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Occupational Therapy’s Role in Improving Self-Care Performance in Children

The role of the occupational therapist, when working with clients of any age, is to support participation and daily functioning. For a child, one of the primary occupations is self-care. Self-care Blog-Self-Care-Skills-Main-Landscapeskills, which include feeding, toileting, dressing, bathing and grooming, are classified as Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s), because they are a critical part of a child’s overall health and participation each and every day. In order to participate in self-care, a child must have component skills within a variety of performance areas, and delays in any of these areas can make seemingly simple tasks feel nearly impossible.

During an initial evaluation, an occupational therapist will help you determine which performance deficits or barriers within the child’s environment are causing your child to struggle with self-care. The OT will first obtain information by asking you questions about your home setup, your family’s routines, what kind of assistance your child currently needs to perform age-appropriate self-care skills, and what your goals are in terms of self-care independence.

These questions will help the therapist obtain a snapshot of your child’s current self-care performance and provide more information about the home environment in which your child is performing. The therapist will also complete a comprehensive evaluation of your child’s underlying skills through clinical observation and standardized testing to determine potential causes of delayed self-care skills.

Below are a variety of performance areas an occupational therapist will assess that could contribute to self-care performance:

  • Motor performance: A child’s physical ability to perform the motor tasks required for a self-care skill is dependent on his or her strength and endurance, range of motion, body awareness, grasp, manual dexterity, and bilateral coordination. In addition, a child may have decreased motor planning, or difficulty generating an idea for and executing a specific movement pattern.
    • Example: A child may be unable to tie his shoes because he cannot maintain a pincer grasp on the shoelaces.
  • Executive Functioning and Attention: A child may have difficulty sustaining attention to a self-care task, sequencing the steps of a task in an efficient order, or remembering when and how to do the task at all.
    • Example: A child may not be able to remember or mix up the order of steps to tying shoes.
  • Sensory Modulation: A child may have decreased sensory modulation, or ability to filter out irrelevant sensory stimuli. Children with poor sensory modulation may be hypersensitive to input, which can often make children very uncomfortable in their own skin, easily distractible, or easily upset and overwhelmed. Other children may be hyposensitive and not notice certain important sensory input. You can read more about how sensory processing impacts self-care and hygiene in one of our other blogs, “Horrible Haircuts and Terrible Toothpaste” http://nspt4kids.com/occupational-therapy/horrible-haircuts-and-terrible-toothpaste-helping-your-child-with-sensory-processing-disorder-tolerate-hygiene/
    • Example: A hypersensitive child may be bothered by the feeling of their socks and refuse to wear tie shoes; a hyposensitive child may not notice that his shoes feel or look funny when on the wrong feet.

Once the evaluation is complete, the occupational therapist will be able to determine if the child would benefit from ongoing occupational therapy. Future treatment would focus not only practicing specific self-care skills, but also engaging in activities that facilitate the overall development of underlying motor, sensory integration, and executive functioning abilities. In addition, the therapist will work with you to adapt your child’s environment through the use of home modifications, visual supports, and adaptive equipment to support performance. Through all of these modalities, the occupational therapist will be able to increase your child’s participation in self-care activities, thereby increasing his or her independence and overall development.

Check out one of our previous blogs on self-care written by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst: Self-Care Skills for Children with Autism

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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Amanda Langer

Amanda Langer

Amanda Averack Langer, MS, OTR/L, is also a licensed occupational therapist. Originally from Connecticut, Amanda attended college at the University of Rochester, where she pursued a double major in Brain and Cognitive Science and Music. Prior to obtaining her license in occupational therapy, Amanda gained experience in special education as a 4th grade resource teacher. She also has experience in inclusive and adaptive arts programming for children and adolescents with special needs. Amanda attended the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she received her master's degree in Occupational Therapy. Amanda has clinical experience at OTA-The Koomar Center, a world-renowned pediatric clinic engaged in research and treatment of Sensory Processing Disorders, as well as the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago working adults undergoing physical and neurological rehabilitation. When she is not working with NSPT, Amanda loves to cook, attend concerts and plays, enjoy the outdoors, and sing with her a cappella group, the Southport Singers.

