Anxiety Disorders in Children

Although anxiety is often thought of as an adult problem, it’s also a childhood disorder. While children do not face the same life obstacles as adults, they have their own issues and struggles. 

Anxiety may be rooted in a specific phobia, such as fear of the dark or fear of spiders, or it may be related to specific situations, such as school or social phobias. Separation anxiety or significant difficulty with transition is often seen in children as well, as is generalized anxiety and discomfort with the unknown and unpredictable.

Children may manifest symptoms of anxiety in several different ways. While some children are able to articulate their fears and stressors, others may express their anxiety through somatization of symptoms, avoidance behaviors, crying, or tantrums.

Anxiety in children should be addressed the same in home and school settings with the goals of identifying the sources of anxiety and learning adaptive coping skills.

Areas of focus in therapy should include:

  • Learning techniques to address emotional regulation
  • Learning strategies to improve impulse control, self-regulation, and on-task behavior
  • Learning and practicing relaxation techniques
  • Promoting emotional identification and social skills development
  • Developing skills to promote healthy self-esteem and decrease negative self-statements.

Children dealing with anxiety in the school environment should also receive academic accommodations and services, whether through a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Parents are encouraged to work with school staff to develop the plan.

Some recommendations may include:

  • School social work services or social groups
  • Isolated and quiet areas for completion of assignments and tests
  • Extended time for the completion of tests and assignments
  • Structured physical classroom to minimize distractions (e.g., seat near quiet students at the front of the classroom, clearing desk of materials not essential to the immediate task)
  • Ample repetition of novel information and multi-step instructions
  • Providing information in small chunks and one assignment at time
  • Allowing movement breaks, as appropriate, to provide kinesthetic release and promote leadership within the classroom (e.g., handing out papers, collecting assignments)
  • Allowing the student to take a break when needed to collect him or herself or talk to a trusted adult.

Extra-curricular programming and relaxation (e.g., art, drama, playing a musical instrument, yoga, martial arts, running) are also recommended, as they have been proven beneficial in supporting the development of self-regulatory capacity. It is recommended that children participate in structured social or athletic activities in order to facilitate healthy peer relations and self-esteem.

There is often a strong chemical component in children with anxiety disorders. In some instances a combination of therapeutic intervention and pharmacological intervention will yield the best outcome. It is recommended that parents consult with their child’s pediatrician to learn about the potential risks and benefits of pharmacological treatment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most empirically supported format for therapy in addressing anxiety. Resources are also available for families through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website, www.adaa.org. Other resources for families include workbooks such as the What to Do When You Worry Too Much series by Dawn Huebner and The Coping Cat by Philip C. Kendall.

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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Increase Your Child’s Executive Functioning Skills

As we previously learned in our blog What Are Executive Functioning Skills?, executive functioning skills are what help all of us achieve goal-directed behaviors. They are the building blocks of successful planning, appropriate communication and relationships, and task-oriented behaviors. Executive Functioning

To help your child increase his/her executive functioning skills, we must look at the whole child. If there are other issues, those must be addressed with qualified professionals, supportive family members and school staff.

To help your child become a prepared, organized individual, increase his self-esteem and aid him in social situations, executive functioning skills are crucial.

It is never too late to offer and obtain help; and for your child to learn the skills needed to increase his abilities. As with any skill, it will take effort, practice, praise and patience.

Try these tips to help your child improve their executive functioning skills:

Pre-school and Elementary School

Helping your child increase executive functioning skills may involve adding more structure to his environment.

Aid your child with putting out clothes the night before school or having her backpack ready at the door. Show your child how to put away her toys and allow her to do it on her own.

Do homework shortly after she gets home and in the same spot each time, with minimal distractions. If she is having trouble with staying on task at school, then the school may offer (and you can advocate for) accommodations through an Individual Education Plan.

Demonstrate through your actions and encouragement that being prepared is a positive message that creates less stress for her and the entire family. Model being on time and planning ahead. Use a calendar to plan playdates and appointments, and encourage your child’s participation in basic planning skills (like setting the table for dinner, studying for a spelling quiz, or writing a card for an upcoming party).

Help her notice when it is her turn to talk, and how others feel if she interrupts. Ask her to think about others’ feelings and behaviors and how her actions or words may impact them.

Middle School and High School

As your child gets older, help him to develop skills aimed at organization and time management. Continue encouraging your child to prepare for school the night before. Sit in the same place to do homework every day. Try to begin assigned work when still fresh and not wait until late at night.

Use an assignment notebook. If needed, have the teacher sign it, check it and give it back to provide accountability. Offer positive reinforcement for fulfilling goals. Limit electronics and distractions. Use a timer to discourage procrastination. Give praise.

