Sensory Activities for Rainy Days

Every child needs sensory input to stay focused, regulated, and organized throughout the day, especially children who have sensory processing challenges. Every child has different sensory needs that need to be met each day and acquiring that input can be difficult when the weather turns rainy. Blog-Rainy Sensory Activities-Main-Landscape-01

Below are some fun and easy to do sensory activities that can be done with the whole family to ensure that your child is getting the sensory input they need:

  • Tactile/messy play is a great indoor activity for the child with tactile processing challenges:
    • Play doh/theraputty
    • Finger painting
    • Shaving cream
    • Create sensory bins of rice, beans, sand, noodles, etc.
    • Cooking/baking (allow the child to mix with their hands to explore new textures)
  • Heavy work activities and activities that provide vestibular input can be great to help regulate a sensory seeking child:
    • Obstacle courses
    • Blowing bubbles
    • Somersaults
    • Animal walk races
    • Using a rolling pin and cookie cutters while baking
  • For the anxious child or a child that has self-regulation difficulties:
    • Building forts
    • Listening to calming music
  • To increase attention, alertness, and address impulsivity challenges:
    • Freeze dance
    • Red light/green light
    • Simon Says

Be creative and have fun using these activities to brighten up a gloomy, cold day!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Is My Child Depressed? What You Should Know About Childhood Depression

What the Numbers Show

Research has shown that children, even babies, have experienced depression. In the United States alone, research studies suggest that up to one percent of babies, four percent of preschool-aged children, five percent of school-aged children, and eleven percent of adolescents meet the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Blog-Childhood Depression-Main-Landscape-01

It is important to understand the risk factors and symptoms of childhood depression to help your child receive the necessary therapeutic interventions. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents, and young adults aged 10 through 24 (http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/). Suicide is significantly linked to depression, so early detection and diagnosis is critical and sometimes even life-saving.

Symptoms of Childhood Depression

Just like adults, children are capable of changes in mood, expressing negative thoughts, but are more likely to show depressive symptoms in behavioral ways. For example, a child experiencing depression may complain of fatigue, stomach aches, headaches, or experience irritability, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep patterns. These physical symptoms, often known as somatic symptoms, are expressed physical aches and pains that are real experiences for your child, although they have no known medical causes. These somatic complaints are often common in children who experience depression. It is important to rule out physical illness or other medical problems with your pediatrician if your child is experiencing these symptoms.

What Parents Can Do to Help

Parents are a child’s greatest advocate and support, so it is important to know what to do to help your child if you suspect that he or she is struggling with depressive symptoms.

  • Talk about depression with your child. Support and encouragement through open communication help your child feel comfortable to express his or her feelings. This lets your child know that he or she is not alone, is loved, and understood.
  • Talk with your child’s pediatrician. Mental health is just as important as your child’s physical health. If you notice your child is experiencing symptoms of childhood depression, call your pediatrician to alert him or her of your child’s emotional concerns. Your pediatrician may recommend a diagnostic screening or refer to an outpatient licensed therapist.
  • Don’t ignore it! Depression is a serious mental illness that cannot be brushed aside or ignored. Ignoring your child’s emotional concerns will not help your child obtain the treatment that he or she needs to overcome depression.

Treatments Offered

Depression is a treatable illness with success rates of up to 80% for children and adolescents who receive therapeutic intervention. The other 20% may respond well to medicinal interventions along with traditional therapy (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/what-adults-need-to-know-about-pediatric-depression/). Recommended treatments include play therapy, family therapy, and individual talk therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that helps children re-frame their negative thinking patterns to help them change their self-perception and consequently, improve their mood. Cognitive behavioral therapy is goal-oriented, problem-solving focused, and is one of the most commonly used interventions to treat depression.

Medicinal options are another commonly used treatment for children who experience depression, with the goal of reducing depressive symptoms. The majority of children who take antidepressant medications will be able to stop their medication with support from their pediatrician or psychiatrist when their symptoms improve. It is important to note that the use of antidepressant medication for children and adolescents may carry a higher risk for suicidal thoughts for this population. It is imperative to receive ongoing medication monitoring to assess risk of side effects and other interactions.

I Think My Child is Depressed. What Should I Do?