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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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Shelly Sears

Shelly Sears

Graduated from Western Michigan University with both her undergraduate and graduate degrees. Shelly has a master’s of science in occupational therapy with a concentration in pediatrics. While in school Shelly had an opportunity to work closely with children who have a variety of functional challenges particularly those with autism, trauma backgrounds, and diverse physical limitations. She also had the opportunity to work as a pediatric home therapist and clinical instructor at a sensory motor facility for several years while in school. Shelly begun working at North Shore Pediatric Therapy at the Glenview location in 2014. More recently she has been certified in Therapeutic Listening through Vital Links to further assist children’s sensory development. As a clinician, Shelly is dedicated to individualize treatment with a concentration on parent education for a holistic experience and optimal care.

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9 Ways to Make Gym Class Successful for a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder

A class full of students in an open gymnasium can make for a very overwhelming experience for a child with sensory processing disorder. Echoing voices, shoes squeaking on the floor, whistles blowing, the smell of sweat and cleaning agents, bright colors and moving objects are enough to increase anyone’s stress level. Blog Sensory Processing Disorder Gym-Class-Main-Landscape

Throw in the demand to attend to instructions, learn new motor skills, and keep up with your more advanced peers. For a child with sensory processing disorder, this could potentially become a recipe for disaster.

Or, with the right structure and supports put in place, this time can be a regular opportunity for fun, growth, and learning!

Below are 9 suggestions to help children with sensory processing disorder feel successful in gym class and participate to the fullest extent possible:

  1. Provide the child with an out. Let him know that if the experience becomes too overwhelming he can let the teacher know he needs a break. The student could sit outside the room for a moment, take a trip to the restroom, or get a drink of water. Sometimes a brief break is all that’s needed.
  2. Be aware of the student’s particular needs and allow accommodations. If a student is over responsive to noise, allow the student to wear noise-reducing headphones. If a student has tactile defensiveness, avoid putting them on teams with jerseys.
  3. Break down new activities as much as possible. Teach one skill at a time and provide multiple modes of instruction.
  4. When providing instruction, ask students to repeat the rules or act out a scenario. It may be helpful to repeat important points and explain why the rule exists in order to be sure they are understood.
  5. Modify games or exercises as necessary. Students will be at different levels and physical activity can present unique challenges for those with sensory processing disorder. Provide simpler options when possible.
  6. Establish space boundaries. Using visual cues for personal space and working in small groups can relieve anxiety for those with tactile defensiveness. Visual cues may also be helpful in showing students where they should position themselves for games and exercises.
  7. Take extra care to maintain a positive environment. Emphasize the importance of sportsmanship and supportive language.
  8. Avoid bringing attention to a skill the child is having difficulty with in front of his peers. When playing games in large groups, it may be best to avoid placing the responsibility of a key position on students who are already experiencing increased stress.
  9. Provide feedback to parents. Let the student’s parents know what skills you are or will be working on so that the child can get in extra practice at home. This can be a big confidence booster for children and allow them to fully master skills with their peers.

Remember to keep it fun! Gym class is not only important for educating students on specific skill sets, it also lays the foundation for their attitudes towards physical activity in the future.

Recognize that not all students with sensory processing disorder will have the same strengths and difficulties. Meeting a student where they’re at and finding their particular strengths to build on is the best way to set them up for success!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, 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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Shannon Phelan

Shannon Phelan

Shannon Phelan graduated with a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. As a student, Shannon completed an independent thesis project on attentional abilities in adults and children using measures of behavior and brain activity. She has research experience as a lab assistant in the Brain Waves Research Lab administering and reading results of electroencephalograms (EEG). Her practical experience includes spent time in a variety of settings including schools and inpatient, acute, and psychiatric hospital units prior to establishing her niche in the outpatient pediatric setting. Shannon has received training in Sensory Integration and Kinesio taping. Her favorite part about working at North Shore Pediatric Therapy is working closely with talented professionals of other disciplines who understand that quality care requires a holistic approach and open communication between families and team members. She believes in implementing evidence-based practice to address the unique needs of each child. Shannon is excited to help provide children and their families with the tools they need to lead full and satisfying lives.

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How Do Weighted Blankets Work?

