at 60% maximum volume for no more than 60 minutes a day.

Putting cotton or tissue in your ears may make you feel like you are protecting your ears, but most likely you are not providing appropriate protection against sound and possibly causing more damage as you may feel like you can stay longer in the noise because you have “protected” them.  You should use products that are made specifically for protecting your ears from noise.  You can purchase disposable earplugs from a pharmacy.  You can order earmuffs for you or your children.  You can even have customized earplugs made which are often more comfortable as they fit your individual ears.
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Damage due to noise is completely preventable.  First you need to recognize when a noise could potentially be dangerous, and then take step to prevent the sound from damaging the delicate structures or your ear.


 

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have noise induced hearing damage, contact an audiologist at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley for a complete hearing evaluation and more information on how you can keep the hearing that you have. Visit our website here.