Enlist help from the school. If your child’s grades are extremely inconsistent, his work is disorganized and he continually forgets to bring/do homework assignments, it is likely time to speak to your child’s teacher, counselor or social worker.

Your child may need further accommodations at school. These may be resource time to finish homework, meetings with the counselor for encouragement, checking his backpack and locker, preferential seating in class, checking of his assignment notebook to ensure he is writing down his assignments and knows what is expected.

College Years and Beyond

The goal is for our children to be prepared to not just handle the world of work and daily living on their own, but to be happy and successful doing so. Using executive functioning skills such as time management, planning, and organization enables kids to be successful when they are on their own. Being prepared for a work presentation takes planning, time constraint considerations, and organization.

Increase confidence in your child and help him build positive relationships as he learns to navigate social interactions, anticipate possible outcomes and problem-solve to come up with potential consequences of his behavior.

Executive functioning skills will allow your child to cope with many of the stresses presented in his daily life.

Let’s help our children now to increase executive functioning skills that will allow them to be productive and successful in their future. Help them continue to blossom!

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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How to Choose a Halloween Costume for a Child With Sensory Processing Disorder

Halloween is a time for kids to dress up in fun costumes, however, this may be very uncomfortable for kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Kids with SPD may find certain clothing uncomfortable due to tactile sensitivities. This may range from kid-to-kid; some kids may prefer to wear loose fitted clothing, some may prefer to wear clothes that are tight, and some kids may prefer to wear soft clothing. It is best to explore which type of clothing your child prefers prior to picking out a Halloween costume. Halloween

Once you know which type of clothing best suits your child, you can then begin to find what Halloween costume will be most comfortable for them to wear.

Here are some recommendations to make your search for a Halloween costume easier:

  • Allow your child to be a part of the process of choosing a Halloween costume and try to incorporate their favorite things.
  • Never force your child to wear a costume.
  • It may be helpful to find costumes that are seamless and do not have tags.
  • Wash the costume prior to your child wearing it.
  • Allow your child to wear their costume prior to Halloween.
  • Masks and face paint may be uncomfortable for a child with SPD. It will be helpful to practice wearing a mask or putting on face paint prior to Halloween to see if your child can tolerate the feeling of having it on his or her face. If your child decides to wear a mask, allow them to remove it if needed. Also, if your child decides to wear face paint, make sure to bring facial wipes in case you need to remove it from his or her face.

It is more important that your child is comfortable in his or her Halloween costume, rather than what costume they wear. It will be helpful to know what type of clothing your child finds comfortable and what clothing they find uncomfortable in order to find the best costume for his or her needs.

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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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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What Are Executive Function Skills?

Many of us have heard executive functioning used in terms of our children at school and at home. But what does it mean? Executive Function Blog

Executive Function – a Definition

Executive functions are necessary for goal-directed behavior. When we use the phrase “executive functioning skills,” we are describing a set of cognitive skills that control and regulate other behaviors and abilities. Our thought processes influence attention, memory and motor skills. (minddisorders.com).

Executive functioning skills help us to learn and retrieve information, plan, organize, manage our time, and see potential outcomes and act accordingly. When these processes work without difficulty, our brains do these tasks automatically, often without our awareness.

High Executive Function

In children and adults, those with high executive function skills are able to:

  • Initiate and stop actions
  • Make changes in behavior
  • Plan for the future
  • Manage time wisely
  • Anticipate possible consequences
  • Use problem-solving strategies
  • Use senses to gather information

For instance, the ability to initiate and stop actions may include working on a project for school or studying for an allotted time. Monitoring ones changes in behavior includes being able to act appropriately in a given situation and alter that behavior as needed. Planning for the future and managing time may include not procrastinating due to understanding the consequences of doing so.

Low Executive Function

When one is deficient in executive function skills, it may be difficult to plan and carry out tasks. The person may seem unable to sustain attention and feel overwhelmed by situations others find easier to navigate.

People with deficits in this area may also have comorbid diagnoses (meaning they go together). These include, but are not limited to: Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder, Autism, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Executive functioning deficits may run in families (learningdisabilities.about.com).

So, a child with executive functioning deficits may be able to pay attention to a lesson, until something new is introduced that requires a shift in their attention or that divides their focus. Children lacking in executive functioning skills also may have issues with verbal fluency.

Additionally, a child (or adult) with low executive function may have social problems. Executive functioning skills allow us to anticipate how others might feel if we do or say something. Those with low executive function may have difficulty interacting with others. Because they sometimes do not think things through before saying them, people with executive functioning deficits may blurt out inappropriate or hurtful comments, leading others to avoid them.