Does your child have trouble sitting still for long periods? Is it hard for your child to pay attention in class or at home? Does he or she engage in frequent crashing, falling, or jumping? What aboutBlog Weighted Blankets Main-Landscape playing too rough with peers or siblings? Does he or she have a hard time settling down for bedtime and falling asleep? Does he or she exhibit anxiety in non-preferred or unfamiliar situations? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your child may benefit from the use of a weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets are designed to provide deep pressure input to a child’s muscles and joints. This deep pressure input targets our proprioceptive system. The proprioceptive system is our body’s sense of our position in space (in other words, where we are in relation to other people and objects).

A child who has difficulty regulating their arousal level and their movements is likely looking for a way to stabilize their nervous system. By providing the body with this deep, proprioceptive input, we calm and organize the nervous system. This allows for improved attention, a regulated arousal level, a decrease in excessive movement, and improved body awareness.

When beginning to use  weighted blankets, use a wearing schedule for the most effectiveness. If a child has the blanket on all day, his or her body will adjust to this weight and the proprioceptive system will become less activated. Instead, wear the blanket during times that the child typically has difficulty focusing, sitting still, or calming. Wear the blanket for no more than one hour at a time, with at least an hour off before wearing the blanket again. The weighted blanket could be worn in the morning before school, after recess, during specials, during reading or written work, before bedtime, or even during an activity that the child perceives as stressful (dentist appointment, shopping, etc.).

Weighted blankets should not exceed more than 5-10% of a child’s body weight. Consult with an occupational therapist for assistance with wear schedule and the amount of weight to use.

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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Amanda Burkert

Amanda Burkert

Amanda Burkert is a licensed occupational therapist who is certified through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. She earned both her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and her Master of Science degree in Occupational Therapy from Indiana University. Amanda has experience providing both pediatric outpatient and early intervention services through Unlimited Mobility Therapy, Inc. There she treated children from 0-18 years old who presented with fine and visual motor delays, developmental delays, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, arthrogryposis, and Sensory Processing Disorders. Amanda has always had a passion for the pediatric population, and became interested in occupational therapy upon her involvement in Indiana University Dance Marathon, a philanthropic organization benefiting Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, IN. Since that time, her love for both children and the profession of occupational therapy has continued to grow.

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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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Mary Kate Mulry

Mary Kate Mulry

Mary Kate Mulry is a graduate of Rush University’s occupational therapy program in Chicago, Illinois. Before becoming an OT, she received her undergraduate degree in Spanish and psychology at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Her clinical interests include working alongside children who have sensory processing disorder, feeding delays, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and overall delay in fine and gross motor development. Mary Kate has past experience working with children in an outpatient pediatric setting, and also completed fieldwork placements in adult inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. She is a recently published author in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT) and believes in the importance of integrating evidence-based practice into daily treatment activities. As a clinician, Mary Kate is dedicated to providing the best care and individualized treatment for each child on a daily basis.

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10 Red Flags for Poor Sensory Registration

When most people hear Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), they tend to think of the child who cannot tolerate tags on clothes, covers their ears and screams at parades, and who pulls away from hugs at family parties. While these are all behaviors associated with SPD, they only align with one type. Blog-Sensory Registration-Main-Landscape

Hypersensitivity, or sensory defensiveness, occurs when a child has difficulty filtering unnecessary sensory input and therefore gets bombarded with a waterfall of input, overflowing his or her regulatory system. However, there is another side to the story that often surprises parents that I work with. Just like a child may be over-sensitive, they may also be under. Poor sensory registration, or hypo-sensitivity, is another common classification of sensory processing disorder and applies to children who do not absorb, or register, all of the input entering their body. They are therefore “missing out” on crucial information from their own body and the environment, which is used to make adaptive responses and learn.

Imagine a giant waterfall, filling a pool at the bottom to the “just right” level. Now imagine that waterfall has a giant strainer at the bottom, causing a tiny fraction of the water to pass through and barely filling the pool. While typically processing children naturally and efficiently take in information from the environment through their many sensory receptors and use this information to make adaptive responses, this is much more difficult for children who miss some of the information coming in. Using the waterfall metaphor again, think how much more water you would need to send through the strainer to fill up the pool. This explains why poor sensory registration is often (but not always!) associated with “sensory seeking” behaviors, as children attempt to obtain additional input so that they may better absorb it. These seeking behaviors can often be misperceived as having difficulty following directions or misbehaving, while children may actually be trying to “fill their pool.” Another possible presentation is that children might appear to “be in la la land” and are likely not noticing or absorbing the cues they need to respond appropriately.

