How to Teach Play Skills to a Child With Autism

Play skills are one of the most important areas that children, especially those with Autism, need to learn. These skills provide opportunities for the child to entertain themselves in meaningful ways, interact with others, and learn important cognitive skills. A successful way to teach play skills to children with autism is to initially teach the specific play skill in a very structured manner. Play Skills

  • Break the play skill into small, discrete steps and teach one step at a time. As the child demonstrates success in learning one step, add the next step. (After the child can add eyes to Mr. Potato Head, then add ears, then arms, etc.)
  • Use modeling to teach the skill (e.g. the adult builds a tower of Legos as the child watches, then the child builds his own tower).
  • Always provide reinforcement (behavior specific praise “Nice job putting the piece in the puzzle”, immediately following the child’s demonstration of the skill.). As the child exhibits improved accuracy of the skill, reinforce successive approximations.
  • The child should have plenty of opportunities to rehearse the skill in a structured setting. Practice, practice, practice!
  • In the structured setting, have the learning opportunities be short and sweet, so the task does not become aversive to the child.
  • Fade the adult prompting and presence out gradually, so the child can gain more independence. Systematically fade the reinforcement so that it is provided after longer durations.
  • Remember to keep the activity fun and exciting. You want your child to WANT to play with the toys and games.

Once the child masters the skill in the structured environment by independently completing the play tasks for extended periods of time, he or she can then begin to practice and develop the skill in more natural settings. Bring the toys and games into other rooms of the house, to school, and eventually have peers present, so the child can use the skills learned in a social setting.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonDeerfieldLincolnwoodGlenviewLake BluffDes PlainesHinsdale 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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Why is Mindset Important for Child Development?

Kids thrive on pleasing their parents, so when your child does something well you want to praise them! Have you ever said “you are so smart” or “you are so talented” at a sport? It’s not that simple, as the way you praise them can impact their confidence and drive. Blog-Mindset-Main-Landscape

As an example, our son picked up a baseball bat at 2 ½ years old and was able to hit a pitched ball (no tee!) that same day. I was an extremely proud dad, especially since all the other parents at the park were clearly impressed. We enthusiastically complimented his natural talent and he seemed so proud. When we signed him up for a t-ball team his enthusiasm faded and we noticed he was less interested in trying to learn the game. We wondered why he was not excited to play.

My wife and I noticed some patterns at home and school. He would only attempt tasks that he felt confident or had already possessed a level of skill. As it turns out, what we were doing when we were praising his natural ability was feeding into his ‘fixed mindset’. With a fixed mindset, Carol Dweck writes in her book Mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or athleticism, are fixed traits and don’t change over time. They believe their talent alone creates success—without effort.

So how do we make sure that we are praising our kids ‘the right way’ to be sure they give their full effort? One idea is to encourage them to have a ‘growth mindset’ – where people believe their skills and abilities can be developed over time through hard work.

When our son took up hockey and was learning to skate we saw this as an opportunity to try out a growth mindset. We were determined to focus on praising his effort since we knew learning to skate would be potentially frustrating for a kid who is naturally athletic. We talked with him beforehand about how hard it would be, that he would fall a lot, but getting back up and trying again was most important and after each session we were enthusiastic about his effort.

And guess what? It worked! Towards the end of the 8 week session he even started coming off the ice bragging to us about how hard he worked. Even though he was not the fastest or best skater on the ice he was proud of his own resilience and what HE accomplished. As parents, we too were bursting with pride for him!

I strongly encourage you to ask yourself how you can start incorporating this type of growth mindset approach with your own children. Learn to recognize how you praise your children and ask questions such as “What did you try that was difficult or challenging today?” I bet you’ll be surprised how quickly you will see a positive impact. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

FIXED MINDSET (Intelligence is static) → Leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to…→ (Challenges) avoid challenges → (Obstacles) …get defensive or give up easily → (Effort) …see effort as fruitless or worse → (Criticism)…ignore useful negative feedback → (Success of Others) …feel threatened by the success of others → AS A RESULT, they may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.