Working with your child, a therapist, and creating structure at home and accommodation plans at school are all ways to provide help for your child.

Increasing executive functioning skills will enable her to become a more organized, less stressed and less frustrated individual as she grows into a world of ever-increasing pressures.

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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Why School Speech-Language Screens are Important

A school speech-language screening allows a speech-language pathologist to observe the child’s language understanding and use, production of speech sounds, vocal and nasal quality, and social language skills. The screening typically follows a checklist that a speech-language pathologist administers in approximately 15-20 minutes. 

Most screening tools yield a “pass” or “did not pass”. If a child did not pass the screening, then a comprehensive full speech-language evaluation is recommended. Following this process, an intervention plan is created and proposed if needed.

A hearing screening is equally important and recommended upon entering kindergarten. The screening is typically a hand raising game an audiologist administers in approximately 10 minutes. If a child did not pass the screening, a comprehensive full hearing test is typically recommended. Normal hearing in children is important for normal language development.  If a child has hearing problems, it can cause problems with their ability to learn, speak or understand language.

Speech and language skills are used in every part of learning and communicating with other children in school. In kindergarten, children learn the routine and structure of a typical school day and need to be able to follow directions, understand ideas learned in class, communicate well with their peers and teachers, practice early literacy skills and use appropriate social skills within the classroom and during play.

Screenings can be a great tool to determine if a child warrants a full speech-language or hearing evaluation. A screening alone is not diagnostically reliable and should only be used as a tool to decide if an evaluation is necessary.

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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How to Get Your Kid to Sleep in Their Own Bed

Bedtime can be a stressful time of the day for both children and their parents. Getting your child to sleep in their own bed at night can be quite the challenge. Figuring out what works best for you and your child can be exhausting and may require a trial-and-error process. Sleep Blog

If you are searching for ideas to help your child sleep in their own bed at night, you may be interested in exploring some of the options below:

Bedtime routine

  • A bedtime routine is extremely important if you are having a difficult time getting your child to stay in their own bed. It may be helpful to have them take a warm bath, put on their pajamas, brush their teeth and pick out a book, as well as a stuffed animal to sleep with before getting into bed. Establishing a before-bed routine will reduce your child’s stress levels and assist with falling asleep, staying asleep throughout the night and waking up feeling refreshed. Many children benefit from a visual schedule, so that they can follow a step-by-step picture sequence of their routine.
  • During the hour or so before bed, make sure your child engages in calming activities. Activities that are alerting or stressful for your child can make the transition into bedtime more difficult. Examples of calming activities may include guided meditation, listening to calming music, yoga, drawing or reading a book.
  • Keep in mind that consistency is key! It is important to establish a routine and stick with it, even if you may not be noticing immediate results.

Gradual transition

  • Be sure to give your child ample warning time before bedtime approaches. Moreover, do not suddenly tell your child that it is time for bed while they are in the middle of their favorite activity. It is beneficial to give them a reminder that bedtime is approaching, roughly an hour before they should be asleep, with consistent warnings until it is time to go to sleep. If your child has not yet mastered the concept of time, using a timer can assist with this.

Bedtime fading

  • Another option is a concept called “bedtime fading.” This is putting your child to sleep somewhat later than their usual bedtime, so that they are more tired and fall asleep faster. After doing this for a few days, you can gradually shorten the time down closer to their actual bedtime. For example, if bedtime is typically 8 p.m., put your child to bed at 8:30 for a few days. Then 8:15 and so forth, until you get back down to 8. This allows them to gradually learn to fall asleep alone, especially if they prefer to have a parent with them in the room in order to fall asleep.
  • Your child may also benefit from keeping their bedroom door open. A child may feel better falling asleep on their own if the door is open at least halfway. If they do not stay in their bed, the door gets closed. You can also try using a nightlight to increase their level of comfort while they are trying to fall asleep.
  • Gradually moving yourself out of the room may also be beneficial. Explain to your child that you will stay on the floor next to them until they fall asleep. The following night on a chair nearby, etc. After a few days, the goal will be to phase yourself out of their room.

Reward system

  • A reward system works well for many children, especially during bedtime. If your child lays in their own bed without coming out, they can earn a breakfast treat or pick a prize out of a bin of options such as stickers or toys of your choice. You can even place that reward on a shelf in their room, so they know it is there for them in the morning. If your child comes out of bed throughout the night, they do not receive a reward; however, can try again the next night. It is best not to bring too much attention to the fact that they were unable to achieve the reward and focus more on earning it for the following day.