If you suspect that your child may be experiencing depression, it is recommended that you contact your pediatrician. Share your concerns and plan for a medical evaluation to begin the diagnostic process. If medical testing shows no other reason for the fatigue, stomach aches, headaches, sleep, appetite changes, or sadness that often come with depression, a licensed mental health professional will evaluate further to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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The Benefits of Contact Sports: Why Your Kids Should Participate

The football draft just completed and the season is right around the corner. And while it may not seem like it now, summer is almost here. All of this means children are and will be interested in getting out there and participating in organized contact sports. But what about the risks of a concussion or other injury? Blog-Contact Sports-Main-Portrait-01

While the risk of injury will always exist in contact sports, there are also many benefits to sports. Further, much progress has been made regarding awareness, and today, families and coaches have a better understanding of the signs and symptoms of concussions. Many experts agree that the benefits of being active and playing sports outweigh the risks of possible injury.

Benefits of organized contact sports include:

  • Respect: Children learn to listen to and respect teammates, coaches and officials. Also, children learn to follow rules and respect opponents.
  • Teamwork: Organized sports teach children to work with and help teammates in order to achieve a common goal. There is no “I” in team!
  • Discipline: Sports show children that discipline and playing by the rules are valuable assets. Penalties will only set you back!
  • Organization: Participation in organized sports teaches children how to stay organized and responsible. They have to be on time, take care of their equipment, and organize amongst themselves in order to succeed.
  • Protection: Through organized sports, children learn to protect themselves, teammates, and opponents.
  • Confidence: Organized sports improves a child’s self-image and confidence. Moreover, sports teach children that they can improve their performance through hard work and practice, a valuable lesson.

And of course, children benefit from regular exercise and activity. Organized sports increase a child’s physical health and cardiovascular conditioning and decrease the risk of childhood obesity.

Here are some ways you can keep your children safe while they participate in contact sports:

  • Be vocal about safety. Engage coaches, officials, and league organizers in conversations about safe and fair play. Discuss these topics with your children as well.
  • Ensure safe and proper equipment. Depending on the sport, make sure your child is dressed in proper equipment, such as helmets, pads, and proper footwear. Make sure all equipment fits properly in order to maximize safety! Discuss your child’s equipment with coaches and league organizers if you aren’t sure.
  • Be aware of concussion signs and symptoms. Headaches, dizziness, imbalance and nausea are the most frequent indicators of concussions. Unconsciousness is not a requirement!
  • Be aware of concussion treatment guidelines. If a concussion is suspected, stop activity immediately and have the child seen by a doctor as soon as possible. Rest, both physical and mental, are key to recovering from a concussion. That, of course, means a break from physical activity, but it also means a break from school and TV.

With awareness and proper precautions, your child can experience the many benefits of organized contact sports in a safe and fun way!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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A Counselor’s Take on 13 Reasons Why

If you have a preteen or teen child, you probably have heard of the hugely popular Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. The show, based on a best-selling novel, centers around Hannah, a teenage girl who dies by suicide and leaves behind tapes to the people she feels pushed her towards ending her life. This popular and controversial show has brought in discussions about mental health, bullying, sexual assault, substance use and suicide. As a counselor, I agree that raising awareness on these topics is crucial and necessary, especially considering the frightening increasing rates of these issues. However, I am concerned about the potential impact that this show might have on young teens. Blog-13 reasons why-Main-Landscape-01

Teenagers are very vulnerable to graphic content. The show can be hard to watch, and some scenes can be potentially very triggering. Many teens are binge-watching the show, which increases concern about the possible emotional distress that can be caused by doing so. I do not recommend that anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts watches the show as it might develop potential ideas or even romanticize the idea of suicide. The problem with the ultimate fantasy is that the character does not get to change her life with suicide nor does she get to find out what happens next. Suicide is final.

13 Reasons Why also misses the mark in its failure to address mental illness or depression ( the most common risk factor in completed suicides). Depression can look differently in teens than adults.

Some risk factors include:

  • Significant sense of sadness
  • Significant irritability
  • Isolation
  • Negative comments about life
  • Loss of interest in sports, hobbies, etc.

My recommendation is that if your child wants to watch the show, you watch with them.