GROWTH MINDSET (Intelligence can be developed) → Leads to a desire to learn and therefore a tendency to…→ (Challenges) embrace challenges → (Obstacles) …persist in the face of setbacks → (Effort) …see effort as the path to mastery → (Criticism)…learn from criticism →(Success of Others) …find lessons and inspiration in the success of others → AS A RESULT, they reach ever-higher levels of achievement.

References:

Dweck, C. S. (2006) Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

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!

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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Fostering Independence in Your Child

Picture this: your 6 year old carries his cereal bowl to the sink, leaving a trail of milk along the way. Your initial impulse might be to tell him to leave the bowl and let you take care of it. Blog-Independence-Main-Landscape

Picture this: your 11 year old daughter has just showered and washed her hair in less than 15 minutes and you highly suspect that either she didn’t use shampoo, or didn’t thoroughly wash herself, or both. You have the impulse to tell her to come over so you can check to see if her hair is thoroughly rinsed.

Finally, picture this: your 12 year old son is putting the finishing touches on his science fair project and you see that his poster is written in black ink with no additional color or pictures. You have the impulse to tell him that what his poster really needs is a pop of bold color to make it stand out.

What do these scenarios have in common? They are opportunities for our children to learn independence!

One of the toughest jobs of a parent is to allow a child to fall down, scrape a knee, lose a championship, receive a low grade, wear mismatched clothing, and tell a botched joke. Taking care of, preventing disappointment/messes/hurt feelings/embarrassment and a long list of other unpleasant experiences is part of the fabric of our parenting instincts, however, by doing these things we deny our children learning opportunities that they need as much as the shelter, food and love that we provide.

How do we foster independence? We accept the fact that childhood gets messy, uncomfortable, embarrassing, unpredictable and sad. We allow ourselves to feel the discomfort that we know our child may feel, and we tell ourselves that the feeling will pass and our child will be stronger and more resilient because of it. As we allow our child to pour his own milk, make her bed, select his outfit, style her hair and create that special Playdough, glitter and Styrofoam center piece, we promote problem solving, self-motivation, creativity and independence.

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 Difference Between Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Trying to figure out different ways to approach behavior can be overwhelming and frustrating. One thing to always remember is to try and focus on reinforcing the behavior you want to see moreBlog-Reinforcement-Main-Landscape
than punishing the behavior you are wanting to decrease. Using positive and negative reinforcement can both help achieve the same goal of increasing the behavior you would like to see more of.

The difference between positive and negative reinforcement is simple. The use of positive reinforcement is adding something (typically something that is liked) to the environment after a behavior occurs that will increase the future instance of that behavior. The use of negative reinforcement is taking away something (typically something that is not liked) from the environment after a behavior occurs that will increase future instances of that behavior.

 Examples of positive reinforcement include:

  • Giving a praise after a specific appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.
  • Earning a special treat after a specific appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.
  • Getting a 5 minute 1:1 time with parent after a specific appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.

Examples of negative reinforcement include:

  • Removing a chore from the chore list from the schedule after a specific appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.
  • Taking away a specific school related task after appropriate behavior occurs and then that behavior continues to increase.

The key to making sure either type of reinforcement is working is to measure and track the behavior and see if that behavior is increasing over time!

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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10 Common Household Items to Develop Fine Motor Skills

The building blocks for fine motor success begins on day one. Skill development is commonly observed when the child becomes explorative in their environment and increasingly independent. Independence in age appropriate tasks is often a great measure of where they are developmentally. Specifically, the common influencing skills for fine motor development are strength, coordination, visual perception and motor planning. To assist in maturation of these skill areas you can engage your child in simple activities with things you may already have around the house! Blog-Home Fine Motor Skills-Main-Landscape

10 great tools you may find around the house to develop fine motor skills:

  • Broken crayons– Don’t get rid of those broke crayons! Coloring with these can assist with precision, hand strength and grasp maturity.
  • Q-tips– They can be utilized for painting, dotting and erasing from a chalk or white board. Fine motor precision and grasp maturity are challenged in activities with Q-tips.
  • Clothes pins– Transferring small items while playing different games such as matching, minute to win it, and relay races. Clothes pins also assist with motor planning, strength, and coordination.
  • Tweezers– This is another great tool for transferring small items while playing different games that addresses motor planning, strength, and coordination skills.
  • Child safe scissors– Begin with snipping construction paper and progress into more complex activities such as cutting shapes. To start, make a fun fringed edge for a picture they drew or advanced beginners can make a snowflake with parental assistance. Cutting activities can be difficult, but it significantly addresses coordination, strength, visual motor, and motor planning skills.
  • Legos– These small pieces may hurt when stepped on, but they are great for coordination, precision, visual attention, and strength.
  • Small blocks– Blocks can be used in many ways. A few suggestions would be to stack, string, and build various structures. Blocks are wonderful tools for coordination, visual perception, and grasp maturity.
  • Play Doh– Great way to mature manipulation, coordination, strength, and creativity skills.
  • Shaving cream– A fun way to practice their drawing skills in a non-traditional pencil and paper way. This can assist with precision and motor maturity as well.
  • Spray bottle– Clean up from the shaving cream and painting activities with a spray bottle filled with water. This can really test as well as develop the child’s grasp strength and endurance.

**All activities should be closely supervised and supported by an adult.

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

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How to Use Visual Supports at Home for Language Development

For children with receptive and expressive language disorders, visual supports can be powerful tools when communicating. Visual supports are beneficial to aid in not only the comprehension of language, but also to improve expression of language. These visuals can provide a child with information they are missing when comprehending language or speaking. Visual supports are so universal and easily to utilize that they can be implemented seamlessly in the home environment.

How to use visual supports to improve language comprehension:

For children that experience deficits in language comprehension, visual aids are a great way to improve their ability to comprehend instructioVisual Supportsns, rules of an activity, and expectations. Here are some examples of ways to create visual aids for receptive language tasks.

  • Visual schedules can be pictorial, written or both. It is important to tailor the schedule to the child’s abilities. For children with receptive language deficits, hearing their schedule for the day can be confusing and maybe, even a little scary. By presenting a visual schedule, paired with a verbal description, a child will receive the information via two avenues of communication, which will likely improve comprehension of what to expect.
  • A Listening Chart, as shown below, visually depicts the components to being a good listener. When expectations or rules are presented only verbally, information is often forgotten. By using a visual to depict expectations, the child will be more successful and can easily remind him or herself of what actions need to be completed.
  • Presenting choices visually can be a powerful tool for children who have receptive language deficits. For example, if there are two choices for snack (e.g., pretzels or grapes), you can present two pictures of these food items when asking the child what he or she would like to eat.

How to use visual supports to improve language production:

The use of visual aids for language production is slightly more diverse than those utilized for language comprehension. Visual aids for language expression are often used to help a child initiate communication, participate appropriately in a conversation, and to expand utterances. Here are some examples of visual aids used to improve expressive language skills.Smash Mats

  • Smash mats are a great tool to use to expand a child utterance length (e.g., from two word to three words). As shown here, a smash mat can be as simple as three dots on a page. When modeling a sentence, you can touch a dot as you say each word (e.g., Girl is swinging or I want goldfish). You can make smash mats even more enticing by adding a playdoh ball to each dot. Smash mats are also great, because as your child continues to progress in their expressive language skills, you can continue to increase the length of their utterance by adding additional dots to your mat.
  • A Topic Tree is one of many visual aids that can be used during conversations. The topic tree is specifically for topic maintenance (i.e., staying on the same topic of conversation with your
    communication partner). For example, if you are talking about Christmas with your child, each time that you make a comment, ask a question or appropriately respond on the topic of Christmas, you put a leaf on the tree. This is an easy DIY visual aid you can make at home!
  • A Yes/No Board is a great visual aid for an emerging communicator. It is a simple visual depiction of the concepts of “yes” and “no.” Yes/No boards can be visually Y-N Boards2displayed in a variety of ways as shown below. When asking a child a Y/N question, by presenting the child with this visual, you are not only cueing the child that you are asking a question, but also providing the child with the appropriate response choices.Y-N Board