Re-direction

  • The first time your child gets up from their bed, take them by their hand, walk them back to bed and calmly state that it is bedtime and they need to go to sleep. The second time, do the same thing but just say the word “bedtime.” If it happens again, say nothing and silently walk your child back to bed. The less talking, the better, as to bring less attention to the situation.

Praise your child

  • Saying your final “goodnight” should be brief. You may want to discuss how your child’s day went and what will take place tomorrow. Praising your child for something he or she did during the day that you were proud of them for will help them to fall asleep on a positive note.

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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How to Talk to Your Children About Hurricane Harvey

In the age of social media and 24 hour news coverage, information spreads faster than ever and parents cannot always screen what their children are seeing. Children will have their own reactions to what they see and this will elicit emotional responses that they often do not know how to handle. Hurricane Harvey

Below are tips to help you explain Hurricane Harvey to your children:

  • Make them feel safe. Whatever you say, end with the message that they don’t need to worry—even if, as an adult, you know that’s not necessarily true.
    • You want them to feel that their little world is still secure. Remind them that there are a lot of people to protect them and that lots of people are working to make sure resources and safety plans are always available.
    • Sit down and have a family meeting to ensure that everyone knows what to do in an emergency. Having set plans will help your child with the fear of the unknown and give them solid ground.
  • Find out what they know and correct any misperceptions.
    • School-age children have undoubtedly heard about the tragedy from their friends, in the classroom and on TV. It’s still important to find out exactly what they know before you start talking.
  • Ask them what they think and how it makes them feel.
    • If they are experiencing anxiety or stress, give them coping skills to work through those feelings.
      • Deep Breathing Exercises
      • Journaling/Coloring pictures about the event
      • Mediation/Mindfulness Exercises

Educate your children on the importance of helping those in need during natural disaster situations such as this. Don’t focus on the destruction, but on the people who are there assisting others.

Here is how your family can help:

  • Find a local food pantry and donate supplies such as canned goods, diapers, pet supplies
  • Contact local Red Cross Chapters and ask how you can help
  • Have a lemonade stand and donate the proceeds to helping families in need

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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Back to School with ADHD

Executive functioning skills are daily requirements for everyone, especially for school-age children who are required to be organized, pay attention, plan, and manage their time. Children with attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD) often struggle with executive functioning tasks that can negatively impact their attitude towards school, academic achievement and performance, and overall emotional well-being. 

Common experiences of children with ADHD include:

  • Difficulty remembering to submit or complete assignments
  • Forgetting instructions
  • Poor organizational skills and planning
  • Avoidance of difficult or time consuming tasks
  • Emotional dysregulation

It is imperative that preparations are made to provide skills and systems that will assist children with ADHD to have a successful school year and to enjoy learning.

Some steps to prepare your child with ADHD for the school year include:

  1. Create structure at home, teach and practice executive functioning skills.
  2. Encourage your child to make a to-do list for each day and check off items at the end of the day (parents can also create a list of their own and model this behavior for their child).
  3. Create a system that helps with organization of room and or study area, so items and books can be easily stored and located.
  4. Teach and model accountability by checking in at the beginning and end of the day.
  5. Allow appropriate natural consequences and implement logical consequences for behaviors.
  6. Allow your child to advocate for themselves at home, so that they will be confident to advocate at school.
  7. Work with your child to teach responsibility and develop skills.
  8. Play games that reinforce executive functioning skills (i.e. Jenga, Max, Distraction, AnimaLogic, and No Stress Chess).
  9. Maintain daily routine during days off and weekends.
  10. Get a neuropsychological assessment, so that school-based accommodations can be put in place.

Overall, ensure that your child is learning to manage their time, is building good habits, and is completing tasks.

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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Hand Flapping: When to Worry

Many people correlate hand flapping with only Autism, however this is not the case. All children could exhibit a hand flapping behavior when they are in a heightened emotional state including when anxious, excited, and/or upset.  Many believe that children with Autism will engage in hand flapping as a self-stimulatory activity, which can be accompanied by other stimming behaviors like rocking and/or spinning. Blog-Hand Flapping-Main-Landscape

Children with autism are often extremely sensitive to specific sensations and sounds that may not effect someone who is not on the spectrum. Environments in which there are multiple sounds, loud noises, and crowds can cause distress for some individuals with and even without autism. Hand flapping is seen as a way to escape the over stimulating sensory input present in the environment.

Other times when hand flapping can be observed in children (both verbal and non-verbal) is when they are trying to express or communicate to others around them. It is viewed as them trying to express that they are: happy, excited, anxious, or angry. In cases like these, families and professionals often feel that hand flapping should not be a concern, stopped, or corrected.

Hand flapping would be something to worry about when and if it impacts a child’s functional daily living ability, for example if it impacts their ability to navigate their environment safely.

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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