While it is very important to identify poor sensory registration, it can be difficult to identify at times.

Below you will find 10 red flags for poor sensory registration, organized by sensory system, to help you identify potential sensory processing deficits in your child:

Touch (Tactile) Processing:

  1. Your child does not notice when his or her face has food, toothpaste, or other materials on it. He or she may not be registering that input and will not notice unless pointed out by someone else or by looking in a mirror.

Auditory Processing:

  1. Your child does not respond quickly when you call his or her name or needs to hear directions several times to respond. If a child does not have actual hearing impairment, being less responsive to auditory input can be a sign of poor registration of sound input.

Visual Processing:

  1. Your child has a particular difficulty finding objects in a drawer, toy box, or other storage space, even when the object is very visible. They may have visual perceptual deficits related to poor registration of visual information.
  2. Your child may perform writing, coloring, or other visual motor tasks in a way that appears careless and not notice their errors unless specifically pointed out. They may be having difficulty noticing the difference between good work and poor work.

Body Awareness (Proprioceptive Processing):

  1. Your child may have difficulty navigating through hallways without leaning against or rubbing their hands against the walls. This may be their way of compensating for decreased body awareness to help them understand where their body is in space.
  2. Your child may have difficulty maintaining upright posture, whether slouching in a chair, w-sitting on the floor, or leaning against a wall when standing.
  3. Your child may use excessive force when giving hugs or using objects (e.g. breaks crayons, throws balls too hard).
  4. Your child may prefer sleeping with very heavy blankets or prefer to keep their coat on indoors. This input gives them the weight he or she needs to better perceive where his or her body is.

Movement/Gravitational (Vestibular) Processing:

  1. Your child loves intense movement (i.e. spinning, rolling, or going upside down) and can do so for a significant period of time without getting dizzy or nauseous.
  2. Your child may appear clumsy when moving about and lose his or her balance unexpectedly.

Of course, as with any set of red flags, one or two red flags does not qualify for a sensory processing disorder. However, if quite a few of the sensory registration items above resonate with you, and if any of these items significantly interfere with your child’s daily functioning, it would be helpful to set up an evaluation with an occupational therapist.

Occupational therapists are specially trained to identify sensory processing disorder through parent interviewing and clinical observation of your child. If a disorder is identified, an occupational therapist can work with you to create a sensory diet, or prescribed set of sensory activities, to help your child get the input he or she needs to feel organized and calm to better learn and grow. They may also teach you strategies to help your child better attend to the input that is entering their body.

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 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Amanda Langer

Amanda Langer

Amanda Averack Langer, MS, OTR/L, is also a licensed occupational therapist. Originally from Connecticut, Amanda attended college at the University of Rochester, where she pursued a double major in Brain and Cognitive Science and Music. Prior to obtaining her license in occupational therapy, Amanda gained experience in special education as a 4th grade resource teacher. She also has experience in inclusive and adaptive arts programming for children and adolescents with special needs. Amanda attended the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she received her master's degree in Occupational Therapy. Amanda has clinical experience at OTA-The Koomar Center, a world-renowned pediatric clinic engaged in research and treatment of Sensory Processing Disorders, as well as the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago working adults undergoing physical and neurological rehabilitation. When she is not working with NSPT, Amanda loves to cook, attend concerts and plays, enjoy the outdoors, and sing with her a cappella group, the Southport Singers.

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Why Are Occupational Therapy Screens Necessary for Schools?

Occupational therapists are skilled in assessing how a child’s sensory processing abilities, fine motor skills, visual motor skills and gross motor skills impact performance and function in daily life including self-care, play and academics. Proficient skills in these areas are imperative for children to be successful in the classroom environment.blog-occupational-therapy-screenings-main-landscape

  • Sensory processing skills support a child’s ability to learn. A child who is unable to process environmental stimuli effectively and efficiently will be unavailable to learn. Children with sensory processing dysfunction may have difficulty sitting still for an extended period of time in their desks or during circle time, they may be unable to pay attention when others around them are talking or they may have difficulty standing in line without touching, or hanging on a friend in front of them. These behaviors are a result of poor processing of the vestibular, auditory and proprioceptive systems, respectively.
  • Efficient fine motor skills are necessary to complete academic work. From writing to cutting with scissors and keyboarding to making crafts, fluid fine motor skills help children complete classroom activities and homework.
  • Efficient visual motor skills provide a foundation for writing and copying from the board as well as completing math work.
  • Efficient gross motor skills are important within the school environment for moving safely throughout the school and classroom, engaging with peers on the playground or during gym, and sustaining appropriate posture while sitting at a desk to complete work.