All of these visual aids will not only increase a child’s engagement in a daily activity, but also aid in making transitions smoother. Visual aids can be implemented at any age and in any environment.

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

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Why Crossing Midline is Important for Development

As babies grow and develop certain milestones are often celebrated, such as rolling, sitting, crawling, and walking. As a pediatric occupational therapist, one of the milestones I always celebrate might not be visible to the untrained eye. Crossing midline, defined as the ability to reach across the body’s invisible midline with your arms or legs to perform tasks on the opposite side of the body, is a required skill for many higher level coordination activities. Blog Crossing Midline Main-Landscape

This skill typically develops around 18 months of age. Oftentimes when children are referred for occupational therapy due to poor fine motor skills, handwriting, or coordination, they are not crossing midline efficiently.

Some ways to observe whether or not your child is crossing midline efficiently include:

  • Watching to see if your child switches hands during drawing tasks. Do they switch from left hand to right hand to avoid their arm crossing over when drawing lines across paper?
  • Evaluating hand dominance: by age 6, children should have developed a hand dominance. Children with poor midline integration may not yet have developed a hand dominance.
  • Tracking an object across midline: this can be observed during reading, as decreased midline integration can lead to poor ocular motor skill development required for scanning.
  • Observing ball skills: children who are not yet crossing midline may have a difficult time crossing their dominant leg over their non-dominant leg to kick a ball forward.
  • Assessing self-care skills: putting on socks, shoes, and belts may be extremely difficult as these are activities that require one hand to cross over to assist the other in the process.

Children who have difficulty crossing midline may not be able to keep up with their peers, which may cause increased frustration during participation at school and in social situations. In addition, crossing midline is a required skill needed in order to complete more challenging bilateral coordination activities, such as cutting with scissors, using a fork and knife to cut food, tying shoe laces, writing out the alphabet, and engaging in sports.

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

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How to Help a Child Who is Struggling with Self-Esteem

As children get older and start spending more time with peers, it is natural that they begin comparing themselves to others. It’s healthy for children to want to excel and do their best, but itBlog-Self-Esteem-Main-Landscape becomes problematic when it comes at the expense of their self-esteem. Self-esteem can take time to develop and strengthen, but there are some things you can do to help enhance it during the earlier years.

What to Look for in a Child with Low Self-Esteem

If you notice your child making a lot of negative self-statements, this is indicative that he or she may be struggling with self-esteem. Negative self-statements are self-deprecating and tend to represent black and white thinking patterns. An example of a negative self-statement would be “I am dumb” or “I will never be good at this.”

It is very healthy for children to develop interests or hobbies and to spend time around others who enjoy similar things. Explore a variety of activities with your child and try to provide him/her with options. Whether it’s a cooking class or swimming lessons, your child is bound to show interest in something. Listen to your child and give him/her the autonomy to choose something that really interests him/her. Check out your local park district or community center to see what programs they offer. The Chicago Park District has dozens of wonderful programs and activities that may interest your child.

Each child has their own strengths, talents, and qualities that make them unique. That being said, it is great to point them out when you notice them! It is human nature to enjoy hearing that others are noticing the things we are doing well. At the same time, it is important to help your child understand that they are not defined by their achievements. Think about some adjectives that describe your child (i.e. compassionate, kind, caring). These intrinsic qualities are really what makes someone special – not the amount of trophies or ribbons on their shelf. Plant Love Grow is a wonderful website that has lots of self-esteem boosting activities that you and your child can do together.

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

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