Although it might be hard or uncomfortable, it might bring an opportunity to discuss important topics such as:

  • Talk to your children about bullying and what it might look like. Bullying can be physical or verbal abuse, excluding others, or using the internet/social media to attack and humiliate the victim. Teach your child to not be a bystander or support bullying.
  • Talk to your child about resilience and options on how to reach out for support if they are being bullied. If children develop resilience and strong self -advocacy, it can help them further develop their self- esteem and instill courage.
  • Talk to your child about symptoms of depression. 1 in 5 teens experience depression and suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24-year-olds according to the CDC. Discussing the issue of suicide does not plant the idea. It creates the opportunity to offer help. Have a conversation with your child about trusted adults in their life that they can reach out to if they need help.
  • Listen to your child’s comments without judgment. Do not minimize or trivialize what you see. If it appears insignificant to you as an adult, remember that this is a daily reality that teens are faced with each day. Allow your child to discuss any issues without judgment or punishment.

In addition, the Jed Foundation has released a great list of additional talking points. You can check those out here: https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/

We need to use shows like 13 Reasons Why as a reminder. A reminder to be emotionally present and let children know that they are loved and supported. Children need you to be their secure base, to support their exploration, help them, enjoy with them and watch over them. Make sure to create a space for listening that is nonjudgmental and supportive.

If you need to talk, or if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 1800-273-8255 or 1800-SUICIDE (784-2433).

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Pros and Cons of Fidget Spinners for Kids

If you have children I am sure that you have come in contact with the latest social craze. Fidget spinners. In the past several months there have been Pokémon GO, Minecraft, Roblox, and even YouTube. Like all of these fads, there are positives and negatives for children to using fidget spinners. Blog-Fidget Spinners-proscons-Main-Landscape-01

Pros of fidget spinners:

  1. Good social activity – Children often like to be a part of something that is going on. Having children partake in this healthy activity will help form bonds with other children and be topics of positive communication.
  2. Helps stay focused – Children who have been diagnosed with ADHD or other cognitive impairments are more successful in an activity or assignment if they are able to control their body and movements. One way of accomplishing this is to provide a fidget or other object so their body can get the needed stimulus without them having to leave the classroom or activity.
  3. Helps children get input they otherwise wouldn’t – Similar to play therapy, where a child is engaged in an activity to help them process events that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, children who use fidget toys are able to get the sensory input they need to help them be successful. Because this sensory input is so important and can come from fidget spinners, we recently published another blog: Fidget Tools: The Bottom Line. In that blog, you will read about the importance of self-regulation when it comes to learning and why a fidget spinner may be necessary for certain children in class.

Cons of fidget spinners:

  1. Not all children are the same – Not all children require the same amount of sensory input to be successful. For the children who do not need it, the fidget toys becomes just a toy and distraction.
  2. Schools are banning them – Because they are becoming a distraction, many schools have been banning them causing students to find other ways to hide them or get around the rules. This can be even more distracting to the child in turn causing the child not to focus or learn in school.
  3. All in moderation – Similar to the other latest fads, when not used properly they do not function in the same manner. When children over use the fidget or do not use it for the intended purpose it just becomes the latest and greatest toy.

If you or your child are wanting to purchase a fidget spinner think about the reasons behind the purchase and decided if this spinner can be beneficial to the child’s learning or will just be a toy they are bringing to class.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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Fidget Spinners: The Bottom Line

A fidget tool is one sensory strategy used to help children achieve self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to maintain an optimum level of arousal in order to participate in daily activities.Blog-Fidget Spinners-Main-Landscape (1) Self-regulation is a critical component of learning, as it can impact a student’s attention, emotional regulation and impulse control; a child’s performance in the classroom is directly related to his regulatory state.

A child’s nervous system, specifically the sensory system, needs input to help achieve a regulated state to successfully complete tasks. The theory behind fidget tools is that it provides a sensory experience to increase self-regulation, attention, participation and performance.

During the school day, a child’s body works tirelessly to perform the functions necessary to participate in the classroom. Children need:

  • Muscle control and endurance to sustain a seated, upright position to sit at a desk or on the rug during circle time.
  • Auditory attention to attend to instructions and lessons, while also blocking out surrounding sounds of peers chattering, shuffling papers or chairs scooting across the floor.
  • Visual attention to read work instructions, look at the teacher during lessons and complete written work, while also blocking out other visual distractions around the classroom.
  • Impulse and body control to keep hands, legs and other body parts from touching objects or peers nearby.
  • Emotional control to regulate emotions when happy, sad, confident, frustrated or embarrassed throughout the day.

For some kids, the demands of the classroom environment exceed what their bodies can handle. This isn’t due to a lack of intelligence or willingness to learn; it stems from difficulty coping with a neurologic system that isn’t organizing and responding appropriately to a variety of sensory stimulation from the external world.