When a child struggles in any of these areas, it may not always be obvious. Oftentimes, sensory processing difficulties go unnoticed for many years and the child is left with academic or behavioral challenges. Therefore, occupational therapy screens are essential for schools.  An occupational therapist’s knowledge of child development, and its impact on daily functioning, can help identify children who would benefit from therapy services.

The screens can also be used as a preventative measure to ensure that a child’s development is on track and the child will have the foundational skills necessary to be available to learn. Occupational therapy screens also allow the opportunity for OTs to educate and collaborate with teachers and educators to provide suggestions that they can share with families and use in the classroom.

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 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Dana Pais

Dana Pais

Dana Pais, OTD, OTR/L is an occupational therapist who obtained her Masters of Occupational Therapy (MS) and Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During her doctoral studies, she spent time working in Lima, Peru at the Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru (CASP), a center for families and their children with cognitive and physical disabilities, where she provided intervention for many children and their families in the areas of low vision accessibility, independent living, school inclusion and supportive employment. Her interests include sensory processing and its impact on daily life and managing visual deficits. She is passionate about helping children reach their full potential in every aspect of their lives.

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Age Appropriate Toys for Motor Development

It’s the holiday season! As we approach the end of December, plenty of parents have been inquiring about appropriate and educational toys and games that encourage speech and language growth, blog-motor development-main-landscapefine and gross motor development, and problem solving skills. Below are some of our favorite toys that we believe would make great additions to the family toy closet:

Baby toys (birth-24 months):

  • Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Rock-a-Stack
    • Why we love it for infants: brightly lit colors encourage basic skills such as eye tracking which helps facilitate gross motor skills like rolling and reaching across the body’s midline. These multi-sized rings are also the perfect size to encourage the baby to start using a gross grasp and release pattern, which is integral for fine motor development. The baby can learn basic discrimination skills related to sizing and colors which is necessary to develop basic problem solving skills. These rings allow the baby opportunity for oral exploration without hazard of choking, and the product boasts that the material is safe for teething.
  • Melissa & Doug Stack and Sort Board – Wooden Educational Toy With 15 Solid Wood Pieces
    • Why we love it: Facilitates tactile discrimination, encourages basic language skills by introducing names of basic shapes as well as different colors, facilitates fine motor development (particularly pincer , tripod, and lateral tripod grasp usage), and requires basic eye hand coordination to stack and unstack items on and off the centerpiece.
  • More suggestions: Caterpillar Play Gym, Fisher-Price Little People Lil’ Movers Airplane, Busy Poppin’ Pals, Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Count and Color Gumball

Toddler Toys (3-5 years):

  • Pop Up Pirate
    • Why we love it: This is a fan favorite for kids and therapists. We use it in OT, PT, and Speech, and the kids love it because of the uncertainty of who is going to make the pirate pop out of the barrel. Therapists enjoy using this toy to encourage direction following, visual motor integration skills, and fine motor coordination. When played in a small group, it provides a great opportunity to learn some basic impulse control and encourages turn taking. This is a great game for kids who may still have difficulty playing games with 2 or 3 step directions, as there are no rules other than waiting your turn to place the sword when directed.
  • Sneaky Snacky Squirrel 
    • Why we love it: Great game to address basic social skills and direction following. This game can be played with 2-4 individuals, and can help to encourage turn taking and fine motor control to manipulate a set of squirrel-shaped tweezers. This game also helps to build frustration tolerance, as children must learn how to react when losing their turn, or having a peer take away one of their acorns. It’s also easy to understand, and there is no reading required.
  • More suggestions: Wooden Shape Sorting Clock, Pop the Pig, Spot It, Zingo, Elefun, Hungry Hungry Hippos

Grade school toys and games (6-9 years):

  • Games for balance, coordination, and core strength: Zoomball, Twister, Labyrinth Balance Board
  • Games for fine motor development: Operation, Barrel of Monkeys, KerPlunk, Angry Birds, Jenga, Operation
  • Games for visual perceptual and problem solving skills: Rush Hour, Rush Hour Junior, S’Match, Marble Runs, Cartoon It
  • Games for Social skill and cooperative play: Race to the Treasure, Stone Soup, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Adolescent games (10-15):

  • Games for Executive Functioning : Logic Links, Qwirkle, Mastermind, Labyrinth
  • Games for Visual perceptual and problem solving skills: Knot so Fast, Blokus, Rush Hour
  • Games for Social development: Life, Scattergories, Scrabble, Apples to Apples

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 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Mary Kate Mulry

Mary Kate Mulry

Mary Kate Mulry is a graduate of Rush University’s occupational therapy program in Chicago, Illinois. Before becoming an OT, she received her undergraduate degree in Spanish and psychology at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Her clinical interests include working alongside children who have sensory processing disorder, feeding delays, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and overall delay in fine and gross motor development. Mary Kate has past experience working with children in an outpatient pediatric setting, and also completed fieldwork placements in adult inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. She is a recently published author in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy (AJOT) and believes in the importance of integrating evidence-based practice into daily treatment activities. As a clinician, Mary Kate is dedicated to providing the best care and individualized treatment for each child on a daily basis.

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Sensory Tips for Crowded Holiday Spaces

The holidays are a festive, fun and exciting time to celebrate with family and friends; however, they also bring about a plethora of sensory stimuli everywhere you go! Between the sights, sounds, smells and crowds our senses are overloaded with the spirit of the holiday season. For some people, particularly children with sensory processing difficulties, this time of year can cause stress, anxiety and uneasiness. blog-holiday-sensory tips-main-landscape

In addition to increased environmental stimuli around the holidays, typical routines are thrown off due to breaks from school and travel plans. Children with sensory processing difficulties benefit from a schedule that is predictable, so they know exactly what to expect and how to plan for new or different sensory experiences.

Below are 8 sensory tips to help make the holidays and crowded holiday spaces more enjoyable for your whole family:

  1. Prepare your child for the various events that he will experience over the holidays including specific parties, shopping events or travel. Give explanations of where you are going, what you will do there, what he may see, hear or smell. This will help him to know what to expect at these different places without being worried.
  2. Practice! Before going to various holiday events or places, practice. Stop by the mall with your child for a few minutes a few times before the holiday season, spend time at family or friend’s houses that will be visited over the holidays or visit the airport a few times ahead of your travel day. Giving your child an opportunity to experience these places when they are not as crowded will help him be successful during the busy times.
  3. Use a visual calendar that identifies daily activities over the holidays so your child feels comfortable with their winter break routine. Review each day’s events prior to leaving the house, so your child can better prepare himself for what to expect.
  4. Review pictures or videos from the previous year’s holiday events to remind your child of the sights, sounds, smells and crowds he will experience.
  5. Be prepared! During over stimulating situations your child may benefit from sensory strategies such as headphones, ear plugs, sunglasses, weighted objects or a favorite toy. Be sure to be prepared with these items during crowded holiday events. These strategies will help decrease the intensity of environmental stimuli.
  6. Be proactive! If you see your child becoming upset or overstimulated, find a place to take a break from the situation (bathroom, car, quiet hallway) and help him calm down.
  7. Arm your child with strategies ahead of time to help him through a situation where he feels he is becoming upset or overwhelmed. Strategies such as deep breathing or counting to 10 may help decrease anxiety. Encourage your child to let you know when he feels he needs a break.
  8. Talk to family members and friends about the difficulties your child may have and educate them on how they can help.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

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 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

Meet-With-An-Occupational-Therapist

Dana Pais

Dana Pais

Dana Pais, OTD, OTR/L is an occupational therapist who obtained her Masters of Occupational Therapy (MS) and Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During her doctoral studies, she spent time working in Lima, Peru at the Centro Ann Sullivan del Peru (CASP), a center for families and their children with cognitive and physical disabilities, where she provided intervention for many children and their families in the areas of low vision accessibility, independent living, school inclusion and supportive employment. Her interests include sensory processing and its impact on daily life and managing visual deficits. She is passionate about helping children reach their full potential in every aspect of their lives.