The result of a child’s inability to organize his nervous system during the school day is an increase in behaviors that are often deemed inappropriate or distracting in the classroom. Such behaviors may include inability to sit still, wandering around the room, constant touching of objects or peers, laying on the floor, emotional outbursts, not following directions or not understanding how to complete a task.

These behaviors are actually how the child attempts to regulate his body to participate in the classroom. To minimize these behaviors and increase positive participation, it is important that the child is set up for success by providing individualized strategies for him to sustain a regulated state throughout the day.

One of these strategies is the fidget tool. I frequently recommend that my clients use a fidget tool in the classroom to help sustain attention and increase performance. Fidgets come in a variety of forms including Koosh balls, stress balls, small weighted balls, small figurines or fidget spinners.

Fidget tool recommendations are always given with the stipulation that the student must understand that the fidget needs to be used appropriately. I suggest that the parent and teacher review appropriate uses for the fidget with the child (i.e keeping the fidget in the hands, under the desk in the child’s lap), inappropriate uses for the fidget (i.e. throwing the fidget, rolling the fidget, giving the fidget to a friend) and the consequences for inappropriate use of the fidget (i.e. having the fidget taken away). Laying out clear guidelines for the use of the fidget helps students know the expectations and follow the rules.

While several schools have banned the use of fidget spinners in the classroom due to the craze they have caused, as an occupational therapist I support fidget tools as a sensory, regulatory strategy, as long as clear expectations are set and rules are followed. I have seen great success in my clients’ performance and attention when they use fidgets appropriately and not as a toy.

Does that mean my child needs a fidget spinner?

Fidget spinners or tools may not be suitable for everyone. Each person’s sensory system will respond differently to various strategies and may be needed at different times during the day. Some children benefit from fidget tools during writing activities, some may benefit from the tool during lecture periods and others may require use of the fidget more frequently. There may also be children who have difficulty with self-regulation where fidget spinners or fidget tools cause increased distraction or dysregulation. Check out our other blogs for ideas on other strategies that may be incorporated in the classroom to promote optimal performance.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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5 Things to Keep in Mind When Potty Training a Child with Autism

Potty training is a big milestone for any child. It definitely is an important milestone for parents as well! No more diapers!! However, there are some things to keep in mind prior to considering potty training as well as during potty training. Blog-Potty-Training-Main-Landscape

  1. When should you consider potty training?
    • On average you would consider potty training when the child is around 2.5 years of age and above, can hold urine for 60-90 minutes, recognize the sensation of a full bladder, and show some form of awareness that they need to go to the bathroom.
    • Do at a time when you can spend large amounts of time at home! Some parents find it best to do in the summer (less clothing!).
  2. What schedule should you use when potty training?
    • You want to take your child to the bathroom every 90 minutes, if your child urinates then you wait for the next 90 minute interval, if not you reduce the time by 30 minutes.
    • Consistency is extremely important to ensure success.
  3. While on the toilet what should we do?
    • Praise your child for sitting appropriately on the toilet.
    • You can do activities with them as long as they are not too engaging or involved.
    • If they do urinate you want to CELEBRATE!
    • You need to wait up to 15 minutes if there is still no urination, then you let them get off and bring them back after 60 minutes (this keeps decreasing by 30 minutes each time there is not urination).
  4. What should you do when there is an accident?
    • It happens! Make sure you have your child help you clean it up, this is not meant to be punishing but more a natural consequence of having an accident. Keep a neutral tone and assist your child if needed to clean up the mess.
    • If your child is having too many accidents you may need to shorten the intervals of going to the toilet, or it may be that your child is not ready to be potty trained yet. Always rule out any medical reasons as well!
  5. Things to remember!
    • When starting potty training you want to make sure you child can sit on the toilet for up to 15 minutes with minimal challenging behaviors.
    • The goal is INDEPENDECE, you want to work towards your child walking to the bathroom on their own and removing and putting on their underwear and pants independently as well as washing their hands.
    • Make sure you child is in underwear throughout potty training! NO DIAPERS/PULL UPS!
    • Diapers and pull-ups are okay during nap time and bed time.
    • Number one thing to remember is PATIENCE, try to be consistently upbeat and encouraging to your child and deal with accidents as calmly as possible!

It is important to ensure that potty training is as positive an experience as possible for your child! Maintain your positive energy and constantly praise appropriate behavior seen throughout the potty training process! This will encourage your child to become more independent as well as want to go to the bathroom more often on their own!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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