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Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation Skills for My Child

Children aren’t born with executive functioning or self-regulation skills, rather their brain has the capacity to develop them. As a result, these skills that support a child’s capacity to learn, grow and develop can be inhibited by a number of factors including stress, environment, relationships, or delays. They can blossom and develop more fully with support from adults and the environment around them. Some children require more focused support to better develop executive functioning and self-regulation skills. Support can be through Early Education Opportunities and/or more formal intervention and support like Occupational Therapy, Behavior Therapy or Mental Health Services. blog-executive-functioning-main-landscape

How to Identify on Track Development for Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation Skills

Positive Engagement in School

  • Your child has a positive experience at school, cooperates with expectations and meets expectations most days.
  • Your child completes their work in a timely manner and typically understands the material.
  • Your child’s school work is typically organized and can be located easily.
  • For younger children, they attend school most days without difficulty. They can share what happens at school each day and can tolerate when things change.

Pro-social Skills

  • Your child can get along with others, can initiate interaction and negotiate play appropriately.
  • Your child typically understands and follows routine expectations and rules.
  • Your child typically responds to redirection without difficulty.
  • Your child can communicate his needs, wants, or wishes appropriately and effectively.
  • Your child can take responsibility for their actions and can understand the consequences.
  • For younger children, they engage in turn-taking, sharing, and show emerging empathy for others if they get hurt or sick.

Healthy and Safe Choices

  • Your child makes safe choices when interacting with others across settings (home, school, and in the community).
  • Your child can recognize and understand the importance of rules and safety.
  • Your child can make healthy choices for themselves (balanced eating, exercising or participating in activities that make them feel good).
  • Your child can access and utilize help when needed.
  • For younger children, they can talk about the rules at home and school. They can cooperate with important routines like sleeping, eating and toileting.

Communication and Coping Skills

  • Your child can express their needs, wants, and feelings verbally and effectively.
  • Your child can typically communicate or express their frustration or anger in a safe, appropriate manner.
  • Your child can accept support or help from others.
  • Your child can advocate for themselves appropriately.
  • For younger children they can ask for help, ask for their needs with words or gestures, and can calm down with adult support.

How to Promote Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation skills

  • Provide a visual guide for routine and rules at home.
  • Make expectations clear and concise; talk about what happened if expectations are not being met.
  • Provide 1 or 2 step directions when giving instructions.
  • Spend time together for multi-step activities like art, a puzzle or baking activity; talk about the steps needed.
  • Encourage and praise hard work and persistence especially when trying something new or challenging.
  • Use first/then statements i.e. First we put the toys away, then we can have snack.”
  • Take time for calm and quiet activities together i.e. reading, taking a walk and coloring.
  • Model how to calm down or take deep breaths when upset.
  • Model healthy living and safe choices.
  • Develop Family Rituals that provide time to reflect and share about thoughts, feelings, and experiences (i.e. Highs and lows from the day over dinner, 3 best parts of the day on the drive home, marking off days on a calendar to look forward to a family outing).
  • Talk and share about feelings. Be willing to share your own.

Resources:

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/ 

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 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

Social Work

Meghan Greeley

Throughout my education and career, I have sought opportunities to support the healthy growth and development of children and families. My education in and early experience involved developing a rich understanding of the important developmental milestones of children and helping them to meet those goals. I have had wonderful opportunities to work with children at the University of Illinois Child Development Lab, Chicago Children’s Museum, and as a child development and social work intern providing individual therapy and group support to 3 to 5 year old participants suffering from homelessness, poverty, and emotional and behavioral disorders. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I have continued to seek opportunities to support children and families by providing outpatient therapy to children 3 to 18 years of age. First, as a milieu therapist, providing stability, structure and routine in a group setting, then as a trauma therapist at La Rabida Children’s Hospital Chicago Child Trauma Center. I value play, learning, and developing relationships with children and families. Those values and interests lead me to develop a group work guide for 3 to 12 year olds, develop and implement a successful positive behavior management system designed to promote positive social behaviors and self-esteem in groups, and seek on-going training in work with children and families including: Attachment, Regulation, and Competency Learning Collaborative and Child Parent Psychotherapy Learning Collaborative.

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